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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Robin:

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

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

About Robin Dreeke

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Robin Dreeke Interview Transcript

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

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

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

Robin Dreeke
Exactly.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Dreeke
Anything you want.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, thanks.”

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

Pete Mockaitis
Bring it on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Dreeke
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Dreeke
Hard for folks to…?

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[30:04]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

495: How to Network When You Hate Networking with Devora Zack

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Devora Zack says: "Remember to value connecting over collecting."

Devora Zack explains why you don’t need to work the room to build great connections.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to smoothly start, sustain, and end conversations
  2. How to ease your pre-networking anxiety
  3. Best practices for writing amazing follow-ups

About Devora:

Devora Zack is CEO of Only Connect Consulting, a Washington Post bestselling author and global speaker with books in 45 language translations. Her clients include Deloitte, Smithsonian, Delta Airlines, the FDA, Johns Hopkins, and the National Institutes of Health. She has been featured by the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, US News & World Report, Forbes, Cosmo, Self, Redbook, Fast Company, and many others. She is the author of Networking for People Who Hate Networking, Managing for People Who Hate Managing and Singletasking.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Devora Zack Interview Transcript

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

Devora Zack
My pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, Devora, I understand that you identify as a strong introvert and, yet, you are now doing all sorts of speeches and writing about networking. What is the story here?

Devora Zack
Networking is not exclusively for extroverts, I’ve discovered. So, it started off when I was teaching a lot of seminars, and building connections, and creating new relationships, and sustaining businesses. And I suddenly realized that all those so-called excellent networking advice didn’t work for me, and I started doing the opposite. And who would’ve ever guessed, it’s a whole new method of networking that works for many people. As a matter of fact, the majority of people, traditional networking advice does not resonate with them, and they do far better, myself included, by honoring who they are and accepting their natural temperament.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then that’s intriguing. And so, what would be an example of honoring your natural temperament versus violating it?

Devora Zack
So, traditional advice says get out there as much as possible, constant contact, never eat a meal alone, and that kind of advice makes most of us want to run and hide, crash and burn, and proclaim ourselves to hate networking and be terrible at it. So, instead, if you work with understand who you are and then create a system that honors how you get energy, for example, introverts get energy alone whereas extroverts get energy with others.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so then could we hear some cool cases stories associated with folks who tackled some of those approaches and saw fantastic results?

Devora Zack
Sure. I’ll give one about myself when I wanted to get my first book published for the first time. So, I was at a conference and there were about 40 different publishers there, and so traditional wisdom would say meet all of them because that’ll maximize the possibility that you’ll hit it off with one of them. But I knew as an introvert that that would drain me and that it would also feel really inauthentic so I wouldn’t be bringing my best foot forward.

So, instead, I did research in advanced, which I always recommend people do, found and identified one publisher that I thought would be a really perfect fit, had one meeting at the conference, and I was the only person they signed out of 16,000 people, and we’re working together 12 years later. So, it really shows, it’s one little example that instead of saying, “I should do something,” like, “I should go out there and meet with everyone, I should try and spend as much time with as many different publishers as possible,” instead to say, “I’m going to follow what feels authentic and seek out where I think there’s a real connection.”
Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting, this notion. Let’s unpack that a bit when it comes to the “should.” Under what circumstances do you think we should violate our “shoulds” or ignore or overrule the should voice versus kind of run with them?

Devora Zack
Right. In my book I say, “You should never say should.” So, it’s hard to kind of get around that sometimes. So, there’s really three differences between introverts and extroverts, and my system of networking is really focused on this dimension.

So, introverts think to talk and extroverts talk to think. Introverts energize alone and extroverts energize with others. And introverts go deep, like deeper into fewer relationships, fewer interests, less activity around them. That does not mean less active. It just means less competing action for the brain. And extroverts are the opposite. They talk to think, they energize with others, and they go wide. They like a lot of people, a lot of action, a lot going on.

So, if I know that I think to talk, what I have to do is to prepare in advance some good questions, to practice what I’m going to say, to get familiar with typical topics people might raise at this event, and be prepared with answers.

Also, introverts tend to be more private and they don’t want to talk about themselves as much, they can spend more time thinking of great questions to ask other people. And, by the way, if you don’t like talking about how wonderful you are, you can show people instead by demonstrating an authentic interest in other people.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And when it comes to some of these great questions, have you found some go-to winners that you love and are great again and again?

Devora Zack
Yeah. One is that you want to make them interesting, the questions that people want to answer, and that you’re actually interested in hearing their response to. So, avoid the kind of old questions, they’re a little dull, like, “What do you do?” Like, that’s really basic. So, with a slight twist you can say, “What’s your favorite part of your work?” And suddenly the person comes alive, they’re talking about something that they’re passionate about, it’s more interesting to listen to, so that’s an example of a good, well-formed question.

You want to be cautious with your questions, also, about making them initially not too personal because introverts, especially if they have a strong, what’s called, strength of preference, a strong identification with introversion, they tend to find more things private. So, something an extrovert might ask would seem perfectly an innocent question, and an introvert might feel on the spot. So, start with the general questions, and then let the other person, who you’re talking to, decide how specific to get, and they might get more specific and more comfortable, both of you are, in the conversation.

A corollary to that is people often ask me, when we’re in the context of conversations and questions, “How do you end a conversation? So, I maybe find a way to be really engaging, some people want to talk to me, but what if it’s time for me to move on in the event, or in the evening, or the daytime?”

So, it’s really quite simple to end a conversation in a networking event because there is an expectation that people are there to meet people. So, non-verbal certainly makes a big difference, tone, pleasant facial expressions, smile, say, “Well, it’s been really interesting talking to you. I promise myself I’d circulate.” Or, almost the reverse of that, “Well, I’m sure you want to meet other people. Here’s my card.”

So, it’s really very simple to end a conversation, but the key is when you’re in the conversation, to be entirely focused on that other person. A lot of times people are looking for the “right person” to communicate with and they’re not making good eye contact and they’re distracted. Instead, I encourage people to decide that whenever they’re in a conversation with someone, that’s the right person for that period of time, and your job is to find out why. Why is this person in front of you out of everyone at the event, or, indeed, everyone in the world?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’ve made that point there before with regard to not trying to work the room and talk to absolutely everybody but instead make some of those deeper, more authentic relationships. And you’ve made reference, I understand, in your book to a couple of other old rules of networking advice. What are some of those and what makes things different now?

Devora Zack
Did you have any in particular that you wanted me to pound to pieces or…?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I would love for you to pound to pieces the one that is the most prevalent and the most wrong?

Devora Zack
There’s so many. I’ll start with one, it’s a popular saying which is to never eat a meal alone, that every meal is a networking opportunity. And, again, it’s about how you’re…

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’re saying, “Keith Ferrazzi, you’re dead wrong.”

Devora Zack
That’s right. That’s right. I really do disagree with that. Well, I should say that works for about 15% of the general population. That’s good advice for really strong extroverts, people that identify strong with extroversion. It doesn’t work for the rest of us and it allows us to not have time to reenergize. So, what I recommend is that if you need time alone to prepare for a program, before a presentation, when you’re on a business trip, to allow yourself to have a meal alone if that energizes you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’m also curious to hear your take on the “Networking Survival Kit.” It seems like we’ve got some things in terms of advance preparation internally with thought. Are there some physical items here too?

Devora Zack
Yes, as a matter of fact. So, the networking events, I believe you’re referring in particular to, there’s a chapter in the book called that, and I have a three-piece strategy that helps us network more effectively. One is to prepare, the next is to percolate, that means to engage, and then to pace yourself. However, you asked an interesting question, “Are there any physical pieces in the survival kit?” And I would say yes.

And that is the first thing that’s important to have in your survival kit is a small mirror. When you get to networking events, take a moment and check yourself out. Make sure that you’re not disheveled, that you’re cleaned up. A lot of times we’re like rushing from one place to another and we’re like in a hurry and we might be a little bit late, so we just jump on in. It’s always worth the time to take a moment to focus yourself internally and externally.

So, it might mean that there’s a powder room or a bathroom nearby to get centered in or if you just have a slide, again, a small mirror with you. Take a moment, make sure you’re put together. Also, physically put together. So, take a couple of breaths and get centered. I also recommend, for your survival kit, an energy bar or a snack, something to have before the event so you don’t arrive starving. A lot of networking events involve food, often open buffet or pass-around food.

And so, one of two situations, it’s usually the case, it’s either you bought a ticket and you’re like, “I’m going to eat my money’s worth,” or someone else is covering it, and then you’re like, “Hey, it’s a free meal.” And I encourage you to not think of it as either one. Don’t arrive starting. It’s okay to eat a little bit, but there’s been many, many networking mishaps that I’ve been privy to, not necessarily always involved in, but sometimes involved in, that include food and being too eager to start eating.

Pete Mockaitis
Please, please regale us with a tale or two of some eager eating mishaps.

Devora Zack
You know, my memory feels faulty today. But, for example, having a mouthful of food when you’re introduced to somebody that you’ve been wanting to meet, spilling on yourself. Also, big types of food that you eat at networking matters too. If you love those everything bagels, that’s for Sunday mornings with your family but, otherwise, eat plain items such as crackers or bread without a lot of nuts and seeds that can get stuck in your teeth.

When I’m helping organize a networking event, I always forbid spinach dips even though it tastes good because that causes a lot of trouble as well. I do have a little saying, which nobody likes including myself, but it is a good rule of thumb for the most part, and it is, “Eat before, drink after.” That means eat something before the event, and then maybe a couple of simple things at the event, like carrots or things that are less likely to cause a mess. And then drink after the event in terms of alcohol. If you’re in an event and you like to drink alcohol, maybe one or two drinks is okay, but to put a lid on it at that. I hear a lot of people telling me, “But, Devora, I’m a better networker when I’ve had some drinks.” And to this I reply, “Says who? Should we poll the room?” Because we often think we’re better at networking after a few drinks.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you might feel you’re a better networker because you’re having more fun but you might…

Devora Zack
Exactly. All of a sudden, I’m brilliant and hilarious and a real genius. So, you just want to be aware of that when you’re at an event, that it might feel like a party but it’s still a business experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And when we talk about physical items in the survival kit, I’m thinking a little bit about I really dig those little, I guess, they’re Listerine, it’s one of the brands, of pocket packs in terms of…

Devora Zack
Oh, great one. I love turning this around physical, like a real bag. I think we should definitely throw that in there. That’s a great one. And also, comfortable shoes if the bag is big enough. I really think, in any networking situation, comfort over flash. So, if you’re comfortable in walking shoes, pick that over your really fashionable but uncomfortable shoes. That’s my opinion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, then I want to get your take, if you’re in the midst of things and you’re feeling anxious right then and there in the moment, how do you recommend overcoming that?

Devora Zack
So, it’d be okay with giving yourself a little time to yourself. Also, reframe your mind. Everyone is not focused on you. Like, we sometimes have delusions of grandeur that when I’m standing there, I’m not talking with anyone, the entire room is focused on me standing there not talking to anyone. Also, make yourself available to others.

So, for example, if I’ve got myself a very modest plate of some plain carrots and red peppers or something, again, that’s not going to make a disaster like handheld tacos or that kind of thing. Then if you have these little cocktail high-top tables to kind of just make yourself comfortable standing at one of them and have a friendly expression to allow other people who are wandering out to maybe come over and talk to you, that’s one thing you can do.

Also, to be looking around with a pleasant expression on your face, and you’ll have those questions prepared, and to keep an eye on people’s nametags. Often nametags have interesting information, you know, what someone does or where they’re from. If you’re there, I always recommend that if you’re uncomfortable at networking events to do something counterintuitive, and that is to get to the event early instead of late because early on, it’s fewer crowds, less noisy, easier to get into conversation, and it’s a little calmer.

So, if you get there on the earlier side, you have another benefit of looking at usually there’s a nametag table setup somewhere, to see who’s coming. If there’s someone you want to meet or someone you haven’t seen in a while that you didn’t know was coming, that’s something to get you centered and occupy yourself for the first few minutes when you arrive.

I also recommend, before the event, if you have the opportunity to see if you could be helpful in some way, either volunteer formally or informally. That not only positions you as a helpful person, but it also gives you something to do and something to talk about at the event as a volunteer.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what would be some examples of informal volunteer roles that are handy?

Devora Zack
So, I arrive, and I’m a regular participant, and I might know the person who’s organizing the event, and maybe she’s running around like crazy, or he’s running, so I can over and say, “Hey, what can I do to help? I’d love to be of assistance. Do you need these flyers put on all the tables?” Like, make some suggestions. And then also remember to thank them for all their hard work and you’ll be surprised at how often people will give you something to do. It’s helping you as much as it’s helping them because suddenly you have a purpose.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. That’s true. It makes sense that you’re naturally shifting your attention away from yourself and that subconsciousness and onto completing something, and so then you’re more in the groove right there and it just feels a little bit like the expression, “Act like you own the place.” In a way, you kind of do. You own that piece of the experience in that moment, and there’s just sort of a power that comes with that.

Devora Zack
Yeah.

And, also, something to be cautious about is when someone who’s more introverted meet someone that they feel a connection to, a potential hazard is that then they’ll want to stick with that person the rest of the program because it feels such a relief, like, “Oh, my gosh, here’s someone I can connect to because I’m going to connect to so many people,” then it’s like, “Oh, well, Pete, let’s walk around the rest of the evening at the program.” And so, I have a special advice for those introverts, and it’s if you love someone, set them free. Even though it’s been lovely, end the conversation before everyone has gotten run out of topics, or has gotten weary of each other.

A little side advice for extroverts when you’re in conversation, and actually I got this advice from a client who’s an extrovert so it comes a real-live extrovert. He said something he thinks in his brain when he’s concerned, maybe there’s an imbalance of conversation when he’s meeting people, is he says to himself, “Wait. W-A-I-T.” And it stands for, “Why am I talking?” So, he asks himself that to make sure. to serve as a reality check like, “Maybe it’s time for me to stop talking.” So, different advice for different folks.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yes. Well, let’s talk a bit more about when you’re in the thick of it, that conversation. So, we’ve had some openers, and we’re sort of in the mix, and you’re watching out for dominating, if you’re preferring extroversion and have a lot of fun. And what are some other pro tips with regard to keeping the conversation going in some cool and interesting ways?

Devora Zack
So, I would always favor asking questions and, given the opportunity, open-ended question as oppose to close-ended questions. Also, to make sure that what you’re saying is in the positive. It’s really astonishing how often people attempt to bond over what’s wrong, like it’s incredibly prevalent. So, just take note of it the next time you’re out and about. And, unfortunately, I think you’ll probably find that to be the case, “Oh, my gosh, the weather is terrible. The parking was bad. There’s so much traffic. They downscaled this year. It looks like the cheese has been sitting out too long. I think they skimped. Some people didn’t show up that were supposed to show up.” I can go on and on and on because there’s so many examples.

So, it’s really trying to take a moment before you speak and think, “Is this positive?” Like, not to be fake, but, “What’s something positive I can say? How can I be positive and helpful and be someone that people want to be around as oppose to someone who’s looking at what’s wrong all the time?” so, be careful about that in conversation.

And, also, when you are meeting with people, it might be easy at the end of the conversation to just delve into another conversation. If you just spoke to someone you really do want to keep in touch with, then get their card if they have one, and take a moment to just jot down a couple of notes to yourself on the front of the card about where you met them, what you talked about, what you might be able to follow up on. It’s a great gift to give yourself because we forget about half of what we hear within two days.

So, I may think, “Oh, Pete was so great. It was wonderful talking with him. I’m definitely going to follow up and see if he wants to get a copy.” And like a few days later, I have a bunch of cards and I don’t know which one was that person that I intended to follow up with. So, give yourself a little time out to focus your brain.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s hear some of the other perspectives on the follow-up. So, one is making sure that it doesn’t go too long because it can be forgotten. And what are some of the other, I’d say, common mistakes and best practices there?

Devora Zack
So, be specific and remember to value connecting over collecting. So, it’s not about how many cards you collect, it’s about who you connect with and how deep these connections are. To that end, I think that people will sometimes, at the end of a conference, send out a like a Blind CC or a group list to everyone saying, “Hey, it was great meeting you at that industry conference. Let’s stay in touch.” And that reads as phony, it’s not specific, it’s going to get deleted.

So, instead of reaching out to everyone who you touched base with in the conference, pick a couple of people, authentic individuals, specific follow-up, and in the follow-up, make it short. I think email is a good way to follow up also with different personality styles. And to see right away what you can do to offer the other person, maybe an article you think they’d be interested in based on the conversation, maybe a connection you can make for them in their work, as opposed to right away thinking, “What can they do for me? What am I asking for?” Try and offer something in your follow-up.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to get your take there. What are some of the great ways that are broadly applicable that we can be generous and proactive givers there?

Devora Zack
Make sure it really is something that the other person might want. So, again, it all goes back to what happens at the event. Listen closely to what they’re saying, pick up on what they’re interested in. Because you’ve asked questions and because afterwards you’ve jotted something down on their card before you left, you’ll have specific offers to make. It doesn’t have to be something professional. It could be, “Oh, you said you were coaching your son’s soccer team. I read this hilarious article that I think you’ll find funny about parents coaching their kids or whatever.” Maybe it’s offering them a laugh.

But one thing to be careful about is to not think you’re offering someone something when it’s, really, you’re asking for something. Like, some of these people will say to me after meeting me, it’s superficially, “Hey, I’d love to treat you to lunch and pick your brain.” Like, that, all of a sudden, it sounds like I’m getting something but it’s really that you want to pick their brain. So, you want to make sure that it’s really focused on what the other person is interested in.

Also, to that end, you say, if you want to follow up with someone and maybe have more time with them, make it easy for the person to say yes. So, if someone says to me or I assume maybe to you, “We’ll have lunch,” that’s a hard thing to say yes to because we’re super busy professionals and have a lot of demands. However, if someone wants some advice and it’s really concrete, and they say, “I’d love 10 minutes of your time to ask you some questions. I could come to your office or we could do it by video conferencing. Would that be possible?” Then that’s pretty easy for me to say yes to. So, make it easy for people to, when it does come time to ask something, to say yes to you.

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

Devora Zack
Well, there’s a couple new sections in the second edition of Networking for People Who Hate Networking, one we’ve been talking about a little bit, which is follow up a new chapter in that because so many people are interested in that. There’s also a new section on interviewing skills. But the one I want to mention in particular is cultivating connections in non-professional environments.

So, I think it’s important for us, in our lives, many of us are a little bit isolated in between our work and our home life, to find what I call, and other people call as well, the third space, like a community outside of work. So, I have a lot of tips which you can read about but also, just in general, to be on the lookout for, ways to connect with people in a socializing way to enrich your life beyond work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Any of those leaping to mind with regard to those other social-connecting ways?

Devora Zack
Well, it’s to find hobbies or interests that are already inherently interesting to you. So, pursue maybe there’s something when you were in college or in your younger years when you had more time that you did. Look at those old interests you had and see if you can find ways to revive them as you get older and busier. So, to reawaken things that you enjoy doing. So, it’s not just about, “I’m going to meet people,” which is lovely, but it’s also about cultivating an interest that you authentically have and would like to learn more about or become more proficient in.

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

Devora Zack
Really, my favorite quote is by a philosopher named Philo of Alexandria, and it is, “Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a great battle.” And I love it because we might see someone who seems like they have it all going on but we can’t really know. And to assume everyone is fighting their own battles, we’ll be extra kind to each other.

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

Devora Zack
So, actually, I think my favorite quote of a scientist, a neuroscientist who did research, is actually from a different one of my books, Singletasking, about how to be more focused in your interactions. And there’s a neuroscientist named Douglas Merrill, and he says, “Everyone knows kids are better at multitasking. The problem – everyone is wrong.” And he did studies to show that no matter what age you are, you’re always more effective and efficient and productive by focusing on one thing at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Devora Zack
My favorite book of all is The Phantom Tollbooth. It’s a children’s book but it’s really for all ages.

Pete Mockaitis
I remember that one, yes. And a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Devora Zack
A really nice pen. As a writer, I write every day for hours a day and I also do speaking, of course, but in between I’m writing, and I love a great pen so I have a little collection.

Pete Mockaitis
And what are you loving these days in the pens?

Devora Zack
A variety. Just some are fountain pens, some are ballpoints, some are different sizes, different styles. I guess it’s like if a musician has as favorite instrument, I go through different phases with different pens. And it’s nothing like handwriting. I do a lot of writing on computer too but I still handwrite as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you share with us a couple favorite ballpoint brands and models?

Devora Zack
Let’s see. What am I using right now? It’s Visconti, it’s an Italian pen. They have a lot of beautiful versions. I don’t want to favor one over the other because I’ll change my mind next week and then feel guilty that I said a different brand on your show.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Devora Zack
Getting up really early. This is going to make everybody hate me but it’s true. Getting up really early in the morning to exercise. I’m a morning person and I love to wake up and move around. So, that’s my favorite habit, exercising early in the morning.

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

Devora Zack
My website MyOnlyConnect.com. My company is called Only Connect Consulting, so MyOnlyConnect.com. You can find all, also, any of my three books Networking for People Who Hate Networking, Managing for People Who Hate Managing, and Singletasking through the website or through bookstores

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

Devora Zack
Well, my final call to action in this context of networking is this, is to absolutely, everything else gets pushed aside, you must follow up. You can be a brilliant networker, you can talk to anyone about anything, if you’re not following up, you’re not networking. It doesn’t matter if you’re great at speaking off the cuff. What matters is what happens the next day. Are you in touch afterwards? Did you build a meaningful relationship with that person? Is it mutually beneficial? So, nothing can happen if you’re just having a good time at the event or maybe dreading the event, and then it just vanishes into a black hole. So, it’s the key. There’s a lot of other tips but the key to anything happening is follow up.

And one other thing, being gracious. Also being gracious to people. So, I’ll demonstrate. Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been such a treat talking with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thanks, Devora. It’s been fun.

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Dave

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Dave Stachowiak Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, yes, our mutual pal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Stachowiak
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
How long did this take?

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

Pete Mockaitis
The boss’ boss’ boss.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Stachowiak
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
That does sound right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, you’re smart, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

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

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

Dave Stachowiak
CoachingForLeaders.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

480: How to Become Ridiculously Likable with Vanessa Van Edwards

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Vanessa Van Edwards says: "The fastest way that you can become more likable is to work on your own ability to like faster and more deeply."

Researcher Vanessa Van Edwards explains what causes people to like one another and how to make great impressions.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Proven ways for making a fantastic first impression
  2. What builds and what kills likability the fastest
  3. Good and bad questions to ask during first meetings

About Vanessa

Vanessa Van Edwards is a behavioral investigator at her human behavior research lab, the Science of People. She is a professional people watcher—speaking, researching and cracking the code of interesting behavior hacks for audiences around the world. She is a columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine and the Huffington Post. Her popular courses on Creative Live and Udemy have over 120,000 enrolled students. She’s been featured on NPR, CNN, Forbes and USA Today, but more importantly, she’s addicted to sour patch kids, airplane coffee and puppies.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Vanessa Van Edwards Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Vanessa, thanks for joining us on How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Oh, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into this conversation. I’ve seen you appear in all sorts of places, so I know you’ve got the goods and a lot of great research behind your insights. But I want to hear about your experiment where you stared up at nothing.

Vanessa Van Edwards
The Look Up experiment. Oh, my goodness. Yeah, I love doing street experiments and I was dying to try this one, which is, you know, a lot of the time I teach about eye contact and I talk about body language. And one of the kind of interesting things about eye contact is we cannot help but look where other people are looking, right? If they’re looking at something that might be interesting, which we like, or it might be threating, which we need to know.

So, I wanted to test it, a very simple experiment. I stood outside on the street and I looked up at nothing and I counted how many people stopped and looked where I was looking while they walked by. And it was almost every single person, unless they were on their phone. In fact, I was looking up and a lovely lady stood next to me for quite a long time. And I’m standing there and she’s standing there, we’re both looking up at nothing, and I wonder, “Who’s going to break first?” And she kind of leans over and she says, “Is he going to jump?”

And I was like, “Oh, my goodness.” And I just laughed, and I said, “Oh, my goodness. I’m so sorry but it’s actually a social experiment. There’s no one up there.” And she had made up this whole story that she thought that she saw a man in a window and that’s where I was looking and, really, it was a great experiment because, one, it told me that, yes, we are absolutely very attuned to where people look, but, second, our brain makes up stories for things we can’t explain.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is perfect. Thank you. Well, that’s a juicy takeaway and I’m sure you’ve identified many such takeaways. But I’d love to hear what’s perhaps the most surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made in all your years of investigating people behavior?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Ooh, that’s like asking to pick a favorite child. Hmm, but I only have one child so that’s pretty easy to do for me at this moment. Most surprising or interesting? Probably learning about personality. So, I’ve always been interested, I’ve always been that person who signs up for every personality quiz, “What Harry Potter house are you? What Disney character are you?” I just love personality quizzes.

And I was really interested to find out that there really is only one personality science that’s reliable, and that’s called The Big Five.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing, yes. And so, reliable just in terms of when the same person takes it, it shows up again and again and again the same way.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, and not only that but also that across genders and culture and races, everyone has the same vibe traits, and that’s pretty surprising because we usually think about culture shaping our personality and it definitely does. But in terms of these five personality traits, we can measure everyone on these same five traits. And that creates kind of a universality which I like. I am always looking for universals. I want to find the things that apply to all of us because if we learn them, they help us in every situation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so I want to dig into the particular practicals when it comes captivating folks, you’d put a lot of your efforts in that dimension. And so, why don’t we start with hearing what are the keys for making a fantastic first impression?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, so first impressions are really important and we kind of know this but we don’t exactly know how it works. And what’s interesting is, for my introverts listening, so there’s actually a common misconception. Introverts often think that their first impression happens the moment they open their mouth. So, an introvert will often go into an event and kind of survey the room, and then once they decide to approach someone and say, “Hi. I’m Vanessa,” that’s their first impression.

But, actually, your first impression happens the moment someone first sees you. And that’s good and bad news. So, it’s bad news because we can’t always hide in a corner until we make our first impression, until we’re ready, it actually happens the moment we walk in. The good news is all you really have to worry about is that grand entrance. Once we make the first impression, it actually stays pretty permanent.

So, the one thing that you really want to focus on when you’re entering into a room is having some kind of purpose or intention. The worst that we can do in our first impression happens by accident a lot. So, let’s say that you’re out at a networking event, you walk into the room, and you’re not sure what you’re going to do first. Should you get a drink? Should you go to the bathroom? You’re carrying your coat and your purse and your briefcase and that coffee that you just got at Starbucks, and you just need a few minutes to kind of calm down for a second. Your first impression has just been made from everyone who’s seen you right as you walk into the room.

So, what I would rather have you do is think about, “Okay, what’s the very first thing you want to do when you walk into a room?” For me, it’s almost always, if I can, trying to get something in my hand. So, that could be a name tag, that could be a pen, that could be the free pamphlet they’re giving out, it could be a drink at the bar. That has a secret affect of making you very purposeful and that also makes you look more confident.

It makes you walk more confidently. It makes your eye contact more focused. It also gives you a kind of purpose when you’re mentally walking in. If you’re a recovering awkward person like me, it’s nice to have a sense of purpose. So, the very first thing you want to do is figure out, “What are you going to do the moment you walk in a room?”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I am confidently, purposefully acquiring that name tag or that beverage, or placing my items down.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, exactly. And that seems like a silly thing but, actually, what we are looking for in other people when we’re trying to gauge our first impression, is the very first thing we’re looking at is, “Is someone a threat to me?” So, luckily, in the modern business environment, most of the time people are pretty safe. And one way that you can make sure that people know that you’re safe is actually showing your hands.

So, the more items you’re carrying, the more distracted you are, if you’re still on your phone when you walk into a room, and someone can’t see your hands, it actually is a little bit of a red flag for people in their brain. When we can’t see someone’s hands, it’s as if we can’t see their intention. You know, that cliché about hiding hands, or, “He isn’t showing me his hand.” That actually has a lot of real truth. When we can’t see someone’s hands, we’re just slightly nervous. It’s like you have a hidden intention.

Pete Mockaitis
You can have a weapon. You could be a threat.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yes, exactly. So, from caveman days, if we couldn’t see someone’s hands, we wonder if they’re carrying a rock or a spear. Are they going to reach out and punch us or are they going to reach out and handshake with us?

So, this other reason why I want you to purposeful is if you are going in ready to take your first item, you’re going to be hands-free, right? You’re not going to still be on your phone. You’re not going to be carrying a bunch of items. Hopefully, you can leave them in the car if you can. That actually helps also people see you as a friend not foe.

And the second thing that people are doing is they’re trying to gauge, “Are you someone who we’d like to get to know?” And we like to get to know people who are purposeful, right? No one likes to have someone who is distracted or wandering. And so, interestingly, even just having something as simple as, “I’m going to get my name tag,” or, “I’m going to get a warm tea because I’m cold,” even those two things give off an air of confidence that’s very easy to get.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Super. So, that’s the first impression side of things. I think perhaps the most captivating piece of your table of contents for “Captivate” was how do we become ridiculously likable?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yes. So, likability has always fascinated me. And I’m a recovering awkward person but I joke about it in the book and I was always fascinated by the cool kids at school, right? Like, they would walk into the cafeteria and just everyone wanted to look at them and know them. And I always wondered, “What’s going on there? They weren’t necessarily more attractive, or smarter, or even the best athletes. So, I wonder do they have this quality that was kind of a secret magical charisma dust?” That’s kind of what I always wondered.

And then I studied, I come across a study by a researcher named Van Sloan and he actually studied this. He looked at high school students across a variety of high schools looking for patterns of why the popular kids are popular. And I’ll have you guess. I don’t know if you read the study in the book yet. But can you guess what made the most popular kids popular?

Pete Mockaitis
Vanessa, my guess is that they were quite interested in other people, what they were interested in, what they were up to, and they kind of seemed genuinely curious and ask follow-up questions and such.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Ah, Pete, curiosity is a very good guess but, actually, what it was and, by the way, there was a number of variables in this so it could’ve been GPA, it could’ve been athleticism, it could’ve been, first, the athlete, it could’ve been attractiveness. So, what he found was very clearly the students who were the most popular actually liked the most other people.

So, when they asked them, “How many people do you like?” The most popular kids actually had the highest number of people that they liked. So, what’s interesting about this is that it puts you in control of how likable you are, that if you go into interactions, and typically we would hold our likability. And what I mean by this is we are so afraid that people won’t like us. We’re afraid that they’re going to judge us or they’re not going to accept us for who we are, or that we’re too weird or too awkward, right? I can absolutely speak to this, feel this.

And so, we think, “Okay, I don’t want to like them first just in case they don’t like me.” And, actually, that is the thing that kills our likability the fastest. When we withhold our likability, when we’re assessing for longer than they are, it actually makes us even more unlikable. And so, the greatest way, the fastest way that you can become more likable is actually to work on your own ability to like faster and to like more deeply.

And I was so relieved to hear that because I genuinely am a very curious person, and curious is something you mentioned in your guess. I genuinely assume the best in people. In fact, sometimes I feel that’s burned me in the past. But I realized that carrying that fear, that history with me actually was contributing to a negative spiral, right? The more I withheld my liking, the more afraid I was, the less likable I became.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, how does one work on one’s own capacity to like more and more readily?

Vanessa Van Edwards
So, I think this is an absolutely a mental game. And the great thing about this is you are in control of it, right? You’re not going into a room hoping other people like you. You are actually in control of how you do this.

So, the mental reframe is if you were about to introduce this person on stage, what would you have to find out about them, about how important they are, or how impressive they are, to be able to introduce them? That is a nice kind of mental reframe of asking questions that are searching for good. And this is something that I talk about in my TED Talk about how I think that we have to assume good in people. And when you assume good, all different kinds of amazing things happen.

If you assume that you’re going to like someone, and you’re looking for reasons to like them, you ask completely different questions especially if you like them with a purpose. So, liking them with a purpose means, “If I had to introduce this person on stage, if I had to introduce this person to my boss in a second because they wanted a job working next to me, what would I have to find out about them to say that?” Or, “If I knew I was going to about to spend a month with this person alone on a cruise ship, what would I want to know about them or find out about them to like them so that we have a nice month together?”

That’s a very, very different kind of mindset than, “Is this person is going to be my client? Should I pitch this person? Who is this person?” Right? It’s a very, very different kind of assumption. And I think, actually, our assumptions can help us.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, within that search, are there any sort of go-to questions you found valuable again and again?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, I actually think, but first, before I answer what works, I would love to answer what I think doesn’t work. So, I have found that the question, “What do you do?” is one of the worst questions for likability, and there’s a couple reasons for this. One is that it immediately engages what I call a social script. So, the moment you ask someone, “What do you do?” it’s like you’re saying to them, “I’m going to stick within the norms, I’m going to stick within the comfort zone, and I’m going to ask a comfortable question.” And, of course, you’ve answered that question a million times before         so your brain immediately clicks on to autopilot and you go into the rote, “Oh, well, I’m an author and I research human behavior blah, blah, blah.”

What I found, if you listen to people when they answer this question, they actually answer it as if they’re apologizing to you or as if they are reading a boring excerpt from their school textbook because they’ve said it so many times that it doesn’t interest them anymore. And the problem is that it begins this cycle of autopilot that goes like this, “So, what do you do?” “Uh-huh. And where are you from?” “Great. Yeah. So, ah, great talking to you. Yeah, I’m going to go get some more wine, and have a good night.” Right? Like, it’s the same over and over and over again.

And so, I would challenge you to go on a “What do you do?” diet of never asking that question again. And the second reason why I don’t like that question is because sometimes people don’t like their answer to that question. If you ask someone “What do you do?” right out front, it means or it implies that you are going to define them by what they do.
And so, what I found is that if people really love what they do, they will find a way to work it into the conversation without you asking. If someone doesn’t mention what they do after 10 to 15 minutes of speaking with them, it means that they not only don’t feel it defines them but they might not even like it. And not knowing that might actually allow you to discover other things about them.

So, when you go in that “What do you do?” diet, I would highly recommend other kinds of questions. So, you can ask a slight variation of that question which is so comfortable, which is, “Working on anything exciting these days?” So, the reason why that one is really nice is, it’s still comfortable, it’s not like too crazy, it’s not like, “What’s your biggest worry?” Like, that can be a little deep. And it allows someone to say, “Oh, you know, I’m learning to garden.”

Or if someone isn’t working, if they don’t have a traditional job, they can say, “Oh, you know, my daughter is starting kindergarten next month.” So, it’s a way of opening up the conversation to let them talk about something positive, and this is something I really truly believe in interacting for good, is that it also assumes good.

If you ask someone “Are you working on anything exciting recently?” it asks their brain to search for anything in their life that’s exciting, which is a wonderful experience mentally, right? If you’re thinking about, “Argh, my parking, and the weather, and the food, and this networking event, and got to work on that project. I have so many emails. I have a long to-do list,“ that’s just mental trap after mental trap.

But if someone invites you to talk about anything you’re excited about, that could be a vacation you have coming up, that could be a side hustle, that could be a work project. It’s a much more pleasant mental experience, and, in that way, I feel like it’s giving a gift to the people we’re interacting with.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m thinking now in advance as I’m headed to the podcast, to the conference, and I’m thinking about there’s lots of times I’ll just be meeting all this people in different contexts. But if you are interacting positively and searching for something good and exciting, well, then there’s all sorts of safe yet also positive openers like, “Oh, what’s the best thing you’ve seen so far? What are you really looking forward to, to go into? Did you hear anything that’s surprising?”

And then we’re all at the event, that’s kind of what’s on our minds, and so they’re going to share, “Oh, yeah, I heard this really cool speaker who mentioned this. I had no idea that that even existed.” And then there we go.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Right. And so, by the way, you just did it exactly, any variation   of that question is exactly what you want to do. So, maybe it’s, “Are you working on anything exciting recently or coming up?” It can also be, “Did you hear anything exciting from the speaker?” It could be, “Hey, do you have any exciting episodes coming up?” It could be, “Is this an exciting season for you?” Whatever. You can do a variation of that for whatever you’re from. The whole point is to ask someone to look for good and that totally changes the dynamic of your interaction and it also helps them give you reasons they are likable.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, so I also want to get your take on you mentioned there are seven universals, you like universals, facial expressions. I’m curious, what are they and how can they help us?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, this is actually the science that hooked me in the very beginning of my career. So, when I read this research, I was absolutely flabbergasted that it wasn’t taught in schools. I mean, I was like, “How was I not taught this? How does not everyone know this? It’s such applicable, easy science.”

So, the research done by Dr. Paul Ekman, and Dr. Paul Ekman, I don’t know if you’ve seen the show “Lie To Me.” It’s a great show on Netflix if anyone wants to go watch it, which was based on his research. And he is a researcher who discovered that facial expressions are universal. And this was a really big surprise in the research community.

They used to believe that babies, that they learned facial expressions, that a baby was born and looked at his father and mother’s face, and then mirrored it or mimicked it. But, actually, what he found is that congenitally-blind babies, babies who’ve been blind since birth, show the same facial expressions as seeing children at the same time, meaning there’s something innate, there’s something coded in our DNA that causes us to make these faces.

And so, Dr. Ekman discovered seven universal expressions. They are happiness, my favorite of course, sadness, fear, disgust, contempt, anger, and surprise. When I learned this, whenever I teach this, I teach this in our online course, I warn all my students, “This is a blessing and a curse. Once you learn this facial expressions you will never be able to unlearn them, and it’s kind of like someone just switched your television set to HD, high definition. All of a sudden you’re seeing things you never noticed before and those can sometimes be uncomfortable truths.” But I would always rather live in real truth than ignorant bliss.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you contrast for me disgust versus contempt and say what they look like?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, I mean, it’s a little hard on audio. I have a whole free guide you’re welcome to look at on my website, it’s ScienceOfPeople.com/face, and you can see in video and in action. But you can try this with me as you’re listening. So, you asked for disgust and contempt. Were those the two?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Okay. So, contempt is a one-sided mouth raise. So, if you just raise one side of your mouth, it’s the simplest microexpression. It kind of looks like a smirk. So, if you try that with me, just one-sided mouth raise, you kind of begin to feel a little better then, a little like smug, a little scornful. It’s actually a very negative microexpression. Whereas disgust, think of smelling something bad. So, crinkle your nose up and flash the upper whites of your teeth, so like, “Uggh!” that face you make. So, your lip is pulled up as high as possible. That is the face we make when we’re disgusted by something. And, by the way, it’s not just smelling something bad or tasting something bad, we make that face if we hear something we don’t like too.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, then when you have it switched on HD like that, you can suddenly see everyone’s reactions to stuff, even your own stuff, like, “What I’m doing disgusts you.” Or is that with contempt?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, and I think what’s really important is I like to think of it as like reading between the lines. So, oftentimes, I give a couple of examples in my book of scenes or reality television shows where there’s a scene that plays. And if you just look at the verbal, it seems like everything’s fine. One of my favorite examples, I’m obsessed with “The Bachelorette” – “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette.” I joke with my husband that I watch them for work, that’s how I’m able to get the TV from him, of course. And I play a Bachelor Fantasy League and I always win every year because if you look behind the words, you’ll see the real emotions there.

So, in one of the examples I give is she says, “Yeah, I love that you did that. Everything’s great. That sounds like it’s going to be really fun.” But she actually shows a flash of contempt, she shakes her head, “No,” and then she flashes sadness at him. And, sure enough, he ends up going home. And on the verbal, on the surface, people think, “Oh, yeah, she liked that.” But if you actually know what to look for, you can see he had an opportunity at that moment. He had an opportunity to see those emotions and address them.

So, instead of taking just the words, he could’ve said, “Let me explain more about it. Let me talk to you what I do. Are you okay with that? How are you feeling with that?” He had an opportunity to dig deeper and, possibly, I think, address it and then he maybe could’ve stayed.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when they’re always saying, “I feel like Vanessa and I have a real connection,” if they really mean that or they don’t mean that, and that’s how you come out on top.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Exactly. Exactly. And it seems like you’ve been watching some “Bachelor.”

Pete Mockaitis
Just a little.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Gotcha. I got you.

Pete Mockaitis
Small doses go a long way for me.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Sure. Sure. Sure. “Sure,” that’s what my husband says to me. My husband says, “I only watch it in the background.” Okay. He’s also grabbing a glass of wine with me on Monday night. So, okay.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, we’re in our final few minutes so I want to hear a couple of your favorite things. Could you give us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah. so, I have a quote that I have on my computer, I read it every day, and it says, “May anyone who comes into contact with me, whether they hear about me, or they see me, or they think about me, experience a benefit and happiness.”

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

Vanessa Van Edwards
Oh, man, I’ll say the book that kind of changed my life was “Why Men Don’t Listen and Why Women Can’t Read Maps.” It’s by Barbara and Allan Pease, a couple. And it was the first self-development book I ever read. It was on my mom’s nightstand when I was a teenager and I looked at it and I wondered why she was reading it, and I kind of snuck the book, read it without her knowing.

And it was the first self-help book I had ever read, and it was the first time I ever realized there were scientific differences between the genders and, therefore, there could be other scientific differences between people. And I remember reading that book and understanding my dad better, understanding my brother better, understanding my crush better, and just feeling so empowered with the knowledge, and it made me get into self-help. It made me want to write a self-help book.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. Thank you. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Oh, with me? Oh, I would love to get in touch. ScienceOfPeople.com is where everything is. We have all my YouTube channel, and my research, and, of course, “Captivate” is wherever books are sold.

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

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, I would say the most important thing you can do is assume the best. And I don’t just mean in others, and that’s great too, assume that people are likable, assume they’re interesting, but also assume the best for yourself. There’s a very, very powerful scientific principle called the expectancy effect, which is that what you expect is more likely to happen. So, if you expect to be good at something, you’re more likely to be good at it. If you expect of something to go well, it’s more likely to then go well.

And so, I know that it’s very common to say, “No expectations. No expectations,” or, even worse, “Going with low expectations so I don’t get disappointed.” And I know that we’re afraid of being disappointed or disliked, but if you assume that you’re going to be liked, and if you assume the best, then that actually sets you up for greater success, and it also sets up this nice idea of sweet anticipation, that sometimes hoping is a great exercise in itself.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Vanessa, thanks so much for sharing this good stuff, and I wish you all the best of luck in all the ways you’re captivating folks.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Thanks so much for having me.

474: How to Turn Your Boss, Colleagues, and Customers into Superfans with Pat Flynn

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Pat Flynn says: "It's those random little tiny surprises that... make the relationship flourish."

Pat Flynn discusses how to turn anyone into your superfan.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How superfans transform your career
  2. How to create the moments that win superfans
  3. How your ego can kill your blossoming superfandom

About Pat:

Pat Flynn is a father, husband, and entrepreneur who lives and works in San Diego, CA. He owns several successful online businesses and is a professional blogger, keynote speaker, Wall Street Journal bestselling author, and host of the Smart Passive Income and AskPat podcasts, which have earned a combined total of over 55 million downloads, multiple awards, and features in publications such as The New York Times and Forbes. He is also an advisor to ConvertKit, LeadPages, Teachable, and other companies in the digital marketing arena.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, Sponsor!

The Simple Habit meditation app can help you pay better attention to your emerging superfans. The first 50 listeners to sign up at SimpleHabit.com/Awesome get 30% off premium subscriptions.

Pat Flynn Interview Transcript

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

Pat Flynn
It’s awesome to be here. Thank you so much.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Pat, this is just so fun for me. In a way, you’re sort of like the godfather of this podcast because I learned how to podcast from watching your YouTube videos.

Pat Flynn
Hey, thank you for that. That’s cool. I love hearing that. It’s just those videos were created a while back, and to know that people are still getting value from those, and are still taking action, that’s so cool. Thank you so much.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. And I pointed many a person to them, like, “Okay, so how do I get started?” I was like, “Go watch these. That’s how you get started.”

Pat Flynn
Perfect.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, I want to chat with you about how professionals can make, say, their boss, their colleagues, their clients, their direct reports turn into superfans of them at work? And you just wrote the book on Superfans. So, could you orient us to the big idea here?

Pat Flynn
Yeah, so I come from the entrepreneurial space where people are building their own businesses, building their own followings. And as you build a following, you want to have and realize that you understand there’s different kinds of people who are following you. There’s people who have just found you who don’t really know who you are or they’ve just met you, and there are people who are superfans, who will, if you have a business, they will share your business with other people. They’ll become repeat customers. They will defend you from all the trolls and the haters out there without you even knowing these things exist.

Pete Mockaitis
“Back off.”

Pat Flynn
Exactly. And in the workspace, a lot of these tactics very much apply. It’s the same thing whether it’s your employees or your coworkers or your boss, you can become somebody’s favorite. And in the workspace, when that happens, some really cool things happen, you have people that you could rely on, you have people who will come to bat for you, people who will, in the same, defend you if anybody says anything, and you’re going to have a lot more fun too doing that.

It’s all about those experiences that you offer for people. I think we meet so many people in this world, online and offline, it can be hard to realize just the importance of, “Okay, well, how are we keeping up-to-date with this relationship? How are we offering more value over time? How are we making them feel like they’re special and they belong such that, in return, even without asking for it, you will be elevated?” If you’re a business, your brand will be shouted. If you are an employee or work in the workspace, you might have opportunities come your way that wouldn’t have normally come your way.

And so, I think building superfans is really key. And, really, what it means is just, “How can we provide amazing experiences for others so that, in return, we’ll have more opportunities than we even know?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that. You’ve got that down. And I totally resonate and agree with what you’re saying there. And I want to dig into a bit of the how in terms of creating those experiences and the best practices for doing so. But, first, I imagine you’ve got some pretty awesome stories I want to touch upon. Can you give us some examples of just how super some superfans have gotten with regard to their superfandom?

Pat Flynn
Yeah, with me and my brands, Smart Passive Income, I’m pretty well-known in the entrepreneurial space, and I’ve generated a lot of superfans which is really amazing through a long period of time of helping serve these people. A fan is not created the moment a person finds you, right? It’s from the moments you create for them over time.

So, I’ve had people following me for over a decade, and they not only are there to purchase product when I come out with new products, or retweet my tweets when I tweet. But they send me gifts and they, like, I’m staring right here in my office. Somebody hand-painted a Bobblehead of me. It’s really strange. My wife does not like to see it because it’s really weird, and I have like a bigger head than it is my body because it’s a Bobblehead. But somebody took the time to do that.

Another person sent me, they’re from Mexico, and they have gotten a lot of value from my podcasts, they had spent two weeks creating an art piece. And what this art piece was, if you look at it, it looks like a DeLorean from Back to the Future because a lot of people know that I’m a huge fan of Back to the Future but it said, “Pat to the Future.” And when you look up close this thing that’s about two feet wide and one foot tall is made of string on beeswax. It’s like some ancient form of Mexican art that just this person wanted to give back. And it’s just like, “What? This is insane.” And then, of course, for business…isn’t that crazy? Like, I didn’t even know that was a thing.

Pete Mockaitis
It sounds like it took a long, long time.

Pat Flynn
Yeah. And I’m like, “’Why would you ever…?” And it’s, “Well, because you’ve given so much to me and I value what you have to offer.”

Pete Mockaitis
I just want a coffee in Chicago, that’s all I want.

Pat Flynn
Yeah, exactly. And then there’s other people who, like, I have this book coming out. I’ve had people email me, the moment they heard of this book was coming out, and they’re like, “Pat, I want to buy a hundred copies for me. I don’t even know what it’s about. I just want to help you out.” And I’m like, “This is amazing. This is incredible.”

And then you have the fans who, I come out with my podcast on Wednesdays, and if I’m late, your fans will also be upset if you’re late. Like, “Hey, where is my episode. I need it in my life. This is a part of my routine. Are you okay? Did you die? Like, you’re late with your episode. Are you okay?” It’s just really crazy.

And when we think of fans, we think of usually things like we’re a fan of musicians, we’re a fan of baseball teams, football teams, athletes, actors, actresses, but not for things like business and whatever. My first fan actually was, I remember, her name was Jackie, and this was actually before I started Smart Passive Income, which is where most people know me from now.

This relates to my first online business which was about helping people pass an architectural exam because, my quick story, I got laid off in 2008 from the architectural world. I had my dream job, I lost it, and I ended up surviving by helping people pass a particular exam in the architecture space, and it did really well. And that’s when I created Smart Passive Income to share how all that happened and all the new businesses that I’ve been creating since then.

But I got an email from a woman who had purchased my study guide for this exam, and it was like, I don’t know, four pages long of just how much her life has changed since passing this exam she was thanking me for. And at the end of this email, she’s like, “Pat, I’m a huge fan.” And I was like, “I don’t understand. I just helped you pass an exam.” Like, “Okay, I’ll just waive this off because that’s a weird thing to say.”

But then I noticed that over the next couple of months there were like 25 other customers who came in from the exact same company she was in. I could tell because the end of the email address was the same firm. And what I ended up finding out was that Jackie had gone around and convinced every single person in her firm, her boss included, to make sure to purchase my guide because they were all going to pass that test.

And she could’ve just simply given that guide to everybody individually. It was just an electronic guide, it was an e-book, but she went out of her way to make sure that I got paid back in return. And that’s the cool thing that happens when you build fans in the business. And I can imagine in the workspace something happening that’s very similar.

Let’s say you’re a manager, you can obviously be a manager who’s all in with your work, but maybe you don’t treat your employees in the best light and you’re not going to have employees that are going to bat for you when you really need it, versus if you have fans of yours, in a sense, who are there working for you, I mean, they might come to you on Monday and go, “You know, hey, Pete, I was thinking about this through the weekend. I just spent a little extra time working on this project for you because I thought it’d be helpful for the team.” Like, “Wow, you just stepped out to do something that I didn’t even ask you to do. How amazing is that.”

And this, obviously, applies in relationships too. There’s a section of the book that talks about small little surprises and how important those things are. These things to create superfans, they don’t require a lot of money. It just requires a little bit of time and intention. And if you’re building any kind of relationship, especially with somebody you’re married to, for example, oftentimes it’s those random little tiny surprises that get remembered, and that gets shared, that make the relationship flourish, versus, if you say “I love you” every night before you go to bed, it just becomes routine, it becomes usual, it becomes expected.

It’s the “I love you” at 3:48 p.m. on Tuesday. For no reason, you go into her office, you give her some chocolates, and you just say, “Hey, honey, this is for you because you’re amazing.” And then everybody else in the office goes, “Oh, my gosh, your husband is incredible. I wish my husband was like that.” Like, you’ve just created fans not just with your wife but everybody else in the office too who wishes they had a husband just like you.

Those little tiny moments go a long way. And this is the kind of stuff I talk about in this book. A lot of different strategies that you can pick and choose from, sort of like a recipe book, to allow people to feel like they’ve got an amazing person in you who is going to be there for them and something they can gravitate toward.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, let’s talk about some strategies here. You mentioned experiences and surprises. What are some of the top strategies in terms of, let’s say, my criteria or applicability for professionals, and potency of creating superfans, which really just packs a wallop of an impact, and it’s just very doable? Like, “Hey, anybody can do this, and there’s a good bang for the buck if you do. So, go ahead and make some great experiences like these.”

Pat Flynn
Yeah. So, imagine you’ve just had somebody new come into your life and you don’t really know them, they don’t really know you. This is a good opportunity for you to offer some stuff that would allow them to go, “Whoa, I like you. I’m going to follow what you’re up to. I’m going to be there for you. I’m going to go to bat for you.” And that’s kind of what we want. We don’t want it to be the opposite.

And there’s some amazing strategies that work really, really well. Number one, I love to make sure that I’m speaking the same language of the person that I’m speaking to. Now, yes, most of us are speaking English to each other in the United States, but I’m not talking about that kind of language. I’m talking about language as in, “What are the lyrics that that person is going to respond to?”

This takes me back to a story where I did a lot of research on superfans, by the way, mostly with my wife because my wife is a superfan of the Backstreet Boys.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. I followed you for a while. I knew you’d say that.

Pat Flynn
So, you knew this already. And I dug into her story because I knew she was a superfan because she literally has this box of like stuff, like action figures, framed pictures, event concert brochures, and all this stuff. Like, she is a true superfan of the Backstreet Boys. She’s even recently gone to see them now even 30 years later-ish, which is crazy.

But I dug into her story, and I found out that the first time she was really triggered by this band related to something that was happening to her life. She was 15, she had just broken off with her boyfriend, and she was listening to the radio. There was no Spotify or Apple Music or anything like that back then, it was just radio. And she had heard a song that she had heard many times before, but it was this time that when she heard the song, it really made an impact on her. And the reason was because every lyric that they were singing, every word in the song, was speaking to everything that she was literally going through in that moment. It was just like they took the words right out of her head and put it in a song.

And that song was called “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” by the Backstreet Boys. And that was the activation trigger. And in business, it’s a very same thing. Even if you have the best solution in the world, you need to present it in a way that a person who would need that solution would understand. And so, if you’re a manager, for example, and you’re trying to train somebody, if you train them as if they already have that knowledge that you have, it’s called the curse of knowledge, sometimes it can be either demeaning the way you might speak to them, sometimes it might seem like they are falling behind, and they’d start to kind of close up in a shell in a little bit.

But if you speak at their level and understand the language they would respond to, and, yes, every person is different, you’re going to have a better chance of moving them and having them sort of pay attention to you, and perhaps even go to you before others because they can go, “Oh, well, Pete understands me because Pete gets me.” And that’s the kind of best kind of feedback you can get. It’s when a person is, you’re speaking to them, they go, “Yeah. Oh, my gosh, yes, you’re absolutely right.” That’s the kind of reaction you want to get when you speak to people. So, using the right lyrics is really important.

And then my other favorite way to sort of activate a person who you have just met is to give them a small quick win. A small quick win. And I’ll tell you a quick story. I don’t know about you, Pete, but I followed a lot of personal finance blogs back in the day. I was subscribed to probably about 40 of them. I was just kind of a personal finance nerd. I wanted to know everything about my 401(k) and 529s and all that stuff, and I followed them all in my RSS Feeds back when RSS Feeds were how we got content in our inboxes.

And there was one particular person, a finance blogger, who I was a little put off by. And I was put off a little bit because of the name of this blog. The name of this blog was called I Will Teach You to be Rich.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ramit wasn’t doing it well.

Pat Flynn
Ramit, yeah. I was just, “Hmm, this guy is a little, I don’t know, pretentious or whatever.” But he had an article posted that I got really interested because the title was “Save 25% on your Cable bill in 15 minutes reading this script.” And I was at lunch at architecture, and I was like, “Okay, I have 15 minutes. What’s the worst that can happen?”

So, I called my cable company, I read the script that Ramit laid out for me, and I was able to save 20% of my cable bill in just about 10 minutes. And it blew me away. I immediately went right into the rest of his content. That was the activation/trigger point for me.

Now, consider that quick win versus what all these other personal finance bloggers were saying. They were saying things like…

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, “Don’t drink lattes for a lot of time.”

Pat Flynn
“Don’t drink latte. Put that $30 into your savings account until you’re 65, and then you can win.” So, “Hmm, who am I going to be more interested in right now? This person who gave me the small quick win.” And if you’re working with others, number one, find out what they need help with. And, number two, surprise them by actually helping them with that even without them asking for it. That’s going to be a small quick win that’s going to get them to trigger and make that sort of connection with you in their life.

And when you need a favor, you’ve already sort of earned the right to ask for that favor when you do that kind of stuff. You’re almost kind of, as my good friend Jordan Harbinger says, “You’re kind of digging the well before you need it. If you need to dig the well when you’re thirsty, it’s already too late.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you will be dehydrated well before you get to the bottom of that well.

Pat Flynn
Especially when you just have a little pickaxe that you work with, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, no power tools. Well, boy, there’s so much of that that’s resonating in terms of the lyrics. It’s true. I have some odd word choices I’ve been told, and yet when people are using them, I feel connected to them, like, “This guy is cool.” And that also harkens to kind of… we’ve had a couple sort of great copywriters on the program, and that’s sort of the message that they reinforce in terms of, “Join the conversation,” in the person’s head already, and use the words they use.

And if someone refers to their child as an infant, or a baby, or a toddler, or a little one, matching that has resonance especially if it’s more, I think, unique and out there. It’s like, “Oh, yes, you called them little one and, consciously or subconsciously, it’s like we are similar to each other and I like you.”

Pat Flynn
I like that, yes. Somebody once called my kid a little human, and I sort of repeated that back about his baby, I was like, “Oh, okay. So, tell me about your little human.” And then, of course, they smiled and laughed and you get into this conversation, and just like really quickly you’re on the same level, and I love that.

And speaking of kids and little things like that, that’s another strategy for triggering people. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to an event before where you’re meeting new people for the first time, and it’s just you always get that surface level sort of conversations, “Hey, what’s your name? Where are you from? What do you do?” those kinds of things.

But the moment you find somebody who has had a shared experience that you’ve had, like maybe you’re both parents, or maybe you both went to the same college, or you both recently went on a vacation to Hawaii, or something, you just found that out, like you’re immediately best friends, right? You hang onto that person, you found somebody who’s like you, and you can just already have conversations that you wouldn’t be able to have with others.

And this is why on my podcast, for example, and you know this, at the beginning of every episode that I have, you hear the voice of a guy, his name is John Mele, he reads a little fun fact about me, right? Like, “I was in the marching band, or I’m Sagittarius, or I was born 11 pounds 12 ounces, or whatever.”

Pete Mockaitis
It’s amazing how many it’s been.

Pat Flynn
It’s kind of hard now to find them because I didn’t think I’d get this far in my podcast but we’re almost 400 episodes in, so, yeah. But going back to what I was saying, like I’ll go to a conference, I’ll meet somebody who I’ve never met before, and they immediately go, like, “Tell me about marching band because it was one of the funnest times in my life. Did you have fun with it, too?” Or, somebody is half-Filipino, they’d go, “Pat, dude, tell me about your parents. Like, did you grow up with this? Did you grow up with that? Did you eat a lot of lumpia or pancit?” And it’s just like we’re talking like we’re friends and we just met. And it’s the coolest thing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Can you tell me, maybe on the flipside, what are some key things that just kill the vibe, the experience, the superfandom that’s blossoming in a hurry, like, some simple mistakes that too many people make that we should stop making right away?

Pat Flynn
Yeah, if you’re in a conversation, and the spotlight, you’re putting the spotlight on you before you put it on the other person, that’s going to kill any sort of chance you have to have that person begin to start to have interest in you. The trick is, really, and I think I once heard this from a guy named James Schramko, credit to him for this. I don’t know if he came up with this phrase. But it was, “We need to stop trying to be so interesting and start being interested,” right?

So, we always try to go, “Oh, like, look at me, how great I am. Look at all my credentials. This is why we should hang out because, look at me.” No, it should be the other way around. You can get interested in somebody else and, in turn, they will be interested in you. And this is actually how somebody that you may have heard of before, his name is Tim Ferriss, the author of The 4-Hour Workweek, it was really interesting how quickly he came to be when his book came out in 2007. It just became a number one bestseller and everybody was kind of wondering why.

So, I invited him on my podcast, and I found out that he was able to have all these people talk about his book on their blog by going to conferences, so number one, meeting in person. If you just stay online to try and build relationships, it’s going to be a lot harder. So, number one, he went offline, shook hands with people, met people, and was so interested in what they were doing first, that they couldn’t help but ask, “Oh, so, Tim, tell me about what you got going on.” “Oh, I have this book called The 4-Hour Workweek coming out, and it’s coming out here. I’m just trying to get people to find interest in it. I think it’s the new way of doing business moving forward.” “Oh, my gosh, it sounds interesting. Tell me more. Tell me more. Come on my show. Come on my podcast. Come on my blog.”

And that’s how he was able to break through. And I think that’s a good lesson for all of us because when we center that focus on the person who we’re speaking to, the person who we have a relationship with, then it actually comes back to us in a very authentic and organic way.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that. Well, Pat, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention about superfandom before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Pat Flynn
Yeah. So, let’s talk about superfandom by being superfan smart. That was dumb, sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m okay.

Pat Flynn
The dad jokes sometimes work and they sometimes don’t. But I think another thing that relates to kind of what just happened here, you kind of got to be yourself. If you try to pretend to be like somebody else, then people, yes, maybe they’ll follow you or be interested, but they’re not going to be interested in you. They’re going to be interested in the thing that you portray.

In the online business space, you may have seen these people tout these mansions and these Lamborghinis or Ferraris and they get a big following. But why? Because people are interested in the cars and the money and the mansions but not them. The more you can be yourself the more likely it is you’re going to attract the right kinds of people, and the more likely a person is going to understand you.

And my good friend, Chris Tucker, says, “Your vibe attracts your tribe.” And there’s no shame in who you are. Like, I know I’m weird, and that’s okay. My son came home one day from school, and he was crying a little bit because his friend called him weird. And I was like, “Dude, you are weird.” And he was like, “What are you talking about, dad? I don’t want to be weird.” I’m like, “Yes, you do, because that’s what makes you unique and different. If you aren’t weird, you’ll just be average and you’d be lost in the crowd. You’d be just like everybody else. Do you want to be just like everybody else?” And then I was like, “Your sister is weird. Your mom is weird, don’t tell her I said that. But we’re all weird, and that’s what makes us cool.”

Another thing, and I take a lot of inspiration from LEGO. LEGO does an amazing job of mobilizing their fans. They actually were $150 million in debt. No, actually, it was $800 million in debt in 2013. They were just building too many products, they weren’t really paying attention to who’s buying what, they were just creating and creating, and they were losing money, $800 million in debt. And then the CEO came on board who said, “No, we’ve got to shift our focus to fans and give them what they want, get them involved.”

And now they’re worth $150 billion worth more than Mattel and Hasbro alone. And they do a lot of amazing intentional things to mobilize their fans, and these are things that we could do on our lives too. One thing they do is they encourage LEGO fans to meet with each other. So, Pete, do you know what an AFOL is?

Pete Mockaitis
Adult Fan of LEGOs. I learned this once, yes.

Pat Flynn
You’re absolutely right. And what LEGO does is they encourage Adult Fans of LEGOs, who’s a very specific niche group of LEGO fans, to meet with each other, and they do. If you go to Google and you type AFOL meetup, you’re going to see hundreds, if not thousands, of different locations around the world where now Adult Fans of LEGO can come and meet together. And they do tournaments, they build contests, they just get together and talk about the history of LEGO, and they just kind of geek out about it, and it’s amazing. These little meetups, even for little groups, little niche groups in your community, in your workspace, can work really, really well.

I know back in the architecture days that I was in, there were a number of us who really bonded together very well because we love being on the softball team together, right? And it’s just kind of a cliché thing to have like a softball team for your business, but it worked so well to bring those people together and high-fiving each other and rallying and being a part of the team that only enhances the business. And if the business owner, the founder, were to encourage that and even get some really nice jerseys and congratulate the team every once in a while, I mean, what does that do for morale in the space, and to get people excited about not just the softball game but coming back to work to see their teammates, which I can imagine being really cool?

Another thing LEGO does very well is they allow their fans to actually help make decisions. And so, this means giving a little bit of room for involvement in around the people who are in the workspace with you. Well, LEGO does that. I don’t know if you knew this, but there’s a website called LEGO Ideas where any of us, you or me, could build a LEGO creation, we could submit it to LEGO on LEGO IDEAS. And if the community, not LEGO, and if the community of LEGO builders votes it up, then LEGO will actually manufacture that product and you’ll get a royalty and they’ll put your name on it. And how amazing is that to have like other LEGO creators actually help influence the business and where it’s going.

And even a little bit of involvement goes a long way. As I like to say, when people are involved, now they’re invested. And when you can get people involved, they’re going to be invested in you. We’re just scratching the surface here with superfans, but I hope this is encouraging all of you to maybe, even the next time you go to work, to see what little extra you can do to make a person feel like they belong to something, make them feel like they’re involved in something, make them feel like they’re part of something. Give them something to root for and they’ll go to bat for you, like I keep saying.

Pete Mockaitis
That was awesome. Thank you, Pat. And now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Pat Flynn
Yeah, absolutely. “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” This is Henry Ford. And it basically comes down to what you believe in, and what you believe in turning into your reality. If you are trying to attempt to do something and you really don’t believe you can do it, well, you’ll probably not going to be able to do it. it’s only when you believe you can that you’ll actually muster up the courage to get it done. And it’s all about mindset. So, whatever goals you might have in your life, inside of work, outside of work, if you don’t believe it’s possible, then you’ve already lost. You got to believe it.

And sometimes it’s hard to ask every individual to believe these things, which is why it’s so important to connect with others who are going to support you, connect with other people who are going to root for you, which is why building superfans is a great thing too.

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

Pat Flynn
Yeah, I’d point them to my main website at SmartPassiveIncome.com. I’m also pretty active on Instagram and also on YouTube. You can find me at @PatFlynn. And I don’t know if you’ll have like an affiliate link or something for Superfans, but I’d recommend people go to that to get Superfans if that’s something you’re interested in.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.