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661: How to Connect Meaningfully with Susan McPherson

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Susan McPherson shares her surefire method for building better connections.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The winning strategy to building connections
  2. Better alternatives to small talk
  3. How to maintain connections efficiently

About Susan

Susan McPherson is a serial connector, seasoned communicator and founder and CEO of McPherson Strategies, a communications consultancy focused on the intersection of brands and social impact. She is the author of The Lost Art of Connecting: The Gather, Ask, Do Method for Building Meaningful Relationships. Susan has 25+ years of experience in marketing, public relations, and sustainability communications, speaking regularly at industry conferences, and contributing to the Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Forbes. 

She has appeared on NPR, CNN, USA Today, The New Yorker, New York Magazine and the Los Angeles Times. Susan is a Vital Voices global corporate ambassador and has received numerous accolades for her voice on social media platforms from Fortune Magazine, Fast Company and Elle Magazine. She resides in Brooklyn.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Susan McPherson Interview Transcript

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

Susan McPherson
I’m very happy to be here, Pete. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom about the lost art of connecting. And I understand you have made a fun connection. You’re pals with Kevin Bacon. How did that come to be? And what’s it like to be buddies with a famous person?

Susan McPherson
Well, first of all, I wouldn’t go so far as say buddies.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Susan McPherson
I don’t want to embellish it. His older sister has been a friend of mine for years and we live in Seattle, and I moved to New York not knowing anyone, and she so graciously introduced me to him, and I spent my first Thanksgiving in New York City at his home with his wonderful wife and kids and extended family.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Kevin Bacon, of all the celebrities you might be connected to for you and what you’re doing, that’s just priceless.

Susan McPherson
Oh, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Six degrees or five degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Susan McPherson
Six degrees, and that means now you’re two degrees.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, you know what, that feels really…I’m having a surge of feeling powerful right now, actually, as you highlight that, so thank you. Well, so tell us, we’re talking about connecting. What would you say is one of the most surprising and fascinating things you’ve discovered about connecting which might be counterintuitive to folks?

Susan McPherson
Well, what has enabled me over the years to be successful is always leading with, “How can I help?” rather than “What can I get?” which is counterintuitive to what we have traditionally thought of when we’ve been networking and meeting others. We tend to go into things, like, “What can I get? What can I learn? Who can I meet?” as opposed to, “What can I give? How can I support? How can I be the one making the introduction for you?” And I have found, by leading with that, it actually has helped me and opened more doors and created a lifelong world of people everywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds great. And so then, let’s talk about the “How can I help?” mindset first and foremost, and I’m thinking also about Keith Ferrazzi. That’s one of his key principles, is generosity there. So, can you share with us just all the kinds of ways that people might need help? And people sometimes don’t really speak up about what they need help with. They’re embarrassed or they’re shy or they open themselves because they haven’t thought through it.

So, how do you think about identifying what people really need? And what are all the different ways that you can help? Because I think sometimes people might say, “Oh, I’m not rich. I’m not powerful. I’m not connected. What do I have to offer?” So, lay it on us, how does one help well?

Susan McPherson
Well, I will tell you just a little bit of about what’s in my book. I lay out a very, very detailed methodology, which I won’t bore all your listeners with in terms of detail but I can certainly give you kind of the high…the 30,000-foot view, and it’s gather, ask, do.

And in the gather section is when you do some meaningful self-reflection to actually determine what it is that you have to offer, what is it that you bring to the table, what is your chief differentiating factors, your secret sauces. And notice I say “sss” because everyone has many. The next is the ask.

And, yes, there is always a time and a place for you to ask for what you need and what you want and what you deserve but, in this case, it is learning the art of asking meaningful questions so you can find out what is important to someone else, what do they need help with.

There’s even a chapter in the book that gives you questions that you can have in your back pocket that actually helps you ask people questions that will lead you to understand what they are hoping and dreaming for.

And, lastly, if you ask the meaningful questions and listen carefully, you can then get to the do, and what you do in the do is actually the place I like to be the most, but that’s when you become helpful, reliable, trustworthy, following through. And I hear your question about, “Well, what about if I’m not a rich heiress or a philanthropist, etc. how do I help?” Well, this goes back to that secret sauce and that chief differentiating factor.

Every single one of us has things to offer one another, and sometimes it might just be an introduction to someone else we know. So, don’t overthink it but it really comes down to asking the right questions and then better understanding what it is that you can be doing to be helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, let’s walk through a bit of that gather, ask, and do then.

Susan McPherson
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when it comes to gather and zeroing in on what it is we have to offer, well, maybe, first, let’s contextualize. It seems like it’s what we have to offer is pretty broad, it’s not just in the work sphere. It’s kind of just like anybody we might bump into. Is that fair to say?

Susan McPherson
Well, my book is a business book, okay, so the context of the book was written very much around how do we do this from a business perspective. But I always joke, “There’s not a work-Susan and a home-Susan,” and I decided about 15 years ago, it was tiring being two people and much easier to be one. And a lot of times, when we are incredibly passionate about the work that we do, it doesn’t feel as much of being work.

So, I have also learned that many of the kind of secret sauces that I bring to the table, literally, cross boundaries of work and home. It doesn’t necessarily fall into. And I run a social impact communications consulting firm, so just the notion of making impact in the world, you could question whether that is work or not work, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. Okay. Well, so then, thinking about it from a professional world, which can, indeed, be broader than we could contextualizes it at times, what are your pro tips for zeroing in on, “Huh, these are some of my secret sauces”?

Susan McPherson
Sure. Well, it really depends on where you are in your kind of career, and I talk to a lot of 20 somethings that are just out of school and tend to think they don’t have a whole lot to offer, but they may speak multiple languages, they may be very technically mindful. I joke sometimes that a 22-year-old may be able to say two things that would really help me out, and that is TikTok, and things like that that could be very helpful to someone like myself that is in the world of communications. So, it’s a very personal thing but I think all of us have to look internally and think about.

I’m going to ask you, Pete, what are your secret sauces?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. Well, the first thing that comes to mind is just, from the StrengthsFinder report, like Ideation lately. I’ve just been getting so many ideas and putting them into action, and Activator is another one of them, so that’s part of it.

Susan McPherson
That’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess the podcast itself is a thing in terms of, well, a lot of people want to be on it and we candidly reject the vast majority of incoming pitches, so great job, Susan and Nina, your publicist.

Susan McPherson
Well, she’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Because most people, frankly, we proactively hunt down based on listener requests these days but sometimes we go, “Ooh, that’s actually spot on so let’s call her.”

Susan McPherson
Oh, I feel special. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
You are special. So, yeah, those are some of the things. And I think I have a knack for researching something with an intensity or vigilance that can almost seem obsessive but, in so doing, discover things that most people don’t because they don’t go past the first page of Google. And so, sometimes, like I can really vibe with investigative journalists, like, “Yeah, totally. I’m in the same mindset as you many times.”

Susan McPherson
Well, that’s a gift and it’s also a secret sauce. I often say leading with curiosity is such an enormous skill, so right there you’ve just named. But you had to do some deep thinking to think about that, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I did it before we talked in terms of just general self-awareness work. And then when you prompted me, I did take a few seconds of thought, so certainly.

Susan McPherson
I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we dig into those things. And so, in my own instance, I’ve thought about, okay, what are some times I’ve relied and impressed people with, “Wow, that’s really great work,” or I’ve looked at some assessments like the StrengthsFinder to surface some stuff. What are some of the other sources that can serve up the secret sauce?

Susan McPherson
Sure. I’m a big believer in asking your close confidants, your brain trust, the people…your family members, your dog, you name it. But it is a type of thing where you can really gather this information to help you do that self-reflection. I have a funny story back in 2007. I went away with eight girlfriends for a weekend. And the goal that weekend was for each of us to come up with our secret sauce, our elevator speech.

And it was during that weekend that I finally coined the term that I am a serial connector. And I’ll be completely honest, when I said it, I almost peed my pants because it sounded so ridiculous. But it took the group to give me the guts and give me the permission and, also, basically state for the record I was amazing at connecting people.

And then, a few years later when I was introduced to come on and speak on a stage, and they introduced me, and said, “We welcome Susan McPherson, serial connector, seasoned communicator,” again, I almost peed my pants. But now I wrote a book about it. So, the point being is that was deep thinking and deep reflection on my part but I also pulled from the crowd. I actually helped gather data from the people closest to me.

Pete Mockaitis
This is maybe the funniest follow-up I’ve ever asked, when you say pee your pants, do you mean you were terrified or thrilled?

Susan McPherson
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Susan McPherson
I was embarrassed. Like it sounded ridiculous. It sounded just, “No one’s going to believe that.”

Pete Mockaitis
“That’s it. I nailed it.” And that’s not what you meant. You meant, “Oh, geez, that seems corny or outrageous.”

Susan McPherson
Yes, it seemed preposterous is probably the word.

Pete Mockaitis
And that could be an insight right there in terms of if you’re feeling some internal resistance or skepticism when you are connected with people that you’re bouncing these things off of, you could get the courage to say, “No, that’s for real,” and own it and work it.

Susan McPherson
Exactly. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. Well, let’s talk about the asking. How do we ask? Or are there some particular key questions or tips to be better listeners and get to the heart of things?

Susan McPherson
Well, sure, and they’re both two separate chapters in the book. Actually, there’s one chapter that has, literally, 11 questions that you can carry in your back pocket that will help you ask more meaningful questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please share several of these immediately. We have to know.

Susan McPherson
Well, they are certainly not the questions that are going to lead you to yes or no answers, and they’re also not questions about the weather or what people ate for lunch today, but they’re things like, “Pete, it’s been a tough year. It’s been a really challenging year. How are you doing? And is there anything you could be using my help?” Or, “Pete, if you could go anywhere at the end of this pandemic, anywhere on the planet, where would you go and why?” Or, “Pete, if there was a problem you could solve in the next month, and money wasn’t an issue, what would that problem be?”

Pete Mockaitis
Like, a society or social problem?

Susan McPherson
These questions elicit more meaningful responses and help you get a better data set, a more rich answer that is going to help you then lead to, “Oh, how can I be helpful to this person?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I think those are excellent questions and I guess I’m thinking about the context in terms of “I have many people I know that I’d be totally fine, just go in there right away.” I’m thinking if you have just met someone three minutes ago, you may not want to go there right away.

Susan McPherson
What about those questions seem…?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I suppose, and it could vary by personality, if, let’s say, I just met, we’re talking, it’s like, “Oh, how do you know Jane?” or, “What brings you to the podcast movement conference, Susan?” whatever. So, we’re like just met and then you said, “Hey, it’s been a tough year with the pandemic. How are you doing?” Like, “Well, Susan, I guess I’m okay. I just met you,” you know.

Susan McPherson
I don’t know. Again, in many, many talks, and I run a communications firm, so I will say that this past year has been the great equalizer. Most people have been challenged by it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Susan McPherson
I mean, that’s quite a generalization. I don’t want to say all people. But, to me, it’s almost like the elephant in the room that if we don’t address it, we’re not being human. And I find that it isn’t such a personal question because obviously, if the person is uncomfortable, they’ll say, “I’m fine.”

Pete Mockaitis
Fair enough. You just lead with that.

Susan McPherson
But most people, yeah, most people…

Pete Mockaitis
We just met, “You know, how are you really doing, Susan?” Like, “Hey, take a hint. You’re not my friend, my spouse, my boss, I just met you and I’m giving you a bit of a buff-off so take that cue.” Well, I think that’s powerful right there in terms of, well, one, maybe we can afford to be a little bit more courageous and vulnerable, just go ahead. And, two, it’s not the biggest deal in the world if someone chooses not to disclose and you could just take that hint and respond accordingly.

Susan McPherson
Yeah. I mean, look, again, every human is different and that’s a good thing. It makes life interesting. But, generally speaking, I have found that this is the time that we don’t have to be superhuman or superwomen or supermen. And when you open yourself up to a little bit more vulnerability, others generally reciprocate in kind. And, therefore, you can have a little bit more meaningful discussion than about the weather. Not everyone. Some people will want to stick with the weather, and you know what, that’s good too.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Sure thing. One of my bits, I always just imagine like if you try to small talk someone about the weather and they happen to be like extremely into the weather, they’re like, “How about that dew point, huh? It’s really climbing up there.” Just how that will unfold.

Susan McPherson
You know, it’s funny, I did my junior year abroad in Denmark, and I lived with a Danish family. And my Danish father, this was back in ‘80s, but he would always say that American always have to fill the void so they have to have talking. So, what they will do is talk about the weather. And I have to tell you, over the years, when we started having conference calls, inevitably in every start of every conference call, the de facto conversation would be about the weather, and I would completely start to laugh in the back of my head because it would take me back to Denmark, and I was like, “Oh, my God, he was right.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, “Those silly Americans.” Well, you shared a few great questions. I’d love it if you could give us a few more.

Susan McPherson
Well, I think there’s always this notion, again, because I work in impact, this discussion about “What else can we be doing to be helpful?” I also find anything around travel, anything about where our upbringing, where we came from, can give you a deeper clue as to people and, too,  what their hopes and dreams are. That is kind of the suggestions that I have.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how do we listen all the better so that we are picking up maybe what’s not said and prudently following up with what is said?

Susan McPherson
Well, we are woefully bad at listening, and this year has proven to be extraordinarily challenging. I think about all of us who had been privileged enough to work from home but have had the obligatory Zoom or Microsoft Team meetings while we have our email open, while we have our Twitter applications open, while we have our WhatsApp and our texting, and probably our children and our dogs all running around. Listening can be extraordinarily challenging.

In the book, I showcase Dr. Julian Treasure who has done a number of TED Talks, and I highlight recommend your listeners go and listen.

Pete Mockaitis
We got Julian on the show a couple of times, yeah.

Susan McPherson
Well, there you go. So, I would follow a lot of his advice. But, for me, personally, two things that I do. One, I literally carry a notepad with me now everywhere in virtual rooms, and I take notes when people are talking. I, also, am not so shy as I won’t…if I find myself daydreaming or thinking about what I’m going to cook for dinner as opposed to listening, is I will circle back and say, “Pete, I missed what you said. Can you repeat it?” And that keeps me grounded. That helps me continue to listen.

But, also, writing, taking notes if someone talks, at least for me, is very, very helpful. And then when I follow-up with people, I generally will pull from something that was said in the conversation so that that not only helps me remember, of course, but also reminds the person that I actually did listen to them, that I saw them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. And we had a comedian on the show who sort of talked about callbacks and how, if you had sort of a humorous exchange, referencing that in particular can facilitate that signal of, “Yes, I was listening. And, yes, that was a special happy fun moment we had there, wasn’t it?”

Cool. All right. Well, so then let’s hear about the do. So, we’ve gathered, we’ve asked, and now when it comes to doing, how do we do well?

Susan McPherson
And if we listened after we asked, then we have the follow-up to do. And, typically, the do begins with your follow-up, and I mentioned how when I do follow-up, I do try to mention what I heard or what I saw. And I, typically, will follow-up right away. It’s the type of thing where I know I’m going to get it done. But, again, that notepad that I carry around with me, I will make a note if I can’t do it right away. And I, generally, will respond back something I heard the person say or I will make…potentially, I will suggest that I will make an introduction for that person.

But I want to make sure your listeners know, I’m not sitting here saying, “You have to help every single person in the entire world.” But if your goal is to make a deeper more meaningful connection, this is a way to start the process, and it’s not a one-and-done thing. You’re not going to like follow-up and then, “Ah, done. I don’t have to reach out to them in 10 years.” This is something that, hopefully, if it builds into a reciprocal relationship, will carry through and continue to grow and blossom.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, when you talked about following up, like if there’s not just like a crystal-clear action item or to-do or promise made, can you give us some examples of actual snippets of follow-up text or dialogue?

Susan McPherson
Sure. It can be as simple as, “Pete, it was great chatting with you last night. I so enjoyed our conversation about X, Y, Z, your favorite hummus, or where you’re going on your next trip, or the project you’re working on. I’d love to keep in touch. What would be the best way to keep in touch with you?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s simple. Thank you.

Susan McPherson
I mean, let’s not overthink this. But the reason I asked about what is the best way is every person has a different means and mode of the way they want to stay in touch or communicate. And, to me, that is a very respectful way to keep the loop going.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then let’s talk about maintenance in terms of sort of ongoing? Like, in some ways, it could be intimidating if, well, I don’t know if you have any numbers in mind, but like the frequency of touches and the depth of touches, like it could multiply real quick in terms of, “I’ve met 3,000 people. And if I want to stay in touch, do I need to give them a message every other month?” So, how do you think about the maintenance stuff?

Susan McPherson
Sure. Well, again, I want to delineate between what I talk about versus networking. For me, it’s not a numbers game. It is very much intentional in keeping in touch based on, if we think back to the gather phase, “What is the community we want to build to help us meet our own goals?” This isn’t just about staying in touch for the sake of staying touch, although that is great, too. I’m not anti that.

So, to me, to sit here and put out numbers would be not what I’m practicing. But I also believe that because this isn’t transactional, a relationship doesn’t start and stop. A relationship ebbs and flows. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Susan McPherson
So, again, it’s not realistic to think you’re going to stay in touch with everybody every day but I fervently believe that you stay in touch with people not when you need something, so that when you do need something, it’s so much easier to ask.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. That’s good. That’s good. And I hear you, in terms of ebbs and flows, I’m thinking about when we moved into this building, like the realtor, we talked to him all the time, and now we talk to him rarely, but occasionally. And he’s awesome and I like being in touch with him, likewise, with the contractor. And so, the ebbs and flows does sound natural, and it may well be like three years of a gap between times, but if I see something that makes me think of them, go for it and that’s cool.

Susan McPherson
Absolutely. And that’s a gift. That’s a gift. And the thing is how often have you been walking down the street and somebody pops in your brain? And, generally speaking, you do, you park it. I, now, whenever that happens, I use my little voice memo on my handheld, which is generally with me, and I make a note so that I will actually then go back, or maybe while I’m walking, and just text using the voice memo and say, “Hey, Carolyn, you popped in my brain. It’s been a while. I just want to say hello and find out how you’re doing.” Simple as that.

And I must do those three to five times a day, and it’s literally when people pop in my brain. Again, no ask, no I’m not expecting anything in return, although, it’s lovely if people respond back, but it is my own way of being, like, “Hey, I’m still here,” but also spreading a little joy in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and you’re right, and it does feel good in terms of, yeah, as I imagine myself on the receiving end of that, like even if I have…even if that person doesn’t have a really special place in my heart, they’re just like, “Okay, I randomly met you at a whatever, a conference four years ago, and we had a couple laughs, but whatever.” So, just for example, like I would still feel pretty good to get that text and like, “Oh,” and I might say, you know, I’m probably not going to follow up and say, “Oh, yes, absolutely. So good to hear from you. Let’s find some time where we can really catch up at length.” I probably won’t do that. For some people, I certainly would. But even in the worst case that feels good. So, yeah, do more of that. Absolutely. That’s great.

Susan McPherson
Well, a lot of people say to me, “How do you have time? How do you find time to keep in touch in this and that?” And I have to be honest with you, Pete, the more people in my life, the more efficient I get because it means there’s more people I can tap into when somebody needs an expert in climate change, coral restoration, animal physiology. Like, you will know someone or you will know someone who knows someone.

Pete Mockaitis
You got a toxicologist for me, Susan?

Susan McPherson
I can find you one.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Good to know. Good to know. Well, that’s great. Thank you. Well, tell me, any final pro tips or things that you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Susan McPherson
Sure. Well, I just think leading with how can we be helpful is a tremendous way to pivot as we move through our professional careers whether we are with peers, whether we’re with the people who are hiring us or promoting us, whether we are raising money for our startup. Leading with that will only come back to help you.

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

Susan McPherson
I have to say “We’re only as blind as we want to be,” and I say that quote because I have found leading a life of deep curiosity has been extraordinarily helpful to me and never questioning whether somebody is worth my time. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, great.

Susan McPherson
Because what I have learned from people, and maybe the initial impression was, “Wait, this person can’t ‘help’ me with my career, they can’t help me get this or that,” but I have always surprised myself that when I kind of disabled the blinders, it enabled me to learn something not only about that person but to learn more about myself.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Susan McPherson
It would have to be Caste by Isabel Wilkerson that I just read earlier this year. Powerful, powerful. Highly, highly recommended just in terms of grounding and also what is basically systemic racism in this country. And I know I’m going deep but I have found that to be just extraordinary.

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

Susan McPherson
Email and my notepad. Honestly, my notepad. But I don’t know what I would do without email.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Susan McPherson
Texting people I love and asking how they’re doing, and blowing bubbles in my dog’s belly.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, fun. And is there a particular nugget you share that really connects and resonates with folks; they quote it back to you frequently?

Susan McPherson
I know I’m sounding redundant and repetitive, it’s literally, “How can I be of help to you?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Susan McPherson
And folks joke about that all the time.

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

Susan McPherson
Well, my company’s website McPherson Strategies or anywhere online susamcp1, you can find me on the social webs, and you can obviously email me at susan@mcpstrategies.com.

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

Susan McPherson
I would make sure you listen twice as much as you speak, that is why we have two ears. And I would always, always, always leave with how you can be helpful to others and, believe me, the world will come back and help you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Susan, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun in all the ways you’re connecting.

Susan McPherson
Thank you, Pete.

656: The Five Things that Leaders Do with Jim Kouzes

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Jim Kouzes says: "The best leaders are the best learners."

Jim Kouzes discusses how everyday professionals can make an impact regardless of their title, role, or setting.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The definitive answer to the question, “Are leaders born or made?”
  2. The four components to building a compelling vision
  3. Easy ways to sustain your team’s motivation

About Jim

Jim Kouzes is the coauthor of the award-winning and best-selling book, The Leadership Challenge, and over a dozen other books on leadership, including the 2021 book, Everyday People, Extraordinary Leadership. He is also a Fellow of the Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice University. The Wall Street Journal named Jim one of the ten best executive educators in the U.S., and he has received the Distinguished Contribution to Workplace Learning and Performance Award from the Association for Talent Development, among many other professional honors.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Jim Kouzes Interview Transcript

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

Jim Kouzes
Hey, Pete, thank you for the opportunity to chat with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your goods. But, first, I want to hear about your experience as JFK’s honor guard. What is the story here?

Jim Kouzes
Well, I was an Eagle Scout at 15 years of age and I guess back then that was a rare occurrence.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s pretty young, 15 versus 18.

Jim Kouzes
Yeah, 15 years old. And so, they asked a few of us, I think it was about a dozen, two groups of six, who were stationed at the base of the reviewing stand where President Kennedy and his family and some of his Cabinet and the spouses stood, and watched as the parade went by. This was when he was right in front of the White House years and years ago. And I stood there in the very, very below freezing cold. When I talk about it, to feel the frigid cold in my feet, it was so cold.

And it was one of those experiences in life that you can vividly remember, and as Kennedy unveiled his various initiatives, the Peace Corps was one of those, and I think it was that event that really inspired me both to join the Peace Corps but dedicate my life to service and education. And so, I joined the Peace Corps after university and that began this career that I’ve been in since, really, 1967.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. That’s cool. Did you get to shake hands or were you just sort of standing there with the honor guard duties?

Jim Kouzes
No, we later were invited to the White House.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Jim Kouzes
So, yes, we did meet the President and the First Lady much later after the inauguration.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, your career is storied. We were chatting, before I pushed record, that I read your book The Student Leadership Challenge when I was a student 15 plus years ago, and you’re still cranking out the hits. So, I’m excited to dig into your latest Everyday People, Extraordinary Leadership. But maybe, first, could you share what have you discovered that is perhaps the most surprising and fascinating thing about leadership from all your decades of research? Like, is there something the average professional doesn’t quite seem to grasp about leadership?

Jim Kouzes
Well, there are a couple of things that come to mind immediately, Pete. The first of those is the most frequently-asked question we get, “Is leadership born or made?” And we’ve been asked that question since the very first edition and we still get asked that every time we speak or do a seminar or workshop or a class. And so, Barry and I have done the research on this, my co-author Barry Posner and I, and we have determined, based on our extensive research, that every leader we have ever met is born.

Pete Mockaitis
They emerge from the womb. Okay.

Jim Kouzes
Never known one not to be born unless it’s a fictional character that was made up in somebody’s mind. And so, that’s really not the question to be asked. The question to be asked is, “Can leadership be learned regardless of what you might be born with?” And the answer to that question is definitively yes. I wouldn’t have stayed in this career this long if it wasn’t.

And I think that reveals an assumption that people tend to make, that leadership is something special that only a few people have and you’re either born with it or you’re not, it’s a gift from the gods, it’s in your DNA, and it’s only a few people, a few charismatic individuals that might have the ability, or people who have lucky circumstances early on in their lives.

And we’ve found that that’s just not the case. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why we wrote this book directed at everyday leaders. Everyday People, Extraordinary Leadership is really about the fact that, and I say fact and I’ll give you some data in a minute, that supports the notion that we all have some capability to lead regardless of our circumstances. And I think that’s probably one of the most significant things we found in our research.

Just to give you some data, we looked, Pete, at the data from our leadership practices inventory which, as you may know from your reading of The Student Leadership Challenge is the assessment we use to determine whether people are engaged with these practices or not. And what we found was that the number of people who exhibit zero leadership capability, that is they actually scored the lowest score on our inventory, from observer standpoint the number is 0.00013%.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Jim Kouzes
So, that means 99.99987% of people have some leadership capability. Now, that doesn’t mean that everyone is at the 10 level of leadership, which is the highest number you can get on our scale. That is not the majority of the people, or the majority, or somewhere in the middle but it does indicate that most people, only one in one million people do not have leadership capability, and most people, 99.99987%, or 999,999 people have some leadership capability. And the issue really is then, “Can you increase the frequency with which you use leadership behaviors?” And, again, the answer to that is definitively yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to dig into some of the particulars of how that’s done. But maybe could you kick us off with an inspiring example of an everyday professional who, indeed, went ahead and exercised some extraordinary leadership?

Jim Kouzes
Absolutely. One of the people that I’ve had the opportunity to follow not only in writing the book but subsequently, in fact, this person, Erin Bern McKelroy…

Pete Mockaitis
Fine name.

Jim Kouzes
…and I would be doing a session together tomorrow, a virtual session together tomorrow, because we’ve stayed in touch. And Erin, during the pandemic, like all of us, was sitting at home on her couch feeling very anxious. Not anxious about the pandemic but anxious about what she was going to do to help her community during this difficult time.

And, given her background with the community, she was very service-minded, she had been involved in a lot of activities in her community in the Midwest, she decided that she had to do something about it as someone who is deeply involved in her community. And what she told us is that, she said, “I turned to my core values and took an internal audit of my heart and my mind.” And what came up for her was that service to others was the most important thing to her.

And so, she asked herself, “What can I do to be of service to others during this time?” And she came up with an initiative that would enable local restaurants, which were currently not open, to serve frontline workers and first responders by preparing meals for that group with funding that would be raised with the community.

And so, as a result of that effort, they raised $50,000. It doesn’t sound like a lot but given this small community that she lived in, it was considerable from 542 residents and 40 local establishments participated in preparing meals and delivering meals, and 8,130 frontline workers and first responders benefitted from that service. That’s just one example of many.

And she had no title, she had no position, people knew her in the community because she was involved but she wasn’t the manager, she wasn’t the boss. She was just someone who felt the need to take initiative during a challenging time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Yeah, perfect in terms of example right there, someone who didn’t have that authority and, yet, made some big things happen very cleverly, helping multiple people in need of help in some great way. So, very cool. Well, then can you walk us through, how is that done? You’ve got your five practices of leadership model. Should we start there or how would you think about discussing the how?

Jim Kouzes
Yeah, I think that is the organizing framework for the book. And what we did was we took a look at data to validate this premise that we all have some leadership capability regardless of title, regardless of position, regardless of authority. We took the data from peer leaders only. So, these were people who had direct reports, these were individuals who were part of a team, part of a community, were not the boss of anyone, and, yet, were observed by others as leaders.

We took that data and we looked at the extent to which they engaged in these five practices and whether or not those individuals had a positive impact. And what we discovered, and we report out in the book with several graphs to illustrate this in data and story, is that individuals who are peers, who lead other peers, who exhibit these five practices more frequently are viewed by others as effective leaders and have an impact on their sense of whether they’re making a difference, the extent to which they understand the purpose and the vision, to the extent to which they are willing to work hard when necessary, those kinds of outcome measures, or engagement measures as some people call them.

And so, what we did in this book was to tell stories, like the one about Erin Bern plus the data around these five practices, which are model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart.

Pete Mockaitis
They’re bringing back fond memories, Jim. Bring this back in the days, like, “Yeah, that holds up. Those do sound like the five things that make up leadership,” which is huge in and of itself because leadership is such a big amorphous fuzzy word, like, “How does one do that?” “Well, this is how you do it, these five practices.”

Jim Kouzes
Yes, absolutely. Like in Erin’s example, for example, I mentioned how she said she did an audit of her values. One of the things that exemplary leaders do, we call it model the way, is, first, clarify what’s important to them, their values and beliefs, and then they set an example for others by living them out. She came up with a vision of what could be, she saw this picture in her mind of these people working together to provide service to frontline workers and to first responders, engaging people in the local community who were providing food through their restaurants or the kitchens.

And she had this picture in her head, she was able to then envision it, and then inspire others to share it. And then, because it was a challenging time, they searched for innovative ways to do this because people were all locked down, and they experimented and took some risks, we call it challenge the process, and she involved a team of people to make this happen, we call that enable others to act. And along the way, they celebrated their little small wins as they went through this process, they encouraged each other’s hearts.

And as a consequence of that, Erin recently was awarded, in her local community through their leadership program in their local community, leader of the year as a result of that experience. So, that’s how individual peers live out these five practices.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s lovely in terms of that one story, we kind of walked through all five of those. So, then maybe we could spend a couple minutes on each of them. In terms of model the way, it starts with getting clear on values, beliefs, what’s important to you, and then living it. Any pro tips on how we can get a boatload of clarity on those dimensions without taking decades?

Jim Kouzes
Yeah, without taking decades. We’ve written a few books about this. Well, let me just give you a couple of those. Let’s take clarify values. And one of them is a little technique we can try on our own is imagine the following scenario, imagine you’re going to be away from your team that you’re wanting to lead or currently leading. You’re going to be away from your team for, let’s say, three months, and you’re going to be not able to communicate with that team while they’re doing their work in any way whatsoever but you can leave them a one-page memo, we call it credo memo, prior to being incommunicado.

What would you tell people are the principles by which they should conduct themselves in their work during your absence? What are the values and beliefs that should guide their decisions and actions? Write that one-page memo to your team.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. And it’s probably not going to have much to do with the specific software tools they should be using.

Jim Kouzes
Exactly. What are the principles that should guide their decisions and actions? And do it in one page. That forces people to have to think in short memorable ways in which they can communicate to others what they should use as guidelines for doing their work and making their decisions. That’s very effective. I’ll use other techniques like values cards. We have people do card sorts. But any way in which you can explore your head and your heart, as Erin talked about, and your soul, and think about, “What do I really believe in and what do I hope other people will believe in as we conduct our work?”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, could you give us a couple examples of that verbiage? I mean, when you say values, it could just be a word like integrity, or humility, courage, innovation. Or, how are you thinking about values and how they’re expressed here?

Jim Kouzes
Well, I’ll offer a couple of examples. Because there are about 150 values words in the English language and not all of them are understood similarly so you can’t hold 150 values simultaneously and have people follow those guidelines. It’s just too many. So, five to seven that will help people to understand. And integrity might be one of them but go the next step and ask yourself, “What does integrity look like to you? What does it look like in practice?”

So, integrity might look like to you in practice that, “When we’re with each other and we’re doing our work, we’re always straightforward and honest about what’s going on. We give each other honest feedback even when it’s tough, even when it’s challenging, but we do it in a way that’s empathetic and not critical of other person but really ways in which they can take that feedback and act on it.” So, we have to go the next step from the one-word integrity to give an illustration of what that might look like in practice.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you. So, that’s modeling the way. And how does one inspire a shared vision?

Jim Kouzes
Well, let’s take another technique that we like to use, and I call it the life technique, L-I-F-E. Think about the following scenario. At the end of the year, you’re going to be awarded leader of the year, and people who are your friends, your peers, your colleagues, your team members, your family are going to be there celebrating with you this award, and they’re going to be telling stories about you, and they’re going to tell about the lessons they learned from you, the ideals you stood for, the feelings that you have, that they have when around you, and the evidence that you’ve made a difference, you’ve had an impact.

L for lessons, I is for ideals, F is for feelings, and E is for evidence, L-I-F-E. If you’re hearing other people talk about you, what do you hope they would be saying about the lessons they learned, the ideals you stood for, the feelings they had when around you, and the evidence that you made a difference? Apply that to yourself, write that down, and then apply that to your team.

If your team is going to get team of the year, what would you hope others would say would be the lessons people learned from you, the ideals your team stood for, the feelings that people had when they were around your team, and the evidence that you made a difference? That kind of exercise helps people to think more deeply about how they hope to have an impact on others, how they hope to be seen by others. It helps them to see more clearly how they would envision themselves in the future.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that so much and this is also kind of making me think of Stephen Covey, begin with the end in mind, and like a eulogy, like what you want people to say even at your funeral, like if you win the leader of the year award, but you can even zoom out into other context to make it spark things.

And that reminds me, well, I did a brief stint of nonprofit consulting at The Bridgespan Group, and when we did our sort of farewells, someone said about me, I was very touched, and she said, with regard to me, and working and leading, collaborating, that I never made her feel dumb. And I thought, “Well, thank you. That’s a really kind thing to say about somebody that you work with,” because I don’t know about you, Jim, but I felt dumb a lot of times working with a lot of people. And that is, that’s something that you remember and it sticks with you as does the lessons, the ideals, and the evidence of the impact. And I think that’s a really nice tidy summation there.

Jim Kouzes
Pete, one of the things that’s most challenging for people to do, we have found from our research, is be forward-looking, and inspire a shared vision is the lowest-scoring practice of all the five practices. So, inspire a shared vision is extremely challenging for people to do. And, in fact, we found this find that this is probably the only practice which is correlated somewhat with age, meaning younger people are not as forward-looking as those with more experience.

Part of that is you’ve had more experience in the workplace and you do understand that you don’t get instant results in an organization. It takes a while to complete a project and so you need to be thinking ahead, particularly when you’re managing or supervising or leading other people. You need to think potential years down the road.

And so, it is a skill that’s developed over time but we can build that skill the more we begin to imagine scenarios out into the future and what we hope things will look like at the end. And so, we can draw on our past about things that we’ve accomplished in the past and kind of go back and review them to see how they went for us and what the end results were, reminding us that we can start at year one, and in year three, something gets realized, and imagine what went on during that time.

And then, coming to the present and reflect on what’s going on right now that is in need of some action, what are the trends, what’s happening, that can inform our vision today. And then let’s look into the future and project ahead and say, “Well, what’s going to be the impact of what’s happening right now down the road?” People do that all the time. Who would’ve known that you and I would be communicating this way 10 years ago, or 15 years ago, or 20 years ago? And, yet, here we are, using this technology that someone invented a while back.

One short little example of this, Barry Posner and I wrote the first edition of The Leadership Challenge starting in 1983 up through 1985 and did some editing and got published in 1987. We wrote the first edition of The Leadership Challenge using a software program called Kermit. It was available only to people at universities, it was only available to people in research institutions. It wasn’t publicly available. It was an internet program that allowed us to share files over the internet.

Today, people just assume that’s the way it’s been all along because we’re doing it all the time. But when we first started writing, there was no such thing as the internet publicly available. But somebody imagined that we could be doing this kind of thing now. What do you, as you’re working in your community and you’re thinking about what you can do, what is it that you imagine could happen if members of your community took an initiative to deal with a particular challenge?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Well, now, let’s talk about the third step there, challenge the process. How do we do that well?

Jim Kouzes
Well, challenge the process is essentially about searching for opportunities by kind of seizing the initiative. Again, going back to Erin Bern McKelroy’s personal best leadership experience that she told us about during the pandemic. She was sitting there on her couch just feeling anxious about wanting to do something because she’s always been involved with the community. So, she seized the initiative to do something and, also, by looking outward for ways to improve.

So, looking out in the community and ask yourself, “Well, how could we make this happen? We can get people from food service organizations, or restaurants and kitchens and commercial kitchens, and ask them to be involved. And then who could we be serving? Well, who’s the most important population in need?”

So, she looked outside, not just in her own head, but she looked outside in the community for ideas about what could be done to improve, then she ran that by some people who were close to her to test these ideas, and then they set up little experiments to try it out, then things began to work and come together. So, it’s about searching for opportunities by seizing the initiative and looking outward for innovative ways to improve. And then, by experimenting and taking risks, by constantly generating little ideas that can help them to take action on that vision that they had.

Pete Mockaitis
Any pro tips for sparking more ideas when you’re in the heat of things?

Jim Kouzes
So, here’s one idea that I think anyone can use that will help them be more curious and more innovative and creative. The idea, actually, talking about looking outward for ideas, came to us from a participant in a workshop. We had this idea of sitting down and asking your team at least once a week, “What have you done over the last week to improve so that you’re better this week than you were a week ago?”

And so, we offered that suggestion, and one of the participants in the workshop followed through and implemented that idea and came back to us four weeks later, and said, “You know what happened? The first time I asked my team to think about this question, ‘What have you learned in the last week to improve? What have you done in the last week to improve so that you’re better this week than you were a week ago?’ The first time that I asked that question,” he said, “…no one had an answer. They kind of looked at me silly, and said, ‘He’s been to a workshop. This will pass.’”

He said, “The second week, about 25%, 30% of the people had a response. Those conscientious folks who thought maybe I’d ask this question again, 75% had it the third week. You know what happened on the fourth week? They asked me what I had done in the last week to improve so I was better than I was a week ago.” So, we knew that that worked. It stuck.

So, you need to come up with some way in which you ask a question or you set up a situation in which people have to think about what they’ve done to improve, to learn, to innovate, to create. You can take people shopping for ideas. Think about organizations that do things not identical to yours but if you’re in the service business, other people in the service business that you might go and observe, who seem to be very creative and innovative. Go shopping for ideas from other people. Anything that we can do to get people to exercise curiosity about themselves and about others will be helpful to improving.

So, I like that technique of asking people, “What have you learned in the last week, or what have you done in the last week to improve so you’re better this week than you were a week ago?”

Pete Mockaitis
But it’s also, in and of itself, illustrative about how change can unfold. At first, it’s like, “Okay, blowing this guy off.” And then the second time, a couple people get on board. And then, with that consistency, there it goes, you’re off to the races.

Jim Kouzes
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you tell us now about the fourth practice there, enable others to act?

Jim Kouzes
Absolutely. So, enable others to act is about two things. It’s about fostering collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships, and then about strengthening individuals by increasing their self-determination and developing their confidence. So, here’s another technique or method that can be helpful, again, one of those things that you can do almost instantaneously.

Whenever you are engaged in an interaction with another person or a group of people, whether it’s one people, ten people, or a hundred people, ask yourself the following question prior to the interaction, “What can I do in this interaction with this person or a group of people that will make them feel more powerful, efficacious, strong, and capable after we’re through with this interaction than when we started? What’s one thing I can do to make other people feel stronger, more capable, better and more capable than maybe even they thought they were?”

It might be simply to listen to that person or that group of people. It might be to offer a suggestion. It might be to say, “Well, I know somebody who might be able to help you with this.” It might be, “You know, I think there’s a development experience that would be useful to you here. Let me see if I can get you connected with someone who can help you with that.”

Anything that you can do to make other people feel more powerful, whether it’s in a one-minute interaction, or a one-hour interaction, or longer, is something that will help other people feel stronger and more trusting of you because you’re paying attention to them and their needs.

Pete Mockaitis
And let’s talk about the opposite of that. How might a well-intentioned everyday leader accidentally or unintentionally disable others from acting?

Jim Kouzes
Let me give you a specific example to frame this because I think it’s really important that we talk about this. This is probably one of the most important topics we can discuss, “How do we make other people feel enabled or how do we make them feel disabled?”

So, in response to that question, here’s a study, one of my favorite studies that I think will help to frame this. So, researchers were doing an experiment on collaboration and trust using what’s called the prisoner’s dilemma. It’s a zero-sum game that’s often used in experiments on cooperation and collaboration.

And they set up the experiment in a very unique way. They told people that one group of people, half the participants in this experiment, that they were playing the Wall Street Game. And they told others, the other half, that they were playing the Community Game. What they were really looking at was the extent to which people would cooperate. The rules of the game were the same, were identical, and the only difference was the name of the game – Wall Street Game, Community Game.

Who would you guess was more cooperative, those playing the Wall Street Game or the Community Game?

Pete Mockaitis
I would guess the Community Game.

Jim Kouzes
Exactly. And that’s the point. The only difference was the name of the game not the game itself. But those who played the Wall Street Game, only about 37% were cooperative on their initial move and subsequent moves. Those playing the Community Game were 70% cooperative, and that continued throughout the game.

We, as leaders, have impact in just one or two words so when we speak as leaders, we, essentially, are like viruses, to use a current example. We spread things and we can either spread positive behaviors or negative behaviors in just a couple of words. And, as leaders, we need to really reflect on the language we’re using in order to have a positive impact in people because we know that that positive impact will produce better results.

So, do you want to be playing the Wall Street Game? If you want to be playing the Wall Street Game where people are uncooperative with each other and try to compete and beat the other person and never have a win-win solution, then call it the Wall Street Game. But if you want people to be cooperative, you need to play the Community Game.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

Jim Kouzes
So, again, I think that helps to frame our understanding of this concept. It is a lot about language and behavior. As leaders, you have to be the first to trust. You have to be the person who creates a climate of trust for others, makes it possible for people to cooperate in a trusting manner. So, take a cue from that research that you are having an impact, either positive or negative, you’re either being transformational or toxic. Which do you choose to be?

Pete Mockaitis
And, finally, how do we go about encouraging the heart?

Jim Kouzes
Encouraging the heart is, again, about a couple of things. One is about recognizing contribution from individuals. What have people done that you can show your appreciation for? And, secondly, celebrating the values and the victories as a group of people. So, we need both to recognize individuals for what they do as well as we have to celebrate, as teams, the milestones we’ve reached and the values we’ve been consistent with.

One of my favorite examples comes from Tom Malone, he wasn’t an everyday leader in this particular case but he was a great example to all everyday leaders, to all leaders. He had a small…a medium-sized factory. And, as the owner of the company, he would often walk the floor. It was a relatively small organization and so he had the chance regularly to walk the floor. And one day, he saw one of his manufacturing employees put a part in a refrigerator, in the freezer of a refrigerator, and he was really curious about that.

So, he went up to this individual, he said, “Lala, excuse me, I’m really confused. Why did you put that part in the freezer?” And he said, “Well, I put it in the freezer because it was a little too large to fit in the hole,” this was a rod that went into a component. “The rod was a little too big and I knew if I put it in the freezer, it would shrink a little bit and be able to fit into the part. I wouldn’t be wasting either part.”

And then Tom realized that Lala, is what his name was, put this part in the freezer because he was committed to the value of zero rejects called the total quality control. And later, at a celebration, which they had weekly on the floor, Tom called this out, told this story and said, “He is an example of the kind of person we’re looking for who stays dedicated both to his job, to our value of zero reject quality, and to the productivity of this organization.”

So, as a leader, be out there and about looking for individuals who are doing things that you can then tell stories about. And when you tell that story, you’re communicating to others who are part of that team that they are individually making a contribution, and “Here’s one of your colleagues, one of your peers, who’s done that. This is an example to you of the kind of behavior that we’re looking for throughout this organization.”

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

Jim Kouzes
I would only say that you’ve done a great job, Pete, with your questions, but I think the thing that I want to emphasize and I want to say most, Pete, is that every person has a capability to improve their leadership skills and abilities. And using the five practices of exemplary leadership as a guide, find ways in which you can more frequently engage in modeling, inspiring, challenging, enabling and encouraging.

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

Jim Kouzes
Quote from one of the people we interviewed early on, Don Bennett, who, in response to a question of “How did you do that, Don? How did you climb 14,410 feet on one leg and two crutches to the top of Mount Rainier?” and He looked down at his one leg, the first amputee to climb Mount Rainier, and said, “One hop at a time.”

I think of that quote every day when I’m stuck somewhere, and if I may add a second quote from Don. When I said to Don, “You were the first amputee ever to climb Mount Rainier, the first to do it. What was the most important lesson you learned from climbing that mountain?” And he said, “You can’t do it alone.”

People often think about leadership as an individual solo act that is just unique to the person, but Don made me recognize very early on in our research that it really is not about what one person does. It is about what a team of people does together. Any leader who claims credit personally for accomplishments is not going to have the kind of impact that a leader like Don who attributes his success to the team.

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

Jim Kouzes
My current favorite, Pete, is the newest book from Adam Grant.

Pete Mockaitis
Think Again.

Jim Kouzes
You got it. You knew that book.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s a great Kindle as well.

Jim Kouzes
Yeah. I’m sure you have the same stack or a similar stack. Yeah, but Think Again is a wonderful new book. Highly recommend it to anyone. And I think, particularly around this notion of challenging the process, it’ll help us all to recognize that we all have blind spots, we all are always in need of thinking again about the way in which we think.

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

Jim Kouzes
You know, one of my favorite tools is Grammarly.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Jim Kouzes
As a write, I use it all the time. Again, I work alone writing, and there’s often not an editor nearby, but I just run my texts through Grammarly, and say, “Oh, yeah, I see how I could do that better here.” So, that probably is my favorite tool that I use in my day-to-day work.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a favorite nugget, something you share that people quote back to you again and again?

Jim Kouzes
I would say that there are a couple of them. One is “Credibility is the foundation of leadership.” “If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message,” is often something that people recall from our work. People also frequently say, “The best leaders are the best learners,” another line which we wrote. But I think my favorite is, “Leadership is not an affair of the head. Leadership is an affair of the heart.”

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

Jim Kouzes
I think the best way to find out the scope of everything that we are up to these days is the LeadershipChallenge.com. So, LeadershipChallenge.com website, which is where we have programs and books and activities. And then follow me at Twitter @Jim_Kouzes.

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

Jim Kouzes
I would say that my challenge is the following to all of us as leaders, whether with a title or as peers, that our wish, ours, mine and Barry’s, is that you make the most of every opportunity to lead, that you stretch yourself, and be willing to learn continually from the challenges in front of you, and that you step out to the edge of your capabilities, and then ask a little bit more of yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Jim, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and adventure in your extraordinary leadership.

Jim Kouzes
Pete, thank you very much. I really appreciate this opportunity to talk with you. So, we’ll sign off and I hope that we get to do this again. Love them and lead them.

651: How to Defuse Verbal Conflict and Prevent Toxicity from Ruining Your Day with Sam Horn

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Sam Horn says: "No one can make us angry without our consent."

Sam Horn explains how to deal with difficult people more effectively by shifting the language we use.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Words to lose and words to use in a conflict
  2. The mindset shift that makes us feel like less like a victim
  3. Two strategies for dealing with workplace bullies 

About Sam

Sam Horn, is the CEO of the Intrigue Agency and the Tongue Fu! Training Institute. Her 3 TEDx talks and 9 books – including Tongue Fu!POP!Got Your Attention? and SOMEDAY is Not a Day in the Week – have been featured in NY Times, on NPR, and presented to hundreds of organizations worldwide including Intel, Cisco, Boeing, U.S. Navy, Nationwide, and Fidelity.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Sam Horn Interview Transcript

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

Sam Horn
You’re welcome, Pete. I’m looking forward to sharing some ideas with your listeners.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to hear your wisdom. You’ve written a couple books which are helping resolve an issue that our listeners have been asking with regard to difficult bosses and coworkers, how to deal with them well. And you’ve got a wealth of expertise. Maybe you can start us off by telling any particularly noteworthy stories about a bad boss or bad collaborators that might make our jaws drop and captivate us? No pressure, Sam.

Sam Horn
Aha. Well, you know what, the origin story for Tongue Fu, actually does that, is that Dr. Ray Oshiro out of University of Hawaii had asked me to do a program on dealing with difficult people without becoming one ourselves. And in our first break, there was a gentleman, he didn’t even get up to get a cup of coffee, some fresh air. He just sat there gazing off into space.

And I was curious, I went over, I said, “What are you thinking?” And he said, “Sam, I’m a realtor.” He said, “I would deal with some really demanding people, and they seem to think they can treat me any way they want to. I’m tired of it.” He said, “I thought you were going to teach us some zingers to fire back at people and put them in their place.” I said, “That’s not what this is about.”

And he was the one who said, “I’m a student of martial arts.” He said, “I’ve studied karate, taekwondo, judo.” He said, “What you’re talking about is not about putting people in their place, right? It’s about putting ourselves in their place so we can respond with compassion instead of contempt.” And he said, “It’s kind of like a verbal form of kung fu, isn’t it?” Eureka! The perfect title, that’s what it is – Tongue Fu; martial arts for the mind and mouth.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s a great summary right there. Like, it’s not about zingers, it’s not about sticking it to them, but you put yourself in their place and are able to respond with compassion. Can you give us an example of how that could play out conversationally?

Sam Horn
Oh, boy, can I give you an example. Now, Pete, unless people are driving and listening to this, I hope they grab a paper, and I hope they put a vertical line right down the center, and put words to lose on the left and words to use on the right because we’re going to go right into what we face every day on the job.

So, on the left, put complain, because we hear complaints. Customers complain, coworkers complain, so put complain over on the left. Guess what we don’t do when people complain? Explain. Put explain on the left because explanations come across as excuses. If someone says, “Hey, the Zoom call was supposed to start at 9:00 o’clock,” “Oh, I know, it’s just some people are late.” Nope, explanations make people angry because they feel we’re not being accountable.

Over on the right, put A train. When people complain, don’t explain, take the A train. A for agree, “You’re right, the Zoom call was supposed to start at 9:00 o’clock.” Apologize, “And I’m sorry we’re running a few minutes late.” Act, “And I’ve got that information you requested. Let’s jump right into it. Rock and roll.” Do you see how the A train expedites complaints and explanations aggravate them?

Pete Mockaitis
I do. And, Sam, it is just a joy to hear the way you explain things, that your keynote background is just shining through, words to lose, words to use, the A train, and it’s memorable so I appreciate it. Keep it coming. So, agree, apologize, and act, and not to get too into the weeds here, but when something is late, you suggest the act there is just “And we’re going to just get started now.” Any alternatives coming to mind?

Sam Horn
Absolutely. Here’s another one. Say, people are arguing, right? Say, something has gone wrong, and people are finger pointing, blaming, shaming. Over on the left, put find fault, “Well, hey, it wasn’t my fault. So-and-so was in charge of it. Well, I never saw that memo.” Back and forth we go. Finding fault serves no good purpose. Over on the right, put find solutions.

And when people are arguing and it is this blaming, shaming, interrupt them and then say these magic words, “Hey, we could argue for the rest of the day, and that’s not, again, get this done. Instead, let’s figure how we’re going to prevent this from happening again. Or, instead, let’s put a system in place.” And you see how when we switch the attention to finding solutions instead of fault, now that conversation is serving a good purpose instead of a waste of everyone’s time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s good. Do we have some more?

Sam Horn
Do you want more?

Pete Mockaitis
I do. I do.

Sam Horn
Oh, do I have more.

Pete Mockaitis
Lose some words, words to use. Let’s hear them.

Sam Horn
All right. Now, over on the left, put negative accusation. Say, somebody says, “You women are so emotional.” If we deny a negative accusation, if we say, “We’re not emotional,” uh-oh, we just proved their point. If someone says, “You don’t care about your customers,” and we say, “We do, too, care about our customers.” Now, we’re proving their point, right? So, on the left, instead of denying an accusation, over on the right, redirect an accusation. I’ll give you two quick examples.

I was speaking at a conference, and a woman put her hand up in the Q&A, and she said, “Sam, why are women so catty to each other?” I decided to Don Draper that, Pete. Don Draper, in Mad Men, said, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” So, I said, “Ladies, let’s agree to never ask or answer that question again because every time we do, we perpetuate that stereotype. Instead, don’t repeat a negative accusation because it reinforces it. Instead, redirect it, say, ‘You know what I found, women are real champions of each other. In fact, I wouldn’t have this job if someone hadn’t stepped up and recommended me.’”

Or, here’s another thing you can do on the right, instead of repeating it, which reinforces it, say, “What do you mean?” or, “Why do you say that?” Because if someone says, “You don’t care about your customers,” and we say, “We do, too,” we’re in a debate. If you say, “Well, why do you say that?” they may say, “Well, I left three messages and no one’s called back.” “Oh.” “What do you mean?” or “Why do you say that?” gets to the root of the accusation, and we can solve that instead of reacting to the attack.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. Okay. Well, so, hey, if you’ve got some more, I’ll take them.

Sam Horn
I do. Okay, let’s talk about when something goes wrong, shall we?

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Sam Horn
Okay. Someone has made a mistake, someone has dropped the ball, right? Isn’t it true that that word should is right there on the tip of our tongue, “You should’ve been more careful,” “You should’ve brought that up in the staff meeting,” “You should’ve asked George; he’s handled that before,” and yet the word should comes across as a critique. People will resent us even if what we’re saying is right. So, over on the left, put mistake. The word should punishes the past. No one can undo the past. They will resent us even if what we’re saying is right.

Over on the right, we’re going to shape behavior instead of should it. And with these words, “Next time…” “From now on…” “In the future…” Because if we say “From now on, if you have questions, please bring them up in the staff meeting because other people are probably wondering the same thing.” “In the future, if that happens, if you could…” Do you see how we’re being a coach instead of a critic? We’re shaping behavior instead of shaming it, and people are learning from their mistakes instead of losing face over their mistakes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. Okay.

Sam Horn
Want more? Want more?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. Well, so I guess I’m thinking about, so these are great best practices in terms of when you’re just engaging, you’re collaborating, you’re talking to folks, and you’ve got your communication flowing, so great choices in terms of words to lose and words to use. I’m thinking now, let’s say the listener finds themselves in the victim seat, or they are the ones being blamed, they are the ones people are finding fault with, they’re getting some criticism that might even seem undue bully-esque, just some meanies. How do you recommend we deal with the emotional stuff there and just sort of find our way forward effectively?

Sam Horn
Well, a lot of people find themselves in this situation these days, Pete, with COVID, there’s a lot of things happening. We have to enforce policies we don’t agree with, or we need to tell someone there’s nothing we can do, or we’re thinking, “Hey, it’s not my fault.” Guess what? Over on the left, put the words “There’s nothing…” or “It’s not my fault.” Because if something goes wrong, and people are blaming us and we’re saying, “Hey, not my fault. Nothing I can do. No way I can change it,” do you feel that people are concluding we don’t care?

So, over on the right, put “There’s something…” instead of “There’s nothing…” and I’m really going to give you one of my favorite examples of this. My Aunt Kaye is 80 years old and she still volunteers five days a week to go to our local hospital and to work from the 4:00 to 8:00 shift. So, I’ve said, “What has it been like these last few months with COVID?” And she said, “Sam, it’s so stressful because we have a policy with only one visitor per patient, and you can imagine these people, I’m the point of contact, they’re taking all their anger out on me.” And I said, “Well, what’s a specific example?” And she said, “Last week, a woman came rushing in. She held up her phone and she said, ‘My daughter just texted. She’s in ER. I need to see her.’”

And so, Aunt Kaye called the ER and the nurse said somebody’s already with the daughter. The mom could not get in to see her. So, the mother, understandably, goes ballistic and is taking all that anger out at Aunt Kaye. Now, she could’ve said, “Hey, I’m not the one who did the policy. Don’t blame me.” Instead, she said, “Let me see if there’s something…” instead of “There’s nothing…” “…that we can do.” She called and she asked the ER nurse, “Who is with the daughter?” It was the Uber driver who had brought her in from the accident. Well, they explained the situation to the Uber driver, thanked him, he left, the mom got in to see the daughter, and that is a shift in mentality.

You use that word victim, and if we’re being blamed for something that’s not our fault, the more we think, “Hey, this isn’t fair. Don’t blame me,” the angrier we get at them and we perpetuate that. Instead, if we say, “This won’t help. Let’s focus on what we can do. There’s something we can figure out,” it shifts the whole situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And that’s a great point in terms of like even if it is you are absolutely the victim, no joke, an injustice has occurred, you are suffering unjustly due to the hostile aggression of another, like a full-blown victim-work situation in which someone has said something wildly inappropriate at you, it’s true that if you continue to reflect on the fact that you have suffered an injustice, it’s going to make you angrier.

And by shifting your attention elsewhere, you can make some things happen. And, I guess, of course, there’s traumas and there’s crimes and there’s gradations here that kind of require some different responses but, yeah, that’s a good thought in terms of I felt that as well. If I fixate on the fact that I am experiencing injustice, I just get really mad and it usually doesn’t propel me into a helpful place, in my own experience.

Sam Horn
You know, Pete, what you’re referring to is “Why should we? Why should we take responsibility to try and be the one to solve this, or to try and make this better?” And let’s use another real-life example. I was interviewing a principal recently who…and you can imagine, a principal these days, faculties are upset, students are upset, parents are upset, the school board is on them, right? It’s a really hard job these days.

And I asked her a situation where she was able, when someone was piling on her unfairly, how she had the presence of mind, in pressure like that, to be resourceful instead of resentful? And so, she has a situation where there is a young man with a spinal injury, and his grandmother is taking care of him, and yet they had a classroom on the third floor for third grade, and this young man, and she had to tell the grandmother that he could not come to school because the elevator wasn’t working and there wasn’t an escape plan for him.

She spent three months dealing with the fire department, trying to figure out how to hack this. The grandmother is calling her almost on a daily basis, saying, “I’m exhausted. I can’t take care of this young man 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” Now, her heart is going out to this grandmother. Her heart is going out to this young man. She’s trying everything she can to resolve this and, finally, she had this epiphany. Do you know what she did, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me.

Sam Horn
She moved the third-grade classroom on the third floor down to the bottom floor, and fixed the whole situation. Now, by the way, I’m not being a Pollyanna because I’m not saying, “Everything was perfect. Everything went well.” The teacher of that third-grade class said, “Now, I’m not going to be with my peers,” and that is true. It was not a perfect solution. And she asked the teacher, “Who do we serve? We serve the students, right?”

And it served the students to be able to have their third-grade classroom on the first floor so that this young man could attend, so that they also served the parent, and it was something that was, in the circumstances, the best decision. And, once again, it came from this mentality of “If I put my mind to it, if I keep being proactive instead of reactive, I will come up with a rising-tide solution, and it doesn’t just serve me. It’s going to serve the people I’m serving. And it may not be perfect, it’s better than what we’ve got.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. And those sorts of creative ideas, I’ve discovered and I think there’s some good neuroscience behind this as well, don’t tend to come when you’re angry and riled up and ready to fight. They more so tend to come when I feel kind of relaxed, I’ve got some space to chew on things, to let my brain kind of dance and play around and land somewhere because it’s natural to say, “Well, hey, the third-grade classroom, this is just where it is. That’s how it’s always been. That’s how the school is set up,” and then it does take a little bit of a shift to say, “Oh, but I suppose we could swap it because why not?” I think that’s a great example right there.

Sam Horn
So, let’s go to something you’re talking about, this anger we have. And, by the way, Pete, this is why I juxtapose things, that’s why we put a column on the left of something has gone wrong, and Elvis Presly, of all people, has a great quote about this. Do you know what he said?

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m all shook up.”

Sam Horn
He said that, too. He said, “When things go wrong, don’t go with them.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Sam Horn
Just see, on the left, when things go wrong, we can find fault, we can tell them it’s not our fault, and it will not help. So, we shift over to the right, to these responses instead of reactions. Here’s one of my favorite examples. You were talking about angry. I often close my Tongue Fu programs with this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt. She said, “No one can make us feel inferior without our consent.” And I’ve adapted that, with credit to her, to say no one can make us angry without our consent.

And there was a gruff construction boss, and he stood up, and he said, “Sam, you’re pulling a Pollyanna with this one.” He said, “You have no idea of the kind of people I deal with.” He said, “Do you mean if someone’s yelling in my face, that’s not supposed to make me mad?” And there was a woman who stood up and she said, “I’m a surgical nurse.” She said, “I agree with this because I’ve lived through it.” She said, “I deal with a neurosurgeon who’s the most abrasive individual I have ever met.” She said, “He is a brilliant physician, he has zip people skills.” She said, “Last year, I was a fraction of a second late handing him an instrument in surgery, he berated me in front of my peers. He humiliated me in front of that team.” She said, “It took all my professionalism just to continue with the operation and not walk out.”

She said, “When I was driving home, I got so mad at him. I sat down at the dinner table, I told my husband what happened, I said, ‘Oh, that doctor makes me mad.’” She said, “My husband had heard this before. He said, ‘Judy, what time is it?’” She said, “It’s 7:00 o’clock.” He said, “What time did this happen?” And she said, “9:00 o’clock this morning.” He said, “Judy, is it the doctor who’s making you mad?” And he got up and left the table. And she said, “I sat there and I thought about it, and I realized it wasn’t the doctor who was making me mad. The doctor wasn’t even in the room.”

She said, “I was the one who had given him a ride home in my car.” She said, “I was the one who set him a place at my dinner table.” She said, “I decided right there and then that never again was that doctor welcome in my home or in my head. And when I left the hospital, I was leaving him there, and never again was I giving him the power to poison my personal life.”

And so, I’m asking all our listeners, Pete, who do we take home with us? Who do we give a ride to in our car? Who do set a place for at our dinner table? And can we promise ourselves that we will leave that person at work? We will no longer give them the power to poison that precious personal time with our loved ones at home.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Sam, that is inspiring and wise, and you’re really like, “Well, heck, yeah, I should not allow that person to co-op my brain for that length of time. That’s just silliness.” So, I think that that really installs some conviction in our hearts, like, “Yeah, I’m not going to let that happen anymore.” That being said, when the rubber meets the road and you’re in the heat of battle, it can be sometimes easier said than done when ruminations start to crop up. How do you recommend we put the kibosh on them?

Sam Horn
Oh, Pete, I love that question. That’s the perfect follow-up question, as I agree with you in theory, “How do I do it in practice?” I wrote a book called ConZentrate. Stephen Covey said it was the best book he ever saw on focus. And what you just brought up, we cannot not think about something, right? If we tell our kids, “Don’t run around the pool,” what are they going to do? If I say I’m not going to get mad, what are we going to do? If we’re an athlete, and we say don’t double-fault or don’t drop the ball, what are we going to do?

You are right. Instead of saying, “I’m not going to let that person make me mad. I’m not going to take that person home with me.” Over on the left is what we don’t want. Over on the right is what we do want, so it’s called catch and correct. As soon as we become aware, whether we are telling ourselves what we don’t want, “You better not be late again,” “Don’t forget,” “Stop hitting your sister,” “Don’t get angry,” that’s over on the left.

No, switch over to the right. What do you want? Well, you want to stay calm. You want to focus on what’s right in your world. You want to look at this person across the table as if, for the first or last time, so that you see them and you are present to them instead of preoccupied with what happened ten years before.

We want to tell our kids, “Give your sister space, a hula hoop of space,” which is something to do instead of stop hitting your sister. We want to say, “Be five minutes early,” instead of, “Don’t be late.” It’s, “Remember to tell your boss this when you walk in in the morning,” instead of, “Don’t forget.” So, you are right, is that we fill our mind with words and language and images of what we do want instead of telling ourselves what we don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s handy. And so then, I imagine in the nasty surgeon example, you have an intentionality associated with, “This is how I’m going to be, do, feel, conduct myself.”

And by visualizing that and prepping it in advance, you’re more likely to remember, “Oh, that jerk, I want to kill him. Oh, wait a sec, okay, okay. I’m going to be like calm or joyful or curious,” fill in the blank, and that’s how we’re going to roll as opposed to fixating on, “Oh, don’t imagine stabbing him with a scalpel. Don’t imagine cutting his finger off,” whatever. Getting really violent here in the surgery room.

Sam Horn
And, Pete, see, I’m a pragmatist as well. So, if people are thinking, “Oh, this is just woo-woo Pollyanna stuff. What if this person is really egregious? What if what they’re doing, I’m just supposed to ignore it?” So, here is the bottom-line action we can take as well. There’s the mindset and there’s also then the mechanics of a pragmatic action.

When we’re not happy with a situation, there’s three things we can do. We change the other person, we can change the situation, we can change ourselves. So, we jump to number three – changing ourselves. Let’s look at the first two.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, how do you do that?

Sam Horn
Okay. Here is the good news. There is strength in numbers. And so, changing the other person, in many industries these days, it used to be that if this neurosurgeon was a rainmaker, even if the nurses were complaining, administrators didn’t care because this neurosurgeon was famous and a rainmaker. Now, there’s strength in numbers. And if you document the behavior, if you have witnesses to the behavior, if you report objectively with the Ws: what was said, when was this said, what was the impact of what was said; and is reported to HR, they are required to act on documented reports of egregious behavior that is not subjective, “I didn’t like what this person said.”

Pete Mockaitis
“He was rude. I was bullied.” That’s a little bit subject to interpretation as oppose to, “He said, ‘You are a moron and I hate you.’” Okay, that’s a direct quote.

Sam Horn
Remember action is it. And that’s why what you just said, Pete, about it needs to be the dialogue. Not like, “He was really offensive.” HR can’t do anything with that or a business owner can’t do anything with that. When you quote what someone has said, when you put the time that it happened, not yesterday, “No, it happened at 9:17 right in the middle of this,” the more objective evidence of this unacceptable behavior, the more actionable it is.

So, we can maybe change the other person, we can change a situation. Now, you maybe think, “Well, I don’t want to switch to another department,” or, “I’ve got three more years in this government job. I’m not going to retire or something like that.” So, sometimes though we can change the situation and the good news is, even if we can’t change the person or can’t change a situation, even if you decide, “That person is a jerk. I’ve done everything I can. No one’s taking responsibility and I don’t want to quit. I don’t want to leave. I need this,” then that third act is always an option and we change ourselves.

We could almost put like a plastic bubble around this. And whatever that person says just bounces harmlessly off us. It just bounces off it. It never gets under our skin. It never invades us so that we’re still thinking about it a day or a week or a month later.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And we talked about changing the other person, and one pathway is the, okay, documentation, building a case, HR, a business owner, senior executive, kind of direct challenge in that way. Do you have any suggestions in terms of how one might do this delicate, diplomatic dance associated with, “Hey, boss, you know, when you did this, I didn’t like that”? Any thoughts for how to have that conversation like when and how and if?

Sam Horn
Okay. See, now, we’re going to move into bully territory here because I believe 95% of people care what’s fair. I believe 95% of people have a conscience. They actually want to cooperate. They want a win-win. Guess what? Five percenters, they don’t want a win-win; they want to win. They don’t want to cooperate; they want to control. They don’t follow the rules; they break the rules because they know that it’s going to get them what they want.

So, if we are dealing with someone at work and this person is a five percenter, and that means they have a pattern of violating people’s rights, of not playing by the rules, it’s not a one-time they’re now having a bad day. It’s like they do it all the time on purpose. I’m going to say something that flies in the face of everything you’ve heard. Ready?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m ready.

Sam Horn
Do not use the word “I” because haven’t we been taught, Pete, that we’re supposed to say, “I don’t think that’s fair,” “I don’t like to be spoken to in that tone of voice”? Guess what? Bullies don’t care what’s fair. They don’t have a conscience. They’re actually going to think, “Good. I’m glad it’s bothering you. It was supposed to bother you.”

I am going to suggest we use the word “you,” “You back off,” “You! Enough!” “You, speak to me with respect.” So, here are just a variety of ways to do that. Say, there’s somebody that’s handsy on the job, and this person is in your space. And now, Pete, this isn’t an abstract concept. We have a hula hoop of space. Right now, people, put your hand out, stretch out in front of you, stretch out the side of you, stretch out behind you. That’s three feet.

We have our physical space, and animals know, “You don’t get in my space,” right? It’s like you get in my face or in my space, we have the right to back someone off, which is why if someone has a habit of getting in your face or in your space, number one, stand up. Because, often, they do that when we’re sitting down because they’re in the dominant position, we’re in the submissive position, right?

When we stand up, what we are letting them know is not only are we leveling the playing ground, we are saying, “I won’t take this sitting down. I will stand up for myself.” We haven’t said a word. We’ve changed the power dynamic of, “I am dominating you. I am towering over you. You are sitting and cowering and submissive.”

So, you stand up, number one. Like, someone puts their hand on you or something like that. You look at their hand, you look at them. You look at your hand, you look at them. Often you don’t have to say a word. Do you see how though you are calling them on their behavior? You are keeping the attention where it deserves, which is what they’re doing that is out of line. They have crossed the line and you are drawing the line.

And another part of that, once again, is the word “you.” It’s just to say, “You. Keep that to yourself,” “You. That’s enough. That’s the last time you say that to me.” And when we say it standing tall with our shoulders up and back, instead of our shoulders crunched up like this, which is the weak submissive position, then essentially what we’re saying is that we are letting that person know, “That doesn’t work here anymore.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right, intriguing. So, if we diagnose that we’ve got a 5% straight up bully without a conscience, and I guess we’d assessed that, as you mentioned, by seeing a track record of violating people’s rights and just not giving a hoot about it repeatedly, then we completely flip the script and change the rulebook that we’re following instead of that sharing how it made you feel and your concerns and why that’s important because they don’t care about any of that, but rather, just straight up, establishing, “This is the boundary.”

Sam Horn
And if you would like, Pete, I’ve got a quiz, it’s a bully quiz, and there are ten behaviors. And many people, they don’t even use the word bully, and they don’t understand that an 8-year old can be a bully, an 80-year old can be a bully. And the lights that go on when you say, “Yes, this person, I talk on eggshells around this person because they’re so volatile, I never know what he’s going to say,” “Yes, they’re Jekyll and Hyde. They’re charming one moment, they’re cruel the next,” “Yes, they have to control every decision and anyone who dares to say something else, they’re going to railroad that person.”

So, if you would like, I’ll send that to you, you can make it available to your listeners, and if you take that quiz, and this person you’re dealing with does many of these behaviors most of the time, then it requires a whole different set of skills because, once again, appealing to their sense of fair play, appealing to their good nature or their conscience, they will never think, “Oh, that wasn’t fair. That wasn’t right. I am so sorry.” They will never self-reflect or self-correct. It will always be someone else’s fault, and that’s how we need to set up and keep the attention on what they’re doing instead of our reaction to it.

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

Sam Horn
How about ask another question? I love your get-real, “If I’m in this situation, say something that I actually can do. It’s just not sounding good.” So, one more question from you and I’ll give you a response.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. Is there ever a time in which we should consider just exiting that situation entirely? Like, the bubble isn’t going to cut it. How do we know that that’s just where we are in terms of the hopeless situation?

Sam Horn
I’m just so glad you brought that up. Tennessee Williams said, “Sometimes it is time to leave even when there is no particular place to go.” And in the bully book, toward the end, after all of these pragmatic things that you can do to improve the situation, to stand up and speak up for yourself, etc., if none of that works, then it’s time for us to remove ourselves from the situation and to make sure to not see it as a failure.

One of the reasons I wrote the bully book is because, here I was, the queen of Tongue Fu, which, of course, is based on what Gandhi said about, “Be the change you wish to see,” it doesn’t work with bullies, Pete, because, once again, they’re not trying to act in good conscience. They’re trying to control. So, a good friend said, “You know, Sam, William Blake said that we are all born innocent, and at some point, we will encounter evil. And at that point, we either become embittered and we see the world as a dark place, and it defines and it defeats us, or we become…” Are you ready for two really fantastic words, Pete? “…informed innocence.”

And informed innocence are no longer naïve or idealistic. We understand that evil exists. We understand that there are people out there who will wreak havoc and they will not be responsible for the consequences. And that removing ourselves from the sphere of that individual is not defeat; it is us stepping up on behalf of what we believe, and that is that people treat each other with respect, people act with integrity. And if we have tried everything and this person is not going to change, and the situation isn’t going to change, then I’m going to remove myself from it, and align myself with people who do act in integrity and do behave responsibly because that’s how I believe life is supposed to be.

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

Sam Horn
One is from Arthur Rubinstein, he said, “I have found, if you love life, life will love you back.” Ain’t that wonderful though? And the other is from Katharine Graham of The Washington Post, and she said, “To do what you love and feel that it matters, how could anything be more fun?”

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

Sam Horn
I love podcasts. I believe angels whisper to a woman when she walks, and so I walk and I listen to podcasts, and that’s my favorite research. And a quick example of that is…do you ever listen to Jonathan Fields, Good Life Project, by any chance?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I have, yeah.

Sam Horn
Sure. He had Adam Grant on yesterday, a Wharton organization development guy, just came out with a brand-new book called Think Again. And he said something counterintuitive and contrarian which is one of the reasons I try to listen to podcasts, to challenge my thinking. And he said, “We all talk about impostor syndrome and how doubts take us down.” And he said that he believes that impostor syndrome can actually serve us by instead of assuming that we know what is best or that this is the right action, that that questioning process of looking at it again and getting different input actually produces a better result. And I love the contrarian nature of taking something that we all think is bad and twisting and turning it and seeing that it actually can add value.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a favorite book?

Sam Horn
I grew up in a small town in southern California, more horses than people, so I read The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley. And I will always be grateful to Walter Farley because he gave me a window on the world, and we had a thousand people on our entire mountain valley, and reading about these international adventures and these exciting horse races, and this young boy who was adventurous and independent really helped me see beyond where I was. And so, The Black Stallion was really pivotal in my life.

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

Sam Horn
I juxtapose everything. People say, “Sam, how does your brain work?” And I believe the quickest way to make a complex idea crystal clear is to put a vertical line down the center of a piece of paper, and on the left is what doesn’t work, and on the right is what does. It’s what sabotages our success, what supports it, what compromises our effectiveness, what contributes, what hurts, what helps.

And if we want support for an idea, if we juxtapose problem and solution, issue and answer, and we make those words alliterative, then we are going to be able to get people on the same page because we will be able to show the shift with this crystal clear, clean, compelling language. And by the time people get to the end of the page, you’re going to say yes.

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

Sam Horn
You know, I gave a TEDx Talk, and I understood that if we want to make a difference over time, it’s got to rhyme. And so, I said if you want to succeed, you must intrigue. And I really believe that our career success depends on our communication skills, and it depends on saying something that is so memorable that people can repeat it and act on it, weeks or months even years after they first heard it.

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

Sam Horn
Well, they’re welcome to go to our website which is real easy to remember, it’s SamHorn.com. And we’ve got three TEDx Talks there. We really try and make it so that if you go there, it’s not just about my products and services, it’s about, “Boy, here’s a post on how I can be repeatable and re-tweetable. Here’s a post on that quiz on how I can deal with bullies. Boy, here’s those words to lose, words to use so that I can think on my feet and handle challenging people in the moment instead of thinking of the perfect response on the way home.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this has been a hoot. Sam, thank you for bringing the goods and best of luck in your continued communication adventures.

Sam Horn
Thanks so much. I enjoyed it. I hope people found this inspiring and insightful and useful, Pete.

650: Boosting Happiness at Work: Ten Tips from Chris Croft

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Chris Croft says: "Try to evolve the job, evolve it towards what you like."

The Happiness Tips author himself, Chris Croft, distills and shares his top ten tips for more happiness at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The myths about happiness at work 
  2. How to rewire your brain to choose happiness 
  3. The affirmation to add to your morning routine 

About Chris

Chris is one of the top authors on Linkedin Learning, with 34 video courses recorded during 11 visits to Los Angeles, on subjects including Project Management, Time Management, Process Improvement, Assertiveness, Surviving Organisational Change, and Happiness, with 25,000 views a day and over eleven million views in total. His Happiness course is one of the most viewed happiness courses in the world, with nearly a million views on lynda.com and linkedin – its 52 practical things you can do to increase your happiness. 

He has published 15 books including The Big Book of Happiness, and he has produced a number of free apps including JobsToDo and Daily Happiness Tips. His free monthly email tips are sent to 20,000 people (www.free-management-tips.co.uk). 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors! 

  • Monday.comExperience a 14-day free trial of the Work OS that boosts the ownership, joy, and efficiency of work.
  • Blinkist. Read or listen to summarized wisdom from thousands of nonfiction books! Free trial available at blinkist.com/awesome 

Chris Croft Interview Transcript

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

Chris Croft
Yeah, thanks for having me back. I, obviously, got away with it the last time. So, that’s great to know, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, I’m excited to dig in again. And to kick it off, I want to hear about you are a saxophone lover. I’ve played the saxophone back in the day. What’s the story?

Chris Croft
Yeah, somebody said to me once, “The definition of a gentleman is someone who knows how to play the saxophone but doesn’t.” And I think that’s probably pretty good. I do, I like listening to it, to people like John Coltrane and Bruce Springsteen’s fantastic sax player who died recently, Clarence Clemons. So, I love listening to it but I do play it as well in rock and jazz bands. But I don’t claim to be very good.

But I find it very therapeutic. It makes me happy to play very loudly, just to blast away. I tell people I’m the Jimi Hendrix of the sax but, of course, I’m no way near as good as him. But playing any instrument, I think, is a source of happiness. It’s creative and you get to show off. So, yeah, what’s not to like?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, happiness that’s exactly what we’re talking about. Well done. Happiness at work, you know a thing or two about it. Can you maybe, first, give us the lay of the land? To what extent are professionals, in general, happy at work? Can you illustrate the state of affairs there?

Chris Croft
Yeah, most people are not very happy at work. When they’re asked the biggest source of unhappiness, it’s usually their boss or their job. And happiness at work is not really treated very seriously by most organizations. They think it’s a bit of luxury. They understand motivation which is sort of linked a bit to happiness. And, in fact, when Maslow was creating his hierarchy of needs, he was actually studying happiness, not motivation.

So, he found that happiness required things like security and social links and being valued and all those sorts of things. And that was sort of twisted into motivation, just how to get people to work harder. But there is a link between happiness and how people work. And I saw some research that said that unhappy people tend to be about 50% engaged with their jobs, whereas happy people are 80% engaged. So, they spend more time working and they work harder if they’re happy.

But it’s hard to untangle cause and effect because it could be if you loved your job, then you’re happier, and then you work harder. But it could be if you work harder, that makes you happier, and it’s hard to un-pick the whole thing. But, certainly, if there are things you can do to make your employees happier, you’ll get more out of them and you’ll make more profit. So, why don’t organizations think more about happiness at work?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so happiness at work, I think we’d like some more of it just in and of itself and for the performance and productivity boost that it generates. Are there any sort of misconceptions associated with people think this makes them happy or unhappy at work but, really, that’s not the case?

Chris Croft
Well, the big one is money.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Chris Croft
The huge one is money, and there’s been a lot of research done into happiness related to money. And, certainly, below a certain point, money is related to happiness. If you’re so short of money that you’re worrying about where your next meal is going to come from or whatever, then clearly happiness is reduced by not enough money.

But when you get to a certain point, it really starts to level out and eventually you get to a point where more money doesn’t make you any happier. And it’s interesting because we put so much effort into earning more money. We do jobs that we don’t like because they’re better paid and we sort of sacrifice lots of time, personal life, even relationships and marriages and things get sacrificed in order to make more money. And all the research says more money isn’t going to make you happy.

And I know everyone’s listening to this thinking, “Yeah. Well, it would make me happy.” But, actually, if you look back over the jobs you’ve done in the past, if you’ve had a steadily increasing income as your career has gone on, then it’s hard to know whether it’s made you happier. But if you’ve had a career like mine where the money has gone up and down, you’ve done all kinds of different things, looking back, so times I’ve been happiest when I was earning very little money. And some of the jobs where I’ve earned quite a lot were really stressful and I wasn’t that happy.

And my theory about why this is true is I do think money makes you a little bit happier. If you earned twice as much, and you spent twice as much on your car and the wine you drink and things, I think you would be 10% happier. But the problem is that you pay a 20% price to earn that money, to earn more money. Why will somebody pay you more money? And there’s got to be something wrong with the job that they’re paying you to do. They have to pay you more in order to get you to do it, and it’s usually stress, or working longer hours, or a lot of travel.

And so, yes, the money makes you slightly happier, but the price you pay to earn that money outweighs the gain that you get.

But there’s good news because it means we don’t have to search after money at work. We can think about doing a job that we’re going to enjoy. You could start thinking about work that’s going to be satisfying and make a difference, and all of those things. And that’s good news, I think, in the end.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious, you mentioned that after a point, the incremental happiness for extra money levels off. I’ve seen some studies on that. Do you have a sense for what that point is, like, dollar terms?

Chris Croft
Yeah, I saw one and it said $60,000. And I remember being a bit disappointed because it hoped it would level off at like 20 or 30 because then I could say to pretty much everybody, “Don’t look for more money,” but, of course, a lot of people don’t earn 60,000 and, of course, it’s personal, so for some people it may level off at $40,000 or $50,000, and a lot of people are at that kind of point there.

And even at 30,000 or 40,000, it’s levelling off fast. So, if you can earn a whole load more, it won’t make much difference to your happiness. It’s completely leveled above 60, that’s the numbers I saw. But I think it varies depending on the country and your personality, and there’s a lot of factors going on in there.

Pete Mockaitis
And maybe your zip code and size of family and such.

Chris Croft
Yeah, but certainly it’s not millions. It’s not your second million doesn’t make you happier, although I’m sure that’s true. It levels off a lot sooner than that so don’t chase after the money. That’s not going to make you happy. But lots of things can, and that’s what I’ve got some tips for you in this podcast. I’ve got some practical things people really can do to get more happiness at work.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, lay it on us. What do you think are sort of really the big levers, the things that make all the difference?

Chris Croft
Yeah, so I’ve got a list of ten here and I’m planning we can zoom through them. They’re not really in any particular order and I think different ones will work for different people. My first one is a really quick one which is projects. And all the people who know me will laugh when I say projects because I am quite obsessed with Gantt charts and project management and things.

But it’s not project management that makes you happy but it’s having a project. It’s a feeling of moving towards a worthwhile objective.

And any project that you’re working towards gives you a nice feeling of progress and that your life isn’t being wasted. And we probably all had the feeling of driving home at the end of a day and thinking, “Where has that day gone? I’ve achieved nothing today.” But if you’re working on a project, you have that feeling of moving forward and you have that feeling of a worthwhile objective.

So, the first thing you can do at work is make sure you’re involved in a project, not just processes which is the same every day but a project, something that’s going to take a few months or a year where you’re working on something big. And I think it probably has an extra spinoff because you’re in a team, you’re working with people on a team, and that’s always good as well. That’s sort of a secondary benefit.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, it sounds like when you say projects, some will say, “Hey, I’ve got too many projects and it isn’t doing it for me.” It sounds like it’s something you can own and observe your efforts are creating improvement, advancement, like a house you can see or, maybe, I don’t know if sales numbers…

Chris Croft
It could be a website. It could be an exhibition that’s going to happen. Yeah, it could be a piece of software. It could be an app that you’re working on but something where you’re going to get closure in the end and you’re going to think, “I did that,” or, “I was involved in that, and there it is.” That’s the thing.

And, yeah, you don’t want to have too many projects. Stress is bad. But a lot of people are really stressed out by the processes. For example, I used to run factories for a living before I escaped. That’s quite a tough job to do. We were just churning out stuff and we were trying to churn out 1% more stuff every month. And it was just stressful and you just felt like you were running to stand still.

But every now and then there’d be a project and we would get a new machine installed or extend the factory or start making a new product. And that was great because we could get our teeth into something new. And then after possibly a few months, there it would be working, done. And it was the projects that I used to enjoy. And the projects were a little bit stressful because there was often a deadline but it felt good when you finished them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a great distinction with the manufacturing world because it’s sort of like, in a way, at the end of each day, like, “Hey, there’s a warehouse full of stuff that I contributed to,” but it’s sort of like, “But that was happening before I got here and will happen after I got here and I see it every day, so it’s not distinctive in terms of that’s mine.”

Chris Croft
That’s right. Yeah, I really think ownership is important. And that’s actually part of my second one I’ve got here actually, but to have ownership of something, even ownership of part of a process would be fine, even if you were just sweeping the streets, let’s say. If it was your street and you always swept the same street and you could take pride in it, then that would increase your happiness.

So, I think ownership of anything is good but, you’re right, ownership of projects is the best thing to have because you don’t have that futile feeling of doing it over and over again, Groundhog Day.

But my second tip, with ownership as part of it, is to work hard. And I know this sounds like an old thing and people may think I’ve been put up to saying this by some sinister boss behind the scene somewhere. But, actually, if you work hard, you’ll be happier. And I know people whose job it is all day just to skive and do the minimum. They’ve set themselves the challenge of doing the minimum amount of work. And I can still remember I’ve got my daughter a work placement at a garden center when she was about 18, and at lunchtime she said, everyone at the garden center, when they had their half-hour for lunch, they went into the mirror room and they just sat there and either fell asleep, which is sort of stared at the wall and just did nothing for half an hour. And she said, “I was totally bored so I went out and volunteered where I could help on the till, and was there anything, some plants that needed repotting or something.”

And they all thought she was mad to volunteer to work. But she said, “What’s the point of just sitting there? It’s not going to make you happy in the end because you’re just not achieving anything. And deep down, part of you knows you’re wasting your life.” So, I actually think having decided to do a particular job for a particular wage, having decided to do that job, you might as well work as hard as you can and absolutely do the best you can.

And people have said to me, “Oh, it’s different for you, Chris, because you’re self-employed. You’re working for yourself.” But everybody is self-employed in a way, and you’ve decided to turn up to work today and sell your time for money, and you might as well do a job that you can be proud of. And I think that that, then, means you’ve got to find a job that you believe in because it’s much easier to work hard at something you do believe is making a difference.

Pete Mockaitis
And before we dig into that one, in terms of hard work, it sounds like part of it is that it’s, I don’t know, you do honest work in terms of like you’re really doing some stuff as opposed to just showing out or trying to dodge or staring at a wall. So, it sounds like it’s a matter of focus or kind of really plugging into it as opposed to sheer number of hours. Like, it’s hard work.

Chris Croft
Yeah. It’s not the hours at all, no. In fact, don’t work long hours because that’ll make you less happy. And, in fact, there’s been research that shows that every half hour that you commute takes 10% off your happiness. So, half an hour each way that is.

And if you take an hour to get to work, an hour to get home, that’s two half an hours, that’s 20% off your happiness your whole life. So, working longer hours is a really bad idea. But when you’re at work, you should absolutely do the best you can, best quality, but also put maximum effort in. And the time will go quicker, you’ll feel happier, the customers will be happier, and they’ll give you a better response back to you.

And a sort of little subset of that is to try to evolve the job, evolve it towards what you like. So, if there’s 10% of your job you really love and 10% that you just don’t like at all, say to your boss when you get your appraisal, or if you don’t have appraisals, just say anyway to your boss, “I’d like to do more of this. I’d like to spend more time directly with customers,” or, “I’d like to spend more time coding,” or whatever. And they’ll go, “Yeah. Well, that’s great. I was looking for somebody who wanted to do that.” And you can move your job towards the stuff you like and away from the stuff you don’t like.

And even if you only move a 10%, after three or four years, you’d kind of really transformed what your job is like, and you can actively influence what your job consists of. And most managers are delighted when their employees say, “I’d like to do more of this and less of this.” Sometimes there’s unpleasant work that has to be done by somebody, and they say, “Well, look, sorry, you’ve got to do that.” But quite often, there’s some other crazy person who wants to do the bit you don’t like. So, you say, “I don’t want to do the filing.” There’s somebody else who’d probably love to do filings, so win-win.

So, it’s to think about what your ideal job would be like and influence your boss, to just slowly edge it towards that, and then it’ll be easier to work with your heart and soul into whatever it is you’re doing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, just as simple as asking. Just like that.

Chris Croft
I think so. If your boss isn’t interested in your happiness, then you can start to think about whether you want to do something else and vote with your feet, but it’s definitely worth a try. And I think most bosses are pretty amenable to being asked about that kind of thing. We’re not asking for everything to be totally different. We just want to do a bit more of that instead of a bit of this, and just evolve it towards in that direction.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Chris Croft
So, that’s my second of my, gosh, ten sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Although some of these are shorter. Shall I go on to number three?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Chris Croft
Creativity. So, we get happiness from creativity. And we were talking about the saxophone earlier, and one of the great things about music is it’s a challenge to be creative. And actually, funny enough, in the band I’m in, sometimes they give me a fixed line they want me to play, “Can you play this rift all the way through the chorus?” And I’m thinking, “Well, yes, I can play that but it’s boring. And even if it’s a really good rift and it’s better than anything I could think of, I still want to play my own. I like my own better and I want to vary it.”

And so, there’s something in us that makes us want to be creative. And I would say even if you’re not very good at something, do it anyway. Even if you’re not very good at playing an instrument, play it. Or if you write poetry, even if it’s not very good poetry, or art, just do some paintings.

But once you get into management, then creativity becomes really important. I think it’s probably the most important thing a manager can do actually is to be creative. Because if you’ve got a process you follow as a manager, then what’s the point of you because anybody could follow that process? You could just get anybody, any old person in, and they could just, you know, “If this problem happens, do that. If a customer is unhappy, give them a refund, or whatever.” So, the purpose of management is to think about how to improve things, and that’s creative.

So, you need to find a job that’s creative and find creative parts within your job, and do as much of that as you can because creativity is a big source of happiness. And we talked about projects earlier, and I think projects have a creative element always, don’t they, because they’re always to do with doing something new. So, creativity, that’s the next thing to think about.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. And I hear you that it’s not purely about sort of art and music. Creativity, I guess, the core of it is you are inventing or putting something into existence out of you.

Chris Croft
Yeah. And where does creativity come from? I mean, there’s a question.
And, by the way, never say, “Oh, I’m not creative. I can’t do it,” because everybody is. Everybody can be. So, you must never just give up and think, “I’m not a creative person. I’m just not,” because you can do it. And with practice and with nurturing and a good boss, because you don’t want a boss who just tramples on your ideas, “Oh, that will never work.”

Look at kids. Kids are always really creative, aren’t they? So, we’re all born with creativity, and you can see it in kids. Kids are always inventing stuff, aren’t they, and imagining, “This stick is actually an airplane,” and all that. So, we’ve all got creativity within us and you can rekindle it, and it’ll make you happier if you can use it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. What’s next?

Chris Croft
What’s next is learning. And I like asking people, “How long could you do a job for if you weren’t learning anything new? If it was quite easy and it was quite well-paid and you were good at it, how long could you do that for?” And answers vary from a couple of weeks to a year or whatever. I worked, part of my apprenticeship when I was an engineer, I had to make washers on a lathe.

And you would make 10,000 in a day. And I had to work there for six weeks which is part of my apprenticeship, and it just drove me absolutely mad. I couldn’t stand it. Within a week, I had become quite good at making washers, and I’d made, I don’t know, 50,000 by then. And after two weeks, I was just climbing the walls. It was so boring. And I tried stacking them in pyramids and trying to calculate how many were in the pyramid, and how many seconds till I can have a cup of tea at 10:00 o’clock, just to keep your brain going.

And I think we all have a built-in need to keep learning because that’s going to be a survival quality, isn’t it? Suppose you were making podcasts, for example, but if you get bored with making podcasts, if that day ever came, then you’ve got to do something else. And it won’t be as obvious as the washers but there will be a point where you just think, “I’m just not feeling it anymore, you know. It’s just yet another guest, and I just go, ‘Oh, how interesting’ after each thing he says.” I know you’re not there, Pete, but you know what I mean.

And, funny enough, I’d been doing training courses for years and I wondered at what point would I get bored with training, teaching people project management or something. And I notice I never got bored because the groups are different every time, and, also, I learn stuff every time from the audience. And so, you have to keep learning. And if you get to a point where you’re not learning, then you’ve got to go off a level or go sideways, volunteer to do something different. Just find something else where you’re going to keep on learning.

And I think it’s easy to avoid the effort of learning, and, “Oh, I can’t be bothered to learn something new.” And I have found if you move somebody to a new job, they’d go, “Oh, I don’t want to do that. I’d have to learn new stuff.” But once they start learning it, they love it. And, of course, learning allows you to be creative as well because it just gives you more ideas you can use so there’s a link there, isn’t there, I’m sure between learning new skills and being creative.

So, learning is something that anyone can do. You can volunteer to go on training courses. Your company is bound to have training going on so just volunteer to go on the next course and learn something that you just don’t even think you’d need, like project management or assertiveness or anything, Excel, and just volunteer and go and learn something. And I’ll bet you, you’d feel good when you’re doing it. So, learning is number four on my list of easy ways to increase your happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I’m convinced. And number five?

Chris Croft
Number five is to come out of your comfort zone. And this follows on a bit from learning. But to come out of your comfort zone and push yourself, volunteer for some things that are a bit scary. Maybe they want someone to give a talk at a conference, or maybe they want somebody to open a new office in Cincinnati or something. Just put your hand up and say, “I’ll do that.” And afterwards, you’re thinking, “Oh, why have I volunteered for that?” but just push yourself out of your comfort zone a little bit.

Now, ideally, you’d have a boss who would do that, who would encourage you to gradually move on up and not give you huge scary things but just things that are a little bit beyond what you normally do. So, you just keep expanding your comfort zone. And the reason this increases our happiness, of course, is because we get achievement, because we get a bit of an adrenaline rush at the time, “Oh, I’ve got to give a talk to a conference.” And afterwards, it’s like, “Yeah, I did it. I feel good,” and you’ve increased your skills, you’ve learned some things as well.

So, volunteer. It’s a bit counterintuitive because we don’t think it’s going to make us happy but actually it does. And there’s that great sort of quote which says, “We only regret the things that we didn’t do.” So, if you do come out of your comfort zone, you won’t regret it. It’ll lead to something or other, and even if it ends up being a bit different to how you thought and it turns out to being tougher, you’ll look back and think, “I’m glad I did that.”

So, I don’t think you should do things that are really stupid at work but things that are just a little bit beyond what you would normally do. And, obviously, you can do that conference talk. Of course, you can.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m with you. And so, I guess I wonder, do you have any pro tips with regard to what is a risk worth taking versus it’s too risky?

Chris Croft
I don’t know. I don’t think there’s a rule for that because I think everyone is going to be different. I think you want it to be kind of 10% more difficult than what you normally do and not twice as difficult. I guess you can look at the, “How big will the downside be?” When you do risk analysis, you look at the probability of it going wrong and how bad it will be, don’t you? And you can weigh up the upside and how likely that is, and the downside and how likely that is.

But I think I would mainly focus on, “Will you die if it goes wrong?” So, if you’re thinking of giving a talk at a conference, what’s the worst that’s going to happen is your talk is going to be really boring and some people are going to go to sleep because they’re not going to throw things at you, or you’re not going to get fired. So, that absolutely is the risk worth taking.

And so, I think assess how likely it is to go really badly and how bad would it be. And, quite often, when you start thinking about what’s the worst that could happen, it’s actually not that bad. We mostly have fear of looking bad in front of other people, and that’s just not a problem, really. So, I think that’s what I would do. I think that’s probably how I would assess risk.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And what’s next?

Chris Croft
Well, number six, we’re onto the second half now. I’m really interested by this one because this one says that when you’re thinking about what makes you happy, your brain doesn’t know what’s good for you. This is based on some research by somebody called Sonja Lyubomirsky who I’m a big fan of. I think her research is fascinating. I think she’s great.

And they found that our brain doesn’t know what will make us happy. And we’ve already said that we think money will make us happy, and it doesn’t. And how can your brain be wrong? And the reason is because we’re really still stone age people, our brains are stone age.

So, for example, we have certain rules programmed in. Like, for example, eat the maximum amount of food while it’s there because we think that will make us happy because, in the stone age, if there was a dead dinosaur, you had to eat it as quickly as you could or whatever.

And then we have other simpler rules, like laziness is more efficient. And, yet, in real life, laziness doesn’t make you happy. You just underachieve and feel bad. And, yet, we think that if we do nothing all weekend and just read the paper and drink some alcohol at lunchtime and fall asleep in the afternoon in front of the TV, that that will somehow make us happy. But, actually, you look back and you think, “That wasn’t a great weekend really.”

And then our brain tends to focus on problems because if you’re trying to survive in the jungle, you’re always thinking, “Is that a tiger over there? Why is that there? I haven’t seen that before.” So, we tend to be quite negative, and that makes us unhappy in the modern world where in the modern world there aren’t that many things to be frightened of, and, yet, we still focus on the negative things. We watch the news, we want all the bad news that’s happening around the country, and we focus on the bad news. And that is a survival thing that is now out of date.

And the final thing that our brain does that’s bad is that it drifts away from the present. So, it frets about the future, it worries about the future, what’s coming up even though it can’t do anything about it. And it goes back to the past and it sort of thinks, “Oh, if only that hadn’t happened and I wish that wasn’t like that.” And sometimes it thinks the past was great, “If only I could go back to the past.” But, of course, you can’t change the past. So, our brain is obsessed with the past and the future even though that isn’t where happiness lies, because happiness is only in the present. And you can only be happy when you’re living in the present.

And that’s why we’re happiest when we do things that absorb us completely in the present. So, if you’re doing something, it’s called being in the flow. If you’re doing something where you’re really concentrating on doing it, and it might be, say, paddling a canoe or something, and you’re really concentrating on the canoe and the balance and the water, and you do it. And you just forget everything else.

And so, our brain is not our friend. And so, number six, really, is to say don’t trust your brain. Don’t think, “Well, I’m sure I must know best for myself,” but to actively take actions that go against what your inner nature is telling you. And don’t be lazy, don’t think that money will make you happy, don’t think that eating loads of food will make you happy. Don’t take the easiest path.

One of my favorite books is The Road Less Traveled. And the road that’s less traveled is the high road, the hard road. And he says in there that laziness is the biggest problem. He says that’s the root of everything, actually, is laziness. And why would we be lazy? And the answer is, in the stone age when we were short of energy, short of food and warmth, we had to be really economical. But, now, if we’re not careful, we can just lounge around all day, and we mustn’t. So, don’t trust your brain is number six.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think that hard work piece, that’s sort of why that helps is because you’re not able to be thinking about other things at the same time when you’re working hard and, thusly, you are engaged in the thing.

Chris Croft
You’re in the flow.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I dig that. Well, just to accelerate a smidge, could you give us seven, eight, nine, and ten in a sentence or two each, and then maybe we’ll dig into one of them?

Chris Croft
Okay. Well, number seven, it is a biggie but we can dig into it, is you can be happier by getting rid of your negative emotions because your negative emotions, and whether it’s sort of frustration and anger, or sorrow, regret, guilt, worry, you’re actually choosing all of those negative emotions. Your brain is choosing those for you, and you’re choosing it because you think you’ll get a payoff. You think that worry will make you perform better but, actually, it’s a substitute for planning. And you think that getting frustrated will make things go quicker but, actually, you just do things worse and you end up taking longer.

And so, negative emotions are always unhelpful, and you’re choosing them, and you can, therefore, not choose them. And you may think, “Well, I can’t choose my emotions. They just well up from within,” and they do well up, but you can choose whether to give them house room or not. You can choose whether to fan the flames, and think, “Yeah, God, that guy did it, is annoying at that meeting.” Or, you can think, “I’m not going to get annoyed with him. He means well. It doesn’t matter. There’s no point.” So, number seven is you choose your emotions, and you can choose not to have negative emotions.

Number eight is to not be focused completely on achievement but don’t forget enjoyment at work. A lot of people think that enjoyment is for outside work and then achievement is for work, and that’s the split. But, actually, you should enjoy your work as well.

And so, it’s worth thinking about, “What would enjoyable work look like?” Have goals for that. If you think that you would enjoy going out to visit customers, have that as a goal at work, “I want to find a way to get into doing that somehow.” And it might be the 10% evolving of your job but it might be to just go to a whole different department, and say, “I’d like to work here.” I mean, I don’t know. So, think about what you would enjoy at work, and have some goals for enjoyment at work. And linked to that is self-talk, to say to yourself, “I love my work.”

So, as you drive to work, don’t be thinking or even saying out loud, “Oh, not work again. I hate my work. Oh, I bet it’s going to be awful today. It’s the sales meeting, that’s always awful.” But, instead, say, “I love my work. It’s great.” And the first few times you’ll say that you’ll think you’ve gone mad and don’t let anybody else hear you because they’ll think you’ve gone mad. But it becomes true surprisingly quickly because your brain is really quite malleable. And if you say, “I love my work. I really do, I love it.” And, by the way, you have to say it like you mean it. You mustn’t just go, “I love my work.” That won’t work. You have to say, “I really do love my work,” and it will become true.

Number nine is to help other people. And this, again, this is a quick one to explain. But take every chance you get to help other people at work and outside work, of course. Because not only does that make them happier, but it makes you happier as well. For some reason, we are wired to help other people. And you’ll know this if you’ve traveled abroad, if your car is broken down, anywhere people will help. People help, they love helping.

So, if you help other people, you get kind of a triple win because you feel good and they feel good. And then later, they’re more likely to help you as well. So, helping other people is one of those things which a lot of people don’t do but you absolutely should take every chance.

My last one, number ten, is you can choose to set the temperature in every encounter you have with people. You can consciously be nice or not nice. And why would you not be nice with everyone that you deal with? Just be the nicest person.

A very quick story about this. I was doing a customer care call a while ago and there’s a guy, he was actually the carpenter, he’s to fix people’s desks and doors and things. And he said, “Well, I’m only nice if they give me tea. When I’m working on a job in someone’s office and they give me a cup of tea, I’ll be nice, but otherwise, they can get stuffed.” And I said to him, “How often do you get tea?” And he said, “Oh, about one time in ten.”

So, I said, “Okay, so nine times out of ten you’re not nice.” And he said, “Well, no, but they don’t deserve it.” And I said, “But what if you set the temperature and went in really nice every time? You’d be more likely to get tea. You’d probably get tea half the time. You’d probably get five times as much tea, which clearly is your objective in life.”

And he said, “Well, yeah, but if I was nice ten times, and I got tea five times, that means I would’ve wasted half of the times. I’d have wasted being nice half of the time.” And I was like, “Yeah, but it doesn’t cost you anything to be nice, and you’re going to get five times…” He’s going, “Yeah, no, no, I’m not going to do it, not unless I know they’re going to be nice; I’m not going to do it.”

And I’m just thinking, “What can you do with a guy like that?” So, put it out there and be the first one to put it out there. And there’s a little circle called do-get-feel. So, what you do affects what you get, and what you get affects how you feel, and then how you feel affects what you do. So, if you’re a bit lazy and you sort of do the minimum, then what you’ll get is sort of hassle from your boss and hassle from your customers. And then you’ll feel unhappy about your work. And then what you’ll do is even less work.

And you can break that circle by thinking, “No, even if my boss is maybe not treating me that well, I’m going to do the best job I can,” because then you’ll get better results and you’ll feel better about it, and you’ll be in the good circle, and you might even win over your boss. But, in a way, who cares what your boss says? Do it for yourself and do it for your customers to an extent too. But mainly do it for yourself because you’ll enjoy the work more.

If you’re nice to people, you’ll win in the end. So, that’s number ten, set the temperature in every interaction that you have.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I appreciate this rundown, and I guess I’m thinking, you mentioned get rid of negative emotions. Is there anything else that you think we should stop doing? Like, there’s a number of things here that we should make an effort to do and to pursue. What are some things we should just cut out?

Chris Croft
The first thing that springs to mind, actually, for me is comparison and competition which are related because comparing yourself with other people is a road to nowhere. There’s always somebody who’s going to be more successful or richer or a higher achiever than you are. And if you compare yourself with people like that, it’s just going to make you unhappy. And if you try to compete with colleagues it’s the complete opposite of helping them.

So, I really like the idea of the abundance mentality. If you help somebody else, they’ll help you and you’ll both gain. And, funny enough, I visited a friend of mine a while ago, and he’s got this great big house and it’s on the edge of London. It’s beautiful. And I said to him, “So, you’ve done really well in life, haven’t you? You’ve achieved.” And he said, “No, I don’t feel like I’ve proved myself at all.” And I said, “But you’ve got a house that’s worth five strokes six million pounds.” And he said, “Yeah, but my brother has got a house that’s worth 20 million.” His brother is the chief executive at Accenture.

And I said, “Yeah, but why compare yourself with him? Of all the people you could pick, why don’t you compare yourself with me because my house is only worth about half a million?” And he said, “You?” He looked at me and he went, “You? Why would I compare myself with you?” And I said, “To make yourself feel better.” But it was really interesting that he felt it was productive to compare himself with somebody on the level above. And, yeah, that might pull him up, but will it? Or will it just make him feel bad about himself?

So, I think comparing and competing are really unhealthy. And just do it for yourself. If you’re a salesperson, you don’t have to be the number one salesperson. Just feel good about every deal that you get and feel good about the fact you helped a customer and feel good that you’re getting better at selling, and you’ve learned some new techniques. But don’t start thinking, “Oh, that person sold more than me. And, oh, that person earned more bonus than me.” Just feel good about the amount of bonus that you’ve got.

So, I think that’s definitely something to stop doing, is comparing and competing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now, let’s hear some of your favorite things. Can you tell us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Chris Croft
Yeah, I’ve got two happiness-related quotes I really like. The first one is from Albert Schweitzer, and he said, “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.” And so, if you love what you’re doing, you will be successful.

The other quote I like is totally different. And it just says that, “Allowing yourself to feel hate is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Chris Croft
Well, if I was a real egotist, I would say my Big Book of Happiness isn’t a bad place to start.

But there is a book that’s better than mine, and it is The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky. I really think she’s nailed it.

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

Chris Croft
I think it’s probably that you choose your negative emotions. People are always fascinated by that.

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

Chris Croft
ChrisCroft.com. Just go to my website. I’m always putting stuff on my blog. And from my blog, you can get my tip of the month, which is a free email I send out every month. I’m on YouTube as well and things, but ChrisCroft.com would be the starting place.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Not to be confused with Chris Cross.

Chris Croft
Yes, that bass player. I do get address, caught up letters addressed to Mr. Cross, but it doesn’t make me angry because anger is a negative emotion and you don’t think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re not cross about it. Ha ha ha.

Chris Croft
Yeah, it’s not worth it, is it?

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

Chris Croft
I think the easiest call to action is probably start a project. Yeah, what are you going to do? What projects have you got on the go? But if you’ve already got a project, then my sort of fallback call to action would be learning. What have you learned recently? How are you going to improve? Because all you’ve got is what’s between your ears really. What’s in your head is that’s your main tool nowadays, isn’t it, for earning a living, and you’ve got to keep improving your ticket.
They’re easy things you can do and they will lead to other things. So, make a start with a bit of learning and some sort of reasonably ambitious project that give you a sense of achievement.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Chris, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and happiness in your adventures.

Chris Croft
Yeah. Well, thank you for having me again. And I really hope it makes a difference to people listening.

649: How to Persuade through Better Listening and Adapting with Brian Ahearn

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Brian Ahearn says: "The skill of listening starts with a choice, and when you make that choice... it becomes a habit."

Brian Ahearn shares how to improve your influence by listening well and adapting to different personality types.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What every professional can learn from insurance agents
  2. The 5 critical ingredients of listening STARS 
  3. How to DEAL with the four different types of people 

About Brian

Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE. A dynamic international keynote speaker, he specializes in applying the science of influence in everyday situations. 

Brian is one of only 20 individuals in the world who currently holds the Cialdini Method Certified Trainer designation. This specialization was earned directly from Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. – the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence. 

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, is an Amazon best-seller and his LinkedIn courses have been viewed by more than 75,000 people. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors! 

  • FSAstore.com. Use your flex spending account funds with the greatest of ease! Save $20 on a $150+ purchase with promo code AWESOME. 

Brian Ahearn Interview Transcript

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

Brian Ahearn
Thank you for having me back on. Third time is a charm, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
It is. Well, you’re in rare company there. That doesn’t happen very often. Maybe like three-ish times. Well, the listeners can’t see this but I’m charmed by your background. You have a screen which has the How to be Awesome at Your Job logo, cover art, and it says, “Hello, Pete.” And then you have a tasteful backdrop. I guess you got an Amazon, which looks pretty realistic. What’s the story here?

Brian Ahearn
So, in the COVID lockdown world that we’re in, I knew that I was going to need to do something to differentiate myself, and I saw a friend who’s a bigtime National Speaker Association speaker and he had put a studio in his house, and he was kind enough to spend about an hour with me one day to walk me through everything that he did, and we converted our daughter’s old bedroom.

And so, I’ve got a beautiful backdrop and a 55-inch TV and I can give standup presentations where I’m walking up to the camera and moving. It’s not just a face-on Zoom, and clients have loved it, and potential clients are blown away when they see their logo and their name up on the screen on a Zoom call.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and it’s different I don’t know why but it is. It’s different than sharing your screen with an image of that with you like in a corner. It just is and I don’t know why or how it matters but it does.

Brian Ahearn
Well, I think clients are going to see me from like the waist up moving back and forth and turning towards, and getting a sense of, “Hey, this is a little bit what life was like prior to the pandemic. I’m seeing this person really interact with us.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it does. It’s more three-dimensional literally because it’s behind you in the third dimension. So, Brian, not that I had any doubts but this just reinforces that this was the right choice to have you on a third time.

So, you’ve got a fresh book. It’s funny, I was a little slow, as you may recall, to reply to your email because your book is called Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents. And I’m like, “Well, you know what, most of my listeners are not insurance agents.” But, nonetheless, I think you’ve really identified some universal skills and principles that benefit all professionals, and so we’re going to zoom into a couple of those.

You’ve got some good acronyms, kind of STARS and the DEAL model, we’re going to talk about. But, first, maybe you could just tee it up broadly, what can and should non-sales professionals learn from insurance agents?

Brian Ahearn
Well, everybody is selling all the time, and so when people say, “Well, this book is for insurance agents.” Well, it’s really for all salespeople because we look at the entire sales cycle and how the psychology of persuasion applies throughout each of the steps. But even somebody who might say, “I’m not in a formal sales role,” they’re still selling themselves, their ideas, and things, especially if they’re working in a large corporation. So, understanding the deal model of how to interact with people is critically important for those folks. So, I feel like anybody who knows that moving forward with getting a yes, selling themselves, their ideas and things, they’re all going to benefit from the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you’ve got some great perspective on listening and a helpful acronym STARS, which is funny because I think of STAR for interviews: situation, tasks, action, result. But you’ve got a different STAR associated with listening and I think it makes a ton of sense. So, can you lay it out for us, when it comes to listening well, why should we do it and how should we do it?

Brian Ahearn
Well, when I worked in the corporate world and I was involved in sales training, a critical component of being a good salesperson is the ability to listen. And, unfortunately, a lot of people haven’t experienced this, but good salespeople only talk 25% to 30% of the time. They ask good questions and then they stop and they listen, and they ask more questions. But you have to be a good listener and you have to be confident in those skills. And while we are taught to read and write and speak, almost nobody goes through a class on how to be a more effective listener.

So, as I was interacting with our field sales team back in the day, I came up with this acronym to make it very easy for people to understand what it takes to be listening stars. And it’s simply this: stop everything you’re doing, that’s the first letter, the S; pay attention to tone of voice, T, because it conveys emotion; A is ask clarifying questions; R is restate your understanding of what you’ve heard; and then S is scribble, take notes.

And I think if everybody could do those five things and just work on doing those things better all the time, you would be blown away by how much more effective you could be as a listener. You’d become listening stars.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, I love this in that it makes a lot of sense. Those seem to be five critical ingredients and often overlooked ingredients. Help us out with some of them in terms of it sounds easy to do but most often people are not doing it. Maybe tell us, how can we do each of these better? Like, how can we stop excellently? What should we really look for in the tone, etc.?

Brian Ahearn
Okay. So, when it comes to stop, you cannot give your attention to more than one thing at a time. You could try to fool yourself, and you could say, “Well, I can finish this email while I’m listening,” but you’re never really giving your attention and, therefore, you’re missing things. And we saw this when we were running little workshops and experiments, and we saw that people who gave their full attention to listening, they weren’t distracted by a second task or taking too many notes. They were catching 75% more of the facts that were being shared as compared to other people.

So, if you think about that, if you are a salesperson, or any position you’re in, if you discipline yourself to stop so that you can fully pay attention, and you’re catching 75% more than your competitor, you have a huge advantage. So, I think anybody who is listening to this podcast will catch themselves doing other things, and that’s okay, that’s a slap on the hand like, “Oh, I shouldn’t have done that.” That’s your first step in awareness. And if you keep that up, eventually you’ll find yourself stopping all those other things for longer and longer periods which is going to certainly help you be more effective in terms of what you’re receiving through your ears.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Brian, I love it when you drop a clear number like that. Boy, I’m thinking about there are just so many opportunities. Like, 75% more facts, I mean, that’s huge because someone might grab 10 facts, and then a listening star, could grab 18 facts, and those incremental 8 facts can make all the difference in terms of I’m thinking of it like in negotiation, like, “Huh, that thing I captured could surface a win-win opportunity that we could totally overlook had we not captured that upfront.”

Or, you can say, “Hmm, that little piece could really help me deepen my relationship with this person down the road.” It’s like, “Oh, hey, I remembered you liked flyfishing,” or whatever they like, and then you’ve got a cool opportunity to engage in subsequent conversations, build connection, camaraderie, etc. wow, 75% more facts from a conversation is just like 75% more opportunity, possibility, impact.

Brian Ahearn
And I would say, too, it’s not just the positive facts that you catch. Sometimes it’s the negative facts that might make you say, “Hmm, this isn’t a deal I want to go through with.” When I worked with an insurance company, a lot of the role of an underwriter is to get as many facts to make a determination, “Do we want to write this account or do we not? And if we do write it, at what price?” Catching those things, even the negative things, impacts the decision-making on behalf of the company, so it was critically important on the positive and the negative what are you going to catch or miss.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, decision-making in terms of making those decisions optimally and the facts are just the top of the funnel, so that’s huge. So, for stopping, you notice that you’re doing something else and then bring it back. And this kind of sounds like any number of mindful practices and exercises, like with your breath or whatnot. How else can we get better at stopping?

Brian Ahearn
Make an intentional effort to do it. Just to tell somebody, like, “Hey, hold me accountable here.” If you’re sitting in a meeting and you tell somebody, “I’m really trying to work on my listening skills and I don’t want to be distracted. If you see me kind of going off or something like that, just give me a nudge.” But that accountability is probably enough at that point just to get you to do something different versus if you never said anything to somebody else. So, it really starts with a commitment.

And what I want to say about this, Pete, every step in the STARS model, it’s a skill but it’s not a skill that people don’t possess and cannot get better at, and I’ll give you an example. I’m 5’9” and I weigh 210 pounds, I was always into weightlifting and things, but I was never able to dunk a basketball. And if somebody came to me tomorrow and said, “Hey, Brian, this contract that you’re looking at, it depends on your ability to dunk a basketball.” I’m like, “I’m out. Never been able to do it. It’s not a skill I ever possessed, and it’s not one I ever will, given my physical characteristics.”

But the skill of listening starts with a choice, and when you make that choice, the more often you make that choice, it becomes habit. And that’s where you, all of a sudden, you’re finding yourself stopping more and more, paying attention to tone more and more, asking those questions, etc.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. And if I may, I’m thinking about what distracts me from listening. It’s often my body in terms of like, “I’m hungry,” “I’m thirsty,” “I need to pee,” “I’ve been sitting for too long.” How do you recommend we address those in particular or is it all the same in terms of redirecting it right back to the person talking?

Brian Ahearn
Well, I think the consciousness of it, like when you start thinking like, “Oh, I want to go to the bathroom,” or, “Oh, I’m getting so hungry,” it’s still like shake your head and say, “Well, wait a minute. There’s going to be time for me to get some food. I need to just bear down here a little bit more.” And give yourself some grace, too, because sheer willpower is like a muscle. It gets tired too. And as we are mentally tired, as we are physically tired, as we are hungry, all of those things will impact our ability to give focus and attention.

So, if you have an opportunity to do something different, like, say, “Hey, Pete, I’m loving this conversation but can I take a short break? I just need to get a little carbohydrate in me. I just need to get like a piece of candy or something.” And that person is probably going to say, “Sure, that’s fine.” They may be feeling the same way, and so that might be license for them to go do that thing too.

And I think that when you’re the person who’s engaging somebody to help them be more effective listeners, I always make sure, like when I’m doing training sessions, every hour, we have at least a 10-minute break. And I know that carves out time but if people can use the restroom, can get a refreshment, can stretch their legs, can clear their mind, that next 50 minutes that I have them, they are so much more focused than if I try to just plow through two hours.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s absolutely true. I’ve seen it many times on both sides of the presentation table there. Okay, so that’s stopping. So, tone, you say that there is a lot in it and we should pay attention to it. Expand on that, please.

Brian Ahearn
Well, I think everybody knows two people can say the same thing. Two people could make an apology, and one person can seem sincere and the other one doesn’t, and it’s not so…

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m sorry.”

Brian Ahearn
Exactly. We hear it all the time when people are caught, media figures are caught, and, all of a sudden, they’re issuing that standardized apology. But I always thought about the example that my wife called me one time, and I was at work, and I could hear the wind blowing, and I said, “Are you playing golf?” And she said, “Yes.” And that three-letter word, yes, just the way she said it, I said, “You’re not playing very well, are you?” And she goes, “No,” and then she started kind of unburdening herself.

But that’s a clear indication. Three letters, one simple word, and just by the tone, I could tell that she wasn’t playing well. You’ve been married now for a little while, I’m sure that you can hear some words like, “Fine.” When you say, “How are you doing?” “Fine.” You realize, “They’re not really doing fine. There’s more behind that. I can tell,” and that’s usually based on tone of voice.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay. And so, are there any tone things that people tend to overlook or a great sort of telltale indicators? Because I think that sometimes in my own tone or others, I notice…how do I say it? It’s like they’re energized and excited, and then they’re back into sort of like perfunctory, like, “Uh-oh, duty, responsibility, process, compliance.” I don’t know what words I would use for those tones but sometimes you could see they’re jazzed about this and not so jazzed about that. And so, I can pick up on that and I find that pretty handy. What are some other key dimensions of tone to look out for?

Brian Ahearn
Well, where somebody emphasizes. You can have a sentence, “I didn’t steal that toy.” If you say that to a little kid or somebody, depending on where they put the emphasis, “I didn’t steal that toy,” or, “I DIDN’T steal that toy,” “I didn’t steal THAT toy. I stole another toy.” Right? So, paying attention to where that emphasis is and that tone is coming out, starts to become an indicator too. Because if somebody says, “I didn’t steal THAT toy,” then you might think, “Oh, the way you said that, you might’ve stolen some other toy,” or something like that.

But a lot of times people aren’t aware of it and they’re a leak, so to speak, and we do this with our body, too, and how we verbalize things and how we move. But there are leaks that will really let you know more about what somebody understands. And some of this goes back to the work of Dr. Albert Morabia and in his work on communication.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like the words and the tone and the gestures. It’s the proportion of…

Brian Ahearn
Yeah. And what they say, I think, is 55% body language, 38% tone, yeah, and 7% words. And speakers get up and all the time they tout that and they say, and I was guilty of this at one point, they’ll say, “People are going to remember your tie more than what you said.” That is not what his work was looking at. His work was looking at when the message and the messenger seem to be incongruent, people will focus a lot more on how somebody looks, their body language, and their tone of voice. Because, going back to that apology, two people can say the very same words. And if somebody says it in a way that doesn’t seem sincere, you start focusing on the body language and the tone. That’s what he was talking about in his research. Not a blanket, “People aren’t really listening to your words.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Thank you for setting the record straight there. And that sounds a lot more true, certainly, in terms of if they said, “Ah, ah, ah, I didn’t steal anything.” It’s like, “Well, your words say that you didn’t but there’s something. You’re very nervous for some reason, and that’s what I want to be keying in on.” Okay, so tone. And then how about some asking clarifying questions? What are some of your favorite clarifying questions?

Brian Ahearn
Well, let me say this about questions. First is I’m never an advocate of interrupting somebody when they’re speaking, but when you don’t understand and you recognize in the moment, “I don’t really understand something,” it shows that you’re engaged in the conversation. So, if you’re telling me a lot of stuff, and I say, “Hey, Pete, can you hang on a second? When you said this, did you mean that? I’m not really sure.” It gives you an opportunity to make sure that I do understand and clarify, but it also shows that I’m engaged in that conversation because if I just button up and don’t say a word, you might start even wondering, like, “Is he even paying attention? I mean, he hasn’t said a word. He hasn’t given me any gesture. I don’t know if he’s engaged in this conversation.”

And it’s even more difficult over the phone because you can’t see the person. So, I think utilizing clarifying questions is a great way to stay engaged in the conversation so your mind doesn’t wander. It lets the other person know that you are in that, and it just helps you clarify what it is that you’re hearing.

And to your question, too, a simple one is when you say what are some of the questions. It’s, “Help me understand,” or, “I’m not really sure. Could you explain it?” But it’s a question. So, you have to say, “Well, I don’t understand something,” “I’m not clear on what you said,” “I don’t think I hear what you’re saying,” “Can you explain?” “Can you expound?” “Can you do something to help me out here?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s grand. And I do like a 90-minute training on clarifying questions alone for like collaborators in terms of what you really need to understand before you embark upon a piece of work such that you don’t end up giving them something that they don’t want, in terms of like the deliverable, the timing, the process, the resources, the audience, and the motive.

Brian Ahearn
Well, I will say this, we talk about STARS in the book in the section on qualifying. So, in the sales process, when you finally have the opportunity to meet with a client, you want to assess, “Do we want to do business together?” Not all business is good business, “Can I do business? Do I have the capacity to fulfill your needs? And do I want to?” And you’re making the same assessment of me as the salesperson, “Do I want to do business with this guy? Can he meet my needs?” Questions are what help us determine that, and that’s why we talk about the STARS model in the qualifying part of the sales process.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, we’ve asked some clarifying questions. And then restating, how should we do that?

Brian Ahearn
So, whatever it is that you understand somebody to say. Pete, I know your listeners can’t see this but if I ask you, for example, about your business. You’re proud of your business and you know all this, and I’m putting my arms out really wide. You have this vast wealth of knowledge. If I’m working, for example, with insurance agents, they don’t need to know all of that. There are certain key things that they want to understand and so they’re going to hone in on those.

And as they do, those are the things that they’re going to probably come back and say, “So, Pete, your business sounds awesome. And if I understand you right…” and then I kind of come through and I lay out a few critical things about what it is that you need in your insurance protection. “If I hear you right, Pete…” and then I clarify that. And you may come back and go, “That’s exactly it, Brian. Thank you.” Or, you might come back and go, “No, you’re missing it. It’s the claim that I had. That’s why I’m upset.” And so, we can circle back and make sure that we’re both on the same page.

But no matter how well I do with listening, I will never know everything going on in your mind and so I don’t want to make that assumption that I do, so I, therefore, am going to try to restate to the best of my ability, “Here’s how it boils down for me.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Excellent. And then note-taking, I mean?

Brian Ahearn
Well, I use S for scribbling because N would’ve been STARN and that would’ve blown the whole model, right? So, I always encourage people to take some notes, but this is not writing the great American novel. It’s not trying to get down every word that people say. And while we can use certain tools like laptops to get a lot of information, that actually can hurt your listening because they say a lot of times students are trying to take down everything the professor is saying and they’re missing context and other things.

I encourage people to just bullet point things that they’re going to need to circle back on. So, I might’ve heard you say you had a car accident. I don’t need to stop you right in the middle of your story to say, “Tell me the details,” because you might. But if you don’t, I‘ve got that little bullet point and I can say, “Hey, Pete, you mentioned you had a car accident. Can you tell me a little bit more?” And I start asking, “When was it?” “What happened,” and all those things but it’s because I have that bullet point to remind me.

It also maybe just a few quick bullet points so there are things that I can fill out after our conversation is over. So, maybe I catch the name of your pet, I catch the name of your wife, or other things that I think will be important for me to remember down the road. And so, I bullet point those and it triggers my mind, and then I start going back, “Oh, yeah,” and I remember the type of dog that you said you had, and how long. Certain other things are triggered by that bullet point. So, that’s what I mean by scribble.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. So, there we got the listening, STARS, cool. And we’ve got another perspective, you called it the DEAL model, and you’re thinking specifically about four personality types. Well, first, lay this on us in terms of what are the types? Where do they come from? And how do we identify them?

Brian Ahearn
Okay. People are probably pretty familiar with DiSC, the DiSC model. And when I was working with the insurance company, and this was probably ten years ago, a training organization came in and used something that was similar to that. I don’t remember exactly what it was but it was similar to that, as a way to try to identify yourself, and it was a little more self-reflective than others.

And a guy I worked with came up and said, “Man, it’d be really cool if we could tie the principles of influence that you teach to the different personality styles. Are there some that are more effective than others?” So, I did a survey with my blog readers, and I took some very generic descriptions and said, “Read these and choose what you think you are,” and then that kind of funneled them in. And then I was asking them all the same questions, but I could look at the results then, and say, “Wow, people in one category seem to be different than people in these other categories.”

So, through the course of that, I came up with driver, expressive, amiable, and logical. And I like that because it’s spells DEAL and we deal with people, and the people I worked with, the salespeople, want to close deals, so it becomes very easy for them to remember. And it’s focused on, not self, not that it’s unimportant. It’s very important to understand ourselves, but it’s other-focused. I wanted to try to determine, Pete, are you a driver, that person who’s more focused on getting things done than relationships, and you like to be in control? Or, are you the expressive, the person who’s really relationship-driven but also really likes being in control?

And then that amiable, which is the relationship-oriented person who is more about self-focus and self-control. And the logical person is a task-driven individual but they’re not focused on controlling others or situations. They’re more focused on themselves, their own thinking, their own self-control. So, that’s a very basic model but it’s good because salespeople don’t always…I mean, I’m not going to go up and say, “What’s your Myers-Briggs, Pete?” And I wouldn’t be able to figure that out.

But this is a pretty simple model to assess people, and once you feel like you’ve got a handle on the type of personality, then we talk about the principles that are most effective in terms of being able to ethically influence them.

Pete Mockaitis 
Okay. So, it sounds like it’s, if I were to stick them in into a two-by-two, the dimensions we’re looking at are their level of task focus and their desire to control others?

Brian Ahearn
And situations, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, with the driver, being high-high; the expressive being, I don’t know, low-high, they care about the relationship.

Brian Ahearn
Well, I just say that, yeah, there’s a demarcation and the bottom of it is the person is very relationship-driven.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Brian Ahearn
And I would say good examples of that that I used in the book, Steve Jobs would’ve been a driver, right? That guy doesn’t care about being your friend. It is just about the work and get the stuff done. Oprah Winfrey, I think, is a great example of an expressive. She wants to know your story. She wants to get to know you and help you, but yet she is completely in control of her media kingdom just like Steve Jobs was in control. So, in the respect, they’re very alike but they’re very different in terms of their interactions with people on an individual level.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. And so, how about examples for amiable and logical then?

Brian Ahearn
Amiable is always a little bit tougher in terms of coming up with examples because they’re not necessarily limelight people, and a lot of the occupations that they tend to move into aren’t ones that are necessarily in the limelight because they’re very relationship-focused and a little bit more self-control, self-focused than other in terms of control. They tend to be things more like counselors and teachers and nurses and social workers, and those aren’t always positions that are in the limelight. Now, that’s not to say that because you’re an amiable you can’t lead a company. You absolutely can. But what we tend to see is people move more into those positions that are not as much in the limelight.

Brian Ahearn
Mother Teresa would be an awesome example.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And logical?

Brian Ahearn
Logical person, again, very, very task-focused but not about controlling others or situations, more on the self-focused. And a great example here would be a Bill Gates or an Albert Einstein. And I would hope that you’d agree and your listeners would agree, if you have five minutes to try to sell an idea to each of these people, I hope you would go about doing it very differently with Steve Jobs versus Oprah Winfrey versus Mother Teresa or an Albert Einstein because they’re going to respond to different things and for different reasons.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. In terms of like Bill Gates doesn’t care much about your story most likely. If you’re talking about he’s trying to save the world in some dimension, I don’t know, climate change or vaccines or something, and then you say, “You know, Bill, let me tell you how I got interested in malaria,” I have a feeling Bill doesn’t want to hear, and maybe he does. I don’t know. But I would imagine he’d be more intrigued by, “Here’s the innovative cool thing that we’ve got going on here and why it’s different than what’s ever been used before, and why it’s way more cost-effective at saving lives than the previously existing technology available,” versus, Oprah would probably not be as into that. She wants to hear the story about how you got into malaria.

Brian Ahearn
Well, here’s a really good example, I think, for the logical versus the driver. According to the research, the survey that I did with blog readers, both of those personalities responded to the principle of consistency. And that principle says that we feel an internal psychological pressure and an external social pressure to be consistent in what we say and what we do.

I would think that somebody like Albert Einstein or Bill Gates, when they say something, they believe they’re right because they trust their intellect, they’ve thought it through, they’ve been methodical, and they’ve come up with a decision, and that’s why they believe what they believe. And if you can tie your request into that, then it makes very logical sense for them to say, “Absolutely.”

You go to the driver who is also driven by that principle of consistency but it’s a lot more ego-based. When Donald Trump was on “The Apprentice,” when he said something, he believed it. Even as president, when he said something, he barred the door on the facts just because he uttered it, he believed it. And I think to a great degree, a lot of people who are in that driver situation, they trust their gut, and so when they say something, they believe they’re right but it’s not for the same reason as the logical. But, nonetheless, if I can tap into what they’ve said, what they’ve done, or what they believe, it becomes easier for them to say yes. So, same principle, but very different reason on why it’s so compelling for each of those personalities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s interesting. I’m reminded of I heard there’s like a legendary story, and I believe it’s true, the person doing the interview wasn’t lying, about Bill Gates, Microsoft, the XBOX, like they’re having a meeting about this thing. And, at first, Bill says, “What you’re proposing is an insult to everything I’ve done in my career in terms of like how it’s going to work and how it didn’t utilize the DOS/Windows, whatever stuff that he built up.”

And so, the meeting wasn’t going well for a long time until someone said, “Well, what about Sony?” He’s like, “Yeah, what about Sony?” And then it sort of totally changed his thinking associated with dominance and market share and influence and being in the living room, and how Microsoft and Sony were both kind of growing on these dimensions, and Sony has got this PlayStation, and they’re like, “Yes, we’ll give you everything you’ve asked for. Go for it and do the XBOX.” And so, that’s interesting in terms of like the set of facts that he’s focused on, logical, sure enough, was the persuasive thing that got it done when those were brought front and center for him.

Brian Ahearn
And I would say, too, that contrast phenomenon, right? He’s being compared to Sony, somebody that he looks at as a peer, a competitor, somebody he doesn’t want to be beaten by. If they had made the wrong comparison, maybe there was a little upstart company that was doing something, and he might’ve looked at it and said, “Who cares?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, or like Nintendo. Like, “Yeah, okay, Nintendo has got Mario. I don’t care.” But Sony, “Oh, that’s a different story.”

Brian Ahearn
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well so then, maybe if you could give us an example of some things that you might hear out of someone’s mouth that would make you go, “Hmm, driver,” “Oh, yeah, expressive.” Just a couple of telltale words, phrases, sentences that kind of cue you in to thinking, “It sounds like this is where you’re landing here.”

Brian Ahearn
Well, I think a lot of times, and I don’t like always making generalities, generalizations, because they’re always exceptions, and I absolutely recognize this. But I think a telltale, a lot of times, for drivers is they don’t stop talking.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Brian Ahearn
You really have a hard time getting a word in, edgewise, because they want to be in control of the situation, they have an opinion on everything, and, therefore, they’re continually going. And so, that can be a clue right there that, “I’m dealing with somebody who’s not giving me any space to step in and share what I need to share.”

If you’re going to try to influence somebody like that, you have to be okay with that. You have to recognize, you have to pick and choose the battles, and then step in where you get that opportunity or ask a question that might make them go, “Hmm, what do you mean? Tell me more.” Now, you’ve kind of got the platform back. But I think that’s the big telltale for a lot of drivers is it becomes kind of hard to get a word in edgewise.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And expressive?

Brian Ahearn
I think expressive is a lot of times people, and these are entertainers and politicians, people who know the importance of having a relationship, they’re probably a lot more of the storyteller, somebody who’s got a, “I met somebody and here’s a story and here’s another story.” So, they may do a lot of talking too. They’re expressive, they’re very outward, but they also allow you that space to ask about you, and you feel a little more connected to them, and some of it may just be because of the stories, but you’re like, “Hey, that’s funny. I like that person.” You don’t feel like you’re necessarily being talked to or talked at as much as maybe you will from that driver, who’s kind of tell you what it’s got to be like.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And amiable?

Brian Ahearn
Amiable is a lot of times are going to be the ones where you have to pull a little bit out of them. I’ve always pictured an amiable, if you’re going to go to the movies and you’ve got six people, and you say, “Hey, what do you guys want to see?” Amiable is probably like, “No, anything is cool with me,” because they’re very laid back, very relational. They’re just happy that they’re hanging out with everybody, and they’re cool doing whatever.

The driver would be the person who might say, “Well, if you guys are going to see that, I’m going to head home. I don’t want to see that movie,” and they’d be okay heading off by themselves. So, I think with the amiable, you’re going to see people who are very relational, very laid back, not looking to be the life of the party. You may have to do a little bit more to draw them out. You’re probably are going to get into much deeper conversations with somebody like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And logical?

Brian Ahearn
Logical person is going to be somebody, obviously, who’s very analytical and they’re thinking they’re going to be very fact-oriented. They’re going to be the people who don’t just share an opinion. They will do some research so that they can speak intelligently on something. Before they open their mouth, they want to really understand what they believe and why they believe it so that they can feel comfortable in terms of sharing it.

And that one, I would say from experience, people will say that I am an expressive just because of what I do, but I am absolutely a logical person. I’m a deep thinker about things, and I always tell my daughter, when she asked me a question, I’m like, “I don’t have an opinion on that because I haven’t really looked into it and I’m not going to just say something.”

Pete Mockaitis
I feel the same way, and particularly, in business-y situations. I remember, talking about insurance, I was buying some insurance once and it had some absurd clause, I was like, “Wait. And this kind of make it sound like you don’t pay any claims ever. So, what’s the deal here?” “Oh, no, one has ever asked that question before.” It’s like, “Well, so can you share with me some evidence that you sometimes pay out claims because this kind of reads like you never have to?”

And so, when I’m in sort of a business conversation, that’s kind of what I want, it’s like, “I want a profoundly compelling evidence that proves that you got the stuff. Like, you’re going to deliver what I’m seeking to be delivered.” And so, I think that often makes people feel very uncomfortable because usually they don’t have the evidence that I want. And so, they need to kind of like try to be compassionate, it’s like, “Well, okay, if you don’t have that set of facts, can you give me some alternative sets of facts that maybe I can plug into my spreadsheet and deal with how I need to deal with to prove it out?” But, still, it’s logical, like got to have it.

Brian Ahearn
Well, this can be a shortcoming when you’re the one trying to persuade. Let’s say you’re really good at building relationships. That’s an awesome skill to have but if you get into that situation with a logical like you, if you make a friend, okay, that’s cool. But if you don’t, that’s cool, too. You just want to buy the insurance.

So, if a person only is able to lean on what their strength is, that strength ends up being a negative, a weakness with certain people. And this is why I try to emphasize in looking at this model. It’s not about you, it’s not about what you’re good at, it’s not about your strengths; it’s about the other person. Learn what the psychology is and then understand what the psychology is that applies to them, and get good at that.

So, in a sense, be a little bit of a chameleon in terms of how you interact with people, not being a false person, but just recognizing that just because you like having these great relationships, you’re going to have some clients, and they could be great clients, but they’re just not into the relationship part. That’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, maybe since insurances is your specialty, maybe I’ll just put you on the spot. Let’s say you’re trying to sell auto insurance to these four different types of people. Can I hear a sentence or two of a custom verbiage that might be very appropriate when you’re making that pitch to a driver versus an expressive versus an amiable versus a logical?

Brian Ahearn
Okay. Well, if you’re talking to a driver, then scarcity is something that comes into play a lot. The mistake that people would make is talking about all the things that somebody might gain or save, but what you really want to talk about is what they might lose.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Brian Ahearn
So, going in and having that conversation and framing something instead of gain, like they don’t care so much about saving as what they may be losing, and framing it that way, “You’re overpaying,” instead of, “Well, I can save you a bunch of money.” That would be a particular approach.

When you move down and you’re talking to somebody who’s an expressive, understanding that they’re going to be more relationship-oriented, you’re going to want to tap a little bit more into like, “You’re going to want to make that connection.” They’re going to want to look at you and say, “That’s a person that I really like and I want to do business with people that I like.”

Another effective principle in terms of interacting with folks like that is consensus. What are other people who are like them doing? And by bringing that in, that becomes a strong decision factor. Whereas, again, the driver, they don’t care what everybody else is doing. They think of themselves as completely different and unique. So, that’s a little bit about how you’d be different with this person who’s the expressive.

When you move over to the amiable, also very big on relationship, so you’re going to want to certainly make sure that you tap into liking because they’re probably not going to want to do business with somebody that they don’t like. So, connecting on what you have in common, talking about those things, being complimentary where genuine compliments are due. But they also surprisingly respond really well to the principle of authority.

And so, by really showing that you know what you’re talking about, that’s not challenging to them; that’s comforting to them. And so, by deferring to something like, I might say, “You know, Pete, I’ve been in this business now for more than 30 years. And something that I found is really important.” That little tidbit about, “I’ve been in business for 30 years,” isn’t coming across like a bragger to them. It’s giving them a sense of comfort that, “Wow, okay, I like this guy and he knows what he’s talking about.” And so, that becomes a little bit more of the tact that I take with that person.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then the logical?

Brian Ahearn
So, the logical, obviously they’re going to be fact-driven so you’re going to need to be able to show authority not only that you have some personal authority that you’re good at what you’re doing but bring in data, bring in information from respected individuals or organizations that would support your claim. If you don’t do that, then you come across to the logical person as just somebody who thinks they know everything. Much better to bring in that support of the information, “Where did you hear that quote?” “What did this particular report say?” That’s what’s going to give somebody, who’s a logical individual, a sense of comfort.

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

Brian Ahearn
As I said at the beginning, I wrote this book for a specific market. I wrote it for insurance agents, and that was because trying to write a sales book can get super generic. When you keep talking about products or services, and people start reading it, “That doesn’t apply to me. Well, that’s…” So, just on the counsel of somebody I really respect, I thought, “You know what, I’m going to tighten this up. I’m going to make it specific to insurance. It’s what I know.”

But then I realized, as I got into it, that every step in the sales cycle, if somebody is in sales, they’re going to benefit from understanding the psychology that applies. And that even people who aren’t selling are going to benefit from learning how to be a listening star, how to deal with different personalities so that they can sell themselves and their ideas. So, I would just encourage anybody, if you see yourself in any capacity as selling, check the book out.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And, now, a favorite quote?

Brian Ahearn
Well, I think the one I find myself referring to more than ever now is something that my high school football coach said, and I attributed it to him for a long time, until somebody said, “No, that was the Roman philosopher Seneca.” But it is, “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.” And ever since I was a sophomore in high school and heard coach say that, and recognized that if I worked really hard, good things would happen.

And even when the good thing that I want doesn’t come about, it’s amazing, Pete, how all that preparation comes in in a different way, and, all of a sudden, I’m like, “Hey, that preparation is helping me now over here.” So, it never goes untapped.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Brian Ahearn
One of my favorites, was Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. And just reading about what he and all those other people in those concentration camps endured was unimaginable. But the takeaway for me was towards the end of the book when he said, something to the effect that, “Every freedom can be taken away from a man except for the last freedom; where to place your thoughts, what you’re going to think about.”

Nobody. And he said, basically, it didn’t matter how much the guards beat them, threaten them, or do anything, they could never ever make them think what they didn’t want to. And that is incredibly powerful.

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

Brian Ahearn
It’s called Voice Dream, and it’s an app that I downloaded on the advice of a friend on my iPhone. And when I write something, I have it up usually in Google Docs, and I just pull it into that app, and then I can listen to it. And it’s amazing what you catch. You write it and you think it’s good, and then you hear it, and you’re like, “Eh, it’s not exactly how I wanted it to come across.” So, it has helped my writing immensely. I’m working on two more books so I use it all the time.

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

Brian Ahearn
First will be LinkedIn. I connect with everybody and I guarantee your listeners, if you reach out to connect and you don’t put a reason, I will come back and say, “How did you find me? I’d like to understand why people are reaching out.” And if you do put in a reason, I will still respond because, as my most recent blogpost said, “Social media is supposed to be social.” And the way that we do that is by having conversations with people. And so, I will absolutely respond to you on LinkedIn.

The other place, Pete, would be my website which is InfluencePeople.biz. Just a tremendous amount of resources out there if they want to learn more about this topic.

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

Brian Ahearn
I think it would be to start dedicating time to understand the influence process. Influence, in some respects, is like listening. Very few people learn how to do it well and yet we use it every single day, I say from womb to tomb. As soon as a baby is born, he or she cries. They’ve got a need they’re trying to get met.

Some of us learn how to do it well and it helps immensely with our professional success and personal happiness. So, I hope people who are listening will say, “You know what, maybe I need to dig into this a little bit more. I could use the ability to have more people saying yes. That would be helpful in my life.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Brian, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you lots of luck in all your influencing.

Brian Ahearn
Thank you. I appreciate it, Pete.