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763: Stephen M. R. Covey Reveals How Great Leaders Inspire Teams

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Stephen M. R. Covey shares why command-and-control leadership is ineffective (yet widespread) and how to get superior results as a trust-and-inspire leader.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The two traits needed to build trust
  2. Why so many leaders today fail to inspire their teams
  3. The one belief that separates great leaders from the rest

About Stephen

Stephen M. R. Covey is cofounder and CEO of CoveyLink and of the FranklinCovey Global Trust Practice, and the author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Speed of Trust. A sought-after and compelling keynote speaker, author, and advisor on trust, leadership, ethics, culture, and collaboration, Covey speaks to audiences around the world. A Harvard MBA, he is the former CEO of Covey Leadership Center, which under his stewardship became the largest leadership development company in the world. Covey resides with his wife and children in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains.

Resources Mentioned

Stephen M. R. Covey Interview Transcript

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

Stephen Covey
Hi, Pete. Excited to be with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited as well. I’m really looking forward to digging into your wisdom on trust and your latest book Trust and Inspire: How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others. But just to warm it up, I’m thinking about my son right now, he’s four years old, and my dad, and how there were a few special moments in terms of memories that were really instructive and stuck with me. And since you and your father are both great when it comes to leadership development, is there a memory that comes to mind for you in terms of something that sticks with you and was really instructive and lasting?

Stephen Covey
Yeah, absolutely, several but I’ll share one of them, and I actually put this in the book. It’s in a story that my dad wrote about in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the green and clean story, where he was trying to teach his son how to take care of the lawn. Well, I’m that son, I was seven years old, and my dad was trying to teach me responsibility and teach me how to work and these types of things. And so, he basically, over a two-week period of time, he’s got to train me how to make sure that the lawn, our yard, we had a big yard, how to make sure that it was green and clean.

Now, this was back in the days before automatic sprinklers, which ages me, Pete, but this was I was just a young boy and he taught me, “Look, to get a green lawn, you got to water it. The key to watering it is you got to turn on the sprinklers but how you do it is up to you. If you want you could just use a hose or use buckets or spit all day long. It’s up to you. All I care about is green and clean.”

And then he kind of taught me what clean meant. He cleaned part of the yard, left the other part unclean. So, again, seven years old, so it was a two-week process. I actually distinctly remember it. And then he added one more piece. He built in an accountability piece. So, I had very clear expectations – green and clean – how I did it was up to me. I would judge myself. And here was the accountability, that twice a week that we would walk around together and I would tell him how I was doing against the standard of green and clean.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Stephen Covey
And so, he goes, “I’m not your judge. You’re your own judge. You judge yourself. I’m your helper. If I have time, I’ll always help you but it’s your job.” So, two weeks of training, and then he turns it over to me in the middle of the summer. And it’s this scorching hot time during the summer and I did nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s not going to be green.

Stephen Covey
I did nothing. I was over playing ball across the street. Sunday nothing, Monday nothing, Tuesday nothing, Wednesday. It’s five days, it’s scorching hot, the lawn is turning yellow by the hour almost, and we had a neighborhood barbecue over the weekend, and there was garbage just strewn all throughout the lawn. It was anything but green and clean.

And my dad, he later said, “You know, I was just about to just yank that job right back from him,” thinking, “Maybe he’s just too young. He’s seven. He can’t handle this yet.” But he didn’t. He stayed with it, and he said, “Hey, son, we’d agreed that we’d walk around the yard and you would tell me how it’s doing, so why don’t we do that?”

So, we started to walk around, and I realized, “This is not looking green at all. It’s yellow and it’s not clean. There’s garbage everywhere.” And I began to break down and cry, and I said, “Dad, this is just so hard.” And he kind of said, “Well, what’s hard? You haven’t done one single thing.” But what was hard was learning to take responsibility, it was me taking ownership for that job and taking it on as my own.

And I said, “Well, can you help me, dad?” He said, “I’d agree I’d be your helper if I have time.” I asked, “Do you have time?” He said, “I’ve got time.” So, I ran into the house and I got two garbage sacks. I came out, I took one and I gave him one, and then I started to instruct him and tell him what to do. I said, “Dad, would you go over there and pick up that garbage that’s fallen out because it makes me want to vomit?” So, he said, “I’m your helper. Whatever you say, I’ll do it. I’ve got time, I’ll help you.”

So, he started doing what I asked him to do. And it was at that moment, as I was directing my dad as a seven-year-old on, “Pick up this. Pick up that. Do this,” and he was doing what I was asking, I realized, “This is my job. I’m responsible.” And it was at that moment that, suddenly, I took responsibility and took over this job of making sure the yard was green and clean. I did not have to be asked the whole rest of the summer to do it a single time. I owned it. I took responsibility for it, and the lawn was green and it was clean.

Now, my dad used to always tell this story when he taught The 7 Habits about how this was the creation of a win-win performance agreement but, Pete, I was a seven-year-old boy. I didn’t know what those terms meant but here is what I did know as a seven-year-old. I felt trusted. I felt my father trusted me and I didn’t want to let him down.

So, I was too young to be worried about allowance or status, but I didn’t want to let my dad down. He was important to me and he trusted me, and I felt it and I responded to it. I was inspired by it. I rose to the occasion. I developed capabilities I had no idea I had at age seven and I took responsibility for a huge yard, and it was green and clean.

Now, that was a defining experience in my life because, first of all, my father built such a relationship with me that his whole purpose was one of love and caring, trying to teach me, so I received it differently because of that. But it’s interesting. I experienced, as a seven-year-old boy, a trust and inspire leader, a trust and inspire parent who was believing in me, and he saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself at that time as a young boy but he didn’t…when he gave me trust and I didn’t follow through, he didn’t take it back and just say, “Oh, too young, can’t do it.”

Or, he didn’t hover and micromanage me, and say, “Now, look, here’s how you have to do this job, and do it precisely the way I say. You got to get out there and water.” No, he gave me the responsibility, he trusted me, and then he let me do it. And I learned, and I grew, and I came out of it better. My dad, later, was also asked, “How did you not just take it over and just either micromanaged him or just take the job back?” And he said, “Because I reaffirmed my purpose, which was to raise kids, not grass. So, getting the grass green and clean was a bonus. That was a nice thing but it was more important that I raise a child that learned responsibility and a work ethic.”

And so, I used that little story as a great example of how if this kind of extension of trust can work for a seven-year-old boy, I bet it could work for a 27-year-old or a 47-year-old or a 67-year-old. We all long to be trusted and inspired. It’s a better way to lead, and we respond to it, and I did as a seven-year-old. So, it’s a great story. It’s a fun story. My dad gives his side of it in The 7 Habits, and my side of it is that I was seven years old, what do you expect?

But really, it’s that I felt trusted. I didn’t know what a win-win performance agreement was but I did know that I felt the trust of my dad, and I didn’t want to let him down.

Pete Mockaitis
That is powerful. Thank you. I love it. And a great way to set up a conversation, talking about trust. You’ve done a lot of research and teaching and writing on this topic, is there a particular insight or discovery that you find particularly surprising and powerful when folks really grab onto it when it comes to trust?

Stephen Covey
Yes, there is one. I don’t know that this one is going to be surprising per se but it is extremely powerful. It’s not necessarily surprising but it happens all the time. So, it’s surprising that this is still an issue because it’s pretty self-evident. And it’s simply this, you could have two trustworthy people working together, both trustworthy, working together and yet no trust between them even though they’re both trustworthy if neither person is willing to extend trust to the other.

In an organization, you could have two trustworthy teams or departments working together, both trustworthy, and yet no trust between them if neither team or department is willing to extend trust to the other. So, to have trust, the noun, the outcome, yes, you need to be trustworthy, and that is earned, we earn that, but we also need to be trusting to give that. So, trust is both earned and given.

I get asked all the time, “Stephen, is trust earned or is it given?” And my response is, “Yes, absolutely it is earned. We’ve got to demonstrate our character, our competence, our credibility. We’ve got to be trustworthy but it’s not enough. It’s necessary but insufficient. We also have to be trusting.” And what I find, as I worked with organizations all around the world, that maybe the bigger factor in those two halves, and they’re halves, I think the bigger factor is that we’re not trusting enough as leaders. We don’t extend enough trust to our people and to others.

That’s a bigger issue than if we’re not trustworthy. Now, we can work on both halves of the equation. We need to work on becoming more trustworthy but, as leaders, we especially need to work on becoming more trusting. And, at some level, that’s not a surprise. But what’s a surprise is that how we’ve almost ignored that piece, and we focus so heavily on the trustworthy side and not near enough on the trusting side. And I want to bring that to the fore, that, as leaders, we got to become more trusting. We gotta be extending trust.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so, since we kind of say the word trust a lot, how about we do a little bit of defining of terms? What do you mean, precisely, by trust? And what are some ways that we extend trust or we show that we are trusting?

Stephen Covey
Yeah. So, by trust, I simply mean confidence. That’s the most simple definition I can give. In fact, Pete, in many languages, trust and confidence are the exact same word, like in Spanish, in French. I have personally presented now in some 55 countries on site, in person, and in about, I’m going to say, over at least half of those countries, where they have a different language other than English as their native tongue, in at least half of them, trust and confidence are the exact same word.

So, in English, we have two words for it. So, think it means confidence. Now, the opposite of trust – distrust – is suspicion. So, confidence versus suspicion. That’s the most simple definition. Now, where does that confidence come from? I suggest it comes from two sources. It comes from having both character and competence. Character and competence, both are vital. If you have one but lack the other, you will not sustain the trust.

This makes a person credible. It makes them trustworthy if they have both character and competence, and that is something that we earn. So, we earn trustworthiness through demonstrating character and competence but then we extend trust, we give trust by being trusting. And I think the opportunity here is to find the ways, as a leader, as a colleague, as a partner, that you can extend more trust to people.

And when you extend the trust, I’m not advocating that you just blindly trust anyone and everyone. That’s not smart in a low-trust world because not everyone can be trusted or there could be that the context matters. If there’s really high risks on the trust you’re extending, or the credibility of the person is either unknown, or is known to be low credibility, low trustworthiness, then you’re going to be very limited or careful or cautious on how much trust you extend.

But, generally speaking, we need to be more trusting, not less, and find the opportunities to extend that trust, always creating expectations, always creating the process for accountability, like my dad did with me on green and clean. He had expectations, “I want the yard to be green and clean,” and accountability, “Let’s, twice a week, you tell me how you’re doing against the standard of green and clean.”

So, here’s a great opportunity right now that companies have had over the last two years coming out of this pandemic. People have started working from home, working from anywhere, remote work, hybrid work, intentionally flexible work, and that’s continuing, and it’s going to continue in some format going forward.

Actually, a lot of organizations really do a great job at demonstrating to their people, as they’re working from home, “That we trust them,” that they trust their people. And it’s explicit, it’s clear that they come in, they say, “Look, we trust you. Here’s the expectation, here’s the accountability, but you need to know we trust you.” And people feel it and they receive it, and they’ve actually accelerated and grown the trust through this difficult circumstance by being deliberate and intentional about the trust that they’re extending to their people.

On the other hand, I’ve seen some other companies with the same setup, where the people working remotely did not feel trusted at all. They felt they’re now just being micromanaged from a distance because there was no choice or option in the matter, and some companies put in place surveillance software and the like, all in the name of productivity to make sure that people were actually doing their job, and it just conveyed and screamed distrust. And so, yeah, they were working remotely but they still did not feel trusted. And rather than increasing the trust, they actually decreased it.

So, what’s happened in the last couple of years has been a great opportunity to actually increase the trust and generate the reciprocity by demonstrating that you trust your people, or maybe have it go the other direction because you’re actually demonstrating through your behavior, your actions, that, “I don’t trust you and I’ve got to micromanage you.” It’s just done differently now because it’s remote.

And, going forward, as people come back, and we come up with a new way of working in this new world, what matters more than the precise mechanics of what it’s going to look like, some hybrid combination of remote and on site, intentionally flexible work, what matters more than the actual structure is our leaders are actually leading with a trust-and-inspire approach with their people where they actually trust them with whatever model they come up with.

Or, are they trying to still operate from a command-and-control model that leads out with distrust with whatever they come up with? That matters more than the actual structure. There are many right answers. What matters more is the paradigm, the mindset of trusting your people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to dig into that contrast quite a lot shortly. Maybe, first, I want to dig in just a little bit, so in terms of trust is confidence, and someone is trustworthy if they have character and competence. And so, I’m interpreting that to mean character, they have virtue, they’re not going to lie to you or steal. They’re not only looking out for number one all the time.

And competence is like they’re good at the things that their job demands of them. And, thusly, when someone has that, I trust them and that I have the confidence that if I give them some bit of responsibility, they are going to have the smarts to do the job sufficiently, and the ethics to not, I don’t know, skim off the top or do something shady along the way in executing it.

Stephen Covey
Not cut corners.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Stephen Covey
Yeah, you got it exactly. It’s both halves. And too often, we’ve equated trust with just character, and I say, no, it’s equal. Equal parts, character and competence. And a big part of this show, How to be Awesome at Your Job, it’s all about trying to make sure that we can become really good at our job because we know what we need to do. And that’s building the capabilities around what’s needed to do, and the expectations so we know, as well as then delivering on that, performing and delivering.

And so, the confidence is both kind of capabilities and results that, “I’ve got the skills and the talents and the expertise and the knowledge and the insight to stay relevant in a changing world, and I have a track record of performance, of results, that gives people confidence that if you give me a job, I’m going to get it done. Look at my track record. But I’m always learning and getting better and improving, the things that you’re doing with this podcast of, How to be Awesome at Your Job, because I’m learning about the capabilities that are needed to succeed at a job.”

So, that confidence is half as vital because someone could be an honest person and very caring and selfless, but if they can’t deliver or they don’t come through, they don’t do what they say they’re going to do because they’re not capable of it, even though they’re honest, I’m not going to trust them. And the reverse is true. If someone could deliver, get the job done, but if they’re running people over in the process, or violating the values and the beliefs of the company, cutting corners, I’m not going to trust them either, so I’ve got to have both.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. And it’s interesting, at How to be Awesome at Your Job, we have quite the contrast, I think, in terms of getting a feel for, “What is awesome at your job and true excellence look like versus mediocre, ho-hum, like okay?” So, likewise, with character, I’m thinking that, could you paint a picture for what excellence in character looks like versus, yeah, mediocrity? Because I think most of us are not…we’re not sociopaths. We have some level of guilt and conscience. We’re going to obey applicable laws.

And, yet, even with that, like sometimes I still don’t trust folks because it’s sort of like, “Hmm, I don’t believe you care about me and/or I think, if given the opportunity, if there’s ever a tradeoff between a little bit more expediency and profit, and my needs, wants, wishes, you will choose your expediency and profit.” And so, I don’t know, how do you think about what is a picture of real excellence look like in character?

Stephen Covey
In the character?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Stephen Covey
Beautiful. Love it. And, by the way, you identified, beautifully, the two components of character – integrity and intent. And integrity is honesty, truthfulness. Like you say, that someone might say, “Well, I’m particular and I follow the rules and the laws,” but compliance alone is necessary but insufficient. Someone could be legal but not ethical.

But here’s the big opportunity to what you just identified, that the real test of integrity, of doing the right thing, is when there’s a cost or consequence in doing so. Until then, I haven’t fully been tested. What do I do then when there’s a cost or consequence in doing the right? Do I still do the right thing? Another test of integrity is when nobody is looking and may never look. Do I still do the right thing?

So, integrity is, yes, it’s honesty and truthfulness, but it’s also congruence, an authenticity, that we are who we say we are, do what we say that we value, we walk the talk, the say-do ratio is aligned. And then, also, it takes humility and courage to have integrity. Humility, that there are principles that govern, courage to do the right thing when there’s a cost or a consequence, or when no one is looking. And that’s a deeper drive towards excellence.

So, someone could comply, someone else could act on commitment to do the right thing and make judgment calls doing the right thing even when there’s a cost or a consequence, and maybe when there’s degrees of this, where someone could get away, and say, “I was legal,” but maybe the right thing goes above and beyond that. That’s a higher standard, higher expectation of excellence.

And just like how I put competence in the two halves, I put competence in the half of your capabilities, and your results, your track record of performance. I put the character in the two halves – your integrity and your intent. So, the second half of character is your intent, and that is your motive. Do you care? And you mentioned this. Do you care about the people that you’re serving? They know and feel that you care about them. Or, do you not care?

Caring matters in terms of how people feel, in terms of trusting the person. If someone doesn’t think that another person cares about them, they often will tend to withhold the trust, wondering, “Do they really have my best interest at heart?” That’s the motive, caring. The agenda is to seek mutual benefit, that’s win-win. Especially, partners working together, collaborating, in charge of different departments, they just feel like, “Do I feel like you’re truly seeking mutual benefit and trying to do the best for all of us? Or, is it just are you just being self-serving and only acting in your best interest alone, and not really looking at mine? You might not say that but that’s what I feel and experience.”

And if I feel that, that you’re self-serving, I tend to withhold the trust. Or, if you’re only acting in your best interest and not in a shared best interest, I tend to withhold the trust. So, that’s your intent, which is the motive of caring and the agenda of mutual benefit. So, there’s a standard of excellence there for both integrity and intent that you can go much higher than kind of the mere threshold level.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Excellent. Thank you. Well, now, let’s talk about sort of the big idea behind the book Trust and Inspire. So, you say there’s trust and inspire, and then there’s command and control. How would you sort of expand upon the differentiation between the two?

Stephen Covey
Yeah. Well, here’s what the data shows, that most organizations today, in spite of all our progress and our management thinking, are still operating in some form of command-and-control style, about nine out of ten.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting.

Stephen Covey
Yeah, the data is surprising. And, in some form, now here’s what’s happened though, Pete. They’ve become, it’s a far better version of it. It’s not necessarily the authoritarian command and control of the industrial age that was more accepted but it’s more of what I call an enlightened command and control. It’s more sophisticated. It’s more advanced. It’s a better version. A kinder, gentler version of it. We’ve brought mission into it. We brought emotional intelligence into it. We brought strengths into it.

Pete Mockaitis
Psychological safety.

Stephen Covey
Yeah, we brought a lot of good things into it but what we haven’t done fully yet is shift the paradigm, the mental map of how we view people, how we view leadership. We’re still trying to, basically, contain people as opposed to unleash them. We’re still trying to control people as opposed to release them. And we don’t see the greatness inside of people. We see it inside of some who we deem high potentials and not inside of others.

So, the idea that everyone has greatness inside, “I’m sure I’m not ready to buy that,” some people might say, or at least their style has not matched that belief. And so, we haven’t shifted the paradigm. We’ve incrementally improved within a limited applied paradigm, mindset. And that will take you so far, and it’s a better version of it.

So, we made a lot of progress but, in spite of all our progress, we still fall short of really shifting the paradigm to a trust-and-inspire approach, where I start with the fundamental belief that people have greatness inside of them. So, my job as a leader is to unleash their potential, not to contain or control them. I start with trust and inspire. I start with the belief that people are whole people. They have a body, heart, mind, spirit. They’re not just economic beings. They’re a whole person.

So, my job as a leader is to inspire, not merely motivate. You see, motivation is extrinsic, carrot-and-stick awards, external. Inspiration is intrinsic, internal. To inspire means to breathe life into someone, into something or someone, and so it’s inside of them. I light the fire within, and that’s a better thing. And when people are seen as whole people, yes, they have a body, they want to be paid; but they have a heart, they want to connect; and they have a mind, they want to contribute and develop, and use their talent.

And they have also a spirit, with the idea of meaning, of purpose, of mattering. That’s the whole person, and that can inspire people instead of just merely motivating them. So, these are some of the beliefs. Also, another belief is that there’s enough for everyone, an abundance mentality. So, my job as a leader is to elevate caring above competing because there’s many organizations in which they’re competing internally all the time with each other because they’re operating on the basis of scarce resources.

And while scarcity might be a sound economic principle, it’s a lousy leadership principle. Abundance mentality is a better way to lead, elevate, care than about competing. Leadership is stewardship. It’s a responsibility, not a right. So, my job as a leader is to put service above self-interest. And another belief is that enduring influence is created from the inside out. So, my job as a leader is to go first. Someone needs to go first. Leaders go first.

So, these are, collectively, a paradigm of a trust-and-inspire leader. They see people and leadership more completely than more of a fragmented narrow view of, partially accurate, but incomplete map of people in their ship. And until that paradigm shifts, we’re going to stay deep in command and control, a better version of it, an enlightened version of it, but we’ve got to shift the paradigm. And we’re so deep in command and control, we’re not even aware of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s actually exactly what I was curious about in terms of like the trust and inspire sounds awesome. It’s like, “Yeah, that’s where I’d like to work, and that’s what I’d imagine leaders would like to believe is the case in their organizations.” So, when you said the data reveal that about nine out of ten companies are still in command and control, not to get too deep into the weeds on the research process, but I got to believe, if you just asked, “Hey, are you more of a command-and-control or more of a trust-and-inspire organization?” they’re like, “Oh, I’m a trust-and-inspire organization.” People would, self-servingly, want to click that and be shifted there. So, how do you make that determination when you are doing the research on that matter?

Stephen Covey
Yeah. Well, again, we’ve come from different sources in different forms, and some of our own research in which we asked, “If you were to assess the predominant leadership style of the organization,” not what they profess but this is people assessing it, what they experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, gotcha.

Stephen Covey
So, it’s not the senior leadership. If you asked the senior leaders, I think it’ll almost be the other way around. Most of them would say exactly what you’re saying, Pete, “Of course, we’re trust and inspire.” But if you ask the people, “How do you describe the management style of leadership?” and you get far more into command and control.

Also, there’s a beautiful study by LRN, a consultancy that focuses heavily on ethics and things like that, a superb firm that looks at these archetypes of what they called blind obedience, informed acquiescence or self-governance, kind of three different archetypes. And, again, almost everyone is in some form of what would be, in my words now, command and control, either the blind obedience or the informed acquiescence, that they move a lot.

There’s a lot more now in informed acquiescence, so it’s a more transactional type of thing versus a blind obedience, but very few that are into self-governance, which is another capture away for this idea of trust and inspire.

And, again, you’ll see a lot of, again, there’s been progress, but we’re so immersed in a command-and-control world, even to this day, that it’s right in our language. You look at span of control, chain of command, rank and file, recruitment. These are all military terms, and command-and-control is a military term. It’s kind of coming from this mindset, and you see it in our systems and structures. Structures tend to be more hierarchical.

Now, there are some shifts again, of course, we’re seeing in traditional hierarchies and the like. You see it in systems of forced rankings, and your high potential is identifying different things, and performance appraisals and reviews. You see it in all kinds of paradigms of bosses and subordinates and all kinds of different things. So, it just shows up in a variety of ways.

I call it fish discover water last. We’re so immersed, we don’t even recognize it, and we see this command and control is so all around us, we’re often not even aware of it. But another thing is this, that we kind of know all this, that command and control doesn’t really work today as well as it maybe did in a different era, and I don’t think it worked that way that great before either. But to know and not to do is not to know.

And so, it’s one thing to say, “Yeah, we’ve got to lead with trust and inspire,” but it’s harder to say than to do it because people have a hard time letting go. They have a hard time truly empowering. They have a hard time truly extending trust, and abundantly extending trust because they’re worried that they’re going to be held accountable, “What if it doesn’t work? Or, what if I’ve been burned before? Or, what if I don’t know how to do this? What if I can’t let go? Or, what if this is who I am? I built my whole career being this kind of leader, and now you’re asking me to change because we’ve got a different mindset of the new generations coming up and the like?”

And so, it can be really a challenge for people. But one last thought is that old paradigms can live on almost indefinitely, like bloodletting, 3,000 years old. Egyptians were doing it, then Romans, and then it went through the Middle Ages, and then as late as in the 1600s, that’s when the people discovered the germ theory, another thing that said, “Bloodletting is bad map. The map is not the territory. Bloodletting is not it,” and yet it continued for another 250 years being the common practice, or at least a common practice, among many, even though it had been disproven 250 years earlier.

So, old paradigms can continue to lead on, and we’re seeing much of that. Command and control is like a native tongue, and trust and inspire is like an acquired tongue. And when the pressure is on, and if I’m hammering, I accidentally hit my thumb with the nail, I’m going to cuss out in my native tongue because that’s just second nature. So, all these factors are just really why we remain somewhat still a little bit trapped in a command-and-control style of leadership, and we need to shift the style.

That’s why I like to use the word style. This is a meta style. And trust and inspire, you said it, Pete, it sounds better. We all like that. We all want to be trust and inspire. It’s like me and my dad. He didn’t hover over and micromanaged me. He trusted me. He inspired me. And it’s aspirational, we all like that. And I’ll bet some of us have had a trust-and-inspire leader in our life, at least one, maybe many. But at least one whether it be a family member, or someone at work, or a mentor, a coach, who believed in us, had confidence in us, extended trust to us, maybe believed in us more than we believed in ourselves.

So, I ask our listeners, when you had someone like that, a trust-and-inspire leader in your life at some point somewhere, whether at work or at home, or in the community, what did that do to you? Did you need to be managed or did you self-govern? And how did you respond to that? Did you need to be motivated with a carrot stick or were you inspired? Did you rise to the occasion? Did you want to prove justified and give it back, and just feel gratitude, and you perform better? So, that’s the idea.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m curious, you’re right. It does sound awesome if you’re to have that kind of vibe, the trust and inspire, and it does seem, in some ways, almost too good to be true in terms of like a large organization can really work and operate that way without chaos somehow taking over. So, could you give us an inspiring example of a team or an organization that made the leap, they were running in a command-and-control kind of a way, but then they did some specific things such that they are now operating in a trust-and-inspire kind of a way, and it’s worked out okay?

Stephen Covey
Yeah, absolutely. There’s many. Here’s one of them. Microsoft under Satya Nadella. When Satya Nadella got in as CEO, Microsoft had been kind of fading. They’re still huge because they had so much market share but they no longer had the same great culture that people wanted to be a part of. They were starting to lose people quite a bit. They were not innovating and they kind of rested upon their laurels in the past. Not innovating.

A cartoonist in Seattle drew a cartoon of the Microsoft culture in which he depicted silos and pyramids with people from within pointing guns at each other. It was seen as this cutthroat culture that was internally competitive, and the way to get ahead was to take out your fellow Microsoft person there within the company.

I call this the two epic imperatives of our time that we have today. They were not, at the time, winning in the workplace. They did not have a culture that attracted, retained, engaged, and inspired the best people. They were losing too many. And they were also not winning in the marketplace through collaboration and innovation. They’re starting to fade.

In come Satya Nadella, did many things, but among those things, it really was a leadership style. His style was different in kind. He was a trust-and-inspire leader. He modeled, he trusted, and he inspired. Their words for this were model, coach, care, and those were the things they expected of their leaders, and, again, Nadella modeled it.

He modeled humility and courage. He modeled authenticity and vulnerability. He modeled empathy and performance. But, also, this, he adopted a growth mindset, the work of Carol Dweck, not just for him and for their management but for everyone, to see the greatness out of everyone, to have a growth mindset not just for yourself but for everyone.

Because of that growth mindset, they now said, “Let’s trust people. Let’s not manage them. Let’s coach and let’s extend trust.” And you always extend the trust with expectations and accountability so you don’t have that chaos we talked about, or you don’t lose control because you build it in to an agreement and through context and through culture as opposed through more rules or through micromanagement. You can still have control without being controlling.

And they trusted and then they inspired both by caring, which is a big focus for them, and connecting with people through caring at an interpersonal level, and connecting to people at a team level through belonging and inclusion. And that inspires people when they feel like you care about them and they have a sense of belonging. But, also, by connecting to people, by connecting people to purpose and to meaning and to contribution, making a difference, mattering. They did all these things.

Long story short, under him, now they’re really winning in the workplace. They’ve got a high-trust culture that inspires, they’re not perfect, but it’s a cooler place to work than it has been, and they’re winning in the marketplace. They’re collaborating and innovating. They’re a cloud powerhouse. They recreated themselves and they’re innovating again, and their stock price went from, I think when the Dow came in, it was 38, today, it’s about 300, and so dramatic turnaround. They modeled, they trusted, they inspired, led by Satya Nadella and his leadership style.

Here’s another one. Cheryl Bachelder, what she did at Popeyes. A complete turnaround of Popeyes. They’ve had four CEOs in seven years before she came in, they’re just spitting them out. She had advisors say, “Don’t take this job.” There was distrust completely between the franchisees and the home office, and they didn’t trust each other at all. It was contentious.

She comes in. Long story made short, she modeled, she trusted, she inspired even when some people said, “You can’t trust.” She said, “No, we’re going to trust,” and dramatic turnaround. She took their stock price from 11 to 79, doubled their market share from 14% to 27%. They began to innovate, they began to win in the workplace, and they built a high-trust relationship between the franchisees and the home office when it was fractious and contentious before in the old model, and now they also are collaborating and innovating. It was a trust-and-inspire approach to leadership, not a command-and-control. Involvement. Listening.

And Eric Yuan at Zoom is a trust-and-inspire leader but he was that way from the beginning. That was not a turnaround. That was one from the beginning with trust and inspire. So, examples are everywhere. You can become a trust-and-inspire leader in a command-and-control company, so you don’t have to wait for the CEO. You can do this. You can lead out with this.

But I’ll give you one distinction on this, that this is the one piece I wanted to add to it. Command and control, the idea’s that you manage people and things. Trust and inspire, you manage things and you lead people. See, we need great management. I’m not against management. We need management. We need great management. Management of things. And things include systems and processes and structures and technologies and inventories and financials. You manage things but you lead people.

The moment we start to manage people as if they were things, we’ll end up losing a lot of those people. They’ll go elsewhere because we’re trying to be efficient with people. You can be efficient with things but not with people. Be efficient with things, effective with people. Manage things. Lead people. The danger is we get really good at management and we’re starting to manage people as if they were things. That’s kind of the mindset of command and control, they treat it that way. Even the name managing people, the very wording, the language is a command-and-control mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, like people don’t think, “I want to be managed. Like, that sounds great.” I guess we want, even I who, I’m self-employed, at times I would like a great manager, but I guess what I really mean is a leader in terms of someone who really sees what I’m doing well and not so well, and giving me kind, honest, enriching feedback that pushes me to greatness. But, yeah, that doesn’t feel like management per se.

Stephen Covey
Yeah. I like to put it this way, Pete. People don’t want to be managed; they want to be led. They want to be trusted. They want to be inspired. So, again, you can call them your manager if that’s what they’re called but they manage things, lead people, and people respond to that. They still want their help. So, maybe the one piece on this that maybe for our listeners that they might think, “Well, this trust and inspire sounds good but I feel like I’m going to lose control, or it may not be as strong enough for our world and such.”

I want to distinguish and say this. Trust and inspire is not the opposite of command and control. The opposite of command and control is advocate and abandon. Command and control is kind of like excessively hands on, really hands on. Advocate and abandon is like completely hands off to where I’m not even directing, I’m not leading anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, “Do what you want. I’m out of here.”

Stephen Covey
Yeah, “Do what you want.” Like, a holacracy or just no structure, no vision, no expectations, no accountability. That’s not what we want. That’s not going to work. Trust and inspire is a third alternative that includes trusting and inspiring people but also builds in the control into an agreement, into context, into the culture.

Like, at Netflix, they call it freedom and responsibility. They don’t have policies on most things – vacation policies, sick days, all these things. They trust their people. They call it freedom but it’s not a wild loose freedom. It’s freedom and responsibility. It’s a third alternative. They build the control in through context not through controls like most organizations have that say, “We’ve got to control people with systems and structures.” They do it through context, through agreements, through responsibility that goes along with the freedom, through a culture that does that. So, that’s the idea.

And so, trust and inspire is a third alternative. My dad, with me, on green and clean, he actually had built in accountability. He was still holding me accountable but I was holding myself accountable through the agreement we had created together. So, the point is you can be in charge and have control without being controlling. You can be strong without being forceful. You can be compelling without being compulsory.

A trust-and-inspire leader can be authoritative without being authoritarian. They can be decisive without being autocratic. So, the point is, this is strong. This is not weak, kind of like, “Yeah, maybe for a few things but you don’t know my industry. We’re a command-and-control industry with heavy regulation and compliance.” You can still be trust and inspire in these contexts because it’s not weak; it’s strong. It just does it through different means.

It involves people. It creates agreements. It creates contexts versus rules, regulations, policies, procedures, controls. And that’s kind of the big breakthrough. This is a third alternative that is very strong.

Pete Mockaitis
And, Stephen, if folks are like, “Yes, I want that,” and they’re either an individual contributor or they’ve got a small team, what do you recommend as some of the very first steps to getting some of that trust-and-inspire goodness flowing?

Stephen Covey
Yeah. I’d go back to start with your paradigm, how you see people, how you view leadership. Look at those fundamental beliefs. You see greatness inside of people? And if you do, then are you working to unleash that greatness not contain or control it? Most people feel like they have a lot more they can give to their organization than they’re allowed to give. They had a lot more creativity and talent and ability to influence things than they’re allowed to give, and, yet, people are under greater stress to do more with less, and there’s this gap there because we’ve not unleashed our people well enough.

So, start with that, the paradigm. See the potential, communicate the potential to people so they can come to see it in themselves. Develop the potential, grow people, develop capabilities, and this is a big part of what you’re doing with this podcast, is, “What do I need to work on? What do I need to do? What do I need to know? What skills do I need to develop?” Give those people those chances. Develop them and give them opportunities. And part of that includes trusting them so they have an opportunity to learn and even to make a mistake and to fall short like I did on green and clean.

So, you develop the potential and then you unleash it, you tie it to what you’re trying to accomplish and achieve so they can use what they have for the betterment of the mission, the purpose, the organization. And so, I call that see, communicate, develop, unleash the potential that’s inside of people, and you see the greatness. And so, your job, you’re like a gardener trying to cultivate the right conditions for the seed to flourish.

The power, the life is in the seed, it’s in the people. You’re trying to create the conditions for the seed to emerge, to be cultivated, versus a mechanic where it’s all mechanistic. No, it’s organic. You’re a gardener.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s awesome. Thank you.

Stephen Covey
That’d be the first thing. Start with the paradigm. Have a growth mindset not just for yourself but for everyone on your team.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now let’s hear about a couple of your favorite things. Can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Stephen Covey
This is kind of a mantra that’s in the form of a quote that I learned from my father, and it’s what I’ve adopted for myself, and that is simply this, “Seek to bless, not to impress.” It’s a whole approach of how to work with people and add value to others. So, I do this any time before I give a speech, Pete, as I go into an organization. I come back to, “What’s my motive here? Am I trying to impress people with who I am or am I trying to bless, to serve to make a difference, to add value?”

And if I find that I’m in my head and focused on, “I sure hope I can impress them and dazzle them with a great speech or be seen as really smart,” then I’m putting self-interest above service, and I’m putting my head above heart and not reaching people. But, instead, if my motive is one of caring, and my motive is one of serving, and my motive was one of blessing, not impressing, so I’m really focused on them and helping them succeed, not me looking good, then I find I actually do a better job.

It’s just a simple phrase that I constantly check with myself. And I had to course correct all the time because it’s natural to want to impress but a better way to impress is to focus on blessing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. Well, hey, I think we feel blessed and impressed with this conversation, so one makes the other happen.

Stephen Covey
Oh, thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Stephen Covey
Well, I’m biased, I love my father’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I’m in there as green and clean. And I liked how Jim Collins said it about that book, that what the browser did for…it became the user interface that made the internet accessible, because the internet had been around since 1969 or something like that but it was not accessible, it was not usable except for extreme scientist types, but the browser made it accessible.

He describes The 7 Habits, Jim Collins did, as the user interface for human effectiveness. It made it accessible. And it was that for me, and I think it’s that for many others. So, my dad brought together the ideas and languaged it and sequenced it to make it accessible, practical, tangible. And so, that’s, I think, a big contribution. That’s why it’s maybe my favorite book.

I like my own, too, but I’ll let you talk about Trust and Inspire not me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. And is there a particular nugget that you have coined or shared with audiences or your books that gets lots of Kindle book highlights or re-tweets; it’s the Stephen M. R. Covey quote that you’re extra famous for?

Stephen Covey
Yeah, there’s a few. One is that “The first job of a leader is to inspire trust. And the second job is to extend trust.” That’s what leadership is – inspiring trust, extending trust. Another one is, “Treat people according to their potential rather than their behavior.” So, you’re aware of their behavior and informed by it but if you treat them according to their potential, they tend to live up to it far better.

And, finally, one last one, that while we tend to judge others on their behavior, we tend to judge ourselves on our intent. What if we could know another’s intent? I think we’d see them and judge them differently. So, those are a few quotes or expressions that people repeat.

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

Stephen Covey
You can go to TrustandInspire.com. We’ve got a website for this book, Trust and Inspire. You can get the book. It’s available on bookstores everywhere and, obviously, online through Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com. And then you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram and LinkedIn, I’m @StephenMRCovey. I’d love for you to follow me and dive deeper into what I’m calling the new way to lead in a new world.

A new world of work requires a new way to lead – trust and inspire. It’s aspirational, it’s what we want. You said it, I agree. It’s what we want when we’ve experienced it. It’s hard to not feel gratitude toward that and want that. So, my challenge for our listener, I’ll go full circle on this, is I ask the listener to think about maybe someone in your life who was a trust-and-inspire leader for you and what that did to you. So, I’m going to do a 180 on this and say for whom, listener, could you become a trust-and-inspire person? Who could you become that person that would look at you and say, “Pete trusted and inspired me, and here’s what it did to me”?

So, we’ve maybe had someone that’s done it for us. What if we could do it for another? And if you can do it for one, you can do it for many. This is a better way to lead in a new world of work. I think trust and inspire is part of the solution to the future of work. It’s not enough to just deal with the structure and the methodology. It’s the mindset. It’s the style of leadership. And don’t let your style get in the way of your intent.

I think most people’s intent is trust and inspire. I think most of our style, much of our style still falls in command and control. Our style is getting in the way of our intent. And we can change that, we can re-script ourselves, we can learn the skills to lead in a way where we’re very trusting, while also building in control into the trust, into the agreement that we’re building. It’s having control, not being controlling, and that’s possible. We can get good at this.

So, I hope our listeners will find that, the tools, the resources, the book Trust and Inspire to be helpful. I love the subtitle because the subtitle tells it all, which is, “How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others.” This is a book about people and about leadership. Whatever your role, you can apply it as a parent because you want to see the greatness in your children; or as an aunt, or uncle, or grandparent, or godparent. You could apply it as a friend in the community. It’s about unleashing the greatness inside of others. That’s what great leaders do. Trust and inspire.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Stephen, this has been such a treat. Thank you for all you do and for your trust and inspiration. And keep on rocking.

Stephen Covey
Well, thank you, Pete. I feel the same about you. You’re a trust-and-inspire podcaster that’s really trying to focus on helping your listeners succeed, become truly awesome at their job because they know what to do, and you’re helping them succeed. So, commend you and commend what you’re doing here. Wish you every success and also all of our listeners.

761: How to Shape Great Work Relationships Through Honor and Ritual with Erica Keswin

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Erica Keswin reveals how you can shape your workplace to be both good for people and great for business.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The do’s and don’ts of honoring relationships 
  2. Three components of rituals that bring teams together
  3. How you can make connections, even when working remotely  

About Erica

Erica Keswin is a bestselling author, internationally sought-after speaker, and workplace strategist. She helps top businesses, organizations, and individuals improve their performance by honoring relationships in every context, always with an eye toward high-tech for human touch. She was named one of Marshall Goldsmith’s Top 100 Coaches in 2020, as well as one of Business Insider’s most innovative coaches of 2020.

Her first book, Bring Your Human to Work: 10 Sure-Fire Ways to Design a Workplace That’s Good for People, Great for Business, and Just Might Change the World was published in 2018 by McGraw Hill. Her second book, Rituals Roadmap: The Human Way to Transform Everyday Routines Into Workplace Magic was published by McGraw Hill in January, 2021. Both books debuted as Wall Street Journal bestsellers. 

Resources Mentioned

Erica Keswin Interview Transcript

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

Erica Keswin
Thanks so much. Great to see you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you, too. Well, I’m excited to hear about Bring Your Human to Work but, first, I got to hear the story behind The Spaghetti Project. Can you tell us the tale?

Erica Keswin
I can. So, when I was doing research for Bring Your Human to Work and my second book, which is about rituals, I came across a study out of Cornell University that was done by a guy named Kevin Kniffin. And Kevin was looking at and studying team performance, what makes one team higher-performing than another. And his dad was a firefighter, and so he decided, “I’m going to study the firefighters in the firehouses.”

Long story short, what he found was that the firefighters who are the most dedicated to the ritual of the firehouse meal and sitting around the table, connecting as humans, it actually correlated with higher levels of performance, and those firefighters saved more lives. So, sort of a goosebump moment for me and my work.

To your question about The Spaghetti Project, when you think about firefighters, and I visited many firehouses and interviewed a lot of firefighters, their stereotypical go-to meal is spaghetti.

Pete Mockaitis
With meat sauce, I’m guessing.

Erica Keswin
The spaghetti meat sauce, spaghetti and plain tomato sauce. It’s just pretty much what’s easy to cook in that firehouse. So, therein came in the name The Spaghetti Project, which is a platform that shares the science and stories of connection at work.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. And so, now I’m intrigued. The firefighters who were most dedicated to the firehouse meal had the highest performance. And, wow, performance of saving lives, that’s huge. We’re not talking about selling stuff. So, part of me wonders, so causation, correlation, that’s always tricky to disentangle. Do we think that’s because they are the ones who are more committed, in general, to like “What we’re all about in each other,” and, thusly, those who choose to have that meal make that a priority, also care more in the line of duty? Or, do you think there’s another sort of chain of connection here?

Erica Keswin
Yeah, I do. So, when people are sitting around the table and bringing their whole selves, kind of shooting the breeze, more times than not, you start connecting with people on a personal level. So, let me give an example. I interviewed a firefighter that shared that he was at one of the meals with a colleague, and the guy shared that he was actually, when he grew up, afraid of heights.

Now, you wouldn’t really think that for a firefighter, that here’s this guy, Dominick, who’s afraid of heights. So, they’re just like shooting the breeze, like two people, no judgment, having their spaghetti. And four hours later, the fire alarm goes off and they go out to fight a fire. And the person overseeing the group and figuring out who goes where, now has this information in the back of his head, thinking, “Okay, you know what? Maybe I won’t put Dominick on the highest ladder as we go to fight this fire.”

So, the more that you know about people that you’re working with, the better that you can give them a sense of empathy around what’s going on with them. Take it to a present-day example. You may be really frustrated with a colleague who’s not returning your calls or not doing the level of work you think he or she should be doing. You, then, come to find out that a parent was dying, that somebody sick, someone had COVID, and you just have a different level of understanding and a way to work with them.

And so, the idea is it’s around bringing your human to work. And that meal, and you can even think about meals in terms of the role in our culture in bringing people together.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s excellent. Thank you. And so then, we talk about bringing your human to work, can you share with us – I think we’ve already got a taste – but sort of what would you say is the core thesis statement here of the work?

Erica Keswin
So, people ask me what it means to bring their human to work, and let’s say I boil it down to one line, which is honoring relationships. How do you honor relationships with your colleagues, with your boss, with your direct reports, with your clients, your customers, and even honoring that relationship with yourself?

And the premise of the book, I’ve been in the human capital space for 25 years, and so I’m sort of used to people either saying, “Direct leads to me,” or maybe, “Behind my back,” that some of this stuff is the soft stuff. And so, I would venture to say it’s actually the hard stuff and some of the really important stuff. And so, the premise of the book is why bringing your human to work and creating a more human workplace is not only good for people but it’s great for business and really does impact the bottom line.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that seems sensible and, like, that sounds true to me in my gut, although I am a feeler, I’m a Myers-Briggs.

Erica Keswin
Yeah, me, too.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I like that kind of thing. For the skeptic, could you share some of the most hard-hitting bits of research or evidence that says, “No, no, this is for real and not just stuff that Pete and Erica like because they’re feelers”?

Erica Keswin
Yeah. Well, first, I’d send them back to think about the firefighters. You can’t get any more hard data than that, than actually saving lives. There are many studies in the book. A couple that jumps out, one that found that when you have that high level of trust with your boss, that you can be who you are at work, collaboration goes up by as much as 47%, productivity goes up by 50%. So, the numbers are real.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, productivity going up 50%, again, I’m curious about the mechanisms underlying that. Part of me thinks it’s just like you’re not sort of worrying, and CYA, watching your back, like really politically massaging every sentence to make sure you’re not offending people because you just sort of have a good sort of trust and caring connection going. But what are some of the other ways that that 50% productivity bump get realized?

Erica Keswin
Right. Look, that’s a piece of it. I remember I started my career in management consulting, and those were the days, very junior, sitting in the conference room, having late-night pizza, and just really, really getting to know people to the point where you can finish their sentences, and you just work better together because you know how people work. And so, sometimes it’s as basic as that, setting the whole trust thing, for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, in terms of knowing, like, “Oh, boy, you really hate that stuff, so I’m not going to ask you to do it. I’m going to ask somebody else. And, in so doing, we’ve got more energy and strength, focus, and all that kind of goodness.” Okay. I think when it comes to dishonoring relationships, relatively few of your colleagues are sociopaths, like, in terms of wanting to, like actively wanting to harm others. I guess there’s a thumb.

But I think, at the same time, it’s quite possible that we dishonor relationships, maybe without even being aware of it, just by not having as much attention brought to it. What are some key don’ts, I guess, when it comes to honoring relationships?

Erica Keswin
Look, nine out of ten people leave their boss, not the company per se. And so, that relationship really does make a difference. It is that direct manager that’s going to impact your day-to-day, “Should I stay or should I go?” And we talk about bottom line implications, and I’ll get to the do’s and don’ts in a second, but, again, we think about the data. Turnover is expensive, and we’re sitting here doing this interview today in the midst of this Great Resignation, that if you do lose people that you don’t want to lose, it is really hard right now to replace them. So, those are some pretty strong numbers in and of itself.

In terms of do’s and don’ts, I think a lot of it, when I think of honoring relationships, it’s pretty straightforward. You don’t want to be the kind of manager where it’s, “It’s my way or the highway.” And what I tell leaders, if you’re not sure and it’s different, the behaviors that you want to see other than the ones we learned in the kindergarten kind of like the basics that we probably don’t need to go into on a podcast like this.

But in terms of specifics of what to do, I often turn to the values of a company. And I have a litmus test called the fork in the road, “Should I take a left? Should I take a right? Should I hire this person? Should I fire this person because he or she is a sociopath?” to your point. “Should I launch a new product? Should I do this deal? Should I fire this client?” I look at that through the lens of a company’s values. And, quite frankly, if the values aren’t helping to drive those decisions, either there’s way too many values, 10, 12, 14 values.

A great example of a company that had too many values, back in the day, was Uber in the beginning when Travis was the CEO. They had 14 values, and the values motivated the wrong behaviors, like crush people like bugs, that kind of thing. And so, you might have too many or they might be the wrong ones. And it’s the strategy and the mission and the vision highlight what you need to do, and the values are really the behaviors and get to the how, and aligning that gets back to this idea of what it means to honor relationships in a specific organization because it’s going to be different everywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
And can we zoom into some particular applications of this? So, in the firehouse, spaghetti meals, that’s awesome. Inside other workplaces where folks are often home before dinnertime, what are some excellent cool examples of places you’ve found where there are some great relationship-honoring and connection that’s going a long way?

Erica Keswin
So, the way that I mapped out my book about rituals, I mean, rituals are an amazing tool, amazing way to bring people together to have that connection. And some of the best examples that I’ve seen cut across all different aspects of the employee life cycle. So, there’s examples in onboarding. You only get one chance to make the first impression, so what better way to start that connection early and often than literally the first day or even when you get your offer letter.

Professional development, celebrating milestones in meetings is a great way. So, I looked at, and have examples that I’ll share with you in all of these different ways. One really fun one that I write about is from the company Allbirds, the cool felt sneaker company. And they have a ritual in their organization called 40 at 4.

And it came about very organically where there was a very early-on employee who was probably working too much at Allbirds as a startup at the time, and decided to go to the doctor and said, “You know, I’m really not feeling great from a health perspective. I’m going to set some goals for myself and do X amounts of pushups between now and the end of the year.”

He took that number and he divided it by how many days were left in the year, and he came up with the number 40. And so, he said, “All right, if I do 40 pushups a day for the rest of the year, I’ll meet my goal.” So, what does he do? He starts doing them in the office. A guy next to him joins, the woman across the hall joins. The next thing they know, everybody and their brother is either doing pushups at 4:00 o’clock, watching the pushups, talking about the pushups.

And I see it as like the healthy version of a smoke break. And even during the pandemic, I was able to reach back out with them because many people were really missing those company rituals. The way that they came together to connect with each other and honor relationships was gone, and they said, “Yeah, how do you know it’s a ritual?” Really, it’s sticky and people miss it.

And so, during the pandemic, they would rotate and somebody would volunteer to lead the pushups. Again, yes, it feels soft, it sounds soft, touchy-feely, but it’s these things that people come together and remind them, A, why they like the people they work with, B, why they do what they do every day. At least in 2022, we’re still human and not a bunch of robots running around, so these things do impact people.

Pete Mockaitis
For now, Erica.

Erica Keswin
For now. You never know, you know.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is beautiful, that ritual, and that does…as I’m thinking about to back to some of my workplaces and rituals, they just feel so good in terms of, boy, it’s almost like there’s a primal human tribe thing going on, like, “This is us and who we are and what we belong to and what we do.” And it can be doing 40 pushups at 4:00 p.m., it could be changing the lyrics to songs and singing dorky versions about your workplace at the annual meeting.

Erica Keswin
Right, it could be anything. And let me share this, so I would talk to companies about what a ritual is and the ROI of rituals, and some people still wouldn’t necessarily be able to articulate what the ritual is. So, I came up with this, I call it somewhat magic question now that every time I ask it, the person was like, “I got it. That’s my ritual.”

So, the question is, and I asked this at Chipotle, LinkedIn, Microsoft, all these different companies, and I said it to, for example, Marissa Andrada, who’s the head of HR at Chipotle, “Okay, Marissa, when do you think employees at Chipotle feel most Chipotle-ish?” Very high tech. Very high tech, right? But framing it that way, Marissa said, “I got it. Every day at Chipotle at 10:15,” by the way, I don’t know if you’re a Chipotle fan, but my kids eat it all the time, I like it, too, actually.

Pete Mockaitis
I ate it today.

Erica Keswin
Oh, there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
My napkins prove it.

Erica Keswin
Oh, my God. You’re right. You did eat it today. So, they open at…maybe you know this, I didn’t know this. Chipotle opens at 10:30 a.m. so I guess there are many people eating burritos at 10:30 in the morning.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve done it before.

Erica Keswin
Okay. So, you’re perfect for this example. So, every day at 10:15, before those doors answer, and before Pete comes through the door, they all sit down, all the people that have been working there since 6:30 in the morning, chopping up the lettuce, making the guacamole, they all sit down and have a meal together. And that is when they feel most Chipotle-ish.

Other people said to me at the company KIND bar, Daniel Lubetzky, founder, former CEO and now executive chairman. He said people feel most KIND-ish, or KINDly, when, during their orientation, their onboarding process, every new hire, once a quarter, meets with Daniel. Even now that he’s not even with the company, he still meets with them and talks about the history of the company and the genesis and why it’s called KIND, and how his father was in the Holocaust and was saved by someone, and how that person showed kindness to his dad, that drove the mission of the company.

And so, rituals, you kind of said it yourself, it gives this feeling of this sort of primal “This is us coming together,” and that’s when you know it’s a ritual. It’s that it sticks and you don’t force people to do it. Like, it just organically happens and makes people feel part of something bigger than themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s intriguing because I could see how you could try to force that and it would just be weird, like if you don’t like that.

Erica Keswin
Yeah, like if you have to force it, you need to move on. I tell people not to get their ego wrapped up in some of these rituals. Like, somebody might be listening to this and say, “Okay, we’re going to start doing pushups just like Allbirds at 4:00 o’clock,” and people might think, “Are you out of your mind?” And it might stick but rituals can come from the top-down, the bottom-up, inside-out, really from anywhere, so if something doesn’t stick, I just urge people to think about feel like changing it, get feedback, ask your team for ideas.

And, oftentimes, the rituals that are the most sticky are the ones that are connected, again, to values or even things that you’ve done before. And that’s why, many times, it’s an individual contributor, just like the example in Allbirds, that came up with the ritual to begin with.

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to not forcing, it seems like, sometimes just the invitation will do, like, “Hey, I’m going to start doing these pushups and you’re welcome to join me if you like,” and then some will, some won’t.

I think what’s also interesting about the pushup is that it’s just a little bit, I don’t know, weird or I guess counter-cultural, or like you don’t tend to go into workplaces and see people doing pushups, like, “Whoa, what’s going on here? That’s a little different.” And in so doing, I think that might give you a little more juice.

I’m thinking about my work with HOBY, Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, seminar for high school folks doing leadership development stuff. And so, there’s a bunch of like cheering going on, which is a little bit like camp, and so it’s not that unique because camps have been doing it forever. But, in so doing, there are the HOBY cheers, and HOBY people know the HOBY cheers, and then HOBY people can just sort of vibe in that way. And in doing them together, you really do get this crazy bond formed in like three days amongst you.

And I think that if we were doing something very ordinary, like, “Oh, we’re brushing our teeth. Okay, well, that’s what everybody does every day, generally speaking, so it doesn’t have as much oomph.” Are there some, maybe, ingredients or components or principles that make a ritual a ritual?

Erica Keswin
Yes. So, first, let me share my…and it’s interesting. I’ll talk about how brushing your teeth could be a ritual, may not be a ritual, but could be a ritual. So, a ritual has three component parts. The first is a ritual is something to which we assign a certain amount of meaning and intention, sort of number one. Number two, a ritual typically has a regular cadence. So, for example, 40 at 4, 40 pushups every day could be once a week, it could be once a month, it could be once a year.

The third part though is really interesting. A ritual is something that goes beyond its practical purpose. And so, what do I mean by that? I’m sitting here in my home office and, let’s say, the lights go out. And if I decide to light a candle so I can see what on earth I’m doing, that’s not a ritual. But if I light a candle every day, or every Friday, let’s say, at 6:00 o’clock, to signify the end of the workday and the workweek and the beginning of the weekend, I’m lighting that candle because it means something to me and there’s a regular cadence, but I’m not doing it for any real practical purpose. And so, that’s the definition.

So, when you think about having a cup of coffee in the morning, maybe your purpose is the caffeine, but it’s almost something…I also think of it as sort of back-of-brain to front-of-brain. Like, you might have a habit, you just might have a cup of coffee every day, but if you make something like that a ritual where you sit down, take a few deep breaths, connect with yourself, there’s nothing practical about it but it’s something that’s meaningful to you.

And so, in the example of the pushups, yeah, the one guy was trying to meet his goal of doing those pushups but, half the time at Allbirds, people were kind of joking around, sitting there watching, and so there wasn’t this practical purpose but it felt good and something drew them into doing it. So, that’s sort of my working definition.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, these examples are so fun, Erica. Just keep them coming. What else have we got?

Erica Keswin
Oh, my gosh. There are so many. There’s a whole book on them. Let’s see. One of my other favorite rituals in the book is a company called Udemy, the online learning company. And one of the things that I have been thinking about a lot, both from the standpoint of a manager but also as an individual contributor, that professional development, people want to learn on the job, up, down, and sideways.

And I’ve been in the human capital space for 25 years, and gone are the days of all the rungs in the ladder of used to be able to get promoted every year. Now, we need to get creative about how people grow on the job. So, actually, I just wrote an article, which I’ll send you, if you send out show notes for your podcasts. But Jeannie Weaver at AT&T has a book club, and that has become a ritual for her and her team, and also something that is easy to do when some people are in the office and some people are remote.

The company Udemy has a ritual around professional development called DEAL, drop everything and learn. So, once a month, on a Wednesday at 3:00 o’clock, everybody kind of drops what they’re doing and takes a class in something. And, again, what I love about it is it may have nothing to do with your day job. So, in that definition of no practical purpose, it’s not that I’m sitting there, “How to improve a podcast,” “How to do an Excel spreadsheet.” There are people that shared with me that in November, during the Wednesday in November, they took a class on how to make a turkey.

And what they do is the team manager will bring everybody together and they can take anything they want. The only thing you have to do is share what you learned that month. So, again, it’s another way to connect, another way to bring people together in a way that might seem touchy-feely for the Myers-Briggs feelers in the audience, however, you’re learning more about each other.

And from a leadership perspective, you have some great employee who’s on the subway and runs, meets somebody, and they’re like, “Hey, why don’t you come work at my company?” you might think twice because you actually have friends at work and people that you know at work who kind of know you and know that you know how to bake a turkey.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yeah, that is fun in that not only are you learning but then you’re learning what other people learned, which is connecting, like, “Oh, you’re interested in cooking turkeys. Now, I know that about you.” And I guess with Udemy, it’s also a bonus in that if they’re learning the Udemy courses, then they gain some exposure to the platform and the product and may gain some insights, like, “Huh, this course isn’t that good, so maybe we need to update it,” or whatever. Okay. Cool. So, I love it. Let’s have another one.

Erica Keswin
I think there are, again, when you think about that employee life cycle, like let’s talk about meetings because a lot of meetings suck. So, you can think about rituals as a way to connect people. Now, here’s something. Beginnings and endings are what I call prime rituals real estate.

So, beginnings and ending of a meeting, the beginning and ending of a project, pretty much the beginning and ending of anything. So, Eileen Fisher, for example, the clothing company, they ring a chime before every meeting. And so, what that does is it just settles people. It gives them this feeling of, “You know what, we’re going to be at this meeting. I’m going to take everything that had been going on, all the chaos in the outside world, try to get rid of it, and come in and focus on what I need to focus on.”

During the pandemic, and even now we’re still in the pandemic, really, there is the importance of checking in, like that became a ritual. And what was interesting was, in 2020, probably for a whole year, sometimes there were meetings where 16 minutes of a 60-minute meeting were spent checking in. And then a year later, maybe 30 minutes of a 30-minute meeting. And at some point, like we needed to also do work in these meetings.

So, people will say to me, “So, what’s a way to have a ritual in a meeting that helps you connect but we can’t do this all day?” So, a couple of examples there, one CEO shared they have something, they have people say either red light, green light, yellow light, and they just kind of share how they are feeling that day. And what that does, the goal is not to solve it in that moment, but if you’re the team leader and Pete says red light, later that day, you can call him up and say, “All right, what’s going on? How can we support you as a company, as a leader?”

So, again, sometimes very little things. And one last one that I’ll share, a colleague from Microsoft has a cool ritual. She changed jobs in the pandemic and really didn’t know her team that well, so every week at her team meeting, a different person shares their origin story, which I sort of loved the way that’s phrased. You can go in any direction with that but learning somebody’s origin story, like stuff that you would never know about them, again, it kind of takes you back to where our conversation started with the firefighters and how to really get to know people in a human way.

Pete Mockaitis
And I like and I was going to ask about the remote work piece there. Any pro tips, do’s and don’ts when it comes to thinking about things remotely? I don’t know if there’s any tricks or software, tools, that you really think are nifty when it comes to some of this connection remotely?

Erica Keswin
Yeah, you’ve got to be even more intentional. It’s hard and you need to have protocols on how this should work. So, it could be something as…none of it is easy but something like, for example, every time somebody…let’s say you’re going to go around and people are going to share where they’re green, red, or yellow. One leader shared that everybody goes around and shares a one-word adjective that describes how they’re showing up that day. Rotate. “So, Pete is in the office, you go. Erica, she’s remote, let’s switch off, every person, so that we’re all engaging in the same way.”

Some people will say, “You know what, for all the remote people, we’re going to have one person that’s in the room be the point of contact that if there’s any issues with the technology or anything going on, that there is one person that kind of has their phone out and knows that they’re going to be contacted if there are any issues.”

And building in time for people to chit-chat a little bit over the proverbial watercooler. Having protocols around technology and really reminding people, “You know what, this meeting, we expect our cameras to be on,” which, by the way, I think that’s important but I don’t think they need to be or should be on in every meeting because Zoom fatigue is real.

And so, it’s just being as explicit as you can to manage expectations and to create an environment that’s as welcoming and as inclusive as you can.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And I guess I’m also thinking about how not to do this because I think sometimes if folks think connection, they think, “Okay, we’ve got team building retreats, we’ve got trust falls, we’ve got ropes courses,” and I’ve had some good experiences with ropes courses myself but some people, they’re not a fan. So, how would you think about, when we say, “Okay, hey, connections are cool, rituals are cool. We want to do more of that. We’re excited”, what should we avoid doing as we’re getting some of this flowing?

Erica Keswin
So, I love that question because when I was writing the book and I asked people, “So, when do you feel most Chipotle-ish?” or fill in the blank-ish. What I was going to say next did not happen at Chipotle, for the record, but did happen in some other places. And the person I was talking to, all of a sudden, would look, get a little pale, and be like, “Ooh, God, I don’t know if I want to answer that question.” I’d say, “Why? What’s going on?” And they would say, “Well, now that you asked it that way, I feel like every time we come together and bond or do our ropes courses or whatever it is we do, we always do it over happy hour. We always do it when people are drinking, and that’s not going to work for everybody.”

And I had somebody come up to me afterwards, I had a talk one time, and said, “I just got out of rehab and this makes me feel really uncomfortable.” I had another company, when I asked them that question, “When do people feel most connected?” they realized that everything they do is either at night or maybe on a weekend when they were doing this bonding, and what about people that are taking care of elderly parents or need to pick up a kid from daycare? So, I do urge people to think about all the different ways that you connect through the lens of inclusivity.

And, again, it goes back to getting feedback from people around what’s working and not working. I am not anti-happy hour but it shouldn’t be the only way you come together.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that makes sense. And, likewise, just in terms of including folks, it could mean a number of things, like, “Hey, ropes course don’t work for this person because they have an injury of sorts or disability of sorts,” and so that won’t work, or they got the rehab with the alcohol, or just sort of the timing schedule.

Erica Keswin
Anything, yeah. Right. There’s a lot of different ways that something is not going to be inclusive. I like it when companies will also think about creating like a culture committee and get people to…LinkedIn does a great job of this. It’s a real honor and professional development opportunity to even be in the room to think about all of these different ways for people to connect and they rotate it. And so, you do, you want to get different people weighing in on these issues.

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

Erica Keswin
No, I think we got a lot of rituals in there, so it’s great.

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

Erica Keswin
One of my favorite quotes is a Louis Pasteur quote, which is, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” And, for me, I don’t like to leave things for chance. I’m a planner and I feel like I just like to live that quote, that “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

Pete Mockaitis
And could you give us a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Erica Keswin
Well, since we’ve been talking about rituals for most, so I’ll share one of those. So, there was a study done, I call it the “Don’t Stop Believin’” study. Just my own name. I’ve made it up. A study out of Harvard was looking at two groups of people. They both went into a room. The first group went into the room and was told that they were going to have to sing karaoke to a bunch of strangers, and were told to go sit down and wait.

The second group was told that they were going to have to sing karaoke to a group of strangers but, while they were waiting, they were told to…they were given a piece of paper, and they were told to write down how they were feeling about what they were going to have to do. They were told to crumple up the piece of paper, sprinkle some salts on it, and throw the paper over their shoulder. And, again, the other group is just sitting in the room waiting.

And what the study looked at is both groups got up and sang their karaoke, and the study was looking at which one had higher performance, and that was measured by people being able to read the words on the screen for karaoke, number one. And, number two, when you are told, out of the blue, that you’re going to have to do something like that, sing karaoke, everybody’s heart rates spiked, went through the roof, which mine would, for sure.

But there was one group that was able to bring their heart rates down much more quickly, and that correlated with who was better to actually sing more accurately. And out of the two groups, I’ll ask you, which group do you think was able to bring their heart rate down more quickly?

Pete Mockaitis
The ones who are good at singing already?

Erica Keswin
No, the group that was given a ritual. The group that was asked not to just sit there. The group that was asked to actually write down how they were feeling, crumple up the paper, putting the salt on it, throwing the paper over their shoulder. And so, being connected, again, there’s no practical purpose for any of that, but being connected to something outside of themselves, it actually lowered their heart rates and they were able to perform better. And the reason why I call it the “Don’t Stop Believin’” study is that the song that they had to sing to the audience was the most downloaded song in iTunes history, which is “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Erica Keswin
Let’s see. Lately, I’ve been trying to read more fiction because I feel like I never had time to read fiction. I just read a great book called American Dirt, which I highly recommend.

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

Erica Keswin
Is an Oura Ring a tool where I track my sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Uh-huh.

Erica Keswin
I knew you’d be very jealous to know that I get a lot of 94s, 96s.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, there you go.

Erica Keswin
I’m like Fitbit people are very jealous.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s funny, I’m such a nut. I’ve got the Fitbit and the Oura Ring at the same time. I’m excited that the Oura Ring is going to be updating their sleep algorithm shortly to have even superior accuracy. And I will admit to refreshing their webpage more than once to see if it’s out yet. It’s not yet as of April 5th, 2022, but, anyway. And a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be more awesome at your job?

Erica Keswin
It’s my coffee ritual where I get a cup of coffee in the morning. Back in the day, I would sit there and have my coffee and do my to-do list and crank through my work, until one day, I realized that the coffee was gone and I hadn’t even tasted it, which kind of bummed me out because I’m really one-cup-a-day kind of girl, and at Starbucks it’s not cheap.

And that then went from becoming a habit to what is now my morning ritual where I sit and, instead of just working away through my morning coffee, I sit there and put the coffee and feel the heat from the mug in my hands, take a few deep breaths. Rituals are very associated with our senses. And so, that is what I do and it helps me start the day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate; you hear folks quoting it back to you?

Erica Keswin
Yes. I would say the soft stuff is really the hard stuff and the most important stuff.

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

Erica Keswin
To my website, EricaKeswin.com. It has my books and a lot of articles I’ve written, podcasts that I’ve been on, and you could check out my Instagram which is just my name. LinkedIn is always a great spot as well.

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

Erica Keswin
I would say everything that we’ve spoken today about rituals at work ring true for rituals in your personal lives. And these days, to be awesome at your job, you also need to take care of yourself and put the proverbial oxygen mask on yourself and really focus on wellness because there’s a tremendous amount of burnout right now.

And so, I guess I would challenge you, and a great place to start is to ask yourself, “What do you do in your life that makes you feel most like you?” And that’s a great place to start to incorporate some of your own rituals into your life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Erica, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck with your connection and rituals and fun.

Erica Keswin
Thank you so much. Great to meet you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you, too.

760: Taking the Fear out of Feedback with Joe Hirsch

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Joe Hirsch reveals why we all struggle with feedback and shares how we can get better at giving and receiving it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The small shift that improves our relationship with feedback
  2. Why to ditch the feedback sandwich and embrace the W.R.A.P.
  3. What to do when you’re not getting the feedback you need

About Joe

Dr. Joe Hirsch helps leaders apply behavioral science to improve the way they listen, lead and learn. He’s a TEDx and international keynote speaker and the author of The Feedback Fix, which has been praised by Fortune 500 executives, NFL coaches and educational reformers for its forward-looking view of human performance.  Joe’s work and research has been featured in Harvard Business ReviewCNBC, Forbes, Inc., The Wall Street Journal and other major outlets. He’s helped more than 10,000 people across three continents communicate with impact and hosts the popular podcast, I Wish They Knew.

Resources Mentioned

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Joe Hirsch Interview Transcript

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

Joe Hirsch
Hey, Pete. Good to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m excited to dig into your wisdom about feedback. But, first, I want to hear about you and pushups. What’s the story here?

Joe Hirsch
You remind me, I have to go do some. Yes, so I enjoy pushups. I’ve been doing them for like 20 years straight, never missed a day, and I have found that to be a low-impact, high-value exercise. I used to use weights and I found that the weights were cumbersome. I couldn’t travel with them, they took up space in my basement, my kids were competing with me for them, and it never seemed to work.

So, I shifted a while ago, even before like this new phase of my life, and I shifted to pushups and I never looked back. And I feel like it’s a great metaphor for feedback, in general, because the things that we do, the small steps and small shifts that we make, sustained over time, they have such a huge impact. So, all about the pushups, it’s good for you, folks. Go out there and do five while you’re listening to this podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, how has it evolved in terms of where did it start and where is it now and what’s the pushup vibe, groove, goal?

Joe Hirsch
So, after about 20 years, I’m up to three pushups.

Pete Mockaitis
Progress.

Joe Hirsch
I’m getting better every day and, yeah, I think it’s a great way to challenge yourself. So, you set a goal for today, you say, “I’m going to 50 pushups today.” Maybe you can do them straight, maybe not, you break them up into short bursts but you start to realize that those small wins begin to happen and you start to incrementally build upon that progress. And I find that very rewarding.

Sometimes you finish a workout, you’re like, “Oh, what did I just do for the last 45 minutes?” or, “Man, I’m sore but I don’t feel like I did anything.” With pushups you really feel like you’re making gains and you can really track that progress. So, I like the workout.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, cool. Well, we’re going to talk about feedback and your book The Feedback Fix. I’d love it if you could just kick us off with kind of a Joe greatest hit. Is there a particularly surprising or fascinating or counterintuitive discovery you’ve made about us humans and feedback over the course of your career?

Joe Hirsch
I think that if people start to think about feedback not in terms of fear but joy, they’ll be surprised by the resonance of their message and the impact of their words. I don’t care if you’re a manager, or you’re an individual contributor, or a parent, or a teacher, or a spouse, feedback is hard and it makes the conversations high stakes, and that’s exactly when we need to be high touch.

And by shifting our message and our mindset, and in the process of looking out towards the future that people can still change, rather than looking back at a past they can’t, we can absolutely make a difference in the tone and the trajectory of these super important conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. You said joy. Intriguing. I guess we’re going to go into a lot of detail about some feedback things. But any quick perspective on how do we get more joy on the receiving end of feedback? Is there a mindset that is optimal for us?

Joe Hirsch
It’s to look at feedback not so much as a gift, which you hear a lot from people and it’s not wrong. It’s not bad advice but I tend to think of it more in terms of a deposit. Because a gift, you can return. The gift doesn’t have to be something you like. It’s more about what the other person thinks you might need. But when it’s a deposit, that’s when we can start to separate that truth signal from the noise and we can start to build interests on that deposit and take it somewhere if we make the right moves and have the right mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. So, it’s a deposit, sort of like, “Okay, I can do something with this. I can invest it. I can get rid of the illicit drug money component of the deposit.” Really stretching this metaphor, Joe.

Joe Hirsch
Yeah, it’s not a drug drop. It’s a deposit. And, ultimately, that’s the thing about feedback. We don’t choose the feedback we get but we absolutely choose where it goes. And I think that’s why deposits make so much sense to people because when they think about feedback as a fear-inducing experience, and I’ve literally asked this question, Pete, to thousands of people across the world, leaders at every level, across industries, “How do you feel when you get feedback?” These are the leaders, “How does it feel?”

And then I asked them a simple follow-up, “How did it feel the moment just before you got that feedback, when you knew it was coming?” And the answers are almost universally, “Well, I felt cautious. I felt uncertain. I felt uncomfortable. I felt in pain,” and that’s because, for a lot of people, we approach these conversations with a focus on deficits and not strengths, with a focus on the unchangeable past and not the unfolding future. And we, ultimately, look at feedback as a sledgehammer to hit people over the head with rather than a shoehorn to sort of open up possibilities and potential.

And when we start to make that small shift, whether that’s on the receiving end or as feedback-givers on the delivery side, that’s the moment when we can start to make a world of difference in the tone, in the trajectory, and, ultimately, in the impact.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Joe, you’re of master distinction. I love this already. A sledgehammer, no, no. A shoehorn, and the past versus the future. Like, these are the sorts of things that make people go, “Oh, okay.” Tweak, tweak, tweak, tweak. And when you add them up, it’s very actionable and doable and potent, so I dig it. So, tell us then, in your dreamworld, what’s really possible with feedback? Like, what should feedback accomplish and do for us as professionals in the world?

Joe Hirsch
So, in The Feedback Fix I explore feedback through the lens of something called feed forward, a term that was first introduced by Marshall Goldsmith. He gave it sort of common currency. It goes even further back before Marshall to some researchers back in the 1960s. But feed forward, a concept that was originally intended to help people elicit quick feedback in almost like a speed-dating format, that’s how Marshall uses it.

And I began to wonder, like, “Could this possibly have a strong research undercurrent to it? Is there something more to this than just a neat way to grab some quick insights on my current performance with total strangers?” And as I begin to unpack the research in preparation for writing The Feedback Fix, it became clear that, in fact, there was.

And when you start to peel this back a little bit, you begin to notice some trends, that when we start to make these small shifts in the way we look at ourselves as leaders and how we operate, that the moment we start to approach with more inquiry and more curiosity and act more like learn-it-alls than know-it-alls, that’s the moment when we give permission for others to do the same.

And we start to shift these dynamics from power to partnership. And, ultimately, that’s what feed forward is. It’s a strength-centered forward-looking view at who people are becoming, not just who they are. And it’s the moment when leaders start to operationalize this mindset of, “I’m going to be more of a listener and a learner, not a teller and a seller.”

That’s when they start to unlock these great insights that they don’t always have, and give permission to the person on the other side of that conversation to continue to be a partner in that process. In a perfect world, we would do a lot more listening and learning and a lot less telling and selling.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that really unlocks what we can become, and that’s beautiful. So, let’s get into it then. You say right now, in contrast, traditional feedback is, you say, broken. Could you give us the rundown on what’s not working when it comes to feedback in this day and age, 2022? I’m thinking United States-centric, although we have listeners around the world. Hello, guys and gals. What’s not working right now in professional settings feedback?

Joe Hirsch
So, you really have three problems with traditional feedback, which happens infrequently which focuses on a past that people can’t change, and, ultimately, it’s preoccupied with weaknesses rather than strengths. So, the first is bias. There’s some really interesting research out there that shows that when I give you feedback, let’s say you’re my employee, Pete, and I’m talking to you about something that just happened at work. The feedback that I give you is filtered through the important priorities and principles that I have and not focused on the things that matter to you.

So, when I give you feedback about your performance, I’m actually speaking more towards my priorities and principles. It says more about me than it does about you. It’s called the idiosyncratic rater effect. And there’s other cognitive mind traps that slip into this process, focusing on people’s past and holding them to it. Recency effect, the most recent thing that happens takes centerstage.

Or, sort of the opposite of that, spillover, where we chain people to their past performance. We don’t ever let them get out of their past mistakes or missteps. Or pillow or horns, looking at people as either all good or all bad, and filtering that way. So, you have big problems with bias, and that’s even before you get into other biases about people’s backgrounds and who they are and their life experiences they bring, and it’s a messy, messy picture.

The other problem is blindness. And, especially today, we’re talking now in March of 2022, today, work is more complex and less visible than ever before. And that’s one of the great upheavals of the pandemic is people started to leave their offices and go work from home. Work became less visible but it also became more interconnected.

And as work became harder to track, because more people, more hands touching projects, and at the same time became less visible because it’s happening away from the view of managers a lot of the time, so it’s very difficult for managers to have all the insights and all the answers that they might have once had.

It’s like if you go to your favorite pizza joint and you order a pineapple pepper pizza, don’t knock that until you take a try, by the way. It’s quite awesome. So, like, who’s responsible for that awesome pizza? Is it the chef who came up with the recipe? Is it the guy in the back cutting all the vegetables to perfection? Is it the farmer who sourced the vegetables or the pineapples? Is it the delivery man who brought it all together? So, who’s responsible for success?

And that’s the question that managers are really focusing on today, “Who’s responsible for success? I can’t see it, therefore, I can’t track it. And, as a result, I don’t know it.” So, blindness is a big problem for people. And then you have memory. Even if we had all the pieces in front of us, we can’t necessarily remember it. And memory researchers talk about this thing called the forgetting curve, and it sounds exactly as it described. There’s a sudden and steep loss of information just as soon as you begin to learn it. And researchers point that loss somewhere between 30% and 50%.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, minutes after you tell me something.

Joe Hirsch
It’s wild. It’s crazy. So, like, if you learn something on a Monday and then you try to implement it on a Tuesday, you’re already wondering, “Well, what was the password?” or, “What was the website I was supposed to go to?” or, “What was the new policy that my managers just told me about?” and we don’t remember it.

And that memory loss steadies and slows but becomes steeper over the course of a week so that by the time a week goes by, we have forgotten almost 90% of information, which is astounding. So, if you think about the fact that most companies are on a performance management cycle that is either annual, which is – oh, God – like why, or quarterly, which is still not great, the problem is one of memory.

The manager and the employee acting like forensic psychologists or archeologists trying to recreate a past that neither one can truly remember, so you’ve got bias, you’ve got blindness, you’ve got memory, and all these factors combine to produce a picture that isn’t pretty, so it’s no wonder that when you ask the question, “Can I give you some feedback?” We have a physiological response to that question. Our hands become clammy, our knees buckle, we feel like less of ourselves, and that’s why traditional feedback is failing and that’s why feed forward is succeeding.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that makes sense right then and there. Like, even before we talk about how you say it, like just the content in and of itself is going to be inaccurate and incomplete. So, it’s almost like roll the dice. It’s like, “Let’s just see what’s going to happen,” and that naturally makes us pretty uncomfortable, like a huge dose of uncertainty and it’s personal, “Joe, I’m going to tell you something about you. It’s going to have some implications about your future and your prospects. I don’t know what it is and it may or may not, but likely will not be accurate.”

Joe Hirsch
Right. And that’s why we have such an instinctual resistance to this. We look at feedback, as you said, as a judgment and it’s not just about our work, it’s about ourselves. We also don’t take it very seriously because we don’t think it’s accurate. And that’s why if managers were to approach the conversation with greater humility and greater curiosity to act, as I call them, as mirror holders instead of window gazers, as people whose job it is to simply enlarge and expand the view of another person rather than to tell and sell the other person on what they think has happened, then we’re going to have a different conversation.

So, it really starts with this mindset, as you said, even before you get to the message. The way we think about this has to really change.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then how does one be more of a mirror holder?

Joe Hirsch
So, it does start with that shift in thinking about, “What is my role here? If the manager says my job is to solve a problem, my job is to force a change,” then you’re going to be frustrated because, as we said, you don’t have all the answers, and even the data you have may not be good. So, instead of trying to tell and sell, ask the other person for their perspective, and this is where approaching with that learn-it-all mindset, a sense of curiosity and wonder can be super helpful. So, that’s the first step is to start to approach more as a partner and less as a power broker.

Once you do that, though, the message really has to shift from, “I’m trying to fix you” to “I’m trying to frame the problem or frame the issue.” And when we start to act as framers and not fixers, that’s a resonant message for people because rather than tell them what to do, we’re trying to unlock an insight that they already have and hold. And in The Feedback Fix and the work I do with organizations, it becomes very clear that you don’t need to overhaul your whole system. With small shifts and how we shape these conversations, we can actually have a dramatic impact.

And it really starts with operating with a simple belief that, “My job is not to force a change but rather to provoke an insight, and use the person on the other side of this conversation. You have answers that I may not have. You have insights that I may not possess. And if I can do a little more to engage you as a partner, to have more of a dialogue rather than a judgment, and to focus on the things that are really important to you and the moments when you were successful and to build on that, then we can start to have a conversation which is focused more on truth, it’s focused on clear goals, we talk to people as humans, we don’t focus on them as numbers, and, ultimately, we make them feel like more of themselves and not less.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Joe, this is beautiful. I think I’ve got a nice picture for the mindset, the vibe, the feel, the attitude to how we’re kind of centered and pointing at this thing. So, now, I’m curious, in practice, let’s say I love it, I want to feed forward, what are my action steps? What do I go do?

Joe Hirsch
So, one tool that I love sharing with clients is something called a feed forward wrap.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, like a hip. Are we literally talking about rhyming lyrics?

Joe Hirsch
No, this is not Tupac. This is all different. Did I just go to Tupac? Well, I really just dated myself.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s classic.

Joe Hirsch
It’s okay. If you watched the halftime show this year, everyone kind of traveled back in time a little bit at the Super Bowl. So, this is a wrap, as in like the sandwich, or more appropriately the opposite of that praise sandwich, which, oh, God, we have given so many times and probably we’d just like to do without a little bit more.

So, the big problem with the praise sandwich is that it tends to be very meandering, it doesn’t really address the issue, it kind of dodges and disguises information, and we hope that people can kind of decipher our intentions somehow by sandwiching what we want to say in between two pieces of praise to kind of trick them and distract them from what we’re actually trying to get across.

And, look, I have no problem with praise. The issue is the sandwich. Research shows that when you sandwich feedback like this, it ends up going nowhere because people can’t follow your message. They tend to think of the person giving it to them as less reliable or trustworthy because we begin to wonder, like, “Well, if there’s an issue, just tell me, man. What’s going on?” And, ultimately, we don’t know where to go with that feedback.

So, the wrap, as in, “Let’s go get a fajita wrap,” yeah. Anyone hungry? Actually, this reminds me, I need to go eat something. So, when we think about feedback wraps, we’re talking to people more candidly, more caringly, and more collaboratively. And wrap stands for what and where, reason, affect, and prompt. What and where, reason, affect, and prompt.

And when you start to break feedback down this way, then you start to give people more clarity and control over the process, you engage them more collaboratively, you yield higher levels of commitment, and, ultimately, you get impact because you’ve got clarity. So, it’s a super effective tool that anyone can do and it helps you shift the dynamics from the past to the future, and from power to partnership.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s very clever, moving away from the sandwich and toward a wrap. It might be a lower carb as well.

Joe Hirsch
Lower carb and high protein. Yeah, definitely.

Pete Mockaitis
So, could you give us some examples walking us through the what and where, the reason, the affect, and the prompt?

Joe Hirsch
Yeah. So, let’s say I have a tendency to talk over people in meetings and you, as my manager, Pete, have noticed this and you got to bring it to my attention right away because other people on the team, they’re commenting on you offline, and they’re saying, “Joe won’t shut up. I mean, literally, in every meeting, the guy is cutting me off and can’t get my ideas out there.”

So, you pull me aside, and you say, “Joe, could we talk? I want to talk to you about something that happened in the meeting yesterday. A couple people felt like you had cut in when they were sharing their idea for how to engage this client.” So, that’s the what and the where. Now, why is that important? Because if you just say to me, “Joe, can I give you some feedback?” in this vague amorphous way, then my mind starts racing and bracing.

And when you look at brain scans of people who are asked that question, “Can I give you some feedback?” It’s amazing what the brain shows. There’s a spike in cortisol, the stress-inducing hormone, that literally depletes us. We become less creative. We experience a reduction in our executive functioning. We feel like less of ourselves. So, that’s why feedback feels so crappy because we are operating in a suboptimal way.

And so, by giving it a destination, a zip code, I suppose, of what’s happening and where it’s happening, you don’t eliminate the fear factor but you mitigate the fear factor. And so now, I know, “Okay, you want to talk about the meeting. It was yesterday. Here’s what happened and it’s not about my numbers. It’s not about my breath. It’s not about the shirt that I’m wearing. And it’s not about my lack of Zoom etiquette. You just want to talk about something that happened in the meeting yesterday when I cut in. Great.”

You then say, “Okay. Joe, look, the reason I want to tell you about this is because Paige and Sam, they felt really bad when you kind of cut in. And I know that something that you would never intentionally try to do, and I know how important our team dynamics are. You’ve been there a while, you’ve obviously demonstrated commitment to our goals and our values as a company, and I just wanted to bring this to your attention because it hurt them.”

And so, there’s two reasons, Pete, why we want to give the reason. Even if we’re talking to adults who are fully formed and we assume are aware of everything. The first is that people aren’t as aware as we think they are. There’s some great research out there on self-awareness that 90% of us have only 10% self-awareness, which is an astounding gap in perception and reality, and that’s why we have to tell people about this because they might not even be aware of how they’re showing up in the moment.

The other reason you want to give the reason is because of our innate need for certainty. So, I was on a plane recently going to a client event. We’re back on planes now, post-COVID, that’s kind of cool, but everyone was still a little bit anxious. And so, we got on the plane and we did the pre-flight stuff and everyone’s buckled up ready to go, and then nothing.

Like, we were just on the tarmac. We weren’t moving and people were getting fidgety and nervous and they started to look at their watches, and they’re like, “What’s happening?” and there’s no announcement, and everyone was beginning to worry, “What’s happening? What’s going on?” until the pilot finally got on and said, “So, we’re actually just, you know, we experienced a small mechanical issue. One of the members of the crew are coming to check it out. It’s a small warning signal that went on. We’re just looking into that before we take off.”

And so, now I’m thinking, “Oh, a warning signal, a warning light. Great. That’s why we’re here. It’s not because there’s bad weather forecasted, or not because a member of the crew got sick, or someone’s experiencing a medical emergency. It’s just a warning light.” And then you’re like, “Oh, a warning light. Well, maybe that’s a bad thing, but at least I know. At least I know what it is.” And so, certainty and self-awareness, we got to give the reason.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I guess it’s sort of like in that situation, your fears about what could be were brought into a narrow scope in terms of, “The reason I share this, Joe, is because this is one of many signs that I need to fire you.” So, it’s just like, “Oh, okay.” It helps contextualize in terms of, “The reason I share this is because you care about our team and our values and people are feeling good and having a good vibe, and I want to help you accomplish that,” as opposed to, “And the reason I’m sharing this is because, as you know, layoffs are coming and this quadruples the odds that you’re going to be out of here.”

Joe Hirsch
I might not add that part but I love everything you said at first.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess what I’m saying is some people freak out, I think, because we talked about certainty and how spooky it is because it can be anything, “Can I give you some feedback?” It can be anything from “You’re fired” to “You’re the new CEO.” And so, when you give that reason, it situates us quite nicely in terms of, “Okay, this is really what’s at stake here.” It might be big, it might be small but at least I know.

Joe Hirsch
And I care enough about you to tell you what that is and I want you to understand where I’m coming from and I want to make my intentions clear. So, that’s good to start but a lot of feedback operates with those two assumptions in mind. Let’s give a location and let’s talk about the context. Where feed forward really starts to show its magic with this wrap approach is in the final two stages – the affect and the prompt.

So, here’s a universal human truth. People can argue with what we say but they’re less likely to challenge how we feel. And so, when I shift the dynamic of the conversation from blame to emotion, or from judgment to description, that is the moment when you feel a little less assaulted by my feedback.

And so, if I were to say, “Look, the reason why I want to have this conversation with you and the reason why it’s important is because I felt badly for Paige and Sam who, in that moment, kind of just…they looked a little defeated and a little frustrated because when you cut in like that, Joe, it was really hard for them to retrack and recoup, and they had a hard time resuming where they were. So, I felt bad in that moment because that’s where they kind of lost their train of thought and the meeting kind of took a dip.”

Now, that’s a different statement than, “You’re rude. You’re a jerk. And you’re insensitive to the needs and feelings of your colleagues.” So, by moving this away from judgment, you-statements, “You didn’t do this,” or, “You did this and you really shouldn’t have,” we move it into I-statements, “I felt bad. I noticed this and I felt bad for these people who were affected by this.” And, again, here’s where we’re really moving it out of the high-stakes context and we’re shifting ground to a place where people can approach more humanly, and they can say, “Oh, I wasn’t even necessarily aware of that. I’m really sorry. Like, that wasn’t my intention.”

And then, finally, you get to the prompt. After all this has happened, you’ve talked about what’s happening, where it’s happening, the reason, the affect and the impact that was brought about, the emotional toll, here’s where feed forward is so powerful, Pete, because this is where we operationalize that mirror-holding that we talked about before, that listening and learning, and we give the control of the conversation to the other person, and we say, “Okay. So, what are your thoughts on where we go from here? What do you think? What do you think we should do?”

And it’s in that moment when people feel like they have the agency and the opportunity to be a partner, that’s when they’re going to do one of two things. They’re either going to say, “I don’t know. I don’t know what you want me to do. I don’t know.” And that’s okay. Some people will say that, and that’s when you can say, “All right. Well, I want you to think about it. I realize right now, it’s maybe a lot, you’re processing, you’re taking it in. Let’s pick this up in a day, or in a few hours, or whatever your cadence is for this.”

But still with the assumption that, “I want to hear from you. I want to know what your thoughts are.” Or, the more likely scenario that I’ve observed and I’ve workshopped this in real time with teams, and I’ve seen this almost all the time, people will have an answer at the ready because we are closest to the problem which means we’re also closest to the solution. And that’s when we can come up with an idea.

And, by the way, the ideas that others will come up with are very close to, if not the same, as the ones we would’ve proposed ourselves, except now they belong to the person who suggested them, which means they own them, which means they’re going to act on them, which means they’re going to feel a greater sense of responsibility towards them. So, we’ve built commitment where there could’ve been concern. We’ve created partnership where there once was power. We’ve created agency where there might’ve just been accountability. And we’ve shifted the whole dynamic from “I know better than you” to “You can do better for yourself. Let me just try to help you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, that’s some good powerful stuff. And so, I’m curious, with the prompt, you said, “What are your thoughts on where we should go from here?” Is the idea that the prompt should nudge in a future-oriented direction as opposed to, “So, what do you think?” or, “Do you think I’m full of malarkey?” Is it that the prompt is a prompt that is forward-pointing, future-pointing?

Joe Hirsch
I think it’s both. You’re making a great point. It’s very nuanced. When you ask that question, you’re really asking for two things, “Do you accept my premise?” and “Do you have ideas?” So, one really neat thing that has happened a lot is when managers ask this question, a lot of times they’ll skip step one, which is, “Does the person accept my premise?” Usually, the person will because it’s presented in a way that is non-judgmental and very descriptive and it’s focused.

But sometimes people do get stuck on that first point, they’re like, “Well, actually, I want to just push back a little on what you just said.” Or, worse, they get their hands crossed, the ears turn red, and the smokes starts to come out of the ears, and they’re like, “Hell, no, I don’t agree with what you just said,” but that’s useful data because, now, you know that there’s something else going on here. It’s not just, “Joe is talking over other people in the meeting,” there’s a fundamental problem that lies beneath the surface that you’ve now uncovered because you’ve given me the opportunity to weigh in.

So, that’s good data, but, yes, it is about looking towards a future action that, ultimately, that person can control and one that they’re going to set on their own terms and timetable, again, with some nudging from you. It doesn’t mean that you, as a manager, now abandon your responsibilities to help move this person or this project forward.

A lot of managers will ask me, “This is nice but aren’t you actually like taking away my power? Aren’t you actually making me weaker?” And I say, “No. No, no, no. If you do this right, you become more powerful because, ultimately, you’re activating the real job of management, of leadership, and that’s to empower other people.” We have the power, as leaders, every day to empower others to find and to feel their best selves.

And when we start to do that, Pete, with these small shifts and how we shape the conversation, how we allow it to be received more impactfully, we’re increasing our power because we’re sharing it. And that’s the fundamental assumption here that we become more powerful and more impactful, we have more influence as managers when we help others become better practitioners, better contributors, better members of our organization, and that’s the real secret. By giving that control to others, it’s not what we give up. It’s what we give that really matters.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m thinking here, when it comes to the prompt, and they might say, “Oh, I think that’s ridiculous,” and then, you do, you learn some things, you’re like, “Well, Paige has been running her mouth about this ridiculous idea that derails us every meeting and it’s wasting our time,” blah, blah, blah. Okay. Well, now, you’re right. You’ve learned something that, “I didn’t know you felt that way about Paige.”

Well, then there’s something to respond to, it’s like, “Hey, you know what, and now that you mentioned it, Paige really does do that all the time.” It’s like maybe there’s another conversation that needs to be had, or it can be like, “Whoa, this person is so kind of, I don’t know, self-absorbed or focused on the wrong stuff to really…this how this person sees the world. Wow, we’re going to have to do some more work to,” I guess I don’t want to fix people, right? We talked about that earlier. But we have to do some more work to get an understanding of where we need to move forward optimally here given that’s where they’re coming from.

Joe Hirsch
And, really, the job of leaders is to unlock those insights for people. And feed forward is one tool in a leader’s toolkit that allows him or her to set those conditions for positive and lasting change. And one of the things that’s been gratifying to see is that this works regardless of one’s experience levels as a leader, background or training. It works in every industry, and I’ve spoken to, I think, just about every single one, that people can do this with just a few tweaks in how they approach these conversations.

It’s not an overhaul of the system. It’s about making small incrementally positive changes in the way we look at people and performance so that we’re, ultimately, doing the real work of leading others, and that’s to lead them closer to who they actually are and can still become.

Pete Mockaitis
And I suppose we can do this wrap thing not just when we’re “correcting” something but also when we notice something that was awesome, it’s like, “Hey, I noticed in this document, in the questions you prepared for Joe, my Joe interview, that it was very thorough in terms of sub-bullets there, and I bring this up because I love it so much I want to see that every time if possible because it’s filled me with delight knowing that I am not going to look like a fool in having this conversation. I was very well prepared.”

“And so, I’m just curious, what did you think about? Did you do anything different when you were preparing this? Or, is there any way we might be able to go forward so this happens every time?” In all that, we’re saying, “I like the thing you did. Let’s have more of that.” And you could use the same wrap format just fine.

Joe Hirsch
A hundred percent. In fact, there’s a variation of that that I’ve helped leaders use in these formal conversations they’re having around existing cadence of performance management on a quarterly or annual basis. And one of the things that they’ll do is they’ll open the conversation by saying, “Tell me about a time when you felt like you were just at your best, whether it’s over the last quarter or the last project, or even the last year, and you start with strengths.”

And, again, that’s what feed forward is about. It’s about activating people’s best selves, not dwelling on their worst selves, and people will say, “Well, actually, my numbers were great but you know what really was wonderful for me the last quarter? I felt like, as we shifted to a work-from-home environment, I was able to really be connected in a different and more substantial way to my colleagues. It was weird. We weren’t together but I felt more connected to them. I guess we just felt like we were in each other’s lives. And that sense of being right up close and personal to people just made me feel more close to them, and that was a big high for me over the last three months.”

Now, that’s not something you might have expected to hear as the leader but now it’s intel that you have. So, you start with that strength and say, “Oh, wow, I didn’t realize that was so amazing for you. Like, what did you learn in that process?” You start to uncover the conditions or the factors that played a role in that. And as people start to lay the groundwork and talk about that trek towards the summit of their success, that’s the moment when it becomes clear to you but also to them who and what made this possible.

And that activates a sense of collective success, which researchers have shown is a much more powerful driver of scalable success than simply just focusing on individual achievement. So, that when I realize that I did something well or I achieved something great, and it’s with the support of Paige over there, and Sam over there, or Pete over here, and you as my leader, that’s the moment I become encouraged, empowered, and excited about doing this again because I’ve got the support of others, and that’s what leads to the scalable success.

I’ve done it before, I have people by my side who are ready to help me do it again, and now you’ve prompted me by talking about those conditions and then talking about the coordinates of where I can go from here, and you’ve said, “All right, where do you go from this? This is amazing. This is awesome. How can we build upon that? And tell me what your ideas for continuing this and scaling that.” And, again, you’re leaving it with me. You’re leaving the conversation with me for me to suggest the next move.

And rather than just dump and run, I sit and I strategize with you. We talk about it. It’s a dialogue. We’re having a person-to-person conversation. Feed forward is now a more human enterprise and it allows everyone to feel like they’re actually able to be actively involved in their own story of success. And that agency is what makes people feel so empowered, so committed, and so excited to make these positive changes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s beautiful. Well, tell us then, if we’re not the manager but the individual contributor, or even if you are leading people but you want your boss to share some of this good stuff that you’re not getting, how do you recommend we encourage and ask for useful feedback or feed forward so we continue learning, growing, and becoming all we could be?

Joe Hirsch
I think it starts with becoming a feedback magnet, making sure that you are asking for feedback, but more importantly…

Pete Mockaitis
And just like asking feedback, is there some magical way to do that or words or…?

Joe Hirsch
Yeah, I definitely think it starts with knowing what kind of feedback. So, it’s not just, “Can I have feedback?” but knowing the type of feedback that you want. Is it corrective? Do I need guidance from you on how to fix something? Am I doing this right? Is it coaching or developmental in its nature? “I’m having a problem with Paige. Can you give me some advice on how I can navigate that relationship?” Or, sometimes you’re just looking for an atta-boy, like, “Hey, look what I did and I want some praise. And even it is a sandwich, I don’t care.”

So, knowing what kind of feedback you’re after will help the person who’s giving you the feedback know what kind of feedback you want. So, be clear on your expectations and they’ll be clear on what they give you.

I think the other thing is to really be careful about separating the signal from the noise. So, you asked for feedback, and maybe you get the feedback you weren’t expecting. Maybe it’s a little more negative or corrective in nature, and you’re like, “Ooh, that’s a downer. I was coming to Pete for praise and, instead, I got a lecture.” So, what do you do then?

So, that’s the point where you want to put aside the emotion. It’s hard. So, if it can’t happen in the moment, you maybe schedule another time to talk it out, but you say, “Look, I’d like to learn more about this.” Start to ask what I call lightbulb questions, things that give you more insight into what the person was telling you or meaning to tell you when they said it.

So, a good example of a lightbulb question would be like, “How often are you seeing that?” “Have you noticed this before?” “Am I doing this a lot?” Just gather information about that so that the lightbulb starts to go off for you so that you know what’s going on. But then you want to funnel a little bit with these funnel questions. And I love funnel questions because it allows the person who’s giving you the feedback to be more specific about it.

The problem with traditional feedback, we talked about a bunch of issues, but a big issue for a lot of managers is that they either feel it’s an all-or-nothing proposition, “I either have to throw everything at you at once and unleash a torrent of feedback and information or I’m going to be very selective and even a little bit stingy with the feedback that I give you. I don’t want to give too much because I’m worried about rocking the boat or saying something that’s going to upset you.”

So, we have to try to help them size and shape the feedback just right, and that’s where the funnel questions come in. Asking, and this is my favorite one, “Okay, so you’ve kind of told me what’s going on. What’s one thing that I can do to change the situation or to improve, or to get better at this?” Now, by asking that question, “What’s the one thing…?” you’ve made it easier for them to tell you what to do. That takes the chances of them of dumping and running and really reduces that by a major order of magnitude. But, more importantly, it’s given you now just one thing to do.

And we can do one thing. We can act on one suggestion. We can make one shift in how we interact with our colleagues or how we think about our work. And so, asking that funnel question is critical because it allows us to become more aware of what’s happening and what to do with it next. And then, finally, widening that feedback loop, because even when we have clarity, it can still cause a lot of pain. We know what has to be done but we’re still nagged by the problem of, “I don’t like the person who gave me the feedback or trust that person,” and so immediately I’m discounting what that person said.

So, going outside that conversation to a trusted friend, a colleague, a spouse, your mom, whoever it is, is going to help you process this information with more objectivity and less emotion. That’s going to help you separate facts from feelings, tone from truth, and baggage from opportunities, and that’s really where we want to go with that. So, become a feedback magnet and do those things, and it will become a little bit easier to get the feedback you need at a time when you need it.

Pete Mockaitis
And I like some of the wordings you’ve provided. I suppose what I think what I often wanted to know in terms of feedback, but I didn’t quite know how to say it without sounding off. I wanted to know, basically, what do I need to do differently to blow your mind and think I am an exceptionally awesome employee who absolutely deserves to be promoted soon? That’s what I wanted to know. But I didn’t know if I could ask it like that.

Okay, Joe, feedback master, how would you recommend I ask a question like that? Basically, I want to know, hey, this show is called How to be Awesome at Your Job. I want to know, from the manager’s perspective and for progression and promotion, how do I become more awesome?

Joe Hirsch
So, the first thing to do is to bring some good data with you to that conversation and to help your manager see from an objective point of view why you feel this conversation should happen in the first place. So, I’m a big fan of collecting small wins, and it’s not an act of self-congratulation. It’s an act of self-preservation. It’s what we need to do to continue to grow and evolve in our work.

So, keep a little list of wins, maybe some email folder, maybe it’s an app you use, but just track your wins whether that’s a work win, or whether that’s relationship win, something you’ve done to contribute to the values of the organization. Keep those because you’ll want to bring that data.

And you’ll say to your manager, “Look, I’m proud of what I’ve done. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have been able to work in this organization with the support of wonderful people who’ve allowed me to be successful but I’m really hungry to grow. I have goals for myself and I want to find ways that I can deepen my connections, and increase my contributions, and build on my competencies. And how can I do that? What are your ideas for me?”

And your manager will be like, “Wow. First of all, I agree with you, those are great wins,” because you’ve now reminded your manager about those things that he or she may have forgotten. Remember, forgetting curves, so it’s good to bring that back to the surface. So, now that you’ve kind of sort of warmed the conversation with that data, that’s when I think you’ll impress your manager by saying, “Look, I’m all about…I’m all in on the contribution. I’m all in on the development. I want more than anything for you to help me reach that next level of success so I can continue to feel like I’m deepening my contributions to our organization and to our team. So, what are your ideas for that?”

Again, you prompt. Don’t tell your manager, “I want a 5% raise.” Now that may be what you want but don’t tell that to your manager because, you want to know something crazy? What if you just bring this out into the open, leave it with your manager, and your manager is like, “You know, Joe actually did a great job this last quarter. Three other people of our team have recently left. I don’t want to lose him. I’m going to offer him 10%.” Why would you already limit yourself by telling your manager what you want when your manager may come back with an offer that exceeds your expectations?

So, start with the data, frame it in the context of collective success, let the manager know that you’re aligned, you’re all in, you’re committed, you want to grow. This is music to every manager’s ears. Like, what does a manager not want to do? Put out fires, worry about retaining high-performing employees, dealing with office drama. And here’s a person who has demonstrated a record of success, is all about the team, has demonstrated some very clear and measurable indicators of his value. So, now, what can we do as an organization?

Maybe it’s offering Joe opportunities for continuous education. Maybe it’s new project assignments. Maybe it’s leading up another project that we’re going to do soon. And, again, that may not be your 5% but over the long term, that could have a return of 20%, 30%, open up opportunities that advance things you wouldn’t even have foreseen.

So, if you’re the employee, don’t limit yourself with your first thought. Have that in the back of your mind and you can always come back to that as a point of negotiation. But as an anchoring principle, don’t limit your potential or your profitability by telling the manager what you want. Let the manager tell you what he or she is ready to give.

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

Joe Hirsch
I think that every leader listening to this, or every employee, or every parent, every teacher, should realize that they have the power to empower other people. And feedback doesn’t have to be a cause for fear. It really can be a cause for joy when we change the mindset, when we shift the message, when we stop looking back on a past that people can’t change and out towards a future they can.

We deliver the promise of feedback which is to help people become the best versions of themselves, the people they could always become but maybe aren’t yet at. And with the small changes, we give them more power, more possibility, more potential. And we shouldn’t play small with people’s potential.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Now, Joe, could you give us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Joe Hirsch
So, I should probably have this tattooed somewhere on my body. I quote it all the time. C.S. Lewis said, and it captures everything we talked about today, “You can’t go back and change the beginning but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Joe Hirsch
So, there’s a management professor at the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern by the name of Loran Nordgren, who did some great work on what he calls the Perspective Gap. And what he uncovered with his colleagues is that we tend to underestimate the effect of something on others when we are not going through it ourselves.

So, he brought a bunch of people into a room and have them stick their arms in warm water, and said, “Imagine what it would be like to be in a freezing cold room for five hours. How would it feel?” And they would describe what they thought that intensity of pain might be like, and it was rather low. He brought another group of people in, this time arms soaking in cold water, and said, “What do you think it would be like to be in a freezing cold room?” as they soaked their arms in cold water, and the intensity was greater as you might expect.

But here is what was the surprising part. He then, third group, brought them into the room, had them soak their arms in warm water, take it out, and then describe what it was like. And the intensity of that pain was less than what it was before even for the cold group. Because once we experience something, and then we forget about what that experience is like, we then underestimate the impact of that experience on other people.

And that’s why, when I asked the question, “What’s it like to get feedback?” and they come back with words like caution and anxiety and worry and pain, I then say to them, “Okay. So, how do you think it feels to the other person who’s getting your feedback? Do you think they’re experiencing some of that?” And this Perspective Gap plays an important role in the conversation as we shift our mindset around feedback because it’s not just about approaching with inquiry and humility. It’s also about exercising greater empathy.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Joe Hirsch
I love Team Genius by two authors, Rich Karlgaard and Michael Malone. And the book is great because it talks about the power of teams, and how we can’t really do as much on our own as we can with the support of other people. And I love the message they bring.

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

Joe Hirsch
Yeah, so this actually, somebody tweeted this out the other day, and they attended a talk that I gave. And I never quite know what’s going to land with people so I love Twitter for this. You can see what really resonates. And they said, and I guess I had said this, it makes sense, I say it a lot, “We can’t choose the feedback we get but we always get to choose where it goes.”

And it’s so true. When we give people the opportunity to become agents of change, when we give them the possibility and the power to shape that future that’s still unfolding rather than locking them to a past that they can’t change, that’s the moment when people feel energized, activated, and empowered by our feedback, and it’s more likely it’ll go somewhere, and, ultimately, lead to positive and lasting change.

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

Joe Hirsch
So, I would love to connect with folks on LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, that’s kind of like where I live online. You can read more about my work and research at JoeHirsch.me. I’d love to catch you as part of our growing international audience of listeners on I Wish They Knew, Big Ideas, Small Conversations. Get that wherever your podcasts are played. And I look forward to helping you find a little more joy in your feedback because we can.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Joe, this has been a treat. I wish you all the joy in your feedback and elsewhere.

Joe Hirsch
Thanks, Pete. It’s been real.

753: How to Stop Avoiding and Start Resolving Conflict with Ralph Kilmann

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Ralph Kilmann, co-creator of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, reveals the surprising source of all conflict—and shares his best practices for expertly resolving them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The surprising root of almost all conflict  
  2. Why collaboration isn’t your best and only option
  3. Two strategies to overcome the stress and discomfort of conflict

About Ralph

Ralph H. Kilmann, Ph.D., is CEO and Senior Consultant at Kilmann Diagnostics (KD) in Newport Coast, California. In this position, he has created as well as produced all of KD’s online courses and assessment tools on conflict management, change management, and more. Ralph’s online products are used by such high-profile organizations as Amazon, Bank of America, Harvard University, NASA, and more.

Ralph is an internationally recognized authority on systems change. He has consulted for numerous corporations throughout the United States and Europe, including AT&T, General Electric, and the Office of the President of the United States.

Ralph has published more than twenty books and one hundred articles and is the co-author of more than ten assessment tools, including the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), the Kilmann-Saxton Culture-Gap(R) Survey, and the Kilmann Organizational Conflict Instrument (KOCI).

Resources Mentioned

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Ralph Kilmann Interview Transcript

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

Ralph Kilmann
Thank you for having me, Pete. I’m delighted to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to chat with you. I have heard of the TKI many times, and you’re the K in the TKI.

Ralph Kilmann
Yes, I am.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s pretty cool, and you’ve also got a book we’re talking about Creating a Quantum Organization. So, let’s dig into this fun. Maybe, to kick it off, could you share what’s one of the most surprising and fascinating and maybe counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about conflict over the many years you’ve spent researching, teaching, and exploring it?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, so often, we think about conflict as being out there, between a person and other people, whether in a family or in a work situation, so we’re trying to resolve those interpersonal differences of opinion, what to do, how to proceed, when I have discovered that you have to look inside because the conflicts begin internally.

We all grow up as human beings and we have some kind of trauma. It can’t be helped. It’s just part of being human. I don’t condone, I don’t want people to have trauma, but once they have it, and they will, what do you do with it? And if you just let it sit there and get stuck in your body, and then you become an adult, then you’re projecting all that trauma on everyone around you.

That’s the conflict you’re dealing with, and it’s not just between you and other people, it’s between you and your past. And until you learn to resolve those internal conflicts, you’re going to have a hard time improving how you manage external conflicts. Now, that may not seem too surprising but I have found people tend to stay away from what’s lurking on the inside.

It always seems to be more comfortable to talk about other people, conflicts out there, than, “What I’m struggling with as a person,” and that’s particularly the case when we move into organizations because people in their personal lives, with their friends, they often share traumas they’ve had or how they approach challenges in their emotional life, but in the organization, there are often norms, “Don’t talk about it. You’ll come across as weak. You won’t come across as confident. People don’t want to hear about it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Uh-huh. Well, that’s juicy right off the bat there. And so, it feels like there’s a whole several episodes digging into that. But if you can give us the survey preview version, and how does one look inside and deal with their stuff. It’s so funny, what’s coming to mind right now is a line from the TV series “Succession,” and this character Roman Roy says, “This is what it looks like when you’ve dealt with all your issues. All your issues are resolved.”

And it’s sort of a joke because, hey, we all have some ongoing stuff. It’s never quite fully done. So, what is the process or practice or approach we engage in to deal with our internal conflicts and traumas?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, first, I think it’s useful to think about mind consciousness, body consciousness, and spirit consciousness. Those are three ways of looking at what’s going on inside. Now, first, with mind consciousness, it’s like, “How does our mind make sense of our life?” but it’s all mental, it’s all thoughts. And we can talk to people about it, whether it’s a therapist or reading a book, to uncover those mental assumptions we’ve made from past experiences, and we can clarify our thinking.

But then there’s also body consciousness because it turns out, what’s stuck in the mind is stuck in the body, into tension patterns, and you can talk all you want about these internal issues, in fact I call it talk therapy when you’re talking to a therapist, but it is just talk. It’s not getting into the body where it’s stored.

So, you can talk all you want, you can try to change your belief systems, you can reexamine your childhood, but you have to release it from your body, and that has to do with all kinds of things like yoga, and all kinds of massage methods, or kinds of exercise. You’ve got to move. And as you move, your body opens up and you dispel some of these old stories, but that’s mind and body.

And, finally, with spirit consciousness, and that’s the greatest challenge to the Western world, is to recognize that we are more than just our mind and our body. In fact, there’s this expression, “The skin-encapsulated ego,” as if within our skin, that’s who we are, and it’s all about ego and mind, whereas, we can be much more than that.

So, spirit is saying, “We are all connected.” There’s a human consciousness across the entire planet. People resonate with one another. People feel what’s going on. People can intuit what’s going on far beyond their mind and body. And when you can appreciate that, you say, “Hmm, what does it mean to have transcendent dialogue?” where you get a group of people together, either in a family setting or in a workplace, and they have dialogue that goes far beyond.

They come up with things that neither of them knew beforehand because they stimulate in one another to tap into this universal consciousness, or what C. G. Jung called the collective unconscious. It’s been called many names over the years, but there’s a consciousness that encircles the globe that we can tap into.

Now, what’s interesting, I’ll tell you a survey I took, Pete, is I’d be talking to like a few hundred people in an audience, and I’d ask, “Okay, please raise your hand if, in your personal life, you’ve done things like yoga, meditation, talk therapy, exercise,” and I go down a whole list, and 95% of the audience raises their hands, and says, “Yes, I’ve done that. I’ve done those things.”

And then you say, “Okay. Now, how many of you are willing to talk about this in the workplace?” The hands go down because, as I mentioned, the culture says, “We don’t talk about our personal lives. We keep it to ourselves.” In fact, in the old days, what we bring to the workplace is manual labor, hands for hire. Then, eventually, we developed additional skills we were willing to bring into the workplace. The last remaining area of human capability is bringing consciousness into the workplace, all of you – mind, body, and spirit. That’s where creativity and innovation reside.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, we are off to the races here. So, tell us, your latest book Creating a Quantum Organization, what’s the big idea or thesis here?

Ralph Kilmann
That book, I call my legacy book. I previously wrote about 20 books over a period of 50 years and maybe it was because of the pandemic and I’m trying to figure out what to do with all this downtime, and I said last year, this was about a year ago, I said, “Let me put together a book that integrates everything I’ve done in 50 years. Can I do that? What would that be like?” And that’s exactly what I focused on for the entire year.

So, in the Creating a Quantum Organization, I integrate conflict, change, consciousness, and transformation, everything I’ve done, and I’ve called it a legacy book because, quite honestly, Pete, I don’t know of another book I’m going to write. I think I look at that book and I say, “This is what I came here to do. This was why I did all my work. This is why I was born, to do this book.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, congratulations, that’s a spot many of us don’t feel like we reach, so kudos. That’s so awesome. Well, so we got four zones. I’d like to spend a disproportionate amount of our time talking conflicts just because, well, you’re so famous for it and this is our moment we have together, and then hit a little bit of a flavor for the others.

So, you mentioned in your conflict model five different conflict-handling modes. Can you give us a quick kind of field description for them, what they look like in action, and a sense for is there an ideal time and place for each of them?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, first, the basic TKI model is two dimensions – assertiveness, cooperativeness. Very simply put, assertiveness is the extent to which you try to get your needs met. Cooperativeness is the extent to which you try to get the other person’s needs met. And on that space of the extent to which you’re trying to get your needs and other people’s needs met, there are these five conflict modes.

So, competing is you’re only concerned about your needs. You’re not at all concerned about the other person. You want to win the argument. Period. Accommodating is just the opposite. You want to help the other person get their needs met, and, for the time being, you’re not at all concerned about your needs. Maybe that issue is more important to the other person than it is to you, maybe it’s his turn or her turn to get their needs met, whatever, but you give up your need satisfaction to help the other person.

Then there’s compromising, which is in the middle, we split the difference, we flip a coin. It’s somewhere in between competing and accommodating. So, you get something you want, I get something I want, but we’re both somewhat dissatisfied. It’s like 50% of our needs are met but there’s that other 50% that we haven’t addressed. In fact, compromising is going back and forth between competing and accommodating. The more you get, the less I get; the more I get, the less you get. It goes like a see-saw, and compromising is 50-50 in the middle.

Now, avoiding is no one gets their needs met. We leave the situation. Now, sometimes, there’s good reasons to leave the situation. People are not being nice to one another. People need time to think. People need to collect more information so they stay away from it until they’ve done that. That’s avoiding. But, meanwhile, no one’s getting their needs met because they’ve stayed away from coming up with a resolution.

But the fifth mode which often seems ideal at first is called collaborating, and that is you’re getting all your needs met and I’m getting all my needs met, so we completely satisfy our needs. Now, as it turns out, collaborating can only work under a very unique set of conditions. We have to trust one another. We have to really share what we need and want, and that it won’t be used against us when we share that. We have the time or we take the time to work on the issue. We communicate effectively so we can listen to one another without getting defensive.

In other words, collaborating sounds like the ideal but it’s not easy to bring about. Sometimes you have to change the situation first, like establishing trust, improving communication skills, setting the time aside to have the discussion. You need to establish the conditions first if you ever hope to collaborate. But for each of those modes, there’s a set of conditions where it works best.

Now, with the Thomas Kilmann Instrument, people find out which of those modes they might be using too much or too little. Maybe you approach every situation with competing, you always think you’re right, you always think you’re more important than the other person, and so you’re always trying to assert yourself without any concern of the other, and then you find out, “Huh, maybe there are times I have to let the other person get their needs met because, then, they’re going to be more favorable to me in the long term.”

So, you start thinking about, “How can I work with other people to bring out an effective resolution of the conflict?” And sometimes accommodating, as I mentioned, works best when the issue really isn’t that important to you, it’s more important to the other person, so why not let have the other person have their way. As I mentioned with avoiding, you don’t want to avoid conflicts that are really important to both people in terms of your need satisfaction, but there are times when you need more time to think about it, to talk to other people, to collect information.

So, what you have to understand with conflict management, there are these five approaches, five repertoire of skills you can use, but learning when to use them and how to use them effectively. For example, I can avoid a group meeting by saying, “I’ve had enough of this nonsense. I don’t want to hear this anymore. I’m getting out of here.” I stand up, leave the room, and slam the door. I’m avoiding.

Or, you can avoid by saying, “You know, I’m not ready to make a decision yet. Can I have a few more days to think about it and talk about this with my coworkers?” That’s avoiding too but it’s done in a much more respectful, dignified manner. So, what’s important besides knowing those five modes, when to use each of them in the correct situation, but then also how to enact each mode with care, sensitivity, dignity, and respect.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said. Ralph, I have a feeling you’ve spoken about this before.

Ralph Kilmann
Well, for about 50 plus years. In fact, I just spoke with Ken Thomas, my co-author, yesterday and we kind of reflected that we’ve known each other for 50 years since our days at UCLA, and an amazing journey.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, so then we figure out which one is the most appropriate, and then we use the elegant version of that, ideally, in terms of sort of being optimal with regard to your relationships and needs meeting. And so, I got a good sense, I think, in terms of collaboration seems ideal but a few things have to occur and we have to have that trust and communication and the time to go there. Accommodation is great when it’s really important to them and I don’t care so much. Can you give us a view for when the other approaches are just right?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, compromising would work best when there’s a fair amount of stress, you don’t have a lot of time to discuss the issue, it’s only of moderate importance to both of you, and coming up with an expedient solution allows you then to focus on other more important problems and conflicts. So, compromising is very expedient, it doesn’t take much time to flip a coin or split the difference.

So, you and I want to meet, I want to meet at 4:00 in the afternoon, you want to meet at 2:00, we say, “Why don’t we make it 3:00 o’clock? Instead of spending an hour discussing what time to meet, let’s just split the difference.” That’s compromising.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Sure.

Ralph Kilmann
Now, both of us may only be partly satisfied by that because maybe there are reasons we wanted to meet at 2:00 or 4:00, but let’s talk about the main issues and not get bogged down with something less important, like a couple of minutes here or a couple of minutes there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so there’s compromise. And how about the others?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, as I mentioned with avoiding is when the issue is not important or you’re overwhelmed by stress and there’s not going to be a quality discussion if people are overwhelmed with stress. Save it for another day, save it for another meeting. Or, you need to collect more information, or you don’t want to be pushed to a decision, or a decision doesn’t have to be made till next week or next month, we don’t have to do it now, so let’s focus on things that have to be done this week that have a higher priority.

But, as I mentioned, if something is very important to you and someone else, and you avoid it because you don’t like conflict, you don’t like confrontation, then you’re walking around and your needs are not met, the other person’s needs are not met. And, long term, if you and other people’s needs are not met, your most important needs, you either disengage from the situation or you leave. Or you leave a relationship, a workplace, whatever. People have to get their needs met at some point.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And I really liked how, with the avoiding, you gave us a fine way to avoid and a not-so fine way to avoid. Could you give us those illustrations for the others as well?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, the favorite one is competing, where picture a very autocratic manager slamming his fist on the table, saying, “We’re going to do this. I don’t want to hear any argument,” and he’s shouting, he’s screaming, he’s pounding his fists, and people are almost too afraid to speak or to do anything different.

Whereas, the healthy side of competing is I’m sitting very calmly, and I’m saying, “Let me share with you why this issue is so important to me, and I’m hoping you can see why I want this to come out in the way I’m suggesting. And if you allow me and you indulge me on this one, when something is that important to you, then I’ll concede to you, but please hear me out.”

That’s a completely different approach than putting my fists on the table and shouting at people and talking in people’s faces. Both are competing but they have a completely different impact on others.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. Okay. And how about what’s a sloppy cooperation look like?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, a sloppy cooperation would be…it might be said that there is some stress in the situation but, basically, people don’t like conflict. Maybe that’s something we should talk about, why conflict is often viewed in such negative terms as if it’s bad and we simply want to get rid of it. The world would be a better place if there were no conflict. But, as it turns out, conflict is like death and taxes; it’s inevitable. You can’t get away from it. It’s the nature of the universe.

But, essentially, with compromising, it would be, “We don’t like conflict so we don’t want to talk about it. Let’s flip a coin even though these needs are important to us and we’re not getting them satisfied. But I’d rather flip a coin and split the difference than have this  discussion with you that makes me uncomfortable.”

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Ralph Kilmann
So, to move from compromising to collaborating, not only do you have to develop trust, effective communication skills, you have to be comfortable with differences, you have to be comfortable with confrontation, and saying, “I disagree with you. Please hear me out. This is how I view the situation. I know we can figure this out together.” But it’s knowing what to say and how to say it to engage other people in addressing the issue.

And I might say, Pete, if you look at the world today, I think you might well agree, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, there seems to be more conflict now across the globe than ever before in the history of this planet whether you’re talking what happened from the pandemic, from politics, divisiveness, systemic racism, climate change, fiscal issues, job issues, economy issues. We are embraced with conflict like never before.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I guess in terms of…well, I only have the years I’ve been alive on the planet to look at, but it sure feels more verbally divisive.

But, yeah, I hear you there. From some vantage points, it does seem like there’s more conflict than ever before. For no other reason, there’s more humans than ever before and who have more access to ideas and different opinions.

Ralph Kilmann
And the pandemic and the politics have put people globally under stress. And under stress, you’re less likely to use conflict modes effectively. You’re likely to go to the extreme. We’ve seen people have meltdowns when they’re asked to put on masks or to keep their social distance, bad meltdowns, because they’re on overwhelm, and it just takes a little bit to take someone over the edge. You can’t use an effective approach with conflict management with dignity and respect when you’re totally stressed out. In fact, let me suggest what the TKI conflict model looks like under high stress.

Competing becomes fight, avoiding becomes flight, and accommodating becomes freeze. Fight, flight, freeze, which are the three physiological responses to stress for the sympathetic nervous system. So, when we see the sabertoothed tiger, or when we see that we are under a threatening condition where we could lose our life, we go into overwhelm. We fight, flight, or freeze.

And so, the conflict model that is mindful with collaborating and avoiding and compromising, and choosing those behavioral approaches to best match the situation, all collapse into fight, flight, freeze under high stress. So, what we’ve seen in the US and in other countries is some of the conflicts we might’ve been better able to resolve without all that high stress, we see a lot of fight, flight, and freeze. Depression is freeze.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so then, let’s talk a bit about this emotional stuff. When it comes to saying, “You know, I just don’t like conflict,” or when we are feeling like, “I’m under a lot of stress,” how do we tackle some of that emotional stuff so that we’re saying, “Hey, you know what, conflict is alright. Maybe it’s not my favorite thing, but it’s okay. It’s like taxes is not my favorite thing but we get through it. It’s alright”? As well as the stress, like, “I’m freaking out about this thing and I’d be able to resolve it a lot better if I weren’t.” So, what do I do with this stuff?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, first, I have found it’s so important for the reasons I was giving to reduce the amount of stress. If people are under high stress, you cannot have a good conversation. They’re going to get one another defensive. They’re going to use the extreme forms of the conflict modes that get other people defensive, on and on. It’s not going to work. So, how do you remove the stress?

A simple method, and this is from mind, body, spirit modalities, is breathing. You breathe in like for seven seconds, you hold your breath for a certain amount of time, you exhale for seven, eight seconds, and then you take these long deep breaths, and that resets the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system so it relaxes you. It’s called the relaxed response.

So, again, you breathe in. I don’t remember if it’s four or five seconds. Hold your breath for seven seconds. Breathe out for eight, then hold it a little bit more. You do that a few times, you will reset your nervous system. That’s so important.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, four, seven, eight sounds like Andrew Weil, like sleepy breath. Is that the same one?

Ralph Kilmann
Yeah, it’s something like that. Well, you’ll find different people, like they differ.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there are so many different counts, “Do box breathing. Four, four, four, four,” I mean, there are so many.

Ralph Kilmann
There’s conflict over how many seconds to inhale and then exhale and then hold your breath, but the point is, by slowing down the breathing, making it deeper, you reset your nervous system so you can use your cognitive mind as you’re intended to do. So, you got to remove the stress. And then what I found very useful is to get a group of people together who have respect for one another and they share how are they responding in today’s world, how are they dealing with these issues, how are they approaching it.

It’s like creating a conflict support group so we can all say, “Yes, we’re experiencing stress. Let’s try to keep that down at a level so we can use our minds as intended. And let’s discuss how we’re each approaching this so we can support one another. What did you find works when you tried this approach or that approach?” And then they can talk about it.

When this is done in a work setting, it’s a thing of beauty, Pete, because so often they’re talking about getting the work done as opposed to saying, “But how do we work together as a team? How do we resolve our differences? How can we do this more effectively?” There will always be conflict. You cannot get away from it, but the difference is how you manage it. That makes all the difference in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Beautiful. Well, so before we shift gears, anything else you want to say about conflict?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, we certainly should look at internal conflict because that’s where it all begins. So, if we have time, I’d like to…

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it.

Ralph Kilmann
Okay. Well, in my book, I talk about these four foundational inner conflicts that drive all the outer conflicts. The first one, and this is so basic, are you an energy body or a physical body? Now, sometimes people in the Western world say, “Well, I’m a physical body. What are you talking about energy body?” Well, in the Eastern world, we’re more into energy that we radiate, for example, through the seven chakras in the body than we are in the Western world where it’s all about how we think about things.

So, the question becomes, “We’re not just physical, we’re not just energy. We’re both.” In fact, I asked the question, “Are you a physical body or an energy body?” which pits the conflict on that model to say, “Either this or that,” and you can go back and forth arguing which is which. Whereas, in fact, the collaborating approach says, “You’re not either. You’re both.”

And when you walk into a room and talk to people, it’s not just your words that impact people; it’s your energy, it’s your mood. If you are depressed or sad or angry, or you have a lot of pride and arrogance, whatever words you use are going to come out a certain way. As opposed to coming into a room with other people, and saying similar things but the energy is one of love, joy, peace, compassion.

How different does that sound from anger, fear, grief, pride, and arrogance, love, joy, peace, and compassion? That’s the emotional energies. And when people get in touch with their body and their feelings, and then they radiate that energy, they’re not just choosing words. They’re choosing, “What is the energy I use to present these words.” The energy I find, Pete, is more important than the words themselves.

And you can walk into a room and you can feel tension or you can feel joy. It’s not the words; it’s the energy. So, anyone who says, “Oh, we’re just physical bodies,” say, “Walk into a room and tell me what you feel.” You can feel it. And what’s interesting, you can learn to assess those energies. We don’t learn that in the US in our educational programs where everything is about the mind, the head, the intellect.

Physical education, we separate the body from the mind. You go to physical education where you do sports and fitness, but you don’t really get into your feelings and what sensations are in your body. So, we address it by separating it out into physical education, whereas, in reality, you can’t separate out the mind and the body, they’re together. And some day, educational programs will help children express what they’re feeling in their bodies so they’re more aware of what they’re feeling and what they’re all about and who they are.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when you say what they’re feeling in their bodies and the emotions and the energies, kind of like an integration might sound something like, “My neck feels like things are crawling over it. I’m very uncomfortable and worried about this situation we’re in right now.” Like that?

Ralph Kilmann
Exactly. In fact, I would say most of the researchers suggest if something comes to you, it first affects your body and then your mind picks up on it. So, if you can say, “Huh, why is my neck so stiff? Why have I had neck pain for the last two years? What’s going on in my life that gives me that kind of a tension? I have this anxiety in my solar plexus that doesn’t go away. I’ve taken things for it, what is that all about?” Well, that’s some tension.

But one of the modalities for body consciousness is called somatic experiencing. Somatic is of the body, and you actually pay attention to the tingling and the feelings in your solar plexus, and you pay attention to it, and you stay there, and you focus on it. And guess what? It dissipates. But if you think, “Well, it’s my body and that’s separate from my mind, and I can’t do anything about it, and I have to live with this,” you’re missing the opportunity to look at the signals and the messages that your body is giving you even before something gets to the mind where you, then, conceptualize and say, “Oh, I must have tension.” Well, your body already knows that. So, the sooner you pay attention to the body, the quicker you’ll get on top of what you’re experiencing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s energy and body. How about what are the other internal conflicts?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, they’re all fun. The second one is one of my favorites. Actually, they’re all my favorites, but the second one is “Are you governed by your ego or your soul?” Your ego and soul are two different kinds of inner voices you have that suggest how you should be living your life, how you should make decisions, what actions you should take. And ego, just to give you an idea, is focusing on things like self-image, safety, security, survival, success, immortality, fame, glory, being in control, being in power, being more important than anyone else. Those are ego things.

Now, the soul is “Why was I born? What am I here to do? What’s my special calling? What’s my piece in the universe? What will give me the most meaning and satisfaction in life? Why was I put on this planet and given the privilege of life? What does that mean? What am I to do?” Ego and soul, I don’t mean it to be religious, I don’t mean it to be Freudian, it’s simply saying the ego is of the mind, and the soul is of spirit. It’s a beyond the mind-body. And those are two different messages.

So, someone can say, “Well, my ego wants to live forever, and I want to be in control, and I want to have more money than anyone else.” Fine. Soul says, “But what do I want to contribute to society? How can I serve people?” And here’s what’s interesting, some of the Eastern traditions suggest we have to destroy the ego and feed the soul. I don’t believe that at all. Why would you want to destroy or discard any part of you?

The issue, again, think of the TKI conflict model. It’s first, either/or, I’m governed by ego or soul, but then if I create the right conditions, I can have both. When my ego and soul are on the same page, the ego gives me the energy to pursue my soul’s mission. When I’m fighting the two, then I’m at odds with myself. My ego doesn’t want to do this so, therefore, my soul is not going to be satisfied. Or, my soul will want to do this but the ego says, “I’m not participating. You go on your own.” If you can get ego and soul working in the same direction, on the same mission, then you are maximizing your life, your needs, your contribution to society.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful.

Ralph Kilmann
So, that’s the second one. The third one is also kind of fun. You’re ready for this?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it.

Ralph Kilmann
Are your surrounding systems – and I’ll define what I mean by that – separate from you or an integral part of who you are? Notice how we say because we first set it up as that debate on the TKI conflict model, before we resolve it into a more integrated collaborative manner. So, essentially, it’s people generally think of the culture of the organization, the reward system, the strategy, the structure, other people as outside them, they’re outside my ego-encapsulated skin. And, therefore, since they’re outside of me, they’re someone else’s responsibility.

Now, what happens, Pete, if everyone believes that the systems of the organization are someone else’s responsibility? “It’s not me. I’m just what’s inside me, what I’m feeling, what I’m thinking.” But what’s fascinating is when you realize that we’re all in this together, we’re all connected, the systems we create are part of our psyche, we can’t really be separate from anything. And once people say, “You know, I am equally responsible to my surrounding systems, that’s a part of who I am, so I think I have to take some steps to improve those systems so that I can create the conditions that we can resolve our conflicts in the healthiest most successful manner.”

And, yet, what’s interesting with that inner conflict, that third one, of, “Are systems a part of you or outside of you?” is so fundamental because I always come across people who believe those systems are outside, “They’re not a part of me. That’s someone else’s responsibility.” And, yet, again I have to emphasize this, Pete, if everyone thinks the system is someone else’s responsibility, who’s taking care of it?

Pete Mockaitis
Nobody.

Ralph Kilmann
Nobody, yeah. Like all the discussion now about infrastructure, is that a part of who we are or is that a problem in other cities, other nations, other bridges, not my bridge, or do we realize that it’s all together? In fact, to show you the spiritual perspective, someone had asked me once, “Give me an example of that spiritual perspective when we really recognize we’re all in this together and we’re all one.”

And that’s the case when you discover that someone on the other side of the globe, say in Africa, is suffering. That suffering is as important and significant to you as if your own child is suffering. There’s no difference between a stranger in Africa and your own child. I’m not there yet, most people aren’t, maybe the Dalai Lama is, but, essentially, that is the ultimate where we say, “You know, we’re part of this human race, we have this consciousness that we all tap into, and if we can work together across the planet, we can all have a better life and get our most important needs met.”

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And the fourth?

Ralph Kilmann
The fourth is the hardest to resolve, and that’s why it’s listed as number four. And I suggest that if you make significant progress with the first three, you’re then ready to really deal with the fourth one. And the fourth one is “Have you resolved your primal relationships or is your life still being drained by traumas from the past?”

In some work situations, picture a group having a meeting, and those people are triggering one another from previous relationships 30, 40 years ago, when they were kids or teenagers where they got hurt, and these people remind them of those people. And so, they’re talking to one another as if they’re the ones that hurt them 30 years ago. That’s called projection.

Actually, the full psychological dynamic is splitting, “I don’t like this so I’m going to get it away from me”; projecting, “I’ll put it on the other person and then I’ll attack the other person.” So, basically, unless you’ve resolved your primal relationships, it’s hard for you to be present with the people that are right in front of you. You are projecting unresolved stuff from previous caregivers, from people who perpetrated you with one injury or another, a dog you lost, a brother, a friend, whatever, and that’s your life. You’re living that way. You can’t interact with the people in the present and resolve conflict if you’re reacting or the phrases you’re being triggered by unresolved problems in the past.

So, the more we can help people resolve the primal relationships, more of their consciousness will be present in the moment to address the really important issues and get people’s most important needs met. But it’s the hardest because who wants to go back and examine those demons? But if you don’t, you’ll spend the rest of your life, perhaps, running from them. That’s the ultimate avoiding is to say, “I don’t have any issues. I’m done with the traumas. I’m over it,” and, meanwhile, they’re yelling at other people as if they’re yelling at the people who hurt them 30 years ago.

So, if in an organization, we had people who work through those four inner conflicts – energy, physical body, ego versus soul, separate systems versus integral part of me, primal relationships – if people have worked through that, then their consciousness, all their mind, body, spirit, is fully available to contribute to the organization today and tomorrow.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful.

Ralph Kilmann
Now, whose responsibility is it? You can say, “Well, people should do their own therapy, their own meditation, their own exercises, their own massages, on and on,” or if the human resource objective is to get the most of the human resources talent in the organization working in the same direction, maybe organizations need to take responsibility to help people develop their mind, body, spirit consciousness, and then make sure that’s brought into the organization.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I think that when there’s a great ROI to be had, organizations should just go for it. That’s my take. So, I love it when I hear things like, was it AETNA providing incentives for sleeping enough? It was like, “Right on. Go for it. That’s great. Sleep is important and it makes a huge difference.” So, if it’s a little bit of a nudge or an incentive can improve people’s sleep, which improves their thinking and their creativity, their stress, and collaboration, then I am all for it even if it feels a little weird or different. I think we’re on the same mind there.

Ralph Kilmann
Well, what’s interesting, Pete, is in today’s world, so many people have heard about and experienced meditation, yoga, physical exercise, talk therapy, self-help books, there’s so much out there, and they’re doing it. The problem is often the organizational cultures says, “It’s taboo to talk about that and bring it into the organization.”

And, yet, when I work with organizations and we begin that discussion, and people start sharing their personal journeys, again, they have to trust one another, the culture has to support it, so some preliminary work has to be done, but then, my goodness, does the conversation open up. So, we regularly have these meetings in the organization where we talk about this stuff, and you build bonds and connection and understanding. You develop relationships at a deeper level so that you can solve the most complex problems with your fellow colleagues. It makes a huge difference.

And then you go into an organization where no one’s allowed, based on the culture, to talk about those things. “It’s taboo. We don’t talk about it. The last time someone said they were visiting a therapist, they were laughed at and told that they were crazy. Look, don’t do that again. Take care of yourself. People will hurt you.” People are closed off. Then how can you work together to solve complex problems if you’re so guarded, so defensive, and you don’t know who you are and what brings you bliss?

Pete Mockaitis
Great perspectives, Ralph. Now, can we hear a few of your favorite things, starting with a favorite quote?

Ralph Kilmann
One is by Lao Tzu, and it says, “If you’re depressed, you’re living in the past. If you’re anxious, you’re living in the future. If you’re at peace, you’re living in the present.” And I think it was Oprah who said, “Doing your very best in this moment is the best preparation for the next moment.” So, how do you get present instead of projecting all that junk and unresolved stuff from the past, or being engrossed with fear about what’s likely to happen in the future? Stay present, be conscious, work with people, I think that’s essential.

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

Ralph Kilmann
I guess recently I read a book that really impressed me. It’s a book by Colin Tipping called Radical Forgiveness. Absolutely brilliant. And it’s about the resolution of primal relationships and it’s really saying that even when something bad happens, the spiritual perspective is to look at it and say, “How is this really a gift? What is this showing me that I’ve been unresolved about? Yes, I’m angry. Yes, I’m frustrated. I want to hurt that other person for what he said. But, wait a minute. It’s a gift. What did that person trigger in me that I haven’t yet resolved?”

And then in terms of forgiveness, it’s not even saying, “I forgive you for doing that.” It’s like, “Thank you for doing that. You allowed me to look at something in myself I would’ve never looked at if you hadn’t triggered me. Thank you. It’s a blessing.” And when we can see events in life as spirit giving us an opportunity to further grow and examine, it’s not about being angry; it’s about finding out, “Why did I have that emotional response? It’s a signal that I haven’t developed or resolved something, so let me do that now and become a better person so I can serve others and society more effectively.” That’s radical forgiveness.

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

Ralph Kilmann
A tool? I think of tools in terms of assessment tools.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Ralph Kilmann
And besides the TKI conflict model and the TKI instrument, which measures those five, I’ve developed at least 10 other assessment tools. And what’s fascinating, I find, when people say, “Why do you develop those instruments?” I said, I’ll give you a radical statement, even if they’re not entirely valid and no instrument can be entirely valid, when you give somebody a number and say, “This is how you resolve conflict,” or, “This is the cultural issues that concern you,” or, “Here are your beliefs,” you put a number on it and people say, “What does that mean? What number did you get?” they start talking about it.

The beauty of assessment is you personalize the topic whether it’s culture, or courage, or conflict, and then people start talking about it. They want to say, “How did I come out on this? Why did you get a higher score than I did? What does that mean?” It just opens up the dialogue. So, I find, for me, assessment tools that pinpoint something important about people’s lives, either at home or at work, is an opening to get concrete about a topic so we can learn more.

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

Ralph Kilmann
Best would be my website, which is www.KilmannDiagnostics.com. And that has everything on it, and, of course, my recent legacy book Creating a Quantum Organization. There’s nothing else for me to write. It’s all in there. It’s weird for me to say that, Pete, but it’s like I have nothing else to do. I think I’ve completed it. Now, we’ll see what happens in six months, okay?

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

Ralph Kilmann
Yes. Recognize that even though it sounds difficult, can be a little fearful, is look in the mirror because that is the essence of who you are. Discover yourself, love yourself. If you love yourself, all good things will happen, but you can’t love yourself if you’re running away from yourself and everything that’s happened to you. So, while it’s difficult, the rewards are huge for you and everyone that works with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ralph, thank you. It’s been a real treat. I wish you much luck with your book, Creating a Quantum Organization, and the rest of your fun projects.

Ralph Kilmann
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s always a pleasure to talk about these issues because they drive everything else.

751: How to Decrease Loneliness and Increase Belonging with Ryan Jenkins

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Ryan Jenkins tackles the overlooked problem of loneliness in the workplace and shares expert tips for fostering connection and belonging for both yourself and your team.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you can still feel lonely around other people 
  2. Just how loneliness is harming our health and productivity
  3. The simplest thing you can do now to feel less lonely 

About Ryan

Ryan Jenkins CSP® is an internationally-recognized keynote speaker and three-time published author. He speaks all over the world to companies such as State Farm, Salesforce, Wells Fargo, FedEx, Liberty Mutual, and John Deere. 

For a decade, he has been helping organizations create engaged, inclusive, and high-performing teams by lessening worker loneliness and closing generational gaps. Ryan’s top-ranked insights have been featured in ForbesFast Company, and The Wall Street Journal. 

He is also co-founder of LessLonely.com, the world’s first resource fully dedicated to reducing worker isolation and strengthening team connections. Ryan lives in Atlanta, GA, with his wife, three children, and yellow Labrador. 

Resources Mentioned

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Ryan Jenkins Interview Transcript

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

Ryan Jenkins
Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to get into your wisdom. But, first, I need to know, since you visited all 50 states in the United States here, is there one that you think is underrated or overrated that you want to share your hot take with?

Ryan Jenkins
I like them all, to be honest, and I feel so…

Pete Mockaitis
Even New Jersey? No offense. Just kidding.

Ryan Jenkins
The most underrated? I guess I’d say Alaska and New York because, I think, personally, every time I go to New York, I’m always taken back by just how specifically large New York City is. It always takes my breath away. And then Alaska is just…it’s my favorite state. It’s so beautiful and it takes my breath away for a completely different reason. So, those are two standouts in my mind.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. You’ve got quite the stretch. And we’re talking about loneliness. I imagine, I don’t know, you can be lonely in Alaska or New York City. Tell us, maybe before we get into all the particulars, is there a specific discovery you’ve made in your loneliness research that’s really surprising or counterintuitive to you?

Ryan Jenkins
Yeah, you mentioned you could be lonely in New York, you could also be lonely in Alaska, and that’s true. And that correlates to one of the…probably the thing that most rings true or stands out to folks the most, which is the definition of loneliness. And loneliness isn’t the absence of people; it’s the absence of connection. So, I could be in a busy city like New York City and be surrounded by people constantly, but still feel isolated and alone.

Vice versa, you could be in Alaska surrounded by nobody but not feel isolated and feel very connected to other things. So, again, it’s not the absence of people; it’s the absence of connection. And so, that always kind of gets people to start thinking. That’s true and that’s probably why there are certain times of your life or certain areas of your life or your day that you feel more connected and less lonely, and then other times you feel very alone. And so, that’s probably what stands out the most, in my mind, and what gets people pondering the deepest.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you say connected, I guess I’m thinking connected to people. Are there other flavors of connection that you’re thinking here?

Ryan Jenkins
Yeah, great question. And the reason I wanted to attack work with loneliness and specifically address workplace loneliness, is I thought the workplace was the best place to eradicate or help to lessen loneliness amongst individuals. And so, if you think about work, there’s a lot of connection points. There’s connection to one’s self, there’s connection to your team members, there’s connection to a leader, there’s connection to your work, there’s connection to a purpose or the organizational cultures. There’s all kinds of different flavors, and in your words, of connections.

And so, if we start thinking about it from that standpoint, we really start to get a better understanding of all these different points that we have to nurture in order to feel less isolated in today’s very isolating world.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then I’m curious, can you sort of give us the state of affairs with regard to the research? So, how widespread is the state of loneliness? I guess, probably, everybody feels lonely at some point, so maybe I don’t know if it’s monthly, weekly, or however you’ve got it sliced and diced. Like, how widespread is loneliness? How deep is loneliness amongst those who are feeling it? And just how big of a deal is that? Is it just sort of like, “Well, yeah, everyone feels lonely sometimes, you know. That’s part of being human”? Versus, is it really bad news?

Ryan Jenkins
All of the above, really. And loneliness is a universal human condition. We all experience it. And the reason why it’s stuck with us for so long is because loneliness was helpful and it continues. It is a useful emotion. That’s why we still carry it throughout humanity. Think about our ancestors who roam the planes.

When you were excluded, when you’re isolated from a group, your survival rate plummeted. There was literally strength in numbers. We could pool our resources, we could watch each other’s backs, we could strategize and socialize to take down wooly mammoths to create some warm fuzzy slippers. There was strength in numbers and there was safety in numbers.

And so, when we get excluded from a group, our body goes into fight-or-flight mode. And that’s why that’s such an important conversation, especially, as we think about how to be awesome at our job, is we have to understand how to fill our cup up and how to boost our connections and nurture these connections because, if not, we’re in flight-or-fight mode and we’re not able to fully show up at work.

So, back to your question. It’s a universal human condition and, according to our research, we surveyed over 2,000 global workers, and 72% of them say that they experience loneliness at least monthly with 55% saying they experience it at least weekly, and that’s all across the organization, individual contributors to executives. Loneliness is no respecter of person. It’s a universal human condition.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I’m curious, in your survey, did you…I don’t know if you can recall any particular word choices, but did you say, “Hey, did you feel lonely or lack of connection?” Or, how are we wording that, I wonder?

Ryan Jenkins
Yeah, we asked folks, “How often do you experience loneliness?” And we did our best to give them a little bit of context on how we defined loneliness, but it’s a tricky emotion. We experience a lot of emotions. It’s hard to pinpoint. And even today, the science around loneliness is really, really new. It’s pretty extraordinary. It’s only in the last five to six years that we really kind of really start to unpack it and figure out where it shows up in the brain.

I think part of the reason is loneliness has just been shrouded in shame, so even the neuroscientists and psychologists don’t want to touch it. but that’s changing, which is really exciting because, again, it can be useful. It’s literally our biological cue that we belong together and we’re better together.

So, we tried to give them the best idea of kind of what connection was so that they could, effectively, evaluate when and where they were experiencing feelings of isolation but it’s hard to pinpoint if “Does loneliness come first and then does that lead to depression? Or, does depression come first and that leads to isolation and loneliness? Do we get burnt out that leads to loneliness?”

It’s really hard to say which comes first. And, hopefully, as humanity becomes more open to talk about loneliness, we all become a little bit more aware and start being a little bit more in tuned with ourselves and how we assess it and when and where we feel lonely, and then also being able to identify it in others so that we can draw people in because the tricky thing about loneliness is that when we feel lonely, we do the exact opposite of what we should be doing.

We turn inward instead of turning outward, and we just start to go more inward and begin distrusting more folks, and we become less and less approachable. So, it’s a vicious cycle that creates a downward spiral. And so, that’s why it’s really important that all of us come together and really start to pull each other in and identify where folks may be feeling disconnected.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, that part really resonates because I moved from Chicago to just outside the Nashville area, and I do miss a lot of my great friends there, and have felt some more loneliness here. So, when in the area, you can contact me pete@awesomeatyourjob.com. But to that point, it does resonate. Like, sometimes if I feel lonely, I feel, for me, it’s like I’m not quite at my best because I’m also not feeling like, it’s not really dramatic in terms of depression. But it’s sort of like, “You know what, I don’t really feel all that funny, witty, fun, interesting, engaging. I don’t really know if I want to show up to a thing in this condition.”

I want to put my best foot forward, making first impressions and connections, and have people think, like, “Oh, this Pete guy is awesome. I want to hang out with him again,” as opposed to, “Oh, yeah, he was sort of lame. I don’t really care to spend any more time with him.” And so, that’s kind of where my brain goes.

And so, that point really does resonate in terms of when we’re feeling lonely, we can look inward and that’s problematic. And I think Shawn Achor discussed some of this exact phenomenon in The Happiness Advantage. And so, you reminded me of awesome stuff. So, I want to make sure we don’t move too quickly past the notion of the dangers of loneliness.

So, we have links or associations or correlations to depression, to more, I guess, you said kind of limbic, amygdala, fight-or-flight type stuff, stress things. Any cool experiments that come to mind in terms of, “Oh, hey, we subjected lonely and non-lonely people to a stress, and here’s what went down”?

Ryan Jenkins
There’s a number of studies that we put a lot of them in the book, and it’s all so fascinating. I’ll share a few of them. One is they took…there was this one experiment happening where they were actually trying to figure out how mice were reacting to cocaine.

Pete Mockaitis
Sounds like a good time.

Ryan Jenkins
Yeah, it’s exactly where they found out kind of how the brain processes loneliness. And so, they began experimenting and isolating mice, and they found that the more that we isolate mice, the more that they crave connection. And not surprising, that’s the same with humans as well. Another really interesting research, I’m sure many of your listeners are familiar with, is the Harvard University study around adult development. It’s the longest study ever, continuous study of adult development.

It’s gone for 80 years, it’s still going on, which is incredible that there’s enough funds and enough staff who stuck around to keep this study going. But now they’ve studied over 2,000 people, and according to the director, the definitive answer to a long and healthy life, after this longest study ever done in adult development, is quality relationships, so it’s essentially our connections. And study after study after study just reveals how detrimental it is to the human body.

And I think we’re just now starting to realize that we need this more and more. And silver lining, and the pandemic really pulled the curtain back, we all experienced it. We, perhaps, couldn’t put our finger on it, and now we’re ready to talk about this, and I think we’re all in a good position to start absorbing some more of this new research and insights on how to better establish and nourish our connections.

Ryan Jenkins
One other study, I think, that could be helpful for your listeners, Pete, and it is recently they did an experiment where they excluded people and they put them through an experience of exclusion, and the monitored their brain, and their brain lit up, of course, not surprising, but where their brain lit up was super fascinating and insightful.

And they actually discovered that the same part of the brain that registers physical pain is the same part of the brain that registers exclusion. So, that’s what’s really important and that’s really the research that really got me super interested in this because so many of the audiences that I talk to in organizations I serve, trying to get them to understand some of these concepts so that they can create more engaged, healthier and high-performing organizations.

We talk about loneliness, seems like a very soft topic but, in reality, if we don’t address this, that means we’ve got folks showing up to work that, literally, the pain part of their brain is lighting up, and they’re not able to fully show up so that they can deliver exceptional work and show up for their teammates and deliver for clients and customers.

So, that’s why it’s important for all of us, whether you’re an individual contributor or you’re a leader, a manager, is we’ve got to understand this so that we can lessen loneliness and get people to show up more fully at work, and that creates healthier individuals, and, ultimately, higher-performing organizations.

You could probably tell in my voice I’m excited about this conversation, and it’s no longer a soft one. it’s really a dire one. And it’s not that difficult to overcome. We’ve just got to be aware of it and then equip ourselves with some intentional tools to pick away at it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And that’s basically what your book Connectable is trying to do here. Or, how would you articulate the core message or thesis?

Ryan Jenkins
Yeah, it’s three parts. The first part, we talk about loneliness. We give our readers a better understanding of the science of it and how it’s impacting work specifically. Part two is we unpack belonging and how that’s the nemesis of loneliness and how that’s the antidote to loneliness. We talk about why humans need belonging, and then how we can start thinking about that in the context of work.

And then the third and final part is all actionable strategies. So, we created a four-step framework that folks can use to help lessen loneliness in themselves or the team around them, whether they’re involved in that team or they’re leading that team.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, I’m curious, when you mentioned earlier that loneliness being a complicated sort of a thing in terms of the human experience of emotions is broad and multifaceted and so many layers, are there any maybe clues or indicators or signs that you might highlight for us to tune into in terms of, “Oh, wait a minute, maybe you’re lonely”?

For example, I remember once I got dumped, it was a bummer. And then it was just before I went to San Diego for an event with Pat Flynn, and it was really cool, the 1-Day Business Breakthrough. And I remember Pat was so cool as to serve Chipotle burritos for the lunch at the event and I was chowing down, I had a big old burrito, and then had a bunch of chips and queso. And I thought I was still hungry, and I was like, “That’s really weird. Usually, this is plenty of food for lunch for me to not feel hungry,” and yet I’m still hungry. I was like, “Oh, wait, I’m not hungry. I just feel empty inside.” Sad face.

And then they proceeded to give me brutal feedback about my business, which needed to be shut down. It was fine. It was helpful. Thank you, guys. So, anyway, I guess I shared that story, not to make everyone feel sad and feel sorry for me, but to share that sometimes it can fly under the radar, it’s like, “We don’t even know that we’re lonely.” So, are there any things you might sort of highlight for us, like, “Oh, if these are the kinds of things that are going on, you may, in fact, be lonely”?

Ryan Jenkins
Yes, and not to be promotional, this is just a free tool that you can use, that we created. If you go to LessLonely.com, you scroll all the way to the bottom, we have a free assessment. It takes two minutes. It’s ten questions that’s been statistically validated, critically validated, to actually assess how connected you are to those around you. So, that can be step one, where you can actually test yourself and get a score as to, “Are you feeling lonely?” or, “How connected really are you?” So, that would be step one.

Step two is, specifically in the book, we looked at ten identifiers that show up in the workplace. So, you can think about these for yourself or you can start thinking about these as folks in your organization or on your team because, again, if we’re lonely, we tend to retreat. And so, it’s up to all of us, we’re only as unified as our loneliest team member, so it’s up to all of us to kind of be aware of some of these cues.

I won’t go through all ten of them but I’ll give you a few here, Pete. One is the idea of lack of learning and development. If your curiosity is waning, or your growth mindset, you don’t have that growth mindset like you had, that’s kind of a good indicator. If you have limited participation in training, disdain for extracurricular activities, you’re not asking questions, that could be a subtle indicator. If you skip or resent meetings, that’s a pretty good indicator as well because lonely people avoid others.

So, if you find yourself not apologizing for being late, or you keep your camera off all the time during virtual meetings, or if you’re just generally being disgruntled during meetings, that could be a subtle signifier. And then I think the one that perhaps is the most shocking to folks or perhaps the most unexpected, and the last one I’ll give you, is excessive working.

Someone that’s spending too much time working as a way to avoid personal responsibilities can certainly point to an imbalance in social relationships. So, if you’re volunteering for too many projects, you’re piling up your vacation days, you’re returning emails late at night, these are all subtle indicators that you might be intentionally going into overdrive to avoid other people.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, if we find ourselves in such a spot, what do we do? How do we get more of this belonging antidote going on?

Ryan Jenkins
Yeah, I think what the first step and we highlight in the book is to look at loneliness. And so, being involved in a conversation like this, listening to this, you could check that box. It’s really kind of being aware that this is a growing epidemic and we need to better understand it if we’re going to get our arms around it. If you were a psychologist, you probably heard the statement “Awareness is curative.“ So we, first, got to be aware of this problem.

And then second step, I’m not sure we’ll go through all four here, but the second step is, clearly, just to invest in connections. And one of the ways that we encourage in the book is to create safe spaces, to pursue psychological safety, because the number one burning question in all of us, in all of humanity, that research tells us our brain is asking it five times per second, and that core question of humanity is, “Am I safe?” Our bodies are constantly asking that, “Am I safe? Am I safe? Am I safe?”

So, most of the time, it’s unconscious, but our body is aware of our surroundings and if we’re safe or not, and we’ve got to start creating those spaces at work if, again, we want people to fully show up. Because if we want to quiet that voice in our head that’s constantly saying, “Am I safe? Am I safe? Am I safe?” We’ve got to create these safe spaces. And one way to do that is to create proportional conversations.

So, if you find yourself talking too much and stepping over the conversation of other people, dial it back. If you find yourself not talking at all, it’s time to start speaking up a little bit. And, specifically for leaders, this is for leaders, they can really start to help kind of orchestrate this. But, according to research, Google did Project Aristotle a few years ago, and they studied all these teams to figure out “What was the core element that makes up successful teams?” And they found that it was psychological safety, and the basis of that was having proportional conversations.

And it draws right back to loneliness. If you’re on a team and you don’t feel like your voice is heard, and you don’t feel seen on that team, then, of course, you’re going to retreat and you’re not going to put your best foot forward. So, it’s up to all of us to start creating these spaces, but, specifically for leaders, too, they have a great responsibility to start creating space where these proportional conversations can be had.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s interesting. When you think about proportional conversations, I’m visualizing, “It’s Pete’s turn now.” Like, if there are six of us at a meeting or something, I guess, is that the hope, is that each person would speak roughly six or sixteen-ish percent of the time, and that is associated with there being psychological safety because folks don’t feel the need to either retreat or dominate, and are aware and care about what’s going on here?

Ryan Jenkins
Exactly. Yeah, you want to speak equal amounts, and certainly there’s going to be more introverted folks that aren’t going to want to do that, but it’s up to the team and, specifically, again, the leader, to create other opportunities for those introverts can still feel like their voices being heard or they had equal opportunity to express their thoughts, ideas, etc. So, yeah, that’s it, exactly.

And the other thing that’s important if you’re a leader inside of an organization is to be speaking last. Too often, the clients that we work with and the leaders that we come in conversation with, they get excited about their ideas, they come to the table and they want to post the vision, and then ask questions at the end, or get the ideas from the team at the end.

And that’s too late because you’ve already projected what you’re thinking and the rest of the team is going to fall in line, and you’ve wasted that opportunity for those proportional conversations to be had and for other people to bring their bright ideas to the table. So, speak last is really important for leaders, again, to create that space for proportional conversations to occur.

Pete Mockaitis
We’re talking about leaders, and you mentioned orchestrating. I sort of literally imagined a conductor of an orchestra. I imagine I want to hear some, maybe, scripts or verbiage from you because I imagine you don’t want to say, “Okay, we’ve heard enough from you, Ryan.” Like, “Oh, okay, that doesn’t feel good at all.” So, any key suggestions to try to get that proportionality if you are orchestrating or leading that meeting?

Ryan Jenkins
Yeah, I think at times it’s you never want to shut down an idea because someone might have something similar but it could lead to the next big thing or the breakthrough that you’re looking for. So, keeping your responses neutral as a leader, like, “That’s an interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing.” You don’t have to tilt your hand as far as…

Pete Mockaitis
“That’s certainly an idea.”

Ryan Jenkins
“That is something.” Or, spending time on the frontend creating that agenda and kind of creating the timeslots for folks to speak, kind of assigning it, essentially. Or, the other thing, too, if you have a hybrid team, it’s assigning different folks to run the meeting. That’s another opportunity to where folks that might not be as likely to participate, they can be the ones that actually kind of orchestrate the meeting. And then there’s another tactic that’s used in negotiations. If you say the last three words of someone’s statement…

Pete Mockaitis
The last three words of someone’s statement?

Ryan Jenkins
Exactly. There you go. Then the other person is likely to keep expanding on their thought.

Pete Mockaitis
Keep expanding?

Ryan Jenkins
Yeah, keep talking more and more, like what’s happening just right here. And so, for someone, that’s a little bit more reserved or quiet, that might be a good tactic to draw a little bit more out of those folks as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Draw more out of those folks as well. That is a fun one. I think Chriss Voss mentioned that on the show, who’s awesome, and it really does work. It’s like, if you’re not too overt, it’s like, “Okay, you’re being weird. Cut it out,” like within reason and normal conversationally. Okay. Well, that’s great. So, now we got a four-step less lonely framework, we’ve gotten into it a little bit. I want to make sure we get a little bit of an outline overview of it.

Ryan Jenkins
Yeah, so we’ve covered those first two. Third is this idea of narrowing the focus, so it’s really trying to put your attention on really what matters and, for that section, we studied astronauts because those are the folks that operate in the most secluded parts of the universe. And so, it was really fascinating to figure out, “How does someone, 250 miles away, that only interacts with 11 people for an entire year, how do they keep loneliness at bay? And how do they make sure that they sustain healthy mental health?” And so, they do some really interesting things. A lot of it is around focus and clarity.

And then the fourth and final step in the framework is a circle. So, the fourth and final step is to kindle, it’s a momentum. You get some traction going and you got to keep it going, and we relate human wellbeing to a battery, in the book. We don’t charge up once and we’re fully charged forever. Same thing with our connections. We don’t connect once with someone or a team member and then are fully charged and don’t need to connect ever again. It’s a constant thing that we have to maintain and stick with.

And we all know that to be true. We can’t just make a friend in an hour and then call on them two years from now. If we want healthy relationships, we have to attend to them and we have to be consistent about it.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I must ask more about these astronauts. What are they doing with regard to combating loneliness?

Ryan Jenkins
Yeah, we looked at Christina Koch. So, she’s the female astronaut that spent the most continuous time in space, and for her, it’s all about regimentation. So, she has a very detailed outline of her day, and so she knows exactly what she’s doing on a daily basis. Astronauts, they have their days incremented down to the five-minute increments, so it’s pretty extraordinary.

But the other thing is big picture. They know the big picture and they’re doing important work. They feel very connected to that, and so that’s really important for folks as well. And one of the strategies that we share is this idea of, and this is specifically for leaders but I think there’s a lot of parallels for non-leaders, and that is to lead with context not control. So, how do you start painting the bigger picture for folks?

Because so much of what can drive loneliness is this absence of purpose, we don’t feel connected to something bigger than ourselves. So, how do we start connecting ourselves to this bigger meaning? And, of course, that seems pretty easy for astronauts because they’re doing some really extraordinary work and they feel connected to humanity in a much different way when they’re up there. They’ve always said that they can see the globe and it just gives them different perspective.

But for us down here on Earth, we have to work at this. And if you’re a leader, it’s really on you to start creating more of that context and that bigger picture, and constantly being the chief reminding officer of your team of what you’re doing and how each person’s role and their activities are connected to that bigger picture. So, giving them that context for them to then act with autonomy and not so micromanaged with just control.

Pete Mockaitis
And how does the regimenting of the day help with loneliness exactly? I got you on the connection and the purpose, and the mission vision, and what you’re doing and how that’s serving a bigger thing. And so, I guess I’m thinking back to the workaholism piece that we discussed. Like, in a way, that could be a warning sign, like, “Ooh, you’re doing too much, you’re like avoiding things.” So, how does the regimentation help exactly?

Ryan Jenkins
Yeah, it’s really around clarity, I would say. Think about clarity from the standpoint of clarity and direction. If you don’t have clarity and direction where you’re going somewhere, you’ll end up being lost. And what happens when you’re lost? You end up becoming alone and it’s frightening. So, this idea of having clarity and direction, so you can put your mind to it and you know exactly what needs to be done that day.

And, you’re right, you can totally plan or overwork yourself, but astronauts also have a really good balance of knowing, planning in their exercise and their sleep. They also have psychologists that they connect with on a routine basis, too, to make sure that they’re maintaining their mental health.

One other thing that I think might be helpful, Pete, is this idea around learning as well. Chris Hadfield is another astronaut, a Canadian astronaut, and he’s famous for doing the Space Oddity. Have you seen that YouTube video?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t remember.

Ryan Jenkins
He had a guitar and he lip-synched to Space Oddity in different environments that he did. Look it up on YouTube, it got tons of views, and it’s really well-done. It’s really cool. But one of the ways he lessened loneliness in extreme isolation was through learning. So, learning starves loneliness. And so, he was one that would always try to keep his mind active and to try things. It’s kind of the same idea of you can’t be angry and grateful at the same time. We can’t experience those two emotions.

So, the other idea is if you’re fully involved and interested in learning something, you’re not thinking about, “Woe is me. I’m so isolated up here in space.” And so, Chris would go around, and he called the International Space Station this old attic. And so, he actually found this old Japanese bell, and he became fascinated with how the sound would travel through the International Space Station. And then, of course, he was doing all kinds of other videos, like the Space Oddity on YouTube, just to keep himself occupied and learning as he was up there to kind of keep feelings of loneliness at bay.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, before we hear about some of your favorite things, I’d love it if you could give us just one or two or three immediate tactics or some do’s and don’ts. Like, what are some things we can do right now to decrease loneliness? And what are some things we should not do right now if we want to keep this fostering belonging going on?

Ryan Jenkins
Yeah, I think what you don’t want to do is beat yourself up. Loneliness isn’t shameful; it’s a signal. We all experience it and it’s useful. It’s a signifier and it’s our biological cue that we belong together, so don’t beat yourself up. Or, use it as a reminder that, “Yes, I need to go build a connection, or I need to start turning my attention outside myself.”

Something to do would be one of my favorite activities for individuals is to identify the beneficiaries of your labor. That kind of connects with purpose. So, they’ve done study after study after study, and they find that no matter what industry or line of work you’re in, if you can connect with the person that benefits from your work, for example,   actually perform better when they can actually see the people that they’re cooking for.

So, if we can get a better picture of the people that our work, that people are benefiting from our work. Straight of the line, we can draw from our work to those people and connect those two, we’ll see greater purpose and we’ll start to see loneliness lessen as well because, again, we’ve established those connections. So, that would be one don’t and do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I do that as well, which is why I have some cool software that will just sort of turn on the smartphone cameras on my podcast listeners so I can just sort of watch them and spy on them in the middle of their day, and it really helps keep me feel connected and motivated. Just kidding. Just kidding.

Ryan Jenkins
I’m sure. I’m sure.

Pete Mockaitis
I hope that’s impossible, and even if it is, I haven’t done it. Okay, so do’s and don’ts. Beautiful. Any final thoughts when it comes to loneliness before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Ryan Jenkins
One of my favorite quotes when it comes to loneliness is by the late Robin Williams, the comedian and actor, and he said this, I think it’s really powerful. He said, “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.” So, whether ourselves are experiencing loneliness, or we know people around us who are experiencing loneliness, I think a universal relationship law for all of us is to never make someone feel alone, especially when they’re with us, or they’re with you.

And so, the research is clear that loneliness was growing before the pandemic. The pandemic put a spotlight on it and accelerated it, but because it’s increasing, it also means it’s malleable so it can decrease. And so, it’s up to all of us to start engaging with this. So, again, never make someone feel alone, especially when you’re with them.

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

Ryan Jenkins
One of my favorite quotes is by Dorothy Parker, who, she said, “I hate writing, I love having written.” And, of course, that’s been on my brain ever since I learned about that quote. And as a writer, I have three books, I can relate. The process is grueling but the end result is fueling, and I always am so excited to have written even though the process of writing can be so challenging. And I’m sure many people can relate. The process, whatever process might be, really tough and aggravating, that end result can often make it all worthwhile.

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

Ryan Jenkins
There was some really interesting research, a social psychology research done that proved that people who have time constraints are severely less likely to engage with others by a big, big percentage. And that really stood out to me because all of us tend to be busier and busier than ever before. We constantly keep putting more and more on our to-do list and plates are overflowing, and we got to be cognizant about it because the more busy we are, the less margin we have, the less likely we’re going to show up and connect with others. And so, a subtle reminder there, even for myself, to really be thinking about that margin is where we create some meaningful connections. So, make sure that we’re prioritizing margin.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful. And I’ve felt it even in myself, it’s just like, “Oh, I should give so-and-so a call but I only have eight minutes. That might be kind of lame.” Like, “Hey, I have some time. How about you entertain me on my schedule, and then I’m going to peace out?” So, I guess to some degree, how that might feel to someone. But, at the same time, it’s like, “Well, maybe schedule some time when you have some time.”

And sometimes, my buddy Connor and I, we just have an understanding that we might do a quick check-in call, and that’s just what’s happening. Like, that’s the normative, a six-minute call might be like, “Okay, cool. And now I know what’s going on. This was fun. Thank you. Good day.”

Ryan Jenkins
Those are great examples, Pete. I’m right there with you. Thomas Friedman wrote a book. It’s been years now, but he titled his book Thank You for Being Late. And the reason he came up with that title for the book is because he was at an important meeting at one point in a busy coffee shop, and the person was late. But when the person showed up, they’re like, “I’m so sorry I’m late.” He actually said, “Thank you for being late because, since you were late, I got to eavesdrop on that couple’s conversation. I got to connect with a couple of thoughts that I had and just kind of take in my surroundings.”

And so, one way for us to connect with others, even though we might be busier than ever before, is show up early for things, and just kind of be there and open the kind of whatever connections might come your way.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Ryan Jenkins
I’m a big Seth Godin fan, and so anything he writes, I just eat up. I just love how simple he is yet profound at the same time. And so, I’ll say anything by Seth Godin.

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

Ryan Jenkins
I use Evernote consistently to dump any ideas I have for books and ideas, and so that’s probably the one I’m using the most. I also use Asana to track all of my to-do list and to make sure I’m nothing is going through the cracks.

And then the third tool I’ll give folks, this is probably the most groundbreaking tool and the one I think I cannot live without, and that’s Boomerang, which is a Gmail plugin that allows you to boomerang emails back to your inbox that folks haven’t responded to so that way you can make sure you keep track of folks that you’re trying to connect with.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to resonate with folks; they Kindle book highlight it, they tweet it back at you a lot, a Ryan Jenkins original quotable gem?

Ryan Jenkins
They say that authors write the books that they need to read themselves. I’m an introvert. My co-author is an extrovert. We’ve had some good perspectives in there. But the thing that I learned the most throughout this process is this. Meaningful connections don’t have to be lasting, and that’s something I always fell prey to, that, “If this person is not going to be an integral part of my life, I’m not going to take the time to invest in this relationship or this connection.” And that’s just false.

And so, now, whether it’s my barista, or someone in the elevator that I share, or someone that’s walking by, like I try to do my best to connect and simply just ask folks how their day is going or something else because it only takes about 40 seconds to actually lessen loneliness. And, again, meaningful connections don’t have to be lasting. They’re all around us and we should invest wherever we can.

Pete Mockaitis
Forty seconds. Good to know. I love a number. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point us?

Ryan Jenkins
Yeah, go to LessLonely.com. That’s kind of the one-stop shop for the book and all. We’ve got assessments and a digital course, so that would be the best stop. Check us out on social. We’re very active, even on TikTok @ryanandsteven. And then, finally, we also have a podcast called The Case for Connection wherever you listen to podcasts. And that’s where we unpack the research even further, and we have a lot of fun doing it. So, my co-author and I just having some deep conversations around connection. So, LessLonely.com, @ryanandsteven, or The Case for Connection podcast.

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

Ryan Jenkins
If you want to be awesome at your job, take connections seriously. Do not underestimate the power of human connection.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Ryan, this has been a treat. I wish you much good belonging and connection.

Ryan Jenkins
Thank you, Pete. Thanks, everyone.