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704: How to Achieve Lasting Success by Thinking Long-Term with Dorie Clark

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Dorie Clark says: "The things you said yes to earlier in your career, if you're going to be successful, you need to stop."

Dorie Clark reveals the critical skills that help us think long-term and set ourselves up for future success.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three barriers to long-term strategic thinking
  2. The top two skills that make you indispensable
  3. What to do when you’re stuck in a rut

 

About Dorie

Dorie Clark helps individuals and companies get their best ideas heard in a crowded, noisy world. She has been named one of the Top 50 business thinkers in the world by Thinkers50, and was honored as the #1 Communication Coach in the world at the Marshall Goldsmith Coaching Awards. She is a keynote speaker and teaches for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Columbia Business School. She is the author of Entrepreneurial You, which was named one of Forbes’ Top 5 Business Books of the Year, as well as Reinventing You and Stand Out, which was named the #1 Leadership Book of the Year by Inc. magazine.

A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, Clark has been described by the New York Times as an “expert at self-reinvention and helping others make changes in their lives.” She is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, and consults and speaks for clients such as Google, Yale University, and the World Bank. She is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, a producer of a multiple Grammy-winning jazz album, and a Broadway investor.

 

Resources Mentioned

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Dorie Clark Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Dorie, welcome back to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Dorie Clark
Hey, Pete, it’s so good to be back with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom once again. And one exciting thing that you’ve mentioned I think the world needs to hear is that you have written a musical.

Dorie Clark
Yes, I have.

Pete Mockaitis
What is the story here?

Dorie Clark
Well, this is a process that started about five years ago. I actually write about this in my new book The Long Game. I’m a big fan of long-term goals, ten-year plans. And so, in 2016, I decided that my ten-year goal was going to be that I would write a show that would make it onto Broadway. And so, I have been assiduously pursuing this. I was literally starting from zero because I had no training or experience in writing Broadway or musical theater-type shows.

And so, since then, as I was mentioning earlier, I was…well, first, I applied and was rejected, and then I applied and was finally accepted into a training program, a kind of a prestigious training program that BMI, the music publishing company, runs. And so, I’ve been through that, I’m part of their advanced workshop now, have learned to write musical theater, and, in fact, have written one, which I am now shopping around to produce into regional theaters.

So, it’s just working the network and getting it out there. But I have written a sexy, lesbian, spy musical called Absolute Zero. So, you heard it here first. God willing, 2026 Broadway season.

Pete Mockaitis
I just have so many follow-up questions in terms of how that’s going to unfold but I’ll just wait to see it in theaters.

Dorie Clark
You’re going to love it. It’s going to create a whole new genre.

Pete Mockaitis
I appreciate in and of itself when things cannot be easily defined. Original genres, appreciated. All right. Cool. Well, now something that you have a bit more experience writing is nonfiction books that help people be awesome at their jobs, and it sounds like you got another hit on your hands with The Long Game. Tell us, what’s the big idea here?

Dorie Clark
Thank you, my man. Yes, this is my fourth so I have been flexing my muscles for a while with business and career books. So, the new book is called The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World, and, basically, it’s about how to apply the principles of strategic thinking to your life and your career so that you can get better results.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, that sounds super helpful. And tell us, long-term thinking, is that something that professionals have a shortage of these days? Or, how would you assess the health of the long-term thinking game these days?

Dorie Clark
The broad state of affairs is not great, partly, of course, that’s human nature. Everybody likes a little bit of instant gratification if you get down to it, but, also, things have become harder for a couple of reasons. One is just in our society, in general, even pre-COVID, I think most of us recognize that there are a lot of forces conspiring to encourage short-term thinking.

We have at the corporate level, you have the push for quarterly earnings and how that trickles down to everybody about trying to get results sometimes with really negative consequences and corners being cut in the Volkswagen or the Wells Fargo type of situation. And in our personal lives, we’re 10, 20 years into our social media era, and a factor that has always impacted people, which is looking around and comparing yourself to other people, we always had that but now we’re comparing ourselves literally to the whole world. And that can be a little demoralizing sometimes, so there’s a push towards short-term thinking.

And then you take that and you put COVID on top of it where all of our plans got blown up suddenly. All we can do is react and be short-term because we don’t know what’s coming down the pike. So, it’s a lot of pressure in that direction. And so, it is my hope that this book, in some ways, can actually help us overcome that and put a stake in the ground because when we have been in reactive mode for so long, of course, it’s a good skill. You want to be agile, you want to pivot, you know how to, you want to know how to be able to respond to change, but, also, that can’t be the only thing you do.

We need to start making plans again. We need to be reclaiming our lives and coming up with the visions of where we want to go so that we are driving the train, not just responding to external stimuli. And, for me, that’s what playing the long game really is about.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, playing the long game seems like the prudent, wise thing to do when I’m thinking about reading some Aesop’s Fables type things to my children. And so, we’ve got those stories about the ant and the   grasshopper and storing things for the winter, and the tortoise and the hare, and kind of sticking with it over the long haul.

So, I think that I’m guessing the milieu is that, “Oh, yeah. Hey, long-term thinking is probably a good and virtuous thing I should be doing.” But could you lay it on us in terms of some of the benefits for people’s careers, like, “No, seriously, if you do this, you can expect these fabulous results to come to you, and if you don’t, here’s what you’re risking”?

Dorie Clark
Absolutely. Well, let me give you one example. I could ask sometimes, like, “Who is an example of someone who’s a good long-term thinker?” And one person who, honestly, stands out, of course, he has his own challenges in terms of his, essentially, world domination. But leaving that aside, Jeff Bezos is actually a really remarkable example of a long-term thinker.

And I think back in 2011, he did an interview with Wired magazine that I think was very telling. They asked him, “Okay, what is the secret to your success? What is the secret to Amazon’s success?” And, of course, this was 10 years ago, this was before Amazon became…it was successful but it was before it became the behemoth that it is today. And what he said was, “What makes Amazon special is that our competitors are only willing to plan on a three-year horizon. We are willing to plan on a seven-year horizon, and invest in a seven-year horizon. Because of that, we are able to take on bigger, more monumental, more potentially game-changing projects than they are. And that is the difference.”

And so, we go a decade out, and we see, oh, my goodness, Amazon Web Services. We see Amazon Prime. These were bets that they laid years ago, and they took time to pay off but now it’s created a massive competitive moat between Amazon and other players. And it’s the same thing for our own lives and our own careers. If you are willing to invest now and you keep at it assiduously while everybody else is just saying, “Ahh, that doesn’t make any sense. Oh, what a waste of time,” by the time they actually figure out the value of what you’ve done, they really can’t even catch up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I like that a lot and I think, and, Dorie, I don’t know, I read so much of the stuff you’ve written, and this might be from you, that with that Amazon example, I think Bezos is also said to have commented that he really tries to focus on things that he does not expect to change in terms of, he said, “Well, ten years from now, will people want to pay less? Yes, I think that will not change. People still like low prices. And, like, ten years from now, will people still want things faster or will that change in terms of, ‘You know what, I’d rather have it in five days’? Like, no.”

And so, with that sort of confidence, they said, “All right. Well, we’re pretty sure that people will want the prices low and will want it fast ten years from now, thusly, we can invest big on doing what it takes to make that happen.” So, yeah, that’s really resonant. So, maybe can you bring it into like careers then? If we’re playing the long game with our careers, what are some things that we can bank on as employers and the marketplace will really want from us years from now?

Dorie Clark
Absolutely. So, one of the sections that I have in The Long Game is actually talking about, again, to take a corporate example, but bring it down to the granular of how we apply it in our own lives, most of your listeners are probably familiar with Google and their famous 20%-time policy. And this is the idea that Google pioneered and, well, to be fair, 3M, the Post-It company actually came up with it originally as 15% time. Google adopted it, they even expanded it, made it 20% time, but it really came to public prominence with Google.

And their concept is that employees should be able to spend up to a fifth of their time working on, essentially, speculative projects outside the scope of their regular job, but it should be things that they find interesting, obviously, but things that they believe would help the company. And that is how some of Google’s biggest innovations, like Google News and Gmail, got created.

Now, the caveat, the asterisk on all of this, interestingly enough, even most Google employees don’t do this. About 10% of Google employees actually do 20% time, which is this very low statistic. You might say, “Oh, well, that’s ridiculous. Why should we even take seriously this thing if the company that’s preaching it doesn’t do it?” But actually, I think it’s an important point for us to plumb. We know that it is not easy to carve out 20% time. You have to really be forceful in creating a fence around it. It is always easier to just lean into doing your existing job, “Oh, I’ve got meetings. Oh, I’ve got emails to answer.” And so, you allocate that time accordingly. I get it.

But if you are fencing off time for, essentially, your own professional development, for learning things, trying things, where you are developing new skills and exploring new areas, this becomes your insurance policy for the future. COVID showed us that we have no freaking idea what is going to happen. We just don’t know.

And so, we can make educated guesses and we can plan for the future, but, really, the best thing that all of us can be doing is turning ourselves into Swiss Army knives where we are not overly optimized for one task because that task could change, the company could change, it might not need it anymore. What we need to do, and 20% time is a really good vehicle to do it, is to allocate part of our time to proactive professional development so we’re learning new things and have new skills that we can fall back on if we need to. And it’ll also open up new opportunities as well. So, I think that’s one clear takeaway that can be very useful for people in the present moment.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, I like the notion of becoming a Swiss Army knife, and proactive professional development, and being kind of a bullet proof, invincible, depending on the winds of change and sway and stuff. And so, I guess I’m thinking what are some of the top skills, or I’m actually visualizing literally a Swiss Army knife, the bottle opener, the screwdriver, the tweezers, the scissors?

Dorie Clark
Everybody’s going to love you if you can open bottles. I say go for that one.

Pete Mockaitis
And then the hook, the little hook. I always found that tricky. Apparently, it’s for when you’re carrying boxes wrapped in twine. Okay, now you know if you were curious. You can also pull out stakes with fishing wire. Anyway, Swiss Army knife has a lot of tools. What do you think are some of the top tool skills that professionals should work to be developing that are timeless? Because, on the one hand, I’m thinking, “Well, hey, a lot of sort of artificial intelligence stuff, for example, is hot.” And then a coding language like Python or something is something that you say, “Oh, maybe that’d be good to know, but then, again, maybe that’ll be irrelevant in six years.” So, help us, Dorie, how do we think through what are the skills are really worth investing and building?

Dorie Clark
That’s right, Pete. Absolutely. I’m going to answer it in a couple different ways. So, the first one, props to you, my man, is a really simple starting point that people can do is actually LinkedIn Learning courses. And I’m an instructor, you’re an instructor, and, in fact, both of us are fortunate enough that some of our courses were among the top 20 most popular of the year. So, actually just diving in and immersing yourself in that is a really good simple way.

These courses are not long. This is something you can do on your lunch break but that’s a good regular way that you can begin to just take time that often might’ve been deployed for other purposes, maybe just messing around, maybe answering emails. Actually, really investing in learning. So, that’s one low-hanging fruit.

But, also, I think it is true, of course, we can all kind of envision that, “Oh, I should learn about 3D printing or something like that. What are the things of the future?” If you are interested in those things, then, Godspeed, go do it. That’s great. I also want to argue that there is merit in learning about things that might seem completely irrelevant. And my example, in fact, I consider musical theater to be my 20%-time activity. And it might sound frivolous in some ways, like, “Well, what does that have to do with being a business author?”

And on the surface, hmm, I don’t really know but what I do know is I am not only learning skills about how to do a particular thing, lyric writing, book writing, whatever. Those are really powerful and you can argue that there are some overlays in terms of story arcs and narrative and how it applies to my book, but, also, from a networking perspective, I am meeting massively different types of people. There’s a lot of interesting development of who I’m connecting with and what I know, and it’s giving me access to a whole new canon of knowledge.

And so, I can tell you that it’s been…there are examples where I’m meeting people in the business world and I’m able to connect with them better because I have additional knowledge that I can bring to bear about theater if that is, in fact, one of their interests. So, even something that seems really like, “Oh, why would you do that?” There actually can be a lot of surprise hidden value in it. It’s sort of the equivalent of the well-worn example of Steve Jobs studying calligraphy. Like, “Well, what did that matter?” Well, it turns out, it can create a design orientation that actually can be very influential but we couldn’t have predicted it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is cool. Okay. Well, so then in terms of the 20% time, it’s like it’s a combo then of, “What do you find really fascinating? Go for it,” and then, “What do you think you just can’t see any connection whatsoever? Don’t let that stop you.” And then LinkedIn Learning is one quick and easy and fun resource to get in there.

And so, I’m curious then, are there any – and I’m sure this will vary as the years unfold or maybe it won’t at all, and that’s the point – what will be some like the top skills you think, boy, every professional can really benefit from sharpening these skills?

Dorie Clark
Yeah, absolutely. Again, with the purview so that, honestly, if you want to keep yourself motivated, the most important thing is that it should be interesting to you. But I would say, in my own experience, things that are super valuable, one, probably the biggest that I’ve put at the top of the list, is public speaking. And part of the reason that I do this is there are some very interesting research that was done a few years ago by The Center for Talent Innovation, which is a think-tank in New York. And they were studying the concept of executive presence, which is, essentially, this idea, this very poorly-defined idea of somebody looking like a leader, or seeming like a leader. Like, what does that mean?

And so, they wanted to break that down because a lot of people talk about, “Oh, he’s got executive presence but he doesn’t.” And so, okay, what are they talking about? And one of the key components that it turned out people were implicitly referring to is people’s public speaking ability. And it kind of makes sense because if we think about, for instance, how our country, how countries, in general, elect leaders, what are the trials that we put them through? Well, it’s usually debates, it’s townhall meetings, it’s rallies, it’s all about your public speaking, so a very low-hanging fruit where someone can get a dramatic ROI from investing time and effort is actually becoming a better public speaker. So, I would put that at the top of the list.

I’m also, you know, I’m partially communications in general, given that I started my career as a marketing strategy consultant, but I would say that effective copywriting, persuasive sales writing is one of the most important skills, whether you’re literally selling something or whether you are a regular professional trying to sell your boss on an idea, or trying to get a client to take a concept and let you run with it. Sales copy, which is different than regular writing, persuasive sales copy is an incredibly valuable skill to have. So, I would probably put those two at the top of the list.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. And so then, beyond just simply learning, training, skills development, what are some other ways that you recommend we can shift our thinking away from the short term and to the long term? Are there any sorts of key questions, or prompts, or exercises you recommend folks go through to get more in the long-term zone?

Dorie Clark
Yeah, I love that question. So, when we think about, “How do we kind of reorient ourselves?” One of the most important starting points is actually just, at a very basic level, creating the white space necessary to be able to have those conversations, whether it’s literally a conversation with a colleague or just an internal reckoning with yourself. It is not that it takes a huge amount of time to do strategic thinking. It does not. But it takes some time.

And one of the problems that I see with a lot of the clients that I worked with and colleagues around me is that they literally have no time for this because they are so packed to the gills with their scheduling. They’re constantly racing around. They don’t have a moment to breathe. And, therefore, they really don’t have a moment to ask very fundamental questions about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, if it’s the right thing to be doing. Nobody wants to be the person that is optimizing perfectly for the wrong goal, for the wrong outcome.

So, I think that one of the very best things we can do to begin to give ourselves the space to ask these questions is to actually just create a little room on our calendar. Obviously, it’s easier said than done, but I think we need to start becoming a lot more ruthless in terms of what we accept. Something that doesn’t get talked about, this is a skill you need to develop, although no one will tell you this, the things you said yes to earlier in your career, if you’re going to be successful, you need to stop. You need to regularly re-evaluate and create tighter and tighter criteria for what actually gets on your schedule. And this is an essential part of being a strategic and long-term thinker.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, I find that actually pretty inspiring, Dorie, and I don’t know if that’s the reaction you get very often, “Tighter and tighter criteria. Ooh, boy.” But I think it’s true in that I‘m thinking about just, hey, this podcast, 700 episodes in, that’s exactly what’s happened in terms of criteria get tighter and tighter and tighter with regard to what guest gets in, which parts of the interview stay versus get edited out. And then, likewise, just as a function, I think the percentage of incoming pitches that are thumbs up gets smaller and smaller as well.

Dorie Clark
Yeah, when you were first starting, you probably would’ve interviewed my cat. That’s what it’s like when you start.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking about how I might make a case for that in terms of, “Well, cute animal photos have been shown to reduce stress.”

Dorie Clark
It could go viral.

Pete Mockaitis
“Cats have been known to go viral.” So, then can you make that all the more real and specific for us in terms of maybe in your own schedule or others that you’ve coached or worked with and how you’ve seen, “Hey, this used to be okay, and now it’s not. And here are some particular filters or rules or criteria I’m using now that determine what gets the yes”?

Dorie Clark
Yeah, absolutely. And I actually go into a lot of detail about this in The Long Game because I think your question points to something important, which is specifics actually really matter here because you can say all you want, “Oh, you should just say no more often,” and that’s great but people are like, “Okay, you jerk, like how do I do it?” So, you need to really understand the mechanics and the scripts and how do you draw these criteria.

Just to give you an example. When I first started my business, I’ve been working for myself for 15 years, I kind of didn’t know anybody. Like, when you’re starting any career, or you’re starting at a job, you don’t know anybody and so, therefore, you don’t even know who’s worth your time. And at that moment, it’s actually good to say yes to everybody because it’s not like you have so many other important things to do, and it’s not like there are so many people fighting to spend time with you. if you have an opportunity for a networking engagement, you should probably do it, right?

So, early on, the filter should be very wide. But, over time, people do begin to seek you out more, and so you’ve got to narrow it. So, some examples. Early on, I was so happy that anyone would like talk to me. I would immediately offer to go to them, “Oh, where do you want to meet? When do you want to meet?” And so, I would accept these things where I’d be taking like a 45-minute train ride into the city to go see somebody at some inconvenient place. I’d be coming back. I would literally have spent half a day in a networking meeting with someone.

Now, a half a day is extraordinarily valuable. I think about how much revenue or all the things I could be doing but, back in the day, I would say yes to that. So, over time, I slowly tightened it and say, “Okay. Well, maybe I’d meet with them but I’m not going to just offer to go to them. I would either make them come to me and meet near me, or I would only do it if I was already going to be in their neighborhood.” Also, I used to meet with people, “Hey, let’s have a networking meeting,” for like pretty much no reason. It could be, “Oh, somebody suggested we might like each other,” something like that.

Now, I actually need a pretty compelling reason, like, “Well, what do you want to talk about? Like, what’s the goal? Why is it that we should connect?” because, oftentimes, what I would discover, that I didn’t know, is that people actually had an agenda. They just wouldn’t state it. It was often to sell something to you. And so, it’s important to kind of understand what’s behind all of that. So, that’s a piece of it.

You can also, if you want, if you want to do the meeting, you’re not sure if you can say no, another strategy that I use is find a way that you can downgrade it but still say yes. So, you might say, “Oh, Dorie, can we have coffee? Can we have lunch?” and if I want to be careful, I don’t want to offend you or something, or I feel like I should say yes, I might say, “Oh, thank you, Pete. I’d love to do it. That would be great. My schedule is super crazy. I can’t do lunch but how about a call? Can we do a call next week?” And so, that way, instead of lunch, which might be two hours, two and a half hours, like getting there and then a lunch, the call is a tight 30 and then you can log off. So, you have, essentially, found a way to still say yes but save yourself 90 minutes, and all of that adds up over time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Dorie, I like this so much. It’s funny, just recently, I think I was getting a new insurance quote, and they proposed…because sometimes this is very easy to do, they said, “Oh, hey, when’s a good timing and we can hop on a call for me to walk you through a point-by-point all the elements of this plan?” I was like, “Wow, I never want to do that,” and maybe that might be prudent depending on the nature of the insurance product and what’s at stake and if there’s a lot of points of differentiation between that insurance product and the competition. Maybe that might be well worth your time. But for me, it wasn’t. It was sort of small potatoes insurance and I thought, “Wow, do people really say yes to this?

And so, I was able to say, “Oh, would it be possible for, instead, for you to email me the policy and share with me the key points and the price?”

Dorie Clark
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think I know what they’re doing. I think from like a sales process, I’m sure the studies have shown, you get a higher conversion rate if you have like a relationship and some engagement and some conversation, but I probably just wanted to kind of say yes, thank you, get some insurance, and move onto something else.

So, sometimes it’s easy but for me it’s kind of rare. And it’s funny, as you share those things, I’ve had those thoughts. Let’s just get real about sort of emotions here. And sometimes I will also have thoughts to be like, “Pete, who the heck do you think you are? Oh, now you’re big time, huh? Oh, you’re so important now that you can’t be bothered to have lunch.” So, I’ve got some internal dialogues in terms of just like, “Well, no, I can have a spreadsheet I can show you that time it better placed somewhere else from a business development perspective. Like, that’s a fact.”

But sometimes it’s more fuzzy, like, “Well, I don’t even know what’s going to make a bigger impact. Hard to say.” But then there’s also a little bit of the, “Oh, so now I’m too good.” And it’s like I don’t want to become, I don’t know what the anti-hero I’m looking for here, the villain I’m trying to paint here, not Scrooge McDuck swimming in money, or like Scrooge…help me out here. Like, I still want to be a generous person who is not corrupted by success as I grow but I guess that’s part of the long game as our time will become increasingly more valuable. We will need to say no more often. How do we deal with that?

Dorie Clark
Right. Well, I think you’re pointing to something important, which is that there’s a lot of layers to this. It’s not just a strictly rational ROI calculator, essentially. But I think there’s a few ways to think about this. And, also, of course, it depends who’s asking. I think sometimes, again, when we are less experienced, we often, at least me, I would essentially fall prey to people, just anyone who’d be like, “Hey, want to have coffee?” and I would just assume like the correct answer is yes, “Okay, yes.”

And then, meanwhile, you come and it’s some kind of a sales pitch or something where it’s almost like you’ve been kind of tricked or strong-armed into it, or if it’s not a sales pitch, maybe it’s they want something, “Oh, hey, Dorie, I hear you write for so and so. Can you introduce me to blah, blah, blah?” And it’s like, “Oh, now I get it. Like, oh, you want a thing that’s why you want to connect.” And so, those are things I do not feel bad screening out. I don’t want some user who is taking advantage, and so I think, partly, it’s about learning how to be more mindful if you feel like that vibe is coming off of someone.

I think, also, the truth is I don’t feel bad about saying no to people that are coming at you, or coming at me, in ways that are a little inappropriate. I think that, for me, when I was 22, when we’re all 22, we would have the college career counselors, they’d be like, “Oh, you should reach out to people and pick their brain.” And many people, again, when you’re 22, fine, but many people just kept with that, and that’s still their approach, and it should not be the approach of a seasoned professional.

If you are dealing with someone, you want to be showing empathy for their situation. And if you know that that person is, and you got to think about it, but if you actually, when you rationally think about it, realize, “This person is probably getting 10, 20, 50 emails per week with people asking for something,” you have to be mindful of what your ask is and contextualize it properly. And so, if you’re just sort of blithely saying, “Oh, can I have, for no reason at all, an undifferentiated amount of your time?” that’s actually not really being a sophisticated consumer. And so, I think that we need to…we all need to be more thoughtful in terms of how we approach people.

I actually did an analysis of the emails that I received a while back, and I discovered that, in the course of a week, I got somewhere between 10 and 11 requests per day for something. Now, sometimes it was a coffee or a meal, sometimes it was a, “Hey, will you share this on social media?” Sometimes it was a, “Will you blurb my book?” or, “Will you do this?” And many of them were from great friends, and I would be glad to do it. That’s totally fine.

But we all have to recognize for ourselves and when we’re dealing with others, if someone is getting 70 requests in a week, it is just foolish for that person to say yes to all of them. You have to triage and protect it so that I can say yes to you, Pete, and not some random person who is sort of barging in with inappropriate request.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. Was it Jim Carrey where he says yes? Is it Yes Man? With all the chaos that ensues with the yes to everything. Yes, that’s helpful and thought-provoking both in terms of as the requester and the potential grantor of requests, like how to do that well. Well, thanks, Dorie. We went really deep there.

Dorie Clark
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s zoom out for a bit. Any other critical ideas from The Long Game that you think folks looking to be awesome at their jobs should know about?

Dorie Clark
Yeah. Well, I’ll just add one piece to where we were going before, which is, ultimately, if you want to actually be true to your vision, if you actually want to accomplish whatever your long-term goal is, it is not just about the people around you and saying no. We often fail to think about the opportunity costs when some requests or something is coming at us, some opportunity. We often think, “Should I do this thing or not?” And that’s not really the right question. It is actually, what we should be asking, is, “Should I be doing this thing or any other thing in the world that would take approximately that amount of time?”

And so, we have to contextualize it because if there’s a goal that you truly care about, that needs to be a north star in your mind so that you are carving out time so you can really do that and fulfilling your agenda rather than everyone else’s agenda for you. So, just connecting with that point, one area that I talk about that’s related in The Long Game is a concept that I call being willing to say no to good things.

Of course, we understand that we should say no to the bad things. It might be hard or that you worry that you might be hurting people’s feelings or something like that, but, ultimately, we get it. But where we really develop the kind of ninja-level skill, and this is very hard for all of us, is that if we want to leave room to pursue what actually is great, what is a great opportunity or a really important thing for us, if something is nearly good, we also need to be willing to say no to that. And the discipline to do that is really what can set us apart and make us extraordinary.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. Boy, Dorie, we’re two peas in a pod here when you talk about saying no and sort of the alternative is like everything else that you could be doing. And I remember the first time I learned about the concept of opportunity costs in an economics high school course, it freaked me out. I’m just like, “Holy crap, so you’re saying in choosing to do one thing I’m saying no to everything else on the planet every time. Whoa!”

It kind of shook me up actually for a few weeks. It’s like a random day in economics class, a day in high school. But it’s the reality of the matter with regard to where you can funnel your time, and that’s really powerful when you’re thinking about those long-term objectives that you’re shooting for and how to get there.

I guess I want to hear your take in terms of the…well, if it’s diet or exercise or smoking or video games, anyway there’s a whole host of ways we humans have a knack for going after that instant gratification at the expense of long-term stuff. So, do you have any tips or perspectives or reframes that could help people when they’re in the heat of battle and they have a temptation to do something that maybe feel good or short term when they’d be better to do something more long-term oriented?

Dorie Clark
Oh, as someone who ate a large ice cream sundae last night, I can totally speak to this. But to be fair, I planned. I planned that sundae. I saved up for that sundae but, nonetheless. I think there’s a couple of things that we can keep in mind. And one of them, in The Long Game I tell the story of a woman named Kim Cantergiani who was a busy mom, a busy wife, had a great job as she was a C-suite executive at a nonprofit. And the thing that always fell through the cracks was her health, and she had gained weight that she wanted to lose, and she just had not been able to do it.

And, ultimately, for her, what proved successful is she created a pound-a-thon campaign where she publicly pledged to all her friends, and she got them signed up, that for every pound she lost, that they would donate X amount of money to the local Battered Women Shelter. And so, at that point, it became about something bigger than herself. She was going to be letting down other people if she did not lose weight.

And so, she told me, she said, “After that, I really couldn’t be seen walking around with chips and a Diet Pepper after that.” So, I think sometimes it’s about external accountability and tapping into the bigger picture of a cause outside yourself. And the third point that I’ll make is that oftentimes it’s really about committing to a date certain for something, because humans, we love to kind of blur the lines or make exceptions or, “Oh, I could do this a little later.”

But I tell a story of a woman named Sam Horn who was a very successful speaker, author, just running herself ragged in the pre-COVID world, traveling everywhere, giving these talks. And she decided that what she really wanted to do, it’d been a longstanding goal, is she wanted to move near the water, and actually not just one place. Not like get a lake house, but she wanted to spend an entire year as kind of a digital nomad, living by the water in beautiful places, like Florida and Hawaii. And she ended up doing it but she said the only reason was that she just forced herself to commit. She circled October 1st on her calendar and she made herself happen. And she said, “If I didn’t have a date, I wouldn’t have done it.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. Well, Dorie, tell me, any final thoughts about the long game before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Dorie Clark
Thank you. I appreciate it, Pete. I will just mention, for anybody that wants to dive in further to strategic thinking and creating a long-term vision, that I have a free resource, which is a Long Game Strategic Thinking Self-Assessment, and folks can get it for free at DorieClark.com/thelonggame.

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

Dorie Clark
One of my favorite quotes is actually one from Theodore Roosevelt, and I love it because, fundamentally, to me, long-term planning is important but it’s acting toward those long-term goals. It’s about the action. And his quote is, “In any moment of uncertainty, the best thing to do is the right thing. The next best thing to do is the wrong thing. And the worst thing to do is nothing.” And so, I think we learn by taking action, and, to me, that quote exemplifies it.

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

Dorie Clark
So, I have to pick a sentimental favorite. I actually talk a lot about this in The Long Game as well, is the famous marshmallow study by Walter Mischel, talking about, “Do you take one marshmallow now or two if you wait 15 minutes?” If we can figure out how to crack that code, that’s the ultimate in long-term thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Dorie Clark
One of the things that was most inspiring to me as I was starting my business and my business career was the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

Pete Mockaitis
Had him on the show. So amazing.

Dorie Clark
He is. It’s so beautifully written. It is so engaging. And I think it just taught me so much about life, so I really respect the work that he’s done.

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

Dorie Clark
Yes, a favorite tool that I use, actually all the time, is Google Translate. I feel like these days, I’m working with so many people internationally, and where I can, at least learn a few phrases or say something as kind of a tip of the hat for them and their culture, I try to do that. So, I enjoy using that tool for connecting with people across borders.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you’ve been sharing that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Dorie Clark
Well, one of the things that I feel like seems to be resonating for people a lot, perhaps especially coming out of COVID, is a concept that I talk about in The Long Game called thinking in waves. And the basic idea is that, oftentimes, when we feel stuck, we feel like we’re in a rut, the problem is that we are, essentially, trying to just keep doing more of the same thing, and it’s the same thing that we’re good at, or the same thing that we’ve gotten results at. And, unfortunately, one of the things about being a successful human and a successful professional is that we actually have to do different things and we have to shift into a different wave.

And so, one of the most important things, I believe, is that we need to recognize, “Okay, which wave are we in? And where are we in the cycle? And how can we shift?” So, as just one example, for a lot of people, many of whom, frankly, have been kind of hard on themselves about this, they may have had a lot of extra home responsibilities or family responsibilities during COVID, and it’s not like you had a lot of choice in that. That’s sort of what the situation called for. We can’t beat ourselves up about it. But the important thing is to recognize that if we are playing the long game legitimately, then we need to lengthen the time that we’re looking at, and realize that it’s not necessarily about having perfect work-life balance, let’s say, during a set period of time.

During the past 18 months, you probably didn’t have very good work-life balance, but what you can do is actually make a choice to over-index in other areas. And once you are able to re-allocate some of that energy toward work, or toward non-family relationships, like friends, and deepening connections, and things like that, or if you’ve been going crazy with work, working way too hard, that’s fine in the short term. Sometimes you need to do that in order to be successful, but the problem comes when you do that always.

And so, it’s just understanding what wave are you in and how can you transition successfully so that over a long-enough period of time, you are getting the balance that you need.

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

Dorie Clark
One of the final challenges that I will suggest to people is in The Long Game I talk about a concept that I call optimize for interesting. And we all know that in our culture, oftentimes, things are a little bit polarized. It’s either, according to conversations, it’s either that we’re optimizing for our passion or we’re just making money, “Okay, let’s get some money.” I feel like those are fine options. They all have their limitations.

But because not all of us necessarily even know what our passion is, or it might change over time, or maybe your passion isn’t something that you can or that you want to monetize, what I like to suggest that we have as one potential orientation is the idea of optimizing for interesting. Because even if you don’t know what your passion is, for sure, you know what you find interesting. There’s hobbies, there’s things, you know what, some people really like birds. Guess what? If you like birds, you know it. If you’re not into birds, you also know that.

Some people are into wine, some people are into golf, some people are into football, some people are into theater. Optimize and try to direct your discretionary time and learning and knowledge and effort toward things that you find interesting. And you really can’t go wrong because you will enjoy the process, you will get more data, and you will learn things about yourself. And if it stops being interesting, no problem. Just pivot to something else.

Pete Mockaitis
Dorie, thank you. It’s always a treat. I wish you much success in the long game.

Dorie Clark
Pete, thank you. Always a pleasure to be here with you.

703: How to Find the Work that Sparks You and Makes You Come Alive with Jonathan Fields (Host of Good Life Project Podcast)

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Jonathan Fields says: "I think we always have to be guided by our own inner wisdom, by our own intelligence."

Jonathan Fields discusses how to spark meaning, fulfillment, and joy in your work by aligning with your Sparketype.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A (free!) assessment that identifies what makes you come alive 
  2. The ten impulses that describe how we work
  3. The fundamental questions that create career fit 

About Jonathan

Jonathan Fields hosts one of the top-ranked podcasts in the world, Good Life Project®, where he shares powerful stories, conversations, and resources, on a mission to help listeners live more meaningful and inspired lives. Fields is also the founder and CEO of Spark Endeavors, a research initiative focused on helping individuals and organizations reclaim work as a source of purpose, energy, meaning, and possibility. His new book, SPARKED: Discover Your Unique Imprint for Work That Makes You Come Alive delivers an important message in a time when many people are emerging from the pandemic and seeking out new work that will both challenge and fulfill them. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you Sponsors!

Jonathan Fields Interview Transcript

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

Jonathan Fields
It’s my pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom here. And, first, let’s talk, boy, with the Good Life Project, you’ve been at it for a good long time. So, kudos. My hat is off to you. Can you tell me about one or two of the most fascinatingly useful discoveries you’ve made along the way as you’ve hosted the podcast?

Jonathan Fields
There’s one that I’ve been really thinking on for a while now but it’s not from a recent conversation. It’s from a conversation that is probably six or seven years old. So, we’ve been producing since 2012. And I had the opportunity to sit down with a guy named Milton Glaser. Milton died two years ago at the age of 91 on his birthday.

He kind of had a magical life. He was one of the most iconic designers in history. A lot of people outside of the design world wouldn’t know his name but everybody actually knows at least some of his work. For example, the most ripped off logo in the history of iconography iHeartNY, that was Milton. He sketched it out on a napkin in the back of a taxi in the ‘70s as a way to try and give something back to the city that he loved, which was then on the verge of bankruptcy, and rally people to a place of hope and aspiration.

And I sat down in a conversation with him, and as we were talking, he shared with me that he knew what he was there to do since the age he was six, which was to make things, and I kind of lit up because I thought to myself, “Me, too.” I’ve known from the earliest days I’m obsessed with the process of creation. I just see things that don’t exist, that need to exist all around me. But then he dropped this other bit of wisdom further into the conversation, and this is what I’ve been circling back to lately.

And he said to me, “The impulse to make and the impulse to create beauty are related but not the same.” And what I’ve realized later in life is that I’m not just driven by the impulse to make and to create. There’s something around the impulse to create beauty, which is deeply compelling to me as well. So, when I make something, I don’t want to just create something that’s cool or interesting or different or valuable. Something inside me says, “I want it to be beautiful.”

And, granted, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there’s an impulse in me towards beauty, towards the creative process that births in some way, shape, or form where it moves people emotionally, there’s an elegance to it. I don’t often hit my metric for that aspiration but I’d realized that it actually matters to me on a level that’s super important that I started to center it more in my work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I like that definition of beauty then. So, it need not necessarily be a visual aesthetic beauty but say it again in terms of what it does. Beauty is beauty when it does what again?

Jonathan Fields
To me, beauty is something that, in some way, shape, or form, it bypasses your cognitive processes, your filters, and lands in a deeply emotional way and moves you. It evokes something in you. Now, granted, a lot of things can evoke something emotionally, but it evokes a sense of awe in you, and it evokes a sense of wonder, it evokes a sense of appreciation in elegance. It just makes you feel good, like things are as they should be. Not everything in life, but for that moment, when you interact with whatever this thing is, you have that feeling. And, to me, to be on the receiving end of that feeling is so powerful. It’s why I’ve been a fan of art for my entire life. But, also, I’ve realized that I want to be on the creation end of that as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, that’s how to do a powerful conversation. That’s really resonated for quite some time. That’s awesome. I want to hear about your book Sparked: Discover Your Unique Imprint for Work that Makes You Come Alive. That sounds fantastic. How does one go about doing just that?

Jonathan Fields
Yeah. Well, there are probably a lot of contributors. For probably my entire adult life, I’ve been fascinated with the question of, “How do we find a work that gives us this feeling like we’re doing the thing we’re here to do?” Like, we’re filled with meaning, a sense of purpose. We’re excited and engaged to wake up in the morning and do this thing. We feel like our fullest potential is being leveraged and we got a bigger sense of purpose.

And I started to dig into the question of whether there are some set of identifiable, mappable impulses for work or for effort that would give us this feeling. Could we tease them out from all the tens of thousands of jobs, roles, titles, and distill them down to a simple set of things? And then help people figure out what those are.

Because if we could, then that would give a pretty important nugget of insight to somebody and help them understand what to say yes or no to, whether that’s a project, a role, a position on a team, a job, an industry, an organization, and spend a lot more time in that state – I call it spark or coming alive – rather than fumbling and wondering why they never had the feeling that they want to feel.

So, I spend a lot of time doing the research to map out these 10 different impulses or imprints. I call them sparketypes. And they are the source that then around them we build entire archetypes. So, there’s an impulse for work, and then around each of these impulses, there are certain tendencies, preferences, and behaviors that are pretty common across a lot of different people. And then we built a tool to help us validate the research or invalidate it, equally validate it, and then for people to use and interact with so they could discover theirs. And those are the sparketypes and the spark assessment.

And that is now been completed by over 500,000 people generating over 25 million datapoints that have been just astonishingly insightful and helpful in helping people understand what to say yes and no to. And that became the sort of source fuel for the book that has now become Sparked.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I would like to hear a bit of a rundown of the 10 different sparketypes and then sort of like the core impulse and preference and behavior that illuminates or exemplifies that sparketype. I suppose, maybe before we get into that, let’s hear about the research and the validation just because if someone is about to give me, you name it, Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, Big Five, StrengthsFinder, any assessment. It’s sort of like, if they say, “Hey, there’s four key preferences or there are seven key types,” it’s like, “Says who based on what and why?” Like, my skeptic gets fired up.

So, for those in the audience, before they take your word for it that these are, in fact, a pretty good way to slice up the universe of different flavors of unique imprints that makes you come alive, can you satisfy the skeptic and say, “What research and how do I know you didn’t just make this up as opposed to it has genuine validity as to what is in the hearts of humanity?”

Jonathan Fields
Yeah, I love that question. So, a couple of things. One, don’t take my word for it. Please don’t take my word for it. Use your own experience to validate whether it is the sparketypes, whether it’s any number of other tools or assessments that are out there right now. I agree with you. I think we always have to be guided by our own inner wisdom, by our own intelligence. Like, use the tool, see what it tells you, see if it lands as valid or not. What we know is not that 500,000 people have done this and thousands more doing it every day, is we’ve done our follow-on study that showed us that 93% of the people who complete this tell us that it’s anywhere from very true to extremely accurate. But we’ve also gone beyond that.

In that same study, we wanted to know. So, first threshold is accuracy, “Do people feel this is accurate?” And the only way to actually know whether something like this is accurate, there’s no objective measure. If I ask you…there’s no objective measure of meaningfulness for every person on the planet. It’s completely individual and subjective. So, I’ve got to ask you, “When you do this particular thing, does it give you the sense that it’s meaningful to you, that it matters?”

And so, we will ask those questions, we’re like, “Do you have a sense of purpose when you’re doing it? Are you able to easily lose yourself in a state of absorption where time seems to pass in the blink of an eye and you vanish into the experience?” And when we ask these questions, what we actually find is really strong statistical correlation.

So, for people who are literally wrapped in the data, the R value, or the correlation coefficients between doing the work of your sparketype and saying that you feel a sense of meaningfulness, that you are easily able to access flow, that you’re excited and energized by your work, that you’re able to access the fullest amount of your potential and perform at your highest level, and that you have a sense of purpose in life. There are really strong correlations that we see in the data.

But, again, I can give you numbers, I can give you R values, I can give you correlations. Why would you listen to me? We’ve got a tool that is out there and available in the form of assessment. You can take it. One of the reasons that we actually have it publicly available for anyone to take for free is because I want you to actually interact with the tool yourself and see how valid it feels for you. So, the skeptic in me, because I have that same skeptic, I look at everything that comes out there, and I’m like, “Well, how do I know that matters to me?”

So, I also wanted to make sure that whatever we created was brought to market in a way where anyone could interact with a fundamental tool, and get the basic wisdom from it, and decide from their own whether it actually was valid for them or not without having to actually invest anything beyond a little bit of their time.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And just to triple confirm, because I think we have had some guests who have had some really cool tools, but as a listener, if it’s sort of like, “I don’t know if I’m going to spend 20, 30, 40 bucks on that, and this conversation is boring to me if I’m not,” so it doesn’t go perfectly well even though I think the tool is really cool. So, that’s awesome. So, for the record, this is not a temporary book promotion. This is free for the world forever. Hooray! Is that what’s up here?

Jonathan Fields
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

Jonathan Fields
So, this is not a sort of marketing quiz that was put together for a marketing campaign. This has been…took about a year to develop it through beta. We rolled it out publicly at the end of 2018. We’ve since continued to develop it and refine the algorithm. We rolled out a 2.0 version of the assessment that added one particular metric to it, I believe it was earlier this year. In the entire time, it has been freely available to anybody.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. All right. Well, so then the benefits sound pretty handy in terms of meaningfulness, flow, energy, so that’s a nice lineup of goodies that happen when we’re doing work that is in alignment with the sparketype. Any other key benefits that you’d highlight front and center for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Jonathan Fields
Yeah, there’s something that I didn’t see coming, which is so we tend to hear two things when people interact with the body of work. One is that there’s something inside of them that feels validated. So, very rarely do we hear someone say, “Oh, this was so surprising to me. I never knew or realized that.” What we hear people say is, “There’s something in me that I’ve known that this impulse is in there. I have always felt this way about when I do this particular type of thing. It gives me this feeling. But, for a variety of reasons, maybe I didn’t think I could earn a living doing it, maybe I didn’t think I could figure out how to build a career, or maybe I was socially told that it’s not an appropriate pursuit for me. I’ve stepped away from it, or I’ve stifled it.”

And what this does is it sort of reflects back to someone, “Oh, this is real, and this matters.” So, that’s one thing. But there’s a second thing that we’ve really started to see, which is that people start to realize that they’re feeling seen on a level that they hadn’t before, that they feel like the language when we describe what these types are and how they tend to interact with people around them in the world, they feel understood, they feel seen, and they now have language to then turn around and tell other people, “This is me. Like, now you can see and understand me on a deeper level.” And that other person may be a partner in life, it may be a family member, or it may be a leader on a team or a teammate in the context of work. But it helps them understand themselves, feel seen by themselves, to themselves, and also give them language to help others see them more clearly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Beautiful. Well, so lay it on us here. We got 10 different sparketypes and we have like a key impulse or call, and then some preferences and behaviors that go with it. Could you maybe give us the 20- to 60-second rundown on each of the ten? I’m a maven, if you wanted to start there, or maybe there’s a sequence that makes good sense that you’d like to run through.

Jonathan Fields
So, the maven is actually a great starting place. The maven is the most process-fulfilled of all of these impulses, all of these sparketypes. The fundamental impulse for the maven is learning. It’s all about knowledge acquisition. This can show up in a really narrow and deep way. So, you may find a topic there where you just, for some reason, you probably don’t even understand why. Maybe it’s 15th century history and something particular about it and there’s something about it that just fascinates you, and you have to know absolutely everything about it, and you would literally devote all of your energy. You’ll spend money, if you need to, to gain access to people or classes or resources, to know everything you can about this one topic.

It also shows up broadly on almost more of a trait level where you open your eyes in the morning, and all you want to do is learn anything you can about everything and everyone. A friend of mine basically never takes a cab ride without knowing the entire life story of the person who is driving them. He’s just absolutely fascinated by people, anybody, all walks of life, and what their stories are. So, the fundamental impulse there is knowledge acquisition.

You may actually gain knowledge that is incredibly valuable to other people, but that’s not actually why you do it. You do it simply because of the feeling that it gives you. So, that’s the maven. The maven also can get lost in a bit of a learning dark hole. So, you can become so obsessed with learning something. And if it is a big and vast complex deep body of knowledge, then you can essentially just stop all of your relationships, stop exercising, stop eating well, and just completely devote yourself to the pursuit of knowledge. So, there’s a bit of a risk there to become obsessive about the quest for learning.

Next up, we have what I call the maker. So, the maker’s fundamental impulse is creation. That also happens to be my impulse. I wake up in the morning and it’s all about the process of creation. I look around and I’m like, “What can I make today?” That has been my impulse from the earliest days in my life.

When I was a kid, I used to create pretty much anything that you could imagine creatable. I would cobble together old bike parts to create Frankenbikes. I would draw album covers on jean jackets. I would renovate houses. As an adult, that’s more of into building companies, creating books, brands, experiences, media, anything you can imagine. It’s the process of creation that completely lights me up. Because the maker is also very process-fulfilled, similar to the maven, there’s a risk of really losing yourself in the black hole of creation and ignoring all the other amazing things in your life by doing that.

So, next up, we have what I call the scientist. The fundamental impulse for the scientist is to figure things out. It’s all about problem-solving, figuring out pieces of a puzzle and burning questions. You wake up in the morning, you say, “What can I figure out?” This impulse tends to really be highly valued in industry. There’s literally a job called scientist or researcher where you can spend your entire life researching big, broad, complex, deep questions.
One of the interesting quirks about the scientist is that you could devote, say, five years and figure out the answer to something. Maybe you figure out something in the context of medicine or cancer that has a profound impact on millions of people’s lives. You really like that. You appreciate it. You enjoy it. But the interesting thing about the scientist is it’s not actually the reason you do it. The reason you do it is because of the feeling that it gives you. It’s because the quest for an answer makes you feel alive. So, when you finally find that answer, as happy as you may be that you’ve discovered something incredibly valuable to others, it’s not unusual for you to wake up the next day with a sense of melancholy because, now, you’re not waking up with a burning question anymore, and it becomes your job to go and find the next one.

So, behind that, we have the impulse that I would call the performer. Now, when you hear performer, a lot of people immediately think performing arts, “Well, it’s a singer, it’s a dancer, it’s the theater.” And, in fact, oftentimes that impulse does get channeled into those things because it’s kind of the logical place for it to go. But what we see in adulthood is this impulse which is always to enliven, energize, and activate an experience or interaction or moment. This impulse has incredible value in nearly every domain. You could exercise that in a meeting, in a boardroom, in a sales interaction, behind a bar, as a parent with children, in local community organizing. It has really, really broad and amazing applicability.

Behind the performer, we have what I call the essentialist. Now, the impulse for the essentialist is to create order out of chaos. You see complex things, you see mess, you see all sorts of chaotic things around you, and all you want to do is create clarity and utility from it. What we’ve discovered about this is that this tends to show up really early in life also. The producer for our podcast, for Good Life Project, is actually an essentialist. And when she was a little kid, she used to line up her stuffed animals in height and order, or height and color in her bedroom. So, this tends to show up really early in life, and be praised because parents like when kids are orderly.

Later in life, what you start to see is it is an indispensable trait because so many people who are not the essentialist not only are not interested in doing that work, they outright loath doing that work. So, when they find somebody who is an essentialist, they will happily hand that work off to them, and that essentialist very often, in an organization, becomes really quickly overloaded once they become discovered because everybody wants to give them that work, and they’re good at it and they like it but, at some point, you have to create boundaries in the work.

There’s another interesting part around the essentialist, which is if you’re really getting more nuance, it goes beyond creating order, clarity, and utility. Essentialists tend to see a certain amount of elegance and beauty in order and clarity, and so there’s almost an artistic aesthetic to the work that they do.

After the essentialist, we have what I would call the warrior. Now, the fundamental impulse for the warrior is to gather, organize, and lead. And many people would look at that, and say, “Well, leadership, sure. Well, that’s a skill.” And I would say, “Yes, there are skills for leadership the same way,” but there are skills for all of these different impulses that I’ve talked about that we can acquire. But leadership in particular tends to be treated exclusively just as a set of skills that you can acquire. What we’ve seen is that, in fact, there is an underlying impulse that some people have.

They wake up in the morning and all they want to do is bring people together and take them on an adventure, a journey, from point A to point B. This often shows up early in life as a kid on the playground, who’s like, “Hey, everybody, let’s go gather around. Let’s go on an adventure in the woods,” or the team captain in school. It shows up in literally every domain of life. The warrior is a really, really powerful impulse. It can also be lonely.

So, you tend to be somebody who leads the way and you’re not always the person where people want to step alongside of you and go with you. And sometimes, bringing people together, especially disparate groups of people with different intentions, different personalities, can be a really frenetic and chaotic social dynamic. So, part of what you do is have to learn how to be really good managing social dynamics with people.

So, next after the warrior, we have what I would call the sage, the fundamental impulse of the sage is to awaken an insight. It’s about illumination. So, you know something and all you want to do is tell other people what you know. You want to share it with them. And seeing the lights of insight go on in their minds is a thing that is kind of magical to you. So, the maven devours information purely for the sake of knowing. The sage may also devour information but for them, the impulse is not just to learn. It’s to turn around and have something really powerful and new and valuable to share with other people.

So, next behind that, we have the advisor. The advisor is all about guiding others, it can be an individual, a group, a team, an organization, through a process of growth. So, they tend to walk alongside someone, whereas a warrior very often is one of the people that they organize and lead, they’re among those. The advisor most often is somebody who is not within the group. They walk alongside that individual or group, and they create a container of safety and trust, and it’s a very relational impulse.

A big part of the reward for the advisor is the depth and quality and the sustained nature of the relationship that happens with other people as they guide them through a process of growth. It may not necessarily be, “I’m going to get you from point A to point B,” but it’s some sort of evolutionary process that person or group goes through.

And that leaves us with two remaining sparketypes. We have the advocate. So, the fundamental impulse of the advocate is to champion, it’s to shine the light on an idea, ideal, individual or community. And this isn’t so much giving voice to other people, because with individuals, as a general, I don’t believe that you give anybody else voice. You may give voice to nature, or to an ecosystem, or to animals.

But with other people, it’s generally, it’s championing them. It is you see something that, in some way, shape, or form, lands with you as unfair, inequitable, unjust, and the impulse is, “I need to, in some way, shape, or form, shine the light on what’s going on here. I need to advocate for, or on behalf of, or alongside of, or with, so that we can create some sort of change.”

The final impulse is what I call the nurturer. The nurturer is all about elevation. It’s all about lifting others up. It’s about giving care and taking care. The nurturer impulse, the person then, and one of the primary tendencies around that is, usually, has a very strong sense of empathy. So, that is the empath, that is the person who walks into a room and very likely feels other people’s emotions, feels their states, feels other people’s suffering, struggle, and pain, and they’re compelled to do something about it. They move to that person and they will do anything they can to lift them up.

One of the challenges of the nurturer is that they tend to feel so much of other people’s experiences and emotions that it can leave them pretty empty and gutted themselves. So, there’s a deep need for self-care if you’re one of those people. So, those are the ten different sparketypes and the ten, sort of on a very basic level, the fundamental impulses that drive them to actually take action.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And can we contrast the sage with the advisor? The sage shares the knowledge. They want folks to have the light of insight. And the advisor, make that a clearer distinction for me.

Jonathan Fields
Yup. The sage basically says, “I know something. I want you to know it. Once you know it, I’m out.” The advisor says, “I have ideas, frameworks, and experience. You want to move through some sort of process, and I’m going to walk alongside of you and be a sounding board, be a mentor, be a confidant, as you move through this process.” And so, it’s less about, “Hey, I’m going to tell you something really cool or valuable,” and then tap out. It’s more about, “I’m going to walk alongside of you. I’m going to be with you in a relational way, in a safe way, and help you navigate this particular moment or experience or process.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, to recap, we got the maven, all about knowledge acquisition; we got the maker, about creation; the scientist, about figuring things out; the performer, likes to sing, dance, or put it out there; the essentialist, finding order out of chaos; the warrior, gathering, organizing, leading folks; the sage, sharing knowledge; the advisor, mentoring alongside for the duration; the advocate, championing something; and the nurturer, providing care.

And so, there we go, there’s ten. We did it. Hooray! And so, the idea is when you’re doing work that fits into one of those that is yours, you are feeling that meaningfulness, that flow, that purpose, that energy, the good stuff. And when you’re working on something that is not it, you feel the opposite of that. Is that the short hand there?

Jonathan Fields
Yeah. Fundamentally, the more that you can align what you do with this basic impulse, the more you have those feelings, the more likely you are to access them, and the more intense those feelings can become, and the more sustained they can become. And the more what you do conflicts with those impulses, the less likely you are to feel them. You may still feel the glow of accomplishment. You may still revel in the sense of camaraderie with people who you just really enjoy being around.

So, this is not the only thing that gives us a feeling that we want to feel in the context of work but it’s really important. And I think a lot of us look at the external things, and we say, “Let’s look at culture, let’s look at team dynamics, let’s look at the motivational things, let’s look at the carrot and the stick, let’s look at leadership and growth opportunities.” All of those things matter but none of them does a whole lot if the fundamental nature of what you do when you show up and spend your seven to 12 hours a day working is misaligned with the impulse for work that makes you come alive.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I’d love to get your perspective in terms of once you know this, what are some of the top things you recommend people do or not do in terms of they’re kind of like, “Okay, I took the quiz. It was cool. I got my sparketype. That sounds about right. Thank you, Jonathan. Now what?”

Jonathan Fields
Let’s start with what not to do because this tends to be a really big impulse for people. Once they discover this thing, they’ll immediately tend to look at the work that they’re doing and say, “Huh, like, am I doing, like is this impulse that is so central to me? Am I actually expressing this in the work that I’m currently doing?” And if they’re not, there’s very often this impulse to say, “Oh, wow, I need to just blow everything up. I need to walk away. I need to start over. I need to find something entirely different.” And what I’m going to invite you to do is not do that.

There may be people for whom that is an intelligent, that is a reasoned step, but, generally, that’s the last step that you want to take, not the first, especially once you’re a little bit further into life and you’ve got responsibilities, and there are a lot of things hanging on the fact that your job may be sustaining a family in a particular way. It’s not so easy to do that.

We tend to dramatically overestimate the giddiness and the joy, the elation, that we’ll feel when we blow things up and we have this freedom, and then we dive into something that we absolutely are drawn to, and we underestimate the time that it will take to actually get there, and the pain of the disruption that will be caused through that process. That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong for everyone but it means that, in my mind, it’s the last thing that you consider doing, not the first.

What I would consider doing as the first part of the exploration, to say, “Okay, let me look at the work that I’m doing right now,” and then do that same analysis, “How aligned is what I’m doing with this fundamental impulse forever?” If I’m a maker, “How much of my time, how much opportunity do I have to actually immerse myself in a process of creation?”

And then if you start to see, “Well, actually, there’s a whole bunch of this that is really well-aligned but there’s 30% of the work that’s completely misaligned,” or maybe there’s 50% where you just have no opportunity to express this. Then you start to ask the question, “How can I reimagine what I’m doing now? How can I do it in different ways? How can I look for ways to try different tasks, use different tools, dip into different processes, that may allow me to express this impulse without having to make these really big disruptive changes?”

And then start to run little experiments, “Well, what if I do a little more of this and a little less of this?” And what you’ll find over time, for most people, is that you have a lot more ability to do that. And as you start to do that, the way that you feel in your work starts to change. You start to show up differently and people actually start to respond to you differently because your state is essentially different and better and improved and more energized and more alive.

And a lot of people can actually get a lot closer to the feeling that they imagined by reimagining what they’re doing, even doing things that were not squarely within your job description but they’re available to you to actually start doing, simply because of the way that it makes you feel.

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

Jonathan Fields
Just, I think we’re in a moment right now where really big questioning has become normalized in a way that has not in generations. There’s a lot of judgment if you’re sort of working in your 30s, 40s, or 50s, “You know what, I want to think about what got me here and is it the thing that’s going to get me there? And maybe I’m going to do some really big reimagining.” That kind of questioning was sort of not welcomed socially in a lot of contexts.

What’s happening in the world right now has shaken people so much and on a scale that that kind of questioning has actually been normalized now. So, we have this rare window of opportunity to step into it, to really examine, and to not hide it, to be public, to have conversations and discourse and seek help, in a way that would’ve been a lot more difficult just a few years ago. And what I would invite people to do is to not waste this window.

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

Jonathan Fields
There’s a classic script or book or poem, really, called the Bhagavadgita, and it’s not written in English. It’s written in Sanskrit. But one of the translations, there’s a line in it that translates roughly to, “Far better to live your life imperfectly than to live another’s life perfectly.” And that has always landed really powerfully with me.

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

Jonathan Fields
I think I was fascinated for a long time with a bunch of the research around self-regulation and that positioned it as a depletable resource. And what I’ve been probably equally fascinated by recently is that the sort of emerging, the follow-on research around that shows that actually whether willpower or self-regulation is a depletable resource or not, is largely determined by whether you believe it is or not, and that the original research wasn’t entirely correct, which means that we have a lot more control over our self-control.

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

Jonathan Fields
One that comes to mind is an oldie but a goodie. It was originally published as a short story in Life magazine in 1951, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I’m a huge fan of Hemingway’s writing because of how much he can convey, how much he can leave you with so few words. His efficiency in language is astounding, and then the story of this old man, Santiago, it starts as what you would think on the surface is a battle between him and this great fish. But what he’s really doing is a deep meditation on how we interact with the things that we see as struggle and how we reframe them as partnership in life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with listeners and others, and say, “Wow, that was good,” and they say, “Jonathan, I love it when you said this”?

Jonathan Fields
Yeah, there’s something that I’ve been talking about recently, and I haven’t shared it with a lot but I’ll share it here with you. It’s what I call the principle of maximum sustainable generosity. It’s the way that I look at building businesses but it’s also the way I look at building relationships, just the way that I look at moving into life, which is basically asking the question, “How can I be as generous as humanly possible in the way that I move into the world, in the way that I offer things to others, in the way that I build relationships, and do it in a way that is sustainable over time, financially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m going to chew on that. Thank you. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Jonathan Fields
I would point them either to the Good Life Project Podcast. And if you want to learn more about the sparketypes, at Sparketype.com, and the book Sparked is just available at booksellers everywhere.

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

Jonathan Fields
Yeah. My call to action really bridges off of what I shared earlier about this being a unique moment in time. A lot of people, I think, have not been entirely satisfied with the way that they work. It may be taking care of them financially, it may be giving them a certain amount of security, but life is short. I think we’ve been all reminded how tender it can be most recently. I got a huge wakeup call around that during 9/11 when I was in New York City, and that shifted the way that I look at the world, the way that I look at work.

I think we’re in a moment right now where there’s a similar disruption happening. And my invitation would be to not take this feeling, not take this questioning, and just bury it, just stifle it, and just kind of keep on keeping on, and keep your head down. Whether you make a bigger change or not, it doesn’t really matter. But take this window as an invitation to discover more about who you are, about what fills you up, about what empties you out, and then use that information to try and make better decisions.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jonathan, this has been a treat. I wish you all the best as you keep on putting your imprint on cool stuff that makes you come alive.

Jonathan Fields
Thanks so much. Appreciate you having me.

702: Building the Courage to Speak Up and Stand Out at Work with Jim Detert

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Jim Detert says: "Advocacy isn't just yelling my conclusion more loudly. It's helping people see why I came to that conclusion."

Jim Detert discusses how to build your courage to stand out and influence.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why acting courageously is easier than you think
  2. The four fears that keep us from acting courageously
  3. The most effective way to get others to listen to you

About Jim

Jim Detert (PhD, Harvard) is the John L. Colley Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Detert’s research focuses on employee voice and other forms of workplace courage, experiential leadership development, and ethical decision-making and behavior. His research has won several academic best-paper awards, and his teaching and curriculum development have also won multiple awards at UVA and Cornell.

Resources Mentioned

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Jim Detert Interview Transcript

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

Jim Detert
It’s great to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to be chatting about courage at work. And I’d love to hear from you upfront, what was a time you really had to muster up some courage at work?

Jim Detert
Well, as a tenured professor, it’s actually kind of laughable perhaps to talk about courage at work. I have a real privilege of a type of job security most people don’t have. So, I would say, most of the times I’ve had to muster up courage at work in the spirit of challenging long-standing tradition. We’re pretty slow to change.

And so, when I was dean, for example, of our executive MBA program, I found myself repeatedly responding to statements that we can’t do something, with statements of, “By ‘I can’t do something’ do you mean it’s illegal or immoral, or simply that we haven’t done it in the past and prefer not to?” Those, frankly, are so numerous that I won’t bore listeners with all the specific examples of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that is a nice helpful distinction to put front and center there. Cool. All right. Well, so that’s your personal experience. And how about your research, any particularly counterintuitive or surprising discoveries you’ve made about courage at work over your research career?

Jim Detert
Well, I think a few insights that have emerged that might seem counterintuitive, or at least they’re counter to the narrative. So, for example, I think we have a myth, in fact, I know we have a myth that courage is some kind of in-born trait or capacity that a few possess but most don’t. And having studied, literally, thousands of individual actors and acts of courage, I can tell you that there is no magic gene, there is no magic personality trait, background experience. People who step up and do the right thing at work, when they could and should, very tremendously in every dimension you and I can name. So, one sort of insight or sort of myth-busting for me has been it is not about a personal type. It is about a personal choice.

I think related to that is that people talk about courageous action as if these folks were sort of born ready or it was easy but, in fact, when you study folks, when they’re talking about John Lewis, for example, in the political realm or so many people I’ve studied in more regular kinds of workplaces, what you realize is that actually what looks like this natural confidence comes from hard work, years of practice, years of trying things, learning how to be more effective. So, that’s a second takeaway, is that this is like any skill. It’s developed through practice and commitment.

Maybe one insight or aha about the process itself is we think a lot about the moment when somebody speaks up or steps up. That’s the thing we remember and tend to pass on through narrative. But it turns out that what seems to make a difference in many cases for how those moments go is the preparation work and the things people do before those acts, and then, maybe most surprisingly, what they do after. So, skillful actors don’t just manage the moment well. They’re really good about after the fact, following up when things seem to have gone well, getting commitments, securing resources.

And when things didn’t go so well, they’re courageous enough to go have yet another difficult conversation, and say, “Hey, you look upset or angry or your body language suggests that you weren’t onboard. Can we talk about that?” And I think that follow-up is something we don’t think much at all about because we’re so focused on that big-bang moment itself.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing, yes. So, you’re right, in terms of as we just think about being courageous, like what comes to mind is exactly that, those moments of stepping up, saying something unpopular, or challenging the status quo in some way. And so, that’s a good thought in terms of there really is some private work going on either internally in their own brains or sort of afterwards one-on-one in the mix. Well, thanks for those. And maybe zooming out a bit, so your book Choosing Courage, what’s the central thesis here?

Jim Detert
The central thesis, I guess, going back to where we started, is really that courage is a personal choice and it’s a responsibility, and it helps to think not about courage as if it’s some sort of property. I often say, if you do an autopsy of somebody, you won’t find some stock of courage somewhere in the body. There is no such thing. So, it helps to think about courageous action.

And once you say it’s about whether you do something in those critical moments, you then can assume personal responsibility. And, in a sense, the thesis is that we don’t allow ourselves to say that any other virtue is just a responsibility of some, or that we should do some of the time. If you think about fairness or moderation or kindness, so many other principal or cardinal virtues, those aren’t just the responsibility of one of my ten coworkers, or myself, one of ten opportunities.

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m not really an honest person, Jim. You know that. I leave that to the other guys. They’re often honest. That’s good enough for me.”

Jim Detert
The question, right, is, “Why have we allowed that?” We wouldn’t say that about any of these other traits, these virtues, so why do we allow that in the realm of courage? Frankly, I think we let ourselves off the hook too frequently. And part of it is because we’re afraid, and so the book talks a lot about how to address fears, and part of it is because we’re not very skilled, and so we see so many screw ups in ourself and others when people do try to behave courageously, that we conclude, “It’s just too dangerous.”

And so, the book is fundamentally about saying, “Hey, you got to choose your moments, but then you have to be willing to take on some risks and you have to be willing to do the work to increase your competency.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, Jim, it’s interesting, we’re talking about virtue, and I’m thinking about Aristotle and how the pursuit of the good life is good in and of itself, and brings about happiness and such. But just to get mercenary for a second, is it in professionals’ best interest to choose courage? Will that help them be more awesome and advance their jobs? Or is it better to play it safe? How do you think about that?

Jim Detert
So, I think there’s basically two answers to that question. First of all, it depends on your goals. If your goals are basically to just get ahead, potentially as quickly as possible, then, frankly, you and I know there are lots of organizations where the definition of being awesome at your job is keeping your head down, doing what you’re told, and just delivering. And in that regard, you could say choosing courage in the short run, not a great idea.

On the other hand, if you say, “I want to live of life where I felt I had agency, where I was authentic, I was true to myself, l lived my values,” then, hell, yeah, it’s the right choice to make. Another way to think about it is, “Over what time horizon?” So, if you’re talking about whether, “Choosing courage will necessarily put me in line first for the next promotion,” well, maybe, maybe not. But when you start to look at a longer-time horizon, like, “Will I be proud of the legacy I’m creating? Will others really remember me and want to stand with me? Will I have long-term regrets or not?” that’s when this choice is so critical.

If you look at the regret literature, for example, it’s pretty well-established that people, by a large margin, tend to regret inactions, things they think they should’ve done and didn’t than actions they took that didn’t go well. This is true even in people who suffer pretty big consequences – whistleblowers, for example. Almost none of them say they regret doing it.

So, what I would say to listeners is it depends. If you’re talking about how to be most popular or get ahead tomorrow, well, sticking your neck out is not always the best approach. If you’re talking about living what you or I or Aristotle or anybody else would call the good life, then I’d say, yeah, you got to choose courage sometimes.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d imagine, with sort of any measure of prudent risk-taking and say, “I’m going to take on this big project or responsibility or duty or opportunity where the outcome is uncertain,” I think that a level of that is essential for a career to advance, otherwise you don’t seem that special, it’s like, “Okay, you did your job within the realm of ordinary responsibilities. You didn’t deliver near really cool sort of noteworthy improvements, so.”

Jim Detert
Yeah. Okay, I would say if we’re really honest there, a few paths probably to eventually standing up. One, of course, is to be the absolutely best political player. Attach yourself to the most important people and play their game and you’ll get ahead to some degree. Now, for those of us who find that approach distasteful in a variety of ways, I think you’re right, you have to stand out eventually and with some consistency in other ways. And that’s where there’s such a difference between just being courageous and being competently courageous.

My book is titled Choosing Courage. It many respects, it should’ve been titled Choosing Competent Courage because, indeed, the route to success is not just speaking up or speaking out, pushing back against every possible thing you could in offensive language or with terrible emotional valence. It’s about doing those things in ways, to your point, to help you stand out positively. Because not just did you point out a problem, a path forward, a way to expand a market, a creative idea, but you did it in a way that those above you could hear, that they weren’t offended by. Because, at the end of the day, you can stand out in positive or negative ways. And what you’re referring to is how to stand out in positive ways, and that’s about skills when you behave courageously.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, we’re talking a lot about courage and standing up, standing out, taking risks, speaking up. Could you make it all the more real for us in terms of some examples of common places where courageous acts make all the difference at work, or where people often shy away? Kind of what specific kinds of moments are we talking about here?

Jim Detert
So, there are a few sorts of prototypical types of acts that if you sample thousands of people, as I have, say, 75% or more will say, “Yeah, unfortunately, these behaviors are moderately courageous or more.” The most obvious type of behavior, set of behaviors, are what I call truth to power behaviors. So, these are challenging your boss, or skip-level bosses. It could be about policies or practices. It could be about interpersonal behaviors that are offensive or hurtful. It could be about actually illegal or unethical things. It can be about going to bat for your own subordinates to people above you. So, lots of truth to power behaviors.

Somewhat surprising, going back to that conversation, I was surprised to the degree to which when I just asked people, “Tell me about a behavior at work that would be courageous,” I expected that everybody would say truth to power type behaviors. What I wasn’t prepared for was the frequency of people talking about how hard it was to have honest conversations with peers or even have honest conversations or give difficult feedback to subordinates. And the reason I think that was originally surprising to me is I was thinking primarily of risks in terms of economic or career consequences, “If it doesn’t go well, my promotion, my pay, my future here is at stake.”

It turns out, people have a few fundamental fears, and that’s only one of them. People are also highly afraid of social consequences. If you think about it, it makes sense. We’ve evolved in small clans, bands, tribes, and our daily tasks was survival. And if you got ostracized from your group, you were going to die, and you were going to die in short order. And so, it’s not illogical that even though that’s not our environment today, evolutionarily, we’re still programmed to be hugely afraid of being ostracized, to have social consequences.

We also hate psychological risks. We say, “Why don’t people step up and try a new task or take a new job or be more innovative?” The answer there is often they don’t want to look stupid. They don’t want to feel embarrassed. They don’t want to see self-doubt creep in. And so, there’s actually this huge range of behaviors that’s not just about challenging power. It’s about difficult interpersonal situations with peers, subordinates, external partners. It’s about being innovative.

I developed an index of the most common behaviors I heard about from thousands of people, and there’s 35 different behaviors. And many of them, you would probably say, “Gosh, for a professional or a manager, isn’t that just doing your job?” And I’d say, “Yeah, it is, but these things have been surprisingly infrequently.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I love this. So, categories of fears: economic risk, “Might lose my job or money or promotion”; social risk, “Folks will not like me, shun me, ostracize me”; psychological risk, “I might feel stupid or embarrassed if I screw this up and look real dumb.” Are those kinds of the three categories or are there some more there?

Jim Detert
Well, the fourth one, which is real in many contexts I didn’t mention, is physical. If you go back 2,000 years of courage-writing, the vast history of courage-writing was about military contexts. And sure enough, there are still, in military, firefighting, police work, plenty of other settings that come to mind, they’re so physical risks. And even, frankly, I was surprised the degree to which folks who work in any sort of service occupation – bartenders, waiters, customer service – actually report cases of being physically assaulted, accosted, threatened with a weapon, so there’s physical risks also that some people face.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And these 35 behaviors, can you tell us what sort of tops the list in terms of like one, two, three?

Jim Detert
So, in terms of level of courageousness, not surprisingly, those physical risks. So, jumping into the middle of imminent physical risks or harm is number one. What’s surprising, though, is that there are several other behaviors that are statistically no different in terms of how courageous they’re seen as being. These are things like being willing to challenge bosses or skip-level bosses about unethical or illegal behaviors, quitting a job on principle. There are actually several, more available to all of us, kinds of jobs that are actually seen as just as courageous as these physical risks.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. So, that’s the lay of the land. Now, Jim, tell us, if we think we want or need or should do something, and we feel scared about doing it, walk us through it, how do we go about choosing competent courage?

Jim Detert
So, let’s talk just briefly about what you would do before you would take that specific action, then sort of the moment itself, and then what you would do after. So, before. Some people say, “Hey, I’m not ready to take this specific act,” and I say, “That’s fine but you can still work on it every day.” And they say, “What does that mean?”

Well, what it means is the reception you’re going to get to that challenge you issue is, in part, based on the content of the issue. Is that a highly sensitive threatening issue to the boss? But it’s also going to depend on the impression that boss has already formed of you. Does that boss think you’re benevolent? In other words, is the reason you’re speaking up because you actually care about him and others in the organization, or is it because you’re self-interested and just trying to get ahead?

And the boss is also going to ask himself or herself, implicitly, “Hey, if I listen to Jim or Pete, and give them resources or take action they’re suggesting, are they competent, can they do it? Can they make good use of these resources?” And so, every day, we are creating in others, perceptions of whether we’re warm and competent, and that’s really sort of setting the stage, showing people we are fair, we’re emotionally intelligent, on a regular basis sets the stage. So, those things you can be doing every day.

Another thing is the question of, “Is this really the right issue? And is it really the right battle and the right time?” So, if you work in an organization, any organization I’ve ever studied, you could pick something to speak up about every single day but most of them are not truly important to you and don’t make a huge difference. And so, having the skill to sort of suss out what are critical to your core values and to your objectives, and which are sort of tertiary issues, that’s really important.

A woman I work with, Tawana Burnett at Facebook, African-American female leader, really a spectacular leader, and she’s one of the first 20 black females at Facebook, and she said, “Look, if I was going to speak up every single time somebody said something that was inappropriate or insensitive based on race or gender, I’d be doing it every day, but I also would quickly become ineffective because people would stop listening to me.”

And so, she said, “Look, my core value, my core objective is that we have to get more black females into leadership roles, senior leadership roles, because only then will things really change.” So, her rule is, “When things offend me, I ask myself, ‘Is this about the hiring, evaluation, or promotion of black females?’ And if it is, I speak up because we’re not going to get where we need to go if I don’t. If it’s about other things, I may choose to let it go.” So, it’s really about sort of choosing wisely.

Then there’s the moment itself. That’s about what you say, where you say it, how you say it, with what emotional tone, and I’ll give just one specific sort of general piece of advice here. All of us, when asked or when thinking about, like, “I’m going to go for it on this issue,” our first instinct is going to be to say the matter, present the issue, try to give the persuasive remarks from the perspective that’s compelling to us. After all, it’s our brain in which we’re concocting the story, the argument, the pitch, and so our tendency is going to be to frame it in a way that works for us. Often, that’s exactly wrong because if you already control the behavior of the other person or the resources the other person controls, you don’t need to do this anyway.

And so, imagine, for example, that I work for you or with you, and you are really compelled by things that affect us economically, that hit the bottom line, and you really are sensitive to threats or risks to our wellbeing or performance. So, you care about the money and you care about threats. But I come in pitching this great new idea to you, and I’m talking about how it fits with our values and it’s so culturally aligned with who we are, and how it’s such an opportunity, and that opportunity framing and cultural framing doesn’t resonate for you at all because I failed to mention the economic reality or the potential threats if we don’t do this.

And so, people have to remember that it’s the target’s ability to hear and respond well to what you’re saying that makes all the difference. And my book talks about lots and lots of specific strategies for achieving that, but the high-level concept is you got to speak to the target. And then as we started with, I mentioned the importance of following up, whether things have gone well and you’re securing additional resources or timelines, or whether they haven’t gone so well and you’re trying to mend fences, that’s really important, too.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, when it comes to the framing, I would like to hear some of the specific tidbits there. So, do you have some archetypes or categories of frames, so values, economic? Those sounded nice in terms of, yeah, those have very different flavors to them. Any others that come to mind?

Jim Detert
So, there are some other sort of broader frames. For example, I versus we, or sort of win-win versus win-loss. I think what we often fail to remember, we know this but we fail to remember it in the moment, is that when you’re telling somebody why they should do something differently, or you’re pitching your idea, part of what they’re hearing is, as the recipient is, “Oh, you’re saying I’m bad, or my idea or current practice is inferior,” or, “Oh, you want to do this,” or, “You look good and I look like a fool.” And so, framing that helps people understand, “I don’t want to replace or win at your expense. I want to take what you’ve done to the next level. I want to be the scout out front who then brings us all along together. I want to expand the pie for everyone.”

So, helping people be able to hear what you’re saying because they really think you’re on their side, and that you’re advancing excellence rather than beating something down in a win-loss, that’s a huge element of positive framing. And then, frankly, there are lots of just small things we inadvertently say. We can have sort of a beautiful set of data compiled and we can present evidence and solutions, and in just a couple small words, we can screw things up.

We often follow, for example, into the trap of naïve realism, which is simply this idea that there’s just one reality out there, and it just happens to be, “The one that I see. So, if you don’t see it my way, you’re dumb.” And when we unconsciously operate that way, we’ll say things like, “Well, since it’s so obvious that this is the case,” or, “Since this is so unambiguous,” “Since it’s so clear to everybody,” “Since it’s unquestionably the case.” Well, the effect of words like unambiguous, or so clear, or unquestionably, is essentially to say, “If you have any questions or doubts or see it any differently, you’re a dummy or you’re self-interested.”

So, learning to speak with less certainty, learning to avoid other certain phrases, I call them frequency words. My wife and I still joke, 25 years in, how often we would get distracted from the actual content of what one or the other of us were saying because the person who pointed something out would use the word never or always.

So, for example, if my wife wanted me to actually help with the dishes, she was actually quite correct if she would say, “You don’t help clean up as often as you could or should.” That was a correct statement. But if she would say to me, “You never help with the dishes,” the never would trigger me and I would get into a frequency argument with her, and say, “That’s not true,” and I would pull out my little notepad and say, “On Tuesday, July 30th, I actually put the pizza dishes in the…” And so, we would get derailed into an argument about never or always and away from the underlying issue itself around which she or I would be right.

Also, saying things, for example, like, “Don’t take it personal.” I would submit to listeners that we actually never use that phrase except in situations when we know at some level it’s personal. There’s no reason you would say that if that wasn’t the case. There’s the classic scene from You’ve Got Mail where Tom Hanks has got the big Fox Books store and he’s putting Meg Ryan’s little family independent bookstore out of business, and he says to her, “Why are you so mad at me? It’s not personal. It’s just business.” And, of course, she rightfully says, “What are you talking about? ‘It’s not personal?’ This is my family’s bookstore. This is nothing but personal.”

And so, I think avoiding phrases like, “It’s not personal.” And, listeners, if they want, can easily find a short piece on HBR.org that I wrote just a month or so ago on trap phrases and words to avoid in a conversation that speak to all of these kinds of examples.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it when we get specific about precise words to avoid. Any words that you love, key things that find their way into a lot of great communications?

Jim Detert
So, if you go back to the great sort of master Chris Argyris, he talked about the idea of cognitive ladders of inference and advocacy and inquiry. And so, for listeners who haven’t heard of this, the basic idea was that most of the time we communicate at what Chris called the top of the ladder, our conclusion. I say, “Hey, Pete, we should do this and we should do it tomorrow.” That’s a conclusion. And Pete says, “That’s crazy. We should stick with what we got.” That’s a conclusion.

What we fail to do is get below those cognitive ladders of inference, that is what’s going on in our head. So, if I’m saying, “Hey, we should do this and we should do it tomorrow,” what I have done actually is I’m drawing on some data, like, “Hey, here’s data on what our competitors are doing. Here’s data internally on how our sales have decreased recently,” or, “Hey, here are some data on us losing some top talent because they’re bored.” And from that, I might reason, “We need to do something new and we need to do it in a way that catches the market’s attention, and, therefore, I reached that conclusion I said to you.”

And, similarly, you’re saying, “Hey, we should stick with it the way it is.” The thing is that you’re looking at other data. You may be looking and saying, “Nobody above me has said we have a problem yet. Most of the industry is still doing what we’re doing.” You might therefore reason, “I think things are fine. Jim is just antsy. They’re ballistic with what we’ve got.”

And so, the specific tool here is advocacy and inquiry. And advocacy isn’t just yelling my conclusion more loudly. It’s helping people see why I came to that conclusion. So, phrases like, “Can I share my data with you?” or, “Can I help you see my reasoning?” things that reveal your ladder, language that reveals your ladder. And then the most powerful thing are inquiry phrases, saying, “Hey, Pete, I heard you say that you think we should stay. Can you help me understand why? Can you help me see where you’re coming from? Can you share your reasoning with me?”

Skillful inquiry is perhaps the single best way to sort of build communication bridges I know and have ever read about. And all you got to do, we’re talking about the world of work, but all I got to do is look around the world we’re living in, the divisiveness politically, etc., and you realize we are all constantly screaming at each other from the top of our ladders, and we’re not good at all of helping people see where we’re coming from, or taking perspective by asking people where they’re coming from.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. That’s so good. That’s good. And speaking of emotions, what are your top tips on managing the emotions, like, either you’re super scared or you’re super angry when you are prepping to speak up, choose courage?

Jim Detert
Yeah, so fear and anger, we sort of all intuitively know, they have the opposite action propensities. So, fear will tend to make you sort of flee or freeze. Fear is an avoidance emotion, whereas, anger is an approach emotion. Anger makes you want to go toward the source. So, the advice has to be quite different. With fear, you have to do things, frankly, often ahead of time. Over longer periods of time, it can be about being in good physical shape, it can be about mindfulness, yoga, anything that sort of helps you sort of change your sort of base physiological response.

People with high fear often find they have to also take specific steps like scripting out in advance things they’re going to say. They may have to practice more and have people sort of shoot back at them so they can practice sort of staying in the moment and not fleeing. Most people don’t physically run out of a room but you’ll see them just shut down and cave. And so, they have to really practice camping down the fear.

Anger, on the other hand, is, in some respects, useful because if you get angry enough about something, you’re actually likely to bring it up and say or do something about it. The problem with anger is you’re likely to be quite unskillful – offensive, for example. And here I’ll tell a story about myself. Most people, I think, in fact, almost everybody who knows me would say, “Jim has no problem choosing courage but at times Jim has had a problem with displaying competent courage.” And in most instances, that would be because I let anger at injustices or problems or whatever get in the way.

And so, part of dealing with anger is what you do in the moment. It turns out these old adages like, “Count to ten,” or, “Take three deep breaths,” these are actually quite useful because what they actually are doing is trying to engage your parasympathetic nervous system to calm down. It’s often a very useful tactic to try to teach yourself, to train yourself, to accept in emergencies not speak in that moment but schedule a follow-up, allow the moment to pass and then schedule after you’ve sort of gotten your emotions back together.

And then, frankly, part of it is knowing who you are and using strategies, sometimes even technologies to be your friend. So, in my case, this was a number of years ago, having made the classic mistake of firing off some emails when I was upset. I’d learned that you can actually set the Outlook timer to basically hold all emails you’ve sent in the outbox for any designated number of minutes or hours. And so, for quite some time, I set my Outlook outgoing mail to hold for 60 minutes because I knew that if I basically didn’t send emails for an hour, there was a very high likelihood I would calm down and revisit that email and have a chance to save it before I couldn’t.

So, learning strategies for both, lessening your anger, and then sort of navigating around it are really important.

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

Jim Detert
I think, again, the thing to really know is that if you accept the premise that we’ve talked about here today, which is that this is a choice everybody has to make and it’s about skills, then the really important thing to do is to set specific goals. And I guess one thing we haven’t talked about is the reason I think people often don’t engage in courage at work is they think of the very scariest thing that comes to mind first, and then they, rightfully so, conclude one of two things, “I’m not going to do that because it’s too difficult and it’ll go terribly,” or they’ll say, “I tried it, and because it was so incredibly difficult and I wasn’t ready, I totally screwed it up. And that only confirmed for me how stupid choosing courage is.”

I think this is akin to the idea that you decide, you’re not a runner but you decide you’re going to run a 10K. Well, the dumbest thing to do would be to go out and try to run 10K the first day. You’d be so sore with so many injuries, you’d probably never jog again. So, what I encourage people to do is build a personal courage ladder. Yeah, you can put that scariest thing on the top rung but put some sort of moderately difficult things in the middle rungs, and put some things that you’re a little afraid of but you could imagine doing on the lowest rungs, and then choose those to start with.

Because, as with any skill, the way you actually build competence over time is you start small, and you have a little success, and you feel better about yourself, it increases your motivation. So, what we haven’t really, I think, talked about enough is the importance of starting small. That’s how all skills are developed.

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

Jim Detert
Yeah, I love the quote of George Bernard Shaw. He says, “Reasonable people adapt to the world around themselves. Unreasonable people try to adapt the world to themselves, and that’s why all progress depends on unreasonable people.” I think we give so much advice about sort of fitting in, getting along, and sometimes we forget that, actually, the great change agents, the people who we most admire were okay pushing boundaries and being a little bit unreasonable.

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

Jim Detert
So, although these are quite dated, I think, perhaps the most powerful research ever done was the Milgram experiments on deference to authority. Milgram was, essentially, showing that in any reasonable size town in America, he could find people who would be willing to pull the shock lever to pretty high voltage simply because they were instructed to do so by power. And I think the Milgram studies and Asch’s conformity studies, they have shown us, time and again, how powerful the forces towards sort of conformity and deference in hierarchies is. And that is such a potent set of research to remind ourselves why we have to sort of choose courage and change systems.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Jim Detert
So, I love some of the classic fiction books, like Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four, these books that you say, “Gosh, 50 years, or however ahead of time, these people, even though writing fiction, really foresaw a world that was going to come into being.” Also, recently, a much more recent favorite, I read a book called Awareness by Anthony De Mello. He was sort of a Buddhist monk who, essentially, in this book is saying, “Stop trying to change everything in yourself and everybody else. The first step is just awareness,” and then has a lot of tips on how to just become more mindful and self-aware.

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

Jim Detert
Yeah, I tell you, I was thinking about this notion of tools, and I felt a little bit like a Luddite because I’m not so much of a tools guy. But I will tell you that what I love, actually, are intellectual frameworks. A simple one, very consistent with the conversation we’re having, is Kim Scott’s Radical Candor two-by-two framework where she describes being radically candid as that beautiful combination of telling the truth but also having people understand you care.

And I love her off-quadrant descriptions of ruinous empathy, people who don’t tell the truth because they’re so worried about looking like they care, or people who are obnoxiously aggressive, they tell the truth but nobody thinks they’re doing it for the right reason. And I find that notion of having to move either from ruinous empathy or from obnoxious aggression toward that quadrant of caring honesty just such a compelling reminder when I work with folks.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Jim Detert
So, I am a big reader of other folks’ advice on writing. And while people vary across the board – they write in the morning, they write at night, they write with a suit on, they write naked – you name it, there’s huge variance. But one thing that all writers seem to agree on is you got to have butt in seat, that books do not get written, articles do not get written, if you aren’t at the desk, if you aren’t writing.

And so, for me, a really important habit is just butt in seat. I don’t have to feel it, I don’t have to think I’m going to have great wisdom, I just do it. And, in fact, when I wrote Choosing Courage, I set a goal that I was going to write 15 minutes every day, just 15 minutes, I said, “If that’s all I got in me, fine. I’m going to write 15 minutes every single day until it was written.” And I did. And some days, because that was such an easy goal to achieve, I wrote for several hours, but there was no pressure to do just 15. And I think I wrote the first draft of Choosing Courage in 173 days of my 15-minute rule.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And is there a particular nugget you share that resonates with folks; you’re known for?

Jim Detert
So, I think I have said and seen multiple people quote this notion that leadership is not a popularity contest. We grow up thinking, because we see leaders as folks who emerge in the playground or in student council elections, or whatever, we think leadership is a popularity contest but great leadership is much, much harder than that and actually involves a willingness to sort of stand alone and sometimes do unpopular things. So, leadership is not a popularity contest. And then, more recently, I think this notion that competent courage comes from practice not any innate quality or capacity is, I think, something that has resonated with people.

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

Jim Detert
So, I’m pretty active on LinkedIn. I do a lot of writing and posting on LinkedIn. And I also have a website, simply JimDetert.com where my different projects, writing, curriculum, etc., are all shared.

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

Jim Detert
Build that courage ladder for yourself and commit today, not tomorrow, not next week, not next month. Commit today to what you’re going to do. And the particular challenge, beyond just build the ladder and choose something, is lock yourself in. So, if you know you have a hard time following through on things you find sort of difficult or risky, put some stake in the ground. Tell your boss you’re going to do it. Make a pledge that you will give a sizable amount of money to a charity or political party you hate if you don’t take the action by a certain date. Somehow lock yourself in. That’s how people end up doing hard things.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jim, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and success in all your courageous choices.

Jim Detert
Thank you much. Same to you.

694: How to Make Your Voice Heard with Connson Locke

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Connson Locke says: "Making your voice heard is not just about dominating other people."

Connson Locke reveals the factors that get people to sit up and take notice.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we pay attention to some more than others 
  2. The elements of an influential voice
  3. The simple secret to becoming more likable 

 

About Connson

Professor Connson Locke joined the London School of Economics (LSE) in 2008 where she teaches Leadership, Organizational Behaviour, and Negotiation and Decision Making.  Connson has over 30 years’ experience as an educator, coach, and consultant working in Europe, Asia Pacific, North America, and Australia. Prior to entering academia, she served as Regional Training and Development Manager for the Boston Consulting Group where she was responsible for the learning and development of consulting staff in 10 offices across Asia Pacific.

Connson holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Business Administration (Organizational Behaviour) from the University of California, Berkeley and a B.A. in Sociology from Harvard University where she graduated with honours. Her new book, Making Your Voice Heard, uses the research on power and influence to help people speak up to those who have more power than they do. 

Resources Mentioned

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Connson Locke Interview Transcript

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

Connson Locke
You’re welcome. Thanks for inviting me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, my pleasure. I am excited to talk about how we can go about making our voices heard. But, first, I think we need to hear just a bit about you, bungee jumping in Thailand.

Connson Locke
Well, bungee jumping in Thailand, it was in my early 30s and I was going through an early mid-life crisis and I didn’t know what to do with myself, and I thought, “I’m just going to go away on vacation by myself.” And in Asia, at least at the time, it was quite safe for a woman traveling alone. So, I went to Thailand and I thought, “Oh, look, there’s a bungee jumping place that’s over a lake.” And I’d always wanted to bungee jump, and I thought, “It’s over water so it’s probably safe, right?” It was only afterwards that I found out if you hit water at such high speed, it’s like hitting the ground.

And so, I went, I got this tuk-tuk driver, and the tuk-tuk is like the local taxi, he didn’t speak any English, and I pointed out where I wanted to go, so he took me there. He had never seen bungee jumping before so he was the only person there that was watching me, essentially, except for the staff. So, I stand up there, and the thing about bungee jumping, you see the photos, it looks like people are flying. You do not fly. You drop like a rock.

So, I stepped off the platform thinking, “Oh, I’m going to fly like a bird,” and I just went, boom, straight down, screaming. So, afterwards, I go back to the tuk-tuk, and the driver was staring at me, like, “Oh, my God, I cannot believe what you just did.” And he’s like tapping his chest going, “Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom,” like your heart must be going crazy, and I said, “Yes?” And so, he bought me a bottle of water, which he makes hardly any money but he bought me a bottle of water because he felt so bad for me. That was me bungee jumping in Thailand.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom? I bet that probably plays in your head from time to time. That’s unforgettable. Well, so I take it that it wasn’t something you’re going to do again?

Connson Locke
No, no, it was one of those things I wanted to try once but that’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, there you have it. Well, I’ve been skydiving and hang gliding, and I loved it, but bungee jumping just feels like my stomach would go, “Waah,” just from the jolt.

Connson Locke
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And I don’t know if I would do so well. Okay. Well, so I’m glad we covered that. That’s important. And now it’s also important, your book Making Your Voice Heard. That is something, boy, our listeners have asked for before. Can you tell us what’s kind of like the core thesis here?

Connson Locke
So, this is all about what I call upward influence. How do you influence people who have as much or more power than you do? And this is something that has always interested me. And I teach leadership at the LSE, so I’ve been teaching leadership for about 13 years now. And what I noticed in a lot of leadership courses, the focus is very much on, “How do the leaders influence their team?” But, come on, if you’re the boss, how hard is it to make your team do what you want them to do? Like, okay, you’ve got to engage them and all that, but still.

What’s really important and what I struggled with for the 16 years before I entered academia was, “How do I influence my boss?” or, “How do I influence the client?” or, “How do I influence the people who have more power than me, the government official, or whoever it is that I’m trying to convince?” That’s the challenging thing and that’s what the book is focused on.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’m looking forward to digging into the particular details. But maybe could you start us off by sharing with us a particularly surprising and counterintuitive discovery you’ve made while doing this research?

Connson Locke
I suppose what I find interesting about it is that it’s possible. What I mean is I’ve always been a very shy introverted person and, growing up, I’m Chinese-American, and growing up my parents were very traditional Chinese, I always grew up with this idea that, “Hierarchy is hierarchy and you’re not supposed to argue with your boss. Like, you don’t disagree with your boss. That’s crazy. And why would your boss change his or her mind because of what you say? They are the boss.”

And so, to me, I guess it’s not counterintuitive but it was something that was surprising for me is that, actually, this is something your boss wants you to do in a lot of cases. Like, they want to hear your voice, they want to get your opinion, and if you think that something is going wrong and you can fix it, they want to know that. So, it’s one of those things that, once I realized it’s beneficial for the organization, oftentimes the people in charge want to hear your voice, then that kind of changed the way I looked at it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, I concur as someone who has been both the boss and the follower. As the boss, it is genuinely helpful when I say something and someone tells me, not necessarily, “That’s the stupidest idea ever. You’re so wrong.” But rather, “Hmm, do you think that’s the best course of action, given X, Y, Z?” and I go, “Oh, shoot. Yeah, you’re right. Sorry, thank you.” And then, “It’d be like disastrous if we went ahead and charged ahead with the thing I originally thought of, so thank you, collaborator, for bringing that to my attention.”

Okay. Well, so then I want to dig into the how-to of that. But maybe, zooming out, can you tell us, kind of fundamentally, what makes some people more influential than others? And I’ve had listeners say something like, “Hey, sometimes I’ll be in a meeting, and I’ll say something, and then someone else, and it was sort of like, ‘Hmm,” kind of barely acknowledged. And someone else will say just about exactly the same thing, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah,’ and there’s like enthusiasm and movement, and I think, ‘What the heck is going on here?’ And it feels horrible.” You feel so small when that happens. But what are some drivers behind that? What makes someone more influential than someone else?

Connson Locke
So, sometimes it’s pure bias, sometimes there is maybe the person who is being paid attention to is maybe physically bigger, or is taller, or has been around longer, or is more senior. So, these are things you don’t necessarily have control over and there are biases towards listening to those people more. But what you can do to be that person that people listen to is there’s reputation, and then there is delivery style, and, of course, there’s content, obviously, but we’re talking about two people presenting the same amount of content, so who gets listened to more, assuming all other things are equal.

Reputation is what’s called basis of power. So, basis of power are where you get your power from, and if you’re the boss, you get your power from things like you have access to rewards and punishments. But if you’re not the boss, you get your power from two things. One is called expert power, which is people respect you for your expertise. And the other is called reverend power, which is people like you, but this takes time, you have to build it over time.

And if you’ve built that respect, if people respect you, and they go, “Oh, okay. Well, I’ve worked with Connson for a long time, and when she says something, I know that it’s worth listening to,” or, “I’ve worked with Connson a long time, and I really like listening to…I’ve really liked working with her, so I think I will listen to her.” That is something that can really feed into that. So, that’s the reputation.

But the other thing is the delivery style. And delivery style is everything from your body language. We think a lot about body language but, actually, I think what’s even more important than body language is the voice. What are we doing with our voice? Are we emphasizing? Are we being monotone? Are we using pauses? And that’s something that we can practice, but, also, it’s delivery is like it’s being pithy, it’s like getting to the point, it’s catching people’s attention. So, it’s that combination of how do you sound, how do you look, and what are you saying.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then let’s talk about both the long-term game and the short-term game. Let’s hear first some quick hits, the do’s and don’ts of sort of like the voice and the presentation and the delivery style because that’s something we can do immediately and, hopefully, see some impact. So, what are the top things that give us an influence boost versus an influence ding?

Connson Locke
Okay. So, when it comes to delivery style, think of how you look and how you sound. And I’m going to assume that what you’re saying is the same regardless, so let’s focus on how you look and how you sound. How you look, if you’re online, you need to pay attention to lightning. If you’re not online then, obviously, you don’t have to worry about that, you’re all in the same room anyway. If you’re online, you also need to pay attention to sound quality, so getting a good headset so people can hear you.

The other things about how you look is think about your clothing, your hairstyle. Are you standing up straight? Are you slouched or are you taking up space? So, the good things are, if you’re standing up or sitting up straight, you’re taking up some space, which means you’re not shrinking, you’re not kind of hiding, but you’re really owning that space. You’re using eye contact while speaking because that’s what makes people…that’s what makes you come across as confident. And you’re using a tone of voice that’s confident and natural, a pace that’s natural, and you’re willing to pause.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, could you maybe give us a verbal demonstration then associated with what does a nice influential voice sound like versus a not-so influential voice?

Connson Locke
Sure. So, if I’m trying to tell you about what makes me influential, yeah, and I’m talking and I’m just kind of using a lot of filler words, it’s not very engaging and, after a while, you kind of tune out. Instead, if you’re short, sharp, sweet, you deliver the information, look confident, sound confident, and deliver your information in sharp bites. Okay, I’ve got a confident tone of voice, I’m pausing in between each point, and sometimes I’ll change my tone if I’m emphasizing something or maybe I’ll say something a bit softer if I want to get your attention. That’s using your voice to its potential and it’s something you can practice. Everyone can practice at home. You record yourself on your phone, you play it back.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. It’s so funny, in the first one, my attention started drifting just within a couple of seconds, and this is kind of my job is to pay attention to everything you’re saying.

Connson Locke
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And think about how we’re going to package and present it. So, I thought that was pretty funny and then there may very well have been some listeners, I think you’d notice the same thing or maybe even skipped ahead, like, “Oh, I’m bored right now. Let’s get more.” So, that’s potent there. And then part of it is practicing and recording yourself so you can just hear and see the difference for yourself. Any other tips in terms of doing the preparation so that that is possible?

Connson Locke
You know, who I think one of my best coaches has been, and he hasn’t meant to be my coach, my husband who I have been married to for about 20 years now. He’s a very impatient person. And when I first started dating him, I would tell him stories about what happened to me at work, and I’d go on and on and on, and he would just drift off, like he was not listening anymore.

So, over the years, I learned to be very much to the point. Like, I think a great way of practicing is to find a friend or a family member who you know is pretty impatient and practice telling them a story. If you can keep their attention, you’re getting to the point.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I like it. Okay, so that’s the vocal stuff. You mentioned clothing, and maybe this is common sense but maybe perhaps not common practice. What are the do’s and don’ts when it comes to clothing?

Connson Locke
With clothing, you have to pay attention to the culture of the organization you’re in. Don’t make assumptions. I had a student who went for an interview at an advertising company, and she wore a very conservative dark blue suit, and she noticed that everyone around her was wearing colorful funky kind of creative clothing. She did not get the job. So, don’t make assumptions about what’s the appropriate clothing or not. Really, you need to observe the culture around you and adopt what is best in that environment.

Pete Mockaitis
I notice in my own clothing game, which is mediocre – I’m wearing a T-shirt right now but you’re cool with it. Thanks, Connson – is that just sort of little things in terms of like, “Oh, there’s a wrinkle I didn’t notice before but, oh, now I see it and it’s there,” or, “Oh, there’s a little bit of a spot of, I don’t know if it was maybe a little bit of grease or oil or ketchup I got to wipe up and had just a smidge of that sort of oil or residue left behind.” So, it’s like a wet spot but it’s there for, I guess, the day. That’s what I find with clothing is those little things.

And, I don’t know, sometimes I wonder how much do people care but I think I’m coming around to thinking that even if it’s not fully in their conscious purview, it’s sending a little bit of a signal that’s impeding influence. Would you agree with that or what do you think about those little clothing things?

Connson Locke
I think with clothing, it’s the impression that you make. So, if there’s a little stain and you hardly notice it, I doubt anyone else is going to notice it, unless you point it out to them, which I would suggest you don’t do. But, otherwise, it’s about the general impression. And so, as long as, in terms of the general impression, if you’re making the impression that you want to make, sometimes you want to make a more casual impression, sometimes you want to make a more formal impression, and so it’s all about that kind of broad impression that you’re making, and that’s what you should be aiming for. I wouldn’t worry too much about the little wrinkles or the stains.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thanks for that. That helped there. I think fit also can factor into things in terms of if it’s a little too tight or a little too baggy, it looks quite different than when it’s sharp, like, “Oh, yeah, that fits you just right.” You just look good no matter the context. Okay, so clothing, we’re not going to say much more about that. When it comes to that expertise and the reputation, sort of the long game, how do you recommend we develop that well?

Connson Locke
So, developing expert power, the most obvious way to do it is just to be really good at what you do, be really good at your job, but also to make sure people know that you’re good at your job. So, for example, when I first started working at LSE, I got a lot of good evaluations as a teacher, but not everyone knows what evaluations everyone else is getting. But the head of my group was so impressed with my teaching scores that she actually had this little, at one of the staff meetings, she gave me a little award for getting the best teaching evaluations that she’s ever seen.

And so, that was great because I didn’t have to brag on my own behalf, which never looks good. She was the one who kind of let people know what I was doing, and that helped me gain expert power. So, then my colleagues were like, “Oh, wow. I didn’t know that Connson was good at that.” So, it’s being really good at what you do but also making sure, finding a way to let people know that you’re good at it.

If you want to build expert power with a particular person, it can really help if you can help them solve a problem that they’re working on, that they’re struggling with, because then you’re helping them solve this problem and they’ll be grateful, and they’ll also be like, “Oh, you’re pretty smart.” So, those are the ways of building expert power.

Pete Mockaitis
And then what I’m intrigued by your fantastic evaluations, and maybe particular pedagogical things that are not within the scope here, but is there anything you do in the classroom you think that is particularly powerful when it comes to being liked and influential by your students?

Connson Locke
I think, in terms of the evaluations that I’ve received, there are two things that students usually say. One is they can tell that I love what I teach, like I really care about this. But it’s not just that I’m so fascinated about the topic that I teach, it’s that I care about helping them become better leaders. So, when I teach, it’s not me kind of indulging myself. When I teach, it’s about helping my students become better at leadership, at influence, at doing better in their careers, and they can tell that. They can tell that I want to help them. So, that really engages them.

The other thing is I tell lots of stories, and they love the stories. So, I tell stories about my kids, about my husband. I guess I’ve already mentioned something about my husband today, and it’s just I bring all of my personal experiences into it, and they think that’s very engaging.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. Okay. Well, so then when it comes to the workplace, well, hey, that’s been a common theme we’ve seen in terms of just caring, just is huge in terms of people pick up on it, they want to reciprocate, you’re motivated, you get more creative ideas, you look out for their good, and so all kinds of great things happen just by caring, and caring can be rare in some environments, so it really is a distinguisher. So, what else do you recommend folks do to bolster their likability at work?

Connson Locke
So, in terms of likability, so expertise is one thing, and we’ve already talked about that. Likability is different in that it’s really about getting to know people as people, not as work colleagues. It’s really having that curiosity in a person. It’s wanting to connect with people just for the sake of connecting. So, for example, I don’t know, if you’ve got someone who works at the front desk, and you’re walking past the front desk to go to the stationery cupboard, pause at the front desk, chat with them, get to know them, at least get to know their name and who they are.

It’s that connecting with colleagues, chatting with people at the coffee machine. I know that doesn’t happen so much now with the pandemic and everything. I had a colleague, just today, who’s helping me with something, and she was so amazingly helpful. I said to her, “I’m going to take you out to dinner in return.” And so, it’s that taking the time to get to know people and appreciate people. That makes you likable.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, you also write a bit about energy and body cues. Can you share with us a little bit about what are these, how do we identify them, and use them to our advantage?

Connson Locke
So, when it comes to body cues, I think most of what I think is important to focus on is what you are communicating to other people because that’s what you have control over. And what I think is most important, when you’re trying to be influential, is communicating confidence. And so, confidence, communicating confidence is everything you learn in presentation skills training – stand up straight, take up space, use eye contact, sound confident, all of those things.

When we’re trying to interpret other people’s body cues, we have to be very careful because it’s really easy to misinterpret. So, one thing I usually warn people about is narcissists are great at looking confident, and we confuse confidence with competence, and, obviously, it’s not the same thing. If someone looks confident, we think that they’re pretty competent. The next time you are interviewing someone or listening to someone, and you think, “Wow, they really know what they’re talking about,” just question yourself a little bit, “What am I basing this on? Am I basing this on the fact that they sound really confident? Or, am I actually basing this on something concrete?”

Like, if you’re interviewing someone, how do you protect yourself against a narcissist? There are a couple of things you can do. One is you ask for specific examples of what they’ve accomplished, because once you get the examples, then you can hear how they talk about the examples. Do they talk about it as if they did everything themselves, or do they give other people credit?

And the other this is you ask other people how they were treated by this person, especially the receptionist or the junior people, because narcissists tend to talk down to people who they don’t think are very important. So, I guess the bottom-line is don’t read too much into other people’s body cues, and, in fact, try to get additional data to make sure that what you’re interpreting is accurate.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that sounds dead-on. And then I find there’s an interesting blend, I was chatting with my buddy Connor about this, not Connie, not Connson – Connor. And he said, I think I was chatting, it was a speech therapist. I was taking my son to a speech therapist, and she said, “Yeah, his pronunciation on words is pretty good but when it gets stretched out to a whole sentence, it does get a little bit harder to understand.” And I thought, “You know, I’ve always thought the word was pronounced pronunciation, and you’re the speech therapist, so I would imagine pronunciation is your whole game. So, if you say it’s pronoun-ciation, then I’m inclined to think maybe it is.”

And I think it’s so fascinating, and maybe this is agreeableness, the personality trait that I’m capturing here, but it’s like there are some folks who seem, and she was very sweet, but there are some folks who seem very confident and positive that their way, their thoughts are correct. And I, who have, I guess, a decent bit of humility and agreeableness, or whatever the construct is, when I receive that, I go, “Oh, okay. Well, I kind of thought it was this,” or, “Hmm, that doesn’t make much sense to me given A, B, C in my own experience, but you really seem to think…”

And so, it’s tricky and, often, that’s the conversation I have with friends, it’s like, “Wait. Am I crazy? What’s the deal here?” And so, hey, help us if you can. Help us decode that. Like, how much stock should we put in the confidence of another person relative to our own knowledge, data, expertise? And it’s probably not a one-size-fits-all answer. I’m putting you on the spot, but how do you think about that dance?

Connson Locke
The way I think about it would be trying to break down, “Is this person…Do I feel like this person is confident in what they’re saying because of the way they are saying it? Or, are they actually putting some data and some logic and some actual concrete support behind what they’re saying?” Because if they’re giving me some concrete support, okay, maybe I’ll be a bit more confident in what they’re saying. If it’s simply they’re delivering it with confidence, no, don’t be fooled by that.

I’m just going to use my husband as an example again. When my children, my daughters are now teenagers but I remember when they were younger, when they were like eight and ten years old, and my husband is the full-time parent. And one time I heard one of my daughters asking her father about a history question. We live in the UK so, obviously, they’re not going to ask me a history question. I don’t know about the queens and the kings of England and all of that.

So, they asked their father, who’s English, and he gave a very definitive answer, and so they went and did their homework. And then they came back to me the next day, and they said, “I got that question wrong. I asked daddy, and daddy was so confident, and so I thought it was right, but it was wrong.” And I was like, “Yes. Well, you should really double-check for yourself. Daddy says things confidently but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right.” And so, my daughters were learning that lesson very early on, but I think it’s something we all have to keep in mind. Just because someone is saying something in a confident tone doesn’t mean it’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, Connson, tell me, any other key things you want to make sure to mention about making your voice heard before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Connson Locke
I think one of the most important things we need to understand about making your voice heard is that it’s not just about dominating other people. It’s not just about being heard. Like, you have to have something to say. You have to have a reason why you’re doing this. So, what has helped me over the years, as I said I was very introverted before and had a lot of trouble making my voice heard. But what has helped me over the years is that I have a higher purpose in a way. I’m helping people learn, I’m helping people be better at what they do, and that’s what drives me.

So, I think instead of just thinking, “How do I get loud enough so everyone is going to hear me?” you should be asking yourself, “What do I want to say and is it worth saying? Is it actually going to add to what’s happening out there?” The other thing I would say also is influence is a two-way street. So, it’s not just about trying to convince the other person that you’re right. It’s actually about getting to know the other person as well and being open to them, asking questions and finding out what their perspective is, and having a two-way conversation.

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

Connson Locke
Yes, so there’s a book by Kahlil Gibran called The Prophet, and there’s a quote from that that says, “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that holds your understanding.” And it took me a very long time to understand this, but now that I’ve been through failure, I’ve been through a lot of pain over the years – I’m 55 so I’ve lived, you know, I’ve done a lot of things – I now understand that when you go through a painful experience, you’re growing and, as a result, you actually get bigger.

And I kind of think of it as it’s kind of like a snake shedding its skin. So, each time you go through this painful experience, you kind of shed a skin, you’re getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and it’s how you grow. It’s how you develop. And so, when I look back on my life and the painful experiences I’ve had, I now no longer regret any of them. There was a time when I hated it, I was like, “Oh, my God, why did I do that job? Why did I have to go through that? Why did I have that horrible boss?” But now I’m like, “You know what, I learned from that and I’m better for it and I’m bigger for it.”

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

Connson Locke
I would actually say, and this is a little bit controversial, the power poses study.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, Amy Cuddy.

Connson Locke
Yeah, Amy Cuddy, power poses. And it’s only controversial because in her original research with her colleagues, what they found was that holding a power pose changes your hormones. It reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, and increases testosterone, makes you more confident. And other researchers that tried to replicate it did not find any effect on hormones. And so, it became this big thing, like, “Oh, we can’t replicate it. It’s a false study. You should stop talking about it.”

However, what they did replicate was that people who held a power pose for two minutes – and a power pose is not something you do in front of other people, you kind of do in the privacy of a bathroom or something – you do feel more confident as a result. And when they actually did things like they had people do a presentation. Half of them did a power pose before the presentation, and the other half didn’t, and the people who were judging the presentations didn’t know who had done a power pose, but they judged the presentations.

And the presentations that they found more engaging turned out to be the people who had done the power pose. So, I actually think it’s one of those things that it’s so easy, a two-minute power pose. I do it before a big presentation when I’m really nervous. It’s just one of those really easy practical things that, yeah, that’s what I love. I love those easy practical things that you can just work into your day and it doesn’t take much time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And a favorite book?

Connson Locke
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Connson Locke
It’s a 12-week course in rediscovering your creativity and it doesn’t take much time. I did it while I was working at the Boston Consulting Group, actually, so I didn’t have much time. But it took maybe half an hour a day, and then maybe a couple hours on the weekend, but, as a result of following that 12-week course chapter by chapter, it just kind of put me back in touch with, I don’t know, the joy of being alive, kind of put me in touch with rediscovering, like noticing colors and nature and all of these things that I had kind of lost touch with.

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

Connson Locke
A favorite tool I actually think is in my job I lecture so I’m using PowerPoint all the time, which I actually love PowerPoint if it’s used properly, if you’re not using it as a Word document, but you’re actually using it for visuals and shapes and all of that. But PowerPoint has this notes function which I really like using.

The other favorite tool, nowadays when I’m teaching online on Zoom, the polling function. I love polling and I found I can really get students, especially my undergrads who normally won’t…I’ve got like 200 to 300 undergrads at a lecture. In a lecture hall, they’re not going to raise their hands but if I give them a poll, it’s anonymous, and they’ll answer, and I get to know them that way as well. So, I love the polling function.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Connson Locke
One thing that my students have said, they appreciate that I share, is how much I used to struggle when I was younger with my making my voice heard. And I often tell the story of when I was a teenager, I think I was about 15, when I was on vacation with my parents, and we were in a hotel, and my mother said, “Can you go downstairs and ask the front desk for a newspaper?” And I was so stressed out by that, I was like, “What? No, I can’t. You want me to ask a stranger about…? What? No.”

And my students laughed when I talk about that but I think they appreciate me kind of revealing how far I’ve come and how it is possible if you are painfully shy and introverted to evolve and to actually get your voice heard.

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

Connson Locke
I have a website ConnsonLocke.com, and that’s Connson, C-O, double N, S-O-N. C-O, double N because I was born in Connecticut, L-O-C-K-E.com.

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

Connson Locke
You know what, I think one of the most important things is to take time for yourself, is to really not just take time for yourself, but to take time to get to know yourself and to really understand, “What are your priorities? What are your values? What do you find important in life?” Because if you don’t understand that, you can’t bring your best self to work.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Connson, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you lots of luck in all the ways you make your voice heard.

Connson Locke
Thank you.

693: Building Better Relationships through Validation with Michael Sorensen

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Michael Sorensen demonstrates the simple superpower that vastly improves our relationships: validation.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to improve conversations with the four-step validation method 
  2. How we unintentionally invalidate others
  3. How to move past the discomfort of emotional conversations 

About Michael

Michael Sorensen is a marketing executive by day and a bestselling author, speaker, and relationship coach by night. His book, I Hear You, has helped hundreds of thousands of people across the world become masters of connection in business, love, and life. 

Michael has been invited to speak at some of the world’s largest organizations, had his work translated into over a dozen languages, and has even conducted training for the United States Navy. 

 

Resources Mentioned

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Michael Sorensen Interview Transcript

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

Michael Sorensen
Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to get your wisdom on validation and the good stuff from your book, I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships. But, first, I need to hear you made your own mattress. What is the story?

Michael Sorensen
Yes, I wonder when that would come up. Your intro or your intake sheet asked for something kind of unique and I started thinking, “Well, what do I not talk to many people about?” It’s that. It’s something I’m a little bit embarrassed of, and I’m a little bit proud of. I’ve got a bad back and I set out a few years ago to find the perfect mattress to try to make that back pain go away, and that’s was when Casper and some of these other direct-to-consumer companies were coming online, and they’ve got free return policies, so I thought, “Why not? How can it hurt to order?” so I ordered that. It killed my back.

I ordered the next one, that still hurt, and I actually ordered seven mattresses and then returned them or donated them before I actually sourced my own foam and cut it up and found a cover for it and all of that just to try to find the mattress that would work best for my body. The irony is I ended up finding one that actually works and I tossed my homemade one but, you know, it’s still fun to build things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I got to know, what was the difference? What did your homemade version and your final version have the others did not?

Michael Sorensen
This is incredibly nerdy. I would take a picture of myself laying down with my shirt off so I could see my spine alignment, and all of them had my hip sagging lower than my shoulder because my shoulders were propping me up but my hips were down so it was creating this curve. And so, I actually got a different density creating the foam for each section and so my shoulders had a lighter foam and my hips had a heavier foam to try to get that optimal spine alignment.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. And someone made one with that in mind. Is that the…?

Michael Sorensen
Actually, I actually didn’t have that. I just lucked out. It’s the Brooklyn Bedding. They don’t even make that one anymore but it’s just the latex mattress but it was my final…it was probably my eighth mattress actually. I slept on it for a few days, a few weeks, a few months, and I’m still loving it today. I’m not paid to promote it but I probably should be.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m impressed with just the sheer force and persistence that you rocked in arriving at this. And, likewise, you’ve got something that you call a superpower – validation. Tell us, what do you mean by validation? What does it do for us and why is it a superpower?

Michael Sorensen
Yes, absolutely. I find, especially in the workplace, since this is largely a podcast about the workplace, we place a lot of focus on the value of listening, being a good listener, and we talk about how important that it is. I think we all kind of nod our heads and we say, “Yeah, I could do better at listening.” But, really, the main premise of my book and the main thing that we’re going to talk about here today is that the truly good listeners of the world actually do more than just listen. They listen, seek to understand, and then validate.

And that validation, that’s kind of a secret sauce. That’s what, like you mentioned, that I call a superpower because so many people are craving that. And validation is essentially just telling someone, “Hey, I understand how you’re feeling and you’re not crazy for feeling that way.” That’s really the essence of it. And it sounds so simple, it is simple, but I’m telling you, Pete, it makes all the difference in the world because most of us just jump in with feedback or advice or we try to help people, we try to make them feel better when they’re coming to us with a complaint or a concern or a question, when really what they’re wanting is simply to feel heard and understood.

You’re venting, you’re complaining, and you just want someone to say, “Man, that’s tough,” or, “Then what happened?” and ask a few questions to kind of get into it with you. That’s validation. And it makes all the difference in the workplace, in your relationships at home, with your friends and family, because it helps us feel better connected to each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then can you share, whether maybe it’s in terms of a dramatic transformational relationship that went from poor to okay, or to okay to grand, a nice upgrade, or even maybe some data, some studies? Can you share an illustration of just how powerful this is?

Michael Sorensen
Absolutely. I talk early on in the book about a research conducted by Dr. John Gottman. For your listeners who might not be aware of him or familiar with him, he’s a world-renowned marriage and family therapist, and a number of years ago, he and his colleague set out to determine what makes the healthy happy couples of the world stay in a happy long relationship compared to those who separate or divorce.

And I love the study they put together. They decorated their lab, I think it was the University of Washington, to look like a bed and breakfast, and they invited 130 newlywed couples in, and they said, “Spend the weekend here. Just do what you normally do on a weekend. Cook, eat dinner, watch some TV, read the news, whatever it is, while we observe you,” which, I think, is kind of creepy but it’s funny what people will do for money and science.

And as the observers watched, they noticed that throughout the day, these couples would make small seemingly insignificant requests for connection. They’d be sitting there at the table and the wife would look out the window, and say, “Oh, honey, check out that car.” And what they noticed is that the way the spouse could respond in that instance made all the difference in the connection that they had in their relationship.

So, in that particular instance, the wife notices the car and her husband could look out and respond in one of three ways. He could say, “Wow, that’s awesome. I love that color,” positively, and that’s validating, matching her emotion, getting excited with her, stepping into it is validating. The second way he could respond is negatively, of course saying, “Oh, I hate that. That’s the worst car in the world.” Or, the third way is simply passive, just go, “Huh, that’s nice dear,” maybe not even looking up from the smartphone.

And it seems simple but when they went back, they gathered all the data, they started analyzing it, and then they waited six years, and they followed up with these couples, and they said, “How are you doing? Are you still together? And if you are together, are you happily married still or have you separated?” And what they found was the couples who had separated validated each other only 33% of the time. Whenever they would make a comment like that, their spouse would either be passive or even negative about it, but they wouldn’t engage, they wouldn’t connect with them.

Whereas, the couples that were happily married six years later validated each other 87% of the time. Nearly nine times out of ten, those healthy happy couples were meeting those bids or those requests for connection. And I thought that was interesting. At that time of my life, I was in a relationship that wasn’t going so well, and I realized, “Oh, my gosh, it’s because this woman isn’t validating me. She’s not connecting with me in this way.”

And I flipped the page on this article, and apparently Dr. Gottman and his colleagues can predict with up to 97% accuracy whether people will be together and happy or separated years down the line simply by observing these types of interactions. So, I love that study because it made a big difference for me personally in my romantic relationships but, I can tell you, it’s every bit as powerful in the workplace because work is relationships, business is relationships.

Whether you’re a manager, whether you have colleagues, whether you have clients or customers calling in, you’re working with people, you’re talking with people, and we want to feel connected and understood. And so, validation is one of the most powerful ways to build that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, there you have it. So, then you’ve got a particular four-step method for doing the validation. Can you walk us through this?

Michael Sorensen
Absolutely. And I’ll preface this by saying validation is simple. And so, sometimes people look at four steps and they’re like, “What’s this? It seems complicated. Why do I have to do this?” I’ve reverse-engineered this four-step method to try to help people apply it in some of the more difficult situations.

Maybe we can talk later, Pete, about how to validate someone when they’re angry with you or when you disagree with them because I find that’s where a lot of people get tripped up but it actually makes all the difference in the world if you can, first, hold your defense for a moment, listen to them, validate them, and then get in to your side of the story.

And so, the four steps are, first, listen empathically. Like, really listen for the emotion that the person is sharing, not just the words they’re saying. And then once you’ve identified how they’re feeling, the second step is to validate, just identifying their emotion and offering some justification. So, again, if they’re upset, saying, “Of course, you’re upset. You were up all night working on that and they just threw your work out the window.” That’s validating.

Then, step three is where you give feedback or advice. So, again, if you disagree with someone, or if you have a suggestion, you can give advice but it comes after the validation because it allows that person to feel heard and understood first. And then the fourth and final step is to just validate again. It creates a nice little validation sandwich. Following up the conversation whether it was a difficult conversation, then you wrap it up, and you just say, “Hey, thanks again for coming and talk to me. I know these conversations are uncomfortable and yet we got to have them. I really appreciate your candor.”

Or, if it’s positive, your friends are telling you about something awesome that happened at work the other day, and you’re all excited, and at the very end you say, “Hey, congrats again. You worked your butt off on that presentation, I’m happy to hear it went well.” It’s that final step there to kind of tie it all together.

So, again, those four steps: listen empathically, validate the emotion, offer feedback or advice, and then validate again. And you can go through all those in 30 seconds or you might do it several times in a two-hour conversation but it gives you kind of a loose framework and a basic idea of, “Oh, yeah, hold back on the advice, listen, validate, and then get into it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so one of my favorite parts in your book were the demonstrations from like heavy relationship situations and then a toddler exchange, and so it’s nice to show the breadth of it. But let’s take a look, let’s say we’re in the workplace and someone…well, hey, maybe I’ll just take one of the roles and you take one of the others, if that works for you.

Michael Sorensen
Great. Yeah, roleplay. Here we go.
Hey, Pete, how is it going?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s fine.

Michael Sorensen
Fine? Just fine?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I was working on this process to get things that, well, automated into be way more efficient whenever we’re handling the widgets and, well, it just all went to heck. Absolutely nothing works the way they say it’s supposed to work. People have told me they’re going to get me things and just, straight up, haven’t gotten me the things. The software keeps crashing my computer. It’s basically a total failure.

Michael Sorensen
Oh, geez. Man, I’m sorry. How long were you working on that?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s been about four months.

Michael Sorensen
Four months of work to have it just fall apart at the last minute.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Michael Sorensen
Oh, my gosh, that’s so frustrating.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Michael Sorensen
Are you…? What are you going to do? Do you think you can salvage it or is it going to…you have to throw it all out?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I guess I’m just going to keep calling these people until they finally give me the right answer and, hopefully, that works eventually.

Michael Sorensen
Oh, man, I’m sorry. I hate it when you spend that much time minding on something and then it just falls apart. You would hope that with a product that expensive, people have it figured out, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally.

Michael Sorensen
Oh, man. Well, let me know if I can help in any way. Honestly, I don’t know if I can offer much help but I’m happy to if there’s any way I can.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, thank you. All right. So, I saw the steps in action. Anything you’d comment upon in that exchange?

Michael Sorensen
Obviously, where it’s kind of roleplay, we’re both kind of stumbling through it.

Pete Mockaitis
Making it up.

Michael Sorensen
But one of the most important things that I encourage people to do is ask a lot of discovery questions early on. If you already know what’s going on in the person’s life and the situation, you don’t have to ask a lot of questions. But if you don’t, that’s really important to make sure you’re validating the right things and that you’re actually understanding.

I’ve worked with some people who they try to validate right away, and so somebody, they just get right in, they’re like, “Oh, that must be so…you must be so angry,” and they’re like, “Oh, no, I’m not angry. I’m actually embarrassed,” and you kind of go through it. So, I asked a couple questions, not a ton, but then, pretty quickly, I was matching your emotion. I was trying to kind of reflect what I was seeing in you, which is, “Ah, yeah, of course you’re upset if you spent four months on that.” And I’ve actually said as much, “Of course, you’re upset because…” and I showed that justification in saying, “Yeah, it makes sense. That’s maddening to go through all of that.”

And that little piece is so powerful because, oftentimes, we, as humans, are taught to kind of bury our emotions, we’re taught to not be upset, and sometimes we tell people as much, like, “Oh, don’t worry about it. I’m sure it’ll work out,” but that doesn’t usually feel very good. Like, “Well, I am upset. I’m looking for you to see that.” And so, that was that validation piece of me just saying, “Hey, that’s really frustrating, especially if this and that. You would think if they had all this time and money put into it that they would have it figured out.” Those are all validating statements because they are giving you permission to feel the frustration that you’re feeling.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, as you say it, it sounds so simple and yet it feels a little rare. I don’t know if you’ve got stats on this but it seems like we’re all hungry for this and we’re not having our fill, broadly speaking. Is that fair to say?

Michael Sorensen
A hundred percent. And I wish I had stats, Pete, but the stats that I can give you are just looking at the reviews of my book and the emails that I get, the hundreds of thousands of people that are saying, “Oh, my goodness, this is what I’ve been missing.” And it’s all over the board. You see people saying, “I didn’t realize that this is what my spouse was asking for.” Then you see people saying, “If my partner had done this, we would still be together.” Then I get emails from customer service managers saying, “Can you do a training on this? Because I listened to your book and I started implementing it and customers are 1000% happier,” whatever it is.

But, you’re right, it’s so simple but we are craving it and that’s one of the things that makes it a superpower is we’re all craving it, few of us recognize that that’s what we’re craving, but we do recognize that we’re not getting it. And that’s where a lot of relationships kind of hit this rocky point because you’re going, you’ll talk to your boss, and your boss, maybe you’ll express a concern or something, and if he or she just says, “Don’t worry about it. I’ve got it…”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Michael Sorensen
…that doesn’t…you’re like, “Okay.” Well, what do you say to your boss? Versus, if your boss says, “Well, help me understand what’s going on,” and they ask a few questions and they get into it. And if you’re upset, and they say, “First off, thank you. I can imagine how frustrating this is given blah, blah, blah” and you sit there and you go, “Yes, they get me.” It makes all the difference in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so let’s hear about things that are wrong things to say. And I love, in your book, you did this nicely. I remember a couple was struggling with infertility, and then someone said, “Oh, boy, yeah, I just look at my wife and she gets pregnant,” and I’ve heard people say that before. And, of course, when you’re reading it in the context of the book, you’re like, “Wow, that is absolutely a horrific thing to say to a person in that context,” and yet people say it because I don’t think they’re tuned in on this wavelength yet. So, “Don’t worry about it, I got it” is another example of, “We’re not going to get into your feelings. This is already handled.” So, what are some other choice things you hear people say a lot that are kind of the opposite of validating?

Michael Sorensen
The invalidating statements, yeah, it’s things like, “Oh, you’ll be fine,” “It could be worse,” or, “At least it’s not…” fill in the blank. As you listen or you’re hearing these things, ask yourself, “Have you ever said this to someone?” Because you’re right, Pete, people say it all the time, where we say, “Oh, don’t worry. Things will just work out.”

I’ve got a couple siblings who are still single and they desperately want to find their person and I can’t tell you how many times, when they come to someone, and I’m kind of the fly on the wall, and I’m like, “How’s dating going?” and they’re like, “Ah, not super well.” And then, almost immediately, the response is, “Oh, I’m sure you’ll find them eventually. You’re a great catcher. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. It’s going to work out.”

And you can see the look on their face, they’re like, “I know that, I’m not stupid, but I’m not enjoying life right now.” It’s kind of hard. I was looking for a little of that validation. Everybody means well. It’s not like we’re trying to be rude to people but we think that’s helping when, in reality, it’s hurting.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think, not to get too deep into this, but one reason we don’t do it is we’re not aware; two is we think we’re helping. I think the third might be that, for a segment of folks, it’s like, “We’re just kind of uncomfortable getting into all that emotional stuff.” And so, hey, if that’s you, what do you do about that?

Michael Sorensen
Well, to that, I would say, and obviously everyone is different, the situations are different. I still hit moments when I’m like, “I don’t really want to talk about it,” like timid people. Obviously, you have to kind of judge the situation. But this is where I think validation becomes, again, such a valuable tool because one of the key reasons I believe people are uncomfortable in those situations is they don’t know how to help, especially if it’s heavier.

I remember talking to a friend whose parents passed away recently and unexpectedly, and prior to knowing how to validate, I would’ve been like, “Oh, what do you say? Like, really, what do you say because I haven’t dealt with that? I’m not about to think that I can give this amazing advice.” But validation is so powerful because you don’t have to say much of anything, you don’t have to fix it. The fix they’re going to figure out and so validations just gives them that space.

And so, when you talk with someone, I like, Pete, your example how you said, “Okay. Well, ask me how I’m doing,” and you say, “Fine,” because that happens a lot. And, usually, it’s when people kind of want to talk about something but they’re not quite sure you want to so they’ll just kind of say, “I’m fine.” And you can read their body language, and then you get to decide whether you want to follow it deeper, but if you do, you can just ask questions. You can see how they’re doing and you just ask questions and then you validate, and you ask questions and you validate, and you don’t ever have to get into solutions.

With my friend, I just said, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t even imagine,” and I just sat there for a moment, and I let her sit for a second, and she said, “Yeah, it’s brutal.” And I said, “So, how did you find out?” and she explained it to me, and I just, again, “Ahh.” And even with that response, “Ahh” is validating. I didn’t even have to use words there. Again, it’s just showing respect, it’s like, “Man, I see how you’re feeling,” and we were able to kind of go through the conversation. I didn’t give one bit of advice. Heaven knows, she didn’t want advice. She just wanted someone to kind of sit in it with her and feel it.

And so, if you’re a little uncomfortable with these emotional situations, I do encourage you to try, the next time you have an opportunity to try it and try to just validate the person. Ask some questions, respond with the emotion that you can tell they’re feeling. And, to tie it off, you can just say, again, like we did on the example, “Hey, I’m here for you. If you ever want to just talk, let me know.” And they’ll usually say thanks, and then you move on.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. And how do you feel about the “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” because sometimes people hate that? And other times, it seems completely appropriate.

Michael Sorensen
In what context?

Pete Mockaitis
Like, so if it’s tragedy or like they say a divorce, a death, an illness, you say, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” and they’re like, “Oh, I’m tired of everyone saying that.” Like, I don’t know, where do you come out on this one?

Michael Sorensen
Again, it’s very situation-dependent. So, in that situation, if they actually responded like that to me, I’d be like, “Oh, hey, I’m sorry. How can I help?” It’s difficult because you kind of have to roll with the punches a little bit. I was talking with someone just the other day about this and, well, yes, I put validation into a nice clean four-step framework. The reality is it’s more of an artform than it is just a tight framework. It’s not something you can just like pull out a sheet, and go, “Okay. Michael says to say this, and this, and then you’re going to feel better, and then we’re going to ride off into the sunset.”

It doesn’t work like that. It’s a skill. It’s a tool, which means we have to figure out how to kind of use it in the right situations. And so, you’re right, certain people are going to respond to those “I’m so sorry,” or whatever, and they’re going to get defensive, especially if they’re hurt, or they’re going to come back at you, and you can still use validation again.

So, let’s just say that you had said that to me, Pete, again, I’d say, “Oh, I’m sorry.” And if they say, “Yeah, everybody just says they’re sorry, and I don’t want to hear that. I want to move on,” then I might say, “Yeah, I don’t blame you. This is a heavy situation.” And then they might say, “Yeah, da, da, da,” and we can keep going on. But you see how I was even able to validate their frustration at me, and just say, “Wow, okay. Yeah, you know what, the more I think about it, I see how that was hard. I’m sorry for that,” or whatever the right response would be.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, I guess now I’m curious, so, you said at the very beginning, validation basically conveys, “Hey, I hear you. I understand what you’re feeling, and you’re not crazy.” I’m curious, like when folks are crazy, I mean, maybe either literally, that we’ve got like a sort of diagnosable situation, or they are kind of blending their emotions with like the exact wrong answer, like, “My boss is such a jerk, I’m going to march in there right now, slap him across the face, and tell him in no uncertain…” whatever, I don’t know.

Or, someone is like, “I’m so worthless. The world would be better off without me,” like intense, like I’m sure the right answer is not, “You know, you’re right,” not the right move there. So, yeah, in those trickier places where folks are saying something oh-so wrong, how do you think about validation?

Michael Sorensen
I’m so happy you bring this up, and I’m going to preface this by saying that the FBI uses validation in their hostage negotiations. It’s a critical part. And if you think of high-stake situations, you got people in a building threatening to kill them and themselves, and so that’s very much what you’re saying, Pete. You don’t want to just say, “Yeah, do it. Yeah, you’re right. Yeah, your life’s not worth living.” You don’t want to go there. But that’s not quite what validation is and that’s where the four-step method comes into play here.

Again, first step is listening empathically. So, let’s keep it with the co-worker example and they’re really upset with their boss, and they’re about to march right in there and yell at them, well, let’s just say for a moment, we think that’s a bad idea. So, if we just say, “You can’t do that. You’re going to get fired,” how are they going to respond?

Pete Mockaitis
“Go ahead and fire me. I’m sick of this. This is war.”

Michael Sorensen
They’re probably going to go, yeah, exactly, “I don’t care.” Exactly right, they’re just going to push back, and you can push back, and they’ll push back, and you’re not going to get anywhere. And so, you have to first listen to them, “Well, what happened?” and they vent and they complain. And, again, you can validate there, so you don’t have to validate, you don’t have to say, “Yes, go in and yell at them.”

But if he says, “Well, he called me out in front of everybody in that meeting,” then you could say, “Seriously?” “Yeah, and I’m so…aargh, I’m so angry because I worked my butt off all week.” “Well, yeah, like I’d be upset too.” That’s the validation piece. It’s not, “Yeah, you should go in and yell at your boss.” It’s, “Well, of course, you’re upset given what just happened.”

And so, you keep going through that conversation. You listen, you validate, you listen, you validate. When you can tell they’ve calmed down just a little bit, or maybe they’re about to march right in the door, then that’s when step three comes into play, and you say, “Well, hold on one second. I do have a few thoughts on this. Do you mind if I share it?” Okay, now that intro, that transition to step three is big because it shows respect. If you just say, “Hold on. Don’t do it. It’s a bad idea,” again, they might get defensive and start arguing with you.

But if you, first, ask permission to share your thoughts, most people will say, “Fine. What? What is it? What are your thoughts?” and then you can say, “Maybe yelling at your boss isn’t the best idea. Have you thought about this? Or, have you thought about that?” And what you’ll find is, if you’ve listened and validated first, they are a hundred times more likely to listen to your advice when you bring it up. So, it all comes down to that order.

And, again, you see the same thing in situations where someone is angry at you, you see the same thing in the hostage negotiations. They don’t say, “Sure, kill yourself. Sure, ignite the bomb.” They say, “What’s going on? Where are you…where is this coming from?” and they talk through, they listen, they validate, and they say, “Well, can we just talk? Can we just talk face to face?” And you can see they kind of…The power of validation is to bring the emotion back down so that you can have a human-to-human conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, you know, I remember you talked about FBI hostage negotiation, and we had Chris Voss on the podcast, who wrote an awesome book Never Split the Difference and did FBI hostage negotiations. And I believe there’s a story there in which they just kind of said the same thing over and over again, kind of like, “Hey, it seems like you’re scared that you’re not going to be able to make it out of there, and you’re worried about what’s going to happen to you and your family,” something along those lines, just like repeatedly, and then hours later, the dude just kind of walks out. And so, it’s wild how potent that is.

Michael Sorensen
And that’s why I joke in the book it’s like a superpower. Early on, when I started using this, in my day job, I’m a manager of about 30 people, and I was a very young manager at the time when I wrote the book, and I didn’t know how to deal with certain situations. And as I’ve started using validation, I had some pretty tense conversations, some people yelling at me, some really difficult things, I had made some mistakes, all of that. When I started using validation first, it was shocking at how it made everything easier, and helped me mend relationships, and helped me earn trust and respect.

I had a gal who once worked for me, left the company. A few years later, she was one the beta readers actually of my book. And she actually called me up after she read it, and she said, “I get it now.” She said, “I could never understand why I felt so comfortable talking to you.” And I don’t say this to pat myself on the back, but I say it to illustrate the power it has. She said, “I always felt so comfortable talking to you, and I couldn’t figure out why, and now I get it, and it’s because you listened to me and you validated me. Thank you.” So, it’s powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. I’m intrigued by when you made some mistakes, how might validation work in that context? Like, “Hey, I can understand to be really frustrating that this guy…” mainly you, means you have to redo a bunch of things now. Or, how’s that go?

Michael Sorensen
Yeah, really, it just comes down to ownership, and that takes humility. It’s not an easy thing to do but if you do make a mistake, there’s no sense in beating around the bush or making an excuse. That never looks good in work or just in life. So, in the times that’s happened to me, I’m trying to think of a concrete example and I’m drawing a blank right now.

But if we just go with a hypothetical, they come back and they say, “What happened? You told me you would have this yesterday,” and I take a moment and I go, “Oh, shoot. You’re right.” And I just say, “You’re right. I’m sorry. I dropped the ball on that. I’m going to figure it out.” And they say, “Well, it threw off my whole presentation, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” again, there’s a chance to validate. So, they tell me how it affects them, and instead of saying, “Well, you should’ve followed up with me,” it doesn’t look good. I own it. Again, I say, “Aargh, I’m really sorry. I overbooked myself. It sucks to be expecting something I committed to. I didn’t deliver. You’re right. How can I help?”

It’s almost like a parody but it’s honest, and there’s actually, in my opinion, a great respect that comes from that, and strength to say, “Yup, I messed up. I’m going to figure out how to make it right.” And, in most instances, people will come down on their anger pretty quickly when they see you’re not going to fight them, you just say, “Yup, I’m sorry. I see how that affects you. Let’s figure out how to make it work.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. Well, so then you used the phrase, “Hey, I have some thoughts. Do you mind if I share?” asking permission. Any key kind of words and phrases that you like and naturally show up a lot when you’re validating, or some key words and phrases to be banished?

Michael Sorensen
Yeah, so when you get into the validating and such, we’ve talked a lot about that. But if I may, Pete, let’s take it into that step three where you’re giving feedback because that makes a big difference. One place a lot of people trip up, and, again, this is going to sound so simple, but using the word “but” can be quite dangerous when you’re connecting two sentences together.

So, if you try to validate someone, let’s say they’re angry at me, we’ll stick with that example, and I say, “You’re right. I missed it but it’s really not that big of a deal.” Well, I just undid everything. Like, I was going down the path, I was validating, and then I said “but” and that now puts up a red flag in most people, and they’re like, “But what?” Here comes your counterargument, and I say, “It’s not that big of a deal.” Well, woosh, that’s an invalidating statement, and they’re like, “What do you mean it’s not a big of a deal?” and away we go into that cycle.

I’m a big fan of changing that word from “but” to “and.” Now, you still shouldn’t say, “It’s not that big of a deal.” But let’s say, in that situation, I say, “You’re right. I committed to do that, I didn’t. I’m sorry and I wasn’t the only one responsible for it. Can we talk about X, Y, and Z, other ways?” So, there’s the “and” connection point is very powerful, and I get that feedback a lot from people, saying, “Wow, I had no idea changing that one word,” because, for some reason, we, as humans, we really key in on that.

And if someone is saying, “Hey, I really like…” the example I used in the book is, “I like what you’ve done with your hair but…” we go, “Uh-oh, but what?” There’s something else versus “I like what you’ve done with your hair and I like it better the other way.” You still don’t want to hear that but at least it’s a little easier to hold.

And so, when you’re giving feedback to your colleagues, when you’re giving feedback to your friends, or, heck, even your boss, try to avoid the word “but” and just use “and” in there. It actually makes a pretty big difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And, I’m curious, if you just don’t feel like you’re relating in any way to their emotion, in terms of you’re like, “I’m mystified as to why you’re so angry or so annoyed by this thing that really seems like nothing to me,” what do you do?

Michael Sorensen
This is where it gets a little tricky because I get this question every now and then. I didn’t address it in the book but in the years since, I’ve really given it a lot of thought. I’ve paid a lot of attention to how I still validate in those situations. First off, I do encourage you to always try to find a way to empathize. Oftentimes, it’s easy to just say, “I don’t care. I don’t care about people.” There’s a lot of value that comes from learning to empathize with people, learning to identify emotions, and that’s a bit of a different topic though.

If, in the moment, you’re like, “Dude, like what’s going on? Why are you so upset about this?” again, ask some questions first. Don’t just dismiss it out of hand and assume they’re being crazy because most people, when you really get into the full picture, act quite rationally. But if you really feel like they’re not, there is still value in, I don’t want to say lip service but, in still kind of going through the motions, and saying, “Yeah, it makes sense that you’re angry. Of course, you would be,” even if inside I’m like, “I don’t really think so,” but it does make a difference still.

Again, it’s not where I recommend going first. Always prefer genuine empathy, but at very least, you can have some sympathy, then you can at least see the emotion they’re feeling, and you can see that they’re upset because such and so and so yelled at them. And that alone can still be valuable and still be helpful to them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. And I guess I’m also thinking about have you really entered into their world? I guess I was recently on a fishing trip and someone was angry that another person had parked nearby our campsite and started fishing. And I actually don’t care that much about the fishing on the trip. They’re just great guys, I like hanging with them, and they go fishing so I go with them.

And so, someone is getting kind of worked up about this. And I thought, “What’s the matter? It’s a big old river or lake.” But I think, as I dove deeper into it in terms of what this person wants most is to catch big fish. It is rare they have the opportunity to go catch fish, and they perceive rightly/wrongly. I don’t actually know enough about fishing but that person’s placement there is going to diminish that, and that there are many other places he could choose from, then I can understand, “Yeah, that’d be irritating that that guy did that when he could just go somewhere else.” But it takes some doing for me to get there.

Michael Sorensen
Yes, it does, and there are times. Again, going back talking about how it’s a tool. It doesn’t mean you always have to use it. I am guilty almost every week of my wife and I’ll get into a little argument, even just have a discussion, and if she gets upset about something, I want to jump to fix it, and “I’m literally the guy that wrote the book on it.” And I’m just like, “You know what, let’s just do this, do this, fix it, and we’ll be done.” And she’s like, “Really? You’re not going to validate me at all?” And I’m like, “Ahh, crap. You’re right.”

But there are times when you have to just kind of pick and choose, and there are times also when you might just jump in. If we stick with your example there of that guy, if he comes up and he’s yelling at you because he wants your spot, you’d be like, “Dude, really? Like, it’s a campsite.” And he’s like, “Well, blah, blah, blah,” you can then choose to validate or you could choose to just dismiss it. If you paid for it, it’s rightly yours. You can walk away, you don’t have to engage with people who are upset or angry, but if you want to, it will work. Nine times out of ten, 95%-99%, I’m making out stats here, but most times it’s amazing how you can calm someone down.

And so, if he’s all upset, you say, “Yeah, yeah, I’m sorry. We booked it.” And he’s like, “I booked it too.” “Well, there must’ve been an issue with that. That’s really frustrating. If you came all the way down here expecting to see this, I get it. Let’s go chat with the front office at the campsite or whatever and let’s see if we can figure it out.” But just that little, “Yeah, if you expected all this and came down here,” that’s validating, and that can help tone it down just a little bit.

I’ll give you an example of, this was a few months ago now but it worked, a certain employee, who’s no longer with the company, placed an order for 40,000 T-shirts that we didn’t need, but he thought we needed them, he thought he was going to be awesome. Well, a few months later, I get a call from another guy in my team, saying, “Hey, just so you know, the T-shirts arrived. This other company who prepared them, they’re expecting payment. I don’t think we owe it to them because we didn’t approve it, so don’t worry, I’m handling it, but you just might hear about it. You might want to know.” And I thought, “Well, hold on one second. Can you send me the email thread? I want to make sure that we’re being honest here. If we said we’re going to order them, we got to pay them.”

So, he sends me the email thread, and I see this back and forth, and it was my guy was being quite invalidating, frankly. He was very kind of traditional negotiation tactics, “Hardline no, not going to happen.” And, obviously, that’s not going to go well on the other end, and it was getting really heated. And so, I actually took over the conversation and I reached out to the guy, and I said, “Hey, do you mind if we hopped on a call?” And his response was very curt, “Yeah, this time.” Period.

So, in advance of the call, I did a little bit of research, and I determined that we actually weren’t on the hook for the T-shirts, but I still wanted to smooth things over. I still wanted to do right by them. So, in advance of the call, I thought, “Okay, I’m going to come right into this, he’s going to come in ready to fight, he’s bringing his A-game, I’m just going to validate him first thing.”

So, I picked up my phone, I gave him a call, he answered, and I said hello, but then, before anything else, I said, “Hey, before we get in, I just want to apologize. This has obviously gone on far longer than either of us want. As I’m digging through, it looks messy, there’s a lot of back and forth, emotions are running high. I apologize for that. I’m hopeful that we can get on this call and just talk man to man and figure something out.”

And, literally, the shock was audible in his voice. He literally stuttered on the other end, he was like, “Oh, ah, okay. Well, what do you have in mind?” And we were able to chat, and we talked through it, and I explained my side, he explained his side, and we reached a resolution that both parties felt good about. It didn’t take long but it had been going on for months, literally months, Pete, back and forth, and tensions were running high. And in about five minutes, I was able to undo almost all that tension and find a resolution with just a little bit of listening and validating.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Well, Michael, tell me, any final key things you want to share about validation before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Michael Sorensen
I think maybe the last thing I’ll say on it is I think it’s important to point out that when I talk about validation, we’re not validating people’s worth. That’s one thing that sometimes validation gets a bad rap because people say, “Well, validate me. Tell me I’m worthy. Tell me I’m good enough.” That’s dangerous. I’m not talking about that. We’re talking about validating emotions and situations that people are dealing with.

And so, if you have a co-worker, or if you have a family member, or even a spouse, who’s constantly complaining, where they’re always just like, “Hmm, I need more. I need you to tell me that I’m good enough,” that’s a separate conversation, that’s a place for boundaries, that’s a place where having a conversation, and saying, “Hey, I care about you,” or, “You’re my buddy, and…” again, there’s the “and” instead of “but” “…and this isn’t working for me,” or, “I’m not sure how to help you because every time I give you advice, it seems to go in one ear and out the other.”

So, I think it’s an important clarification because I never want people to think that I’m saying, “Well, just tell people what they want to hear. Just tell people that they’re great and everything is going to work out.” Again, validation being a tool, you use it with other tools, and use well that earns you respect, that helps you set boundaries, that helps you earn trust with those around you. And that is why it’s such a powerful skill.

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

Michael Sorensen
The quote that I go to most often is “Action kills fear.” I don’t even know where it came from or who said, it but I stumbled across it years ago, and I print it out, and I stick it up in my offices because it’s just true. If I find myself kind of getting paralyzed or I’m uncertain about something, just take action, any kind of action, even if it’s just the first step, it unlocks that and allows you to move forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Michael Sorensen
I love The Compound Effect and The Slight Edge. They’re both the same principle, two different authors, all about how small simple things build up over time to great results. And that’s been…that’s, frankly, how I got to writing the book in the first place. I committed to 15 minutes a day at least, and sometimes it would snowball into hours and into weekends on end. But 15 minutes, small simple things got me to where I am today.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Michael Sorensen
we’re talking tech tools. I’m a big fan of the TextExpander.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Michael Sorensen
Where you type in a shortcut or like a snippet, like I type in Cphone and it types out my full cellphone, or Pmail, it’s my personal email. Little things like that to save a ton of time, that and a clipboard manager. So, I copy a lot of things and paste a lot of different things. If you, listeners, don’t use those, you should check them out.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, what’s the best clipboard manager for a Mac in your opinion?

Michael Sorensen
I use Copy’Em. That’s what I found thus far. There’s probably better ones but it works well for my needs.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Michael Sorensen
You can do a lot of form-filling. I don’t know, man. I use it all the time. I think it’s an underappreciated or underutilized little tool.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Michael Sorensen
Well, I spoke to this earlier on The Compound Effect, but it’s just these simple little things every day. So, if I have a goal in mind, or I’m a big goal-setter, I’ll break it down into tiny little chunks that I can’t not do five minutes a day, 10 minutes a day, 15 minutes a day, just to make sure I’m doing it.

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

Michael Sorensen
Yeah, it was, because I think off the top of my head, that idea that when people vent or complain to us, they usually already have a solution in mind; they’re not looking for advice. They’re just looking to be heard and understood. As I go into the Kindle book, in the most popular highlights, that’s number one. It’s the, “Hey, if someone is venting to you, chances are they don’t actually want your advice. They just want you to hear them and they’ll figure it out on their own.”

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

Michael Sorensen
My website is probably the best resource or the best place to find me, MichaelSSorensen.com. You can contact me via contact form there, and read a lot of my free content.

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

Michael Sorensen
The biggest thing that I’ve learned is, at least what I appreciate most, is people who really don’t use the word “can’t.” I guess it kind of comes full circle. We joked about my building my own mattress. But I’m a big believer that you can do anything. That’s so trite when we say it. I don’t mean in like, “You can be an astronaut,” though you can be. But if you want something, you can figure it out. And it just depends on if you’re willing to put in the time and the effort and the money.

And so, people on my team or at work who say, “No, I can’t do that. Can’t do that,” I hate it because it’s so small-minded. I’d much prefer to say, “Well, we probably could but it would take the world.” I’d rather say, “What would it take? How could we do it?” Even if it’s wild and out there, you’re just, “What would it take? How can we get there?”

My opinion, people bring that into the workplace, that can-do attitude, that “I’m going to figure it out no matter what it takes,” that stands out to me, and I think that is what makes people very successful in life.

Pete Mockaitis
Michael, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck with validating and being validated.

Michael Sorensen
Thanks, Pete. Appreciate the time. Great chatting.