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KF #7. Communicates Effectively

455: Maintaining Grace Under Pressure for Effective Speaking with Lisa Wentz

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Lisa Wentz says: "You are meant to sound like you, not like someone else. It's authenticity that audiences crave."

Lisa Wentz pinpoints the fundamental elements that can make anyone a great speaker.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The ideal mindset for communicating with anyone and in any setting
  2. The best way to breathe for vocal power and confidence
  3. How to articulate well and why that matters

About Lisa 

Lisa Wentz is the founder of the San Francisco Voice Center, a public speaking expert, accent specialist and author of Grace Under Pressure: a Masterclass in Public Speaking. Lisa has been featured as a Public Speaking expert in TIME,  The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. Lisa regularly coaches speeches, presentation skills and accent reduction with TED talkers and executives and managers from Fortune 500 companies such as Adobe, Genentech, Google, Oracle, Salesforce and VMware, etc.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Lisa Wentz Interview Transcript

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

Lisa Wentz
Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your expertise. You’ve done a lot of work coaching folks with speaking and in many different contexts. So, I’d love it if you could open us up by sharing a fun story about working with either a famous pupil or on a famous talk.

Lisa Wentz
You know, that is a great question. It’s a tricky one, and I’m going to tell you why, because many of my clients are anonymous so I can’t say the person’s name really. The other thing about the word fun, a lot of the work I do is very in depth. Certainly, it can be fun but it makes me feel like you want me to tell you something entertaining.

So, here’s what I’m going to tell you. This is the story I’d like to tell you anyway because I thought it was fun. There’s a particular CEO that came to see me. He’s very successful. He’s had his company for 10 years. He’s a great public speaker. And he came to me with an interesting problem. And his problem was that in meetings he would become extremely nervous and thrown off if any of his team members seem disappointed even in the mildest of ways.

So, if he ever had to deliver anything that was bad news, or even mildly bad news, it was really challenging for him to the point where he would start shaking, sweating, his voice would contract, he wouldn’t be able to speak very well. And this was all due to an internal pressure he was putting on himself to please others, and too much pressure to take care of not just to take care of the company, which is his job to lead the company, but to take care of the people in it.

And so, after the first session, we did a couple of sessions on the physiological responses he was having, so the voice and speech problems, the not breathing enough, counteracting the adrenaline rush he was having when he was feeling nervous, and that kind of thing, and also worked on his mindset a little bit, you know, where was all this internal pressure coming from and so forth.

By the, I think, third or fourth session, I felt it was time for him to just face the challenge. So, what I ended up doing was I hired five or six very good San Francisco actors that I knew, put them into a conference room, told him that he was going to deliver them bad news, and he was going to have to deal with their responses.

Pete Mockaitis
You don’t get the part, guys.

Lisa Wentz
And they were phenomenal. He delivered a little bit of bad news about possible layoffs, and one actress was nearly in tears, “How could you do this to me?” just completely guilt-tripping him. Another one was really sort of angry and asking for accountability and those kinds of things. But, basically, these five actors just railed on him for about 45 minutes, and he handled it gracefully, he kept his composure, he didn’t take it on as if it was his fault, he made leaps and bounds, and afterwards thanked me. And the actors had a great time doing it. I gave them backstories and names and everything.

And he was really pleased that after just four sessions he thought this was going to be something that was going to take 10 to 20 sessions because he’d been dealing with it so long. After four sessions, he had it, he was ready to move on like a different person. But that was a fun experience for me because that’s unusual. I don’t usually hire actors to come in and give a CEO a hard time.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, I mean, that just sounds like what a service to have. That’s kind of cool to be able to simulate all kinds of things when you have access to a network of actors there. That’s pretty cool. Well, boy, I want to talk about a lot of things. You got this book “Grace Under Pressure” but now you got my interest piqued because I, too, I don’t know if it’s as dramatic, but I sure do have a resistance to disappointing people or giving people an unpleasant experience whether I have to fire somebody or if I’m just sharing something that they’re not going to like.

So, any pro tips there? It sounds like there’s a physiological thing for breathing. But you’re able to crack this in four sessions. What are some of the key takeaways for us?

Lisa Wentz
Well, I think, first and foremost, to figure out think about where it stems from. Because, usually, that kind of thing, when we’re giving ourselves a lot of internal pressure, it stems from something. It’s a pressure to be perfect. Maybe we’re giving early messaging that we had to please others that either comes from your caregiver of your parents, or you could’ve learned it in school or from friends, too much responsibility for other people’s feelings and so forth.

Now, of course, if you are a sensitive person, firing somebody isn’t easy and we want to be human as well, and so I’m not advocating for being just cold and not feeling anything of course. But there is something about, like I said, the mindset, thinking through what’s really your responsibility and what’s not your responsibility.

So, is it your responsibility to handle something very professionally? Yes, absolutely. Is it your responsibility to be a kind person? Yes, but it’s also your responsibility to not take on other people’s emotional responses. So, staying with your own purpose and the greater good and sort of what has to be done, if it’s a fire that has to happen, I think it’s that. It’s kind of going to the logic of it. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. That’s pretty helpful right there in terms of you’d be clearly seeing some things in and out of your zone of responsibility. Cool. Well, what else?
What else should we do if we are struggling with the “I don’t like disappointing people, delivering bad news” stuff?

Lisa Wentz
Yeah. So, first of all, I always start with logic. So, what’s the logic of the situation? Like I said, what’s really your responsibility? I also think that if it’s really something, if anything is really nagging at you that’s pervasive, figure out where it stems from and unravel that part of it. I’ll give you an example. Let’s see.

Let’s say, I’ll make this up, hypothetically speaking. Let’s say you had a caregiver, let’s say, to parent who constantly needed you to be overperforming, and there’s a lot of that. I get quite a few clients who will say to me, “You know, if I got an A, it should’ve been an A+.” “Why didn’t you do even better?” And as if the parent is personally hurt or dissatisfied with them as children. And that kind of a thing, any early childhood messaging we get, we can really hold onto it. And if it’s a situation where there’s not direct abuse or something really, really overtly painful then we might even hold onto it longer because we don’t see how much it affected us. We just take it as, “Oh, this is just how I am.”

And so, to go deeper with this, once you get to the logic of it, I think dealing with the emotional side of it eventually, and this is talked about a lot in the self-help world, sometimes you have to be your own parent, and the side of you that was a child and had too much pressure as a child to please others or to take care of others, then needs to be acknowledged and some healing around that needs to happen so the more adult side of you can do that, say, “Okay, that wasn’t fair. My parent may not have been a bad parent, but that’s too much pressure for a five-year old to take or a 10-year old to take, and I don’t need to do this to myself anymore.” And those kinds of real decisions can really affect you. They can unravel a lot, take a lot of the pressure off.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, thank you for that. Well, yeah, that’s just the opener. Let’s talk about your book “Grace Under Pressure.” What’s the big idea here?

Lisa Wentz
You know, I wrote the book for a couple of reasons, but I think the big idea, really what I want the readers to get is that, one, you do not have to be some special person to be a great speaker. It’s not as though only a few people can do this kind of thing. Maybe only a certain percentage of the population have decided to really become great speakers because they needed to for their careers and this kind of thing. But anyone who really wants to be a great speaker can be a great speaker. That’s the first thing.

Talent, and we all have talent, talent really boils down to who you are. It’s you in your most authentic form and the rest is training. The rest is technique.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. Well, that reminds me a little bit of Aristotle there, some of these components. So, let’s talk about some of these things in particular with regard to technique and things that show up and impact things. Now, you are also an expert on posture, which is pretty cool. So, let’s talk about posture here in terms of its impact on presenting, and how should we think about it, and adjust it, and what difference does posture make when we’re presenting?

Lisa Wentz
Yeah, there’s a few areas we can talk about. One is your internal experience and, of course, then the experience of the audience. If you have, really, what we call a collapsed posture, sort of looking like a marionette with loose strings, like you look weighted down, like gravity is pulling you down too much. You know what I mean by that?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Lisa Wentz
So, oftentimes, the head goes back a little bit, hips forward, you know, slouching is another way of saying it. Now, for speaking, that’s not ideal because your ribcage and your throat are not going to be in a balanced position, neither will your head. And since we want, when we’re speaking, especially for long periods of time, we want to be speaking in a neutral posture, a lighter posture not one that’s weighted down because we want our breath support to be there, we want to be able to breathe freely. We don’t   want our chest collapsing because then we’re going to take in less air.

If our head is back, we’re going to strain our voice box and overuse it, too much tension, then it creates a strain on the voice. So, a lot of people who speak in their profession, even receptionists or lecturers, will have strained vocal folds. And by the time they start getting real damage then it gets to be too late pretty quick. So, there’s that part. There’s the physical, just the physical health part.

Then what’s interesting too is the audience’s perception of you. If you’re standing on stage, or even if you’re in a meeting, and you’re in a really collapsed state, what kind of a message does that give? Now, most people will not look at a speaker, unless they’re somebody like me who’s a coach, and say, “Wow, that person has really collapsed posture.” No, that’s not going to happen.

But what will happen is that there’ll be subliminal messages. They will read the person who’s speaking as too casual, too relaxed, not to be taken as seriously, sort of not low-low status, but not high status. And anything that distracts, physically distracts an audience, is you’ve got to get it out the window. Anything that distracts from your message should be gone. And being in neutral, you’re not distracting anybody.

The other thing I notice that happens to audiences, especially if it’s, say, a whole day of conference, or a very long speech, or something like that, if the speaker has a really collapsed posture and has that sort of weighted-down quality, the audience will start getting tired, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. It’s like using to convey a little bit of sleepiness, and so they’re picking up on that as well.

Lisa Wentz
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s review then sort of head to tail, what does a non-collapsed, neutral, optimal, presenting posture look like?

Lisa Wentz
Right. It’s a hard thing to just talk about, isn’t it, without the visual? So, neutral means that the skeleton, basically, is in a balanced position. The head is balanced on the neck, the shoulders are relaxed, they’re not pulled back, they’re not rolling forward, they’re in sort of a healthy neutral. The hips are just under that, in line with the shoulders. They’re not pushed forward, they’re not pushed back, and so forth. Knees are not locked.

I can certainly give you, there’s many examples of great posture out there because there’s great speakers out there. I have no idea why, but Laurence Olivier is popping into my head, first and foremost. Or you watch some of the older films where it’s expected that people would have really great posture and present themselves really well, yeah. Is that helpful at all?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, sure thing. And so then, let’s talk about the neck angle. Is it just sort of like straight ahead, like my eyeballs are kind of forming a 90-degree angle with, if we were to draw a straight line down from neck to the ground? Or how do we go about that?

Lisa Wentz
Yeah, think about it like, let’s start with the top of the head. If you were to think that the top of your head has a paintbrush on it and the bristles are towards the ceiling, and you could paint the ceiling with it, just little bits, that would be a balanced position. If that paintbrush is pointing back, or if the paintbrush is pointing too far forward and it’s not pointing directly to the ceiling, then you’re out of balance.

I think for most people the habit is to pull their head back and their chin forward. And so, I think most people can simply just drop the chin just a little bit. And remember that your eyes have a huge amount of range. You do not need to pull your head back to look up. For instance, you do not need to pull your head down to look down. For the most part, your eyes are in horizon line level, typically if we’re speaking, or if we’re just socializing, or whatever. Your eyes have a lot of range. You don’t need to pull your head around to get them to see what you want to see typically.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s amazing, as we’re having this conversation, I’m realizing that, oh, I could bring my desk up a little bit because where my microphone is relative to my posture.

Lisa Wentz
Yeah. Ergonomics, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s a handy feature of a stand desk because I could just pop it up an inch or two. Okay, lovely. So, that’s kind of the posture side of things. And so, you’ve got a bunch of suggestions when it comes to speaking and presenting well. I’d love to hear which ones do you see most often tend to be the most transformative in terms of your practices that you’re suggesting?

Lisa Wentz
The most transformative? Let’s see. I think, like I said a minute ago, people are unique, but if I have to choose one, I’d say developing a healthy mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Lisa Wentz
Because if we go into situations and, let’s just talk for a second here about what is the sort of dictionary definition of stage fright. Usually, it’s a combination of an expectation to be perfect and a fear of being judged. But when we really look at it logically, that expectation of being perfect comes from your own internal pressure. We aren’t trained to be speakers. Most of us are not trained to be speakers, right?

We don’t learn it in school. We don’t practice it in the home in the same way, and then suddenly we might find ourselves in a career where, “Oh, you’ve got to speak at a conference,” or, “Oh, you’ve got lead a meeting,” and we don’t have any practice with that or any training. So, you have an unrealistic expectation. So, looking at that and letting go of the pressure is a great way to start sort of a transformational movement to being a better speaker.

And the other part is fear of judgment. Most of the time when we’re watching a speaker, we’re at meeting, or we’re at a conference, we’re not thinking about how well they’re speaking or even about them personally usually. We’re just thinking about the content. And so, if you can take your mind off of, “Oh, what are other people thinking of me? How am I doing? Are they liking me? Are they buying into what I’m saying?” and just put your mind, your focus, on the work, or focus on your message, then you can make huge leaps and bounds. You could be more present, more in the moment with your audiences, more effective.

So, going back to answer your question, I think one of the key things that I focus on because it’s so essential is the way you think about how you’re going to present the material and what matters to you most. And, ultimately, whether an audience likes you or not doesn’t really matter. What matters is the work that you’re presenting or the idea that you’re spreading.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And so then, that’s handy in terms of just making everything flow in terms of not freaking out and kind of readily get more so into the groove of things. And so, I also want to get your take on a couple particulars. How about breathing? How should we do that ideally?

Lisa Wentz
Ideally, we think of breathing into the lower torso, so into the belly and the back and sides of your ribcage. Most of us will think, “Oh, I’m going to take a deep breath,” and then we pull our chest up. Well, really, the shoulder girdle and the clavicle area have nothing to do with how much air you’re taking in.

When you relax your belly and you breathe in, and your belly muscles move out forward, and your ribcage kind of swings out a little bit, that’s when your lungs are really getting filled with air. And if you’re speaking, particularly for, like I said, a long amount of time and you want the support and the power in your voice, you want to be thinking that way, “I want my belly to move. I want my ribcage to move.” Lower ribcage, that’s where all your power comes from.

Pete Mockaitis
We had Roger Love on the show earlier and he talked about a speaking phenomenon in which you start off with a whole lot of air, but then as you go on, it kind of gets a little that weaker, and he calls it the squeaky edge. And so, how should we think about avoiding that kind of situation?

Lisa Wentz
A really good warmup, a good breathing warmup so that your body is set and ready to go. Yeah, the kind of thing he’s talking about, I think, is going to happen if you’re really holding a lot of tension   because you’re getting in your own way. Ultimately, we’re meant to breathe, our lungs know how to work. Our body knows, thankfully, “We know how to do this,” right? It’s that we interfere with it is the problem. So, if we get nervous, we tense up and we forget to breathe or those kinds of things. But if you just access what’s naturally there, build on it a little bit, then you should be in the green light. You should be fine.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s a good breathing warmup look like?

Lisa Wentz
What does it look like? Starting in a neutral posture is always a good idea. Exhaling first just to empty the lungs so that your lungs want to take in more air. Breathe in very slowly into the belly, even though the lungs are not housed in the belly. That’s just an image. You breathe into the belly. Touch the sides of your ribs, see if they’re moving. And when you have a very full breath, let it out slowly on an S-like Sssss. And when you empty the lungs, pause before you breathe in again.

And you repeat that about four or five times. That’ll open up the voice for you because, again, in order for it to be resonant, you have to have your breath support. And get rid of excess tension. Plus, you’re getting more oxygen to the brain and, hopefully, combatting any kind of nervousness.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you’re breathing in, you’re breathing in through the nose?

Lisa Wentz
If you want more of that rib movement, you want to breathe into through the nose. By the end of the exercise, if you do four or five breaths, let’s say, you can start to breathe in through the nose and mouth at the same time, which is how we breathe when we talk anyway. So, you want to mimic speech. If I do a breath warmup with someone, or a vocal warmup with a client, then I will take them through sort of an aggressive actor’s warmup to a five-minute warmup.

By the end of it, we are breathing in the way that we breathe when we speak, it’s just that we’re accessing the belly muscles and the ribcage more so that we have more breath capacity. And then, instead of the S, we’re actually letting out speech, because you want to build up to get closer and closer, which we normally do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, after five-ish of the in through the nose S, then you’re kind of breathing more kind of mouth and the nose at the same time, and then exiting or speaking real words, and air is flowing out of your mouth that way. So that’s a nice little wind up there. Any thoughts for how long we’re inhaling and pausing and exhaling?

Lisa Wentz
You’d only want to pause for a few seconds. As far as much how you’re exhaling, you just want to exhale until you’re basically out of air. You don’t want to be pushing at the end of it or tightening. You know what I mean? Let it out and then pause for a second and then let it come back in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, likewise, is the inhalation just as long as it takes to fill up, no need to count or anything?

Lisa Wentz
No, you don’t need to count it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so that’s the breathing side of things. You mentioned resonance and how breathing is essential to get there. What is resonance and what does it do for us as speakers and how do we get more of it?

Lisa Wentz
So, when we talk about voice and speech and we talk about resonance, what we’re really referring to are the sound waves that are leaving the vocal folds, so the sound of our voice. We’re not talking really about pitch or things like that.

One of the nice things that happens when we build up our breath capacity with exercise like that, we can then start to warm up the voice. So, instead of an S, you might start using a Z, so just a clean Zzzz sound, and that warms up the vocal folds. It can also really clear the throat. You don’t really want to cough or create any tension to clear the throat. You’re better off doing a resonance exercise.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us a sample? Like, what would a resonant thing sound like versus a non-resonant thing?

Lisa Wentz
Sure. Okay. So, right now, I’m going to assume that I have a relatively resonant voice because I don’t feel particularly tense and I feel like I have a pretty good access to my breath. So, lack of resonance would be, let’s say, if I started to talk like this, you know, maybe I had a virus. Or if I went to my roots and I went to my valley girl accent, then I would start to talk like this and the resonance would be like in the back of my throat. So, that would be sort of a lack of resonant sound.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. So, it’s kind of like that maybe vibrational like [sound] going on and compress it there.

Lisa Wentz
Yeah, resonance really is the sound waves that are leaving your oral cavity.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay, so the Z is a means of warming up to get there. Any other thoughts to make sure you’re more often in the resonant zone?

Lisa Wentz
If you like to play around with it, you could start with the Z, bringing the sound more forward in the mouth, and then start to play with vowels. Like, ahh, or another vowel and just keep checking in that you have good breath support and that you can feel the vibrations. No need to push for this. Again, the voice is a really strong instrument.

And so, when I say feel the vibrations, you’re putting your hand on your chest, which can also be very calming, you know, right under the clavicle and you could feel the vibration really working, or putting a hand on your nose or any area of your mouth can kind of encourage the sound to increase.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And so, also, I want to hear your view on when it comes to pausing and stressing words differently, I mean, there’s all sorts of ways you could speak a sentence. What are some of the impacts or how do you think about using pauses and different word stresses to really make your sentences sing?

Lisa Wentz
Yeah, you have to pause. You have to use pauses when you’re delivering a speech, even if it’s a short speech. And I think that many people will have the internal experience when they first start trying that as it being a really long time. It feels like it’s forever when, really, it’s not. So, I try to encourage clients to pause even longer than they think they should. And I try to encourage them to pause logically where they want the greatest effect.

So, let’s say right before and/or right after a key message that they’re delivering, something they really wanted audience to walk away with. Other places that you can pause are when you’re changing topic. So, you might say something that’s really important. You can be delivering, let’s just say, a pitch to an investor and you’ve already talked about your background, and then you’re going to go into, say, the money of it all and what you’re asking for, but you just continually speak. Well, you have given them no time to digest the information on the previous part before you move on, right? And you need that. No matter how smart an audience is, we need time to digest the information. So, those key places.

Also, questions. And this is something I see a lot of people miss. They like to ask a question to the audience when they know the audience isn’t really going to answer the question, but it’s a way of starting off a topic, but then they just start talking or they tell the answer. But think about giving a pause there, even if you don’t expect the audience to answer, you’re telling them, “I want you to think about it,” or, “I respect you enough that I’m giving you time to think about it. I’m not just going to give you the answer.” Does it make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. And what I find is like when people are effective pausers, sometimes it’s sort of like my mind was drifting off somewhere else and then because there’s a pause, I go, “Oh, I’m supposed to…” I was like, “What’s going on?” It kind of like brings me back even though they’re not saying anything. It’s just sort of like, I guess, the contrast of speaking and then not speaking. It’s like, “Oh,” it’s sort of like it actually reclaims my attention. And so, you say people should pause maybe longer than they feel comfortable with.

Lisa Wentz
If they feel uncomfortable with it, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, some folks may think a pause is going on forever but it’s really not. So, what kind of range of time are we talking about here when we pause?

Lisa Wentz
Well, first, let me say the way to measure it is to record yourself. So, if you’re nervous about that kind of a thing, run through your speech, record just an audio recording, play it back and listen to it, and then you can tell, you can say, “Oh, my gosh, that felt like I was pausing for five minutes and it was actually only three seconds,” you know, something like that. So, there are ways to measure this that can increase your confidence. But how long if I had to count the seconds?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Lisa Wentz
Five seconds could be an effective pause.

Pete Mockaitis
And you bring me back to, boy, a number of times I’ve done some keynote speaking, and it does feel a little bit terrifying the first few times you do it. But then, afterwards, you just feel, I don’t know, for me at least, I just feel powerful. It’s like, “I don’t have to feel it every second. I’m cool with this. Are you? Can you handle this because I can? What?” I don’t know. Not so aggressively but I like that feeling.

Lisa Wentz
No, I love it. It should be. It should be a feeling of empowerment, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s the pausing element of things. And how about word stress?

Lisa Wentz
So, word stress, for me, again, I usually just start very logically and simply. In English, we stress content words. So, we’re going to stress nouns, what is the thing, we’re going to stress verbs, what’s the action we’re taking, and adjectives, what does this look like, and everything else is pretty much secondary. I think that that can make a huge difference when somebody can just look at their speech.

And even for those listeners out there who don’t necessarily want to write out their speeches because they don’t want to be boxed into a particular delivery. That’s okay, but you could try as an exercise writing out one of your speeches and then decide to deliver it differently later, or writing out an elevator pitch or something like that, and underline the words you really want to stress, and those should be content words.

And the way in which you stress them can depend on the type of delivery you’re giving. It could be that you slow down that word, it could be that you give it more weight, it could be that you over-articulate it, there’s many different ways to stress a word. You can even use the pauses for that. A pause right before and after a word, yeah. But, basically, you’re looking at the content words, what do you really want them to hear.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m thinking when you started talking about that notion of the stresses and pause, I’m just sort of thinking like the musical quality of some speakers. And I guess I’m thinking about Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, and Jim Rohn right now and, boy, when I hear some of their best recordings, of some of these folks, it’s just a thing of beauty in terms of like, “Oh, my gosh, it’s just like this musical phrasing at times that I just want to curl up and listen for long stretches.” So, I know we’re talking about some world-class masters of the craft here, but how do we be more like that?

Lisa Wentz
Well, it’s an interesting thing, isn’t it, because when think about people who inspire us or we think about a great speaker, that’s pretty subjective. There certainly are people that most people would agree are great speakers because they had a lot of conviction, they had good physical and vocal use and all of that. Like you said, it’s almost as if they’re singing or something like that.

But how do we get there? I think that that really inspirational effect on others has to do with being very committed to what you’re saying, removing your ego, trying to remove your ego any way from the occasion, so that again solely your focus is on the idea, or the work, or what it is that you’re presenting and what you want buy-in.

And it’s interesting that you mentioned Tony Robbins because I have nothing against Tony Robbins and he’s had a beautiful wonderful career and helped a lot of people. However, listening to him is hard for me. He clearly has vocal damage because of his speaking past.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I completely have some of his recordings a couple of decades ago. I mean, you can hear it now.

Lisa Wentz
Yeah. So, I wouldn’t put him on the top of my list for like a really beautiful resonant voice. But how do you get that way? So, the answer is backing up what you’re saying with conviction, and then making sure your instrument, your vocal use, is in good shape.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Lisa Wentz
And we hadn’t talked about articulation yet and that’s a big part of it if we can talk about that.

Pete Mockaitis
Please do.

Lisa Wentz
Yeah, so when we are physically very articulate, when we’re really shaping sound well, that’s an interesting thing as well in terms of subliminal messaging. So, we talked about posture and how people could be affected by posture if they’re watching a speaker on stage. You can also be affected by how they articulate the language. And that’s not necessarily an accent thing there. I mean, there’s hundreds and hundreds of accents in English, right? But rather that they are really firmly articulating their consonants, and that their vowels are very what I would call fleshed out.

And you can see it in great actors because they go through all the training for that. You can see it in some of the politicians that you would probably consider great speakers and maybe a few others. But, basically, really great physical articulation is one of my favorite things to teach because you get a lot of bang for your buck. You get your message across very clearly, people will hear you, they don’t have to strain to hear you. And on the subliminal level, I really truly believe that audiences see physically articulate people as smarter.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I buy it.

Lisa Wentz
They see it as leadership.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so could you give us an example of maybe a sentence with some great articulation versus poor articulation?

Lisa Wentz
Do you mean from specific people?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, just in terms of I’m imagining you can say the same words with great articulation versus poor articulation. Can we hear how that sounds?

Lisa Wentz
Sure. Let’s see. So, the book I wrote was called “Grace Under Pressure.” Now, that’s in my accent “Grace Under Pressure,” that’s articulate. If I wanted to say “Grace Under Pressure” then I barely move my lips and sort of sped through it and I was sort of slushy-sounding. Or for those of you at home listening, you could do a little articulation warmup, record yourself, then drink a couple of glasses of wine, and then say the same thing again and see how you sound.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Oh, that’s perfect. So, we have a nice contrast there. You’re reminding me my buddy Avon who, whenever he used to read at church, we used to razz him a little bit about his speaking style but in a way it was excellent. As he would describe it to us, he was Indian. Well, he’s still alive, and he still is Indian, he said, “I pronounce every letter of every word.” And he did and it was very clear. It was easy to understand what he had to say, and he did come across as very smart. He is very smart. So, then, can overdo it though, I guess, when it comes to articulation?

Lisa Wentz
If you overdo it, you’re probably going to come across as slightly condescending. So, I guess the answer is slightly yes. Do you know what that reminds me of? It reminds of the show “Friends.” I don’t usually quote sitcoms but there was a character on that show, which was very popular show, I forget his name now, shoot, the one that was always playing Jennifer Aniston’s boyfriend.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s see, there’s Joey.

Lisa Wentz
What a slight to not remember him.

Pete Mockaitis
And then there’s Ross.

Lisa Wentz
Ross. Ross. Sorry. And so, the other characters on the show would give him a hard time for being too articulate but, really, it was that, he was being condescending. So, I suppose there could be overdoing it but, in general, no. Most people will not overdo articulation.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s just a great way to frame it in terms of because I find, a lot of times, you’re trying to find a sweet spot. It helps to overdo it in one direction for a moment and say, “Okay, we’ll just back it up a little bit from there.” And so that’s a great way to say it. So, on the continuum from drunken slurring your words together, to pomp is articulation. That’s certainly seems like you think you’re far too good. I guess a British accent will come into play maybe as well. You sort of get the idea, it’s like we want to sound not like the drunk speech-slurring, and not like the “you think you’re better than me” but just a couple notches away from the pompous.

Lisa Wentz
Yeah, it’s funny. I think that that’s a great way of putting it. I think that the second there, the being over-articulate. It’s tone as well. If you’re being warm, you can over-articulate anything because of the tone. They’re going to pick up on the tone anyway, whoever is listening to you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, tell me, Lisa, when folks are trying to learn and improve and grow in these dimensions, what’s sort of the biggest mistakes you see folks make over and over again as they’re trying to grow?

Lisa Wentz
I think I touched upon this already but one of the things is being liked, being focused on “How did I do? Am I great speaker?” those kinds of things, instead of focusing on the content, delivering the content in a way that’s really about the audience, making it bigger than yourself. I think that’s one thing. That’s a trap. I mean, we’re all human. We have our egos.

But setting aside your insecurities and your egos and being able to just focus on, “Why are you there? Who are you speaking to? And why does it matter?” I think that’s a mind shift that I see happening a lot in my office. So, I would say that might be a mistake that people make when trying to improve their speaking when they first start. Sort of like they’re trying to improve for the wrong reasons.

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

Lisa Wentz
Make sure to mention? No, I think I’m good.

Pete Mockaitis
All right then. Well, could you start by sharing a favorite with us, something that you find inspiring?

Lisa Wentz
Yeah, absolutely. One of the quotes I put in the book is from Martha Graham, it’s kind of a longer quote but I’ll read it here, it’s in front of me, “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”

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

Lisa Wentz
That’s someone else’s then? Deborah Tannen is a great person to look at. She’s a linguist, teaches at Georgetown. She’s been around for quite a while, written several books. But I notice that I refer to a study she did relatively often, and it was in the corporate world. She sort of went into the corporate world to study how people communicate, and she boiled down sort of two personalities, two common personalities within the corporate world, and named them cats and dogs, and decided that there has to be a way for cats and dogs to communicate together and learn each other’s needs to make the working environment and the communication environment more effective.

And you can see it. When you really think about it, you could see it in many people. The dog-type personality is a personality that says a lot, they use a lot of words, they tend to over-explain, maybe even ramble on a little bit. They tend to even physically move more. I think that’s where she got the dog from, they sort of physically move more. They are people who tend to be more interested in being liked than respected, and they can be incredibly warm and very valuable.

But their counterpart, the cat, is someone who, by the way, cats are always executives and higher. They’re the VPs and the C levels. They need less words and they become very impatient when somebody is over-explaining. And they move less. They are more still and they’re quick-thinkers, sort of what we think as higher status. And I tend to refer to that every once in a while when I’m trying to explain to somebody, “If you’re faced with this personality, it’s not that they don’t like you, or you can’t work well together, it’s just that you have to meet in the middle on what each other needs.” Does it make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha, yes. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Lisa Wentz
You know what? Anything written by David Sedaris.

Pete Mockaitis
I saw him live once. That was fun. And a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Lisa Wentz
Favorite tool? I’ll say a bone prop. Yes, a bone prop. A bone prop is an articulation device that you put between your teeth, and you practice articulation that way. It helps you move your lips and your tongue tip more. It’s quick. It’s effective.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d buy one immediately. Thank you. And how about a favorite habit?

Lisa Wentz
Favorite habit is breathing. Remembering to breathe even in high-stress situations.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you are remembering to breathe in high-stress situations, is it kind of the same rules applied, I mean, no need to count, just do it?

Lisa Wentz
Yup, just relax the belly, and make sure your ribs are moving, take things slow, and slow down not just your breathing but your thoughts as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your clients and your readers and you hear quoting it back to you again and again?

Lisa Wentz
Perhaps the piece that I tend to say, which is that not to compare yourself with others as a speaker, that you are meant to sound like you not like someone else. And it’s authenticity that audiences crave anyway, so it’s really about taking what you have and developing it further, not trying to mimic someone else or become like that other person you admire.

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

Lisa Wentz
My website LisaWentz.com I think is probably the best.

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

Lisa Wentz
I do but it’s twofold. So, one is if you are a person who is maybe very extroverted or just tends to speak up a lot at meetings, try taking a step back as a challenge, try listening more just to see how that works and how it affects you, and listen to understand not to interrupt, which is a different type of listening. And for people who are not, who might be more introverted or say less at meetings or hold themselves back, just start challenging themselves to speak up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Lisa, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you lots of luck in all your clients and books and speeches and adventures.

Lisa Wentz
Thank you. Thanks.

445: How to Make Your Charts Awesome with Stephanie Evergreen

By | Podcasts | 2 Comments

 

 

Stephanie Evergreen says: "When we ask people to fix graphs... what we have to do first is understand our point."

Stephanie Evergreen discusses the importance of effective data visualization and shares tips and tricks for creating charts that best communicate data findings.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How charts can transform culture
  2. How to make use of tools you already have to make great visuals
  3. How to determine the most appropriate chart for your data

About Stephanie

Dr. Stephanie Evergreen is an internationally-recognized data visualization and design expert. She has trained future data nerds worldwide through keynote presentations and workshops, for clients including Mastercard, Adobe, Verizon, Head Start, American Institutes for Research, Rockefeller Foundation, Brookings Institute, and the United Nations. She writes a popular blog on data presentation at StephanieEvergreen.com. Her two books on designing high-impact graphs, slideshows, and reports both hit #1 on Amazon bestseller lists weeks before they were even released. This Spring Dr. Evergreen is publishing the second edition of one of those bestsellers and a brand new sketchbook with templates for making infographics and dashboards.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Stephanie Evergreen Interview Transcript

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

Stephanie Evergreen
It’s a pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your good stuff. I think we’re going to get real dorky with this one, with the charts, and the graphs, and data. But I want to go back in time first to your first job, which I understand is at McDonald’s, and you were actually a vegetarian at the same time. How did that go?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. Well, you know, as teenagers do, I think you just get whatever job you can because you’re desperate for money. So, McDonald’s was close by my house and it seemed like a good idea. But, yeah, I was vegetarian and I thought I would be running the cash register or something, but they put me in the kitchen, I think, because they could sense I could handle a lot of pressure. That’s my guess.

But it was just the worst place to be. You know, cooking burgers all day. So, I will say I ate a lot of french fries because that was vegetarian, so that counted. But, yeah, I think a lot of us are there. We’re in jobs, and we just kind of do what we’re told even if it doesn’t totally line up with our ideal situation. So, I guess that’s why people come listen to you and your podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Thank you. Well, I think that is one of the reasons, and I think that’s kind of the name of the game in terms of early career isn’t quite ideal, and then you learn and acquire skills, and tools, and you’re able to get better and better fits which are more rewarding as time goes by. Hopefully, that’s the trajectory.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yes, indeed. You know, it’s so funny, because when I think back to that time, I couldn’t even conceptualize that the thing I’m doing now was even a job.

Pete Mockaitis
Is something wrong with that?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, I mean, this was like, we’re talking 1995, and PowerPoint back then was, I think, when I went to college, even after that time when I was doing presentations, was transparencies. You know what I mean?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Stephanie Evergreen
So, I didn’t even think about data, or graphs, or that I could make a whole career teaching people how to do this better. It’s just the technology wasn’t even there for us to dream of it yet.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s so funny when you talked about the transparencies. I remember at Bain we would hear the war stories from the partners, it’s like, “Back in my day, when I was a consultant, we had to spend our time measuring transparencies with a ruler, or cutting them out with an X-ACTO knife, and then putting them all together.” We’re like, “Wow, that is wild.” I just figured you’d use fewer slides but, no, you just spend forever making them.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, it was little rough and tumbles. Technology has helped us but, in some ways, I think we’re still probably putting in just as much labor to get our stuff looking great, you know.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, totally. Well, so let’s hear about your book here, Effective Data Visualization: The Right Chart for the Right Data. What’s the scoop here?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, yeah, so the big idea is that we can tell better, more useful data stories if we just learn a little bit about the chart choices that are out there today, and when to use them, and that’s it’s totally doable to make those awesome charts right inside Excel. And it’s really focused on that because I think that people need to know how to be the masters of the tools they already own, and that great visuals don’t necessarily require a graphic designer or someone who knows how to code.

Most of my readers, most of my clients, especially in that Fortune 500 arena, are working at their tight deadlines where they’ve got to turn on slide decks really fast for these decision-making meetings, and they need to know how to just use the tools that they’ve already got in front of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, you’re making them in Excel, not PowerPoint.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, all of Excel is baked right into PowerPoint so it’s kind of the same thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I hear you there. So, then, maybe we won’t dork out on PowerPoint versus Keynote versus Prezi versus think-cell versus Mekko Graphics versus Illustrator. But if you have a one-minute commentary we can obtain.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, I do work a lot in slide show arenas as well, and I’m not even familiar with all those. I think you know more about those topics than I do. But the biggest strength of whatever software you choose is that you have to be able to collaborate with other people on it. So, that means they also need to own it, first of all, and that poses some limitations because not all these softwares are distributed as widely as like maybe PowerPoint is. And people need to be able to edit things in it like charts.

That’s always been one of my frustrations with Illustrator. It’s that it’s a picture file. So, you put in a slide, and if anybody needs to like adjust one number or a decimal point to do something, you have to go back and ask somebody to remake it. So, not all software can be editable and widely-distributed, so that’s why I tend to favor the Microsoft stuff because people have it, and we just need to know what to do with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Fair enough. So, now, this book is your second edition. Can you tell us, did you learn any kind of hard lessons as you were interacting with the marketplace about what’s tricky, confusing, missing, that kind of showed up in the second edition?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I’ll say three things. So, first of all, the first one was printed in two colors. So, like a spot color of blue, and then black and white. And even though you’d be looking at the same screenshot in PowerPoint that you’d be seeing in front of you on your screen, it’s just harder to see it if it isn’t in color. So, this time around, everything is in full color. That’s a huge difference.

People were asking more questions about interactivity, so there’s a whole chapter in there on how to build interactive dashboards in Excel. Dashboards are, I think, one of the bigger trends that’s been coming out in the business world lately. Everybody wants their sexy dashboards, so we put together some tools on that. And I’m including a couple of new graph types that I think, since the first edition, people have been more exposed to them and so they understand them better, and they’re getting more popular.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, which are these?

Stephanie Evergreen
One of them would be the waterfall chart. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this one.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes.

Stephanie Evergreen
Okay, yes. So, it was pioneered, at least legend goes, that it was invented at McKinsey, and they were using it with all of their consulting groups to show where the change over time actually broke down. Like, where increases and decreases occurred. And I think for people who were not looking at it in a business context, they don’t easily wrap their brains around what they’re seeing.

But we’ve been seeing them more and more commonly, like in the newspaper. I saw one that was trying to explain Brexit. So, the more that we see them and the more that we’re exposed to them, I think people outside of very specific corporate financial settings are able to understand them. So, I included that sort of thing this time around.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, it’s really funny. I’m thinking back to my Bain days. We’re talking about charts here. I remember I thought the Rolls Royce of charts, at least as far as we were concerned, and like the grand daddy of them, was the Marimekko. And most don’t even know what that is. It’s like a rectangular sort of like a pie chart, except you’re describing proportions on two dimensions. So, we might see the proportion of the engine market for aircraft versus motorcycles versus cars versus trucks, and then, within each of those, the proportion that each competitor has.

I remember at one point there was a client who just refused to many parts of those. And there was a big debate in our team, like one of them said, “It’s the best way to show it. But they hate it. We can’t do it.” So, yeah, emotions can run high.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, and people they really feel strongly about the things that they’ve been used to seeing for a long time. So, there is a fine line between where do we push what’s actually best practice versus respect where people are at. And it is, it can be hard to know. You kind of got to feel it out a little bit. And that’s why I think we have to have lots of choices so that we don’t just always think that there is one option.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy. So, you’ve also got a “Data Visualization Sketchbook” that’s accompanying this. And what do we see in a sketchbook?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, it’s kind of the opposite of making graphs in Excel. It’s encouraging us to turn off our computers. So, the sketchbook is full of templates so that you can use pencil in the sketchbook and actually draw stuff out. And the purpose here is actually to let us think. Because I think what happens a lot of the times is that we just go straight to PowerPoint, or we go straight to whatever software we’re using, it doesn’t even really matter, and we just start clicking buttons. Like, “Okay, maybe I’ll try this chart. Okay, maybe I’ll try this chart.”

And we’re just heading straight to the button, clicking before we’ve even really thought about what we need to do, or show, or the big picture of the whole presentation. So, what we see when we look at the research around sketching is that when we take out all the distracting like menus and buttons and fun things that we can click, and we just let ourselves have some empty space, that’s when our working memory actually does processing, and it lets us think.

So, the sketchbook is like your excuse to get out of the office and go draw for a while. You’re going to come back with so many better ideas than you would have if you would’ve just stared at your computer screen.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. And I remember we used to sort of sketch them out roughly on Post-it Notes and then re-arrange the Post-it Notes, they’re nice like big rectangular ones, and say, “Oh, no, I don’t want this type or with that type.” And it was fun. It made you feel a little bit like an artist, you know, who’s designing something, as opposed to a computer cog.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, exactly. Well, and I always say you don’t have to be a good artist. You just have to know what that little blob represents later when you’re back at your computer. So, the sketchbook has templates, it’s got graph paper in it and dot grid paper, which is just fun. There are dashboard templates in like several varieties. There are varieties of handout templates, we’ve got a slide guide in there, and a report structure in case you’re doing like those big long report pages.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. Well, so we’re to get into the ins and outs of all kinds of stuff here but maybe you could frame up the why for us. So, yeah, beyond you and I just being dorks for cool charts. What’s really the value or the impact on an organization when it comes to having the right chart for the right data versus maybe a suboptimal chart for the given data? What does that result in?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I know it seems so minor. Like, let’s learn how to push this button inside PowerPoint. But the thing we get out of those minor little details is culture change, and the way that organizations operate, and how people inside those organizations talk to each other, and all of that affects bottom line.

Like, I’m sure that you’ve experienced this many times, probably your listeners as well. I was just on the phone with a client this week who told me that the CEO of his company was getting frustrated by the bad presentations that they saw because he knew that they were missing opportunities to move good ideas forward. Like, it was getting lost in all the noise that was happening in these bad slides and the cluttery graphs. They’re making the point kind of hard to see.

The CEO said that they were in meetings that were taking like five times too long. They never evhad time to get to the gist because they didn’t even make it that far down the agenda. It’s such a waste of the precious time we get with people to confuse them and to head them off in the wrong direction when we could just be making the decisions that we need to make in getting to market faster.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m with you. That’s good. Well, so then I was just going to ask, you know, when can visualization be harmful or counterproductive? And it sounds like that’s it right there. It’s like, “You’ve made a big, freaking complex and intricate and confusing chart that we’re all just sort of squinting, and leaning forward, and scratching our heads in a meeting, and our time is getting consumed by it.” But are there other times you’d recommend, “Hey, don’t even start making a chart. Just be chartless and you’ll be better off”?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yes. Oh, my gosh, there are so many times I think we’ll just be better off. First of all, if there’s not an obvious point to be made, don’t make a chart because people are going to look at the chart, that’s how our brains are built, we’re built to look at pictures. So, if we show people a bunch of pictures that don’t have any kind of obvious point, that’s how we get to the confusion, right? So, unless there’s actually a story, like a headline, a takeaway idea that you’re presenting, that that chart supports, just don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, I’m with you. Very good. All right. So, that’s your first point, is to have a point.

Stephanie Evergreen
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve got something that we’re trying to say here as opposed to, “Hey, what the heck? I can just push this button and it has more colors than the other way.” So, very good. Well, then tell us what makes the difference between a good and a bad chart? What are sorts of like the top mistakes you see over and over again that need to be stopped?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I think that the biggest mistake people have is they jump straight to what’s the best chart type. And this happens to me all the time. I see it every single day because people will try to pick my brain all the time. It’s kind of like asking for some free consulting, right? So, people will approach me, and be like, “So, Stephanie, can I pick your brain?” And I’m like, “Oh, this is like I could bill for this, but go ahead.” And they’ll say something totally random, like, “My boss wants me to show our four different income revenues over the last eight quarters across our six departments. What’s the best chart type?” And I’m like, “Pfft, I don’t know.”

And everybody wants to, they want to run to what’s the best chart type. And when we ask people to fix graphs, they focus on chart type, when what we have to do first is understand our point. And that’s hard because it means you’ve got to know what you’re talking about. And people don’t always know it that well, or they are afraid to say their point.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, because they’re going to offend somebody. If I say, “This division has been shrinking while all the others have been growing.” And the guy who runs that division is in the room, and I single that out, it’s like, “You’re a jerk. He’s got it in for him. And now he’s my sworn nemesis.”

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, it’s true. So, back to when can data visualization be harmful, well, this is definitely one of those times when you’re telling people truths that they really don’t want to hear. It’s hard. So, I think we’ve got to wordsmith our points really carefully because I know that it can be political. I’ve got plenty of people who tell me, “We just cannot say things that straightforward around here. We kind of dance around it a little bit.” So, yeah. But I’ve also seen people who have intentionally, perhaps, shown stuff that looked cluttery or confusing so that they were hiding the points that they should’ve been showing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, you know, I have a flashback all of a sudden, you triggered something. I remember we were working for a client who built exhibits for like tradeshows, so big, hunk, and cool-looking things that you pass by like at the consumer electronic show or something. And so, they were not doing super well. And one of their people made a slide that graphed the growth rate of the industry over time, and then graph-pointed downward, so it’s like, “As you can see, this is a bad industry right now.”

But that was very misleading because the numbers were all positive. It’s still growing. It’s just growing more slowly now than it was, so you should also be growing. And then we sort of had to counter that point. And, sure enough, it resulted in some poor decisions because of like, “Hey, what can we do? It’s bad economy, bad market. Our hands are tied,” as opposed to, “No, step it up and get after it because there’s opportunity that we’re not snagging here.”

Stephanie Evergreen
You said so many interesting things in here. So, first of all, in that last piece that you just said, it’s really in how we frame the takeaway. The takeaway could be, “Things are really dropping.” Or the takeaway could be, “We have an opportunity here.” So, it’s really in how you frame it. And I think we if don’t take that opportunity to frame the story and to frame the takeaway, people will run off in all kinds of different directions. And that’s the last thing we want them to do.

The other thing that was interesting about what you brought up is that what we see in the research is that people, especially if they’re not like the total nerds on the data topic, well, they just see big picture. So, they would just see this line going down, and they’re like, “Oh, dear,” and they wouldn’t be thinking as carefully about it as you were, where you’re like, “Well, you know, like it’s just the rate of change here, really, this is what we should be talking about.” And they don’t look at things like the scale that was used and stuff like that. So, I do think that it’s easy for people to manipulate data and have it cast a certain story just by small formatting tweaks that most people are likely to miss.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Boy, I’ve got a flashback here. I remember once we were in a meeting and someone had, talk about the formatting and the axes, it’s like someone had done the little thing where we jumped from zero to like 300 on the Y-axis. And then in mid-meeting the partner stopped the guy who was presenting on our team, and he said, “What is this? What is this Business Week-style garbage doing here?” He’s like, “I don’t ever want to see that again.”

Stephanie Evergreen
Wow.

Pete Mockaitis
He’s like, “That is misleading and I’ll have no part of it.” It was so intense.

Stephanie Evergreen
And I love that he threw Business Week under the bus in that one. That’s hilarious.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t actually know if Business Week does that a lot.

Stephanie Evergreen
I don’t know either. That’s funny. And we just saw like this is making the rounds very recently on Twitter, a climate scientist who posted a picture, you know there’s a pretty famous climate change graph called the hockey stick graph, Al Gore showed it in his famous Inconvenient Truth and it’s basically how global temperatures have stayed pretty flat, but in the past few years it’s like it just skyrocketed. And there was a climate scientist, really recently, who just redid the graph so that the Y-axis starts at zero. And when you do that, it’s a flat line, you don’t see any change whatsoever. And he’s like, “See, climate change is a hoax.”

So, it’s incredibly common and incredibly easy to manipulate the data to have it say whatever you want. So, I think that with all of this discussion, there is also this moral and ethical obligation that we have to the truth. And it’s difficult because everybody interprets the truth however it’s truthful to them. But that’s always going to be really tricky.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. I don’t remember who said it, but I think they said, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” Now, that’s well-said, and that’s true.

Stephanie Evergreen
I like that.

Pete Mockaitis
The numbers are accurately saying what they’re saying but you’ve chosen those ones, you chose to present them in that way for a particular agenda which could be helpful or hurtful. So, okay, so enough reminiscing and ranting.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, we see that in the research that people are convinced by charts. So, there is a study that was published, I’ll have to remember exactly what it was, where it was published, but it presented the exact same data to study subjects, it’s just that one had a chart. And the chart didn’t add any new information. It was just a visual of the stuff that was already in the narrative anyway. So, it was just the exact same narrative, just one had an additional repetitive picture. And people voted the one that had the picture as more trustworthy and believable, because we just were wired to like believe data.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s striking. Well, okay, so then let’s get back into making good charts. So, the first point is to have a point. Don’t jump to the, “Hey, what chart type do I need?” but rather, “What’s the story? What’s the point? What is the main thing I’m trying to convey here?” And then once you’re clear on that, what’s the next step?

Stephanie Evergreen
I think it’s to know your audience. And sometimes your point changes depending on the audience you’re talking to, to be honest with you, but I think you got to know what their prior level of knowledge is. Like, are they’d big old nerds with me, and I can just talk about my P values? Or is it going to be somebody who is like data smart but not necessarily a nerd? Or am I talking to the public who tends to be folks who are data-scared?

The way that we show our data to them and even the words we use in our point is going to change depending on which group we’re talking to. And I think also, partly, one of the questions there is, “How willing are they to even engage with me?” Like, am I fighting a hard battle here to get people to even look at me, or are they begging for me to show up and give them this data?

All those things are going to factor into the chart that you eventually choose. So, I think once you know your audience pretty well and the point that you need to make to them, then you can start thinking about the right chart.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, let’s say we’ve done that, we’ve got the point, we’ve got the audience, now how do we go about choosing the chart?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, so I think that part of our determination there, and this is the way that the book is setup, is you have to know a little bit about the nature of your data, right? So, are you talking about survey responses here? Are we talking about parts of a whole? Are we trying to talk about how the trends over time? Once we know that sort of thing, then we can look at the chart choices that are available.

Even within some of those, once you think about maybe trends over time. There are lots of choices in there, and some are going to highlight certain angles of your story better than others do. So, we make our determinations there based on the point and the audience, and how much they’re able to read those graphs in the first place. Sometimes it’s a matter of how many datapoints we have to show that helps us determine what our graph type is going to be.

And then from there, the last step of the process, at least the way that I go about making graphs, is to sharpen up your point of it. And that usually requires having to strip out some of the clutter and some of noise that’s baked into our chart defaults. I’m talking about stuff like taking out check marks. And then really, really making your point obvious by using some color on the parts of the data that are matching your headline.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, so that’s great. And when it comes to these defaults, can you save new defaults?

Stephanie Evergreen
You can, yeah, at least in Excel. I’m not so sure about other graphing software that’s out there. But, yeah, you can. You can go through the process of making one amazing chart, and then make that your new default chart so that you don’t have to go through all of that elbow grease every single time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. And at Bain we used to use Mekko Graphics which I like because the default was just clean and sharp as opposed to a lot of times in Excel, PowerPoint, it’s like I’ve got all of these background lines engraved with things that just don’t need to go there. And because I was using it more than other software programs more often, it took me a while to figure out how make those go away. And I think I walked away thinking, “Excel sucks for making charts.” But you’re here to set me straight.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. And we walk in the book through how to go about making those new templates so that you don’t have to go do all that cleanup work every single time. Because everybody is in this place where like, “My graphs have to be done tonight because my presentation is tomorrow.” And you just don’t have time to mess around with all that stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly.

Stephanie Evergreen
And that’s why, that is exactly why people would go to things like a specialty software like Mekko graphics. Is that what you said it was called?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, because they might have some cleaner defaults. But the thing I like about Excel, I never really have understood if this is because Microsoft is so smart or so stupid, but you can hack Excel. It’s got some bad things built into the defaults but you can hack it and make it do things that it does not naturally do. Like, there are graph types that we introduced in the book that most people have probably never seen before that are so high-impact and powerful, but it’s just that we had to hack it from some existing graph types in Excel. And some of these other softwares that are out there for graphing won’t let you hack. It’s so user-friendly that you can’t get more out of it that you might want to get.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s very intriguing. Can you give us an example of a super high-impact chart type? It’s almost like the secret in and out menu or something about the graph there. So, things like high-impact chart and how do I secretly access it?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. So, I’m going to say that in 2019 the Rolls Royce of graph types is going to be a dumbbell dot plot, and I’ll tell you what this means. It looks like a tiny little Popeye dumbbell where it’s like two circles connected by a line. And the reason it’s so powerful is because we interpret dots so well. We’ve seen plenty of research on how human brains interpret different graph types, and position is the easiest graph type for human brains to read.

Meaning, like we’re really good at seeing a dot’s position on an axis, even better than we are reading a bar chart which would be length. We’re really good at noticing position. We just don’t have a lot of position built into our default graphs. So, dumbbell dot plots are even better because it’s two dots showing position, and then a stick between the two. And the stick emphasizes the distance between these two datapoints.

And so, if you’ve got stories that are about like the gap that occurred between these two things, or the disparity we’re seeing between these two things, or how much growth occurred between these two datapoints, the dumbbell dot plot is the Rolls Royce of graph types to show that. And I think everybody has those stories about gap, or growth, or disparity.

So, this graph type is so amazing, and I ended up having to recommend it to everybody I ever consult with. And you are like, “How would I make this in Excel?” But it’s really just a hack of a line graph with markers.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. A line graph with markers, and you just sort of erase some things so that all that remains is your dumbbell.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, you have to erase some things, you have to add some things. It’s remarkably easy that we’re talking like under two minutes of formatting to make your first one, and then that could be a template too.

Pete Mockaitis
And, Stephanie, are you aware that, at least on my computer when I do a Google image search for dumbbell dot plot, the top three results are StephanieEvergreen.com?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, I mean, I am a fan.

Pete Mockaitis
You are the dumbbell dot plot’s ambassador.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, that’s great. I think I just came up with my next tattoo.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have tattoos?

Stephanie Evergreen
I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Are they charts?

Stephanie Evergreen
You know, one was a bit data-driven actually. I counted some things in my life for a while, and then I had that tattooed. So, yeah, you know, I am a nerd.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating. So, let’s see here. There’s so much good stuff. So, we talked through a little bit of what makes the difference, what’s the process. Would you say that there’s maybe like a quality control checklist you might recommend in terms of, “All right, after you’re done making your chart, here are the things you want to make sure you have done or not done”?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I wrote a checklist. I think it has like 52 points on it. So, it’s not like just count them on our hand, but we broke out. I mean, I did my dissertation on this stuff so I was really down in the weeds of like what the research says about how charts can work best. And so, I broke that research out into 52 checkpoints, and it really is exactly what you’re saying.

Once your graph is finished, run it through these checkpoints, and make sure you’re hitting all the marks. And part of the checklist is about things like making sure you got the right chart type. Parts of it are about making sure you have a headline. But it also goes into stuff about like color, and the font sizes we should be using, and the order that we show the data and the graph, and how many decimal places we have to report to, and that sort of thing. So, we actually had a grad student who did her dissertation on this checklist.

Pete Mockaitis
On your checklist?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Stephanie Evergreen
And it worked out so well in her data that we have it turned it into an interactive website. I’ll send out the link. So, you just go the website, you upload an image of your graph, and it’ll walk you through all the checkpoints. Any place where you didn’t quite meet it, it will you a resource that shows you how to fix it.

Pete Mockaitis
That is really cool. And so, if you’ve got 52, I’ve got apply a little bit of 80/20 Rule magic here. Could you share, are there a couple of them that you see all the time that are very destructive? So, perhaps the most critical boxes to be checked in this checklist.

Stephanie Evergreen
I think the one I see, in addition to not having a good point, I think the one that I see that’s the most harmful is probably not tuning into color blindness.

Pete Mockaitis
Not turning into color blindness.

Stephanie Evergreen
Tuning into, like paying attention to.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, because color blindness is part of meeting the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and it sounds like so like technical but it is. We are required to make sure our stuff is accessible to people. And color blindness is one of those disabilities that is sort of invisible so that you don’t really know if anybody in your audience is color blind.

But the red-green color blindness is the most common form, and one in 10 white men in the U.S. are red-green color blind, one in six Japanese men are red-green color blind. So, when we show people red and green who are color blind, they see those as two shades of brown. And I think the red-yellow-green stuff like color system is so prevalent in so many organizations, and it is absolutely not compliant. It is absolutely not color blind-friendly, and it doesn’t work on black and white, and it doesn’t work for so many reasons but it’s so baked into our culture. That’s got to be the number one thing I see.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is striking. It seems like there’s a compelling headline for blog posters or something here, “How your charts are violating the law and you don’t even know it.”

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, you know what, it’s so true. Like, I have clients who come to me because they’ve been sued because the stuff that was on their website was not compliant.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Stephanie Evergreen
And we are seeing that like more and more. There is a grocery store chain, was it Piggly Wiggly, or one of those down South, was sued. I think even Beyoncé was sued recently because her website wasn’t compliant. So, if it can happen to Beyoncé, it can happen to any of us.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good truism for life.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, this is the kind of only area where if it can happen to Beyoncé it can happen to us.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. Well, so a few more things I want to make sure we tick through.

Stephanie Evergreen
Cool.

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to slide headlines, it sounds like we’re on the same page with this, but I’ll let you say it. What should we do with slide headlines?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, it just helps you with your point.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. So, instead of saying, “Sales over time,” it should say what about the sales over time?

Stephanie Evergreen
Sales are going up over time.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Stephanie Evergreen
“Sales are going down over time.” “Sales has stayed the same over time.” “Sales have stayed the same and we need to do something that.” So, it can get a bit heavy-handed if you want it to. It doesn’t have to. It can simply be descriptive. It just needs to be an insight so that people know why the heck we’re looking at this thing, and what you want them to know.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And pie charts, why are they bad?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, they don’t have to be bad. I’ve seen some pretty good ones, but I think the issue is when we try to cram a hundred datapoints, a hundred little slices into the pie. People can’t really read angle very well. Like I how I said earlier, position is great, length is okay, angle is bad. We’re not good at reading angles. If you only got a couple of slices in the pie, it’s going to be fine. But if you try to put a bunch more in there then we’re in some trouble.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’d recommend a stack bar chart instead?

Stephanie Evergreen
Sure, or simply a bar. I think pie charts, people like them because it shows that we’re talking about a 100% of the data, that the data totaled to 100. I’m not sure the fact that data totaled to a hundred is actually the lead story we really need to be trotting out. So, I’m okay with just turning it into a bar chart.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. And when it comes to, hey, you’ve got a boatload of texts, how do we visualize that? I guess you got a word cloud, but any tips for that or can we do any better?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, so that’s one of the biggest changes in the second edition of the book. We had the beginnings of a quality in the chapter in the first edition and we scrapped it almost entirely, and rewrote it. There were like 15, 16 chart types in there for showing qualitative data. Word clouds are like at the bottom of the list. there are so many better ways to do it. Word cloud are a step up from just, “Let me give you a bunch of quotes,” because nobody can really read a bunch of quotes like that.

But there are so many cool options that are out there now, especially like some that keep things more purely qualitative and some that lately quantify and turn it into some numbers. There’s just a huge spectrum of choices. In fact, this book is the biggest compendium of qualitative visualization options that we’ve ever seen. So, we’re really excited to get this out into people’s hands.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, by “we” you mean mankind as a whole.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yes, humankind. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Even more in this. Well, very cool. All right. So, Stephanie, tell me, any final thoughts before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Stephanie Evergreen
I feel like I should say something here because you give me the opportunity to. So, I will say this, okay, one final thought on understanding your audience. This is my secret. Figure out what their burning questions are. Figure out what keeps this group up at night. Like, what are they worried about? Because then you come into your presentation with the answers to the things that keep them up at night. That’s how you get a promotion. Yeah, so this is how you have to structure everything that you do is to just answer your audience’s burning questions.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
I don’t know that I have a quote as much as I have is some inspiration. So, is that okay?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Stephanie Evergreen
Okay. When I was doing the research for my sketchbook, I was looking at the old artists, Da Vinci, Picasso, Van Gogh, and they all drew. They sketched. Because when you sketch, you work out issues you don’t want to have to work out on expensive canvas with expensive paint. So, you get your space to breathe, and think, and to study your subject really, really well, and play around with ideas so that when you do have time in front of the canvass or in front of your dashboard software, your presentation software, it’s so efficient and fast and easy because you already have a plan in mind. So, yeah, that’s my inspiration. Let’s just do what Van Gogh did, except the not the cutting off the ear part.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
One of my favorite researchers is Richard Meyer. He’s got a book out, I believe, but also several published studies. He does a lot of like multimedia presentation study stuff, and all of his stuff has this little glimmer of humor to it that just makes me laugh. So, I’ll tell you about one. He had this study where he showed the audience like the typical death by bullet point. You know what I mean?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. And at the end of the presentation, they gave the study subjects a survey on just like feelings, attitudes, stuff like that. And the audience was reporting mild to high levels of general annoyance with the speaker.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, and they couldn’t put their finger on why because they’re like, “We’re design students,” so they weren’t like, “Oh, it’s ‘cause slides are so terrible.” They just left feeling like mild to high annoyance. And I feel like that’s the last thing we need to do. It’s already hard enough to get people to pay attention to us without annoying them, so let’s not add to it with bad slides.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one. It explains maybe a real force behind annoyance, it would. And how about a favorite book?

Stephanie Evergreen
My current favorite book. I just finished one, it’s totally, well, probably unrelated to all the rest of this. But it was written by Cal Newport called Digital Minimalism and it’s about so related to this sketching stuff because it’s about how technology is interrupting our ability to think big. And he blames social media in particular because the whole thing was just a very fascinating read about how our minds are so filled with constant check-ins and updates from our aunts and second cousins that we lost our ability to think.

And it struck me because I think he’s got a lot of things he’s saying correct that are right in the book, but it struck me because I realized that everybody says their best ideas happen when they’re in the shower.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Stephanie Evergreen
Because that’s the one place you can’t take your phone. I was like, “Yeah, that’s when we think,” right, when we aren’t staring at something. So, anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Stephanie Evergreen
I’m going to say a tape measure. Believe it or not, I have to bust out my tape measure and measure things on my screen all the time. I want to make sure like everything is proportionate and accurate, and I will sometimes actually just get out my tape measure and make it happen.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. You know, there is a super genius at Nintendo who’s behind a lot of their hits like Zelda and Super Mario Brothers. I don’t remember his name. But that was one of his things because he would carry a tape measure with him everywhere he went, and ask people, “Hey, how long do you think this is?” which is like as he came, that’s what he did, and like, that’s pretty weird! But I think that’s connected to his genius so I’m going to give you that same credit there.

Stephanie Evergreen
Cool. I’ll take it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And how about a favorite habit?

Stephanie Evergreen
A favorite habit. I think my favorite habit will be going to the gym in the morning when I want to start my day, because I think all that fresh air and oxygen and endorphins just sets your brain up for smart thinking. Now, it doesn’t always help your hairstyle because then you’d have to shower and then go straight from there to like your work life. So, there are tradeoffs here, but I do think that the oxygen is helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences and clients?

Stephanie Evergreen
You know, I think the thing that resonates with people the most is when someone complains that it seems like this slide is going to take a lot of work, and I’m like, “You know what? It’s your job.” Yeah, it’s going to take you a minute to put a good slide together, but also that’s what you’re paid to do. So, yeah, I’ll share lots of efficiency tips, but at the core, getting people to use our data for decisions is what we were hired to do.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
My website is going to be a great place, StephanieEvergreen.com.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
I would say find one baby step you can take at your office. It might be like, “All I can do is make a great title.” It might be, “I’m going to take that pie chart and recast it as something else.” It might be, “I’m going to go learn how to make a dumbbell dot plot.” And I do have instructions for that on my website. But I think that’s going to be my challenge. Go change one thing, and then like in another month change another. And then in like two years, you’ll have a whole revolution.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Stephanie, this has been lots of fun, and I wish lots of luck with the books “Effective Data Visualization” and the sketchbook, and all your adventures.

Stephanie Evergreen
Thank you so much for having me.

413: How to Exude Credibility with Rob Jolles

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Rob Jolles says: "The best way to make an audience uncomfortable is for you to be uncomfortable."

Rob Jolles provides practical wisdom on how to come across as more believable.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The number one reason why people don’t believe you
  2. How method acting can lead you into peak presenting performance
  3. Why you should embrace your own dysfunctions

About Rob

Rob Jolles is a sought-after speaker who teaches, entertains, and inspires audiences worldwide. His live programs around the world have enabled him to amass a client list of Fortune 500 companies including Toyota, Disney, GE, a dozen universities, and over 50 financial institutions. He is the best-selling author of six books, including his latest release, Why People Don’t Believe You…Building Credibility from the Inside Out.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Rob Jolles Lederman Interview Transcript

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

Rob Jolles
Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to dig in. I think you’ve got so much good stuff to share. Maybe you’ll be able to share it, if necessary, in a rapid format because you are a licensed auctioneer! How does one get licensed to be an auctioneer and tell us a tale or two of your auctioneering adventures?

Rob Jolles
Okay. Well, when you have a big mouth and you run it around for 30 years giving seminars, everybody assumes, “Hey, this guy can do anything on a stage.” But I want to tell you, in the State of Virginia, where I initially got licensed, it’s harder than it looks. It was 80 hours of certified instruction.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow.

Rob Jolles
To be allowed to take the three-and-a-half-hour exam. I had to study cattle and cars and horses and antiques. But really all I wanted, unfortunately there isn’t a license like this, all I wanted to do was be able to work charities. I felt like it was a good way of giving back, maybe using my skills for something really valuable.

That’s about nine and a half years ago. I took my courses. I got certified. I’ve been probably averaging an auction a month, maybe an auction every other month, but 95% for charities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s awesome. Then I guess if you’re doing it for charities, then you’re doing it for free. I’m wondering with all that education, what would an auctioneer be paid if he or she were doing a gig for a bankruptcy? Hey, we’ve got an auction. I’m the auctioneer. I’m well-trained and licensed and educated. What would that return in a gig?

Rob Jolles
Actually, it’s usually a percentage of profit there. For charity auctioneers, we’re not quite as fortunate. It’s a fraction of what I normally get paid. Actually, what I typically do with a charity is, I sort of get paid a little and then I never walk out the door with it. I just simply hand it back so that I can deduct from my taxes.
I want to stay true to the intent, which is there are certain things that we do in life that really have to pay the bills and keep the electric running and there are other times in life where we do things that are really just to help others.

When I speak at universities and things like that and they have a little honorarium, what’s the sense of me really taking that? I’m going to do something nice, let’s go all the way. That’s for charity. Now sometimes I’ll do a shopping center or I’ve done some universities. I’ll take a little something, but it’s a fraction of what I normally get.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Have you ever auctioned off anything crazy or strange or just noteworthy?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I’ll tell you the best thing I ever auctioned off. Believe it or not – and this is for anybody that’s ever thinking of putting an auction together, this is what you’re looking for. It’s not a yard sale.

When Letterman was still doing his show, we got two tickets to Letterman. Well, they’re free, but we got backstage passes and you can’t always do that. Then Marriot threw in a couple nights and we got two train tickets. When we packaged that altogether and particularly with that unique ability to get back stage, something you can’t really get on your own, sort of like Saturday Night Live tickets, that item went for a little over 30,000 dollars. It was fairly simple.

That and we also got one time I auctioned off tickets to the Academy Awards. Again, something you can’t normally get on your own. You’re not going to find it on Craigslist. Other than the limo, I think that was in the 30 – 35,000 dollar range. Those are the kind of things that really actually will excite an audience.

Pete Mockaitis
That is very clever. If there are any fundraisers in the house, there’s the trick. You get something you can’t get under normal circumstances. Then you package it together into a cool experience and there it is, the secret to a successful fundraising auction. Didn’t even know we were going to learn that today. Thank you.

But what I was planning on learning a bit about was some of the wisdom in your book, Why People Don’t Believe You. Great title. Tell us, what’s the big idea? Why don’t people believe you?

Rob Jolles
When you say big idea and I’m ready for you now because I actually thought, “What is the big idea? I better know that. It is my book.” I think the big idea is, there’s two of them. First of all, I’m pleased you like the title. It wasn’t my title, but most of us who write books, we’ll get everything but our title in there. The publisher typically knows more about titles than we do.

But the big idea in my original title was it’s not the words; it’s the tune. A lot of times, and I’m guilty of this spending 30 years of my career, of my life, running around the country teaching people what to say, what to say, what to say. We don’t really stop and say wait a minute. Let’s forget the words. How are we saying it? I’d say in a sense that’s part of the bigger picture of the book.
But to really drill down on your question, I think the biggest reason why people don’t believe us, as strange as this may sound, is we don’t believe us. Things in the book, I know they sound simple, but so are asking questions and listening, but who does that? It’s such a fundamental communication piece. The easiest way to be believed is to actually tell the truth.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Rob Jolles
When you stop and think about that, do you have the best podcast out there? Well, from what I hear, it sure is, but you have to believe that. If it isn’t, you have to do everything you can to make it a great podcast, to put your heart and soul into it. If you go to bed at night and you truly believe that, you don’t have to worry about sounding authentic. Now you believe it and the tune will follow.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. Now, you’re getting me thinking here because we were talking just beforehand when I was stalking you and deciding whether or not to invite you. You passed. Nice job. You made reference to the greatest life insurance salesperson ever; Ben Feldman is his name, if anybody wants to take a look. I’m always intrigued by the greatest in the world.

I sort of listened to an interview with Ben Feldman. He doesn’t sound super engaging in the interview, but boy, does he believe in life insurance being just a powerful force for goodness for humanity. It’s clear that he believes that with a deep abiding passion, which is striking because I hadn’t thought of life insurance in that way before, but there you have that. The best in the world had that at a really high level.

Rob Jolles
Let’s put a cherry on that sundae because yup, he completely dominated the insurance industry for decades and I mean dominated from the sprawling metropolis of East Liverpool, Ohio. But how about this that we add to that story, the fact is he was the greatest that ever lived by the numbers. He spoke with a lisp. He was actually a fairly quiet guy.

He didn’t have any of the attributes that we naturally associate with the greatest salesperson, that Glengarry Glen Ross kind of Alex Baldwin character. He was the complete opposite. I guess when you hear that, whoever’s listening just remember that he was true to his own unique style. You can’t imitate this guy. The best imitation you do is of yourself. Not only did he believe in his product, he was true to his style. He didn’t emulate anyone but himself. That’s what made him really successful.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, you’re telling the truth, you’re believing it deep down. If you’re not yet believing it, you’re doing all you can to get there with believing it in terms of improving the actual kind of facts of the situation. Then when it comes to the tune, how do we sing a tune that’s more appealing?

Rob Jolles
That’s interesting you say sing because as I was working through the manuscript I was actually at one point trying to create a musical score in a sense of the tune, but my musical score had places where we would pause, had places where we would change our pitch, had places where we would change our pace. Actually all found in music if you think about it.

Unfortunately, although I’ll work on pitch and pace and pause with people, the problem is every question you just asked me right now, I can’t go, “Okay, hang on one second. Let me figure out where my pitch goes up and let me figure out where I’m going to slow this down and where I’m going to speed it up.”

We do focus on pitch, pace, and pause, which to me are critical pieces. But the key is to get that authentic voice to do it without having to sort of stop and micromanage where those pieces are. I don’t know if when you’re talking to me, for instance, you’re gesturing with your hands, but imagine if we stopped and I said, “Point here. Put your hand up over there.” We want that to kind of become as natural as we can.

I think one of the secret sauces, if you will, of the book is actually thinking more like a method actor. What if we took ourselves and actually placed ourselves in the moment. I don’t mean just in the moment. I mean even the point we were just talking about, truly believing.

Well, maybe we’re getting beat up a little bit out there right now. Maybe our product is – it’s just been tough for us but weren’t there times in our life where everything we touched sort of worked out well, where we knew the next time we picked up the phone or knocked on a door, it was going to go well. The other six did.

Why can’t we as a method actor take ourselves to that moment? Are you telling me that when we knock on the door this time, we’re going to be less effective with that in our mind? That’s where that pitch, pace, and pause sometimes can come more naturally.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. You’re saying let’s not put our focus on “Okay, at this point in my second sentence, I’m going to drop my pitch low,” and sort of plan that out in great detail, but rather to get in the zone associated with when you were rocking, rolling, and believing and nailing it and high performing, so just sort of method acting into that spot and these things will sort of naturally follow well.

Could you maybe bring this all together in an example or a case study of someone whose credibility wasn’t so hot and then they did some things and they saw it really get hot again?

Rob Jolles
Sure. Actually, this whole book really began with me in a bad mood in a bad evening being asked to speak to a group called the Career Network Ministry, a group that just helps people in career transition. I don’t necessarily like to speak free a whole lot, but I bumbled my way in and figured I’ll talk to a dozen people and get this over with. There 250 to 300 people in the room. I’ve been volunteering for six years ever since. It was such a moving experience.

But one of the things I noticed in that room – and that was my petri dish, that’s where this started – was I noticed words. We were working on resumes – words. We were working on elevator pitches – words. We were working on LinkedIn sites – words. We were working on the words and nobody was focusing on the tune.

To answer your question, I actually stated about five and a half years ago I put together my first group of a dozen people. To get in this program, two days, you had to be unemployed a minimum of two years. Half my room was unemployed for over five years. That’s chronic unemployment.

We put on a two-day program. I bumbled and fumbled my way through it, but we were hitting on something because 10 of the 12 people were hired within three months. That’s when I realized, okay, we’ve got something.

But I’m telling you, going back on some of the questions you asked, I wasn’t working on the words in there. I took that elevator pitch – there’s some value in those – but I put it in the corner and we worked on their character. We worked on who they were, what they were, taking them through those moments of success and man, the hands and the words, and the pitch, and the pace, it followed.

But there’s an answer to your question. It was 10 for 12 coming out of the gate. That’s when I knew, I think we maybe even have a book here, but I’ve got to keep digging into this.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating. Do tell, what are some of the most impactful transformational exercises or practices that make that come alive?

Rob Jolles
Wow, that’s a good question. One of them we were talking about is whenever I ask them anything, I really try and trim people down to what I call a communication shot clock. Look, there’s a shot clock in basketball. It keeps the game moving. There’s a shot clock in football, actually. It keeps the game moving. There may very well be a shot clock in baseball, they’re going to try it in preseason, to keep the game moving.

We are in a society now where books are getting smaller and people just don’t have that bandwidth to stay with us. Even our videos are four to six minutes in length. One of the things as an example was, stop talking to them, getting them up to speak, getting them into character, and working on their shot clock, meaning, trimming those questions down and saying, “Rather than giving me your three best points. Give me your best point. If I want more, I’ll ask for it.”

It was an example of really trying to get them a little bit quicker, a little bit lighter on their feet. As an example, that was one technique that we used.

Pete Mockaitis
Then you said with the shot clock, is there an optimal do you recommend time that you would put on the shot clock in terms of number of seconds that you would speak before being quiet?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I actually have a number and I’m going to give it to you, but please understand I’m answering your question, so it’s sort of like when I teach people to sell and I’m saying you’ve got to ask second and third level questions. The hand will go up and say, “Exactly how many?” It’s like, “Well, that’s going to really depend on the personality of the client, etcetera.”

But I really actually like 45 seconds. I think it’s a great number. If I go a minute and ten, that’s okay. If we go shorter, that’s okay too. A lot of the times if I’m dealing with a more social environment, more social client, I’ve kind of got the green light to go a little bit longer. If I’m dealing with a more dominant client, I’m probably going to trim back. There’s other variables.

But I love the conversation we’re having because I get frustrated when people are bobbing and weaving, saying, “But …” I think 45 seconds is a good target, but read your audience.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yes. That is a helpful benchmark because I think it’s possible that you can under speak as well. I’m just thinking about this. I said, “Hey, tell us about you becoming a licensed auctioneer.” It’s like, “I had 80 hours of instruction and then passed a three-hour exam.” It’s like, “Okay, well, Rob, this is really interesting.”

Rob Jolles
… on the show. You’re really talented.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that makes good sense in terms of it’s a very rough ballpark zone, but if you’re five seconds, it’s like, “Okay, do you hate me? What’s going on here?” It’s hard to form a connection. If you’re too long, it’s like, “Okay, I already sort of got the message I was after way earlier and ready to move on to something else.” I appreciate that. That’s one principle is the communication shot clock. What are some of the other practices or exercises that are really transformational here?

Rob Jolles
Well, I’m going to give you a couple more, but I want to give you a big picture here because if you study my career, I’m actually going at a different angle right now. I got my hardcore training with Xerox. You didn’t tie your shoe without a process of some sort at Xerox. But when you have a process, you have a way of measuring what you’re doing. When you can measure it, you can fix it. Boy, am I a repeatable, predictable process person.

Yet, the topic that we’re in, I’ve sort of had to look at the mirror and go it’s not all process-oriented. I sort of reframed it in my mind and I said it’s more about percentages, meaning. It’s sort of like when we eat, okay? “I’m a healthy person.” “Good. Well, what do you do?” “Well, I no longer put sugar in my coffee, just Stevia.” “That’s it?” “Yeah, that’s it.”

Well, okay. If you really do that all the time and you’re a big coffee drinker, I guess that’s about a one percent – two percent play. I don’t know if you’re healthier yet, but I guess it beats the alternative. But you look at healthy people’s example and they’re doing 15 – 20 things, exercise, this, that. Together, they create a formidable percentage.

What we’re talking about right now is really percentage plays. A communication shot clock gives us a couple of percentage plays. Truly believing in yourselves gives us percentage points. Taking ourselves mentally to a place where we’re successful gives up percentage points. I’m going to give you percentage points as opposed to process. Like I said, I’m almost arguing with me right now because I’m so bred into process, but we’re into a topic that is more percentage than process.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say percentage, you’re sort of using this as a label of a different means of thinking about approaches such that a process seems to apply if you do A, B, C, D, E, F, you’ll arrive at this end result, whereas percentage says, “Of the result you’re after, one thing can account for 5% of getting to the result and another thing can account for 10% of the thing.” Thusly, you’re kind of suggesting that an A, B, C, D, E process ain’t going to get you 100% of the way to where you want to be.

Rob Jolles
Exactly. Let me give you a percentage move as an example. Thank you because that’s exactly what I’m saying, by the way.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool.

Rob Jolles
A percentage move for me, a lot of people, for instance, when they’re struggling to be believed and they’re, “Okay, I’m going to believe in myself, this and that, but this company, they’re looking at four other people. One of them, I don’t know, they may have a better relationship.” Well, they might. They might not.

I love really actually focusing the brain on playing the course and not the opponent. I’m going to get percentage pieces out of this because by that I mean if you watch actually a good golfer it’s shocking. They never look at the scoreboard. For three days, they don’t look at the scoreboard. They don’t care.

They’ll look in the final two holes, three holes because they may have to change their strategy, but how in the world do you play a competitive event without looking around at your opponent? The answer is well, what value does looking at the opponent really have? If you sink a 40-foot putt, good for you. Me focusing on that not only doesn’t change a thing, it removes the focus from my putt. It removes the focus from what I’m doing.

I think, as an example, we spend too much time worrying about things we can’t control. Honestly, if I thought worrying about it would move the dial one percentage point, I would be the most competitive worrier you ever met, but it actually takes away. It doesn’t add. Things like playing, the course, not the opponent, things like accepting your limp.

You started the conversation about Ben Feldman. Again, look him up folks. Like I said, appearance-wise, he wasn’t necessarily that natural salesperson look or sound, but in a sense he had his own limp. We all walk with a limp. Do you know how many people are held back from their own ability to convince others because of their limp?

I lost my hair, I wasn’t thrilled about it, but I had to accept it. It’s one of my limps. But what I found is, the moment it stopped being important to me, it was never really important to anybody else. It was me that was focused and obsessed. If we take that example and look at people that just have certain issues, maybe they don’t have that natural punch in their voice, it’s okay. Don’t be somebody you’re not. Just move it from a two to a four, that’s all I’m asking.

But if we accept our limp, if we play that course.
We don’t have to misuse our imagination. That lovely quote I actually have by my coffee bar, “Worry is the misuse of your imagination.” It’s a wonderful quote. If we start removing those pieces, each thing I’m talking about is getting us a percent here and three percent here and two percent there. I can give you five more, but I think you’re getting the drift of it.

Pete Mockaitis
I am, I think, getting the drift of it. I imagine you’ve given me the biggest percentages already upfront. Is that fair to say?

Rob Jolles
It depends on the mood that I’m in. It actually depends on the person because when you’re communicating, for instance, if you just pay attention to your transitions – so many people will micromanage the body of whatever they’re communicating about, particularly presenters. If they actually micromanage the transitions and stuck their landing in the end and spent 90% of their time on the opening, they would increase their credibility.

Again, because it’s percentage plays, each percentage move will fit a different customer a different way, but yeah, I’m not wasting your time. I’m giving you ones that I think really resonate and I see get a big bang for the buck for most of the people that I’m working with.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh great. Now, I just want to make sure I got the transitions point clear. You’re just saying if you’re doing a presentation or a speech, you want to give some extra attention to how you’re transitioning from one section to another instead of fumbling or being awkward during those moments?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I did chuck that one in from left field, didn’t I? Absolutely. I train a lot of speakers. The irony is usually that the core of most presentations have oftentimes, particularly for corporate America, but oftentimes they’ve gone through a legal read. We can’t really change them all that much.

What makes a great communicator and an average communicator? It’s not the body of the message. It’s them coming out of the gate with an interesting story and idea, really addressing what’s in it for the client. Thinking out the beginning.

But to get right at what you just asked, the transitions, yeah, we probably have three or four major points. If I really think those out – I’m not a guy who believes in scripts – but if I actually write them out, maybe back them down to a Word outline, if I spend my time working on how I’m going from Point A to Point B and sewing that body together, as I said, coming out of the gate strong and sticking my landing, closing strongly, yeah, I’ll probably give one of the best presentations I’ve ever given. But it has very little to do with memorizing the body. That’s not where success lies.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting because the big chunks one, they may be unmovable because of legal review, two, you probably remember them just because one thing leads to another. “This is the story about how I formed an accountability group in college.” Hey, that’s one chunk and I know it. We’ll go and make it happen. But what I don’t know so much is how I’m going to move from maybe that piece to how friendship is important.

Rob Jolles
By the way, that’s the way most people do it. They’ll go … “Friendship is important,” but when they transition with, “We all have these different pieces I just mentioned, but there’s one piece that we don’t pay attention to and that’s friendship. You see, friendship is important,” something along that line so that it’s effortless. When people walk away they go, “Boy, that was really good.”

Now look, we could spend our time talking about presentations. I’m going to involve that audience. The more they talk, the more they typically like and trust that presenter. I’m going to do other things, but it’s the transitions even when we communicate and are not giving presentations.

What if we’re just in front of somebody giving a proposal, what if we’re having a conversation and we want to get the three major points, it’s that smooth transition as opposed to that bumpity, bump, bump, bump. It sounds like Pete wanted to talk about this one. That’s the one I want to avoid. That doesn’t sound authentic. We circle back to our topic, which is why people don’t believe you because it’s not sounding authentic.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly. I get a real kick out of when the transition is too, “So, can I have your money?” and it’s done poorly. It’s like, “Oh, you poor guy. Well, I’m already on board with your vision, so it’s fine, but-“ Okay, awesome. Let’s dig into a little bit of this now. Believing in yourself, that sounds classic and helpful and essential, but in practice, if your belief in self is moderate, like “Yeah, I can do a decent job most of the time I guess,” how does one elevate that?

Rob Jolles
Yeah. Did you ever see there was a commercial done years ago by FedEx? It’s actually on YouTube. You can find it online. It was called The Stolen Idea.

It deals with a boss who’s asking for ideas. One guys says, “Well, we could probably save money by putting all our shipping in one area and using FedEx.” You could hear a pin drop. Five seconds later the boss says, “I’ve got it. We can put everything in one area. We can use FedEx to do it all. That’ll save us on shipping.” Everybody goes, “That’s brilliant.”

The guy says, “You just said the same thing I said only you did this,” and he’s moving his hands horizontally. The boss says, “Nope, I did this,” and he moves his hand vertically because that was his gesture. I actually look at that commercial and I think that’s our jumping off point. Yes, I know what FedEx was after and shame on that boss for stealing that idea. But we need to teach people how to do this. This matters. That moving of the hands, that really matters.

To me, it’s a matter of kind of oftentimes finding your real voice. Not finding some voice you saw on television or who you heard on a podcast, but finding your real voice.

I don’t know last time you’ve been on a plane, but when you’re on a plane and the flight attendant starts speaking, you think “It’s funny, he or she was just here. We had a nice conversation. But now I’m hearing this really weird singsong ….” That’s not a real voice.

Why is it that a lot of times when we’re presenting or when we’re under pressure, we start going after this I guess the voice we thought we were supposed to have? Nobody wants that. People just want to believe. They want that to be authentic.

I always look at people and I think, if we were two people having a beer or having a cup of coffee, would you still talk and walk and behave this way or would you just drop all that and have a conversation? It’s really about finding that real voice. Honestly, you don’t have to look that far.

I’ll whisper this to presenters right before they go on stage when they’re a little bit tight. The last words I’ll typically tell somebody is, “If you were walking into your living room, what would you feel and how would you take that stage? That’s your living room. Now go enjoy yourself.” Forget all that other nonsense. In the living room, it’s pretty easy. Well, that’s all the audience wants. Whether it’s 50 people, 500 people or 1 person, they’re in your living room. Go have a conversation. We don’t need anything but authenticity.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny when you say the living room, my first thought is, “Well, I’m taking off these dress shoes and putting on my slippers.”

Rob Jolles
Well, I knew a presenter who was actually very successful. Now this was in the ‘90s. But he was a finance person and a finance specialist, which already you think, “Well, okay. Here’s comes that big old suit.” But he would take his shoes off when he went on that stage.

It was kind of his shtick. It was like George Burns smoking a cigar or something. This was his shtick. He was the guy who would take his shoes off. But it worked for him. It wasn’t shtick. I got a chance to speak to him a couple times and he just wanted to get to a place where he was as comfortable as he could be because then he could take that communication and make them as comfortable as they can be.

Last thing about that, but it’s really important to understand that an audience really they want to enjoy themselves. They want you to be successful. The best way to make an audience uncomfortable is for you to be uncomfortable.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s very true.

Rob Jolles
Then they feel badly for you and then they have a problem. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah. It hurts to watch somebody who’s bombing. They know they’re bombing. They’re nervous about bombing. It’s like, “Oh man.” It’s just fun to watch someone having fun. It’s like, “I’m not super into the content of what you’re saying, but it’s kind of enjoyable to watch you be into it. Yeah, take it away.”

Rob Jolles
Yeah, that’s the funny thing. If you think about some of the great – Johnny Carson or Jay Leno or Jimmy Fallon, what are some of the most enjoyable parts of the monologue or the conversation? When something bombs. They don’t put their head in their hand and they go, “Oh no. What happened here?” What they do is they just work with it.

The audience loves it because you didn’t make the audience feel sorry for you. You said to them in a sense, “I’m glad this happened. Let’s just work with it.” When you can take that with you and realize that what’s the worst happen, really just making them feel badly, so don’t. Away we go. It’s a lot easier up there than you think.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. I think I made some references to maybe college audiences and they’re just like, “We have no idea what this.” I was like, “Oh, I guess I’m getting old.” They all just sort of – you can just sort of laugh about that. It’s like, “Yup, okay.” Then away we go. As opposed to “Oh, that’s so stupid. I shouldn’t have made that allusion. Look up the dates next time, Pete. Oh! Bad, bad, bad.”

Rob Jolles
You know something, Pete? You hit on something else that I think is actually really important.  When we’re not in front of people, and remember we’re talking about building credibility, believing in yourself, and then taking that to others.

Do you know – and my wife helped me with this one – do you know how innocently that inner voice starts chirping at you of “If you had half a brain, you would have remembered to bring this with you on the road.” “Hey stupid, don’t forget that.” Do you know that that’s a lot more dangerous than we give it credit? It doesn’t have to be in front of anyone. It can just be with ourselves. But you keep beating yourself up like that, you’re going to start believing it.

I really some years ago decided it’s not okay to make fun of me and to start moaning and whining and complaining about certain things. People forget things. I’m two and a half million miles in the air, believe me I’ve forgot things in my bag. But I’ve decided – and it really works and I think it works for others – to be a lot kinder yourself.

Stop chirping and beating yourself up about things. Just like we would talk about in front of an audience, be nice to yourself when there isn’t an audience in front of you too.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to hit that point real quick. If you are in that mental habit, how does one kick it?

Rob Jolles
Yeah. Well, the first thing we have to do is we have to go from unconsciously incompetent, which is “Hey, that’s okay,” or “I don’t even notice it,” to really starting to become aware of it. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the four levels of conscious behavior, but we start with unconscious incompetency, which is sometimes we don’t know that we don’t know. That’s a dangerous place to be.

Well, that’s why you and I are having this conversation because now maybe we’ll be on the lookout for it. As a matter of fact, just talking about it, I can assure you, there are many people who are listening right now will go, “I do that, but I don’t mean anything by it.” I’m telling you it’s a cancer. It grows. You don’t realize it. Let’s move you to conscious incompetency, which means I want you to be aware when you do it.

Then let’s move to conscious competency. I want you to be a little robotic and every time it accidently happens, I want you to stop and correct it. I know that’s a little bit stiff and weird. Until we become unconsciously competent, when we do it and we don’t have to think about it anymore. But it’s natural to be on that scale. The first thing is we have to remind ourselves it’s not okay. It is not okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. Well, so now-

Rob Jolles
I said it’s not okay. Sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
That is not okay. I am now acknowledging what you said and moving to something new.

Rob Jolles
Okay. I’ve got to climb in through the window there. I was out there yelling at people. Okay, I’m back in. Let’s keep going.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s talk about that process by which you take yourself back to a place in which you were successful and thusly you method act your way into having a high performance moment. In practice, what are the steps to make that happen?

Rob Jolles
Well, the first thing – I’m going to leave the corporation out. There’s a Fortune 500 company I’ve been working with on this. One of the things we did was, again, think method acting. What we did was we began to on a piece of paper create a character.

One of my favorite actors is Daniel Day-Lewis. I’m not sure he’s ever going to be in another movie again, but when he was – I don’t know if you saw Lincoln, but if you did, it was probably a little slower than you imagined. I knew it was going to be slow because I actually read a bunch of books on Lincoln and Lincoln wasn’t the most exciting person in the world. But on set, you had to call Daniel Day-Lewis either Mr. President or Mr. Lincoln. He doesn’t mess around.

When we’re talking, to answer your question, we’re talking about getting into character, sometimes we have to sit and actually think about that character. I did some acting earlier in my life. I remember the first play I was in I was Bennie Van Buren in Damn Yankees. I was supposed to play a 70-year-old. But I had a great director, who, by the way, I spoke to when I wrote this book and we talked about this.

I remember him saying, “What kind of car does Bennie drive? What kind of cereal does he eat? Tell me about his house. What’s his office look like?” What he was doing – at first I thought he was a lunatic. I don’t know. It’s just a character I’m playing. But he didn’t want me to learn the script. At some point I knew that character so well, I walked around, I was 70 years old in my mind.

What I do sometimes is actually get people on a piece of paper to begin to actually write out their character a little bit, not necessarily what kind of cereal do they eat, but tell me about your character. Perform some tasks in front of me like your character. Forget everything else. We clear the mind. We work on establishing a character.

Actually, for some people it will be three characters. It’s a more dominant character, it’s a more social character, and it’s a more analytical character. If you’re wondering why in the world I do that, it’s because I work with a lot of salespeople. We have to kind of mirror the character we see in front of us.

Maybe I’m very social, what if I’m talking to somebody who’s really dominant? Well, I’ll just play the role of a dominant person. Not so fast. You better understand – before you put that white glove on, you better understand that character, so we actually write it out and think about it. I actually give them simple questions, like a questionnaire. They begin to role play and really get in touch with that character. Then they can tap into it when they need it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, interesting. You’re mapping out upfront. You’re doing some role play there. We also had Todd Herman talk about his book, The Alter-Ego Effect. He recommended sometime putting on a blazer or glasses or something that sort of en-clothed cognition, sort of stepping into that all the more. That’s handy.

Then I’m also wondering is there some visualization or some key memories that you’re bringing up and how do you go about doing that part?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, that’s where we go into that piece about, for me at least, and remember, I frequently work with people who are selling. Look, what I’m trying to have them visualize are moments of dominance, moments of success.

It’s weird. I’m 26 years in business as a professional speaker and yet, just like everyone else, sometimes you’re as good as your last presentation, you’re as good as your last quarter and all of the sudden a speaker’s bureau threw three clients at me. I spoke to them on the phone. None of them wanted to hire me. What do you think I sound like on the fourth call?

What I’m trying to do is get to moments where when we do get three in a row, when we do knock it out of the park and somebody says, “Okay, now I have another client I want you to talk to.” That’s what I mean in terms of that visualization of “Okay, maybe I’m not there right now, but I can think back on when I was. What was I feeling like?” I sort of take myself to that moment.

Pete, it kind of comes back to that percentage play. I’m not guaranteeing you that we’re going to be successful right now, but I guarantee you this, having that mindset and being able to pull that memory down is going to pick up some percentage plays and that’s what I’m looking for. Again, it’s mental, but it’s there.

No one’s had a life of complete loss. It’s everybody. We win some; we lose some. We win some; we lose some. It’s when we lose some, a bunch in a row that all of the sudden the shoulders start to droop and we kind of start picking up the phone going in my mind, “I know this guy isn’t going to buy from me, but here we go.” That’s not going to work for anybody.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thinking right back to the hot streak, the winning moments. That’s good. That’s good.

Rob Jolles
Well, it’s the winning moments. I keep pushing everything into sales, but in presentations a lot of times, particularly when somebody is new or somebody – I’ll also whisper in their ear, track record because maybe people who are listening right now have got 10 or 20 years under their belt, but maybe this quarter hasn’t been so good. Or maybe they haven’t given a presentation in a while or they’re being put in an awkward position.

What’s your track record like? Most people go, “Usually I’m pretty good at that.” Okay, again I’m looking for a couple percentage moves. To get the experience, how about we focus on what usually happens. Pete, when you have a podcast, what usually happens? When I’m a guest on a podcast, it usually goes real well. Not all the time, but usually goes real well.

I’m better off kind of focusing on my track record. That’s to me another kind of really great visualization. It’s simple and it’s easy.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. Well, tell me, is there anything that you recommend that we really don’t do? We’ve talked about the negative self-talk, not doing that. We talked about not stepping into who you think that you are supposed to be, but rather just using your own natural authentic voice. Any other top don’ts you want to make sure we highlight?

Rob Jolles
That’s a great question. I’m actually thinking of how I would address that. Yeah, I would say that I think we should stop being so fearful of dysfunction. We brought it up a little bit when maybe things don’t go well in front of an audience, but I think, again, whether it’s while we’re alone or whether we’re in groups, I like to tell people that I’m coaching or working with, let’s embrace that dysfunction a little bit.

Kind of going back to that limp a little bit, let’s remember that there’s only two types of people that don’t walk with a limp, that don’t have some level of dysfunction. They’re either not telling you the truth or they would have no ability to have compassion for another individual. Most of them really aren’t necessarily people I’d want to have as a client. I can tell you that much.

It’s funny, I wrote a piece one time where I said “knowledge is overrated.” Believe me, all the analytical practically followed me to the parking lot going, “Now what did you mean by that?” They were not happy.

I didn’t say it’s not important. I just said it’s overrated meaning as simple as it sounds, but I’m a guy that takes and has people record themselves, if we just work harder at asking questions and listening, if we just go a little easier on ourselves, if we embrace that dysfunction rather than run from it and understand, “That’s okay. That’s my limp. I’m not going to have trouble with it.” All those little pieces get us plays.

Just last real quick point, but I’m in a neighborhood where we’ve got a lot of dog walkers, including our Lilly, who we take for a walk. There’s not one but two dogs that are missing legs, a leg each. I got to tell you, it touches my heart because I look at them and I think I wish we were more like that because I promise, Pete, that dog doesn’t give a hootenanny that he’s missing a leg.

And neither does any other dog that’s walking by it. They’re sniffing. They’re curious where they might have been on that tree over there, but they don’t care. It’s not an issue. I wish we could learn lessons like that and remember that whatever it is and everybody’s got one, if it’s not a worry for you, it’s not a worry for the other dogs in the park. I promise you.

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

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I would say as strange as this conversation may have sound because we’re talking about some kind of wacky – once I said role and character, what is all that. I want to remind people they probably do this more often than they think.

An example I’ll give you is if you have children that you parent, don’t tell me that you don’t actually drop into role, meaning particularly for the younger ones, when they brought back a homework assignment that wasn’t quite right or something, we kind of look at our spouse and go, “Okay, I’ll go in there.” We play the role of disappointed. I’m actually not as disappointed. I love you so much. But for tonight Rob Jolles will be playing the role of disappointed.

I think we do that more naturally than we think. Where we explore this finding a character and getting into role, please remember there are times where we all play roles; you’re just not thinking about it as much. I want you to think about it. Then I want you to stop thinking about it again. But that would be the last thought I give you on that one.

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

Rob Jolles
I gave you one, which is “Worry is the misuse of your imagination.” Okay, now I’ll give you another one “We weren’t put on this earth to make a living. We were put on this earth to make a difference.”

It’s always meant something to me, particularly for a guy who – when I tell you I’ve got two and a half million miles in the air, Pete, part of you should smile and part of you should look concerned, meaning “Well, does this guy have a family? Does this guy have children? Does he get to a birthday party?”

I’m really blessed. I have a wonderful wife, Ronnie, who helped me realize that I was a little out of balance earlier in my career, and I’d never heard of that quote, nor did I take it to heart. But I really believe in balance. I’m no longer a 1K and that’s just fine by me. I think that we focus on that, things will go a lot better for us.

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

Rob Jolles
I’ll tell you a bit or research or a study. It kind of falls into an author I happen to like. He’s with my publisher, Berrett-Koehler. Name is Noah Blumenthal. But he studied – he wrote a book called Be the Hero, but he studied how easy it is for us to have negative opinions of others, particularly of others that have done us wrong, maybe a previous boss or a neighbor or somebody just that – the person at CVS, I don’t know, where it really rubbed us the wrong way.

He really got me thinking, and it’s really helped, that we really don’t know many of the people that we form opinions about. We really don’t know them that well. We create a scenario that’s usually very negative. Now that scenario might be right, but we actually don’t know whether it’s right or not.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Rob Jolles
I keep a journal. I’ve kept it for 22 years.
But what I found was by methodically being observant, which is a journal will do, because I will only write twice in my journal, on the way out and on the way back of a trip. I am almost OCDish. When we get to 10,000 feet, I’m putting a date and a location on that journal entry.

But it’s a tool that actually, particularly for the way back, that allows me to kind of figure out to stop, pause and in process say, “Okay, what do you think was working there and what do you think wasn’t working there?”

Like I said, I’ve been doing this 31 years, putting a mic around my neck and talking to audiences and yet, I want you to know Pete that I still want to get better and that means I still want to figure out “Okay, what did we do well? What can we improve?”

Very importantly, I always balance that feedback because I’ve said it too many times already, but this isn’t a beat-up session. A lot of times we undervalue taking time to figure out what we’re doing well, so we don’t do it by accident. But that’s been a tool. I probably have well over 3,000 pages of journal entries.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Thank you. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and they quote it back to you at times?

Rob Jolles
If you want to get at the most fundamental way to communicate, we have to ask questions and listen. That doesn’t just mean what you and I are doing right now or if we’re going one-on-one with a client or a prospect, even in front of an audience.

If you want to know what the amateurs and even the pros do wrong, if I put down the 20 biggest mistakes they make, 19 of them don’t equal number one, which is too much information and that means constricting the ability for that audience to communicate with you, even if it’s rhetorical questions.

But those little touches, those little “Turn to your left, look at that partner, and say three things here. Try two things there,” that ability to build a conversation as opposed to a lecture are very valuable. I would like to think that I’ve said it enough, that who knows, maybe people would associate that with me. I’d be proud if they did.

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

Rob Jolles
That’s an easy one. I would just take them to J-O-L-L-E-S.com that’s where you’ll find – I write something called a BLArticle. I am in my tenth year of BLArticles. That’s a blog-article. I just try – and by legal definition it’s 500 to 700 words. I just try and practice what we’re preaching, you and I, which is let’s not over communicate, but let’s provide value and drip out information. But anyway that’s where all sorts of information on me is.

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

Rob Jolles
Okay. Pete, you’re really coming at me. I like this. My final challenge would be I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what you think is out there holding you back; get out of your own way. Pete, you and I have hit it over and over and over again. Just be kinder to yourself, accept whatever limp you have, and I can assure you, you’ve got one. That’s okay. Don’t let it be a big issue. It won’t be with anybody else.

Go in there, again, the easiest way to find that authentic you is just get up there, wherever it is, tell the truth. If the truth is a struggle right now, double back and figure out – I’ve got to rebrand, I’ve got to do something, but I’ve got to find a way of telling the truth. If you solve that, then you’ve got it made. The rest is easy.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Rob, this has been a blast. Thanks so much for bringing it. I wish you lots of luck with your speaking and all you’re up to.

Rob Jolles
Oh, I appreciate it. Thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation.

407: The Key Behaviors of Inspiring Leaders with Ash Seddeek

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Ash Seddeek says: "Your biggest value is not to share ideas, but actually ask good questions."

Ash Seddeek outlines the key leadership behaviors that inspire teams.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Ten key leadership behaviors that inspire followers
  2. One mistake that quickly kills a team’s creativity
  3. How to manage your bias like a pro

About Ash

Ash develops leadership, executive communications and strategic sales programs. He currently works with Cisco’s innovation startup teams to help them craft compelling value proposition narratives. Ash is also a mentor to entrepreneurs and a communications expert at the American Management Association.

He’s the bestselling author of the books Meaning, Start with a Vision, and The Road to Success.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Ash Seddeek Interview Transcript

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

Ash Seddeek
Thank you very much for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I was intrigued to learn that you were a Fulbright scholar not once but twice. Didn’t know that was actually possible. Could you tell us the tale?

Ash Seddeek
Absolutely. I actually come all the way from Alexandria, Egypt, where in my earlier life I was basically getting trained to become a linguist at the University of Alexandria. By virtue of my work there as a teaching assistant, I applied for a Fulbright scholarship. The first time I came to the US as a participant in a summer program.

Then the second time I actually applied to be an assistant group leader that essentially then sort of leveraging the first-time experience, sort of leading the group that went the second time around. That’s really how it happened as part of my working at the University of Alexandria.

Lo and behold, days go by and here I am actually leveraging a lot of that linguistics training in a lot of the executive coaching that I do with leaders today around leadership communications.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Excellent. Well, you’ve packaged some of these insights about leadership communications into your book, Meaning. Can you say what’s sort of the main message within this?

Ash Seddeek
The main message behind Meaning was really driven by the experience working at Cisco Corporation, especially at the highlight of the financial crisis in 2008. My job at Cisco at that time was to help understand the messaging that was happening outside Cisco about Cisco and also what the leadership team at Cisco needs to message, especially in Cisco’s largest conference, which is the sales kickoff conference that happens on an annual basis.

I saw John Chambers at that time, he was the CEO at that time, really grappling with how Cisco tried to re-sustain its position as well as also survive that financial crisis that were affecting basically the pockets and the budgets of its own customers.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Then within that you’ve sort of looked at individual leaders and what they were doing and found some interesting patterns.

Ash Seddeek
Exactly. The one thing that I saw and John and the rest of the executive team at Cisco were doing really well, and of course the technology at Cisco, just amazing how Cisco was making use of its own technology to speak across the 60,000 plus employees at that time.

Essentially helping them understand what was going on and re-clarifying the meaning of why do we continue to do what we’re doing, what sort of sustains our differentiation, and how leaders of all aspects and levels of the company can really help articulate that message all the way to the very last mile, every single employee, whether they are all the way in Cairo, Egypt; Dubai in the Arabian Gulf, or China, or India, or even in the US.

The ability to continue to message to the employees why we’re doing what we’re doing and how do we move from where we are today into the future was very critical task and responsibility that leaders need to have all the time.

I think in my mind, based on the research we’ve done for the book, this whole concept of communicating where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going is the fundamental task and responsibility in my mind, that the CxOs need to be communicating with their employees in organizations.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious, how does that shift if it’s at sort of the manager level?

Ash Seddeek
At the manager level, it becomes really a pivotal moment for the manager to understand that, again, a big part of their role is to help their team understand how the message that we’re hearing from the CEO and the executive team translates into what we do on a daily basis. How do we connect the dots between the piece of a product that we’re working on with the bigger product, with the bigger company, with the aspirations that the customers have?

That’s really where, as you’re saying, the manager’s role is very critical because a lot of the time the employees look up to that manager to explain what did John Chambers say and what does it mean to us.

Again, managers have that communication responsibility so that when I work with leaders and we basically talk about coaching and understanding what is a key pivotal responsibility for them, I mention the fact that they need to develop a signature talk that is really there to serve the purpose of translating that corporate vision and strategy and how it connects to what we do on a daily basis so that these employees have a very clear purpose and an understanding of how their little piece is actually part of that bigger puzzle and bigger vision.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, in your book, Meaning, you identify ten particular leadership behaviors that inspire followers. What are those ten?

Ash Seddeek
These ten behaviors and the way that we’ve collected them is we basically worked with – we interviewed a number of leaders across a number of industries. When we looked at the themes we found that there are five behaviors that are really more about that leader and how that leader interfaces and interacts with his or her environment.

Then the next five, and as I’m going to share with you the full list, the next five are really more about how they interface with everybody around them.

When you look at the top ten behaviors for leaders who really are very good at communicating meaning, we see that the very first behavior is about how they accept the reality that business cycles will inevitably ebb and flow. That’s really what we’ve seen at Cisco, the changes that were happening in the marketplace.

The second one is they definitely need to cultivate the habits of listening and learning. Again, there were some leaders that we spoke with that really demonstrated this really well.

The third one is to cultivate authentic humility in the sense that you really need to come across not as someone that knows it all, but someone who is really willing to listen and understand that this other person that I’m talking to may have a much better idea.

Then number four, being able to clarify and focus on the organization’s mission and values. People want to something that is bigger than themselves to hold into. It is that leader’s ability to focus that way, be able to understand what those values are and communicate them.

Then number five is very interesting because it’s really more about what happens to us when we achieve success. Sometimes we think that’s really where it emanates from. It has to start with us. But number five basically says, get of the way so others can succeed in the sense that you need to give people room. You need to give them space.

Sometimes when a question is asked and that leader likes to give ideas, he or she will jump in and give an answer. In my coaching I basically tell them pause, wait, let people in the room answer that question because that’s when you actually get them to see that they, themselves, can bring a lot of the ideas to the table.

Then the second set of behaviors, as I mentioned, are really more about managing relationships. Number six is about building a solid network of relationships knowing that it is incredibly powerful to be able to pick up the phone and connect the dots among five – six players and then all of the sudden you’re able to staff up an innovation initiative very quickly.

Number seven is about building strategic partnerships. Here we’re really talking more about not just internally but also across the industry. Of course, we see very good examples of that at Cisco and other companies.

Number eight is really more about caring for and rewarding people because if you don’t do the recognition and celebration of what people achieve in the company, again, human need, we understand it from people like Daniel Pink and others, they are looking for that recognition a whole lot more than any dollars you give them.

Then number nine is about over communicating with all stakeholders, especially in times of crisis or change. That’s really where we see companies that stay ahead of the necessary work that needs to happen around communication, especially around the times of change. That’s when you see people really doing well when they communicate and communicate repeatedly.

Then others fail when they assume that the change is not that big and it’s not big of a deal and everybody should just line up. Then they realize for human beings, change is real. You have to talk to them and you have to talk to them repeatedly about the why of the change and how they fit into that picture.

Then the very last behavior we see leader’s ability to build trust and buy in is very critical. When we look at all of these behaviors, that’s how leaders then have what they need in terms of internal skills as well as external networks to communicate meaning as we were saying at the very top of our conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. Well, thank you for that run down here. I’d like your take on which of these behaviors do you think is the most critical or liberates the most inspiration from folks and why.

Ash Seddeek
I think the one that would really drive a lot of inspiration is having anchors in a value system and a philosophy that this leader or a team of leaders believe in because without having these anchor points in a value system, then we won’t have anything that essentially sort of grounds us.

If we’re facing difficulty and if somebody listening to us is in a very difficult situation, unless they have a value that’s similar to ‘I will rise, no matter what the difficulty is. I have achieved success in the past and I can achieve this success.’ Really holding on to a body of values makes a big, big difference.

That’s why we see HP and a lot of other companies publishing what they call the HP way. It’s the set of values. Apple did the same thing. A lot of leading companies make sure that they have a set of values that they communicate. Sometimes you may need to change them slightly, but you still do it in a way that really shows why we’re doing what we’re doing and how it’s going to help us achieve what we need to achieve.

I think when people see that you believe in something, that you honor it despite the challenges and the difficulties, then highly likely they will trust you more. They will buy more into your message. But if they see you shifting more because of profits and what the market demands all the time, then they will feel like maybe they could do the same thing and they could look for profits and other opportunities somewhere else.

Whereas if you give them something bigger than just the financial aspect, maybe the vision for what the company stands for, the mission. All of those things really give that leader the chance to inspire people, retain them for the long term because they are here not just because of what you give them, but rather what they are able actually to create with you and help accomplish.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love it if you could maybe make it all the more real when we talk about anchor points in a value system. Could you give us some examples of hey, this company has this value and this is how they see it lived out in practical reality for real?

Because I think what’s interesting about values is that sometimes – well sometimes they’re not lived at all and it’s just sort of lip service. Integrity, like many companies have integrity as a value and then many companies show just how little they have when the scandals hit the headlines.

But I guess, on the flipside, I guess I’m thinking about – when I was working at Bain I thought they did awesome with regard to living their values. For example, one of them they’d call it the openness to the one percent possibility. That one percent possibility is that you’re wrong, that you’re mistaken. Then it was cool how it was okay as someone fresh out of college to correct a manager or partner with a different fact that would be contradictory to what they’re saying in a team meeting.

Or while discussing professional development with a manager like, “Hey, these are my goals.” The manager would say, “Okay, cool. And these are my goals and what I’m working on.” That kind of humility was really cool like “Hey, none of us are perfect. We’re all working on something.”

I’m with you. That liberates some inspiration for me in terms of this place is cool and they mean what they say on this little chart of operating principles and I like that. Could you give us some more examples of particular company has a particular value that shows up in a real way that unlocks inspiration?

Ash Seddeek
I think probably one of the best examples I can remember whenever you’re on one of those Southwest flights and you hear the airhostess making the comments just about when you’re landing. She makes you laugh. When you look at Southwest’s values, you’ll see that one of them is live the Southwest way. Under that banner, they basically say you have to have a servant’s heart and a fun-loving attitude.

You take this value and you make sure every employee in the whole Southwest system applies it. Then you see it showing up when you hear the pilot talking and being very personable and giving you the comfort and the trust that everything is going to be fine or when you hear the air hosts making a funny comment and again making you laugh on the airplane.

I think when the value then influences everyone’s behaviors all the way to the point that it becomes part of what you do on a daily basis, that’s really where it becomes an anchor point that everybody understands that’s our culture here because, of course, those values is what eventually constitutes that whole concept of culture the company has.

If people then start to embody it into actions and words, then you’re actually seeing a living example and not just a set of words that are written on a piece of paper. That’s the example that just comes to mind right away.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s a good one. I’d love to hear some more.

Ash Seddeek
When we look at innovation, for example, which is a big value at Cisco and also the idea that you should never really get religious about technology.

I think Cisco and a lot of other companies, they have figured out that if you get stuck in your ways, it will basically lead to extinction, whereas if you adopt more of an innovative mindset that basically says I need to be able to at times maybe walk away from something that I invested billions of dollars in.

When I was at Cisco, if you remember the flip camera, that was an acquisition that Cisco spent a lot of money on. At some point it was clear it was not the right direction where things were going and they were able to then say, “Stop. Let’s shift.”

I think seeing this in real life despite, again, the cost, then it shows you that it’s better to make that decision now, acknowledging the costs and be able to shift direction and focus on something that the market is looking for, also shows you that value.

And of course, at Cisco, when we were walking around with the employee badge, we actually had that written down on the badge, where make sure you never get religious about technology. What you really should be focusing on is what are the customers looking for and how can you be innovative and self-destructive so you can bring these technologies to market.

That’s another example where you need to look back at that value and make sure that that value is helping enlighten and educate the decision you’re making. Again, when we talk to leaders, one of the best things we could do is to really be comfortable really focusing on the values as something that has long-term application and value for the organization.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. I’d also be curious, having studied all these things and synthesized and come up with the themes associated with these behaviors, does it now shine a clearer, brighter light on some behaviors that you’re like, “Oh my gosh, this is just terribly wrong,” in terms of are there maybe little things that leaders or professionals at large do frequently that are really just inspiration killers that you’d recommend we stop doing right away?

Ash Seddeek
I would say it’s been interesting for me over the past three years to realize, to your point, that a lot of the time the words you say on a daily basis, the actions you take on a daily basis are also driven by philosophies and points of view that you have, which in some respect, is essentially a set of values that you believe in.

If you think that the only smart one in the room is you because you’ve spent 18 years learning about networking or about fashion or about this or that, then that’s going to block you out from realizing that there are a lot more ideas in the room.

This really emanates from a value where you think, “Well, you know what? I am the source of intelligence.” Sometimes you only make this mistake of thinking that there are many solutions and I’m the only source for them. Understanding that we may have a bias to favor our own thoughts and then make sure that we manage that and be self-aware of it. Then basically say, “You know what? I would love to hear your ideas.”

Then all of the sudden everybody in the room is very much encouraged and inspired by the fact that you’re actually looking up and you’re basically telling them, “I know you guys are smart. I know you have ideas and I want to hear them.” Before you share anything, you want to sort of almost use that question and query process to uncover innovative ideas.

Again, one of the things I do with a lot of leaders is I basically tell them, “Right now your biggest value is not to share ideas, but actually ask good questions.”

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot, so you’re asking the questions first before you share your ideas.

Ash Seddeek
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
You mentioned managing your bias. I imagine at times that can be easier said than done. What are some of your favorite pro tips and best practices for pulling that off?

Ash Seddeek
I think one of the tips I would give people is being very transparent and vulnerable at the same time in the sense that you may tell people, “Hey, I have a tendency to overpower my own thought process and think the only way is probably some of the ideas that I’m bringing to the table, so if you see me jumping in say, ‘You know what, Ash? I’m not coming to you for solutions. I really want to show you a number of options that we’ve come up with and then and only then I’d love to get some of your input.’”

Because otherwise they may actually then think their ideas are not worth sharing with him or her and as a result maybe some innovative ideas never really see the light of day.

As much as these leaders share where their blind spots might be in a way that’s not necessarily showing it as a weakness, but rather as a blind spot that they want to be watching out for and they need to have the trust of their team to help them sometimes make sure that that’s not where we’re spending most our time, but rather we’re spending a lot of our time in uncovering as many ideas from across the team.

That’s really where diversity comes in in terms of the diversity thought and idea and innovation and making sure that collectively we’re finding what’s the best for the organization rather than, “Oh it came from this person or that person.”

I think looking at the outcomes that we’re trying to achieve then helps us really tone down where the source of idea is, not to the point that you completely not go back and celebrate where it came from, but once you are driven more by the outcome, it really helps you reduce the reliance on “Oh, he’s the only one that has these ideas,” or “She’s the only one,” but rather, “Let’s take a look at what the whole team can bring to the table.”

Pete Mockaitis
I really like that notion associated with the others bringing in the winning ideas. I just think about how often it’s not fun to be wrong.

Ash Seddeek
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I feel like it can be wrong in any number of ways like the exact opposite approach that you thought of is the optimal one. Or for me, I find it’s often about I want to go fast, but we should slow down or I want to go slow, but we should speed up. I find it helpful to reflect upon the times that I’ve been dead wrong and it was so helpful that someone slowed me down or sped me up.

I remember one time I was in PayPal. I was making a payment to someone in the Philippines in pesos or PHP. It’s about 50 to 1 is the conversion rate. I accidently did it in dollars. I’m often frustrated when software goes slows. … said, “Oh, did you want to give 4,000 dollars.” It was like, “Oh no. No, I didn’t.”

Then sure enough, I appreciated all of the ways that software, the security, the two-factor authentication, the texting you this or that can really save the day at times for you.

When I want to go fast and I’m frustrated that it’s slowing me down, I find that it is helpful to remember. It’s like hey, it might not feel so great in the moment to have a force speed you up or slow you down or point you in the opposite direction that you wanted to go, but it sure feels better when you get the desired outcome than the outcome you would have got had you had it your way.

Ash Seddeek
Exactly, exactly. Absolutely, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy for me in the humility, just coming up with those reminders. I’d also like to get your take on if there are any other kind of best practices in terms of tips and tricks, phrases or scripts that just really come in handy when folks are trying to live out and implement these ten leadership behaviors.

Ash Seddeek
I think an interesting idea that actually evolved over the past few months is what I’m now calling emotion one and emotion two. Emotion one, essentially most of us, leaders, whatever walk of life we’re in, a lot of the time when something happens, when someone comes to talk to you, you have that emotional reaction in your body.

A lot of the time leaders who are not emotionally intelligent, they will give in to that first emotion. Maybe it’s an emotion of frustration. Maybe it’s an emotion of “Oh my God, I cannot believe they screwed this up again.” Then the response is going to be one that they will not really like eventually.

What I’m basically starting to tell some leaders I work with is I want you to recognize that first emotion because once you recognize it, then you’re going to know it’s a pause moment, where you realize it is not going to be the best basis for what you want to say or do. What I advise them of doing is I advise them to let that first emotion wear off.

Then we come to the second emotion. The second emotion is really more driven by what outcome do we want to achieve eventually because as you said, maybe sometimes I need to realize that a particular activity I need to slow down in order for me to go very quickly in the future. Once you recognize the very first emotion, if you go with that flow of that emotion, you say something that you’re going to regret or do something that, again, you’re going to regret.

I tell leaders to be emotionally present, understand that the first thing that needs to happen is to realize that there’s no way for you to stop that emotion. Just let it go through the system and let it wear off.

Then ask yourself the question, “What is the action, the word that I need to say and do that would actually help us move our cause to the next step? What is it that I could say that would help that person I’m talking to understand that I emphasize with them, that I understand what they have to go through and that I’m willing to talk to them about what conditions for success do we need to create in order to take the next step.”

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot.
I think a lot of times for me the emotion one is like I’m hearing something that I think is outrageously wrong, ridiculous, absurd, offensive. I don’t know. I’m reacting strongly to something that I think is outrageous. My go-to phrase is just, “Tell me more.”

Ash Seddeek
I love that. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Which doesn’t mean, listeners, if I say that to any of you, that means I’m furious. I sometimes just want to know more and I don’t know the perfect follow up question and I just say, “Keep talking about that,” is what I mean. That doesn’t mean I’m enraged.

But I find that it’s helpful for one, it buys you time because they will tell you more and you can breathe a little it as they’re doing so. And two as you learn more about where they’re coming from and their rationale for the idea, like nine times out of ten it’s like, oh, that’s really not so absurd after all.

Ash Seddeek
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I still disagree, but it’s a plausible alternative to the view I had and now let’s sort of see what’s optimal together from here.

Ash Seddeek
Exactly, exactly. Right on. I love that too because, again, it helps you uncover. Maybe there are details that will change what I’m thinking right now. That’s the interesting part is when you actually uncover further details, then you realize something wrong happened with these guys and that’s why they were acting the way they were acting or they’re under some pressure that I did not understand or they were missing a piece of information.

Having that pause in the system, to your point, looking for more information is a very wise thing to do because, again, as leaders, you’re usually working with very high stakes situations. If you go with emotion one, it may actually mess things up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ash, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention about inspiration or being awesome at your job before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Ash Seddeek
Absolutely. I think one of the key nugget I share with people and it’s based on my experience having worked at Deloitte … in San Francisco. But when you develop an outcome-based thought process, it not only inspires you to do really well every single day, but also once you act that way, you also start inspiring other people.

Because a lot of the time if you don’t have that mindset of ‘I am here almost as a management consultant. I am here really to achieve success for my client’ and you start really looking at everyone that works with you as your own client, it helps you detach from the struggles and the challenges and the dynamics of the moment to be someone that is self-composed and is much more result- and success-focused that it just creates an interesting air around you that people want to work with you, people want to be part of any project you work on because you see you have that focus on ‘I am here to help achieve success, not just for me, but for people around me.’ It’s very inspiring.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s funny, Ash. I guess in some ways I’m naïve or idealistic and also a former strategy consultant for Bain, but for me it’s almost like that’s the only way that I just naturally think and operate and breathe and work. Sometimes there’s a bit of a disconnect in terms of realizing where other people are coming from and their priorities.

But I’d love it if you could maybe give us a bit of a flavor for okay, an outcome-based mindset is one way to go and to think, live, operate in the course of doing work. What are some of the main contenders or alternative mindset worldviews that are driving people if not the outcome-based mindset?

Ash Seddeek
I think what happens on the other side of that is you actually get – I call it sucked in – you get sucked into the dynamics of the situation.

Let’s say the other person makes a comment. You don’t like the comment, as we were talking about emotion one. You get sucked in to the dynamics of the conversation. All of the sudden you’ve created an unhappy other person who thinks maybe you are not open to new ideas or you don’t understand what they want or you’re not listening.

They walk away with that impression about you and perception about you and then starts to build up because she’s going to go or he’s going to go walk out to somebody else and say, “Oh, I was just sitting with Ash and I just got a vibe that he just doesn’t want to listen to what we want to do and I don’t think he’s going to really be able to help us.”

All of the sudden, when we don’t focus on that outcome-based thinking and we get into the flow of that conversation, we give into that first emotion, then we create a dynamic that’s not going to be helpful for us. It sort of militates against wanting to be awesome.

If you want to be awesome, then we have to state with that outcome-based where some of the language I use, and again, to your point, Pete, working in management consulting you know that one of the key things you want to say is, as you said, “Tell me more,” “What does the solution look like,” “How can we help you get it done,” “When we’re done what would it look like?”

You can help people articulate what they’re looking or, whereas if you get into the flow and the dynamics of the personalities, then it’s not a good situation. We see a lot of just toxic environments really coming out of a lot of people giving in to those feelings that happen in the spur of the moment without focusing on what the outcome that they’re trying to build is for that person that they’re sitting in front of.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ash, I’d love it if you could for a moment enter the dark place and articulate what sorts of angry or reactive or what sorts of thoughts and responses internally or verbalized are popping up when folks are in this less optimal mindset when they’re working with folks.

Ash Seddeek
Yeah. I think from my own personal experience, I remember in my early days working at Deloitte, where I went into a client where my mind was thinking, “This company should be a whole lot more advanced than this. They should know a lot of things already. They should have this. They should have that.” I was just getting frustrated with the fact that my own expectations and assumptions about a large organization were not present.

People walked away from the conversation with me saying to my boss, “Well, Ash, was really coming across as very arrogant. We feel he’s really talking down to us.”

As you uncover your perceptions about the situation and what you’re saying, I think the lesson there is figure out first what the other person knows, what their expectations are, validate some of your assumptions before moving to the next step.

That’s what we start to realize then that the most important thing is to really come across as someone who’s there to, as Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand than to be understood.” With that in mind, it really sets you up for success. Whereas when you walk in thinking you’re the smartest man/lady coming to the conversation, you’re really blocking out a lot more opportunity than otherwise.

I love what Stephen Covey says. I think that was the biggest lesson there was rather than going in thinking they should have all this stuff in place already, you basically ask the question, “What are the things that we have already so we can build upon and see what else is missing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Now I’d love to hear some of your favorite things. Could you start by sharing a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Ash Seddeek
The favorite quote that I heard a few weeks ago was, “I did it because I did not know it was impossible.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Ash Seddeek
I don’t know what the attribution is, but actually it was a CEO of a startup company. He heard it somewhere. I said that’s just amazing because it allows us to have the freedom to pursue goals and aspirations without getting in mind whether somebody did it before us or not. We just keep going.

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

Ash Seddeek
I think the work that we’ve done for the Meaning book really gave us the chance to speak with leaders in a number of companies. It showed us how even in situations where the business is much smaller, the leadership communication challenges are pretty much the same. Of course, it gets much more compounded in a larger organization.

But the leaders ability to remember that they need to reiterate the reason why we’re doing what we’re doing and where we’re going is very, very important. That was very interesting. Now, I find out that a lot of CEOs, they get so entrenched in the daily grind that they forget that their biggest responsibility is the communication piece. That’s really where the coaching sometimes is very critical.

Also, the board of directors helps them to realize that you need to step out of the business and work on the business. The best part that you could do on the business is to really check on the vision and see if everybody’s heading in the right direction. Then come back and tell them where they need to steer the course so that they can correct any misalignments.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Ash Seddeek
I would say probably my favorite author is Tom Peters. I love all of his books, especially the Brand You books. I think, again, going back to management consulting, he really gives you a lot of ideas based on having been a consultant before. It gives you that insightful view on things, especially on yourself as the brand.

I love when he says the idea of each one of us looking at ourselves as a professional services organization of one, which, again, means everyone around you is a client. It helps free up your thought process. It helps you to really anchor what you do in your own value system of delivering value to the customer and clients and the team that you are a part of. That is being outcome-focused mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Ash Seddeek
A favorite tool for me is definitely LinkedIn I think is an amazing tool in the sense that it gives me a much better level of access and knowledge about people I work with, industries I try to reach out to.

I think there’s a lot more to these social media tools that we have yet to discover in terms of how do we actually put it to use to create value for us and other people. I would say definitely LinkedIn is one of my top tools right now given the fact that I’m running an executive coaching practice and connecting with other coaches, connecting with clients, so really trying to find out what are the top leadership challenges that we need to help our clients with.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Ash Seddeek
Okay. Okay. I think a favorite habit is to realize that sustaining your energy is going to stem from the fact that you also take care of yourself and exercise, and make sure that you have time for yourself because with an opportunity for reflection, I have seen comes a lot of dividends. Your brain needs time to rest in order to connect the dots.

Sometimes you get an inspiration based on the fact that you essentially sat down and allowed yourself not to do anything. Maybe you’re enjoying your favorite drink or you’re reading a book, but you’re able to relax and be able to receive some of these ideas.

Because otherwise if you’re just, again, just going through the grind and you don’t give yourself a break, you may actually losing out on amazing opportunities for coming up with breakthroughs that your team may need, yourself might need. I think coupling energy-building activities plus also having downtime is very critical.

In terms of apps, probably I think the calendar app on our phones now makes a big difference in keeping us organized. I also use Evernote. I’m still trying to see if Twitter really is very valuable, but I do use it sometimes.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your clients or audiences?

Ash Seddeek
I think the best nugget is the idea of being what Tom Peters said around the professional service organization of one. It really helps you to have self-independent thoughts to really take care of what you have to take care of. You never really are giving into being a victim to any situation. You are always feeling like you are in command.

If something has to happen, it has to happen because you started it and it has to start with you. That’s very critical. I think a lot of the time we lose a lot of energy because we’re waiting for somebody else to do something or we think they’re not going to like it or this or this or that. I basically come back and say, “If there’s one action you could do now, what would it be and let’s do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Well, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Ash Seddeek
I would encourage them to visit ExecutiveGreatness.com. I will actually prepare for them a few downloads at ExecutiveGreatness.com/Pete/ and they find a downloadable on strategic leadership and also a free chapter of the Meaning book as well.

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

Ash Seddeek
I think to really make sure that they have that independent thought and don’t be affected by the environment as much as sort of coming back to their own desire to succeed and say, “If I were to do something today, what is it and let me make it happen.” That’s going to inspire themselves to do more and also inspire others by what they’ve done.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ash, this has been a whole lot of fun. I wish you all the best with your clients and coaching and leadership inspiration stuff. Keep at it.

Ash Seddeek
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been a pleasure.

406: How to Sharpen the Most Critical Communication Skill: Listening with Brenda Bailey-Hughes

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Brenda Bailey-Hughes says: "Listening is not the same as hearing."

Brenda Bailey-Hughes shares why and how to become a better listener.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The sad current state of listening
  2. How to fall in love with silence in a conversation
  3. The five focus areas of listening

About Brenda

Brenda Bailey-Hughes teaches communication and leadership skills at the Kelley School of Business undergrad program. She also teaches global leadership and emerging markets for Kelley Direct, the working professionals’ MBA program.

She’s authored 9 LinkedIn Learning courses and specializes in communication training and coaching for Fortune 500 executives such as P&G, Samsung, Cummins, and John Deere.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Brenda Bailey Hughes Interview Transcript

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

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Thank you, Pete. Thanks for having me back.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, I’m excited to get into it. It’s funny, the subject of listening came up as something important and wouldn’t you know it? One of our favorite guests, you, happens to have done a whole course on it so that’s easy. Let’s make this happen.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
That’s right. My colleague Tatiana Kolovou and I did a course in the LinkedIn Library. We loved that course. We had a good time with that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, I want to hear a little bit about how you listen to yourself. I love the forced segues. I learned that you have been doing journaling since you were in third grade. Can you tell us a little bit about what’s the story here?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Sure, sure. I started looking back the other day to see how long have I been journaling. I found, they weren’t even journals back then, they were diaries. They’re little – they have rainbows and unicorns and little locks on them with little plastic keys. Clear back to third grade as a little girl. I’m not going to reveal to your listeners how old I am, but this is decades and decades and decades and decades and decades of journaling.

It started as probably someone gave me a gift of a diary and I started writing and kind of felt good about that and liked what I was doing and felt that my ideas were clearer and my thoughts were more sorted out when I wrote, so just continued this habit throughout my adult life.

If someone asks me now “Why do you journal?” and I say it’s sanity because it really is for me the place to put all the thoughts that swirl around endlessly into one place and get them sorted out and get the mind a bit stiller.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. I’d be curious when you crack open these journals with the rainbows and unicorns from third – fourth grade, what do you discover? Do you see any interesting themes in your life that have been present from your youngest years?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Oh, that’s a great question. The early ones are who did I have a crush on, what teacher am I mad at, what did mom or dad say that was a horrible thing to say to me. They’re really just childhood memories.

I was about to throw them away and then I kept reading. I’m reading child scrawl too, so it’s not even easy to read because my handwriting was such a mess as a second and third grader. But then I stumbled on a page where I’m talking about there’s a coal mining strike and so we’ve turned the heat down at home and at school. We’re using candlelight to conserve energy. I thought, hey, these are historical documents at this point. I’m not getting rid of this. But, there’s less of that than there is just the ramblings of a third grader.

Then I think the themes that emerge as an adult are interesting in the fact that there are themes. You can see me write on something for a year sort of working through something. I think that the journaling, you can’t keep writing about something day in and day out and day in and day out without sort of finally feeling inspired to go take action in your life.

I think the theme for me is to see that I have this sort of three-month rhythm. I will talk and think and write about something for three months and then I take an action and I’m on to a new thing for another three months of pondering.

For me, it was just discovering my own rhythms in life to some extent and getting comfortable with that that if I’m mulling something over for what seems like an endless amount of time, it’s probably not endless, but I probably am coming up on my three-month window of okay, your action is going to follow pretty soon.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. Yeah, that’s a cool pattern to have identified. It will be interesting to see over the course of the remaining years of life if that continues and how you can anticipate all the better.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Right, right. You said you loved the forced transitions, but I do see it as – the journaling really is connected to listening because by getting the thoughts out of my head and onto the page where I can get clearer, I can get clarity about them, it does still my mind. Having a singular focus when we’re listening, does make us better listeners. That journaling work does help me improve my listening.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about listening, shall we?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d like to start with I think a lot of folks may assume that they already listen just fine or that there’s no need to learn or study or be trained in listening. Could you make the case for us for why ought we learn more about listening?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think that you’ve hit on one of the common misconceptions about listening and that is that listening is the same thing as hearing. It’s sort of like we all hear, unless there’s a hearing disability in our lives, we’re born hearing, so why do I need training on this? But that is a physiological process. That’s your eardrums hitting on certain bones. That’s all physiological.

Listening is not the same thing as hearing. It is what we do with what the ears can hear. It’s the processing, the interpretation, the decisions about how to judge, evaluate, how to store what we’re hearing into our long-term or short-term memory. All of that is listening.

That is a skillset. Just like any other skillset like when you learn to ride a bike or you learn to use Excel. It is a skillset to be learned, to be improved. I think that misconception that we all know how to do it is you’re absolutely right, one of the places we have to argue with ourselves to get inspired to learn more about listening.

Then maybe because we confuse it and think we know how to do it, it is the least taught of all the communication-related skills. When you think communication, you’ve got reading, writing, speaking and listening. If I were to ask you right now how many years of reading did you study, well all the way through elementary and junior high and high school, we’re immersed in reading and writing classes. Most of us have even had a speaking class, at least a workshop or two in speaking.

But then when I say to people “How many listening courses have you had?” Screech. No hands go up. It’s sort of mums the word. It’s the least taught of all of the communication-related skills and yet it is the most used.

The U.S. Department of Labor tracks what percentage of our time we spend in different aspects of our work and 55% of the typical professional’s job is spent in listening, 55% of their communication time. Of your reading, writing, speaking and listening time, 55% of that is listening. It goes up as you go up the ladder. A managerial-level employee is spending upwards of 63% of her communication time listening.

Most used, least taught, that’s our use case. That’s why we need to really practice and dig in to improving our listening skills.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. Brenda, I love it when you bring the numbers, so thank you for that. Maybe I’d love it if I could put you on the spot for maybe some more in terms of sort of what is the state of the quality of listening these days. I don’t even know how you’d measure that exactly, but are there any noteworthy anecdotes or audience surveys or research bits that have been done on this, like these days does the typical professional listen excellently, terribly, acceptably. Where would you peg it?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Well, if you’re thinking about recall as a test of listening and we do have some stats on that. We know that if you watch the nightly news and then we ask you to recall what you hear, you’re going to have about 17%, 1-7, 17% recall.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Let’s imagine, now we don’t know because we haven’t done this elsewhere, but let’s imagine that that number extrapolates. That means that when you go into your next meeting and everything that everyone says they feel is important, you’re only remembering 17% of it.

Or you’re having a conversation with your spouse tonight and something really important is getting shared and you walk away and remember 17% of it. That to me says, oh, I think we can get better at this.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Yeah, that’s intriguing. I wonder, talk about the extrapolation on the one hand, folks might say “Hey, nightly news, I don’t really care that much,” but on the other hand, there’s so many ways to consume news, if you decide to turn on the nightly news, you must be semi-invested in watching the nightly news.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Right, right. Well, and I would argue that at some of my faculty meetings, I’m also not all that invested, but, nonetheless, maybe I should be is the issue here because while I might not be invested in the subject matter, I am invested in those people. If I’m not invested in their communication and what they want to share, how truly supportive and invested am I being in the relationship itself?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s great. Thank you. Thought provoking. Now I kind of want to get your sense of so if we think we’re listening well, but in fact the recall is maybe around 17%, where’s the gap coming from? What is the holdup exactly?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yeah. Some of it is that we have trained ourselves to listen only in order to prepare a response. If as I’m listening to someone, I catch myself already deciding how I will reply, I’m not really listening. I might be pretending like I’m listening. I may have listened to enough to decide, “Okay, I get it. I know what you’re saying. I’m going to cut you off now so that I can plan my response.”

But I think that’s one of the ways that we sort of deceive ourselves into thinking that we’re listening or that we’re a great listener and then oops, lo and behold, maybe we’re in that 17% recall list.

I think another space where we fool ourselves into listening is confirmation bias. I’m really only listening to enough of what is being said in the room to confirm what I already thought was true and that if you start saying something that contradicts or makes me feel a little “Eh,” like, “Wait, that doesn’t feel right. That’s not what I’ve always thought,” then I have all sorts of subtle ways that I just start tuning you out or twisting your words to make them mean what I want them to mean.

A classic example would be when my kids were still at home and they’re teenagers. I come home, they’re sprawled in front of the TV or a video game or whatever, and I say, “Hey, you should start your homework soon.” Now, what does the teenager think ‘soon’ means?

Pete Mockaitis
Not now and maybe whenever I feel like it.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Exactly. And what does ‘soon’ mean to mama?

Pete Mockaitis
Within ten minutes it should be initiated.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
I’m thinking now is what ‘soon’ meant to me, but okay, we’ll give it ten minutes versus their ‘when I’m done with this game,’ ‘when I’m done with this show.’ That’s because that’s what the teenager wants to hear is how the teenagers want to define ‘soon’ and so that’s how they interpret the word ‘soon’ what it should mean.

I think that confirmation bias, listening for what we expect to hear and sort of interpreting to confirm what we already expect are certainly some of the listening gaps that exist.

Social media has made that even easier for us. We read about the echo chamber kind of concept that we’re really not even exposed all that much to anyone who contradicts us because our social media bubbles pull us in inward more and more and more to our own biases to begin with.

But then if you take that echo chamber and even within it if a little bit of contradictory information or not even contradictory, just new and it doesn’t have a place to slide into our neatly organized mental habits, we go, “Eh, never mind. I just don’t see that. I don’t hear that. I don’t want to deal with that.” It just sort of gets scooched away.

I guess that leads us to one of our really important learning concepts is to push ourselves to seek out disconfirming information, to stay in the room long enough to say, “Okay, we’ve talked about all the reasons this is a good idea. I think it’s a good idea. Give me three reasons that it could blow up. What are the three risks we’re not looking at and how do we mitigate those?” I think that’s an important part of a professional’s responsibility and keeping a really open mind and being a good listener.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. I’d love it then if we can talk about some more of these practices. Maybe even before we go into the details, can you lay out sort of what then become all the benefits of listening masterfully as opposed to just sort of at a typical base level of listening to respond or listening to confirm what we already know?

I guess one natural consequence would be that you’re making better decisions because you’re getting all of the information that you might not have gotten. What are some other key benefits that come about if you are a masterful listener?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
I love that phrase, ‘masterful listener.’ I’m totally going to steal that for my LinkedIn classes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please do.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Masterful listeners, they are business winners and they are relational winners. Dr. Nichols was one of the founding researchers in the discipline of listening. He was originally a college, maybe it was even high school, debate teacher, a debate coach. He had debate teams.

What he started noticing is that the teams who were winning debate after debate after debate and had access to the same research and the same coaching in terms of how they presented, the real distinguishing difference was that these debate teams that listened really, really well could then parse through the opposing teams arguments so much more clearly and make a much better argument or a rebuttal that they were debate winners.

We’ve got debate winning. All of us have our share of debates. Whether we call them that or not, we have these moments in our lives all the time where we’re trying to influence others, get people to see things our way. Even just getting friends to go to the movie that you want to go to, if you’re really listening to what that friend is saying, you’ll start to understand more of why they’re arguing for another movie and how you might be able to shift their position a little bit. We have some influence around that.

I’ve seen lots of examples of where people land clients and projects and business wins because of good listening skills. Just recently a client of mine, we had done the business that we had established and I was trying to win a little bit more business and it was kind of still just out there in the open space. We hadn’t locked anything down yet. I’m sure that the company was looking at some other consultants to do some work with them as well.

But I had listened so carefully to him that then when I stumbled on a TED talk of another person talking, I thought oh, this sounds so much like Kyle – I’ll call him Kyle. I sent it to Kyle and said, “Hey, this sounds like you. This sounds like the strategy we’re talking about in your industry.” I get an email ping right back just, “Oh my gosh, you totally get me. Thank you.”

Well, to be honest, Pete, this industry is energy and it’s very confusing to me. I still don’t really understand the strategy that he had been promoting, but I had listened enough to know what he sounds like and could then make these connections. Sure enough that lands the business.

Pete Mockaitis
He says, “You really get me.” Actually, I don’t, but I’ll take it.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Apparently enough that I got my foot in the door here and I’ll figure it out from there.

But we also have on a personal level, you talk to marriage therapists or relationship counselors and frequently they say that bad listening is at the root of many of the dysfunctional relationships that they interact with and that the flipside, that sort of really good listening skills is what bolsters our relationships, both personally and professionally.

If we’re looking for wins, they’re like you said, the good decision making; it’s around our influence wins; it’s around landing business, those wins come with good listening; and our relationships are better when we are good listeners. Those are the benefits.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, that sounds well worth it. Let’s discuss. You mentioned one of the problems is that we listen to respond. I guess I’m thinking if we have some diehard listeners to responders in the crowd, it’s sort of like, “Well, if I’m not formulating a response while they’re talking are we going to have a weird silence?”

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
We are. We are. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell us about that.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yes. We’re going to get comfortable with that. We are going to get comfortable with “Hm.” And you’re fidgeting because you’re like, “Oh my gosh, no dead air space.” In fact Pete’s in his mind right now thinking “Well, I’ve got to edit out that little three-second pause.”

Pete Mockaitis
No, we’re keeping it. Charlie & Co., we’re keeping every half second of that. Please.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
But I think we can use what are called verbal encouragers. We want to use those when someone is speaking to us. Different people – if you’ve studied introversion and extroversion – one of the attributes of an introvert is they tend to listen in silence.

I encourage the introverts that are listening to us today, Pete, to say “Mm-hm, oh, yeah, a little bit more,” as they’re listening, just those little verbal reinforcers or encouragers to let people know that you are listening. Make sure you’re nodding, those kinds of things.

But then where we all feel though that we have to talk is when the other person has signaled that they’re done. It’s my turn now. You demonstrate that with a little pause or an upward inflection that kind of hands the baton over to me.

We just need to learn to go, “Hm, let me think. Yeah,” and then respond and give myself that pause because what I’m likely to say is going to be so much more respectful because it will paraphrase back perhaps what the person has said and it shows that I really listened all the way through to the end.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, in a way, you’re right. If there’s no transition, it’s a little bit fuzzy. It’s sort of like, “Are you still there,” especially if you’re on the phone or a digital medium. It’s like, “Hey, everything still okay over there?” But I think I love that phrase, “Hm, let me think,” or maybe it’s just something along those lines like, “I’m considering what you’ve just said,” and then you’re a silent for a few seconds.

In way you might have a hard time getting away with that in a six-person meeting or something, but one-on-one I think that that can just be amazing because they’re like, “Nobody ever thinks about what I say for several seconds. That’s awesome. I appreciate that.”

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Thank you so much for listening. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s nice. Then you’re getting okay and you’re getting comfortable with the silence. With those encourager words, what did you call them?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Verbal encouragers.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, verbal encouragers. I feel like that sometimes, maybe it’s more of an extrovert problem, when people give me the verbal encouragers like too much or too fast or when I haven’t completely finished the word, like they say, “Mm-hm,” before I finish saying the word, I don’t like it.

I don’t how to interpret what I’m feeling or what value or meaning I’m putting on to it, but I almost maybe feel like I’m being rushed maybe or like it’s a show. It’s like, “Are you actually listening or are you just following a script,” where I’m talking to a robot who say every seven seconds I’m supposed to say “Mm-hm” as opposed to timing your mm-hms after I have a pause and a breath and a sentence and a phrase.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Oh yeah, oh yeah. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So you can count that as well, the over-encourager.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yes, absolutely. I think you’re right. We see it with people who know they’re supposed to do that or they just kind of want you to get through what you’re saying. You’re talking, I’m like, “Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.” I’m rushing you. … get through this so that it can be my turn to talk or so that I can leave or whatever.

Yeah, you’re right. The intent behind it probably does matter because it does manifest differently. The verbal encouragers that ‘I’m encouraging you to hurry up,’ that sounds different and that feels different to the person speaking than a true, “Mm-hm, huh, yeah,” kind of that varied encouragers that are in sync with the words that are being spoken. That’s the kind of verbal encourager that works.

Pete Mockaitis
Hey, did I do it too early? I hope not.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
No, it wasn’t too early.

Pete Mockaitis
Because I really was ready to ask a new question, but I also felt like I got what you were saying.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
You did. You did.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, good. It’s like so meta. I’m so self-conscious now.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Well, okay, let me put us at ease. A spontaneous conversation when the conversationalists leave and we ask them to rate their experience and they say, “Oh, it was awesome. It was spontaneous. It was good. I felt good about that conversation.” When we go back and do a tracking of the conversation, there is overlap. There are those moments when the second speaker starts speaking before the first speaker has completely ended. I’m relieving you of that self-consciousness if we overlap because that is a part of it.

I’m thinking more of when we’re in those meetings or we’re doing a deep listening dive to someone who’s sharing very deeply about an issue in their lives or with their work and that’s when I think we need to get comfortable with the pause. It’s when we catch our brains formulating a response so that we don’t have a pause, that’s when we’ve got to get comfortable with it so we’re not doing that, so that we stay tuned into our speaker.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so if you’re listening and the goal is not to formulate a response, what should the new goal be and the internal questions you’re asking yourself and the focus that you choose when you are not talking and someone else is talking?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Right, right. I would these get into what I call the five focus areas of listening. The questions I’m asking myself, that internal dialogue, if it’s not to formulate my response, what should it be? It depends on what kind of listening I’ve set out to do.

For example, depending on what kind of a situation I’m facing, what kind of conversation this is, I need to listen differently. Sometimes I need to listen to recall the details. Sometimes I just need to listen for the big picture. Sometimes I need to evaluate the content. Sometimes I need to pay attention to the nonverbals. Sometimes I need to listen to empathize.

If we use this podcast for example, I think listening for the details, well, I know you love your stats and you love it when I bring the numbers. That’s probably not the most important listening here. It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day whether the U.S. Department of Labor tells us we spend 55 or 56% of our communication time listening.

But you wanted that big picture. You wanted to be able to end the podcast and go, “Okay, I get it. We spend more time listening than any other communication piece and yet we have the least training on it.” That’s the big picture. I would think that’s what you’re listening for as you listen today.

Or maybe even some of that evaluating of the content. There’s a part of your brain that needs to be going, “Okay, is my guest today just talking crazy stuff or is there some legitimacy and some credibility behind this,” because you have to decide am I going to publish this. Am I going to roll this out? Do I need to push back and ask some more questions to find out where this research or this claim came from? What’s the research, the data supporting it?

Maybe there’s a little bit of an evaluative mindset to how you’re listening, definitely some big picture thinking. But if we go on through the rest of your day, what are some of the rest of the things on your calendar today, Pete? We’ll look at what kinds of listening you should be doing the rest of your day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure. Well, another podcast interview, talking to an accountant about some treatment of things.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Now that recalling details suddenly might become pretty important.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Because when the accountant says, “Oh, you’ve got to do this here and you can’t do that here.” That’s a detail-oriented listening. You’re going to kick in to a totally different mindset when you go to your accountant meeting than you have with me and your next guest up. What else is on your calendar today?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then I guess there’s just sort of quiet work in terms of at the computer and wrapping things up.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
What’s the evening look like? Going home, going to have some dinner?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, hanging out with wife and baby and chatting.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Wife and baby, we don’t want you in evaluative content or even necessarily recalling the details depending on if you and your spouse are talking about dates that need to be on the calendar.

Pete Mockaitis
What the accountant said.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Right, what did the accountant – right. But if she’s just telling you what happened during her day and what cute things happened with the baby, then you’re all about listening to pay attention to be attuned to her nonverbals and to empathize with how your speaker is feeling. That’s the shift you want to make.

A huge part of listening effectively is thinking through what kind of listening is called for in this moment, in this conversation at this meeting and then pulling out the stops all about that type of listening.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent in terms of just getting yourself in the right sort of brain space in terms of what am I stepping into this conversation, what are my goals and how am I going to choose to listen.

I guess if I’m thinking about me personally, coming from a strategy consulting background and intense podcast listening associated with okay, what are the things people need to do in order to become awesome at their job. Give me the goods and give me the high-leverage, high-impact stuff that’s relatively easy to do. A nice bit of leverage is kind of what gets me fired up.

I guess I have maybe less intense practice at the listening for the sort of emotional empathy stuff. We had a great conversation previously with Aaron Levy about just how powerful that is for employees who feel like you really understand them. You really get them because you are conveying that so well.

Can we go deeper into this one in terms of what’s going on in your brain and how are you being as you are listening to understand really where someone’s coming from, what they’re feeling and any emotions and such?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Sure. I think this is an important piece, so for you, Pete, and maybe for your listeners that you’ve heard from, you’re saying it’s this emotional listening, empathy listening. I would have other people that I’ve coached that say “It’s that big picture. I get so caught up in the weeds. I’m taking down copious notes. I’ve got three pages of notes, but I can’t tell you what any of it meant.”

I think it’s a fairly personal self-reflection that needs to happen to identify “Where is my weakest area? What’s my strongest so that I know to leverage that? But which of these areas can I really build out and develop a little bit better? I think that’s going to be a pretty personal choice. People need to do some soul searching to figure that out.

Maybe even ask some friends who will be really honest and candid with you about it, “Of these, where do you feel like I’m strong and where do you feel like I kind of fall down a bit?”

But to the empathizing piece, I think the two, empathy and listening in an attuned way kind of go hand-in-hand. When I’m thinking about attuning, I’m asking myself “What can I see that I can’t hear?” The speaker is saying these words and I’m listening to those. I’m tracking on those and I’m trying not to prejudge those or allow those to come through my mental filter or confirmation bias. I’m really just trying to hear what the speaker is saying.

But what can I see that I can’t hear? Is the speaker squirming in his chair when he said it? Is he wringing his hands? Are his eyes lighting up and his voice starting to spark when he talks about that subject? ‘What can I see that I can’t hear?’ I think is a driving question when I’m really trying to listen for that emotional piece.

In fact, one of the ways I teach people and I’ve done this to practice listening for the nonverbal is to watch a television program that you’re not really familiar with and turn the volume off.

Then just see after you watch the characters and you watch the interaction, you’ll watch a 30-minute sitcom or a one-hour drama or something, and then figure out what was your best guess as to what the plot line was and what the relationships were between the characters and who was feeling what kind of an emotion at the different parts of the movie or the show. Then go back, replay on Netflix, watch it again, and see how close you were.

That’s a great training mechanism for forcing yourself to start tuning in to the nonverbals. Then after you do that for a while, you’ll find yourself walking into a meeting and lo and behold, you’re paying attention to who’s glaring at whom, who’s starting to feel bored with which subjects, who’s excited by which subjects and that is rich Intel to know those kinds of things. That’s a tuning piece.

Then the empathizing piece, the driving question there is not ‘what is my speaker saying,’ but ‘how is my speaker feeling.’ How does the speaker feel? I think one of the best ways to train ourselves to do this and simultaneously show people that we’re doing this is paraphrasing back both the content and the emotions that we think we’re hearing.

This is when we kind of say, “Well, okay, this is what I’m getting. This is what I think I heard you say,” or “Correct me if I’m wrong, this is what I heard.” When I say back what I heard, it’s like, “I think you’re really frustrated about blah, blah, blah, blah.” I’ve captured frustrated, the emotional tone, as well as the content. That makes the person that you’re talking to just feel so heard, so listened to.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious with regards to when you identify an emotion, what’s the downside risk of if you’re wrong. If you said, “It seems like you’re frustrated.” He’s like, “No, I’m not frustrated. I’m just resigned because I don’t care anymore. Nothing I do makes any impact whatsoever.” I guess those are kind of close, frustrated and resigned.

But … “No, I’m enraged, Brenda. I’m not frustrated.” I guess that’s just very frustrated is enraged. I mean, “No Brenda, I’m very sad actually.”

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Right, yeah. But that’s great that they would say that because then you have had – because you would have left thinking frustrated.

Then you find out by clarifying, “Oh no, it’s resigned. Oh. Well, I have different things to say to you now that I know you’re just feeling defeated and resigned and depleted by this. I thought you were still frustrated and agitated, but no, you’re in a different space,” and that’s important to me because how I’m going to reach you when you’re resigned is pretty different than how I would reach you if you’re irritated, agitated, frustrated or enraged or sad.

I think that moment of clarification is perfectly fine. It’s not as if you failed in the guessing game. It’s you won because you threw it out there, you got some feedback that you’d missed it just slightly and so now you are on board. Once again, engaging in that process of “Here’s what I think,” “Oh no. Oh, it’s this. Oh, thank you. Okay, I get it. Yes. Resigned, I could see myself feeling that too.”

That, again, allows you to wrap your speaker in this wonderful blanket of comfort and of knowing because I heard you.

Pete Mockaitis
As I imagine this fictitious conversation, I think the guessing game, if you will, if you get it wrong, I think you’re still winning points in that it shows that you cared enough to take a stab at it and the other person says, “You know? This person seems to give a darn about my feelings. Even though they’re wrong, I appreciate that because a lot of people don’t bother to take the time.”

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Right, so often the listening response is autobiographical. “Well, yeah, when that happened to me, I felt blah, blah, blah, blah.” Now I’ve coopted the whole conversation and made it about me. That is a response we’re so accustomed to hearing that if you’ve stayed with me, you’ve kept the focus on me, even if you got it wrong just a little bit, it’s still about me, so I’m still feeling pretty treasured at the end of the day.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. I like that. Well, Brenda, could you share as we’re kind of approaching the end, are there any sort of top do’s, don’ts favorite phrases or scripts that are super handy when it comes to listening?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Oh yeah. Let’s see. I think that one of the top do’s is getting rid of distractions. Put your phone down. Show those nonverbal attentive listening skills. We all know what they are. We know them when someone does it for us. They nod, they lean in, they make eye contact, the verbal encouragers that we talked about.

When we do that, the person talking feels heard and our own minds kind of follow the body, like, okay, my body is tuned in to this person, so I guess my mind says, “Okay, I’ll tune in too.” I think being non-verbally attentive, showing really good nonverbal listening behaviors can certainly enhance our listening and how well the other person feels. That I think is a great piece.

I love Marshall Goldsmith’s article, Listening is the One Skill That Separates. He talks about make the other person feel as though she’s the only person in the room. When we can do that at a meeting and a coaching a session and whatever, wow, that is great listening right there.

Pete Mockaitis
Any other key phrases that you think are super handy?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Key phrases. Well, for appropriate responses, trying to stay out of the autobiographical and instead practice the paraphrasing. If we can say back what we’ve heard, I think that’s a key phrase in our listening, being careful with it of course.

When I first learned about paraphrasing, I decided I’m going to paraphrase everything everybody says for a while. I came home that night after my listening workshop and my husband said, “Hey, it’s about dinner time. It’s a little after six.” I said, “So I hear you expressing a curiosity about the time.” He’s like, “What is happening?” So paraphrasing appropriately, not just parroting someone, but really trying to put our best understanding into it. I think those are great phrases to use as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, lovely. Well, now I’d love to hear about your favorite things once again, maybe there’s some new things.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yes, but I’m going to do a listening one. Let’s do – what’s my favorite listening quote? You have two ears, one mouth. There’s a reason; act like it.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right, thank you.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Two ears, one mouth. There you go.

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

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Dale Goleman and Richard Davidson, it was October 2017 Behavioral Scientist article on mindfulness practices. It’s the one where they talk about eight minutes of mindfulness practice will cause less mind wandering. If you do that eight minutes for two weeks, the mind wandering stops so much that you have better focus, you have more working memory, people’s GRE scores were even going up.

I think that’s a great piece of research to link back to our listening that if we can just practice eight minutes of sort of meditative mindfulness – I try to practice my eight minutes in the afternoon. I remember Elizabeth Gilbert, the author, one time saying that she practiced eight minutes of mindfulness in the afternoons that a purist might call it a nap, but for her, she was calling it mindfulness. I love that.

My eight minutes of napping or mindfulness, whatever you want. But I do think that that practice stops the mind from wandering and when we teach our minds to focus, then we become better listeners. That’s a great piece of research for so many different reasons. Goleman and Davidson.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. How about a favorite book?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Again, let’s do a listening book. No judging here, but my favorite listening book right now is called I Have a Little Problem Said the Bear. It’s Amelia Hardman, so you can get this for your son. It’s about the little bear who goes around trying to tell people about his problem, but everybody is so set on fixing it and advising him and coaching him that he never really gets to talk about his problem.

I actually purchased this little children’s book and give it to a lot of the managers that I coach on how to be good coaches because as soon as we move into telling other people to do it, we’ve stepped out of coaching mode.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. It’s funny when you said ‘no judgment here’ I was like that’s a good name for a listening book.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
No, I was just warning you. Don’t judge that my favorite book right now is a kid’s book.

Pete Mockaitis
No, that’s totally fine, totally fine. And a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Thirty-day listening action plan. I schedule out 30 days. I look at a meeting or an event or something on my calendar for 30 straight days and make a notation in my digital calendar so that when I see the event I also see my note about my listening habit.

Last month I was working on paraphrasing. Right next to it for 30 different appointments on 30 different days it said ‘paraphrasing,’ just as my reminder. The month before that I was working on not interrupting, so for 30 straight days I found an appointment or an engagement or a conversation on my calendar where I really wanted to practice that skill. Thirty-day listening habits, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s clever. Very good. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with listeners, readers, clients, learners?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yeah, it’s that Goldsmith quote, “Make the other person feel that they’re the only one in the room.” That really resonates with people. People will come back to me and mention that years after we’ve had a coaching conversation around listening.

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

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Hit me up on LinkedIn. Follow me on LinkedIn. I would love to have conversations on LinkedIn about listening and whatever else is on your mind.

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

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yes, 30-day challenge. Do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Do it. All right.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Thirty days of listening. Put it on your calendars. Come up with one skill, a listening skill that you think you want to improve and go after it for 30 straight days. You’ll be awesome at your job when you’re done.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Brenda, this has been a good time once again. Thanks for sharing the goods and I hope you have many excellent conversations you enjoy listening to and that you just keep on doing what you’re doing. It’s a real treat.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
You too, Pete. Thank you so much for having me back.