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582: The Five Behaviors That Make You an Indispensable “Go-to” Person with Bruce Tulgan

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Bruce Tulgan discusses how to build real influence and become the go-to person in your workplace.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The mindset that makes you indispensable
  2. Why you shouldn’t stick to your speciality
  3. How to stop juggling and start finishing tasks

About Bruce

Bruce Tulgan is the best-selling author of It’s Okay to Be the Boss and the CEO of RainmakerThinking, the management research, consulting and training firm he founded in 1993. All of his work is based on 27 years of intensive workplace interviews and has been featured in thousands of news stories around the world. Bruce’s newest book, The Art of Being Indispensable at Work, is available July 21 from Harvard Business Review Press. You can follow Bruce on Twitter @BruceTulgan or visit his website at rainmakerthinking.com.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Bruce Tulgan Interview Transcript

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

Bruce Tulgan
Thank you so much for having me back on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m really excited to dig into your wisdom. And last time we spoke, which is way back in episode 302, I was impressed with just how real a sense you had for the worker and the crisis of under-management, as you called it at the time. Can you tell us, what’s the lay of the land right now in terms of the worker experience amidst remote work and pandemic, and what’s really going on here?

Bruce Tulgan
I think most people right now are feeling a tremendous sense of uncertainty. A lot of people, of course, are afraid for their health and wellbeing, or the health and wellbeing of their colleagues or their family. I think a lot of people are worried about the security of their jobs. I think in the environment where a lot of people have been furloughed or who have been let go, usually as a result of just economic necessity by employers, are leaving fewer people to do as much work, or more work in many cases, trying to reinvent the work in some cases, or trying to figure out what to do the same and what has to change. I think most people are feeling very vulnerable to a lot of forces outside their control.

And, look, even before the pandemic era, I think, like employers were trying to get more and more and more out of every person. Most people were feeling, I think, like they have to deal with more and more people, up, down, sideways, and diagonal, all over the organization chart. People are fielding requests all day long from their colleagues, not just from their boss and their teammates but from people in other teams and other departments.

So, I think people are grappling with a tremendous sense of uncertainty and over-commitment, and that’s where we find ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And you addressed many these questions even before the pandemic came about in your upcoming book The Art of Being Indispensable at Work. Can you tell us, what’s the key thesis here?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, everywhere I go people are saying, “Gosh, I want to be one of those indispensable go-to people but how can I say yes to everyone and everything?” And the result is you get over-committed, and then, all of a sudden, you’re juggling. Pretty soon, if you’re juggling, you start dropping balls. What do you do? You work harder and harder and harder. You try to juggle faster and faster and faster.

So, those, increasingly with the questions that people have been asking me in our seminars, led me to our research. One of the things I’ve been doing for years is studying what I call go-to people. Everywhere I go when I’m doing talent assessments, I ask everybody, “Hey, who are your go-to people?” For years I’ve been trying to figure out, “What is it that these people are doing? Why did they make it to these go-to list over and over and over again, consistently over time? What is it that they have in common? How is it that they don’t get over-committed and don’t suffer from siege mentality, and don’t go from saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ to saying, ‘No, no, no, get away from me, it’s not my job. You’re not my boss.’?” So, it was really an effort to study that data and draw the lessons from it that led to this new book.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, do tell, what does make a person a go-to person? And, first of all, what are the benefits of being a go-to person? I imagine job security, feeling good about yourself. But you may have a more research-based answer to that.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah. Look, if everybody always wants to go to you, this gives you an incredible source of power that other people want to work with you, other people want you to want to work with them. And so, I wanted to see, “Well, what is it about these folks?”

It didn’t take long to realize that it was a true service mindset. People who they really want to add value in every interaction with others. They really want to add value. They focus on, “Hey, here’s what I can do for you not what I want from you.” And so, it sounds very selfless but, of course, that is exactly what leads to over-commitment syndrome, right?

So, that was the conundrum, right? How do you make yourself a go-to person and serve others consistently without succumbing to over-commitment syndrome? And what I came to realize was what makes it seem like an unsolvable puzzle, is actually the key to the solution, that it was the people who realized that, first and foremost, you have to fight and defeat over-commitment syndrome. You have to resist the over-commitment syndrome because if you say “Yes, yes, yes” to everyone and everything, you end up doing nothing for anyone ultimately because you make lots of unnecessary mistakes. You get into all kinds of trouble.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, this is resonating in terms of that’s what makes an indispensable person is just that they want to add value, they genuinely care. We’ve heard this sort of theme in a number of ways, from a number of guests. They’re not so much motivated by climbing the ladder, being the top dog, looking awesome. They just really do believe in what they’re doing and want to help people and achieve those objectives. So, cool. So, there we have it. That’s the thing that makes them indispensable and, yet, they also have to then play defense against the tendency to overcommit to do everything for everyone at all times. So, how is that done?

Bruce Tulgan
Well, I started calling this the peculiar mathematics of real influence because it’s become conventional wisdom that if you don’t have authority you have to use influence. And I try to figure out, “Well, what do people really mean by that, use influence?” Often, what they really mean is stand-ins for authority. And what is authority? Authority is control over rewards and punishments. Authority is a position, power, whereby you enforce the rules using rewards and punishments. That’s what authority is.

Influence is power you have without position. But this leads a lot of people down the wrong path because, “Are you supposed to badger?” Sometimes people deputize themselves, right? They go over your head, or they go to their boss, or they try to play the quid pro quo, “You do this for me, I’ll do that for you. You don’t do this for me, then maybe I’ll withhold my support for you in the future.” Sometimes they try to flatter and ingratiate themselves. But none of these things build real influence.

The reason I call it the peculiar mathematics of real influence is it’s an asset that you have but it lives in the minds of other people. My influence with you lives in your brain and your heart, right? And so…

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I feel powerful.

Bruce Tulgan
Right. So, that’s why the mathematics are so peculiar because if you try to badger, or bribe, or threaten, or bully, or ingratiate yourself, or go over somebody’s head, you lose real influence. They stop rooting for you, they root against you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. That kind of sucks.

Bruce Tulgan
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d like to not think, if possible.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, so you might get your way in the short term but in the long term, you do not build up your influence in other people’s hearts and minds. So, the way you build up your influence in other people’s hearts and minds is by conducting yourself in a certain way. And I call it playing the long game one moment at a time. It’s doing the right thing in the short term so that, in the long run, more good things happen for everyone. That you try really hard in the short term to conduct yourself in a way that makes things go better for everyone over time.

And so, as a result of that, you build a track record of making good decisions. You build a track record. Nobody wants to hear no to their requests. So, so many people they say, “Yes, yes, yes” to please you in the short term.

But a lot of people, they’re saying, “Yes, yes, yes” because they’re trying to please you right now. I always tell over-promisers, “Mark my words, you will be known for whether you deliver on that promise ultimately, so you might make me happy in the moment, but if you over-promise and don’t deliver, that’s what I’m going to remember.”

Whereas, in fact, you don’t have to say yes to everything. What you have to do is take people’s needs seriously, you have to engage with the ask, engage with the request, give it respect and due diligence. And what you want to be doing is trying to do the right thing for the right reasons every step of the way. And this is what builds up your real influence. When you become known as somebody who’s adding value in every interaction sometimes by saying no. You’re adding value in every interaction.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, this just reminds me of my marriage in terms of often what is needed is empathy and listening as much or more so than swooping into action and fixing things, and it also takes less time but more maybe mental effort in terms of remembering, “Ah, yes, this is what I need.” And so, I liked when you said that in terms of respecting the request, you’re sort of you’re taking it seriously, you’re honoring it. And I can kind of just imagine, I’m thinking about my buddy Pat right now. He seems to exemplify a lot of the things that you said here, in terms of you’re really listening, you’re interested, you’re curious, you’re kind of saying, “Oh, so what’s the implications of this? What’s at stake? What makes this hard? What have you tried so far?” I guess having that kind of conversation and then offering, hopefully, something that’s somewhat helpful along the way even if it’s not you, goes a long way.

Bruce Tulgan
That’s exactly right. So, what sets apart the go-to person who’s indispensable? It’s the person who’s most likely to help you get your needs met on time, on spec, in ways that build up the working relationship rather than damage it over time, right? So, the people who are most consistently likely to help you get your needs met, that’s why you keep going back to that person.

You go to somebody who says, “Yes, yes, yes” and doesn’t deliver, you stop going back to that person. You go to somebody who only has no in their repertoire, you stop going back to that person. You go to somebody though who is all about trying to add value. So, let’s say you come to me and say, “Hey, look, I’ll offer that you do this for me and I’ll do that for you.” If I’m a go-to person who’s really trying to build real influence, I’m going to say, “Look, if it’s the right business decision, if it’s aligned with the chain of command and the mission, if I can understand the ask and I’m the right person to do it for you, if I can do it, if I’m allowed to do it, if I should do it, if I’m good at it, if it’s one of my specialties, or it’s something I can get good at, if it’s something I can get done for you, I’m going to do that because it’s my job, not because you’re going to offer me a quid pro quo.”

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Bruce Tulgan
Be the person other people don’t want to disappoint not because of where you are on the org chart but because of how you conduct yourself, how you treat people, and the role you play in the workplace.

So, that’s the peculiar mathematics of real influence. Sometimes you got to take the bullet by saying, “No, I’m not going to do that for you” and making somebody unhappy in the short term, or, “Yes, I can do that but in a month, not right now.” But, over time, you build the reputation. So, that’s why I call it the peculiar mathematics of real influence because the more you really serve others, the more power you have in that they want you to succeed, they want to do things for you, they want to do things with you, they want to make good use of your time.

So, there’s five steps that we identified that sort of come out of that way of thinking. And the first step is, if you don’t have authority, align with authority. So, there’s still somebody in charge, so it’s, “Oh, hey, work it out at your level.” Well, wait a minute, step one, make sure you understand what’s required, what’s allowed, what’s not required, what’s not allowed. So, first, you’ve got to go vertical before you can go sideways or diagonal.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when you say align with authority, in practice that just means something like, “Hey, boss, we’ve got this request coming. It seems helpful.”

Bruce Tulgan
In a way, it does. Because, look, you’ve got three choices if you’re trying to work things out at your own level, right? One, you sort of say, “All right. Hey, let’s proceed until apprehended. Let’s just do this and let’s hope this is the sort of flipside of better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” But, often, if you proceed until apprehended, you have a lot of work to undo because, it turns out, “No, that’s not what we wanted you to do.”

Another possibility is that you escalate every disagreement, right? And then the other possibility is that somehow you try to use some kind of stand-in for authority, like a quid pro quo or some other form. But what makes the most sense is to go over your own head first. And so, yes, it’s, “Okay, boss.” But here’s the thing, sometimes people will say to me, “Well, does that mean that I have to go to my boss before I work out anything at my own level?” And the answer is only if you’re not already aligned with your boss.

So, you want to be that person who already knows what your boss would say. You’re so aligned that you almost could speak for your boss. And if you have people who report to you, should they have to come to you before they work things out at their own level? Only if they’re not exactly sure what you would say. So, that vertical alignment becomes an anchor. But I put it there first not that every single time you are going to work things at your own level you should go over your own head but, remember, you’re not going to be in a position to work things out at your own level unless, first, you have really good vertical alignment.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s excellent. We’ve heard from Mary Abbajay about managing your manager and how that’s so critical to have those conversations up front in advance, what’s important to you, what are the top goals, what are the least priorities, etc. So, are there any other particular key questions or things to cover with boss that go a really long way in terms of getting that vertical alignment?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, here’s what you want to be doing. Number one, you want to be making sure you know mission, priorities right now, ground rules, action steps, so that’s where you want to be getting alignment. And then, today, tomorrow, this week, what are our execution priorities? And, also, you want to be feeding information up and down the chain of command about anything that’s changing in the boardroom, or anything, “Hey, here’s some frontline intelligence,” that can help your boss stay in the loop on the other end of the spectrum.

So, you want to be having regular structured conversations with your boss. If anybody reports to you, you want to be having regular structured conversations with the people who report to you. That’s the vertical anchor, right? Then you’ve got guardrails, and then you got to create structure and alignment sideways and diagonal. And here’s the thing, so much sideways and diagonal communication comes in meetings but a lot of it comes in relatively unstructured informal communication.

Much of what we have to say to each other all day at work is asking. Much of our ongoing dialogues are making requests of each other. And so, sometimes this happens in the middle of a Zoom team meeting with cross-talks, sometimes it’s a text or a call. When we used to work together in offices and other workplaces, it might be stopping by one’s cubicle, or a hallway conversation.

And so, one of the things that we identified that these go-to people do is once they have vertical alignment, and they’ve got their guardrails, they know what’s not up to them, that leaves a lot which is basically everything else. So, then step two is know when to say no and how to say yes. And that’s really not creating a bunch of cumbersome bureaucracy but it means putting some due diligence into how you take an ask or a request and make sure you really understand it. Tune in to other people’s needs, tune in to the ask, and then make sure you really understand it.

If somebody starts to make a request, stop them and visibly take notes. Ask good questions. Make sure you really understand what they’re asking. That’s a great way to respect somebody else’s needs and tune in to their ask. And then, know when to say no, “Can I do this? Am I allowed to do this?” And then, “Should I do this?” which is that’s the tough one, right? “What’s the ROI on this?” And sometimes the answer is, “Not yet,” or sometimes the answer is, “I’m not sure. Go back and fine-tune this ask so I can give it even more due diligence.” Sometimes it’s, “Yes, I could do that in two weeks,” or sometimes it’s, “Oh, you know who could do that for you is this other go-to person I know.”

So, steps one and two are align vertically so that, step two, you can give every ask the due diligence it deserves. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that to be a go-to person you’ve got to say, “Yes, yes, yes, yes.” No, every good no frees you up for a better yes. Now, yes is where all the action is. Yes is where you have an opportunity to add value. But don’t waste your yeses.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, the image that comes to mind for me here is like just a venture capitalist in terms of there are many, many deal opportunities that come across their desk, but the right answer tends to be say no to the vast majority of them to say yes to the ones that are just right. And even then, still, most of the yeses are not fruitful in terms of creating value but, boy, a few of them are plenty fruitful so it works out.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah. And, look, it is an investment decision. It’s how you’re going to invest your time and energy. You can’t do everything so it’s a matter of if you’re going to beat over-commitment, you have to get the right things done. You can’t do everything for everybody so you have to do the right things.

So, step three in the process is work smart. And what that means…

Pete Mockaitis
Before you we go from there, working smart, I’d love to hear, do you have any pro tips on how you recommend articulating a no when necessary?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, look, a lot of people say, “The secret is knowing how to say no.” I have racked my brain and I have looked at data from hundreds of thousands of interviews, I cannot find a proper sugarcoating for no that makes it taste good.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Bruce Tulgan
So, I think, yeah, you got to learn how to say no is kind of a red herring. The trick is knowing when to say no. And when to say no is when yes will turn out to be a disappointment, when yes is going to turn out to be the wrong answer. That’s why it’s playing the longer game because your no’s are as valuable as your track record of making the right decision on no. No is a huge favor. No, at the right time, is a huge favor because the ask was half-baked. So, we might say yes and go off in the wrong direction, “No, no, no, let’s fine-tune that ask a little more before we say yes.” Or it might turn out that this was not a priority and it’s going to take up a huge amount of opportunity costs.

No and yes are all about opportunity costs. You want a yes to lead to a productive collaboration where you’re going to make an execution plan and execute on tangible results that end up adding real value. So, every bad yes is a squandered opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s well-said. And I agree that there is no way that you can say no, that I found, that makes everyone say, “You know, thank you so much, Bruce. That’s amazing.” So, maybe if you can’t make it taste good, how do you make it taste the least bad? So, if you had to tell me no right now, Bruce, “Hey, Bruce, could you give a thousand copies of your book for free to our audience? I think that’d just make a huge difference for them and they’ll really appreciate it.”

Bruce Tulgan
Well, see, I’m going to consider that one, but let me take it as one that I would have to say no at the outset. So, what I would say there is, “Oh, hey, I need to know more about that ask. I need to know who are those audience members. How do you anticipate we get it to them? What’s the upside?” You have to ask a bunch of good questions. So, the first part of helping somebody swallow a no is asking lots of questions to understand their ask, not to humor them but to really investigate the opportunity.

Then the next part is you say, “Oh, hey, I can’t do that for the following reasons, right? Gee, I could feed my family tomorrow or I could give you some books. I’d love to give you some books but I got to feed my family.” That’s, “I can’t. I don’t have the resources so I’m not allowed to.” It could be if you’re one of my government clients, I am not allowed to do that because that’s a violation of law.

But let’s say we get past the, “I can do that for you, I’m allowed to do that for you, I’m just not going to because I’ve balanced I evaluate this is not my top priority.” So, I might say, “Hey, I shouldn’t do this because it’s actually a bad idea.” And then I might try to talk you out of it which could end up being a big favor to you, “I don’t think you should pursue this idea.”

It could be I say, “Hey, I might be able to do this in a few weeks or a few months, so if you’d be willing to stay in dialogue with me, I’d be willing to revisit this down the line. Now I’m not stringing you along. If I know the answers, know I’m going to tell you no.” But maybe the answer is, “Gee, if you’re bound and determined to do this, get books and give them to a thousand of your listeners, I’d hate to miss that opportunity, so let me see if there’s some way I can make this happen.”

Another might be, “I’ve developed another go-to person and I could do a huge favor for that person because that person happens to have an extra thousand books, and I bet that person would be thrilled to have this opportunity to give those books. So, I’m going to put the two of you in touch. I’m going to do you a favor by introducing you to that person, I’m going to do that person a favor by introducing that person to you, and you’re going to proceed.”

Worst-case scenario I say, “Hey, let me explain what I do. I sell books not give away books. So, if down the road you want to buy some books, I’m your man. Or what I normally do is seminars, so if you need someone to do a seminar, hey, I’d still love to work with you.” In other words, what you want to do is be authentic. And so, when you’re saying no, you’re explaining why, you’re trying to help the person come up with a solution to their need maybe. At the very least, you’re saying, “Hey, I want to understand what you do. Let me explain what I do. Maybe somewhere looking around the corner, there’s a way that we could be valuable to each other.”

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to hear, what are some of the best clarifying questions to really respect the request and do a great job with this? One of my favorites, as we’re talking through this, is something along the lines of, “What are you hoping to achieve by getting a thousand books out there for free to listeners?” Because that’s sort of like sparks all kinds of potential ideas and opportunities. Do you have any other kind of go-to questions, huh, go-to questions for go-to people, that help you do a great job of clarifying?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah. So, I think it’s useful to come up with the objective because then you might find out that the person hasn’t crystallized the ask very much at all if you can help them meet their objective with a much better ask, right? But I think basically what you’re trying to do an intake memo which is really building a proposal from the inside out. So, what you want to know is exactly what’s the deliverable. So, in a way, that rhymes with the objective, “What’s the deliverables exactly that you want?”

And then, “What’s going to be required of me? What part of this can you do? How can you help me help you? How can you help me help you help me help you?” You can keep going on that track. But, “What’s the timeframe? Let’s estimate the resources that would be needed, the obstacles. Whose authority do we need? Where are we going to get the resources? What’s the time horizon? What are the steps along the way? What would be the sequence of steps and ownership of each step?” You want to build a short proposal inside out, even if it’s on the back of an envelope or on a napkin.

Pete Mockaitis
You know what’s so funny about this, as I imagine how this plays out, even if you ended in no, they’d be like, “Oh, this is kind of a buzzkill because we’re really excited about the progress we’re making, but at the same times, as a result of having spoken with you, I am enriched and en-valued, if that’s word, and better off because now I have some more insight and clarity on what I’m up to and what I should go do, so even though you told me no, I am better off for having asked you.”

Bruce Tulgan
I think so. And even if you already had it crystallized, doesn’t it tell you how I do business? Doesn’t it tell you that I’m serious about trying to help? I’m serious about understanding what you want, and I’m serious about trying to do what I can in the conversation, and maybe following the conversation to operate in such a way that it adds value for you. And so, a big part of this is slowing down so that you make good use of other people’s time, show other people that you’re serious about adding value.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. All right. Well, please, continue. Step three, work smart.

Bruce Tulgan
So, step three is work smart, and sometimes people are like, “Oh, yeah, work smart. Got it. Never heard that one before,” right? But the reality is a lot of people think that to be a go-to person you just gotta keep working and working. What is the go-to person? They’re just the one who can outwork everyone. And, in fact, if that’s your only strategy, you’re going to burn out.

So, then some people will say, “Oh, well, work smart. Well, what does that mean?” Well, on one level it means do the things you’re already really good at, do the things you can do very well, very fast, with a good attitude, you know you can deliver on that. The problem is that most people don’t have the opportunity to only work in their area of passion and strength, right? So, “Oh, not good at that. Sorry. I’d like to but I’m committed to working smart so I won’t be able to help you with that.”

And so, what I tell people is there’s a lot of tasks, responsibilities, and projects you’re going to have to do that might not be something you’re already good at, or that’s in your area of passion and strength. But if that’s true, slow down and get really good at it. Don’t just wing it. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Don’t keep trying to, “Oh, you know, I’m so busy that I don’t have time to stop and get good at it.”

If you’re so busy that you don’t have time to stop and get good at it, you are in a pickle, right? So, you gotta stop and get good at it. Learn best practices, “Oh, this is how I do it.” Is it? Well, is that the best way? Maybe you need to learn, “No, no, I’ll figure it out on my own. I don’t want people to see me learning. They might think I’m not competent.” Well, they’re going to think you’re not competent if you pretend to know how to do it and then make it up as you go along and reinvent the wheel, then you’re going to seem not competent.

One of the ironies is that people who are really good at stuff know that people who learn in plain sight are probably the ones who are going to get good at stuff too. You’re not showing yourself to be less competent by learning in plain sight. Again, you’re showing the kind of person you are. Like, so, look, if you ask to do something, I go, “Oh, that’s my specialty. I can already do that very well, very fast, with a great attitude and deliver for you.” Okay. But if it’s not my specialty, and I say, “Gee, I keep getting asked to do this, let me tell you, that’s not my specialty, but it’s going to be one of my specialties soon. I’m going to learn best practices, I’m going to study, I’m going to master them, I’m going to develop repeatable solutions to the most common problems and issues and needs, I’m going to create job aids to guide me.”

That’s how you professionalize what you do. Find the best practices, create repeatable solutions, get good tools. So, anything you find yourself having to do regularly, professionalize, and then you make it one of your specialties because once something is one of your specialties, then think of any minute or hour you spend on one of your specialties, you’re going to add more value with less likelihood of failure than something that’s not one of your specialties.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Bruce Tulgan
So, there is a kernel of genius in working in your area of passion and strength, there’s a kernel of genius in, “Hey, that’s not my job,” because, really, what somebody is saying is, “Gee, every minute I spend doing that, I’m not going to be adding optimal value.” But everything you professionalize and make one of your specialties is another thing you can do very well, very fast. So, specialize for sure, but when something comes up that’s not your job, you got to kind of put it through the following routine.

First, is it something that really shouldn’t be your job? Like, “This is a wild goose chase,” or something like that, right? Like, “Well, wait just a minute. I’m not even sure if anyone should be doing this.” Or is it something that’s not your job, like the paperwork part of almost anything. Well, I always say to people, “Actually, that is your job so you should professionalize the paperwork part to it.” Or is it like, “Well, it’s not my job to take out the trash.” Well, that’s what I call “Somebody has got to do it, so don’t be a jerk about it.” And, okay, maybe you don’t have to be the goffer, but maybe you’re like, “Okay, I’m the guy. Sure, I’ll be the one to take out the trash,” and you do it really well.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I remember when I was the junior person on the team in consulting, we needed lunch, someone had to get lunch, and the delivery apps were not proliferating at the time the way they are now, and so I did it but I did professionalize it and it was appreciated because I kept disappointing people, they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t want beans in my burrito.” It’s like, “By golly, I’m just worked a full-blown burrito spreadsheet, and you’re just going to circle what kind of rice, what kind of beans, what kind of meat, and then we’re going to pass that little printout around, and then I’m going to Chipotle, and then no one’s disappointed anymore.” And they loved it, like, “Ha, ha, ha. Great.”

Bruce Tulgan
Exactly. And it’s like, “Oh, I’m the lunch guy.” Well, wait, no. What you’re showing people is, “I’m willing to be the guy to get lunch and there’s nothing I do regularly that I just wing it and make it up as I go along. That’s just how I do business, is I professionalize the things I do.” And the funny thing is, also hidden is these other things that are sort of close to your job that, “Hey, maybe that could be another specialty.” Or, okay, it’s far away from your job, but, “Hey, maybe that could be one of my specialties.”

The funny thing is there’s a tension between spending most of your time on your specialties and then paying attention to the things that are not your job because those are your opportunities to actually expand your repertoire.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well-said. And I tell you what, I really appreciate when I talk to someone and they say, “You know, I don’t know how to do that yet but I am excited to learn or to come up again and again. I just need to nail this down.” And so, I appreciate that. And I guess sometimes the answer is, “You know what, actually, we need it perfect and we need it fast, so maybe you’re not the right choice right now but you could be some weeks, some months down the road.” And other times it’s like, “You know what, that’s the best yes I’ve gotten out of everybody I’ve asked. I’ll take it.”

Bruce Tulgan
I’ll take it. Right, exactly. And, by the way, so you’re putting people on notice that, “Let me be clear, I am a professional but this is not one of my specialties, but I’ll take a crack at it. But be on notice that this is my first go around, or whatever it is,” and it’s one of the reasons why job aids, repeatable solutions, and best practices captured in checklist and stuff like that, checklist is a good example, because, “If I haven’t done it in a while, maybe I’m rusty. The job aid is going to help. If I do it all the time, the job aid might keep me from going on autopilot. If I can’t do it, and I need someone else to do it, and they’re like, ‘That’s not my specialty,’ I say, ‘Oh, here’s a job aid,’ that’s going to help you learn a lot faster.”

It also will help me educate my customer and state, “Let me just show you so you can understand.” Job aids come in really handy when it comes to trying to get someone new up to speed faster on something that isn’t their specialty.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, you’ve reference job aids numerous times, and I contextually can glean that this is a document that contains useful information about how to do a job. Can you expand on what are the components or key elements of a great job aid document?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, a job aid is anything that helps you follow best practices, apply repeatable solutions, or draw from repeatable solutions, to extrapolate for a problem of first impression, or a past work product that gives you a jumpstart on making a new work product.

Pete Mockaitis
So, this could be a checklist, it could be a process map, it could be an instructional video, it could be some example deliverables, just sort of anything that, hey, it’s going to do the job.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, a checklist is a classic example, a plan is a classic example. Sometimes surgeons use a job aid which is that somebody uses a magic marker to put an X on the right spot so that they don’t cut on the wrong side. That acts as a job aid and it comes in handy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. All right. So, that’s working smart. What’s the fourth?

Bruce Tulgan
Step four is finish what you start. And people will say, “Oh, I’m always so busy I’m always juggling. I’m double and triple-booked for meetings,” as if that’s a badge of honor. And I tell people, “If you’re double or triple-booked, that means you can’t decide what meeting to go to. And if you think you’re multitasking, there’s no such thing. And juggling is what you’re actually doing because multitasking is a fiction. What you’re actually doing is task-shifting.” And some people do it really fast, that’s why I call it juggling. But if you’re always juggling, you’re bound to drop the ball.

So, one of the things we wanted to look at is the people who were able to have a really busy schedule and an ever-growing to-do list but they still get stuff done. And what we identified was that the people who get the most done are the people who break work into smaller chunks and break their execution time into bigger chunks. So, it’s bigger chunks of time, smaller chunks of work.

And so, the drill is simple. Look at your schedule every day but find the gaps in your schedule, your “Do not disturb” zones for focused execution. And then look at your work and your to-do list, and plug in doable items, doable tasks, doable chunks of work in those scheduled gaps. So, what you’re looking at, so you know there’s 168 hours in a week and nobody is making any more of them. But, in fact, if you create scheduled gaps in which you execute on concrete results, and start with the highest-leveraged concrete results, then you are actually manufacturing time for yourself because what you’re doing is you’re obviating unnecessary problems, you’re obviating problems hiding and getting out of control, you’re obviating squandered resources, you’re obviating work either getting done wrong or not getting done, you’re obviating holding other people up.

So, high-leveraged time is setting someone else up for success. High-leveraged time is avoiding an unnecessary problem. High-leveraged time is planning for optimal use of resources. High-leveraged time is if there’s a set of steps that need to be done in sequence, and one of them takes time up front, so I call it preheating the oven, is a great example, or putting the bread in the oven before you make the salad. It’s sequencing. Those are all high-leveraged execution times, and that’s how you start to create more and more scheduled gaps for yourself in which you can get more and more concrete results done.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like the notion of the oven, or it’s sort of like getting something in motion so that it’s moving while I’m doing other things.

Bruce Tulgan
Exactly. So, it’s giving somebody instructions, it’s cleaning the machine, sharpening the saw, what Covey would say, sharpening the saw. It’s high-leveraged time. But you got to execute, execute, execute. So, people who don’t make time for focused execution, they’re the ones who are always busy but never finishing things.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And the fifth step?

Bruce Tulgan
Is keep getting better and better at working together. And there’s so much finger pointing, and so much politicking in the workplace, and that’s because everyone knows relationships are where it’s at. The problem is, yes, the relationships are key, but if the work goes wrong, the relationships go sour. And if the work keeps getting better and better, the relationships get better and better. So, I always tell people, you know, take time to review and look around the corner together.

Every time you get a task, responsibility, or project done with somebody, stop. Don’t go into a conference room and blame. Don’t whisper behind people’s back and finger-point. What you do is go to your collaboration partner, and say, “Hey, here’s what went well. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And let’s look at how we can work better together going forward, and let’s look around the corner and plan the next collaboration.” So, it’s basically taking a continuous improvement approach to relationship management.

So, when people say, “It’s all about the relationships and networking,” that doesn’t mean making best friends and politicking or undermining the people you don’t like. It means taking continuous improvement to working relationships and things will go better and better and better. And if you do that, if you align up and down the chain of command, and then put structure and substance into your sideways conversations, if you make good decisions about yes and no by really tuning in to the ask, if you professionalize what you do, work smart, finish what you start, and you keep fine-tuning how you work with people, then people notice how you conduct yourself.

The ones that people keep going back to over and over and over again, the ones everyone wants to work with, the one everyone will want you to want to work with them, that’s what they do, that’s what go-to people have in common. And when you do that, sometimes people will say to me, “Well, the problem is I’m the only go-to person here.” Well, are you sure? They say, “Well, if I work in a greater organization, well, that would make it easier to be a go-to person.” Well, sure, if you work for a greater organization it makes it easier. But it turns out, if you conduct yourself this way, you become a magnet for other go-to people. It becomes much easier to find go-to people. And if you can’t find them, build them up. They will remember.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Bruce Tulgan
Stephen Covey says, “Remember, you can’t take a screwdriver to somebody else’s head and tighten the screw or loosen the bolt, but you can control how you respond to other people.” And Covey called that being response-able. So, that’s one of my favorites.

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

Bruce Tulgan
Well, how about Pavlov? Thanks, Pavlov, I’ll do that again. I always tell people, if you reward people in close proximity to the performance in question, then they’ll say, “Thanks, Pavlov. I’ll do that again.”

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

Bruce Tulgan
Well, right now, I guess my only tool is this studio we’ve just created. It is now my portal to the world because if you’re in the business of selling hot air to auditoriums full of people, this is not the best time. And so, we’ve created a production studio so that we can deliver our research services and our training and consulting services right from this portal to the world.

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

Bruce Tulgan
The best place to go is RainMakerThinking.com or I’m told you can link in with me at LinkedIn or @BruceTulgan on Twitter.

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

Bruce Tulgan
Every single interaction you have with people, stop focusing on what you need or you want from them, and focus on what you can do to add value. Focus on what you can do for other people, and you will build up the most valuable asset you possibly can have, which is real influence. You will build that up. And just remember that the bank is the minds and hearts of other people. So, stop focusing on what you need from other people and start focusing on what you can do for them, and you will become very rich in real influence.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Bruce, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all of your adventures and all the ways you’re indispensable.

Bruce Tulgan
Thank you. Well, you’re great at this. You make it so easy and you make it so much fun. And thanks for bringing out the best in me here.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Robin:

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

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

About Robin Dreeke

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Robin Dreeke Interview Transcript

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

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

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

Robin Dreeke
Exactly.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Dreeke
Anything you want.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, thanks.”

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

Pete Mockaitis
Bring it on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Dreeke
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Dreeke
Hard for folks to…?

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[30:04]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

528: Building High-Performing Teams through Psychological Safety with Aaron Levy

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Aaron Levy says: "The right type of leader you can be is actually just being yourself."

Aaron Levy discusses how to encourage your team to give and receive more honest feedback.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The deciding factor of high-performing teams
  2. How to make feedback less intimidating
  3. Four ground rules that allow teams to thrive

About Aaron:

Aaron is the Founder and CEO of Raise The Bar, a firm focused on helping companies address the problem of millennial turnover.

Aaron is an ICF Associate Certified Coach, a Thrive Global contributor, an 1871 mentor, the Co-Director of Startup Grind Chicago and a member of the Forbes Coaches Council. He has educated, coached, and consulted over 5,500 business leaders, helping them to define goals, create action plans, and achieve sustained success.

Aaron is on a mission to transform the manager role – by empowering each manager with the tools, skills, and training to be leaders of people who unlock the potential of their team.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Aaron Levy Interview Transcript

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

Aaron Levy
Thanks for having me on for a second time, Pete. I’m really happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, I’m happy to have you. And another fun fact we learned about you is you take some cold-water plunges in the wintertime. What is the story here?

Aaron Levy
Yeah, it’s been the last couple of years. My coach for his 60th birthday said, “For my birthday, you’re going to come plunge with me in the lake.” And I swim with him probably May through August, September, early October. He said, “We’re going to go for a plunge in November-December.” I said, “What?” He said, “It’s for my birthday.” I said, “Okay. You only turn 60 once so we’ll do it.”

And we got in, and we plunged, and it became one of those things that is there’s not really much better way to start the day than plunging into Lake Michigan and getting this just cold but also really refreshing feeling. So, I try and do it a couple of times a week and go in for a couple of minutes so I don’t get hypothermic, and it’s just a really nice refreshing way to start the day.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s funny you used the word nice because it sounds like torture to me. Explain.

Aaron Levy
Well, it is a little bit painful and it’s a mental challenge, and I think that, also, what’s interesting about it, as someone who does triathlons and racing, that whole sport is a mental challenge, and so you kind of love once you get into the water, it’s all leading up to it, but then once you’re in and you’re shoulder deep in water, everything slows down, and you can slow down your heart rate and your breathing. You just calm down. And you don’t want too calm in there for too long but you definitely calm down for a minute or two. It’s the leadup that’s much more crazy, I think, than the actual plunge.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I was going to say, are you sure that sensation isn’t you dying?

Aaron Levy
No, I’m not entirely sure it’s not me dying. We’ve done it enough times where we’d play with that, like, “Okay, at two and a half minutes at this temperature, that’s too much time.” Like, your whole body chatters for 30 minutes afterwards, “Okay, I was in there a little too long.” So, we learned to figure that out on our own.

But it’s just one of those things that’s really refreshing. And people ask me, “Well, what’s the science behind it?” And I say, “You know, the science is hit and miss. There’s cryotherapy, professional athletes going in ice baths after sporting events or races, and so it’s kind of following along that path. It’s very similar to that, but I’m not going to claim I do this for science. The reason I do it because it’s exhilarating, it’s fun, and it’s refreshing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s intriguing and it’s come up before, so thanks for indulging us there. I want to say congrats. You have completed your book Open, Honest, and Direct: A Guide to Unlocking Your Teams Potential, so that’s cool. I think I want to go deep on a particular vein of it, but maybe you could give us sort of like the broad zoomed-out message, sort of what’s the main thesis of this opus here.

Aaron Levy
Yeah, the main thesis is that it takes work to lead people, and we are usually promoted into leadership roles because we’re good at doing what we’re doing, not because we’re good at leading people. And so, the path that this book takes is actually it takes all the steps we work with leaders on, is, “What does it take to be an open, honest, and direct leader? How do you listen? How do you ask powerful questions? How do you create this base for psychological safety to occur? And how do you ultimately realize…?”

I think one of the hardest messages of the book to realize is that feedback is a gift, and the act of giving it, even in a critical conversation, or sharing something that just might not feel good to share because you might be worried about hurting somebody else’s feelings, actually might be the best thing that that person needs or you and your team need, or all of the above need.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, there’s lots to that and it certainly resonates and rings true. So, I want to talk in-depth about psychological safety, which is a theme that’s in the book and in your work. And so, first, how about, just so we’re all on the same page, can you define that term for us and why does it matter?

Aaron Levy
Yeah, the way I think about it when we think about psychological safety is it’s the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up, raising questions, concerns, or mistakes.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Aaron Levy
I can give you more of an analogy though if that helps as another way to think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we’ll take it.

Aaron Levy
So, the way I tend to think about it is imagine you’re walking through, you know, you’re trying to not be sure who you can say what to. Like, this person, if you say that to, they might blow up at you. This person you say that to, they’re going to respond to it in a different way. This person is going to be passive-aggressive, and it’s like you’re walking through a field where there’s a series of landmines all around you and you’re not quite sure where those landmines are.

And so, you’re walking through the field slowly, unsure of what you say, and if you do it the wrong way, or if you say it with this tone, or if you email it in that way, that you’re going to get punished, or humiliated, or put down. And it’s just not hyper-efficient. It’s actually the opposite of efficiency because you’re slowly walking through that field as opposed to, in business, what we really want to be doing is moving at a rapid pace together towards the same direction.

And so, the lack of psychological safety is like you’re walking through a series of landmines.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that is a nice, well, maybe not nice, it’s a clear and illustrative metaphor, maybe kind of a spooky one as you really put yourself in the position. And so, I hear you that the belief that you’re not going to be ridiculed, etc., that sounds like a pleasant thing to be going on. But there’s really some excellent science behind psychological safety and the results that that unlocks for teams. So, can you refresh us on that as well?

Aaron Levy
Yeah, I think the most interesting thing about this came when I started to look at Google’s Project Aristotle. And when you look at Google’s Project Aristotle, it’s really a study where Google said, “Hey, we want to figure out what are the key ingredients for a high-performing team, what makes teams perform well.”

And their initial hypothesis was, “Well, it’s the right mix of people with this personality style and that personality style. We have the right mix of introverts and extroverts. We have the right mix of talent.” They thought that was the case. But when they did their research and they looked at teams within Google, but they also looked at meta analyses of other studies on teams, what they found was their hypothesis was totally wrong.

And two of the most important factors to drive high-performing teams had nothing to do with the people on the teams at all. Initially, I was baffled, and then after I had a chance to kind of absorb that and think about that concept, the performance of a team has nothing to do with the people on the team at all. The cool thing about that is that means that you, as a leader of a team, actually have the opportunity to impact the performance of any team that you’re working on immediately.

And the two factors that show up and came out of this Google Project Aristotle was the need for psychological safety in the workplace and also clarity. Both of those things combined, “Clarity on where we’re going, how we’re working together, and safety, and I feel comfortable in my ability to do what I need to do to work.” And that might mean asking a question without thinking it’s a stupid question, that might mean challenging my boss because we need to challenge his idea and not just accept the norms. That’s actually what drives team performance.

So, it’s not really a thing that we talk about in our leadership training, or with our clients, or in any of our work as a way to just feel good. The reason we talk about psychological safety is because it is one of the top factors which drives team performance and better outcomes within a business.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, it’s really interesting how I can really think about all kinds of conversations where there’s really some interrelationship there, which means psychological safety and clarity, because you might be afraid you’re going to be ridiculed and, thusly, you don’t ask the clarifying questions necessary to arrive at your clarity. And, in reverse, it’s like if you don’t feel clear about where you’re going, you’re feeling kind of anxious and edgy, like, “I hope this is maybe the right thing,” like the whole time that you’re engaging in conversation and hunker down and doing your work solo.

Aaron Levy
The balance and the play between the two are so, so important. And I say any great leader, their role is to provide context and clarity. Clarity on where we’re going, what we’re doing, how we’re going. And context as to why we’re doing it. But the underlying thing in that is, all along that way, people need to feel safe.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then let’s get into it. The psychological safety, how is it earned and gained and built? And how is it lost in terms of sort of real-life day-to-day exchanges, interactions?

Aaron Levy
Yeah. At the highest level, it is gained and lost through consistency. So, if you are not consistent in the way you show up, Pete, as a person with your family, with other people, they won’t know what to expect from you and, thus, psychological safety is lost. However, if you’re consistent in the way you show up, you are setting yourself up to say, “I know if I do this, I’m going to get this response.”

So, what you’re doing is you’re setting yourself up for psychological safety. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to guarantee you’d give it if you’re consistently yelling at people when they ask you a question. That’s not psychological safety, but it’s consistency in a few things. And so, I share consistency at the start because that’s probably the most important thing to remember. It’s not, “I just try, I’m going to share a couple of things that we talk about doing.” But it’s not trying to do one of those things or two of those things once in a while and seeing how it works. Psychological safety is created over a long period of time where you’re consistent in the actions that you do.

And so, one specific example of that is when you give feedback in person, right? And when I say in person, I don’t mean literally it has to be face-to-face with the other person. It could be over the phone or via a video chat. What I really mean is not giving feedback via Slack, via Instant Message, or text message, or email because it’s just not the highest fidelity mode of communication.

The best example I think about is, it’s like if you ever have that text message where you’re texting with somebody, and then you feel like they might be frustrated, and the text bubble comes up, and it seems like they’re about to text too but then it goes away?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Aaron Levy
And that’s the worst. “What’s happening is? Is he mad at me?” and then you go into the office and it’s your boss. So, you’re looking for your boss, and he walks in, and he walks right by you, you’re like, “Wait. He’s definitely mad at me. I’m in trouble. I did something wrong. I must’ve said something wrong in his email. What’s going on?” You build this whole story.

Little did you know, as you’re building that whole story, is you’re reading this feedback via text message, which isn’t a high-fidelity mode of communication, you’re building a story that he or she is mad at you for something that happened in the text message. But, really, they were just going from one meeting to another, and in between meetings, they really had to go to the bathroom, so they don’t even see you. They just walk straight to the bathroom.

And when we don’t give feedback in person, over the phone, or via a video chat, we’re losing that level of understanding the situation and we build a story around it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, this reminds me. This has come up once before on the show. If you’ve seen the Key & Peele text message confusion sketch, it is priceless. It’s not quite safe at work because of the language, but it’s hilarious and illustrates that point, how we can sort of read things in and misinterpret, and when folks truly have completely different intentions and things that they’re trying to communicate there. Okay, that’s one practice then, is offering feedback in a live, real-time environment.

Aaron Levy
Here’s the tip around that, too.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Aaron Levy
If an email or a text message is taking you more than five minutes to craft, like you’re typing it and then you delete because you’re like, “Oh, that sound passive-aggressive.” Typing it in again, deleting, you’re not really sure how to respond? Don’t send the email. It’s called the 5-minute rule. Just pick up the phone and call the person, or walk over their desk.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And what I love about that, I guess the nuance to that 5-minute rule is it’s not so much you have a lot of content to share. I guess if that’s the case, I’d recommend Loom. I love that screen recording stuff. They need to sponsor the show one day. Anyway, I love Loom for screen recording instant videos, so sharp. But it’s taking you more than five minutes not because there’s a lot of in-depth content but because there’s some emotional stuff there, “Ooh, I don’t know if that’s going to land this way. Hmm.” Like, those are the things that are making it get stretched out.

Aaron Levy
And that emotional stuff isn’t going to be conveyed well via email.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Aaron Levy
So, don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m with you. I’m with you. Okay, so we got the sharing. That’s one consistent action you recommend for building the psychological safety is sharing those feedback points in real-time live environments, in person or in Skype or something, or phone. What are some of the other key consistent things that make all the difference in building up psychological safety?

Aaron Levy
Avoid using absolutes like “always,” “never,” “can’t,” “won’t,” “don’t.” The truth is when you use absolutes like that, it just adds a layer of judgment to a situation that likely isn’t true and will most often lead to someone else being defensive on the good side or the bad side, “Pete, you’re always late.” You might look at me and say, “Aaron, I wasn’t late for this meeting and I wasn’t late for last meeting.” And I’d have to say, “Oh, you’re right. Pete, three meetings this week that you’re a part of, you were late.” That you can’t deny, but always late? That’s just probably not true.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m right with you there. And so, it’s also a bit more honest. I’m thinking about the book Nonviolent Communication now.

Aaron Levy
Oh, amazing book.

Pete Mockaitis
In terms of just it’s an observation as opposed to judgment, and there’s a huge distinction and ways that you can sort of drift on over into the judgment territory and be evaluative in use of one of those absolutes. It’s so funny, it’s tempting to use an absolute about absolutes, “Never use absolutes.” Oh, no, I just used an absolute.

Aaron Levy
I was about to say every time. Most of the time when I deliver this and share this with leaders, in my head I’m having this dialogue of, “Watch out for the absolutes, watch out for the absolutes. They’re going to catch you in an absolute.” Because it’s such a big part of our language and the way in which we communicate, we communicate through themes and stories that we see on TV and in the world, and we communicate through absolutes. And both of those actually limit the truth of what we’re trying to say.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Well, keep it coming. Keep it coming, Aaron. What else, career practices?

Aaron Levy
What else? One of my favorites is simply be specific. Share what actions worked or didn’t work when you’re giving someone feedback. So, don’t share who they are or who they aren’t, right? “You need to care more.” “What do you mean I need to care more? What tells you that I’m not caring enough?” And when we break this down with leaders as they start to share this in our trainings, and they say, “Well, what tells me that they don’t care is the last email that they sent to a client had three spelling errors in it.” Okay. So, instead of telling your employee to care more, which has a lot of judgment, has a lot of weight, just tell them that what you expect of them is to send client emails without grammatical errors in it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that because, well, one it’s just very specific and actionable, and you can run with that and be enriched as a professional by hearing and adapting to that feedback. I would love to get your pro take on it in terms of do you want to share the context associated with the why behind that? Because, in a way, that might sound evaluative and judge-y.

So, I would say, “Hey, please make sure that you double-check your email so that you don’t have these sorts of typos go out. I noticed in this email these three typos. And my concern is that can create the impression that we are sloppy, or inattentive to detail, or rushing over on our side.” So, in a way, I’m giving you some context and some why behind my request. In another way, it sounds like I might be into evaluation, judging territory that they might trigger defensiveness. What’s your take?

Aaron Levy
“Well, so you did it twice unknowingly, so I’m going to give you a little bit of a reframe, take it or leave it. One of the things that you did, even at the start without noticing likely, was I want you to double-check your emails.” That’s assuming that whoever sent that email didn’t double or triple, quadruple-check it. I’m someone who can triple-check an email and still have plenty of grammatical errors in it. And so, I could look at that and hear what you say just from the start, and be like, “Well, I did.”

So, here’s a reframe of how to say it, “The expectation is, when you have a client email that goes out, it has zero grammatical errors. The impact of having grammatical errors is they think small errors means we have errors in other things that we do and it decreases our chance of working with them again.”

So, your ask was, “Hey, can I share this specific feedback and can I give a little bit of the impact of this specific impact?” Yes, you can totally give the impact of this specific feedback. I would just make it as insular as possible. What I mean by that is, as you and the experience focus, as opposed to saying, “When you do that, everybody on the team gets pissed at you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Aaron Levy
“When you send that email, the impact is I don’t trust that you’re going to do what you say you’re going to do,” right? That is my judgment and evaluation, but, hey, I asked you to do something and send an email on time or send an email with no errors, and you sent an email late with errors. Now, I don’t trust that you can do what you say you’re going to do, as opposed to the rest of the team was pissed off at you. Because that is throwing too much judgment out there to the group.

And I know this sounds like nitty-gritty if you’re listening to it. As much as you can think of, “How can I just be specific about what actually didn’t work and the honest impact of it?” The honest impact is, “We’re worried that we might lose a client when we send them work like this.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yeah, I like that in terms of it’s clear, it’s like, “This is the expectation for these underlying reasons or philosophies,” and then it gets more personal in terms of, let’s take a look at this example email, and let’s hear that part of the conversation.

Aaron Levy
Yeah. And so, sometimes with feedback, you don’t need to give the impact because they get it. it’s just especially when you do it in the moment or timely. It doesn’t need to be spur of the moment but it should be within one to three days. That’s one of the other things that’s really important. If you give feedback a week, two, three, six weeks, a month later, the person might not even remember what it was about, “What email are you talking about? What did I say in that client call? What did I do in that meeting? I didn’t even notice.”

When you give it in the moment, or within a couple of days, people are able to observe, understand what they did, and change it. So, if someone on your team is a salesperson, and they made a mistake in a sales call, and you wait two weeks to tell them about the mistake, how many sales calls are they going on making the same mistake over and over and over again?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, and it just doesn’t feel so great. I’m thinking about reviews in particular. It’s like surprises on the review that might happen nearly a year after the fact, it’s like, “What?”

Aaron Levy
Here’s the analogy I play with that just because it’s almost stupid-funny when you think about it. Think about Tom Brady and the Patriots, and I say Tom Brady not because I like Tom Brady but because he’s one of the more recognizable football players, athletes in the world. So, he gets into the huddle, there’s two minutes left in the game, and he’s getting the play calls into his helmet from his coach, and he’s talking to his teammates, and he’s hearing what’s going on, and he lets them know the play, and they all break and they spread out into the field, and he sees the defense, and they’re moving around, and his offense is looking at him.

And then he sees this wide receiver, and he’s not in the right spot. And he looks at him, he goes, “Oh, I don’t know. Should I? Well, we’re going to have a review of the game on Monday. Maybe I’ll tell him to move over on Monday. You know what, we’re almost at the end of the season, we’re going to do our annual reviews at the end of the season, so I’ll tell him that he’s not in the right, or I could just send him an email, too.” We would think that’s ridiculous. That just doesn’t happen. Tom looks at the guy, and he says, “Move over!” He might even say, “Move…” insert swear word “…over!” And the receiver doesn’t think twice of it, he needed to know how to be in the right spot so that they could move forward towards a common goal together efficiently and effectively.

Yet, in the workplace, we do that. In the workplace, we say, “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just send him an email. Well, I waited too long to send that email, so I’ll tell him when he have a debrief on this client. Well, I didn’t do it then because we didn’t have time, so I’ll just do it at the annual performance review.” That’s not helping anybody grow. That’s not being consistent. And so, one of the really important things is actually just to be timely when you give feedback so they know when to expect it.

On our team, one of the things we do is we have a feedback debrief in between each workshop that we do. I actually have to send one out to the group on the last workshop that I did yesterday and the day before to say, “Here’s what worked. Here’s what didn’t.” If I only sent an email out when things were going really well, or when things were really bad, then people would be afraid when they got an email from me, and they’d say, “Oh, no. Is this…what did we do wrong?” But the consistency is each session that we have, each week that we do it, people will know, “Here’s the email. You know to expect something that worked, something that didn’t work.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s huge and powerful. And I’m thinking about this football analogy in terms of, yeah, you’re right, that would be ridiculous to think about giving feedback in that way. I guess I’m also thinking about my experience of when I’m working with sort of creative types, like, “Hey, we’re making a logo, or we’re doing whatever,” I find it so interesting is when I share feedback in terms of, “You know what, that white space, it just seems like it’s so tight, it’s kind of uncomfortable, whatever.”

And it’s funny because sometimes I think that I sound kind of weird talking about design-type things, or art-type things, or I was talking to my audio people, it’s like, “I think my voice sounds a little robot-y at times. I don’t know if it’s being processed in a certain way.” And so, they appreciate it, like, “Oh, that’s great. Thank you. Yeah, I’m really going to dig into that.”

And so, as opposed to I guess that it’s just rare that I work with someone in my kind of creative capacity and they get really defensive or angry or irritated, like, “How dare you? You don’t sound robot-y. We mastered your voice perfectly,” or, “You don’t know jack about logos. What I made is excellent.” What do you think that’s about in terms of the mindset if it’s a football player or a logo designer versus an office professional? And why sort of feedback is often not given the same way and often not received the same way?

Aaron Levy
Well, I think you’d find it interesting if you go to that same logo designer and sit in in one of their internal meetings or discussion with a boss about a project, because I think it’s not that certain types of people do or don’t do it. I think, yes, that does happen. It’s also the culture and the team by which we operate and agree to do it. And so, it’s kind of part of the agreement with the client if you’re doing something creative with them that there’s going to be a bunch of iterations in the process, right? Iteration is part of the process.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go, yeah.

Aaron Levy
Yet, are we agreeing to iteration when we’re determining the next steps to go forward or the strategy as a business, or when we’re trying to figure out how to be better at sending client emails? Are we agreeing to iteration? And that iteration, that understanding that there’s a back and forth, that’s how you get to the best possible outcome that you need feedback from all points of view and different perspectives to get to the better outcome is something that is often missing.

And that’s also why when you’re able to create psychological safety, that’s one of the things that drives team performance. It’s what’s missing from a lot of teams, is the ability to feel like, “I can give that feedback and can say what needs to be said even if I’m a first-year person in this company, and I’m saying it to the senior director.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I like that a lot that it’s sort of, like, “Are we agreeing to have these iterations?” Like, “Is there an expectation of iteration?” Oh, is that trademarked yet, Aaron?

Aaron Levy
It’s not. It’s not. It’s a good one.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s see, maybe it needs to be, one of us. Is there an expectation of iteration or is there not? And so, if someone is sharing something and they kind of think, “Well, hey, I’m a genius. I’ve got it figured out and this is the way forward and what we’re going to do, and you all need to respect that.” And then they get challenged, like, “Oh, hey, what if we did this?” Like, “No, Aaron, actually, I’d like to do it the way I said I wanted to do it,” like a little snippy there. It’s like, “Oh, okay. Note to self: Don’t speak up. I don’t feel psychological safety.”

And then, yeah, I think you’ve nailed it there. It’s, “Do we or do we not have an expectation of iteration?” And I think, for the most part, it’d behoove us to have that about most things. Is that fair to say in your view?

Aaron Levy
I’ll give you the way in which I think about it. I go on a daily basis to meet with new groups of people and do, we’d dive into trainings. And most of the time, they’re 20 or 40 hours over the course of 6 to 12 months, but sometimes it’s just a day, or a day and a half, or it’s an hour. And even in that amount of time with a group that I’m just working with the first time, I create a set of agreements with them and we establish agreements for how we’re going to work together in this room.

And one of the agreements, to what you said, Pete, is do the next hard thing. And what we mean by do the next hard thing is challenge yourself, get out of your comfort zone, speak up, try things out and make mistakes, challenge me. And so, in doing that, the expectation is someone to raise their hand and say, “You know what, Aaron, I disagree with you.” That’s what we look for because that’s how you breathe and grow great learning and great development. It’s how you process information. It’s not supposed to all be clean and logical. It’s supposed to be a little bit messy.

And so, when you ask, “Is that something that should happen all the time?” Yeah. Let me just extrapolate. If I’m doing that in an hour of session with a group that I’m meeting with once, imagine what you could benefit from if you’re doing that with people you work with on a daily basis.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so what I’m loving here is that you’re so gung-ho on these agreements. I’d love to hear what do you find are some of the top agreements that make a world of difference in unlocking high performance?

Aaron Levy
Yeah, I think the number one agreement that makes the world of difference in high performance and also, in my mind, just the world a better place, and the way in which I describe it is it’s called embracing a beginner’s mind. And I go back to this quote by Gino Wickman from the book Traction where says, “The mind is like a parachute. It has to be opened for it to work.”

And if we’re not coming into a room, a situation, an environment with our minds open to different possibilities, then we really have a narrow perspective. And when you have that open perspective, it just creates so much more possibility, so much more growth, so much more learning, so much more development, so much more opportunity.

And so, that is the key indicator of success with employees on my company, with leaders that we work with, with clients that we work with. If they have that, which we seek out of all those different constituents, then success will be there, and high-performing teams will thrive if you have, at least, a beginner’s mind. So, a beginner’s mindset is the biggest one in my mind.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s a great one. And lay on another one or two for us.

Aaron Levy
Yeah. Act with authenticity and humility. The way in which I describe this is it’s almost like you can sit back in your chair and you can finally take a breath. You don’t have to put on a mask of the work you. You don’t have to be the leader that has all the answers. You don’t have to be the Steve Jobs who is brash and rude, or the Bill Gates who is measure three times then cut once. The right type of leader and the right type of contributor you can be is actually just being yourself.

Trying to be somebody else, being inauthentic, people see through that. We’re trained at understanding and seeing facial expressions and emotions, whether we know we’re trained or not, we’ve been doing it since we’re little kids before we could even talk. We can understand facial expressions and body language.

And so, when we’re inauthentic, it feeds and it breathes to other people. And so, being authentic, and humble, too, not just braggadocious, but also humble and having some humility to how you show up in this world is one of those things that is just freeing. It kind of unlocks and releases this mask that a lot of us tend to put on when we go into work and want to be awesome by trying to be awesome, as opposed to being ourselves, embracing beginner’s mind, doing the next hard thing, and doing the work.

Pete Mockaitis
Good stuff. Aaron, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Aaron Levy
Yeah, I would say one of the agreements that I constantly bring up is assume positive intent. Oftentimes, when we’re in the workplace, we can read an email or a text message, we go, “Oh, why did she…?” And think that somebody else is out there trying to hurt you, and we constantly go like it’s a battle, like people are trying to hurt us, that we’re working with.

The truth is that most people are just trying their best to do their best. And they might’ve made a mistake, they might’ve done something to really just figure something out, and if we can assume that everybody is doing their best, assume positive intent, it’s going to make the team that you work with a lot happier to be on.

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

Aaron Levy
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. And in that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Aaron Levy
I’ve really enjoyed the Bloomer’s experiment. Do you want me to dive into it or just a high level?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s hear a sentence or two and the setup and the results.

Aaron Levy
Yeah. What they did was they looked at a group of students and they randomly assigned certain students to be high performers or bloomers, and another group of students to be non-high performers. They just picked them out of a hat basically. They didn’t tell the students that they were labeled as high performer or not but they did tell their teacher.

And as they looked at the course of the year and saw what happened, what they realized was the people labeled as high performers dramatically outperformed, statistically significantly outperformed, the non-high performers. And what’s interesting is, again, the students didn’t know. But who knew? The teachers.

And what the teachers did, subconsciously, is they gave more energy and attention and focus. They actually just spent more time listening and hearing those students that they thought were high performers. The coolest thing about this, to me, is the question that comes out of it, which is, “What if we treated everybody like a high performer? What would be possible then?”

And so, that’s something I keep in my mind and have our leaders think about, “What if instead of treating your high performers like high performers, what if you treated the other people in your team like they have the opportunity to be high performers? How much better would they do? How much more would they grow? How much better would your team do as a result?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, this reminds me of – what’s that educational teacher movie, Stand and Deliver?

Aaron Levy
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And Jaime Escalante, he says that students will rise to the level of expectations. And I think there really is some truth to that. Thank you.

Aaron Levy
You’re welcome. Totally. Yeah, thank you for asking that. That’s just a fun one that I’ve really enjoyed lately.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Aaron Levy
I’ll go with a recent book that I just really, really enjoyed, which is Give and Take by Adam Grant. I took a while to read it because I thought I knew what it was about, it’s about givers and takers. But it’s just diving into it more. It talks about, really, the way in which we show up with other people and what we get when we give.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, I like the way you said that. It took you a while to read because you thought you knew what was in it. I’m in the same boat. So, I’m putting you on the spot. Can you share with us an insight that you didn’t have until you actually read it as opposed to just thinking you already knew it?

Aaron Levy
Yeah, I’ll share one insight. It’s actually from a study by Elliot Aronson, it’s called The Pratfall Effect. And in it, what came out of this was, as a giver, or just as a person, you don’t always have to have the right answer, you don’t always have to be perfect. Actually, what the studies show is you’re liked more if you make some mistakes, if you screw up a little bit. As long as you’re still seen as competent, if you screw up a little bit, you’re seen more as human and so people like you more.

So, if you’re a lawyer who has a stutter, that actually could improve your likelihood of winning a case. And so, that’s just something I wouldn’t have imagined was in Give and Take, and it was. And the way it was explained and shared and the stories behind it, Adam Grant is awesome. I’m just a really big fan of the way he thinks about the workplace, the way he thinks about people, and the way he shares stories.

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

Aaron Levy
So, I have been using, just lately, honestly, lately, the Google Tasks button. And so, Google Tasks is on my phone, Google Tasks is on my calendar and on my email, and it’s just really easy to just put things in a checklist. For a while, I would email myself, “Do this, do that,” and I’d had it come to my inbox after out for a day with 20 emails from Aaron to Aaron that just has a different task, and it was silly. And so, just compiling them in a simple to-do list. The thing I like about it is in the place I work so it comes up right in my email.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Aaron Levy
Meditating.

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

Aaron Levy
Feedback is a gift.

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

Aaron Levy
They can go to RaiseBar.co or the book website which is OpenHonestandDirect.com. On there is a whole toolkit of some of the tools we actually talked about today.

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

Aaron Levy
Yeah. Pick one thing from today’s conversation and practice it and aim for consistency over the next week. So, just one thing that you took away, whether it’s waiting five minutes and having a phone call as opposed to drafting an email, or it’s practicing avoiding using absolutes. Work on being consistent on just one thing, that’s my call to action for people listening.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Aaron, it’s been fun once again. Keep up the good work and keep raising the bar.

Aaron Levy
Oh, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for having me on.

524: How to Build Rapport Quickly with John DiJulius

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About John:

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

Items mentioned in the show:

Thank You, Sponsor!

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

John DiJulius Interview Transcript

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

John DiJulius
My pleasure. Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

John DiJulius
I did okay. I did okay.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Well, the oldest professions taking over there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
I’m in Chicago.

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

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

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

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

John DiJulius
Under two, both of them?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

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

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

John DiJulius
Congratulations. How long have you been married?

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

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

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

John DiJulius
December 3rd, 2016 you got married.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Sure, let’s say Monopoly.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Oh, yeah, absolutely.

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

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

John DiJulius
You guys were serious.

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

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

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

John DiJulius
Can you play virtually?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

502: How to Make Killer Pitches and Get What You Want with Oren Klaff

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Oren Klaff reveals the secret behind successful pitches—and how to persuade those around you.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What most people get wrong about persuasion
  2. How to communicate your worth
  3. The surefire way to convince anyone

About Oren:

Oren is Director of Capital Markets at investment bank Intersection Capital where he manages its capital raising platform (retail and wholesale distribution), business and product development. Oren co-developed and oversees Intersection Capital’s flagship product, Velocity™. 

From 2003-2008 as he applied his pioneering approaches to raising capital and incorporating neuroscience into the capital markets programs, Oren raised over $400 million of investor capital from high net-worth individuals and financial institutions.

Oren is a member of Geyser Holding’s investment committee where he has been a principal since 2006. During its growth he was responsible for sales, marketing, branding, product development, and business development. Previously, he was a venture analyst and partner at several mid-sized investment funds.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Oren Klaff Interview Transcript

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

Oren Klaff
Well, I appreciate that, Pete. What a great radio voice you have. I’m going to try and equal that with tone, tenor, bass, but I might lose it at some point. I tend to lose it when I get excited.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to be talking and I also hear you’re excited about fountain pens, you’ve got 17. What’s the story here?

Oren Klaff
Oh, I’m way up from that now. I actually have a safe which I have to keep my fountain pens in because I bought a couple that are super expensive and they have to be on lockdown. So, I have a five-year old. And I write him a note every night, so maybe when I die and maybe somebody will take it out and go, “Hey, Oren passed this way.”

So, I love the feeling of ink. It’s analog. Everything is so digital and that’s what I want to talk to you about today a little bit. Everything is so digital. People are losing the way of the sword, they’re losing the way of the pen, they’re losing the way of language, and I know nobody thinks that’s true but it is happening.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into it. So, can you orient us quickly to Pitch Anything and your latest Flip the Script?

Oren Klaff
Yeah, Pitch Anything really started with the realization of this: people, especially in business, but in life in general, they want what they can’t have, they chase that which moves away from them, and they only value that which they pay for.

And so, Pitch Anything was really about this notion of how information gets into the human brain, what the brain does with it and it’s extremely counterintuitive. In fact, it works the opposite of how you might think, right? So, you go you want to get a raise, or you want to impress a client, and you do all these things that should be recognized but maybe it’s like a court of law in a murder trial. No good deed goes unpunished.

And so, Pitch Anything was really about how do we get things done in an upside down world where you go to a client and you say, “Hey, we’re going to try really hard, I’m going to work really hard, I’m going to give you a good price. We’ll be the best supplier that you’ve ever hard. You’ll be our most important customer. The customer is always right here. We’re excited to have you on board.” All things are true, transparent you’re passionate about, but none of that is persuasive.

And so, how do you walk that fine line of wanting something, wanting to perform a task or a job or an assignment, wanting to get paid for it, and wanting to commit to it, and show that you’re good at it, at the same time showing that you don’t want it and you don’t need it? So, ultimately, I think if you had to put a subtext or a subtitle on this, it’s this, “Neediness kills deals.” And that’s what Pitch Anything was all about, how to want something and not want it at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really intriguing and it really reminds me of sort of the notion of playing hard to get in the romantic courting world. And so, it sounds like you’re on board that’s a winning strategy.

Oren Klaff
Yeah, so in the romantic world is very narrow range of activities in terms of playing hard to get. When you go into business, playing hard to get is very nuanced, it can backfire, and especially when the stakes get higher.

And so, as the stakes go up and somebody needs to talk to you, then you need to understand what’s happening both inside you and in that situation. So, it’s a lot more complex and nuanced than playing hard to get.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, before we dig into the particulars of how we walk this fine line and execute that well, I’d love it if you could frame things up a bit in terms of saying why is this skill super important. If you’re that career person who’s like, “You know what, I’m not going to march into a VC’s office and do a pitch, but I’d like to be more persuasive,” why is it so important for us and why are most of us not so great at it?

Oren Klaff
That’s a great question. I think I wrote Pitch Anything some years ago because basically I thought tens of thousands of people in my work just going in and supplicating to buyers, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Supplicating, what a word. It’s like we’re on our knees and, yeah.

Oren Klaff
Yeah. Supplicating is, maybe it rhymes with sucking up, but really if you unpack it, it’s confusion about who’s the prize in a business interaction, right? So, there’s a prize to be won, and we go in as an employee, or executive, or a salesperson, and this is why it’s important. We go in and the current framing in our economy, is that the boss, or the customer, is the prize.

Their signature, they’re giving us a raise, they’re giving us resources, they’re giving us a contract, they’re just giving us money, is the prize to be won so we have to perform at some level – performance. I do believe like we view our pitches as a performance. So, even though I’m against this framing, I still use it, that we have to perform for the prize of the money or the contract, right? Wouldn’t you agree that’s basically the standard framing in business today?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure, I guess. And I’m thinking about all kinds of, you know, Glengarry Glen Ross or sort of big moments like the salesperson needs to wow with exceptional impressive persuasive power, like a rock star.

Oren Klaff
Yeah. So, we come in and even if we’re a rock star, we are trying to win the prize of the contract. So, Pitch Anything really made it important to understand that they’re not the prize. What can they give you? Money, some status, right? These are commodities. You can get status anywhere. You can get money anywhere. Sort of money is the ultimate commodity. You should not do things that are outside your value system, do things that you’re overreaching, you should not overextend yourself, you should not supplicate, which I think we decided was really a euphemism for sucking up, in order to win a commodity for yourself – money.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know what, that just checks out in my gut, like, “All right. Yeah, right on, you know.”

Oren Klaff
Okay. Sounds good, Oren. But let’s go. So, if they’re not the prize, and the money isn’t the prize, and their signature, and their approval isn’t the prize, and that’s really the key word – approval. Most presentations are based on approval-seeking behavior. When you’re seeking approval from someone else, you’re supplicating to them, you’re needy, neediness kills deals. On their side, people want what they can’t have. You’re letting them know they can have you, and so it’s all wired backwards.

The thing that’s important is to wire it up correctly, which is that you are the prize that they need. And so how do you come in? And everybody has to decide this for themselves. I can give you a couple ways and give you a head start. But how do you come in and say, “Hey, look, I’m going to show you a couple things over the next 12-15 minutes, I’m going to pitch you the big idea. I’ll do that very quickly”?

“And it’s important for you to evaluate it and see if you’re going to get what you want and if our circles overlap, and if it makes sense, and if we’re aligned. But as much as you’re evaluating me, it’s important for you to know I’m also evaluating you. Lots of options. I don’t know if I’m smart or if I’m just busy or lucky this time of year, but there’s lots of things that are pulling at me, and lots of customers who want us to deliver. And so, I’m just in a good place to be choosy about what I work on, who I work with, and why I’m doing things. So, as much as you’re evaluating me, I’m evaluating you.”

Now, probably people listening to this right now, going, “Oh, my God. I would never say that to my boss or the board of directors.” I think when I get that reaction from people, they’re saying, “I would never say it in that tone.” Now the good news is I say it in that tone every day, but I’m experienced at it, right? And it’s within my value system, it’s within my personality, and it’s part of my performance.

Now you might not say that in those words. But you can communicate the same things very nicely, very subtly, in a nuanced way, but say the exact same thing. That is the problem, is coming in and letting the buyer, or the boss, or the peer, or the colleague, or the situation know that they have a higher status and more value than you do, and that you are willing to work exceedingly hard, need the deal, even though you don’t, you’re willing to demonstrate to them that they’re the prize that you’re trying to win.

And that is ultimately what makes deals fall apart, be hard to win, or go sideways. So, that’s really the challenges that are happening every day.

And you say, “Well, how can I be the most valuable person at the table? They have the money, they have the contract, they have the company.” I believe, for most people, again, the buyer just has a contract, the money, the corporation just has the job, the colleagues just have the ability to jump in with you.

What you have is the most important thing and people should be trying to win that. It’s your experience, your integrity, your ideas, your know-how, your relationships, your willingness to invest, your commitment, your thoroughness, your value system, your “I don’t stop when I’m tired” mentality, the joy and ease of working with you, you can’t buy that. There’s no amount of money you can pay for those intangibles. And if you have that, then you’re the most invaluable person in that relationship, in that meeting, on that call, in that deal.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think fundamental to that is that it’s true, like the core fundamental value that you’re bringing to the table is significant, and you really are not sort of a commodity in terms of if it’s either yourself as a professional in terms of your skillset and what you’re offering there, if you kind of don’t have much special sauce, and hopefully everyone does if you’re listening to the show, then I think that the starting point is having it in terms of you’ve got something special and you can feel good and secure and confident in that offer.

Oren Klaff
Yeah. And so how to do that is really, you know, the question that’s not off-putting, that’s not confusing, and that really moves into what Flip the Script was about. So, Pitch Anything showed you that these things were possible, that people were doing these in high-stakes situations. You know what’s funny, I say this word high stakes but I didn’t really have a…because high stakes is different for everybody. Like, Pete, what would be a high-stakes meeting or a high-stakes feel for you?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thinking more so for the listeners, high stakes might be, “I want the promotion. I want the raise.”

Oren Klaff
Yeah. And so, is it really high stakes? Because you’re going to ask for it, they’re not going to fire you for asking, right? So, it feels high stakes. And when I think about things feeling like we…By the way, what part of the country are you in?

Pete Mockaitis
Chicago.

Oren Klaff
Chicago. Okay, I’m in San Diego. Have you ever been to San Diego?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Oren Klaff
Yeah. So, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Coronado but there’s this the Coronado Bridge, and it’s crazy. It’s not like normal bridge. It’s a span that like rises up into the clouds and it goes over the military base, and it goes over battleships. It’s huge. Two weeks ago, I was driving over it with my family in the car, a little boy and my wife, myself.

And I look out and there’s this pretty small retaining wall, concrete retaining wall. At least it looks small to me. I’m driving over this bridge seemingly like miles over the Pacific Ocean, like battleships look small beneath us like Lego toys, and I’m not going to hit the retaining wall, we’re driving 65 miles an hour. If they took that retaining wall away, then all of a sudden…yeah, I was never going to drive off the bridge in the first place or hit the retaining wall, or get anywhere near it. The stakes go way up, right, and I would slow down to three miles an hour or two miles an hour.

And so, when we get into situations and we feel like it’s so important to get this done, and we don’t have a blueprint or the path to follow, we revert to behaviors that are sort of the equivalent of slowing down to three miles an hour, being exceedingly cautious, being exceedingly tentative, being exceedingly careful, that’s what happens when the stakes go up. You don’t know what to do to maintain the language, and the framing, and the conversation, and the confidence, and the skills that you would have if the stakes were $3 and it didn’t matter. So, it’s not necessarily you don’t know how to do these things, it’s that you don’t know how to do these things when it really matters because your intuition is working against you.

I think the classic example is going to a meeting to talk about a raise or a project, and the guy you’re going to meet with is running late, right? This has to be something you’ve encountered. Everybody has encountered it.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Oren Klaff
And so, he’s two minutes late, he’s four minutes late, he’s eight minutes late, you see the secretary comes in, or he texts you, “Hey, sorry, be there in a few.” And now he’s like 15 minutes late. What do you do?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I mean, I’m not pleased. It’s not fun. I, hopefully, have something else that’s kind of productive and worthwhile I can do. At that point, I’m sort of starting to wonder if it’s going to encroach in the other stuff that I’ve got scheduled. So, I guess you either reschedule or you hang out. What do you do?

Oren Klaff
Yeah. Well, this is kind of a beta trap, right? It’s the equivalent of if you’re a salesman and you drive across town, or fly to another city, you go to a company for a 10:00 a.m. meeting. You’re going up to the counter, and you’re saying, “Hey, is John ready?” “Oh, he’ll be out in a few.” And it’s a beta trap, right, because there’s beta and alpha. Alphas don’t have these problems, right? The president of a company, the president of a bank, maybe they do it at a different level but people come to meetings on time.

So, you’re stuck in the beta position, which is a status position. One thing I can assure you from the low-status position, you can do hardly anything. People don’t listen to you, they don’t take you seriously, they see you with a very superficial way, and, more importantly, they have high risk-taking behaviors when they believe they’re higher status than you, and they’re the alpha and you’re the beta.

So, there’s not a wrong or right that’s eight minutes, 15 minutes, one minute, three minutes. It is that if you accept the beta position and leave them in the alpha position, they’ll have status over you and it is incredibly difficult to get their attention and be persuasive from the low-status position. So, you have to signal, “Hey, I’m a peer, we are colleagues, we’re the same status, and we need to be in alignment.” So, in those cases, I’ll always recommend you say, “Hey, look, I set aside about an hour for this, it looks like we’re chiseling down to 45, 40 minutes. Probably not enough time to accomplish what we want to accomplish. Let’s reset and find another time to do this. I’ve got some key projects that I need to focus on.”

The easiest way to take yourself out of the beta is using the moral authority frame. And moral authority is always about work. If it’s about work, and it’s about delivering, and it’s about taking care of your team, and about taking care of your customers, you’ll always be in the right.

So, for example, I work with a lot of guys that are very high status, very wealthy, running large companies, and they always come late. It’s not that they’re rude, or they’re malevolent, or they’re trying to get their alpha status over me, right? It’s just they’re running a 700-person company. Two weeks ago, I talked to a guy, hopefully be a client of ours, running a $750 million company. He comes to the call at 10:06, it’s a 10:00 o’clock call. First thing I’ll say is, “Hey, John, you’re here for the 10:06 call?” And it’s great.

They always laugh at it. And the first thing out of their mouth is, “Sorry.” Right? Like, they know because you’re calling them out on professional behavior in a fun light way, and they always say sorry. And usually they’ll say something like, “Hey, we had 72 containers stuck in Hong Kong because of the protest. I had to sign off on some extra expenses to get them out otherwise we wouldn’t deliver diapers to the area of the world where it’s really needed and it’s a charitable effort. So, really sorry about it.” “Yeah, no problem.” But at least they’re not saying, starting off, “Hey, Mr. CEO, hey, Mr. Big, no problem. You show up anytime you want. I’ll just sit here and wait. And whatever is good for you is good for me.”

So, I’m very lighthearted and I go, “Hey, you’re here for the 10:06 call?” And then I’ll say, “Hey, why don’t we get caught up? It seems like we still got a couple people joining. We’re recording the call. They can listen to the recording and catch up. Let’s get started. We’re super busy. I carved out like half an hour and we’re eating into it. Here’s what I suggest. We get started. I’ve prepared a presentation. It’s 12, 13 minutes. Let’s go through it.

So, I’ve said that and I’ve taught that to audiences. You can see I say that very naturally and I’ll always get somebody raise their hand, and they go, “I can never say that.” Especially, women raise their hand, like, “Oh, that’s good for you, alpha male. Women can’t talk like that.”

And I will say, “You’re listening to my tone. You’re not listening to the messaging, because you can say that so nicely.” “Oh, hey, John. Glad you can make it. I was almost thinking that we should reset this call. We’ve got maybe like 28 minutes left and a lot to do. If you guys are ready to roll, I think we should start now because I’ve got about a 15-minute presentation, and I want to give you some time to really make your case.

And so, it’s the same messaging in a totally different tonality, and pace, and level of floweriness, but it’s the same messaging. “My time is as important, maybe more important than yours because we’re solving this very-hard-to-solve problem for clients, and we’re busy doing it.” Yeah, I understand, some of your use cases are internal, but you have even more power internal, “Hey, I set about half an hour for this meeting. I want to discuss some of the recent projects. I’m running my team, they count on me, we’re delivering a huge project. Currently, we’re on time but if I’m missing from it, we could slip, and nobody likes to slip. I really want to prioritize the work I’m doing. If we get started now in the meeting, I think there’s enough time for me to cover why I came, and then you can reflect on how you think it ties into the expectations we set six months ago. And if we have five, or 10 minutes left, which I believe we will, I want to talk to you about some career things that are going on with me, and you should be able to give an easy yes, no, or maybe. So, if that sounds good, let’s kick that off.”

But what I wanted to say is, although people are afraid of saying things that direct, the reality is it signals you’re not needy, it signals that you are not a beta, that you have as much status as the buyer, or the other side of the meeting, so those are all critical, right? It signals you’re a professional. And when I start a meeting like that, people put their iPhones down, they close their laptops, and they go, “Aha! Finally, I’m in the hands of a professional that knows how to run a meeting. This thing is not going to go on for two hours. There is a clear agenda and it’s not called the agenda, it’s called ‘This is how I like to have meetings with my peers. Let’s rock and roll.’ I love this.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I dig that. And you’re right in terms of there’s many ways you can communicate that message to see what style and tone feels right to you but the core message is there that we are peers. And I’ve often recommended to folks I’m prepping for interviews that if the person who’s doing the interview isn’t really sort of paying attention to you, this does happen, like they are on their computer, they’re doing email, they’re on their phone, or they’re elsewhere, I’d say, “I think your best bet as the candidate there is to just pause or say, ‘Just let me know when you’re ready,’ or something to the effect of you convey the message that ‘I’m unwilling to be ignored and made sort of in the background as you do something else,’” you know? And you could say that kindly or in any number of ways.

Oren Klaff
Right. So, I think any number of ways except for a number of ways. So, I get this question a lot, like, “Hey, should I ask somebody to put their phone down or put their laptop down?” I can tell you, in the meetings that I go to and the presentations that I have, nobody is on their phone or on their laptop. What they are doing is engage in the presentation or in the meeting because there are stakes, there are things that are going to happen, and it’s clear, “Either I’m going to go away with my toys, my marbles, and go somewhere else, or they’re going to have the opportunity to use the things I know, the experience I have to solve their problems.” And that, the decision on go forwards or go away is going to be made today. And that decision has stakes and is meaningful. And when there’s high stakes, for the other side, not just for you, then the phones go away and the laptops close, and they pay attention, right?

One of the key tenets in Pitch Anything is that the span of human attention is 18 minutes. And that’s why we work really hard to get everything in to a compact period of time. Now I go to meetings where people spend 12 minutes trying to get rapport, talk about family and sports and weather. And this is all stuff that ultimately, you know, the fact that you like hockey and they like hockey is mildly helpful for alignment. But this is not 12 minutes of conversation for 18 minutes of attention, right?

Nobody increases your pay by 40%, nobody assigns you a million-dollar contract, nobody pushes you up to the board of directors for a presentation because you like hockey and they also like hockey. It is relatedness and it’s helpful. But this like old-world of like seeking rapport, it’s not the old boys network anymore where people do business because they like you and they’re affiliated with you through some organization. It is not the determinant. The determinant is what status are you, what value do you provide, are you an expert, have you solved this problem before, can you take pain away, and are the things you’re saying about the future, what’s going to happen in the future, really going to happen. That’s why people decide in your favor, not because you like hockey.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so understood there. So, you’re coming in with something legit to start with. You got great fundamentals and then you are not apologetic and supplicative as you are entering, and you are conveying the message that, “We’re equal peers. I am a professional. I know how to run this meeting. And here’s how it’s going to go,” and sort of navigating to that 18 minutes. So, let’s talk about within that timeframe, what are the critical things you want to convey? And maybe you could even give us a demo in terms of someone who had a pitch that was floundering and then we turn it around to have 18 minutes of excellence.

Oren Klaff
Yeah, maybe I can. I think my new book Flip the Script is really about solving the next level of questions, once you get clarity that you’re a high status, in the dominance hierarchy of monkeys, you are an equivalent monkey, right? Sort of as simple as that. Then, how does somebody know that you’re an expert in either the project you’re proposing in the next level? Because people want to pay more for your job or give you a raise because you’re able to take on more responsibility and solve different more difficult problems. Are you a car guy, by the way, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve not owned a car for 13 years.

Oren Klaff
Oh, my God. So, you are an ex-patriot car guy. Interesting.
So, you have to give people certainty that the things you’re saying will happen, really will happen in the future. And how do most people try and give certainty? They tell, right? They go, “These are the projects I’ve done. This is the commitment I have. This is the area I’m familiar with. I know lots of people with this problem. I’ve worked on it.” So, it’s telling, telling, telling. Before you turned in your car, what kind of car was it?

Pete Mockaitis
It was 1989 Chevrolet Celebrity.

Oren Klaff
Okay. Yes, you are officially the most not-car guy that I have ever talked to. But it’s good. It’s good for this example. So, that was not really a great car, right?

Pete Mockaitis
No, it shook when it went upwards of 70 miles per hour. I got a speeding ticket when I drove my mom’s car, and that excuse didn’t really hold with the police officer. I’m used to the car shaking when I’m going too fast.

Oren Klaff
It’s starting to shake, and you hear a noise, and so you go, “Oh, man, that’s unsafe.” So, you take it down to a local garage. You definitely don’t want to take it to the dealer, that’s something. So, you take it out to a local garage, and the guy looks at it, and he goes, “Yeah, you know, something is wrong here. Tell you what, leave it here, it’s $200. We’ll take a look at it. We’ll call you tomorrow and tell you what we think the problem is, and if you decide to get it repaired here, we’ll credit the $200 to the bill,” that’s the offer.

And you go, “Hmm, to me…” and then you go, “I’m not certain that my problem is going to be solved,” right? So, you go ahead. It sounds good. Nice and easy, and you move on down the road, and you to Eric Schmidt’s Repair Shop, and you go in and you pull in, and he comes out and he’s nicely-branded, and his nametag says Eric, and he’s got correct amount of tattoos up his left arm, and a hipster mustache. He comes out and he says, “Yeah, I don’t know. It’s shaking.” So, he goes press on the accelerator and go, it makes the noise and the squeak.

And he goes, “Listen, here’s the deal. This Chevrolet Celebrity, there was a fire at the GM factory in 1988 when this model was built so they had to move them over to Dearborn where they started manufacturing, which was fine and well, except they didn’t correctly put out the break throw-out bearing. This thing actually needs a 2740c throw-out bearing. You could see a little bit of oil leaking here. That’s a 27c oil leak. It’s not even the right oil in it. That’s going to serve a while but will be a $7,000 problem. But I can hear from the squeak they put the 17109-fan belt on it. The 171095c is the correct fan belt. We see so many of these, we keep about 50 of those fan belts in the back and the throw-out bearings. Leave it here, it’s 500 bucks, come pick up tomorrow morning at 9:00 o’clock. It’ll be ready.”

Pete Mockaitis
Much more compelling, absolutely. You’ve shared that you know what you’re doing.

Oren Klaff
I think it is, yeah, you have shown “I have solved this problem a million times before. This is boring for me. I can do this, no problem.” But, really, showing problem-solving, 501c fan belts, everything, it’s all about certainty. So, Flip the Script shows you those formulas or the scripts, getting away from the old scripts that no longer functioning, which is get rapport with someone, give them the features of the ideas, explain the benefits, suggest the stretch benefits or the pro forma, do a trial close, “So, what do you think? Is there something we can do? Go ahead with…” all the objections come out, try to overcome the objections, “Well, you know, we’re not really doing promotions this time of year. We usually do it in March. September is not a great time,” then trying to close and get stuck in, “Hey, send me a proposal.”

That old system, features, benefits, trial close, stretch benefits, objections, overcome the objections, close, is just no longer functioning. That was designed in the 1950s when buyers really had much fewer options and much less control of the process, or employers had many fewer options in terms of talent acquisition. So, those scripts are no longer credible.
How do you give people certainty that the things you say will happen in the future really will happen, and it’s worth paying me today for something that’s going to happen in the future?

And that is not a naturally-occurring skillset because when humans develop conversation, and not to into cavemen tech, but language was not designed to propose a pay raise in the supply chain management industry, right? Language was designed to communicate danger among humans in fast-moving situations.

And so, that’s very easy. You don’t need to study, or go to a course, or do any training on, “Hey, there’s a fire over there. Move in this way. Run or you’re going to die.” “Don’t eat those berries. The last people that ate them got sick and one of them died.” So, language is very effective. There are prewired pathways to communicate information about danger and risks and conflict. Information about supply chain management software is not prewired in the human mind. You have to think about it, and a lot of it can be counterintuitive.

Pete Mockaitis
And much of that is, you say, getting them to think it’s their own idea. How is that done?

Oren Klaff
Yeah. So, how it’s done is laid out in eight chapters in the book. So, it’s pretty sequential so I don’t want to read the book but I think, more importantly, is can it be done? Right? Can you put ideas in someone’s head, marinate them, percolate them, have them go around without you overtly saying, “So, what do you think?

And I’ll give you an example. This happens to us over and over. We had a client in over the weekend, that shows how high stakes it is, for me to come in on a Sunday, open up the business, we met for an hour and a half, and we sort of wrapped up and we’re packing ourselves up and our briefcases, and I say to the guy, the best close that I have.

Now, remember, I may be the number one sales trainer, and the best close I have is, “Hey, John, so what do we do to get this thing signed up?” because we use inception, we don’t rely on closing or we don’t argue with our clients on why they should do business with us. We put the ideas in their mind and we allow them to come through their own process to the notion that they want to work with us, right?

And so, I say, “What do we got to do to get this signed up or what the…?” I almost sound confused, which I’m not confused at all, but I’m not going to close the guy, trying to get him in a sales headlock. And he says, “Oh, I signed it an hour ago. It’s over there on the edge of…I signed the contract an hour ago. It’s over there on the edge of the conference table.” And so I go, “Oh, thanks.” And they leave.

But I can give you example after example after example of this happening over and over again, and that’s inception. When you correctly show someone that you’re a peer to them, you are not lower than them, you’re not less important, you’re not trying to win them, that what you have is invaluable, that they are fortunate to be able to have an option to convince you to provide your services to them, when you provide them certainty that the things you say will happen really will happen, when you show them that you have values that can’t be changed by their language, or the request for discounts, or their needs, that you stick to your guns, and you have unassailable values, when you show them how to buy from you, and when you authentically create time constraints in which you, well, just doesn’t work for you anymore, and you’re fatigued, then you’ll leave.

And so, when you put all those things together professionally at a high level in a way that’s not overtly visible to them and they just feel like they’re talking to some wonderful people who are very skilled, who are passionate about what they do, have real values, and have solved their kind of problem a million times before, they’re just going to, “Meh, this is awesome. How do we get going?” And that’s inception.

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

Oren Klaff
There’s a book I really like called Riveted by a guy named Jim Davies. And he’s an academic but is quite accessible so I like that.

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

Oren Klaff
Oh, boy. So, here’s the one that I love, that I think, and maybe everybody knows about it. In New York, they test it over and over again. They dress up a guy in very high-status business clothing, and over and over again, they line him up in a crosswalk. And when it’s red, this tall, handsome, well-manicured, in a beautiful suit that’s well-fitted, terrific shoes and a great smile, and in his 40s guy, starts walking across the road, and everybody else follows him. They do the same thing with the construction worker or somebody looks shabby, or somebody eating a falafel slobbingly, and people don’t as much follow.

It shows that people follow and respect and get behind people of high status in all kinds of situations. So, to me, that’s the number one thing that makes life easy for you in upgrading your work life and making more money for your family is establishing either appearance, or messaging, or positions, or framing, or morality around status and getting people to go your way much more easily than if you had to convince them using logic.

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

Oren Klaff
The biggest thing that I have is when I say people only value that which they pay for. Most people have been in business for more than a day understand that lesson. No good deed goes unpunished. People only value that which they pay for. The more you try and give your service away, the less likely you are to close the deal.

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

Oren Klaff
Oh, that’s great. I’ll guide you to Amazon to buy Flip the Script.

But if you like the sound of what I’m saying, you can hop over to OrenKlaff.com and enter, I’m running a contest now to fly someone out to California, put them up on the beach here in a hotel for two nights, and then I’ll work with them on their business to use these principles to advance their own careers. So, that’s at OrenKlaff.com. And we didn’t really promote it that much, so I think my mom has entered and maybe two other people so your chances of winning are pretty high.

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

Oren Klaff
A hundred percent, start using this statement, “Oh, so you’re here for the 10:05 meeting.” It’s fun, you’ll get a laugh but will establish you. The first time you’ll be afraid to use it, but when people smile and laugh and giggle, and give you credit, that’s my first challenge to you. Start using that and defend your value in the equation of the business meeting. You’re going to love using that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Oren, thanks so much and good luck in all your pitches.

Oren Klaff
Hey, Pete, I really appreciate that. Great questions. It’s been fun.