Tag

Relationships Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

610: How to Communicate with People Who Disagree with You with Dr. Tania Israel

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Dr. Tania Israel says: "If you actually listen... then they'll be more interested in what you have to say."

Dr. Tania Israel discusses the fundamental skills that help us have more empathic conversations.

You’ll Learn:

  1. One skill to make difficult conversations more manageable 
  2. How to stop seeing disagreement as a threat 
  3. The two fears that keep us from actively listening 

 

About Tania

Tania Israel is a Professor of Counseling Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Raised in Charlottesville, Virginia and educated at the University of Pennsylvania and Arizona State University, Dr. Israel is known for her work on dialogue across political lines, social justice, and LGBT psychology. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Rise.com. Build your team’s learning library–the fast and fun way–with Rise.com/awesome

Dr. Tania Israel Transcript

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

Tania Israel
Thanks. I’m delighted to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m delighted to have you. And I think the first thing we need to hear about is your knack for writing, not just books, like Beyond Your Bubble, but also song lyrics. What’s the story here and could we hear a sample?

Tania Israel
Well, I have a quirky muse, and she writes lyrics but not the melody so I have to borrow the melodies from pop songs and showtunes and Christmas carols and all kinds of things. And I’m a lyricist but not a singer so I’m going to spare you. But if you want to hear my lyrics, I actually just started a podcast with a friend of mine who teaches about Buddhism, and then I write songs about the teachings, and a friend of mine who has the voice of an angel sings them, so that’s a much better way to hear my lyrics.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s fun. I remember, in college, taking a class about Buddhism and, man, sometimes there was head-scratching. There’d be a long Sanskrit word, like, Tathāgatagarbha is not a something but it’s also not not a something, it’s like, “Oh, man.” So, maybe bringing it to song will help clarify.

Tania Israel
It’s really something where the teachings can sometimes be murky but I can summarize it in a catchy tune, so there’s something for everyone.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s a gift. Well, there are some murky stuff that I want to talk about and get your insight into. So, you’ve got a fresh book Beyond Your Bubble. Can you tell us, first of all, what’s the big idea here?

Tania Israel
So, the big idea is that it’s possible to have dialogue across political lines, and there are some skills that you can cultivate that are going to help you do so effectively.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it. And we love skills here and dialoguing across difficult lines, be they political, or the silos in organizations, or just your boss or teammate who just has the complete opposite view of yours, I think it’s so important. But you know better than I. Tell me, what really do we have to gain if we really master this skill? And what do we have to lose if we don’t?

Tania Israel
Sure. Well, this book all started because, after the 2016 election, it was pretty clear that we have some divisions in our country and that we weren’t communicating effectively across this divide. And this has been affecting us in terms of our relationships, our family relationships, our relationships with people in our communities, but also in the workplace. And so, this is one way that it really can make a difference in terms of work.

Employers are actually losing people’s time and energy to tensions on the political divide and the stress about the divide. So, it turns out that people are more stressed now about politics than they have been in the past. And so, really, this book is something that I wrote to try to help to remedy this problem so that we can both reduce our stress and also have more effective conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds great. And well, I’d love to get your take on this. To what extent is the stress, the fear, real versus imaginary? My perception is that it’s kind of real. I saw some startling stats about, and I forgot who did it, like the percentage of folks who don’t feel comfortable voicing their views, which I think was the majority politically, as well as the percentage of folks who said they might fire someone if they donated to the other side, which I found alarming. It almost made me think, “Well, maybe the smart professional choice is to not talk about it.” What do you think?

Tania Israel
Well, I think it is some real and it is some overblown in our minds. So, there’s certainly evidence that the country is more polarized politically than ever in recent history, and there’s also a lot of evidence that our perceptions of people on, what we would consider, the other side are distorted so we see that divide as being larger than it is.

So, if we’re imagining somebody who’s on a different political party than we’re in, we’re imagining the most extreme example of that that we’ve seen arguing on TV, and that they’re the spokespeople for that, and they’re super angry, and that’s not most people. Most people are somewhere in between there and that they can also be humanized a little bit so that they’re not these stereotypes that we have in our minds.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that’s dead-on when you said distortion. I’ve got Jonathan Haidt in my ear because I’d listened to his book The Righteous Mind, and he said, “Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. And it blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.” And that powerfully resonated. So, if we are distorted, if we are blind, how do we get undistorted and unblind?

Tania Israel
Well, I think that there are a number of things that we can do. I think the first is just to be curious about people who have different views than we have. And so, if we recognize that we don’t necessarily already know everything about them and the way they understand things, then it’s going to lead us to want to know more.

And I ask people their motivations for…before the book, I had actually created a workshop, a two-hour workshop, that was building skills for dialogue, and I would ask people, “Why are you coming to the workshop?” And there were a couple of things that were the primary motivations. One is that, “I have somebody in my life who we have different views politically but I want to keep that person in my life,” and so that was a big one.

Some people are like, “I just don’t understand people who have a different view.” Some people want to persuade, some people want to find common ground, but these are sort of the most common things that I heard. That piece of, “I just can’t understand other people,” what I always say is, “Well, okay, you have somebody in front of you who could actually help you to understand. Wouldn’t you want to know? Like, wouldn’t you want to try to find out more from them rather than just sort of putting your framework on who you think they are and what you think they believe?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s well-said to not sort of just ascribe things to people. And so then, can you sort of show us maybe how that works in action with that curiosity? I mean, what do you ask and what do you not ask?

Tania Israel
Absolutely. Sure. So, like I said, the book focuses on skills, the workshop focuses on skills, so I’ll just lay out the skills that seem most important. First of all, listening, and it’s what Stephen Covey calls “Listening to understand rather than listening to respond.” And in my field of psychology, we call it active listening. But it means that when somebody says something that rather than saying a thing that’s contrary to what they’ve said, instead we give them space to say it.

And then we do speak up, what we say is we reflect what they’ve just said to us so that we make sure that we understand and they feel heard, so we sort of summarize back what they said. So, that’s the key piece in listening. Also, managing our emotions is important. Just even imagining dialogue across political lines, people get so riled up. In fact, people have been telling me that, as they’re reading my book, it’s just decreasing their stress about the idea of having dialogue with somebody.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds great.

Tania Israel
I know, which I’m delighted to hear that, so that’s fantastic. And then how do we try to take somebody else’s perspective and put ourselves in their shoes? And then when we are going to share our views, how do we do that most effectively? So, these are really the pieces that I think are important for the puzzle of making things work well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, can we talk about each of those skills? How do we do each of those things well?

Tania Israel
Yes. So, I was thinking about this in terms of “What does this look like?” And in the book, I’ve got a bunch of examples, like, I’ve got a fictional set of cousins who are having conversations about a lot of different things. But let me just kind of bring an example to you. Right now, certainly, racial justice is in the cultural consciousness, and so this is something that people are really struggling with in terms of, “How do we have these conversations?”

I thought, “All right. What if you see a friend or a coworker wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and that’s not the perspective you’re coming from?” So, you could see that and you could say, “Well, I think all lives matter,” so that’s one way of responding, or you can say, like, “Tell me a little bit about what you believe. Tell me a little bit about why you decided to wear that T-shirt.” And the same is also true the other way that if somebody is wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt and somebody comes up to them and says, “Well, I think all lives matter.” Then you can say, “Well, these are the reasons that I think Black Lives Matter,” or you can say, “Oh, tell me why you say that. Like, I’m curious about your perspective and I’d like to hear more.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That sounds simple enough. And so…

Tania Israel
It’s not.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Like, the words are not complex to formulate. But, I guess, it’s just sort of like, well, what happens next? Where do things get really interesting?

Tania Israel
So, I think that the first thing is even to have that initial conversation and ask those questions, it’s helpful to have a connection with somebody, that that relationship with another person if you already have that. And people often do have that with their neighbors, and with their coworkers, and with their friends and family members. They’ve got already some kind of connection. And so, if you have a sort of trusting relationship, it’s easier to delve into that.

One of the challenges right now is that there’s so much conflict about politics that it’s harder for people to feel trusting. So, sometimes you have to lay some groundwork in terms of having some positive interactions with somebody, finding some things that you have in common that maybe don’t have to do with the conflictual issues, and that makes it easier to start that conversation.

But the other thing that comes up is just the emotional level of it because the things we’re talking about are political but they’re really also very personal that they get to people’s experiences and also their deeply-held beliefs, and so that can obviously trigger us in terms of our emotions. So, knowing how to manage our emotions, knowing how to breathe deeply when you start to feel yourself getting riled up, to notice when you’re feeling flushed and your heart is racing, and to know how to actually reduce that stress, can be really important in terms of persisting through a difficult conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, tell us, do you have any pro tips for how we do just that with the managing of emotions?

Tania Israel
Absolutely. Well, it turns out that breathing is something that we all do every day, and that is one of the most helpful things if you find yourself getting flushed and heart racing and shallow breathing. Taking some deep breaths can be very helpful to…basically, what happens when you feel a threat is that your body responds as if that threat is a saber-toothed tiger.

And so, even if that threat is somebody saying something that you disagree with, or that feels threatening to your beliefs, then your body is going to react in that same way. It’s the sympathetic nervous system. And so, what we can do to counteract that is we can breathe deeply. We can also do other things physically. We can pay attention to the feeling of the chair under us, of our feet on the ground. You can even touch your own hand to soothe yourself a little bit. And those things can actually help somebody to reduce that stress enough to continue on with the conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, there’s much I want to dig into here. So, let’s talk about that breathing more deeply. Sometimes I worry that if I do that, it might come across as a sigh, like, “Oh, boy, here it is,” and I don’t want to make that impression. So, can we breathe deeply on the sly or how do we do that?

Tania Israel
It turns out that because you’re always breathing anyway, that you can still breathe, you can change a little bit of the pattern of your breathing, and nobody needs to know. Actually, the best thing to do is to practice all of these skills when you are not in the middle of one of these conversations. So, doing deep breathing, practicing listening just with somebody who you super-well get along with is a great thing to do before you practice some of these listening skills with somebody who you feel some conflict with.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when it comes to the listening, you mentioned that we’re listening not to respond but to understand. Are there any particular kind of internal cues or prompts or questions, or how do you run your brain optimally so that you’re listening really well?

Tania Israel
That’s a great question. And when I do the workshop, I spend about half of the workshop on listening, and people tell me that one of the things that they get out of the workshop is realizing how hard listening is and sometimes what bad listeners they are because they notice how difficult it is for them to just stay attentive to what somebody else is saying rather than what they want to say.

So, that’s really part of it, is, “How do you keep focused on the other person?” And if you know that what you’re going to need to say, when you have a chance to speak, is summarizing what they just said, you’re going to pay a lot more attention to it. So, if you really think, “All right, my goal is to be able to listen so that I can say back to them a summary of what they’ve just said,” that’s going to help to keep you focused because you’re really going to want to try to understand it.

I think, also, if you know that you’re going to have a chance to speak later, then it can be helpful. So, recognizing that the conversation doesn’t have to be, “They say what they think, you say what you think, they say what they think, you say what you think,” that if it’s, “They say what they think, you summarize that back to them,” they maybe go a little bit more deeply into what they think, maybe you ask them open-ended questions, and you can stay with that for a little while to really make sure you’re developing a deeper understanding.

And then you can switch, so then you get to talk about your view. And what you would want is for them then to be focused on understanding more about your views. So, it’s doing the same thing for them that you would want them to do for you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a great perspective there. It’s like there’s no obligation, it’s not a courtroom for you to put forth your viewpoint. I mean, sometimes maybe you’re in the middle of a meeting and the decision is being made in that meeting, okay, yes, we got to hear all the viewpoints. But it’s like totally fine if we maybe have a full conversation about Black Lives Matter, and then we just don’t get to my view, that’s okay. And maybe we’ll get to it later, or maybe they ask, and it’s like, “Oh, shucks, I’ve only got two minutes so maybe we’ll do this over lunch tomorrow.” And I think, in a way, it’s almost like a paradigm shift to just sort of be okay putting that aside, like, nothing bad will happen if you hear them and they don’t hear you.

Tania Israel
Right. Absolutely. And I’m going to tell you the fears that people have about doing just that because people tell me these things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Tania Israel
So, one of the fears is, “There’s a thing that will make all the difference if I just say it that…”

Pete Mockaitis
You think so.

Tania Israel
“…then they will understand things the way that I do, and that will change their minds, and they will come around to the right view.” And that is one of the things that I hear from people that they feel like they’ve just got to say this thing because it’s going to make all the difference. And so, here’s the thing I just want everyone to know – it’s not going to make a difference. That amazing thing that you think is going to change everything if you just can get it out of your mouth, it’s really not.

And so, I think take some of the pressure off of yourself to feel like, “Oh, I must say the brilliant, clever, smart, right thing, and it’ll change everything,” because it’ll probably won’t. And what has a better chance of changing things is if you actually listen and they feel like you care, and then they’ll actually be more interested in what you have to say. So, that’s one fear that if you don’t say that thing, then you’re missing that opportunity to change the world.

The other fear that I hear from people is actually, “What if I listened to their view, and what if it actually changes my mind?” and that’s a little scary for people because these are really deeply-held views. So, I came across this literature on something called intellectual humility, and there’s so much richness here because, really, what I think of it is how to be righteous without being self-righteous.

And so, being righteous is really about holding onto deeply-held values that feel in alignment for you. But you don’t have to then put down everybody else’s views, that’s when you get self-righteous when you feel like, “Mine are the only views that are worthy.” And so, if you have intellectual humility, you can actually have these deeply-held views and be curious about where somebody else is coming from, and help them feel humanized and valued even if you aren’t going to change your mind about that issue.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, there’s so much good stuff there. And I’m thinking about that listening in terms of your odds of persuading are better if you say very little or even nothing in that conversation because there will be another time in which your influence and receptivity has grown there by having done that listening. And I think that’s a powerful reframe as well just right there in terms of, “By saying less, I will achieve more in the influence that I seek, and it’s fine to have a breath there.”

I also want to dig into this notion that we perceive a threat like it’s a tiger coming at us when it’s really not. I mean, that’s kind of the human condition. But how can we establish more of a baseline level of chill when we go there so that this falsehood does not feel real to us, we’re not really under attack, it’s just another idea that we can try on for a second and see what happens?

Tania Israel
Absolutely. And I appreciate you’re sort of talking about the paradox there of listening versus talking, and what’s most powerful. And it does mean that we have to go into this in a particular emotional state to really be able to hear what somebody else has to say even if it does feel threatening to our beliefs. And I hear a lot from people saying, “Well, it’s not just my beliefs. Like, I feel like if that person holds certain views or attitudes about my group, about the type of person I am, then it feels threatening on a more existential level, on a more, ‘Am I going to be safe here?’ level too.”

So, I think, in addition to the physiological ways that we can ground ourselves that help to manage emotions, having a clear understanding of those people who are on the other side can be really helpful. And that’s where recognizing where we might have distortions and stereotypes of people, I think, can help. So, some of those things that we can do cognitively just to recognize that people are not necessarily the extreme that we would think that they are. So, I think just knowing that is useful.

I think the other piece is that the more we listen, the more we know that. The more we really hear somebody, the more we hear their humanity and the complexity of their perspectives, and the harder it is to stereotype them. So, I think that knowing some things before we go in, and then really just paying attention to somebody and being curious, can help to make that person less threatening.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about growing the empathy over time then so you get a better understanding of where they’re coming from and how they might feel that way or conclude those things. Do you have any additional tips on how we can just have the empathy skill be stronger always?

Tania Israel
So, people have a lot of different approaches to building that empathy skill, and a lot of people actually find things in their faith traditions or in the field of psychology. I would say that these are some of the places that people turn to for developing more empathy and more compassion.

And so, I think if you have a faith tradition that gives some practice for that then that’s helpful. We’re talking about Buddhism earlier, if you have a loving kindness meditation that you do; if you’re Christian there are some teachings based on the “Love thy neighbor” kind of perspective; Quakers talk about holding people in the light. There are different kinds of things that people do for that that can help them to keep their heart open to other folks. So, I think if you already have something, that’s a tool.

And the thing I would say with that, and with any of the skills, is that practice is really helpful. So, always coming back to that and not necessarily thinking that in the first interaction you’re going to have with somebody, you will understand them and feel that empathy completely.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, I also want to zoom in, are there any particular phrases or scripts that you just love here? So, I don’t know, if it’s sort of, “Tell me more about that,” or, “I’m curious about this,” or, “When did you first believe this?” I’m just wondering, are there any things that you found, boy, again and again and again, they tend to open things up and be super helpful?

Tania Israel
Sure. One of the phrases that I like is “I’d love to hear more about that,” and just leave that open for somebody. One of the things that we don’t always do well is we don’t always allow a question to just be out there and then just for us to stop talking. Ask the question and then give them space to respond, because sometimes we’ll ask a question, like, “I’d like to hear more about that.” They don’t have a set response to that because it’s not what we usually do. We don’t usually sort of delve in more deeply. So, just putting that out there, “I’d love to hear more about that,” and then stop.

Pete Mockaitis
And maybe let’s back it up even before words start getting exchanged. So, use the example of a Black Lives Matter T-shirt, so maybe it’s that or a red Make America Great Again hat, it’s like a garment or a something gives you an indicator of what someone thinks about something, and you don’t care for that viewpoint. What do you recommend doing just like internally before we even start a conversation? Because I think it’s quite possible for the mind to leap to assumption, prejudice, judgment. It can be harsh, and it can be unfair, and it can be intense. How do you recommend we address that in ourselves if that’s there?

Tania Israel
Oh, that’s a great question. I think that it’s so important that we start with what’s going on internally for us. I think that the first thing is to notice that, to notice that that’s coming up for us, that we’re making these assumptions about that person, and maybe to start to get curious inside. Maybe you see somebody wearing a Make America Great Again hat, and you go, “Huh, I wonder why they made that choice? I wonder what their experiences are that led them to want to adopt that perspective?” And so, I think starting that curiosity internally, asking questions, rather than the sort of statements that we might be making to ourselves about that person can be a good start.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s interesting, when you have that curiosity, and maybe this is a little bit too flippant or playful, but there could be any number of reasons that don’t even mean they love Donald Trump. Like they have lice and this is the hat they have available, it was a joke, it was a bet. They’re trying to develop these skills associated with having difficult conversations, they thought this would draw people to them. I mean, none of these are particularly likely but they’re all possible. And when you have that curiosity as opposed to assumption, it seems like it can take a lot of the intensity out of things from the get-go.

Tania Israel
Yeah, absolutely. And it’s true, like very likely someone is wearing that hat because they believe that, because there’s something about that that resonates for them, and don’t you want to know what it is? Don’t you want to know more about that? And I always think that that’s the most curious thing is that people say, “Well, I just can’t understand,” but when they’re given an opportunity to understand, they shy away from it, or not just shy, like forcefully push away from it.

And that’s actually probably the thing that I learned most from doing this work is that people have these motivations that bring them to it, that bring them to want to have dialogue but that’s not the only want that they have. They want to maintain this relationship but they also want to vent, and they want to feel validated in their own beliefs. And so, I think that having multiple wants is really important for us to really know about ourselves because if we think, “Oh, you know, I really want to have this dialogue but I can’t because the other side is not going to want to have this conversation.” I hear that from people a lot.

And what I know also is that, ah, people have a lot of reluctance to do it themselves because there’s another motivation that they have that either is stronger or, at least, is in conflict with that desire to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m thinking a little bit about defensiveness now. We talked about some of the work we can do internally in terms of being curious and watching yourself and checking the assumptions that you might be leaping to, and not sort of being really eager to ensure you put out your viewpoint. Do you have any other perspectives on how we can sort of preempt defensiveness? Because I think some people get defensive quickly, and some people are defensive only when they think you’re really coming after them. So, what’s the best way to minimize this impact?

Tania Israel
So, it’s really helpful to get to know people outside of the political conflict. Sometimes there are things we have in common. People can relate a lot to other people who are trying to raise children in the middle of a pandemic. Like, okay, maybe that’s something you have in common. Maybe you both coach soccer. Maybe there are things that you have in common that you can talk about. You don’t have to start with the thing that’s most conflictual. You can build some connection.

In other ways, I mean, if you just see a stranger who’s wearing a hat or a T-shirt, sure, you might not want to go up and have that conversation with them, and so you can or not do that. But there are people who might be closer into your life and into your community or your workplace, and then maybe you’ve got an opportunity because maybe you’ve already got some foundation with them, and then you can venture into these conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now let’s maybe shift gears a bit away from explicitly political stuff. So, let’s say you’re working with a boss or a manager of another department who’ve kind of inferred that, or they’ve explicitly said that they’d like you or your department to no longer exist, like downsizing or outsourcing, or something that also just kind of hits you where it counts in terms of “What I have to contribute does not seem valued.”

Now, that may be a fair or unfair characterization, but if you’re in that place, well, you still need to consider their viewpoint and collaborate and get to great decisions together. Are there any additional things that you’d highlight here?

Tania Israel
Sure. Well, there’s a lot wrapped up in that. One is that if there’s a power differential between yourself and somebody else, so you’re talking about like a manager, that can really affect things because that feels more threatening, and it feels like you may not be as comfortable expressing a view, or even asking more questions about it. So, I think that’s another piece that we have to take into consideration with these conversations is, “Are there power differentials that are affecting things?”

Okay, I’m going to get to your question in a moment, but I’ll just share that I was listening to one woman who was interested in dialogue and, partially, because she was trapped in a car with her supervisor driving somewhere, and her supervisor was just like going on and on about his political views, and not something that she agrees with, and she didn’t feel like she could get out of it. So, I want to speak to the managers for a minute.

This is something to know is that you’ve got a lot of power, and putting somebody in a situation where they’ve got to hear your perspective can feel really vulnerable for that employee. And so, I think really being aware of how that might be affecting people in the workplace is really important. So, that’s if you’re coming from the manager side, and that’s, again, about politics. So, let me move back to your scenario then.

Listening is still really helpful. Somebody says, “Wow, I don’t really know that we need the kind of work that your department is doing.” You can argue back and say, “Well, yes, you do.” But don’t you, first, want to know how they came to that conclusion because you’re not going to actually be able to make an effective argument to them if you don’t know how they got there. So, “Oh, why do you say that?” or, “I’d love to hear more about that. I’d love to hear more about what a bad job you think I’m doing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Tania Israel
But, really, just asking, “I’m really interested to know how you got to that conclusion,” and then you actually got to be really interested to know.

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

Tania Israel
The one other thing that I’ll add, because I talked about listening and reflecting and summarizing with somebody says, and I think that’s really important for people to know, is you don’t have to actually be able to create in your head a transcript of what somebody had said and say it all back to them. The way I would describe this is what you want to do is you want to nugget-ized what they said. You want to get the nugget of something really important. And so, just know that if you’re listening to somebody, that’s the key thing, it’s like, “What’s the nugget of what they’re saying that’s most meaningful and important to them?”

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

Tania Israel
Sure. Lisa Slavid, who’s the fabulous cartoonist of Peadoodles and also did a drawing for my book, I first heard this from her, “With relationship comes grace.” So, in other words, the stronger our bond with somebody, the more forgiving they are when we stumble.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m going to chew on that for a while. Thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Tania Israel
I find myself referring a lot to the Hidden Tribes study that grouped people in terms of a lot of different factors related to political beliefs. And this actually helps with that, what we were talking about, which is that even though we think most people are at the extremes, they found that most people are in what they call the exhausted majority.

Pete Mockaitis
Exhausted majority. Yeah, that’s good. And how about a favorite book?

Tania Israel
Memoir is my favorite genre, and I just listened to Chanel Miller reading her own story in Know My Name, and it is absolutely stunning.

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

Tania Israel
I love the Pomodoro Method. And something that helped me to write the book was doing Pomodoro with colleagues on Zoom.

Pete Mockaitis
So, just like accountability there.

Tania Israel
Not just accountability but having company in it. So, yeah, that really helped me to stay on track and get the book written.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Tania Israel
I will sometimes record myself talking about something, and then I’ve been using Temi to digitally transcribe that, and that also helps me with my writing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. And speaking of nugget-izing, do you have a particular resonant nugget that you share that seems to really connect and resonate and get quoted back to you often?

Tania Israel
Some people seem to love this thing that I created that I called the flowchart that will resolve all political conflict in our country.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s quite a claim. It sounds like there’s lots of love there.

Tania Israel
Yes, it’s sort of nugget-izing my book.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Where do we find that?

Tania Israel
You can find that, and all my other stuff, on TaniaIsrael.com.

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

Tania Israel
Be curious about people who are different from you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Tania, this has been fun. I wish you much luck with your book Beyond Your Bubble and all your interesting conversations.

Tania Israel
Thank you so much. It’s been great to be here.

603: Easing the Anxiety of Workplace Conflict with Liz Kislik

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Liz Kislik says: "The majority of workplace conflicts are actually about the work... not about a bad person."

Executive coach Liz Kislik discusses do’s and don’ts of conflict management and how to rethink the way you see conflict.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you don’t need to win every argument 
  2. The trick to stop conflict before it starts 
  3. How to make allies in every level 

About Liz

Liz Kislik is a management consultant, executive coach, and facilitator. For over 30 years, she has helped clients such as American Express, Orvis, The Girl Scouts, Comcast, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Highlights for Children solve their thorniest problems while strengthening their top and bottom lines. Her specialty is developing high performing leaders and workforces. 

She is a frequent contributor to Harvard Business ReviewForbes, and Entrepreneur, a TEDx speaker on “Why There’s So Much Conflict at Work and What You Can Do to Fix It,” and has served as adjunct faculty at Hofstra University and New York University. She has also written for the European Financial Review and the Forward. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Blinkist. Learn more, faster with book summaries you can read or listen to in 15 minutes at blinkist.com/awesome

Liz Kislik Interview Transcript

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

Liz Kislik
Oh, Pete, I’m so happy to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I was intrigued to learn that your early career dreams included becoming either a rabbi or a popstar. Can you tell us about this?

Liz Kislik
It seems quite strange to me reflecting back because I’m a very deep introvert, but there are ways in which I like an audience. When I was a kid, I thought being a rabbi was one of the coolest things you could do because you took care of so many people, and you got to make these fabulous speeches, and it just seemed good. But at that time, it was long enough ago, that the conservative movement of Judaism was not ordaining women as rabbis. So, that wasn’t an option.

And then when I was in high school, I started writing music and I had a band, and I continued performing in college and, basically, did a show, a semester, sometimes with a band, sometimes solo, and I thought I might do that until I realized that, first of all, there would just be way too much drugs and other things on the road for my sensibilities, and also that you traveled all the time. So, I decided it wasn’t for me. But as a consultant, I travel all the time when it’s not the pandemic anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And you touch audiences.

Liz Kislik
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And, specifically in the realm of conflict, conflict resolution, I’d love to start with all your usable work, what would you say is maybe one of the most surprising, fascinating, counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about conflict?

Liz Kislik
I think the thing that is so amazing is how most people really don’t ever want to have any of it, and yet we’re in it so much of the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well-said. Boy, and you said so much of the time with your TEDx Talk is called “Why there are so much conflict at work and what you can do to fix it.” Lay it on us, why is there so much conflict at work?

Liz Kislik
Oh, because we all need different things and have to take care of different things, and if you think even just in terms of having your calendar match with somebody else’s, it’s just tricky. There are so many ways we can vary in our opinions, positions, preferences, etc. The thing that is amazing though is that we don’t consider it a conflict if it’s easy and it doesn’t feel bad. We just think we’d work it out and it’s fine, we have a schedule now.

We consider it a conflict if we project certain ideas, like, “The other person is trying not to give me what I want, or they’re trying to make a problem for me, or they don’t care about me, or they’re against me.” It’s those ideas that make us feel bad and then we say we’re in conflict.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a great insight. And I venture to guess, tell me this is your experience, that most of the time those things are not true.

Liz Kislik
I would say most of the time they’re mostly not true.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Liz Kislik
Because once it starts to feel bad, people do get on each other’s nerves and sometimes they don’t mind.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s like, “I know you don’t want to hear this but it’s got to be said, so I’m going to say it.”

Liz Kislik
You nailed it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Liz Kislik
That’s exactly right. It’s like, “I’m so aggravated already that if I poke you a little in the process, I won’t feel too guilty.” That happens a lot. A lot. A lot. Or just think of the term personality conflict. A personality is not even a physical substantive thing. It is amazing. It is as if two emanations could leave our bodies and fight in the middle of the room somewhere, which on its face makes no sense at all. It’s not that there is one personality that can never be at peace with this other personality. That’s just not true. It’s all the stuff we bring to it and layer on.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then I’d love it, before we get into the nitty-gritty of how this is done, could you share with us really, hey, what’s at stake in terms of for professionals, if they got a really great handle on conflict and managing it well versus not so well, what are the implications, repercussions?

Liz Kislik
That is a wonderful question. It goes in two directions. First, I’m going to tell you about what people often think is at stake.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Liz Kislik
That they will lose face, that they’ll lose status if they don’t get the thing they want, that they’ll have failed, that they owe it to themselves to triumph over the other person or other department. Those are the things we set up for ourselves. What’s really at stake is that if we approach differences of opinion as if they are pitch battle, we end up not making progress, our initiatives stall out, our teams can become dispirited or demoralized, people start getting caught up in the smallest of petty grievances and weird details. Basically, good work stops and people get caught up in this idea that they have to fight somebody else.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, there we have it. Those are pretty significant stakes, so let’s do it well. So, you’ve got a five-step process. Can you walk us through what those steps are and maybe bring it to life with an example as we’re walking through these steps?

Liz Kislik
Sure. I’m going to sort of use the steps from the TEDx. I may modify them, we’ll see.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Your latest take and we’ll take it.

Liz Kislik
Yes, I think about it differently all the time. It depends on like the last one I saw or that kind of thing. But the first thing I talk about in the TEDx is that you have to rule out the possibility that whoever your opponent is actually is the cause of the conflict, either because there’s something wrong with the way they’re approaching things, and this can be a real thing.

If the person you’re dealing with is actually incompetent, not skilled in the job, not skilled in interpersonal communication to an extreme extent, they really can be the cause of conflict. If somebody doesn’t know the right thing, that can be a real problem. Or if, for whatever odd reason in their history, experience, lifetime, whatever, if they truly behaved badly, if there is someone who really is a bully, who is a lifetime narcissist, sometimes they can be the source of a problem themselves that has nothing to do with the work.

And if that is the case, it is very, very hard to deal with that person. And if you are not the highest authority, you may need help from someone above you in the hierarchy to deal with this problematic person. But the majority of workplace conflicts are actually about the work, how we do the work, what we think we’re responsible for, that kind of stuff. It’s not about a bad person. Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, to that, I think that you say rule it out, and most of the time that’s not what’s going on there. Although I think we may jump to a conclusion that it is. So, how can we bring some rigor to that so we’re not jumping to a bad conclusion?

Liz Kislik
Good. So, the reason we feel like it’s that person is because humans are really good at pattern recognition, particularly when it involves some kind of potential danger. And we might notice that every time we go to a meeting and that person is there, we feel tensed or on edge, and so we assume that’s something about that person.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Liz Kislik
It’s like hearing the rustle in the grass, and you jump away before you even look to see what was there. So, that’s why we attribute it to a person. We think, as I said before, “They’re against me,” or something like that, “They don’t want me to get what I want. They’re going to favor my colleague over me. It will be unfair.” These are all things that we think of as existential and that they’ll ruin us.

And unless we can engage our curiosity to find out what’s really going on, we can just stick with that for the rest of the time we work with that person, years. I mean, there are people who, literally, have conflict for longer than a decade, which is kind of crazy if you think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And that’s well-said because there is something emotional so it really connects inside of us, and it happens again and again when we’re with them, but it could be related to any number of factors. Like, they have, I don’t know, a cologne that we find repulsive, consciously or subconsciously. Or they came out strongly on an issue that negatively impacted us but they may well have had excellent reasons for doing so, and we just are kind of the collateral damage.

Liz Kislik
Correct. Correct. It’s really a tough thing to pull back from those reactions and try to figure out, “Why am I responding this way?” So, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go on a different thought pattern and say that one of the things to do, because your example of the cologne is so spot on, like, “Who cares?” But that’s the kind of thing. You wrinkle your nose, that signifies to your brain, “Nose wrinkling. I smell something bad.” That is an archetypical neural response that often comes with a feeling of disgust. And if you have a feeling of disgust about a colleague, why would you ever try to work well with them?

So, it’s actually worth checking your physicality, and actually relaxing your body, and grounding yourself before you try to think logically about what’s going on, because we jump to conclusions all the time. So, pausing and letting that go, “Oh, I hate that cologne.” Oh, my goodness, Pete, you made me think about a guy I used to work with. I hated his cologne. This was when I was quite young and I ran a sizable operation, and he reported to me, and I don’t think he liked it very much. And he would come and stand over me. I mean, he was almost a foot taller than I was, and he would stand over me, and I hated his cologne. And it is so funny how you brought that back, so you see how strong these things can be.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we rule that out by checking ourselves and our patterns, and seeing, “Hey, what’s really going on here? And is this person truly a bully or a narcissist or socially inept in a big way.” And assuming that, “Hey, you know what, they’re okay. I just don’t like their views.” Where do we go from there?

Liz Kislik
So, then it’s looking at, “What is the issue at hand that we actually need to be solving? Is there a real problem or are we just feeling like we have a problem?” And digging into whatever is in the situation that we’re confronting, and not just the top layer of it, which might be about, oh, take a classic sales and marketing versus operations and production kind of conflict. Is that a good one to use?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Liz Kislik
Okay. So, if I’m on the sales and marketing end, in general, I want the production department to do whatever I need to keep my customers happy so that they will continue to buy, be happy with me as their salesperson, I’ll be successful, the company will have money, and from my perspective, everything will be perfect.

But if I’m the operations or production person, I’m worried about, “She wants all these variances, she needs stuff customized, that’s very expensive. I don’t have the right tools or I don’t have the person with the right skillset to take care of it. So, how am I suppose to get that done? It’s going to be too expensive. We can’t do it.”

So, you often see this kind of charged-up salesperson and you can just picture the ops person with their arms folded, rolled back in their chair from the table. And then you need a deep discussion about, “How is it that we want to serve customers? What are our goals? What are our values about, could be anything from the level of service we provide and how we want customers to think about it, to the requirements for gross margin?” And all of these are factors in the workplace that are a kind of mental overhead.

We think about them but we don’t necessarily think about them while we’re having the argument. But if we could lay them all out, then we might be able to make choices together about what’s the best mix of factors.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. And so then, that step there, asking the right people the right questions to get that, what are some of the best ways to do just that?

Liz Kislik
So, this depends on who you are. For me, as an outsider coming to diagnose these things, I often have access to anybody who’s involved, and that’s really what you need because what sometimes happens is you’ll get two department heads who are accusatory about the performance or dedication of each other’s teams, and the two of them are having an argument, and what you really need to do is to back off from that and actually ask the team members what is and isn’t working for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Liz Kislik
And at some level of granularity because you often find out it is very small stuff. Somebody has to submit a form on Tuesday when their information is never available till Wednesday.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Yeah. And you got to get granular, as you said, or else you wouldn’t know that, and you’ve got to have that deep understanding of what exactly is their life and work like in practice.

Liz Kislik
Yes. So, in general, the lower in the organization you can get these things resolved, the better off you are. But there’s often a countervailing pressure that is coming from more senior leaders based on they’re trying to defend their own turf and their own beliefs about how things should be, and sometimes they don’t let the people who are actually doing the work work it out.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, let’s hear about the third step, making sure folks are aligned.

Liz Kislik
So, that is really about ensuring that there is clarity about what the responsibilities are, who has which ones, where they’re shared, and that people agree that they’re going to operate on that basis. They have to understand what’s expected of them and commit to delivering on it. If you don’t have both those things, the understanding of what’s expected and the commitment to deliver, it’s very likely that somebody’s going to drop the ball at some point.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, in practice, to get that, is it just as simple as, at the end of the meeting, it’s like, “Okay, here’s my understanding of the next steps, A, B, C, D. This person is doing this by then, and that person is doing that by this time. Are we all good?” Is that what you do in practice or how do you recommend getting that alignment?

Liz Kislik
So, that often is enough in the stuff is straightforward. I believe that at the end of every meeting there should be a readout just of that kind, either at the meeting or immediately after, so that people can then say, “Oh, no, no, that’s not what I understood. I thought we said X.” Or if there is a one-on-one kind of meeting, somebody should send an email after that, saying, “Here are the things we said we are going to do. Is that what you meant?”

I think that kind of documentation is extremely helpful not only for the kind of, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s what you said audit trail that some people use it for,” but actually to lay out what we committed to each other. Because when it’s clear, say something goes wrong, then we can come back and say, “I know I committed to doing these things. Here is the outside influence that got in my way. Can you grant me extra time, extra funding, etc.? Or can we negotiate a new agreement?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That sounds good. Okay. And so then, the next step is finding allies at all levels. How do you recommend we do that?

Liz Kislik
So, this will sound so simplistic as to be almost dumb, but the first thing is actually to behave nicely to everybody.

Pete Mockaitis
That makes sense. No wants to ally with the treacherous.

Liz Kislik
Correct. And people don’t…this is so funny, Pete. People don’t like to be known as the friend of the creep. So, it just makes sense to have good behavior. When you have good behavior, and you show interest in your colleagues, then people think, “Oh, that’s a nice person,” and so they’re more inclined to want to be agreeable and support you. So, that’s one thing.

A second thing, though, is looking for ways to help other people and back them up. If you’re in a meeting, and your colleague makes a statement about something, say, that isn’t going very well to the senior leadership, and you know it’s true, instead of hiding in the corner hoping the senior leadership won’t be mad at you, if you back your colleague up when she’s in a tight spot, when you need something, your colleague is much more likely to ride to your defense.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s very clear and real, because the temptation is like, “Oh, boy, I don’t want to get in the middle of this.” But it may not be so scary, it can be just as simple as like, “Yes. Oh, I’ve observed similar things.” Like, “Hey, there it is.”

Liz Kislik
That’s exactly the right language. It’s backing up the factual quality not necessarily, say, your colleague was getting a little intense as she was explaining this thing because it is so important to her team and making sure her area is well-ran, etc., and we’ve all been in a meeting where we heard that sound in somebody’s throat that says, “This is really important to them.”

Pete Mockaitis
Can you make it for us?

Liz Kislik
Oh, I don’t know. I would have to get really tense and talk for a while, and start to sound kind of a little louder and with a little bit of edge, you know, like when it’s really important to you and it’s urgent, and you think someone’s not listening. Is that alright?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s pretty good. Thanks.

Liz Kislik
Okay. See, I don’t like making that sound. It makes me tense because you only make that sound if you feel under threat, which is part of how you got into a conflict in the first place. So, we get that kind of intensity when we feel like we have to justify ourselves, and we don’t have confidence that we’ll be heard. And if you have a comrade at arms who says, “Oh, yes, I’ve observed the same thing. Isn’t that interesting?” without a charge on it, then the senior leadership doesn’t hear this sense of danger and threat so they don’t have to minimize the issue. They can just say, “Oh, that’s interesting. We weren’t aware of it. Give us some more evidence.” And then there may be no conflict at all. That’s something an ally can do for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And then the final habit is to teach new habits, step is to teach new habits for managing differences. What are some of your top habits you recommend?

Liz Kislik
So, a couple that I love, really love, one is what I, and now, numerous of my clients call playing an elephant card, you know, the expression of the elephant in the room. And, very often, people will be in a meeting, and it’s like there’s a silent agreement that we’re not going to talk about a certain thing even though we know it’s the real problem. That’s sometimes called an undiscussable.

And when there is an undiscussable issue in the room, whatever else happens around it, you’re not dealing with the real thing. So, there may be a stated agreement that includes, just as you said before, the dates and the costs and the who’s doing what to whom, and all of that, but everybody knows it’s not real because we didn’t talk about the fact that you can’t actually count on Joe. So, everybody knows it’s not really going to happen, and that’s a kind of passive-aggressive culture where we don’t want to say publicly the thing we’re all afraid of. So, playing an elephant card means there’s something up we’re not talking about, and we know we need to talk about it to move on. That’s one favorite.

Another thing that I do very, very often is I ask, and this is a different circumstance. This is a circumstance in which you and your team are together and, basically, you’re complaining about the other team or the other person. And to break that habit, I like the habit of asking, “Why would a smart person do a stupid thing?” because as soon as you acknowledge that the other person has a real reason for whatever makes them seem to be against you, then you can uncover what their issue is and the real content and you don’t just continue in the fight.

Pete Mockaitis
And now is that a question you ask internally to yourself or out loud?

Liz Kislik
Oh, I use that all over the place, internally and aloud, because we’ve all been in circumstances where somebody does something that just makes no sense. And it could be a very small thing. I’m thinking of a client who, he’s just not skillful with his language in the sense that he can’t seem to hold back. He interrupts everybody, and so people sometimes treat him as the disliked person. They don’t want to be with him because he has this constant stream of language and nobody else can talk, and his issues have to be handled, etc.

But when you ask, not his direct colleagues, but other people who have to deal with him and think he’s a problem, he’s so smart. Why would he have that stupid annoying habit? Why would he do that thing? And then they realize it’s because he cares about it so much, so then they can forgive him a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha. Okay. Lovely. So, that really reframes things in a great way. And I’m curious, we talked about…I love to hear good phrases and bits of verbiage that can make a world of differences, and one was “Why would a smart person do a stupid thing?” Are there any other key questions or statements you think are just powerful and you recommend people use them again and again?

Liz Kislik
Oh, yes. Here’s one I love. I’m smiling because I am picturing one group of clients that quotes it all the time, which is, “That’s accurate but incomplete.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Liz Kislik
We all see things from our perspective, and it is totally accurate but there’s more there, and so it’s worth going to look for it. And that little phrase reminds us that we have to take things into account besides our own opinions.

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

Liz Kislik
I think one of the…I want to give you one other habit, if I may, and that’s to think about how the other person will actually hear what you’re planning to say to them, because they won’t hear it the way you hear it because they’re not you. So, to remind yourself that before you go to the meeting and take something on, to really look at it from the other person’s perspective, and how would your language play, and how will your tone play, and how can you reorient yourself to speak or write or communicate in a way that sounds, at a minimum, neutral, but, if at all possible, caring and concerned about the other person, you’ll generally get a better hearing.

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

Liz Kislik
Yes, there are two that I like a load. One is Maya Angelou who said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” So, that gives you credit for earnest effort, but as soon as you know it could be better, you’re obligated to do that. And that relates to a Talmudic quote that I love, which says, “You are not obligated to finish the work, neither are you free to desist from it. You have to do your part.” You may not be able to fix everything, but if it’s in your control, you have to step up and do it.

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

Liz Kislik
You know what I like? I like the idea of one percent improvement. Are you familiar with this?

Pete Mockaitis
Like the compounding there?

Liz Kislik
Yeah. Yes, that it compounds, and that doing a little bit just adds up in a way that having a great idea but not getting to work on it doesn’t get you anywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Liz Kislik
I recommend The Art of Possibility which is by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. He has a very, very well-known TED Talk, and it is about looking at the world from a perspective that there is hope and possibility and resources that you didn’t know you had, and that you’re probably doing better than you think if you let yourself.

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

Liz Kislik
My website is great, if they come to my website. There’s loads of material that may be useful to your audience, Pete, because I’ve been writing a blog for ten years, and they’ll also find a free ebook there that’s about the interpersonal aspects of conflict at work.

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

Liz Kislik
I would say that there is always something you can do, that the one thing not to do is to feel helpless and hopeless, even if you have to pause. Sometimes the one thing to do is to stop in your tracks and not react at that moment. But there is something that you can do that will improve the situation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Liz, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all your adventures.

Liz Kislik
It’s been so nice to talk to you. I really appreciate it.

601: The Four Pillars of High Performing Teams with Mike Robbins

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Mike Robbins discusses the four features of peak performing teams.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The one thing that builds a culture of trust
  2. The subtle ways we build—and destroy—belonging
  3. How to care in order to challenge

About Mike

Mike Robbins is the author of five books, including his brand new title, WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER: Creating a Team Culture of High Performance, Trust, and Belonging, which released April 21st.  For the past 20 years, he’s been a sought-after speaker and consultant who delivers keynotes and seminars for some of the top organizations in the world. 

His clients include Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Genentech, eBay, Harvard University, Gap, LinkedIn, the Oakland A’s, and many others. 

He and his work have been featured in the New York Times and the Harvard Business Review, as well as on NPR and ABC News.  He’s a regular contributor to Forbes, hosts a weekly podcast, and his books have been translated into 15 different languages. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, Sponsors!

  • Pitney Bowes. Simplify your shipping while saving money. Get a free 30-day trial and 10-lb shipping scale at pb.com/AWESOME.

Mike Robbins Interview Transcript

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

Mike Robbins
Pete, thanks for having me. It’s an honor.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And, right now, you do speaking and consulting on high-performance teams, but in a previous career, you played baseball. What’s the story here?

Mike Robbins
I did. I did. Are you much of a baseball fan?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’ve enjoyed attending some games in my day, but I don’t follow much of anything sports.

Mike Robbins
Hey, it’s all good, man. Baseball is an acquired taste, so to speak. I grew up in here in the San Francisco Bay Area where I still live, and played baseball as a kid. I actually got drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees. Didn’t end up signing with the Yankees because I got a chance to play baseball in college at Stanford, and then got drafted out of Stanford by the Kansas City Royals and signed a contract.

And the way it works in baseball, you get drafted by a major league team like the Yankees or the Royals or the Cubs or any of the other teams in the major leagues, you have to go into the minor leagues, which I did. And I was working my way up, trying to get to the major leagues. Unfortunately, I was a pitcher and I went out to pitch one night, I threw one pitch, and tore ligaments in my elbow and blew my arm out when I was 23 after starting when I was seven.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man.

Mike Robbins
I know. And then three years, two surgeries, and a lot of time later, I finally was forced to retire from baseball. But, you know, learned a ton, it was definitely disappointing the way that it ended, but, ultimately, went into the dotcom world in the late ‘90s, had a couple different jobs working for some tech companies, and realized, which I didn’t know going in, that there were going to be a lot of similarities particularly from sort of a team and performance standpoint that were somewhat similar in baseball that were similar in business, and that’s actually what prompted me to start my consulting business almost 20 years ago.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great. And, yeah, pitching, man, it looks violent what’s happening to the arm.

Mike Robbins
Yes, not a natural motion. Not what you’re supposed to do with your arm over and over and over again.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I’m glad you’re feeling okay and you landed on your feet, and that’s good news. So, let’s talk about some high-performance team stuff. Just to kick it off, what would you say is maybe one of the most surprising, counterintuitive, fascinating discoveries you’ve made about high-performance teams?

Mike Robbins
Well, I think one of the things I realized early on, and again this goes back to my sports days, is it’s not always the most talented teams that are the most successful. Obviously, you need some talent, right? But anybody listening to us, whether you manage a team, or you work within a team, or have been on any team in your life, you may notice it’s not always when you have a team of rock stars that that ultimately makes the team the best.

I often ask when I’m speaking to groups and teams and leaders, Pete, I’ll say, “How many of you have ever been a part of a team where the talent of the team was good but the team didn’t perform very well?” and whether I’m speaking like I was six or eight months ago in front of an actual live group of people or we’re on Zoom or Skype, most people will raise their hands or nod affirmatively. And then I’ll say, “But on the flipside, have you ever been a part of a team where it wasn’t like every single person on the team, in and of themselves, was a superstar but something about the team just worked?” and, again, just about everybody can relate to that.

So, again, we all kind of know this but we think, and, again, a lot of managers and leaders that I worked with, or companies, were trying to hire the best and the brightest, which is important, but, ultimately, there’s something that happens when groups of people come together. And so, high-performing teams is about, yeah, we have to have a certain level of talent, but people need to understand their roles and it’s really about the relationships amongst the team members and the level of commitment or engagement the people have to the work that has a lot more to do than the actual talent of the individuals on the team.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, that totally resonates. And maybe could you maybe get us going here by sharing an inspiring story of a team that went from, okay, doing fine to really kicking it into high gear when they adopted some of your best practices?

Mike Robbins
Yeah. Well, a lot of examples. I think of there’s one team that I worked with a number of years ago and they, as a team, this was at Adobe, great technology company, great software company, and I’ve been doing a lot of work with Adobe, and the leader of this team actually changed, so the team members were all the same. But I’d worked with this leader, she was with another team, she took over the team. And what was interesting, so, again, none of the team members changed, and it took a little while at first, and part of what she really implemented was, “Hey, we need to communicate more authentically, be even more vulnerable with each other, be willing to fail.”

And a lot of times when a new leader starts with a team, everybody is a little bit on edge, everybody is a little bit walking on egg shells, wanting to impress the new boss. And one of the first sessions that she did with the team, and I wrote about this actually in my book Bring Your Whole Self to Work that came out a few years ago, but she did a series of sessions and had me help facilitate some of them where people really got real. She started, one of the things she said was, “I’m not sure I should’ve taken this job. Like, it’s a promotion for me but I really like the team that I was with before,” and sort of set a tone for, “We’re going not try to perform for each other, meaning impress each other, we’re going to perform with each other.”

And this team that was doing pretty well and had some pretty good talent went to a whole other level over the next year by really building a deeper sense of trust and communication. And, ultimately, what we call and what we now know as called psychological safety which basically means there’s trust at the group level, the team is safe enough for people to speak up, admit mistakes, ask for what they want, take risks, even fail not that we want to but we know we’re not going to get shamed or ridiculed or kicked out of the group for doing that.

And I’ve seen that over the years so many times with teams and with leaders, a willingness to really go there, a willingness to understand, as my most recent book is called We’re All in This Together, that we’re all in this thing together. Again, this idea of performing with each other as opposed to trying to impress each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so I think it’s great distinction right there, performing with instead of performing for. And so, you’ve got sort of four pillars of a culture of high performance, and the first one is psychological safety. So, that’s come up a few times on the show, and for those who don’t know, could you give us the quick definition? And then maybe just share with some of the best and worst practices. I think there are some subtle ways we erode psychological safety. I’d love it if you could flag some for us.

Mike Robbins
Oh, for sure. Well, again, psychological safety, basically, the way I think about it, I had a chance actually to interview Amy Edmondson from Harvard Business School, she’s basically the world’s leading expert in psychological safety. And it’s group trust. Again, it means the group norms are setup in such a way that we know when we’re on a team with psychological safety, as I was saying before, we’re not going to get shamed or ridiculed or kicked out of the group for simply having a different opinion or making a mistake.

And trust is more of a one-to-one phenomenon, Pete. So, you and I can have trust with each other or not. That trust can get broken. It can get restored. Psychological safety is more, “How much, if we’re part of a team, how much trust do we feel that the team exhibits as a team, as an entity, so to speak?” And so, one of the things that’s really important in how you can build more psychological safety, if you happen to manage a team or be the leader of a team, is, like that example I mentioned, this leader from Adobe who since has left and she’s now at Intuit, but she really was able to show up in a way that she was vulnerable with her team. She was willing to share how she was really feeling, admit mistakes, admit whatever was going on, as I like to say, down below the water line, if you will, of the iceberg. That can help create more psychological safety.

Also, whether you’re in a management position or not, how we respond both as a leader and as team members when something doesn’t go well, when there’s a failure. So, that’s a moment, often I say, “Look, nobody likes to fail, teams don’t like to go through stress, but almost every team is these days especially, but how you respond to those moments can either make or break how much psychological safety there is.”

An example being somebody doesn’t deliver on a project or doesn’t perform at a certain level, how is that responded to? Is it dealt with directly but is it also dealt with in a way that is respectful of the human beings involved? Again, if we get called out, which isn’t always a bad thing, but if I know I’m going to make a mistake, let’s say, Pete, that you’re the boss, and I screw something up and you chew me out in front of the team, maybe even I deserved it to some degree, but that’s probably going to have me and everybody else go, “Uh-oh, don’t screw something up around Pete because he’s going to jump down your throat.”

On the flipside, not that we’re going to sugarcoat it, or people have to be grownups, but if I make a mistake and it gets handled in a way but you deal with it directly but respectfully, now that sends the tone to the rest of the team, “Hey, you know what, this didn’t work out the way we wanted to, but we’re really glad, Mike, that you brought that forward, you took that risk, even though you failed. Let’s do more of that.” It’s like, “Okay,” well, then that reinforces, “Hey, we can take risks and make some mistakes,” and now that sort of sets that tone amongst the team members.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I like that so much and, boy, I’m having a flashback, and it was in my early with my first project with Bain, I think, they thought, “Hey, this guy is an intern so he can handle a lot of hard work and challenging stuff.” And so, I was in charge of this giant Excel business and I was making some mistakes and it’s creating some embarrassment, and it was very uncomfortable, and sure learned a lot.

Mike Robbins
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
But I remember I was having a chat with Brett, we’re having a little sort of a little mid-point feedback check-in, and I knew what I was doing wrong, and I’d started to make some improvements. But I just loved the way he set the tone, he said, “Well, you know, it’s just work.”

Mike Robbins
That’s true.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Hey, we’re safe, we’re healthy, and the project is still going. But, yeah, we got some things we got to focus in on.”

Mike Robbins
That’s true.

Pete Mockaitis
And I really appreciated it. And even when you feel like you’ve screwed up about as bad as you can, you can bring some humanity and some comfort into those situations.

Mike Robbins
It’s true. And I think that’s an important distinction. Look, one of the things that happens, and I see this a lot in Silicon Valley and with a lot of tech companies, but just companies in general that want to be progressive, we want to have a really positive working environment, is that I think sometimes we err on the side of being nice versus kind. Nice is often sugarcoating, withholding, not really addressing it. Kind is where we have a sense of kindness, a sense of empathy, a sense of compassion, maybe even some levity and some humor. But, again, if somebody makes a mistake, it’s important that we address it.

I remember actually years ago at Stanford, I remember pitching really bad, and my pitching coach said to me, “You know what? Well, there’s good news and bad news. Which do you want first?” And I said, “How about the good news?” He said, “The good news is there’s a billion people in China that don’t know that you just pitched like you know what, right?” He said, “The bad news is we got some things to work on.”

And, again, to your point, it sounds like your example from Bain, I think there’s a way in which we can address issues and challenges, and even failures. Amy Edmondson from Harvard said to me, she said, one of the things she wishes about psychological safety is that we had maybe named it something else because sometimes people hear this concept of like safe space, meaning like you can’t say anything negative. She said, “That’s not like it at all. Teams that have a lot of psychological safety really have a lot of give and take, and there’s a lot of open, honest dialogue and debate and conflict, and challenging each other. It’s just we know it’s safe enough to do that.”

When I work with a team, Pete, and people say, “Oh, well, no one ever…there’s never a conflict. We never have any issues,” I’m like, “Okay, somebody’s lying and/or it’s not safe enough to do that.” So, those are the things that we can see. Even at home, sometimes my wife and I, we have two girls who are 14 and 12, and the girls will really get into each other, say stuff to us, and I’ll say to my wife, “Look, we do need to teach them about ways to communicate respectfully, of course, but the fact that they feel safe enough to speak up to each other, to us, is actually a sign that there’s something healthy going on here, because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t say anything.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, let’s talk about the second pillar then, focus on inclusion and belonging. What do you mean by this?

Mike Robbins
Yeah. Well, look, this is so important. I wrote We’re All in This Together last year and finished up writing the book in the fall, and didn’t know it was going to come out in the midst of a global pandemic on top of sort of a national and somewhat global reckoning around racial injustice in our country, specifically in America. But what I’d seen so, look, diversity has a lot to do with representation, right? And we may or may not be in a position where we’re hiring or we’re the people making the decisions on who gets hired. What we do know from all the research is that racially-diverse and gender-diverse teams perform better than teams that aren’t diverse.

But what I really focus on in this particular pillar in the book is on inclusion and belonging, which we have a lot to do with whether we’re making hiring decisions or not. And inclusion is about, really, doing anything and everything we can in our power to make sure we’re not overtly excluding people, particularly people who come from non-dominant groups. Myself being a straight white, cis-gender man, looking at, “Okay, how am I communicating? How am I operating? How am I thinking? What am I doing? What am I saying?” for anybody who’s a woman, a person of color or identifies as part of one or any minority group, it’s trying to, as best we can when we’re in positions of power or authority, do things and say things and be mindful and be open to feedback so we’re not excluding people consciously or unconsciously.

But even deeper than inclusion, as important as it is, what we’re ultimately trying to get to is a place of belonging. And what we know from Maslow’s Hierarchy, and so many other things, is that belonging is a fundamental human need. Everybody has a need to belong. And so, from a leadership position, but also from a team perspective, whatever we can do to create an environment where people feel as much as possible like they belong, the more engaged they’re going to be, the better they’re going to perform, and the more trust.

I mean, psychological safety comes first but we got to focus on inclusion and belonging because they’re so fundamental to so many aspects of success, especially in today’s world.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’d love to hear a bit about the how there. I’ve certainly been in environments where I felt very comfortable, it’s like, “Oh, yes, I belong here and it’s great.” It’s sort of like, I guess, in my experience it’s sort of like people sort of delighted in me and my quirks and what I brought to the table versus, and a lot of those are sort of non-verbal cues, and it’s sort of like, “You know, we kind of all like each other more than we like you, and we’re not overtly saying cruel things to you,” but I just got the vibe, like, “Yeah, I guess I don’t really belong here. I’ll kind of move along.”

So, can we make that explicit? What are the things, the practices, the do’s and don’ts?

Mike Robbins
Some of it starts with a sense of emotional intelligence and social intelligence and, ultimately, even cultural intelligence. Something as simple as just me even asking you the question “Are you a baseball fan?” And then you say, “Well, no, not really. I’m not into sports.” That’s actually a really important thing to know, not because it doesn’t really matter if I like baseball and you don’t, but sometimes we make a bunch of assumptions, “Oh, you’re from Chicago. You must be a Cubs fan, and blah, blah, blah,” and, all of sudden, you’re like, “What the hell is this guy talking about?” And, inadvertently, I’m trying to connect with you, but what I’m actually doing is creating more distance and separation if I don’t know that as an example, right?

And, again, there are a lot of things that we do, and this happens. Look, I travel. Well, I used to. I don’t as much these days. None of us are traveling. But I travel around the world, and I go places, and I think of myself as a pretty open minded culturally-sensitive person, but the moment I step outside of not only the United States but the Bay Area where I live, I realize, “Oh, my goodness, my worldview is so influenced by where I live, where I grew up.” That’s not a bad thing. It’s just something to be aware of, to be mindful of.

Oftentimes, I’ll be sitting in a room and I’ll make some comment about just the gender dynamics, and some of the men in the room, not because they’re sexist necessarily, just they’ll look around and go, “Oh, is it mostly men in this room?” Like, they’re not paying attention. Whereas, every single woman at that table or in that room knows exactly that there’s, “Oh, there’s four women in this room.” Do you know what I mean? So, things like that.

Again, a lot of times with some of these issues, some of us either aren’t paying attention to them because they don’t relate to us personally, or we may be are paying attention to them but we don’t know exactly what to say, or how to say it, or how to address it, so it actually leads into pillar number three, without jumping too far ahead of sweaty palm conversations, which is so fundamental that a lot of what we can do, right now especially, is ask questions and be curious about things even if we might be a little uncomfortable with respect to, “Are there things that are happening that are creating less inclusion, less belonging? And if so, let’s talk about that.”

And the challenge is that we often get defensive because immediately we feel like we’re being accused of something, when, in reality, if you’re committed to your team having a culture of belonging, then you want to know if there’s anything that’s being done or said by you or anyone else that’s getting in the way of that. And, in some cases, people who, what I know from my research, I don’t know from experience because, again, I’m male, I’m white, I’m straight, but when I talk to people from different groups, depending on how much psychological safety there is or how safe they feel, they may not always feel safe even bringing that stuff up. So, those of us who are in positions of power or authority, if we happen to be asking questions about that.

I think about this. I learn all the time from my wife and from my daughters of things that I don’t see just along the lines of gender. One of the stories I share in the book, my wife Michelle and I were at a workshop, and the woman leading the workshop said, “I’m going to ask the men a question, then I’m going to ask the women a question.” It was a workshop that was sort of for couples and about our relationships. And she said to all the men in the room, “When was the last time you felt physically unsafe?” And she said, “Just raise your hand one time and I’m going to name off some timeframes. Is it in the last 10 years, five years, a year, six months, three months, a month, a week, the last 24 hours?” I raised my hand for sometime in the last year. I could remember a specific moment I was in DC on a trip and got lost coming back to my hotel, and was walking around in the dark, didn’t know where I was and just felt.

She asked the women the same question, Pete, and she’s gone on 10 years, five years, none of the women were raising their hands, and I’m like, “What’s going on? Why are they not raising their hands?” She gets to one week. A couple of hands go up. She says, “Within the last 24 hours,” almost every woman in the room raised their hand, that they had felt physically unsafe at some moment in the last 24 hours, including my wife sitting right next to me. And I’m like looking at her, and I’m looking around the room, most of the guys in the room were all looking around, go like, “What? When? Where? What is going on?” And the women were looking at us like, “How do you not know this?” And the woman leading the workshop said, “This is one of the fundamental differences between men and women, and we almost never talk about it.”

And, again, that’s just an example that, “Oh.” Again, in the working world, in the environment that we’re in, like, “Oh, these things play a big role.” And if we can be more mindful, be more curious, be more open, be more humble about trying to see things from different people’s perspectives, and then being interested in creating the most inclusive environments where people really feel like they belong, now people are going to feel more like they have a seat at the table, and they’re not busy sort of defending themselves or holding themselves back as much.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, there’s a lot of great stuff there in terms of the mindset and the awareness and the assumptions, and I think that a lot of times the non-belonginess comes about when folks make assumptions. And sometimes I hear it explicitly in terms of they say, “Well, obviously this…” It’s like, “Well, it wasn’t obvious to me.” Or words like, “Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you certainly know about this.” It’s like, “Well, I didn’t know so I guess…” Or there seems like there’s sort of contempt for a viewpoint.

And, politically, what I find quite intriguing is, oh, boy, there are some data that shared that large swaths of us, regardless of Republican, Democrat, are just fearful, it’s like, “Don’t even bring it up because you might get fired, and some people are willing to fire and think you should be fired.”

Mike Robbins
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Or then there’s so much contempt as a baseline assumption that, “Well, of course, all of us vote this way or that way.” And there are some surprising…if you really dig into some data, I’m a nerd for this, like it’s surprising. For example, I learned, so you’re in the Bay Area, for instance, you might…I was surprised to learn, I checked the sources every which way, but in the Bay Area, there are more Trump voters in San Francisco proper than there are LGBTQ folks in San Francisco proper, indeed.

Mike Robbins
Really? Interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you wouldn’t expect that.

Mike Robbins
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And I imagine the Trump voters aren’t speaking up. And then when there are…and so let’s go with either side politically or racially or anything. If you just have it as an assumption, “Well, of course, we all believe this and, thus, I have license to speak about the other…a set of views in a contemptuous way,” I think that shuts down the belonging in a hurry.

Mike Robbins
It does. I see this because, living where I live, which is sort of at the macro level to your point, one would assume, “Oh, it’s pretty liberal politically.” So, if you have conservative views, you’re going to be more in the minority, although, to your data, it may be more widespread than one thing. But, again, even growing up here, I know if you share conservative views out loud in this area, ooh, that’s very risky to do. On the flipside, when I travel to other parts of the country that are more conservative, and I meet people, or people have conversations with me, and say, “Oh, my views are a bit more liberal but I don’t really share that out loud because that…” you know

And so, I think if you think about this, this isn’t simply just about Left versus Right here in the US, although it’s a very relevant issue right now given that we’re in a Presidential election season, I think from a leadership standpoint, and from a team standpoint, I’m not one that believes we should never talk about anything controversial at work. I think that stifles authenticity. I think that’s unrealistic. However, I do think we need to be mindful of not making assumptions that everybody agrees and believes what we believe because that does create, “Oh, when I realize…” even if you take it out of the political realm.

I was talking to a group of people the other day on a Zoom session, and we were talking about what makes it difficult to speak up. And somebody said, “When I know that I have a minority opinion.” And they weren’t talking about politics. They were just talking about, like, “I’m the only one that thinks this about this decision. Everyone else is on board.” That actually is really hard to voice, because, “Do I really want to be the one dissenting voice in the room when everybody else seems to be on board?”

But, again, if you think about it, if that person doesn’t feel safe to bring that up, and the group isn’t interested in knowing where people stand, we still will go with the majority and we’re going to move on, but that person that makes a mental note, “Oh, if I have a dissenting opinion, I better just keep it to myself.” And that starts to become part of the culture of the team, and then we don’t even know what we don’t know, what we’re missing, and people are less engaged, and people aren’t really speaking up, or they’re not totally bought in, so all of these things go to both psychological safety and belonging.

And then that leads to pillar number three, which I alluded to, which I call embrace sweaty palm conversations, which is about, you know, I had a mentor years ago, Pete, say to me, “Mike, what stands between you and the kind of relationships you really want to have with people is usually a 10-minute sweaty palm conversation you’re too afraid to have.”

Pete Mockaitis
Sounds right.

Mike Robbins
Yeah. He said, “If you get good at those 10-minute sweaty palm conversations, you’ll build trust, you’ll resolve conflicts, you’ll talk about the elephant in the room, you’ll work stuff out, you’ll get to know people who are different than you.” He said, “But if you do, like most of us, and you avoid them because they can be awkward, or uncomfortable, or you say the wrong thing, or you unintentionally offend people, or put your foot in your mouth, or it gets weird, then you end up just sort of having mediocre lukewarm type of relationships.”

And it’s tricky. I don’t love having sweaty palm conversations. They are not my favorite. But if a team is really going to perform at the highest level, if we’re really going to build trust one-one-one, and psychological safety collectively, if we’re really going to be able to have that sense of belonging, we got to be able to have those sweaty palm conversations. If I really screw up, I need someone who can come to me with kindness but also with some directness and authenticity, and tell me, like, “Hey, man, you really screwed this up. We got to work on this,” but do it in a way that doesn’t have me walk away feeling like, “I’m an idiot, and I’m a loser, and everybody hates me,” because that’s not going to be helpful. But, at the same time, you know what I mean? And that’s predicated on the ability for us to engage.

And, look, right now, it’s harder to have sweaty palm conversations via Zoom or Skype or WebEx or the telephone, not that they’re necessarily easy when we’re in person, but we don’t have the same sort of body language and physical cues to go on, but we still need to have them so we got to continue to develop our ability both individually, but they become easier if the team has more of the norm of, “We’re going to have those conversations in the room even if it’s a Zoom room. We’re not going to have the conversation afterwards, or send little text messages or IMs to each other about what we really think. We’re going to actually talk about it directly.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, hey, talking about vulnerability, I’ll put you on the spot. What happened, a couple of examples of the sweaty palm conversations, that were quite meaningful?

Mike Robbins
Well, gosh, I think of like I’ve had a whole bunch of sweaty palm conversations with my team over the last few months. When COVID first hit, we had…look, the way I make money, Pete, the way I’ve ran my business for all these years, the vast majority of revenue we generate is through speaking engagements that either myself or someone on my team goes and delivers in person. Every single one of those, it was on our calendar, got either cancelled or rescheduled or just went away within a matter of like two weeks.

So, I had to say to everybody, “Listen, I don’t know if we’re going to have a business anymore in the next six months. I hope so.” And then it was a bunch of individual conversations with everybody on the team about their roles, how they were doing, what they needed to do, and we had to let someone go, which was a really uncomfortable conversation, as often happens in business. And none of those were fun or easy for me, and, at times, I’m a pretty emotional guy, I was a little bit scared and stressed out as would make sense.

And, again, I think it’s just important for us, when we have those conversations with people, they don’t always go well. That’s the thing. Like, I had a situation recently where I had to have a conversation with someone, we had a little conflict going, and we had the conversation, and it blew up the relationship, like didn’t really work out well. That’s not usually what happens but that’s the fear that we often have, “Hey, I’m going to address this thing,” and this person is basically going to say, “Well, have a nice life. See you later.”

But, again, in hindsight, in that situation, for me, I realized, “You know why that happened? First of all, I addressed some of it by email before so it already didn’t start off in a good way. And, second of all, there were a bunch of sweaty palm conversations that I didn’t have leading up to that one that, ultimately, had that thing blow up.” So, again, it’s a constant work in progress. I mean, this stuff is messy. But great teams talk to each other and not about each other. It’s easier for me to go tell my wife that you’re getting on my nerves, let’s say if you and I are on a team together, than it is to go talk to you, “Hey, Pete, we got to talk about this thing, man. I got this issue. Let’s try to work it out because I don’t know how that’s going to go.” That’s vulnerable to have the conversation with you. It’s easy for me to go complain to my wife about it because she’s probably going to agree with me, or at least hear my version of the story, and go, “Yeah, Pete sounds like a jerk.” You know what I mean?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Mike Robbins
But that’s not going to benefit you and me and our relationship is definitely not going to benefit the team if that’s the way we operate.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when it comes to these conversations, do you have some best practices associated with one’s summoning the emotional fortitude to go there, and, two, some do’s or don’ts for when you’re engaging them?

Mike Robbins
So, yeah, absolutely. The first thing is it’s important to acknowledge that they’re hard and they’re scary for all of us, so to have a little bit of compassion for ourselves and the other person or people involved. The second thing is we do need to get clear about what our intention is, “Why do I want to have this conversation?” Because if what I really want to do is come tell you why you’re wrong and I’m right, it’s probably not going go well. Even if I’m upset, even if I think something went wrong, I need to get to a place of, “My intention is really to clear the air, to connect more deeply with you to resolve a conflict,” some more positive intention.

The third thing is, whenever I have a sweaty palm conversation, and I encourage everyone to do this, is tell the truth. Lower the waterline on the iceberg, as I like to say. Meaning, express a little bit of how you’re actually feeling in the moment, which, for me, is usually some version of, “I don’t really want to have this conversation. I’ve been avoiding this, or I’m scared you’re going to get upset. This is not going to go well.” And I know it’s sort of counterintuitive to be vulnerable in the moment that maybe we have an issue, or a conflict with someone, or maybe we don’t feel super safe with them, but we’re relational creatures. So, the natural human response to vulnerability is empathy, so people tend to respond in kind if we start. Now, is it a guarantee? No. Could they jump on us and use it against us? Yeah, absolutely. But way, way, way more often than not, that’s not what happens. It ultimately gets the person into that place.

And then the final thing is it’s usually important to have some kind…not to be attached to a particular outcome necessarily but have some kind of action that can be taken from the conversation. Even if we agree to disagree, can we talk again about this, or revisit this, or how are we going to address this in the future? Or if we do come to some kind of solution, what are we going to do so it isn’t just this? As a friend of mine likes to always say, “Conversations disappear.” So, some kind of way of forwarding the action after we have that conversation, whether it’s a one-on-one conversation or as group, because there’s nothing worse than I get the courage up to finally come and talk to you about the thing we talked about the thing, “Pete, you’re open.” “Thanks, Mike. I appreciate it.” And then nothing happens or nothing changes, especially like if you’re my boss and I’m like, “Well, geez, I’m glad he listened to me but he didn’t really take anything to heart, and now we still have the same issue running over and over again.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yes. Well, then let’s talk about the fourth area, the care about and challenge each other. You made a distinction earlier between kindness and niceness, which feels very applicable here.

Mike Robbins
Very much.

Pete Mockaitis
What are some of the pointers in terms of doing both?

Mike Robbins
Well, so this fourth and final pillar is about caring about and challenging each other simultaneously. And that same pitching coach I had at Stanford used to always say, his philosophy on coaching was, “You got to love them hard so you can push them hard.” And he was talking about it in the context of baseball, but I think that’s true for leaders, managers, that’s true for human beings, for teams. Meaning, “Can we really focus on constantly caring about each other?”

Now, when we’re caring for people, doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re all best friends, that we have the same values, that we like hanging out with each other. That’s a bonus at that. But you can care about people that you don’t even like, that you don’t agree with. You can care about people who bug you. Caring about is about finding value in people, wanting them to do well. And I often say, “Look, even if you’re super selfish and you don’t genuinely care, you’re just interested in your own success, it’s in your best interest to be around other successful people doing well because success is contagious. So, at the very least, can you at least care? I care about the other people on my team. Usually it’s not that hard to do, but then simultaneously, then challenging people, pushing people.

And, usually, when I talk to individuals about this or I talk to leaders or teams, most individuals, myself included, like I’m stronger on the care side than I am on the challenge side. Some people are stronger on the challenge side. I mean, it’s easier for them to push, push, push, but, like, oh, it’s harder for them to just naturally care about people. The tendency we have if we go, “Oh, I’m a pretty caring person but I have a hard time challenging people. Maybe I shouldn’t care so much.” No, no, keep caring as much as you do, just challenge yourself to push people a little harder, hold people accountable, have a healthy high standard.

And if you’re someone who really pushes people and challenges people, but you realize, “Oh, sometimes I’m a little harsh about it,” you don’t have to necessarily lower your standards unless your standard is perfection, by the way, which is people always fail. But what you want to do is then raise your ability to care about people. And some simple ways to do that are just looking for things that we find that we value and appreciate about people, and letting them know. Thinking if it were someone’s last day you are able going to get to work with them, what would you want to thank them for? What would you miss about them?

Again, looking at people as the full nature of being human. One of the things I do think is beautiful about this really challenging time in the pandemic, we are getting to know people. Even though we don’t get to see each other and spend time together, we’re Zooming into people’s lives and into people’s homes, and we’re seeing their dogs and their kids and their apartments and houses, and they’re sitting in their flipflops and shorts, and maybe they put on a nice shirt for the Zoom call or whatever. But it’s kind of equalizing in a way. Whether you’re the CEO of the company, or you’re an intern, or you’re anywhere in between, it’s like everybody’s got a life and a house and a family and friends and stuff they’re dealing with, so, in some ways, I think it’s both more challenging but in some ways also easier, if you will, to get in touch with other people’s humanity even in this weird virtual world we find ourselves in.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I really like that prompt there for the caring in terms of, “If it were the last day, what would you miss about them? What do you really value about them?” And so then, it’s just that easy, huh? You just let them know, “Hey, I really appreciate that you did this. I really love the way you do that.”

Mike Robbins
Well, you know, it is and it isn’t. I mean, here’s what’s funny about it. Look, my very first book that came out like 13 years ago, it’s called Focus on the Good Stuff, it’s all about appreciation. And I’ve been studying appreciation and gratitude for years. And what I do know about appreciation of other humans, it’s super valuable. We all want it and crave it. When one human being expresses appreciation for another human being, it raises the serotonin level in both people’s brains. If we do it collectively in a group, it actually raises our serotonin level, which lowers our stress level and increases our happiness and fulfillment. But it also increases our oxytocin if we do it in a group, which physiologically binds us to each other.

However, all of that said, most of us are terrible at receiving appreciation from other human beings. We’re just awkward. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know what to say. We either give a compliment right back, or we somehow discount what they say or blow it off. As simple as this is, and I swear this is like so basic, but I’ve literally seen this enhance the culture of teams fundamentally, is that we learn how to receive appreciation from other people more graciously. We simply say thank you and shut our mouths. Because part of why we don’t express appreciation as much as we could, and should, is because it’s not psychologically safe to do. It’s almost socially awkward to do.

But when you create an environment on your team where we can express, now we’re not doing it manipulatively, we’re not doing it inauthentically just to be nice, we’re doing it genuinely, what happens is people start to really feel valued and cared about. And when you create that sense of caring, what becomes available is the challenge.

Again, I say this all the time to people, “Think of the people who you will allow to give you feedback, meaning you’ll take it. And you may not always like it or agree with it, you may not even want it, but you’ll consider it. Why do you take their feedback? Because they’re super smart? Maybe. Because they’re an expert? Maybe. Because they’re your boss or your spouse? Okay, maybe. But it’s not their role, or their intelligence, or their resume. It’s because you know they appreciate you. They value you.”

You could give me a piece of feedback, Pete, and some other person. Let’s say you and I know each other well, “And I know Pete’s got my back. He cares about me. He wants me to do well.” Even if your feedback is pretty harsh, I’ll listen to it. Some other person who I either don’t know, I’ll think, “Well, that person thinks I’m an idiot or whatever.” I’m not going to take their feedback even if I really need it because I don’t already feel valued by them. I don’t know that they care about me.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Yeah. That totally adds up. And love them hard so we can push them hard, yeah. Even if the accuracy is perfect, like, it is deeply insightful, the odds are high that it’ll kind of blow right past you if you don’t trust the other person cares about you.

Mike Robbins
It’s true because, look, relationships and, a lot of ways, teamwork, there is a scientific aspect to it. Data is important. There are lots of different assessments we can do but it’s more of an art than a science. Because, again, a computer could spit out a bunch of feedback for me that I need and all this data and I do all these assessments, I go, “Okay, but what I really need is a human being who cares about me to not only explain it but communicate it in a way that it’s really going to make a difference.”

Think about, again, your life, think about your career, I can think about mine, the pivotal moments along the way where people said things or did things, even if, again, it might’ve been a little bit tough love, and it’s like, “Wow, I really heard that.” It usually wasn’t, again, some piece of data or information as much as it was some communication that came through that touched us. Our mind, our heart, said, “Oh, I need to make a change, or I need to take a risk, or I need to stop doing something, or start doing something, or whatever,” and it’s like we look back in hindsight and we can see those pivotal moments, the challenges in the moment, “Can we be the kind of people that both give and receive that type of feedback and support in a way that’s going to benefit the people around us?”

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

Mike Robbins
Here’s one of the paradoxes of right now: We’re all in this together, yes, and people are having very different experiences. I like the metaphor, “We’re all in the same storm right now but we’re in different boats.” And so, I think both can be true. And what great teams and great leaders and just human beings who are interested in making a difference for other people have the ability to try to connect with an understanding, have empathy for different people’s experiences.

There is something oddly binding or bonding, if you will, about this experience we’re all going through, as challenging as it is, and there’s also a lot of uniqueness and diversity and how people are experiencing it. So, that’s a long way of me saying we need to have as much compassion for ourselves and each other because I know it’s corny and everyone is saying it, but we’re in unprecedented times and nobody was really prepared for this even though now we’ve been in it for five or six months or whatever. We just continue in and kind of make our way through it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Mike Robbins
Well, I’m not just saying it because I used it as a title of one of my books, but I love Oscar Wilde’s quote “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

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

Mike Robbins
I love the positive psychology research on positives to negatives in terms of feedback, the five to one ratio, which the Gottmans did related to married couples, but I think it makes sense in leadership and teamwork and just all human relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Mike Robbins
The one that just popped into my mind was Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson that came out in the late ‘90s, and had a huge impact on my life and was one of the main things that got me on the path of doing this kind of work all those years ago.

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

Mike Robbins
A microphone for my podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Well, you sound great.

Mike Robbins
Well, I appreciate it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Mike Robbins
Meditation.

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

Mike Robbins
I would say that when we’re going through something difficult, instead of asking ourselves, “Why is this happening to me?” change the word to, to the word for, and ask yourself, “Why is this happening for me?”

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

Mike Robbins
Best place is our website which is Mike-Robbins.com.

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

Mike Robbins
Be kind to yourself. I think we’re often our own worst enemy, and the kinder we are to ourselves, not nice, not pretending like everything is fine and perfect, but kind, genuine self-kindness, self-compassion, there’s almost no way we can overdo that. And when we’re kind to ourselves, we’re just naturally kind to others.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Mike, this has been a treat. Thank you. And good luck in your adventures.

Mike Robbins
Thanks, man. You too.

587: Finding the Beauty in Conflict with CrisMarie Campbell

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

ChrisMarie Campbell says: "Do you want to be relational or do you want to be right?"

CrisMarie Campbell discusses how to get comfortable with handling disagreements.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to make conflict productive 
  2. The magic question for when you reach an impasse 
  3. A handy script for when you need to disagree with your boss 

 

About ChrisMarie

CrisMarie Campbell is a former Olympic and World Championship rower. She has also previously worked at Boeing as an engineer and helped initiate a groundbreaking cross-functional team approach for how Boeing designs and builds airplanes.

CrisMarie, together with her partner Susan Clarke, founded Thrive!–a coaching and consulting firm that specializes in helping individuals, leaders, teams and entire companies learn how to deal with differences to ignite creativity and innovation.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

CrisMarie Campbell Interview Transcript

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

CrisMarie Campbell
I’m excited to be here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your wisdom. You have had adventures in Olympic rowing, Boeing engineering, and now speaker, author, thought leader in the realm of conflict stuff. So, could you just give us a snippet, an anecdote, a tale, from your adventures in Olympic rowing?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yes. Well, first, you have to know I did not pop out of the womb being, “Woo, conflict.” Definitely, I was a professional conflict avoider. And I rowed at the University of Washington, go Huskies, and then went on to the Olympic team, and the National team really, and I had two boats that were very different. So, high-caliber athletes, both teams, but one team, I call it the tale of two boats because one team shouldn’t have performed, and we did, and the other team, we should’ve performed and we didn’t.

And what happened is, in the year before the Olympic Games, I was on the National team, and we had a group of people, I was wet behind the ears, I’d never been really on the world stage. I could’ve stroked the boat, which is the leader of the boat, the first person that everybody follows and sets a rhythm, but because I hadn’t raced at a national level, that we had this conversation and we picked a more senior person who had been at the Olympics before to row.

And so, that boat, we trusted each other, we dealt with conflict, we had each other’s backs. And when we came to the World Championships, we hadn’t beaten the Russians in like 15 years, and the Russians, they were so dominant. They were on lane one which is smooth water on the inside lane. We were all the way across the course on the outside lane, lane six, choppy water. And the start of the race happened, the Russians just took off, and we were rowing in the pack. And then halfway through the race, the cox then said, “We’re moving on the Russians.” And, you know, our boat just sparked alive and we picked up.

In the end, Romania won gold, we won silver, but we’re also happy to topple the mighty Russians. There was this big Romanian woman, and when we came to the docks, she had this big white hair, she picked me up in her arms, she picked another U.S. rower in her arms, “We beat the mighty Russians!” It was so cool. But that boat, we were able to deal with conflict and we trusted each other.

Now, the Olympic year, we had the same caliber of people. My story was I was injured and so I was off the water for three months before the games. I had to climb my way back in. I had made it into the boat, but that boat, we had factions, we had egos, and when it came, a month before, so bad, strategic decision, a month before the games, we made a last-minute decision to use an experimental boat. And I tell you, in that conversation, I didn’t speak up. I couldn’t row the boat, but I was like, “Who am I to say anything? I’m the last one in. I’m not going to speak up.”

And at the Olympic Games, we came in a disappointing sixth, and it was really heartbreaking, and that boat was never rowed again. It was scrapped because it was built on a computer. It was designed. But that team, I think we were more brittle because we didn’t have conflict, we didn’t speak up, I didn’t speak up. And so, I think that happens all the time in business where there’s egos, factions, people say, “Well, it’s not my place to speak up,” and then you don’t get good results.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that is a tale of two boats, and handy in the illustration there. So, your book is called The Beauty of Conflict. Tell us, can you make your pitch for why, in fact, conflict is beautiful?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, and I never would’ve believed it. I think conflict is beautiful because when people are willing to hang in there and hold for the tension of conflict, because conflict is when you have different opinions, passion, and you’re focused on a goal, and you bump into each other’s, well, different opinions, and we’re not comfortable with that tension, so we tend to opt out, and, “I’ll just do it myself,” or, “Wait a second. I just want to make sure you’re okay with me,” or, “I’m just going to focus on something else, not this problem,” and so we don’t hold for that tension. And that tension is potential energy. That conflict, that discomfort, that none of us like is pure potential creativity.

And what I’ve seen time and time again is when people can develop enough trust on a team or in a relationship to hold for that, what happens is new ideas emerge. That’s not your idea, Pete, or my idea, but something else percolates up because we’re holding that tension. And this happens all the time when we work with teams. We’ll do a two-day offsite when we could meet in person. We’re doing it virtually now, but that we develop trust, people get to know each other, they clear up some differences, and then we start talking about their business ideas.

If they had started right at first in the morning talking about it, they’d be grinding away. But when they’ve learned something to hold for that tension, new ideas percolate, and they have so many innovative and creative solutions that emerge. It’s really powerful. So, that’s what I think the beauty of conflict is.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then it’s intriguing. And you say that it’s uncomfortable for everybody.

CrisMarie Campbell
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I think that’s handy to understand that it’s not…is it fair to say that it’s not so much that once we just understand the theory about why conflict is beautiful, then we no longer feel those feelings? I guess that’s what I want to hear. So, I’ve done some training in Myers-Briggs workshops, and thinkers versus feelers. What’s really fun is that I’m a feeler myself.

CrisMarie Campbell
Me too, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
I will talk about conflict, and then I’ll ask, “Hey, if you get this weird sensation of discomfort, like crawling on the back of your neck, raise your hand.” And, usually, it’s mostly feelers and no thinkers who raise their hand, and it’s sort of a fun aha moment, like, “Oh, we are getting mutual understanding. Thanks, Pete. You’re great.” Anyway, that’s where I’m going for. And so, for those who are feelers, and still have this uncomfortable and unpleasant icky feeling like we still would prefer to avoid the conflict. Well, how can you encourage us and give us hope?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, you know, it is tough. And I think thinkers, because Susan is also a T and I’m an F in the Myers-Briggs, but it looks like they enjoy it. They like debate but only kind of on their terms. If they get threatened enough in their ideas, it’s uncomfortable for them, I think, as well. My story, I could be wrong. But I do think… so your question was how to actually get comfortable with it?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so yeah, maybe and maybe we never will. But if you could give us a little something so that we can feel better when we’re in the midst of it.

CrisMarie Campbell
Right. Well, there are things that I actually do to help settle and I teach people to do this, just help settle the nervous system. Because, really, if you ask anybody, “What did you learn about conflict growing up?” That’s a great team conversation because I grew up with an Army colonel dad who was pretty angry at dinner times, pretty consistently, but you never knew what was going to set him off. And my older sister liked to press his buttons, so every night at dinner I was like, “Oh, my gosh, don’t get him upset.” And so, I’d change the subject, I’d rephrase what my sister said, I’d do anything to kind of try to diffuse the energy of conflict. So, that’s how I became a professional conflict avoider, an accommodator.

And I think what I learned is that was wired into my nervous system so I’ve had to actually do things to help settle me in the midst of conflict. And one of the things that I do is I actually bring my awareness down to my feet because usually in conflict, my energy is up and out. I’m trying to manage and calm everything down, “Please.” And if I actually bring my energy in and down, I cultivate a sense of safety in my own skin. I can also notice…

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’re just thinking about your feet and how they feel? This is what you’re doing then?

CrisMarie Campbell
So, you can do this right now. Like, wiggle your toes, swipe your feet, and just imagine, you could feel your feet getting heavier, and you could even visualize like you’ve got roots coming out of the soles or cement blocks on them. And when I do that, because I’ve done that enough…

Pete Mockaitis
I’m waiting for you to insult me now, it’s like, “Okay, I’m ready. Bring it on, CrisMarie.”

CrisMarie Campbell
Often what happens is I take a deeper breath because, usually, when I don’t feel safe inside my own skin in conflict, I think, “Oh, my gosh, you’re going to get mad at me, or you’re going to attack my idea, or you’re going to leave.” So, we have these two basic things. Either somebody is going to attack me or somebody is going to abandon me at the core root of who we are as humans. And that’s the fear that comes up. So, when I can cultivate a sense of safety in my own body, it expands my ability to tolerate the tension out there if you’re upset at me. Does that make sense, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And it’s interesting, I think I buy it as I’m doing it right now. And I guess I used to, when I was getting nervous when I was an interview candidate, you know, job hunting, I would just try to plant my feet on the floor, like, “We’re grounded here.” And so, it seems like you’re really kicking this up a notch in terms of imagining cement blocks and weights and rooted firmness, and sort of take it to the next level, so I think that would be just as good or better.

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, yeah, you can do feel your feet and also your seat. So, you can feel the weight of your bum in the chair, and just relax into it. Because, again, I’m up and out trying to like protect, “He’s leaning back.”

Pete Mockaitis
Adjust the mic stand.

CrisMarie Campbell
It usually helps me settle down. And if I’m really stressed out, okay, let’s say I’m really stressed out and I need to take a break, I actually go to the bathroom and I do a sound called voo, and this is from Peter Levine. And what it does is it vibrates your vagus nerve which is the second largest nerve in your body beside your spinal column, and that goes into your rest and digest.

And anything you can do to turn on your rest and digest, which it actually, it floods your brain back with more blood so you’re thinking more clearly. When you’re in that, “What’s going to happen here?” we’re in flight or fight, or freeze, or faint, whatever it is, and our brain is not online so you’re not going to be saying the best things or your eyes get very narrow like, “There’s the enemy over there,” versus opening up your eyesight, and even turning your head sideways. That’s another thing you can do. And I would suggest doing it slowly, and then picking an object and noticing it, and then turning slowly again.

And it gets you out of that, “Oh, my God, somebody is going to attack me over there,” which is the beady-eyed narrow focus.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that and I experienced that when I’ve done some keynotes in terms of if I’m sort of doing this scan. I just somehow feel more powerful in terms of, “I’m surveying my dominion,” as opposed to, “Uh-oh, that guy thinks I suck.”

CrisMarie Campbell
I can so relate to that.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say voo, is that it?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, it would be a big inhale and a vooooo. I’d keep doing it, like a long exhale, and that’s the vibrating. And you could even…

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like a lower tone, too, as opposed to…

CrisMarie Campbell
I like to do it lower, yeah. And if you purse your lips tight enough, you’ll vibrate your lips which, by the way, even if you were in a meeting and you couldn’t do the voo, you can touch your lips, and that actually accesses your vagus nerve which, again, goes to your parasympathetic rest and digest. So, even in meetings, if you can’t get out and go voo, because who wants to do that, you can just rub your lips like you’re thinking, like, “Yeah, hmm. Tsk, I wonder.” And that’s why kissing actually makes us feel better because it’s accessing your parasympathetic nervous system. That’s one reason, yeah. It activates a lot but…

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, CrisMarie, this is the good stuff in terms of it’s simple, it’s actionable, it’s tactical, and I have heard it before, so that’s why I love to hear it. Thank you.

CrisMarie Campbell
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So, there we have some comforting approaches when you’re in the heat of the moment, so that’s really handy. Thank you. Well, then let’s discuss maybe the actual content of the conflict in terms of what makes it come about and how do we engage it well in terms of actual maybe word choice or do’s and don’ts?

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, I think, Pete, most of us sometimes we’re not aware we just bumped into conflict. Like, if you’re upset about something I’ve said, I may not be aware of it, that, “Oh, my gosh, we’re, all of a sudden, in conflict.” So, to be aware and checking what are the signs and signals that somebody is upset. A feeler is probably hyper-aware, could be, scanning, “Are you okay with me?” that sort of thing. And if you are, let’s say, somebody gets defensive when you’re saying something, and you’re kind of taken off guard, the key that I usually suggest is rather than respond or apologize, is actually just reflect back what you’re hearing them say, like, “Oh, so it sounds like you think I don’t like your idea and I’m actually trying to put you down. Is that what you’re thinking right now?”

Because, one, if I take the time to reflect back, I’m buying myself time if I’m escalated or heightened. I’m also letting this person know that I hear them and see them and that they matter. I’m not agreeing with them. I’m just reflecting back what they’ve heard. And that, I know when somebody does it to me, I often settle down, and go, “Yeah, that is what I think is happening,” if I’m brave enough to acknowledge that. And then that’s a place of starting if you do bump into defensiveness. Or even if you’re defensive, you can reflect back what somebody else is saying as a way of buying yourself time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s a handy tip right there. And is there anything else that you recommend in terms of particular, I don’t know, scripts or specific words that seem to really help out frequently?

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, reflecting back is good. And then, also, usually, the heat comes up inside of me if I think you’ve said something that I take as like disrespect. That’s how it lands over here and that’s when I get upset. So, rather than just assuming that’s what you meant to do, is actually stepping back and asking, “So, I heard you say the Olympics were dumb. I’m wondering, was it your intention to insult me and my Olympic background? I just want to check.” So, I’m pulling something.

Pete Mockaitis
Has anybody said, “Yes. Yes, CrisMarie, I’m trying to stick it to you”?

CrisMarie Campbell
But you’re usually not trying to stick it to me. You’re usually just being you, but I take offense to it. And if I can say, rather than just react, like, “Pete, stop acting that way. You’re such a jerk,” which often people do. Rather than doing that to just, “Wait a minute, is that what your intention was because that’s how it’s landing over here?” And often you can say, “Well, yeah, I was in a snarky mood. I was trying to give it to you.” And then there’s something we can talk about, “Well, I don’t like that.” Or you can say, “Well, no, I was just teasing you,” or whatever is happening for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That is helpful. And then tell us what not to do. Those are some top things you recommend we do do. And what should we not do?

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, a lot of times what happens is we take in information through our senses, what we see and hear, and then it goes through our own personal filter. And this is all our historic significant emotional events, our gender, our culture, our race, what’s ever happened to us. And we have this giant data table in our head that says, “This is good and this is bad,” and out pops our story. And the problem that most people have is we think our story is right or fact.

“And so, it’s clear you don’t respect me,” that might be something that I lead with. We’re like, “No, no, no, don’t lead with your story.” Actually, break it down and say, “Well, I heard you say this. My story is you disrespect me but I want to actually check it out and find out what is going on with you right now.” So, one, break it down, and, two, check it out. That’s another language thing.

So, you’re not saying, “Am I right or not?” You’re just saying, “What fits and what doesn’t fit?” so it creates room for dialogue in this whole interchange. So, what you don’t want to do is assume your story is right. What you do want to do is break it down, check it out, and come to the conversation with some vulnerability and realness, and also curiosity about maybe, just maybe, you aren’t right about how this person is responding to you in that moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really handy in terms of I guess this entangling honest misunderstandings and I think that really does cover a lot because most people most of the time are not trying to stick it to you. Can you share then when we think about healthy conflict versus unhealthy conflict, are there a couple sort of principles or guidelines that you recommend that just sort of all professionals follow all the time?

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, there’s no one right way to be. Like, even teams, different collections of people have different things that they think is okay. Like, you can work with a team in New York and they’re into really hardnose teasing, and then somebody, a team in L.A. and they’re all very polite and nice. Those could be any two spots. So, each collection of people has to figure out what fits for them and in relationships.

I think if I could give kind of…when you’re stuck in a spot, do you want to be relational or do you want to be right? And, quite often, we get stuck trying to be right because that’s what we’re trained to do in school is get the right answer. That’s what got us the good grades. And that is just never going to be an influential relationship tool. If I proved that I’m right to you, what does that make you?

Pete Mockaitis
Wrong.

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah. Who wants to be wrong? So I would say notice, if you’re trying to be right, or do you want to be relational? And can you actually bring some curiosity even if you think that…Like, we were dealing with a group and we work a lot with teams of people. That’s often what we come in and do. And so, my examples are related to that.

But we had a team, it was an executive team in China, and we had done kind of a one day of healthy how to get along, deal with tough conversations, and then we’re dealing with their business strategy. And they were coming up to something, and everybody was kind of agreeing except for this one woman and she had a differing agree. Well, they got so mad at her. It was almost like they were going to back her into a corner like, “No, you have to agree with us.”

And we said, “Time out. Wait a minute. Do you remember any of those tools that we taught you?” And so, one person said, “Okay, I want to see if I can do this.” At first, he went over and sat next to her, so not right across from her, but next to her, and said, “Okay,” and this is a magic question we suggest you ask in your relationships at work when you’re at really big odds and you can’t get through, is, “Tell me, why is this so important to you?” And he said, “You keep pounding on this one idea. None of us agree with you. Tell me, why is this so important to you?”

And she started to talk, and he was reflecting back, he was doing that really well. And then, all of a sudden, you saw that, like, we’re going through interpreters. But, all of a sudden, you could tell like lightbulbs started going off in his head because he had slowed down the conversation enough to get what was underneath the strategy. So, they were all fighting over strategies, but he said, “Why is this so important to you?” And she was talking about how to grow the business in a whole different way, and then the whole room lit up, and they totally took in her idea and changed their strategy to incorporate it only because he was willing to slow down enough to try to understand what was going on with her.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is powerful and I think a lot of times, we just sort of assume that the other side is aware of these strategic implications, and we’re just sort of ticked off, like, “What’s wrong with these people? Why on earth would you be advocating these things which are diametrically opposed to what we obviously need to be doing?” And then they say, “Oh, yeah, we actually kind of forgot about that thing that we said we were supposed to be doing. Oh, I do kind of see.” So, that’s excellent.

And I’m curious. Like, I know that a lot of times, we want to move quickly and we want to have something close-ish to consensus and we find that holdout irritating. Like, “You’re slowing us down and being difficult. Now, cut it out.” But I think most of the time we don’t say it like that. But what are some like maybe the words or phrases that, if we hear ourselves saying them or hear someone else say them, we should be on the lookout, like, “Ooh, watch out. It sounds like you’re quashing dissent or destroying psychological safety to get the benefit of those holdouts”?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, I think it is like, “Could you just…? Like, what is your problem?” That would probably be one of them.

Pete Mockaitis
“Is this fun for you to slow all of us down and be annoying?”

CrisMarie Campbell
Because, again, usually people are just…they are putting the world together very differently, and so, yeah, “Could you just stop being a problem? You’re always the naysayer. Why are you such a pain? We just all need to agree.” And we don’t actually believe in consensus. We believe in having each person, kind of as adults, we don’t need to get our way but we do need to feel heard and considered.

So, if you have that naysayer who contend to be a scapegoat or the black sheep, if you can slow down and see how are you putting the world together, because this happens all the time with Susan and I, we work together. And she puts the world together so differently. And I have to admit, my first impulse is, “You’re just dumb. No way.” I have my arrogance about me because it’s so clear to me. And I have been confronted with, when I actually slow down and listen to her, it’s that same aha like, “Oh, wow, I did not think about that.”

And this is so important with what we’re going through today in our divides because it’s like we all collect our different pieces of data differently and put a story around it. Most of us want health and safety and success, economic, and all these things, but we’re almost too afraid to talk about it because we’re talking about that topline, like, “You’re right,” “You’re wrong,” versus, “Wait a minute. How did you come to that conclusion?” That would be another good question, like, “Help me understand how you came to your conclusion,” and slow down and don’t interrupt how they’re putting the pieces together so you can see what’s underneath that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it when someone shares a magic question, which you did, “Why is this so important to you or what makes that so important to you?” Any other magic questions that we should all know?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, “Help me understand how you put the world together, how you put these pieces together.” That’s one. Like, “Help me connect the dots.” And then the other is, “Why is this so important to you?” Because what happens, this is a really good one in couples because we also work with couples. And often, “You want to save money, I want to spend money,” we’re focusing on that. But when we slow it down, and couples usually want to get to a solution, work teams want to get to a solution, and so a lot of this is about slowing down and having the conversation, which seems like such a timewaster in the moment but it’ll save you so much rework in the end.

And you ask, “Why is this so important to you?” You’re going to get to people talking about what their values are, and why this matters, and what they’re really trying to get at. And that’s really the influence piece. This is a neat little tool that you can use this at home, you can use it with a coworker, if you are really stuck in loggerheads. It’s usually best done one-on-one, it’s called the 5-5-5, where, let’s say, you have a topic, let’s say you and your business partner are talking about expanding, and one agrees and one doesn’t.

And so, this 5-5-5 is you take the first five minutes and person A just talks about their position on that topic. There’s no interrupting, B is just listening and letting it in and letting it soak in, and A has enough time, five minutes could feel like forever. You don’t have to fill that whole space but it’s kind of like your space, your block of time to kind of, “Hmm. Well, I think this is why it’s really important to me. And, wow, I haven’t thought about that.” And so, what happens is the person is thinking out loud a bit more and they’re connecting the dots, and B is witnessing. And you use a timer, at the end of five minutes, then you flip, and B talks and A listens. Again, uninterrupted, not with a lot of reactions or theatrics, just kind of taking it in. You don’t have to take notes. You’re just kind of letting it wash over you.

And the last five minutes is a dialogue where that’s where you can ask clarifying questions, or, “Wait a minute. Did you just say that because I disagree?” You can have more of the dialogue. But at the end of the 15 minutes, you stop talking about it. It’s not a 5-5-45, it’s a 5-5-5. And what happens is the idea is not to come to solution. It’s more this investigative process. And if you have a stuck issue and you did this like once a week, or once a day, or whatever it was the right rhythm, you will find a much better solution and you’ll at least know you’ll have so much more clarity about what’s going on with each of you and what you want to do in that situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, what I really love about that is that, in a way, so it’s time-bound, so that’s great, it’s not going to carry on forever so you feel a bit more maybe safe or comfortable going there, it’s like, “Oh, boy, this is such a mess. I don’t even want to start.” It’s like, “Well, hey, no, we’ll do it in 15 minutes.” And, in a way, the fact that it’s likely incomplete after the 15 minutes, almost creates an improved condition to have great ideas in terms of like, “Hey, I know some stuff I didn’t know before, you know some stuff you didn’t know before, and now as we live our lives, we go to sleep, we wake up, we’re in the shower, like new ideas can come to life over the interim period before the next conversation pops up.”

CrisMarie Campbell
That’s true and I love that. And what you’re describing is what we think happens in the brain. Your brain keeps working on it in the gap, and that’s the same thing when you hold for the tension and you don’t run to a solution or opt out of the conflict. Like the energy is held and things start to percolate that’s why new ideas emerge with a group or a pair of you versus just the same thing that happens in your brain happens in the system, if that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, tell me, I’m also curious, if it’s someone more senior, like your boss or your boss’ boss, how do you play that game? If you have a difference of opinion and you’re extra uncomfortable about bringing it up, what do you recommend?

CrisMarie Campbell
There was a study, it wasn’t done by us, it was where this organizational development group, they would do a survey, you know, they did their regular company surveys, and they said, “Hey, can we tack on a question just for our own research when we’re doing your survey?” And they said, “Sure.” And the question they added on is, “Who’s most influential in your company?” And if the name showed up three or five times, no big deal. But 30 times, they ask if they could shadow that person.

And what they found is, first, all the influential person weren’t the VPs. They were scattered all around in the organization. And what they found is that those people were most influential when…they were pretty average performers, not too stellar, but 5% of the time, when there was a difficult conversation, they showed up differently. And what they did is rather than let it go by or assume they couldn’t speak to a person in power is they would actually basically check out their story and say, “Hey, I heard you say this. I’m thinking this,” so they’re saying, “I’m thinking, I’m making up this story. My assumption is, my theory is, the story I’m telling myself is blank, but I want to check it out with you. Do you agree or disagree?”

And that simple model of, “I heard you say this,” or, “I saw you do this, so my story is blank, but I want to check it out with you,” is a very, “I’m speaking tentatively. I’m not attacking. I’m not assuming.” That was so powerful in shifting the dynamics of the discussion that they were influential in specific situations, powerful situations.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s beautiful because, I mean, anyone can do that and to know that that can get you on the most influential list with one little trick. It takes such courage I think to do it but it’s nice to know that there’s a framework. And it’s very hard to imagine the person on the other end saying, “How dare you?” So, it’s like, “Oh, well, no, that’s not what I meant.” Or, I guess the worst-case scenario is like, “Yeah, you’re darn right that’s what I meant. If you don’t like it, you can get out.” It’s like, “Oh, okay. Well, I guess I know now where we stand and, in a way, that’s helpful too.”

CrisMarie Campbell
Right. That’s clarity. I really appreciate that, Pete. You’re exactly right. Do you really want to be working for that type of person in that sort of situation? And it does take courage. And we say courage is vulnerability and curiosity. We call those the two magic ingredients – vulnerability and curiosity. The willingness to share, “This is how I’m putting the world together,” and most people just want to ask a question, like, “Do you really agree?” whatever it is. They don’t want to reveal themselves. But you are more influential when you do speak up, and say, “Hey, this is what I saw, or this is what I heard, and so this is the impact over here, the story I’m telling myself but I want to check it out.”

And nine times out of ten, when people don’t take those times to speak up, they start to feel smaller, like a victim, and resentful in the situation if they have to take on more work or things like that. And even if I do speak up to you, you’re in a position of power and I speak up and it doesn’t go well, or I don’t get what I want, you don’t change, you’re my boss and you still give me this same amount of workload, you’re right, at least I have that clarity, and I also have my own back. I spoke up for myself. And that’s often what I am coaching.

I typically coach women leaders who are successful. They’re smart even assertive but struggle speaking up to power in those 5% of the times to actually create the influence that they want and, I mean, because that was me. I remember my boss, I was working at Arthur Andersen for a big project and I was leading a team of six and we mapped out the strategy. And my manager came in, a senior partner, and he said, “No, you’re not going to do that, you’re going to do all this.” And he changed the whole thing. And I thought, “That’s not going to solve the client’s problem.” But I didn’t say that. I just asked a question, I said, “Do you think that’s going to solve the client’s problem?” And he barked at me, “Yes! Get back to work.” And I was catapulted back to the colonel, my dad’s dinner table, and I shut up.

We got to the end of the project, we did it his way, it didn’t solve the client’s problem. And, of course, we wanted to have more work at this client so all the partners came in, they invited the vice president in, and all the project managers were sitting around the sides of the room, you know, the peons. And they said, “So, how have we been doing?” And he goes…this is a humiliating experience. He actually pointed to me and he goes, “Well, you know that project, CrisMarie ran? That’s a disaster. Complete disaster.”

Now, my manager was sitting in the room, he didn’t say, “Oh, no, she followed my strategy.” I took the blame for it, and I was like, “Okay, I got to figure out how to speak up because this is career-limiting.” And it often is when we don’t learn how to speak up to power and especially bully-type power. We wind up feeling marginalized and less than, and we energetically shrink and take less risks, which I think is horrible.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you have to finish the story now, CrisMarie. So, then what did you do in the moment?

CrisMarie Campbell
I did not know. I did not know. I actually met Susan like in a few months, and I saw her deal with a group of people, this is why I probably thought of the bully. She was facilitating this group, and this guy was just being not very…I don’t want to say anything bad on your podcast. He just wasn’t being a nice guy. And she said, “Hold on a minute.” And she went toe-to-toe to him, and he backed down, and the rest of the group took a sigh of relief, and I thought, “I want to know what she does.”

And so, that actually was the start of our working relationship because I wanted to work with her, and that was 20 years ago. I brought her into a project, a different project than Arthur Andersen, and she just was willing to stand up to people in power in a way that was strong and worked. And I thought…and so that’s how I solved it. I changed my whole career.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is this sort of using the tools that you’ve spoken about here? It’s like…

CrisMarie Campbell
It’s using the tools and it’s also really, Pete, I had to go through my own un-programming of my nervous system based on my upbringing with the colonel, the dad, because I basically was terrified. But that wasn’t because of what was happening in the room right now. It was actually because of how I grew up. And so, when I realized, “Wow, this is just like…” how you know it’s an old pattern is it happens every time, you feel the same way. That grip on your shoulders. Mine was like, “Ugh.”

I remember I was in a situation where I recognized it. I looked down, my shoulders curled…I couldn’t breathe, and I went to the bathroom, and I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m terrified of conflict,” and I was shaking. And I came out and I said, “You guys…” this was with a group of friends and they were debating, and I said, “I can’t…I need you to stop.” And they were actually more curious but it was the start of me unraveling this pattern from before.

And once I did that, you know, you can have all the tools but unless you do kind of that discovery work, and it’s often in the body in the nervous system, that is what really creates the free…the courage, if that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
This is lovely. Thank you. Well, now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yes. “It’s not what you do, it’s what you do next,” and that’s from Susan Clarke who I work with. And she’s a great believer in, “Hey, if you say something, and somebody across from you is like looking hurt or upset, it’s not not to say it, but then to be interested.” Like, “Whoa, okay, something I just said landed over there the way I didn’t intend. Tell me what’s going on,” and to be interested. So, “It’s not what you do, it’s what you do next.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

CrisMarie Campbell
Currently I am reading Permission to Feel, and it is a book about how emotions are so important and we try to pretend they’re not there, and it’s really harmful for us. And so, how to actually deal with your own emotions as a tool to help you make better decisions and have a happier life.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite tool?

CrisMarie Campbell
It’s going to be feeling my feet and my seat because I probably do that 20 times a day. It seems simple but it’s something that brings me back inside of myself versus trying to please or achieve, and it helps me settle down and make better decisions. It’s free.

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

CrisMarie Campbell
A lot of people like “Do I want to be relational or do I want to be right?” They think about that in their primary relationships because we so often want to be right when with our spouse, and that seems to really resonate for them. Ask yourself that in the midst of a tense situation.

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

CrisMarie Campbell
You can check out our website which is ThriveInc.com and I’m also CrisMarieCampbell on LinkedIn and Facebook, there’s not too many of those that spell their name like I do.

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

CrisMarie Campbell
I would say slow down and ask the people around you, “Why is this so important to you?” to really find out how they’re putting their world together. And while you’re doing that, especially if you’re getting triggered, feel your feet and your seat so you can keep coming back to yourself and not worry about changing them or agreeing or thinking you have to do something different because that’s usually when we get ourselves upset.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. CrisMarie, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all of your conflict situations.

CrisMarie Campbell
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate that. You, too.

582: The Five Behaviors That Make You an Indispensable “Go-to” Person with Bruce Tulgan

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Bruce Tulgan discusses how to build real influence and become the go-to person in your workplace.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The mindset that makes you indispensable
  2. Why you shouldn’t stick to your speciality
  3. How to stop juggling and start finishing tasks

About Bruce

Bruce Tulgan is the best-selling author of It’s Okay to Be the Boss and the CEO of RainmakerThinking, the management research, consulting and training firm he founded in 1993. All of his work is based on 27 years of intensive workplace interviews and has been featured in thousands of news stories around the world. Bruce’s newest book, The Art of Being Indispensable at Work, is available July 21 from Harvard Business Review Press. You can follow Bruce on Twitter @BruceTulgan or visit his website at rainmakerthinking.com.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

  • Build your team’s learning library–the fast and fun way–with Rise.com/awesome

Bruce Tulgan Interview Transcript

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

Bruce Tulgan
Thank you so much for having me back on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m really excited to dig into your wisdom. And last time we spoke, which is way back in episode 302, I was impressed with just how real a sense you had for the worker and the crisis of under-management, as you called it at the time. Can you tell us, what’s the lay of the land right now in terms of the worker experience amidst remote work and pandemic, and what’s really going on here?

Bruce Tulgan
I think most people right now are feeling a tremendous sense of uncertainty. A lot of people, of course, are afraid for their health and wellbeing, or the health and wellbeing of their colleagues or their family. I think a lot of people are worried about the security of their jobs. I think in the environment where a lot of people have been furloughed or who have been let go, usually as a result of just economic necessity by employers, are leaving fewer people to do as much work, or more work in many cases, trying to reinvent the work in some cases, or trying to figure out what to do the same and what has to change. I think most people are feeling very vulnerable to a lot of forces outside their control.

And, look, even before the pandemic era, I think, like employers were trying to get more and more and more out of every person. Most people were feeling, I think, like they have to deal with more and more people, up, down, sideways, and diagonal, all over the organization chart. People are fielding requests all day long from their colleagues, not just from their boss and their teammates but from people in other teams and other departments.

So, I think people are grappling with a tremendous sense of uncertainty and over-commitment, and that’s where we find ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And you addressed many these questions even before the pandemic came about in your upcoming book The Art of Being Indispensable at Work. Can you tell us, what’s the key thesis here?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, everywhere I go people are saying, “Gosh, I want to be one of those indispensable go-to people but how can I say yes to everyone and everything?” And the result is you get over-committed, and then, all of a sudden, you’re juggling. Pretty soon, if you’re juggling, you start dropping balls. What do you do? You work harder and harder and harder. You try to juggle faster and faster and faster.

So, those, increasingly with the questions that people have been asking me in our seminars, led me to our research. One of the things I’ve been doing for years is studying what I call go-to people. Everywhere I go when I’m doing talent assessments, I ask everybody, “Hey, who are your go-to people?” For years I’ve been trying to figure out, “What is it that these people are doing? Why did they make it to these go-to list over and over and over again, consistently over time? What is it that they have in common? How is it that they don’t get over-committed and don’t suffer from siege mentality, and don’t go from saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ to saying, ‘No, no, no, get away from me, it’s not my job. You’re not my boss.’?” So, it was really an effort to study that data and draw the lessons from it that led to this new book.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, do tell, what does make a person a go-to person? And, first of all, what are the benefits of being a go-to person? I imagine job security, feeling good about yourself. But you may have a more research-based answer to that.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah. Look, if everybody always wants to go to you, this gives you an incredible source of power that other people want to work with you, other people want you to want to work with them. And so, I wanted to see, “Well, what is it about these folks?”

It didn’t take long to realize that it was a true service mindset. People who they really want to add value in every interaction with others. They really want to add value. They focus on, “Hey, here’s what I can do for you not what I want from you.” And so, it sounds very selfless but, of course, that is exactly what leads to over-commitment syndrome, right?

So, that was the conundrum, right? How do you make yourself a go-to person and serve others consistently without succumbing to over-commitment syndrome? And what I came to realize was what makes it seem like an unsolvable puzzle, is actually the key to the solution, that it was the people who realized that, first and foremost, you have to fight and defeat over-commitment syndrome. You have to resist the over-commitment syndrome because if you say “Yes, yes, yes” to everyone and everything, you end up doing nothing for anyone ultimately because you make lots of unnecessary mistakes. You get into all kinds of trouble.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, this is resonating in terms of that’s what makes an indispensable person is just that they want to add value, they genuinely care. We’ve heard this sort of theme in a number of ways, from a number of guests. They’re not so much motivated by climbing the ladder, being the top dog, looking awesome. They just really do believe in what they’re doing and want to help people and achieve those objectives. So, cool. So, there we have it. That’s the thing that makes them indispensable and, yet, they also have to then play defense against the tendency to overcommit to do everything for everyone at all times. So, how is that done?

Bruce Tulgan
Well, I started calling this the peculiar mathematics of real influence because it’s become conventional wisdom that if you don’t have authority you have to use influence. And I try to figure out, “Well, what do people really mean by that, use influence?” Often, what they really mean is stand-ins for authority. And what is authority? Authority is control over rewards and punishments. Authority is a position, power, whereby you enforce the rules using rewards and punishments. That’s what authority is.

Influence is power you have without position. But this leads a lot of people down the wrong path because, “Are you supposed to badger?” Sometimes people deputize themselves, right? They go over your head, or they go to their boss, or they try to play the quid pro quo, “You do this for me, I’ll do that for you. You don’t do this for me, then maybe I’ll withhold my support for you in the future.” Sometimes they try to flatter and ingratiate themselves. But none of these things build real influence.

The reason I call it the peculiar mathematics of real influence is it’s an asset that you have but it lives in the minds of other people. My influence with you lives in your brain and your heart, right? And so…

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I feel powerful.

Bruce Tulgan
Right. So, that’s why the mathematics are so peculiar because if you try to badger, or bribe, or threaten, or bully, or ingratiate yourself, or go over somebody’s head, you lose real influence. They stop rooting for you, they root against you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. That kind of sucks.

Bruce Tulgan
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d like to not think, if possible.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, so you might get your way in the short term but in the long term, you do not build up your influence in other people’s hearts and minds. So, the way you build up your influence in other people’s hearts and minds is by conducting yourself in a certain way. And I call it playing the long game one moment at a time. It’s doing the right thing in the short term so that, in the long run, more good things happen for everyone. That you try really hard in the short term to conduct yourself in a way that makes things go better for everyone over time.

And so, as a result of that, you build a track record of making good decisions. You build a track record. Nobody wants to hear no to their requests. So, so many people they say, “Yes, yes, yes” to please you in the short term.

But a lot of people, they’re saying, “Yes, yes, yes” because they’re trying to please you right now. I always tell over-promisers, “Mark my words, you will be known for whether you deliver on that promise ultimately, so you might make me happy in the moment, but if you over-promise and don’t deliver, that’s what I’m going to remember.”

Whereas, in fact, you don’t have to say yes to everything. What you have to do is take people’s needs seriously, you have to engage with the ask, engage with the request, give it respect and due diligence. And what you want to be doing is trying to do the right thing for the right reasons every step of the way. And this is what builds up your real influence. When you become known as somebody who’s adding value in every interaction sometimes by saying no. You’re adding value in every interaction.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, this just reminds me of my marriage in terms of often what is needed is empathy and listening as much or more so than swooping into action and fixing things, and it also takes less time but more maybe mental effort in terms of remembering, “Ah, yes, this is what I need.” And so, I liked when you said that in terms of respecting the request, you’re sort of you’re taking it seriously, you’re honoring it. And I can kind of just imagine, I’m thinking about my buddy Pat right now. He seems to exemplify a lot of the things that you said here, in terms of you’re really listening, you’re interested, you’re curious, you’re kind of saying, “Oh, so what’s the implications of this? What’s at stake? What makes this hard? What have you tried so far?” I guess having that kind of conversation and then offering, hopefully, something that’s somewhat helpful along the way even if it’s not you, goes a long way.

Bruce Tulgan
That’s exactly right. So, what sets apart the go-to person who’s indispensable? It’s the person who’s most likely to help you get your needs met on time, on spec, in ways that build up the working relationship rather than damage it over time, right? So, the people who are most consistently likely to help you get your needs met, that’s why you keep going back to that person.

You go to somebody who says, “Yes, yes, yes” and doesn’t deliver, you stop going back to that person. You go to somebody who only has no in their repertoire, you stop going back to that person. You go to somebody though who is all about trying to add value. So, let’s say you come to me and say, “Hey, look, I’ll offer that you do this for me and I’ll do that for you.” If I’m a go-to person who’s really trying to build real influence, I’m going to say, “Look, if it’s the right business decision, if it’s aligned with the chain of command and the mission, if I can understand the ask and I’m the right person to do it for you, if I can do it, if I’m allowed to do it, if I should do it, if I’m good at it, if it’s one of my specialties, or it’s something I can get good at, if it’s something I can get done for you, I’m going to do that because it’s my job, not because you’re going to offer me a quid pro quo.”

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Bruce Tulgan
Be the person other people don’t want to disappoint not because of where you are on the org chart but because of how you conduct yourself, how you treat people, and the role you play in the workplace.

So, that’s the peculiar mathematics of real influence. Sometimes you got to take the bullet by saying, “No, I’m not going to do that for you” and making somebody unhappy in the short term, or, “Yes, I can do that but in a month, not right now.” But, over time, you build the reputation. So, that’s why I call it the peculiar mathematics of real influence because the more you really serve others, the more power you have in that they want you to succeed, they want to do things for you, they want to do things with you, they want to make good use of your time.

So, there’s five steps that we identified that sort of come out of that way of thinking. And the first step is, if you don’t have authority, align with authority. So, there’s still somebody in charge, so it’s, “Oh, hey, work it out at your level.” Well, wait a minute, step one, make sure you understand what’s required, what’s allowed, what’s not required, what’s not allowed. So, first, you’ve got to go vertical before you can go sideways or diagonal.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when you say align with authority, in practice that just means something like, “Hey, boss, we’ve got this request coming. It seems helpful.”

Bruce Tulgan
In a way, it does. Because, look, you’ve got three choices if you’re trying to work things out at your own level, right? One, you sort of say, “All right. Hey, let’s proceed until apprehended. Let’s just do this and let’s hope this is the sort of flipside of better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” But, often, if you proceed until apprehended, you have a lot of work to undo because, it turns out, “No, that’s not what we wanted you to do.”

Another possibility is that you escalate every disagreement, right? And then the other possibility is that somehow you try to use some kind of stand-in for authority, like a quid pro quo or some other form. But what makes the most sense is to go over your own head first. And so, yes, it’s, “Okay, boss.” But here’s the thing, sometimes people will say to me, “Well, does that mean that I have to go to my boss before I work out anything at my own level?” And the answer is only if you’re not already aligned with your boss.

So, you want to be that person who already knows what your boss would say. You’re so aligned that you almost could speak for your boss. And if you have people who report to you, should they have to come to you before they work things out at their own level? Only if they’re not exactly sure what you would say. So, that vertical alignment becomes an anchor. But I put it there first not that every single time you are going to work things at your own level you should go over your own head but, remember, you’re not going to be in a position to work things out at your own level unless, first, you have really good vertical alignment.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s excellent. We’ve heard from Mary Abbajay about managing your manager and how that’s so critical to have those conversations up front in advance, what’s important to you, what are the top goals, what are the least priorities, etc. So, are there any other particular key questions or things to cover with boss that go a really long way in terms of getting that vertical alignment?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, here’s what you want to be doing. Number one, you want to be making sure you know mission, priorities right now, ground rules, action steps, so that’s where you want to be getting alignment. And then, today, tomorrow, this week, what are our execution priorities? And, also, you want to be feeding information up and down the chain of command about anything that’s changing in the boardroom, or anything, “Hey, here’s some frontline intelligence,” that can help your boss stay in the loop on the other end of the spectrum.

So, you want to be having regular structured conversations with your boss. If anybody reports to you, you want to be having regular structured conversations with the people who report to you. That’s the vertical anchor, right? Then you’ve got guardrails, and then you got to create structure and alignment sideways and diagonal. And here’s the thing, so much sideways and diagonal communication comes in meetings but a lot of it comes in relatively unstructured informal communication.

Much of what we have to say to each other all day at work is asking. Much of our ongoing dialogues are making requests of each other. And so, sometimes this happens in the middle of a Zoom team meeting with cross-talks, sometimes it’s a text or a call. When we used to work together in offices and other workplaces, it might be stopping by one’s cubicle, or a hallway conversation.

And so, one of the things that we identified that these go-to people do is once they have vertical alignment, and they’ve got their guardrails, they know what’s not up to them, that leaves a lot which is basically everything else. So, then step two is know when to say no and how to say yes. And that’s really not creating a bunch of cumbersome bureaucracy but it means putting some due diligence into how you take an ask or a request and make sure you really understand it. Tune in to other people’s needs, tune in to the ask, and then make sure you really understand it.

If somebody starts to make a request, stop them and visibly take notes. Ask good questions. Make sure you really understand what they’re asking. That’s a great way to respect somebody else’s needs and tune in to their ask. And then, know when to say no, “Can I do this? Am I allowed to do this?” And then, “Should I do this?” which is that’s the tough one, right? “What’s the ROI on this?” And sometimes the answer is, “Not yet,” or sometimes the answer is, “I’m not sure. Go back and fine-tune this ask so I can give it even more due diligence.” Sometimes it’s, “Yes, I could do that in two weeks,” or sometimes it’s, “Oh, you know who could do that for you is this other go-to person I know.”

So, steps one and two are align vertically so that, step two, you can give every ask the due diligence it deserves. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that to be a go-to person you’ve got to say, “Yes, yes, yes, yes.” No, every good no frees you up for a better yes. Now, yes is where all the action is. Yes is where you have an opportunity to add value. But don’t waste your yeses.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, the image that comes to mind for me here is like just a venture capitalist in terms of there are many, many deal opportunities that come across their desk, but the right answer tends to be say no to the vast majority of them to say yes to the ones that are just right. And even then, still, most of the yeses are not fruitful in terms of creating value but, boy, a few of them are plenty fruitful so it works out.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah. And, look, it is an investment decision. It’s how you’re going to invest your time and energy. You can’t do everything so it’s a matter of if you’re going to beat over-commitment, you have to get the right things done. You can’t do everything for everybody so you have to do the right things.

So, step three in the process is work smart. And what that means…

Pete Mockaitis
Before you we go from there, working smart, I’d love to hear, do you have any pro tips on how you recommend articulating a no when necessary?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, look, a lot of people say, “The secret is knowing how to say no.” I have racked my brain and I have looked at data from hundreds of thousands of interviews, I cannot find a proper sugarcoating for no that makes it taste good.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Bruce Tulgan
So, I think, yeah, you got to learn how to say no is kind of a red herring. The trick is knowing when to say no. And when to say no is when yes will turn out to be a disappointment, when yes is going to turn out to be the wrong answer. That’s why it’s playing the longer game because your no’s are as valuable as your track record of making the right decision on no. No is a huge favor. No, at the right time, is a huge favor because the ask was half-baked. So, we might say yes and go off in the wrong direction, “No, no, no, let’s fine-tune that ask a little more before we say yes.” Or it might turn out that this was not a priority and it’s going to take up a huge amount of opportunity costs.

No and yes are all about opportunity costs. You want a yes to lead to a productive collaboration where you’re going to make an execution plan and execute on tangible results that end up adding real value. So, every bad yes is a squandered opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s well-said. And I agree that there is no way that you can say no, that I found, that makes everyone say, “You know, thank you so much, Bruce. That’s amazing.” So, maybe if you can’t make it taste good, how do you make it taste the least bad? So, if you had to tell me no right now, Bruce, “Hey, Bruce, could you give a thousand copies of your book for free to our audience? I think that’d just make a huge difference for them and they’ll really appreciate it.”

Bruce Tulgan
Well, see, I’m going to consider that one, but let me take it as one that I would have to say no at the outset. So, what I would say there is, “Oh, hey, I need to know more about that ask. I need to know who are those audience members. How do you anticipate we get it to them? What’s the upside?” You have to ask a bunch of good questions. So, the first part of helping somebody swallow a no is asking lots of questions to understand their ask, not to humor them but to really investigate the opportunity.

Then the next part is you say, “Oh, hey, I can’t do that for the following reasons, right? Gee, I could feed my family tomorrow or I could give you some books. I’d love to give you some books but I got to feed my family.” That’s, “I can’t. I don’t have the resources so I’m not allowed to.” It could be if you’re one of my government clients, I am not allowed to do that because that’s a violation of law.

But let’s say we get past the, “I can do that for you, I’m allowed to do that for you, I’m just not going to because I’ve balanced I evaluate this is not my top priority.” So, I might say, “Hey, I shouldn’t do this because it’s actually a bad idea.” And then I might try to talk you out of it which could end up being a big favor to you, “I don’t think you should pursue this idea.”

It could be I say, “Hey, I might be able to do this in a few weeks or a few months, so if you’d be willing to stay in dialogue with me, I’d be willing to revisit this down the line. Now I’m not stringing you along. If I know the answers, know I’m going to tell you no.” But maybe the answer is, “Gee, if you’re bound and determined to do this, get books and give them to a thousand of your listeners, I’d hate to miss that opportunity, so let me see if there’s some way I can make this happen.”

Another might be, “I’ve developed another go-to person and I could do a huge favor for that person because that person happens to have an extra thousand books, and I bet that person would be thrilled to have this opportunity to give those books. So, I’m going to put the two of you in touch. I’m going to do you a favor by introducing you to that person, I’m going to do that person a favor by introducing that person to you, and you’re going to proceed.”

Worst-case scenario I say, “Hey, let me explain what I do. I sell books not give away books. So, if down the road you want to buy some books, I’m your man. Or what I normally do is seminars, so if you need someone to do a seminar, hey, I’d still love to work with you.” In other words, what you want to do is be authentic. And so, when you’re saying no, you’re explaining why, you’re trying to help the person come up with a solution to their need maybe. At the very least, you’re saying, “Hey, I want to understand what you do. Let me explain what I do. Maybe somewhere looking around the corner, there’s a way that we could be valuable to each other.”

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to hear, what are some of the best clarifying questions to really respect the request and do a great job with this? One of my favorites, as we’re talking through this, is something along the lines of, “What are you hoping to achieve by getting a thousand books out there for free to listeners?” Because that’s sort of like sparks all kinds of potential ideas and opportunities. Do you have any other kind of go-to questions, huh, go-to questions for go-to people, that help you do a great job of clarifying?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah. So, I think it’s useful to come up with the objective because then you might find out that the person hasn’t crystallized the ask very much at all if you can help them meet their objective with a much better ask, right? But I think basically what you’re trying to do an intake memo which is really building a proposal from the inside out. So, what you want to know is exactly what’s the deliverable. So, in a way, that rhymes with the objective, “What’s the deliverables exactly that you want?”

And then, “What’s going to be required of me? What part of this can you do? How can you help me help you? How can you help me help you help me help you?” You can keep going on that track. But, “What’s the timeframe? Let’s estimate the resources that would be needed, the obstacles. Whose authority do we need? Where are we going to get the resources? What’s the time horizon? What are the steps along the way? What would be the sequence of steps and ownership of each step?” You want to build a short proposal inside out, even if it’s on the back of an envelope or on a napkin.

Pete Mockaitis
You know what’s so funny about this, as I imagine how this plays out, even if you ended in no, they’d be like, “Oh, this is kind of a buzzkill because we’re really excited about the progress we’re making, but at the same times, as a result of having spoken with you, I am enriched and en-valued, if that’s word, and better off because now I have some more insight and clarity on what I’m up to and what I should go do, so even though you told me no, I am better off for having asked you.”

Bruce Tulgan
I think so. And even if you already had it crystallized, doesn’t it tell you how I do business? Doesn’t it tell you that I’m serious about trying to help? I’m serious about understanding what you want, and I’m serious about trying to do what I can in the conversation, and maybe following the conversation to operate in such a way that it adds value for you. And so, a big part of this is slowing down so that you make good use of other people’s time, show other people that you’re serious about adding value.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. All right. Well, please, continue. Step three, work smart.

Bruce Tulgan
So, step three is work smart, and sometimes people are like, “Oh, yeah, work smart. Got it. Never heard that one before,” right? But the reality is a lot of people think that to be a go-to person you just gotta keep working and working. What is the go-to person? They’re just the one who can outwork everyone. And, in fact, if that’s your only strategy, you’re going to burn out.

So, then some people will say, “Oh, well, work smart. Well, what does that mean?” Well, on one level it means do the things you’re already really good at, do the things you can do very well, very fast, with a good attitude, you know you can deliver on that. The problem is that most people don’t have the opportunity to only work in their area of passion and strength, right? So, “Oh, not good at that. Sorry. I’d like to but I’m committed to working smart so I won’t be able to help you with that.”

And so, what I tell people is there’s a lot of tasks, responsibilities, and projects you’re going to have to do that might not be something you’re already good at, or that’s in your area of passion and strength. But if that’s true, slow down and get really good at it. Don’t just wing it. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Don’t keep trying to, “Oh, you know, I’m so busy that I don’t have time to stop and get good at it.”

If you’re so busy that you don’t have time to stop and get good at it, you are in a pickle, right? So, you gotta stop and get good at it. Learn best practices, “Oh, this is how I do it.” Is it? Well, is that the best way? Maybe you need to learn, “No, no, I’ll figure it out on my own. I don’t want people to see me learning. They might think I’m not competent.” Well, they’re going to think you’re not competent if you pretend to know how to do it and then make it up as you go along and reinvent the wheel, then you’re going to seem not competent.

One of the ironies is that people who are really good at stuff know that people who learn in plain sight are probably the ones who are going to get good at stuff too. You’re not showing yourself to be less competent by learning in plain sight. Again, you’re showing the kind of person you are. Like, so, look, if you ask to do something, I go, “Oh, that’s my specialty. I can already do that very well, very fast, with a great attitude and deliver for you.” Okay. But if it’s not my specialty, and I say, “Gee, I keep getting asked to do this, let me tell you, that’s not my specialty, but it’s going to be one of my specialties soon. I’m going to learn best practices, I’m going to study, I’m going to master them, I’m going to develop repeatable solutions to the most common problems and issues and needs, I’m going to create job aids to guide me.”

That’s how you professionalize what you do. Find the best practices, create repeatable solutions, get good tools. So, anything you find yourself having to do regularly, professionalize, and then you make it one of your specialties because once something is one of your specialties, then think of any minute or hour you spend on one of your specialties, you’re going to add more value with less likelihood of failure than something that’s not one of your specialties.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Bruce Tulgan
So, there is a kernel of genius in working in your area of passion and strength, there’s a kernel of genius in, “Hey, that’s not my job,” because, really, what somebody is saying is, “Gee, every minute I spend doing that, I’m not going to be adding optimal value.” But everything you professionalize and make one of your specialties is another thing you can do very well, very fast. So, specialize for sure, but when something comes up that’s not your job, you got to kind of put it through the following routine.

First, is it something that really shouldn’t be your job? Like, “This is a wild goose chase,” or something like that, right? Like, “Well, wait just a minute. I’m not even sure if anyone should be doing this.” Or is it something that’s not your job, like the paperwork part of almost anything. Well, I always say to people, “Actually, that is your job so you should professionalize the paperwork part to it.” Or is it like, “Well, it’s not my job to take out the trash.” Well, that’s what I call “Somebody has got to do it, so don’t be a jerk about it.” And, okay, maybe you don’t have to be the goffer, but maybe you’re like, “Okay, I’m the guy. Sure, I’ll be the one to take out the trash,” and you do it really well.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I remember when I was the junior person on the team in consulting, we needed lunch, someone had to get lunch, and the delivery apps were not proliferating at the time the way they are now, and so I did it but I did professionalize it and it was appreciated because I kept disappointing people, they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t want beans in my burrito.” It’s like, “By golly, I’m just worked a full-blown burrito spreadsheet, and you’re just going to circle what kind of rice, what kind of beans, what kind of meat, and then we’re going to pass that little printout around, and then I’m going to Chipotle, and then no one’s disappointed anymore.” And they loved it, like, “Ha, ha, ha. Great.”

Bruce Tulgan
Exactly. And it’s like, “Oh, I’m the lunch guy.” Well, wait, no. What you’re showing people is, “I’m willing to be the guy to get lunch and there’s nothing I do regularly that I just wing it and make it up as I go along. That’s just how I do business, is I professionalize the things I do.” And the funny thing is, also hidden is these other things that are sort of close to your job that, “Hey, maybe that could be another specialty.” Or, okay, it’s far away from your job, but, “Hey, maybe that could be one of my specialties.”

The funny thing is there’s a tension between spending most of your time on your specialties and then paying attention to the things that are not your job because those are your opportunities to actually expand your repertoire.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well-said. And I tell you what, I really appreciate when I talk to someone and they say, “You know, I don’t know how to do that yet but I am excited to learn or to come up again and again. I just need to nail this down.” And so, I appreciate that. And I guess sometimes the answer is, “You know what, actually, we need it perfect and we need it fast, so maybe you’re not the right choice right now but you could be some weeks, some months down the road.” And other times it’s like, “You know what, that’s the best yes I’ve gotten out of everybody I’ve asked. I’ll take it.”

Bruce Tulgan
I’ll take it. Right, exactly. And, by the way, so you’re putting people on notice that, “Let me be clear, I am a professional but this is not one of my specialties, but I’ll take a crack at it. But be on notice that this is my first go around, or whatever it is,” and it’s one of the reasons why job aids, repeatable solutions, and best practices captured in checklist and stuff like that, checklist is a good example, because, “If I haven’t done it in a while, maybe I’m rusty. The job aid is going to help. If I do it all the time, the job aid might keep me from going on autopilot. If I can’t do it, and I need someone else to do it, and they’re like, ‘That’s not my specialty,’ I say, ‘Oh, here’s a job aid,’ that’s going to help you learn a lot faster.”

It also will help me educate my customer and state, “Let me just show you so you can understand.” Job aids come in really handy when it comes to trying to get someone new up to speed faster on something that isn’t their specialty.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, you’ve reference job aids numerous times, and I contextually can glean that this is a document that contains useful information about how to do a job. Can you expand on what are the components or key elements of a great job aid document?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, a job aid is anything that helps you follow best practices, apply repeatable solutions, or draw from repeatable solutions, to extrapolate for a problem of first impression, or a past work product that gives you a jumpstart on making a new work product.

Pete Mockaitis
So, this could be a checklist, it could be a process map, it could be an instructional video, it could be some example deliverables, just sort of anything that, hey, it’s going to do the job.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, a checklist is a classic example, a plan is a classic example. Sometimes surgeons use a job aid which is that somebody uses a magic marker to put an X on the right spot so that they don’t cut on the wrong side. That acts as a job aid and it comes in handy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. All right. So, that’s working smart. What’s the fourth?

Bruce Tulgan
Step four is finish what you start. And people will say, “Oh, I’m always so busy I’m always juggling. I’m double and triple-booked for meetings,” as if that’s a badge of honor. And I tell people, “If you’re double or triple-booked, that means you can’t decide what meeting to go to. And if you think you’re multitasking, there’s no such thing. And juggling is what you’re actually doing because multitasking is a fiction. What you’re actually doing is task-shifting.” And some people do it really fast, that’s why I call it juggling. But if you’re always juggling, you’re bound to drop the ball.

So, one of the things we wanted to look at is the people who were able to have a really busy schedule and an ever-growing to-do list but they still get stuff done. And what we identified was that the people who get the most done are the people who break work into smaller chunks and break their execution time into bigger chunks. So, it’s bigger chunks of time, smaller chunks of work.

And so, the drill is simple. Look at your schedule every day but find the gaps in your schedule, your “Do not disturb” zones for focused execution. And then look at your work and your to-do list, and plug in doable items, doable tasks, doable chunks of work in those scheduled gaps. So, what you’re looking at, so you know there’s 168 hours in a week and nobody is making any more of them. But, in fact, if you create scheduled gaps in which you execute on concrete results, and start with the highest-leveraged concrete results, then you are actually manufacturing time for yourself because what you’re doing is you’re obviating unnecessary problems, you’re obviating problems hiding and getting out of control, you’re obviating squandered resources, you’re obviating work either getting done wrong or not getting done, you’re obviating holding other people up.

So, high-leveraged time is setting someone else up for success. High-leveraged time is avoiding an unnecessary problem. High-leveraged time is planning for optimal use of resources. High-leveraged time is if there’s a set of steps that need to be done in sequence, and one of them takes time up front, so I call it preheating the oven, is a great example, or putting the bread in the oven before you make the salad. It’s sequencing. Those are all high-leveraged execution times, and that’s how you start to create more and more scheduled gaps for yourself in which you can get more and more concrete results done.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like the notion of the oven, or it’s sort of like getting something in motion so that it’s moving while I’m doing other things.

Bruce Tulgan
Exactly. So, it’s giving somebody instructions, it’s cleaning the machine, sharpening the saw, what Covey would say, sharpening the saw. It’s high-leveraged time. But you got to execute, execute, execute. So, people who don’t make time for focused execution, they’re the ones who are always busy but never finishing things.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And the fifth step?

Bruce Tulgan
Is keep getting better and better at working together. And there’s so much finger pointing, and so much politicking in the workplace, and that’s because everyone knows relationships are where it’s at. The problem is, yes, the relationships are key, but if the work goes wrong, the relationships go sour. And if the work keeps getting better and better, the relationships get better and better. So, I always tell people, you know, take time to review and look around the corner together.

Every time you get a task, responsibility, or project done with somebody, stop. Don’t go into a conference room and blame. Don’t whisper behind people’s back and finger-point. What you do is go to your collaboration partner, and say, “Hey, here’s what went well. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And let’s look at how we can work better together going forward, and let’s look around the corner and plan the next collaboration.” So, it’s basically taking a continuous improvement approach to relationship management.

So, when people say, “It’s all about the relationships and networking,” that doesn’t mean making best friends and politicking or undermining the people you don’t like. It means taking continuous improvement to working relationships and things will go better and better and better. And if you do that, if you align up and down the chain of command, and then put structure and substance into your sideways conversations, if you make good decisions about yes and no by really tuning in to the ask, if you professionalize what you do, work smart, finish what you start, and you keep fine-tuning how you work with people, then people notice how you conduct yourself.

The ones that people keep going back to over and over and over again, the ones everyone wants to work with, the one everyone will want you to want to work with them, that’s what they do, that’s what go-to people have in common. And when you do that, sometimes people will say to me, “Well, the problem is I’m the only go-to person here.” Well, are you sure? They say, “Well, if I work in a greater organization, well, that would make it easier to be a go-to person.” Well, sure, if you work for a greater organization it makes it easier. But it turns out, if you conduct yourself this way, you become a magnet for other go-to people. It becomes much easier to find go-to people. And if you can’t find them, build them up. They will remember.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Bruce Tulgan
Stephen Covey says, “Remember, you can’t take a screwdriver to somebody else’s head and tighten the screw or loosen the bolt, but you can control how you respond to other people.” And Covey called that being response-able. So, that’s one of my favorites.

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

Bruce Tulgan
Well, how about Pavlov? Thanks, Pavlov, I’ll do that again. I always tell people, if you reward people in close proximity to the performance in question, then they’ll say, “Thanks, Pavlov. I’ll do that again.”

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

Bruce Tulgan
Well, right now, I guess my only tool is this studio we’ve just created. It is now my portal to the world because if you’re in the business of selling hot air to auditoriums full of people, this is not the best time. And so, we’ve created a production studio so that we can deliver our research services and our training and consulting services right from this portal to the world.

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

Bruce Tulgan
The best place to go is RainMakerThinking.com or I’m told you can link in with me at LinkedIn or @BruceTulgan on Twitter.

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

Bruce Tulgan
Every single interaction you have with people, stop focusing on what you need or you want from them, and focus on what you can do to add value. Focus on what you can do for other people, and you will build up the most valuable asset you possibly can have, which is real influence. You will build that up. And just remember that the bank is the minds and hearts of other people. So, stop focusing on what you need from other people and start focusing on what you can do for them, and you will become very rich in real influence.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Bruce, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all of your adventures and all the ways you’re indispensable.

Bruce Tulgan
Thank you. Well, you’re great at this. You make it so easy and you make it so much fun. And thanks for bringing out the best in me here.