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504: Building a Gratitude Mindset to Increase Productivity with Karl Staib

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Karl Staib says: "One of the best ways to get ahead at work... is being grateful for other people."

Karl Staib shares how gratitude leads to a more pleasant and productive work life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How gratitude improves productivity
  2. How to cut negativity and boost gratitude
  3. How to find more energy for your goals

About Karl:

Karl Staib is an author that seeks out growth at every turn. When his father passed it was focusing on gratitude that helped him get through one of the most difficult times in his life. That’s why he wants to bring more gratitude into the workplace. His work inside a fortune 500 company that regularly ranks in the top 10 for best places to work has shown him the importance of gratitude and how it increases productivity and communication. If you enjoy his writing, he encourages you to reach out to him at BringGratitude.com.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Karl Staib Interview Transcript

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

Karl Staib
Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear your take on gratitude. Maybe we can start off by hearing what are you most grateful for?

Karl Staib
Oh, that’s a great question. I’ve got so much. I wrote in my journal this morning and I’m grateful for my dog, I’ve got two wonderful boys, a really caring wife, and my brain. I think it’s important that I’ve been having a better relationship with my brain and the thoughts that go on behind the scenes as I get older.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, so maybe let’s start by hearing when it comes to gratitude, if we can contextualize this a little bit, I mean, it’s a great thing to have, sure. But, specifically, how does that help us become more awesome at our jobs?

Karl Staib
Okay. So, it’s a really good question because I think just the act of being more grateful helps rewire how our brain thinks. And so, there’s numerous studies, but Edward Deci did a study and it basically talks about the positive interactions that we have either help us become more productive or reduce our productivity.

So, if we have six positive interactions, the one negative, we’re 31% more productive. If it’s three to one, we flatline. If it’s less than that, we decrease in productivity. So, right there it just shows the willingness to tackle things and stay on top of things.

And so, another study by David DeSteno talks about what happens when you are giving reinforcement, encouragement throughout the day or on a project. You’re 30% more likely to stick with it. And so those little things, when you fall down, when you make a mistake, you’re more likely to get back up and try again and keep at it and then you can thrive at work versus like kind of packing it in and not trying your best.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s intriguing. Let’s talk about that first study. So, six to one positive interactions, did you say? And how are you defining the interaction?

Karl Staib
So, I take a little creative license. So, it’s interactions with other people. So, if you’re grateful for people at work and you show them that, it boosts. So, there’s another study that basically talks about if we work together and I stop by your desk, and I say, “Hey, Pete, this was amazing. Like, you put this extra slide in here, this bar graph showed exactly what we’re trying to illustrate. Thank you so much. This is fantastic.” And then you walk away like, “Damn, I’m hot stuff.” That is equivalent to getting paid more money. That’s how our brains work. We think, “Oh, wow! I just did something well for somebody that I really wanted to help.”

And so, if you think, as a boss, or even a coworker, if you can give people compliments, I mean, honest, genuine compliments, you’re going to have them feel better, work harder, and want to be around you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great stuff. Well, I’m wondering, we have sort of a limited amount of control over whether or not we’re going to get some of these positive encouraging interactions from others. How do you recommend we, I don’t know, get more and do it yourself to the extent that’s possible?

Karl Staib
Oh, yeah, yeah. So, it’s important we don’t rely on these external validations completely. It is a good scorecard, right? So, if you go on to work and you don’t care and you basically hide in the corner, and you’re not very helpful, you know you’re not going a good job, you know that you’re not worthy of gratitude so even if somebody came up to you and gave you some appreciation, you probably wouldn’t believe them because you’re just like, “Ah, I’m just going to hide in the corner. I’m going to try to avoid work.” But the thing is it’s about the mindset. 

So, one of the biggest issues that I have is meetings at work. I despised them. It was a waste of time. I would tell all these stories inside my head as I was walking into the meeting and I was setting myself up for failure. And I remember when I started on this gratitude practice journey, my father was passing and it’s kind of what’s spurred me to start up my gratitude journal again. And when I did, I realized kind of a little bit of a switch going off inside me.

I remember a conversation with my dad before he was in the hospital and before he passed. We talked about it’s what you make of it, right? That’s one of the pieces of advice that he always emphasized to me. And I was taking it to heart. And because I was so tuned into, “Okay, I need to work on my mindset.”

My dad was one of my best friends, one of my confidantes, and so I knew that I wasn’t going to have this anymore and I didn’t want to go into depression. I had issues with depression in my past, especially in my 20s and early 30s. So, when I did some research, I knew gratitude helps in so many ways.

And so, as I started kind of diving back in and writing these bits of gratitude, I realized I was not grateful for going into these meetings. And those meetings are always opportunities, those are some of the best opportunities just to connect with other people, to go in and learn different things, and it doesn’t have to be about the project. It could be, “You know what, today I’m going to just practice being calm and focusing on my breath in this meeting.” And maybe that’s a meeting you’re not as involved in, right? You’re maybe on the outskirts.

And then there’s others that you say, “I’m going in. I’m going to ask one really poignant question. One question that I think could help maybe create a small little moment of, ‘Oh, I never thought of it that way before.’” So, when we start planting in those seeds and start being grateful for the moment before us, it makes it so much likely that we’re excited and that we try our best in that meeting, and then we make sure that whatever comes out of it we’re getting something and we’re appreciating whatever it is that we get out of it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting. So, in practice, what you’re doing inside your brain, at first, you might feel, “Oh, these meetings are stupid. They’re a waste of time. They drain my energy. They’re not any good.” And then you find a way to give meaning to them, like, “In this meeting, I’m going to do this, or I’m going to appreciate that, or I’m going to focus on my breathing or whatnots.” So, are there any kind of key questions you’re asking yourself? Because I imagine, when you’re in a bit of that funk, it’s kind of hard to just flip the switch. Is there any kind of transition questions you ask internally or things you do to make the jump?

Karl Staib
Oh, yeah. It’s a good way of framing. It is about questions, right? So, if I go in thinking, “Oh, how much is this meeting going to suck?” versus I go in thinking, “What can I learn from this meeting?” It’s very much like that fork in the road. You can go left, down that dark, scary, ghost-ridden pathway, or we can go to the right where the butterflies are flying around. But both ways are a path that we can take and this is where awareness comes in and you can say, “Wait a second. I notice myself asking, ‘How much is this going to suck?’ What if I ask myself a different question? What if I set myself up to see this in a different way?”

And you say, “What is one thing I can learn from this meeting? And after one hour, I’m going to write this down. I’m going to take a note and say, ‘I learned…’ whatever it is. I learned how to ask a better question. I learned how to pay attention to how somebody else talks and speaks.” And I’ve noticed like work is a lot more enjoyable when I’m engaged, when I’m creating that mindset that allows me to feel engaged.’”

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s interesting because you can say, if you’re watching closely to see what you can learn about how a person is presenting, you can learn things to do, like, “Ooh, that worked very well. I should do that.” And things not to do, like, “Oh, man, everyone was bored and paying no attention at this point. Note to self: Provide a slide headline that clearly articulates what is on that chart or something, for example.”

Karl Staib
Yes. Yes, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s handy. good or bad, you can turn that into learning and that’s a great question, “What’s one thing I can learn?” What are some other key questions that help point your focus in helpful ways?

Karl Staib
One of the most important things that I like to do is, you know, I suffer from anxiety. My palms sweat, I get choked up if a bunch of people are looking at me, so what I do is I say, “How can I focus on my breath and relax through this whole meeting?” And just planting that seed, and then what happens is subconsciously your brain starts to notice, like, “Are you getting a little tense?”

And it’s always going to happen. I’m never going to get rid of my anxiety but I can notice it, appreciate it, and then work with it, and it becomes a friend that having this dance with during this meeting instead of, “Oh, my God. I’m anxious. I don’t know what to do. Like, I’m freaking out.” And, all of a sudden, somebody calls on me and I’m so stuck in my head I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to do.

And by saying, “Okay, how can I relax throughout this meeting? And how can I notice when I get tense?” And, all of a sudden, you start to be more aware, and you can say, “Oh, take one deep breath right now.” And it’s done wonders for me. It’s really helped me with my anxiety in meetings.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, there’s a bit of a problem-solving focus there, so, “How can I notice? How can I relax?” And then you’re getting a chance to experiment and get better at something. That’s cool. Any other great questions?

Karl Staib
Oh, man. I think one of the most important things is how do you like to stay engaged. You might say, “Well, what’s the best way for me to take notes?” That simple phrase, right? Like, “What’s the best way for me to take notes?” will allow you to think, “Well, maybe I’ll try doing visual notes this time.”

Whatever it is, now you’re retaining more of that meeting and you’re more engaged as well. So, when you do need to ask the question, it’s easy to recall if someone does ask you a question, you’re on it because you’ve been in that mode of, “I know what’s going on. I know what the context is and I can really shine in this moment.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when it comes to gratitude, you define three different levels. Can you unpack this for us?

Karl Staib
Yeah. So, as I’ve been digging into gratitude and really understanding the research behind it, I realized most people just think of gratitude as an external thing. And so, I started unpacking it and I realized a lot of my studies through Buddhism, through Zen, Christianity, I realized it goes much deeper than that and it starts with surrounding gratitude.

Surrounding gratitude is the things around you: your computer, the glass of water, your cup of coffee. It’s very easy to say, “Oh, yeah, this is delicious cup of coffee and it helps boost my energy.” Now that is a very straightforward thing that most of us do kind of automatically and very subconsciously but it gets a little harder with the next one, and it’s sharing gratitude.

And sharing gratitude can create a bit of awkwardness inside a conversation with somebody else at work. If you walk up to them and tell them how good they are, they could feel embarrassed by that, they might not have the reaction that you planned that they did, and so it gets a little hairier and so we don’t do it as often as we should. We’re a little afraid to compliment somebody. Most of us are very bad at receiving compliments.

We struggle with celebration when it doesn’t fit into the norms of our culture, the small bits of celebration that we should be doing. I don’t know about you, but if I write a great email, sometimes they take a while, maybe an hour, hour and a half, like I do a little dance after that. And I’ve built that into my day to help me feel grateful for that moment, for that time that I spent to really make sure that message was conveyed that I hope it would.

And so, that is where it starts to get a little bit trickier because that’s where self-gratitude comes in, and that’s that third component. And we don’t treat ourselves usually very nice. I like to call it the inner bully. We beat ourselves up. We call ourselves names. We don’t think about all the hard work. I mean, let me ask you, Pete, just a year, two years ago, how far have you come since then?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. Oh, it’s been a crazy two years. Two kids, home purchase and maintenance, podcast growth. Real far. It’s kind of exhausting.

Karl Staib
Yeah. And it’s hard, right? Like, I can feel your reluctance coming through. You’re just like, “I almost even don’t want to go there, right?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I mean, there’s been a lot of improvement and growth and some cool ways and not as much sleep but I guess that’s what happens with kids in due time. My wife is a saint. She’s been doing less sleeping than I have. But, yeah, lots of improvement and I’m glad for it. I’m sure glad that we got those kids and podcast listeners and all the other blessings.

Karl Staib
And do you celebrate that? Do you celebrate yourself as a father, as a husband? Do you have any cadence around that?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, kind of. I think that I had a great podcast conversation with BJ Fogg talking about forming great habits. And he talked about celebration is really important to building those habits, and it could be as simple as saying, “I’m awesome.” And one of mine comes from Mortal Kombat II when you defeat your opponent while taking zero damage, it says, “Flawless victory.” So, that was a little affirmation celebration I got when I beat my brother in a video game as a youngster.

And so sometimes I will trot that out and occasionally I’ll just take the time to play some celebration music, like if we got a sale, like I might go play the song, “Whoomp There It Is.” This is like, “I’ve been waiting for that email. And there it is.” So, yeah, BJ said I was a natural celebrator. But not every day am I natural celebrator. It comes and goes.

Karl Staib
Yeah. And so, it’s one of those things, right? When you look at your life and you look at how far you’ve come, this is important. Hopefully, people who are listening right now really understand it’s great. Let’s say you’re at work, and you have to think about how we talk to ourselves internally. But let’s say, for example, you go up to somebody at work, and you say, “Man, you’re awesome.” Now, I kind of call that a level one gratitude, right? Like, it’s nice, it’s good to hear, but if it’s not specific, a lot of times you’d easily forget it. And this is what’s really important about gratitude and really help to rewire those neurons is to go a little bit deeper if possible when you have the time. And it’s why I suggest people keep a gratitude journal at the end of the day. So, usually what we remember is the most impactful part of our day and the things at the end of the day.

So, if you take some time and write three things you’re grateful for at the end of the day, you can do this at the end of the work day, this helps too because if you get into that routine. But the closer you can do it to bedtime the better because what happens is that’s the stuff that will solidify in your brain as you sleep. So, you’re tightening these neurons and making it easier to access the next day and the next day after that, which is really important because if you can be grateful before bed, you’re going to be more grateful throughout the day.

And so, as you’re more grateful throughout the day, it makes life more enjoyable and it helps lower your stress so you’re going to be healthier because of it. But what’s really important is your what and your why. What are you grateful for? And why? And so, this is where I think a lot of people get tripped up on their gratitude journal because they’re like, “What? Oh, I’m grateful for my cup of coffee. I’m grateful for my wife.” And it gets just to the surface. But, why? Why are you grateful for your wife? Can you give me, why are you grateful for your wife?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, she’s just so, so there’s so many things. I’d say, well, hey, we just talked about sleep. I’m grateful that she frequently sacrifices sleep in order to take care of nighttime wakeups from the kiddos, and it keeps me from feeling like a miserable zombie the following day because she’s handling that important responsibility. So, I guess that’d be one specific why.

Karl Staib
Yeah, so that specific why help deepen that experience for yourself. It helped put that into your subconscious a little bit deeper than, “I’m grateful for my wife,” or, “Hey, she’s awesome.” And that’s the stuff that’s then easier to recall. So, one of the best ways to get ahead at work, and this is a little hack, is being grateful for other people.

And so, try not to focus on yourself. The idea is just focus on other people and why you’re grateful for them, and try to express this gratitude in front of other people. And when you do this, remember it’s important to be genuine here because people can tell when you’re not. But if I work with you, Pete, and I say in a meeting with my boss or our boss, maybe you’re not there, but I say, “Man, Pete’s been awesome. Like, as soon as I ask for help, he turned around this email, or this design, or whatever it is, in just a few hours, and it was so good.”

Now, what the boss will remember is you complimenting that person, but they’ll also equate you with that compliment. And so, you’re sticking in their brain double because you’re giving somebody else a compliment and they’re equating you with that compliment. So, you’re creating win-win on both sides, which is one of the best things you can do in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I guess I’m surprised to learn that they’re equating me with that compliment. Is there some research behind this? Or what’s the story?

Karl Staib
Yeah. So, what happens in the brain is as that person hears that compliment, they’re hearing it from you. Now, it’s basically kind of the mirror neurons that are going on, right? Like, if we see somebody else behaving nicely, opening a door for somebody. We’ve all seen those commercials where you’re nice to somebody and then they pass it on, and they hold the door for somebody, and then somebody else picks up the tab at a Starbucks for the person behind them. It’s very similar to that. It’s seeing, like, you are being grateful for somebody else, and that person sees that, and says, “Wow, they must also live that way too, or be that way too.” And that’s why it works so well.

And it’s true though. Like, if you notice, and this is a positivity thing, but you wake up, you’re in a good mood, you just got a pep in your step, and you go through the day, and you’re just like, “Man, life is good.” You hit some traffic but it’s okay. You just got a good groove going on today versus the day where you got up on the wrong side of bed. You hit that same traffic and then you end up getting angry and mad and everything is wrong, and you go on to work, and everything just goes to hell. It’s the same traffic. Everything. But it’s your mindset going into it that was different.

And so, that’s why it’s so important to work on those things. And that’s what happens when you take that time to be grateful, you become more patient, you relax a little bit, you don’t try to force things as much because what ends up happening is you’re pausing to slow down the moment. If I have to think of something I’m grateful for, I can’t worry about anything else, I can’t do anything else, I can’t think another thought. Once a thought is in there, that’s that thought, right? There’s no double-thinking thoughts at the same time. You can’t think negative and positive.

And so what ends up happening is you are setting yourself up to create a more positive mindset and to be more resilient. And that’s the stuff when you get knocked down at work and somebody says something mean to you, or somebody talks behind your back, you can allow it to wreck your day or you can say, “You know what,” and I know, Pete, this is hard, but being grateful for that person. Being grateful for the opportunity to be just a little bit more empathetic towards that person.

I always give the traffic example because I struggle whenever I hit traffic, my blood boils but I’m working on not allowing it to do that to me. You’re in traffic. And you can choose, like, “Okay, I’m going to stay mad and I’m going to be pissed off, and I’m going to yell at everybody.” Or, I can say, “I’m grateful for this moment because I can look out my window and see the trees. I’m grateful for this moment because I can turn on my favorite song.” And that pause allows you then to stop and not be so reactionary.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I dig that, that pause and the why piece because I kind of wanted to get some more details associated with if you identify, “Hey, I’m grateful for this,” you write it down. It seems like sometimes you really feel it, and sometimes you don’t. And Hal Elrod discussed this when we were chatting in our interview that sometimes the gratitude is just sort of an intellectual thing, “It is good that I am in a car and it has proper climate controls.” You know, like, “That is a fact,” as opposed to, “Wow, this is just so warm and cozy and perfect.” I don’t know.

You talked about the why and as opposed just the what. Do you have any other pro tips on how we can really get there so that we are feeling the gratitude as opposed to just simply identifying, “Yes, this is something worthy of gratitude”?

Karl Staib
Yeah, that’s a great point, right? Because if we force it, it doesn’t have the impact that it could, right? Like, we can’t force love. You can’t make yourself be happy. But it’s not about, in this case, being specifically happy about the traffic and that you can’t get to where you want to go. It’s about being grateful for what you can be grateful for.

So, what’s important is to put everything into perspective, right?

We have to look at things and we’ve got to say, “Okay, is this really that bad? Like, I’m stuck in traffic. Maybe I’m late getting home to my family.” But if you’re saying, “This is miserable. I’m never doing this again. I’m not going to do this driving anymore,” that’s not a bad thing. Anger is not bad. We should feel angry. We should feel all our feelings. And maybe that spurs us to make a change in our lives. Like, that’s something to be grateful for, and that’s kind of the point of this, is it’s not about being happy. It’s about working on your mindset because there’s always a way to find some small thing you’re grateful for.

You just got to slow down a little bit and allow yourself to focus on the super small things that you can control and you can enjoy, and that’s the stuff that’s going to really help you focus your mindset in the direction.

Pete Mockaitis
And you also have a term called way power. What is that and how do we use it?

Karl Staib
Okay. So, you’ve probably heard of the study where you go through the grocery store and you have to deal with picking out, “Which bread do I want? What type of strawberries do I want?” And the more you make these decisions the more your willpower depletes. When your willpower depletes, you go to the checkout lane, you see the Snickers, you pick up the Snickers because you’re exhausted, you’ve made all of these decisions throughout the day, and you put that Snickers down on the conveyor belt, and you walk out with your Snickers bar, and you start eating it even before you get into the car, right, because you’ve had enough. Your brain can’t take anymore decisions.

Now that is how a lot of us do any type of good habit-building. We say, “I’m going to work out today. This is the day that I’ll wake up early.” And then the alarm goes off, and you don’t wake up early, and you hit the snooze alarm, and then you push off working out to the next day. Now way power is really important because it’s the wind behind your sails. It’s not, “Oh, I’m doing this and I have to do this.” It’s, “I want to do this.” It’s the why behind it.

You have kids, you’ve got young kids, and your wife is waking up early, and I’m guessing she’s looking at this as an opportunity to bond with her kids. I don’t know your wife. I don’t know you when you wake up at 4:00 a.m. or whatever it is to feed the kids. But if you can say, “You know, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to bond with my kid.” That right there is setting yourself up to have a better experience than, “Argh, man, it’s 4:00 a.m. I’m too tired for this.”

Those thoughts are going to deplete you, and then you’re like, “No, I got to just get up and do it. Pete, get up. Do it.” But if you say, “Okay, what are my options? Stay here, let the baby cry, or stay here and let my wife do it? You know what, I’m going to take this as an opportunity to bond with my kid.” And that is way power. That’s you finding that small bit of appreciation, of gratitude towards doing that thing and allowing that to guide you versus you forcing yourself to do it.

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

Karl Staib
I think it’s really important when people focus on working on their mindset, is to bring some awareness and watching those thoughts. And you don’t have to meditate. But the idea is you have to notice these things that are happening, right? If you’re stuck in traffic and you feel the anger coming on, you can ride that wave and just let it go, or you can pause and you can slow down and allow yourself to take a moment and relax and not let that anger overwhelm you.

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

Karl Staib
So, I’m a big fan of the show so I have two, “Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” And that’s Zig Ziglar. That’s a great quote.

Okay, number two. “My dad encouraged us to fail. Growing up he would ask us what we failed at this week. If we didn’t have something, he would be disappointed. It changed my mindset at an early age that failure is not the outcome. Failure is not trying. Don’t be afraid to fail.” And I think that’s so important. Failure is not who we are. It’s not defining us. What defines is what happens after.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study?

Karl Staib
There’s a study where optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56%. And this comes through their ability to bounce back. And so, that’s what I want people to try to practice.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Karl Staib
Can I give two?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Karl Staib
Emotional Success by David DeSteno. There’s a ton of research in gratitude in there. And then Siddhartha by Herman Hess because he was very influential of me, really digging into my mindset.

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

Karl Staib
My gratitude journal, I keep it on my phone so I have it always on me. And it sounds silly but whenever I have a tough meeting or whatever, I just pull up my phone and I write one thing I’m grateful for, and it usually kind of shifts my focus. Man, it’s helped me so much.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Karl Staib
Walking. I love walking. It’s usually when I come up with a lot of my ideas. Helps me process. We are meant to move as a species, all animals are. And if we sit or lay down too long, our anxiety takes over. So, it helps me keep my anxiety at bay too.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a key thing that you share that seems to connect with folks such that they quote it back to you?

Karl Staib
Hmm, yeah, the three levels of gratitude. A lot of people say, “Yeah, I know gratitude is important. I know I should be thinking about it more, being more appreciative of my life, but I never heard it in that way.”

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

Karl Staib
Yeah, I challenge them to keep a gratitude journal for 30 days. I do gratitude challenges. It’s how most people have found me. November, January, March, May and September, September just wrapped up. November, the next one starts. And so, I suggest, if they want, they can go to BringGratitude.com/thanks, like thanks for listening, and they can get some freebies, the five tools to be 31% more productive, they get information on how to join the challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Karl, thanks so much. I’m grateful for you and wish you all the best as you keep on going here.

Karl Staib
Thank you so much. This is great. And I love the questions and how you dug in and you really forced me to do deeper than I was anticipating in going.

500: Building Unshakeable Self-Esteem and Confidence with Victor Cheng

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Victor Cheng says: "I'm worthy simply because I exist."

Victor Cheng discusses the mindset and habits that lead to powerful self-esteem and self-confidence.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The foundational mindset that yields self-esteem
  2. The three skills for developing healthy self-esteem
  3. How to recover from confidence-shaking setbacks

About Victor:

Victor Cheng is the founder of CaseInterview.com, the most prominent blog on the management consulting industry.  He also serves as a strategic advisor to Inc. 500 CEOs, and has been featured as a business expert in media, including Fox Business TV Network, MSNBC, TIME, The Wall Street Journal, and Forbes.

Victor is a former McKinsey & Company consultant and has been a senior executive in several publicly owned technology companies. He’s a graduate of Stanford University with a degree in quantitative economics, and the author of several business books.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Victor Cheng Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Victor, thanks so much for joining us on the 500th episode of How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Victor Cheng
Thanks, Pete. I appreciate that and honored to be the 500th episode.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, I’m delighted to have you and, in a way, I really think of you, I don’t know if you know this, Victor, but your voice is inside my head almost every workday as I think about how to make epic content and build audience. And you’re sort of like maybe my content conscience, the little voice in my head who won’t let me get away with publishing suboptimal stuff, so I think all the listeners can thank you for that.

Victor Cheng
Thank you. I appreciate that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I think one of my favorite tidbits along those lines was we were making a program together for interns, and I had something about, “Hey, have enough clothes ready so that you don’t have to do laundry for two weeks.” And you said, “Pete, this is not sufficient. I need to hear how many blue dress shirts, how many white dress shirts, Like, “Okay. Yes, sir.” And that’s really stuck with me, it’s like, “Okay, am I thinking about this from a, ‘I have two weeks of clothes,’ or am I thinking about this from a, ‘These are the particular garments that you need?’” It makes all the difference.

Victor Cheng
Yeah, I know I think I always like to have, when I help people, I try to be as actionable-oriented as possible and I know some of the preparations you sent over for our talk today was around be actionable as you can, and I strive to do that as best I can and it sounds like you do too.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you, yes. Well, so let’s talk a little bit, you and your team at CaseInterview.com, you serve another audience of professionals who would like to achieve and more and do better. Can you orient us, what’s this brand all about?

Victor Cheng
Yeah, so the case interview term refers to a kind of interview that’s very widely used in the management consulting industry, and I help people who aspire to enter that industry with that interview process, which is very different than other industries. And so, most of my audience are people who at one point in their careers were very interested in that interview process, and most of my readers are either have worked in consulting, used to work in consulting, tried to work in consulting but went in a different direction. And the one thing they have in common, which I think they share with your audience, is they really want to be awesome at their jobs. And so, that’s kind of a tie-in between the two of us.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’re also really great at zeroing in on what do folks really want and need to learn and then building that for them. And so, I understand you and your team, you were kind of surprised when you discovered this need for developing self-confidence and self-esteem. How did that come about?

Victor Cheng
Yeah, the short answer is listening and paying attention. So, I noticed that we would try to help people be successful in their careers in this particular industry. The industry is very difficult to get into, maybe like less than 1% acceptance rate. So, there are a lot of people who strive to get in but can’t, and a lot of them will contact me, and say, “I just feel so down and out. I went very far in the interview process but I didn’t get a job offer that I wanted, or I got a second-tier offer.”

And so, you find these people who are, in many cases, with Ivy League degrees, sometimes multiple Ivy League degrees, feeling they’re kind of worthless when they’ve accomplished almost everything except kind of these one or two things that were really important for them. And so, I realized there was kind of a gap between kind of their achievements and how they feel about themselves. And so, I’m noticing, “Hey, there’s a self-esteem problem.” I see sort of, quite often, within my audience and started to help them with that issue.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating right there in terms of you said multiple Ivy League degrees and all kinds of credentials and achievements, and yet that’s sort of not enough, they’re not experiencing or feeling the self-esteem and the self-confidence. What do you suppose is underneath that?

Victor Cheng
Well, one of the things I like to distinguish between is the concept of self-esteem versus other esteem. And esteem really is how one feels about one’s self. And how one feels about one’s self kind of either come internally, right, and that would be self-esteem, or it can come from external sources. So, when someone is feeling really rotten about themselves because something outside of them has occurred, they didn’t get into this school they wanted to, they didn’t get the job offer, there was recession, their net worth took a big hit, stock market went down, they didn’t get a promotion, whatever that might be, and that is what I call other-based esteem. And that is when you tie your identity and sense of self worth to things outside of your control in your environment that aren’t always your decision.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so I think that that’s common and I would certainly prefer to have my esteem coming from myself as opposed to the fluctuating whims of the economy or other people’s opinions. So, how do you pull that off in terms of building that internal fortress of self-esteem?

Victor Cheng
Well, this starts with the mindset and the mentality. I think there are sort of two schools of thought or two ways of looking at the world and human worth, right? So, one is what I call the newborn baby approach, which is when a new child is born, like everyone looks at this baby, “Oh, they’re so amazing, they’re so precious, they’re like perfect in every way possible,” even though probably they aren’t in an objective sense, but that they have inherent worth, that they’re amazing purely because they exist. They haven’t got into Harvard yet, they haven’t had major achievements, they haven’t done many, many things in life because they’re literally just existing. And so, that idea of inherent worth I like a lot. And it’s very much associated with healthy self-esteem.

The other approach, which I mentioned, I alluded to earlier, was we tie our identity to outside achievements. So, one of the important things with developing self-esteem is to accept the premise of self-based esteem. And the premise of good, healthy self-esteem is this concept of inherent worth, that you and I, we’re worthy human beings solely because we are human beings and for no other reason. So, it’s a starting point to buy into that belief.

And anytime one’s actions or instinctive impulses of beating one’s self up for some kind of perceived failure, you have to remind yourself, “I’m worthy simply because I exist.” So, that mindset is an important starting point to have to kick off that process. And then the rest of the process really involves a lot of self-acceptance. When you have, externally, wanting to esteem, your esteem will fluctuate based on kind of the whims and volatility of the external world.

And what a lot of people do when they have the external environment changes for the negative, they feel worse about themselves, and they either beat themselves up, feel ashamed, embarrassed, or irritated at themselves, or shaming themselves. And that is a symptom or a sign of lack of self-acceptance, right?

So, when the world changes, when your life changes, when you make a mistake, healthy self-esteem people say, “No, I still care about myself, I still value myself, I still love myself. I may choose to do things differently going forward based on mistakes and lessons I’ve learned, but as a human being, my worth does not fluctuate based on my achievements or how the external world perceives me.”

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, there are so much really good stuff here and these are some really, I guess, profound philosophical nuggets in terms of I’m thinking about many religions or wisdom traditions. We talked about the intrinsic dignity of a human being, whether it’s Christianity, humans being made in the image and likeness of God, or from a secular perspective, like the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights. And so, I’m with you, I’m bought into that. But if folks aren’t, do you have any kind of support pillars or evidence or how do you persuade them to make the leap?

Victor Cheng
Well, I think it comes twofold. One is the choice, making that choice consciously, and then the second part is there are certain sets of behavior       s and habits and practices that help reinforce that. And so, I don’t have a magic pill, if you would, on how to get someone to sort of buy into that idea. It really is deciding that’s the way you want to live your life. And after that, it’s making a lot of habitual choices and habit changes, which I’d love to talk about, in terms of reinforcing that. But, really, it comes down to a choice because you either say, “Hey, I’m going to live that way,” or not. And then if you decide to live that way, then it’s getting better at the habits around that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, what are some of those habits that go a long way in terms of reinforcing that?

Victor Cheng
Right. So, once you believe that sort of philosophy in life, if you would, and you’ve come to realize the importance of self-acceptance, there are three other skills that are really important to developing healthy self-esteem. And those are what I call individuation, boundaries, and self-care. So, let me explain what each of those are because they’re kind of, you know, those terms come from the psychology world so not everyone may be familiar with them.

But individuation is a huge one. I think this is where a lot of people, myself included, have had difficulty in making the transition from other-based esteem to self-esteem. And individuation basically says, “I am comfortable with myself, with my thoughts, and my feelings, and my identity. And my thoughts, feelings, and identity will not be altered based on your thoughts, and your feelings, and your identity.”

So, for example, do you have a favorite sport, Pete, or a favorite team?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I don’t follow sports much but my favorite sport to participate in would be swimming or weightlifting.

Victor Cheng
Got it, okay. So, Michael Phelps, great swimmer, most of us have heard of him. You could argue Michael Phelps is the greatest swimmer of all time. I could argue something completely different. The ability to have what’s called good individuation is where I can feel confident in my decision on who I think the greatest swimmer of all time is, you can feel confident in yours, and we can both acknowledge that we have a difference of opinion on that, right?

So, where you find is some people with very low self-esteem and no self-esteem cannot agree to disagree, right? They have difficulty agreeing to disagree. And what ends up happening is when you see two people with low self-esteem who lack this skill, the arguments never end because they’re trying to convince the other person they are right.

So, a simple example is my favorite flavor of ice cream is vanilla, yours might be chocolate. We could argue who’s right, but what this really is, is a conflict of opinion. You have your opinion for what you feel is the best flavor of ice cream, I have mine, and if we were sort of two healthy people with great self-esteem, we go, “Wait. You like chocolate, I like vanilla,” we agree to disagree, end of conversation, right?

And if you watch most sitcoms, most movies, a lot of marriages, you’ll find people will just argue forever. And the reality is there is no right, particularly when it’s a subjective subject, there is no right answer, right? And it’s really what you decide for yourself. So, people with good individuation won’t get riled up, or triggered, or irritated, or sucked into social media debates about something that’s basically an opinion. And so, that’s one part of healthy individuation, and you can separate the validity of your thoughts around your ideas from other people’s opinions about your ideas.

Pete Mockaitis
And I suppose maybe and this could be a totally different concept.

Victor Cheng
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
But I’m guessing that if you’re strong and healthy there, then you can also be okay discovering that you’re wrong and adopting a new belief, like, “Holy smokes, Victor, you’ve brought up some excellent points about Michael Phelps that I was not previously aware of. I’m going to chew on this, and I may choose to adopt your position, but that doesn’t mean that I am a loser or a moron for having previously held a prior position.”

Victor Cheng
That’s right. And so, people with healthy self-esteem and self-based esteem are able to hear feedback without getting defensive because either of us are totally wrong, or actually there’s some merit there and I can consider it, but regardless of whether I accept it or reject your feedback, in no way is your feedback going to impact my sense of identity and worth because I’m pretty secure in my identity and worth.

And so, that’s why there’s a huge advantage at being awesome at your career when you have good healthy self-esteem because you can listen to feedback without getting defensive. And if you look at some notable figures in sort of in the news these days, some very high-profile people cannot take criticism, they cannot admit when they’re wrong, they can’t take feedback, they can’t apologize, they double and triple down on a position even when all objective data and feedback says they’re wrong, and that can oftentimes be a sign of someone who’s uncomfortable being wrong because they tie being wrong to a sense of poor identity. And so, that can be a very difficult situation to navigate.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I think there’s a famous scientist, and maybe you’ll know this, but there was quote I thought was awesome. It went something like there were two scientists, they were having a bit of a disagreement over time about a theory of sorts, and then one scientist got some great experimental data, then the other scientist said, “Hey, all right. It looks like your theory is right.” And then the person who changed his view got criticized by the prevailing scientist, but then the changing scientist said, “Well, when new evidence, just that my prior beliefs were incorrect, I change my beliefs. What, sir, do you do?” Zing!

Victor Cheng
There you go. There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
I better look that up. All right. Okay, so that’s individuation. And we also got boundaries and self-care.

Victor Cheng
Yeah. So, boundaries would be setting rules for yourself to protect from people who have sort of toxic behaviors. So, one example is like name-calling. Name-calling is very, very damaging on esteem. If you call yourself a name, like, “I’m such a loser,” you do that a thousand times in your life, or 10,000 times, or 100,000 times, it’s going to have an impact, right? So, name-calling and avoiding it is super important to protecting your esteem.

So, one rule is I will never call myself a name, right? And if I do, I will call a timeout and find a different way to express my frustration. That’s an example about an internal boundary, a rule that I govern my own behavior. Another one is around governing what situations I am willing to allow myself to be in. So, for example, for me, if I’m in a situation when someone does engage in sort of very toxic name-calling at me, I have a rule that I will remove myself from that situation.

So, if it is one of my kids, and they’re getting really volatile, I will call timeout for myself. I will leave that room, I let my kids know, “When you’re ready to have this conversation in a respectful way, I’m willing to continue, and let me know when you’ve calmed down.” If it’s a client that does that, which does not last very long, I say the same thing, or eventually I fire them fairly quickly because I don’t want to be around people who would try to bring me down because it is not healthy behavior, not good for me.

So, boundaries are a set of rules, kind of if-then statements, if you would, that ensures that you’re going to be safe and your esteem is going to be protected. It’s a form of self-defense in a healthy productive way. And the way you define a boundary is, “If this scenario happens, then I’m going to do this.” “If I catch myself calling myself a name, then I’m going to immediately stop and try to find some other way to address that feeling.” So, it’s an if-then rule that you decide in advance as you discover the kinds of situations where you really feel very bad, like you don’t want that situation to repeat, you create a new boundary rule for yourself as a way to continually get you safer and safer and protecting your sense of worth.

Pete Mockaitis
So, name-calling, that’s a great area to put some boundaries around. Any other top boundaries you recommend?

Victor Cheng
Yeah, another one would be lack of acceptance of differences. So, for example, you know, we got in this debate of vanilla ice cream versus chocolate. A healthy version of that conversation would be, “Oh, I see, Pete, you like chocolate, I like vanilla. What do you know? We’re different. Okay, that’s great.” And I can affirm and validate that, “I can see clearly, Pete, you like chocolate ice cream,” right? And I don’t have to feel a pressure to try to change your mind, I don’t have to like shame you or say, “Only losers think chocolate ice cream is a bit like…you’ve got to be kidding me, that’s so 1990s.” I don’t have to do any of that putting you down.

So, one form of boundary is to look for people who can receive your ideas and not try to tell you your ideas are wrong. They might share additional information, they might try to persuade you, but they don’t make you try to feel bad just for having an opinion. Another variation of that that’s even more important is feelings. When you have a feeling, a feeling is always valid. A feeling is really a personal experience in how you’re experiencing a situation.

So, for example, if you go to a funeral, and maybe you didn’t know that person very well because you’re maybe with somebody, a significant other and they know the person really well, and you’re very sad because you just felt sad at the funeral. If someone who says, “Why do you feel sad? You didn’t know him, right? Like, that’s so lame,” that would be an example of someone who is encroaching on your right to have your own emotional experience about the situations you encounter.

And it’s neither right or wrong but all emotions have their own experiential validity that can be acknowledged. It’s such a healthy behavior to acknowledge your own feelings and to be around people who are able to acknowledge your feelings even though they don’t necessarily agree with them, and that’s a form of respect that’s important.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, not to muddy the waters too much here, but I’d love it if we can maybe make this even more difficult with regard to, so sometimes we have opinions about things that maybe they are perceived as right and wrong, have big consequences. So, let’s just say that there’s someone who’s vegan and they believe that meat is murder, and that the cows and all of the resources to tend to them are terrible for the earth and the greenhouse gases and CO2 and climate change, and meat is just bad news, and then someone else is an enthusiastic beef eater who’s into that. So, now, these folks need to co-exist and they have strong feelings. So, does that change the game at all or how do you think about those situations?

Victor Cheng
It depends on the context of the disagreement. If it is in general, “Is veganism right or wrong? Is eating meat right or wrong?” that’s one kind of conversation. And the other would be more like policy change, make changing the laws that govern society because laws impact all of us and, therefore, we need to settle that dispute. But if it’s a matter of personal choice, relating a healthy interaction is, “Pete, I see you feel very strongly about being vegan and I respect that choice that you make for yourself. It’s not the choice I’m comfortable making for myself and I can see that we’re different, but I totally honor and respect that that’s what you’ve chosen for your life.”

And you might say, “Hey, Victor, there’s some new information that you might not be aware of, we should be open to hearing some reasons why you, Victor, might want to consider eating less meat or even converting to veganism.” And I would say either, “Yes, I’m open to hearing about it,” or, “No, I’m not,” right?

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Victor Cheng
If I say, “No, I’m not,” and you push it anyway then you’re crossing a boundary. You’re trying to control my personal life choices. This is my body, I control what I do with my body, and you’re encroaching on that limit. If I invite you, “You know, I heard a lot about it, I’ve seen some documentaries, I’ve seen some companies that try to make money in that market, yeah, I’m curious. What have you seen? Why are you vegan? Is it environmental? Is it philosophical? Is it moral? I’d be curious to learn more.” So, if I give you an invitation, and you accept that, then you can fully discuss that.

So, it is recognizing when a choice is yours to make, when it is somebody else’s to make, or if it is something that we are in it together. So, for example, we’ve got a coupon to go buy ice cream and we can only get like one pint of ice cream and we got to choose vanilla or chocolate, then we have a decision to make, that’s a joint decision. And we can agree that you like chocolate, that I like vanilla, you think chocolate is the best in the world, I think vanilla is the best in the world, that’s fine. We agree to disagree on our opinions on that but we still have to make a resource allocation decision because we can only get one, and that becomes a problem-solving exercise of, well, how do we solve that problem.

So, again, it depends on whether this is a judgment of somebody’s personal choice or is some kind of joint decision, or social decision, or team decision, or in a couple, a marital decision that impacts both people. So, that’s kind of the distinction between those two.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And now let’s hear about self-care.

Victor Cheng
Well, self-care is recognizing that in many ways you have to take care of yourself because you can’t always rely on somebody else to do it for you. And I think healthy relating is about taking responsibility for your own health, physically and mentally, and to look out for yourself. And I think healthy relating is when two people, if we’re talking about a romantic context, two people in a couple, they’re monitoring themselves, they’re figuring out what they need, they are requesting help from their partner when that help is needed, but it is their own responsibility to look out for themselves and to ask for help when they need it.

I think things get problematic when people sort of assume somebody else is going to take care of them for you, particularly if you just assume it but don’t actually ask or have them consent to it or form some kind of agreement. So, I think good maintenance and support of self-esteem involves taking care of yourself.

So, a simple example, it is very hard to have high self-esteem if, for example, you lack the ability to provide for yourself financially, right? So if you’re in an abusive relationship, whether that’d be like a marital one or working for a terrible boss, if you are dependent on that other person for your financial resources and they put you down, for example, it’s very hard to walk away because you have a form of dependence on them that makes it very hard to assert your boundaries to keep yourself emotionally safe.

So, if you have your own ability to earn your own living, you have a resume that’s strong, you have the ability to go get other jobs if you need to, then it becomes easier to say, when someone steps across the line, to say, “You know, that wasn’t cool with me. I’d like you to stop doing that.” And if it happens repeatedly then I need to reevaluate whether I can be in this form of relationship with you or not. And that gives you a lot of power to take care of your needs when you have the ability and means to take care of yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when you say self-care, I was originally envisioning meditation and massage and sleep, but you’re thinking about just actually having the means to care for yourself.

Victor Cheng
Yeah, and that’s certainly included in that, but it is a very broad sense. So medical health, dental, like the basics of life. It is very hard to feel good about yourself if you feel ill, right? And so those two go together. So, all those skills become a form of esteem. So, think about the opposite, think about sort of the stereotype of the man-child, right? Usually male, maybe in the 20s, 30 years of age, and they just can’t take care of themselves at all. They aren’t able to feed themselves. They can’t do their own laundry, they have difficulty paying bills, and they feel bad about themselves.

And so even though they have inherent worth, they feel bad because, like, “I have to rely on everyone else around me to do anything.” And so, it’s very hard to feel that sense of internal power when a lot of basic needs you can’t meet for yourself. You’re just so reliant on other people. So, you can see how someone would naturally gravitate towards having this sense of worth be tied to other people’s opinions that fluctuate just because they do when you can’t take care of yourself. You get much more sense of a grounded-ness around a volatile world when you have the ability to take care of yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, that’s really true. And what’s coming to mind for me right now is the funniest example. But we had a situation in which, well, I guess, so we’re recent homeowners.

Victor Cheng
Oh, cool.

Pete Mockaitis
And so it’s kind of doesn’t feel so great, I guess from a self-care perspective, when I don’t really understand what the heck is going on with so many of the systems, with plumbing, or electrical, or whatever, and maybe people feel this way like when they go to the mechanic with their car. And like, “I don’t know what’s going on, I hope you’re not lying to me and ripping me off with the work that needs to happen.”

And then, by contrast, we had this experience where our refrigerator temperature was just going up in such that it wasn’t even cool anymore and we had to throw some things out, and that was sort of frustrating because it was only like three years old. And so, I went through a process of assessing the temperature with this cool temperature laser gun and watching some YouTube videos.

Victor Cheng
That sounds like you, by the way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, clearing some stuff out and opening a panel on the freezer and discovering that there was a huge ice clog where the cold air flow would go from the freezer so I resolved all of this, and then things worked properly. And I just felt awesome.

Victor Cheng
Yeah, of course.

Pete Mockaitis
I am capable of ensuring that my family’s food remains safe and cool.

Victor Cheng
Yep, I can totally relate. And I recently moved in this new house. Like, a lot of little things I didn’t like, it’s like light switches and light bulbs are wrong, so I changed all the light switches, they’re all motion-sensor lights. I put timers in the bathrooms because I wanted them to have an auto off, so I changed all that, and a few amounts of electrical works, I changed out a chandelier. I did this like 15 years ago when I first bought a house a long time ago, and it felt really good to be able to do it myself. And, sure, I could’ve hired an electrician but these are literally 10-minute jobs, there’s something very satisfying for me about doing that.

And this will be kind of crossed over from self-esteem into self-confidence. So, what you just talked about, what I just talked about, is we are developing competence in certain areas, and part of that feeling of feeling really good is feeling confidence in our competence in our ability to do certain things. And sometimes people kind of get self-esteem and confidence mixed up, but this is probably a great segue to switch it over to talk more about self-confidence and where that comes from.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes, please. Well, how about we hit that distinction, and then we talk about self-confidence?

Victor Cheng
So, self-esteem really is how you feel about yourself and your worth as a human being. It’s very global around the essence of who you are. And confidence tends to be situational-dependent around particular areas of skill. So, I am not confident at dancing ballet, okay? Not my thing, never done it, never taken a class, I watched my kids do it when they’re little, but I feel very un-confident in my ability to dance ballet. In fact, I feel terrified if I had to do that in public.

But when it comes to this case interview thing, the thing I’m known for professionally, I’ve been doing it for so long, I’ve done it so many times, I’m very confident in my core area of expertise professionally. And so, confidence is about a specific domain of activity whereas self-esteem is about your domain as a human being. That’s kind of the difference in scope between those two concepts.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s very clear. And so, when it comes to boosting self-confidence within a domain, how does that go about?

Victor Cheng
First, there’s competence. How good are you at something objectively? There is what I call outer confidence. What are your behaviors and actions, and how do they signal your comfort level with that particular skill? So, an example would be you see something in a job interview and they feel, they act very nervous, very fidgety, they say, “Hmm,” and “Ahh” a lot, and they look un-confident, and that prompts an external person to question their competence. So, it’s this idea of outside or external confidence, how you come across.

And then there’s internal confidence which is really how you feel about your skill level in that particular area. So those three, I think, are more useful way to think about this idea of confidence because sometimes you can act confident but be really incompetent and not know what you’re doing and people figure that out eventually. You can be really good at what you do but you sort of underperceive your own skill level and you sell yourself short a lot. That might be something called like impostor syndrome if you’re familiar with that term. So, it’s useful to have those distinctions because you address each of those particular challenges in those three different areas quite differently.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, I’d love to hear, so if you want to build that up, how would you recommend making it happen?

Victor Cheng
Several what not to do. So, one thing people often suggest is to come across as more confident, “Fake it till you make it.” You’ve heard that phrase. And I disagree with that a lot. I like this idea of what I call earned confidence, which means like I put in the work, I feel good about myself, and I demonstrate that. So, in your case, it’s around the refrigerator. In my case it’s around light switches. We put in the work, we learned the skill, we got better at it, we feel really good internally about it, that inner confidence, and then as we talk about what we’ve done, we express our stories and our experiences in a confident way, and it comes across. It’s sort of a standard cycle when everything works really well.

So, the first foundation of all this is to really accurately assess your competence level. Like, what is your skill level in this area? So, with ballet, for example, my skill level is zero, right? My confidence is also zero. It makes no sense for me to try to fake till I make it because I’m just going to look like a fool. Better to admit it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, these are the American Idol people.

Victor Cheng
Yeah, better to admit it than to prove it to other people. So, if I want to improve my confidence as a ballet dancer, what I really need to do is to work on my competence, work on my skill level, and learn, and put in the work, to learn the skill, and to get good at it. And as that improves, for someone with good self-esteem, as your competence improves so does your confidence because they’re supposed to go hand-in-hand when you have a good sense of self-esteem.

So, for those situations where, again, foundation is there, good sense of self-esteem, you’re lacking a skill in an area, you don’t feel defensive about it, you can completely admit you don’t know, you want to learn, you want to receive feedback, the next step really is just to go get the skill. Learn, read a book, YouTube videos, whatever it is, get the skill, practice the skill, get good, and confidence naturally flows from that because you’ve earned it, because you’ve rightfully earned it. So, that’s sort of like the ideal scenario.

Sometimes people have a situation where they have that skill level but for whatever reason they are either over or underconfident particularly externally. And oftentimes that can be sometimes a sign of low self-esteem. So, for example, if I’m really good at what I do, but I constantly put myself down, I’m constantly like really unsure of myself, yet my track record is 100% correct, like my objective track record is amazing, but the way I act about that and express that is very, very poor, that can be a self-esteem, a signal of a self-esteem problem because maybe I feel like I don’t deserve this feeling of confidence that I’ve rightfully have earned but don’t feel comfortable accepting. And so that becomes a different way of solving that problem.
So when you’ve earned the right to be confident but you just can’t do it, that becomes more of an issue of looking at your sense of self-esteem, the things we talked about earlier about self-acceptance, individuation, having good boundaries, and self-care, and you kind of go back to the foundation sort of shore up the foundation. The flipside is also true where if you are always overconfident and the way you express your level of skill is far greater than your actual skill level, that’s called arrogance, right? And you’ll see people oftentimes perceived as arrogant.

In those situations, their sort of cockiness is one that’s not earned and kind of rubs a lot of people the wrong way when they’re overly confident, they have not earned the right to have that confidence. Michael Phelps says he’s the best swimmer of all time. That’s like called accurate thinking, right? He’s confident, he’s not cocky, he’s not arrogant, it’s just true. If I say I’m the greatest swimmer in the world, I’m being an arrogant fool because, clearly, I’m not, right?

And so, if I’m doing that regularly, always overestimating my own sense of competence in an area, projecting a level of confidence that is not earned, that, too, is a form, oftentimes a form of low self-esteem. And it’s a little counterintuitive but the reason that happens is because people with low self-esteem cannot bear the thought of being thought of as poorly, or being imperfect, or having flaws, or having to learn something because they haven’t developed the skill yet so they go around pretending and projecting a level of confidence that’s not warranted as a way to hide the fact that they’re really ashamed of their skill level. And so that, too, can also be a form of self-esteem problems.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Well, this is very helpful in terms of the distinctions and a means of folks recognizing themselves in some of this. you can kind of diagnose, “Okay, well, then what are the interventions that’s going to make the impact?” Because it’s a very different road in terms of, “Okay, hey, got to build some skills,” versus, “I got to see if I really do buy into this notion that my worth doesn’t fluctuate with other people’s opinions.”

Victor Cheng
Yeah, and it’s an entire process. I like the word practice. It’s a practice to stay focused on yourself, to stay grounded, and to get your sense of worth from internally. And I think it’s important to only be in situations that can reinforce that and try to avoid situations where that gets eroded over time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to hear, if you do take a hit, like so you have many folks that you know who they had big dreams, the dream job, the interview didn’t go their way, or there’s disappointment, or demotion, or getting fired, when you take a hit, what’s sort of your recommended SOS or recovery strategy there?

Victor Cheng
Yeah, so when you want something, you don’t get it, sort of the natural and appropriate and healthy reaction is a feeling of disappointment, right? “I wanted that, I didn’t get it, I feel disappointed.” So, someone with healthy self-esteem will feel naturally disappointed. They’re human, that’s what they do. What’s unhealthy and more indicative of low or no self-esteem is when a setback occurs and rather than be disappointed, they go way beyond that to say, “I’m a loser. I feel worthless.” At the extreme, it’s, “Maybe I should kill myself,” that would be the extreme version of that, “because I didn’t achieve, and, therefore I have no value. When I have no value, well, logically, why would you want to continue living if you have no value.” That’s kind of the weird mental cognitive distortion of that sort of spirals around suicidal ideation and whatnot.

So, the SOS on that really is sort of going back to around self-esteem, and when there is a setback, one of the things you want to do is to have self-acceptance. This goes back to one of the key steps of self-esteem, is having self-acceptance. And one thing I didn’t mention earlier about self-acceptance is rather than using other people’s opinions or achievement as sort of your scorecard on how you feel about yourself, the opposite of that is to have an internal scorecard, if you would, on how you feel about yourself and, in particular, have the internal scorecard not be around achievement but around values, what are your personal values, what’s important to you in life.

And so, I’ll give you an example. So, a couple of my values includes respect, kindness, love, adventure, learning, teaching, these are things that are important to me. And, for me, at the end of my day, like, “Did I have a good day?” That’s the question I ask myself, “Did I have a good day this week? Or this day? Did I have a good week this week? A good month this month? Did I have a good year?” And it’s easy to use as sort of measuring stick to make that determination. Again, the alternative is to have an internal measuring stick around your own values.

So, for me, regardless of whether I have a setback or not, I say, “Well, today, was I respectful to myself and to others?” I go, “Yeah, I think I was.” “Was I kind to myself and others?” “Well, yeah, I was.” “Did I learn something new today?” “Oh, yeah, I definitely learned a lot today because I made some mistakes.” “Did I teach something today?” because I’m big on teaching. “Like, yeah, I did teach somethings to my kids. I turned this failure into a lesson for my kids and so they can learn from my mistakes so I feel good about that.”

And, basically, you kind of go through the list of your own personal values, and you go, “Okay, did I live by my values today? Separate from outcomes, separate from what may have happened, positive or negative, did I live by my values?” And if I do, it was a good day. And if I didn’t then I have the option to do better tomorrow. So, it’s a good way to buffer one’s self from specific outcomes because you can’t always control the outcomes. We can only control what we put into the outcome.

So, you can control the inputs, cannot always control the outputs, and the way to measure your value from a sense of self-worth standpoint is to compare your inputs relative to your values and see if you’ve lived the way you wanted to and did you put in the effort the way that you wanted to. And then if you did, be happy with yourself because you did what you’re supposed to do in the way you want to do it. And what happens, not always in your control.

Pete Mockaitis
And I imagine it really is powerful compounded sort of day after day, week after week, with those check-ins in terms of really forming kind of like an unshakeable core in terms of, “This is who I am and what I’m about and what’s more important to me is how my check-in goes internally than whether you give me this opportunity right now.”

Victor Cheng
Yeah, and I think the inverse is also true. If you don’t do the internal check-in against your internal scorecard, then the temptation is very, very strong to do it with the external scorecard, right? So, “I didn’t get the job offer,” “My net worth wasn’t as high as my friends and peers,” “I didn’t get the promotion. I got passed over.” Whatever setback you have in your external world and have lived it. It’s a miserable way to live because these are things that aren’t in your control. But how you contribute to what you do and how you show up, how you put in the effort, how you conduct yourself and your own behaviors, that is 100% in your control. 

And so that’s why it’s less volatile is because it’s in your control. And you can control it. And if it doesn’t go well, you can change it. When it’s very achieve- and externally-driven, you can’t control it, which means if you had a bad day you can’t even fix it because it’s something somebody else is deciding, not yourself. And that’s a very hard way to have a very calm and peaceful life when you’re always dependent on the whims of the external world, which is at times quite whimsical.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. So, that’s powerful stuff. Victor, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Victor Cheng
I’ll mention one other thing that kind of can sort of get people on the wrong track around self-esteem. Self-esteem, when done well, comes from parents with good self-esteem, that’s maybe a better way to say that. So, when they’re pretty comfortable with who they are, they’re very well individuated in the sense that you can disagree with your parents and they’ll be okay with that, and they have good boundaries, and they have good self-care, they’re good parents who have that skillset are going to naturally teach that to the kids.

When that process sort of goes awry is how you end up with adults who have other esteem, like myself for most of my life. And so, this concept of what I call traumas, that’s useful to be aware of. A trauma can be like a major life event. So, like if your parents were killed in a car crash and you’re orphaned at five years of age, like this whole process of building self-esteem gets completely contorted and can get really off the rails, right? That’s an example of a major trauma.

Another example of trauma is what I call a micro trauma. It’s lots of little things that erode your esteem what otherwise would develop in childhood, and that could be as simple as your parents only paid attention to you when you brought back a perfect 4.0 GPA. You got all As and suddenly they’re really excited about that. And you got one B and they kind of look the other way. And it was very clear that you weren’t approved of, right? When that happens hundreds of times, thousands of times in little ways, those micro traumas, they really add up. And so, even if nothing major negative happened in your life going up until maybe age 20, if a lot of little things just repeat over and over and over again, you can still destroy the normal path of self-esteem through sort of this erosion of what I call micro traumas.

So, that’s something to realize. If you haven’t been around people with a lot of high self-esteem, particularly the people who raised you, that’s a very high likelihood you’re going to have the same kind of other-based esteem that they may have. And people with other esteem tend to inflict micro traumas on the people around them. And so, it’s just something to be aware of to get with your own behavior towards others and also to be mindful of the other behaviors that you’re receiving from others to determine whether that’s something you want to be around or not.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you.

Victor Cheng
Sure.

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

Victor Cheng
There are several that I like coming out of the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I found that book when I was 17, 16, and it’s taken me more decades than I care to count to try to master the seven habits. I think I’ve gotten six down. I’m still working on the last one for the last two decades which is around self-care, ironically. He calls it renewal or sharpening the saw, which is another word for self-care and taking good care of yourself in all aspects.

So, I like all the seven habits. I think one is “Begin with the end in mind,” what do you want to achieve in your life and kind of work backwards. Another one which is really great for self-esteem is “First seek to understand the other person before you seek to be understood.” And so that goes back to our example of why you like veganism versus not, why you like chocolate ice cream versus vanilla, and be able to hear other people. You can only do that really well if you have good esteem where you don’t feel threatened by somebody’s opinion that might be different than yours. You can genuinely hear them and understand them, that’s a very useful skill.

So, I love all of seven habits and I find those quite useful as a way to live life.

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

Victor Cheng
Let’s see. Well, personally, I carry a Leatherman. I have one in my belt right now. It’s a multifunction tool, kind of like a Swiss Army knife but better.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, literally, a collection of physical tools.

Victor Cheng
Yeah, literally. It does really. That helps me function around the house much better. I like that. And then, let’s see, on the job. I like Trello, which is a workflow management tool. I use that as a workflow management tool. I like that for coordinating multiple tasks, I need to follow a set process, that’s really useful for my team from a management standpoint and working in collaboration with others.

And then, individually, it seems really basic but let me explain it because it’ll seem kind of too basic, but my calendar. I think the calendar is a very, very powerful tool and there are probably two things I do with it that are probably a little atypical which I’ll mention. So, one is, and this reminds me, I’m not doing it currently but I’m going to start because I don’t like being a hypocrite. But for many years I would set appointments with myself.

So, most of us will set appointments with other people. I like to set appointments with myself. And the appointments I set with myself or for myself are either do things I want to work on because they’re important, or they are related to self-care. So, there are certain timeslots in a week that I do self-care activities and I will schedule that in there as a deliberate way of taking care of myself in being productive and effective.

And this can be time to read, the time to take an online class, they can be more mundane like I go to the chiropractor regularly, I had one yesterday. That was on my calendar. I carved out time to go to do that. And that can be very, very useful. The other part around the calendar that I use is I really like setting recurring appointments. I use Google Calendar and they can do this sort of every Monday, every Thursday at 2:00 o’clock kind of a thing. And what I’ll do is I will set recurring appointments with people that I’m close to, like my close friends.

And so, the reason I like that is I can make one decision to have a recurring phone call with somebody, like every Tuesday at 2:00 o’clock, and that can oftentimes, in my case, it’s gone on for years, in some cases decades.

And so it takes a lot of time to connect with people with a similar sort of philosophy in life, and that’s very enjoyable without spending, in some cases, more time trying to schedule the phone call than the actual phone call itself, which is very true for myself because I’m quite busy and a lot of my friends who are equally busy. So, I like that as a productivity tool as well.

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

Victor Cheng
Sure. So, one of the things I wanted to offer for your folks is I have a class around how to improve your self-esteem, and I wanted to give everyone an excerpt to that free as a gift. And people can get that at CaseInterview.com/awesome sort of as a gift to all the people who are awesome here looking to be awesome at their careers. So, again, that’s CaseInterview.com/awesome and that’s a free excerpt from my class on how to improve your self-esteem and develop unshakable confidence.

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

Victor Cheng
Yeah, I think I’ll leave everyone sort of a quote from Stephen Covey, from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the end in mind,” figure out what you want for your life, your career, and work backwards, it’s a process for getting there. It’s been very useful for me. I encourage others to do it, and I would challenge everyone to think about that and to work backwards and to work towards it once you figure that process.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Victor, thank you so much for sharing this good stuff here and for all the ways you’ve helped me learned and grow. It’s been a real treat.

Victor Cheng
Great. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me on.

481: Easy Ways to Have More Fun at Work with Drew Tarvin

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Drew Tarvin says: "Would you rather do something that is fun or not fun? You're going to pick fun pretty much all the time."

Drew Tarvin shares how to bring more humor and fun into the workplace.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The power of humor on your work-life productivity
  2. How to craft good work humor that considers medium, audience, and purpose
  3. The 3 specific situations when NOT to use humor at work

About Drew

Andrew Tarvin is the world’s first humor engineer, teaching people how to get better results while having more fun. Combining his background as a project manager at Procter & Gamble with his experience as a stand-up comedian, he reverse-engineers the skill of humor in a way that is practical, actionable, and gets results in the workplace. Through his company, Humor That Works, Drew has worked with more than 35,000 people at over 250 organizations, including Microsoft, the FBI, and the International Association of Canine Professionals. He is a bestselling author; has been featured in The Wall Street JournalForbes, and Fast Company; and his TEDx talk has been viewed more than four million times. He loves the color orange, is obsessed with chocolate, and can solve a Rubiks Cube (but it takes like 7 minutes).

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Drew Tarvin Interview Transcript

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

Drew Tarvin
Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me on such a nicely-titled podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Yes, I like the direct approach. I want to hear all sorts of things from you. But, first, I want to hear about how you’re left-handed except when it comes to shooting pool. What’s the story here?

Drew Tarvin
You know, I don’t know. Growing up, everything would go left-handed, which is not so great when you’re doing handwriting. And then I tried shooting pool and I could not shoot left-handed. It was just weird and awkward. So, then I switched to the right side and it worked, which is bizarre. So, everything, I write left-handed, I throw a baseball left-handed, I cut paper with left-handed scissors and all that, but shooting pool, it’s on the right side. I don’t know what that says about me. I don’t know what that means for coordination but that’s just a fun fact.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I wonder about like darts or bowling.

Drew Tarvin
Darts, yeah. You think of like the pool hall game, it’s mostly, yeah, darts is still left-handed. I try to act like I’m ambidextrous, that I can use right-handed, and, in fact, my handwriting is almost as good with my right hand as it is with my left hand, but that’s just because my left-handed writing is so terrible that whatever the right hand does isn’t that bad in comparison.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, handwriting was, I believe, my worst subject in my entire academic career.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, and people are like, “You’re going to need this for your entire rest of your life.” And now our computers are like, “No, no, actually.” I mean, I sign things but, aside from that, I don’t really do much handwriting.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to dig into your career. You are a humor engineer – intriguing – and you’ve studied humor in the workplace for many years. Can you share with us what’s perhaps one of the most fascinating and surprising discoveries you’ve made as you’ve dug into this topic?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, I think that it’s a surprise for many people especially when they hear my background. So, they maybe see me speak, and like, “How did you get into this?” I’m like, “Well, I got a degree in computer science and engineering.” And they’re like, “That doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t seem like the background and then get into standup comedy and do speaking and all that for a living.”

But I think that’s part of what led me to one of the biggest realizations, is that humor is a skill. I think a lot of times we think of humor, making people laugh, being jovial in certain ways is kind of something that you’re born naturally able to do, and if you can do it, great, but if you can’t, you’re kind of out of luck. But that’s a big learning, is that it’s something that we can learn, that there’s an art and science to using humor, which means that we can teach this, the humor side, the science part of it, while also allowing people to practice the art side of it as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. And so, I want to dig into the art and science and the skill-building, how we can all have more of it but I want to hear a little bit about the why first. So, you make an argument that humor is not just kind of, “Oh, nice to have. It’d be a little bit more fun if we could have it.” But, rather, like a must-have or a critical source of advantage. Can you share some of these benefits with us?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, absolutely. And so, part of it comes from the realization that 83% of Americans are stressed out at work, that 55% are unsatisfied with their jobs, and that 47% struggle to stay happy. And so, it leads to this recognition that with 70% of the workforce being disengaged, it costs the US economy an estimated $500 billion in lost productivity every year.

If you do that math on that based on the number of people working and the estimated cost, that costs a $4,638 per disengaged employee. And so, to me, as an engineer looking at all that, what it’s saying is that the current way of working isn’t actually working. And, for me, I discovered that humor was a way for me to stay more engaged in my work. And when I use it, other people actually got into it as well. And so, there’s all these benefits to it that have been backed by research, case studies, real-world examples, so evidence-based examples of why humor is valuable.

So, it leads to things like an increase in productivity, a decrease in stress, an increase in happiness. At a company level, when organizations embrace it, you see an increase in positive workplace culture, an increase in engagement, a decrease in turnover, an increase in profit. There’s all these different benefits that are factually based that speak to the value of using humor in the workplace, and that’s why I say it’s a must-have.

And the way that we work today, where work-life balance is no longer is a thing, and it’s more about work-life integration, and the challenges that we have day-to-day of always feeling like this need to do more with less-type thing, humor is a skill that can help us with all of those, the changes that are happening in the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m intrigued in that world of do more with less. Some might say, “Hey, Drew, we can’t burn all this time just joking around and being goofy. We got to produce some stuff.” So, how do you think about that?

Drew Tarvin
I would say, yeah, that’s 100% right. And if you were working with robots or cyborgs, yes, agree. But even something like, imagine running your phone down and being like, “All right. I need to be efficient with my phones so I refuse to charge it,” you would be great for about 24, maybe if you have a newer phone, maybe 48 hours, and then the phone is going to be burned out, it’s going to be dead, and it’s not going to work at all.

And that’s one of the things that I joke about is that, as an engineer, I’ve done a lot of research on productivity. I’m a huge fan of getting things done and thinking about that mentality and all that. But I’ve learned that it is very difficult to be productive if you are dead, or if you feel like you’re dead too, if you’re sick, if you’re tired, if you’re burned out, if you’re stressed out, if you’re worn out.

And so, recognizing that this was a huge aha for me in the workplace is that there’s a difference between being efficient and being effective. And you can be efficient with things like computers. You don’t need to motivate a computer to work, you don’t need to convince it to turn on, it doesn’t need a cup of coffee before it starts in the morning, right? But you can’t be efficient with humans because they have emotions and feelings, and because they have to eat and sleep, and because they get sick and tired. And so, instead of being efficient, we have to be effective and recognizing that humor is a way that we can be more effective.

So, you’re absolutely right. Maybe it’s not the most efficient thing in the moment, but it is long term more effective. And when you think about it, what’s efficient longer term, you explaining something once where people actually kind of get it, they remember it a little bit more, they understand it, or you having to explain it eight times down the road because you’re trying to do it as efficiently as possible?

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve heard, and maybe you can unpack this for me, Mr. Humor Engineer, that when we have recently laughed, our brain state, the neurochemical, biochemical situation is that you are more receptive to receive and hear and absorb information. Can you unpack that a bit?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, absolutely. There’s a lot of both physiological and psychological benefits of using humor. And part of that receptivity is you can kind of explain it more simply with a dumb question. And the dumb question is, “Would you rather do something that is fun or not fun?” It’s a dumb question, right? But you’re going to pick fun pretty much all the time. So, that means if you were to make your content a little bit more fun, do you think people would be a little bit more open to wanting to hear it?

And I see this all the time as a speaker. So, I speak to a lot of maybe sometimes dry or more conservative organizations, so engineering groups and accounting firms and things like that, and so they’re used to a certain type of speaker. And so, I might go up towards the end of the day, a lot of the times I’m a closing keynote speaker, they’ve had a lot of content, a lot of great content, but it’s been on the drier side.

So, when I first go up, you’ll see a lot of people kind of on their phones or looking through their notebook or whatever, and then I say a line and it makes a couple of people laugh, and you’ll see people look up from their phones and be like, “Wait, I want to laugh. Why did that guy laugh? Oh, I’m going to listen to this guy to see why he made people laugh. Oh, okay.”

As a great speaker named Tami Evans says, “Once you give people laughing, you get them listening. And once you get them listening, you get them learning, you get them taking action, whatever it is, because you’re making that process a little bit more fun.” And, yeah, there’s some science in some of this stuff too in terms of showing that getting people to laugh makes them less defensive, you’ve kind of lower their defenses, or they’re a little bit more likely to see things from a different angle, because part of humor is also changing perspective.

So, if you get people to look at things a different way. So, for example, maybe a silly example is I don’t like mint chocolate. Are you a mint chocolate fan?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I do. I very much like them.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, you’re a mint chocolate? Okay. See, I’ve never been eating chocolate, and then like, “You know what would great with this? Toothpaste, right?” And so, that’s not necessarily going to convince you to be like, “Oh, I don’t like mint chocolate anymore,” but it’s expressing that rather than me just saying, “Oh, I don’t like mint chocolate and it’s dumb,” right, it’s just giving you a slightly different angle that you now laugh about, and you’re like, “All right, well, I can at least kind of see that perspective,” right? So, it’s lowering your defenses because humor started it.

And that’s kind of one of the many benefits to using humor in the workplace is that, one, it gets people listening because they want to laugh, and then, two, once they’re listening, it helps them understand something a little bit more and maybe changes their perspective around it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, Drew, I have to ask, what’s that line, not that it’s the end-all-be-all and applicable to all circumstances, but we want to hear it? I think one of my favorite humor moves, I saw that to start a speech was this speaker was being introduced and they were sharing all of the great accolades, like, “Featured in the Wall Street Journal,” and all these things. And he just said, “Oh, my, that’s impressive.” I thought that was awesome because, like, anytime you’re being introduced you can pull that schtick a little bit because they know you wrote the bio and it’s being read about you, and for you to pretend that you’re surprised and like, “Hmm?” it just made me chuckle. So, what was your line?

Drew Tarvin
So, I have in my bio, in my introduction, one of the ones that I like, and it’s maybe not necessarily super hilarious, but like I give my client list as Microsoft, the FBI, the International Association of Canine Professionals is kind of my comic trip which, because it’s one of the most interesting groups that I’ve ever presented for.

And, of course, kind of my joke about it is that, and it’s kind of I had that split second when I first got the emails, it’s like, “Is this an association for dogs who have jobs?” I was like, “Oh, no, it’s an association for people who are dog trainers.” And that’s one of the things that I love about speaking is that I get to work with all of these different groups that, “Oh, yeah, of course, canine professionals, one, have a title like Canine Professionals, and, two, they have a conference where they get together and get to know each other a little bit better.”

And so, yeah, anytime you can kind of incorporate those types of things it helps. The other thing that I’ve started doing is in the bottom of my bio, I include that I love the color orange, which is kind of a random aside, and I love chocolate. Because what I found is when I spoke in Europe for the first time, I shared, “Oh, he’s obsessed with chocolate,” I started getting chocolate as my speaker gift because sometimes people are like, oh, not that I’m expecting a speaker gift, but if people are going to be like, “Hey, here’s a bottle of wine,” or, “Here’s X, Y, or Z,” I love chocolate so I’d rather inform them to say, “Hey, here’s something that you can get me that if you present me with a box of chocolates, I’m going to be delighted by.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay. Well, so there we go. We got some good benefits, and it’s possible for anyone to learn this art and skill. So, I guess, where do we start or how would you orient us to sort of the components of what makes humor work?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, I think that the starting point is probably around the definition of humor and making sure that we’re kind of aligned on that because I think we have a certain mindset when it comes to what we think of with humor. And that definition is really important. I kind of relate it to—so I was recently in the UK, and it took me going to the UK for the very first time to realize that I don’t speak English, right? I speak American because British English is different than American English. There are certain words that they say versus what we say.

Like, we say in the US, we say elevator, they say lift, right? We say fries, they say chips, and chips is something different for us. We say, for the most part, we say like bathroom, they say toilets, right, or the loo. And so, when you’re out in the public, I think that that’s more accurate because if you are out in the public and you say, “Hey, where’s the bathroom?” there’s typically no bath in that room. And as an engineer, I’m like, “Okay, that’s more specific, that’s accurate.” So, I was like, “I’m going to start using that in my language.” I’m going to start asking, “Where are the toilets?” or refer to them as toilets.

So, I’m in a Starbucks here in New York City, and I go up to a barista, and I’m like, “Excuse me, where are the toilets?” And she was confused, she was like, “Ah, in the bathroom?” Right? And so, there’s just that idea that language and how we think about it is important. We want to make sure that we’re on the same page with language. And so, when it comes to defining humor, to make sure that we know what we’re talking about, humor is more broad than comedy, right?

Humor is defined as a comic, absurd, or incongruous quality causing amusement. And so, so often people think laughter, they think standup comedy. They hear humor in the workplace and, suddenly, they’re like, “Oh, does that mean that I have to like start telling jokes? Does that mean that I have to try to become the class clown or a jester?” And that’s not at all what we’re talking about. Instead we’re talking about this broader definition where maybe it’s not about making the workplace funny, but about making it a little bit more fun.

Because the bar for comedy at work is much, much lower than, yeah, if you were trying to get up on stage and rock it at a standup comedy club or get a Netflix comedy special, the level of “funny” that you need to be is pretty high. You need to be getting four to seven laughs per minute, they need to be good laughs, solid chuckles, really kind of cohesive ideas, things that you’ve probably practiced many, many, many times before, versus if you’re just trying to get a little bit more humor into a meeting. Simply having an image behind you that isn’t just a wall full of text but is kind of an interesting image that you’re speaking to might be a simple way of getting a laugh.

Or, like you said, in your bio, having a quick line about, like, “Oh, that sounds impressive.” That’s not necessarily the funniest joke ever written, but it is something different, and in that context, it makes things a lot more interesting. And so, I think understanding that definition and recognizing when we’re talking humor in the workplace, we don’t mean about making the workplace funny, but more about making it more fun, I think, is a good starting point for people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. Well, that’s great. That’s really reduces some of the pressure and lowers the bar and it’s true, I have seen certain contexts where someone tells a joke, there’s a whole lot of laughter, I’m thinking, “Boy, you know, if that person were not…whoever they were, or wherever we were, there wouldn’t be nearly that kind of response.” So, that’s great. Okay, so it’s not too hard. So, how shall we proceed?

Drew Tarvin
Yes, so the way that we kind of frame using and getting intentional about using humor in the workplace is around what we call a humor map. And the humor map stands for your medium, your audience, and your purpose. So, your medium is how are you going to execute that humor? Is it in an email? Is it in a phone call? Is it in a one-on-one situation? Because we know that your medium impacts your message.

Something like sarcasm or satire, you’ve maybe sent a text that’s meant to be a joke before, and you learned from the other person that they took it the wrong way, or they read into it a little bit more. So, sarcasm and satire are very difficult to do, say, in a text form because people, they can’t see that you are joking, they can’t see the paralanguage of the body language and the tone of voice and everything that  you’re saying it with, and so your medium impacts it, right? So, understanding what that’s going to be – email, phone call, one-on-one, live video, or life, or video version, or whatever it is.

Pete Mockaitis
I have to chime in. Have you seen the Key & Peele sketch where they’re texting and have completely different interpretations of what’s going on?

Drew Tarvin
Exactly, yeah. And that’s a great – and Key & Peele, one, fantastic, a great place to kind of share things. And also, they’re sometimes a little bit not safe for work with language, but the other thing about understanding kind of what we can talk about this with the map is recognizing humor in the workplace, you don’t always have to be the creator of humor. But, instead, you can be the shepherd of humor, right? You can share funny things out.

So, if you wanted to make that point about the importance of medium, you can then share the Key & Peele sketch, right, share a link to it on YouTube or Comedy Central or wherever it resides, and then be like, “All right. You know, this is kind of a funny reminder how someone says something in text might be taken a different way.” And there you didn’t create the humor but you’re now leveraging it in this way to still get a specific kind of result. That’s it.

I forgot about that sketch. That’s a great sketch and really demonstrates that idea.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, we think about the medium and note that some things work well or not so well for them, such as, “Do we have the facial expressions and the gestures and the tone of voice or do we not?” Anything else to consider with regard to the medium?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah. Well, I think, and this is where things like memes or GIFs or things like that can help because they introduce a visual element to your message, and you’re seeing emojis come up even more. I was just reading an article recently that emojis are coming up in court cases as well, and judges don’t necessarily know what to do with them. But the whole point of emojis are to help you better convey a message because you can’t visually be there.

Now, does that mean you should, in a very formal email to all of your clients and your boss and all that, include a bunch of emojis after every sentence to make sure that they know what message you’re sharing? No, but in a more conversational kind of text, you might. If you’re making a joke, you might put a smiley face at the end of it, or you might put, kind of the wry kind of dry winky face or something. So, emojis can be part of the communication.

But a big thing is kind of really with GIFs and memes, you might also express humor maybe in that way. So, it’s really just understanding the medium and how it might be received, and recognizing that the safest is kind of in person. Because if someone does take something the wrong way, you can kind of react to that more in the moment, you can react to it. In text, it might be a little bit easier just to link to things, to reference other things as opposed. If you’re not a great joke writer, then maybe you’re not going to write your own jokes but, again, you can, as so and so said, boom, quote someone else.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay. So, we got the medium. And how about the audience?

Drew Tarvin
So, the audience is, who is the audience? What do they know? What do they need? What do they expect? Because part of using humor is not to replace the work, right? To borrow kind of from Office Space, if your boss is like, “Hey, do you have those TPS reports?” You don’t want to like make a quick joke, and then when they say, “No, seriously, do you have them?” you don’t want to be like, “Well, got to go. See you later.” Right?

So, it doesn’t replace the work. You still have to actually do the work. And so, you still have to deliver on what the person needs, but you might do it in a way that they don’t quite expect, right, that’s bringing some of the humor, some of the fun element to it. So, that’s what you need to understand about your audience, is, “Okay, what does this person need and then how can I do it in a way that deliver against it whether maybe not quite expecting it? Oh, they know they need this information, they’re going to hear a presentation about it, they know they’re going to see some slides, oh, but if I make those slides a little bit more interesting, now they’re going to be leaning forward a little bit more because they’re like, ‘Okay, how does this picture of a dog relate to what I’m going to talk about?’” And then you can think of connect how that interesting picture of a dog leads to what you’re talking about.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And can you provide some more examples here?

Drew Tarvin
Another example, say, you want to build rapport with someone, and they need to get to know you a little bit more, right? So, they ask you a question. Think of maybe stereotypical networking questions of like, “What do you do?” So you could answer like, “What do you do?” with, for me, I could say, “Oh, I’m a speaker or I’m a trainer. But what I most I identify with is I’m a humor engineer. So, I used to be a computer science engineer, I used to solve problems in the workplace using things like technologies and computer-to-technology and computers. Now, I solve problems in the workplace using humor, so in that way I feel like I’m a humor engineer.”

And so, when people ask, “What do you do?” I say, “Oh, I’m a humor engineer.” That’s delivering kind of what they need in a way that they don’t expect it, and it usually leads to more questions. Because it’s a made-up term, they’re like, “Okay, what does that mean?” And that allows me to say, “Oh, well, I do a lot of speaking and training on the value of using humor to get better results.”

And so, it’s just something that stands out a little bit more, something that is a little bit more interesting. And then I might go into a story, right? So, stories, when people ask those questions like that, a story, or facts told in story form are 20 times more likely to be remembered than facts told in bullet point form. And so, if you’re at a networking event, if you want to stand out, rather than just being like, “Oh, yeah, I’m a speaker. I train on this,” giving a little bit more background, one, helps you remember things, but, two, it also builds connections.

So, I say, “I’ve always been an engineer. I’ve always been obsessed with efficiency ever since I can remember, really since before I can remember because I was born three weeks early, so apparently a human in the womb. I was like I don’t need a full nine months, I’m ready to go right now. So, then I went to The Ohio State University, got a degree in computer science and engineering. And after I graduated, I started working at Procter & Gamble, and that’s where I realized there was this difference between being efficient and effective.”

And, now, in that conversation, I’ve now answered the question, I’m getting to the point of, “Okay, how did I get to humor engineering?” And in that story, one, it’s a little bit more interesting than just kind of sharing “humor engineer,” or even just sharing “speaker-trainer,” but it also gives people a connecting point. If you’re meeting someone for the first time, you’re trying to find ways to build rapport with that person. And in that story, I’ve now told them, “Oh, I’m an engineer.” If they’re an engineer as well, they’re like, “Oh, okay, I’m mechanical,” or, “I’m in civil engineering.” Now, we have a connection over engineering.

Or, I say, “I went to The Ohio State University.” They might be like, “Oh, I grew up in Ohio as well. What do you think of like Cincinnati versus Cleveland, or Greger’s ice cream versus Jeni’s Ice Cream?” Or, if they’re not from there, they might be like, “Why do you guys say The Ohio State University?” And the answer, “I don’t know. I just know that if we don’t say The Ohio State, then we get our degree taken away, I think,” right?

Or if it’s like, “Oh, I work at P&G.” “Oh, I used to know someone that worked at P&G.” There’s all these small things that they can now connect to that build rapport that they’re getting from me, that they won’t even get if I just said, “Oh, I’m a speaker-trainer.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. And then did we hit the purpose part here?

Drew Tarvin
Yes. And then the last piece, well, the other thing that I would say about the audience piece is that your relationship to that person matters as well because a joke that you would say with someone that you’ve known for 10 years is very different than something that you might say with someone that you’ve met for the very first time.

And so, understanding what is your relationship with this person, and recognizing that when you’re first meeting someone, or if you’re doing it in front of a large group of people, if you’re using humor in front of a large group of people, you’re probably going to be a little bit more broad, a little bit more, safer kind of with your humor versus someone that you know very, very well, where it’s like, “Oh, okay, this person likes this type of humor. I know that I can say this, and I know that they know that I’m joking, that we have that rapport, we have that relationship kind of built up.” So, that relationship piece with the audience is really important as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha.

Drew Tarvin
And then the last piece, yeah, is the purpose. And this is the most important one, and this is, “Why do you want to use humor?” Because, humor, for the sake of humor is fine, I guess. But as an engineer, what I love about it is that we can use it for a specific result. And so, we kind of frame this around it’s my general belief that there are five skills at work. No matter who you are or what you do, it kind of comes down to five things.

Any thoughts on from your perspective? What do you think is included in kind of—if you have a job, what types of things are you doing?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thinking, communicating, creating stuff.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, absolutely. Right. So, you have to be able to think, right? You’re creating strategic plans, you’re being critical, you’re also being creative kind of in that thinking mode. Like, you said, communicating. You articulate the intelligence that you have. You’re sharing the ideas that are in your head. Actually, creating stuff, right, so in a way I would call it, kind of execution, you’re actually completing tasks, you’re getting things done for sure. Any others come to mind?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think about how you do it with regard to just your own self-management, care, and energy, and attentiveness.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, right. Kind of a component, a little bit of that, the thinking side of things, of actually creating the plan of, “Okay, what do I actually need to work on? How do I prioritize these things? And how do I actually get it done? What’s my motivation for it?” And then I would add also like you have to be able to connect with people, right? You have to understand emotional intelligence.

We recognize that emotional intelligence is one of the strongest predictors of career success. People who, I think it’s something like 90% of top performers have high EQ, high emotional intelligence. Where less than 20% of low performers do, so it is one of those skills that does tend to stand out. Because we work with humans, we have to be able to connect with them on a human level and understand how they work.

And then you also have to be able to lead. You have to be able to influence people to some type of goal to kind of move them in. In every job is what we would say is those five things of executing, actually completing tasks, thinking, right, strategically creating a plan, critically and creatively, communicating, connecting, and leading. And so, every job kind of comes to some percentage of those five things.

And so, what we say is using humor in the workplace isn’t going to change those five, right? They’re all still going to exist. It’s simply how you do those five, kind of what you’re talking about, the motivation and things like that. So, humor can be a how across those five. And so, the purpose piece is maybe you want to use humor as a way to increase your execution, right, to execute faster. So, you might use humor as a way to increase your efficiency.

And so, one way to do that, one strategy is to play-work, is to find ways to add gamification in your work so that it’s more enjoyable. Back to that question of, “Would you rather do something that is fun or not fun?” Well, if you make your work a little bit more fun, you’re more willing to engage, and you’re more willing to do it.

And so, this might be something as simple as listening to music while you’re doing kind of a mundane task. One of the things that I like to do is I’ll start to read emails in a different accent in my head. This is way to kind of stay engaged with emails that I’m going through. You might decide to do a task with a friend and compete with them. Be like, “Hey, we both got to do our expense reports right now, so let’s set a timer and see who can get through the most expense reports in 15 minutes.”

And, again, it’s not the funniest thing, it’s not a Netflix comedy special, but it’s making the work a little bit more fun, changing your perspective around it so that you’re a little bit more engaged with it and willing to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you know, I would love it if you could share all the more of these. I do this when I am, I guess, proofreading. I’ve written something and I find, boy, when you read it out loud you just find stuff that reading it in your head doesn’t. So, I don’t know what character I’m assuming when I read things out loud but it’s kind of almost like a very earnest broadcaster who’s also talking very fast because it’s like, “Andrew Tarvin is the world’s first humor engineer teaching people how to get better results while having more fun.”

And so, I don’t know, I guess, and again, it doesn’t make me sort of laugh out loud, like, “This is ridiculously hilarious.” But if it gets the job done, I am proofreading by reading aloud, and I’m having a little bit more fun with it than if I were just reading the words like a school child is reading a book aloud.

Drew Tarvin
Exactly. And I think that’s exactly that makes it a little bit more interesting. And this is where I encourage in a lot of ways, you know, bringing things that are an outside passion in your work as well. Or maybe, yeah, if you were a kid and you always wanted to grow up to be a broadcaster, absolutely, proofread things kind of as a broadcaster. If you love doing accents for whatever reason, read it in a different accent and see what it would kind of sound like. Whatever it is, it’s just small tweaks.

And this is a form of humor called self-enhancing humor. And it’s kind of epitomized by, there’s a great quote from Kurt Vonnegut that said “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration.” I, myself, prefer to laugh because there’s less cleaning up to do afterwards.

And so, it’s this idea of, hey, you have to do the proofreading anyway. You could choose to say, “Hey, this is annoying and I hate it. Ugh, God, this is just the worst.” Or I can be like, “All right. I’m going to do it anyway. Yeah, let me put on a broadcaster voice to make it a little bit more fun. Or let me try to be an auctioneer and see how fast I can get through it. Or let me try some of these accents that I think are kind of fun. Or let me do it to music.”

In fact, I’ve just started doing this, because I have a bit of a nasal voice, getting over a sore throat, so it’s a little bit deeper now. And at times it is a little bit monotone. And so, someone was saying, “Oh, when you’re practicing your speeches, practice it to inspirational music.” Like, put on an inspirational instrumental behind you, and that’s going to automatically, kind of, you’re going to start to add musicality almost to your voice.

So, these are just small things that you can do to make the process a little bit more fun. And the other beautiful thing about these as examples is that no one can stop you from doing them. So there’s all these benefits to humor in the workplace, but not everyone was using humor. And so, I wanted to understand why.

And the number one reason why people don’t use humor, at least according to the survey that we ran through our site, was that they didn’t think their boss or coworkers would approve, right? They didn’t see that as a culture in the workplace. And the reality is that 98% of CEOs prefer job candidates with a sense of humor and 81% of employees said that a fun workplace would make them more productive.

Most people want it but they haven’t necessarily created a culture of it and so people think that it’s not welcome. And a lot of times it’s just because people haven’t tried, so a lot of times you can start out and it’s usually received pretty well. But even if you’re in an organization where like, “No, my manager has like explicitly told me no fun whatsoever. If you’re laughing it means you’re not working hard enough. They call it work because it’s work not because it’s play, and it has to feel like it.”

Like if you work in an environment like that, well, maybe consider kind of why you’re continuing to go to that, but also recognize that no one can control how you think. No one can stop you from if you’re proofreading these things to yourself, changing the voice in which you do them. If you have a commute that you have to go through, no one can stop you from listening to a comedy podcast, or making it a regular thing of, “Hey, every day or every Monday or whatever, I’m going to make sure that I’m listening to the Awesome at Your Job podcast because it puts me in a good mood, and I have a good time, and I’m going to relieve some stress to show up more presence for my family when I get there,” right? No one can stop you from doing that in your car.

And so, these are all things that you could choose to do no matter the work environment, and that’s why it’s a starting kind of first strategy that we share is that it is something that you are entirely in control of.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to hear when it comes to we’re worried about it may be unwelcome, what are some of the easiest little baby steps for, “Okay, I’m entering a meeting, I’m doing a presentation, like, here are some safe things you can do that will make it a little bit more fun and have extremely low risk of folks flipping out about it”?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah. Well, I think going back to if you’re clear on the map piece, because I think that when people tend to get in trouble with humor in the workplace, it’s usually one of two reasons. One, it’s inappropriate humor. So, it is important to understand there is a difference, say, bad humor and inappropriate humor.

Pete Mockaitis
The joke which is not funny versus, “What? Why are you discussing these lewd sexual acts?” Not the place.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So, a bad joke, yeah. And they’ve done studies where if you share a joke that is appropriate but people don’t laugh, there’s no real negative gain to a person, there’s no like perception change or anything like that, especially if it’s a positive-inclusive and a positive-inclusive joke that doesn’t get a laugh just becomes a positive-inclusive statement, so it tends to be okay.

However, an inappropriate joke, even if it’s successful, even if it makes people laugh, can have a negative impact on people’s perception of your competency in the workplace. It doesn’t affect their confidence in you, but it does affect their perception of your competence, right? And so, inappropriate humor is typically inappropriate for one of three reasons.

One, it’s an inappropriate topic, exactly what you were talking about. Using humor is not an excuse to talk about sex or drugs or rock and roll in the workplace. It’s not going to be, “Hey, this is typically a taboo subject, but because I’m saying a joke about it, it’s okay.” That’s not true. It could be inappropriate because it has an inappropriate target. So, some humor has a target that is someone else. And so, if you’re using humor as a way to make fun of someone, or if it’s a racist joke, or a sexist joke, right, that’s still very much inappropriate in general, but particularly in the workplace.

And then the third time is that it could in an inappropriate time, right? So, humor is just one tool of many tools that we can use in the workplace, and it’s not to say it’s always going to be the best tool to use so you do have to recognize that there might be inappropriate times. So, if you’re firing someone, that’s not the time to like bust out your “Frozen” parody and be like, “I’ve got to let you go, let you go. I’m not going to pay you back anymore,” right? Like, I can’t sing at all. But it’s not like, “Oh, this is going to make it more fun.” That’s an inappropriate time.

So, I think understanding that is one way to make sure that we keep things appropriate and that we don’t run into trouble, to make sure it’s more positive-inclusive. And then I think the other thing is going back to the map piece and specific to that purpose piece, that it’s not just, “Hey, I want to be fun to be just so I’m seen as funny.”

So, sometimes people ask me about, “Okay, but what about Michael Scott in The Office? He was always trying to have fun.” And the problem is that Michael Scott, you know, he’s a fictional character, his primary motivation of humor seems to be validation, right? He just wanted to be liked by everyone, and he wanted everyone to see him as a funny person, and that’s not a great starting reason for using humor. You want to be more specific about it, like, “Okay, I want to use humor in this meeting to keep people engaged in the content and help them understand it better.” That’s going to change the type of humor you use over, “I want people to see me as really funny.”
And so, some simple ways around to do that is I’m a big believer in if you’re doing presentations, rather than having a wall-full of texts, do include more images because the images themselves can be part of the punchline and you don’t have to be the one that created the humor. If you go to, like, Flickr.com and do a Creative Commons search for, hey, if you’re talking about new initiatives in the workplace around stress management, go in and do some searching for stress. Or if you recognize, “Oh, yeah,” and smiling is something that can kind of help in the workplace, find a picture of a dog that’s smiling and it makes people laugh.

Or, in my TEDx Talk, I share a picture of – I say that I work with some pretty conservative organizations and will admit that sometimes when I’m talking about the benefits of humor, they are a little bit skeptical. And when I say skeptical, as I click to the next slide, and it’s a dog that kind of looks skeptical. And so, people are now laughing, and goes, “Oh, yeah, that is kind of funny. That dog kind of looks like it has that expression that it is a skeptical-looking dog.” And so now they’re laughing, and it’s just an additional kind of punchline, and I didn’t have to put the word skeptical behind me. I didn’t need to put all the research and everything there. It was just kind of one way to keep it, and make it a little bit more engaging. So, I think images can be a great way to do that.

I think activities is another way to incorporate some humor in a way that everyone is included. And so, another form of humor, so we talked about self-enhancing humor. Another form of humor is affiliative humor, and this is positive-inclusive where everyone is part of the end group of that humor. So, I think of kind of Ellen DeGeneres.

And so, when you’re starting a meeting, as a project manager, I used to start meetings with a simple question that people could answer pretty quickly to go around the room, if it’s a group of like eight people or so, to be like, “All right. Just before we get started, I want to…” and I’ve set this up before but, like, “We’re doing these questions as a way to get to know each other a little bit better, remind ourselves that we work with fellow humans and not just resources. So, today’s question is, very quickly, go around the table and reply with the first thing you remember buying with your own money.” Or something that you think is, “What’s something that you think is true for you that you don’t think is true for anyone else in the room?” Or just these kinds of specific questions that get people to kind of share a little bit more about them because it goes back to this resource piece.

Like, as a project manager, I labeled people as resources, and most workplaces label people as resources. And, over time, you start to forget that the other person on the other side of an email, or the other side of a phone call, or the other side of a conference desk, is a fellow human being with human lives and human emotions and, maybe, just maybe, the reason that they’re email is late to you is not because they secretly hate you, but because they have a sick kid at home.

And that’s part of what humor is doing, is it’s reminding us kind of our humanity in the workplace, and saying, “Hey, we’re all in this together as people.” And so, small things that we can do that can remind people, that can be a great way to kind of introduce humor in a safer and easier way.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve also talked a bit about how to use humor to diffuse conflict. How does that work? Can you give us a demonstration?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, so a lot of times it’s just kind of becoming a reminder of that situation of kind of what the situation is and creating a pattern to interrupt. Because so often our conflict is we get so kind of narrowed in on a focus, or a problem that is coming up, or a conversation that’s happening, and we need to be just kind of interrupted from that to kind of take a break and step back. And sometimes just observing, kind of giving an observation or sharing an observation about the room can help or the situation.

For example, I was at a meeting at P&G and it was getting pretty intense, we were a little bit behind on a project and so there are some kind of blame, kind of calling out and blaming people and things like that. And my manager, at one point, was like, “All right. Everyone, listen. We need to remember that at the end of the day, we sell soap.” And that wasn’t to discount P&G’s mission, it wasn’t to say what we were working on wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things, but it was to remind us, “Hey, we’re in this very intense argument about selling soap. This isn’t World War II, this isn’t the Civil War. We can take a step back, we can take a breath,” and that was enough to make us laugh and for us to kind of recharge.

And so, sometimes it’s like to say, okay, you use a comment, or get people to take a break, and then say, “Okay, maybe let’s take five. Let’s take five minutes, let’s relieve some stress, let’s use some humor, whether it’s watching comedy video, or do a quick activity, or everyone just go for a walk and then come back,” because you need that kind of space between the stimulus and the action that you create, and humor can help you create that space.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Drew, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we talk about some of your favorite things?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, so I would say there’s two quick things that I would say. One, kind of given the audience that I know is listening, recognizing that there is a difference sometimes in how humor is received between men and women. So, in one study they found that when men use humor, now, I’m going to mess up the percentages but they’re kind of close. When men use humor, it was met with a positive response 80% of the time, I think. When women use humor, it was met with a positive response 20% of the time.

In that same study they found that 90% of the humor that men use was off-the-cup humor, kind of conversationally in the moment, and 70% of the humor that women use was self-defeating humor or self-deprecating humor. And so, that brings me to a third style of humor. So, we have affiliative humor, we have self-enhancing humor, there is a self-defeating humor. And self-defeating humor is where you kind of poke fun at yourself. It’s a negative form of humor that you poke fun at yourself which can be great in a high-status position but it’s not great, one, if you’re low-status position.

And so, there’s obviously some challenges certainly with women in the workplace in terms of how status is sometimes perceived that something that we, as a society, need to work on, but it’s something that people should be conscious of. And, two, self-defeating humor works when it is used sparingly. Like, if you constantly always use it, so the women that were using self-defeating humor 70% of the time, the problem is that people stop laughing at it, because they’re like, “Ah, does this person have kind of self-esteem issues or is this a pity party? I don’t think that I should laugh.”

And so, recognizing just the style of humor that you’re using and who you are, how it’s perceived, it is an important thing to keep in mind. So, that’s just one thing that I want to say. So, stick to typically more affiliative and self-enhancing humor is going to be a little bit more helpful for you.

And the last thing that I’ll say before we get to the five questions is if people are feeling a little bit overwhelmed, like this seems like a lot, it seems like there’s a lot to go into, the last strategy, so we have 10 humor strategies that we talk about in the book, the last bonus strategy is to simply practice or strive for one smile per hour. Just try to think about one thing that you can do each hour of the day that brings a smile to your face or the face of someone else and that gets to a starting point, right?

Just think about, “Okay, I’m going into this meeting. How can I elicit one smile?” Or, “I’m getting ready to have my commute home, what’s one thing that I can do to make myself smile?” And that starts to help you develop your humor habit, then you can get into some of the more complex details stuff that we talked about a little bit later and that we talked about today, but it really starts with kind of that choice and choosing to kind of practice one thing each hour.

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

Drew Tarvin
Sure. So, a favorite quote I would say, I heard this many, many years ago, and it’s a cliché but it’s the best career advice that I’ve ever been given, which is that, “It is better to beg for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.”

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

Drew Tarvin
So, there’s a great humor and problem-solving study that, they took three groups of kids. One group of kids watched a comedy video, one group of kids watched a math video, one group of kids watched no video whatsoever. They then had to do a pretty known problem called the candlestick problem, and the kids who watched a comedy video were nearly four times more likely to solve the problem than the kids who watched the math video or no video at all. So, it just kind of showed that, one, comedy is a way to warm up the brain. It helps you see different solutions and different ideas, and it introduced me to the candlestick problem which I think is kind of a fun problem.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Drew Tarvin
Favorite book? My favorite book of all time is The Complete Anthology of Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson.

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

Drew Tarvin
Evernote. One of the big things for being a humorist is to keep a humor notebook. Anytime you’re going throughout the world, and something kind of piques your curiosity, write that down in a notebook somewhere. And I personally use Evernote so that it’s always on me whether I’m on my computer or on my phone.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Drew Tarvin
Favorite habit? I would say if I can complete it in five minutes, I actually do the task rather than putting it on the to-do list or waiting to save it to do it later.

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

Drew Tarvin
The one smile per hour, I think, is sometimes popular and I think the idea that, again, that humor isn’t about making the workplace funny. It’s about making the workplace more fun.

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

Drew Tarvin
If they want to learn more about humor in the workplace, they can go to HumorThatWorks.com. We’ve got plenty of free blog articles and resources there, free newsletter they can sign up for, also access to the book, the online course, some of the workshops that we offer. If they want to connect with me, if they like puns, I like tweeting out puns and things like that, so if they want to connect with me on social media, if they have specific questions, they can find me @drewtarvin on any of the social media.

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

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, I would say just start, right? You choose every single day how you’re going to do your work, so why not choose to be more productive, less stressed and happier, why not choose to get better results and have more fun, why not choose humor that works?

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Drew, this has been fun. I wish you lots of luck and laughter in all you’re up to.

Drew Tarvin
Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me.

476: How to Create Courageous Change with Ryan Berman

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Ryan Berman says: "Either you drive change or change drives you."

Ryan Berman offers his tips and tricks for building your courage muscle to make exciting changes.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three elements of the courage equation
  2. One simple trick to boost your courage
  3. How to convince your boss to make a courageous change

About Ryan:

Ryan Berman is the founder of Courageous, a change consultancy that develops Courage Brands® and trains companies how to operationalize courage through Courage Bootcamp.

He has spent a career developing meaningful stories for household brands—like Caesars Entertainment, Major League Baseball, New Era, Subway, and UNICEF—and he believes that courage is the ultimate competitive advantage for any willing business, being or brand.

Ryan Berman used the courage methodology detailed in the book to launch his own Courage Brand called Sock Problems, a charitable sock company that socks different problems in the world.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank You, Sponsors!

Ryan Berman Interview Transcript

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

Ryan Berman
Thanks, man. Thanks for having me. How is it going?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s going well. It’s going well. Well, we’re going to talk about courage a lot. And I want to start us off by hearing about a time that you had to dig deep to find some professional courage. What happened?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, I think that’s a really fair question and a good place to start. I actually talk about, right now, being like I’m in it. The irony here is when you write a book about courage, you kind of have to live it. So, I’m in it right now. I actually, I don’t know how much of my story that you know, but I was running a 70-person creative agency and, to be very honest, I felt the bigger we got the less happy I became.

And I got further and further away from the things that I was most passionate about, which was doing the work. And so, the irony here is that I wrote this book to position that company, and they pretty much gave me the courage to fire myself and to start over. And so, I’m in it right now where I’m actually back.

I’m passionate about what I’m doing but you go from having all these resources to a startup. And when I described Courageous, which is more of like Special Forces, like reinvention company, where we help companies reinvent themselves. I’m back. I feel like I’m back living the premise of the book and it’s terrifying. As it is, I’m also much happier.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s cool. So, then the courage there was, “Are you going to take that leap and to part from reliable income and all that sort of thing?”

Ryan Berman
Yeah, but it’s more than that. I never thought I’d be a guy with a method, and here I am. You go through this thousand-day listening tour, and I still can’t explain why people at Apple and Google and Method and Dominos let me into their lives. It wasn’t like I paid them, and it wasn’t like they were clients. And the leaders of these companies let me in, and I was fascinated by how some of the biggest companies on the planet are also the ones that are the most agile, which doesn’t seem to make sense.

And so, the more I got to dissect those companies, and realized how important being aligned with the values of the company and the leaders were. And when I really look back at like the problems that we had setup in my last company, it just set me up to be ineffective at the level that I wanted to be effective. And it doesn’t mean like my way was the right way all the time, or my two partners who was there, their way or the highway. In order for me to scale and change, and I think if we’re not working on our tomorrow, if we’re not working on sustained relevance, what are do you really working on?

And so, when I looked at it, it was like, “Okay, how do I setup a company, really, to be calculated with our courage, but help us stay ahead of the curve with everybody else?” And when I really looked at that method, it made it easy for me to leave, or easier. It’s never easy but easier to leave, because I just wasn’t aligned with who I was and what my values were.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you. And so, can you tell us, if we’re kind of zooming into the typical “professional” who is working a job, how is courage helpful for them? Like, where are some of the key ways that we can chicken out to our detriment?

Ryan Berman
So, first of all, I think we have the wrong idea, or some people have the wrong idea of what courage is. So, I always wondered if it makes more sense to share, when you look at the dictionary definition of courage, the dictionary definition is the ability to do something that  And imagine devoting a hearty amount of your time exploring the topic that’s going into a book, and you’re vehemently disagreeing with the dictionary. By the way, not a good place to be. Like, the last thing I want to do is to be on the wrong side of the dictionary.

But when I looked at that definition, I didn’t see any utilitarian value to it. I’m like, “How does being frightened really help me in the  So, a lot of my early research was just seeing if I can come up with a definition that can help people incorporate, unlock their courage, and do it in a calculated fashion.

And you go up through these interviews. I call the interview process the 3Bs. There was the brave, which are like Navy Seals and tornado chasers, firefighters, the ER operating chiefs. It’s like I was really fascinated by that process. They didn’t know who was coming through the door but, yet, their job is to save lives.

Then there was the bullish. So, leaders at those companies I mentioned. And then the brainiac was the third B, so just clinical psychologists, Cambridge PhDs, immunologists, just to study our brain and the way that we’re wired. And I came out the other side with this definition of courage that I think plays well for corporate which is quite out rad. It’s just it’s knowledge plus faith plus action

And, look, in business, you’re never going to have every snippet of knowledge you need to make a call. And, by the way, data is not knowledge. Data is a means to knowledge but it still takes those synthesizers to look at the data to get to your knowledge. And you can wait and hope to collect all the knowledge in the world but you’re probably going to get passed from a competitor

And when I talk about faith, we’re not talking about religion. We’re talking about inner belief. Like, what do you feel? Like, what do you really feel? The more your knowledge goes up, hopefully, your faith is going up. And then comes the hard

Two or three in any direction is not courage. So, if I listen to this, and I’m in a workplace setting, and you’re working on something that needs courage, and I do think courage is a journey word, meaning you need it for these tough decisions. Think about it this way. Like, do you have the knowledge to make a call? Do you feel it’s right? And then you take an

So, knowledge and faith with no action is paralysis. You know what you should do, you feel it’s right, and for whatever reason you can’t pull the trigger. Faith and action with no knowledge is reckless. So, I think if some people think that jumping without a parachute, that’s one of my six courage myths, by the way. I think that’s that definition, faith and

And then knowledge and action without faith. Like, if you’re on the inside and you’re going through the motions and you’re working on a project, and you don’t feel like any friction whatsoever, or any little voice inside going, “This is a little crazy.” My sense is, it’s knowledge plus action without faith is status quo. You’re working on safe. And when your idea hits the market, and you’re not there to defend it, it’s just going to blend in with a thousand of other messages or

So, it has to be all three – knowledge plus faith plus action equals courage. And that’s how you know you’re

Pete Mockaitis
And so, what’s intriguing there is like it’s almost like if there’s not a degree of, “I don’t know about this,” then there’s less, I don’t know, juice, opportunity, differentiation, power in that thing that you’re up to.

Ryan Berman
Yeah, it’s like if you don’t feel just that little voice going, “This is a little crazy. This is crazy. Oh, my gosh, we’re going to get fired if we do this.” These are on emotional datapoints actually but you’re actually on the right path to doing something courageous, that’s going to break through.

And I come out of the courageous idea space. So, I always say, “You’re not trying to make a courageous idea that when people see it the first time, they’re like, “Wow!” You want to create this idea when someone sees it at the eighth time, like, “Gosh, I wish I did that.” And that’s sort of the tell of a courageous concept.

Pete Mockaitis
So, can you just give us examples here of some courageous concepts that kind of fit this?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, for your listeners out West, one of the things we helped is Harrah’s, which is a casino. You think, “Oh, casino. Where is this going?” And all of our research showed that people look at it as a destination. But what if we can actually turn that destination into a real destination – a city?

And so, we actually came up with a concept of Funner, California, and how awesome would it be if we made a real-life city. And the good news about Harrah’s in southern California is it’s on sacred land, so we actually went to the Council of the Tribe with the leadership team at Harrah’s, and that just tells you the level of trust we have with the leadership team, and convinced them to change the property to Funner, California. So, literally, the proximity of the property is now a real legal city called Funner.

And once we got the smiles on the face of the team, well, if you’re going to have a city, you have to have a mayor, right, because what city doesn’t have a mayor? So, who would be the perfect mayor of Funner, California? Our first mayor was Mayor Hoff, Mayor David Hasselhoff.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Ryan Berman
Yeah. And so, next thing you know our commercials were with Mr. Hasselhoff, I mean, Mayor Hoff, who, of course, had keys to the city and rules to his city. And the irony here is not only did it move the needle for their business, but when you talk about holistic change, this was an example of once we got it right on the outside, we then started to talk about, “Well, what about behind the curtain of the company, the employees? How would the employees of Funner behave if there were burrows? What should a pit boss look like in Funner, California?” You know what’s not Funner? A pit boss with a suit with his arms crossed trying to take your money.

So, we started to like take this concept of Funner and really blow it out inside and outside. And I think that’s the big idea here, it’s like, “How do you come up with ideas? There is no curtain anywhere.” If there’s a curtain between internal and external, you’ve got a problem. And I think Funner was a great example of them having the courage to go, “We are a destination. Let’s do it for Funner.” And once that was their marketing communication, then we started to work inside to make the organization more fun in all directions.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool, yes. And it is kind of different, so I hear what you’re saying with regard to that faith bit. But, at the same time, that there is distinction there which is kind of meaningfully unique in terms of the innovation and being appealing to folks, like, “Oh, I don’t want to go to the one that’s less fun.”

Ryan Berman
Right, right, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“I want the one that’s funner.”

Ryan Berman
“Yeah, let’s go to Funner.” Yeah, I think we actually call out, we sign off, like, “It’s not a word, it’s a place.” And to some people, like, “Funner is not a word.” And so, you know, the big insight for me also, and permission to give a quick shameless plug on the book, but the true insight was every single time in my career where we have presented the most courageous idea, and our partners chose them, the return on courage was higher, and their staffs were happier.

And every time, you know, because sometimes you’d present multiple ideas, every time we’d present the safer idea, or our partners went with the safer idea, the return on courage wasn’t even half. And, by the way, our staff was less than happy. They knew it wasn’t going to work at the level it could. So, you have this really courageous idea that makes sense for the business, by the way. Next thing you know, you’re talking about like peer through reinvention.

We weren’t just reinventing their communication. We were reinventing their culture. We’re reinventing new innovation opportunities for them. Yeah, go for it.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you say you’re comparing a return on courage for values. What’s the numerator, denominator here on this formula?

Ryan Berman
For return on courage?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Ryan Berman
Well, again, it’s less algebraic than the first time around. But I think the number one is in involving relevant business that’s sidestepping stasis or death. The return on courage is like you’re back into a relevant position. You’re building internal believers and external believers, and you’re building your courage muscle which breeds more courage, which keeps you ahead of your competition, ultimately try reinvention. So, helping these companies reinvent themselves and stay relevant.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. I think you said that when you took the bolder path, the return on courage was like more than double that of the safer path. What is the number we’re talking about?

Ryan Berman
Yeah. I don’t have like the actual EBITDA number for here but, to me, almost every single time we’ve actually have a client pick the courageous idea, and obviously we’re playing off, “Here’s how you maximize your ROI,” but I don’t have like lock-me-down number on, “Oh, every time we do this, it’ll be 8x or 4x or 10x.” I wish I had more time. Maybe that’s something we can explore.

Pete Mockaitis
But it’s more than double, you said.

Ryan Berman
Oh, yeah, there’s no question. Yeah, there’s no question.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, so that’s encouraging right there. I think that’s a shot in the arm, a boost to the faith right there in terms of thinking, “Oh, okay. Well, this might be a little nuts, but Ryan said that when you do something that’s a little nuts, that makes sense and there’s a lot of energy behind it. More often than not, it’s at least twice as effective.” So, that’s pretty cool.

You made a reference to some myths when it comes to courage. Could you share a couple of those? Like, what’s the most pervasive or damaging and how should we think about these courage myths correctly?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, so there’s six courage myths that were sort of uncovered in the interview process, and some of them were obvious, like courage jumping out of a plane sans parachute, or courage is activated on impulse. I think courage can’t be taught, and I think those are critical. But when I really think of what’s the most debilitating one, I think it’s that courage describes other people, or courage doesn’t have a role

And I truly believe if that’s what you think, then of course it doesn’t have a role in our daily life. But if you look at courage like a muscle, and you can start to build that muscle and train for it, then you start to look for courageous opportunities inside your organization. We’re just not built that way. When you talk to leaders of companies, they see courage as a peripheral thing

And so, to me, that’s just an opportunity waiting to be unlocked. And if you can get your whole organization prepped and trained to look for courageous opportunities, I do believe those start to appear. And, again, if courage breeds courage, then you’re looking for those moments where we can be courageous to push forward those ideas that really change the game for your

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. Well, let’s hear some more myths.

Ryan Berman
You know, again, I think courage is a solo risky journey. I don’t think it’s a solo. I definitely think it’s a journey but I don’t think it’s as risky as people think and I certainly  Again, especially in a corporate setting, we’re all dealing with stuff on our own, our demons on the inside, but to me that’s part of the problems. Like, how do we get out of our own way and properly communicate what we’re afraid of?

There’s a famous proverb that fear and courage are brothers, that you actually can’t get to the courageous choice without first channeling it through fear. But most of us, we suppress those things that we’re afraid of versus  And so, part of this is like, “Let’s look out what we’re afraid of. Let’s actually talk about what those fears look like. Is there a product fear we’ve got? What’s the perception fear? Which is what I would call like the marketing fear. What personal fears are you bringing to the job?” Like, “Hey, if I pick this idea, am I going to be on an island all by myself? Am I going to get fired?” We don’t talk about this stuff.

And so, as leaders, my hope is that people will empower their teams to bring this to the forefront and like I always say FOMF, Fear Of Missing Fear. Like, if you don’t have a fear, go find one and smoke out that fear, and then start to

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, let’s get to a little bit of the how of fear. So, let’s say you’ve zeroed in on a fear, how do you go about doing the shrinking of it?

Ryan Berman
Yes. So, like I mentioned a little bit earlier, I never thought I’d be a guy with a method, and here I am. So, what I wanted to do was almost take the courage out of courage and give people the tools they need to make faster decision-making but do so in a calculated way.

So, if your audience has an opportunity and the book, Return on Courage, the back half of the book is the how. Like, how do you actually know the knowledge to follow, how to build internal and external faith, and then where to take action. And the back of the book is basically the five steps to becoming what I call a courage brand. And there’s a price. There’s a price to becoming a courage brand. And price is an acronym. It stands for Prioritize, Rally, Identify, Commit,

And Prioritize is prioritize through value. So, it’s almost going all the way back to the beginning and really looking at the  And, unfortunately, most of us have, like the values are on a wall somewhere, they’re collecting dust in an employee manual, but they’re not really being operationalized and activated.

Or maybe a company has nine values or 11 values, and I can just speak for myself. Like, I can barely remember four. So, if I’m the leader of a company, and I’ve got a thousand people working for me, how do I make this clean and simple, have less values, have each value be more valuable? And then, how am I rewarding my staff on these values?

And when I say core values, they’re not eyerolls, they’re the exceptional role. Again, this is just for me going out and seeing how these companies, the most relevant companies in the world are operating. Now, are all of them like playing by these rules? No. Amazon, I think, has 16 values. That’s unfathomable to me. But, obviously, it’s working for them.

So, it talks about, “What are the values of a company?” and then, let’s say you’re just on the team, like, “Do you actually mirror those values? Are you a believer of those values?” Which brings us to the second step, which is rally,  And I think organizations even make believers or fake believers. And the funny thing about fake believers is they’re hidden in the organization. They don’t exactly wear a T-shirt that says, “Fake believer.” They don a smile and collect the paycheck but deep down, like conviction is dropped, there’s the eyerolls and productivity isn’t what it could be.

And so, I really do believe that belief is the ultimate currency in an organization. So, when people believe, they’re in, and when people don’t believe, they’re out, and that comes straight down to leadership. So, that leadership team is responsible for creating believers, which starts with the values. And then, again, are you making believers? Are you caring about your team? I think there’s four ways

And so, respecting makes believers, caring makes believers, I would say repeating makes believers, which is really annoying sometimes for the leadership team but you need to be playing on the same playbook and say the same thing over and over again. And then seeing is believing. So, if you say something, and your staff doesn’t see something, that’s a problem, right? If you say something,

And, again, these two steps are organizational health steps. It’s as simple as galvanizing your people and creating conviction. And the number one problem that I see today is this misalignment between leadership and the next-generation workforce where the leadership team can’t wrap their heads around why you don’t want to stick around for  And the next generation is like, “I don’t need a watch. I have a watch on my phone. Like, I need skills. I need to be challenged.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that’s my thing. It’s like, “Because you’re going to fire me as soon as there’s a downturn.”

Ryan Berman
Right. And so, there’s this recalibration that’s needed. Both sides need to understand each other and that means talking about it. Like you said, “Hey, if I speak up, am I going to get fired?” Okay, that’s a personal fear that needs to be discussed. It should be discussed. We don’t discuss it. So, again, I think these two steps are just about organizational health, it’s about finding people with conviction that have the right intention, that are on the metaphor of co-rocket ship.

And then we move into the I, which is identify fears, so you have to do that. And the way I try to break down fears is looking at industry fears, what’s the industry fear for your vertical, like what could take down the entire industry. Are you the

And I imagine going to an offsite and thinking through these things. By the way, this concept only came up because I was so frustrated with SWOT. You know, remember the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats? And the more times I did that, my strength ended up on my opportunity, and my weakness ended up on my opportunity, and my weakness also ended up on my threats. And so, I just wanted to come up with a better way to SWOT, which has somehow survived as the standard for the last six decades.

And so, I think an art of fear is a better way to SWOT where you can get really clear about what could take your vertical down or where’s the problems with your product, which is product fears, or service fears, and I guess that perception fears which is marketing. And, again, if you don’t know what can take you down, you can’t put a plan in place and you’re reacting. Usually, it’s a little too late by the time the thing comes to get you. So, the idea is to smoke out what could take your business down and take your vertical down, and then you have a decision to make on if you want to double-down and

The C is “Commit to a purpose.” Again, I think this is a hard thing for current leadership teams to recognize but the next-generation workforce believes that we have an obligation as a business to be purpose-driven, to make the world better,  And so, I think there’s a study where 50% of millennials felt that way, that the point of this was to make the world better not just to make money.

So, if I’m a leader, you can even roll your eyes at that or just sort of accept the obligation that comes with being a business leader. And so, that means committing to an authentic purpose, a truthful purpose. Simon Sinek has spent so much of his career playing in this space. I agree with him that we got to find our why. I think the only sort of addon is, now, I think you need to have a rally cry in that why. What’s the rally cry? Why and how are people

You look at a company like SpaceX, and there’s not a ton of proof that they’re going to be successful on their rally cry purpose, which is life on another planet. But if you work there, you’re committed. You’ll give 20 hours a day to push that boulder up the mountain on what you’re trying to achieve. And I know not every company can be SpaceX, but you’ve got to find that rally cry.

You look at Method Soap, that soap company, and their rally cry and their why was the people against dirty. And what I love about it is they had a clear enemy that they chose to take down which was dirty. Are you for clean or are you for dirty? The people against dirty. By the way, I think they have a 100 million annual sales as a target, and it’s soap, it’s a commodity. So, what I love about it is it doesn’t matter if you’re a commodity or a rocket ship. You can find a purpose and get clear on that purpose and galvanize people behind it.

And then, finally, we get down to E of PRICE which is execute your action. So, knowledge, faith and action, right? It’s go time on the execute  And, again, it just depends on what type of action you’re jumping into. But the book talks about, it’s a little bit of a choose your own adventure on, “Are you reinventing your product? Are you reinventing your story? Or are you reinventing like a new offering?”

And, again, this is the hard part. The hard part is you know what you’re doing and you feel it’s right. Now you have

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I want to zero in on some of the values pieces here because I think you’re right that a lot of organizations, they have values, maybe there’s nine, maybe there’s 16, but they’re not really alive in the sense that they’re sort of hanging out on some materials, in a file cabinet, or on some walls. So, could you maybe give us some examples of company, value, and how that gets lived for real? Because I think a lot of listeners might find themselves as like, “I don’t think I can recite our company values and I don’t think any of them are leaping to mind as I look at how we do business.”

Ryan Berman
Yeah, again, I think this goes all the way back to the basics, right? You would think that we would honor the values of the company. And the problem I think is many companies are honoring the founder’s values which may not mirror what the next generation demands, or what you demand of that next-generation workforce because, to me, that’s what values were made for. They’re supposed to be guardrails to help you make decisions. It’s to drive behavior. And if you have multiple offices and thousands of people, they all should be playing on the

So, one company that comes to mind is Zappos. They do have 10 values but their number one value is, “Deliver wow through service.” The way that comes to life, I mean, from the second you walk into their office, yes, it is wall art, but I just love this idea that they have on the wall, “We’re a service company that happens to sell blank.”

Which I love that fact. And you can go in there and what they’re selling, they see themselves as a customer service company first. It doesn’t matter what your title is, you’re the first one that you’re at the office, you’re working the call center. Their CEO, Tony Hsieh, still works the call center during the holidays and people are sort of floored when he tells them, “By the way, I’m Tony Hsieh, I’m the CEO.” It’s like he’s taking calls so they don’t believe him.

And so, he is operationalizing the values. They also have a reward system. It’s almost like when you go to like one of those game rooms where you get your tickets and you can turn your tickets in for different rewards. They basically have that where other people can give you points on service and you can redeem those points for schwag. So, there’s actual science in Jonah Berger’s book Contagious that says, “We cannot imitate things we don’t see.” Which is why it’s “Monkey see, monkey do,” not “Monkey hear, monkey do.”

And so, Tony, recognizing that, he visualized this everywhere. You see it everywhere. Everywhere you go in that office, you can’t not see something on the wall reminding you of how you’re supposed to behave. I think the military also does a really good job of this. So, the Army does a really good job of this. And leadership is their acronym, and the recognize that everybody coming in through their system is coming from different walks of life, right?

So, the Army officer has a massive advantage that they get 16 weeks of bootcamp here. They really get to train their people. And most of us in the workforce, we get like 48 hours and then we get the metaphorical weapon to go out into the workplace and try to do our job. But if you’ve ever studied Fort Knox, you’ll see, again, written on the walls, it’s leadership. It’s all those values. You get it on the dog tags. They ingrain it in you. They’re training their people.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I see there that we skipped the E and the A. We got loyalty, duty, respect, and selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage, and these things mean something for real to them.

Ryan Berman
Yeah, it’s everything to them. By the way, you talk to people that are Army infantry men, they talk about how those values play off the field as much as on the field for them. So, they’re making it real. They’re operationalizing their values.

And so, a lot of the work I’m doing now is you kind of have to go back to the beginning, and go, “Hey, the way you communicate to your team, the way you’re driving behavior, it’s like Pavlov are you actually rewarding your team off of the values. And often I’ll get from a leadership team, like, “Are we talking about internal values or external values?” And my response is, “Well, that’s exactly the problem. There’s plenty of words for us to choose from. Let’s figure out the ones that work for both and stand there.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And I think it gets you thinking right there because when these things are real, it stirs the heart, you know. And when they’re not, it’s sort of like, “Sure,” and they’re just trudging along.

Ryan Berman
Yeah, you can see why value. That’s where the eyeroll comes from versus, “Are you really using them to create the desired results for your company and your people.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. Well, so I’d love to hear, when it comes to sort of individuals, would you recommend any sort of small practices or daily activities to help boost the courageousness or courage, if you will?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, I think it starts by recognizing that it can be for you. So, let’s assume we’re past that willingness part. Look, I think, by far, the hardest part of this is the action part. It’s hard. You know what to do. Sometime you feel it’s right. It’s just articulating like, “Okay, we’ve got to experiment, we’ve  And so, I love that word, by the way, in the corporate setting of experimenting. It’s like, “How do you help people just experiment?” Well, that means you’ve got to create a process and a budget for that.

So, let’s say I’m at a company and you’re responsible for budgeting. I would actually create an experimental budget. Like, just throw it away. It’s a failed budget. It can work but you’re literally creating little experiments to learn something new. Or, let’s say you’re not. This isn’t about work, and say this is at home, that I would create

So, one of my favorite things that I like to do is I set different calendar just for myself. I block off time for myself. Sometimes it’s monthly, sometimes it’s quarterly where I’ll send myself actionable messages. So, you can actually go in and you can custom your labels and your alarms, so I actually see things that I need to see in my alarms when they go off that basically . And I think this is a great use for me in controlling technology versus technology controlling me.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you give some examples for alarms and labels that you use in there?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, so one of the things that I had to get over when I was writing the book was, okay, we have this thing called our central nervous system that calls all the shots. And let’s break that down for one sec. So, central, the core of you. System, an operating system and computer, basically a computer. Nervous, don’t say that. Don’t think that. Don’t try that. Like, we’re rooted, we have archaic systems that are basically rooted in nervousness and it’s hard to shake that.

So, one of the ideas I’ve come up with was, “Oh, that’s interesting. I wonder if I can develop a central courage system to combat the realities of our central nervous system?” So, PRICE, that five-step process is basically building your central courage system. But when I first came up with the idea, I felt like an impostor talking about this thing.

And so, for me, the way I got over it was by every morning my alarm went off, I saw, “Build strong central courage systems.” And by the 12th time I saw it, or the 18th time I saw it, or the 36th time I saw it, it was building that muscle for me that I needed to see to keep me on my path for writing the book. And so now, I say, yeah, I help companies or leaders build strong central courage systems. It’s second nature for me. But when I first said it, it was hard for me to say. I’m building that muscle.

And so, I think that’s creating these ritualized triggers and using your alarms to do that. So, if you wanted to write that blog, or start that podcast, I would literally schedule time on your calendar, maybe it’s once a week where you’re like, “Today is the day.” And you see that every week at the same time and start to ritualize that process so you can build that muscle. And that makes it easier to do it again and

Pete Mockaitis
Very good. Very good. And I also want to get your take, we talked about this sort of a whole organization level. If an employee finds themselves in the midst of their organization, they want to do some courageous changes, but they get resistance from teammates and bosses. Do you have any tips on how they can get more influential persuasive and get things moving even though their kind of authority is limited?

Ryan Berman
And, again, I feel this is going to sound like a promotion for the book, but I think whether it’s my book or someone else’s book, just by giving something tangible to somebody, when you gift knowledge, so when someone gives them, “Hey, do you have a minute? I thought about you while I was reading this book. Can we talk about it when you’re done with it?” Gifting knowledge is an easy way to

A hard way to start a conversation is, “Do you have five minutes?” When they don’t have five minutes, they’re not sure what you really want. And so, what I’ve learned is just by gifting knowledge and gifting the book to someone is an easy way to talk about the process of

Another is, and a lot of this statistics are in the book. Statistics are tough because people don’t think that statistics have anything to do with them. They think statistics are for other people, right? But if you actually look at the statistics, you’ve got a 52% of the Fortune 500s since 2000 that are gone. That number is going to hold. John Chambers predicts that 40% of all companies will be .

You’re going to have 9,000 brands that carousels on and off the Fortune 500 over the next six decades. I can do this for a while. The life expectancy of a Fortune 500 brand 50 years ago is 75 years. So, once you made it onto the list, you can coast for a while. Today, it’s anywhere between 12 and 15 years. So, the numbers are there. Like, this is the problem. We have to shake the leaders of the company and go, “Look, if we don’t change, someone is going to change us whether we like it or not.” And I think even you drive change or change drives you, and if you’re not careful,

So, there are house-on-fire moments. It’s just how do you shake the leaders? And, again, a lot of this content, I just mention this in the book, I talk about like, “What’s going on and why is this happening? Why is this business apocalypse really happening?” And my hope is to do that is to help companies start to deal with this and have the conversation that it’s possible for them to change.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that really hammers it home with regard to you just don’t have the option to coast anymore. You’ve got take a moment to rejuvenate for you and rest and all that stuff, but you just can’t keep doing what you’ve been doing for years at a time because the outside world will not do the same.

Ryan Berman
No, and that’s the thing. You got this iterative strategy and, actually, you will get caught, and incremental growth has nothing on exponential growth. And somewhere, there’s probably five guys in a garage that are trying to figure out a way to take you down. That’s not on your radar yet, and they’re working 19 hours a day to figure out a way to disrupt your category. So, it’s a very real thing and it’s happening all over the country and beyond.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ryan, tell me, anything else you want to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Ryan Berman
No, man, just obviously I love talking about this stuff. I really do enjoy helping companies reinvent. I think courage is a competitive advantage for anyone that chooses to learn how to do it. And I think you can unlock it in your teams. And a lot of my time right now is being able to go inspire groups and speak in different companies and try to get them to see that courage is for them. And, hopefully, once they do, then we can start working on a plan for tomorrow.

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

Ryan Berman
Yeah, my favorite quote is by a German philosopher named Arthur Schopenhauer who said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it’s ridicule. Second, it’s wild. It’s violently opposed. And, third, it’s accepted as being self-evident.” So, I just love that because I think that is the process of courage. That is the friction that comes with this lot of change where, first, it’s like, “Really? Like, no, this is a silly idea.” Two, “Absolutely not.” And then, third, “Well, anyone could’ve come up with a Google, right?” Like, there’s no period for joy to celebrate. It’s just sort of, “Oh.” By the way, this quote is like evidently 250 years old and still remains true today.

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

Ryan Berman
Being able to sit with Steve Wilhite, who was hired by Steve Jobs to run marketing, was probably my favorite interview. And I love all my children equally, but to be able to sit with Steve and hear his story of how he was hired and what sort of test Steve Jobs gave him to make sure he wasn’t just a yes man so he would actually stand up to him, was pretty fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

 Berman
I would say Essentialism is right there by Greg McKeown in just helping you decide what is essential because once you know that, you’ve got the clarity you need to stay on the path of what you follow and leave everything else by the wayside.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Ryan Berman
Today it’s Slack and Zoom because my company Courageous is virtual, so thank goodness for those tools because it allows us to stay connected in real time and see each other.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Ryan Berman
Right now, it’s the one I explained where I’m setting my alarm with different labels to remind myself of what’s important, so these triggers. And so, even for me, after studying these for three years, I want to see those triggers.

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

Ryan Berman
You know what, a lot of people seem to be resonating with the knowledge plus faith plus action equals courage, which is cool. It’s like, “What do I think about this? How does it make me feel? And what am I going to do about it?”

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

Ryan Berman
Well, they’ll learn more about the book, I would go to ReturnOnCourage.com. And if you wanted to get to know my consulting practice a little more, I’d go to CourageBrands.com. And you could probably find me through the ReturnOnCourage.com website.

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

Ryan Berman
If you’re unhappy, you’ve got take your life into your control. And I really do think that’s sort of the aha moment for me, is that it didn’t matter we were getting bigger, I was getting less happy. And so, same thing, either you drive change or change drives you. And if it’s your life, then how are you to take it by being in the driver’s seat of it and make the most of it, and have the courage to drive where you want?

And, again, maybe internally, change starts with one, it starts with you and then find somebody else that’s your real raft mate who can help you make change and then go get another and another and another. And if you like challenges, I’d recommend that.

Pete Mockaitis
Ryan, thanks for taking the time and keep up the good work.

Ryan Berman
Thanks, Pete. Appreciate you having me on.

468: Upgrading Your Confidence and Courage at Work with Bill Treasurer

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Bill Treasurer says: "Boredome is a clue that it's time to move back out into discomfort."

Bill Treasurer shares practical wisdom for conquering fear, taking risks, and finding your courage.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The key first step to finding courage
  2. Approaches for taking on more wise risks
  3. How to fill up each of the Three Buckets of Courage

About Bill:

In the past two decades, thousands of executives across the globe have attended Bill’s keynotes and workshops. Benefiting from the concepts first introduced in Bill’s bestselling books, participants come away with stronger leadership skills, improved team performance, and more career backbone.

Among others, Bill has led workshops for NASA, Accenture, Lenovo, CNN, Hugo Boss, SPANX, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Bill’s insights about courage and risk-taking have been featured in over 100 newspapers and magazines, including the Washington Post, NY Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Boston Herald, and more.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Bill Treasurer Interview Transcript

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

Bill Treasurer
Pete, I’m really delighted to be here and I’m looking forward to our time together.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Me, too. And I want to go back in time a little bit to hear the story of you were invited to join the Metropolitan Opera in New York when you were 11 for singing. That’s impressive. What’s the story here?

Bill Treasurer
You know, I don’t know that I’ve ever spoken to anybody else about this. I mean, my mom knows it. But when I was 11 years old, I had a buddy who was already in the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera and he was a good singer, and he and I would sing like John Denver songs together and such. And he said, “You know, you ought to come with me down to the Met because they’re looking to put people in their chorus for a Russian play that was going to be on Broadway or at the Met.” And so, I was like, “All right. Why not?”

So, I took the train down and I did a test run with the person playing piano there with him and the other people in the chorus, and got word, afterwards they called and said that they wanted me to be in the chorus. And then it became a decision, like, “Do I want this as my track? Do I want to sort of pursue singing operatically or do I want to go outside and play baseball with my buddies, and stickball and run around in the dirt like we had been doing up until that point?” So, I had a decision to make and, ultimately, I decided that the showbiz life, at least the operatic showbiz life, probably isn’t for me. So, I declined the opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, imagine you must be pretty darn good at singing. I imagine they’re pretty selective even amongst 11-year-olds.

Bill Treasurer
I got some girlfriends in college.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you also play the guitar, that seems to be key?

Bill Treasurer
No, it’s interesting, I would sing when other people were playing guitar, but what’s really kind of, it truly is interesting, is that by the time I was 11 and a little bit later, I literally would sing John Denver songs with my buddies, and the most popular John Denver song that we would sing back then was the sing-a-long “Country Roads,” right? “Take me home, country roads, to the place I belong, West Virginia.”

And then, fast forward a little bit later, it’s actually where I ended up going to college. And I’m not from West Virginia, I’m from the suburbs of New York, but somehow singing that song so many times ended up plopping me into West Virginia. And, in fact, the very first football game at West Virginia University that I attended that fall, it was the opening of a new stadium. And who comes ala helicopter, lands at the stadium, and sings “Country Roads” but John Denver. So, it’s a nice sort of closure to the story.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that’s quite poetic. It’s all meant to be. Well, so I want to talk a little bit about courage with you. And you’ve been working with this for a long time so much so that you’ve updated your book Courage Goes to Work after over 10 years. So, tell us, what do we need to know about courage going to work?

Bill Treasurer
Well, you know, the interesting thing is if you look at courage and you start studying it, as I did when I started writing the book, and I’ve started birthing my own business, and then it gave birth to the book, is this idea that courage is a virtue. And I’m not the first one to say that. In fact, if you rewind far enough, Aristotle called courage the first virtue because it makes all the other virtues

And throughout history, other great giants have talked about courage as being one of the premier, if not the premier of virtues. In fact, the Catholic Church calls it one of the four cardinal virtues. So, outside of work, courage has always been a preeminent virtue. And my question became, “Why would it be any different in the workplace?” Because a lot of workplaces are bastions of fear, but fear is the primary means of motivating people to get things done, sadly still, even in the 21st

And so, that becomes the right opportunity for the demonstration of  So, my whole contemplation in the book Courage Goes to Work was, “How do we take courage and apply it in the workplace not just outside as a virtue, but as the premier virtue of business and leadership?” So, if you think about it, Pete, to be a great business developer or salespeople, salesperson, means to knock on hundreds of doors in the face of rejection over and over again. That takes courage.

To be an innovator means to draw outside of the lines, experiment, make some mistakes, forward falling, to be an innovator. The greatest innovations almost always start out as blasphemy to what was before. So, to be an innovator takes courage. And then, finally, to be a leader means to render bold decisions that some people are going to disagree with and you’ve got to withstand the turbulence of that disagreement. Leadership takes courage. So, courage is essential to so many of the operating systems that make organizational life work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, certainly. So, it’s critical. And then, tell us, why is it often missing?

Bill Treasurer
I think that for many of the reasons it’s missing outside in the world and so much of it has to do with fear and what do we do when we face, or fail to face, more accurately, fearful situations. What’s interesting in the things that I’ve learned and research about courage is that courage isn’
t the absence of  In fact, John McCain wrote a book called Why Courage Matters. It became an international bestseller.

And in the book, he says, “Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s acting despite the fact that you’re afraid.” So, if you think about that, it means that courage is fear-full, not fearless. You’ll see these bumper stickers on the back of trucks “No Fear. No Fear.” You know, no brains. That’s not courage. Courage, in fact, is fear-full but it’s acting despite the fact that you’re afraid, and moving through it with that

So, I think a lot of people walk away when they’re fearful, they get paralyzed, or they fight, flight or freeze. But what my work is suggesting, and a few others like John McCain, is that if you work through your fear, that’s the discovery of courage. In fact, you can’t be courageous unless the presence of fear is there. But the trick is to not run away from it, it’s learn how to contend

Pete Mockaitis
And so, what are your top tips for learning how to contend with it?

Bill Treasurer
Well, the first thing is, know what you want. I know that you’re based in Chicago. There’s a playwright in Chicago, his name is Ambrose Redmoon. He’s got another one of these quotes, he says, “Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s the decision that you’ve got something more important than fear to get done.” So, the first thing is what I call the contemplation of the holy question. The four most important words that you’ll ever learn in the English language, “What do you want?” What do you want?

If you can answer that with precision, and it may start with first identifying what you don’t want, but figuring out the condition that you want, that you don’t yet have, in other words, identify a worthwhile goal, then that sublimates fear when the goal becomes more

And so, the first thing you’ve got to do is decide is, “What is that thing that is so important, that I don’t yet have, that courage will become the activation that will sort of help me take the steps forward to get that condition that I don’t have.” So,

So, it’s critically important that you have a goal that is really compelling that motivates you to move forward, and courage becomes the activation that sort of helps you close the gap between where you are today and that important goal that you want to get to. So, the first thing to do to activate your own courage is have a worthwhile goal to put your mojo, your courage mojo, to work

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Sure. So, once you got a worthwhile goal, what’s next?

Bill Treasurer
Well, the other thing is it helps to understand what I call the theory of least regrets. Understand that any risk, any big move that you’re considering comes with two risks. There’s the risk of action, but then there’s also the risk of inaction. And sometimes the risk of inaction is more dangerous but it happens over a lengthy period of time so it’s harder to

So, one key question to ask yourself is, “What will I regret the least? Taking this risk, doing this courageous thing, and maybe wiping out, or not taking this risk, and never knowing if I could’ve been successful had I done  You know, a lot of bar stools are warmed by the seat of a person, right now, everywhere in the country, who’s staring at the TV screen and yelling at the bartender, talking about how they could’ve been a contender, but they didn’t. They didn’t contend.

So, the idea is that the risk we regret the most are very often the ones that we didn’t  So, as you’re getting ready for a risk, to contemplate, “What is the thing that I will regret the least, maybe wiping out and trying it, or not wiping out but not trying it and never knowing if I could’ve been successful?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. So, we got the theory of least regret. And what next?

Bill Treasurer
Sometimes it’s good to objectify the subject of experience of a risk. So, a lot of times we’ll do this  We’ll do the pro and con list, and, “Hey, here’s the credit column. I might get this if I do this thing, and here’s the debit column,” and whichever one has the most on it we sort of go with.

But a better way to do it is what I call the worst-case grid. And you simply draw an X-axis and Y-axis and a scale ranging from 1 to 10 on both axes, and then say, “If this big move, this giant leap that I’m considering, doesn’t work out, what is the degree of badness? On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is

So, for example, I decided at one point to leave Accenture. Accenture is a great company. I had a six-figure job, I was well networked. If I had stayed there long enough, I would’ve moved into a senior executive, at the time partner role. But there was something unsatisfying about the experience of staying there. So, I decided to leave and start my own business, Giant Leap Consulting.

The degree of badness, had it not worked out for me, it’s not going to be death, right? For most people, whatever the big bad move, the big scary thing that you’re considering doing, that’s requiring courage, generally, is not going to be death. And death would be a

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I guess I’m thinking my scale is bigger. I’m just thinking like the annihilation of humanity because it’s just your death, right? You’re just one life. I mean, if you’re working in a field like military, law enforcement, even food service, or transportation, you know, you can kill hundreds or thousands with your poor decisions.

Bill Treasurer
You know, I suppose if your big risk is that you’re going to put a new drug on the market that hasn’t been well-tested, I think that could be the case. Actually, it’s my understanding, this may be mythology, but it’s my understanding that Jonas Salk, who gave us the polio vaccine, that he first injected it to himself and to his own children, right? So, had that not worked out, people wouldn’t call him the hero that he ultimately became for helping eradicate polio largely.
So, the degree of badness in my case, had I left Accenture and had it not worked out, my wipeout would’ve been I would’ve had to have lived with my in-laws, right? So, my wife and I. I wouldn’t be in a soup kitchen, but if my business hadn’t worked out, for a little period of time, we would’ve had to go and live with my in-laws, and that’s not a 10, right? Like, that’s probably a 7.

So, as you consider the big bold move that you’re thinking about, first of all, identify what is the degree of badness. In my case, it was a 7, having to potentially live at my in-laws’ house. But then you also have to factor in the  And so, I looked at it, and said, “Okay, had I left Accenture and my business didn’t work out, the truth is I had worked with other entrepreneurs, I had taken night classes at Emory University, I already had a graduate degree, I had been in the workforce for over 10 years. All of those things lowered my metaphor to go high dive,” so I was able to look at it and say, “You know, the probability is probably a 2 or 3.”

So, then you just times your degree of badness, in this case 7, times your probability grid 3, and then you come up with a numeric value. For me, if it’s going to be below 50, as a numeric, as a number, I’m probably going to do the thing. If it’s above 50, I’m going to be at least more hesitant and more calculated, but probably I may not even do whatever the thing is. But the cool thing about the worst-case grid is it gives people an actual way of rationalizing and objectifying a subject of experience of taking a

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I suppose is there a corresponding sort of positive tone that you’re bouncing that against?

Bill Treasurer
Thank you for saying that. So, oftentimes, in my workshop, so in my courageous leadership workshop, I’ll have participants think about what is the next courageous move that they might be wanting to take. A good way to think about is to ask yourself, “Where am I playing it too safe in my career?” And that starts to point in the direction of their next courageous move. And then, after they do that, I’ll have them work through the worst-case grid. Most people like it because it’s a way to be very thoughtful and objective about it.

But then I’ll make sure that they close it by doing the other. Let’s flip it upside down and say, “Hey, what if this actually works out? What if I start my own business and I get to work with really cool clients and talk to really cool podcasters like Pete, and get to write books and such? That would be ideal. That’s—What’s the best case?” And that becomes, on a scale of 1 to 10, a 10 is sort of the life of my own design. What’s the probability? Same thing, I’ve got to put it through a probability factor and say, “You know, how much do I believe in myself?” So, it’s worthwhile to do it as a positive instead of worst 0-case grid, a best-case

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you. So, I want to hear about a term you use, “comfeartable.” What does that mean and how should we think about it?

Bill Treasurer
So, I talk about it in the book that I think that sometimes we get into a low-level condition of dissatisfaction, a sort of a low-level dissatisfaction and, over time, we become tolerant of it. And, frankly, I think that many people get a low-level toleration of living in a constant state of fear and we become used to it, and we become a bit numb to it, we become comfortable with our fear, what I call

And when you’re a leader of people who have sort of grown apathetic and are no longer challenging themselves, and no longer willing to experience discomfort, then stagnation happens, and individual and organizational growth is thwarted. So, this idea that one of the enemies of management, in my opinion, is being “comfeartable” and having a number of employees around you who may have grown comfortable being in a low-level fear situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, if you find yourself in such a spot, how do you shake it up?

Bill Treasurer
Well, I think that leaders can do a couple of things to sort of shake it up. The first thing is they’ve got to jump first. They’ve got to be role models of courageous behavior themselves. They’ve got to show their workforce that they can be the first one up and off whatever high-dive platform they’re asking other people to jump off of. So, being a role model, and ask yourself as a leader, “When’s the last time you had sweaty palms and did something that was exciting and scary at the same

The second thing is that you’ve got to create safety as a leader. Create safety. Physical safety, of course, right? We all want to work in a work environment where we don’t think that our lives are going to be threatened. But we also, as leaders, have to create psychological safety where people feel that they can voice their true opinions about things without you chopping their head

The third thing is a leader has to help people learn how to harness fear. So, the whole discussion that you and I had about moving through fear instead of running away from it, and learning to become comfortable with  Ginni Rometty is the CEO of IBM. She has a wonderful quote that she said at Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women Summit. She said, “Comfort and growth don’t co-exist.”

So, you, as a leader, have to ensure that people recognize that, “Look, discomfort is part of it. It’s part of how we grow and progress, so learning and acquiring new skills and taking on new challenges that, in fact, make us uncomfortable is how you’re going to grow as an individual but how the organization is going to grow

And then the fourth thing, as a leader, to be modulating between comfort and discomfort. You’ve got to nudge people out into discomfort where they start getting their own sweaty palms, but you’ve got to let them stay there long enough to acquire new skills and then, as they start to acquire those skills and become too comfortable with them, you’ve got to move them back out into

As it relates to modulating discomfort, if you’re up for it, Pete, I can share with you a story about how that worked in my own life.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Yeah.

Bill Treasurer
And it becomes actually the genesis of my business, and it became the genesis of my exploration into the whole idea of courage and why I think courage is so important. But if you rewind far enough back in my own career, before all of it, like I was not a great athlete growing up. I wasn’t a great runner. I’m not very tall. I’m 5’7 1/2”. I’m not built for football. But I found springboard diving. Some friends were jumping around the pool one day, doing back dives and back jumps, and girls were looking at them, and I thought, “Whew, figure I’ll try that.”

And I did a back dive, and I pulled my leg around, and I did a back somersault, and none of my friends could do it. So, I got good on the low board as a one-meter springboard diver. Fast forward, colleges started to dangle scholarships in front of me. I grew up in Westchester, New York and I won the Westchester County diving championships three times, so colleges took an interest in me. But all those college coaches would say, “Bill, you’re a great low-board diver. We’re very interested in you. We do have some scholarship money, but tell us about your high-board list of dives.” I never bothered to learn high-board list of dives because I was, and am, petrified of heights.

So, I had a coach who said, “Look, do you want to try to get a scholarship?” I’m like, “Yeah, sure.” So, he would take me down to Iona College in New Rochelle, New York.

Pete Mockaitis
I have been there. I had spoken there.

Bill Treasurer
Had you been there? Have you?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s lovely. The gals.

Bill Treasurer
Yeah, you’re right. It is the gals.They’ve got a lot of Irish there in that part of New York. And so, Iona, to this day, it’s the only place that I know of that has a diving board, even to this day, built on a hydraulic lift. So, he could take the diving board and move it from one meter to one and a half meter. Now, I’m really uncomfortable, and I’m doing screaming belly whoppers, and I don’t want to go to practice, and I’m upset with him for making me do this. I’d get welts on the back of my legs.

But after a hundred dives, my heart starts to stop racing, and after 200 dives and 50 practices, it starts to get better. After like 300 dives, I started to get, oh, bored. Boredom’s a great clue. Boredom is a clue that it’s time to move people back out into discomfort. And what do you think my coach did at that point?

Pete Mockaitis
He gives the handy hydraulic lift to increase the height.

Bill Treasurer
You are a smart podcaster, my friend. Exactly. He moved it to two meters, and now I’m back to the heart racing, I’m upset with him, welts on my legs, etc. But through this process of modulating between comfort and discomfort, he would push me out into discomfort long enough where I could acquire new skills. And once I acquired the skills, I’d settle to that place, and I’d start to, eventually, become even bored, and that became the clue to move it

So, the long arc of the story is I ended up getting a full scholarship to West Virginia University. But, after that, I became a world-class high-diver and a member of the U.S. High-Diving Team, diving from heights that scaled to over 100 feet, travelling at speeds in excess of 50 miles an hour, into a small pool that was 10 feet deep, and I’m a high diver who, I already told you, is afraid of heights. So, this was the discovery of my courage.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog. Well, that is a nice metaphor there because you can see kind of very mathematically, as well as viscerally, “Oh, a little bit higher. Ooh, I feel that. A little higher. Oh, I feel that more.” And so, that’s there. And I suppose you could think about your own courage challenges in that kind of a way with regard to what’s a tiny step versus a big step, and all the steps in between? And maybe you can give us an example there. So, let’s say not sales because I think it’s almost too easy. I want to make you work for it, Bill. Let’s say in the workplace, it’s a common thing that people fear. And what would be the equivalent of the one meter, the one and a half meters, and then the 30 meters?

Bill Treasurer
Yeah, so good question and you’re right, by the way, this metaphor. It actually became the metaphor in my business Giant Leap Consulting. But now the whole business is about, “What high-dive are you facing and how can we help you take whatever personal or professional high-dive will move you forward?” And so, an example that I can think of is I did a 360-degree feedback with a group of leaders that I was working for. It was a cohort of about 25 people. And one of these leaders got some terribly harsh feedback, that he was a hothead, that he was ill-tempered, that he was dictatorial, like really scathing stuff.

And it slapped him upside the head as a 360-degree feedback will sometimes do with some people. And some people reject the feedback, they’re like, “Well, this is a bad time,” or, “You don’t understand I inherited the worst team,” and come up with excuses. But this leader really took it to heart. There’s an old saying that Gandhi said, he said, “The truth only hurts if it should.” And it did hurt him.

And it became, “What are we going to do? You just got all of this feedback about your leadership. You want to be a better leader. The company is investing in you, putting you in this leadership program. You’re managing huge consequential projects, some of it $50 to $100 million worth of project revenue that you’re managing. What are you going to do?”

And so, working, we decided with his boss that this person would get sort of extra attention, and we did a lot of one-on-one coaching together. And what it came down to was he was so fixated on production that he wasn’t making one-on-one time with his own direct reports, not about giving them direction for their jobs, but he wasn’t making any relationship-building time at all.

He was atypical, and I don’t mean to be stereotypical, but he was sort of engineering minded. It was all about production, it was all about the work schedule, it was all about the work breakdown structure, it was all about the P&L, and it had very little to do with the building strong relationships and interpersonal chemistry of his team so that he would have some goodwill and loyalty around him. He didn’t. He had people who wanted to go work for other people.

So, he had to sort of take emotional risks of being willing to focus on his own people and treating them in a more respectful and humane way, and worry less about production, and worry more about investing in emotional relationship. I know that sounds squishy but here’s how I know that it worked. It’s about five years later, I was leading a similar leadership program, in fact it’s the very same leadership program, but it was a different cohort going through it. And three of those people, out of the 25, were people who reported to him now.

And to a person, they were telling me what a great leader he was, what a great mentor, how much he developed them, how much he was so interested in his fair treatment of them. It was like an entirely different person. But the courage for him was the willingness to be uncomfortable in terms of not being fixated on P&L and production, that stuff was always going to be there, but to invest the time in the development and the attention-giving of his own people and building relationships with them. And it made all the difference. It made him whole. It made him sort of more emotionally-attuned and aware.

Pete Mockaitis
And the fear there it could show up in terms of, “Oh, my gosh, if I spent this time talking about this mushy relationship stuff, it’s like we’re not spending time making it happen, churning out production,” so it’s kind of scary. Or, “Boy, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Are they going to cry even if I really start listening to what’s going on with their lives? And I don’t know what to do with that.” So, that can be fearful there.

Bill Treasurer
Exactly. If I invested time, and I become interested in this person’s career and what they want to get out of their career, and what they want to get out of my time being their leader, and, hey, maybe even what’s going on in their own life if they want to share any of that. I might actually have to care about this person. They’re no longer just a “resource.” It’s a human being that I’m in relationship with, and now I care about, oh, man, if I care about them, I’m going to be obliged to them in a different way than I am if I’m just their “boss.” So, you’re right, it comes with a certain risk.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s hard to fire them, too, when you care.

Bill Treasurer
It’s hard to be hard, right. It’s hard to be tough. But I think what it does is it changes the equation. So many people in leadership roles it’s all about results, right? Like, if you don’t get results, you’re not going to stay a leader. We see it with professional coaches, for example. If you have enough of a losing streak, you’re going to get replaced. So, I get it, results matter.

But I think that we have to put the equation and make sure that it’s the treatment of people as the means to the ends of getting the result. But too many people, like this person, focused on the result, the result, the result, the ends, “Give me the ends. Give me the golden egg. Give me the golden egg. Give me the golden egg,” and cutting open that goose to get the golden egg instead of the treatment of people which is the means to getting the better production.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And when you treat them you want to be clear that they don’t feel like they are means to the end alone, and that’s sort of like what they are to you. But, yeah, understood in terms of people are that which make it happen, so folks need to be treated well in order to see that occur. Now, I want to make sure we have a moment to talk about you’ve got a concept called three buckets of courage, and I know those are pretty interesting. Can you tell us about this?

Bill Treasurer
Sure. I think that when we think of courage as this big ambiguous topic, and we think, “Oh, man, courage. That’s huge. That’s for heroes. That’s for people with the machine guns charging up the hill in the theater of war. That’s for the person standing on the moon. That’s the person saving somebody’s life, or running into a burning building.” And that’s true. Courage has its place for heroics. But I believe that there’s a more tempered everyday experience of courage that’s accessible to all of us, and it helps to break down the idea of courage so that it’s not so ambiguous. And I break it down into three different behavioral buckets that I call the three buckets of

The first bucket of courage is the courage to try something you’ve not done before. It’s the courage of first attempts. It’s the courage of action. It’s the courage of initiative to cross this threshold and do this thing that other people may be doing, but for you it’s the first time. And because it’s the first time, there’s a degree of unknown across the threshold. So, I call this

You can think of the first time you drove a car, for example, when other people are on the road driving a car. But, for you, it was a petrifying experience. Or, the first time you moved into management, and you now had direct reports reporting to you, and it’s a foreign experience to you. You can draw from the experiences of others, but for you it’s the first time.

That’s different than the second bucket of courage. The second bucket of courage is the courage of vulnerability, emotional exposure, the courage of relationships, and I call this trust courage. It’s the courage entrust others and assume some degree of risk that they may betray you. Because when you entrust somebody, there’s always a chance that they could betray you, and then your judgment gets

So, for example, in the workplace, delegating a consequential, meaningful, substantial task to somebody, without pulling it back from them, and without hovering over them like a helicopter parent, but building up their skills and entrusting them so that they can be self-sufficient and self-reliant to do this task. There’s always a chance that they mess up and it becomes a reflection on your judgment. But this is the courage it takes to build relationships. And I find that the higher you go up in the organization, the less often you see the trust courage that’d be because I think that we become jaded over time because of betrayal.

The third bucket of courage is the one that we often think of when we talk about courage in the workplace. We think of the person with the shaky voice, standing up to authority, or getting the direct message when it’s really hard for them to do so. We call this the courage of the truthteller and the bucket, as the third bucket of courage, is tell courage. It’s the voice of assertiveness and truth-telling. We want people and we want leaders, especially, to be honest. But, as you know, Pete, we do a lot of socially-appropriate

When your spouse says, “Do I look fat in this dress?” Honesty, we say we want it but it’s kind of hard to give. Somebody raises their hand at a townhall meeting, “Are there going to be more layoffs?” And we’re told we’re not allowed to say. Honesty is a hard thing, so it takes courage to be the honest truthteller, knowing that the risk you assume is if you tell the truth, you might be excluded from the group and no longer belong.

So, each one of these buckets – try, trust, and tell – has some risks attached to it which is why it involves courage.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I like that because they really are different phenomenon in terms of you may well find that you are ready to try anything, but you really are slow to trust. Or, you’ve got the audacity to sort of tell people what you think, no problem, but you’re worried about kind of doing something totally different outside of your world. So, I think that’s a really handy way to think about it in terms of what they share is this notion of courage and breaking out of the comfort to do something. But they all also have their own sort of nuances or flavors. So, tell me, do you have any pro tips in terms of each of these three? Like, if you want to be more courageous in each of the three buckets, what should you do?

Bill Treasurer
Yeah, that’s a good question, and you’re very perceptive. You’re right that each one of these, you can see the distinction between them, but you also see the reinforcement. And you’re also right that we tend to be stronger in one of those buckets than the others, and that’s great. That’s the area where you could give people mentorship, for example. But if your bucket is low in any of those areas, you’re likely to give people advice that comes from fear because your own bucket isn’t full in that particular  And each one has strengths and weaknesses.

So, in terms of advice, whatever advice that I would give people, would be to start small, right? Like, no high-diver goes up and does a 100-foot jump one time without doing a thousand jumps from one foot. So, I call these leadups, so start  So, for example, if you wanted to demonstrate try courage. A small way to do that, so doing something that breaks routine, breaks habit, a willingness to go to a different restaurant at lunch. Don’t go to the same haunt that you go to all the time. Take a different route to work. Break up your routines in small ways and it would give yourself mental permission to do so in larger more substantial

Trust. When it comes to trust courage, one thing you can do is sort of fill in the blank to this question, “I will trust you when…” When is it? What is the criteria with which you give a person  Some people are like, “I’ll trust you right off the bat. I always presume trust. And then if you screw up, then I will have a hard time trusting you.” Other people are like, “I will trust you after you prove to me you can be trusted.” And they’re sort of they’ll prove it, people need evidence.

But at least be conscious to know what is the criteria with which you will give people trust or withhold trust because it allows you to understand, “Is your standard too high? And would you maybe need to lower that standard so that you can build relationships quicker with

And then, for tell courage, to have the courage or voice or assertiveness, one thing I often suggest for people in lower-level positions who are struggling with a boss who might be dominant, is to go to your boss, or maybe even during your annual review, and say, “Boss, I just need to know. Do you need me to sort of agree with everything that you say? Do you need me to be a yes person? Do you need me to be a brownnoser?” And I’m telling you, 95% of bosses are going to be like, “No, I don’t want you to. Do not. You absolutely need to push

Pete Mockaitis
Bill, thank you so much for asking. Yes, please. Not all of these disagreements and critical thinking I have to do everywhere, it’d be so refreshing if you can just tell me what I want to hear constantly. Ah, that’d be nice.

Bill Treasurer
Right. So, this tip is all about establishing a ground rule with your boss that you won’t be a butt-kisser, and a brownnoser, and a yes person, because they don’t want you to be. They’ve, in fact, clarified that but then you’ve got to go a step further and say, “Great, boss. I’ll tell you what, I will honor this commitment. Can you do me a favor? Give me some coaching right now. When I need to disagree with you, how can I do that in a way that would be receptive to your

And then that person will give them advice, “Listen, don’t do it when I’m getting ready to walk into the board meeting. Don’t do it when you see 50 items in my inbox,” and they’ll give you some coaching so that when you fast forward six months from now, and you actually have to disagree with your boss, you can say, “Hey, boss, remember when we agreed during my performance review that you didn’t want me to be a yes person, and you gave me some coaching on how to give you feedback that you might need to hear, I’ve got some things to say to you right now that will honor the commitment that we made to each other.” So, it’s basically setting a ground rule where you’ve got permission to tell the truth to your

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, tell me, Bill, any key things you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Bill Treasurer
I think, for the listener, there are a couple of good old tiny questions to ask yourself, “When’s the last time you did something for the first time?” It’s a good question and it’ll allow you to think, “Hey, am I extending myself enough?” The other one, of course, is, “Where am I playing it too safe?” So, sometimes it’s like the thought experiments, there’s a few key questions like that that can help your listeners orient themselves to are they extending themselves enough.

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

Bill Treasurer
Well, I do like that quote from Gandhi, right, “The truth only hurts if it should.” I like that because it keeps me accountable to giving harder messages that I might need to deliver to my clients and/or to myself, right? Like, sometimes somebody will give me feedback, and my instant response is wanting to defend myself or to find something wrong with that person who gave me that feedback. But if I just sort of sit with that quote from Gandhi, “Yeah, you know, that hurt. Why did that hurt?” And then I start to think about, “What is the truth of what they said and why does it hurt me?” So, I like that quote. That’s a good quote for me.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Bill Treasurer
I’ll tell you one of my favorite books of all time. So, I do a lot of leadership development, designing, developing, and delivering comprehensive leadership programs. Some of them are two years long, these leadership programs. And I think that a lot of people in the practice of leadership development deify leadership too much. They put it on a pedestal. And I think it’s really important that practitioners of leadership development also be heads up about the dangers of leadership put in the wrong hands.

And one of my favorite books on this is by Stanley Milgram who did the famous Milgram studies, the shock studies, I’m sure you’re familiar with them. And he wrote a book called Obedience to Authority, and it shows you how willing people are to capitulate to authority figures with very small actual authority over them. They’re willing to sort of cede control to a person who tells them to do something if they’re wearing a lab coat, and don’t actually have leadership authority over them. It’s just a fascinating book about how quickly people will capitulate to authority figures.

And a quote in there about the banality of evil, or the topic of the banality of evil, that evil often is not acting courageously. And it’s sort of a yawn, it’s the sin of omission, right, that they don’t do the things they ought to do because somebody’s telling them not do it. They’re just following orders from somebody who doesn’t actually have any control over them.

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

Bill Treasurer
Well, I was going to say the worst-case grid. I also like the five Ps. And the five Ps allow you to contemplate, “Should I, shouldn’t I take this risk?” And, again, rather than a pro and con list, it looks at five different things. The first is passion, “Am I passionate about it? Does it give me energy to think about this? Does it give me positive energy to think about this big bold move that I’m contemplating this courageous action?” So, passion is the

The second P is purpose, “If I take this risk, is it going to move me forward? That a big bold move shouldn’t be about compensation, what will this risk get me?” It should be about destination, “Where will this risk carry me or take

Then the third P is principles, “If by doing this thing, am I embodying or upholding some principles or virtues that I hold dear and say that I’m all about? If I take this risk, is it, in fact, a demonstration of this principle put to

The fourth P is prerogative, “Am I going to take this because other people are telling me to, because my dad was a dentist and he wants me to become a dentist? Or am I going to take this risk because I’ve thought about it, and it moves my life forward, it’s an exercise of my own free will, this decision, should I, shouldn’t I get off this

And then the fifth P is profit, “Do I stand to get something? If I do this thing, what is the potential or reward for my life that could be redeeming somehow?” So, if I put something through the five Ps – passion, purpose, principles, prerogative, and profit – I’m in a much higher probability of having a successful outcome to this courage action than if I don’t, or that if I only put it through a pro and con

And notice, by the way, Pete, that I put profit last. If you put that first, it skews your thinking on everything and you make the risk all about, “What can I gain?” and you start chasing the shiny

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

Bill Treasurer
I guess one nugget is it’s a quick story from a person that I got to work with on four occasions. She actually wrote the foreword to the original version of “Courage Goes to Work,” and her name is Sara Blakely, the founder of SPANX. And Sara tells the story of when she was a little kid, her dad used to sit down at the dinner table with her and her brother, she was about 10 or 11 years old, her brother was a little younger. Her dad used to ask her a simple question at the end of every week, he’d say, “Okay, kids, what have you failed at this week? What have you failed at this week?”

And she learned at an early age that if you’re not extending yourself, even occasionally to the point of failure, then it’s going to be hard for you to be successful. And I think that’s sort of a good golden nugget again about the importance, the wiliness to move and to discomfort because that’s where the growth happens.

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

Bill Treasurer
I’d point them to a couple of the websites. One is BillTreasurer.com, another is GiantLeapConsulting.com. And since we’re talking about Courage Goes to Work, guess where they can go to find that?

Pete Mockaitis
CourageGoestoWork.com.

Bill Treasurer
You are a smart man, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, Bill, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you all the best and much courageous adventures in your future.

Bill Treasurer
Awesome. Well, thanks so much for having me on. I hope that your readers drew some value from it and I really enjoyed talking to you.