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792: How to Handle Negotiations and Difficult Conversations Like an Expert Hostage Negotiator with Scott Tillema

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Scott Tillema shares powerful wisdom on handling emotional and tense conversations with ease and finesse.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two powerful skills to help you connect with anyone 
  2. A handy strategy to get people to listen in closely
  3. What people want to hear during emotional conversations 

About Scott

Scott Tillema is a top communication keynote speaker, FBI trained hostage negotiator, and senior associate with The Negotiations Collective.  

He is a nationally recognized leader in the field of crisis and hostage negotiations, training thousands of negotiators across the country. Scott has developed a model for hostage negotiation, which is now being adapted by those in the private sector for use in sales, marketing, communication, and leadership.

Resources Mentioned

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Scott Tillema Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Scott, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Scott Tillema
Hi, Pete. Thanks for having me today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, my pleasure. I’m so excited to hear some of your negotiation wisdom. But I think, first, we have to hear a thrilling tale of crisis and/or hostage negotiation. Bring it home for us, Scott. No pressure.

Scott Tillema
Yeah, there’s all kinds of thrilling tales. And I think all of us are engaged in difficult conversations. And although not many of us will rise to the level of doing a hostage or crisis negotiations, we’re all having difficult conversations where we want influence. And one of the ones that sticks out in my mind, I was having a conversation with a man, who is holding a gun to his head, and saying that he wanted to kill himself.

And in these moments, you realize how critical this dialogue is going to be, and the words that you say and how you say them really, really are impactful. And I learned a big lesson in this conversation with him because I was trying to persuade him, I was trying to be influential in getting him to do what I wanted him to do, and that is put the gun down so we could have a very safe resolution to this incident.

And, unfortunately, after many hours of conversation, this man chose to pull the trigger, and that was probably one of the most impactful moments in my negotiations career where I really had to reflect upon the outcome of that incident, and say, “What could I have done better so during my conversation with him, he would’ve put that gun down and reached a safe outcome?”

And moments like this really drive me to be excellent at what I do and to be a great negotiator. So, that’s the moment that sticks out, to say, I can do better, I need to do better. And the challenge to everybody I work with and everybody I teach and train, to say, “If this is the level of consequence in my conversations, what’s the hesitation for you? Why not go out and be a great leader and be a courageous person in sales and marketing, and do these things and take these chances, and find the influence and be great at what you do?” because the outcome probably is not going to be as consequential as something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, or certainly it’s highly unlikely most of our conversations will be as immediately consequential as in a person dies. Although, I think it’s quite possible that the conversations that we have, and the extent at which we are effectively engaged in them, can, over years or generations, reshape history for thousands, and not necessarily for like super CEOs but just like our children, our children’s children, or our colleagues and those they, in turn, touch. It might be a lower amount of change for one person, but with the ripples and multiplications, it may be quite substantial.

Scott Tillema
Very substantial. And I don’t want to diminish the work that people do in any field because you’re in a leadership role, you need to be having difficult conversations with the people that you work with and the people that you coach and develop. Because if they don’t succeed at their job, they’re going to be without a job.

And think about how impactful that is to that person, and the people that they support and their family. So, we know that the power of influence in conversations is really a life-impacting piece here that all of us, who work in the field of influence, and that’s many of us, I think that everybody out there wants to be more influential.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you reflected on that encounter, and you said, “What could I have done differently?” I’m intrigued, did you have a lot of training and experience? What did you conclude and that you could’ve done differently?

Scott Tillema
That’s a great question. And in 2007, I was trained by the FBI, and one of the cornerstones of FBI crisis negotiation training is active listening, being a great listener, and they teach the eight skills of active listening, and this is foundational. Most people in negotiations know or should know these eight skills, and this isn’t classified stuff. There are books written out there about this. This is stuff that anybody can learn.

But what I kind of took away from this is we have to be a little bit more broad in communication than just being great listeners because the reality is what we see is what we believe, and sometimes we have this side bias that we believe what we see and we can disregard the conversation if we see something to the contrary.

So, in my trainings, we do exercises that show that we believe what we see. So, as communication has evolved, we’re getting away from just this telephone conversation. And now, in 2022, moving forward, it’s very commonplace for us to engage in Zoom conversations or Skype or any type of conversations where we can see each other and experience each other, so it’s more than just being a great listener that we communicate through gestures and facial expressions and body language, and how we’re dressed, and what people can see in the backgrounds of our virtual conversations, and this all matters.

This is all very impactful to what people think and what people believe, and, ultimately, what they choose to move forward on. So, in addition to being a great listener, I really press people that we have to understand body language, we have to understand the expressions, and we’re putting on a show, essentially, to allow people to experience us through the visual in addition to being great listeners and having a great conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, can you share some of the eight skills of listening, some tidbits that can be advantageous to your everyday professional?

Scott Tillema
Sure. The acronym to remember this is MORE PIES, and we could probably go into a five-day class on these eight skills of active listening, but just to touch on a couple that I think are really the most impactful – asking open-ended questions. And this seems so simple and so basic but when I tell people, “I want you to ask questions and engage,” we almost default to closed-ended questions because we’re interested in gathering factual information.

And our goal in these critical conversations needs to be dialogue. And I challenge people, “I want you to do this in three or four sentences, and then pass the baton back to your negotiation partner, and allow them to speak, and allow them to be heard. And we do that by asking great questions. And that’s a great one.

And when you couple that with emotion labeling, which I think is another really, really important step of active listening, now we don’t have to default to saying, “Pete, I understand.” The reality is I don’t understand. I haven’t lived your life, I haven’t done your work, I haven’t had your experiences, so, for me to say to you, “You know what, I understand,” that’s almost dismissive, and I would say it’s a bit disrespectful because how can I possibly understand you when we’ve only been having a conversation for a short period of time?

So, instead, let’s maybe go to an emotional label, and say, “You sound frustrated.” So, we label what I’m hearing with an emotion, “You sound really excited,” and then we couple that with an open-ended question, “Tell me more,” and allow you to continue that conversation so, now, not only am I connecting with the content of what you’re saying but I’m connecting with the emotion of how you’re saying it.

And that’s when people start to sense that, “Hey, I really get you. I really have an appreciation for what you’re saying, and the emotions that are generated by your situation.” So, that’s, I think, two of the most important pieces of active listening, but there are other great ones. Reflecting or mirroring back the actual words that somebody says. Somebody says whatever they say and they get to the end of whatever they’re saying, and we just repeat back the last two or three words, and that’s reflecting.

Pete Mockaitis
The last two or three words.

Scott Tillema
You got it. You’re a pro. Perfect. And what the amateur is going to do is going to say, “Yes, that’s exactly that.” And, if you do it with an upward inflection, we’re asking a question with a downward inflection, we’re affirming that statement, and then we’re going to go to silence, which is another skill of active listening, which I think is probably the hardest for people to master because we’re uncomfortable in silence.

So, I’m just going to let it be silent for a moment, and allow you to take in that moment and keep speaking, and give you the floor because negotiation is not about being right. It’s not about ego. It’s about reaching an agreement. That doesn’t mean I have to like you. It doesn’t mean that I have to trust you. It’s we’re going to reach an agreement that’s satisfactory for both of us, and that’s how we’d go about doing it, by being great listeners and engaging in some excellent dialogue.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, there’s some tidbits about listening. And then how do we become more influential? You talked about verbal influence. How do we develop that?

Scott Tillema
Yeah. So, understanding the first step, I see this as having four steps in being a great negotiator. And, for me, I see our goal is to create a bond with somebody. And so often, we have a goal, “I want to sell them this,” “I want them to do this,” “I want them to drop the gun,” and I challenge people, I say, “Your goal needs to be to build a bond with this person. And once you start thinking about connection, now we can start having a mental map of how to get there.”

And I see that through four principles working together in a circle. And some people see negotiations as a stairway that we’re working our way up, and I don’t see it like that. I see it as a circle that we’re going around and around, and these four principles are the influence and the bond that we are creating. And the first one is understanding, and we do that through listening, and we do that through studying body language and gestures, and make sure I have an understanding of what’s going on.

And so often, we get stuck on that, especially as high performers and the work that we do, we say, “Okay, I think I get it so now I’m going to go right into solving the problem.” And I think that’s the step that most people skip, especially if you’re really good at what you do, is, “I skip the understanding piece,” not that you don’t know how to be a good listener. It’s just that, “I think I know what the problem is. I think I know what the issue is, so I’m going to move on quickly.”

So, the second principle that I use is timing, knowing when to deliver your message. And I found this to be the strategy piece in these conversations and these negotiations, to say, “Okay, I have an understanding of what’s going on, but I want to quickly say whatever I need to say and give my pitch,” and sometimes we get this wrong.

And by getting your timing wrong, we can really miss an opportunity or, worse, put ourselves in a more difficult situation if we try to jump the gun and start selling too soon, or try to persuade somebody too soon. So, the second step is having great timing to what it is we’re going to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And next?

Scott Tillema
Next is delivery. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Most people should be preparing for their negotiations, for their difficult conversation. And if you’re not preparing, let’s start there. But the people who do prepare, spend a lot of time focusing on the content of what they’re going to say, “So, I’m so worried. Here’s my talking points, bullets A, B, C, D, and I’m going to get through this, and this is what I’m going to say.”

But how often does somebody going into a really consequential conversation take time to practice their delivery, not what they’re going to say but how they are going to say it? And I’m convinced that this is much more important than the words we actually say. Now, I don’t want anyone to listen to this, and say, “Hey, I was just listening to a podcast with Scott Tillema who said I can say anything I want as long as I say it nicely, it’s cool.” And that’s not the case at all because words matter.

Words are how we frame the conversation so I don’t want to dismiss that piece at all. Words are really critical, but how we deliver them, and I’m talking about the rate, the rhythm, the pressure, the volume, the tone, all these different ways that we can manipulate our verbal delivery. This is really, really important on how people experience us. So, that’s a third big piece, is delivery. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

Pete Mockaitis
Scott, I love the way you listed several key variables there. Can you share with us some demonstrations and the impact of saying the rate, fast versus slow, or different rhythm patterns, and what kind of influence that makes on the listener?

Scott Tillema
Of course. When we get nervous, when we get excited, our rate starts to notch up and we start speaking quickly. And it’s been shown that people who speak really quickly are perceived as less trustworthy than people who slow down that rate. Now, we don’t want to speak too slowly because we’re going to lose people’s attention. And we have found that the attention span has shrunk significantly over many, many years, as we’re surrounded and bombarded with distractions and social media and everything else that we’re attending to.

So, when I do a negotiation in a crisis or a hostage negotiation context, I have a coach that’s working with me in real time, so they can sit here and analyze what I’m saying and tell me, “Hey, let’s slow it down a little bit,” and kind of give me that hand signal, “Let’s slow that down and allow the person some time to process what we’re saying.” And if we can slow down just a little bit, we’re going to be a little bit more trustworthy and maybe even a little bit more likable. So, that’s the rate.

Pete Mockaitis
Okie-dokie. And then, so next step, we talk about rhythm. What are the key rhythm patterns that we can look to and what are the impacts of them?

Scott Tillema
Yeah, everything I say feels the same way. You get into the groove, it’s going to feel really smooth, you don’t have to rhyme, but we want everything to be right here. So, when you are engaging with me, you have an expectation that you’re not going to get yelled at, that I’m not going to be getting excited, and now we’re going really, really…Everything is kind of right in this groove, and it’s not too loud, it’s not too soft, it’s paced just right, so you can feel comfortable opening up to me.

And I think that this is the same reason that there is a couch in the therapist’s office so you get comfortable. We’re creating a bit of psychological safety for you to say, “Let’s really discuss the important issues here,” because sometimes we disguise the important stuff with other nonsense, and we’re willing to talk about the things that are easy to discuss.

But, really, sometimes we need to get into the more difficult conversations, and I’m really not going to open up with somebody if there’s a chance I’m going to get yelled at, or if a chance that they’re going to just quickly dismiss me and move on. Everything is right in this zone here and I want you to get comfortable having this conversation that’s going to open up pieces of information, which goes back to our first principle of understanding.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we talked about rhythm and volume, we mentioned not shouting. Any other volume insights?

Scott Tillema
I think that if you’ve listened to Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk, she talks about how we can use the body to influence the mind. So, taking this to the volume of what we say, if I become a little bit more quiet in what I say, it is going to force you to physically work harder to hear me. And it’s not very often that we find ourselves physically working really hard to hear someone. It’s only at the times that we’re listening intently, and those are the times that something is very important.

So, sometimes I’ll take the volume down a little bit, and that doesn’t mean speaking weakly or speaking without power. It’s going to force someone to listen very hard to what you’re saying. And now their brain may be convinced that this is something important, and now we’re getting into influence pieces because now they’re intently listening to what I have to say.

And we think the opposite when we want to be heard. We get loud, we scream, we get the bullhorn and we make sure that everybody can hear us, but this is intimate conversations. We’re one-on-one with people, trying to get them to go in the direction that we want them to go. So, I challenge people in coaching sessions, “Let’s take the volume down. Let’s come a little bit closer and see if we can engage them in a soft, intimate, intense conversation.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so we talked about a few components of delivery and we’ve got that four-part building of a bond with the understanding, the timing, the delivery. And what’s next?

Scott Tillema
The last one is respect, that I think you can do everything right. But if we don’t come in with respect, none of the other pieces work. So, you can’t get an agreement on respect alone. On respect alone, you can learn to be really nice, and you can get walked on. You’re going to lose a lot of negotiations, lose some opportunities. But without this respect piece, you are not going to have this influence and this bond that you need.

And I think that this makes sense to most people, and say, “Yeah, I get that. I was raised to be respectful, the ‘Yes, sir,’ ‘No, Ma’am,’ ‘Yes, please,’ ‘No, thank you,’” and that’s all really good, and that’s something that I want. But I think that respect is about emotion and connecting with people’s emotion and their emotional triggers.

And we see such the opposite of this. If you check on Twitter or a lot of social media where people are just disrespectful of each other, and that’s emotional triggers for people. So, I talk about, within respect, I talk about pieces like fairness and autonomy. Are we being treated fairly? How do they see this? How do they see this conversation? What is the issue that they see? Because I know that I see it one way, but can I see it the way they see it? Are they being treated fairly? And that’s a huge trigger for people.

And I’ve had a lot of conversations with folks, to say, “You know, I may not be able to get you what you want but I can assure you that you’re going to be treated fairly,” and people really like to hear that. And sometimes there can be a sticking point because how I see fairness might be a little bit different from how you see fairness, and we can have that discussion.

But the second piece of this is the autonomy, “Are you giving me the opportunity to choose the outcome here?” And I think that I could probably pressure people into making the decision I want them to make, but, ultimately, I want them to carry out that commitment. It’s not just getting me to say yes, to get me to say yes. I need you to do whatever happens next.

And I’m going to try to guide them toward making the right conversation, but, ultimately, I want them to choose, “This is what I want, this is the outcome, this is the agreement that I’m going to enter into.” And if we can be respectful of fairness and autonomy, and have sprinkle in some empathy in here, we’re really going to be someone, who this, your negotiation partner, your conversation partner is going to look to, and say, “Yes, this is someone I want to agree with. This is someone I like. This is someone who I believe in. This is someone who I’m going to enter into an agreement with.”

And that’s the piece of negotiation where we find success, to say, “We’re going through understanding, timing, delivery, respect,” and this is how we build the bond. We’re going around the circle. We’re making this connection. We don’t listen to strangers. We don’t care what strangers have to say. But now that we’ve formed this relationship and this connection, maybe I can have a little bit of influence and nudge you in the direction that we need you to go.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so zooming out across the broad expanse of this topic domain, could you share with us some of your top do’s and don’ts that are particularly applicable for professionals? Are there any key words or phrases? Is there any way we could accidentally threaten someone’s autonomy or trigger them there, even though we didn’t mean to?

Scott Tillema
Of course. And when we do that, if we do that, again, we’re watching for changes in behavior. Are they pulling away? Are we seeing things outside of the baseline? Are we losing that dialogue? And let’s not be afraid to go back to that, to say, “Hey, I’m doing my best here. I sense that there’s a little bit of disengagement here. Is there something I said or didn’t say that maybe doesn’t sit quite right with you?”

And this is an important piece, especially with these high performers, to say, “What if I’m wrong? What if you see it differently from the way I see it?” And I think this is the importance of having diverse teams and diversity and all kinds of different ways because I want a lot of different pieces of input from people who think differently from me, to say, “Hey, maybe we have to take a different approach. Maybe this approach is wrong.”

And to approach someone and say, “If I did something wrong, let me apologize for how I just presented this. I sense that this was really unsettling to you or upsetting to you.” Or just inquire, “Is there something that happened that we need to go back and address?” That’s a great, great piece. And so often, we have this ego that gets in the way, to say, “Well, I’m not going to apologize to anybody,” “Well, I’m not going to be the one who’s wrong here.” That’s not what this conversation is about.

This conversation is about reaching an agreement with somebody, so let’s set the ego aside. It’s not about ego. Be willing to be curious. What another big takeaway, that so often we are so worried about talking about us, “And what I know and what I can do.” People aren’t impressed by that. They just aren’t. People are more happy to tell you about themselves and their work and their product, so be much more willing to listen than being eager to talk. Another important takeaway to be influential and do great things.

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

Scott Tillema
I think that negotiation is probably one of the most important skills that people need to have to be successful in life because negotiation, really, it’s an umbrella for other skills like communication and influence persuasion, and all these things. And we have an inflated sense that we are really good at this because we communicate with people all the time, and we can point to examples in our life where we have found success.

But the people who are really good at this are humble to say, “I need to learn more, I need to be willing to examine myself and do better at this.”

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

Scott Tillema
So, I don’t know if this is a quote verbatim, but one of the professors at Harvard, Michael Wheeler, he’s a long-time negotiation trainer, he talks about flexibility and adaptability. That we can’t say, “This is the way. This is the only way.”

So, be willing to step out of our comfort zone, be willing to take on styles that are uncomfortable to us, and learn things outside of what we already know because you might need that technique, you might need that tactic, so I really find the work of Michael Wheeler to be very impactful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Scott Tillema
I’ve got a number of books that I like on negotiation and influence. I think one of the older ones, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini outlines six principles of influence, and that is a cornerstone for anybody who’s in the business of influence or persuasion. We need to understand that. But another one is Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate by Dan Shapiro. He talks about five core concerns that trigger our emotions, and that we can use to trigger other people’s emotions.

Beyond Reason is a great book to pick up, cheap, easy read but really foundational for people who are engaging in meaningful conversations with others that really want to take the next step and understand the impact that emotions have in driving our thinking and decision-making.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Scott Tillema
Favorite habit is probably practicing my active listening skills. And I’ve been doing this for a long time, and that doesn’t mean that I’m good at it forever. It’s something that we can forget, and something that we can lose. And people ask me all the time in training, “Hey, Scott, how can I practice the eight skills of active listening?”

And the next time that you get a spam call, one of these people that’s trying to get you to do whatever, give them money and steal your credit card, I want you to practice the eight skills of active listening. Write down what these eight skills are, have them handy, and in three or four minutes, you should be able to get through each one.

And if you’re doing it with purpose and true intent, like you aren’t just going through a checklist, this person is going to engage you and you’ll get through the eight skills of active listening, give yourself a pat on the back, and then you can hang up the call and wait for the next spam caller in a few minutes, and do it all over again.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with listeners; they tweet it out and quote it back to you?

Scott Tillema
“It’s not about trying to get somebody to do something. It’s about creating a bond.” And that’s what I hear back from people the most because that’s not what we’ve ever been taught before. We’ve been taught to sell them this thing, or convince them of this thing, or get them to do what I’m telling them to do, and it just reframes the mind. It reshapes the mind to say our goal, our focus is on creating a bond.

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

Scott Tillema
Excellent. If they would like to hear a little bit more on these principles, I invite your listeners to check out my TED Talk, it’s “The Secrets of Hostage Negotiators.” You type in hostage negotiator on YouTube, it’ll be one of the first talks that come up. It’s 18 more minutes of what we’ve been talking about here today, with a few more stories and a few more examples. They can visit my website at ScottTillema.com or my business site at NegotiationsCollective.com to learn about me and what I do and the services that we offer.

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

Scott Tillema
I would say that it’s important for us to realize that this is a difficult time for many people, that all of us have experienced anxiety, and loss, and trauma over the last two years. And I’m not sure that that’s going to change immediately. So, being mindful that there are people around us who are struggling, use these principles, use this approach and try to connect with somebody today.

And it’s not maybe in a professional level where you’re trying to sell something or try to make money. It’s being a thoughtful connecting human being with somebody else, and you’ll be surprised how impactful this approach can be, and that with all the struggles with mental health and suicide in the world, that being a great connector, being a great negotiator, being a great communicator, this can go a long way, and you are going to connect with somebody who will later reflect to you how impactful you were at a really critical moment in their life.

So, let’s be mindful that there are people out there who are struggling and we can use these techniques to connect with them and really lighten up what can be a difficult time in a lot of people’s lives.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Scott, thank you. I wish you much luck in all your negotiations.

Scott Tillema
Thanks, Pete, for having me on. A pleasure chatting with you today.

791: Promoting and Sustaining Trust through Honest Leadership with Ron Carucci

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Ron Carucci reveals the four keys to cultivating a culture of trust and honesty in your teams and organizations.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why people don’t trust you even if you think you’re trustworthy 
  2. Two fundamental questions to up your leadership
  3. A powerful exercise to build your honesty muscle

About Ron

Ron has a thirty-year track record helping executives tackle challenges of strategy, organization, and leadership — from start-ups to Fortune 10s, nonprofits to heads-of-state, turn-arounds to new markets and strategies, overhauling leadership and culture to re-designing for growth. With experience in more than 25 countries on 4 continents, he helps organizations articulate strategies that lead to accelerated growth, and then designs programs to execute those strategies.  

The best-selling author of eight books, including the Amazon #1 Rising to Power and his recently released To Be Honest: Lead with the Power of Truth, Justice and Purpose, Ron is a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review, where Navalent’s work on leadership was named one of 2016’s management ideas that mattered most. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes, and a two-time TEDx speaker.  

Resources Mentioned

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Ron Carucci Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Ron, welcome back to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Ron Carucci
Pete, so great to be back with you. I’ve missed you, my friend.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. To Be Honest: Lead with the Power of Truth, Justice and Purpose is the latest book. Last time, we touched on your antique doorknob collection, so I think we need to revisit this.

Ron Carucci
Which, there it is.

Pete Mockaitis
I could behold it though the listeners can’t see it. It’s bigger than I thought it was. So, maybe, for those who didn’t hear you the first time, can you refresh the listeners on what that’s about and tell us if there’s any new developments?

Ron Carucci
So, I began making these jars years ago for other people, and, basically, they were people in my life who I felt were amazing at opening doors for people and helping people move over the threshold of the liminal space of a doorway.

And so, these are doorknobs that are dozens or hundreds of years old, there’s old hardware in there, there’s old hinges, there’s knockers, so all kinds of things to do with doors, that span hundreds of years. And if you think about the countless number of hands that have turned those doors open, that have passed through doorways, for me it’s a wonderful daily reminder that that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to make a way for other people. I’ve helped people in my talks over time. There are 7.2 billion doors in the world through which love, hope, and joy can pass. You’re one of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, thank you. Well, now let’s dig into To Be Honest. What’s perhaps one of the most striking, counterintuitive, surprising, fascinating discoveries you’ve made while putting this together?

Ron Carucci
So, it’s based on a 15-year longitudinal study of more than 3200 leaders, so we dug in deep, and we learned a lot. Some of it was very surprising. The most exciting part was that you can actually predict what conditions in which people will tell the truth and behave fairly and serve a greater good, and under what conditions they might be more prone to lie, cheat, and serve their own interests first.

One of the biggest findings is that honesty is not a character trait. It’s not some moral imperative. It’s not some sense of do good. Honesty is a muscle. It is a capability. It is something, if you want to be good at, you have to actually work at it, which is like going to the gym and building any other muscle. If you want your moral competence, your honesty competence to be effective, it isn’t something you can just assume that your good intentions will take care of.

In today’s world, we’re in a trust recession, and if you want to earn and keep the trust of others, you have to earn it every day.

Ron Carucci
So, it turns out earning and keeping the trust of others has far less to do with your good intentions of being trustworthy, and far more to do with working at your honesty muscle to ensure you’re giving people evidence and reasons to trust you.

Whenever I ask leaders the question, “Do your people trust you?” the reflexive response is almost always, “Well, why wouldn’t they trust me?” as though my good-hearted intentions to be trustworthy are enough. But the reality is, in today’s world where cynicism reigns supreme, we look around every institution there is and see trust in a freefall.

Today, leaders begin in a deficit of trust. You can go from being somebody’s peer and trusted, and just being elevated to being their boss, you are the same person and yet, in their eye, that you now have power, that you now have disproportionate levels of influence over their future, that you’re not one of them, starts you in the red. And you have to re-earn the trust you had as their peer, and most leaders just take that for granted.

Pete Mockaitis
intriguing. Well, Ron, I don’t want to get too much into the semantic wordplay game, but it’s funny, when you say honest, I think most of us would consider ourselves honest, and I assume that folks are being honest with me, and yet there is something of a gap in terms of whether I trust someone. I guess there’s levels and layers to it where I tend to think, “Well, I, generally, presume the vast majority of people aren’t straight up lying to me and telling me the opposite of what is true.” Is that fair in terms of like the state of honesty in the workplace today?

Ron Carucci
I would that it were that simple, my friend, but here’s a couple of problems. I think we’re in a world today where we have confused speaking the truth with speaking your truth. And so, I may tell you something that I firmly believe, and because I say it with conviction, it is my truth. I’m going to say it as if it’s the truth. I may be repeating heresy to you that I read on the internet somewhere, but if I believe it, I’m going to pass it on as if it’s so.

Pete Mockaitis
InternetHeresy.com

Ron Carucci
Secondly, so what we learned both in our neuroscience, we do a lot of brain science to understand how our brain processes our experience of honesty, and also in the initial research of our interviews, we used a lot of really cool AI technology to do some of the word text mean analysis. Honesty today is more than just not lying.

So, the definition of honesty, as the book title says, is truth, justice, and purpose. What that means is to be labeled as honest, you not only have to say the right thing, you have to do the right thing, and you have to say and do the right thing for the right reason. You may do less than that, and you might be labeled a good person or you might be labeled reliable. But if you want to earn and keep the trust of others, all three are necessary today.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And that’s intriguing how, I’m thinking about, yeah, your truth versus the truth, quite a distinction. I have seen people say things with conviction, we’re at a party and someone was saying, “It’s not possible for media companies to be profitable just by the sale of ads. They have to engage in some other activities.” He said this with great conviction, I thought. Well, I own a profitable media company.

And so, he said it, he meant it, he believed it, he wasn’t trying to deceive anyone, and yet, I know that the statement he made was false. And in so doing, I did, I had less trust in subsequent statements he made. And I guess I could be a stickler…

Ron Carucci
But here’s the problem, Pete, the fact that he believed it to be true doesn’t make it true.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. I mean, what you say is correct.

Ron Carucci
But he would proffer it as if it were truth. And were you to disagree with him, he would say, “You’re wrong.”

Pete Mockaitis
What’s funny, I did. I actually…it was interesting, like my reaction, I was a little angry at him for having said that even though he had no poor intentions. And I guess it’s just sort of like, I guess the way I operate is, “If I’m uncertain of something, I will put my cards on the table.” Like, I would’ve given him a lot of grace if he said, “Boy, you know what, when I was working for this media company, there was no way we could’ve been profitable. We’re paying the writers and all the stuff, and we’d look at the bandwidth fees, given the small revenue we have, so, thusly, boy, I don’t know how it’s possible for any…”

Okay. All right, so we’re conveying similar sentiments and yet I was like, “All right. Fair enough, dude. That’s your experience. I understand that’s where you’re coming from, and I’ve got a different perspective to share with you.”

Ron Carucci
And would you not have been more drawn to, “I trust him, I’d engage him because he was being thoughtful”?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, yeah.

Ron Carucci
Right? So, there you are. That’s a wonderful example of today in our dogma-proliferated world. We lose trust with chronic certainty when we confuse our truth with the truth.

Pete Mockaitis
Chronic certainty. Well said. And I’m thinking another time, someone was doing a very clever book promotion in which I could get a free copy of a book if I just pay the shipping charge.

Ron Carucci
You see it coming.

Pete Mockaitis
And then there was like an upsell video, in which he said, “Hey, can I send you some more training?” And I was like, “Okay, maybe.” And it’s like, “Well, right in the same box, I can give you my…” it was a CD set at the time, it was like $200 or whatever, and so I thought that was a clever move because you already have my credit card. I was already intrigued in the topic because I got the email and I said, “Sure, I want your free book.”

And then I was like, “Okay, clever move. All right, sure.” And then I remember they were not in the same box because I thought it was going to be…and it was not a pre-release copy of the book, which I thought it was going to be. It was piped through BarnesandNoble.com, and then the training CDs actually came separately earlier.

And it’s interesting because it’s like…and in that instance, I was more angry because it was like, “Okay, you’re not just mistaken. It’s like you knew darn well,” even though I still got the book for the cost of shipping, and I still got the trainings. It’s like, “You knew they weren’t going to be in the same box. This is part of your marketing strategy from day one to goose you and have one week at the New York Times’ bestseller list as you piped all these orders through these places.” And so, well, now I trust nothing this person says.

Ron Carucci
So, your examples are crystal clear, Pete, but those kinds of transactions happen to us all day long. And so, my scrutiny of you, and your scrutiny of those people, and people who are like them, because our brains process those experiences like little traumas so the imprint is thrust in our brains. And so, any time now anybody reminds you of the media guy or the book author…

Pete Mockaitis
The author guy, yeah.

Ron Carucci
..you’re going to hold that screen up and go, first of all, “Is it like them or not? And how much like them is it?” So, now, you have a new bar of what somebody now has to get past to earn your trust. Well, multiplied that by hundreds of transactions every day, they can go in either direction, and you see what it takes today for leaders to actually authentically show up in a way that does attract and keep, because the marketing guy had your trust for 20 minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
He did.

Ron Carucci
And then squandered it. He exploited it and squandered it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true.

Ron Carucci
And leaders do that every day with good intentions. They don’t realize the things that which people will withdraw their trust from you from. I had to give a client of mine feedback that he had lost his team’s trust because he got very defensive, saying, “I just try with them. I tell them what way things are. I go to bat for them. I advocate for resources for them. I tell them when they’re not working well. I tell them when they’re great.”

I said, “So, you’ve just listed all for me all the reasons you believe you’ve earned their trust, but trust is a currency. We all trade in different currencies. You believe they’re trading your currency when actually they’re not. So, it turns out that when you’re in meetings with your team, you tend to be a little bit impatient and you tend to let that be known through some sarcastic remarks. And when someone is going on a little bit longer than you wish they would, you cut them off.”

He said, “Well, okay, everybody has a bad day.” I said, “Well, apparently you have a lot of them and what you are telling people in those behaviors is you are not safe for them to be imperfect, that if their thoughts are not fully formed, if their arguments don’t align with yours, they shouldn’t speak. That’s what you tell them with those behaviors. That loses their trust. It doesn’t matter that you never intended for them to interpret those things that way, that’s what your behavior conveyed.”

And he was floored. And this is not a jerk, this is a good guy, a smart guy, a good leader, but here was a set of behaviors that he would’ve never equated with trustworthiness. But there you are, his team deciding that he was not a safe place, was not trustworthy of their candor, of their ideas, of their imperfectly formed views.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a good notion. So, to trust someone or for someone to be trustworthy, it’s not so much…it’s not just, “I don’t think that you’re lying to me, but rather, I can trust you with my incomplete idea. I can trust you with a proposal which may or may not work.” So, I get that. The use of the word trust in terms of “What do you trust people with?” or, “What do you entrust to them?” can be minimal or maximal and, thusly, the term currency really plays out nicely, “Would I trust you with a few pennies or would I trust you with my life savings?” But rather than talking about monetary matters, we’re talking about kind of emotional, intellectual contribution matters.

Ron Carucci
And some people hold up the arcs of character, “I’m going to judge by your character to decide whether or not I’m going to trust you.” Some people use competence, “If I think you’re not good at your job, if I don’t think you’re awesome at your job, I may trust you less.” It may be your personality. You may have a different kind of personality than me, and I find if I’m an introvert and you’re charismatic, whatever, I may trust you less. But if you’re like me, I may trust you more.”

There’s all kinds of currencies we trade in. The key is to know what currency the people whose trust you want are trading in, not to assume that they’re trading in yours because you may squander a great deal of effort trying to earn trust you’re not earning.

Pete Mockaitis
And I also think that it can be quite segmented in terms of like, “When you start talking about marketing ideas, I don’t trust you because I think they’re kind of nutty. But when you start talking about financial accounting health things, like, okay, you’re solid, you’re all over that.” So, all right. Well, please, Ron, unpack this for us. If we want to be maximally trustworthy, what’s our path?

Ron Carucci
There’s four doors to go through, using our door metaphor. So, we found four conditions under which you can guarantee whether or not people will earn your trust. These were the conditions we found, both in individuals and organizations, and there’s actual statistical factors that go with each. So, the first one is be who you say you are. Our organizations make promises in their statements – missions, values, visions, purpose statements.

It turns out, those matter to people in terms of whether they’re embodied or not. And if you work in an organization where those things are for cosmetic purposes only, but if you ask people, “Is this your experience of the place?” those are not the words they would use to describe it. You are now three times more likely to have people be dishonest.

Pete Mockaitis
To be dishonest.

Ron Carucci
Yup, but if there is an alignment between the actions and words, and if your organization does embody those words, now you’re three times more likely to have people to be honest. The reason you raise the risk of dishonesty is you’ve now institutionalized duplicity. You’ve now told people, “Around here, we say one thing and do another, and so that’s okay.” So, your people will now go, “Okay, so I’m allowed to say one thing and do another.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Ron, this is hard hitting.

Ron Carucci
The same with leaders. If you’re a leader, you have advertised what you value. You may not have done it intentionally, you should have, and so people will look at you. And if you’re embodying who you say you are, they’re three times more likely to give you their trust and see you as honest, but if your say-do gap is more than one-to-one, you are telling people you’re not trustworthy.

Second was accountability. So, if the way in which you account people’s work, how you talk about their contributions, how you measure their contributions, is seen as fair and just and dignified, meaning, “I feel, when I walk out of my conversations with my boss, that however my work was discussed, including my shortfalls, was dignifying and fair, meaning I have as much of a chance of being successful as anybody else,” you’re four times more likely to have people be honest.

But if I think the game is rigged, if I think I’m being demeaned or a cog in your wheel or a means to your end, or I don’t have as much of a chance at being successful as other of your favorites, now you’re four times more likely to have me be dishonest because, now, for me to get ahead, I have to embellish my accomplishments and hide my mistakes from you.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say be honest, or be dishonest, again, we’re not talking about stating things that are the opposite of the truth, but rather shades, nuances, withholding, embellishing.

Ron Carucci
Any form of truthin purpose, any form of saying the right thing, doing the right thing, or saying and doing the right thing for the right reason. It’s any misuse of those three things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Ron Carucci
The third was decision-making. So, if I walk into a room in an organization, virtual or otherwise, commonly referred to as a meeting, and I believe what’s happening in that room to be an honest conversation, that the person who’s presenting something is giving me the full scoop on what data they’re presenting, they’ve given me both sides of an argument, I believe they don’t have some hidden agenda, and I believe that were I to offer a view that’s different than the countering, prevailing views in the room, I’d be welcome to do that. Now, you’re three and a half times more likely to have me be honest because I can trust what’s in the room.

But if I walk into that room and I think it’s nothing but orchestrated fear, and the person presenting the data has spun it, has an agenda of what they want, is clearly guiding the room toward that outcome, and the last thing you want to hear from me is a point of view different than the one that you’re trying to shape, now you’re three and a half times more likely to have me be dishonest because the truth is now underground. And if I want the truth, I have to go get it somewhere else.

Pete Mockaitis
And here being dishonest might mean just keeping your mouth shut.

Ron Carucci
Keep your mouth shut. Go outside the room and collude with somebody about…

Pete Mockaitis
“Can you believe that BS?”

Ron Carucci
“And so, here’s what we’re going to do now.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Ron Carucci
And the last one was probably one of the most surprising, was cross-functional relationships. What happens at the seams of your organization? If you have prevailing border wars, the classic sales and marketing, supply chain and operation, R&D and innovation, HR and everybody, if those seams are not stitched well, and there’s no way for those complexity, which are usually healthy tensions to be resolved, you are six times more likely to have people be dishonest because when you fragment the organization, you fragment the truth. Now, all we have is dueling truths, “My truth versus your truth. My only interest now is being right, which means I have to go about proving you wrong.”

But if those seams are stitched, if there’s cohesion and coalescence across the organizational story, if people recognize that there’s value we create together that’s bigger than either one of us, and there’s a way for those tensions to be held in a healthy way to solve those conflicts, now you’re six times more likely to have people be honest with you because now we’re all part of a bigger story.

The sobering aspect of those four findings, Pete, is that the models, the statistical models, are cumulative. So, if you’re good at all four of those things, you’re 16 times more likely to have people in your organization, or in your presence, be honest with you. But if you suck at all four of those things, you are now 16 times likely to find yourself on the front page of The New York Times in a story you never imagined being in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Woo, Ron, there’s a lot of goodies here. I think the one that really hit home powerfully was at the beginning when you talked about institutionalizing dishonesty. And I could think of my first workplace was Kmart, and I remember we had these principles, and I thought to myself, “Oh, what a relief,” I’m so naïve, “Oh, what a relief.” I’m like 17 years old, don’t really know what I’m doing, first sort of job, it’s not a paper route, and I’m sure there’s going to be all sorts of ambiguous tenuous things, but I can look to these principles as my guiding light in the midst of this ambiguity.

I think I still remember the customers rule, teams work, change strengthens, diversity enriches, performance drives. It’s over 20 years ago. And yet when I saw, in our store in particular, not to throw shade on Kmart worldwide, when I saw these being violated, it’s like, “Oh, I guess not really. Okay.” Because I loved the idea of, okay, customers rule and I had the power to please, I was told in my training video.

Like, if they don’t have the sale 24 pack of Pepsi in stock, I can give them two 12 packs for the sale 24-pack price. I thought that was pretty cool, it’s like, “Ooh, that’s something I can do. I’ve got some power here,” and that was one of my favorite things to do, is write up the magic ticket, which says, “Hey, this is your new price for this thing.”

But then when they said, “Oh, don’t do that for these,” it’s like she’s got some sort of Pepsi dealer that’s got a special price, “Don’t do that for these things or these exceptions,” and they really added up. And you’re right, institutionalizing dishonesty, I was like, “Oh, okay, I guess we just kind of do whatever is expedient. I guess that’s how things really work here.” And that wasn’t a great feeling, and it made me kind of uneasy in terms of never quite knowing if things were right or appropriate.

And, thus, just sort of doing whatever got the job done without flagrantly, I guess, violating the law or causing risk to someone’s health and safety. But then elsewhere, I’m thinking about Bain where we had our operating principles, and they were real, and that was inspiring, and I was like, “Oh, this is what we do here. It’s like we’re open to the 1% possibility, which is that you’re wrong, and that’s okay. It’s okay for lowly associate consultant to challenge a stately partner and they won’t rip my head off. That’s pretty cool that that’s really how it works here.” So, yeah, the notion of institutionalizing dishonesty is a powerful phrase and really does ring true experientially.

Ron Carucci
when duplicity becomes a welcome norm, the offense of the hypocrisy causes what we now know to be moral injury. So, it’s not just exhaustion, it’s not just even burnout from the constant duplicity, we now know, we can measure it through neuroscience studies that it’s actually what we call moral injury.

Moral injury was first measured in people who were at war, people who were veterans and experienced or observed or were part of atrocities, and then throughout the pandemic, we realized, “Oh, healthcare.” Lots of moral injury there. It’s actually an imprinted trauma response similar to PTSD but not the same.

Well, when you’re in an environment of rampant hypocrisy, and the enraged part of you that feels trapped, that feels complicit, is actually imprinting like a trauma response. It’s called moral injury. People have often misdiagnosed burnout or exhaustion for what really is moral injury. And so, a rampant environment of saying one thing and doing another means that, “I will get my pound of flesh. So, if you’re going to be a hypocrite, watch what I can do. And so, I’ll start giving those price tags two for one, three for one, four for one. When my mother comes in, it’s going to be ten for one.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s good. Well, so this is really intriguing that these kinds of environmental cues have tremendous power in shaping the behavior of folks. So, let’s say that our listener is not at the top of the organization but somewhere in the middle, and they are inspired. They want to be as honest as possible and shape some good cultural vibes within their spheres of influence, what are some immediate actions folks can take?

Ron Carucci
That’s a great question. And I will shamelessly plug the book because I left no stone unturned. Every chapter ends with a long luxurious list of practical things we can all do right away. But, for example, let’s talk about this duplicity thing. Next time you’re together with your team, pull those things off the wall. Pick your favorite set of promises; the values, the principles, the mission, the purpose statement.

Pick one. Put it on the table and ask your team, “How are we doing with this? Is this what your experience is? Maybe the rest of the place isn’t, but I want to make sure that the experience I’m creating for us sounds like this. Where could we do better? If somebody followed our team around with a video camera all day long, could that video tape be used as a training program for these values? Or, would it be like, ‘Here’s how not do this’?” Just open the conversation. Any one of these is an invitation to a conversation.

So, when we finished the research and found the findings. I thought, “I don’t want to tell the failure stories. We’re all a little bit sick of Theranos. We’re all a little bit sick of Wells Fargo. We don’t need to rehash those painful moments anymore. I want to know who the heroes are. I want to tell the stories of people who are doing this and living this out in a way I’d be proud to emulate. I’d want them as my boss.”

And so, the book is nothing but a book of great heroic stories of people who are beautifully and inspiringly embodying these four findings in a way that we can easily emulate, we can easily take a book out of their playbook that they’ve lived a path for us. And so, the border war one, the cross-functional things. If I asked you, “Who is your they? Who is the person in some other department who your team has to coordinate with, or you think of them, you go, ‘Here they come, what do they want?’ and you’ve othered them, you’ve made them other, they’re the enemy, and they make your life miserable and all you do is talk about how incompetent they are?”

It turns out, not as surprisingly, you are probably their they too, and they’re having the same conversations about your team, which, of course, you think are unjustified and your team is just angelic and does everything right, and couldn’t imagine making their life miserable. What if you just reached out to that leader and said, “Here, let’s have coffee,” and said them, “Look, we know our teams are struggling to get along. How can I be a better colleague to you? What could we do differently? How can we create better? What’s one thing we can do to make this better?”

And any time I bring teams together to do what we call seam startups to sort of regenerate a seam, inevitably, as you begin to talk about what value they co-create together that they don’t create on their own, and begin to talk about how they do that, or how they struggle, you start hearing a crescendo of, “Oh, that’s why you do that? Oh, that’s why that drives you crazy. I didn’t know you needed that. Wait, that’s what you guys do? That’s your KPIs? Oh, my gosh, we measure them just to the opposite. No wonder I can’t stand you.”

People discover and re-humanize the other from being the them to now it’s a part of a bigger we. And, suddenly, things change. So, all of us can initiate any one of these things to be better. There are organizational injustices all around you, in your accountability systems, in your budgeting systems, in your resource systems, somebody is getting the short end of a stick, somebody is not valued the way they should.

Just ask yourself, “Who are the roles in your organization that are privileged? If you’re a tech company, are your engineers privileged? If you’re in a brand company, are your marketers privileged? If you’re in a growth company, are your salespeople privileged?” And it’s not that all work is created equal. All work is not equal. Some work is more important than others but not all people should be more important than others.

And if those privileges and those jobs are disadvantaging other people, that means those privileges are a problem and the playing field is not level, and you have the power to right those wrongs. Somehow, some way, who’s the bully in your organization that your team has to put up with, that you turn a blind eye?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, Ron, so fundamentally, how do leaders earn and sustain their teams’ trust?

Ron Carucci
If you’re a leader, let me simplify your job. People come to work every single day with two foundational questions that they want to answer, “Do I matter and do I belong? Is my contribution important? Is it valued by you? And can I show up as who I am or do I have to hide part of myself?” Your job is to make sure that, every day, they never wondered if the answer to those questions is yes, because any time they spent doubting whether or not the answer is yes, is capacity they’re investing in hiding, in performing, in manipulating, in resenting, and that’s not capacity they’re putting into producing the results you want them to produce. So, take it off the table for them.

Make sure there is not a shred of doubt in how you care for them, and how you lead them, and how you guide them, and how you coach them, that they never wondered if they matter or do they belong so that the rest of their capacity can be devoted to performing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, understood. Okay. Well, now I’m wondering about the shooting the messenger effect. It’s real and it really does make things difficult. And I guess we sort of talked about these four environmental organizational factors at work here with regard to contributing to or detracting from psychological safety. But if we’ve got bad news, and we’re in an environment that isn’t so welcoming of it, how do we even play that game?

Ron Carucci
So, let’s talk about both side of the equation here. Here’s a blanket statement that I can confidently say as my truth is the truth. If you are a leader and you don’t have somebody coming into your office, at least twice a week, telling you something that makes you uncomfortable, you can be 100% confident your leadership sucks.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Ron Carucci
That’s it. And if you think it’s because there isn’t anything to tell you that makes you uncomfortable, not only does your leadership suck, you’re stupid. But those stories are being told somewhere, and if they’re not telling you, you have to be curious about who they’re telling. You can be very confident that every night at the dinner table of the people you lead, you are being talked about. You are the subject of a story. If you don’t know what stories they’re telling about you, you should want to get in on the conversation.

Let’s start with the other side of the equation. Today, telling the truth has reduced itself to, if I just stood up the posture of a big middle finger, or a whiner, or a rant on social media, that’s literally speaking my choice or being the messenger. You have to deliver the message competently. You can’t just come in ranting, or whining, or complaining, or accusing, or, passively-aggressively, throwing somebody under the bus. You just need to show up with the credibility to say, “Hey, I have a concern. Here’s what it is. Here’s my suggestion for how to resolve it.”

And if you haven’t earned the credibility to do that before that moment, that moment is probably not the moment to do it then. What we know about competent courage, Jim Detert’s research, if you haven’t had him on your podcast, you want to get him. He wrote the book Choosing Courage.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, we had him.

Ron Carucci
And his research shows that the people who do this well are people whose credibility is already established, and there are things they do competently to bring in the bad news, to establish what to do about it, and to be heard. It doesn’t mean people won’t personally get defensive but there is a skill to it. I actually was told last week on social media, I’m still sort of wrestling with this, but someone said, “Ron is so good at what he does, he’s the only person I know that can tell someone to go to hell, and they’ll ask for directions.”

And I’m thinking, “It sounds like that was intended to be a good thing or a compliment.” I’m not so sure but I do work very hard to make sure that when I have to bring somebody uncomfortable news, a disconfirming news about how they see the world, that’s already going to make them uncomfortable, but at least I do it with care. I don’t pull punches, I don’t soft-pedal it, but I do it in a way that they know I’m not judging them, I’m not trying to shame them, and I will help them through this.

But withholding bad news from somebody is never kind. Leaders do it all the time when they withhold hard feedback from people, “I don’t want to hurt their feelings. It was just a one-off thing. They probably didn’t mean it.” Same with our bosses, we let them off the hook. Withholding feedback that could help somebody grow is cruel all the time.

Again, the competence includes timing. Barging into a room when your boss is in a meeting with their boss, and blurting out something they did that was terrible, probably a bad idea. So, timing, delivery, it all matters, but not doing it is never okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Ron, anything else you want to make sure to say before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Ron Carucci
If your own honest competence, your own muscle is important to you, I would invite you to just try one exercise that I give many leaders to do. The University of Massachusetts’ research says that, on average, we all lie about twice a day, give or take. Assume for a minute that includes embellishing something to your boss, leaving a piece of information out to your spouse, whatever. Think about the last ten days of your life, and think about, let’s say, 15 moments where you were not at your best, where you were not proud of who you were.

You could’ve been curt to a barista. You could’ve blown off your kids. You could’ve taken that slide out of a deck to ensure that you got your budget. You could’ve over-inflated accomplishments to somebody in a presentation about what you were doing when you spoke. Pick it. Little, big, whatever, no one has to see this. But what I guarantee you is if you look over those 15 moments over the last 10 days, you will see a pattern.

The moments that bring us to our dishonesty are not random. We adopt those behaviors because we believe that they serve some need or we wouldn’t do it. You have told yourself that these choices and these moments serve some purpose, “I will engineer a certain response,” “I will look a certain way,” “I will avoid a certain pain,” “I will appear to be a certain way.” And if you want to raise your game on honesty in order to make sure that, in fact, you are trustworthy, you have to, first, be honest about your dishonesty. You cannot be more true to yourself until you’re more true about yourself. And so, start with you.

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

Ron Carucci
As my mentor once told me many, many years ago, “Nothing in life is revocable except death.”

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

Ron Carucci
At the Harvard University, they did this study on cafeteria workers, on looking to see how meaning in work happens, and they put cameras both on the person ordering their food and the people in the kitchen making the food. And when they could both see each other, the way the food got made changed. When, suddenly, people, in the kitchen, went from just frying eggs to, “I’m frying eggs for them,” the care and attention to detail and quality of what they were doing went dramatically up, meaning that no matter what task you’re performing, it can be meaningful.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m wondering if this has something to do with why the scrambled eggs at the Waffle House are extra delicious. I could see them; they can see me.

Ron Carucci
Versus a buffet of golden brown.

Pete Mockaitis
Right there. All right. And a favorite book?

Ron Carucci
David Whyte’s Crossing the Unknown Sea.

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

Ron Carucci
It’s Outlook. I live for Outlook, and I know how important it was to me because mine went down for two months, and people couldn’t figure out how to use the web version, and I was a neurotic mess.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I’m intrigued. Any Outlook power tips?

Ron Carucci
Color code your calendar. That’s a cool tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And a favorite habit?

Ron Carucci
In the morning, when I have my coffee, I have a collection of mugs that, in my cabinet…

Pete Mockaitis
Doorknobs and mugs. Two collections for Ron.

Ron Carucci
And so, each mug is sort of attached to a person or experience in my life, and so I begin my day thinking about that person or thinking about that experience and those people, and just to sort of begin with a sense of gratitude and reminding myself that it’s bigger than me. My own story is bigger than just me. And so, I begin my day thinking about somebody else.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a key nugget you share with folks, they tend to repeat it back to you, retweet it, Kindle book highlight it?

Ron Carucci
I think the “Honesty is a muscle” is the one people tend to sort of double-take on.

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

Ron Carucci
Please come visit. So one of the cool things we did was, I knew that when I was interviewing all those heroes, I wouldn’t be able to use everything they said but it was all worth it, so we videoed those interviews, and we did a TV series, and it’s called Moments of Truth. It’s a 15-episode news magazine show, in a news magazine format, and you can binge watch all 15 episodes at ToBeHonest.net or you can find them on Roku.

At ToBeHonest.net, you’ll also find information about the book, the research, there’s a webinar there. If you want to hang out with me, come to my firm’s website Navalent.com. We’ve got really cool free e-books, and videos, and whitepapers, and lots of cool blogs, and you can have us in your inbox every month and get our wisdom about teams and workplace and leadership, and all that kind of stuff. And please do follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter and stay in touch.

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

Ron Carucci
Don’t take trust for granted. Level up and say the right thing, do the right thing, and say and do the right thing for the right reason, and you will live a far more gratifying and purposeful life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Ron, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you all the best and much honesty and trustworthiness.

Ron Carucci
Pete, always a pleasure. I was just wearing your shirt, oh my gosh. That could be the accountability chapter, we did identify it. I love it. Always a pleasure, my friend. Thanks for having me.

746: How to Foster Deep Connection and Influence with Zoe Chance

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Zoe Chance shares heartwarming, powerful, and practical advice for building relationships and getting people to say yes to you.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The one thing that motivates people more than money 
  2. How to exude more warmth and likability
  3. The one question that helps you get along with anyone 

About Zoe

Zoe Chance is a writer, teacher, researcher, and climate philanthropist. She’s obsessed with the topic of interpersonal influence and her science-based book is called Influence Is Your Superpower: The Science of Winning Hearts, Sparking Change, and Making Good Things Happen. It is being published in more than 20 languages. Zoe earned her doctorate from Harvard and now teaches the most popular course at Yale School of Management (Mastering Influence and Persuasion). Her research is published in top academic journals and covered in global media outlets. She speaks on television and around the world, and her framework for behavior change is the foundation for Google’s global food policy. Before joining academia, Zoe managed a $200 million segment of the Barbie brand, helped out with political campaigns, and worked in jobs like door-to-door sales and telemarketing. She lives with her family in New Haven, CT.

Resources Mentioned

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Zoe Chance Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Zoe, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Zoe Chance
Thank you so much, Pete. Great to meet you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you, too. You, too. I’m excited to dig into your wisdom about influence and how we can be all more awesome at our job doing that. I want to hear about one of your first jobs, cleaning audiobook covers with a toothbrush. What is the whole story here?

Zoe Chance
This was my very first job out of college. I had a degree from one of the top liberal art schools in the country, Harverford College, and I was so excited to set the world on fire but it’s actually really hard to find a job when you don’t have experience, and the job I could get hired for was working in a factory, cleaning the covers of audiobooks with a toothbrush. And the benefit of that job, the upside was that you get to listen to audiobooks, which I enjoyed, but this was one day, Pete.

And then at the end of the day, my boss says, “You know, Zoe, you did a really great job, and I bet it won’t take longer than three months or so before I can promote you up to the mailroom.” And I just left with my spirit crushed and I’m so embarrassed I ghosted them and I just never went back.

Pete Mockaitis
So, like this is one day?

Zoe Chance
Yeah. It was such an ego blow as a new college grad to be like, “Only three more months and then you can make it the lowest rung on the totem pole of the mailroom.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess I’m curious to know if they’re fresh off the factory line, why are they dirty enough to need a toothbrush cleaning?

Zoe Chance
You know what, Pete, you don’t want to know. They’re not fresh. Oh, sorry. No, no, no, they’re not fresh off the line. These were rented audiobooks. So, especially people who were doing long drives, like truckers and stuff would rent and return audiobooks.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, you like ketchup from the fries.

Zoe Chance
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood.

Zoe Chance
Hard jobs are so much harder than like… all blue-collar jobs, and I’ve had multiple, many of them are just so much harder than all white-collar jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear that. Well, thank you for sharing. And you have gone up a few ranks since the mailroom so you’re now a top writer, teacher, researcher when it comes to influence. So, I’m curious to hear what’s one of the most surprising, counterintuitive, fascinating discoveries you’ve made about us humans when it comes to influence over the course of your career?

Zoe Chance
I’ve had a lot of surprises. One of the most surprising is that by reading these secret journals that students keep for my class, I’ve been teaching at Yale for a decade, and I teach the most popular class, and I’ve had hundreds of students share these journals with me in which they reflect on their insights and apprehensions and experiences with influence. What I’ve learned is it doesn’t matter how successful you are, almost everyone is uncomfortable with influence.

And this is also from conversations with executives and activists and politicians, almost all of us feel uncomfortable having to advocate for ourselves, to ask for what we want, and especially in some domains more than others, and this is even some of the wealthiest people on earth, sort of the first big thing is interpersonal influence is deeply uncomfortable.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating. Well, I was just talking to a master salesperson yesterday, Shane from a Kwame Christian’s podcast organization – shoutout – another guest on the show, and it’s so funny because I sure get the impression, he loves…he just eats up the interpersonal influence, and I don’t know maybe he’s the exception, you said almost everyone. Or, is it that those who love it are also uncomfortable with it, kind of like the nerves of public speaking and the thrill of the chase at the same time?

Zoe Chance
What I found is that most people, even if their whole job is influence, interpersonal influence, maybe they work in sales or lobbying or fundraising and are very successful at it and they love their job, but maybe it’s their daughter that they’re having conflict with and they feel really uncomfortable asking her to do her homework, clean the dishes, something like that. Or, it might be they’re uncomfortable…

I was talking to someone who is so wealthy, that he’s on lists of wealthy people, just last week, who was saying that in business it’s easy for him to ask, but when he goes to a restaurant, he would never send his food back because that makes him uncomfortable to create extra work for the people who are working at the restaurant. Many of us have comfort in work-type of domains but we’re uncomfortable in romantic situations. It’s hard for us to make a pass at someone or request something from our partner, things like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is intriguing. And, in some ways, I could think about if this wealthy person happened to be like a CEO-ish type role being a steward of the shareholders’ money, basically, is kind of like what you’re doing there, you can sort of feel emboldened. I’m just totally projecting into the role of a CEO, I don’t know.

Zoe Chance
I love it. Keep going. Keep going.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ll just speculate away. You can feel emboldened, like, “Well, hey, this is kind of like my duty. I’ll do the best I can for my shareholders and for my team whose bonuses are all tied into the share price, but sending my food back, I mean, that’s just for me. Like, I’m going to make their job harder just so that I can eat something a little tastier. Like, who do I think I am? Come on.”

Zoe Chance
Yeah, I think that you’re absolutely right, and I didn’t mean to be weird or secretive. So, the guy is Ed Mylett, who’s a motivational speaker and an entrepreneur. And I’m absolutely certain that what you’re saying about CEOs applies to most people where it’s easier for us to advocate for ourselves when what we’re doing is benefiting others. That’s what you’re saying overall, right? Yeah, absolutely.

And what he was saying, Ed was saying that he was uncomfortable in a situation where there’s no reciprocity and he can’t repay someone. So, in a business context, often we can say, like, “Hey, could you do this thing for me and I can do this thing for you?” But he’s saying, “What could I possibly do for the waiter? Or, definitely maybe I can tip them. What can I possibly do for the chef that has to remake the meal? Nothing, so I’m uncomfortable asking for that.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear you. Okay.

Zoe Chance
Well, can I ask you, Pete, if there’s some…and, obviously, you don’t have to tell us, but is there some area of your life that’s uncomfortable to advocate for yourself in?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. You know, it’s so funny, I feel…I hope none of my landlords are listening to this. We’re temporarily renting as we moved to Tennessee less than a year ago and we’re getting our bearings, and I also have an office space that I’m renting. And I’ve been on both sides of the equation in terms of as a tenant and a landlord, and I know, as a landlord, not that I lash out viciously at anybody, but as a landlord, I think of my investment in the property the same way as I think of my investment in like mutual funds or other things that are completely passive.

And so, as a result, every time a tenant has a request, which is totally fair and normal and reasonable and should be dealt with, I’m kind of irritated. And it’s not their fault, it’s my fault for, I guess, being selfish or just looking at it a little differently, like, “Hey, Pete, real estate is a little bit different than a mutual fund, so re-align your expectations or get your property manager to do more of the heavier lifting instead of bouncing these things to me.”

So, anyway, given that, when I’m a tenant and there’s something that’s a little off, like, “Oh, there are some ants here,” and it’s sort of like, “Well, I don’t want to inconvenience them about the ants.” And maybe it’s my fault because I should’ve done a better job of cleaning up my crumbs. There weren’t very many crumbs but there’s more than zero, and so I guess I’m at least partially to blame for these ants so I really don’t want to be like, “Hey, so take care of the ants.”

And I don’t know what I fear. Is it that they’ll be like, “Well, hey, stop being a slob with your food then we wouldn’t have an ant problem,” or, “Are you seriously inconveniencing me with your ant business? Like, don’t be a whiny little baby and smash the ants like a man”? I don’t know. But I am uncomfortable advocating for myself as a tenant to a landlord unless it’s really like, “Hey, straight up, your pipe is frozen and you need to know about that, so that’s what’s going on.”

Zoe Chance
That’s an amazing example. And just about anybody listening can relate to that on at least one side of the equation. And, yeah, it’s just so deeply human that we just don’t want to inconvenience each other, and also, frankly, we don’t want to be inconvenienced. But the frame of, “I think of my investment in rental property as like an investment in a mutual fund even though I am not a landlord” just makes a lot of sense. It makes a lot of sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Well, now you got me curious, how about yourself?

Zoe Chance
Oh, gosh, I was so uncomfortable asking for blurbs for this book that I’ve just written, and the person I was most scared to ask, I was scared to ask everyone because you are asking these incredibly successful people you admire to not just write something down for you and give you their super valuable social capital, but you’re implying that they should read this book that will take like 10 hours of their life for free. And, oh, my God, the person I was most scared to ask was Mark Hamill, Luke Skywalker.

Pete Mockaitis
I was like, “That’s Luke Skywalker, yeah.”

Zoe Chance
Luke Skywalker, and it was so hard to get the opportunity to ask him, and I got to have a half-hour Zoom call with Mark Hamill. And on this Zoom call, he doesn’t know why we’re having a Zoom call and he’s telling these amazing stories, and I’m so scared to ask that it gets to the half an hour and I literally haven’t said anything. He’s just been telling incredible stories and doing voices of like, oh, my gosh, he did Han Solo and The Joker. He’s a voice artist. And I was so scared, I haven’t said anything.

He was nice enough to stay on. I finally did ask him, and he very gently didn’t say yes, so I don’t have a blurb from Mark Hamill. But I think there was this just deep shame in asking for the most valuable thing from the people I most admire in the world, to ask them for so much time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s so cool. Well, now I’m so curious, how did you get Mark Hamill to agree to spend a half hour with you?

Zoe Chance
So, I used every single social tie that I had, and the best thing that I had come up with so far was a friend who was the therapy client of Mark Hamill’s brother, but I was very uncomfortable using that. And then, actually, Mark Hamill posted a tweet. He’s an amazing tweeter and everyone should follow him even if you don’t like Star Wars. He posted a tweet saying that he was doing a charity auction for a Zoom call and it happened to be for my alma mater, USC, where I went to school, and they had given me a scholarship.

And I hadn’t actually ever donated money to USC so I ended up making sure that I won the charity auction and I gave $4,000 to USC for their scholarship fund so that I could have the Zoom meeting with Mark Hamill. And can I just share something that’s unrelated to this but my book?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it, yeah.

Zoe Chance
So, in my book, one of the messages that I talk about in the negotiation chapter is the idea of value-creation through three specific questions. And I know your listeners want to have tactical advice so this is a mindset of “How can I create value and long-term, lasting relationships that are fruitful on all sides?” So, a negotiation is just a conversation that leads to something more than whatever was on the table. It’s not just yes or no. There’s nothing complicated about a negotiation but most people don’t think of opportunities for negotiating because it’s just, “Do you want to do this thing, yes or no?”

So, the three value-creation questions, listeners, are, number one, “How could the situation be even better for me?” Number two, “How could it be even better for them?” And, number three, “Who else could benefit?” So, I have this opportunity to get to speak with Mark Hamill, and, already, so he’s one of my heroes. I’ve idolized him since I was three years old, and the movie came out, and it was my first movie. He’s been my hero. So, just getting to have this time is just beyond a dream come true. I’m going to ask him for a book blurb. We’ll see if that works.

I also want to see, “How could this be even better for Mark than me just showing up, random person, that he gets to talk to?” That’s not so exciting. So, I reached out on Twitter and to my Facebook friends, and said, “Hey, I have this opportunity to meet with Mark Hamill. I’m going to bring one person with me and, also, I want to bring him a video love letter. So, anyone who wants to send a 10-second clip of your message to Mark Hamill. He doesn’t respond to DMs, he’s very hard to reach, but we can send him a collective love letter.”

So, I curated this video of a whole bunch of short clips of people from all over the world sending love to Mark Hamill, just to have this be a more fun experience for him. And his wife was on the call, and she came and she watched it. It was so sweet. They loved it. And it was very hard to choose someone to bring with me but I ended up deciding, like kind of almost at the last minute, to bring a hero of mine, named Cass Sunstein who’s a behavioral researcher, who’s written a book called The World According to Star Wars.

I had never met Cass, and he posted on Twitter a link about his book and he tagged Mark Hamill. And I just reached out and I was, “Hey, Cass, I’m Zoe. I’m a big fan of your work. Have you ever met Mark Hamill?” He says no but he’s met George Lucas. And I said, “Would you like to?” So, I brought Cass Sunstein on this call with me, and he was working in the White House at the time on the Homeland Security team and another team doing creating awesomeness for Joe Biden.

So, Mark Hamill will be excited to get to meet Cass who’s written a whole book about him, and he’s coming in from the White House. Cass is excited to get to meet Mark Hamill. A whole bunch of us are excited to get to share our love with Mark Hamill, and his wife gets to come and see this beautiful montage that I’ve created. This didn’t come to the sort of tactically successful conclusion that I was dreaming of, of Mark saying yes to blurbing my book, although he said, “Send it to me and I’ll think about it,” and then he just politely ghosted me. It’s okay, Mark, I totally forgive you.

But it was such a win-win situation for everybody. It was fun, it was an honor, I got to actually now make friends with Cass Sunstein and we’re doing two events together next month, and it’s just great. So, I set up the situation so that it couldn’t fail. Whether Mark said yes or no, there was no possibility of failure. And I also had a lot of fun.

So, the value-creation question is to reinforce, “How could it be better for me?” I got to meet Cass. “How could it be better for them?” Mark gets to meet Cass and get this love letter. And, “How could it benefit other people?” It benefits Cass and the rest of everyone who contributed. So, that’s just one example of how we can create collaborative deals rather than trying to claim all of this value, and just use each other to tactically get what we want.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. And the notion of “How can it be better for others?” is cool in that it just makes it more fun and feel good both for you and for them in terms of, “Okay, yeah, and your customers are going to like this even more,” or, “And the readers of the blog or the podcast or whatever will dig it.” And so that just feels good in terms of not only are third parties being enriched, and, hey, that’s cool for them. It’s also, I think, really does good for your relationship there. It’s like, “Hey, we have partnered and collaborated to do something good for people,” and that just releases all kinds of feel-good, I don’t know, neurotransmitters, hormones in the body.

Zoe Chance
Yeah, those are really important. And the sociological thing that we’ve done is we’re moving away from transactional norms to communal norms where it’s really important in this that you’re not saying, “I will do this great thing for you if you do this great thing for me.” That’s another thing that’s fine. We can do that in deal-making, and we do, but to shift to the dopamine, oxytocin, great neurotransmitter situation where you have a relationship with this person where we’re not beam counting and horse trading is to just say, “Hey, how could I make this better for you?”

And there are some things that I could easily do, it’s something that you do, Pete, is posting all of these links for each of the podcast interviews that you have, and there’s no reason for you to do that but you’re just saying, “Hey, listeners can benefit from the links that I share. And all of the people who I’m linking to, they can benefit too. So, why would I not do that?” But a lot of people don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s true. It does take more work but I guess I just always think about myself in the listener’s shoes, like, “I want that thing but I don’t know where to find that thing.” And I’ve had multiple experiences of hearing something on a podcast, like, “Oh, that’s cool.” And so, I Google it for 20 minutes, and it’s like, “I got nothing. I want to know more about that thing but it’s nowhere to be found so I guess I’m done.” It’s rare that I’d have the gumption to be like, “Hey, podcaster, you said this thing and I need it.” Well, thank you. I appreciate that.

Zoe Chance
And you’re making it easy for them to get that. And I have a whole chapter, well, half chapter, in my book about ease, because ease is the most powerful force of influence. If there’s only one thing that you take away, listeners, to this episode that you might do differently in your life is make it as easy as possible for the other person to follow through on whatever it is that you’re requesting or inviting them to do. Ease is more influential than motivation or price or quality or satisfaction.

And for nerds, there’s a metric that you can look up and maybe, Pete, you’ll link it here, there are Harvard cases and stuff that you can look at. Actually, for the link, there’s a book called The Effortless Experience, which is for real nerds.

Pete Mockaitis
Nice name.

Zoe Chance
Yeah, it’s great. And the metric is called the customer effort score. It’s basically a question that says, “How easy was it for you to do that thing that you wanted to do?” that one metric explains 30% of word of mouth and 30% of willingness to continue to do business with the company.

For customers who say it was very difficult to do the thing they wanted to do, there’s an 80% chance they’ll spread negative word of mouth. For customers who say it was very easy to do what they wanted to do, there is only a 1% chance that they will spread negative word of mouth, and that’s independent of the actual outcome.

Pete Mockaitis
That really resonates because I was refinancing a mortgage and I found a really great rate and I was excited about it. But then, oh, my gosh, this took maybe three months to get done and I kind of prompted him a few times and that really got him off there off their butts it seems, I said, “Hey, you know what, I just met a dude, Justin, like him a lot, he does mortgages. I think he’s hustling, I think he’s actually going to get this done, so I’m going to kind of switch over.” Like, “No, no, don’t, please. No.” So, that kind of got him into gear.

And so, even though I got my great rate and it’s working, I don’t feel great about them, and I have said bad things, it’s like, “Hey, man, I got a great price but they were really obnoxious, so I guess it was worth it, time, money, swap, but it wasn’t fun.”

Zoe Chance
You know what, Pete, so I just moved last year and my refinance was so difficult that I finally just took money out of my retirement account and bought the house in cash.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Zoe Chance
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Zoe Chance
That’s how deeply I feel your pain.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that is potent and you get to that point, and I got to that point a few times, just like, “Just forget it.” And I always say, “Okay, Pete, let’s take a look. It’s been frustrating but just how many hours have you spent and how many more hours could you possibly have to spend, okay? And how many dollars are we saving? That’s a great ratio, Pete. That’s better than just about anything else you do in your business so, like, take another step forward and keep it going.” But I had to like coax myself multiple times to not just throw my hands in the air.

Zoe Chance
Right. You did the right thing. I did the stupid thing where I was just so angry, I couldn’t spend any more time on the refinance, and I’ve no idea how many thousands of dollars that ended up costing me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I appreciate your humility and your willingness to share. Well, so, ease, that’s a huge takeaway. Your book, it’s called Influence Is Your Superpower, we’ve already gotten a couple delightful nuggets. Is there sort of a core theme or big idea associated with the book you want to make sure to put out there?

Zoe Chance
The big idea of the book is that, in addition to make it as easy as possible, so if you just had one takeaway, it’s that. The big idea of the book is that what our goal should be in influencing other human beings is that they want to say yes to us. Our goal should not be that we get the thing that we’re asking for, that’s a short-term win, and the long-term win is that they want to say yes to us. They may not be able to, it might not happen, we might not get that thing in this moment that we want, but we’re building long-term relationships that are much more valuable over time. And I tell loads of stories about that.

The fear that we have about asking is that we will be making people uncomfortable and they won’t want to say yes to us, but when you have a good relationship with somebody, they want to say yes to you even if you’re asking them to come and deal with the ants or whatever that is. And you know that from the people that you have relationships with.

So, to make this practical, something that you can put into action, just focus, keenly, keenly, keenly on expressing warmth before you focus on anything else. The way our brains are designed, we have judgments of each other on two dimensions, which are warmth and competence. The warmth judgments happen first, they’re more powerful, and they’re stickier. This is especially important for us right now because we don’t get to spend as much time in face-to-face interactions when it’s easier to be expressing and perceiving warmth.

It’s actually hard not to like somebody that we’re spending time with if they’re being friendly to us, but, say, when we’re writing messages to each other, people tend to read less warmth than we intended into our written messages and they read more aggression or rank or insults than we intend. So, when we’re writing, especially we need to be very, very intentional about expressing warmth in our messages. It’s a good idea on all of our communications though.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow. Well, these are some big ideas that are hugely doable. And, Zoe, you do a great job of expressing warmth, and it’s interesting, because we were chatting just a few minutes before I pushed record. And it’s funny, I just thought, “Oh, well, she’s just so wonderful, wonderfully delightfully warm person.” That’s just who you are in your personality.

Zoe Chance
I am.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you got that going for sure, so you got that going for you. But, now, you got me wondering, like, “Hmm, so is this something that you’ve studied and practiced and mastered?” So, this is learnable. How do we do that?

Zoe Chance
Yeah, so it is absolutely sincere and it absolutely didn’t come naturally.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Zoe Chance
I was so shy and nerdy as a child. I couldn’t communicate with anybody and that’s why I got interested in our whole field of communication. I had a theory that my voice was the same timbre as the ambient sounds of the universe, and that’s why people spoke over me and couldn’t hear me when I talked. That’s how nerdy I was.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I was thinking the totally opposite, “Thus, you have tremendous power.”

Zoe Chance
Oh, no. People literally couldn’t hear it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Ambient like you’re just ignorable because it blends into everything else. Okay.

Zoe Chance
Yeah, exactly, just background noise. And so, I liked people but I didn’t know that you actually need to express your liking to people. I thought it was enough to just feel my liking of people. And it was through acting training and learning to emote and to express emotions that I was able to train myself to express the warm feelings that I do have in my heart.

Also, though, I’ve trained myself to like people more than I used to just naturally because I wasn’t thinking of it. You’re not always…just there are lots of things you’re doing in the world besides liking people. But when I was a teenager, my mom’s friend, Eileen, was married to a diplomat, and I wanted to be Eileen because she was so cool, and she threw great parties, she went to all these parties, she had cool clothes and jewelry, and her husband, the diplomat, knew how to drive like James Bond because, I guess, they train you to do that if you’re an ambassador.

Pete Mockaitis
Just in case you need it.

Zoe Chance
Yeah, you have to. So, they were the coolest people in our life. And, Eileen, I think I was like 13, and she said, “Zoe, all you need to do to succeed in life is learn how to find one thing to like about each person that you talk to.” And she had to deal with some very difficult, difficult to like people, and she said, “The way you do it is by asking them questions. And then if you can’t find something to like by asking them questions, you just look at them, and even if it’s just their earrings, you like that.”

So, what happens when you’re looking around in a world at the people that you’re interacting with, and you’re looking for things to like, is that you become very curious about them, you get to know them more deeply, and it’s this incredibly fun and pleasurable way to live where you’re just noticing and appreciating all these wonderful things about people.

So, again, it’s absolutely sincere. I’m not conscious of…actually, I’m really not very conscious of expressing warmth now, and I’m really not conscious unless it’s a difficult situation of trying to find something to like. I just get to do these things habitually, and that’s really important about all these things that I’m teaching in my book about influence, that it’s work to practice new skills but any new skill, through practice, becomes habitual, and then it becomes effortless.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so much there. So, we’re looking for something to like, and then, as sort of a mindset and an ongoing process, okay.

Zoe Chance
And then expressing warmth so that they know that you like them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, for looking for something to like, are there any key…? Well, one thing, it’s nice when you have a goal, “Okay, I’m looking for one thing,” so it’s not overwhelming. It’s like, “Oh, I can’t.” It’s like, “You can find one thing, okay.” And then you can default to a surface-level appearance-y thing if you have to, like earrings. Tell me, are there particular super questions that tend to surface stuff that you like? Or, I guess, does this often follow any predictable patterns?

Zoe Chance
There’s a really deep question that you can ask and if they will have the conversation with you, almost guaranteed that you’ll like them no matter what. And this is from my close friend, Lalin Anik’s TED Talk, and the question is, “What’s in your heart?” It’s impossible not to like someone who answers that question for you.

That’s not the first question, usually, that you ask people, but she, actually, in her TED Talk, shows a video where she just went on a street and she just asked strangers, “What’s in your heart?” and they shared it with her. So, it really is a question that you can ask of a stranger on the airplane if you’re actually flying these days. It’s a question that you can ask in a difficult conversation or an argument that can shift the course of the argument. This is my favorite question.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And I guess that can…that really has a lot of different flavors based on the context in terms of like “What’s in your heart?” As we’re talking now, what’s in my heart is I just want people to have the thrill of discovering some powerful knowledge they can use to make their experience of life and work all the more enjoyable, both from results that they’re creating, like, “Ooh, yeah, look at that thing I did,” as well as from just the pure fun and pleasure of doing so over the limited hours we have on this planet.

Zoe Chance
Pete, I felt that so deeply that I got actually tears in my eyes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, shucks.

Zoe Chance
Yeah, I’ve never met anyone that I didn’t like even more, even if I already like them if you asked them that question. So, anyone listening, what if you’re at the dinner table next time or a meeting with your team, and you just ask that question, “What’s in your heart?” It’s so powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
And, Zoe, if I may, what’s in your heart?

Zoe Chance
I’m feeling so surprised and so grateful to be having such a deep conversation with you right now. I was imagining that we’d be mostly focusing on very specific practical stuff that I’m happy to talk about always, but this is…yeah, it’s next level and I’m full of gratitude.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, shucks. Well, thank you. This feels very happy. And I think, though, those principles associated with expressing warmth, finding what’s something that you like, and then making things easy, are specifically and hugely valuable. And then there’s also very many different ways they can manifest and particulars.
Well, let’s dig into the ease a little bit. Can you tell us either do you have a specific checklist or series of tactics on how to make things easier or a cool story that illustrates a number of ways we can boost ease?

Zoe Chance
I have just a really simple example to give everybody the idea that you don’t have to make these things complicated, although what you’re focusing on is making it easy for the other person. And now that we’re talking about all these, I’m focusing on the lowest-hanging fruit here, and if you end up reading the book, you’ll see tons of strategies for more complicated things, like developing charisma, and negotiating, and stuff like that.

But for ease, I had a guy named Conor, who was in a workshop that I taught, who runs a speaker series, it’s a speaking business in Ireland, and he heard me say, “Make it as easy as possible.” Do you know someone named Conor who does…?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve met a Conor who’s from Ireland who has a speaking business.

Zoe Chance
Do you remember his last name?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve seen him speak like twice. He talked about, “Give it some gab, goals, attitudes, and behaviors, and beliefs.” I don’t know if that’s the same guy.

Zoe Chance
So, this Conor’s group, I think it’s called The Executive Institute but I have to look all of this up. So, anyway, Conor – love you – he went back to his team, and he said, “Listen, the way that our business makes a profit is to have attendees become repeat attendees, and we need to make it as easy as possible for them to come back. And what we’re doing so far is email outreach, just like everyone does, and we make the announcement and everything, we give them flyers, and then follow up by email.”

But he said, “How about this? Let’s put a flyer in everyone’s chair that just has checkboxes where you can check which talks you would like to come back to, and then we follow up by email to say, ‘Hey, you said you wanted to do this talk.’” And so, making that first step of expressing interest as easy as, “Just check the box and then drop the paper off,” they increased their profits that year from this one intervention by 11% for their company.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, with dropping some papers on seats, I mean, that’s huge. And I’m thinking about church, there’s this in Catholic churches in the US, there’s something called the Annual Diocesan Appeal in which the diocese, the grouping in a city or wherever, appeals to all the individual churches, saying, “Hey, support this stuff that helps the multiple churches and programs across the whole region.”

And so, it’s interesting, like I’ve seen it done so many different ways, where you say, “Hey, you’re asking for money, to make a commitment,” and I found, I don’t have the data at hand, but it’s just massively different in terms of if you just say, “Hey, you know, there are some envelopes over there, you can grab them on your way out or on the sides of the chairs and pews, and fill them out,” versus there’s one in every row, and, “I’m now going to walk you through what’s on the envelope.”

And, of course, it’s annoying for all of us and we don’t want to spend our time doing that, but effective in terms of it is unignorable, like, “Oh, yeah, maybe I’ll remember and I’ll get to that.” It’s like, “No, no, I’m making a decision now. I choose to give money or I choose not to give money now, and there’s no kind of, ‘Yeah, maybe later-ish.’” It’s forcing that, and I’ve heard that it’s striking, the results, in terms of what that does.

And now I’m thinking about apps and how I really love it, and it’s, frankly, maybe just laziness and toddlers and distractions, I really love it when I don’t have to enter an email address or a password to get going on an app versus it just goes. I like that a lot.

Zoe Chance
Yeah, and absolutely you use those apps more. Duolingo did studies to understand what’s the perfect level of effort to keep people engaged in learning the languages that they want to learn, and they published something that, essentially, said, the least effort possible. So, make it as easy as possible, and then people will come back. They thought that people wanted a challenge because we’re trying to learn something, and they found out, “Nope, just make it as easy as possible, the best thing you can do.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I would imagine, once again me speculating on their behalf, you want it as easy as possible, but you also want to feel some progress. Like, if you made it super easy, like, “Oh, I tapped ‘Oui’ and ‘Bonjour’ 30 times. Okay, I haven’t actually learned anything but that was super easy.”

Zoe Chance
Yeah, they give you that sense of progress, they also make it fun. There are some little unexpected things that pop up. Yeah, they do a lot really, really well. So, something super weird that has nothing to do with our conversation except that it’s about Duolingo is that I just learned that when the Squid Game came out and got super popular on Netflix, Netflix was having such a big cultural impact with this one show that Duolingo’s request for Korean went up by 40%.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog.

Zoe Chance
Isn’t that so cool?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s wild.

Zoe Chance
And because it’s so easy to learn a language on Duolingo, that’s where everybody went.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow. I feel like I should take a second look at Duolingo. It’s great stuff. Well, Zoe, this is so much fun, but tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear quickly about a few of your favorite things?

Zoe Chance
Yeah, one of the things that I encourage you to do, especially because you’re – this is to listeners – someone who listens to shows like this, as I do, trying to better yourself and improve yourself and succeed, you create so much work and so much burdens in your self-improvement that I challenge you, if you’re up for it, to do 24 hours of no.

The 24-hour no challenge is to say no to every single person who asks you for something for the next 24 hours. And it could be small, it could be big, professional, personal, maybe you want to say yes, maybe you don’t. The caveat is don’t ruin your life. So, if you’ve got a dream job offer, or your sweetie proposes to you, don’t be like, “No!”

And you can change your mind. You have the right to change your mind always, just like everyone does, but experience what it feels like to say no, and experience what it feels like to see how they react. And then if you want to then or later, next day, a year from now, you can change your mind. This simple challenge can be life changing and thousands of people that I’ve taught have found it life changing. And I don’t even want to give the takeaways because it’s something that you have to experience for yourself. So, whatever you think it will be like, I predict that you’ll have some surprises.

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

Zoe Chance
My favorite, favorite quote is from Pauli Murray. She’s an American feminist, black, lawyer, legal scholar, she wrote arguments for Brown versus the Board of Education, and yet, she faced such racism that even after doing that, she couldn’t get a legal job, and she worked as a typist for a white feminist Betty Friedan.

Pauli Murray said, “When my brothers draw a line to keep me out, I just draw a bigger circle to keep them in.” To me, this is the perfect description of what inclusivity means and how hard it is.

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

Zoe Chance
My favorite study, I really hope is true. We’ve talked about replications and this was just published in a book not in an academic journal, but it’s a study by Richard Wiseman who’s a psychologist in the UK who wrote a great book called The Luck Factor. What he did was recruit people who said they were really, really lucky, and people who said they were really, really unlucky, but it was in a long survey, and I had no idea why he was recruiting them.

He brings them to the lab, and he’s trying to study how does luck happen. When they come to the lab, he gives them a section of a newspaper, and says, “Count the photographs and then tell me how many there are.” So, the unlucky people look through the section of the newspaper, they count the photographs, and they come back and they say, “There are 16 photographs.” “Okay, great” and they move onto the next part of the study.

The lucky people who told him they were really lucky noticed the half-page ad in the section of the newspaper that says, “Mention this ad to the experimenter for a chance to win £500.” They were luckier. They were right when they said that they were luckier people. But my interpretation, at least, it’s not that God was making them luckier, but they were more open to opportunities around them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is so good. Thank you. And a favorite book?

Zoe Chance
My favorite book is called Love Does, it’s by Bob Goff. This is a Christian book, but when I first read it, I was not religious at all. And so, if you’re not Christian, I don’t think you’ll find it annoying. Bob Goff is the most audacious and inspiring asker I’ve ever come across. And for anyone who reads that book, go to the chapter called “The Interviews” and it will blow your mind.

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

Zoe Chance
I love my reMarkable tablet that I’ve been taking notes in during this conversation. I’m an absent-minded professor, and I use all these notebooks and papers, and lose my stuff, but I don’t lose it anymore, and I feel lost without it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit, something you do to become awesome at your job?

Zoe Chance
When I’m writing, I need to clear my mind before writing, and I’ve developed a technique that I call “My Nietzsche Journal.” Nietzsche, the philosopher, said that the purpose of being human is to become someone who does not deny, so to rid ourselves of self-deception. And when I’m sitting down to clear my mind, I just write a whole page of one-line prompts that start, “I do not deny. I do not deny. I do not deny,” and I just get all the stuff, all the junk, out of my brain.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget that you share that people quote you on often?

Zoe Chance
Probably the ease one, that the bedrock principle of influence is that people tend to follow the path of least resistance.

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

Zoe Chance
Please come on over to my website www.ZoeChance.com. That’s Z-O-E-C-H-A-N-C-E.com. And there’s book, newsletter, other fun stuff, and silly stories and things like that. I would love to be friends.

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

Zoe Chance
I think I’ll just double-down on the 24 hours of no challenge but I gave them already because I don’t want to be heaping up more homework on them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Zoe, this has been a delight. Thank you. I wish you much luck with your book Influence Is Your Superpower and all of your adventures.

Zoe Chance
Thank you so much. And I look forward to following your podcast so I can be more awesome at my job.

693: Building Better Relationships through Validation with Michael Sorensen

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Michael Sorensen demonstrates the simple superpower that vastly improves our relationships: validation.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to improve conversations with the four-step validation method 
  2. How we unintentionally invalidate others
  3. How to move past the discomfort of emotional conversations 

About Michael

Michael Sorensen is a marketing executive by day and a bestselling author, speaker, and relationship coach by night. His book, I Hear You, has helped hundreds of thousands of people across the world become masters of connection in business, love, and life. 

Michael has been invited to speak at some of the world’s largest organizations, had his work translated into over a dozen languages, and has even conducted training for the United States Navy. 

 

Resources Mentioned

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Michael Sorensen Interview Transcript

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

Michael Sorensen
Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to get your wisdom on validation and the good stuff from your book, I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships. But, first, I need to hear you made your own mattress. What is the story?

Michael Sorensen
Yes, I wonder when that would come up. Your intro or your intake sheet asked for something kind of unique and I started thinking, “Well, what do I not talk to many people about?” It’s that. It’s something I’m a little bit embarrassed of, and I’m a little bit proud of. I’ve got a bad back and I set out a few years ago to find the perfect mattress to try to make that back pain go away, and that’s was when Casper and some of these other direct-to-consumer companies were coming online, and they’ve got free return policies, so I thought, “Why not? How can it hurt to order?” so I ordered that. It killed my back.

I ordered the next one, that still hurt, and I actually ordered seven mattresses and then returned them or donated them before I actually sourced my own foam and cut it up and found a cover for it and all of that just to try to find the mattress that would work best for my body. The irony is I ended up finding one that actually works and I tossed my homemade one but, you know, it’s still fun to build things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I got to know, what was the difference? What did your homemade version and your final version have the others did not?

Michael Sorensen
This is incredibly nerdy. I would take a picture of myself laying down with my shirt off so I could see my spine alignment, and all of them had my hip sagging lower than my shoulder because my shoulders were propping me up but my hips were down so it was creating this curve. And so, I actually got a different density creating the foam for each section and so my shoulders had a lighter foam and my hips had a heavier foam to try to get that optimal spine alignment.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. And someone made one with that in mind. Is that the…?

Michael Sorensen
Actually, I actually didn’t have that. I just lucked out. It’s the Brooklyn Bedding. They don’t even make that one anymore but it’s just the latex mattress but it was my final…it was probably my eighth mattress actually. I slept on it for a few days, a few weeks, a few months, and I’m still loving it today. I’m not paid to promote it but I probably should be.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m impressed with just the sheer force and persistence that you rocked in arriving at this. And, likewise, you’ve got something that you call a superpower – validation. Tell us, what do you mean by validation? What does it do for us and why is it a superpower?

Michael Sorensen
Yes, absolutely. I find, especially in the workplace, since this is largely a podcast about the workplace, we place a lot of focus on the value of listening, being a good listener, and we talk about how important that it is. I think we all kind of nod our heads and we say, “Yeah, I could do better at listening.” But, really, the main premise of my book and the main thing that we’re going to talk about here today is that the truly good listeners of the world actually do more than just listen. They listen, seek to understand, and then validate.

And that validation, that’s kind of a secret sauce. That’s what, like you mentioned, that I call a superpower because so many people are craving that. And validation is essentially just telling someone, “Hey, I understand how you’re feeling and you’re not crazy for feeling that way.” That’s really the essence of it. And it sounds so simple, it is simple, but I’m telling you, Pete, it makes all the difference in the world because most of us just jump in with feedback or advice or we try to help people, we try to make them feel better when they’re coming to us with a complaint or a concern or a question, when really what they’re wanting is simply to feel heard and understood.

You’re venting, you’re complaining, and you just want someone to say, “Man, that’s tough,” or, “Then what happened?” and ask a few questions to kind of get into it with you. That’s validation. And it makes all the difference in the workplace, in your relationships at home, with your friends and family, because it helps us feel better connected to each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then can you share, whether maybe it’s in terms of a dramatic transformational relationship that went from poor to okay, or to okay to grand, a nice upgrade, or even maybe some data, some studies? Can you share an illustration of just how powerful this is?

Michael Sorensen
Absolutely. I talk early on in the book about a research conducted by Dr. John Gottman. For your listeners who might not be aware of him or familiar with him, he’s a world-renowned marriage and family therapist, and a number of years ago, he and his colleague set out to determine what makes the healthy happy couples of the world stay in a happy long relationship compared to those who separate or divorce.

And I love the study they put together. They decorated their lab, I think it was the University of Washington, to look like a bed and breakfast, and they invited 130 newlywed couples in, and they said, “Spend the weekend here. Just do what you normally do on a weekend. Cook, eat dinner, watch some TV, read the news, whatever it is, while we observe you,” which, I think, is kind of creepy but it’s funny what people will do for money and science.

And as the observers watched, they noticed that throughout the day, these couples would make small seemingly insignificant requests for connection. They’d be sitting there at the table and the wife would look out the window, and say, “Oh, honey, check out that car.” And what they noticed is that the way the spouse could respond in that instance made all the difference in the connection that they had in their relationship.

So, in that particular instance, the wife notices the car and her husband could look out and respond in one of three ways. He could say, “Wow, that’s awesome. I love that color,” positively, and that’s validating, matching her emotion, getting excited with her, stepping into it is validating. The second way he could respond is negatively, of course saying, “Oh, I hate that. That’s the worst car in the world.” Or, the third way is simply passive, just go, “Huh, that’s nice dear,” maybe not even looking up from the smartphone.

And it seems simple but when they went back, they gathered all the data, they started analyzing it, and then they waited six years, and they followed up with these couples, and they said, “How are you doing? Are you still together? And if you are together, are you happily married still or have you separated?” And what they found was the couples who had separated validated each other only 33% of the time. Whenever they would make a comment like that, their spouse would either be passive or even negative about it, but they wouldn’t engage, they wouldn’t connect with them.

Whereas, the couples that were happily married six years later validated each other 87% of the time. Nearly nine times out of ten, those healthy happy couples were meeting those bids or those requests for connection. And I thought that was interesting. At that time of my life, I was in a relationship that wasn’t going so well, and I realized, “Oh, my gosh, it’s because this woman isn’t validating me. She’s not connecting with me in this way.”

And I flipped the page on this article, and apparently Dr. Gottman and his colleagues can predict with up to 97% accuracy whether people will be together and happy or separated years down the line simply by observing these types of interactions. So, I love that study because it made a big difference for me personally in my romantic relationships but, I can tell you, it’s every bit as powerful in the workplace because work is relationships, business is relationships.

Whether you’re a manager, whether you have colleagues, whether you have clients or customers calling in, you’re working with people, you’re talking with people, and we want to feel connected and understood. And so, validation is one of the most powerful ways to build that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, there you have it. So, then you’ve got a particular four-step method for doing the validation. Can you walk us through this?

Michael Sorensen
Absolutely. And I’ll preface this by saying validation is simple. And so, sometimes people look at four steps and they’re like, “What’s this? It seems complicated. Why do I have to do this?” I’ve reverse-engineered this four-step method to try to help people apply it in some of the more difficult situations.

Maybe we can talk later, Pete, about how to validate someone when they’re angry with you or when you disagree with them because I find that’s where a lot of people get tripped up but it actually makes all the difference in the world if you can, first, hold your defense for a moment, listen to them, validate them, and then get in to your side of the story.

And so, the four steps are, first, listen empathically. Like, really listen for the emotion that the person is sharing, not just the words they’re saying. And then once you’ve identified how they’re feeling, the second step is to validate, just identifying their emotion and offering some justification. So, again, if they’re upset, saying, “Of course, you’re upset. You were up all night working on that and they just threw your work out the window.” That’s validating.

Then, step three is where you give feedback or advice. So, again, if you disagree with someone, or if you have a suggestion, you can give advice but it comes after the validation because it allows that person to feel heard and understood first. And then the fourth and final step is to just validate again. It creates a nice little validation sandwich. Following up the conversation whether it was a difficult conversation, then you wrap it up, and you just say, “Hey, thanks again for coming and talk to me. I know these conversations are uncomfortable and yet we got to have them. I really appreciate your candor.”

Or, if it’s positive, your friends are telling you about something awesome that happened at work the other day, and you’re all excited, and at the very end you say, “Hey, congrats again. You worked your butt off on that presentation, I’m happy to hear it went well.” It’s that final step there to kind of tie it all together.

So, again, those four steps: listen empathically, validate the emotion, offer feedback or advice, and then validate again. And you can go through all those in 30 seconds or you might do it several times in a two-hour conversation but it gives you kind of a loose framework and a basic idea of, “Oh, yeah, hold back on the advice, listen, validate, and then get into it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so one of my favorite parts in your book were the demonstrations from like heavy relationship situations and then a toddler exchange, and so it’s nice to show the breadth of it. But let’s take a look, let’s say we’re in the workplace and someone…well, hey, maybe I’ll just take one of the roles and you take one of the others, if that works for you.

Michael Sorensen
Great. Yeah, roleplay. Here we go.
Hey, Pete, how is it going?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s fine.

Michael Sorensen
Fine? Just fine?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I was working on this process to get things that, well, automated into be way more efficient whenever we’re handling the widgets and, well, it just all went to heck. Absolutely nothing works the way they say it’s supposed to work. People have told me they’re going to get me things and just, straight up, haven’t gotten me the things. The software keeps crashing my computer. It’s basically a total failure.

Michael Sorensen
Oh, geez. Man, I’m sorry. How long were you working on that?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s been about four months.

Michael Sorensen
Four months of work to have it just fall apart at the last minute.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Michael Sorensen
Oh, my gosh, that’s so frustrating.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Michael Sorensen
Are you…? What are you going to do? Do you think you can salvage it or is it going to…you have to throw it all out?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I guess I’m just going to keep calling these people until they finally give me the right answer and, hopefully, that works eventually.

Michael Sorensen
Oh, man, I’m sorry. I hate it when you spend that much time minding on something and then it just falls apart. You would hope that with a product that expensive, people have it figured out, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally.

Michael Sorensen
Oh, man. Well, let me know if I can help in any way. Honestly, I don’t know if I can offer much help but I’m happy to if there’s any way I can.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, thank you. All right. So, I saw the steps in action. Anything you’d comment upon in that exchange?

Michael Sorensen
Obviously, where it’s kind of roleplay, we’re both kind of stumbling through it.

Pete Mockaitis
Making it up.

Michael Sorensen
But one of the most important things that I encourage people to do is ask a lot of discovery questions early on. If you already know what’s going on in the person’s life and the situation, you don’t have to ask a lot of questions. But if you don’t, that’s really important to make sure you’re validating the right things and that you’re actually understanding.

I’ve worked with some people who they try to validate right away, and so somebody, they just get right in, they’re like, “Oh, that must be so…you must be so angry,” and they’re like, “Oh, no, I’m not angry. I’m actually embarrassed,” and you kind of go through it. So, I asked a couple questions, not a ton, but then, pretty quickly, I was matching your emotion. I was trying to kind of reflect what I was seeing in you, which is, “Ah, yeah, of course you’re upset if you spent four months on that.” And I’ve actually said as much, “Of course, you’re upset because…” and I showed that justification in saying, “Yeah, it makes sense. That’s maddening to go through all of that.”

And that little piece is so powerful because, oftentimes, we, as humans, are taught to kind of bury our emotions, we’re taught to not be upset, and sometimes we tell people as much, like, “Oh, don’t worry about it. I’m sure it’ll work out,” but that doesn’t usually feel very good. Like, “Well, I am upset. I’m looking for you to see that.” And so, that was that validation piece of me just saying, “Hey, that’s really frustrating, especially if this and that. You would think if they had all this time and money put into it that they would have it figured out.” Those are all validating statements because they are giving you permission to feel the frustration that you’re feeling.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, as you say it, it sounds so simple and yet it feels a little rare. I don’t know if you’ve got stats on this but it seems like we’re all hungry for this and we’re not having our fill, broadly speaking. Is that fair to say?

Michael Sorensen
A hundred percent. And I wish I had stats, Pete, but the stats that I can give you are just looking at the reviews of my book and the emails that I get, the hundreds of thousands of people that are saying, “Oh, my goodness, this is what I’ve been missing.” And it’s all over the board. You see people saying, “I didn’t realize that this is what my spouse was asking for.” Then you see people saying, “If my partner had done this, we would still be together.” Then I get emails from customer service managers saying, “Can you do a training on this? Because I listened to your book and I started implementing it and customers are 1000% happier,” whatever it is.

But, you’re right, it’s so simple but we are craving it and that’s one of the things that makes it a superpower is we’re all craving it, few of us recognize that that’s what we’re craving, but we do recognize that we’re not getting it. And that’s where a lot of relationships kind of hit this rocky point because you’re going, you’ll talk to your boss, and your boss, maybe you’ll express a concern or something, and if he or she just says, “Don’t worry about it. I’ve got it…”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Michael Sorensen
…that doesn’t…you’re like, “Okay.” Well, what do you say to your boss? Versus, if your boss says, “Well, help me understand what’s going on,” and they ask a few questions and they get into it. And if you’re upset, and they say, “First off, thank you. I can imagine how frustrating this is given blah, blah, blah” and you sit there and you go, “Yes, they get me.” It makes all the difference in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so let’s hear about things that are wrong things to say. And I love, in your book, you did this nicely. I remember a couple was struggling with infertility, and then someone said, “Oh, boy, yeah, I just look at my wife and she gets pregnant,” and I’ve heard people say that before. And, of course, when you’re reading it in the context of the book, you’re like, “Wow, that is absolutely a horrific thing to say to a person in that context,” and yet people say it because I don’t think they’re tuned in on this wavelength yet. So, “Don’t worry about it, I got it” is another example of, “We’re not going to get into your feelings. This is already handled.” So, what are some other choice things you hear people say a lot that are kind of the opposite of validating?

Michael Sorensen
The invalidating statements, yeah, it’s things like, “Oh, you’ll be fine,” “It could be worse,” or, “At least it’s not…” fill in the blank. As you listen or you’re hearing these things, ask yourself, “Have you ever said this to someone?” Because you’re right, Pete, people say it all the time, where we say, “Oh, don’t worry. Things will just work out.”

I’ve got a couple siblings who are still single and they desperately want to find their person and I can’t tell you how many times, when they come to someone, and I’m kind of the fly on the wall, and I’m like, “How’s dating going?” and they’re like, “Ah, not super well.” And then, almost immediately, the response is, “Oh, I’m sure you’ll find them eventually. You’re a great catcher. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. It’s going to work out.”

And you can see the look on their face, they’re like, “I know that, I’m not stupid, but I’m not enjoying life right now.” It’s kind of hard. I was looking for a little of that validation. Everybody means well. It’s not like we’re trying to be rude to people but we think that’s helping when, in reality, it’s hurting.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think, not to get too deep into this, but one reason we don’t do it is we’re not aware; two is we think we’re helping. I think the third might be that, for a segment of folks, it’s like, “We’re just kind of uncomfortable getting into all that emotional stuff.” And so, hey, if that’s you, what do you do about that?

Michael Sorensen
Well, to that, I would say, and obviously everyone is different, the situations are different. I still hit moments when I’m like, “I don’t really want to talk about it,” like timid people. Obviously, you have to kind of judge the situation. But this is where I think validation becomes, again, such a valuable tool because one of the key reasons I believe people are uncomfortable in those situations is they don’t know how to help, especially if it’s heavier.

I remember talking to a friend whose parents passed away recently and unexpectedly, and prior to knowing how to validate, I would’ve been like, “Oh, what do you say? Like, really, what do you say because I haven’t dealt with that? I’m not about to think that I can give this amazing advice.” But validation is so powerful because you don’t have to say much of anything, you don’t have to fix it. The fix they’re going to figure out and so validations just gives them that space.

And so, when you talk with someone, I like, Pete, your example how you said, “Okay. Well, ask me how I’m doing,” and you say, “Fine,” because that happens a lot. And, usually, it’s when people kind of want to talk about something but they’re not quite sure you want to so they’ll just kind of say, “I’m fine.” And you can read their body language, and then you get to decide whether you want to follow it deeper, but if you do, you can just ask questions. You can see how they’re doing and you just ask questions and then you validate, and you ask questions and you validate, and you don’t ever have to get into solutions.

With my friend, I just said, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t even imagine,” and I just sat there for a moment, and I let her sit for a second, and she said, “Yeah, it’s brutal.” And I said, “So, how did you find out?” and she explained it to me, and I just, again, “Ahh.” And even with that response, “Ahh” is validating. I didn’t even have to use words there. Again, it’s just showing respect, it’s like, “Man, I see how you’re feeling,” and we were able to kind of go through the conversation. I didn’t give one bit of advice. Heaven knows, she didn’t want advice. She just wanted someone to kind of sit in it with her and feel it.

And so, if you’re a little uncomfortable with these emotional situations, I do encourage you to try, the next time you have an opportunity to try it and try to just validate the person. Ask some questions, respond with the emotion that you can tell they’re feeling. And, to tie it off, you can just say, again, like we did on the example, “Hey, I’m here for you. If you ever want to just talk, let me know.” And they’ll usually say thanks, and then you move on.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. And how do you feel about the “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” because sometimes people hate that? And other times, it seems completely appropriate.

Michael Sorensen
In what context?

Pete Mockaitis
Like, so if it’s tragedy or like they say a divorce, a death, an illness, you say, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” and they’re like, “Oh, I’m tired of everyone saying that.” Like, I don’t know, where do you come out on this one?

Michael Sorensen
Again, it’s very situation-dependent. So, in that situation, if they actually responded like that to me, I’d be like, “Oh, hey, I’m sorry. How can I help?” It’s difficult because you kind of have to roll with the punches a little bit. I was talking with someone just the other day about this and, well, yes, I put validation into a nice clean four-step framework. The reality is it’s more of an artform than it is just a tight framework. It’s not something you can just like pull out a sheet, and go, “Okay. Michael says to say this, and this, and then you’re going to feel better, and then we’re going to ride off into the sunset.”

It doesn’t work like that. It’s a skill. It’s a tool, which means we have to figure out how to kind of use it in the right situations. And so, you’re right, certain people are going to respond to those “I’m so sorry,” or whatever, and they’re going to get defensive, especially if they’re hurt, or they’re going to come back at you, and you can still use validation again.

So, let’s just say that you had said that to me, Pete, again, I’d say, “Oh, I’m sorry.” And if they say, “Yeah, everybody just says they’re sorry, and I don’t want to hear that. I want to move on,” then I might say, “Yeah, I don’t blame you. This is a heavy situation.” And then they might say, “Yeah, da, da, da,” and we can keep going on. But you see how I was even able to validate their frustration at me, and just say, “Wow, okay. Yeah, you know what, the more I think about it, I see how that was hard. I’m sorry for that,” or whatever the right response would be.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, I guess now I’m curious, so, you said at the very beginning, validation basically conveys, “Hey, I hear you. I understand what you’re feeling, and you’re not crazy.” I’m curious, like when folks are crazy, I mean, maybe either literally, that we’ve got like a sort of diagnosable situation, or they are kind of blending their emotions with like the exact wrong answer, like, “My boss is such a jerk, I’m going to march in there right now, slap him across the face, and tell him in no uncertain…” whatever, I don’t know.

Or, someone is like, “I’m so worthless. The world would be better off without me,” like intense, like I’m sure the right answer is not, “You know, you’re right,” not the right move there. So, yeah, in those trickier places where folks are saying something oh-so wrong, how do you think about validation?

Michael Sorensen
I’m so happy you bring this up, and I’m going to preface this by saying that the FBI uses validation in their hostage negotiations. It’s a critical part. And if you think of high-stake situations, you got people in a building threatening to kill them and themselves, and so that’s very much what you’re saying, Pete. You don’t want to just say, “Yeah, do it. Yeah, you’re right. Yeah, your life’s not worth living.” You don’t want to go there. But that’s not quite what validation is and that’s where the four-step method comes into play here.

Again, first step is listening empathically. So, let’s keep it with the co-worker example and they’re really upset with their boss, and they’re about to march right in there and yell at them, well, let’s just say for a moment, we think that’s a bad idea. So, if we just say, “You can’t do that. You’re going to get fired,” how are they going to respond?

Pete Mockaitis
“Go ahead and fire me. I’m sick of this. This is war.”

Michael Sorensen
They’re probably going to go, yeah, exactly, “I don’t care.” Exactly right, they’re just going to push back, and you can push back, and they’ll push back, and you’re not going to get anywhere. And so, you have to first listen to them, “Well, what happened?” and they vent and they complain. And, again, you can validate there, so you don’t have to validate, you don’t have to say, “Yes, go in and yell at them.”

But if he says, “Well, he called me out in front of everybody in that meeting,” then you could say, “Seriously?” “Yeah, and I’m so…aargh, I’m so angry because I worked my butt off all week.” “Well, yeah, like I’d be upset too.” That’s the validation piece. It’s not, “Yeah, you should go in and yell at your boss.” It’s, “Well, of course, you’re upset given what just happened.”

And so, you keep going through that conversation. You listen, you validate, you listen, you validate. When you can tell they’ve calmed down just a little bit, or maybe they’re about to march right in the door, then that’s when step three comes into play, and you say, “Well, hold on one second. I do have a few thoughts on this. Do you mind if I share it?” Okay, now that intro, that transition to step three is big because it shows respect. If you just say, “Hold on. Don’t do it. It’s a bad idea,” again, they might get defensive and start arguing with you.

But if you, first, ask permission to share your thoughts, most people will say, “Fine. What? What is it? What are your thoughts?” and then you can say, “Maybe yelling at your boss isn’t the best idea. Have you thought about this? Or, have you thought about that?” And what you’ll find is, if you’ve listened and validated first, they are a hundred times more likely to listen to your advice when you bring it up. So, it all comes down to that order.

And, again, you see the same thing in situations where someone is angry at you, you see the same thing in the hostage negotiations. They don’t say, “Sure, kill yourself. Sure, ignite the bomb.” They say, “What’s going on? Where are you…where is this coming from?” and they talk through, they listen, they validate, and they say, “Well, can we just talk? Can we just talk face to face?” And you can see they kind of…The power of validation is to bring the emotion back down so that you can have a human-to-human conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, you know, I remember you talked about FBI hostage negotiation, and we had Chris Voss on the podcast, who wrote an awesome book Never Split the Difference and did FBI hostage negotiations. And I believe there’s a story there in which they just kind of said the same thing over and over again, kind of like, “Hey, it seems like you’re scared that you’re not going to be able to make it out of there, and you’re worried about what’s going to happen to you and your family,” something along those lines, just like repeatedly, and then hours later, the dude just kind of walks out. And so, it’s wild how potent that is.

Michael Sorensen
And that’s why I joke in the book it’s like a superpower. Early on, when I started using this, in my day job, I’m a manager of about 30 people, and I was a very young manager at the time when I wrote the book, and I didn’t know how to deal with certain situations. And as I’ve started using validation, I had some pretty tense conversations, some people yelling at me, some really difficult things, I had made some mistakes, all of that. When I started using validation first, it was shocking at how it made everything easier, and helped me mend relationships, and helped me earn trust and respect.

I had a gal who once worked for me, left the company. A few years later, she was one the beta readers actually of my book. And she actually called me up after she read it, and she said, “I get it now.” She said, “I could never understand why I felt so comfortable talking to you.” And I don’t say this to pat myself on the back, but I say it to illustrate the power it has. She said, “I always felt so comfortable talking to you, and I couldn’t figure out why, and now I get it, and it’s because you listened to me and you validated me. Thank you.” So, it’s powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. I’m intrigued by when you made some mistakes, how might validation work in that context? Like, “Hey, I can understand to be really frustrating that this guy…” mainly you, means you have to redo a bunch of things now. Or, how’s that go?

Michael Sorensen
Yeah, really, it just comes down to ownership, and that takes humility. It’s not an easy thing to do but if you do make a mistake, there’s no sense in beating around the bush or making an excuse. That never looks good in work or just in life. So, in the times that’s happened to me, I’m trying to think of a concrete example and I’m drawing a blank right now.

But if we just go with a hypothetical, they come back and they say, “What happened? You told me you would have this yesterday,” and I take a moment and I go, “Oh, shoot. You’re right.” And I just say, “You’re right. I’m sorry. I dropped the ball on that. I’m going to figure it out.” And they say, “Well, it threw off my whole presentation, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” again, there’s a chance to validate. So, they tell me how it affects them, and instead of saying, “Well, you should’ve followed up with me,” it doesn’t look good. I own it. Again, I say, “Aargh, I’m really sorry. I overbooked myself. It sucks to be expecting something I committed to. I didn’t deliver. You’re right. How can I help?”

It’s almost like a parody but it’s honest, and there’s actually, in my opinion, a great respect that comes from that, and strength to say, “Yup, I messed up. I’m going to figure out how to make it right.” And, in most instances, people will come down on their anger pretty quickly when they see you’re not going to fight them, you just say, “Yup, I’m sorry. I see how that affects you. Let’s figure out how to make it work.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. Well, so then you used the phrase, “Hey, I have some thoughts. Do you mind if I share?” asking permission. Any key kind of words and phrases that you like and naturally show up a lot when you’re validating, or some key words and phrases to be banished?

Michael Sorensen
Yeah, so when you get into the validating and such, we’ve talked a lot about that. But if I may, Pete, let’s take it into that step three where you’re giving feedback because that makes a big difference. One place a lot of people trip up, and, again, this is going to sound so simple, but using the word “but” can be quite dangerous when you’re connecting two sentences together.

So, if you try to validate someone, let’s say they’re angry at me, we’ll stick with that example, and I say, “You’re right. I missed it but it’s really not that big of a deal.” Well, I just undid everything. Like, I was going down the path, I was validating, and then I said “but” and that now puts up a red flag in most people, and they’re like, “But what?” Here comes your counterargument, and I say, “It’s not that big of a deal.” Well, woosh, that’s an invalidating statement, and they’re like, “What do you mean it’s not a big of a deal?” and away we go into that cycle.

I’m a big fan of changing that word from “but” to “and.” Now, you still shouldn’t say, “It’s not that big of a deal.” But let’s say, in that situation, I say, “You’re right. I committed to do that, I didn’t. I’m sorry and I wasn’t the only one responsible for it. Can we talk about X, Y, and Z, other ways?” So, there’s the “and” connection point is very powerful, and I get that feedback a lot from people, saying, “Wow, I had no idea changing that one word,” because, for some reason, we, as humans, we really key in on that.

And if someone is saying, “Hey, I really like…” the example I used in the book is, “I like what you’ve done with your hair but…” we go, “Uh-oh, but what?” There’s something else versus “I like what you’ve done with your hair and I like it better the other way.” You still don’t want to hear that but at least it’s a little easier to hold.

And so, when you’re giving feedback to your colleagues, when you’re giving feedback to your friends, or, heck, even your boss, try to avoid the word “but” and just use “and” in there. It actually makes a pretty big difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And, I’m curious, if you just don’t feel like you’re relating in any way to their emotion, in terms of you’re like, “I’m mystified as to why you’re so angry or so annoyed by this thing that really seems like nothing to me,” what do you do?

Michael Sorensen
This is where it gets a little tricky because I get this question every now and then. I didn’t address it in the book but in the years since, I’ve really given it a lot of thought. I’ve paid a lot of attention to how I still validate in those situations. First off, I do encourage you to always try to find a way to empathize. Oftentimes, it’s easy to just say, “I don’t care. I don’t care about people.” There’s a lot of value that comes from learning to empathize with people, learning to identify emotions, and that’s a bit of a different topic though.

If, in the moment, you’re like, “Dude, like what’s going on? Why are you so upset about this?” again, ask some questions first. Don’t just dismiss it out of hand and assume they’re being crazy because most people, when you really get into the full picture, act quite rationally. But if you really feel like they’re not, there is still value in, I don’t want to say lip service but, in still kind of going through the motions, and saying, “Yeah, it makes sense that you’re angry. Of course, you would be,” even if inside I’m like, “I don’t really think so,” but it does make a difference still.

Again, it’s not where I recommend going first. Always prefer genuine empathy, but at very least, you can have some sympathy, then you can at least see the emotion they’re feeling, and you can see that they’re upset because such and so and so yelled at them. And that alone can still be valuable and still be helpful to them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. And I guess I’m also thinking about have you really entered into their world? I guess I was recently on a fishing trip and someone was angry that another person had parked nearby our campsite and started fishing. And I actually don’t care that much about the fishing on the trip. They’re just great guys, I like hanging with them, and they go fishing so I go with them.

And so, someone is getting kind of worked up about this. And I thought, “What’s the matter? It’s a big old river or lake.” But I think, as I dove deeper into it in terms of what this person wants most is to catch big fish. It is rare they have the opportunity to go catch fish, and they perceive rightly/wrongly. I don’t actually know enough about fishing but that person’s placement there is going to diminish that, and that there are many other places he could choose from, then I can understand, “Yeah, that’d be irritating that that guy did that when he could just go somewhere else.” But it takes some doing for me to get there.

Michael Sorensen
Yes, it does, and there are times. Again, going back talking about how it’s a tool. It doesn’t mean you always have to use it. I am guilty almost every week of my wife and I’ll get into a little argument, even just have a discussion, and if she gets upset about something, I want to jump to fix it, and “I’m literally the guy that wrote the book on it.” And I’m just like, “You know what, let’s just do this, do this, fix it, and we’ll be done.” And she’s like, “Really? You’re not going to validate me at all?” And I’m like, “Ahh, crap. You’re right.”

But there are times when you have to just kind of pick and choose, and there are times also when you might just jump in. If we stick with your example there of that guy, if he comes up and he’s yelling at you because he wants your spot, you’d be like, “Dude, really? Like, it’s a campsite.” And he’s like, “Well, blah, blah, blah,” you can then choose to validate or you could choose to just dismiss it. If you paid for it, it’s rightly yours. You can walk away, you don’t have to engage with people who are upset or angry, but if you want to, it will work. Nine times out of ten, 95%-99%, I’m making out stats here, but most times it’s amazing how you can calm someone down.

And so, if he’s all upset, you say, “Yeah, yeah, I’m sorry. We booked it.” And he’s like, “I booked it too.” “Well, there must’ve been an issue with that. That’s really frustrating. If you came all the way down here expecting to see this, I get it. Let’s go chat with the front office at the campsite or whatever and let’s see if we can figure it out.” But just that little, “Yeah, if you expected all this and came down here,” that’s validating, and that can help tone it down just a little bit.

I’ll give you an example of, this was a few months ago now but it worked, a certain employee, who’s no longer with the company, placed an order for 40,000 T-shirts that we didn’t need, but he thought we needed them, he thought he was going to be awesome. Well, a few months later, I get a call from another guy in my team, saying, “Hey, just so you know, the T-shirts arrived. This other company who prepared them, they’re expecting payment. I don’t think we owe it to them because we didn’t approve it, so don’t worry, I’m handling it, but you just might hear about it. You might want to know.” And I thought, “Well, hold on one second. Can you send me the email thread? I want to make sure that we’re being honest here. If we said we’re going to order them, we got to pay them.”

So, he sends me the email thread, and I see this back and forth, and it was my guy was being quite invalidating, frankly. He was very kind of traditional negotiation tactics, “Hardline no, not going to happen.” And, obviously, that’s not going to go well on the other end, and it was getting really heated. And so, I actually took over the conversation and I reached out to the guy, and I said, “Hey, do you mind if we hopped on a call?” And his response was very curt, “Yeah, this time.” Period.

So, in advance of the call, I did a little bit of research, and I determined that we actually weren’t on the hook for the T-shirts, but I still wanted to smooth things over. I still wanted to do right by them. So, in advance of the call, I thought, “Okay, I’m going to come right into this, he’s going to come in ready to fight, he’s bringing his A-game, I’m just going to validate him first thing.”

So, I picked up my phone, I gave him a call, he answered, and I said hello, but then, before anything else, I said, “Hey, before we get in, I just want to apologize. This has obviously gone on far longer than either of us want. As I’m digging through, it looks messy, there’s a lot of back and forth, emotions are running high. I apologize for that. I’m hopeful that we can get on this call and just talk man to man and figure something out.”

And, literally, the shock was audible in his voice. He literally stuttered on the other end, he was like, “Oh, ah, okay. Well, what do you have in mind?” And we were able to chat, and we talked through it, and I explained my side, he explained his side, and we reached a resolution that both parties felt good about. It didn’t take long but it had been going on for months, literally months, Pete, back and forth, and tensions were running high. And in about five minutes, I was able to undo almost all that tension and find a resolution with just a little bit of listening and validating.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Well, Michael, tell me, any final key things you want to share about validation before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Michael Sorensen
I think maybe the last thing I’ll say on it is I think it’s important to point out that when I talk about validation, we’re not validating people’s worth. That’s one thing that sometimes validation gets a bad rap because people say, “Well, validate me. Tell me I’m worthy. Tell me I’m good enough.” That’s dangerous. I’m not talking about that. We’re talking about validating emotions and situations that people are dealing with.

And so, if you have a co-worker, or if you have a family member, or even a spouse, who’s constantly complaining, where they’re always just like, “Hmm, I need more. I need you to tell me that I’m good enough,” that’s a separate conversation, that’s a place for boundaries, that’s a place where having a conversation, and saying, “Hey, I care about you,” or, “You’re my buddy, and…” again, there’s the “and” instead of “but” “…and this isn’t working for me,” or, “I’m not sure how to help you because every time I give you advice, it seems to go in one ear and out the other.”

So, I think it’s an important clarification because I never want people to think that I’m saying, “Well, just tell people what they want to hear. Just tell people that they’re great and everything is going to work out.” Again, validation being a tool, you use it with other tools, and use well that earns you respect, that helps you set boundaries, that helps you earn trust with those around you. And that is why it’s such a powerful skill.

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

Michael Sorensen
The quote that I go to most often is “Action kills fear.” I don’t even know where it came from or who said, it but I stumbled across it years ago, and I print it out, and I stick it up in my offices because it’s just true. If I find myself kind of getting paralyzed or I’m uncertain about something, just take action, any kind of action, even if it’s just the first step, it unlocks that and allows you to move forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Michael Sorensen
I love The Compound Effect and The Slight Edge. They’re both the same principle, two different authors, all about how small simple things build up over time to great results. And that’s been…that’s, frankly, how I got to writing the book in the first place. I committed to 15 minutes a day at least, and sometimes it would snowball into hours and into weekends on end. But 15 minutes, small simple things got me to where I am today.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Michael Sorensen
we’re talking tech tools. I’m a big fan of the TextExpander.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Michael Sorensen
Where you type in a shortcut or like a snippet, like I type in Cphone and it types out my full cellphone, or Pmail, it’s my personal email. Little things like that to save a ton of time, that and a clipboard manager. So, I copy a lot of things and paste a lot of different things. If you, listeners, don’t use those, you should check them out.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, what’s the best clipboard manager for a Mac in your opinion?

Michael Sorensen
I use Copy’Em. That’s what I found thus far. There’s probably better ones but it works well for my needs.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Michael Sorensen
You can do a lot of form-filling. I don’t know, man. I use it all the time. I think it’s an underappreciated or underutilized little tool.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Michael Sorensen
Well, I spoke to this earlier on The Compound Effect, but it’s just these simple little things every day. So, if I have a goal in mind, or I’m a big goal-setter, I’ll break it down into tiny little chunks that I can’t not do five minutes a day, 10 minutes a day, 15 minutes a day, just to make sure I’m doing it.

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

Michael Sorensen
Yeah, it was, because I think off the top of my head, that idea that when people vent or complain to us, they usually already have a solution in mind; they’re not looking for advice. They’re just looking to be heard and understood. As I go into the Kindle book, in the most popular highlights, that’s number one. It’s the, “Hey, if someone is venting to you, chances are they don’t actually want your advice. They just want you to hear them and they’ll figure it out on their own.”

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

Michael Sorensen
My website is probably the best resource or the best place to find me, MichaelSSorensen.com. You can contact me via contact form there, and read a lot of my free content.

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

Michael Sorensen
The biggest thing that I’ve learned is, at least what I appreciate most, is people who really don’t use the word “can’t.” I guess it kind of comes full circle. We joked about my building my own mattress. But I’m a big believer that you can do anything. That’s so trite when we say it. I don’t mean in like, “You can be an astronaut,” though you can be. But if you want something, you can figure it out. And it just depends on if you’re willing to put in the time and the effort and the money.

And so, people on my team or at work who say, “No, I can’t do that. Can’t do that,” I hate it because it’s so small-minded. I’d much prefer to say, “Well, we probably could but it would take the world.” I’d rather say, “What would it take? How could we do it?” Even if it’s wild and out there, you’re just, “What would it take? How can we get there?”

My opinion, people bring that into the workplace, that can-do attitude, that “I’m going to figure it out no matter what it takes,” that stands out to me, and I think that is what makes people very successful in life.

Pete Mockaitis
Michael, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck with validating and being validated.

Michael Sorensen
Thanks, Pete. Appreciate the time. Great chatting.

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.