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KF #36. Instills Trust Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Robin:

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

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

About Robin Dreeke

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Robin Dreeke Interview Transcript

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

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

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

Robin Dreeke
Exactly.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Dreeke
Anything you want.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, thanks.”

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

Pete Mockaitis
Bring it on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Dreeke
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Dreeke
Hard for folks to…?

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[30:04]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Aaron:

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

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Aaron Levy Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we’ll take it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Aaron Levy
So, don’t.

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

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

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

Aaron Levy
Oh, amazing book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
There you go, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron Levy
Oh, yeah.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Aaron Levy
Meditating.

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

Aaron Levy
Feedback is a gift.

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

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

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

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

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

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

524: How to Build Rapport Quickly with John DiJulius

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About John:

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

Items mentioned in the show:

Thank You, Sponsor!

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

John DiJulius Interview Transcript

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

John DiJulius
My pleasure. Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

John DiJulius
I did okay. I did okay.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Well, the oldest professions taking over there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
I’m in Chicago.

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

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

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

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

John DiJulius
Under two, both of them?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

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

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

John DiJulius
Congratulations. How long have you been married?

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

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

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

John DiJulius
December 3rd, 2016 you got married.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Sure, let’s say Monopoly.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Oh, yeah, absolutely.

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

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

John DiJulius
You guys were serious.

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

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

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

John DiJulius
Can you play virtually?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Oren:

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

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Oren Klaff Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Chicago.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
It was 1989 Chevrolet Celebrity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One power tool for regaining calm just before high stakes persuasion is Simple Habit! When I’m using Simple Habit, I feel like a have much greater mental capacity to think through the persuasive elements of my messages without distraction. Simple Habit is a meditation app that has hundreds of meditations available for free and thousands available for premium users.Simple Habit has convenient 5 minute meditations, with over 65,000 5-star reviews in the iOs and Android store. It won Google Play’s award for being a stand-out well-being app. You can get 30% off premium by visiting simplehabit.com/awesome. That’s simplehabit.com/awesome. To snag the 30% off, you’ll visit simplehabit.com/awesome…you can also tap that link in your podcast app by expanding this episode’s “details” and then “episode notes.”}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Dave

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Dave Stachowiak Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, yes, our mutual pal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Stachowiak
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
How long did this take?

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

Pete Mockaitis
The boss’ boss’ boss.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Stachowiak
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
That does sound right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, you’re smart, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

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

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

Dave Stachowiak
CoachingForLeaders.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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