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KF #27. Resourcefulness Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

686: How to Make Your Next Career Move Your Best Move with Kimberly Cummings

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Kimberly Cummings shares her top tips on how to make career transitions easier.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to make the next best move for your career
  2. The key indicators that it’s time to explore other options
  3. How to identify power players–and become one yourself 

 

About Kimberly

Kimberly B. Cummings is a leading career and leadership development expert and an accomplished speaker and podcast host whose mission is to empower women and people of color in the workplace. Her personal and professional development company, Manifest Yourself, LLC, provides in-person and virtual workshops, trainings, and coaching to professionals looking to lead a dynamic career and life. 

Kimberly has had the opportunity to speak to and create workshops for many organizations, including the New Jersey Conference for Women, Ellevate Network, Urban League, Princeton University and National Sales Network, SXSW, among others. She is also on the Board of Directors for The Power of You Teens organization. Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning into a Career You’ll Love is her first book. 

Resources Mentioned

Kimberly Cummings Interview Transcript

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

Kimberly Cummings
Thank you so much for having me. Very excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. But, first, I want to hear a little bit about how you’ve studied vocal jazz for 10 years. What’s the story here? And any interesting adventures come from that?

Kimberly Cummings
So, definitely, I think growing up, I was a kid who always liked to sing. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “Whitney Houston.” That’s what I thought was going to be the career path for me, and I took piano lessons for a bit but I kept on trying to sing. But piano takes a little bit more skill to kind of learn the chords and all those things. My voice clearly was much more advanced than my hands were so I went to vocal lessons. And, oh, my gosh, I absolutely loved it, all the great Ella Fitzgeralds, the Sarah Vaughans. I actually performed a 26-song concert in 2005 to raise money for kids.

Pete Mockaitis
Twenty-six songs.

Kimberly Cummings
Yup, I had a pop set and a jazz set. And I say that I’m retired after winning every talent show in undergrad, mind you. I retired. So, now, I only sing for folks who know that I sing. Sadly, it’s more funerals or weddings and things like that. But you can hear me in the shower or in the elevator. There’s great acoustics there too.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you sing in your speaking on stage?

Kimberly Cummings
Oh, no. I’m fully retired.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so there we are. So, you’ve retired and you’ve moved on into the world of career and leadership development. So, yeah, tell me, when it comes to people and their careers, often you end up working with folks who feel stuck. What leads to people feeling stuck in their careers?

Kimberly Cummings
Many times, I really believe it’s not having a plan. If you don’t have a plan to take yourself to the next level, it’s very easy to get stuck in your career. Not knowing what your next move is, not understanding what your own skills and strengths and how those manifests in the workplace, a lot of times people can find themselves being underemployed or unappreciated because they have no idea, they’re essentially treating jobs like old boyfriends or girlfriends, romantic partners, in that they’re just like they keep going on to the next. They get a little bored, they go to the next, they go to the next, hoping that it will get better and better and better and it never really does if you don’t have a plan in place to make strategic career moves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then when it comes to forming that plan, where do you recommend we start?

Kimberly Cummings
So, the first stop is really understanding your own skillset and your strengths. I like to have folks who work with me go through a full assessment of all of their strengths, all of their opportunities, all of their weaknesses, their gaps, and really get clear on, “What are the skills that they’ve gained from every single job that they’ve had?” Every single job. That long resume that no one really ever looks at, the one you probably can’t even send to anyone that has every job on there and literally look back and say, “What have you learned? What are your strengths? What are the things you want to continue to use?”

“And what are the things that you no longer want to use? And how can we start to build a career based upon your strengths? And if you don’t have the strengths that you need to get to the next area, what are the things that we need to work on? What are the gaps that we need to attack in order to make your next move?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, you mentioned a full assessment. What are some of the key tools or resources or questions or things folks work through to get that picture?

Kimberly Cummings
So, the assessment really begins with you. Where are you? What have you done? What are the key skills you’ve gained from all of your jobs? What is the feedback that you’ve consistently been receiving from leaders? And if you don’t have that feedback, we walk through how to get that feedback using a simple start-stop-continue exercise with people in your industry and people who worked with you.

Of course, there are traditional assessments we can do. I’m a big fan of StrengthsFinder or Strengths Profile by Cappfinity. Those are also great as well but I want the baseline to always be the experiences because, generally, where you’ve gained your experiences, how you gained your experiences, what you’re taking away in terms of skill sets and strengths, that’s the baseline for you making your next move. So, the assessment really focuses on where you’ve been and what you’ve learned.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, you talked about how to get that feedback. So, start-stop-continue is a good way to organize the conversation. But how do you recommend folks specifically say, “Hey, tell me what I should start, stop, and continue doing?” Or, how do you recommend approaching that?

Kimberly Cummings
So, I always recommend finding time to have career conversations with your management. Many times, folks have one-on-ones, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or team meetings, and those are focused on doing the work but career conversations are a little bit different. So, I always recommend that people reach out to their leader, and ask, “Hey, I’d love to have a one-on-one with you but focused on my career.” And ask them simple questions like, “What is it that I should continue to do in my role? What are you seeing as good skill sets that I’m building? What do I need to stop doing? What is going to prevent me from moving to the next level? And what do you need to see more of?”

And the big question I always ask for folks who are thinking about making their next move before it’s time for them to make their next move is the big question of, “What do you need to see from me in order to know that I’m ready to get to the next level, I’m ready to make the next move?” so you’re not asking that question when you’re applying for the new job. You want to ask that question well before it’s time for you to have to apply.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a fine question. And, yeah, as I imagine that scenario, I think there’s probably any number of unsatisfying answers you might get, like, “Oh, you’re great. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

Kimberly Cummings
That’s a fan favorite.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s not quite the right…that’s not helpful.

Kimberly Cummings
No, not at all.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how do you recommend pushing or digging a little more?

Kimberly Cummings
Now, 100% just like you said, that is the age-old, “Oh, my gosh, you’re fabulous. Things are great. End time.” It’s like, no. If you’re not getting good feedback from your leader, I recommend asking other folks, asking your peers, asking other people who’ve also been promoted, and sharing your experiences so they can share a little bit more insight on what it takes to move to that next level.

And then, also, honestly, having a candid conversation advocating for yourself, like, “Thank you so much. I love hearing that you think I’m doing really, really well. However, I want to make sure that I can be extremely planful, that I actually have a plan. Is there any direct feedback that you’d be able to provide me? Like, what is it that means that I’m doing really well? How do you know that I’m doing really well? What are the indicators for that?”

Or, even if you could call up someone else, like, “I saw that Joe got promoted last year into a similar role. What was it that made you know that Joe was ready?” Try and push back to advocate for yourself just a little bit more because feedback is hard. It’s very hard. Leaders don’t like it, employees don’t like it, so it’s really pushing the needle. And if they say that they need a little bit of time to think about it, make sure you circle back and push again.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And I think that is the perfect response along those lines of, “Oh, you’re great. Just keep doing what you’re doing.” It’s like, “Well, I couldn’t help but notice I wasn’t promoted,” in the nice or professional diplomatic way that you get there because, yeah, those are the realities, is that there is something…well, unless the organization is just broken, which I’ve seen some of. There is something that causes people to move up, “What is it? And am I doing it? And how can I do more of it?” Perfect.

And then you mentioned doing this prior to when you start applying to other jobs because you’re ready to be out of there. What are some of the key indicators that it may, indeed, be appropriate to move on and out from a current role or organization?

Kimberly Cummings
So, I’m really big on role mastery and impact. So, when you have essentially mastered your role, when you are doing things with ease, when people are asking for assistance because you know that you have it down, when you’ve built relationships in your role so you have…I always talk about four key relationships that you need. So, you have great peers that you’ve networked with, you have teachers who can help you if you need help, or sometimes people call them coaches, and you have mentors, and you have sponsorships. You have those four key relationships.

If you know where your role fits within an organization, like, “What does your role do?” Every role has a purpose in helping the company reach some type of milestone, even if you feel like it’s a small piece. Like, there’s a reason why that role was hired. Once you really know those things and you could think about, “What is the value you contributed to that role? Have you been able to innovate? Have you been able to move the needle?” Once you’ve been able to do some of those things, then it’s time to start thinking like, “Okay. Well, I think it’s time I start exploring whatever the next move is in this role, whether it’s internal to the company or external.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then if we are looking to transition away, what are some of the most common mistakes you see?

Kimberly Cummings
The most common mistakes I see are people relying on the amount of time that they’ve been at the company. Many times, people are like, “Oh, I’ve been here a year,” or, “I’ve been here two years. It’s time for me.” It’s like, “No, there’s people who’ve been in roles for 10 years who still aren’t ready.” The reality is you have to make an impact. You have to articulate value and what you’re going to do moving into that area.

And I’m not sure what your feedback is on what I’m about to say next, but I think that, many times people want to not do a tinge more work to showcase that they’re ready for the next role, especially for folks who are moving internally. They’re a manager, want to be a director. An analyst, want to be a manager. Whatever it is.

But what I explain to folks is that in your role, you’re essentially in a box. Like, this is the role of the manager. You’re doing everything that needs to be done within this box. When you’re ready to move to the next box of the director, you have to showcase that you’re ready to leave that box to go to the next level. And in order to showcase that, you almost have to show people like a little bit. Give them a touch of what they’ll see from you as a director. And it’s important that you start doing a few of those things, making sure that you’re aligning more to a director role than you are to a manager role so people can literally see you in it.

A lot of times, when there’s a job search that’s happening, I used to work in talent acquisition as well, and when you have someone who is internal applying to a job, and you have someone also who’s external, the internal person, you’ve essentially been in the longest interview of your life. They see you every single day. They know you. And if they have questions, like, “Well, why didn’t so-and-so start doing this already? Well, l really don’t see them doing this. They’re doing so well in their current role.”

Versus an external person can come in and just sell them the world because they don’t know them, they’ve never seen their work, and they can easily align to that director role. So, I think it’s really important that when you’re thinking about moving, you start thinking a little bit more on the level you’d like to be on versus the level that you’re currently at.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And, well, if you wanted my feedback on what you said with regard to doing a touch more work, I think that’s the right answer to advance in your career. But I think it’s also true, what you said is that a lot of people don’t want to do it, yeah, because it’s like, “Well, I’m not getting paid for that. I don’t have the title. It’s like they’re not paying me to do that, so it’s unfair or not justified in the give-and-take relationship between me and employer to do that while being paid what I’m currently paid.”

But what I’ve seen is that frequently your fastest movers and shakers are already doing the next job, and the promotion is kind of a formality, like, “Hey, you’re already doing this. We’d be embarrassed if we didn’t give you the title or the raise, promotion, etc. associated with that.” So, yeah, I think that’s kind of how it shakes out.

Kimberly Cummings
Oh, God, I’m happy we’re aligned there because some folks are like, “Nuh-uh, don’t give them a preview till you get the paycheck,” and I’m like, “Nah, you get the paycheck when you give them a preview.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah. Indeed. And so then, when it comes to the networking world, you’ve got some perspective on identifying power players. Can you tell us how do we find them and build great relationships with them?

Kimberly Cummings
So, in every industry, I strongly believe that there are power players. They are people who are at the head of the curve, the people who are the key stakeholders who everyone listens to. There are always a few key people that are great to really look at as sponsors in your network. So, the way I always try to identify them are looking up professional associations. Who’s speaking at the conferences?

If you’re at the conferences, virtual or in person, whose room is packed out every single time? Who is it that has your boss’ ear or your skip leader? Who’s the person who really has the power to make the decisions and you see being frequently called upon? Those are what I call the power players, the people where a business doesn’t happen unless you hear from them first, where they have a significant influence over whatever is happening in the workplace.

When we’re talking about power players, one of the key words there is influence. Same thing with sponsors. They have to be able to influence and impact change. Otherwise, they really aren’t a power player in the industry. So, when you start seeing people speaking at events, or people always tapping that person, you know that person has power in the workplace. And my key is always finding a way to get in the room with them. How can you get as close as possible, again, virtual or in person?

I think you could still do it virtually. In some respects, virtual can even be a little bit easier than trying to navigate yourself into a room in person. But find a way to get in the room. And whether it’s interacting with that individual at the event, even as simple as asking a really great question, or being super active in the virtual chat. Find a way to get involved with that power player and initiate some time, whether it’s a 15-minute meeting to introduce yourself, learn more about them, or attending quite a few events.

If I’m very honest, there are some people who I have relationships with now where it took me years to build a relationship. It wasn’t one time to get on their radar. It was multiple events, multiple things before I reached out and got any individual time with that person. I think, especially when you’re looking for someone who has influence, it’s going to take some time. It’s not going to be a quick one, two, three the first time you try to hear back.

And if you can’t get in touch with that person, I recommend also looking at who’s around them. So, let’s say there is a senior SVP in your workplace and you want to get in touch with them but you know you have not had any luck on getting on their calendar. Well, then who are their direct reports? Let’s see if we can get in contact with them and work your way around, so the next time when you try, you already have some relationships that are close and someone else who can refer you or make an introduction. Sometimes it takes a little bit more time to get that power player.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And so then, so you stick with it and you keep your eyes open. You ask for those recommendations and you’re watching. And then how do you yourself become such a power player?

Kimberly Cummings
Again, I think that’s so much about impact and value. It’s about being a subject matter expert, being the SME in your area. Many times, people believe that leaders have to have this big title, they have to be the SVP, the director, the super long title that is confusing, and you can barely say it yourself. But I really believe that everybody has the ability to be a leader.

You are hired for any particular role. That role has tasks and responsibilities. Regardless of your seniority, you need to be the subject matter expert for your role. Nobody needs to do that role better than you are doing that role. You have to lead in that role. When you are leading in your role, so you’ve mastered it, you are the person who they come to for questions or concerns, you have networked yourself appropriately so people also know that you are the best at that role.

You’re not just behind closed doors or in your virtual office, not speaking to anyone. That’s really how you can start positioning yourself as the go-to person and, ultimately, positioning yourself as a leader or the power player in your area. And, also, having that strategy, so knowing what’s next, which means having some of those tough career conversations even if your leader isn’t kind of giving you what you need, making sure that you kind of push forward or find someone else who can give you that feedback.

Having that strategy so you can continuously be evolving your career and moving to the next level, that will slowly but surely be able to position you. And, you know, for some folks, it takes time. For me, even thinking about my own career, for a long time, my goal was to be a director of career services in higher education. I spent nearly 10 years in career services offices working with people at 18 who don’t know what they want to do with their entire life, to people who are in their 60s who want to use all their experience and use that to kind of launch into something that just makes them happy in the world of work.

And I wanted to just be a director of career services running a large office. That was it. And I knew that in order to move to the next level, this wasn’t an arena where I’d be able to stay in one office unless I wanted to stay in one office for like 10 to 15 years to slowly work my way up. So, every two years, I made sure I knew what my next move was, I understood the skills that I needed to gain with each strategic move in order to build a career for myself, and also increase my influence.

I participated in conferences. I spoke at conferences. I always made sure I was able to level up in my career. And, ultimately, I did not get that director of career services job, but I became a director in a global Fortune 100 company in financial services leading some of their diversity talent acquisition recruitment efforts. So, you just have to make sure that you’re continuously leveling up and having a strategy for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thanks for sharing your story there. And could you share also the story of someone you think did a fine job of kind of integrating all of these learnings and seen some cool results?

Kimberly Cummings
Definitely, success stories. Like, everyone always loves success stories. I have a current client who I was working with who came to me because they were feeling stuck, they’re in one of those jobs that we talked about earlier, Pete, where they were just kind of over it. They felt underemployed, definitely underpaid, and they really wanted to start positioning themselves for leadership roles.

Then when we first started working together, she just wanted to get on track. So, we went through the assessment, we went through kind of understanding all of the skillsets, was she in a career that was aligned to what her goals were. And at that time, she was but she didn’t have the level of seniority that she wanted. She didn’t have the impact that she was looking for.

So, for that particular person, we worked a lot on the relationships. How can we start making sure people know about the work that she’s doing, networking, cultivating some of those sponsors, some of those mentors? And, in about three to six months, I think probably around the five-month mark, if I have my memory serves me right, she’d been applying to jobs and she finally landed a role.

And because she’d done so much work with building relationships, understanding her own personal and professional brand, she rocked this interview process, making sure that she was finally positioned for a role. A lot of it was the language she was using to make sure that she was no longer underemployed and being in a role that was in much better alignment.

She negotiated a $35,000 salary increase. She got added to a committee right away that was aligned with some of her career goals. And she was able to speak a lot about career pathing even in her interview process, so she knew what would be the next step for her, being very candid about looking for longevity in an employer and not just for a defined role.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, thank you.

Kimberly Cummings
No problem.

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

Kimberly Cummings
No, I think this is good. I think you had me cover it all. I love how actionable all of our questions are.

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

Kimberly Cummings
Yes. So, there’s a quote by India Arie. It is, “The only thing constant in this world is change.” I put it in my high school yearbook, and I think it’s so, so, so true.

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

Kimberly Cummings
I really like the research on diversity, equity, and inclusion when it comes to privilege. I’ve been doing a lot of research on that, kind of looking into more of the privilege walks. I know Drexel has a lot of information on that arena.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Kimberly Cummings
So, my new favorite book is Winning is Everything by Tim S. Grover.

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

Kimberly Cummings
I think StrengthsFinder, the assessment, is one of my favorites. It helps you understand yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Kimberly Cummings
I live and die by a planner and a task-list system that I use. I have it every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m now intrigued. What’s the system?

Kimberly Cummings
So, I use Asana but better than that, I really do it in my notebook every single day. I prioritize my tasks by functional area, and for my business, by revenue impact in order of importance. I have a little color code system too. I’ll have to take a screenshot for you, but it helps me knock out even more every single day by having all those priorities in line and make sure that I’m working on what actually needs to get done versus the mini-tasks that we do all day that keep us from doing the big thing that we should be doing.

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

Kimberly Cummings
A lot of it is around confidence. I think I have a quote from my business, my manifesto that I always share. It’s, “You must believe in yourself and your vision. When you do this, you’ll manifest the life you desire.” And I share this a lot because when we’re trying to make any type of career change, I think the number one thing you have to do before we get into all the strategy pieces is believe that it’s actually possible for you.

And a lot of times, when we start talking about that, people are like, “Oh, my gosh, like that really resonates. Like, I didn’t even think that that was important. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been moving.” It’s, like, you have to believe that whatever you want to do is possible for you.

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

Kimberly Cummings
I would point them to KimberlyBCummings.com. I’m also on all the social places. So, Instagram and LinkedIn are probably my favorite. LinkedIn, it’s my name, and Instagram is kimbcummings.

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

Kimberly Cummings
Yes. So, shameless plug or not so shameless because you said I can share. But I’m a very brand-new author. So, in June 2021, I wrote a book Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning Into a Career You’ll Love and it is available wherever books are sold. And this is the process to help you put together a two-year career strategy.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Kimberly, thank you. This has been a treat and I wish you lots of luck in each of your moves.

Kimberly Cummings
Thank you so much.

685: How to Manage Conflict and Work Peacefully in Virtual Teams with John Riordan

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John Riordan shares practical strategies for overcoming the unique challenges of conflict among virtual teams.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three best practices for preventing conflict 
  2. How to face conflict head on with the SBID model
  3. The three options you have when working with a jerk 

 

About John

For over 30 years, John Riordan has been committed to challenging people and organizations to reach their full capacity – first as a leadership program founder and director in East Africa, and now as an organization and leadership development consultant. He has consulted with a broad range of federal, private sector and non-profit organizations conducting hundreds of planning, team building and training workshops ranging from large conferences (200+) to small intact teams. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, sponsors!

John Riordan Interview Transcript

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

John Riordan
Absolutely. My pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom but, first, I want to hear about the Marine Corps marathon that you did. How is that different than a normal marathon and what’s the backstory there?

John Riordan
Well, yeah, so that’s a good question and the backstory is interesting too. So, first of all, I’ll say a former friend, I don’t like this guy anymore. I went out for a jog one day and I’ve never ran more than three miles in my life, and he says, “Have you ever thought about running a marathon?” I laughed out loud, like, “Are you kidding me? Five miles would be a stretch and I have no interest in running a marathon whatsoever.”

He says, “Why not?” “Well, I couldn’t think of a thousand reasons why not. I don’t want to get injured as well.” “You don’t have to get injured. If something hurts, you stop.” I’m like, “Okay. It’s boring. Running for hours is boring.” “Well, could you do something about that?” Well, long story short, you could listen to things and learn things, and you’d be amazed how much you can learn while you’re running for two or three hours at a time.

Long story short, he coached me simply by saying, by asking the ultimate coaching question is, “What could you do about that?” And, ultimately, he’s sort of helped me dismantle all my own defenses to the point where I kind of had to do it. And so, I like to say I completed the Marine Corps, meaning I walked-run, not run the whole way. I had all this mental models. I thought everyone who ran any marathon would be super athlete fit runner. Nope, not the case whatsoever.

You look at any marathon, but the Marine Corps especially, I mean any size, shape that you would be shocked at who is capable of completing a marathon. I thought you had to die at the end, because as the first marathoner, I thought that was the requirement. You had to run with all your strength and then collapse and die. Nope. Apparently, that is not a requirement so I couldn’t stick to that one.

And so, just dismantling all these barriers that I had in my mind, some of which were simply like, I guess you’d say excuses, but many of which were just misunderstandings, misinterpretations, or assumptions I was making. And it was such a powerful metaphor for my own experience because I do this kind of coaching with folks all the time, and so to experience it for myself and realize how many assumptions I’m making, how many misunderstandings, how many barriers, artificial barriers I’ve put in my way. And when you remove those, it’s like, “Oh, shoot. Now I guess I have to do it because I have no more excuses.”

And the Marine Corps is, they call it America’s Marathon. It’s the beginner’s marathon. It’s a very flat course. They promote first-time marathoners so you get kind of bumped up if it’s your first one. And there’s thousands of people cheering you the entire way, and so it’s just a high the whole way that you’re being cheered on and encouraged and all that stuff, and so it’s a great experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Well, yeah, there’s lessons right there and metaphors and excuses.

John Riordan
Well, I tell you, so much.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, “What could you do about that?” is a fine question.

John Riordan
Yeah, it’s a great question.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, so you’ve got a boatload of experience when it comes to leadership development and you’ve got many courses. And we had several conversations with folks about virtual teams and virtual leadership and virtual meetings and overcoming distractions when you’re working from home, etc. What intrigued me about you is you’ve specifically got courses on dealing with conflict in virtual environments and facilitating in virtual environments.

And I think those are probably two of the toughest things to do with folks who are in different places. So, let’s dig in and talk about conflict resolution stuff in a virtual context. And, maybe, could you kick us off with a juicy story? Like, what’s a good, good, meaty, reality TV-grade drama or conflict that you’ve seen or heard about from your clients resolved through virtual media?

John Riordan
Yeah. Right. So, as I say, conflict is typically challenging for most of us regardless even when we are in person, and it’s uncomfortable and awkward and all that other sort of stuff.

Well, you layer on the virtual context and it just changes the parameters, and there are some upsides. There are some upsides to the virtual context. We might not annoy each other as much, my personality might not grate on you because we’re not across the hallway from each other, whatever. But clearly, the downside is, the big challenge is, that the little misunderstanding in that email goes unaddressed and we have to be intentional, very intentional, about bringing it up because, otherwise, when we’re in person, we’ll bumped into each other in the hallway, I’ll see you as we walk, we’re walking out, I’ll see at lunch, whatever, at the next meeting, “Hey, Pete, about that thing, about that project, about that whatever…” and we have these, otherwise, even unnoticed interactions.

The volume of interaction that happens in person, that is in the Ethisphere, really, it has been very interesting to watch the literature emerging in the past 18 months because, prior to COVID, you had intentionally virtual organizations, people who chose to work virtually, their organization wanted them to work virtually, their job was structured for virtual work. Well, the past 18 months, for most of us, has been suddenly virtual without choice, without option, without structure, and, basically, chaos.

And so, all that Ethisphere interaction just vaporized and, all of a sudden, you and I are exchanging emails, we have that misunderstanding, but we don’t see each other, at best on a video conference, if that, once a week, and so I’m not going to setup a meeting to address this minor thing with you, and so it grows, and so that distance grows. And pretty soon, you start to have the wedge that develops.

So, turn to the juicy stories, geez, I don’t even know where to begin. The one that pops to mind is we’re sitting there on a meeting convened by a full-bird colonel, and one of the participants is on video, and he’s clearly distracted. And as the colonel is presenting, this guy is talking to other people, he’s looking all over, he’s like obviously not paying attention. Well, this doesn’t go over well with the colonel who finally stops and says, “Hey,” I’ll call him Joe, “Joe,” awkward sound, “Joe.” This guy is talking, he doesn’t even hear himself, he’s probably muted the whole thing.

I mean, it’s a good couple of minutes before Joe finally looks down and awkward, and, “Oh, I’m sorry…” And he’s like, “So, are you with us, Joe?” “Oh, oh, sorry, sorry.” Well, there’s too many people on the call, the colonel is not going to address Joe right there and then, which is good. So, what’s the colonel going to do? Is he going to make an appointment with Joe? Is he going to setup another call to have this discussion, what happened? I mean, this whole thing was like it just snowballs. The whole team is involved because everybody watched it.

If you were in a conference room and someone was distracted and that happened, it would essentially get resolved real-time, probably, optimistically, just by virtue of the interaction. In the virtual world, that meeting is over. Boop! Everyone disappears. So, we all witnessed it and then it’s over. There’s no hallway discussion, there’s no post-chat discussion, and so you have this awkward thing. And the only way to resolve it is reconvene and have a discussion, both the colonel and the individual, and then bringing it back to the group.

I mean, the processing of that conflict in the virtual context too so much more effort than it would have real-time, optimistically. Real-time, you just interact, resolve, address, move on. And so, in the virtual world, it is challenging to be intentional, to lean into it, for those of us who it’s not a natural strength. There’s a few people where conflict they’re just good at it, and then there’s the rest of us.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, we have to know how things conclude. So, what happened with the colonel and Joe here today?

John Riordan
Well, let’s just say Joe kind of wrapped it up with this, which is, in his mind, his perspective was that this was urgent, this was…I don’t know if he used the word crisis but, in his mind, this was urgent and he needed to address it right away. Well, I don’t know how familiar you are with the military, but with a full-birded colonel, like you could pretty much use rank, unless it’s a general, you pay attention to the colonel first or you interrupt to say, “I’m sorry, sir. The building is on fire. I’m going to have to step away for a few…” and so, his lack of awareness of the protocol and how to handle his situation on his end.

Now, the colonel is very reasonably gracious but it definitely clarified that this guy, and so he was two steps down from the colonel, he’s a civilian so he reports to his boss, his boss reports to the colonel. Well, let’s just say it was clear he has a lot to learn, so now he’s kind of – what’s the right word – not demoted positionally but he didn’t show up well. He showed up really badly so now he’s going to have to overcome that. It’s going to take time for him to demonstrate that he has learned and sort of overcome that experience with folks.

And, again, in the virtual world, he only has very limited opportunities to do that. In person, you’d have more meetings, you’d have more interactions, you’d have the hallway. Now, he’s like he has to lean into it and really reestablish his reputation in a lot of ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

John Riordan
So, he’s still there, as far I know. It wasn’t that bad but it was not good.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that does kind of paint a picture in terms of things that can occur and the extra challenges that ensue. So, lay it on us, what are some of the best practices you’ve discovered when it comes to managing conflict when folks are remote?

John Riordan
First and foremost, intentionality. Paying attention. It’s so much easier when we’re virtual to just dismiss it and let it go and it’s no big deal, and it might not be a big deal. It’s just that clumsy email, or maybe they didn’t really mean it, or maybe I’m misinterpreting what Pete said in his text, and just let it go. Okay. But, however, it’s so tempting to do that because when we switch off the call, I’m back in my own world and I’m not going to see you in the hallway, I’m not going to bump into you in the coffee break, and so it’s easier to just dismiss it.

So, paying attention, intentionality, “Is this worth addressing? Should I address it?” And even before that, I like to say, “What’s my bias with regard to conflict in the first place?” I am conflict-avoidant, so I know that my bias is to let it go. And, therefore, given that bias, I may need to lean into this and step into this more than I feel comfortable with. That’s probably true.

There are some people in the world who are conflict-seeking who don’t mind. My father-in law was this way. He loved a good knockdown drill. Like, to him, everything was an opportunity for a very energetic debate. Anyone else would’ve said, “Gosh, why are you arguing?” And he’d tell them, “I’m not arguing. We’re just having a healthy debate.” So, he didn’t mind and he would lean into everything. Most of us, percentage-wise, I think most people are on that conflict-reluctant.

And so, how to assess yourself with regard to your style around conflict, and then in the virtual realm being attentive and intentional, being more open to it. And then third, I’d say, is talk about it. Talk about it. Like, for goodness’ sake, bring this up as a team with your colleagues, “So, Pete, you and I are going to work together for the next 12 months. Hey, can we talk about some operating agreements? How are we going to handle differences of opinion? How are we going to handle conflict? How are we going to handle our working practices? What’s our communication style? What can we do to help each other and find a good way through the middle?”

And so, having a conversation about how we will handle conflict, before we’re in the middle of a big conflict, is so, so critical for teams. It’s so helpful to get it out on the table so it’s not some awkward taboo subject that nobody wants to broach.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s just so huge when it comes to aligning expectations in many contexts in terms of, one, upfront we kind of know, hey, what we’re dealing with and what the standards are. And, two, it just sort of prevents a lot of that stuff. It’s like someone is mad because someone else has not fulfilled their unspoken expectations, and it’s like, “Oh, sorry. I didn’t realize I broke a rule that was never mentioned as being a rule. Oops!” So, that’s just a great practice to do in many contexts.

And so, when it comes to, “How are we going to address conflict?” have you seen any particular best practices that have been in a lot of operating agreements and been really helpful for folks?

John Riordan
Yeah. Well, that would be the first one, is to establish a set of operating agreements. Now, I would offer, prior to that, a really good practice is to do that, have that conversation and do an assessment. I don’t necessarily mean formally, just as a team, just discuss, “Pete, what’s your style? Are you more conflict-avoidant or are you more conflict-seeking, somewhere in the middle? Help me understand your style. I’ll explain to you that I do tend to be conflict-avoidant. I get uncomfortable but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to do it. It’s just I get all sort of uneasy, so bear with me to the extent that you can encourage me and keep me going in the conflict. That’ll be helpful to me. So, let’s have that discussion. Where are we as a team?”

And there are some really simple models that will help folks have a conversation. There’s from Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He has this conflict continuum, and one end is artificial harmony where we’re all avoiding it, “Oh, it’s great. Everything is great. Yup, we’re all good. Yeah, no, no, no, there’s no problem here.” “Like, really? Because it sure sounded like there was.” So, artificial harmony on one end.

And on the other is destructive conflicts, mean-spirited attacks and backbiting and all that sort of stuff. And so, the ideal is healthy and constructive conflict is somewhere in that middle ground where we’re able to have the hard conversations and we’re open to that. So, assessing, with a small A, you don’t have to take a big instrument or anything, just, “Where do you think we are? And let’s talk about it. And what would it look like for us to maintain a healthy and constructive conflict culture?” And then that can lead you into, “Okay, so how do we do that?”

And I would say that that becomes a matter of operating agreements where we can talk about it, like, “What does that look like?” “Well, we should respect each other.” “Okay, what does that really mean? What does that really look like for you?” “Well, it means we don’t interrupt each other.” “Well, I’m a strong extrovert. I don’t care about interruptions, but if you do then I’ll try to pay attention to that. If I interrupt you, don’t take it personally. I’m not trying to dismiss your point. I’m very extroverted.” “Okay, good.” We can learn about each other, come to some agreements, and then try to put them into practice.

And so, when it comes to what those agreements are, I would say there are clearly some general ones, like respect, taking responsibility, addressing things early, not letting it fester, criticism in private, constructive critique in private, affirmation in public, those types of pretty general stuff. And then you get into specifics for a given team based on their situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And so then, let’s say we’re in the thick of things and someone did something that maybe we didn’t have the good fortune to have listened to you earlier and then, thusly, those operating agreements were not formally established. Someone did something. I am miffed. What do you recommend are some of the best ways to go about cleaning that up and addressing the matter? Any go-to scripts, words, phrases, principles?

John Riordan
So, there’s a feedback model that is a nice…I like that word script. I like the model of a recipe. So, I use this metaphor a lot. You have a recipe, how to make something, once you’ve done it a number of times, you can play with it. You don’t have to follow the recipe exactly and you can add something or try something different and see how it goes. But the basic recipe, at least, is a guide.

And so, this model is from the Center for Creative Leadership, SBID – situation, behavior, impact, desired outcome, SBID. And so, what’s the situation? So, I don’t call you and leave a voicemail, and say, “Pete, we need to talk. I’m just not happy with how you attacked me at the meeting the other day.” “Whoa, what on earth?” That’s like you’re already going to be on the defensive. You don’t even know where I’m coming from.

So, give a little context to this. What’s the situation? “So, Pete, we’re in that meeting, we’re on that call, we’re having that discussion. Do you remember that? And I was presenting, do you remember? Do you remember how you asked that question to me? I don’t know if you knew. So, that situation.” “Okay, yeah, I’m with you. We’ve got it. I understand the context.”

Now, the behavior, the B, that’s critical because it’s not an accusation. It’s simply a statement of behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
“You’re a jerk.” Not that.

John Riordan
Exactly, “Pete, you keep criticizing me in public. You keep dismantling my argument.” “What? I’m not trying to…I don’t even know what you’re…I’m not dismantling you.” “Well, you asked that question.” “Ah, yeah. That’s all I did was ask a question.” “Well, you’re trying to undermine me.” “Whoa, I’m not trying to undermine you. I just had a question about your data. Like, really, I’m not…”

Okay, impact. The impact was, “It felt to me that you were trying to undermine my credibility. It felt like you were questioning my presentation, questioning my data.” “I was asking a question about your data I wasn’t trying to embarrass you in public.” So, that impact helps you understand how your behavior impacted me, but it also is important for me to own that, assuming good intent, unless I have enough record to believe that you actually are out to get me.

And the other possibility is that you didn’t do it intentionally but this is how it impacted me, and can we have a conversation about that. And that is a huge, huge – what would you call that – a sea change, a really big distinction. And here’s the question you can write down, “Did you do this on purpose?” Did the person, whoever they are, did they do this to you intentionally? Did they do it to you on purpose?

Pete Mockaitis
Now, is that a question you ask yourself internally or a question you ask of the other party?

John Riordan
Well, kind of both ends. That’s a good point. It starts with me asking it of myself. So, my example is somebody cuts me off in traffic, “Aargh, can you believe that? What an idiot.” And then my wife says, “Well, maybe their wife is having a baby. Maybe their house is on fire. Maybe they have all kinds of reasons.” Well, the person didn’t roll down the window and say, “Hey, are you John Riordan?” “Yes.” “Oh, okay, I’m going to cut you off because I can’t stand you and I want to ruin your day.” That’s not what they’re thinking. They are just being self-centered, they’re just going about their day, they’re not paying attention to me, and they cut me off. It doesn’t mean it’s okay but it wasn’t about me. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah.

John Riordan
You’re asking a question in the middle of a presentation, your mindset might be, “I don’t really like those numbers. I wonder where he got those.” There’s all kinds of reasons why you might be asking that question other than, “Watch this. I’m going to ask this question and dismantle John’s argument. It’s going to be great. He’s going to fall apart,” because that would be intentional and then we’re adversaries.

But there’s a lot of other possibilities as to why people do what they do. And so, having that discussion, disarming – I love that metaphor – disarming the conflict so that it becomes instead of a capital C, we’re having a full-blown argument, it’s a small C, “Can we talk about this?” “Well, I didn’t like your numbers.” “Well, I appreciate that and, of course, you have the right to ask about my numbers. I would ask you to respect the fact that this is a presentation in front of senior managers, and could you have followed up with me later, or I ask you to review the material ahead of time. I don’t know if you did, but I would’ve appreciated you asking me that question before the meeting, etc.” So, there’s all kinds of ways we might address it to resolve the distinction without it getting to a capital C, conflict.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, as I step into this scenario that you’ve created, John, I just sort of wonder, like, what do you do when the other party…? I won’t say that they’re like malicious evil jerks trying to get you, but they just think your concern is dumb, they’re like, “Look, John, this is a data-driven organization. We try to make the best decisions. If I’ve got a question about your data, I’m going to ask the question about your data, I don’t care where we are, who you’re talking to. It’s just how we get to the truth and optimal business results. So, pull up your big boy pants and get a thick skin and stop whining to me about this inane bull crap so we can go make insane value for shareholders.”

Let’s say you get a pretty rude but not like maliciously, “That’s right, buddy. I’m out to take you down, so watch your back.” So, a pretty brute and dismissive response. How do you think about those?

John Riordan
Yeah. So, let me emphasize the distinction that you just made because, again, one is, “I have reason to believe that this person is an active adversary. They are literally out to take me down.” And those do exist. I’m not talking about being naïve and pretending that everybody is your best friend. There are a few, and hopefully a few, adversaries that you should watch out for. If you have a lot of adversaries, then you got to decide whether you can sustain that lifestyle and that career, and some people can, but for many of us, that might be a signal for a job change. If I’m surrounded by people who want to take me out, you either sign up for that or you don’t. So, that’s the first distinction.

The second, the way you’re describing it, is, “Look, it’s not about you, John. I really don’t care. I’m going to keep asking those questions. You just have to get over it.” So, they’re not out to take me down but they’re not also going to handle me with kid gloves. Then it becomes a question of power – power and influence in the organization. Because if that voice is coming from a full-bird colonel, and I’m the low person on the totem pole, then, guess what, I have to either live with that and go about my business, or I have to decide I’m in the wrong organization.

If that person is a peer, and we’re on equal footing, so to speak, then that’s a whole different scenario, “What influence do I have? Do I continue the discussion? Do I counter with, ‘Hey, I’d just be down. I think that’s a great way for us to work, because if I did that to you, you wouldn’t be happy. Can we not find a better way of working together?’” That’s the D in the SBID, the desired outcome is, “Can we learn to work together well?”

Now, option three, if that voice was coming from a subordinate, somebody who reports to me, I’d say, “Okay, have a seat. We need to talk. You need to decide whether you want to stay here or not because this is not how we’re going to operate in my sphere of influence.” So, it depends on who that individual is and what power and authority relationship we have.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s handy. Thank you. Well, tell me, John, any other key things you want to make sure to mention about conflict resolution and in virtual settings, maybe any sort of tools or favorite apps, software, or things that you find handy?

John Riordan
That’s interesting. For me, the resources, they’re now showing up online. Apps-wise, it doesn’t come to mind but in terms of models. So, one is by an author named Peter Block. And Peter Block’s partnership model lays out this distinction between trust and agreement. And so, you ask yourself, “Okay,” and I go through this exercise, a great exercise for everybody. You’re mapping out, especially in the work context, but of course it bleeds over to the rest of our lives as well. How much trust is there in the relationship? And how much agreement, in terms of the content of the discussion?

So, we disagree about the numbers and the data, but I don’t distrust you. I trust that you’re just asking a question about the numbers. That’s okay. Versus, if there’s no trust, then we have a serious problem. Trust is obviously far more critical than agreement. If I trust you, we can disagree about anything but I still trust you. We trust each other. And that distinction is huge.

So, Peter Block has a great article. I’ve got summary worksheets on this on my website but it’s the kind of thing that really helps you lay out, “Okay, who are my allies that I trust, we agree, we’re working in the same direction. I can really rely on these folks. There’s other categories and there are some unknowns, and then there’s this adversaries. We disagree on the direction and, guess what, we don’t trust each other so watch out.” Okay, let’s not be naïve. Let’s map this out. So, that’s a really helpful, sort of getting the lay of the land.

Let’s see, Patrick Lencioni’s material around conflict is fantastic. That’s all available on his site. Good stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, thank you. Now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

John Riordan
First and foremost, in practical terms, from two authors, Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones. And there’s a lot of different ways to say this but the bumper sticker for their material is, “Be yourself with more skill.” Be yourself with more skill. And I tell you, if I gave them a nickel for every time I’ve shared that thought, I owe them.

And what I love about that is five words. It’s amazing, five words. But, boy, you talk about a life journey, and this applies so powerfully to the work, in your career, and what I’d like to say your calling, but it also applies equally to your personal relationships, family, friends, community, you name it. Be yourself, be who you are made to be, figure out who you are, bring yourself to the table, your values, your strengths, your personality, but do it with more skill.

I spent years trying to be something else, be more of this, be less of that, as opposed to, “Okay, who am I? And then how do I show up skillfully? How do I bring my strengths to bear in a skillful way?” If that makes sense, it’s such an interesting but very powerful nuance.

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

John Riordan
I really appreciate the stuff that they did around this piece around authentic leadership, so Goffee and Jones. And, essentially, one of those harbingers, there’s been plenty of research around this, but the culture of leadership, and the shift from command and control. So, my dad was a marine, World War II, Korean War marine, and let me tell you, you did what the boss told you to do – command and control. “Why should I do what you tell me?” “Because I’m your boss. Because I’m above you. I outrank you. You name it. You do what you’re told.”

Well, clearly, we take it for granted, but leadership culture has evolved tremendously. Their article was called “Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?” It kind of flips it on its head.

And so, leadership now is about respect and response, and people choosing to follow you, choosing to allow you to influence them. And that’s what leadership is about now and it’s really evolved tremendously. And so, that piece of research, that kind of encapsulated that and demonstrated that, amongst men, but, to me, it’s a real – what would you call that – a milestone, a marker, that we have really shifted as a culture.

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

John Riordan
Currently, the one that is making the biggest difference in my life is called The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin.

She calls them tendencies, these ideas of, “How I operate? What makes me tick? What moves me from ideas into action? And how different that can be for different people?” And that has been super insightful for me and in sharing that with clients and helping people understand and, of course, it overlaps with personalities and all those other things, but, essentially, focusing in on moving from thought into action.

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

John Riordan
Yeah, I would repeat that one, The Four Tendencies. So, for me on that, the huge lightbulb for me is that I am motivated by external factors, and I spent years trying to be more self-disciplined, trying to develop kind of just put my nose to the grindstone and get it done. Not bad to have self-discipline. That’s great. But she distinguishes that some people are internally motivated, and they will, when they decide to do something, they’ll go do it.

Other people are externally motivated. So, I can have a great idea, and something I’d even like to do, but if nobody else is involved, if I’m not accountable to anybody, if I don’t have to answer to anyone, if no one else is there, then the likelihood I’ll be doing it is much lower. As soon as somebody else is involved, I’ll do it.

So, I’ve harnessed that, I got myself an executive assistant who is my professional bulldog, and I say, “Jorie, make sure this happens.” I’m on this podcast because of her. I love doing these things but I’m not going to do it. She says, “You’re going to do it. Make sure it happens,” and then I do it.

And so, harnessing that tendency, for me, of external motivation, I mean, I can’t even tell you everything I’ve been able to accomplish simply because it’s gone from ideas, the long list of good ideas in my head, and actually turning them into action.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

John Riordan
I would say two. Exercising has been huge.
I can’t say enough about it just in terms of de-stress, in terms of getting all that energy out in the negative sense, and then coming back and being ready to go. But, also, what I love about going to the gym, one of the big upsides, is little incremental small victories. So, I keep track of my workouts. I’m only there for half an hour, 40 minutes tops, but I try to just keep incrementally improving.

And it’s very cool to start the day by adding a few more reps, or adding a few more pounds, or adding a few more whatever to that weight or to that exercise, and to feel like, “Okay. All right. This is something I can win at.” And so, now I can go back into the day and bring that same sense of energy and motivation into the rest of what I got to do. So, that’s number one.

And then number two, what I listen to. I can’t say enough. The same thing, through the 18 months, like God bless you if you grew up with lots of positive encouragement and I had a very affirming upbringing. But my dad worked for IBM, very neutral, not an entrepreneur, just went to work and came home, so I never had somebody, a voice in my ears saying, “Hey, you got this. You can do it. Get in there. You’re great at this. You can…” whatever, all that sort of coaching and positive affirmations. And so, it’s been huge to tap into just little YouTube clips, different motivational stuff that suits my style, and to really have that voice in my ear, literally, cheering me on, coaching me on. It’s been fantastic. Very, very much a game changer, especially over this stressful time.

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

John Riordan
Oh, that first one, “Be yourself with more skill.” That’s number one, absolutely.

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

John Riordan
JR@JohnRiordan.com is the email address and JohnRiordan.com is the website.

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

John Riordan
That journey of self-discovery is absolutely, I can’t say enough about what a starting point that is. And it’s a journey, it’s not like you take two weeks off and learn about yourself, and then that’s it. But to delve into that, “What are your core values?” and contemplate on that. Really define it, writing it down. Everybody, almost any American is going to say, “Oh, I have core values.” “Okay, what are they?” “Ahh, I don’t really know.”

So, what are your core values? Write them down. Think about them. Define them. There’s different ways to go about that. What are your strengths that you bring to the world, to your work, to your family, to your…What are those? Do you know what they are or you just kind of know? And what’s your personality traits? What makes you tick? What motivates you? And sort of capturing that, collecting that awareness.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, John, this has been a treat. Thank you for sharing the goods. And keep on rocking.

John Riordan
Thank you. My pleasure. My pleasure. I really appreciate the opportunity. I hope this is encouraging and challenging and useful for folks.

684: Achieving More by Tapping into the Science of Less with Leidy Klotz

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Leidy Klotz reveals how to access the untapped potential of subtraction to make work and life more efficient.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What Legos can teach us about smarter problem-solving
  2. The trick to overcoming your brain’s bias for addition
  3. How subtracting leaves us with more

About Leidy

Leidy Klotz is a Professor at the University of Virginia, where he directs the university’s Convergent Behavioral Science Initiative and is appointed in the Schools of Engineering, Architecture, and Business. His research on the science of problem-solving has appeared in both Nature and Science and has been covered in The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post among national newspapers on five continents. 

Resources Mentioned

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

Leidy Klotz Interview Transcript

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

Leidy Klotz
Thanks for having me, Pete. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into the wisdom you’ve put forth in your book Subtract. So, why don’t we kick it off by you telling us the story of your epiphany that occurred with Legos?

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, the epiphany courtesy of my three-year old at the time, so I was playing Legos with my son and the problem that we had was that we were building a Lego bridge and it wasn’t level. And so, one of the columns was shorter than the other column. I turned around behind me to grab a block to add to the shorter column. By the time I had turned back around, my son had removed a block from the longer column. And that right there in front of me was this kind of thought process that I became interested in. And we’ve since done tens thousands of hours’ worth of research, studying and trying to figure out what was going on there.

But what was really helpful for me with that moment with the Legos, with my son, was that I’d always been interested in less, kind of this end state of things that are better because there’s less to them. But what he helped me see in that moment was this act of getting there, subtracting, and he also helped me see it in a very tangible way, in a way that I could actually go around and even show other people and describe my thoughts to other people. So, that proved really helpful as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Yes, three-year olds, I’ve got one as well and they teach you much. So, that’s wild how that sparks such a long journey, and it’s cool that we don’t stop there with a nice little metaphor. You got a boatload of research now to back it up. So, can you tell us then, while that’s kind of an interesting way to think a little bit differently, what’s sort at stake or the benefits associated with pursuing subtracting as opposed to adding?

Leidy Klotz
Fundamentally, what’s at stake here is that it’s a basic option that we have to make things better. Whether we’re creating a Lego structure, or whether we’re trying to improve our daily task list, whether we’re trying to improve the thoughts that are in our head, we can add things to them and we can also take things away.

And what I did in that moment was I didn’t even think about taking away as an option, and I would’ve added and moved on, never even considering if I wanted to subtract in that moment if not for being shown the other way by my son. And so, that’s the problem. The problem is that we’re not considering the options. The problem is not that less is always better. In fact, I quite like adding, but I think that anytime that we’re systematically overlooking a basic way to change things, that’s a problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. Doubling our options sounds handy for sure. Could you share with us maybe some cool case studies in terms of professionals who’d done some subtracting and seen some really cool results and benefits?

Leidy Klotz
So, the downside is that we systematically underuse it. The upside is we don’t have to, and because everybody else is systematically underusing, there’s kind of additional power in taking things away. This is an untapped opportunity. And so, I think you see it everywhere really. So, one example is the craft of good presentations. I know you’ve had some people talking about that on your podcast before.

But, like, one of the elements of a good presentation is that all the kind of unnecessary stuff is stripped away. Edward Tufte, who’s this guru of information design, talks about maximizing the information to ink ratio, which basically means stripping away any ink that is not adding to your message. And so, that’s something in PowerPoint presentations, or posters, or any kind of visual displays, but obviously you can see the same thing in editing, so editing writing, also editing podcasts. I’m sure you’re going to take out some of the stuff that I say here today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, not much. Not much.

Leidy Klotz
So, that is a very powerful subtraction that improves the overall product by taking away. So, that’s subtracting in kind of the information way. I think, on a personal level, and I’m certainly not the first person who has thought of this, but thinking about what you can stop doing, especially at work because at work we’re so inclined to show competence, and this is one of the reasons that we tend to add, I think, is because adding shows competence. But reminding ourselves, “Hey, one of the ways to make your work life better is to stop doing marginally useful tasks so that you have more time for the really useful ones.”

So, forcing myself, when I’m doing my to-do list, also thinking about, “Okay, what’s on my stop-doing list for the week?” And it’s critical that it can’t just be things that you’re going to say no to. It has to be things that you’re already doing, and now you’re going to stop doing them. That’s an actual subtraction from your calendar.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s like saving money, like if you buy something that’s 30% off, you haven’t really saved money. But if you remove something, like, “You know what, I don’t even use that thing. Cancel that subscription.” Okay, now you’re saving some real money. So, that’s cool. And I’m curious, now             you’ve got a boatload of science and research behind it. Could you share with us what are some interesting insights, experiments, and results there that have taught you something about how we humans tend to operate and how we might operate better?

Leidy Klotz
Yeah. So, building from the bridge with my son, we did have one Lego-inspired study here, and basically you could solve this Lego study. There was a platform that was protecting a mini figure, and the task was to try to stabilize the platform so that you could balance a brick on top of the platform without crushing the mini figure. And, basically, you could solve this by removing one block and kind of letting the platform set down, or you could solve it by adding eight blocks and stabilizing it that way.

So, in this case, with the bridge it was like either/or. Either way could be a viable solution. In this case, it was obvious that taking away was better. We even incentivized people, and said, “Hey, every block you add, you have to pay for, but if you don’t add blocks, you can keep more of the money that we gave you up front.” And people still, overwhelmingly, kind of defaulted to this way of adding.

And so, what’s interesting about that is it shows not just that we tend to add but also that it’s a problem, like we tend to add even when subtracting would serve us well. And, of course, when people noticed or were told that, “Hey, this is a subtractive option,” they said, “Oh, geez, I wish I did that.” So, that was evidence that people were systematically overlooking it.

And we did this in a lot of different contexts. For me, the most convincing study paradigm was these grids that we created that you could just play on a computer screen. Because the argument could always be, “Well, that’s just what people do with Legos. This doesn’t mean we’re systematically doing it. It just means we add when we’re playing with Legos.”

But the grids on a computer screen are an entirely new task for people, and the way we set that up was there was a matrix, and it was basically divided into four quadrants. And the task people had was to make the quadrants symmetrical from left to right and from top to bottom. And we put extraneous marks in one of the quadrants. So, the way to solve it was to either to remove those extraneous marks from one quadrant or add the mirror marks in three other quadrants.

So, again, as with the Lego protecting the mini figure, subtracting was the better option, and people systematically overlooked it. And with these grids, there was no kind of preconceived contexts or preconceived ideas that people could bring to the task, so it was pretty good evidence that this is something we’re systematically doing.

Pete Mockaitis
in some ways, it’s funny. With like leveling a bridge, I guess I think about like leveling a table. It’s a lot easier to put a little shim under there than it is, like, “Oh, let me whip out the saw and just kind of shorten one of these legs.”

So, in many contexts, adding is easier. Adding, you mentioned, can reveal competence, like, “Oh, wow, you must know a lot of things because look at all those slides you made there.” And so, there’s a little bit of a nudge or bias there. Any other big explainers as to why do we humans do this?

Leidy Klotz
There are a lot of reasons. The first four chapters of the book is that there’s biological, cultural, and economic forces that have us doing it. And I think one useful distinction here is that there’s this basic oversight where we don’t even think of the option, and then there’s all kinds of reasons once we do think of the option, why we wouldn’t even pursue it.

So, your example of, and I certainly agree with, like cutting a leg off a table, that’s harder. But the assumption there is that, “Okay, we considered it. We thought of that option and we chose against it because it was harder.” That’s logical. That’s not a problem. Basically, what’s going on in the cognitive process, the reason we overlook it is because we add and then move on, we basically say, “This satisfies.” So, we say, “This is a good enough solution and I’m moving on without considering other options.”

And then, from there, there’s evolutionary reasons why that might be happening. You mentioned competence. We think of competence as a very work-related thing and it’s maybe a modern thing. I was surprised, doing the research, just how deeply rooted this desire to show competence is. This is why bowerbirds build their ceremonial nests to attract a mate.

So, if you’re not familiar, these birds build these really great nests. The males build the nests, the females go around and look at the nests, and then they decide which males to mate with based on which nest they like the best. And then the females go and make their own nests to shelter the kids. So, these nests serve no other function than to say, “Hey, the bowerbird who built this nest is effective at interacting with their world.”

And so, we all have this biological desire to show competence. So, when I have 800-file folders saved for this research that we did, none of which that are ever going to see the light of day, part of that is this kind of innate desire to show competence through adding things. And so, that’s a strong why. I think there’s cultural reasons, of course. Then cultural and economic reasons that kind of come together.

If your country is being measured on Gross Domestic Product, anything that you add to the economy is going to be seen as a positive even if it’s a jail or something that’s bad. And then if your company is working on kind of quarterly earning reports, that can incentivize adding stuff to show that you’re doing more and to show that there’s increasing streams of revenue coming in.

So, I think there’s economic incentives, cultural incentives, and biological incentives, and they’re all kind of reinforcing each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I guess I’m also thinking about that corporate example reminded me of it seems like sometimes if you’ve got a really great thing going in terms of like a product and process, and it’s like you could just keep doing that all day, it’s sort of like, “Well, hey, the team is getting bored.” It’s like, “We’re getting bored doing this thing that’s working perfectly over and over and over again, and making lots of profits. So, how about we do a new thing?” I think that can happen too.

Leidy Klotz
Yeah. And I think that’s what I like about subtracting. I’m that kind of person. I want to do and I don’t want to kind keep doing the same thing over and over. And subtracting is an action, so it’s like, this is different than just kind of sitting back, kind of minimalism, or even laziness, or just getting stuck in a rut. It’s like, “Hey, we want to change. We want to improve this thing. We want to try something new. Why is it that we only think about things we could add?”

Because the other way to break out of rut, if you’re that organization that’s been doing the same thing over and over and over again, it’s like, “Hey, let’s cut out half of what we’ve been doing and really focus on the other half,” and that would be a change. Again, I’m agnostic on whether you should add or subtract, but to not consider the option is the problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. You mentioned the research reveals some stuff about how we can get our brains to swim against the current, go against the grain, and do more subtracting. Tell us, how do we go about making that happen?

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, and one of the things we’re trying to show with the research, we’re trying to find with the research is whether people weren’t even thinking of this. And so, we would try things to get them to think of it, make them more likely to think of it, and one of the things we tried was cues. So, with the grids, for example, we gave people a cue that you could add or subtract to solve the grid pattern, and that increased the rates of subtracting, which would be like, “Okay, big deal, you gave them a reminder and they were reminded.” But it didn’t increase the rates of adding.

So, what that showed was that the reminder was bringing new subtractions to mind but for adding it was redundant with what people were already thinking. So, it was really useful for our research but also really useful as a how-to. And so, I think one thing is you have a reminder that you can add or subtract, or add and subtract, to solve things, but it’s really important, we didn’t find any evidence that that reminder would kind of carry over from one study to the next, so you have to put those reminders close to where you’re making the decision. That’s why when I’m doing the stop-doing list, I’m forcing a reminder that subtracting is a way to improve my calendar.

One of the things on your sheet, you talked about your listeners, and you talked about them being interested in thinking, and you put a reminder on there about thinking involves generating and selecting ideas, which is beautiful because it’s like that’s a reminder that adding and subtracting can be used here in our thinking process and actually mimics something that I talk about in the book, which is that evolution generates and selects to make progress. So, having those reminders at the point of when you’re making the decisions or when you’re trying to make the improvements is really important and supported by the research.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Okay. so we’ve got some reminders up front. Maybe, could you share with us some of the coolest examples of subtraction in terms of someone did some subtracting and then they saw great results? So, you mentioned you’ve got your stop-doing list. What are some things that you’ve chosen to stop doing and the cool fruit that’s come from that?

Leidy Klotz
Email.

Pete Mockaitis
Nice. Stop doing email.

Leidy Klotz
I haven’t stopped completely but I think just forcing myself to be disciplined with doing it one time a day, and so I positioned that stop-doing as like stop these intermittent email checks. And what’s interesting about that, of course it has this amazing effect where I’m not distracted throughout the day, but it also led to decrease the stream of my email. Because part of the problem with me getting so many emails was me sending so many emails. So, every time I spam my graduate students with, “Hey, did you see this article?” then I’m distracting them, they’re feeling a need to respond, and then I have like distracted people working with me, plus I have six new email responses in my inbox the next time I go to check.

So, that email discipline, that stop-doing, has actually led to cascading subtractions. Another personal one that’s really helpful is kind of just unplugging when I exercise. And, again, like gathering knowledge is just so precious. I listen to podcasts, I read voraciously on Wikipedia, but I had been kind of using my exercise time as like, “Okay, can I catch up on the news while I’m running on the treadmill, while I’m listening to a podcast?” and it wasn’t giving me any time for my brain to kind of like synthesize things and think about what’s really important to select. So, those two are kind of personal ones that are work-related.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. And even if they’re not work-related, I’d love to hear what are some cool subtractions you’ve seen in action?

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, one of my favorites is the balance bike. So, you said you had a three-year old.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Leidy Klotz
Do you have a balance bike?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t.

Leidy Klotz
You don’t. Oh, man, so this is the value that I’m providing right now to you, Pete. They’re these miniature bikes that don’t have pedals and they allow the kids to ride them like a Flintstones car basically. So, the kid balances on the bike and then just pushes, propels it with their feet. And what’s amazing is that the kids learn how to balance within like 30 minutes to an hour of walking around on this. So, very quickly, they can reach really high speeds as like a two-year old on this bike.

And what’s amazing about is that, well, the power of it, I think, is it gives kids like two extra years of bike riding, which I think is a very delightful thing. I’m disappointed that we didn’t have them when I was growing up. And also, the innovation there is removing the pedals. People have been thinking about better bike design for a hundred years at least, and there’s been a lot of profit to be made, and people added training wheels. We added connections from the kids’ bike to the grownup bike. We made fatter tires, fatter tubes. And it took all this time for somebody to think, “Hey, what if we subtract the pedals? What will happen there?”

So, I think that’s a beautiful example in the physical world. And then an example I used in the book is Bruce Springsteen. He’s a prolific artist, obviously, but one of his albums is Darkness on the Edge of Town, and it’s one of his most critically acclaimed albums. And what’s really unique and noticeable about that album is that he really stripped things down. And so, one, he stripped on the number of songs on the album. He recorded like 50 songs during that time period and only a few of them, a dozen or ten, made it onto the album. And he stripped away some really good songs that became hits for other artists.

But then the music itself is very stripped down. So, the wording is sparse and the music is compact and powerful. And what’s cool about that is that he subtracted but, also, he kind of showed competence by subtracting because it’s not that we can’t show competence by subtracting. It’s just that you need to probably do more of it for your subtracting to stand out. And so, everybody, when they heard this album, and if you’re a Bruce Springsteen fan, if you’re listening to his albums, you’re like, “Well, this is different.” Even if you don’t know why it’s different, you’re like, “This is different. Something happened here.”

And so, in the subtraction that he persisted with there led to this kind of innovative change in how music was made. So, whereas, the balance bike was a physical example, the subtraction in his music is a very kind of ideas/words and music example.

Pete Mockaitis
And I had also heard that married couples that don’t have a TV in their bedroom have more sex. So, I don’t know if we’re going to go here today. And so, I think that’s an interesting example and it sort of makes sense, like, “Hey, well, our focus is on each other as opposed to that large eye-grabbing device on the wall.”

Leidy Klotz
That’s such a beautiful example. And it’s really annoying to be doing these podcasts after writing the book and thinking like, “Oh, I wish I could’ve used the TV-sex example,” would’ve been way better than the example I used in the book to illustrate this principle, which I’m about to say, which is so often when we’re trying to improve a situation, like we think about what incentives we can add. So, it’s like, “Okay, the goal is like let’s have more sex. And so, can we put in mood lights?

Leidy Klotz
You get the idea. There’s a lot of things, a lot of incentives we could add for having sex. And then we often overlook the barriers to the behavior we’re trying to produce. And so, in this case, the barrier is that TV, what’s interesting with this and the argument that people make, and like Kurt Lewin, the founder of social psychology, said, “There’s two ways to change a situation. One is to add incentives and the other is to remove barriers.” And he said, “Removing barriers is actually the good way because it relieves tension.”

So, imagine if you add the incentive, well, you still got the TV there. So, it’s very clear that the incentive might work but if it doesn’t work, there’s still this kind of you’ve got the incentive plus you’ve got the TV, and you haven’t actually relieved the fundamental tension in the system. Whereas, if you stripped away the TV, you’ve actually relieved tension in the system. The example I used in the book is an iPad with a kid. So, it’s so close to the example but it’s so much better than the example I used.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, if you go with the iPad and the kids, so if you…

Leidy Klotz
So, the behavior in that case is I’m trying to get my kid to spend time not looking at the iPad when he comes home from school. And so, one thing you can do is say, “Hey, if you don’t use the iPad, you can have a cookie,” that’s the incentive version. And, in this case, if he doesn’t, so it may work. He may eat the cookie and be happy and never think about it, or he may want to watch the iPad still, which increases his frustration because now he’s not getting a cookie because he’s watching the iPad. So, you’ve increased the tension in the system. Whereas, kind of the equivalent of removing the TV is just removing the iPad from the kid’s view and hopefully he doesn’t think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that notion of removing the view, I think, is huge because while it’s true, it’s so funny because I just want to take a photo of the adorable thing my child is doing. And then when I get out my phone, it’s like, “Ooh, can we play the pre-school games?” It’s like, “I just want to take a picture. This is going to be like three seconds.” And so then, we now have a bit of a, “Well, hey, no. We did that earlier,” you’ve got that whole thing.

And so, could you expand upon that in terms of some things that maybe we just want out of view and how we get them out of view? I imagine there’s like social media, news, distractions, and there’s some apps you can use to block those or shut them off. What are some maybe creative ways you’ve seen this put into practice?

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, to get them out of view. That’s, essentially, what the email was doing, the not checking the emails, but also the email reminders. I’ve got my good friend Ben who worked with me on the research. He’s like, “I got to figure out how to turn off my email reminders.” And this is like four years into the research together, which is like this is kind of forced, automated adding that’s distracting you throughout the day, so things like that come to mind.

Pete Mockaitis
I heard that there’s a study that they challenged folks to turn off all of their phone notifications for like a week or something, and then they followed up with them like a year later, half of people continued to live that way, like, “Now it’s so much better. Thank you.” And so, it’s striking how that is good. I have seen they’ve actually made…my buddy Jackson, shoutout Jackson, has, I think, it’s called a lite phone and it doesn’t have much. You can make phone calls, you can do texting, maybe a little bit more. It has like a Kindle-style screen, and that’s on purpose. So, you can’t get a bunch of apps and all the distractions that they incur because it’s just not available, or that temptation.

I guess now I’m thinking about like tempting circumstances, like alcoholics, or overeaters, or anyone, or gambling. There’s many number of ways you can just make sure you’re not in the presence of those things, which lead you down there. But I’d love to hear, I guess I’m just so intrigued by this because if people have that hardwiring, like, “More is better and I want more,” what are some maybe surprises you’ve seen in terms of it turns out that subtracting this thing was actually awesome?

Leidy Klotz
We talked a lot about the disadvantages that subtracting faces, like the systematic, “Oh, it doesn’t show competence,” and we don’t think of it. One of the systematic advantages is that when you subtract something, you’re left with the new situation plus whatever you took away. So, like the donut holes is the example I used in the book here just to illustrate it. It’s like it took forever for somebody to realize you could cut the middle of the round wall of dough and make it cook more evenly, and you could spread more stuff onto it. And then it took even longer for somebody to realize, “Hey, this thing that we just took out is actually like another source of revenue.”

And so, this applies in a lot of ways. If you think about divestment is another thing I talk about in the book, which is like, “How do you, not investing in things that are kind of counter to your values?” So, this was really powerful in helping bring down apartheid in South Africa, for example. It’s like, “Okay, let’s stop investing in the companies that are operating in South Africa, propping up this system that nobody thinks is good.”

And when you divest, you take the money out and you’ve still got the money. You can do something with it. You can go put it somewhere else. It’s the same, going back to your example of the people in the business who are like, “Okay, we’re working along really well, and we like what we’re doing. What can we do differently? What can we add?” If you add, you’ve got this existing situation plus all the stuff you’ve added, the activities you’ve added, so you’re still at capacity or beyond capacity. If you take something away, then you’ve got the new improved situation, which is like you’re streamlined-focus plus you’ve got this effort that is now unaccounted for and you can devote to something else.

So, I think it makes sense when it’s explained to you but it’s also a little counterintuitive when we think about subtracting. We often overlook the fact that you can reuse the thing that you took away. Whereas, if you add, you’ve got nothing left over.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, whether it’s money or time or attention or energy, you got it.

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, time is a big one.

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

Leidy Klotz
No, I think the key thing is across ideas, objects with the Lego bridge, and then our day-to-day situations. So, the ideas one, that’s for people who like to listen to podcasts and for people who like to think about how they’re going to be better at their job. We spend a lot of time kind of accumulating information and we often overlook, like, “Okay, how do I streamline my mental models? What am I kind of grounding my ideas in that I may not believe anymore that has been shown isn’t actually the way that I think it is?” And so, spending the time streamlining our mental models is a really powerful use of subtraction and very overlooked.

Pete Mockaitis
Streamlining our mental models, so that’s like specifically identifying the, “I don’t believe, think, accept, agree with this thing anymore.”

Leidy Klotz
Yeah. And prioritizing, so it’s like, “Yeah, this thing is true. I listened to it but It doesn’t warrant the same attention as these kinds of four core things that are in my mental models.” The intentional version of synaptic pruning, which is our brain has evolved to do naturally which is like the connections that get used, get reinforced and strengthened, and when we sleep, it kind of prunes away the connections that aren’t being used to leave more room for the connections that are being used. So, our brain does that on its own for all the parts of the brain, but it also is something that we can do, and say, “Hey, this is not something that warrants the same amount of attention as some other ideas that are really, really critical.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Leidy, could you share with us a mental model or two that you have pruned away as the years have gone by?

Leidy Klotz
This is a slightly embarrassing one to share but I think if people are honest with themselves, I think a lot of us felt the same way. So, if you think about the systemic racism, I remember last summer the first time systemic racism came up in a department meeting, everybody, myself included, some people were verbally like, “Whoa, we’re not racists.” And I was probably thinking that but not articulating it, smart enough to not articulate it, but I think that’s certainly a mental model that shifted this notion that I knew the playing field wasn’t level before. I knew that always but just kind of the degree to which it was not level, and the fact that there can be systemic racism with me not being racist.

It required learning a little bit of new stuff but it also required subtracting some of my deeply held beliefs about how the United States operates for people. And so, I think that’s one very important one that has shifted for me recently.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now, can you share with us a favorite quote?

Leidy Klotz
Perfect, and we didn’t cover it yet, and it relates to subtraction. So, Lao Tzu has this great quote that’s attributed to him, that’s, “To gain knowledge, add things every day. To gain wisdom, subtract things every day.” I love the quote because it’s a great reminder that we talked about being important, but it’s also evidence of the fact that we’ve been overlooking subtraction for a long time because this is a two and a half millennia-old quote, and it still rings true and counterintuitive today.

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

Leidy Klotz
One that I really like that I find myself talking about a lot is actually Ashley Whillans, who’s at Harvard, and Liz Dunn, who’s at the University of British Columbia, they do a lot of work on time and happiness, and they’ve got this great study that shows that people who spend money to save time are happy.

And they show it, one reaction to that study is like, “Well, yeah, that’s because they have money to spend on like housekeepers.” But they show it on a population of millionaires but they also show it in people who are working on like minimum wage. And they do that by kind of giving them money and setting up a controlled experiment where certain people spend the money in one way, and certain people spend money the other way.

So, it’s a really cool study. It’s really powerful. And it ties into subtraction here because what you’re essentially doing when you spend money to save time is you’re like not only are you not doing something, which we see is hard for competence, it’s hard when you say, “Okay, I’m not going to do this task anymore,” but you’re actually paying for it now. You’re not going to do it plus you’re going to pay somebody else to do it. So, it’s a hard thing to do but the research shows that people who do do it are happier, so it’s really a great research and also very practical.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man, Leidy, that reminds me of back in the day when I had roommates who did not work from home, and I was doing a lot of coaching, I found my laundry was kind of piling during busy season, and I was like, “Well, I mean, this is good money per hour from the coaching. Am I just supposed to stop and do laundry? But am I going to wear dirty clothes? What are my options here?”

And so, even though I was working from home, and there were like eight laundry machines on the first floor of this apartment building, I paid someone to come in and do my laundry. You can have a laundry service, Leidy, but then they don’t put in your drawers and closets. And so, I felt a little silly and decadent but I kept looking at the spreadsheet, I was like, “I will make more money and have clean laundry by paying someone else to come do this for me but I don’t want to feel, like, I’m so rich, I’m too good to do my laundry.” I had this mental block but I did it and I loved it and my roommates made fun of me but I didn’t care.

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, that’s a great example. That’s the exact feeling that I have when I do it, it’s like, “Who am I to be this guy who hires a whatever?” but, yeah, it’s exactly that. Number one, the money that you’re making, and then when you’ve got kids, it’s the free time that you’re losing. This is like an hour of my kids’ life when he actually thinks I’m cool. I don’t want to lose that. So, yeah, you’ve given us a really good way to overcome that, and Whillans and Dunn talk about this, it’s like, “Think about the value of your time.” And then, also, another reason that’s kind of hard to do because, yeah, you feel snooty.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Leidy Klotz
I’m biased towards the ones I read recently, but Alison Gopnik has this great book called The Gardener and the Carpenter. It’s about parenting and the cognitive psychology of parenting. But she’s a psychologist plus a philosopher which I think is the perfect combination for parenting, and it’s just an amazing parenting book.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. Well, I was just reading No-Drama Discipline by the authors of the The Whole-Brain Child, and now I’ve got this one. Thank you.

Leidy Klotz
Yes, I like The Whole-Brain Child too. And if I can plug one other author, Eduardo Galeano. I love his stuff. He’s an Uruguayan guy who writes kind of this amazing blend of history/his opinions/fiction, and it’s like unlike anything you read before, and it’s really amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Leidy Klotz
Favorite tool. This is an embarrassing one – Wikipedia. I use it a lot. It’s just so amazing. We talk about this information to wisdom thing, and the amount of work that people have done to make Wikipedia. It’s not my last stop in doing research, but it’s often my first stop because things are organized around subjects instead of in isolated journal articles. So, it’s an amazing tool for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I love Wikipedia for when I’ve been out of the game for news for a while, and there’s an article about the latest development in a thing, I was like, “Well, what was this thing?” And then you go to Wikipedia, and you read a four-minute piece, and it has like 180 references, you’re like, “Oh, I’m glad I didn’t read 180 news articles. I’ve read this synopsis. Thank you.”

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, you’re right. I hadn’t thought about that but that’s a great kind of way to subtract information and still get the same benefit. It’s like just wait a couple weeks if it’s important and it’ll be on Wikipedia. And not only that, but it’ll be summarized so you don’t have to go get the 180 different viewpoints. You can get it all in one spot and distill it for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. And a favorite habit?

Leidy Klotz
Exercising is really important to me, and unplugging when exercising, we already talked about. So, yeah, just physical exercise to kind of strengthen my mental performance. Also, just because it’s enjoyable but the more I progress in my career, the more I realize how instrumental it is in my mental performance too.

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

Leidy Klotz
“Less is not a loss,” is kind of a counterintuitive thing from the book. So, yeah, it is what it sounds like but oftentimes we don’t subtract because we perceive the end state as being a loss. And what we’ve talked about in all of these cases are subtractions that actually lead to something better, but it’s still really easy to kind of conflate the two. And so, this reminder that less is not always a loss seems to be really helpful for people.

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

Leidy Klotz
Twitter is great. I’m @Leidyklotz. And I like interacting with people especially people who have read the book. It’s really fun to hear their thoughts. One of the cool things about the book, in my mind, is that it brings up kind of people’s experiences from all walks of life, so it’s incredibly rewarding for me to hear, like I told the Bruce Springsteen story earlier.

I talked to this guy in Germany who’s writing an article about the research for Germany’s version of MIT Technology Review but he also talked to me about these Johnny Cash American recordings. He’s like, “It’s just like what you’re describing with Bruce Springsteen.” So, now I have like six CDs, well, six downloads on Amazon to listen to from Johnny Cash that were sparked by my book. And then he shared with me and it’s made my life better. Very selfish authorship here. It’s like, “What benefit can readers give me from reading?”

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

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, add and subtract. So, don’t overlook this basic option to make things better.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Leidy, this has been fun. I wish you much enjoyment in all of your subtracting.

Leidy Klotz
Thank you. You, too, Pete.

674: Nailing Your Interview, Resume, and Negotiation FAST with Steve Dalton

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Steve Dalton says: "The hard part of the job search isn't getting your resume right. It's getting your resume seen"

Steve Dalton breaks down the most efficient path to landing your dream career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to answer the dreaded “Tell me about yourself” question 
  2. Just how much time and effort you should put into your resume
  3. The simple trick to negotiating a better job offer 

 

About Steve

Steve Dalton is a senior career consultant and program director for Duke University’s full-time MBA program. He holds his own MBA from the same institution and a chemical engineering degree from Case Western Reserve. 

Steve is also the founder of Contact2Colleague, a corporate training firm that helps organizations increase retention, drive sales, and develop internal expertise by teaching their employees to proactively and systematically build better professional relationships. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Steve Dalton Interview Transcript

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

Steve Dalton
It is great to be back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so glad to have you. And I realized one thing that I neglected to mention last time and ask about was you have done, is this true, 87 Escape Rooms?

Steve Dalton
It is. It is true. Absolutely. I traveled around a bunch to talk about my books and it’s a great way to meet people in whatever city you’re going to, and to just have a really interesting time, find a good part of town.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. I’ve had some really fun adventures and memories there. And so, do you have a favorite room or company?

Steve Dalton
I really got my start with Escape Rooms in Nashville, and so my heart goes out to The Escape Game. I’ve done almost all of their games, and Gold Rush is my absolute favorite. So, all my friends out at The Escape Game, thank you so much for the wonderful times. You’re my favorite. All-time favorite out of all 87.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s where I went in Chicago again and again, and each time was a blast whether it’s with all people I know or a blend. I’ve had it fun both ways.

Steve Dalton
I think I’ve accidentally joined a team girls birthday party in the past, and it still was an excellent time. But it’s really random and incredibly fun.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, we’re not talking about Escape Games. We’re talking about your latest The Job Closer: Time-Saving Techniques for Acing Resumes, Interviews, Negotiations, and More. So, could you maybe distinguish between this book and your previous that we talked about last time for us?

Steve Dalton
Absolutely. So, last time we talked about The 2-Hour Job Search which provided an extended recipe for the squishy middle of the job search. And by squishy middle, I mean that period after you figure out what you want to do, but before you get into that first interview because that’s where people seem to get stuck most frequently. With the The Job Closer, my follow-up book, it gives similar style recipes. It’s more in a cookbook style for all the steps that precede that and follow that. So, it skips over network and networking and focuses on choosing what you want to do, getting your resume together, getting a cover letter drafted on the frontend, and how to interview well, and negotiate, and get off to the best possible start on the backend of the process.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And recipe is the word. That interview, it’s really memorable for me. If you haven’t checked it out, and if you are seeking interviews to appear in your life, like I’ve never seen a more clear, prescriptive, detailed, like, “This is roughly the word count you’re shooting for. This is when you follow up.” It was excellent. So, no pressure, Steve, but I want more of that from you.

Steve Dalton
It only took me nine years to write a follow-up book so I’ve had plenty of time to think about it and I’m really excited to have these concepts out of my head and onto paper finally so other people can discuss them and give them a test themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, I’m tempted to dig, to jump right into the particulars. But, maybe, if you can kick us off with an inspiring story who used some of these approaches and had some transformative results?

Steve Dalton
Honestly, I see this on a daily basis during my busy season and on a weekly basis, but it’s every time I see somebody embrace the FIT model for answering “Tell me about yourself.” I think, historically, we’ve all been bludgeoned with this concept of selling yourself. And what I’ll see is my job seekers will come in to do a mock interview, and you’ll ask them, “Tell me about yourself,” and you’ll have been talking, you’ll warm up any interview with a small talk, the, “How is your day going so far?” “How is your day going so far?” “Where are you from?” “Oh, I was up watching the basketball game. Did you catch it?”

And then they’ll say, “Tell me about yourself” signaling the interview is about to start, and people will go from that fun person who has hobbies directly into a robot who is like, “Okay, I’ve got the next two minutes memorized completely word for word,” and it’s very jarring when it goes from, “Here are the three reasons why you should hire me.” It’s all the goodwill and rapport that you’ve built during the first three minutes of small talk is suddenly wiped out. Like, “Now, I’m uncomfortable. You’re a completely different person.” And that’s how I see so many of my job seekers that I start to work with.

But when they embrace this FIT model, which is FIT. F is for your favorite part, I is for the insight that you gained, and T is for the transition you made. It’s just a pattern, a lather-rinse-repeat pattern that you take through each stage of your career. So, “My favorite part about being a chemical engineer was breaking difficult problems down in smaller pieces, but the insight that I had was that I wanted to apply that rigorous logic to a wider variety of challenges, so upon graduation, I made the transition to strategy consulting.”

So, the nice thing about that is it’s completely authentic. You’re just saying what your favorite part was. The funny thing about saying the word favorite though, it’s so powerful because I can give you three statements, only one is true. Can you guess which one? “I really enjoy cleaning the toilet.” “I’m passionate about cleaning the toilet.” “My favorite chore is cleaning the toilet.” Only one of those is true. Which one is it?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess it’s the favorite because among the less competitive arena of chores. And if you’ve got some of those tools, it’s actually quite satisfying. It’s called the pumice, I think. Boy, you really scrape that stuff off. I’m in an Escape Room game, we’re getting shoutouts already.

Steve Dalton
For me, it is absolutely my favorite chore because minimal time investment, maximum impact of cleanliness. But to say I enjoy cleaning the toilet, that’s a lie. To say I’m passionate about cleaning the toilet, that’s definitely a lie. So, I can say something is my favorite, have it be an absolutely true statement so it’s authentic, deliver a neutral energy which is accurate, and not lose the goodwill of my interviewer who thinks I’m lying to them.

But I see so many people, it’s actually a safer statement than saying that you’re passionate about something, to say that something is your favorite and you don’t laundry list that way so it focuses attention. But when I see people, like the light switch goes off and they actually try FIT, and for each promotion that they’ve had through their career, each stage of their life, they go from this memorized robot into a person who’s just helping you catch up on their life like you would help a long-lost uncle you never knew you had catch up on your life. Being authentic and real and meaningful, and seeing that light bulb go off never gets old for me.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that FIT model sounds perfect for “Tell me about yourself” because you’re telling them about yourself and in a professional context and “Why are we here?” which is kind of sometimes the subtext really of “Tell me about yourself.” So, is that FIT model primarily for that question or for a broader array of questions?

Steve Dalton
It’s to a job seeker’s advantage to treat “Tell me about yourself” or “Walk me through your resume” in identical fashion. I consider those to be identical simply because the job seeker, you want to provide novel content. And where people go wrong with “Tell me about yourself” or “Walk me through your resume” is they do what I call the transcript where they basically read their resume out loud to you.

Pete Mockaitis
“I know that. I read this.”

Steve Dalton
Yeah, it doesn’t add value. You’re just saying these words out loud that they’ve hopefully already glanced at, but probably haven’t. Either way, it’s not interesting. It doesn’t help me get to know you any better. The why, why you did what you did, why you made the career change when you made that. That’s not in your resume. That’s far more interesting. It makes you a stickier candidate in terms of memorability.

So, getting away from what you did and more into why you did what you did, that’s really helpful. The nice thing about favorite is it’s a great humble-brag. If you say something is your favorite, you’re going to get credit for being good at it. If you say you did it a bunch, you don’t get credit at it the same way from an interviewer.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And it really is true. As I think about my own transition from strategy consulting to, I guess, podcasting is that my favorite part of strategy consulting really was making a discovery in terms of it’s like my heart would start thumping. It’s like, “Okay, we finally got all the data. We got it all cleaned. I’m about to push the button that pastes it into the chart, which will reveal ‘What is the primary reason for customer loss?’ or whatever the question is.”

Like, I would get fired up, like an adrenaline rush in that moment before discovery. And then I could say, “Oh, it’s really fun to dig in.” And so, as a podcaster, it’s like I get to do that in rapid fire. It’s just like new guests, new questions, new discoveries. I didn’t have to spend three weeks cleaning the data before I got there.

Steve Dalton
Cleaning data. Your energy for it is palpable though. I absolutely 100% believe you. And that’s so critical, is maintaining that authenticity and trust with your interviewer because so much of interviewing is back-solving, “Do I like this person or not?” and then finding the data that justifies why I do or don’t like you. So, keeping their goodwill is huge. So, “Tell me about yourself” to me is like a spoon when every other interview question is like a fork. It serves to transition you away from small talk into the content of your interviewer. So, it’s a general transition question away from chitchat to sell yourself. It’s a nice easy introduction to you making an argument for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Okay. Well, we jumped right into the “Tell me about yourself” question. Maybe let’s rewind a bit to let’s hear resumes.

Steve Dalton
Oh, my gosh.

Pete Mockaitis
How do we think about them? How much time should we put into the resume, and the cover letter? And let’s just start from square one.

Steve Dalton
If you’ve read the book, you’re familiar with Ed’s 3-hour rule and I can’t stress this enough. It’s so neat and tidy. So, Ed’s 3-hour rule is this, and this is after my boss, Ed Bernier, he says that, “Assume your job search is going to take you a hundred hours of time. Don’t spend any more than three of them on your resume. Any more is too much. Any less is probably not enough,” but it signals how unimportant in the grand scheme your resume is. People so badly want to believe that if they put in enough work on their resume, they may not have to do this networking thing, which is really what I wrote The Job Closer to do, to help people get back to the more meaningful activity, which is networking as quickly as possible.

But Ed’s 3-hour rule, basically, in three hours, you can get to what I call good resume status, error-free and have some accomplishments. Basically, bullet points that serve as a cheat sheet for your interview. These are the stories you’re prepared to tell because they are your greatest hits. And if it’s intuitive to you, you can add results and quantify them. But if not, error-free is going to be okay.

The Ladders did a study where they found that, on average, hiring managers were spending six seconds per resume. They hook their eyes up to eye-tracking software, and the shocking thing was when they looked at what these hiring managers were looking at, they found what they were looking at were where you went to school, where you worked, what your job titles were, what your dates of employment were.

The unifying theme between all those items, they are things you can’t change but that’s not the stuff that people stress about when they do their resumes. They stress over the bullet points, they need a wordsmith, “Should it be managed or supervised?”, and that doesn’t really matter. They only spend 1.2 seconds, on average, reading all of your bullet points combined. So, really focusing on getting it error-free and objectively correct is going to be good enough for most job seekers most of the time and save you hours and hours of anguish, and hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of hiring coaches to disagree on what a perfect resume looks like.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. So, let’s just say we’re spending three hours there, and so that’s enough to collect the facts and make it true and accurate and error-free. Anything else we should be doing with those three hours in particular for our focus?

Steve Dalton
I think the best way to look at it, again, is as these greatest hits or a cheat sheet for your interview. In your interview, you’ll be asked a lot of what I call behavioral interview questions, which tend to begin with “Tell me about a time when you did something, led a team, failed, collaborated with others.” And you’ll need to have a two-minute story, a CAR story, for challenge-action-results. There are a few different formulations of that. I like CAR, it’s the simplest one.

So, each of these bullet points should represent one of those CAR stories, those two-minutes stories you’re ready to tell that demonstrate why you were better at the job than the person who had that job before you were. It’s not about listing responsibilities. It’s about talking, it’s about highlighting what you did with those responsibilities, and why it was uniquely good. That’s really the bright way. You’re going to have to do that before an interview anyway, come up with those stories.

My recommendation for maximum efficiency is think of those stories while you’re writing your resume so it is a cheat sheet for you. You don’t have to do double work. If you make special bullet points just for your resume, usually people list out their responsibilities, “I’m responsible for…” is a giveaway sign that it’s a terrible bullet point that anyone else who had that job could list, so it’s not a differentiator.

But you’re going to have to go back and think of those two-minute stories later. If you just put responsibilities in your resume, might as well get that work done upfront. Think about those kernels of experience, that one week, or that one month, where you did something excellent, and that should be your bullet point, not your overall responsibilities.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s the resume. And cover letters, do they matter? And how should we do them?

Steve Dalton
Oh, cover letters sometimes matter a lot and they sometimes don’t matter at all, and you never know for whom they matter. So, my recommendation is acquire that skill, learn to write them well, that way you don’t have to worry about what a particular employer considers their importance. So, the technique that I recommend for this one is called RAC, for reason-anecdote-connection. It’s the same technique I actually recommend for answering the why questions that you’ll get in your interview, “Why do you want to work for our company? Why do you want this role? Why do you want to work in our sector?”

That same technique can be ported over to a cover letter because, ultimately, that why question is, “Why should we interview you?” So, the best way to treat that cover letter is to keep it short. So, I demonstrate that it can be done easily and under 300 words. What they’re looking for is a candidate that is authentic, specific, and informed. So, you can quickly convey that with this RAC model.

You have an introductory paragraph about the role you’re applying for, any referrals that you might have from current employees, and then you say, “I think I’d make a great candidate for the following three reasons.” Then you list reason number one. You cite a personal anecdote. It could be an experience you had, a conversation that you had with a current employee, an article that you read, something personal that can’t be used by any other person that’s applying. So, unique to you is always authentic and meaningful to you, that’s what counts.

But then, to finish that bullet point, connect it back to why the company should care. So, a lot of people will say, “I’m a great communicator. Here’s an example of when I communicated well,” as their reason. But then to connect it back to the employer, “This communication ability will help me quickly align my cross-functional teams towards a common goal to get my work done on time and effectively.” So, you’re demonstrating, “Okay, I understand this role. It involves managing cross-functional teams.” So, that’s where you get that informed piece.

A lot of people will forget that connection piece, connecting it back to why the employer should care. So, demonstrate an understanding. It’s a missed opportunity if you don’t do that, and you’ve done some networking and you actually understand what the role is. But the idea is we want to keep these minimalist, 300 words. So, know what each sentence is trying to accomplish. If you are repeating a sentence, or you don’t know where it’s headed, it can probably be cut. But I love cover letters. Personally, it gives me a preview of what this person will be, what getting an update email will be like if I hire this person. Are they going to tell me what I need to know or are they going to tell me all the work they took to get there? And I’d much rather the first option and not the second.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay. Well, so then you mentioned that much of the heart of it is networking, and we talked a lot about that last time. Is there more that we should talk about here and now?

Steve Dalton
I think, in the book, one of the topics that I cover is the weekly manager meeting. So, this is after you get the job, you’re just starting out, or maybe you’ve gotten an internship because a lot of my students are looking for internships. I think people think that the networking stops. And, in reality, the networking is what gets you the full-time offer, or it’s what gets you promoted at the head of your class, so the networking shouldn’t stop. And the first person whose allegiance you need is your manager. You need to give them the tools required to advocate for you at promotion time. You need to let them know that you’ve taken their feedback, you’ve made progress this past week, and here’s what you’re going to be working on in the coming week so that you don’t make any mistakes or you don’t have misaligned priorities.

So, the networking never really stops. It’s just a matter of keeping people’s trust in you. So, the weekly manager meeting is just a simple format when you meet your manager. Walk them through the updates you have since your last meeting, so key accomplishments that you’ve hit, any progress that you’ve made, and then give them in order, your top priorities for the coming week, and list out any additional priorities that you have that you aren’t going to get to this week so they know they’re still captured.

And then, my assistant, Dave Soloway, he highlighted this wonderful piece, ask some questions that help you deepen your understanding of the role, or maybe the help of how to handle a tricky situation at work, or maybe just different approaches that you’ve identified for tackling a problem to get your manager’s feedback on which they think the best approach is.

Asking for mentorship is an incredibly likable behavior, when you want people to give you advice, it’s back to that Ben Franklin effect. You can build a relationship more quickly if you’ll allow people to help you multiple times instead of if you try to repay favors. And the weekly manager meeting is just a different spin on the networking that we focused on so deeply last time.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I think part of it is then is making sure that you get that weekly manager meeting and that it appears that it’s on the calendar and it doesn’t get pushed, pushed, pushed. So, any pro tips there?

Steve Dalton
Absolutely. And I’ll see this a lot with my interns because, often, it’ll be new managers that take them on for the summer, so they aren’t getting necessarily great managers and you still are responsible for making that relationship work. If they’re going to go on vacation, ask them to pair you with a peer manager to kind of help you in the ensuing week so you can at least broaden your network. My intern manager, when I was in business school, he actually left the company shortly after I finished my internship, so he’s kind of looking for his way out and I still had to find a way to get enough people to say my name in that room when they made decisions on who got offers at the end of the summer.

Thankfully it worked out, but it’s terrifying when you think that your manager knows what you’re working on and is engaged. And if they are canceling your weekly manager meetings, that’s a reason to sit them down, ask them, “Are these meetings too frequent? Would you like to meet less frequently? Is there another way I can keep in touch, keep you up to date on what I’m working on?” but, really, you want to start broadening your network outside of just your immediate manager so you’re not beholden to a single person to advocate for you when you can’t be ever be certain that anyone will.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that makes a lot of great sense. So, then any pro tips on how to have those conversations with other folks within the organization?

Steve Dalton
Absolutely. That ties back to one of the topics we discussed last time called the tiara framework. So, setting up coffee chats and getting to know them. These are going to be a little bit more personal, whereas tiara framework informational meetings were a bit more rigorous and methodical. These will be a little bit more casual. But invite people who are peers to your manager. Let your manager knows you’re going to meet some other people in the organization, you’ll get their blessing. That way, they won’t think you’re doing anything weird. You’re just trying to learn more about your role in the group and the broader team.

And then extend that to any other people that you meet whose work impresses you or whose work you find interesting. Not everybody will take you up on your offer and that’s totally fine, but the people who do take you up on the offer will appreciate your proactivity. It’s just so hard to demonize someone that you’ve shared a meal with or you’ve shared a coffee with. It’s hard to kind of not look out for that person who humanize yourself in their eyes. You learn from them. You use that time not to sell yourself but to extract as much knowledge out of them as you can while also establishing that rapport.

But the only thing you need to do, really, is loop your manager in that you’re going to be setting up coffee chats for other people. Usually, they’ll be happy to hear that because it’ll only make you smarter at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. All right. Well, let’s talk about interviews then. We’ve hit the first question nicely, “Tell me about yourself,” and we’ve got a bit of a framework with the CAR, the challenge, the action, and the results. So, can you share with us, are there some nuances, extra tips, or key questions that you could demonstrate this in action?

Steve Dalton
I mentioned that the same template that I use for cover letters is the one that I recommend for answering “Why this company?” So, let’s jump into that one because I call a subset of questions the big four. Those are “Tell me about yourself” or “Walk me through your resume,” same question in my opinion. They’ll only ask you one or the other.

That usually comes first in most interviews. It’s usually followed immediately by, “Why do you want to work for us?” or, “Why do you want this particular role?” The other flavor of that that you might receive is “Why do you want to work in consulting?” or, “Why do you find the autonomous vehicle space interesting?” So, “Why this sector?” is the fourth question of the big four.

You can use the same RAC model for any of those three variances of the why question. And where I see it helps people is, typically when I am interviewing job seekers and I’ll ask them, “Why do you want to work for this company that you’re about to interview with?” one of the reasons they’ll invariably bring up will be, “You’re the market leader in blank, and everybody looks up to you. You’re the most well-regarded company,” and they’ll just kind of restate that point three or four different ways, and then move on to their next point without actually saying anything of value, and without actually helping me understand, like, “What do I get out of this?” I’m, as the company and the ultimate customer in the room, so is this a win-win? It sounds like it’s just really good for you, the job seeker.

So, the way that I would recommend attacking this would be have a reason, “You are market leadership position.” So, now we need an anecdote to substantiate why that’s a true statement or why it’s meaningful. So, for me, it might be, “I’ve worked at a variety of companies from tiny startups to larger Fortune 100 organizations. And I found, when I was working at larger Fortune 100 organizations, I loved taking advantage of their infrastructure for professional development, for mentorship, for programming to help me to get to know my start class so I could just deepen my bonds with the organization easily. I thrive when there’s infrastructure provided so I could bring this appreciation of all the great world-class infrastructure that you have for developing excellent people to your organization, meaning that I’ll grow faster and add value to your organization more quickly.”

So, taking that kind of clichéd point of, “You’re the market leader,” which tends not to lead anywhere, and if you’re going to use a point like that that could be perceived as cliché, add an anecdote to it, “My best work has come when I have the resources of a large company,” connect it back to why it’s a win-win, “This means I’ll get up to speed faster and grow more quickly.”

Pete Mockaitis
And maybe, as you’ve done your research, that you’ve got something even more compelling than, “You’re the market leader,” because being a market leader tends to correlate with a lot of other good things in terms of if you’re growing, then you’re exploring new cool opportunities, or you’re innovating, or just fill in the blank. There’s profit available to fund great things as opposed to we’re pinching every penny.

Steve Dalton
Exactly right. I think another kind of sibling answer I’ll hear a lot is, “It’s the people. Your people are amazing,” but then that never gets developed, “Who specifically did you talk to?” or that’s such a clichéd point. If you’re going to say a clichéd point like that, put it into the words of someone specific, “I was talking to Rachel Franklin, and she mentioned that she worked for a lot of companies who called themselves family but, at your company, she actually believed it. That was the first time she actually felt that family vibe. That really resonated with me because I’ve had the pleasure of working with an organization where we weren’t focused on our individual goals. We’re focused more on the company’s overall goals. We’re in it together. So, this will allow me to more quickly develop the trust with my cross-functional teammates or my immediate work team so that I can be integrated more quickly.”

As long as you make an attempt to frame it as a win-win instead of just why it’s good for you, and demonstrate that you’ve done a little research, you know who Rachel Franklin is, you’ve chatted with her, it differentiates the serious candidates from the ones who just prepped for this at 11:00 p.m. last night.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Okay. Well, any other thoughts then on the interview? It seems like we’ve kind of got that covered?

Steve Dalton
If I could add one more, the CAR matrix. A lot of people really like the CAR matrix. So, where the CAR matrix is on the Y-axis, on the vertical, you list all the stories that you’re prepared to tell in the interview, and on the X-axis, the horizontal, you list all of the questions that you expect to be asked or the genres of questions that you expect to be asked, and you match up which stories would apply to which questions. You’ll have some favorite stories that you want to tell, so just knowing what variance of popular interview questions you can use your favorite stories for, helps you deploy them in the most effective way because a lot of interviews aren’t longer than 30 or 45 minutes. It’s really important to get your best stories out there as quickly as you can, having a strategy.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s wise because you want to share your greatest hits, and sometimes they ask questions that aren’t quite a bullseye. It’s like a politician in a debate. They’re not answering the question that’s posted. They’re answering what they want to. And as an interviewer, when I hear that, it’s off-putting. So, yeah, having that prep stage right there is useful in that you’re not making too much of a stretch at any point but you’re still getting to share your greatest hits.

Steve Dalton
Absolutely right. Just a little bit of planning because most often you’re going to tell the same three to five stories in every interview because they’re just your best stories, and that’s absolutely desirable. But you want to make sure that you have a story ready for, “What’s your biggest weakness?” or a story ready for, “Have you ever faced an ethical dilemma?” And sometimes those are stories you only use when you get that particular question. But having the matrix in front of you really helps you identify any blind spots you may have of questions that you don’t really have a story that you’re comfortable so that you can develop one.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, are there any particular variance you’d recommend for particular questions or is that challenge-action-results kind of the way to go for just about all of them?

Steve Dalton
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, I actually recommend for different formulas of questions, you will sometimes add a component to the start of the CAR story, or sometimes at the end. Sometimes you’ll get the question of, “Tell me about a time where you failed.” So, this is weird because they’re asking you to talk negatively about yourself, at least that’s what the question states. What they really want to see is, “How did you become a better candidate as a result of a setback?”

So, a lot of novice job seekers will focus for two minutes on the failure and, in reality, we want to bury that failure at the beginning of your story so that we can talk about something that’s more flattering or appealing to you. So, I recommend converting your CAR story into a scar story or as a setback, “So, early in my career, I did not verify my data before I started working on a project, and I realized that the data was faulty, so I lost weeks of work and had to deliver my product late. Thankfully, I learned from this occasion on my next project.” And now you’ve transitioned to a positive CAR story about where you analyze data effectively or handle data effectively.

You’re not getting paid a premium or they’re not concerned whether or not to hire you based on how great your mistakes were but how you developed from them.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Wow, that was very impressive how much you blew it.”

Steve Dalton
Right, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
“My hats off to you, sir.”

Steve Dalton
“You get the job, yes.” And, similarly, on the backend, sometimes you’ll be asked a superlative question you may not know how to answer, like, “What’s your best accomplishment? What’s your biggest weakness, especially?” So, you may want to add a T at the end, so a scar-t, or a cart story, where you end with a takeaway.

I like these for superlative questions, “What’s your proudest accomplishment?” because it allows you to put a bow on your story. Maybe you talk about the marathon that you ran, or the patented product that you invented, but at the end you can say, you include a takeaway which just finishes on a nice note, “The reason this is my favorite accomplishment is because…” and that revisits, as you said, the questions they asked in the first place.

So, even if you’re not sure if the story truly answered their question, you can find a nugget. You had a minute and 45 seconds to refresh your memory on that story. Find a little nugget in that story that applies directly to the question they stated, and you can add a takeaway at the end. Like, it rewords their question and states how your story is applicable, or it just highlights, “Here’s the reason why this is such a superlative experience for me.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now let’s talk about negotiation.

Steve Dalton
Oh, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, first of all, should we negotiate or is that rude?

Steve Dalton
Absolutely. If I hire 10 people and only one of them tries to negotiate, that person is getting my most important project. If I can’t trust a new hire to advocate for themselves, I certainly can’t trust them to advocate on behalf of the company because it’s going to be awkward. Some people find that deeply awkward. I have to hope that the person who advocates for themselves is going to be best able to handle the negotiation on behalf of the company as well. So, absolutely, yes.

There’s a great research study I’ve just dug up that shows that when you accept the first offer you receive, you make the person who extended the offer doubt whether it was a decent offer so they feel like a sucker, “Maybe I overpaid you,” or, “Why did I do that?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true.

Steve Dalton
So, negotiation actually helps reassure them that they’ve made an appropriate offer so it makes both parties happier. A lot of people don’t realize that by negotiating, you’re actually making yourself and your counterpart feel better about the decision to hire you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I guess that’s true. Like, if they say, “Hey, this job pays 120 grand.” You say, “Awesome!” They’d say, “Wait, maybe I should’ve…”

Steve Dalton
Yeah, “Oh, I feel dumb. Oh, gosh.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. Although, I will say that, I guess as the employer, I feel great that I’ve pleased people but I guess it’s something about my personality, in terms of, “Oh, cool. I’m so glad that you feel gratitude and appreciation.” But then, also, it makes me think, “Although I probably could’ve gotten away with paying you less.”

Steve Dalton
Absolutely. It’s terrifying. Nobody likes to think they’ve been taken. And, yeah, you think you’re trying to be, like, “I want to minimize conflict and minimize waves by accepting whatever they give me. I don’t want to take that 0.5% chance that they’ll rescind the offer.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, has that ever happened in the history of mankind? I don’t know. Maybe somewhere but I don’t know.

Steve Dalton
It is kind of an urban legend more than it is a reality. Typically, when I hear about it in reality, the very rare case where I hear about it in reality, there were extenuating circumstances. It was the negotiation was presented in a very unprofessional way. It’s typically the most common reason you would hear that. So, as long as you’re not…

Pete Mockaitis
“Steve, you’re going to have to pony up a heck of a lot more cash for me to even…”

Steve Dalton
“This offer is ridiculous.” Yeah, that’s where I hear that urban legend come to life. It’s something generally pretty deeply inappropriate. But if you’re just asking, and so I tee something called the pre-negotiation call in The Job Closer. I’m kind of amazed nobody else has kind of come up with the concept or named it, but it’s made life so much easier for my job seekers at Duke. Basically, don’t negotiate in your first call to talk about the offer. The pre-negotiation call is a non-negotiation call.

It’s a free information gathering call for you if you’ve just received an offer. And it consists solely of you going line by line through the offer asking this question over and over, “Do you have any flexibility around blank, salary?” “Do you have any flexibility around signing bonus?” “Do you have any flexibility around vacation time?” And if they say no, that means no. If they say, “Ah, we don’t have that much,” that means yes. So, make a note as you go through line by line on the offer where there’s apparent flexibility.

When they’re hiring a big star class, you often see a lot of reservation about negotiating starting salary but there won’t be that same reservation for vacation time or relocation bonuses, or those other non-salary-based assets. But the nice thing about this is when you actually, “Okay, thank you so much for this information. This is very helpful. I’m going to take the weekend to reflect and we can chat next week about the offer after I’ve had a chance to process everything.” And, now, you can negotiate on only the items that you know are in play so that you don’t run into that brick wall of trying to negotiate on salary when this company can’t negotiate on salary with you. That helps you kind of take the awkwardness of hitting a brick wall out of the equation and you can focus on a more productive conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. And maybe in that same conversation, it could be interesting to ask about all the benefits not listed just to kind of make…because, I don’t know, if I’m in that position, they say, “Oh, do you do this, do you do this, do you do this,” and sometimes the answer is, “Oh, I actually didn’t quite think about that,” such that I kind of feel like I should have that in there. And the fact that I didn’t makes me think, well, maybe we can add that, like, “Okay, that’s not a big deal to have…” I don’t know, fill in the blank, a relocation stipend. But I hadn’t considered that and they brought it up.

But then if they say, “Oh, no, you’re bringing up lots of good things that maybe should have been in the offer that are not, and I’m saying probably no to all of them. I feel a little bit of a tug like I should probably make a concession elsewhere if I keep stiff-arming no, no, no, no on all these pretty reasonable requests that are found in many other offers.”

Steve Dalton
Yes. So, one of the books that I took great inspiration from was Getting to Yes for writing the negotiation piece. It was the first negotiation book I’d read and it’s considered a classic in the genre. It really focuses around principles-based negotiation or basically to share your motivation, don’t hide it. Have a because is how I refer to it in shorthand. So, don’t just ask for more money. Ask for more money because you’ve created a budget, you’re looking to path your educational debt with a certain number of years. This will really help you accomplish that with more certainty. Or ask for a larger signing bonus because you’re looking to really lay down roots to make this a long-term commitment so this would help you to put a down payment on a house.

But, as long as you bring them into that bigger factor, and then they may say, “We can’t give you a bigger signing bonus but what we can do is cover your closing costs or we can cost-share your first down payment or something like that. We can loan you money at zero interest.” Like, there are ways they can help you that you won’t know to ask for, but if you bring them into that deeper concern, they become your partner in solving this problem of, “How can I make buying a house when I first move there more attainable?”

That’s much more attackable than, “I want $25,000 more,” without backing it up with any sort of underlying desire or need or data. If you don’t have a comp to show, “Actually, it looks like people from top schools are making this range. It looks like people at top companies, your competitors, are making this range. Could you meet me at that range instead of the lower range that you offered?” So, it’s important to either have some data however applicable as long it’s favorable to your case but then have reasons why. Have a because for everything that you plan on asking for, how is this point going to unlock a win-win.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, any other choice tips or phrases that you love in negotiation?

Steve Dalton
“Can you help me? Can you help me do this?” I think that’s a very unthreatening way to ask for more. Like, “Can you help me close this gap on our salary difference?” Again, it constantly frames your negotiating partner as a partner, you’re on the same team so it engages them creatively instead of getting focused on position, positional bargaining, which is, “I want this number. You’re saying that number. How do we save face and not hate each other in the process?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I’m really thinking back to what you said with regard to if only one negotiates, that’s the one you’re going to entrust with a big project because I think that really reframes the whole thing. Like, negotiation is not rude or inappropriate or ungrateful, but rather it is a further demonstration of what you’re going to be bringing to the table. And not only might you be hurting yourself financially, because you don’t ask, you could be hurting yourself professionally because of the impressions that sends.

And I don’t think, yeah, I keep thinking about the urban legend, I just don’t think that the fear is real and it might just be like, “No, hey, seriously. Compensation is standardized across all of North America.” It’s like, “Okay. Well, I asked, and you answered, and I guess that’s it. And maybe there’s a couple little areas that we can go after, but I’m not going to ask about the sunny bonus, or the salary, or the 401(k) match, or the target year-end bonus, because I guess it’s standardized across North America. But here’s a couple exceptional situations, and we can go there instead.”

Steve Dalton
And you still won even if you asked and get shut down 100% across the board. You still tried. You still advocated for yourself so that makes me more confident that you’ll advocate for the company. So, it’s a brand preservation, it’s a brand protection measure, and that’s a certain loss if you don’t negotiate or at least even attempt. That’s a certain ding on your reputation that you didn’t even try to advocate for yourself. Whereas, this urban legend, “I’m afraid of the offer getting rescinded,” that is an uncertain very, very rare occasion that usually has extenuating circumstances around it. So, make the less common mistake is always my guidance.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Steve, any final things you want to share before we hear about a couple more of your favorite things?

Steve Dalton
No, what’s up next?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, sure. Can you give us favorite quote?

Steve Dalton
I am going to give a shoutout to my late mother, Dorothy Dalton. She has one of my all-time favorite quotes, and I found myself, while I was writing The Job Closer, saying it more and more. Her quote, and I don’t know where she got this, this is it, “The difference between a good meal and a bad meal is about an hour.”

I just love that quote because sometimes you have the right technique but you’re not in the right mental space for it. You just need to get a little bit hungrier. And so, I liken The Job Closer to a cookbook a lot, and so having that quote in mind, “The difference between a good meal and a bad meal is about an hour,” is just very top of mind right now. I will always treasure that bit of wisdom from her.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay, it took me a second. It’s an hour of extra hunger as opposed to an hour of cook prep time.

Steve Dalton
Yeah, that’s a thinker. It’s a thinker, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m with you now, Steve. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Steve Dalton
I talk about this one in the book too. There is a study by Frieder, Van Iddekinge, and Raymark about how quickly decisions are made in interviews that I’ve just been all about lately. So, they showed that 5% of decisions are made within the first minute which is crazy. That’s just small talk and first impressions. They showed that 30% of decisions have been made in the first five minutes. So, I talk about the importance of small talk and especially “Tell me about yourself,” 30% of decisions are made based on small talk and maybe “Tell me about yourself.”

They further say that 60% of interview decisions are made within the first 15 minutes, and what’s covered there, small talk, plus “Tell me about yourself,” plus the remaining questions of the big four, the why questions. So, I think so many people go into their resume or their interview worried about their CAR stories when they should really be worrying about getting those big four to be super compelling because over half of decisions are made then. Only 18% of decisions are made after the 15 minutes in the interview, and the balance, the remaining 22%, are made after the interview is over.

So, don’t stress about the CAR stories as much. I try to make it as easy as possible to kind of make them memorable for you but, really, if you’re going to worry about anything, worry about the big four. That study is amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Steve Dalton
I’m loving Unwinding Anxiety by Jud Brewer right now. It’s brand new. It just came out a couple months ago. He does a lot of research on habit formation, breaking bad habits, essentially, whether it’s substances or any other kind of detrimental behavior. But he really marries it with mindfulness and he does it in such a simple applied way.

I reduce anxiety for a living, that’s how I view my role. I take away people’s anxiety around this job search. Don’t take on yourself the stress of curating job search tips. Let me give you the first draft. Follow it, try it this way first, and don’t indulge the decision anxiety. But I still struggle with anxiety myself, so it’s really helped me kind of break those patterns, those habits of bringing irrational anxiety upon myself, and then blaming myself for indulging that feeling. So, can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone else out there who’s feeling anxiety about their job search or any other topic.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Steve Dalton
My favorite tool is, honestly, it’s the concept of the least bad option. So, in The Job Closer there are some controversial stuff, I mean, I disagree with the concept of selling yourself, which may be jarring to a lot of the listeners out there right now because, “How can something I’ve heard so many times possibly be false?” So, everything that I put forth in The Job Closer is about the least bad option. Maybe it’s not a great option but it is the least bad option available so it’s going to be better than the other ones that are out there even though nothing is great.

Really embracing the concept of the least bad option, trying the recipe, and then seeing if you can improve that recipe after you’ve tried it, the original way the first time, or seeking out a different approach that will be better than the one that you’re currently employing, that’s really just a mindset that helps guide people through a rather unpleasant activity.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Steve Dalton
Honestly, my favorite habit is asking for directions before you’re lost. I’ve done this all my life. I’ve seen so many people get into fights over not wanting to ask for directions, and I’ve always gone the other route. Whenever I sense I’m about to get lost, I don’t want to have any ego on this. Let me pull over and ask for directions, that way there’s no personal stress on the line there.

So, when you’re feeling like you’re spinning your wheels, you’re not getting a great return on effort, don’t allow yourself to get too dug in. Instead, just seek out an expert, seek out a recipe that you trust. Ask for directions before you get lost because it’s so much harder to do after.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget – that kind of sounds like it right there, I mean – that you share that is frequently quoted back to you?

Steve Dalton
One that I’ve gotten a lot of traction with lately, “The hard part isn’t getting your resume right. The hard part of the job search isn’t getting your resume right. It’s getting your resume seen.” And that takes networking effort, and networking effort is scary, but don’t be scared of it. It’s like being scared of playing the violin. If you’ve never played the violin before, it’s not scary. You just haven’t been trained. You haven’t practiced. It’s going to sound terrible the first time you try it, but you can get better at it quickly. So, don’t worry about hyper-engineering your resume because it’s not how you get interviews.

For every one person who’s hired through an online job posting application, we talked about the New York Fed study the last time, the Brown, Setren, and Topa one, 12 people are hired through internal referrals. So, get internal referrals, that’s the modern challenge of the job search. And everybody’s on equal playing field. We’re all terrible at asking strangers for help, for their advocacy. So, the quicker you learn this brand-new skill, the better off you’ll be.

Even those people who come in and you think they have perfect networks for this, very rarely are they exactly relevant. And if they are relevant, great, they have an advantage, but that’s a small minority of people. Most people don’t. Embrace networking earlier because the hard part isn’t getting your resume right, it’s getting it seen.

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

Steve Dalton
The fastest way on Twitter @Dalton_Steve. You can also find me at TheJobCloser.com for the new book. And the place that I’m most active is “The 2-Hour Job Search – Q&A Forum” LinkedIn group. So, if you’re active on LinkedIn, look up the LinkedIn group “The 2-Hour Job Search – Q&A Forum” and you’ll find me there. There’s about 7,000 of us currently. I’m on there several times a week answering questions, trading ideas. It’s a good time so please join me.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Steve, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck, and your students as well, as they’re closing bunches of jobs.

Steve Dalton
Thank you so much for having me back. It’s a pleasure as always.

630: How to Work with a Boss You Don’t Like with Katherine Crowley

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Katherine Crowley says: "If you're feeling hysterical, it's usually historical."

Katherine Crowley discusses what to do when your boss is holding you back.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What to do when your boss gets under your skin 
  2. The 20 bad boss behaviors that drive employees nuts 
  3. The most important thing you can do when managing up 

About Katherine

Katherine Crowley is a Harvard-trained psychotherapist and career consultant. She helps individuals identify and tackle psychological and interpersonal obstacles to success. She assists with career assessment, developing a personal vision, improving interpersonal skills, and creating work/life balance. 

Katherine is also the co-founder of K Squared Enterprises, a Management Consulting firm dedicated to helping individuals and companies accomplish their business objectives while navigating the psychological challenges of working with others. She is the co-host of the podcast, My Crazy Office, which is a weekly workplace podcast dedicated to helping listeners navigate their careers. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Katherine Crowley Interview Transcript

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

Katherine Crowley
Hi, it’s so fun to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And you also got your own podcast called My Crazy Office. Could you tell us perhaps one of the craziest office stories you ever heard.

Katherine Crowley
Oh, my gosh. Well, actually interesting, one of my most strange experiences was when I was working for a business owner, and she was running two businesses at the same time. And so, my entire workday consisted of finding notes passed under the door of the office that I work in, in her home, and fulfilling whatever the task was that was required, having no idea what the output was, you know, what the outcome of my work was actually creating, and rarely seeing her except once or twice every couple of weeks. So, that was a strange, that’s what we call an absentee boss situation but it was just so strange because I was living in this world where I don’t fully understand what went on.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you have logged a whole host of such boss behaviors, and you’ve got a great title in your book Working for You Isn’t Working for Me: How to Get Ahead When Your Boss Holds You Back. So, tell us, what’s the big idea behind the book?

Katherine Crowley
Well, actually, what’s interesting is that book, Working for You Isn’t Working for Me, came out of the first book we wrote Working for You is Killing Me, which was actually more about peer-to-peer managing up, managing down. And when that book came out, it was a national/international bestseller because it spoke to the pain of so many people. But the one thing that everyone told us, because Kathi Elster and I traveled all over the country giving talks and workshops about how to handle difficult people at work, and every lecture someone would come up and say, “You don’t understand. It’s my boss. That’s different. This person can fire me or demote me.”

And so, we realized that we needed to write a book specifically about dealing with the boss because what we learned was that people don’t quit jobs, they actually quit bosses. So, Working for You Isn’t Working for Me was about coming to terms with, “If you have a difficult boss, how do you manage them rather than waiting for them to manage you?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, there’s much to dig into here. So, let’s start with your four-step program for dealing with difficult bosses. Can you lay out those four steps and give us some examples of them in action?

Katherine Crowley
Absolutely. And the interesting thing is from the Working for You is Killing Me there’s a four-step of unhooking, and we apply the similar thing to the Working for You Isn’t Working for Me. So, I want to talk about the unhooking process because I think it’s very effective if you can do it. So, the four steps are that you unhook physically, you unhook mentally, you unhook verbally, and you unhook with a business tool. And that means nothing except that the first thing you have to realize is that you’re hooked. So, you know that a boss is getting under your skin if you find that you’re having physical, emotional, mental reactions every time you interact with this person.

And so, if you notice that you get a headache, that your stomach feels tight, that your shoulders hurt, that you have a hard time breathing, that you feel exacerbated after every meeting, you then can establish that you are hooked. Once you established that, then you can start to unhook. And the unhooking physically part, so let’s imagine the favorite tough boss, which is the micromanager, the super controlling, oversees everything you do, and doesn’t let you make any decisions on your own. If you had that kind of a boss, what you could do to unhook physically would be that you might, at the day’s end, work out, or go for a run, or go for a walk. You could splash water on your face, you could go for a drive, you could do something physically that helps you release the toxic energy that you may generate by having to deal with this person day in and day out. So, that’s unhooking physically.

Then, unhooking mentally has to do with kind of talking yourself off the ledge. So, let’s say your – this is very common – micromanaging boss insists that you report on every single thing that you do and everything your team does, and you find that to be just offensive. Unhooking mentally, after you’ve cooled your system down by physically unhooking, would be to ask yourself some important questions, like, “What’s happening here? What are the facts of the situation? What’s their part? What’s my part? And what are my options?”

So, going back to the micromanager, what’s happening? “This person is insisting that I give reports on a daily basis about what everyone is doing and it’s ridiculous.” What are the facts? “My boss is requiring this of me and it’s part of my job.” What’s their part? “So, maybe they’re super controlling. They don’t trust anything we do. It drives me crazy.” That’s the fun question to answer. But then what’s my part? And in this case, it could be that, “My part is that I’m taking their behavior personally, that I’m assuming that this person only doesn’t trust me, and that it’s all about not respecting my work ethic.”

So, then your options are, with a micromanaging boss, you could continue to resent them. That’s always…you’re allowed to do that. You could quit. You could badmouth this person and tell everyone how horrible they are and hope that they quit. Or you could say, “Okay, I’m working with someone who needs control. And so, what would happen if I just followed their requests and see if I can establish trust with this person?” So, that’s where you could get to by mentally unhooking.

Next, unhooking verbally is saying something to move the situation forward. So, with this boss, there’s a high-road and low-road verbal communication. Low-road would be, “I can’t believe we have to write these stupid reports. Don’t you think we can do our jobs?” High-road could be, “I understand that you’re concerned that we’re all on the same page, so let’s try this out and meet in a month and see if it really works as a system.”

And then, unhooking with a business tool is to pick from some kind of thing, whether it’s a procedure, a policy, a document, to complete the transaction. And so, in this case, you could say, you could send a follow-up email and say, “I understand that we’re going to be doing this reporting system for a period of time. I look forward to tracking it and seeing if it really works for you and open to feedback along the way.”

And so, now you’re taking yourself from the hooked part where you’re furious, you can’t stand the person, and you are in a powerful struggle with them, which is usually what happens with bosses that we don’t like, we get in power struggles, to calming your system down, finding viable solutions, and moving the situation forward.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, the business tool piece there, that was just sort of an email or are there different business tools? Tell us what you mean by that.

Katherine Crowley
It in this case it’s an email. So, business tools, what we’d say about those is those are…they’re actually, they’re always with you. They take the emotion out of a situation, because, so often, what happens with bosses and coworkers who drive us crazy is we take them personally, right? So, business tools, anything that clarifies the parameters of your work situation. It could be a job description. It could be company policies. It could be documentation. If someone does something over and over that drives you nuts, usually we just store the instance in our mind and feed a big ball of resentment. What you could do instead is document. That’s a business tool, to write down what happened, to describe the effects that it’s having on your job, to be clear about the costs that may come, that it may cause the company.

So, it’s taking whatever the situation is and looking, “What’s the business tool I can apply here?” whether it’s, let’s say, if someone’s a chronically late person, well, there may be time policies at your workplace that you could apply to the situation rather than feeling insulted by their tardiness.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, so those are the four steps of unhooking there. And you’ve zeroed in on 20 of these behaviors that drive you bonkers. And so, I’d love to get a quick rundown of those if you can give us the cool 30-second version list of all 20. But I’d also, first, actually, I want to hear, you say that often these can even escape detection in the first place. So, can you tell us a little bit about the detect side of things?

Katherine Crowley
Yeah. So, detecting, that’s a very good question. What usually happens is we start to feel irritated. We start to get angry if someone starts to really bother us, and then we get into a whole tailspin, emotional tailspin, about what’s happening. Detecting requires that I look up from my situation, try to figure out “What is going on here?”

So, for example, if there’s a kind of boss that we would call a calculating confidant. And this is a kind of boss that would pull you in and ask you a lot of personal questions and look like they want to get to know all about you, and then use that information against you later on down the road. Of course, when that happens, it feels horrible and like betrayal, and, “How could this person do that?”

But if you actually detect or figure out that, “I’m working with someone for whom this is their style, this is how they operate,” then it gives you just a little distance so that you aren’t just feeling manipulated and poorly treated by this individual. So, does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. So, detected, in so doing you would sort of give a label and some distance, and you say, “Okay, this is not personal. They’re not sticking it to me in particular. This is just sort of how they operate and I hate it.”

Katherine Crowley
Right. Exactly. And if it’s something, like there are bosses who are chronically late. So, if they’re chronically late, to detect and understand that this is, again, this is what they do. It’s probably what they’ve done with every employee that they’ve ever worked with. Then it just gives you a little modicum, I think, of control that, “This is what I’m dealing with, not I’m doing something wrong and it’s driving me crazy.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, can you give us the listing of these 20 bad boss behaviors because I’m sure we could talk for hours about them? But I wanna hear just the quick rundown like, “Okay, we got this and this and this,” so folks can recognize it in your telling.

Katherine Crowley
All right. So, I’ll just give you the list and then you can see what you think. First of all, we have categories. So, the first category is called the game players, head game players. And the top of that list is what we call the chronic critic. Then we have the rule changer, the yeller, and the underminer. Next category are the bigshots and the mother superiors. Under that we have “I’m always right,” “You threaten me,” grandiose, and control freak.

Next category is called the line crossers. These are the people who have bad boundaries. So, the first of those is lovestruck, next is the calculating confidant that I mentioned before, the tell-all, the first person who tells you more than you ever wanted to know about their life, and then the liar-liar. Next category is ambivalent leaders, and this is always interesting, I think. The first is the sacred cow, which I’d be happy to describe at greater lengths; the checked-out boss also known as the absentee; the spineless; and the artful bosses, the person you can never find in your hour of need.

Then, finally, we have what we call delicate circumstances. And that is the junior boss, someone who is younger than you, significantly younger than you; the former colleague, a colleague who gets promoted above you; the unconscious discriminator which is, these days, a very hot topic; and the persecutor. That’s the cast of characters.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you. I think it’s handy just to have a sort of typology in terms of, “Okay. I recognize that.” So, we could talk about these 20 in depth. But, maybe, you could zero in on maybe one, two, or three of these that are both particularly demoralizing for people as well as super prevalent? So, there’s both a high frequency and a high intensity of damage, so let’s talk about those three in terms of how we deal with them.

Katherine Crowley
Yeah, I would be happy to. I actually want to start with the sacred cow, Pete, because this is one…what’s interesting is this is a boss who will feel so frustrating but they’re often like nice people. You know what I mean? So, a sacred cow is someone who’s been in their position for a long time, they’ve climbed up the ladder of the office, whatever it is, the company, whatever it is. They usually are…the people at the top are loyal to this person because they were loyal to them, and they’re now in a position where they probably don’t have the competence really to do anything significant. So, what they want to do is just toe the line, not make any ruffles, and just do a basic job but not cause any problems.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, in this instance, the boss is the sacred cow that a lot of people say, “Ooh, maybe I don’t want to cross them because they’ve historically been really good to me and…”

Katherine Crowley
That’s right. The sacred cow has friends, usually, at the top. They’re protected in some way. And so, what could happen is, let’s say you’re a very inventive or creative person and you get hired by this person, and as you’re getting higher, they’re saying to you, “We really need innovation in this department,” which may be true. But then once you get into the position, you experience that you are blocked at every step of the way. Any new ideas, they’ll say, “We’ve done that already. It won’t work.” They’ll ignore your best thoughts about how to solve a problem. They will tell you that upper management doesn’t want that kind of thing. So, they’ll do whatever they need to do to sort of put a road stop onto anything you’re trying to accomplish.

And for people who are real performers and who like to achieve and contribute, this kind of boss is deadly. Yeah, and so the thing with the sacred cow is that, going back to detect, the four Ds: detect, detach, de-personalize, deal. With the sacred cow, the first is to detect, like, okay, if you find out that someone has been there for many years, and they’re not going anywhere, and you keep pushing up against this person, which is usually what happens when you’re working for a sacred cow, you get in power struggles of constantly trying to push your ideas forward. Then you detect, you’ve got, “I’m working for a sacred cow. They’re not going to become comfortable with change. They’re not going to want to do anything innovative.”

Then the detaching would be, “Okay, this is not about me. This is about them.” And de-personalizing would be to say, “All right. So, this person is afraid of change, but maybe they need to look good.” Sacred cows still want to look good in whatever position they’re in. And so then, the deal, what can you do, would be to find out, and this is very hard if you’ve already pushed hard and been rejected and feel resentment, but the deal part would be to find out if there are any projects that the sacred cow is interested in, like things that they would love to accomplish if they had the ability, and get behind those ideas or try to make your ideas their ideas. So, if you’re willing to make the sacred cow look good, you may actually be able to make progress.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. All right. So, that’s a handy one then. Can we hear another boss here and how we’d approach it?

Katherine Crowley
Yeah. So, a commonly occurring and destructive, I would go to the very top of the list, which is the chronic critic. And it’s funny because we have another version of the chronic critic in Working With You is Killing Me called the pedestal smasher. And these are the bosses who have very high standards for everything, and often when they first bring you onboard, they tell you that you’re wonderful and that you’re finally going to solve their problems and that they really admire your work capacity.

Once you start working for this kind of boss, the chronic critic, they then begin to find fault with everything that you do. And so, they slowly start to erode your confidence because they can always find the wrong thing. One client we had who worked for a chronic critic used red highlighter, under-liner, even online with documents to show where the mistakes were. And, literally, it got to the point where the client was like, you know, they’d go to meetings with their neck in a brace because it was so hard to deal with this person.

So, they slowly can erode your confidence and, therefore, detecting as soon as possible becomes a really important thing when you find out, and you can always ask around to see, “Is this person, have they always been so critical of everyone or is it just me?” You detect but nothing. They don’t ever find things good enough because part of what they’re doing is trying to keep you below them so that you don’t threaten them, right? So, you detect that.

Then, again, detaching, realizing this is not about you. And chances are you’re never going to have the experience where they say, “You did an amazing job.” De-personalizing is, “Okay, so if that’s how this person operates, then my job is to continue along and try to create, try to do a good job but not take their statements personally.”

And then dealing would be to do your job, to go to other places to get recognition. So, you may want to join a taskforce, or go work with another department on a special project, or go outside and join a professional association. Nowadays, those are all happening in online and meetups and things. But you do something like that to pump up your confidence again so that you can figure out what your next best move will be.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now, could you tell us an inspiring story of someone who did just that, they figured out, “Okay, we got a troubling thing in this behavior,” what they did, and then the cool outcomes that unfolded from that?

Katherine Crowley
Yes. So, actually, I can tell you about someone who worked for a sacred cow and it was actually for a very prestigious institution, he was very excited about the job, got there, and then had pushback for every single thing that he did. He was able to befriend that sacred cow after much frustration, a lot of hitting walls. He was able to befriend that sacred cow and found out that that individual, the boss, had a very specific project that she’d always wanted done but had never had the resources to do. He made it happen and, as a result, their department won an award, and he went on to be offered another job at another institution.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Katherine Crowley
So, there’s a good story.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And I’d also love to zoom in and hear sort of navigating these tricky situations, are there any particularly powerful scripts, phrases, questions, that you recommend and see are helpful over and over again?

Katherine Crowley
Yeah. Well, I think that’s such a good question. When we wrote, in both of our books, when we talk about talking to whoever the individual involved is, we always talk about how important it is to prepare yourself. Like, one thing that’s valuable, I think, actually in knowing, like, let’s say you know that you work for a boss who always has to be right, for example. And there are those bosses, so you don’t want to go into the conversation looking to convince them that you’re right. You would prepare for that kind of a conversation by thinking, “Okay, how can I join with this person and their approach?”

So, you could say to this individual, “I know your opinion is very important to me, and I know that you usually understand things in a way that I don’t, but here are my thoughts about doing X, Y, and Z.” So, you confirm the individual’s capabilities, you try to talk to them in a way that makes sense based on how they hear and reason with things, and then you make a concrete suggestion about how you can move forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Well, now, can you tell us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Katherine Crowley
My favorite quote may seem odd but it is by Hoagy Carmichael, a jazz musician, and it is, “Slow motion gets you there faster.” And I like it especially because in the digital age we’re all constantly running – I certainly am, I’m sure you are as well – and constantly on the go, and wanting things to happen quickly. And so, I find that quote “Slow motion gets you there faster” really helpful because it helps me slow down, focus on what needs to happen in the moment, and have patience with the process. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges in any situation, and certainly in a difficult work situation is to be patient with the process.

Pete Mockaitis
And now could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Katherine Crowley
Yes. So, one of the studies that we did actually was for our third book, which was Mean Girls at Work. And there, we put out a request for any stories that women had about other women who they found difficult to work with. And what we were able to glean was that, I would say, 40% of the studies, or 40% of the stories rather, what was interesting was they were not about blatantly mean cruel individuals. They were what we call passively-mean situations where people were excluded, where they were taken out of an email link, where they were not asked to join an event, a work event, or even a social event, where they were contradicted at a meeting but in a nice way, it’s that sort of passive-aggressive looks like.

And so, we found that really interesting that 40% of the women who had difficult relationships with other women, it was more of a passive-aggressive experience, and it really informed a lot of what we wrote about in the book because women do a thing called tending and befriending. We believe we need to be nice to each other and yet what happens in the workplace, because we’re not that comfortable with direct confrontation, is that people end up tending, acting friendly, and then doing subversive things.

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

Katherine Crowley
So, my favorite book is Eckhart Tolle, Towards a New Earth.

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

Katherine Crowley
So, I practice what we preach, so I will say that I do, on a daily basis, every morning I exercise and I write a list of what are my top three priorities. And at the end of every day, I also exercise again, and I practice gratitude. And I know that those things don’t sound like business tools per se, but those set the tone for the rest of my day.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect or resonate with folks, readers, listeners, they quote it back over and over again?

Katherine Crowley
Yes, there are two. And one is…

Pete Mockaitis
Nice job.

Katherine Crowley
So, I’m a psychotherapist by training, so one of the things that I will tell people is that, “If you’re feeling hysterical, it’s usually historical.” Now, I did not make that up but it is such a truism that whenever I say it, people are like, “Oh, my God, that’s so true,” because it’s not the person showing up late for a meeting. It’s probably the 35 times they showed up late, and the time they were late on a deadline, and the time, you know, whatever. And that’s a valuable statement just in the sense that, again, going back to the things we were talking about, unhooking, detaching, you have to calm yourself down so that you respond in a right-sized way to whatever the situation may be.

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

Katherine Crowley
I would point them to our website KSquaredEnterprises.com and also to our podcast which is My Crazy Office.

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

Katherine Crowley
Yes. My final challenge, actually my call to action is to whatever your situation, if there’s someone who is really bothering you, there are two things that you can do. One is that you need to stop and see whether you are in a power struggle with this person, because power struggles you will not win. The second thing is you need to consider whether you’re expecting this person to behave exactly the same way you do. So, it’s always important to examine your expectations. We often get furious of people who do things that you say, “I would never do that,” and yet the most important thing for figuring out how to work with people is to understand that each person is operating from a different set of expectations and behaviors.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Katherine, this has been a real treat. I wish you luck and success, and hope that working with people is working for you.

Katherine Crowley
Thank you, and talking with you has been lovely for me.