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489: The Mindset of the Most Effective Leaders with Bob Anderson

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Bob Anderson says: "'How am I getting in my own way?' is a constant conversation or area of reflection."

Bob Anderson discusses the ways you’re inhibiting your leadership potential—and how to remedy them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The surprising source of highly-accurate feedback
  2. The two leadership operating systems
  3. Powerful questions for unlocking your leadership potential

About Bob

Robert J. Anderson has been a pace setter in the field of Leadership Development for over 30 years. He is the Founder, Chairman and Chief Development Officer of The Leadership Circle and

the Full Circle Group, and the co-author of Scaling Leadership andMastering Leadership. Bob created The Leadership Circle Profile, a 360° assessment used by organizations worldwide to measure the effectiveness of their leaders (individually and collectively), chart a pathway for their development, and assess their progress as they develop.

The MEECO Leadership Institute awarded him the International Thought Leader of Distinction in 2018.

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Bob Anderson Interview Transcript

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

Bob Anderson
My pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I would love to hear, first of all, I understand that you went ahead and got your pilot’s license. What is the backstory here?

Bob Anderson
Well, the backstory was I was trying to figure out how to be a consultant on the road and be home at a sooner time, so those are two competing commitments, right, success in both arenas. So, I decided to learn to fly a little airplane, and I bought a Beechcraft Bonanza, and got an instrument rating, and I could fly in most weather. And it allowed me to get to places and get home sooner. So, leave later and get home sooner.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you actually fly your own plane to like speaking engagements and such.

Bob Anderson
I don’t anymore. I did for a good number of years but I’ve given it up. It’s like I get busy, I don’t have as much time to really stay current.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I was actually thinking about doing this but I think, “Oh, Pete, that’s probably not actually going to save you real time once you get into whatever.” But your experience was, yes, you saved lots of time because you’re flying your own plane.

Bob Anderson
There were times that I was home for dinner that I wouldn’t have been otherwise, and there were times when I was not due to weather. So, I finally said, “You know, I’m not sure this is working as well as I thought.” You need a lot of airplane to be able to get there in difficult weather.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Bob Anderson
So, yeah, we could take 40 minutes on that.

Pete Mockaitis
The ins and outs of aircraft. That’s a skill. For listeners who are considering getting a pilot’s license and their own airplane for your travels we’re going to get to the bottom of it.

Bob Anderson
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
But we’re not, that is for another show. You might get some invitations. So, I want to hear, you’ve done some impressive research into leadership, and so I want to dig into it. So, your team, I understand, has surveyed over a million leaders around the world. Can you tell us a bit about that research and maybe the most striking discovery you gained from that?

Bob Anderson
Well, I created a leadership assessment 360 years ago, and it goes much broader and deeper than most 360s, and we’d get into some of that. But we’ve probably given feedback to 150,000-160,000 leaders around the world with the leaders that report to them providing feedback so that gives us the database of 1.5 million and growing to do research with and one of the nicest research databases in the world probably on leadership. And so, we can research that nine ways from Sunday.

Bob Anderson
One of the things that struck us, which was why we wrote. We did this research project on all the written comments.

So, we asked the raters, the people providing feedback, to write in what’s this person’s greatest strengths, or assets, and what are their liabilities and so on. And the data blew us away with the precision with which leaders see the people that they work with and how poignantly they can describe it and how directly those written comments match to the quantitative feedback.

So, if you write in, “Bob is an arrogant SOB,” you’re going to see that a high score on arrogance, right? So, the match, we saw just a kind of surprising match, our statisticians were actually stunned by it, between things people said in writing and then how the quantitative came out.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know. Maybe I’m not capturing why that’s impressive. Wouldn’t we expect that to be the case?

Bob Anderson
I think what we saw in that was that, as a leader, you’re in a feedback-rich environment. We used to think you had to go set that up, “Let’s go create a feedback-rich environment so leaders can really grow,” which is critical. Feedback is the breakfast of champions, right? And so, we realized that you’re breathing it and you swim in it. It’s all around you. It’s the air you breathe.

There’s feedback-rich environment all around you. The question is, “Do you actually tap it? Do you harness it? Do you listen? Do you go out and seek it?” Most don’t. It’s an acquired taste and most would prefer not to go there because it can be strong medicine to really, “Yeah, that’s how you’re showing up as a leader.” And people see you in action and they see you with real accuracy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I guess that’s sort of the takeaway there is that folks who just sort of pipe up with their feedback if you ask them and they’re willing to give it to you, then you can probably feel pretty good that that’s accurate as opposed to kind of off-base or you won’t get it unless we have sort of a scoring system to get it.

Bob Anderson
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m hearing you. That’s great news, I suppose, is that if you want feedback you can get it or at least they know it whether or not they care to share it with you, and you care to listen, I guess, over the challenges. Okay, so you say you’ve got kind of full-blown framework and a kind of architecture there when it comes to defining leadership. And so, you talk a lot about high creative versus high reactive. Can you unpack a little bit of that idea?

Bob Anderson
Yeah, the basic principle, one of them, that underlies our work is that there’s an inner game and an outer game, and you’re playing both all the time. Outer game of your knowledge, your experience, your competency skills, you bring that to every meeting you’re in as a leader, and you’re honing that game all the time. And it’s really an important game and if you don’t play it well, you’d wash out, so you’re working that all the time.

Also, what’s running that game is your inner game, your operating system, if you will. So, the level of maturity in that operating system drives the ways you show up in your outer game and what you have access to in terms of behaviors and capabilities in a moment, and what you may not have access to. And that drives effectiveness in highly-charged complex situations which leaders find themselves all the time.

So, a reactive leader, their inner game typically is authored by others. About 75% of adults will have an inner operating system that’s authored by others. Meaning I tend to be pursuing my objectives in a, what Larry Wilson called the “play not to lose” game, “I’m trying to move forward and not lose faith.” So, what I’m not aware of is that the fear that’s running me and the assumptions underneath that.

So, I talk about the leader who’s overly-cautious and deferential, the inner game that they’re playing is, “You define me, and I’m defined by how much you like me and the kind of harmony in our relationship.” So, not to be accepted is not to be. I lose myself if you don’t see me as a good, likable, somebody who’s a team player and so on.”

Somebody else might have a similar equation but opposite. So, I might define myself as results. My results, my power to drive result is me. That makes me valuable. And so, I’m always running the show. There are times when that’s really helpful and there are times when you need to back off, let others learn, grow, take responsibility, delegate, and so on. But the more your sense of worth and security and safety is tied up in “The results always have to be so perfect and stellar all the time,” the less latitude you have to really allow people to learn and grow with you.

Both of these impacts your ability to scale your leadership which is what the book was about. So, if I’m running every meeting, there are limits to scale. If I’m not able to address the difficult issues and move them forward, my leadership has built-in limits and scale. So, that’s a reactive operating system. It’s outside-in, the expectations of others, long past and in my current environment, are driving me in ways I’m not as much aware of as I need to be. So, their, these beliefs and assumptions have me, they’re running me.

When you shift to the creative, that turns around. You start to notice them, “Oh, I always make up that it’s too risky for me to put my voice in the room with higherups, or speak truth to power, or let go, not take over the meeting. Let the group find their own way. Or not have to impress people with my ideas in every encounter. I can give more space now.” And that’s huge.

When you can start to see your old operating system as just that, “It’s a set of assumptions I grew up with but it’s not necessarily how I want to show up in the moment,” then you have choice. And then what happens is you start to ask the question, “Well, how do I want to show up? Or what do I really want here? What am I really after in this moment, or in my life, or as a leader?”

And you start to, what’s now driving you is that question, “What matters most? What matters most in terms of my life’s purpose and vision? What matters most in terms of the organization that I believe in and I’m trying to create? What matters most in terms of this meeting or what we’re trying to accomplish and get done in this meeting?” That full spectrum is what’s in focus now. And it isn’t that you don’t have the fears, they’re there, but you are now in a different relationship with them. They’re just there, “Okay, I’m nervous. I’m scared. I don’t know how this is going to work out. I’m not sure I know what I’m doing here,” and you go forward anyway.

And you go forward with more presence, more clarity, more authenticity, more flexibility in your behaviors so you can listen or advocate your position as opposed to, “I’m always advocating my position,” or, “I’m always listening.” You have that kind of flexibility to move back and forth, when to push, when not to push. When to take on a difficult issue, when to say, “Hmm, better not right now.” And so, you get much more fluidity with the full bandwidth of what it takes to be effective in complex situations that leaders are in.

In the reactive structure, you have limited bandwidth. You default to your reactive pattern or strategy under pressure, and that has built-in limits. So, that’s what we mean by a creative leader versus a reactive leader.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s intriguing. I can certainly see how, yes, I would certainly prefer to be a creative leader as opposed to a reactive leader. But you’ve gone ahead and got some real research that proves that high-creative leaders are way, way more effective. Can you speak to that?

Bob Anderson
Yeah. Well, we have unearthed, they’re assessment measures, both, right, so all the different variations we talked about, of reactive and the inverse of that, or the corollary to that, in the creative. So, it’s got like 29 to 30 dimensions on it of leadership, and some are reactive, some are creative. So, we have a pretty rich database of, “If you’re more of a reactive in your leadership, here’s what it looks like. If you’re more creative in your leadership, here’s what kind of competence and capability you get access to.”

And then we correlate that with measures of business performance in one case and/or leadership effectiveness measures which are people perceiving you as either effective or ineffective, how effective do they perceive you. And the correlation on creative leadership to perceived effectiveness as a leader by the people that lead is like 0.93. You know, 1.0 is a perfect correlation so 0.93 is about as high as you’d get in this kind of research.

In other words, if you show up as a creative leader, people will see you as an effective leader. And in the inverse of that is true on reactive, and it’s a pretty good strong inverse correlation to effectiveness. And business performance data follows that. So, we have that too, both in terms of what we see with anecdotally or with case studies but also in the research where we can research.

We did a study while ordering Mastering Leadership where after the death of one of our clients who was the president of the association for their industry, the industry took on an entire industry-wide study, a financial industry study, on the relationship between business performance and the culture, whether it be more creative or reactive leadership culture in the organization. And they found pretty stunning, like five times more performance from organizations that were more creative than the ones that were more reactive. The year-over-year performance was about five-fold different.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, these are striking results and so I’m intrigued. So, we talked about sort of the inner game in terms of what it’s like when you’re experiencing and in the grips of being reactive versus you’ve got some more flexibility to be creative. But can you maybe paint a bit of a picture for what are some of the behaviors and activities and approaches of a high-reactive leader in action versus a high-creative leader in action?

Bob Anderson
Yeah, so I’ll tell you one of my own. I can pick and choose here because I’ve got the whole bandwidth, most of us do. We did our 360 on ourselves as a firm and we gave feedback to each other.

And I got a really high score on arrogance and a pretty low score on cooperation or collaboration, which impacts other dimensions but that was the primary pattern in the data and a check. In fact, I didn’t see it coming and you have different breakout groups. And so, Bill, my co-author, and we’re cofounders in this merger, I put Bill in the bus as a category so I could see his scores because if we don’t give boss anonymity then everybody else gets in but not the boss, so Bill sees his scores and he scored me 4.5 out of 5 on a 5-point scale, 4.5 out of 5. Now, I’m the statistician so I know that that’s five standard deviation units above the mean, right?
So, I call him over, and my first move is to talk him out of his scores, he really didn’t mean this. And I said, “Bill, you gave me a 4.5 out of 5 on arrogance.” And he goes, “Yeah.” And I said, “Well, that’s five standard deviation units above the mean. You must see me as one of the most arrogant people in the world.” And he goes, “Uh-huh.” And I was like, “Oh,” I wasn’t laughing then. That was hard. He wasn’t willing to back down and say, “Well, that wasn’t really that.” And I got a lot of feedback from the team, and I made a commitment, I said, “Well, two things. One, I’m choosing to collaborate or more. And I want to know when I’m showing up arrogant, so I want your feedback, real time, when I show up in ways that shut down the conversation.”

Well, a couple of years later, I’m in with Bill on an issue and we’re going back and forth. And I’m right, and I know I’m right, and he’s wrong, and it’s not okay that he’s wrong. And I’m writing these emails he’s not responding. I’m writing a long history of why I’m right on this and not getting a response, and I can tell he’s probably pretty upset in his silence and so I’m pretty scared about that because you got two founders that are having a pretty important and significant conflict.

And at some point, I realized that my energy on this was all reactive, and you ask for behavior, so it’s like, “Look, let me tell you where you’re off here. Here’s what you don’t get,” in that kind of tone and energy of interaction, both verbally and in writing. And Bill, to his credit, just didn’t respond to that. So, I went out one day and I was working it, I said, “Okay, what’s this got to do with me?”

And somewhere on a walk, I saw for the first time, I don’t know how insights happen when they happen, but this one was huge, just hit me like a ton of bricks, “Oh, my God. I’m defined by my ideas. My ideas are me. These books are me. Huh, that’s not true. I’m good with ideas but I am not my ideas.” So, when you disagree with me or when there’s real conflict about the core of some of these IP, our IP, well, I’m threatened now pretty fundamentally because I am my ideas. My ideas and my capability around ideas is me.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you’re reacting, I mean, can you sort of unpack a little bit what does that sound like inside your brain? Certainly, your ideas are kind of under scrutiny or under attack. What is your brain saying?

Bob Anderson
Well, if I listen to the silent story in my brain, on the surface it’s going, “You’re wrong and it’s not okay that you’re wrong. Look, who are you to challenge me? You don’t really get it.” There’s that story and I’m in blame, “This issue is your doing.” And so, that’s the way I’m showing up, that’s the weather I’m bringing to the conversation.

The inner conversation is something like, “It’s not okay for me not to be seen as the smartest guy around or the most wise. I need to be seen as wise, more wise than you. But not too much wiser than you because then you’ll reject me or you’ll feel, think of me as arrogant.” So, I’m playing this inner game that I wasn’t aware of. I want to be smarter and wiser than you but I don’t want you to see it. I want you to admire me as brilliant but not be put off by it so I need to modulate, and I’m in it all the time. And then I get threatened when I’m not see that way. “That’s not okay. Okay, now I’m at risk. I’m losing my identity in ways I didn’t ever realize was right there.” And this goes on in every meeting.

Every one of us has these layers in us where we stake claim to our identity. In one of three camps, it’s either in relationship, “I’m okay if you like and accept me, and I’m seen as loyal and supportive,” or results, “I’m perfect and perfect at getting results, or my results and my success is me, my ambition to move up and status, and this career that I built is me. And so, anything that threatens that edifice is not okay and I need to swing into gear, take it over, attack that, push it away, let you know why you’re wrong.”

so, relationships, results, ideas, your intellect. So, head, heart, and will are the three core energies. It’s like electron, proton, and neutron, there’s a three-core energy, and we define ourselves, “I’m really good at this and this makes me valuable.” And you’ll see it. You’ve got two kids below two, right? You’ll see it. They’re different, they come in with different, I think, souls and soul energy. And they will take their unique gift and strength and say, “This is me and I am one child and all heart.”

The teddy bear, loving, caring, and their natural orientation is to be pleasing and that’s a beautiful thing. And it’s a limitation if you start to identify that, “I’m not okay. I have to be seen this way and I’m not okay if I’m not.” So, risking relationship becomes a problem. And I’ve got another son that’s the other side. It’s about drive to make things happy, and that’s a beautiful thing. And, at some point, when I get into more complex leadership roles, that ambitious drive controlling tendency can be an issue.

And so, it isn’t that reactive is wrong, it’s actually a strength that I’m running through a less mature operating system. It’s like I’m trying to run my gifts and strengths through DOS.

Pete Mockaitis
I remember DOS.

Bob Anderson
Yeah, some of our listeners may not, but it’s not complex enough for what we’re into, and that’s the issue. There’s nothing wrong with us, 75% of adults are living in this operating system which is like what we’re socialized into. And then, with the volatile, complex, ambiguous, fast-paced, disrupted leadership environment that we plant ourselves in, that operating system, it just gets outmatched. And we have to be able to manage it.

And as soon as we start to see, “Oh, I’m not my ideas,” well, then, they can listen to you and I can notice when I’m getting defensive, “Oh, here I am again. Okay, let me just keep listening. Tell me more about that. Oh, okay. Well, now, here’s where I disagree with that,” and it’s a whole different energy. And so, this is the shift, so I got down with that awareness with Bill, and I started to laugh because I went, “All this time I’ve been thinking about Bill is the arrogant jerk and I’m the one who’s the arrogant jerk. What’s with that?” Funny.

So, I was laughing about it at this point and I go back home, I get on my computer, and I write in three sentences, “Bill, I’ve been wrong. And, furthermore, I’ve been wrong in the partnership for a while for years, and I’m ready to talk.” That was the email. Very different than, “Let me prove to you why I’m right.” And he said, “I feel your heart, brother. Let’s talk.” We had an extraordinary conversation at breakfast the morning before we did some work with a client. And I just, later on, “Here’s how I’ve been showing up, here’s what I’ve learned, here’s what my commitment is to do differently.”

Our relationship changed the whole dynamic in the firm, so I don’t think it’s any coincidence that since then we’ve been like on a pretty good 30%, 40%, 50%-year growth trajectory. And my relationship with Bill is so much more creative and synergistic. We’re in a company that’s like our job, our competitive advantage is IP, and the quality of our ability to frame that up with leaders.

And so, to take that and 10X it in terms of the synergy that’s in the conversation is a big deal for the company, and so it changed everything. And what’s really interesting is it changed Bill. So, when I got clear on my stuff, there was no intention that Bill would change. Like, that’s the power of this more creative authentic leader, it’s like, “Oh, I’m the one that needs to really get clear and change.” And then you’ll respond in kind or not, but I’m not making a demand on Bill to show up different.

And the field of our new interaction shows up differently and more effectively, and he’s learned a ton from it, and it’s changed him. And he’ll say that very candidly. So, when we do our work as a leader, all things change when we do. And so, one of the things we saw in our research and wrote up in Scaling Leadership is that the kind of the first principle leading an organizational transformation is take it on person as the leader. Step in transparently and vulnerably with the radical, kind of we call it radical humanity, and I have the most to learn here.

Yeah, if it’s going to change it’s up to me. The fact that there’s a level of function or dysfunction in the organization, the culture, is a shadow of me, directly connected to me. So, what do I need to learn here in order for this organization to go the next level? And when leaders step in and lead from that place, everybody is invited to raise their game. And a side of a conversation that now has grace in it, “Oh, you too?”

So, we’re working with a senior team, I won’t mention the company name, a senior team of a large company in the United States. The CEO is working an issue, a conflict with the person that he brought in to help transform the organization, so he’s there to lead the transformation, from like a professional change agent perspective. And they weren’t connecting and there’s real disconnect in their relationship, plus the whole organizational change effort was being interrupted by all this.

And at some point, he said, “Here’s what happens to me when you come at me with that attitude.” It was a kind of attitude, “You’re not enough. You’re not doing enough. You don’t get it.” And the attitude that this change agent was coming at him with, and he said, “I’m back with my dad.” Now, this is a family-owned business so dad was founder. “I’m back with my dad as a kid, and I didn’t mow the yard perfectly enough, there’s one leaf left in the yard that I missed. So, when you come at me with that, I go small, and then I get angry. It’s not okay.”

And so, now you’ve got a CEO very directly talking about his own reactive condition and where it comes from and how it’s playing out in the senior team. And everybody knew it was playing out in the senior team because they watched these two go at it, and then they have their role in it. They stand by, they take sides, they run from it. The whole team is part of that. Everybody is a part of it. But unless you start to really get to depth with it, you’re not going to break through on it.

So, that was a moment where a leader really stepped in, and said, “Okay, I’m going to show up here. But what’s really going for me in this conflict,” and it broke open. It broke the whole conversation open in a beautiful way for them to kind of really work this.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that is powerful and cool. And so, I guess, to pull this off requires some soul-searching, some acquiring feedback. I guess, in some ways, it’s great because now we know what we’re looking for in terms of, “Where do you get reactive? Where do you get defensive? Where do you feel like a small child?” Any pro tips for how we find that and mitigate it once we do?

Bob Anderson
So, that’s one of the reasons I created the 360 was I was at a much deeper level when it gets at this inner game as well as the outer game in the same assessment because I saw this so often with leaders who were championing a significant change effort which they really believed in. And when you meet them, you go, “Wow, this is really extraordinary. What a vision they have not only for the organization but the whole industry.”

And then I would watch them show up in their old pattern of leadership in ways that completely discounted them, discounted their change effort, and people one layer below them go, “Oh, you’re not really serious. And I’ll get on board when they start walking their talk.” And so, any good, well-orchestrated, “Let’s get some feedback in the system. How am I really showing up as a leader? What kind of weather am I bringing? How do I create possibilities and open up the space? How do I shut it down? How do I get in my own way? What are the strengths that I have that I want to keep really deploying or I want to leverage further?” That’s the really rich conversation.

And there are many ways to get it. But getting yourself and your senior team at whatever level of leader you are listening to this, you and the people around you, and the people that report to you or around you, “How do we get in this conversation where we’re learning together how to be more effective both individually and then how we show up together collectively to lead the organization we’re responsible for?”

Pete Mockaitis
And then inside your head, how do you proceed with kind of reprogramming or myth-busting the “I am my ideas,” or, “I am my results”? That’s there, I mean, it’s been a while that. We’ve got to move beyond.

Bob Anderson
Yeah. Well, this is where most of us lack literacy. We’re not ignorant. We lack a literacy. So, at some point, we had to learn math or arithmetic not because we were stupid. There’s a literacy to it that one and one is two, and so on. And then higher mathematics, and algebra or whatever, geometry, and so on. There’s literacy in the pathways of one’s own transformation and how to be self-transforming.

And I’ve talked about two of the key practice. Well, actually, I talked about three of them. So, one is the ability or to listen to your inner game, to this self-talk. So, when you ask me the question, “Well, what were you saying to yourself?” that’s the question and getting good at that, “Okay, so if this meeting doesn’t go well, then we could fall short on results, right. If we fell short on results, then what’s at risk for me? Well, I’m going to get a lousy review from my boss. Great. So, if I get a lousy review, what’s at risk for me?”

So if you learn to track your fear. So, I was working with a mid-level leader that really high-scores on autocratic leadership. And we’re talking about, I said, “You know what that is or what that looks like?” He goes, “Oh, yeah, I pounce. I’m in a meeting, I just take it over.” I said, “Well, why do you take it over?” “Because it’s not going well.” And I said, “So, were you willing to look at that?” He said, “Sure.” So, I said, “Well, just before you pounce, how do you feel? What kind of feelings are going on in your body? Can you describe fear, anger, this kind of upsurge of energy and it’s starts from its gut then to its chest and throat?” “I just feel like [heaves].”

And I said, “Good. So, what’s at risk for you if you don’t pounce?” And he went through, we just walked right down through some form of, “I’m not okay. My results define me.” That’s a practice, and getting good at it, and getting the ability to take perspective on your programming is a literacy. And most of us haven’t learned it.

So, when I drop in, I was practicing that literacy. It doesn’t mean that I always get to the bottom of it by any stretch or that I’ve seen all of my reactivity, or I’m at 60 years old and I’ve gotten, “Jeez, I’m defined by my ideas that’s been running me my whole life. I didn’t realize it.” So, that’s one practice, and it’s a breakthrough practice. It’s breakthrough. It’s like you see the illusion. Underneath fear and the behaviors that it’s running, underneath it is an illusion, “I’m not my ideas. Other people don’t define me. I’m not my results. One failure is not the whole game. If people don’t like me, that’s their issue.”

So, when you can start to manage that conditioning that we all have, you can’t not have it, the question is, “Does it have you or do you have it?” So, when we have it, we’re managing it. And then, the second literacy is the practice of getting clear about, “What is it I’m really after? What do I want most deeply?” I had an experience early in my life of this. I was working for our family business, I grew up in a family business, it was grain business, and I was running the feed manufacturing plant.

So, I’m out in the receiving bay and unloading railroad cars at 2:00 o’clock in the morning, and I’m exhausted and I’m getting finished unloading this railroad car full of wheat. And I get inside and I’m sweeping up the last little bit in this upper bottom car. And I sit down in this hopper and I just catch my breath. I got my dust mask on. And, out loud, un-reflected, unrehearsed came, “I’m not becoming who I am.”

And I’m, “Who said that?” It was authoritative. It just came out of my mouth, “I’m not becoming who I am.” And that began, for me, a process of, “Okay, what was that? What do I really want my life to be about?” And I started what I called my must journal, “What must I be about with my life in order to live the life I came here to live and not somebody else’s? What are my musts? Not my bucket lists, goals, objectives, things that would be cool. But, fundamentally, what do I need to be about?”

And I wrote down things that I didn’t have a clue on. We’re making dog food and I’m going, “I want to help people grow and develop emotionally, psychologically, spiritually.” I’m like, “I’m going to vet the farm on that? What is that?” But I knew it was true because of my experience and my life, there’d been this tension between my dad the engineer and all of my love of technical stuff and building things.

Another must was, “I must have technical challenge in my life.”
And I didn’t know how I was going to help people grow and develop personally, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and have technical challenge in my life.

Well, I have both now because I have a business that’s about as high-tech as you get with IT and statistics and surveys, and it’s a pretty technical challenging, rigorously-challenging business, and it’s all about helping people bring forth their highest and best. And I didn’t have a clue. I’m making dog food. So, this principle is a constant focus at one level or a meta level, “What am I here for?” And then it’s like, “Okay, what’s the life I want to create? Or what’s the business or career that I want to create that expresses that?” And then it comes down to vision after vision after vision.

So, I’m going to create a 360 assessment. I didn’t have it that this was going to be global. I mean, it’s grown into quite a global standard. It’s a world-standard assessment. I didn’t have that. I was just passionate about the work, and I needed an assessment that went deeper. So, I couldn’t find one out there so I went and I made it up.

So, all of that is the pursuit, a vision that’s pulling us forward. And, “How am I getting in my own way?” is a constant conversation or area of reflection.

And if you can do both of those, then you show up more authentically in your conversations, more clean, less reactive, more open, vulnerable, willing to listen, not always having to be right, and so on. And then you’re much more effective. So, those three, “What do I want? How do I get in my own way in getting good at tracking that to my inner game? And how do I show up then in ways that are more direct, authentic, straight, and an expression, an embodiment or an expression of the organization and the culture I’m trying to leave in my wake as a leader?” Those are three that I think are really important. And if you practice that, you will boot up a more creative operating system that defines the creative operating system.

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

Bob Anderson
Albert Schweitzer is one of them, “I don’t know what your destiny will be but this much I do know. Only those among you who have sought and bound how to serve will truly be happy.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a favorite book?

Bob Anderson
I’m reading physics for lay people. I’m not a physicist but I think there’s a physics to all this that we’re talking about, a physics to consciousness, and a physics of leadership. And so, I’m fascinated by what they’re discovering at the very edge of physics.

Bob Anderson
You tip your toe into physics and it will bust your paradise. And we need them busted because we’re at a time in human history where we must break through with higher-order solutions. And Einstein said, “The solutions to our current problems can’t be found from the consciousness that created them. It can only be found from the next higher-order of consciousness.”

And that gets often quoted. But I’m starting to really understand it now from the perspective that I think he was talking about, about how you can access stuff like relativity theory, how you can access higher-order knowledge and information, and he talked about that.

And so, I think we don’t have mental models that are at all adequate to who we are as human beings. Our mental models are limiting our creative capacities, our ability to create breakthroughs and ideas, and bring in the kind of new forms of government, new forms of technology, new forms of organization and culture that we need both in organizations and globally to really thrive. So, I’m interested in what physics has to teach us as it can break us out of our limited paradigms of what it means to be a conscious person and how to really create breakthroughs.

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

Bob Anderson
To TheLeadershipCircle.com. The Leadership Circle is our organization. Go there, you’ll see all kinds of stuff that we can talk about.

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

Bob Anderson
Be a learner not a knower. We have so much to learn. And if I can get out of my own way and be a learner and be vulnerable enough to not know, ask for help, ask for feedback, that’s the best place to lead from. Most of us don’t want to go there. We’ve got to always put forward a kind of front of, “I’ve got it all together.” And the best leaders drop that and lead from a place of, “Man, we’ve got a lot to learn here. Me, too. Let’s get started.”

Pete Mockaitis
Bob, thank you so much for sharing the good stuff. This has been fun. I wish you lots of luck in scaling your leadership in your organization and your impact and all the good stuff you’re doing.

Bob Anderson
It was really fun. Enjoyed the conversation. I hope your listeners find it valuable. I enjoyed myself. So, thank you. You did a great job of drawing this forth.

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Dave

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Dave Stachowiak Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, yes, our mutual pal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Stachowiak
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
How long did this take?

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

Pete Mockaitis
The boss’ boss’ boss.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Stachowiak
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
That does sound right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, you’re smart, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

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

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

Dave Stachowiak
CoachingForLeaders.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

480: How to Become Ridiculously Likable with Vanessa Van Edwards

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Vanessa

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Vanessa Van Edwards Interview Transcript

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

Vanessa Van Edwards
Oh, thanks for having me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Just a little.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Gotcha. I got you.

Pete Mockaitis
Small doses go a long way for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vanessa Van Edwards
Thanks so much for having me.

478: The Simple Secret To Better Trust and Culture with Randy Grieser

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Randy Grieser says: "Shift judgment to curiosity."

Randy Grieser offers actionable pointers to keep a workplace culture healthy and thriving.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How trust is built in the workplace
  2. The 6 key elements of a healthy workplace culture
  3. Do’s and don’ts for effective conflict management

About Randy:

Randy Grieser is the founder and CEO of ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership & Workplace Performance. He is the author of The Ordinary Leader, and co-author of The Culture Question. Randy is passionate about sharing the importance of creating healthy workplace cultures, and believes leadership requires us to always be intentional about what we do and how we do it.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank You, Sponsor!

Randy Grieser Interview Transcript

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

Randy Grieser
Yeah, thanks for having me on your show.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Well, could we start by hearing about some of your mountain biking escapades?

Randy Grieser
Yeah. well, it’s all about having fun and being happy. I think all of us need at least one thing that just really gets us going. I was in Canmore, Canada which is just a beautiful mountain biking area, and I hadn’t been on my bike for about a week, and we flew in. My wife and I grabbed our bikes, went to the hills and we were having supper that night, and I said, “Oh, that just made me happy,” right?

So, yeah, I like to get out as much as I can. I’m not like top of the world-class athlete by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a great way to explore the wilderness. We’re also headed into the Isle of Skye in Scotland in September which is going to be super cool.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Well, another thing I find super cool, other than forced segues, is you did a huge study on workplace cultures. Can you tell me what was sort of some of your most striking discoveries there?

Randy Grieser
Yeah, absolutely. When we started to put some work into our book “The Culture Question” we also put together kind of a survey of things we’d like to know about. And the fascinating thing with that, of course, is you don’t know what you’re going to get. So, we had some ideas about what we might find but probably the most exciting thing we found was the secret to having your employees trust you as a leader.

And so, we correlated 20 questions to the question of, “I like where I work.” And for everyone who said, “I like,” where they worked, the two strongest questions that correlated was this, “I trust my direct supervisor.” And for any of you listening who is a manager, is a supervisor, you know how important that is. Trust is the holy grail.

When your employees trust you, they’re going to move mountains with you. You’re not going to have to beat them or to use the saying “the carrot and the stick,” right? You’re not going to have to beat them or give them a reward. They’re going to work towards your mission and vision because they want to and because they’re inspired by you.

And so, the statement that most correlated with “I trust my direct supervisor” was this, “My supervisor cares about me as a person.” Think about that, Pete. To us that was just like, “Wow, we didn’t expect to find that.” But the secret to trust is simply just caring about your staff at a human level.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, we’ve heard that theme come up a few times from places like a Navy Seal and more. So, yeah, let’s dig into that. So, caring, what are some ways that supervisors do a great job of caring and some ways that they frequently fall short and maybe just totally overlook it?

Randy Grieser
Absolutely. Well, first of all, I should have full disclosure here because when people attend my presentations or go to my workshops, they see that I’m actually a clinically-trained social worker, and so they roll their eyes, and say, “Well, of course, a clinically-trained social worker would talk about caring leadership.” It’s like the C word is this very scary word for people.

But I always tell people, “I’m a social worker. I don’t do therapy with my employees but I just ask them questions. I just care about them at a human level.” Like, right now, one of our employees, a partner, is in palliative care, and we’ve been really thoughtful about, “How do we support someone who’s going through something like that?” I have another staff member who has a child that has special needs, and, “How do we support an employee who periodically needs to leave the office to go care for the child?”

Probably my favorite story I like to tell though that really gets at the heart of caring leadership is I was giving this presentation and speaking about this, and someone came up to me afterwards and said, “Randy, this is so important to have a caring leadership. I’ve worked in my organization for two years, and my supervisor doesn’t know I have children.” And I said, “Well, you know, you should be asking someone if they have children the first day of the job.”

But, Pete, anybody you know who’s got children between the age of 5 and 15, on a Friday at the end of the day, if you say to them, “Hey, weekend is coming up. What are you doing this weekend?” What do they say, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
It depends with the kids.

Randy Grieser
Yeah, I’m taking my kids. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, at a fundamental level, caring is not about doing therapy, it’s just like care about your staff, “What did you do this weekend? You’re going away to a vacation. We’re in the midst of the summer. You’re taking a week off. Where are you going?” “Oh, I’m going with my kids,” right? So, it’s really just about caring about people at a human level.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is quite illustrative in terms of maybe a wakeup call, and it’s like, “Oh, I guess I’m not in a habit of asking. If someone says I’m in the habit of asking those questions,” then you may very well find yourself in that boat where you don’t even know about them having kids.

Randy Grieser
Yeah. And even at just a practical level, I mean, you said, “What more can you do?” Like, one of the things that I meet so many managers, is they’re so busy working that they never eat with anybody else, right? And I don’t spend an hour eating with my staff. I don’t even spend half an hour eating with staff, but I’ve consciously chosen for that 10 minutes where I’m going to scarf down food, I mean, you can’t really work on the computer while you’re scarfing down food, right? So, I might as well spend it with people and just chat with them a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, I’d like to hear some more of that. So, asking basic questions, spending some time with food. Other key ways that supervisor show care and fail to show care?

Randy Grieser
Yeah, really, we just need to spend time with people, build relationships. One of the core tenets of a healthy workplace culture that we talk about in the book is building meaningful relationships. And it’s not just with managers and employees, but with everybody. What are we doing as an organization where we are fostering genuine connections?

And one of the things we found in our interviews with people, and we found even just in our work as consultants when we go into organizations, is organizations that are healthy, people like each other and people laugh, people smile, people spend time together. It’s just so clear when you walk into an organization, you feel that, right?

My wife and I, when we were in Canmore this weekend, we went to a couple different restaurants. And there was one restaurant where it was just striking that people hated being there. The service was terrible, people weren’t smiling, people weren’t connecting. And then you go to another restaurant, and it’s like the waiter staff, they’re having fun with each other, right? They’re bumping into each other, they’re chitchatting.

And so, if you think about that, even in just your daily interactions, you go to the coffee shop, you go to the grocery store, you can see a healthy culture at work and people caring about each other. And so, when we build workplaces where people genuinely enjoy each other’s company, we’re knocking one of the things that we need to do out of the park right away. And, again, I’ve yet to come into a healthy organization where people don’t like each other and don’t have a little fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Like each other, having fun, makes total sense. Are there maybe some common workplace, I don’t know, practices or policies that get in the way of that, that maybe should go?

Randy Grieser
Well, yeah, I’ll name a few things here. One is the obvious which is in the spirit of trying to improve workplace culture, people focus on perks, right? And so, nothing drives me up the wall more than when I see some national publication release, “Our best places to work” And, inevitably, we have things like, you know, free beer on Friday nights, “Yay, let’s all go get drunk with our friends.” Really? Like, that’s what makes a great place to work? And the proverbial foosball table, right?

Exactly. Or bring your pet to work day or free yoga. And there’s nothing wrong with those perks but in a lot of time, management will check or tick off the list, and say, “Listen, we’ve done what we needed to do to create a healthy workplace culture.” And many organizations just can’t even afford these things, right, to be frank. We work with a lot of not-for-profit agencies, I’m doing education systems. They can’t afford perks and so you’ve got to do stuff beyond that as well.

Some policies and practice I’ve seen that have gone the wrong way is mentorship programs. I love mentorship programs, mentoring people. My most important task as a leader is to mentor people. And some formalized mentor programs get it wrong because they only mentor some people, “And, Pete, you’re special, you’re one of the few. Aren’t you lucky you get to be mentored by me?” And what does that do to everybody else, is it demotivates them, right?

And so, our approach with mentorship is like everybody should be motivated, everyone should be growing and working towards. And so, we really don’t like those mentorship programs where there’s the kind of like, “You’re special.”

Awards, right? You know, for achievements, for doing things, right? Awards have that kind of counterintuitive effect where for anybody with young children, you’ve always promised that you were never going to say, “I need you to clean your room, and if you clean your room, I’m going to give you something,” right? And the moment you break down and you do that, and you say, “Son or daughter, if you clean your room, I’m going to give you an award.” What happens the next time you need them to clean their room?

Pete Mockaitis
They want the award.

Randy Grieser
They want the award, right? And so, then award becomes kind of this expectation as opposed to a way to actually motivate people. And so, there’s nothing wrong with perks for the sake of perks and within reason, but when we only focus on perks at the expense of those other things that really help us make healthy workplace cultures, we don’t do ourselves well in terms of helping us create that culture.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you laid out six key elements of a healthy workplace culture: communicating purpose and values, providing meaningful work, focusing leadership team on people, building meaningful relationships, creating peak-performing teams, and practicing constructive conflict management. I want to talk about the last one because I think there are many organizations where there’s just a whole lot of fear going on. It’s like, “I can’t really tell you what I’m thinking, so I’m just going to say nothing,” or, “Boy, if we argue, we’re not arguing well. There’s like collateral damage.” So, how do we pull that off?

Randy Grieser
Yeah, absolutely right. I always say you can do a lot of things well but the moment people hate each other, the moment people are living in fear, it’s going to be very difficult for you to be a successful organization and to function effectively, right? And so, when it comes to practicing conflict management, a few things that we really want to focus on is we want to start with leaders.

Interestingly, the second highest correlated statement that we found was that when leaders practice conflict management effectively, employees also do as well. We teach conflict resolution skills in one of the trainings that we offer. And one of the common themes we get from participants is, “I wish my manager would’ve been here,” right?

And managers think they’ve got it all figured out, but there’s a lot of managers that don’t. They tend to avoid and even I sometimes, I’m like, “Are we five years old? You got two kids in a sandbox, like, you’re not five. Learn to figure it out.”

So, one of the most important things is to just be aware of how detrimental on manage conflict. Conflict is inevitable. It’s going to happen, right? It’s natural. We’re human beings. In and of itself it’s not bad. It’s how we manage it. Ironically, one of the ways that we build a culture that manages conflict effectively is we actually have to have some experiences of conflict and some experiences of getting to the other side, and going like, “Oh, you’re not a terrible human being. Like, we had a disagreement, but then we had a natural human conversation and we resolved this issue.”

So, it’s kind of counterintuitive but you do need to experience some level of conflict to actually learn to deal with it effectively. And so, absolutely, I run a training organization so I believe in training. One of the problems we get, Pete, is often we get requests for training like conflict resolution skills or respect for workplace training too late. It’s when we hate each other, you know.

And then it’s like, “Well, the training was actually meant to be before we hate each other so that we can actually work through these things. Now that we hate each other here, you might need to do some things like mediation, or some assessments, and group conflict mediation-type work, but a simple training is a band-aid effect when we’re really not doing well.” So, right away from the get-go we want to be establishing a culture that manages conflict effectively.

For those of you in leadership, that means holding people accountable. It doesn’t mean jumping in and saving the day, right, and being the hero for everybody. Sometimes it means meeting with people and coaching people, “Hey, I noticed that you and Susan aren’t talking anymore. What’s that about?” And holding people accountable and saying, “You need to figure this out because this isn’t going to be healthy in the long run.”

I’ll tell you one of the worst experiences I had with conflict and not being managed effectively, in our own organization, that’s one of the things I want to note, Pete, is a lot of our insights that we talk about in our book and that we teach in our presentations as training has come out of when we weren’t doing well, right? There’s been periods where we’ve learned the hard way.

And one of the worst experiences I had with conflict was with when someone was withholding information because they wanted someone else to look bad. And then when a mistake happened and it made us look bad, he gloated and said, “I knew that was going to happen. I just wanted you to see for yourself.” And I was like, “Oh, my, this conflict has gotten too far.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so, okay, that’s something clearly to not do. Don’t hold information and look to make people embarrass themselves and fail. Check. What are some of the other key do’s and don’ts for effective conflict management?

Randy Grieser
Yeah, you know, really from an employee-to-employee perspective, it’s creating the culture of honest mutual feedback, giving people feedback, being sensitive about it, not being a jerk about it. But when you see something, say something. If something bothers you, don’t wait for it to fester, right?

And so, one of the things that I do, within our organization, is we partner people up. We say, “Listen, if you have to have a difficult conversation with someone, we have a lot of people here who have experienced doing that, get together with someone and roleplay.” Earlier on in my career as a manager, one time I did the classic, you know, the appropriate coaching someone, “Well, instead of me saving the day, why don’t you go have that conversation with that person?” Well, the person went ahead and had a conversation with this person, it was like, “You know, you swear words, swear swords, swear words. “If you ever do this again, I’m going to knock your head off.”

And I went back to the other person and say, “I told you to go talk to him.”

“Well, you told me to go talk to the person and I went and talked to him my way.” And I’m like, “Oh, so when I’m coaching you to actually have the conversation, I had assumed you knew how to have an appropriate conversation but I actually need to walk you through that.”

I’m a big believer in roleplay as a leader. When I used to have difficult conversations, I roleplay with some of my peer leaders to just kind of practice it and get it out there. One of the most important things we encourage our staff is to not to see the other person as a terrible person. Most people genuinely are reasonable people. 95% of us are pretty good human beings, we don’t really actually want to hurt people’s feelings, but we do stupid stuff sometimes, right?

And so, the first thing is just to shift. You know, we have a T-shirt actually, Pete, and I should send it to you actually. And it’s a great T-shirt that says, “Shift judgment to curiosity.” And, really, what that’s about is, like, when you think that someone is being a jerk, actually just be thoughtful for a second, and go, “Well, maybe they don’t mean that.” So, instead of judging them, be curious, “Why are they acting in this way?” It doesn’t mean how they were acting is right but it kind of humanizes our relationship a little bit more. So, it’s one of our favorite sayings, “Shift judgment to curiosity.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. And so, I’m curious, so screening the swear words is not the way to go, and doing some roleplay in advance can be super valuable. Any other pro tips for the actual conversation?

Randy Grieser
Yeah, really, one of the things that we try to stay away from is the emotion when we have a difficult conversation and focus on the problem and the task at hand, right? So, don’t make it about what your intent was but actually just focus on, “This is how it made me feel.” And so, we go back to the classic communication 101 I-statements, right? “When you do this, this is how it makes me feel.”

Most of the time that person didn’t know that. Most of the time that person wasn’t aware that your intent, right? We have a little diagram we have, it’s called Action, Intent, and Effect, right? And the action is what’s out in the public for people to see, but the intent is hidden, and the effect is hidden. So, sometimes even I will do something I have no clue how it would’ve landed on you. And so, we really encourage our staff to focus on the intent and the effect of people.

First of all, we just want to build a culture that has low levels of conflict to begin with, right? And, again, that’s where we start to get into some of our other areas. When we hire people, that’s one of the things we focus on. Like, one of our core values is that we want people to embody what we teach. We teach people to be respectful in the workplace. We teach people to manage conflict effectively so we expect people to do that.

And so, we’ve crafted our interviewing questions to hire for people who fit our culture. And so right away, when we have new people come in into the organization, if we sense that they’re fit in our culture, we nip things in the bud right away. So, in general, when it comes to implementing some of these six principles and elements of healthy workplace cultures, when it comes to the people effect, we need to start right from when we hire people.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. And so, if you’re talking to a professional who is not in control, they’re not sort of leading the organization, shaping the culture from the top, are there some basic things you recommend that all people can do to contribute to oozing the culture and fun and liking each other vibes?

Randy Grieser
You know, absolutely. I mean, first of all, I’ll say that clearly leadership sets the tone of healthy workplace cultures, right? And time and time again I run into employees who really want to improve that healthy culture but leadership is not on board. And so, one of the first tasks that you have to do as an employee is try to influence leadership.

And I use the experience, when we go back to the point about negative conflict, because I say, “This is not just about the wellbeing of employees in the workplace. This is about your financial wellbeing as well.” And so, sometimes I use that approach to senior leaders, right? By the fact that we don’t have a healthy workplace culture, people aren’t sharing information, we’re not communicating well, people are not engaged because they’re just putting in their time for a paycheck, and so they’re not being as innovative. Like, this is affecting our ability to be successful as an organization.

So, one of the reasons that we need to care about this as leaders is because it’s actually going to help us, if you’re a business, it’s going to help you financially. If you’re a social service agency or not-for-profit, it’s just about being an effective contributor to whatever role you’re doing. And so, when I’m giving this talk to C-suite professionals who sometimes need a little bit more grease to get them to think and care about the wellness of their employees, I really hammer home this point about, “When you have a healthy workplace culture, this is your competitive advantage.”

And one of the persons interviewed, he clearly said to me, “Randy, I could’ve jumped ship to a competitor, it would’ve increased my salary.” He was already making a six-figure salary, and he said, “I could’ve made 50% more, but I didn’t go because I love the place I work. And a couple of years ago I went to this Angelina and Brad Pitt divorce scenario where it was just like all over. It was terrible. Like, I was in the courts all the time. And my senior staff, they had my back. They knew that this was important to me, they didn’t make me feel bad. So, why would I leave this place? They’ve been great to me. Why would I?”

And so, one of the things we talk about is money matters at the lowest end of the level, but for many people, I mean, there are some professions, I think of the sales profession as an exception there, but for many people, man, when they have a great place to work, they don’t want to leave that environment, right, because they worked in places that aren’t a great place to work.

And so, when you get senior leadership, as an employee if you kind of get senior leadership to talk and do that, I’ve had frontline employees grab this book and just show it to their leader, and say, “You know, it would really be great if you could read this and we can talk about this,” right? And there’s been slowly, you know, people begin to change.

One of the most exciting things that I’ve seen within healthy organizations is, time and time again, when I talk to leaders and managers, they say one of their biggest issues is access and retention to key talent, right? Well, the secret to access and retention of key talent is be a great place to work and your employees will bring in people for you. When there’s job openings, they’ll say, “Hey, you should come work here because we’re a great place to work.”

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Randy, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear a couple of your favorite things?

Randy Grieser
Well, it depends on what else you’re going to ask me. You know, absolutely. I like to just kind of review the six key elements, if I may. I’ll do kind of a quick summary. We’ve talked about the importance of conflict management. Communicating your purpose and values, like most employees want to work in an organization that matters, that makes a difference. Most in organizations want to be guided and connected to that purpose.

Meaningful work. Most people don’t want to do work that is just boring and irrelevant. And so, making sure that people’s interest and ability and purpose all align together. There’s things that you could do there. Focusing your leadership team on people. Really, that caring about people we’ve talked about. Building meaningful relationships, people want to like who they work with. We’ve spent the vast majority of our waking hours at work. Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually liked each other?

And one of the kind of unique things that we’ve focused on in our book was the importance of creating peak performance teams. It’s really hard to know that we have a culture if we literally don’t work together. And I’ve walked into organizations that’s, true, they don’t work together. We have a bunch of individuals who show up, they don’t even say hi to each other, they go to their little cubicle, they do whatever they do all day, and they leave. So, it’s really difficult to establish a culture when we’re not working together in teams.

So, those were kind of the six key things that, really, we want to focus on. And, again, instead of perks, focus on these six things then you’re going to have your healthy culture.

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

Randy Grieser
You know, I don’t memorize things well, but I’ll be honest, my daughter inspires me. She’s 16 years old. She’s super ambitious. Last weekend, we climbed a mountain together and we spent seven hours. It was seven hours and it was quite the slug. And there were several things that she said on the trip that I thought, “This is so cool that my 16-year old daughter can think this way.”

And one of the things that we talked about was sustained effort. We’ve been hiking up this mountain for four hours and it got really steep, and it was she said it’s like two steps forward, one step back. And we had a conversation about sustained effort. What was kind of funny is we lost my partner and her mom, right, along the way. When I say we lost, she just stopped climbing because she got scared. And my daughter had said to her, my daughter was trying to be encouraging her, and this is a great quote from a 16-year old, right, “Don’t let fear stop you from living life.”

And I thought, “How brilliant is that?” I’m super inspired by my daughter for thinking that way and for persevering and continuing on.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Randy Grieser
You know, I pick this book up probably six, seven years ago, and I just can’t help but always going back to it. Can I give you two books, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Randy Grieser
You know, one, I love stories of other people. I love stories of people building things unique. And one of my favorite books, it seems a bit odd, but it’s the biography of Warren Buffett “Tap Dancing to Work.” I believe passion is so important in how we work and if we want to inspire other people to be excited about their job. I love the fact that Warren Buffett is, what, 87, 88 years old now, literally still runs the business, not like a fake corner office but actually is doing real work. And, yet, he’s given away everything.

And even the title of the book “Tap Dancing to Work” so, he really taps into, man, we got to like what we do, right? I mean, my son has graduated from high school, and he’s torn about what he does, and I’m like, “I don’t care what you do, but you better like it. Be excited about it. Be passionate about it because it’s a long 40 years if you’re not passionate about work.” So, I just love some of Warren’s thoughts and quotes. And everyone thinks of him as a finance person, but he’s a great manager and a great leader as well.

Another shout-out is to who we really resonate when it comes to how to motivate people is Daniel Pink and his book “Drive.” I really, really kind of pinpointed in the three core areas of autonomy, mastery, purpose. We touched on even some of those in our six areas, right? So, really, he was a pioneer in kind of shifting the way we think about motivation and employee engagement.

So, those are my two big books.

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

Randy Grieser
Well, come to our website Achieve Centre. We are based in Canada. We do work in the US as well. So, Centre is spelled with an R-E. It makes it unique. So, AchieveCentre.com.

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

Randy Grieser
Yeah. You know, you want to be awesome at your job, just be nice, be a nice person, be kind, right? Somebody the other day asked me, “What do you look for when you’re hiring people?” I’m like, “We want to work with nice people. Like, at the end of the day, I want to like you as a human being.” So, you know what, if we’re all a little bit nice to each other, we’re going to be awesome at our job, and we’re going to make awesome workplaces.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Randy, thanks for this, and keep on caring.

Randy Grieser
Yeah, thanks for having me on your show, Pete.

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

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

Pat Flynn discusses how to turn anyone into your superfan.

You’ll Learn:

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

About Pat:

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, Sponsor!

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

Pat Flynn Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

Pat Flynn
Perfect.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
“Back off.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
I’m okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.