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507: How to Get Exceptional Mentors and Opportunities with Alex Banayan

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Alex Banayan shares unconventional approaches to creating new opportunities.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The ultimate cold email template to recruit mentors
  2. Creative “third door” approaches that nobody takes
  3. Communication secrets from Maya Angelou and Larry King

About Alex:

Alex Banayan  is the author of The Third Door, the result of an unprecedented seven-year journey interviewing the most innovative leaders of the past half-century, including Bill Gates, Lady Gaga, Larry King, Maya Angelou, Steve Wozniak, Jane Goodall, Quincy Jones, and more. He has presented the Third Door framework to business conferences and corporate leadership teams around the world, including Apple, Google, Nike, IBM, Snapchat, Salesforce, and Disney. When he was 18, Alex hacked The Price is Right, won a sailboat, and sold it to fund his adventure. He was then named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Alex Banayan Interview Transcript

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

Alex Banayan
Thank you very much for having me. I’m very excited.

Pete Mockaitis
I think the first thing we got to cover is how did you hack The Price is Right.

Alex Banayan
Going right to the meat. Wow, that was nine years ago. I was 18 years old at the time, a freshman in college. And the context is sort of important because I was sort of going through this what I want to do with my life crisis.


And not only did I not know what I wanted to do, I didn’t know how other people who I looked up to how they did it. How did Bill Gates sell his first piece of software out of his dorm room? Or how did Spielberg become the youngest director of Hollywood history.


So I … The short version of the story is I sort of set off to go find the book I was dreaming of reading. I went to the library and looked through dozens of biographies and business books. But eventually I was left empty-handed.


So, that’s when my naïve 18 year old thinking kicked in, and I thought well, if no one is reading the book I was dreaming of reading, why not do it myself? 


I thought it would be very simple. I thought I would just call up Bill Gates and interview him, and interview everybody else, and I would be done in a few months.

Pete Mockaitis
Alex, so good to hear from you. He picks it up and you’re just chatting away.

Alex Banayan
Yeah. I really thought that that’s how it would go. What I thought would be the hard part would be getting the money to fund the journey. I was buried in student loan debt. I was all out of Bar mitzvah cash so there had to be a way to make some quick money.

Pete Mockaitis
And actually game shows is your first instinct.

Alex Banayan
Well, do you know what’s funny? It wasn’t even my first instinct. I didn’t have any instincts. But I just kept ruminating on this problem until two nights before final exams I’m in the library and I’m doing what everyone is doing in the library right before finals, I’m on Facebook.

Pete Mockaitis
Sing.

Alex Banayan
And I’m on Facebook and I see someone offering free tickets to The Price is Right. It’s the longest running game show in US history. And my first thought was what if I go on this show and win some money to fund this book? Not my brightest moment. 


Plus, I had a problem, I’d never seen a full episode of the show before. I’ve of course seen bits and pieces when I was home sick from school in fourth grade.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s exactly what I was thinking, home sick is what I associate The Price is Right with.

Alex Banayan
Yeah. You know I didn’t have cable growing up. Everyone knows the price is right but I’ve never seen a full episode before. So, I told myself this was a dumb idea and to not think about it.


But, I sort of felt this, you know, almost like someone was tying a rope around my stomach and was pulling me in a direction. So, that night I decided to do the logical thing and pull an all-nighter to study.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alex Banayan
But I didn’t study for finals, I instead had to hack The Price is Right. I went on the show the next day and did this ridiculous strategy and I ended up winning the whole showcase showdown winning a sail boat, selling that sail boat and that’s how I funded the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well that’s excellent. So, what’s the strategy? I mean, I guess there is some strategies for winning once you’re selected. But how do you get selected?

Alex Banayan
Well that was my whole question because when I decided to pull that all-nighter, I decided I’m not going to ditch finals and just hope that luck goes my way. I was like I have to figure out this strategy.


So, I just started Googling how to get on The Price is Right, because I figured that must be the hard part. There’s 300 people on the audience.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, statistically, right.

Alex Banayan
Right, statistically there’s 300 in the audience, eight get called down, one out of those eight win. So, the big statistical challenge is being the 300 down to the eight.


So, what I found out is The Price is Right, and I found this out at three o’clock in the morning by the 23rd o of Google. I found this blog post from back in the ’90s that said The Price is Right is not what it seems. They make it look very random. Pete, come on down.

Pete Mockaitis
Me? Wow, all my college friends are excited for me.

Alex Banayan
Right, right. Like all … Like as if they pulled your name out of a hat. But what I learned is like everything in life and business, although it looks like luck, there is a system to it. And there’s a producer who interviews every single person in the audience before the show begins.


And in addition to the producer, there is an undercover producer planted in the audience who then confirms or denies the original producer’s selection. So, it doesn’t matter how much you love the show, how bubbly your personality is, if that producer doesn’t put you on his list, and if the undercover producer doesn’t then confirm or deny you, it doesn’t matter how much you want to be on the show, you’re not on.


So, that’s where I poured all of my focus. The long version of the story is like this, like 20 minute preposterous story and it was much less Einstein and much more Forest Camp when I say hack.


But it ended up being the event that really launched this seven year journey of the third door. 

Pete Mockaitis
So, then how do you identify who the producer is and get the meeting or the impression such that you get lucky?

Alex Banayan
Well, during my all-nighter research once I found out how it worked, I then poured all of my focus into studying who the producer is. And I figured out his name is Stan. I pretty much knew where he grew up, where he went to school, I essentially knew where he had for breakfast that morning. I learned everything I could about him.

Pete Mockaitis
Just like LinkedIn and googling around this Stan guy?

Alex Banayan
Yeah. He’s the head casting producer for The Price is Right. There’s stuff about him on the internet and when I finally, that next morning, drove on to the CDS lot in Los Angeles.


First of all, even before I got online, I realized I don’t know who the undercover producers are, so I just have to assume everyone is the undercover producer. So, I’m dancing with old ladies. I’m flirting with custodians. I’m break dancing and I don’t know how to break dance.


And eventually I get in line and about an hour in I see my guy. I see Stan standing 50 feet away from me. The way it works is Stan takes 20 people at once in line, sort of like herding cattle, puts them all in a row and walks down the line one by one ask them questions.


What’s your name, where are you from, what do you do? What’s your name, where are you from, what do you do? And before you know it, Stan is standing right in front of me and he’s like what’s your name, where are you from, what do you do?


I’m like, “Hey, I’m Alex. I’m 18 years old. I’m a pre-med.” And he goes, “Pre-med, you must spend all your time studying. How do you have time to watch The Price is Right?” And I’m like, “Oh, is that where I am?” No laughter. The joke just falls flat.


So, I notice his eyes darting as if he’s ready to move on, and I had read in a business book during my life crisis that said human contact speeds up a relationship. So, I had an idea. I had to touch Stan. Now, he’s like 20 feet away from me so I’m like, “Stan come over here, I want to make a handshake with you.” He’s like, “Oh, no, no, it’s okay.” I’m like, “Come on.”


And very reluctantly he comes over and I teach him how to pound it and blow it up and he laughs a bit, and he says, “All right, good luck,” and he starts walking away.


Now, what you need to know about Stan is he has a clipboard, but it’s never in his hands, it’s in his assistants hands who sits about 20 feet away from him, and that’s the list that gets passed on to the undercover producer.


As Stan starts walking away from me I notice he doesn’t turn around to his assistant, she doesn’t write anything on the clipboard, and just like that it’s over. And I don’t know if you’ve ever had one of those moments where you can literally see your dream walking right away from you, almost like it’s sand slipping through your fingers.


And the worst part is you didn’t even have a chance to really prove yourself. So, I don’t know what got into me, but I started yelling at the top of my lungs, “Stan, Stan.” The whole audience shoots their head around and Stan runs over thinking I’m having a seizure and he was like, “Are you okay? Are you okay? What’s going on?”


I have no idea what I’m going to say. And Stan’s looking at me, I’m looking at him, the audience is dead silent. This random 18 year old kid was shouting at the top of his lungs and again, what you have to know about Stan, he’s very typical Hollywood, turtle neck, red scarf, goatee.


And I just look at Stan with all the seriousness I can and I’m just like, “Your scarf.” And now I really don’t know what I’m going to say next. And I just look at him, I just try to be as serious as possible and I just look at him dead in the eyes and I’m like, “Stan, I’m an avid scarf collector. I have 362 pairs in my dorm room and I’m missing that one. Where did you get it?” And he starts cracking up because I think he finally realized what I was actually trying to do, and he just smiled and took his scarf and put it around my neck, and he was like, “Look, you need this more than I do.” He turned around, winked to his assistant and she put my name on the clipboard.

Pete Mockaitis
Hot dog. Well you know, Alex, we usually don’t spend this much time on the kind of fan fact background ice breaker. But I think that this is important because there’s really some lessons here.

Alex Banayan
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
In terms of one, you were so persistent that you went to the 23rd page of Google, and that’s the ancient, I don’t know if it’s ancient. Google is not that ancient.

Alex Banayan
The ancient Greeks talk about the 23rd o of Google where all wisdom is. 

Pete Mockaitis
Well I guess the marketing joke is where is the best place to hide a body, the second page of Google because no one ever looks there.

Alex Banayan
Right, right.

Pete Mockaitis
But so you exhibited exceptional persistence in going deep into getting that as well as some courage. You didn’t know what you were going to do, but you knew that your window of opportunity was slipping and so you just did something and then you adapted real time.


So, I think that there is some excellent lessons there. So, then you won The Price is Right, you got the sail boat, you sold the sail boat, you had some funding now for your project. And your dream book then was to interview hyper achievers and figure out what they got going on.


So, tell us how did you in fact manage to get these folks to speak with you because you soon learned that it wasn’t as easy as calling up Bill and he says oh, hey Alex. So, what did you do to get them to talk?

Alex Banayan
Yes. To my surprise Bill Gates does not do interviews with random 18 year olds. 

Pete Mockaitis
Lessons learned.

Alex Banayan
Yes, very important lessons learned. And that’s really when it took off. So, it took two years to track down Bill Gates, it took three years to track down Lady Gaga and when I had started, like I said, I thought it would be this very simple straight forward process.


But every single interview was completely different. So, on my list were people from all industries. So, for science, Jane Goodall, for poetry Maya Angelou. Computer science, Steve Wozniak, Larry King, Quincy Jones, Jessica Alba, Pitbull, Warren Buffet.


It really went across all industries and each interview was its own adventure. So, with Larry King I chased him through a grocery store. With Tim Ferriss I had to hide in a bathroom for 30 minutes. So, each one was … With Steven Spielberg I almost died in the south of France. It was … With Mark Zuckerberg I almost got the police called on me.


So, every interview was its own mini quest and what I did learn across the board though, what I learned not only in the process of getting the interviews but even more importantly in the interviews themselves is while every story was different, every adventure to get the interview was different and every person who I interviewed on that surface were more different than you can say.


Maya Angelou grew up in Stamps, Arkansas. Bill Gates grew up in Seattle. At their core, and I don’t know if you’re a big music fan, but it was almost like there was a common melody to every conversation I was having. 


And the analogy that came to me, because I was 21 at the time, is that life and business and success is just like a night club, there’s always three ways in. 


So, there’s the first store, the main entrance where the line curves around the block where 99% of people wait around hoping to get in, that’s the first store. People are just standing, holding their resumes out in the cold hoping the bouncer lets them in. That’s the first store.


Then there’s the second door, the VIP entrance where the billionaires and celebrities go through. And for some reason school and society have this way of making us feel like those are the only two ways in. You either wait your turn or you’re born into it.


But what I learned is that there’s always, always the third door, and it’s the entrance where you jump out of line, run down the alley, bang on the door 100 times, crack open the window, go through the kitchen. There’s always a way in, and it doesn’t matter if that’s how Bill Gates sold his first piece of software or how Lady Gaga got her first record deal, they all took the third door.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that is so meta there. So, you are going through exceptional, unique efforts to access these people and then they’re telling you stories about their own accessible unique ways that they access their successes and opportunities.

Alex Banayan
Not by design.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s pretty wild. So, I want to dig into a couple of these luminaries insights. But so can we hear some of the particular? So, I guess you had different adventures each time. So, I’m putting together some themes already for The Price is Right.


There is persistence. I don’t know if I want to call it shamelessness, but it seems like you’re not easily embarrassed or you are, you don’t let that stop you.

Alex Banayan
I think it’s … So, the latter I think is super important. Not only just reflecting on my own journey but I also think anyone with their own careers because if you, Pete, if you ask my sisters what it’s like growing up with me, they would tell you I was the most scared kid you would ever meet.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Alex Banayan
And I can still remember to this day standing outside The Price is Right, right before I was going to get interviewed just completely terrified and embarrassed and I remember literally closing my eyes and telling myself you can either just succumb to this fear and lose this entire opportunity or you can push through it.


What I realized when I started interviewing people for the third door, when I sat down with all these leaders, is that my big question for them was how did they become so fearless because I definitely was consumed by fear every step of the way.


And my biggest realization after doing every single interview was that not only were people like Bill Gates scared in the beginning, they were terrified the whole way through. And that didn’t make any sense to me.


And what I learned is that it wasn’t fearlessness they achieved, it was courage. And while the word sounds very similar, the difference is critical. And this is super important whether it’s in your personal life or in your career or in the workplace, fearlessness is jumping off of a cliff and not thinking about it. That’s idiotic.


Courage on the other hand is acknowledging your fear, analyzing the consequences and then deciding you care so much about it you’re still going to take one thoughtful step forward anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, there you have it. So, you sort of take a look at the real, I guess, consequences and probabilities like okay, here are the options, I can do nothing and get nowhere, or I can do this and which might get me in jail or embarrassed or a sail boat. So, that’s worthwhile. I’m going to go ahead and do that because that’s more important to me.

Alex Banayan
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. 

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well so then … And I guess you say you have wild tales and adventure for each of these people that you interviewed. So, can you share any sort of general themes? It seems like one of them is you’re persistent over time. 


Another is that you sort of just figure out where they’re going to be and be there. Anything else with regard to your messaging or invitation of winning over assistant publicist gatekeepers?

Alex Banayan
Well, yes, there are a lot of themes that to my surprise the themes that helped me get these interviews I’ve also learned through my research are also the same themes of the most high performing sales teams and the most high performing business development teams.


And what I’ve … And you know there is macro themes and also micro tactics. Even starting on the micro which are very useful for anyone no matter what their job is there is a right and a wrong way to send cold emails.


And in the year 2019 we’re almost into 2020, cold emailing is one of the most effective ways if you can actually do it correctly. So, I learned this during my interview with Tim Ferriss. He gave me a cold email template which he hadn’t shared anywhere else that not only changed my entire life and helped me get interviews for the book and get mentors for my journey, but it also my favorite thing is since the third door has come out, thousands of readers have written in saying that it’s changed their lives.


They’ve gotten in contact with people like Sheryl Sandberg or Malcolm Gladwell, all through this cold email template.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’ve got my attention Alex.

Alex Banayan
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
What does this consist of?

Alex Banayan
All right, so this is how it works. It’s super simple but again, you really have to follow it to a T. So, it starts like this, Dear so and so. I know you’re incredibly busy, and you get a lot of emails. So, this will only take 60 seconds to read. Boom, that’s the first paragraph.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alex Banayan
Then you move on to the next paragraph. The second paragraph is where you put one to two sentences max of context of who you are and why that’s relevant to the person who’s reading this.


So, again, this is not where you put your bio, your life story, but you pick a couple sentences that’s relevant to that person. Boom, next paragraph.


Again, one to two sentences max of a hyper specific question that they can respond without thinking too hard about. So, what should I do with my life is a bad example of a question. But what is one book you recommend to an aspiring writer is a great question.


Then the final paragraph is the contour. You go I totally understand if you’re too busy to reply. Even a one or two line response will completely make my day. All the best, Alex.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So then they gave you a book, which is nice. But you were interested in a little more. So, what then?

Alex Banayan
Bingo. So, I got the follow up advice during my interview with Bill Gates. Bill shared a lot of incredible advice about sale secrets and negotiating secrets. But one of the things he really emphasized is if you get someone to like you and to be invested in you, you don’t really have to negotiate that hard.


One of the things he did very early on in his career, which was very surprising to me is he would do exactly that. He would … Let’s say he was in the beginning of Microsoft doing a deal with IBM and wanted to create a relationship with the executives there.


When he would meet them he would ask them for book recommendations and then he said the key is he said busy people don’t have a lot of time to think, so what they do is they create frameworks whether they’re conscious of it or not.


And let’s say someone reaches out to you and says do you recommend a book? And you give let’s say three book recommendations. If that person gets back to you in a few months you might think, oh, that was a pretty smart person, they took my advice, that’s nice.


If they obviously don’t get back to you, you probably don’t even think about them again. But if someone gets back to you in one week saying I read all three books and the second one you recommended has completely changed my life and in these ways, I just wanted to say thank you.


All of a sudden that person creates a mental framework that you are a very good investment of their time. They just spent 30 seconds giving you advice and it’s already made a giant transformation in your life. And they also think that’s an incredibly hard working person who I want to get to know better.


Slowly it starts with an email, then maybe you next time you’re in town, “Hey, I’m in town. I would love to see you for 15 minutes if you’re available and if not totally understand.”


Then maybe you’re going through a challenge in a few months. “Hi, I’m sure you’re incredibly busy. I’m going through this crisis. Do you have a little time to talk on the phone?” It slowly builds and grows.


A mentorship isn’t something that you just sign on the dotted line. It’s a relationship that slowly grows with time and investment.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. So, then with these folks is that, well I guess 15 minutes is all you need for your interview in your book and what you’re trying to accomplish there or have you stayed in touch with some of these folks over longer periods?

Alex Banayan
Yeah, absolutely. You know it spans the spectrum. So, with some people they … With Quincy Jones it was three hours, a three-hour long interview. With some people it was a little shorter. For some people like Bill Gates the only time I’ve ever spent time with him was during that interview in his office.


With some people who I interviewed they’re some of my best friends now. There’s this great quote that I really love that always come to mind. It says … I can’t even remember who said it. It said something along the lines of respect the people who make time for you out of their busy schedules when you need them. But love the people who never check their schedule when you need them most.


I think what’s beautiful about this journey for the third door is it started as my journey to get advice to figure out how did the most high achieving people launch their careers. But what ended up happening is it also became this very personal journey where I was finding myself and growing up along the way and some of the people who I interviewed sort of transcended not only as an interview subject to a mentor, but to being like family members.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s beautiful. And so there was a lot there. Let’s just get a couple tidbits just to get a taste of the wisdom of some of these amazing folks. So, a couple that you mentioned to me that I’d love to get maybe just one minute. All right, Maya Angelou, how do you write good?

Alex Banayan
Oh my good. A part of me literally wants to open up the book and read directly, but I’ll paraphrase. But she, I would say also just to give her credit which she doesn’t need extra credit because everyone knows already how incredible she is. But she was the only interview subject where her words, I literally could just sit back and she wrote the chapter herself. 


Just you asked her a question and she literally gives the most gorgeous and beautifully written response out of her mouth. It was definitely a very, very big honor to speak to her.


When it comes to writing she said the biggest thing she recommends a new writer to do no matter your age, is to take the writing that you just wrote, find a quiet room, close the door, and read your writing out loud.


She said it sounds obvious and simple but almost no one does it. People don’t like to hear the sound of their voice, they don’t like to read things out loud. But she said the best form of editing is reading it out loud because only then can you hear the melody of the words. And writing, good writing, is much more than logically putting words in the right order. It’s about creating a melody that is easy for the reader to take in.


She shared a quote with me that I’ll never forget. She said, and I think the quote is by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the quote goes, easy reading is damn hard writing.

Pete Mockaitis
Agreed.

Alex Banayan
Right? Easy reading is damn hard writing. And Maya Angelou insisted that the inverse is true too, easy writing is damn hard reading.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s perfect.

Alex Banayan
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about Larry King and interviewing?

Alex Banayan
Oh my God. Larry I’ll give a tidbit but he taught me so much. He looked at me the first time we met or the second time we met and he said, he was like, “The problem with all young interviewers when they’re just starting out …” And again, this is interviewing whether it’s for a TV show or radio show or even interviewing in a hiring process.


He said, “They look at the interviewers they admire and they try to copy that.” They look at maybe Oprah who uses all this emotion or Barbara Walters who’s very strategic or even Larry himself, which is very straight forward and they try to copy that style. Larry said that is the biggest mistake you can make because you’re focusing on what our style is not why we have that style.


The truth is those are the styles that makes them the most comfortable in their chairs. When you’re comfortable in your chair, the person you’re interviewing becomes comfortable in their chair, and that’s what makes for the best interview.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well Alex let’s go meta here. How do I make you more comfortable in your chair? I’m in pajama bottoms right now, if that helps, but you can’t see them.

Alex Banayan
The fact that you are just asking things that you are genuinely curious about and it sounds like you’re having fun is making me have fun. So, I’m very grateful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well thank you. Well that’s true. I really do want to know these things and I’m curious, so thank you. So, very cool. Then this third door mindset here, which is there’s more than just the two options associated with the masses and the VIPs. There is a third door. 


So, what are some general questions or means by which you began to discover what those third doors can look like in any given situation?

Alex Banayan
You know what’s interesting about the third door is it’s not a recipe for success, it’s a framework for success. The difference is this is really a lens to view your challenges, a lens to view the obstacles that no matter what’s in front of you, no matter what challenges are in front of you, at the end of the day there’s always a way.


And again, it doesn’t matter if we’re looking at how Warren Buffet got funding for his first investments or how Steven Spielberg became the youngest director of Hollywood history, what the third door framework tells you is that you don’t have to sit back and wait for a boss or a parent or even a mentor to give you permission to go after your goals.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alex Banayan
You have the power to make it happen yourself. And what I’ve noticed with readers of the book is it gives you a sense of possibility. What I’ve learned is you can give someone all the best tools and tactics in the world, and their life can still feel stuck. But if you change what someone believes is possible, they’ll never be the same.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That really resonates in terms of what you believe is possible. You know what, I even see this in small ways. I’m thinking about boy it goes big, it goes small. It’s like what could be possible in terms of could it be possible to earn a quarter million dollars a year by working less than 20 hours a week? Yes. In fact, I know people who do that and I find that inspiring and I’m kind of building my business to accommodate that so I have more time for just docking out and reading long whole books and studies and being with my kids and exercising and what not.


But along the way I’m having so much fun that I just keep working. So, that’s cool too. But I think even in the micro sense, this has happened to me a couple of times with I’m thinking about home renovation. I know it’s so mundane, since we’re talking about huge dreams and life visions.


But I think that’s let’s say I get a quote from one vendor, and I go man, to rebuild those kind of loose bricks around the perapet walls they’re called, that extend above the roof and to get a new roof that’s going to cost $40,000 says one person. And I go, dang, I sure don’t want to spend $40,000.


But if I, even if I get just a little bit of benchmark research data from Homeadvisor.com or from another quote or for some people that I’m talking to, then I begin to learn what is in fact possible and then I say no, I don’t like that answer that I got, so therefore, I will persist until I get another answer I like.


And spoiler alert, I just hired someone who’s going to take care of our roof matters for less than half that price. So, yay. And if I had no idea of what was possible, I might be like well shocks, I guess that’s what it costs. Man, that’s expensive.


So, I think that your sense of possibility can be expanded with even a quick Google search like in your case.

Alex Banayan
Right, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Not a quick Google search 23 pages down, but you say oh, it is in fact possible to take an action that gets me selected for Price is Right.

Alex Banayan
Yes, yes, 100%. 100% yes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. So, what are some additional means by which you recommend that you become aware of possibilities? So, one is huge, is finding mentors.

Alex Banayan
What a great question, that’s a great question. I love that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, lay it on me Alex.

Alex Banayan
Because what I’ve learned is you should do what you can with what you have. You should do what you can with what you have. Now, for most people, look, if you’re listening to this right now, at the very least you have internet access. That’s how you’re listening to this podcast, right?


So, you already have access to YouTube, every podcast out there, and books whether you buy them yourself or you sign up for a library account and rent it on your phone. And when I was first starting out, and I think it’s really important to remember that I didn’t know anyone, I was an 18 year old college student. And my mentors at the time were books. I read Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness, CEO of Zappos and that became my mentor.


I read Pour your Heart Into It by Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks and that became a mentor to me. And in the beginning it was just books. And slowly with time I began to meet the authors of the books by going to author events and then I started cold emailing authors and started meeting them in person.


And of course the dream is for the people you look up to, to be able to help you in real time and real life but you have to start somewhere. And starting with YouTube videos if you’re interested in social media marketing. Type in Gary Vee on YouTube and just go down that rabbit hole if you’re interested in entrepreneurship. There is so much out there.


What happens when you start absorbing yourself very … And I love really going down that rabbit hole when you really absorb people stories is it shows you what’s possible, going back to your question how to do that.


And I think you have to be very proactive in the process because if you’re sitting back at your job or in your classroom, no matter where you are in life, and you’re just taking in the information that’s been given to you, your sense of possibility is very slim and very narrow.


But if you actively push yourself to read things that you normally wouldn’t read, talk to people you normally wouldn’t talk to, your life will never be the same.

Pete Mockaitis
I think we have to address an issue that can just short circuit the magic of that possibility becoming present to you, which is a tendency to, I don’t know what the word is.

Alex Banayan
I’m curious what you’re saying because I have an idea too.

Pete Mockaitis
Is it other, I don’t want to say otherize, but to form a wall or distinction it’s like okay sure, Howard Schultz could do that but he is Howard Schultz, you know? Larry King could do that but he is Larry King and I am not Larry King. 


So, that notion that that person is completely different from me and therefore that possibility is not real, I think that can just kill the magic. So, how do you inoculate yourself from that influence?

Alex Banayan
So, a book I would recommend is called The Magic of Thinking Big. It’s an older book, I think it’s maybe 50, 60 years old. The Magic of Thinking Big, and it’s very good at addressing that issue. 


And something I learned from one of the people who I interviewed is that you want to create a mental bank almost an internal bias of possibility. When I meet people who have that problem in a very severe way, what I recommend them do is do a 30 day challenge of every day for 30 minutes for 30 days in a row, they need to journal for 30 minutes every day on a moment in their life whether at home, at school, at work, where they had a giant obstacle that they overcame.


If you spend 30 minutes, you know even if nothing comes to you for five minutes, something will come to you at some point, and they could be something small. Like literally I was really thirsty and didn’t have any money for a vending machine and I ended up finding, searching the couch cushion, whatever.


It could be silly stuff, it could be big stuff like a health challenge or a relationship challenge. What you’re doing is reprogramming your mind, because I’ll tell you, no one is born thinking they can’t do it. Whether you are aware of it or not, there have been implicit messages and events that have created that outlook within you.


And you have to become proactive in reprogramming your mind. And even going to therapy is a good solution. I’ve been going to therapy once a week for five years now, and it’s really helped me reprogram old stories. 


At the end of the day our life is only as valuable and only as productive as the value and the productivity of the stories we tell ourselves. And it’s up to us to choose which stories we want to live with.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I dig that. So, the journaling about times you’ve overcome obstacles, then reprograms your brain such that when obstacles no longer seem permanent or immovable, it’s like oh, that’s just like those 30 other things that I overcame. All right, well, let’s figure it out.

Alex Banayan
Exactly, exactly. 

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well also, I guess I’m thinking now about … Let’s use some examples of obstacles and overcoming just because if … I think that’s probably the hardest part of the 30 day challenge is your very first day or two it’s like oh, I don’t really know, nothing will come to mind.


Because sometimes I think that conjures up an image of really dramatic stories of I’m thinking of motivational speakers here. I was broke and on drugs and on the streets and all.

Alex Banayan
Right, it doesn’t have to be that dramatic.

Pete Mockaitis
Addicted to everything. But then I pulled myself up and blah, blah, blah. So, it’s like okay. But give some more examples of hey, challenge overcoming. There might be even mundane just to get a start at it.

Alex Banayan
I think what’s really easy is when I tell people when they do have problems finding examples, I always tell them think back to high school because of high school every day we had a different silly challenge that we found and created a solution for whether you didn’t study for a test and you had to cram by creating a last minute study group where you all exchanged resources.


Or for me I remember not, this is a really preposterous situation, but there was a teacher that was the meanest teacher in the school and I got assigned to that teacher on the first day of school. And I realized that I didn’t want my whole year ruined because that teacher is very notorious.


And I ended up just sitting outside of the guidance counselor’s office for six hours doing a sit in until the guidance counselor would meet with me. Literally preposterous silly things even because the point of this exercise is to show you that in all aspects of your life, whether it’s with a romantic partner or with a parent, when you had obstacles you had the skillsets within you to figure it out. 


And what you’re really doing is you’re helping yourself trust yourself more. That’s the difference between confidence and self-confidence. Confidence is external and self-confidence is internal.


What you’re doing is you’re building your internal self-confidence, your trust in yourself of what you’re capable of.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And it’s just so fun. When you were talking about high school, you were bringing back memories to … I thought it would be fun to participate in the musical we did for Grease. 


But I, at the time and still to this day, I’m not really that great in singing. So, then it became clear … I can read the lines. I talk pretty well. And then it was like then we had to singing. So, I remember this guy Jordan who just has an amazing voice, he was like bring him home. Everybody was like wow. It was like all this.


But what I did know is that I had a lot of enthusiasm and there was one tune I thought was deeply embedded within me, I kind of sang to myself at times. So, it was from a commercial and so I just went for it and said it doesn’t matter what comes, fresh goes better in life. With Mentos Fresh and full of life nothing gets to you. Staying fresh, staying cool. So, I’m singing the Mentos commercial.

Alex Banayan
Right, right. 

Pete Mockaitis
And because there was emotion and it’s not that complex of a tune in terms of number of notes and range, I made a decent impression and I got the part, which was modest. I was in Danny Zuko’s crew.

Alex Banayan
Very important, very important.

Pete Mockaitis
And Sunny I believe, yeah, Sunny was his name.

Alex Banayan
Cool leather jackets.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, yeah. I had one line like tell me more, tell me more, could you get me a friend. Which is tricky because it’s a high note, and I didn’t do super well. But I got the part and had some fun, and it really set things up in some cool ways in terms of making some great friends and being engaged with activities and I stuck with it.


So, while I haven’t thought about that in a long, long time, but you brought it up and it was fun to remember. And I do have a greater sense of possibility not so much from a source of oh, I’m getting pumped up because let’s do a motivational program or I have the tiger or whatever.

Alex Banayan
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
But rather it was like oh, that was a real thing that happened. And there was a good result and there can be more of that in my life. It’s powerful.

Alex Banayan
Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Well Alex, good stuff, tell me anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Alex Banayan
I think you’ve really nailed it because when I think of everything we’ve talked about so far has this common theme of really looking within yourself and the answers are in there. And the whole point of the third door is not only to equip people with tools not only to change what they believe is possible but really at the end of the day it’s to liberate yourself because whether it’s at work, whether it’s at home, our real goal is to try to be most us version of us, right? The most you version of you. And the third door is really a mindset to liberate yourself.

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

Alex Banayan
I was reading a book and there was a Warren Buffet quote that I just really loved yesterday that I said we don’t have to be smarter than the competition, we just have to be more disciplined.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Alex Banayan
I really like that.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Alex Banayan
Oh my God, so many. I would say something that comes to mind right now is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. 

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

Alex Banayan
This is a great tool and it’s not a tool. It’s the airplane mode function on a phone. If I want to be productive, there is only one way to do it, by putting my phone on airplane mode. Silence doesn’t work. 


When I’m writing, I will literally not only turn of my phone, I’ll hide it in a drawer on the other side of the room to use my laziness against me.


But if I just want to do something very thoughtfully for even 30 minutes, I have to go on to airplane mode.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Alex Banayan
Meditating twice a day.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you use an app or just breath or what’s your approach?

Alex Banayan
I went to … I use a thing called transcendental meditation, which there’s a lot of teachers all over the world who’ll do these three days workshops. But I really believe any kind of meditation is good as long as it feels good for you.

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

Alex Banayan
Yeah. There’s one quote from the book that I see quoted often, which is when you change what someone believes is possible, you change what becomes possible.

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

Alex Banayan
The book is everywhere. Books are available whether it’s Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Audible. And if you end up getting it, let me know so I can say thank you. Instagram and Twitter are all the same, it’s just @AlexBanayan.

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

Alex Banayan
Great question to end with, yes let me think about that. Let me make that thoughtful. Ask yourself the second, actually no, not the second this is done. Ask yourself some time today where you actually have some time to yourself, what are you the most afraid of at this point in your life right now? Because I think in that answer lies some of your destiny. 

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Alex this has been a treat. Keep on living big possibilities and good luck to you.

Alex Banayan
I am so grateful. This was a ton of fun, thank you.

 

Next: Ron Price talks about becoming an influential leader.

503: How to Get a Meeting with Anyone with Stu Heinecke

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 Stu Heinecke shares unorthodox approaches to win the attention of strangers.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The simple trick to exceeding a 100% response rate
  2. Do’s and don’ts for composing your personal messages
  3. How to turn executive assistants into allies

About Stu:

Dubbed by the American Marketing Association the “Father of Contact Marketing,” Stu Heinecke is a Wall Street Journal cartoonist, hall of fame-nominated marketer and the bestselling author of How to Get a Meeting with Anyone (2016) and Get the Meeting! (10-2019). Stu is also the founder of Cartoonists.org, a group of WSJ and New Yorker cartoonists who donate their art to help charities raise funds.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

 

Stu Heinecke Interview Transcript

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

Stu Heinecke
I am delighted to be here with you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m delighted to have you. We dorked out about AV a good while. But I want to hear about your cartoons. I know it might be hard to pick a favorite, like a favorite child, but is there a particular cartoon that you think is extra hilarious or that you think back and chuckle at your own work years later?

Stu Heinecke
Yeah, there are a bunch of them actually. That’s good as a cartoonist. That’s a good sign. But there is one that is just my favorite and it probably has great relevance to today. So, what it is, it’s this little child, this mischievous little child in the foreground and he’s wiping his arms back and forth, he’s sitting in a high chair but at a table. He’s wiping his arms back and forth and his bowl of cereal is overturned, the cereal is all over the place, and the box of cereal is knocked down. And in the background, his mom is washing the dishes, and she’s turned around, you can see she’s rather tired of this and she’s saying, “Roland, you’re acting like a Democrat.” But it could easily be changed to, and makes as just much sense, to say, “Roland, you’re acting like a Republican.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Stu Heinecke
And, in fact, it’s my favorite because you could put almost anything in there. In fact, if you put all these together next to each other, to me it really illustrates the, well, let’s say at least the futility of politics, particularly today, they’re horrible. They’re just awful today and everyone seems to think that the other one is the worst, and I think it’s all that. It’s just awful.

So, here’s the funny thing or interesting thing about cartoons and humor in general, it’s really about truth revealed with a twist. So, when we laugh at something, we’re often saying, “Oh, my God, that’s so true.” It is like that. I know someone like that. So, it’s actually about truth. And that Roland cartoon is wonderful if you take several versions of it together and put it into one frame, I think it makes all kinds of sense because actually no one’s got a monopoly on the truth.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good point. I think there’s a standup comedian who was talking to his audience in responding to them saying, “It’s so true.” He said, “Yes, it is so true, and that’s why it’s funny.” It is true, hence funny.

Stu Heinecke
That’s it. That’s the whole deal. Yeah, that’s exactly what it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, I want to talk about one of your areas of expertise. You’ve got a couple books about how to get a meeting with anyone and getting that meeting. So, could you maybe open us up with a cool story of maybe someone who was trying something to get a meeting or a series of meetings, having no luck, but then they tried some of your cool approaches and had a transformation?

Stu Heinecke
Oh, man. Well, that’s brings up really two stories to mind. I could either tell you about how I got started with it. A tiny campaign went out and it got amazing results and launched my business. It was worth millions of dollars and it cost me $100, so that’s one. Or the other version would be to tell about Dom Steinmann’s story because Dom was having…I think that’s what I should really tell you because that really directly answers your question.

So, Dom got in touch with me after my first book came out, How to Get a Meeting with Anyone and he was saying, “You know, I’ve just got to share my story. When I was in college, I was recruited by this big late-stage startup in Silicon Valley to work as a sales development rep, and I was thrilled. But then when I got to work and started working with them, well, I found out that their expectation was that we would make 100 phone calls a day, and these were all cold calls.” In other words, they were calls to people that they didn’t know and there was no relationship, there was nothing. They were just calling out of the blue.

And he said that, “Out of a day’s worth of 100 phone calls, you might have one conversation that was even worth having. The rest of them were just slams of the phone.” So, he was telling a friend about this at dinner and lamenting the whole problem, and the friend said, “You know, you ought to get this book How to Get a Meeting with Anyone.” And so, he did. And from there he used what I would call, actually I call it this in the new book, deep personalization as opposed to wide personalization.

So, he started researching the people that he wanted to reach. So, he was still doing the hundred phone calls a day, but then he would research some of the people that he thought would be really worth breaking through to. And so, the first one was a fellow who he discovered through a profile scrape, that is a lot of research of social media profiles and other information that can be found on the web. But what he found was that his target executive was really interested in family, cooking, and technology. So, he ordered an apron, looks like a barbecue apron, and had it embroidered with a Stanley C. Clarke quote, something to the effect that technology, sufficiently advanced, will appear as magic.

So, they had that embroidered on the apron and sent it out. Well, lo and behold, this guy responded right away. And, by the way, this first one was someone that no one in the company, a lot of people had tried to reach him but no one was able to reach him through cold-calling, but by sending that gift, boom, all of a sudden, this fellow actually called back, they had a quick conversation, and they ended up with a six-figure deal pretty quickly.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

Stu Heinecke
And that’s pretty cool. Then his cohorts started realizing, “Oh, my gosh, Dom is getting through, we’re not getting through to anyone. Dom is selling, we’re not selling anything. So, Dom, how are you doing this?” And he told. “Would you help us?” “Sure.”

So, the next example of this was one of his cohorts said, “Okay, I’ve got a guy, another guy that we haven’t been able to reach. Nobody from our company has been able to reach him.” And so, Dom said, “Okay, let’s take a look. Let’s see what’s in his profile.” And what they discovered was that this fellow was really involved in falconry, so they went to a falconry site and talked to the owner, and they said, “What can we give someone who’s really involved in falconry as a gift?” And the fellow said, “This beautiful glove.” In falconry, they used these beautiful ornate gloves so they can hold the bird by the talons and not have their hand mangled.

So, they said, “Great. We’re going to send that, or we’re going to buy that.” And, meanwhile, they downloaded the picture and sent him an email immediately to the prospect to say, “Hi, I’d like to get in touch with you. I just want to let you know I’m sending you this falconry glove. I hope you enjoy it.” Again, this is another person they hadn’t been able to reach at all, no one from the company had been able to reach him, and he said, “Okay. Well, look,” the fellow responded immediately. He said, “Hey, that’s really cool. Thanks so much. But I’m not really a prospect, but thanks anyway.”

Well, then the glove arrives and everything changed. It was a flip moment. Everything changed. he communicated right away to say, “Oh, my God, I just got the glove. This thing is so cool. I’ll tell you what, remember when I told you I’m not a prospect? Well, I’m not, but I know three CIOs who are prospects for what you do, and I’m going to make introductions right now.” Well, he did and another six-figure deal ensued.

So, now the management was saying, “What’s going on down there? What are you doing down there? And who’s responsible for this?” They all pointed to Dom. So, Dom was promoted to sales manager as a result of that. All of a sudden, that company was sold to, I think it was Cisco for $4.7 billion. So, a year out of college, just from reading the book and using contact marketing, Dom went from probably washing out as a sales development rep to becoming a sales manager for a multinational $4.7 billion company.

Pete Mockaitis
Stu, that is an excellent story. You’ve nailed that. Well, thank you. That’s really thought-provoking in a number of dimensions. So, my favorite part of the story was they learned the guy liked falconry, didn’t know what to do with that, so talked to a falconry person, said, “Hey, what’s a cool gift?” He said, “Well, let me show you.” And then that went there. And even though the person wasn’t a prospect, that deep need to reciprocate is there, so he wanted to do something for them, and like, “Hey, I’ve got some introductions.” So, that is really cool.

So, I know a lot of your work is well-received and loved in the sales and marketing communities. I’d love to get a kick out of hearing maybe some examples of folks who were getting meetings outside of sales, like maybe they’re selling themselves, like with regard to getting a job, or maybe they are trying to connect with someone to get some really great advice or information that will help them with what they’re working on at the moment. Any of those tales come to mind?

Stu Heinecke
Well, I think what’s interesting is that, well, I’m now on my second book about this. When I wrote the first one, How to Get a Meeting with Anyone, I thought, “Okay, I’ve got it all done,” which was foolish. “I’ve got 20 categories of contact marketing campaign types. I’m sure this is it.” And as soon as it came out, I heard from all these people who said, “Well, I’ve got another way to do this,” and another way, and another way, and another way.

And so, some of these stories, well, that’s what led to the new book Get the Meeting! but some of the stories had to do with job search. And, in fact, there’s enough of them that it maybe where I go for the next book here’s the thing. We all sell whether we have the word sales in our titles or not. We all sell. I mean, that’s sort of the nature of human existence or how we work together because we need things from each other, and we get those things by selling.

So, I know that there are a lot of uses of visual metaphors like a medical kit, and I’m going to help, and then the copy that goes with it is something about “I’m going to cure some of the things that are…” that’s not a really great example though, because if you’re writing to someone saying, “I’m going to cure what’s wrong with your company,” that may not be the best, message to put out there.

But I’ve used it directly. I’ve used some of my own devices, my own contact devices to help friends to get interviews even though these devices are used generally in sales. And what I mean by that is usually I’ve been using my cartoons my whole career to break through to people I should never be able to break through to, or at least that’s they way it felt, maybe I should because I have.

So, I’ve worked with, well, my sister, for one, who told me once, actually she was applying for a job, it was a sales job, and she was a little worried about whether she’d get it. And one of the things she said was, “They’re going to ask me to do cold calls. I’m not really very comfortable with them.” And I said, “Well, I’m glad you called me because I love doing them because I’m talking about sending cartoons out first and it’s almost like an ambush. I love doing them. Why don’t we try this? Why don’t we just use one of my,” I call them big boards, or an 18×24 quarter inch thick foam cardboard. So, one side there’s a cartoon about the recipient, in this case the person she was interviewing with. And on the other side there’s a message from the sender to the recipient explaining why they should meet or why something should go forward.

And in Christine’s case, my sister, we created a message on that side that talk about how much she wanted to work with them and look forward to the next interview. So, that was delivered. It’s packaged in some really interesting corrugated cardboard packing with cartoon art all over it and it get sent by FedEx, and so that was delivered. And she got the job. She got the next interview obviously, but she got the job. When she came in, the big board was up over her new boss’ desk, and it blasted her right through.

And I know others have just used, I mean, we can also use the same trick, the personalized cartoon, on a card, just a little greeting card. One of my friends borrowed one of those things from me and got a job as well. So, I just think there’s such great parallels between sales and getting jobs. Even if you’re not in the sales field, you’re still selling, and the outcomes and the methods are still the same.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, as you’re going through these stories, I’m reminded of a story in which I was working with someone to prep for some interviews, and he told me, “Oh, man, I’ve been doing everything to try and get the interview with McKinsey & Company,” which is a selective strategy consulting firm. And he sent them a birthday cake for the whole office on his birthday, and said, “It’s my birthday, and all I want is to work for McKinsey & Company.” And that was actually effective in terms of like, “All right. We’re going to have a look at your resume closely. Sure enough, you have earned an interview,” and then he took it from there, so that’s cool to see in action.

And we talked about the medical kit, right now my wheels are turning, like I’ve got one of my favorite tools is a ratcheting multibit screwdriver. It’s just so elegantly wonderful. And so, if you say, “Hey, I can cure the problems.” It’s like, well, you fix the problem with the tool. And so that’s cool. Well, maybe we could zoom out a little bit and talk about this process. So, you call this whole approach contact marketing. So, can you maybe define that term and the steps and the process for us?

Stu Heinecke
Yeah. Well, contact marketing is, the definition of it is a fusion of marketing and selling that uses microfocus campaigns to produce contact with high-level, high-value prospects and accounts. So, roughly, that’s the definition of it. Well, I can tell you though, when I first started out, although I used contact marketing to launch my business, my business was I was creating direct mail campaigns a long time ago for publishers, for magazine publishers.

And in the direct marketing field, I used to hear that people used to say 1% response rate was pretty common, pretty standard, although there’s really no such number. I mean, it’s like there is no common or standard number, but let’s use 1% for a moment. If you look at lots of forms of other kinds of marketing, let’s say digital marketing, you find that response rates are at the thousandths of a percent so it’s really quite low. In contact marketing, these response rates are going as high as 100%. That’s pretty bizarre.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s as high as it gets.

Stu Heinecke
Well, no. Actually, I found one that was getting 300% to 400%.

Pete Mockaitis
Like referrals and like trial stuff? Oh, wow.

Stu Heinecke
Exactly. Yeah, it was so astonishing the thing that he was giving out that it was being shared, and then that sharing ended up pulling more people into the campaign and more responses to the campaign.

Pete Mockaitis
What was that thing? Now, I’ve got to know.

Stu Heinecke
Well, it relates to something I wrote about in the book called pocket campaigns, it’s a replacement of business cards. And so, I was studying, I was looking for what are the coolest business cards out there, because we’ve all gotten cards that you got them, you say, “Whoa! Oh, my God, I didn’t realize a business card could be like this, and that’s just so cool.”

Well, one of those stories was this fellow who had his card printed on sheet rubber, it’s still the same standard size of a business card, 2 inches by 3.5 inches, but it’s this real thin sheet of gum rubber, it was a tan rubber. And before they printed it, they put it on a jig so it was stretched on a jig, then they printed the contact details. And once the ink had dried, they take it off the jig and, of course, that would mean that when it returned to its regular shape, that meant that all of the details that were just printed now got squeezed together.

He told me that He’d go out to a pub, and he’d get into conversations with people at the bar, and they’d say, “What do you do?” “And what do you do?” And they’d eventually exchange business cards. So, out comes his floppy little business card, it’s like an ambush this floppy little business card as they’re exchanging cards. And the recipient is saying, “Wow, what’s that?” They grab it on both ends and stretch it just naturally because otherwise you can’t read it.

Well, then it reveals it’s Poul Nielsen’s card. He’s a fitness trainer. And guess what? He already has you exercising. Then they would say, “Oh, my gosh, can I keep this?” “Sure, yeah.” So, they keep it and they’d bring it. They kept it in their pockets probably. They brought it to the office and just anywhere they could talk to someone, they’d be saying, “Hey, you’ve got to check out this business card I just got from this guy.” They’d show it, pull it out, the person would stretch it automatically, “Just look at that. He’s a fitness trainer and he already has you exercising.” And they’d have a good laugh and they’d say, “Wait a minute. I want to write down this guy’s number.”

And so, this is stunning because Poul said every time he would hand out a business card, he would get three or four new clients. That’s a stunning result from a business card because usually they’re thrown away. I have cool ones. They have cartoons all over them and so on. I have never handed someone a business card and gotten a sale because of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, that’s so cool. So, that’s what a pocket campaign is then is something that you can put into your pocket. Any other examples of things that you can put in your pocket in a card format?

Stu Heinecke
Well, yeah, the pocket campaign. They’re a little bit more involved than just having a cool business card, or, really, I should say an involvement device. Poul’s stretching card is an involvement device. It’s an invitation to play. And from there, as marketers, we would then include a jump offer, something that pulls people to a webpage where we can set a tracking pixel, and then from there we run a remarketing ad or retargeting ad just like any. If that term is not familiar, it’s what’s happening whenever you go to, let’s say, the L.L. Bean site and you’d shop for shoes and then you leave, and then those ads start showing up wherever you go on the web about L.L. Bean shoes.

Well, you can actually do that. That actually is part of the pocket campaign model. But for job search, I would think you could just use the first part of it, just an engagement device. Still something you pull out of your pocket, it’s just like a business card, but it’s totally different from the other cards because other cards generally it’s trying to make us look important and fancy almost. I don’t know. With gold, with foil stamping, and embossing, or maybe they’re engraved on bamboo or metal or carbon fiber, it’s all meant to make us look impressive and it doesn’t work. It’s not working. But the cards that are actually involvement devices do.

So, here’s another example. One of the people that I’ve interviewed for the book has a card that is stamped metal. So, it’s credit card size piece and the stamping knockout cutouts so that the piece actually operates as a multitool, if that makes sense. The cutouts in different size wrenches.

Pete Mockaitis
Screwdrivers and bottle opener.

Stu Heinecke
Yeah, bottle opener. But it’s actually meant to be used on bikes to repair them out in the wild. And this card was for the owner of a bike repair shop. So, there were no logos on it or anything like that. It just had his name and his contact details stamped on the piece but it was this device that bike users or bike riders would say, “That’s really cool. I love that. I’m going to keep that in my wallet, keep it with me wherever I go because I just never know when I might need to use that.”

And so, that’s a great example of a pocket campaign or, let’s say, at least the engagement device portion of a pocket campaign. I think that you could use all kinds of things for pocket campaigns and for engagement devices that could be terrific for jobs. I remember a comedian had a really cool one, it was a flipbook. I don’t know, do you remember flipbooks?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Stu Heinecke
So, it’s a bound stack of cards actually and on each card was a facial expression of lots of different pictures of this fellow who was a comedian. And when you flip the book really quickly and you flip those pages really quickly, his face changes really quickly and it’s really funny. And it’s a great metaphor for what it is that he can provide in terms of value up on stage. That would be a great card to use in a job search, I would think.

I think all of these would actually be a terrific way. I mean, the multitool could be a great way of saying, again, without saying “You’re broken” to the business owner, “I’ve got the tools to help you succeed,” something alone those lines. I mean, there’s a metaphor there, and you can use that in your note.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Thank you. Well, we have so much fun with these stories. We’ve got a process here that starts with a research, and can you walk us through this?

Stu Heinecke
Well, yeah, I guess the first thing you need to do is you better find out who it is you want to reach, so that would be step number one. And then once you do that, or while you’re doing that anyway, you’ve got to create something, some sort of device that’s going to get you through. So, this could be something tangible that you send, we’ve talked about a bunch of these already. The pocket campaigns are all tangible pieces, the cartoon pieces, and so on. But it can also be, “Well, look, we’re doing a podcast together.” Podcasts are a great device for connecting with people, aren’t they?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Stu Heinecke
You get to connect with a lot of really interesting, I’ll not putting myself in there, but you get to connect with a lot of really interesting people. And so, a podcast or I guess we should just broaden it out to some form of media exposure is really nice. There are even interesting ways to use email to break through if you time it correctly. Most of the people that are, I should say, important people who are very busy are pretty tough to reach using email during the week.

But what if you waited until early Saturday morning before they got their weekend started because I know that executives, many executives, and let’s just go all the way up to the CEOs, they get up early, and before they start up their weekend activities, they check their email and they get a little bit of work done. Or at the end of the weekend, Sunday evening, when they’re preparing for the week ahead, also a great time to reach out to someone who’s generally really well-guarded by executive assistants and you can break through.

And there are great examples of things that are done that are way, way, way over the top that are some of my favorite stories but they’re expensive. One person used a, I guess this wasn’t expensive. Someone sent a pigeon to, I can’t say the name, I’m restricted from saying the name, but he’s no longer with us, he was probably the most famous CEO in the world at the time, he’s really tough to get through to.

And so, someone sent a pigeon in a box with airholes and handwritten notes, and sent it to this fellow and said, “You know, I’ve been trying to reach you. I’ve tried everything I can think of. I’ve been talking to your engineering department. They love my solution but purchasing won’t talk to me so I’ve sent you faxes and emails and letters, I’ve called. I’ve done everything I could think of and, really, this is my last resort. So, if you would, inside the box, there’s a pigeon. And on the pigeon’s leg is a capsule, and in the capsule is a little slip of paper. And so, if you take that out and write the name of your favorite restaurant, and the date and time, and then release the pigeon, actually put it back in the capsule first, of course. Release the pigeon. I’ll meet you there.”

And it actually worked. And they had lunch and the fellow walked out of that meeting with a $250 deal, sorry, $250,000. So, there are just all kinds of ways of breaking through and they can be non-tangible or tangible. I think the one thing, the one caution I would throw out there is that if you’re only reaching out on social media, I don’t think that that one, if you connect with someone on LinkedIn, for example, that one action alone is not enough to actually create a relationship, and you’ve got to do more than that to actually show up on their radar screens, so to speak.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then we’ve got the research, and then we’ve got the intriguing device there. I guess I’m curious a little bit about the research phase and the crafting of that ideal message. So, you mentioned that you’ve checked out their social media profiles. And how do you go about building up that profile so you have that hunch for what would be ideal for them?

Stu Heinecke
Well, you know, I have a great shortcut. There is a new company out there called Seamless.AI. And Seamless is an AI-powered search engine that produces dossiers on anyone. And, in fact, you can sign up for a free account and get 100, I think it’s 100, but maybe it’s 50, but we’ll call it 100 free searches. And so, it uses AI to just scour everything to find out all of the person’s contact details, so their email address, their phone number, their address, and then a lot about what it is they’re interested in, and you can do that in seconds. That’s pretty cool.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog, yeah.

Stu Heinecke
Makes it kind of easy, or I guess you can comb the news and just be observant and watch for stories about people who are doing interesting things, somebody you might want to work with or for, those are   great too, so you’ll see them in the news and so forth. There are lots of ways. I think there are actually lots of ways to find the people. But if you’re going to job search, I guess you probably have some idea of what it is you want a job to be and then where maybe the best places are to have that sort of career, so you got to start there I suppose. But then you can also use, for example, Seamless and other tools to find out how to reach them and what it is they’re involved with.

You really do want to know something about these people because, when you reach out, there are a bunch of things you need to consider. One is you really want to humanize yourself. We’ve been talking about ways to do that. I think using a lot of these techniques does personalize you because it causes you to stand out or humanize yourself. But then you also want to be careful about how the messages are crafted because they really need to be highly personal. And you might be saying, “I noticed in the Forbes article last month that you were quoted in, that you said this.” So, you know something about them. And if they’re saying something, then you’re paying attention to what that is, and maybe that’s what you’re responding to as your reason for reaching out to them.

I think the last thing, we’re creating sort of a list here so I don’t want to use the word last, but the thing you want to avoid is you don’t want to sound promotional I think. You don’t want to sound like you’re talking at them. You want to sound like you’re one person connecting with another because that’s actually what it is. But you wouldn’t be saying, “Hey, so-and-so, if you contact me within the next 10 minutes, you’re going to get a freebie or something,” and that’s very promotional and is very off-putting in one of these messages.

In fact, personal goes far. It reaches, I guess, one of the ways to make that message personal would be to actually write it up by hand. And, in fact, a lot of the really successful campaigns or contact campaigns that I’ve written about and found in my research they’ve included handwritten messages. So, you’ve got to be relevant and timely. And I think another really big consideration is you really got to be respectful of their time. So, if you happen to be reaching out to the CEO of a company, keep your message really short and succinct. Don’t ask them to wade through a lot of detail.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And I also want to hear, are there maybe any key phrases that we should avoid entirely? So, you mentioned in particular the super promotional type stuff. I don’t know about you but when I read an email that starts with, “Just following up,” that kind of turns me off.

Stu Heinecke
That’s true. Yeah, “Just checking in.” That’s true.

Pete Mockaitis
And I understand that is what you’re doing, and it’s honest, you’re calling a spade a spade, but that just already reminds me that either through my negligence or by willful decision-making I have ignored your previous communication. So, that one doesn’t do it for me. I don’t know if it’s a personal for me or if that’s kind of universally discouraged. Any things that you would point out, like, “Don’t say this”?

Stu Heinecke
Well, I think I would avoid the use of the word free at all cost because it just sounds like a promotion. But I love what you just suggested there about, “Well, I’m just checking in.” It’s easy enough to go and find something of interest so that when you’re reaching out, you’re not just saying, “I’m checking in,” because that’s wasting their time. Or maybe you’re saying, “Yeah, in fact, I enjoyed this article,” or, “I was at an event last week or last month, an industry event, and I wanted to share with you a couple of impressions because I think they’ll have an impact on your business,” something like that. At least you’re offering value instead of just, “Hey, I’m just checking in,” because I don’t think those ever lead anywhere or lead anywhere good.

Similar to that, maybe, “Pick your brain.” I don’t know that anyone wants their brains picked, you know, “Hey, let’s go out for lunch and I’d love to pick your brain.” Well, why? Perhaps the person on the other end of that sells what’s in their brain, I’m sure they do, but maybe they’re consultants, who knows, or they could be the CEO of a company, they’re paid thousands of dollars a minute. And so, why are they going to allow you to take them to lunch to pick their brain? It’s sort of uncompensated work on their part.

I think, just in general though, it really has…I think that if you are doing a lot of talking about yourself, I mean, I guess you’ve got to tell a little bit about yourself, but if you’re doing a lot of talking about yourself and not about the person that you’re reaching out to and why you want to reach out to them and perhaps how you think you can help them, then I think the whole message is probably off.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, this is a great lineup. Stu, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Stu Heinecke
Well, yeah, maybe one thing. Executive assistants are, that’s kind of an interesting thing. They’re usually thought of as simply a barrier to the person that people are trying to reach. And here’s the thing, I mean, a lot of salespeople, and I know your audience isn’t sales-oriented, but still I think there are great parallels here.

So, a lot of salespeople will ask me, or they’ll say, “I’m looking for a way to circumvent the executive assistant. How do I do that?” And my response is, “You don’t want to do that at all. You want to involve the executive assistant. You should be thinking of them as VPs of access or talent scouts. You need to plan your call, your communication with the executive assistant as part of your campaign.” So, it might be helpful to give an example. Would that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure, yeah.

Stu Heinecke
So, when we send our big boards around, and let’s say I might use the same thing, and my clients use these as well. So, when I’m using it, I get to say to the executive assistant, “Hi, I’m Stu Heinecke. I’m one of the Wall Street Journal cartoonists. And I’m sending a print of one of my cartoons, it’s about your boss.” Well, that’s just a handful of words but already the executive assistant is leaning into the phone saying, “Wait, what? What did you just say?” because it’s about their boss, and it’s a cartoon by a well-known cartoonist, in a well-known venue, and this cartoon happens to be about their boss so, of course, they’re interested in pursuing the conversation further.

And so, I finish that by saying, “So, I want it to be a surprise to your boss but I don’t want it to be a surprise to you. Would you mind if I send you an email?” “Sure,” usually that’s the response. “Sure, of course.” “Okay. Can I get your email address? Great. And how do you spell your name? Great.” Now I’ve got executive assistants spelling of their name, their email address, and of course I know how to reach them. And then I’ll often follow up with a card. I have cards that I can produce really quickly, a cartoon about the executive assistant and it’s just a quick handwritten note, saying, “Thank you so much for your help on the phone. Greatly appreciate it.” And I sign it, “Stu.”

And then I also ask, “When the big board has a FedEx tracking number, would you mind if I get in touch with that as well?” And they usually will say, “No, not at all.” So, then what I have is, you know, I’ve got the initial phone call, I’ve got an email that went out right afterward, I have a card, and then another email with the FedEx tracking number. I’ve got four touches with the executive assistant before I ever even ask to speak to the person I was actually trying to reach.

So, I think that’s an important point. Executive assistants, they’re amazing. They’re probably some of the sharpest people in their companies. And if you’re talking to the executive assistant to the CEO, that person is really on equal footing, they wouldn’t agree but if you think about it from our standpoint as the person calling in, they’re actually on equal footing with the rest of the C-suite members because they report directly to the CEO. They probably have more dealings with the CEO than all the other C-level people.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a great perspective.

Stu Heinecke
So, they’re incredible people and you really need to embrace them and look for ways to, I guess, just involve them in your campaign and recruit them to become an ally in your campaign.

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

Stu Heinecke
I knew you were going to ask me that so there’s one that just cracks me up.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it.

Stu Heinecke
It’s by Winston Churchill, and he said, and of course I can’t do his voice, but, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” I think that’s a great one.

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

Stu Heinecke
This goes back a few years. When I was a student at USC at Stanford, there was, I think it was at Stanford, there was a study happening with a gorilla named Koko. Have you ever heard of Koko?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Stu Heinecke
So, you know what it is. So, the researchers thought, “Let’s see if we can teach Koko American sign language.” And, in fact, it worked so well that Koko was inventing words. She wanted yogurt, she hadn’t been taught the sign word for yogurt, so she put together flower and sauce, she asked for flower sauce.

Pete Mockaitis
Huh.

Stu Heinecke
And then another time. She wanted a pet, a pet cat. So, they said, “Well, let’s try it.” And she took care of that cat and was really wonderful to the cat. So, I think that’s one of my favorite ones. Isn’t that interesting that gorillas, I guess just animals in general perhaps, don’t get the credit they deserve for their intelligence and emotional awareness.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Stu Heinecke
Just for fun I think my favorite book is probably Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, and that’s going back a-ways. But I love the writing of Tom Robbins. His writing is just so inventive and, for me, it’s inspiring. But for business, I would say Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen, which is an interesting dilemma because businesses that are market leaders, generally they go out of business.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Stu Heinecke
It could be something that I use in business like I mentioned Seamless.AI and there are other AI tools like x.ai that is an AI assistant that sets up appointments for you. I love using Zoom for calls. And Spiro.ai is another one. It’s a CRM program with a layer of AI attached as well.

But if we were just talking about literally a tool, I’m thinking the tool I was telling you about, the ones that are credit card size, they’ve got different punchouts so that they can function as a ruler, I guess it’s not a punchout, but a ruler, a bottle opener, a letter opener, a wrench, and so forth. I think those things are really cool because they’re working their way into a lot of my clients’ pocket campaigns right now. So, maybe that’s my favorite tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And a favorite habit?

Stu Heinecke
You know, I think the one thing that I think could make a lot of difference in everyone’s lives is if everyone was scrupulously on time. When you say you’re going to call at 2:00, you call right at 2:00. You don’t call at 2:02, you don’t call at 2:07. Because when you do that, it shows disrespect for the person’s time. And I think maybe that’s one of the nicest story or strongest compliments, certainly the strongest signal you can put out to someone that you want to connect with, that you respect their time. So, be on time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and as you say that, it even seems kind of fun, like I can watch the clock as the seconds tick away, and then push sort of like the last number of the phone number, like at the second that it turns to that minute mark. And it leaves an impression, it’s like, “Oh, okay. Here you are.”

Stu Heinecke
Yeah, it’s respectful and we’re talking about jobs here, so it says you’re dependable. It’s you do what you say you’re going to do.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a key nugget you share that really seems to get requoted frequently back to you?

Stu Heinecke
Well, perhaps. I have a headline that I use in my ads for my two books, How to Get a Meeting with Anyone and Get the Meeting! and that headline is, “One meeting can change everything.” And I believe that. And, in fact, when we look back on, all of us, when we look back on our lives, the things that have sprung us forward, that have been advances in our lives and in our careers, have all probably come from meetings or connecting with someone. So, that would probably be my favorite one, “One meeting can change everything.”

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

Stu Heinecke
Well, you could buy the book, that would be nice. And you can connect with me on LinkedIn. Just find me, my name is Stu Heinecke. And if you mention that you heard us talking on this podcast, that would be a big help and I’d know where you’re coming from, and I’m happy to connect. And I think, finally, I also run a podcast, it’s a weekly podcast called How to Get a Meeting with Anyone podcast. And I’m delighted to be talking to people who keep sharing these crazy things that they’ve been doing to get meetings.

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

Stu Heinecke
Well, I would say that find new ways to connect with people and build your network because that’s going to have a big effect on the scale of your career and your life. So, I would say find people that are, you think, not accessible, not someone that you could reach, and challenge yourself to go out and do it, and you’d be really surprised. You will connect with a lot of these people.

Pete Mockaitis
Stu, this has been a ton of fun. Please keep up the good work.

Stu Heinecke
Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate it.

498: Nourishing the Relationships That Nourish You with Dr. John Townsend

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Dr. John Townsend says: "You need people just like they need you."

Dr. John Townsend discusses how to build the relationships that keep you motivated and productive.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The one need leaders often ignore
  2. How to engage in nourishing conversations
  3. The five relationships you need in your life—and the two to prune

About John:

Dr. John Townsend is a nationally-known leadership consultant, psychologist, and New York Timesbestselling author. John is the founder of the Townsend Institute, Leadership and Counseling, and the Townsend Leadership Program, which is a a a  nationwide system of leadership training groups. He developed the online digital platform TownsendNOW and the online assessment tool TPRAT. Dr. Townsend travels extensively for corporate consulting, speaking, and helping develop leaders, their teams and their families.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Dr. John Townsend Interview Transcript

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

Dr. John Townsend
Thanks, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we’re going to be talking a lot about people fuel and being empty, being full, and the nutrients, so I’d love it if you could kick us off by maybe sharing an inspiring story of someone who really made a transformation here and what that looked like in practice.

Dr. John Townsend
I’d be glad to. Now, it’s a little long but not too long, but it’s like over 30 seconds. Is that okay?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ll take it. Absolutely.

Dr. John Townsend
This person was a business owner, he owned a business he started. And he said, “You know, I’m getting ready to sell the business and it’s been successful. I’ve got a really good marriage and I kind of want to go to phase two, maybe a few more years in this program, but somebody said that you can kind of optimize leaders. And I just wanted to know if there’s anything else. I like golf but I don’t want to do it every day. I like work but I don’t want to do it 70 hours a week and all that.

So, I flew over and we had a day, and I do an analysis with the leader where I talk about, “What’s your vision? What’s your mission? What’s your strategy in life? What’s your strategy in business? Where do you want to go?”

And I said, “Now, let me get to know you and your relational context because that’s important.” And he said, “Oh, I got lots of relationships, no problem there.” And I said, “Well, tell me about your relationships.” And he said, “Gosh, I’ve got people I’m mentoring, and people I’m guiding and leading and developing, and people that report to me. And I’ve got great relationships.”

And I said, ”Now, that’s great. But I’m struck by the fact that all those relationships are outgoing relationships. It’s you outsourcing them with your wisdom and help and mentoring and leading.”

So, he said, “Isn’t that what leaders are supposed to do? We’re supposed to be givers.” And I said, “Yeah, but you wouldn’t treat your car that way. I mean, sooner or later your car is going to be at the gas tank and you’re going to have to give some fuel to drag your car. So, what about people that are inputting to you as well?” And he said, “Oh, yeah, yeah. My wife, she’s great. She listens to my insecurities, she’s a safe person, she’s there to encourage me. And, also, my Labrador Retriever, Max, and he’s there for me, never judges me.” And I said, “Well, that’s good. We need a spouse that’s supportive with our fears and insecurities, I’m a dog person too.” I said, “But I would consider you in the relationally-deficit category.”

And he kind of got a little upset about this, he said, “No, I got lots of friends.” And I said, “Yes, you do. Yes, you do. But you don’t have a lot of people that you need. And I don’t mean need for, ‘Give me a ride to the store,’ or, ‘Let me borrow a couple of sugars.’ You don’t have a lot of people that need in the way that when you need encouragement, wisdom, somebody to be there, somebody to challenge you.” And he said, “Well, maybe I don’t, but that feels selfish.” And about this time the wife came in, who was listening, and she goes, “Joe, you better listen to this guy because I really don’t like being the only person you can talk to.”

And I said, “Joe, she’s right.” I mean, the way the neuroscience works. It says we got to have more people in our tank. And I said, “You know, your spouse is a little overwhelmed. She’s a nice person but she’s not everything. And, by the way, your dog is genetically engineered to lick your face and be nice to you because he won’t eat otherwise so you need more.”

And he said, “What am I supposed to do?” I said, “You need a life team,” and that’s a concept in the book. You need three to ten people who love work like you do, but also want to self-improve. And when there’s a time for a challenge, you can have that eight-minute windshield wiper call or you can have a dinner with, and you’re not always mentoring and guiding and developing these people. You’re being vulnerable with them and they’re being vulnerable with you. You’re talking about what’s really and truly in reality going on and take the leadership hat off, and that’ll change everything.”

He said, “Nah, that just sounds like kind of touchy feely and it sounds like I’m being too weak.” I said, “Well, give these people a chance because my hunch is that when you tell people, ‘I’d like to have some more relationships because I tend to be the giver, and all I got is my wife and my dog,’ they will say to you, ‘I am honored to be on your life team. You’ve always given to me, you’ve always mentored me, you spend so many hours with me on my business, on my marriage, on my parenting, sign me up.’” And he did it, and he came back, and he said, “I could not believe the response and it’s great.”

So, that’s kind of the catalyzing story of the model here, is that what I tell leaders. What I really tell leaders is, “You need to need. You need to need other people and it’s not being selfish. And here’s how to do it. And here’s what the research says. People, and especially leaders, that don’t have a lot of long-term vulnerable relationships, you don’t need a lot because you don’t have much time, but if you don’t have a few of these life team people, you’ll end up with worse problems and performance in your business, more health problems, stress problems, that and the like, more psychological-emotional problems, and a higher mortality rate so it’s not even touchy feely, “Oh, go to HR and talk about it.” It’s really hard science that says, “We all need it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m a huge believer of that, absolutely.
I’ve got a men’s group, or however you call it, or slice it, or arrange it, I think it’s absolutely huge to be able to kind of share those things. So, I like it, you sort of have broken down the particular things we need into what you call relational nutrients. And I understand you’ve identified 22 of them, that’s a lot. So, could you maybe share with us what are the most essential and maybe the most overlooked for professionals in particular?

Dr. John Townsend
A coaching client of mine said the same thing. He said, “That’s a lot. Can you do two categories?” And I thought, “Yeah, everybody’s busy.” So, let me give you the four categories.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Dr. John Townsend
Much more palatable. The 22 are arranged, there’s five or six in each category. The first one is be present. And be present to a leader means sometimes you’ve got shut up and listen. Now, we leaders love to talk, and we got nuggets of wisdom and all that, and that’s great. But sometimes that’s not what a person needs, and sometimes that’s not what you need.

What we found out is that there’s so much research about a person just being empathetic and authentic, and saying, “I get you. Tell me more about it.” Instead of three pieces of advice and fixing and fixing and fixing, just saying, “I’m here and you can vent to me and you can tell me whatever you need to tell me, how you’re feeling, and I’m not going to preach at you now. I’m just going to tell you I’m your friend.” And you keep eye contact if you’re face to face. If you’re digital, you keep connected, and say, “I’m with you.”

And we found out that there’s so much for a person to get, “I didn’t need three steps to solve my problem. I can solve my problem by just knowing you don’t judge me and you’re my friend and I can be as messy as I want.” People come out feeling like they’ve lost 30 pounds and they’re motivated. Be present.

The second one is to convey the good. Sometimes we’re down. You know, work is stressful, business is stressful, life is stressful, family is stressful. Sometimes we need somebody, when we’re discouraged, overwhelmed, just to say, “I believe in you and I want to encourage you. You’re doing the right thing. And I got a lot of respect for you. And I got like hope for your business to change in this turn it’s having, or your family to change.” It’s sort of like a little shot of Prozac, where somebody just says, “I know you’re down, and I know you don’t believe in yourself right now, but I believe in you, and I see reality there.” That’s convey the good.

The third one is deliver reality. And reality means sometimes we don’t need just people being present with us, or people just encouraging us. We also need like a Yoda, somebody to say, “Hey, why is that happening? Let me tell you some research I saw and here’s some information. Kind of give me the data.” Sometimes we do need data, wisdom, insight, perspective from somebody that really has been down there, and is a deeper person, like Simon Sinek’s great TED Talk about the power of why. People can help us with the why that we’re having some challenge.

And then the fourth one is call to action. And call to action means, you know, businesses and life and leadership changes when we get off our butt to do something. So, sometimes it means, “I want to challenge you to take this step. I know you’re afraid to, I don’t know, make this change in your business, or confront this person, or do this restructuring, or have this tough conversation with a person in your culture, whatever.”

But we call, sometimes, people to action, say, “Listen, there’s something we got to do. I know you’re getting it but you’ve got to do a tough scary thing right now.” And every week, we need people being present with us, conveying the good, delivering reality, calling us to action. And also, as leaders, we need to deliver those nutrients to other people, and I promise you, the people that you’re responsible to take care of, they need them as well.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you talk about these people, are you envisioning that you recruit them from all over? They could be colleagues, they could be friends, they could be related to you.

Dr. John Townsend
You mean for the life team?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Dr. John Townsend
I was speaking about giving the nutrients also to your directs, to your workers, to your children, to your spouse. So, the ones we give those things to, that’s just everybody we feel like we’re with. But in terms of that special three to ten people life team, the way I work that out, Pete, is I always like to start with the blue sky. Okay, what’s perfect? What’s ideal? And the blue sky would be those people who are all in some, you know, drive a distance, a view. You all get together for, I don’t know, lunch once a week, or dinner, and you just kind of talk about how life is going and the challenges, and you give each other grace and truth and support, and that’s great.

Now, I don’t have that because I’ve got people in my life team, a couple of them are in other parts of the country, don’t even know each other but I kind of went for the quality. So, we stay in touch when I’m in town, or they’re in town, or Skype, or texting. Texting is wonderful. Texting is very, very connecting. People say texting doesn’t work with connection but it really does. You could be very encouraged and encouraging with a text.

And so, like in my situation, some of them are in a group that I’m in, and some of those are just people that I know are high-quality people. So, for some people, their life team is going to be maybe people that they know that aren’t getting together. And for some people it’s going to be, “Yeah, I assemble a group of five people that said we’re going to get together twice a month and really dig into personal growth as well as professional growth, and it’s kind of transformational.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you are engaging in these conversations with folks, I’m curious, is there a particular set of things that you always like to cover or kind of prompts or questions, or is there any kind of structure or agenda, or is it just kind of like letting her rip?

Dr. John Townsend
Well, there’s certainly a let her rip because if we’ve got too much structure, people get more into the, “Okay, it’s 2:15. We didn’t read this book yet,” and then they don’t do what they need to do. There’s got to be a place where there is a reasonable structure but also there’s room to veer off the structure when people say, “Look, I’ve got a 911. I’m a mess here. My kid is on drugs,” or, “I’ve got a big cashflow problem.”

So, what I always recommend is the ideal would be 90 minutes. People are busy. And that 90 minutes kind of a check-in, “Let’s just go around the circle. How is everybody doing? What’s your wins and what’s your challenges?” And then sometimes people say, “Well, I want to study a book from John Maxwell, or Brene Brown, or Jim Collins, or something,” and they’ll tell you a chapter of the book, and that’s fine. And then people will also say, “I’d like to talk about it but I’d like to talk about what I’m learning.” So, it’s what’s called the content piece. You’ve got the check-in, “How’s everybody doing? Do you have a content piece?”

And then I think what’s really good is to say, “Okay, we’ve got 45 minutes to go, let’s talk about what’s really going on.” And people do a deeper dive. People come away going, “I learned something, I felt like I’m caught up with these people I care about. And also, on a personal growth level, I could be vulnerable and I don’t feel like I’m judging myself, and I feel like people are with me in the next week that I have.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when it comes to these people, you’ve sort of given some names of different roles to folks, the seven Cs. Can you give us the rundown of that?

Dr. John Townsend
Yeah. Because people say, “Hey, where can I get these people?” So, the seven Cs are if you look at the four quadrants of relational nutrients, I look at them like the way I look at bio-nutrients. In fact, that’s where I got the idea because we all need calcium when we get bone problems. We all need iron when we get blood problems. So, I thought, “Okay, there’s bio-nutrients but there’s also relational nutrients.” I trademarked the term because it’s so valuable for me that we need to get those things back and forth to each other just like we do calcium and iron, but not with a pill but with a conversation.

So, the seven Cs are who has those relational nutrients and what level from a nutrient-rich person to a nutrient-deficient person. And it goes like this, the first level is coaches. Coach is the highest level of nutrient-rich because they know some things, you hire them, or they’re pro bono or whatever, because of their expertise in business, or leadership, or personal growth, or spiritual growth, or self-help, or parenting, or whatever. And they don’t need you to be their buddy, they’re there to coach you, so it’s all about you.

Second level is what’s called comrades. Those are the people that are your brothers and sisters-in arms, like they go through life together, and you want to help each other to be the best person you can be, and that’s kind of like that life team concept I mentioned. Very mutual, very honest, and very safe. Third level is casuals. We all need people in our life that we just sort of stop and smell the roses with. Maybe you go make a friend out of somebody whose kids are at your soccer game and you like them, or you see somebody at a community meeting, and you all get together. And not really a life team member, a comrade, but really sort of a nice positive person. They’re also a farm team for the life team because you might think, “You know, this person is into self-improvement, being better, being a better leader. Maybe we need to talk.”

Next level is colleagues because so much of life is about work and we need people who are, even if you can’t pick who you work with, if you owned the business you can, but if you don’t and you get assigned those people, either way they’re going to have three qualities. They’ve got to be really good at what they do and competent,. They’ve got to be also relational people, really good relationally. And third, they’ve got be able to work on teams well. And you always push for that as much as you can get to get the best out of those relationships as you can.

Next level is care. And care are those people who are without. You know, there’s people in developing countries that have nothing and we’ve been given a lot, and leaders have a responsibility to be on board, to go to trips to serve, and also to mentor young professionals that are just starting out and need somebody to tell them how to do a SWOT analysis and how to start up a marketing campaign. So, we’re supposed to help other people. That’s care.

The next one is chronics. And chronics, I’ve been in California, I raised the kids here in California, but in the beginning of my life, I was from the South. And we have a phrase in the South called “Bless her heart,” and “Bless her heart” means they’re kind of a hot mess all the time. They have chronic problems with money, and their job, and their marriage, and their kids, and their friend. They just are always in trouble.

And we spend a lot of time with these people, supporting them and having lunch with them, giving them advice and all sort of thing. But the only problem with chronics, bless their heart, and they’re not mean people, they’re nice people, is that they have what I call from psychology a flat-learning curve. They don’t take any insight from the homework you give or the advice. They keep making the same mistakes over again. It’s chronic. And we tend to give a whole lot of time to those people.

And then the last category is contaminant, and they’re those dangerous people. I mean, people that should be in prison and people who have serious character disorders that they want to destroy your business and your family, and you can’t spend any time with them. So, what I say in that is, so, to get the nutrients you need to have a balanced life, most of us look at those seven Cs and go, “Goodness gracious, I’m bottom heavy. I don’t mean physically bottom heavy, but I’ve got a lot of contaminants and chronics and care, and I don’t have very many at the top. I don’t have many coaches and comrades.”

And I tell people, “We’ve got to right-size this. Where’s your coach or your coaches?” I’ve got two or three because The Harvard Business Review says they bring about three times the value of what you pay for them, and that’s been my experience in the very least. So, where’s your coaches, business directors, advisors, personal directors, spiritual directors. And then where’s your comrades? Where’s that life team? And if you build that up then you start pruning back the bottom, that’s a pretty good life.

Pete Mockaitis
And let’s talk about the pruning process. How do you recommend establishing boundaries and doing that well?

Dr. John Townsend
Tell the truth.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Go on.

Dr. John Townsend
Well, let’s look at the chronic category. Most leaders I work with have a whole bunch of people they’re spending enormous time with who really aren’t changing. They just really want to be around the leader because the leader is warm and wise and accepts them, and that’s great. But when they give them hard things to do and assignments and this sort of thing, they kind of come back and say, “No, I didn’t do it. I was busy. But what else you got for me?”

We have to realize we’re sort of just, in some nice way, we’re kind of enabling them not to change. And so, when you start finding that pattern, I mean, when people are doing what you’re saying, they’re saying, “Oh, gosh, I had that conversation and my business is doing great, my family is doing great.” Great. But a chronic is just not going to change. They’ll just keep kind of complaining that the world is against them.

So, sooner or later you’ve got to have a conversation saying, “I care about our relationship and our time is valuable, but I’ve noticed that things aren’t changing and you have real challenges in your life, and they’re real. But I’ve noticed that you really do a small percentage of what I’m asking. And so, we need to consider if this is really working for us, and let’s try it again, and I’m going to tell you three things to do this week, blah, blah, blah.”

So, you give everybody a chance like you would any kind of a conversation. And if they come back and there’s just more excuses after a couple of times, then you say, “Honestly, I really like you but I kind of spend a lot of time with people who really want to grow and change. So, instead of meeting you once a week, it might be once a quarter. But here are some other people or organizations you can go to.” You’ve got to be nice about it. I never cut anybody off, but I do resize things when I notice that a person is chronic.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m wondering about sort of energy drains in terms of colleagues at work. How do you think about interacting there?

Dr. John Townsend
There are people who are energy drains and it happens because there’s energy given and taken at work. But I kind of say it’s our problem. It’s not them, it’s our fault because you only experience at work what you tolerate at work, right?

So, if I’ve got somebody coming in and they’re, I don’t know, complaining or negative or whatever, and I give them 45 minutes that I don’t have, well, I tolerated that so I got it. But if I say, “I only got three minutes here, or five minutes, or whatever,” or I even have a tougher conversation. You know, Henry Cloud and I wrote a book called How to Have That Difficult Conversation You’ve Been Avoiding, that sometimes we could say, “I don’t have a lot of time. Sorry. I’ve got to get back to work.” Sometimes we have to say, “Can we really talk about this because there’s some things going on? And you can give me any feedback you need to but some things that are difficult that I want to talk about,” and you head to talking.

I think in terms of people that are mild, moderate, or severe, I mean, you always want to be mild. I don’t want to be moderate or severe. A mild person will say, “Yeah, sorry. I didn’t mean to bellyache so much. And, yeah, thanks. That’s good advice.” And they change, they’re mild. Moderate and severe might say, “Well, gosh, I thought you’re my friend, and you’re against me too.” And you go, “I’m not that but I got to see some changes.” There’s eight steps for that of how to deal with that in the book so you’ve got to determine what the drain is and whether you just take a mild approach or a moderate approach, but there’s tips for that.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. Well, so then maybe before we get to that final bit, John, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Dr. John Townsend
Yeah, I would invite and challenge business leaders to rethink how you are about your relationships and not to shame yourself because you might need to have a friend. We try to be so strong, we try to be Superman, we try to be Wonder Woman, but the reality is all the neuroscience says, “You need people just like they need you.” And I promise you, when you say to some people, “Can we make lunch about me? I just got a challenge.” It can’t be anybody.

It can’t probably be somebody who works for you, that’s not really appropriate, but somebody that’s a friend, outside or inside of business. I promise you, 95% of them will say, “You know, you give so much to me, you’re so much there for me. It’s an honor to be there for you.” Take a little risk and see what your people are made of.

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

Dr. John Townsend
I’m a big fan of Peter Drucker. He was called the Moses of management. He’s the guy that started all the management research that we now follow, and he was right just about everything. And I sort of read his stuff and learn from his stuff. He has a great statement, he says, “Culture will eat strategy for breakfast,” meaning we all need a strategy to grow our businesses, we all need to be great leaders and do the right things and the right products, service, mission, vision. But culture, which is relationships, if our relationships aren’t in place, it’ll sabotage it. So, always, always take the people part in consideration.

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

Dr. John Townsend
There was a study done by some Italian researchers about how people connect, and they used monkeys. And they had a computer with electrodes that went to your head. And so, they put computer electrodes on one monkey’s head and on the others, and the monkeys could see each other from a few feet away. And then they began looking at the brain mapping of what the heat points in their brain was because that’s how you know where there’s activity.

And what they noticed was when one monkey was, let’s say, anxious, the other would look at it and get anxious, and he had the same red spots in the same place as the other one. When one would get happy, the other one would feel happy. When one got angry, or sad, the other one did too. And they basically figured out that there are neurons that are called mirror neurons, like when you’re shaving, you look at a mirror.

These mirror neurons travel back and forth through eye contact where you see something in somebody else and you have a similar response. And they think they might’ve discovered the neurological basis for what’s called empathy. And every leader must be empathy. Some of us are gifted in it, some of us aren’t gifted in it, but everybody, every leader must learn the skill.

And from that we figure, we’re finding out that the leaders that could just pay attention to their people, I mean, you still make them accountable, you still got to have KPIs and goals and all that, but if you also can be a mirror neuron to them so you can understand what their life is like, your company becomes more successful.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Dr. John Townsend
I’m currently revisiting a book by Pat Lencioni, who’s a friend and a guy who really has helped us in the business world, it’s called The Advantage. It’s a great book that is worth several reads on how to have your company be high-performing through the right relationships and engagements.

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

Dr. John Townsend
Actually, it’s an assessment tool I developed called the TPRAT, Townsend Personal Relational Assessment Tool. My company uses it and I use it for clients. It measures how a person’s four, what we call, capacities, capabilities in life. One is bonding,
The second one is boundaries.

And then the fourth one is capability. It measures all the four of those categories – bonding, boundaries, reality, and capability – on a scale of one to ten, and you get a profile of four numbers.

And it’s like all these skills that you’re going to have to move up the ladder on that. And people like it, it makes sense. You can get it on my website, but it’s kind of a nice way for a team or a group to say, “Oh, okay. Here’s what we’re all working in, and here’s the ones that are strong in this. How can we relate better given these scores?”

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and you’re known for?

Dr. John Townsend
Yes. It’s probably a mantra that I use in my company that we train other companies with, and it’s that we all need competence and character. Competence means you’ve got to be good at what you do. You’ve got to get the training. You’ve got to do the elbow grease and really learn things at a highly-skilled level. But you’ve also got to have character. You’ve also got to be a person that has integrity, has great relationships, and can inspire other people.

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

Dr. John Townsend
My website is DrTownsend.com. It’s got a lot of information. We’ve got the blogs and the advice, and information. We’ve also got information about the Townsend Institute where you can get a masters in leadership or masters in coaching, all online with us, Townsend Leadership Group which is our cohort-based program around the country where a leader can meet with other leaders and with a person that I’ve trained to help them grow in their professions and SWOT analysis and EQ and all those things – DrTownsend.com.

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

Dr. John Townsend
I think of it this way. We’re all meant to be F-16s, it’s like those pilots, they go halfway around the world at very high altitudes and very high performance. And every leader wants to be that and should be. But you’re only as good as your fuel. So, consider who are you hanging out with? And who’s hanging out with you? And is it high-capacity fuel versus low-capacity fuel? You want to be with the highest octane possible.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. John, thanks for this, and good luck in all of your leading and relationships, and I hope you’re well-nutriated.

Dr. John Townsend
I think you just made up a new word. Thank you.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Devora:

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Devora Zack Interview Transcript

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

Devora Zack
My pleasure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devora Zack
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

486: How to Build Powerful Relationships, Better with Dave Stachowiak

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Dave Stachowiak shares how to develop the strongest personal and professional relationships.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The productivity hack that helps you be more present
  2. The under-appreciated value of small talk
  3. What to do when you don’t like networking

About Dave

Dave Stachowiak is the host and founder of Coaching for Leaders, a top-rated leadership podcast downloaded over 10 million times. With more than 15 years of leadership at Dale Carnegie and a thriving, global leadership academy, Dave helps leaders discover practical wisdom, build meaningful relationships, and create movement for genuine results. He’s served clients including Boeing, The University of California, and the United States Air Force. Forbes named him one of the 25 Professional Networking Experts to watch.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Dave Stachowiak Interview Transcript

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

Dave Stachowiak
Pete, thanks for the invitation. I’m pleased to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you, whether it’s being recorded or not. So, it’s been a lot of good, fun things that have happened since you last appeared on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast. And I’m anxious and excited to talk about building relationships because I think you’re really a master of this. But first, I want to talk about your relationship with your wife, Bonni, who’s also a podcaster. What is that like?

Dave Stachowiak
Well, Bonni and I are just best friends. We just have had the best time together as a couple in the 15, 16 years that we’ve known each other now. And the question I often get from people is they say, “What is it like to work with your spouse?” And I suppose it’s a hard question to answer because I don’t know anything different, right? And I just have found it to be a tremendous blessing for me, and I think she would say the same thing, that we both work in related fields, we both host podcasts.

And the amount of learning and perspective that I get from her in any given week or month when we’re talking about things is just tremendously valuable to me. And I think she would say the same for things that I help her with. And so, we are better together, way better together than either of us would be separately from a business standpoint but also, more importantly, all the personal things too.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to get your big picture, I guess, start with your philosophy when it comes to beginning and building relationships, and I mean, primarily, like professional relationships, but friendships can count too. As I have just sort of watched you over these years, it’s pretty clear that you’re very good at this. And I want to kind of first dig into sort of what’s your mindset or philosophy when it comes to people, networking, connecting, relationship-building, that whole world?

Dave Stachowiak
Well, thank you very much for the kind words, first of all, because I do feel very much like this was a learned skill. It was not something I was naturally good at for a good portion of my life. And to answer your question directly, philosophy, I think it really comes back to something that I learned from Zig Ziglar back when I used to listen to his tapes and driving around in my pickup truck years ago, that you can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.

And so, I’ve really tried to build my relationships around that. I, and we, have really tried to build our business around that, of, “How do we help and serve others well?” And if we do that really well, and our heart and our intention is there consistently, that the other things sort of take care of themselves. And I think, largely, I found that to be very true throughout my career, that if I can get over worrying about myself—which is not always easy to do, right?—but if I can get past that human trap that we all find ourselves in, and on my better days of really think about, “How do I serve people well?” that those are the times that I do my best work.

And when I’m worried about myself, or I’m thinking about just business or things like that first, then I don’t do as well, and that’s very much been my experience, too, throughout my career when I’ve made big missteps, that’s where I’ve fallen short.

Pete Mockaitis
And can we sort of zoom into your brain and your internal self-talk a bit in terms of what are some sort of self-oriented kind of internal conversations versus service-oriented internal conversations? Because I imagine it’s entirely possible to be performing the same tasks with a different worldview, philosophy.

Dave Stachowiak
Yes, of course. And, I, for years, was an instructor for Dale Carnegie. And one of the questions that would come up around the book that Carnegie is known for, which is How to Win Friends and Influence People, which, by the way, is a marvelous book and everyone should read it if you haven’t, the question that would often come up in training programs was, “Well, couldn’t you use these tactics and strategies in this book to manipulate people?”

And the answer is, “Of course, you can. Of course, you could.” Anything, just about any principle, and the things you talk about on the show here, Pete, could be used for nefarious reasons. And so, when I think about great relationships, and the relationships in my life that are really amazing—and Bonni is probably the best example of that—I really do try to think of both parties benefiting from it.

And I see it as kind of like a pendulum. On one side of it—and we’ve all have this where we’ve had relationships where the other party seems to benefit a lot from the relationship and we don’t very much. And if that happens consistently over time, it breeds a lot of resentful feelings in ourselves about that relationship.

And then the opposite end of that is that I benefit a ton from the relationship and the other party doesn’t or benefits very little from it. And that’s, to me, manipulation. If I go into a relationship with the intention of, “I’m going to get as much out of this relationship as I can. I don’t really care that much about whether the other party gets anything out of it,” then that’s manipulative. And the same tactics can apply in both those situations. The difference is the mindset.

And so, what I am trying to do most of the time is to zero in on the center, which is, “How do I create relationships where I get something of value and the other party gets something of value too?” And that is where I think the sweet spot really is. It’s not so much that the tactics, the strategies, the things you would do, the things you would say. The questions you may ask are substantially different, but it’s the intention behind it. It’s the intention of wanting to see both people do well, both organizations do well if it’s organization-to-organization. And that is where I think the art is in—really trying to do that consistently.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ve just been re-listening to Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and I hear his voice, “Think win-win,” in my head right now as you’re unpacking this and that’s really dead-on. And it’s interesting, even if you are doing a lot of benefitting, it’s sort of like, “I feel bad either way.” It’s like, “I’m not getting much value out of this,” or, “I am getting too much from this relationship.” I’m thinking about a time I emailed Scott Anthony Barlow…

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, yes, our mutual pal.

Pete Mockaitis
…of the Happen to Your Career podcast, which is excellent. And I remember one time, I said, “You’ve just done so much for me, the urge to reciprocate is very strong with me. So, is there anything that you need?” And it was cool, and he said, “Oh, reciprocation. That’s kind. I feel the same way. Thank you.”

And I think that’s really a beautiful thing. It’s just sort of like almost like an embarrassment of riches. It’s like you are receiving so much and then the other person is also receiving so much, and I think sometimes we might discount our own contributions to others, especially if there’s maybe some self-esteem issues in the mix. So, yeah, I’m right with you in having lots of value both ways.

Dave Stachowiak
Yeah, indeed. And you also allude to a point which I think is really important. But in the micro-moment of a particular interaction, or particular season, or particular week, or a project, that this balance may not always be there, right? But it’s over the course of the relationship long-term. And coming back to Bonni, speaking about something that’s long term for a lot of us is our partnerships and marriage. In our case, there are absolutely times, and even seasons, in our life, in our marriage, where one party has benefited more from something else than the other party did, or something was really inconvenient to someone in their career at that time because someone else made a choice to do something differently. And we’ve both been on both sides of that.

So, there are times that, you know, it’s felt that there are certain things that I felt more resentful, and there’s also times that things have felt like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m getting more benefit in this than she is.” What I think is really key is to think about the big picture, like over the course of months and years of, “Are we pretty well-balanced on this as a relationship as a whole?” And I think that’s where the greatest beneficial relationships, friendships, over time come from, is really finding ways for, not just individual interactions, but over time for both parties to really feel like they’re getting something that’s truly, truly valuable to each person.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious how you go about sort of eliciting, questioning, discovering what really would be the most valuable to people?

Dave Stachowiak
Questions. The things that I tend to start with is I think very little about script anymore and I think a lot about structure. And so, let me explain that. When I started, years ago I was working with Dale Carnegie, and my job was to go out and talk to people who were taking classes through our programs. And my boss, at the time, said, “You need to go and have a conversation with every single person who enrolls in one of our courses, and sit down with them one-on-one.” This was before the days of video conferencing.

And so, I would drive all around southern California every day and I’d go have these meetings, and sometimes I had six, seven meetings in a day, it would be half-hour, 45-minute meetings. And what I discovered over the course of doing this several years, and iterations of meeting after meeting, day after day, week after week, is the conversations where I really found, like I ended up serving people well and we built a good connection, and we had a great relationship, and they actually got more out of the experience, were the conversations that I didn’t walk into with a script, but I walked into with the intention of, “How can I discover as much about this person in the next 25 or 30 minutes as possible, and then at the very end, help to maybe make a few connections as far as how we can help?”

And those conversations would go really well for the most part where I would stumble and have a lot more difficulty, especially early on as I started to do this, I’d walk in with a script, I’d walk in exactly with what the questions were going to be, or where I was going to go next, and having overthought the interaction instead of just coming in with intention and curiosity.

And so, iterations of that year after year, I found that if I come in with a structure of thinking about, “How can I discover more about this person?” and I set aside the script, that that curiosity, that genuine desire to learn would end up bringing us some really wonderful places, I would help that person to get a lot from the relationship. And then, of course, we would benefit too because they do work with us.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’m thinking we had a guest, Rob Jolles, who did a lot of sales training, and he sort of said, “They pay me all this money to go around and talk about how to sell better, but it really just drills down to ask questions and listen.”

Dave Stachowiak
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s what I found on the receiving end of, I guess, potential sales conversations. It’s like the folks who do that, I go, “Yes, this person cares about me, they get me, they’re trying to give me the best they can.” And those who don’t, I don’t have a lot of rapport or goodwill. It’s sort of like, “Hurry up and tell me the price so I can end this conversation.”

Dave Stachowiak
Well, it’s funny you bring that up as a sales interaction. We, too, have a bunch of work done on our house for a situation I won’t bore you with—it’s not that interesting—but we ended up spending a bunch of time talking to contractors this week. It’s one of those things. I had three different contractors come in one day to talk through this situation and it’s just fascinating, watching the different processes of how people approach influencing, right, because they all, of course, want you to do business with them.

And some people have their script. They know exactly what they’re going to say, in what order, for the most part, and they may go off it a little bit. And one person, in particular, came in and said, “Tell me what questions you have and what’s important to you in this project and start there.” And it was a totally different kind of a conversation, and that’s just one aspect of it. But what you said a minute ago, Pete, I’m just thinking ports of listening, but then also being curious and being willing to ask the second or third question, and listening for meaning and what someone is not saying, those are the things that tend to open up a really wonderful—if not a relationship, at least an understanding between two people that I think is really missing in a lot of interactions, certainly in our North American business culture.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really good stuff. And I’d love to hear then, they ask, that contractor, “What’s important to you?” and that was powerful. One of the things you’ve asked me a couple of times as I kind of am rattling on about an issue, and you just sort of say, “What are you trying to accomplish here?” I was like, “Oh, yeah,” and it really just brings a bundle of clarity in a hurry and it’s so basic and fundamental, and I’m often kind of afraid to ask that. I’m wondering, are there any other kind of power questions that seem to do volumes when it comes to producing that insight?

Dave Stachowiak
Well, a couple. So, one of them, to connect to what you just said, I find in the work I do, especially, which is a lot of coaching, facilitation, helping leaders get better through conversation, is really the focus of my work. I often find that we get down into the minutiae of something and it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. So, I often find myself bringing people back to kind of the 35,000-foot level, saying, “What are you trying to accomplish on this? Like, big picture, like three months from now, what would be a success here?”

And it is easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the individual meat here, the individual moment, and to lose sight of that big picture. And I think to the work of David Allen, the bestselling author of Getting Things Done and I really love his two principles, I think he said that there’s really only two problems that people have. One is, “Where are you going?” and then, secondly, is, “What’s the next step?”

And so much of what I find, especially in my work with leaders, are those two things. It’s interesting how often there isn’t clarity on especially the first one, “Where are we going?” and then the next step of, one or both of those is not clear. And when the clarity comes through a few of those questions, then the tactical stuff kind of comes together, it makes sense. Like, “Oh, okay. Well, if we’re going here in a year, then it makes sense that we’d spend the next 90 days doing this.”

But the other, on a bigger picture, Pete, to your question of, like, “What are some questions that just start off conversations?” We all run into this situation in life on a fairly regular basis, almost daily for most of us, in, I run into someone, I meet them, I’m introduced in some capacity, either they are a customer, or I’m running into another parent at Back to School Night, or I’m on the sports field and I’m running into someone I’ve never met before, whatever, and all of a sudden we’re starting a conversation. And what do we do to begin that conversation?

And a question that I really like that I’ve used many, many times is, “What’s keeping you busy in life these days?” And I’d like to ask really broad, open-ended, general questions like that, and then stop and listen for where someone goes with that. Because that is a question that almost anyone can answer and they can kind of take in any direction they want to go. If they want to talk about work — great. If they want to talk about their kids — great. If they want to talk about a hobby — fabulous.

But then I listen for where they go with that, and then if I’m doing a good job of listening and being curious, then I just follow them down the path, they’re like, “Oh, you really like to spend time going to the beach. Tell me, where do you go? Like, what kind of things do you like to do at the beach?” Or, “My job is really busy right now.” “Oh, what’s causing it to be so busy?” And then you start to have a conversation that is following their agenda and their path versus me imposing what my agenda or my path might be.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. Good stuff. So, you mentioned that this was a learned skill for you and that you didn’t always have it. I understand there’s a time in your career where you failed with this in a big way.

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, my gosh, so many times. It’s hard for me to nail down just one. I grew up, and I’m not sure what caused this, I’m sure there’s some psychology behind it, but I grew up with a view of the world that’s very black and white, and things were right or wrong, and there wasn’t necessarily a lot of gray zone in between there.

And I can remember very early on in my career, I was the general manager of an education center, and I had this very distinct memory of a couple years into my role of a customer coming into our center, and they get signed an agreement for a first month of our program and had paid some money. I don’t remember the logistics of how the agreement came, but they had basically signed this agreement, and if they didn’t cancel, they got charged for the next month, that kind of a thing.

And, long story short, whatever, I don’t remember the details anymore, but the customer didn’t do what they were supposed to do. They were supposed to cancel something by a certain day or send a letter or something, and they didn’t, and so they got charged for the next month. And they came to us, as any customer would in that kind of situation, and said, “You know, what happened? We got charged again. We didn’t use this service,” or whatever. And, Pete, it didn’t compute to me that we would do anything different other than follow the rule of the contract that was there and not refund them for it. And they were upset, they were really, really mad.

I remember talking on the phone with this gentleman and he was angry. He was yelling at me on the phone. And I was very polite, I was very professional, but I said, “Well, you didn’t submit the document by the day and so we can’t make an exception to a policy that we have as a business.” And so, he called my regional manager to blame him.

And, Pete, I called the regional manager, too, and I made my case, and I was right. In the letter of the law, a contract, I was absolutely right. And I convinced my regional manager I was right, I convinced his boss I was right, I convinced her boss that I was right. This whole thing.

Pete Mockaitis
How long did this take?

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, days, Pete, days of my life.

Pete Mockaitis
The boss’ boss’ boss.

Dave Stachowiak
It did. It went all the way up to the desk of the person right below the CEO of the company who got one whiff of it and was like, “What on earth?” She must’ve seen it and just like banging her head against the wall. This whole thing, when I tell you the dollar amount, you’ll just be horrified. It was over like $120. And I had spent days convincing everyone in our chain of command that I was right, I had made the case, and the customer, of course, at this point was livid, and our senior executive finally put an end to the misery, and saying, “Refund the customer.” And I was livid, Pete. I was absolutely livid. And I told my regional manager, “I’m not going to follow through on her directive.”

There’s not a lot of times in my life where—I’ve never been in the military, but I’ve got a direct order to do something, but it was a clear direct order, “Refund this customer.” And so, I issued the refund, I’m like, “Okay. Well, whatever. I lost and this issue is done.” And, of course, it wasn’t done. I can recall seven months later, families in the community would come into our business and they would talk to us about the program, and people would say, “Oh, I really like what you’re doing and we’d love to sign up our family for this membership. But I heard that you all treat people really poorly when disputes come up.”

And this particular family, they had gone around and talked in the community about just what a poor job we had done as a business, and by we, I mean me, of treating someone poorly. And it had never occurred to me, Pete, to do anything different than that, that we had this contract, we have these rules, we ask customers to follow them, and when customers didn’t, and of course I was right in the letter of the law, but I wasn’t using common sense.

And that whole situation, and I’m embarrassed to say, I can’t even remember the name of the people involved, of the customers. I remember all the people on our side, I don’t remember the name of the customer. And that was 20 years ago. And shortly after that happened, it really caused me to do a lot of soul searching around not just customer service but more broadly, “How do I handle relationships in my life when something happens and something didn’t work for another party?”

And I am proud to say there’s a lot of things I haven’t figured out in life and I still make mistakes, but that is something I have shifted 180 degrees on where, a year later, I became known as the champion in the business, and the person that, “We do not have fights with customers. We find a way to solve problems.” But it was not something that came naturally to me. And I think that for a lot of us, like, we get in those situations where there’s a really rigid framework, or there’s expectations, and we don’t think sometimes to step back and really think about, “I guess there’s a framework here, but what are we trying to do in order to actually serve this person? And does the framework sometimes get in the way of serving this person well?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s very well-said. And it’s, really, I think a lot about sort of the letter of the law and the spirit of the law and I guess in certain circumstances, like the IRS, they don’t really care about the spirit of the law.

Dave Stachowiak
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
But in most sort of human interactions like friend to friend, or business to customer, the spirit of the law matters plenty. And so, the spirit of the law is, “Hey, don’t flagrantly abuse the subscription to get way more than you paid for.” And if there’s sort of a day or a couple grace period, then by all means do that. And even credit card companies, which don’t have the best reputations for delighting customers, will usually waive a late fee if you give them a call and ask.

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, yeah, absolutely. You know, we’re all human beings trying to get through life, right? And, at the end of the day, there’s policies and there’s structures of course, but like we can treat people in a human way. It’s funny you mentioned the IRS. Speaking of the IRS, I had this funny situation where the IRS sent us a cheque a couple of years ago, and I was thinking, “We’re not owed a cheque by the IRS. Like, what is this money doing here?”

And so, I sent it back. And it turned out we really were owed the money. We had made a mistake on our taxes. And so, long story, I had sent the cheque back, and you know how it is, it takes forever to kind of figure that out. But the IRS was perfectly wonderful. Like, I sent them a letter, I explained the situation, what happened, why I was an idiot, and you know what? They were gracious. I think it was even they sent back this funny letter of like, “Oh, no worries. Have fun with the money.”

I was like, if you really stop and take the time to think, like, “Okay, how do I explain this to the other party? How do I walk through what happened? How do I think about it from their perspective of having to handle thousands of these situations, and just make it as easy as possible?” how quickly things can resolve themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is good, that you talked to some good folks there. And I have as well had some good phone conversations with the IRS when you got the actual people there.

Well, so in addition to that worldview, I’m intrigued to hear about sort of like when you’re in the actual moment of conversing with someone and you’re curious and you’re listening, it really seems to me as though you just sort of have all the time in the world. You’re in no rush and I, or the person you’re talking to, is the center of your universe. And I’m curious how you do that so consistently when I observe you. It’s impressive.

I don’t know if you’re meditating or if you’ve got super GTD, Getting Things Done practices so everything is off of your mind, or you just feel well-equipped for all of life’s many demands. But I don’t get a whiff of being rushed from you. And, frankly, I’d like more of that in my life when I’m conversing with people. So, what are your secrets?

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, wow. Well, thank you. That’s very kind of you to say. Hmm, what would be my secrets on that? I guess I would say two things. I was not a popular kid. I was always the kid who was picked last for a sports team. I hope they do this differently in schools now than they did when I was a kid. I didn’t have a ton of close friends when I was a really young kid, and I was, and still am, in some ways, the classic introvert.

And so, I know what it feels like to be unheard and unnoticed. And I think that I have a wish and a desire for the places where I have the privilege to connect with people—which is very, very few places in life—but the places where I do have that privilege, if I can create a space, or at least a few moments, of being heard and being seen, to me there’s something that speaks to me at a visceral, fundamental values-level of just being seen and being heard. So, I think that’s the value behind it that drives it for me.

On a practical level, I don’t use a task list. I run my day off a calendar. And I forget who I got this hack from a while back, but someone had done some research on looking at the most successful people. I don’t know how they figured out who was successful or who wasn’t, but they figured and they looked at people how they planned their day. It may have been Kevin Cruz, by the way.

Pete Mockaitis
That does sound right.

Dave Stachowiak
Yeah, it may have been Kevin Cruz. I think I heard an interview with him. And what was interesting is, they found, and he found, I think, that if you look at the people who are really successful, that they tend to run their days off calendars not off task lists. And I thought, “Oh, interesting.” So, I started really working my day around a calendar of, I have blocked an hour, or two hours, or four hours, or half hour, whatever time, to do this. And that ends up benefiting me in a couple of key ways.

First of all, I’m really bad with a task list because I just am going to chase whatever the shiny thing is, or what the thing is I feel like doing at the moment, which usually is not what I should be working on, right? So, if I had to spend time in advance, like usually the week before, thinking through, “Oh, what should I really be doing on Thursday morning? What would be the best use of my time?” I make way better decisions than if I try to make that decision in the moment.

But the other really good side effect of that is—what you described—is I already have Thursday morning from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. blocked off so I know that that’s my time with Scott, or with Pete, or with Bonni, or whoever in my life that is important, either professionally or personally. And it makes it easier to set aside everything else and to stay there in the moment because I’m not in the moment trying to decide, “What should I be doing? What should I be doing right now? What should I be doing?” because I’ve already done that.

It’s not that I don’t have all that chaos going in my mind, I just try to confine it to once a week so I go through that process. And then when it comes to the day, I just work the calendar that day. And that allows me to then be more present with someone. I don’t need to be sitting there thinking like, “What’s next on my task list?” because that’s already got thought through in advance. Instead I can be present with the person I’m with. And I am sure there are times I fail at that a lot but I know that I am better than I was when I used to run my day off a task list.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great. That’s great. And so, I’m curious then, over time do you just have the discipline, such that when it says you’re doing this thing on your calendar, you consistently just do that thing?

Dave Stachowiak
Consistently is probably a stretch even now. There are days that I’m really, really good and really disciplined, and there’s days I completely go off the rails, and most days are somewhere in between, right? But I’m generally pretty good at getting the big things done if I blocked two hours to do something of significance. I generally do that. It may not always be in the exact two-hour timeframe I found, but I generally have done that.
And by the virtue of putting together a calendar, there ends up being, “Okay, I’ve blocked two hours to do this, an hour to do that, and two hours to do that.” What order they happen in, what time of the day, what gets pushed because some other meeting pops up, or something like that happens, or sometimes something gets pushed to the next day or next week, which happens all the time.

But just having gone through the thinking about that, I’m thinking usually in the framework of, “Okay, there’s two or three big things I need to get done today I said I’m going to do,” and if it turns out that something is going to prevent me from doing those, then I need to make a choice. I need to make a choice to be able to say to the person, or persons, who are requesting time or resources, “I’m not able to make that commitment today.” Or, I am able to say to that person, “Oh, yeah, I am able to accommodate that. Here’s what I’m not going to be able to do as a result of that.” Or, I just decide that on my own if it’s something that’s more specific to me.

And what I find, it’s like Eisenhower said years ago, “Plans are worthless, but planning is indispensable.” Having gone through the process of thinking about what’s important, and then when other things come in, I do a better job then, of being able to focus my time on the things that are hopefully the most important things.

Pete Mockaitis
Actually, I never heard that quote before but I love it.

Dave Stachowiak
I’m pretty sure it’s an Eisenhower quote. We may discover after I go through the notes.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s applicable. I’ve kind of worked with a decision matrix before, and it’s sort of like, in a way, the final product output of that decision matrix is like a spreadsheet or something. It doesn’t really matter that much, but having rigorously thought through all the stuff that goes into it, you feel pretty good, like, “Oh, yeah. Okay, it’s clearly option B, right? Boom!”

Dave Stachowiak
Yeah, yeah. And it is really remarkable how spending a little bit of time thinking that through, or thinking about the meeting that’s coming up, or thinking about connection points with someone of significance for a relationship, like, doing some thinking about that in advance, even if it’s just a minute or two, really does make a big difference on how you show up and how present you are or not, and what then drives that interaction.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Well, so I also want to get into a few of your, I don’t know if they’re adages or concepts. But I’ve heard you say that small talk leads to big talk. Tell us about that idea.

Dave Stachowiak
Yeah, I borrowed this from my friend Nathan Czubaj who’s also a Dale Carnegie instructor. He does this beautiful two-minute videos teaching people about human relation skills. I’ll send you the link for it because he’s really masterful at doing it. He made the point recently: if you want to get to big talk, you need to start with small talk. And I thought, “Boy, that’s so brilliant.” That’s one of the things that kind of got indoctrinated in me, and doing all those meetings at Carnegie for years, of hour after hour of connecting with people and sitting down and building relationships.

Because I admit it’s not my core skill set at all, Pete. Like, my core personality—as I mentioned earlier—I’m an introvert by nature. If I walk into a room of 30 people, my first inclination is to go sit in the corner and read a book, or sit at the back of the room, or not to raise my hand. That is where my mind just goes. And, for all kinds of reasons, I’ve learned in life that it’s not always possible, or practical, or even the best decision to do that, right?

So, the thought of doing small talk with people is, I think most people don’t really like small talk. A lot of people say they don’t like small talk. And I really don’t like small talk. You know, the thought of sitting down, having small talk with someone for like 30 minutes is just not at all appealing.

And I really changed my mind on that over the years, of going through and doing all these interactions, and meeting people, and connecting with people, is that if you want to get to big talk with people and talk about things that are really concerning to them, the things that are important in their lives, the things that they’re struggling with, the kinds of conversations that most of us want to have more of in life, that you start with small talk.

And you start small talk with just knowing someone’s name. And that you can’t make that jump. Most of us are not going to sit down with a stranger and get into a very in-depth heartfelt conversation about the most important things in our lives without having built some trust. And if you think about dating, virtually no one goes on a first date and asks someone else to marry them. And yet, for whatever reason, in a lot of our professional relationships, we don’t appreciate the importance of small talk.

And so, I’ve learned to, I don’t know if I would say force myself because I don’t think that’s the way I would frame it, but I’ve certainly learned to lean into small talk more with people over the last decade than I did earlier in my career. And what I’ve discovered is, there’s a lot of times that you end up just having small talk, and that’s fine. And there are some times that small talk leads to really great amazing conversations and beautiful relationships that would never have emerged had the small talk not happened.

And so, I’ve really changed my mind on this, and now I find myself more, it’s still my tendency to walk in a room and be the quieter person, but I do find myself more engaging and just asking a couple of questions, like, “What keeps you busy in the week?” like I mentioned earlier because I find that, oftentimes, that will open the door to then ask the next question. And then the next time you see that person, you know a little bit about them, and then ask the next question. And the possibility for a bigger and more heartfelt relationship to emerge.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I really love that because just having a view that there’s value in small talk can change the entire game because I’ve been there before where it’s like someone mentions, “Oh, so it’s getting hotter out there, huh?” And I was not in the mood, like, “Seriously? Like, is this what we’re going to talk about?”

Dave Stachowiak
Right. And there’s a right way to do small talk and there’s not a right way, right? But let me also address something around small talk, too, because one of the other, I think criticisms, rightfully so, with small talk is, well, people come up and they try to do small talk with me and they just seem really creepy. And I get that. I’ve had people do that to me too.

And I think what keeps it from being creepy and being much more curious is how you do it and the intention behind it. And so, that’s where asking a general question, and then following people where they go, is really meaningful. So, if someone starts talking about their career, I ask them, rather than going on about the weather, or whatever else I was planning already to say, is that I follow them where they go.

So, if they start talking to me about their kids, I follow down that path and I ask questions as they’re telling me more about that. If they talk to me about their career, if they talk to me about their hobbies, I follow that path and I don’t go down a path or a door that they don’t open up, especially for someone that I don’t know very well or I just met the first time.

And I find that I rarely run into that with people where I sense that I’ve stepped on an area that they’re not comfortable talking about. I think the way you keep it curious is that you let them lead you where you want to go, where they want to go rather, and that illuminates the path for the conversation forward. And if they’re driving that, then they are in control and you’re learning about them and you’re learning about one aspect of their lives.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that metaphor there in terms of they open the doors and then you enter them. And I remember one time I had a perfectly bad date and it seems like I kept trying to open some doors, like, “Oh, hey, let’s have some fun, you know, have a conversation.” And then she just sort of didn’t. I’m thinking of the opposite of “yes, and” from improv. It’s just like, “No, not going there,” you know? It’s just sort of like little things like, “Okay, not exactly.” You know, just sort of shut down, not entering this door, not entering that door. And then later I remember she texted, “Oh, I had such a great time.” I was like, “Really? This was a terrible date. Are you just being polite or is that what you…were you having fun? I don’t understand.”

Dave Stachowiak
Yeah. It’s so much about how we ask questions too. And I think about—like going back to that general question of, “What keeps you busy these days?” The generic question that so many people ask is, “What do you do?” right? And there’s so much baggage in that question. First of all, it assumes that the person works, which may or may not be true. They could’ve lost their job today. They could be unemployed. You just never know what’s really going on in a person’s life, right? And maybe they don’t work and they choose not to. Maybe they’re retired. Like, who knows, right?

The other thing that it assumes is, “I like my job enough that I want to talk to a stranger about it.” And that’s absolutely not the case for a lot of people I discovered over the years of, like, gosh, work is work, and it’s not something they really want to talk about outside of the workplace. And then the other question that seems to come up a lot is some version of, “Do you have kids?” at least in the circles I’m in who have young kids, and like, “Oh, do you have kids, family, all that?” And I’ve really tried to avoid ever asking someone a question like that of someone I don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. “We’ve been struggling with infertility for a decade and circumstance.”

Dave Stachowiak
Yeah, as my wife and I did for seven years and almost didn’t have kids. And so, I feel like a tremendous amount of heartache for people who won’t have kids, or for whatever reason children aren’t in their lives, or have chosen not to have children. And, especially here in North American culture, there’s the assumption that, “Well, if you didn’t have kids, what’s going on?” And I don’t want to even go down that route.

If someone opens the door, and the first thing they say is like, “Oh, let me tell you about my kids,” yeah, go for it. Then I’m asking all kinds of questions about kids and family. But I wait for them to open that door. And that’s why that general, like just being really broad at the beginning of asking some of those general questions, just seeing where the conversation goes, I find it’s just a really nice and easy way to start the relationship but also to do it in such a way that honors whoever the person is showing up from.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is so excellent. Dave, I love the way you are just clearly articulating some of the mystery forces for, “Why do I like that person and why don’t I like that person? Why was that a good conversation? Why was that not a good conversation?” You’re just sort of shining a bright light on the distinctions that make the difference. So, this is super valuable. You also have a distinction, I’ve learned, about prioritizing relationships over agenda or content, like when it comes to events or conferences. Tell us about that.

Dave Stachowiak
Yeah, I really do try to think about, if I’m going to show up somewhere, or we’re going to do something, like, “What are we trying to achieve in this?” And I think about you and I. When we first met, we met at a conference for podcasters. Believe it or not, there are conferences for podcasters. And when I showed up at that conference, I wasn’t thinking that much about what would be the sessions I’d go to. In fact, I think I only made one session of that whole conference.

What I was really showing up to do was to build relationships with some key folks, and you were one of them, and with the intention that those relationships would go long term. And, in fact, you and I and a bunch of other podcasters work together regularly and have a mastermind together where we’re helping each other.

And that was the direct result of showing up for that event and thinking in advance, “What are the relationships that I want to build?” versus “What’s the next thing on the agenda at this conference?” And that’s because that’s what most people do, right? They show up at a conference, or an event, or professional development activity, and they follow whatever has been laid out. And, by the way, that’s a wonderful place to start. And, not or, and what else do you want to get out of that experience for you and how can you then make decisions that will help you to really get out of that experience, what’s most meaningful and what’s most beneficial? And most people don’t spend the time to do that.

So, if you are someone who’s willing to do that, and take the lead on that a bit, that’s something that I think is really special. As much as I’m an introvert—and I still don’t know what drove me to do this, Pete—years ago when I attended a conference, and I didn’t know hardly anyone at the conference, I had traveled internationally to this event, there was a whole bunch of people in the room, that was like, “Wow, there’s a lot of people here that I feel that I’d like to meet and yet I don’t know hardly anyone. Like, what can I do to build relationships?”

And there was a breakout session at one point, it’s hard for me to imagine me doing this 20 years ago, but at the end of this breakout session I just stood up as people were leaving the room, and I said, “Hey, for anyone who would like to, I think it would just be fun to have a conversation about this wonderful workshop we’ve just experienced, and lunch is next. I am going down to this restaurant in the hotel, or whatever it was, and anyone who’d like to join me, I’d just love to have you join me for a conversation about this.”

And like 20 people followed me out of the room. I was amazed, Pete. And that was kind of one of the first times, I was like, “Oh, if you show up with some intention around relationships, it’s really interesting what you can create.” And it was a wonderful experience because of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love that so much because I’ve been there. I’m in the conference, it’s like, “Okay, what’s coming up? I really don’t have a plan. I don’t really know anybody in my vicinity.” And then it’s like, “Oh, it’s a lifeline. Yes, now I have a lunch plan. You’ve saved the day.”

Dave Stachowiak
Well, that’s what happened, there’s a couple of other people who did end up coming with me that day, or a couple said, “I’m so glad you said that. I was kind of thinking that in the back of my mind but I never would’ve thought for me to do it.” And I’m not sure what possessed me to do it in that moment, but I’m so glad that I did.

And I think that that’s the, if we, all of us, can stop for a minute once in a while, and just like, “Okay, let’s stop and think about, like what’s the human relationship piece of this? How can I get better connected with people? How can I care genuinely about folks better?” And if we’re willing to, in most situations, stop and think about that for a minute, we can pretty quickly think about, like, “Okay, what could I do to make a more genuine connection in this case?” And I still struggle with that every day but I’m better at it than I was five years ago.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like that. And what’s interesting is I’m thinking now in terms of the sort of content versus relationships. I was recently at Podcast Movement again, and I wanted to go to this session, I thought it’d be really interesting but I just got caught up talking to people, which is a good problem to have. But then afterwards, as some people were leaving the session, and I kind of got a two-for-one deal because I said, “Oh, man, I really wanted to make it in the session but I kept bumping into people. What were some of your biggest takeaways?” And they said, “Oh, yeah, this, this, and this.” “Oh, that’s really cool.” And so then now I’m talking to somebody.

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, you’re smart, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And I got the content and a new relationship in less time. It’s like, “Oh, I should do this all the time.”

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, super smart. Yeah, we’ve done a couple episodes, and I’m sure you have too over the years, of just how to really kind of rethink showing up, specifically at conference and building connections with people. Especially nowadays, so many conferences. You can get the slides afterwards, you can get the audio, you can get the video, almost all conferences have some ability to do that online now.

And so, the missing the content piece is even less an issue than it used to be. But the relationship-building, you can often only do in that moment, at least in a natural, organic ways. So, I think being able to think about that, prioritize that, is really key. And I found that in most situations in life and in business, if I will spend some time upfront building the relationship, the content, the project, the issue, the disagreement, whatever else that ends up coming up in the course of work, which does for all of us, ends up not being as big an issue because we already have a relationship, we already have trust, or at least some trust, and that stuff gets resolved faster.

And if you don’t have that, then all of that consumes your time. It becomes a huge issue and a lot of effort like me years ago spending days of my life trying to save $120 on my P&L, right, and being right more importantly. But at what cost? So, it feels better but it’s also good business too.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think, if anyone is thinking, “Oh, my gosh, relationship-building sounds great and fun, but I’m so busy. I got so much stuff to deal with. There’s no time for it.” It sounds like you’re positing that, in fact, the time you invest in building these relationships will be more than pay back by time saved dealing with the stuff.

Dave Stachowiak
It’s certainly been my experience. And the common frustration point I hear from people is they’ll say some version of, “Well, I don’t like networking. I don’t want to go to networking events.” And, Pete, the thought of going to a “networking event” is like the last thing that I want to be doing too, so I totally get that criticism of it.

And, for me, I just think like, “How many people in my life today that I’m already going to see, can I serve in some way?” Because for most of us, that is a non-zero number. There is one or two or five or 20 people that we’re already going to see in meetings, that we’re already going to run into at our kid’s school, that we’re already going to interact with in the grocery store, whatever the venue is. And what can I do to get a little bit better at noticing people and taking the time to ask a question and to learn something about them, maybe even just taking the time to learn someone’s name?

You don’t need to go to a networking event to find opportunities for that. In fact, I think it’s better if we don’t. Most of us have plenty of work to do with the relationships we already have in our lives to get better at doing that, and probably are the relationships that are most important to us anyway, so why not start there.

I know I have so much work undone with so many relationships with people I already know that I’d like to do a better job, being a better friend, a better husband, a better dad, a better consultant of all the things I do, and so I’m always glad to meet new people. But, really, my focus tends to be the people I’m already connected with of, “How can I get better with the people I already know?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Dave, we got a lot of good stuff here. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear a couple of your favorite things?

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, gosh. I just think it’s not about you. It’s the same thing I tell folks when they’re asking for advice on giving a really good presentation. I taught presentation skills for many years for Carnegie and I would, at the very beginning of the six-week course, I would get up in front of the room, and I’d say, “Here’s the key thing to know about this class in four words. It’s not about you. It’s about the audience. If you’re coming to give a presentation, you already know everything you’re going to present. And, yeah, there may be some benefit you get if it goes well, but it’s really about how do you serve the audience well.”

And I think relationships are very similar. And to my point earlier, like in the long run, yeah, both parties should benefit, but don’t worry about that at the start, “How can I help the other person? How can I serve? How can I listen? How can I at least remember their name, if nothing else?” And if I am willing to do that, and it not to be about me, at least for a couple of minutes, that I think the people are willing to do that go way further than most people are willing to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Dave, thank you. So much good stuff. Could you share with us a favorite book?

Dave Stachowiak
How to Win Friends & Influence People is always my favorite recommendation. But since I already mentioned that, the other one which fits in beautifully with this conversation is The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier. Michael has done fabulous work at figuring out what are seven great questions that leaders can ask that do so much of what we talked about today in helping leaders to be curious a few minutes more. And it is the best book I’ve seen in the last decade on helping people to be more coach-like which most of us want to be.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Dave Stachowiak
My favorite habit is getting out and going for a long three-, four-, five-mile run because my body is better afterwards but my thinking is also better.

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

Dave Stachowiak
CoachingForLeaders.com.

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

Dave Stachowiak
Don’t worry about confidence. Try to do a little bit of courage. Pete, you and I both went to the University of Illinois, and when I showed up for my first day of my freshman year, I lived in a residence hall. And the RA, the resident advisor, of that hall got everyone together, it was the middle of August, it was like 95 degrees, no one wanted to be there in this big hall meeting, I remember. He was trying to take volunteers for people to serve as floor officers, and no one wanted to run.

And so, eventually, this meeting got to the point where he said, “Well, who would just like to be the president of our floor this year?” And I thought back to what a poor job I had done throughout my life up to that point, of leaning into discomfort a little bit, of being willing to raise my hand, of being willing to speak up. And I sort of raised my hand.

You know how you raise your hand for something, Pete, once in a while, like, you kind of want to get credit for having volunteered but you don’t really want to be picked? I sort of sheepishly started to raise my hand a little bit, and my hand was like halfway up, and he’s like, “Dave, he’ll do it!” And like everyone else in the room was like, “Whew!” like breathed a sigh of relief, like oh my gosh I immediately regretted it.

And it was the best thing I ever did in my life because I can trace back that moment to campus leadership, to getting recruited for some organizations, to getting to move cross country, to the jobs that I had, to meeting Bonni, my wife, to doing the work I’m doing today. Had I not raised my hand sheepishly that day, I would not be doing this.

And so, all that to say, it didn’t come with confidence at all, and it still doesn’t a lot of days, but it came with a little bit of courage. And so, my invitation to anyone listening is don’t wait for confidence, but be willing today to do something, maybe just one little thing that’s a little bit courageous. And if you do, you will open up new doors.

Pete Mockaitis
Dave, thank you. This has been such a treat. You have been a blessing in my life and now for all these listeners. So, thank you and keep doing what you’re doing.

Dave Stachowiak
The feeling is mutual. Thank you, Pete, for all the work you do on this fabulous show.