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382: The Immense Power of Clarity with Karen Martin

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Lean management authority Karen Martin shares how many workplace problems can be solved through better clarity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why people fear asking for clarity
  2. Key clarifying questions that stimulate great thinking
  3. Why tolerance for ambiguity is actually bad

About Karen

Karen Martin, president of the global consulting firm TKMG, Inc., is a leading authority on business performance and Lean management. Known for her keen diagnostic skills and rapid-results approach, Karen and her team have worked with clients such as AT&T, Chevron, Epson, GlaxoSmithKline, International Monetary Fund, Lenovo, Mayo Clinic, Prudential Insurance, Qualcomm, and the United States Department of Homeland Security to develop more efficient work systems, grow market share, solve business problems, and accelerate performance.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Karen Martin Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Karen, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome at your Job podcast.

Karen Martin
Hi Pete, great to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yes, well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. To start, I understand you have an aspiration to write not just business-y type books, but also thrillers. What’s the story here?

Karen Martin
Oh, I don’t even know where it came from. I always liked to write and I always liked to read. I tended as I became an adult to read mysteries and thrillers with the early John Grisham books and everything and just always loved it. Then I moved to Los Angeles and I was surrounded by screenwriters and film people, so I was just always thinking about plots and subplots and characters.

I started writing back I think it was in ’93 and wrote one completely, got an agent. But he – it was pretty funny. He wanted me to raise the body count, meaning kill more people. Seriously, I’m not kidding about this, you have to actually think about how to kill people.

Pete Mockaitis
And you do.

Karen Martin
You really do. I just got to where I didn’t like having to think – I had a whole shelf of books about how to kill people, poisons and gas and guns and-

Pete Mockaitis
And the FBI knocks on your door, “Hey Karen, checking in.”

Karen Martin
Yeah, yeah. I just decided I didn’t really have it in me, even though I wanted to do it. I don’t really think I have it in every cell of my body to kill people, so I’m not writing thrillers anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, so I’m intrigued, what was your favorite way to kill people? I don’t know how I want to define the word ‘favorite’ but I’ll leave it to you.

Karen Martin
Well, so I always liked the non-gun way because I just can’t stand guns. I did come up with a couple clever ways. I can’t remember the name of the drug, but there’s a drug – it’s kind of like the modern day version of what’s that tree – oh, I’m blanking. What’s that tree – serum that comes from trees and it kills people pretty quickly. It’s like the modern day version of that. I can’t think of it.

But I just heard of something. I heard that someone killed someone just recently using Visine and putting Visine in a drink.

Pete Mockaitis
How much Visine do you need to-?

Karen Martin
Apparently not much because this – I think it was a spouse thing. I don’t remember if it was the wife killed the husband or vice-versa, but Visine, really? But these are the kind of things I would think about on a regular basis. I now think about how to help leaders and businesses perform at higher levels, so much ….

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yes, I’m more into that as well. Boy, I’ve used Visine many times. Now I’m wondering.

Karen Martin
I have too. It does kind of sting when it goes in. I didn’t look up the ingredients yet. I should do that when we’re done.

Pete Mockaitis
Fascinating. Now can you tell us – what’s your company and the Karen Martin Group all about?

Karen Martin
I actually started out in health care a long time ago and was building operations. It could be hospital operations, clinical laboratories, physician practices. I did a lot of building networks of hospitals and physicians and things like that.

Then I just had this weird coincidence in my life where I needed to go to San Diego and there was a position at San Diego State University in their extension program overseeing their whole quality and improvement operations excellence programs. I had been consulting for seven years, but I had reason to want to get off the road because I had children suddenly. I decided to take that.

I got introduced to this whole new way of thinking about operational design and business performance known as, back then, lean manufacturing. I had zero manufacturing experience, but as I started learning about it, it was just so intuitive and sensible and practical. I started kind of knocking on doors in health care to get them to listen to this Japanese model of business management that was so powerful.

Then many years later now, it’s in every industry is trying it at some level. Most are being successful in pockets. Yeah, so it just was a weird transition that I couldn’t have predicted.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. We actually had Mr. Taguchi come and speak to our class when I was in college. It was so funny because none of us recognized the significance of this man. But our professor says, “He is in our country. He is in our city. We must go see him,” so we all took off class and went to the auditorium. Yeah, so powerful stuff.

Karen Martin
It is powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
You share some of the tidbits in your book, Clarity First, sort of what would you say is the main point here?

Karen Martin
Well, Clarity First was a follow-on book to The Outstanding Organization and kind of what’s behind The Outstanding Organization is my studying organizations for decades and learning that most of the problems with performance came down to four missing attributes or conditions in organizations. Those are clarity, focus, discipline and engagement. It’s not rocket science and yet it’s woefully lacking in most organizations.

Clarity, that chapter got so much attention and a lot of emotion came to me through the people saying, “Wow, I had no idea that we were operating in this sea of ambiguity and what it was doing to me and my team and our performance and everything.” I just knew I had to write a book.

I thought that a single subject book would be really easy to write—hah! Not so much. Clarity is tough. Clarity is very interesting and it was tough to write about to be honest.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And it’s tough to get a lot of times. Maybe before we hit the how, I’d like to hear a little bit of the why. Now, I know from my experience in working in organizations that when things are unclear a lot of my time gets sort of sucked in terms of speculation. Do they want this or do they want that? I don’t quite know.

But can you share how you quantified the impact of unclarity in work places nationwide or any other sort of stunning statistics that point to whoa, this is a big deal?

Karen Martin
Yeah, so there’s a metric that we use called percent complete and accurate. We use it to measure the quality of information always. It can be verbal, written, any way that information is being passed from one person to the next or one team to the next.

When you map out a process using that metric – we also use time also to look at processes – when you map out the percent complete and accurate, it’s not unusual at all to have at some point in a process a team or person say “None of the time do I get work that’s clear that I can just do what I need to do without having to go back and ask follow-up questions and clarify and get through this ambiguity.” Customer requirements are often very unclear. What leaders want people to do with the project is often very unclear.

In our view, it’s a fundamental act of disrespect to pass information on to someone and expect them to do something with it, when in fact it’s unclear. It’s about raising our own bar in how we communicate with others and business processes are one of the areas we receive the biggest problem related to too much ambiguity.

Pete Mockaitis
This is funny. This reminds me back to my Bain Consulting days. It was kind of a joke, but kind of not a joke that rather than saying, “I don’t know,” we would say, “It’s unclear.” They really are pretty synonymous except ‘it’s unclear,’ makes you seem like you’re smarter because it’s not me that’s ignorant. It’s unclear, fundamentally, intrinsically.

Karen Martin
That’s interesting. That’s a funny little play on words.

Pete Mockaitis
I dug that. Then, you also measure time. How does that work?

Karen Martin
Well, there’s two different times we measure. One is the time it takes to actually do the work if you could do it uninterrupted, but yet most people have interruptions and other things that get in the way of being able to do work uninterrupted. That one – the process time is the time it takes to do work.

Then lead time is the time from beginning – or the work being available to be worked on till that piece of the work is done and passed on to the next person or team in a chain. That’s often a much, much larger number than the time it takes to actually do the work.

Then when you start looking at it is well, why is that? If it only takes five minutes to do something, why is it taking three days to get it done? That opens up lots and lots of doors to discovering the different barriers that are in the way of getting work to actually flow, which is something that makes leaders happy, makes people doing the work feel good. Flow is a good thing. Lack of flow is very frustrating.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. This percent complete and percent accurate, what’s the distinction there again? Like, I have all the stuff versus I know what you’re saying is it kind of?

Karen Martin
Yeah, so it’s I have everything I need and it’s as clear as it needs to be for me to move forward and do my work, whatever that task or that person’s task is. It means am I having to do any form of rework or am I not.

Rework is both just correcting wrong information, it’s also adding information that’s missing that should have or could have been supplied. But the big one is clarifying information that isn’t clear to begin with. That’s a much higher percentage of the reasons for rework than what people think when they are not sensitized to it. Once they’re sensitized to it, they’re like, “Oh my God.”

We’re not suggesting you don’t clarify when you need to. We’re suggesting you get rid of the need for clarification by giving better information upfront.

Pete Mockaitis
This is intriguing because I think that – well, I’ll just play devil’s advocate a little bit. If someone says, “Karen, the work we’re doing is complex and not everything is known and spelled out and I, as a highly paid executive, passing it on to a slightly lesser paid manager am counting on that person proactively using their initiative and gumption and judgment and problem solving to advance clarity and get it done. Should it really be my job to lay that out for them as a high-level professional?”

Karen Martin
Yeah, that’s a really good distinction. It’s really – in that case it’s about having enough clarity when the work is assigned that the person knows what they need to do to get going on seeking that clarity that’s part of the project.

Often times when the assignment is given, the goal or the mission or the outcome that you’re looking for, the result, that’s unclear. Then the person starts going down a path that may not be the path that the leader intended in the first place.

And people are afraid. I talk to people all the time, they are afraid to go back and clarify when the big boss has given them something to do. It’s very risky to not clarify, very risky.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s risky to not clarify, but the fear is associated with doing the clarifying and can you speak to what – how’s that fear? What’s it look, sound, feel like and to what extent is it warranted and justified versus a phantom?

Karen Martin
It’s almost always warranted and justified if you get even one case of proof, where you ask for clarification, you get smacked down.

Pete Mockaitis
“Karen, figure it out.”

Karen Martin
Yeah. If that happens, that’s proof. You know it is. However, what often happens is we’re shaped, we behave, and we think based on all of our experiences in life.

What happens very often is we either have parents or early teachers or early bosses who have a whole different set of reasons why they don’t want you to seek clarity. They don’t want you to be curious. They don’t want you to be humble and approach things in the really positive way. You get tamped down. Little by little that fear starts rising because you get in trouble for asking questions.

What has to happen as adults we have to be able to differentiate between that situation and this situation and be more intentional about is it safe to ask or is it not safe to ask. I would pause, if it’s not safe to ask for clarification, got to really start thinking about getting in a different environment where that clarification is honored.

Pete Mockaitis
What would the punishment or the reprisal or the feared for response kind of sound like in practice? It’s like I ask you for clarification and you give me the response I fear. What’s that kind of response sound like?

Karen Martin
Well, it can be everything from, “Stop asking so many questions. You don’t need to know all this.” Those kinds of things to people not knowing the answer and not being able to say, “I don’t know,” or “That’s unclear.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so they just lie or make something up or-?

Karen Martin
Oh yeah, people lie all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Karen Martin
Because they’re insecure about saying ‘I don’t know.’

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Karen Martin
Yeah, it’s a weird – it’s a really weird – it’s a slippery slope and it’s a weird dynamic between people and teams. This isn’t just individuals. This is between entire work teams within an organization where you see this “Well, da, da, da,” because they don’t want to appear that they don’t know and don’t feel comfortable saying, “I don’t know,” which is the three most powerful words besides ‘I love you’ that there is. ‘I don’t know.’

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell me, why is it so powerful?

Karen Martin
Because it’s honest. It’s authentic. We don’t know. If we know everything, then we are operating from a place of arrogance. We don’t know. It’s being very humble and it’s not being not powerful. Actually, the more powerful people that really have power, you’ll hear them say ‘I don’t know’ a lot because they really don’t know.

No leader especially can know a lot of the kinds of questions that people at middle levels or even lower levels in the organization ask. They don’t know. They’re not the experts in that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so intriguing when you talk about the lying then. I guess that puts you in trouble if you listened – you asked for clarification, you get a lie back, and then you kind of make good on doing just what you thought you’re supposed to do based on the lie and then they probably could sort of retract that lie, like “Well, you asked for this.” “I asked for no such thing, Karen.” What a mess.

Karen Martin
Yeah, what a mess. Exactly. Hopefully you don’t have to resort to the CYA thing where you document everything.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, “Please confirm. Please confirm.”

Karen Martin
There’s plenty of cultures where that becomes the norm.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Then, boy, I want to get your take then – well, first just I think we locked in the complete and accurate situation.

We may have a wildly undefined piece of work, but so long as you’ve got enough to begin charging down on it, then that counts as 100% complete, 100% accurate from your assessment such that if I said, “Hey, figure out a marketing strategy. We know very little, but we do know that we’ve got $20,000 to spend and that we want it to be very trackable and that it should have strong reason to suspect a tremendous ROI. Go,” so that would be kind of enough to count as accurate and complete?

Karen Martin
Yeah, those are clear requirements, so the person can do what they need to do. A lot of times we get clarity and certainty confused. They’re related.

Pete Mockaitis
Nice, that’s good to distinguish.

Karen Martin
Yeah, and transparency also is a bit of a cousin there, but they’re not the same. You can be very certain that you’re unclear and that’s good. You can be very clear that you’re uncertain. Did I say that-?

Pete Mockaitis
I think you got it both ways, yeah.

Karen Martin
Yeah, yeah. Certainty is very normal and there’s a lot in life, especially with new product development or market types of decisions. There’s a lot you’re not certain about. But you can be clear about what your goals are, you can be clear about any kind of constraints that are in the way. You can be clear about a whole lot that makes getting work done a whole lot more effective, higher quality and faster, a lot faster.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. You mentioned, we were talking about getting the data on how big a problem is you said sometimes you’ll see straight zeroes, like it’s totally unclear or incomplete or inaccurate. Do you have a benchmark average or median where it’s like generally we see roughly between X and Y percent of completeness and accuracy?

Karen Martin
Well, when we map either a process, which is very technical level process or value streams, which are a series of processes that deliver value to a customer, the percent complete inaccurate in businesses processes, so I’m not going to talk about patient care and health care or manufacturing yet, but in businesses processes, it’s not at all unusual to see the cumulation of all the individual percent CNAs be around 15%, meaning 85% of the time, the work is not being passed forward as clear as it can and should be or as complete.

There’s also that complete. We’re not talking so much about that today, but there’s that complete and clear part of that metric.

In manufacturing it can get up more the 50%, 60, 70, 80. Health care also can get up into those. But when you have business processes, most organizations haven’t spent any time really working on their business processes. It’s the area that is the predecessor to the actual delivery of value to a customer. It’s really important to get high levels of clarity in those processes. They’re often ignored.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us an example of a business process and where some things might fall short along the chain?

Karen Martin
Sure, so business process could be in the HR area, IT, finance, or in the case of insurance, it could be their whole product line is a business process, so processing a claim, processing an application. What happens is as people are learning how to do the job, they’re taking in information, making assumptions – that’s the other thing is we operate with assumptions and biases and history that may not be relevant or valid for that situation.

Then they pass it on and sometimes the people that they get the work from, don’t know that it’s wrong because they’re not the ones thinking in the way that the predecessor was thinking. It just is a bit of a snowball when this keeps getting passed down the chain and everybody – no one’s really sure that the information is unclear. I’m sorry, they’re not sure it’s wrong at the point that it gets passed down.

When you’re working with a computer, you’re pretty much doing a business process. When you’re data heavy, transactional, all those kinds of processes that are not making a widget, for example, or treating a patient, those are business processes or administrative processes you can also call them.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s interesting, so in the realm of say filing or processing an insurance claim, as an insurance company, they do this many, many times per day/month. Where might there be some key breakdowns that we shouldn’t stand for and tolerate? We should say, “What’s up with this? Let’s fix it.”

Karen Martin
Well, it’s everything from having clarity around what the requirements for the work to be accepted versus not accepted to be in the first place. Now a lot of organizations, you’re not allowed to reject work that you got from an upstream internal supplier. In other words, the department that passes work to you, a lot of times it’s not acceptable culturally to say, “Hey, this isn’t right. Fix this and then give me the work.”

What happens is people take the work and they think they’re doing the right thing by just trying to fix it themselves, but then the people that are passing that work on never learn that the work wasn’t okay to begin with. This happens all the time.

We get cross-functional teams together in a room and someone who supplies work to someone else will be at the table and the person who receives it will say, “Well, I’d say 30% of the time it’s either unclear or there are errors.” The people delivering the work will go, “What? What is it? What do you need that you’re not getting? What’s unclear?” Then the person will say, “Well, this and that and the other thing,” and they just never had the conversation.

What usually happens is there’s been tension between these people and these departments, but once they understand each other – it’s all about understanding each other – it melts away. Then you have a brilliantly designed process that performs as it should because these people had a conversation that they should have had ten years ago, but we force it in these kind of tiger team-like activities to get clarity around the work and what should be done.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s interesting. I guess sometimes when it comes to fixing it, I guess at times it might be good to just make it clear that yes, that is part of your job is to fix it based upon the leveraging or application of resources as opposed to other times, you’d be like, “No, no, no, it needs to come in pristine consistently.” I guess I’m thinking based upon sort of where your bottlenecks are and the relative expensiveness of each employee’s hour to the organization.

Karen Martin
Yeah, well, I’m not a big fan of a department that didn’t generate the work fixing the work. I’m a big fan of putting the problem where it belongs. It belongs back at the people generating the work. It’s not about the people. It’s almost always about the process or the work systems.

The people are doing what they think’s the right thing and it could be any number of reasons why they’re not able to do the right thing and they’re passing that work downstream. But I don’t think the downstream people should be the ones fixing upstream work that doesn’t come in clean.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess I’m thinking, let’s imagine – I’m imagining a world in which I sort of upload some files. We’re just getting real tactical and specific. I upload some files and they’re recordings of a Skype conversation. Maybe your Skype name is something KMartin43. Then I just sort of put it up there.

Now it would be good and proper of me to rename that file to having your full name to make it clearer for my collaborators to unmistakably note, “Okay, yeah, this is where it lines up on the media schedule and so forth.” But I sure love saving the 20 seconds of not renaming it and having other people that do it for me.

I guess maybe the way to have my cake and eat it too here is to just make it sort of make it like a standard understood operating procedure. It’s like, “Oh, you might notice at times that the file names come in this way. Please take a look at the media schedule sheet and adjust it accordingly.” I guess that’s how I’m thinking about it is sometimes I’m the beneficiary of my unclear practices.

Karen Martin
Yeah, so I think what you’re defining there is a situation where you just have to be clear which person needs to do which task. You can have a high, high, high paid person doing work and choose not to have them do some aspect of the work, but rather have a lower priced person doing that kind of work so that the higher priced person can keep producing higher quality – or higher priced output. That’s one choice. It’s sometimes very, very much the way you should go.

There are other times when it’s the opposite. It’s very situational. It depends on who has the knowledge and what the additional time it takes to do the work is because sometimes the higher paid person, it’s only seconds do to that one last thing that if you hand it over, might take minutes for someone else. Even if they’re lower paid, it can cause delays in the work moving. It’s very situational. You have to look at the whole picture.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That’s well-said because it could be many times that because someone’s like, “KMartin47, what the heck is this? I don’t know. I’m going to have to download it. I’m going to have to listen to it. I’m going to have to hear some key words. I’m going to have to do a search of the file system and realize oh, that was a podcast interview Pete did with someone named Karen Martin on this date. Okay.” Maybe that took ten minutes, whereas I could have just clicked Rename, Karen Martin, and had that handled.

Karen Martin
Well, yeah. The other thing is, we want people to feel good about their work. This is not – we aren’t putting rats in a mill to do work the way rats in a mill do.  I don’t know what I even ….

Pete Mockaitis
Hard working rats.

Karen Martin
I don’t know where that came from. But rats in a mill, that’s my new thing. But we want people to feel good about the work and be able to put a high-quality work. What needs to happen is – let’s just say that you decide that the process design that works the best is to have this downstream person do – correct your file names. If that downstream person doesn’t recognize that as part of his or her job, then he’s going to be pissed off at you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. “This sloppy jerk.”

Karen Martin
Yeah, arrogant, whatever. It needs to be explicitly designed as part of the process and good reasons given why that person should do this work and they need to be also very involved in designing the work at that level, at a tactical level. They’re often not. As long as people understand why, that’s very liberating. A lot of people will take a lot of stuff if they understand why.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And maybe even take pride in it, like, “Hey, you know what? Things move real fast around here and there’s going to be a little bit of mess and boy, when you bring order and organization into that mess, it just makes everything hum along so much better, so thank you. You’ll be tackling the renaming of files as well as the organizing of them in these ways and it’s really helpful.”

Karen Martin
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s talk about how we get to the clarity. You mentioned one thing is simply having that conversation associated with sitting down and here’s what’s incomplete or difficult or inaccurate. What are some of your other best practices for getting there?

Karen Martin
Well, mindfulness is key in all of this. Working mindfully means a lot of different things. It means that we are aware of – very, very acutely aware of what’s going on and we’re making strategic decisions based on that deeper awareness of what to say and what to do.

When you – awareness takes practice to get  – mindfulness takes practice to become really good at it. There are lots of different practices that help you get there like meditation and clearing the mind in all kinds of different ways that are out there.

Just being not methodical meaning you get really slow, but being methodical about considering the information you received and what are you really supposed to do with that information and just taking a breath and slowing down  for a moment helps bring clarity. Clarity is a gift. It helps both deliver with greater clarity and it also helps you see whether what you’re receiving is clear enough to take action on it or not.

It’s just slowing down, thinking, clearing the mind, breathing, and you actually – I always say go slow to go fast, you actually work faster when you’re more methodical.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So the mindfulness helps because you are getting a clearer sense of what is actually taking place as well as maybe more compassion for imagining the next person who’s tacking it. It’s interesting that that makes such a difference.

Karen Martin
Yeah, it does. We get into this kind of rat on a treadmill thing. We’re not mice in factories anymore. Now we’re rats on treadmills. We just go, go, go, go, go, go and we don’t stop to think enough. If you just take a moment to think about what’s really happening and being very present and not being judgmental, frankly.

It’s being able to take what’s happening kind of nonjudgmentally, without emotion, and then taking better actions as a result of that level of awareness, it just, it helps monumentally.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fascinating. We’ve talked a lot about how mindfulness makes a real impact for you, the individual worker not succumbing to distractions and being able to have more creative ideas and focus in on the right things. Now you’re highlighting that there are some powerful interpersonal effects of it as well.

I love the part about nonjudgmental because I imagine if your brain is consumed by fuming over how some idiot always gives you the stuff wrong, then you are in less of a mental position to have some helpful, proactive, creative strategic ideas as to fixing the root of the problem.

Karen Martin
Yeah. We blame people all the time for work-related problems. It’s almost never a human desire to screw things up. “I’m going to go to work today and I’m going to just mess up everything as much as I can.” No one says that, maybe the rare sociopath that gets hired somehow, but that’s rare. Most people want to do well. They want to perform at high levels. They want to serve.

In organizations we kind of create these situations where we do everything but allow them to be able to do that. Then we blame them. That’s like, no, no. That’s not right.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then I’d love to get your take, so that’s one thing is you have the conversation. You work mindfully. What else?

Karen Martin
To get clear?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Karen Martin
I think asking a lot of questions about questions is an underutilized skill. When someone asks you a question, very often that question is masking what they’re really asking. Let me think of an example. Okay, let’s just say you give me a report and I say to you, “Oh, are you done already with this report?” What am I really asking? I’m not asking – you can say, “Yes, I am really done,” but there’s something behind my question.

Asking questions about questions and very often I’ll just say something simple like, “Huh, that’s an interesting question. I’m curious, why are you asking that?” If you do it with the right tone and in the right way, people will often answer it. You’ll get amazing insights into what they’re actually after and what they’re thinking. Then you can respond in a more relevant way because you’re actually – you’re answering the question they didn’t ask.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. They could mean any number of things from “I’m accustomed to this taking four times as long,” or “I had imagined there to be a very detailed research piece necessary. How could you possibly have already completed that?”

Karen Martin
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Or something totally different.

Karen Martin
Like “I don’t trust this because it’s too fast.” Yeah, whatever it might be. By the way, this stuff all works so well at home. This is great tips for relationships, parent/child situations. It’s so interesting how we choose to communicate and how often it is very unclear.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d also like to get your sense for that’s a great question is, “Oh, I’m curious, why are you asking that?” What are some of your other sort of top favorite power questions that tend to just yield clarity phenomenally?

Karen Martin
Yeah, in our world there’s a couple of really key ones. ‘Why,’ of course is a really big one. ‘Why’ is another one that people get pounded out of them sometimes by otherwise well-meaning parents/teachers and bosses. We have to allow people in the organization to be able to ask that why because why is – the mind of a scientist asks why. Curiosity is what’s going to lead to greater innovation and higher quality and all those good things that we want, but yet sometimes people don’t feel safe asking why.

‘What if,’ is another one and ‘why not’ is another one. Another one is how – ‘what would have to be true if.’ Another one is ‘how could we.’ All of those questions stimulate positive thinking and the glass becomes half full and not half empty.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us a few completions of the ‘why’ stem there? The first thing that came to mind for me is ‘Why am I doing this?’ but how about you say it.

Karen Martin
One quick thing about ‘why.’ ‘Why’ is one that’s very tricky tonally. You have to be very careful that the why isn’t laced with any kind of blame. It’s both body language and the way the question why is asked. You have to ask it from a very heartfelt place if you want to get a good answer.

‘Why’ could be everything from why a situation exists to why a person’s taking this specific action they’re taking to why something – well, I guess it’s those two things. It’s either an action or a thought pattern that you’re exploring and trying to figure out what’s behind that. ‘Why’ is big in problem solving, very big in problem solving.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that point you made about the defensiveness. I remember from my coaching training, they’d suggest you could substitute why with ‘what led you to’ or something like that, which still gets you there. It’s like, “Why are we doing this piece of work?” It’s like, “Oh, what are we hoping to achieve with this piece of work?” You’re getting after what you’re still getting after. That’s good.

Any other pro tips on how we arrive at clarity before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Karen Martin
I think being kind of relentless in seeking clarity helps. In other words developing – I see job descriptions a lot that say, “Must have a tolerance for ambiguity.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Karen Martin
I say no. You don’t want to hire someone that has a high tolerance for ambiguity. You want just the opposite. You want someone who has zero tolerance for ambiguity. Just becoming aware of it, then just deciding you’re going to be brave and courageous and ask for clarification and then identify why you’re having to ask it and then find a way so that you don’t have to keep asking it. That solves the problem more deeply.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m glad you went there. That’s intriguing to hear. I also think about sometimes the business language and jargon people use, at times I think that’s because they haven’t actually done the hard thinking or the hard questioning necessary to know what they’re really, really after, so they use some corporate-y jargon-y buzz words, which have multiple interpretations and that way what they’re saying is not inaccurate; it’s just not saying much.

Karen Martin
Right, yeah. It’s again being responsible on both the provision of information and also the receiving of information. Being responsible on the provision of information is doing your best to be clear about what it is you want to ask or say before you ask or say it. Then when you receive information then that person may or may not be aware and may or may not be thinking about clarity. Then if you’re getting unclear information, that’s asking for clarification so that you understand.

It’s very powerful to have clear information. It’s scary at times because sometimes the truth isn’t so lovely, but it’s definitely more powerful and liberating than not knowing or trying to operate in muck or fog, which is what happens if you don’t ask for clarification.

Pete Mockaitis
A lot of times – speaking about the muck or fog when – what do you do when just the powers that be don’t really seem to have their own act together with regard to what’s the true priority, what really matters more than then the other thing?

Karen Martin
Oh yeah. If I could answer that one definitively, I’d be a rich woman. It’s a really good question. It’s very difficult when you have people above you in the company that are not operating from a place of clarity.

There’s everything from the small little things where you do ask for clarification and explain why you’re asking for clarification, so the person doesn’t feel threatened. You really have a need to know because of this that or the other thing. You can help sensitize them to the fact that they are operating communication-wise from a place of not a lot of clarity.

Sometimes you can get away with a candid conversation with someone, even someone who’s above you in the organization hierarchically. You can sometimes sit down and go, “I just feel like we can be so much – we can get so much more done and be more effective and have higher quality if I’m a little more clear to begin with on what the needs really are or what you need from me,” or whatever it might be. Sometimes if you frame it in the right way, a person will be very responsive to that and hear it.

Then there’s the occasional leader that is never going to hear it. They’re never going to be anything but defensive. That’s when you have to make a tough decision, whether you try to find a place that is a little more inviting for you to be able to thrive as a person.

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

Karen Martin
Well, the one I mentioned earlier is one of the ones I say the most often, which is “Go slow to go fast.” It’s counterintuitive, but it is very, very powerful that people often think that they’re going to get analysis paralysis if they just slow down a little bit, but in problem solving, for example, if people rush to a conclusion, they’re often operating from fear because of time constraints or from a place of assumptions or biases or from a place of arrogance because they don’t know.

If you don’t learn why the problem exists and do the deep dive and have a scientist’s mind for that, you’re very likely going to put either a superficial and short-lived countermeasure in place or it’s going to be the wrong thing altogether. The overall problem-solving cycle gets much, much faster if you take the time to understand why the problem exists and do a deep dive into that before you figure out what you’re going to do about it.

Most people do the opposite. “Here’s the problem. Here’s what we’re going to do about it. Bam.” That’s not good thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Do you have a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Karen Martin
Actually it’s related to clarity but it’s also not entirely related to clarity. There was a study I learned about when I was writing The Outstanding Organization about task switching. It was this professor out of University of Michigan. Meyer is his last name, David Meyer.

He studied engineers and showed that they switched tasks every – like five to eight times a day on average and that every time they did it, they were losing 20 minutes of productivity because they had this mental ramp up time to get back to the thing that they were working on before they got interrupted or went to a different project.

The more we work with organizations, the more we see that that is a huge organizational burden that is a bit of a drag on the organization at an individual level and also project teams.

This research was pretty darn compelling. Then others replicated it and then they also started adding in different kinds of tasks and things like that to see that this whole notion of multitasking is a misnomer. You can’t multitask to cognitive tasks. You’re actually switching back and forth. Becoming clear that you’re doing that and becoming sensitized to how that erodes productivity is a very helpful exercise for individuals, leaders, anybody.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Karen Martin
Oh my, I have so many favorite books. I’m going to say a fiction book first since we started out talking about thrillers. It’s not a thriller at all. My favorite book is Hemingway’s, The Sun Also Rises. It’s been a book I’ve read over and over and over. I just love that book.

From a business perspective – oh, this is tough. There’s so many I love. I actually like the work of W. Edwards Deming a lot and all of his books are – they’re really good. He was wise well beyond his years. Now a lot of his wisdom is coming back to roost and people are starting to finally see, “Oh, this guy was right after all.” It’s nice to Deming’s work come back.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool?

Karen Martin
By tool do you mean – what do you mean?

Pete Mockaitis
Something you use to be awesome at your job.

Karen Martin
Oh, to be awesome. I think a favorite tool is listening.

Pete Mockaitis
And any favorite ways you like to listen?

Karen Martin
I like to ask clarifying questions. If someone is asking me, like when you said, “What’s your favorite tool?” I didn’t know exactly what you meant, so I said to some effect, like, “What do you mean by tool?” That way you deliver more accurately what the person is looking for.

I think deep listening is a – I don’t know if you call that a tool or not, but it’s a skill and it’s something you use to generate higher performance. I think listening is an art in and of itself and something that we can all get better and better at.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. How about a favorite habit?

Karen Martin
My favorite habit is zero inbox.

Pete Mockaitis
Every day or how often?

Karen Martin
Every day.

Pete Mockaitis
How long does that take you?

Karen Martin
All day. Not all day, not all day to clear it out, but it’s you’re doing it all day long to make sure that at the end of the day you don’t have anything in your inbox. It’s a challenge to keep up with it, but it is so liberating when you get it down. Yeah, zero inbox is David Allen that started that whole movement. It’s one of the most liberating things. Also, turn off email notifications.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh right. Yes.

Karen Martin
Turn them off. Turn them off everyone. Both of those habits help me be much more productive. I think the proof is in the pudding. People should try them and see what happens.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Now, I’m so intrigued by this because I find it so difficult. I even am part of a private beta for some software called Superhuman that runs faster than Gmail. It’s actually pretty awesome. I love it. You might ask them. They’ll probably let you in. It’s a free ad. Hey, Superhuman, enjoy.

But yeah, so just – so you say that’s part of just your working day is that you multiple times a day fire up Gmail or the email program and go to town.

Karen Martin
Yeah, well my email is always open, but I minimize it when I’m working on other things. There’s no sound. There’s no visual. There’s nothing to distract because that contributes to task switching and that is a productivity drain beyond—beyond. You can get four times as much done during the day if you just focus on one thing at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. If you bring it to zero every day, then does that mean you have a smaller limit to the number of hours you’ll commit of yourself a day to not email?

Karen Martin
No. I don’t think so. It’s situational. When I have a book come out, of course my email volume goes way up. When it’s been six months, seven months into it, then it starts dying down a little bit again. It’s situational, but no.

I don’t think that I lose any time by getting to zero inbox. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m gaining a ton of time because you look at things once, you disposition it and then usually you’re done. It’s just a matter of not letting things linger and get to it and get it done and move on.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a sense for how much time you spend on email each day?

Karen Martin
That’s a great question. I’ve never timed it. I work long hours, so first of all, let’s get this into proportion. I’m often working 12- and 14-hour days. I would say 2 hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. All right. Thank you.

Karen Martin
Of that day, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s the price of excellence. Thank you for sharing. How about is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with people and they quote it back to you?

Karen Martin
I can’t think of anything they actually quote back, but this is the one fascinating thing that happens with clarity is every time I either give a talk or I give a workshop or something, people kind of stalk me and they go, “Oh my God, Karen Martin, you’ve ruined me.” I’m like, “Well, how have I ruined you?” “I can’t stop thinking about clarity. Now in the presence of ambiguity, I can’t tolerate it.” I’m like, good, my mission is accomplished.

I hear it a lot that people just are feeling so liberated by starting to live with clarity. They feel so much worse when they’re not in the presence of clarity because they now see the power of clarity. You know what to do, now you can do it. You don’t have to guess. It’s pretty liberating.

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

Karen Martin
There’s a couple different URLs I’ll say. TKMG, is the company name, .com. That’s the main website. Already ClarityFirstQuiz.com is a free assessment you can take to learn how you’re currently dealing with clarity or not and your organization as well. Then ClarityFirstBook.com is the book page. I have all kinds of free webinars also and podcasts on the website as well. TKMG.com is kind of the brains and you can go from there.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Karen Martin
Being awesome requires that you embrace the need for clarity, you believe that it can be helpful and you start practicing it every day. I would just encourage everyone to make the decision that it’s better to have clarity than not and start delivering with greater clarity and start demanding clarity in return. Just see how high you can soar. It’s pretty powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Karen, this has been a whole lot of fun. I wish you all the best of luck with the book, Clarity First, and all the things you’re making clear.

Karen Martin
Thank you so much. I wish you a very nice holiday season and spread the word of clarity more and more to everybody. It’s a gift.

367: How to Project Vocal Confidence with Allison Shapira

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Speech coach and ex-opera singer Allison Shapira teaches tips and tricks for better projecting your voice.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How you’re likely breathing wrong and what to do about it
  2. Three ways the power of your voice is reduced
  3. The key things most people neglect when preparing for a speech

About Allison

Allison is the CEO/Founder of Global Public Speaking LLC. A former opera singer and TEDx speaker, she teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School and offers keynote speeches, workshops, and executive coaching for Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and nonprofits around the world.

Allison works with global brands as a highly-rated speaker, trainer, and executive coach. She also travels around the world teaching leadership communication to help women leaders grow their business, run for office, or launch a nonprofit. She holds a master’s in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School, is a member of the National Speakers Association, and is an internationally-renowned singer/songwriter who uses music as a way to help others find their voice and their courage to speak. She speaks Italian and Hebrew and has studied 8 other languages.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Allison Shapira Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Allison, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Allison Shapira

It’s great to be here. Thanks, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I was so excited to dig into your wisdom, but I want to start a little bit with your background in singing opera. How did this come about and how did you transition from this to what you’re doing now?

Allison Shapira

I have been singing opera since I was 12. I always loved singing, and at 12 years old my parents arranged for me to have voice lessons. And it just so happens that the teacher was a classically-trained teacher, and that one teacher influenced my musical trajectory. And so, I always wanted to sing opera growing up, but then when I got to college I lost my passion for it. And I talk about this in the book. I was told that I wasn’t quite good enough for an operatic career. And so, it wasn’t until I started working in diplomacy that I realized everything I learned as a singer made me a very good speaker and coach. And that’s how I made that transition.

Pete Mockaitis

Excellent. Could you give us an example of one key learning from singing that carries over into the speaking / coaching?

Allison Shapira

One key element that carries over is the importance of breathing. So, as opera singers, we know it’s critical to learn how to breathe, and then project our voice in a way that commands the room. As speakers, we know it’s important, but no one ever teaches us how to do it. So as a singer, I actually had this great training in vocal production that helped me project my voice when speaking, as well as singing. So that was an incredible advantage that I had as a public speaker when I already knew how to play with and project my voice.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, excellent. And so, could you orient us a little bit to your company, Global Public Speaking and your latest book, Speak with Impact?

Allison Shapira

I would love to. Global Public Speaking is a communication training firm that I found and we’ve since grown to a team of six people. And we teach public speaking and presentation skills through one-on-one coaching, group workshops, and then I give keynote speeches on the importance of finding your voice and your courage to speak. And that’s very much in line with what my new book is about – Speak with Impact: How to Command the Room and Influence Others. It’s a guide to the busy professional moving up in their career who wants to use their voice as a way to exercise leadership. How do they need to communicate with confidence and authenticity, so that they can have a powerful impact on others? That’s the premise of the book.

Pete Mockaitis

I dig it. So, we talk about a powerful impact on others. Could you maybe orient us a bit to what is the “Why” behind this, or the difference that it makes in one’s life when you’re speaking is impactful versus not so impactful?

Allison Shapira

It has a number of benefits, and to give you an example, I do a lot of programs in-house for companies, where I’ll work with teams and top talent or emerging leaders. And we’re focused primarily on professional speaking. So as you walk into a room to lead a meeting as opposed to simply be part of the meeting, how does your communication need to change? Because the more senior you become, the more people are looking to you for guidance.
So we focus on the professional components of speaking, but I’ll often get emails from clients I’ve worked with who say, “You know, just a couple of weeks ago I spoke up on behalf of my kids’ school because they were going to change the school, and there was a lot of media coverage. And so, using the communication training that we worked on for my job, I was actually able to make a persuasive case to save our kids’ school.” It’s an amazing experience to see. We use these skills for a professional purpose, but they have an incredible social impact as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So, could you maybe orient us then, what are some of the main differentiators between a voice that is highly impactful versus one that isn’t?

Allison Shapira

When we talk about voice, there are a lot of things that we do that reduce the power of our voice. It could be filler words like, “um”, “uh”, “you know”, “right”, “so”, and “just”, which is my personal pet peeve when we buffer everything with “just”. So that’s something that reduces the power of our words. And then, we also might use vocal fry, and I’m demonstrating by making my voice croaky. Or uptalk – when our voice goes up at the end of a sentence.
Now, interestingly enough, vocal fry, and uptalk and fillers – these are things that both men and women use. But what I’ve noticed is that when women use them, it disproportionately hurts us more. It holds us back more. So that’s an interesting distinction that I’ve observed. The antidote to all of those is using breathing, so that your voice can command the room, so that you speak with confidence as opposed to speaking in a questioning form. And that’s so important when you’re trying to convince someone to do something, whether you want them to adopt a course of action in your company, or save your school. The conviction in your voice has a huge impact on how you come across.

Pete Mockaitis

So, I’m intrigued by several of the things you said there. First, let’s get to the “How”. So, if you breathe right, you’re going to address a lot of these in one fell swoop. So, what does breathing right consist of and how do we do it?

Allison Shapira

I have a particular three-step technique that your listeners can see on my website, GlobalPublicSpeaking.com. So, there’s a place where they can learn that and practice that while actually watching me. But it comes from recognizing that as we breathe, there’s a way that we can breathe that lets us take in a nice full breath of air, and then exhale while speaking on the breath. And that’s a difficult concept for a lot of people to think of initially. But once they get the hang of it, it’s essentially exhaling while you’re speaking, so that your breath projects your words forward, as opposed to having them fall back into your throat. And that’s a particular technique that I have videos that walk people through.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, interesting. Exhaling while you’re speaking. I’m thinking about it right now as I’m doing it.

Allison Shapira

You’re doing it as well. I can hear it. But a lot of people think they have to hold their breath while they’re speaking, but they should actually be exhaling while speaking.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And so, I think that I’m always exhaling when I’m speaking, because I’m running out of air and feel the need to take a breath. But is it a matter of degree, like exhale a little more than you think you should or you’re accustomed to?

Allison Shapira

It’s exhaling continuously, as opposed to holding it back and then trying to speak anyways. And it’s also about taking more frequent breaths. So, if you’re running out of breath at the end of the sentence, then perhaps you need to use shorter sentences, or take a breath at every punctuation mark.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, that’s interesting. And I remember we had Roger Love on the show earlier, who’s a speech coach.

Allison Shapira

Oh, he’s great.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh yeah, absolutely. And so, he used the metaphor of, I think he called it “the squeaky hinge”, like you start off a sentence pretty strong, but then toward the end you’re running out of your air. And so it kind of sounds like this at the end. And I’m exaggerating, but I’ve even noticed it when I’m editing my openers and closers in the podcast. Sure enough, there is a shorter wave form in my digital audio program toward the end of that sentence. I’m doing it. Oops! Note to self – breathe more.

Allison Shapira

Exactly. And again, not just breathing more, but letting the breath continue even through the end of the sentence, as opposed to letting it trail off. What happens is you’re shutting off the air, but you’re still speaking. So, as long as you keep riding that breath and using that breath to complete a sentence, then you can avoid vocal fry.

Pete Mockaitis

I like that. This reminds me of, I guess, sports things. If you’re swinging a bat or a racket or doing a boxing punch – you want to follow through the motion all the way until it’s well past the point of impact, in terms of having a full, complete connection there.

Allison Shapira

Exactly. So, the follow through is critical.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, very cool. So, the breathing solves a lot. And so, on the website, is there a particular link or a place to click to, or can we link that so we go right to the right spot with those videos?

Allison Shapira

I’ll make sure that I send you a specific link to that, so people can click on it and immediately see the breathing video that walks them through the three-step process.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, that’s cool. So, I guess we’ve got the videos, but if we can maybe just take a moment. Could we just hear in brief, what is step one, step two, step three?

Allison Shapira

Sure. Well, step one is finding the right posture. And I teach people how to stand tall with their feet flat on the floor so that they’re in the best position to take in breath. And then the second step is breathing in, in a way that avoids using their chest to breathe, but rather breathes into their stomach and abdomen as if they had a balloon in their stomach that’s filling with air as they breathe in. And then the third step is exhaling and speaking on the breath, as we discussed, and practicing that exhalation while speaking. So, that’s the three-step process in a nutshell.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. And then I also want to turn to some of the points you made about the vocal pauses. There’s one. That was for demonstration purposes, Allison.

Allison Shapira

Of course it was.

Pete Mockaitis

I’m intrigued – you said the word “just” in particular is a pet peeve of yours. Let’s hear your rant, so any “just” users can shape up.

Allison Shapira

If you think about the word “just”, what does it mean? “I just think”, “I just want to say.” It’s almost as if you’re asking permission to speak up; as if you’re saying, “Don’t worry, I won’t take a long time. I just want to say this one thing.” And I believe each of us has something incredibly powerful to say on behalf of ourselves or on behalf of others. And when we say “just”, we apologize for whatever it is that we say next, as opposed to owning what we believe in, owning our right to say it, which is why I don’t like using the word “just”.
I have a friend who teaches American sign language, and I asked her once, “What do you sign when someone says ‘just’?” And her sign is shrugging her shoulders. So think about that. Next time you want to use the word “just”, would you shrug your shoulders with whatever you say next, or would you stand tall and declare it proudly? And if the answer is the latter, than lose the “just”.

Pete Mockaitis

This reminds me I’ve got a joke with my buddy Connor. I noticed that someone had a vocal pattern of putting “so” at the end of their sentences; it had a similar effect. And for example, he might say, “Hey, so do you guys want to get some appetizers? So, or…” It’s an “or” a “so”. It’s like, “So, I was just thinking maybe we could get some appetizers.” And I thought it was just so funny when you put an “or” or a “so” or a “just” in there; the impact it has. So, we like to joke if you were to say something really powerful followed by an “or” like, “Are you guys inspired by my vision, or…” It’s just sort of…

Allison Shapira

Can you imagine speaking up at work and saying, “This is a critical issue that we all have to be paying attention to? So, um, yeah.”?

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, I like that. And you know what? The one that gets me, and this shows up a lot in my coaching, is when people say the word “obviously”. I think that’s more of a crutch for themselves, like, “Okay, maybe the thing I just said isn’t super insightful and is readily apparent, so I want to give myself a little bit of cover, so you don’t think that I think that I’m saying something brilliantly insightful when I know they’re not, so I’m covering it.” I think that’s kind of what’s going on subconsciously, but when I hear “obviously” I think it’s just an unnecessary risk you’re taking. So, if it was not obvious to the person that you said it to, then they’re going to be a little ticked, like, “Oh, I’m sorry I’m not as smart as you, apparently.”

Allison Shapira

Exactly, exactly. “Obviously”, “actually”, “basically”, used once or twice, there’s nothing wrong with it, but if you start to use them consistently throughout your speech or even during a meeting, then I believe they have a negative effect on your listeners.

Pete Mockaitis

Right. And I think that “basically” can sometimes be helpful when we’re having a good summary sentence, like, “Basically we’re trying to reduce the customer …” “Exactly, yes. Thank you for summarizing or paraphrasing what I just said.” It’s helpful there, but it definitely finds its way in a lot of places where it doesn’t quite belong. Well, cool. So, thank you for talking about some of the voice differentiators there. Now, when it comes to actually preparing for a speech or presentation, you’ve laid out a few key questions that you recommend it’s important to think through in advance.

Allison Shapira

Definitely. There are three questions that I recommend people ask before any speech or presentation, or even if they’re preparing to walk into a meeting and think they might speak up. And these three questions are critical for helping you determine what you want to say, why you want to say it, and how to say it. The first question is, “Who is your audience?” Who are you talking to? Which helps you understand how they’re going to feel about what it is you have to say, and that helps you choose your argumentation. It helps you choose your structure, your stories, your data. So putting yourself in the audience’s shoes helps you craft something in a language that they’re going to want to hear.
The second question is, “What’s your goal?” And every speech is an opportunity to influence people’s behavior to change the way they think or act, which is an incredible opportunity. So, be purposeful in advance of your speech or presentation in thinking, “What do I want people to do?” And if appropriate, put in a call to action, a very clear call to action at the beginning or at the end of your remarks. So, those first two questions – “Who is your audience?” and “What’s your goal?” are fairly straightforward. These are questions many of us would ask ourselves before a speaking situation.
The third question is the most important and the least obvious. And the third question is, “Why you?” And by that I mean, why do you care about what you’re talking about? Because a lot of times people will be reading something off of their company’s website, or they’ll be using language that doesn’t feel authentic to them, and as a result the speech falls flat. But when you ask, “Why you? Why do you care? Why is this important to you?”, then you tap into a much deeper, more authentic sense of purpose about why this issue is critical.
And if you’re nervous about speaking up, then asking “Why you?” gives you the confidence that what you have to say is important, and you’re reframing it as not being about you, but about your message and about your audience. “Why you?” also makes sure that the language you use is authentic, because it will tap into personal stories or experiences that help you relate to the content and therefore help you relate to your audience. So, in my experience the “Why you?” is that creativity booster that also boosts our confidence as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Excellent, okay. And so, I think that sometimes, there’s a really strong, powerful “Why? Why you?”. I’ve seen my child, you know… There, I said “you know”. [laugh] This must happen to you all the time.

Allison Shapira

I’m not counting, it’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis

You see, I could say for instance… I’ll give you the speech because I know what it’s like to have a child choking on a bottle repeatedly, and you’re terrified in that moment that it could result in a trip to the hospital, or him turning blue, for example. That’s a dramatic thing. We’ve learned some things about how to bottle-feed a baby who’s choking a lot, and I could share those and that’s powerful from an emotional perspective. But other times, I think in a business context it’s lower stakes or maybe less interesting, in terms of… I guess I’m thinking about the revenue growth at a company. And I guess if you’re the owner or the sales director, getting commissions and bonuses based on that, that can be highly exciting. But if you’re kind of in the middle of things, it may be less. How do you dig into a richer “Why?” when on the surface it might feel a little bit shallow?

Allison Shapira

Well, there’s always a deeper “Why?” there. It always goes more than just – and I’m using “just” intentionally in this situation – it goes beyond, “So that I can make money or to increase shareholder value.” That’s not what necessarily get us out of bed in the morning. It’s to have an impact. It’s to provide an environment that people actually want to come to work in. And in the book I quote one of my clients who I worked with, where I said, “Why is helping clients important to you?” She said, “It just is.” I said, “Why?” And she said, “Well, because service is important to me.” I said, “Why?” And she said, “Well, my parents taught that to me growing up”. And I said, “Tell me more.” And she said, “Well, my parents were small business owners and every single day I saw them get up and put others’ needs before themselves, and it had an incredibly powerful impact on me. And now every day I get up thinking about how I can help my clients.”

Pete Mockaitis

I like that, yes.

Allison Shapira

That’s a powerful story. It’s professional, but it’s also personal. And if I were a small business owner and that person were pitching me, I would think, “Wow, this person understands me. I can trust this person.” So, that’s an example of how you can use “Why you?” in a professional setting with a very powerful impact.

Pete Mockaitis

I like that. So then the “Why?”, I guess you could articulate that a few ways. It’s like you’re honoring your parents’ memory or example or values. This is who I am, and who I am as a part of a bigger thing with my family and ancestors. And so, I hear you, yes. That’s excellent. Very much appreciated. So, that’s the beginning part.

Allison Shapira

And it’s something everyone can use as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Sure.

Allison Shapira

Please go ahead.

Pete Mockaitis

So that’s kind of how to think about things at the beginning of putting together a speech or presentation. How about when you’re getting toward the end, when you’re doing some of the polishing and perfecting? You’ve identified there are a few steps that many people overlook, they just neglect, but they shouldn’t. What are those things?

Allison Shapira

The biggest step that most people overlook, and shouldn’t, is reading your speech or presentation out loud. A lot of people will jot it down, they’ll look at it on the paper, they’ll read it in their head, especially if they’re using slides. They simply look through the slides and think, “Okay, I’m ready.” But writing for the ear and writing for the eye are two different things. And it’s only when you read something out loud that you can listen to it critically and think, “Does this sound good? Does this sound like how I normally speak? Is it easy to pronounce?” Because if you stumble over a word in practice, you’re going to stumble over the word in the actual presentation. So reading it out loud is critical, and that’s also a way that you can start to remember it more easily.
And I don’t recommend that people memorize their speech or presentation, but it should be comfortable enough that if your piece of paper with your notes on it falls to the floor, you still know where you’re going next. And then another thing that I recommend people do in the practice phase is to reduce their speech to simply the key bullet points, a phrase or two, an outline – and that’s what they should bring with them to the speech or presentation. A lot of times I’ll see people get up to speak, and they have full sentences written out, double-sided, in tiny print with no white space. It’s impossible to find your place in the middle of a speech. So I recommend printing out simply the outline with key phrases or words, not full sentences, and practicing giving the speech or presentation from those bullet points so that they feel comfortable and know where to look when they forget what they’re going to say.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, I like that. Very nice. And so then when it comes to actually delivering the speech, you’ve got some thoughts when it comes to some movements and gestures that bring it to life. What are those?

Allison Shapira

I talk about three different movements – eye contact, body language, and voice. And with eye contact, I always recommend that people speak to one person at a time. So instead of scanning the room, trying to read everyone at the same time, pick someone in the room and deliver a full sentence to them or a full thought, and then look at somebody else and speak to them for a full thought. And then you’re not speaking with 100 people. You’re simply looking at one person at a time and you get a number of people in your gaze as you do that, but you focus on one person at a time. And that really calms people down. So that’s what I recommend with eye contact.
With body language, I talk about every movement being purposeful. We’re all aware of the nervous body language that people tend to use – nervous movements like wringing your hands, playing with your hair or your rings. And men and women do this, and it’s something that demonstrates to the audience that you’re nervous. So I like to practice my body language in advance, and practice different hand gestures that reinforce my messages, or practice walking around during transitions and then pausing to make a point. And then I pause and make eye contact with someone to make a point. So those are some ways in which you can incorporate more purposeful body language into your presentations.
And then the third – movement – is not technically a movement at all, but it’s the movement with your voice. So your vocal variety, whether your voice goes up or it goes down, or your energy level gets high or gets lower. So being able to play with that conversational tone is so important. A lot of times we stand up and all of the energy and life drains out of our voice because we get nervous, so our breathing constricts, which is what we were talking about earlier.
So when you’re able to pause and breathe, and take those nice deep breaths and project your voice, then you can make your voice much more conversational. And I don’t want people to use a different speaking voice in front of the room than they do when they’re offstage. I simply want them to bring their best voice on stage, as opposed to their most nervous voice. So those are the three different movements that I talk about in the book – eye contact, body language, and voice.

Pete Mockaitis

And I’d love to get your take when it comes to these matters. To what extent do you think about this from a perspective of, “Okay, in this sentence, I will use this hand gesture”, as opposed to thinking about the underlying emotion? And I guess I’m thinking about, you might call it “method acting”, in terms of, “Okay, I’m really going there emotionally, and thus naturally my voice and my hands are going to do those things because they correspond to the associated emotion”, versus, “Ah, make sure to widely spread your arms in this moment.” I guess I see pros and cons to both approaches and I worry; I think maybe that if I overdo it in terms of listing out this gesture at this phrase, then it could come across as a little bit like, “You’re just sort of doing a show, Pete. You don’t actually feel these things.” So I don’t know. What’s your take on that one?

Allison Shapira

I’m so glad that you’ve brought that up, because it is a real consideration. And I certainly don’t want people to feel like they’re acting out their speech or presentation. The idea is, natural body language doesn’t always come naturally, which is funny to say, but absolutely accurate, because in the moment we’re nervous, we’re thinking about so many things. So it can be helpful to practice in front of a mirror or videotape ourselves on a device or a phone, and try out different hand gestures. Try things out to see what matches the words we’re using and what feels natural. And by virtue of practicing it, it starts to become natural, and then when you get in front of the audience, you pause and breathe, you focus on your message. And whatever gestures you make will flow naturally as a result of that practice. But you’re right, it’s a fine balance between having it be too scripted versus more authentic. But the more you practice, the more authentic it becomes.

Pete Mockaitis

Excellent. Well now, tell me – anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and talk about some of your favorite things?

Allison Shapira

One thing that I’d like to make clear is that public speaking doesn’t just happen when you stand up onstage in front of a group of people with a microphone and a spotlight on you. Public speaking is something that happens every single day. Speaking up on a conference call, speaking up in a meeting, asking a question at a conference, even if you’re not on the panel; interviewing, pitching, speaking to clients, speaking to leadership. All of these are examples of public speaking.
So once people recognize a) that public speaking happens every single day, and b) to some of your earliest questions, that it’s critical to how we come across to others, to how we can effectively build relationships – then all of a sudden it becomes so important that we learn and become comfortable with this skill, because it affects every aspect of our life – professional and personal, and makes us more impactful in whatever it is that we believe in. So, it’s important that people see public speaking as something that they do every single day.

Pete Mockaitis

Lovely, thank you. Well now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Allison Shapira

One of my favorite quotes is by a Persian poet, Hafiz, and I hope I pronounced his name correctly: “The words you speak become the house you live in.”

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you.

Allison Shapira

And I find that quote so powerful because it’s about the language that we use and the impact it has, not
just on others, but on ourselves. So it’s very important to choose the words that we use.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Allison Shapira

My favorite piece of research that I’ve read recently is about chewing gum and its impact on immediate word recall. So, there’s a couple of different studies, and I quote these in the book, talking about how chewing gum right before a speech or a test increases immediate word recall. It’s the chewing aspect that helps stimulate our brain and overcome that fight or flight response, so we can be more present and more analytically focused. The key element, of course, is to remember to spit the gum out before you get in front of an audience.

Pete Mockaitis

So now, what is “immediate word recall”? How do we define that?

Allison Shapira

Immediate word recall would be remembering what you’re supposed to say in your speech – remembering your first sentence, or remembering your main points, or in a test being able to remember what you just studied so that you can answer the questions correctly.

Pete Mockaitis

Wow, that is intriguing. And I guess the theory is that there’s a neuro pathway associated with the motion of a mouth and words, because we speak words, or how do they think that works?

Allison Shapira

It’s very interesting. And I’m not a neuroscientist, but from what I’ve read, when we get nervous, it’s the amygdala of our brain that’s overriding with that fight or flight response. And when that happens, our mind goes blank. We forget what we’re going to say because we’re preparing to run away from danger. But the act of chewing is something that stimulates – and I want to make sure I’m getting this right – it activates the prefrontal cortex, which is the more analytical part of the brain that helps us focus on what we want to say next.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, cool. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Allison Shapira

Besides my own book? Favorite book. There are so many fantastic books. I just finished reading Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. It is a negotiation book.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, we’ve had him on the show.

Allison Shapira

Oh, you had him on the show. Fantastic!

Pete Mockaitis

That was a page turner. I’m sorry to interrupt. Tell the world why you loved it. I was a big fan of it myself.

Allison Shapira

I have studied negotiation and I have taught negotiation in the past, and there are some fantastic classic books out there on the subject. What I love about Chris’s book is the practical component of it, and it’s something that I try to emulate in my own book. I want to make sure whatever people read, it has stories to back it up and they can immediately apply it to their work. And I was reading Chris’s book while I had a negotiation going on in my business. And so, I’m reading the book and I’m making notes in the pages and I’m changing my tactics and my strategy in the moment to positively influence the negotiation. So, what I love about the book – very readable, which I appreciate, very interesting in terms of stories, and then the immediately practical, applicable tips that I could use right away. So, many, many reasons why I love that book.

Pete Mockaitis

Absolutely. Its’s a winner. And I found myself doing it all the time, in terms of trying to elicit a “No”, and it works great, especially when people are hard to get on emails. I go, “Where did they go? Are you no longer interested in being a guest on the podcast?” “Oh no, no, no, no. I’m sorry, Pete. It’s just that things got busy. I’ll grab a time right now.” [laugh] It’s awesome. Cool. And how about a favorite tool?

Allison Shapira

Favorite tool? What kind of tool?

Pete Mockaitis

It could be a hardware – it could be a hammer or a drill. It could be a piece of software or app. It could be a thought framework or checklist. Something that you use that really comes in handy.

Allison Shapira

I am a big fan of Evernote. Have you ever used Evernote?

Pete Mockaitis

Oh yes, me too. Tell me more.

Allison Shapira

There’s a point in my life where there is before Evernote and there’s after Evernote. And Evernote has given me a single place to organize my music. I’ll write songs and store them in Evernote. My business – I will … checklists and save them there. I use Evernote to draft speeches and presentations. And the instant search ability is incredible; the tagging; and then it instantly syncs across all of my devices as well. And it’s password protected. So, as an organizing tool, Evernote literally runs my life.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, it’s a real treat. Just lately I got a piece of plywood to stick across my treadmill, and then a Bluetooth keyboard. And with an iPad or iPhone you can just rock and roll with Evernote in one place. And then it’s right to your computer next so you can modify it, or you can put it into Word or somewhere else if you’ve got to get some fancy formatting that works just right for other people. I too am quite the fan. I like how quickly it syncs as well. It’s like, “I just typed that minutes ago and you’re right there. Thank you.”

Allison Shapira

Exactly. And then you’re in a meeting and you simply pull up your phone and all your notes for that meeting are right there. It’s incredibly helpful.

Pete Mockaitis

Mm-hmm. And how about a favorite habit?

Allison Shapira

Favorite habit. I’m practicing gratitude every morning and every afternoon.

Pete Mockaitis

And is it identifying things you’re grateful for, or how do you practice it?

Allison Shapira

Identifying things that I’m grateful for that have happened recently. And then at the end of the day, what am I grateful for in this day? And I find that has a meaningful impact on how I feel when I go to work and how I feel when I go to bed.

Pete Mockaitis

And tell me, is there a particular nugget that you share with clients or in your book that really seems to connect – it gets highlighted, retweeted, shared often? Or an original for Allison that’s connecting for folk?

Allison Shapira

“Public speaking is a skill, not a talent.” I say that over and over again, and people really appreciate that because it means you don’t have to be born a good public speaker. It’s something everyone can learn. And I also like to say that public speaking is about finding your voice and your courage to speak.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Allison Shapira

I’d ask them to come find me on my website at GlobalPublicSpeaking.com. They can read more about the book, they can actually download a chapter of the book for free, and then they can watch a number of different videos with quick tips that I’ve recorded on public speaking. So, people will ask me a question and then I’ll answer the question in a one-minute video. And all of those videos you can find on my website at GlobalPublicSpeaking.com.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Allison Shapira

I would challenge people to come to every single meeting prepared with one point they’re going to make that will further the conversation. Recognizing that public speaking happens every single day, prepare for it in advance and have that one thought that you’re going to share. And it’s a way to have an impact without having to formally be on the agenda.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, Allison, this has been tons of fun. I wish you all the best of luck with your company Global Public Speaking, and the book Speak with Impact, and just all you’re up to!

Allison Shapira

Thank you, Pete. I appreciate it, and thanks for talking to me today.

362: Taking Control of Your Interactions with Maryann Karinch

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Maryann Karinch shares how to give information-rich responses and make connections that will steer conversations and interactions in your favor.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The difference between answering vs. responding
  2. Three ways to use keywords for memorability
  3. Body language tips for forming a connection

About Maryann

Maryann Karinch has written numerous books on human behavior and health, including eight with Gregory Hartley that feature insights into reading and using body language. She uses this expertise in coaching business executives, law enforcement personnel, and other professionals in detecting deceit, defusing tense situations, and negotiating with both friendly and hostile sources.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Maryann Karinch Interview Transcript

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

Maryann Karinch
My pleasure, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d like to get started by hearing a little bit about your history in the theater.

Maryann Karinch
Oh my, well, I was a shy child. I thought that I can’t go through life like this, so I took a summer theater class when I was 13 and I loved it.

Interestingly enough, I didn’t know until years later when I started studying human behavior and body language that that was my introduction to learning body language. I learned how to pretend to be an extrovert. I learned how to pretend to keep control of myself when I was really just sweating and falling apart. That was an interesting introduction. I ended up studying that in college and in graduate school and then managing a theater and then leaving it, so there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Tell me, do any particular lessons you learned in the theater really kind of play out in your current work?

Maryann Karinch
Oh absolutely. What I realized much, much later was that studying theater it broadened my abilities to learn about people. I was much more observant about how people behaved, what they said, the meaning of things, the drama of a moment. This applies all the time in business of course.

I think I just got tuned into people a whole lot more. No matter what I ended up doing after that, I was drawing on lessons that I learned from the theater. I also really like theater people. They tend to be really fun to hang out with.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s been my experience as well, just a bit more expressive. You might say “out there,” if you will, but I think I might be a little out there in terms of just expressing what’s on my mind in a colorful way.

Maryann Karinch
Right, exactly. There’s everything right about that.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Tell us a little bit more about your book, Controlling the Conversation, here.

Maryann Karinch
Well, that’s all about solutions because people tend to just answer questions and just kind of segueing into one thing I know you wanted to talk about was what’s wrong with just answering a question. What’s wrong is that you surrender control in the conversation, at least temporarily, to the person who’s asking the question. Then if you all do is address the topic that the questioner has proposed, then all you’re doing is ceding control.

Instead if you respond to the question, if you take that question and say maybe it’s a ‘what’ question and you say, “I really need to give more information than just what. I need to give a why. I need to give who. I need to give a timeline.” By responding to the question, by weaving in those other things, you take control. That was the impetus behind this book.

My co-author, Jim Pyle, has a daughter. His daughter, Meghan, wanted to do a commercial. She’s a young horse woman. She had an opportunity to do a commercial that involved riding her horse, except that the people who were doing the interview weren’t asking her to ride a horse, they were asking her questions.

She came home and she didn’t get it. She did not get the job. Her dad said, “Well, tell me what you said.” What he realized was she had missed opportunities to express her expertise, to talk about how long and hard she had worked for that expertise, things that would have made a difference.

He called me and he said, “Oh my gosh, now that we’ve done a book about asking questions, we need to do a book about giving answers,” so that was it.

Pete Mockaitis
We talk about ceding control, that’s an interesting concept. In what times and places is it okay to cede control versus when do you very much want to be remaining in control?

Maryann Karinch
I like to remain in control. How about you Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m sure it’s helpful, but I mean I guess there are times where if you’re always in control, then you can sort of rankle the feathers of your collaborators.

Maryann Karinch
I know. It’s not as if you’re in control of every situation or every conversation, but it’s a matter of not letting go of control when you really need to have it. That’s the point.

There are a lot of times when we just want to sit back and listen and let somebody else do all the talking. That’s fine. That’s great. But there are other times when it’s really important for us to know that we are steering the conversation towards certain information, towards certain revelations, and making sure that whatever is most relevant in terms of us accomplishing a goal, that we get there.

Pete Mockaitis
You draw a bit of a distinction here when it comes to the questions when you respond with you can give either an answer or a response. Can you unpack a little bit, what’s the difference here?

Maryann Karinch
Sure, sure. A response is multi-dimensional. Answering a question is just providing data: who, what, when, where, why, how. But responding is kind of data plus. The response is energized with information. It’s energized with direction and management, so you pack more power with a response.

You’re generally a whole lot more colorful in responding rather than merely answering a question. Now there are exceptions, but we can get to those later.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s do some maybe examples or role play here to get that all the clearer here. Let’s say I were to ask you, “Hey, do you want to be on my podcast?” There’s a question. What would an answer sound like versus a response?

Maryann Karinch
Yes, Pete your podcast is fascinating because you have an audience that I love connecting with. It’s been a long process for me to get to the point where I felt I knew enough to share with them, but now I’m there and I’m with you and this is fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so that sounds like a response. We got some extra – some layers there.

Maryann Karinch
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Versus the answer would just be yes.

Maryann Karinch
Yeah, the straight answer is yes. It’s a yes or no question, so yes, okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Then let’s unpack, what are some of the advantages of providing that extra detail?

Maryann Karinch
The extra detail gives some more about the other subject areas. We call them areas of discovery. They are people, places, things, and time. The more that you can weave in all four elements when you respond to a question, the more richness there is in the answer. You add more layers to the conversation.

Instead of having a mono-dimensional just focus on data, you have a sense of person, you have a sense of place, you just have more of a richness of the information that you’re exchanging.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Then I’m curious about so if you’re dealing with a person who’s asking questions and wants to move fast, fast, fast, how do you sort of navigate those waters in terms of thinking about the tradeoffs of extra detail versus time?

Maryann Karinch
Right, well that’s the model with a lot of the drive time radio that I do. You just have to be aware of the model that they have to do that. Responding in those situations means adhering to the rules of that game, that exchange, not game, but the exchange of two people who are crimped in terms of time. You just give as much as you can in a few – much, much fewer words. You do have to honor the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Then any other tips in terms of giving answers that are all the more compelling and helpful?

Maryann Karinch
Right. Well, pay attention to who’s asking. It was fun spending a few minutes before the podcast getting to know you. I had a sense of your rhythm. I think that helps a great deal. I try not to do any interviews or have any exchanges with somebody that I don’t know anything about. You lack the ability to have a real meaningful conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Okay, cool. That’s one tip is to get some of that extra background and context for who’s the person and what’s going on there. What else?

Maryann Karinch
Well, the other thing is make sure that you don’t make up anything. That’s a really, really big deal. You never know in conversations like this if somebody’s going to throw something from left field. If I don’t know something, I need to tell you that because your audience trusts you and therefore they trust me, so that’s important. Don’t make stuff up. Be square.

If you have limited information, say, “I only know a little bit about this. I only know a tiny, tiny bit about heart surgery, so please don’t ask any more questions about it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. You also recommend incorporating some key words into your responses.

Maryann Karinch
Absolutely. In your head, you know when you go into a situation, we’ll just use job interview as an example, you know what people want – you want people to think of you, that you want that interviewer to come away with maybe five concepts that that person would describe you as capturing. Throw key words in there.

There’s certain words that are really sticky words. One of my favorites is rogue. If you call somebody or something rogue, that’s kind of a sticky word. You find the other person using it again and again, just because they heard you say it. Do you know what I mean?

Pete Mockaitis
I do know what you mean and it’s interesting in terms of it’s kind of a unique word, but we all know what it means. It’s short. But it kind of paints a bit of a picture and has some energy or momentum behind it.

Maryann Karinch
Right, right. If you go into a job interview with your personal story already in your head and that personal story is full of sticky words and you start answering questions and using those words, then somebody is likely at the end of that job interview to say, “Pete, you’re provocative. You have a fast rhythm. You get me going.” things like that. You walk away saying, “Yeah, okay, I did it. Me and my sticky words. I did it.”

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love it please, just lay them on us in terms of many, many sticky words that come to mind.

Maryann Karinch
Right, exactly. There are all kinds. It depends on your situation and how you want to be perceived. But that’s one thing that you can do to just get people to feed back to you what you really want them to know about you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well could you rattle off some extra sticky words here?

Maryann Karinch
That’s the whole thing that there are certain words that have a sound, that have a picture associated with them that’s so specific.

If I said “magenta,” now you might think of the character from Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is fine because she’s sort of like the living embodiment of a color. That’s the kind of thing that you want to think of and you want to introduce into conversation if you want somebody to remember you, you want somebody to remember characteristics about you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s funny. I was thinking of a toner cartridge first. I’ve got cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

Maryann Karinch
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
So that’s there. Okay, cool. What are some more?

Maryann Karinch
Oh, well, let’s just go for anything that has to do with shapes and colors. They’re generally sticky words, things that are more conceptual—like “confidence,” that’s not really a sticky word. “Empowerment,” nah, not so much. Grit, that’s a sticky word, words that have huge power.

This is why reading somebody like Shakespeare is so valuable. He was my major playwright in graduate school. The word choices are amazing. I say dagger, that’s a sticky word. There are all kinds of things like that when you think, “Okay, I can say something multi-syllabically and you will totally forget it or I can say single shot,” “Oh I get it.” Sniper, sticky word.

There are just certain things that when you say them, people remember that word and you find – now check this out. Throw a few things like that into a conversation with someone and darn if they won’t come back a little while later and they will say rogue, sniper. They will just – they will find a way to use that weird word in conversation, just because it’s stuck in their head.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s also interesting about that is it almost – well, I think it does – gives you a little bit extra oomph in terms of credibility or authority. Like if it’s in a meeting situation, you said this word first and then there’s eight people in the meeting – you said the word first, then two other people have utilized the word and you as the originator of the word are kind of almost like the guy who had the idea.

You’re the guy who brought up that word, so it confers a bit of status or authority associated with being the first to provide that there.

Maryann Karinch
Sure, you have at that point a little bit of edge in terms of leadership of that conversation in the meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that notion, you said confidence – I think you might be able to come up with some synonyms that are better than confidence, like you might say swagger brings up a picture of someone swaggering.

It’s like “I’d like us to be able to have some swagger when we come to our customers with exactly all the features that they are most interested in.” That kind of implies confidence that “Yeah, you’re going to go with us versus the alternatives because this is exactly what you want.” That kind of sticks with you more so than confidence. That’s fun.

Maryann Karinch
Yeah, right. Exactly. You’re in a job interview and somebody says to you, “Well, now how would describe yourself in terms of your presence?” If you said, “Well, I have confidence,” oh yawn. What if you said, “I have spine. I have a backbone.” Those are the kind of concepts that gives you an image. You have spine, Pete. Confidence, eh, okay, lots of people have confidence, but you’ve got spine, man.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. That’s cool. So sticky words is sort of one category of key word. Are there more in terms of one approach is to use sticky words? Are there kind of other categories of words that are useful?

Maryann Karinch
The other keywords would be things that you pick up perhaps from the question itself. This is how you can craft a response that really addresses what that person wants to know in addition to the things that you want to bring out.

If the person is asking about qualities, your qualities, well, clearly quality is a key word. Now, how do you take that and turn it into something like a memorable response? You can repeat it. “The quality of, and the quality of, and the quality of.” That’s one way to do it.

Other keywords would be – sometimes people will just because it’s not scripted, will throw things in, maybe something about a reference to time that isn’t really the critical element of the question. You go ahead and run with that and say – well, let’s see. I’m trying to think of an example.

Maybe, the person says, “In your last job,” something or other, you get really specific about that. There’s a timeline going. Make it specific. “Last year in my job, I did such and such.” Or just use that vague reference to time to make it really specific. Bring it home. Give them an answer that’s your answer – that’s your response that’s very time specific because clearly they were kind of toying with a timeline.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. You also got some body language tips in terms of not just the words you use, but how you’re holding yourself and what are some of your tips on that one?

Maryann Karinch
Right. Well this is mostly what I teach when I go out. I’ve worked with corporate people, Department of Homeland Security, people in law enforcement, you name it. There are different types – there are different requirements depending on what your job is and depending on the circumstances.

Generally speaking, if you want to bond with someone, you want invitational body language. That means that you don’t have barriers. Part of body language is not just where you place your arms or how you angle your body, but it’s also the stuff you have in front of you or aside of you.

If you’re behind a desk, you have a barrier between you and another person. If you have a wine glass in front of your face while you’re talking to somebody, that’s a barrier. If you hold your computer or your cellphone between you and another person, that’s a barrier. In order to get invitational body language, which means there’s an openness, there’s a sense of I trust you, you can trust me—remove those barriers.

I actually got a consulting job one time partly, I’m sure, because the person asked me to sit down at a small round desk behind a stack of books. I thought, what is this about. They were like four high. He said, “Let’s just sit over here.” I don’t think he was thinking about the fact that there were books between us.

What I did was, I just moved them. I simply stacked them up so that there was basically a tunnel between us, an open tunnel between us. You could see the demeanor change, like, oh, there’s an openness between us now that wasn’t there before. Those little things can make all the difference in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Okay, so removing barriers and being sort of welcoming, inviting. Anything else?

Maryann Karinch
Right. When you want to bond with somebody, it’s natural to mirror that person. We do that in our tone of voice, we do that in the pacing of our voice. Our conversation is a pretty fast conversation. We’re mirroring each other because we’re both kind of fast talkers for the most part.

If we were sitting in the same room, we would be perhaps tilting our heads to kind of match, we might be tilting our bodies to match. It’s natural for two people to do that. You can see it all the time when people are really connecting on a date, they’ll start mirroring each other.

Well, you can do that in a very, very subtle way you can think through it. It should happen naturally. If it doesn’t happen naturally, you can do little things that make you connect physically with the other person because you are doing a mirroring, not a mimicking, but a mirroring, a little angling of the body is sometimes all it takes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. All right, I want to kind of get your quick take on sort of the other side of things in terms of we talked about responding to questions. How about when you are asking those questions, how should I do it optimally?

Maryann Karinch
Right. Ask good questions. Good questions generally start with an interrogative. When – it’s a who, what, when, where, why, how, how come, that kind of thing. Those questions are not answered with a yes or no. Now, there are times for yes or no questions. That’s true.

But generally speaking if you want somebody to start talking and divulging information to you, ask a narrative. Use an interrogative so that you can ask what we call a narrative question, something that requires a narration in response.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. What else?

Maryann Karinch
Well, if you ask a yes or no question, be prepared for a yes or no answer. Again, that means that if you don’t get it if you ask a yes or no question and you really want a yes or no answer and all of the sudden there’s an evasion, you can ask that question again. Make sure that if you require a yes or no answer, that you get it.

There’s an incident. I was part of a press conference recently and the very first question at the press conference was to the person who was on stage, “Is so-and-so a liar?” I had told the person on the stage – I had coached him and I said, “If you are asked that question, say yes, turn your back, walk away and go to the podium and just leave it. Don’t say anything else,” because it was a really, really important statement.

Now the questioner knew precisely that all he wanted was a yes or no answer. The answerer knew that precisely giving only a yes or no answer was the best – it was the most powerful thing he could do at that moment. That was an interesting exchange that made the evening news related to that press conference.

Know what your intent is when you’re asking questions as well as answering them.

Pete Mockaitis
So the yes alone in that situation is more powerful than elaboration just because it’s kind of like, “That’s all there is to say about that. The answer is yes and I will proceed over here now.”

Maryann Karinch
That’s exactly right. I wish more politicians would do that because I think that’s a vote getter. Go ahead and tell the politicians that they should do that more often. You can do that for me. Sometimes a good strong yes or no is amazing. It’s an amazing weapon for truth. It’s a sense of “Oh my gosh, that person actually – that politician actually gave a yes or no answer to a yes or no question. Holy moly, wow, that’s power.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and it’s sort of refreshing. It’s like, all right. It seems like everyone has to make a statement. This is my statement on this. As opposed to okay, yes or no. Cool.

Maryann Karinch
Yeah, exactly.

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

Maryann Karinch
Sure, there is something I want to mention. Again, this is something that is in the book, but I kind of wish we would have explored it more because I’m paying attention to this more and more. That is reading between the lines. There is a phenomenon of language – we do language on two different levels. We do it literally and then we also read between the lines.

If I said something politically tinged and you’re on the other side of the aisle from me politically, you probably will read between the lines of what I say. Even if it sounds like I’m agreeing with you, you’re going to kind of separate the threads and say, “Wait a minute, I don’t think she really means that because I know she doesn’t agree with me.”

That is the kind of thing that is happening all the time today. We are observing this to the point of distraction when it comes to people who don’t agree supposedly having conversations about key issues. They’re each reading between the lines and getting absolutely nowhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Thank you. That’s an important issue to highlight there. Cool. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Maryann Karinch
“A desire to succeed can strengthen you, but a fear of failure can immobilize you.”

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

Maryann Karinch
That’s mine. That’s mine. That’s my quote. I wrote that.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s good.

Maryann Karinch
It’s my favorite quote. Is that like, so egotistical you can’t put that out there?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fine. Well, how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Maryann Karinch
Oh gosh, okay. I am fascinated by the work of Brene Brown. Do you know her work at all?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Maryann Karinch
Yes. Her work on vulnerability, that may be some of my favorite research and the most valuable in terms of human interaction and possibility for realizing our full humanity, for getting along in the world. I think in a sense Brene Brown found the answer to world peace. I’m going with Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. How about a favorite book?

Maryann Karinch
My favorite book is actually a play. That would be Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool?

Maryann Karinch
It’s a bunch of tools. It’s my Swiss army knife. My dad gave it to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool. How about a favorite habit?

Maryann Karinch
My favorite habit is drinking water. I’m a fanatic water drinker.

Pete Mockaitis
How much water do you drink?

Maryann Karinch
It’s good for you. Hm?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, how much water do you drink?

Maryann Karinch
Oh, I don’t know. I put fun things in it to flavor it. I put this stuff called DripDrop in it and Emergen-C and all these things to balance my electrolytes, so I don’t know. I drink water all day long, bottles and bottles.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Tell me, is there a particular nugget you share in your books, in your writing that really seems to connect and resonate with folks. It gets them retweeting and quoting you back to you?

Maryann Karinch
Yeah, yeah. Assume truth. Don’t automatically assume that someone is lying to you. I think that’s the worst thing that we can do. We should assume truth. Come with an open mind to everyone. Now I realize that you can’t sustain that once you realize that someone is not telling you the truth. But truth is a very, very important thing to me.

I have found that assuming that – if my first response is I assume you’re telling me the truth, then I’m much better off then in ascertaining who you are, what you’re all about, how we can get along, how we won’t get along. But if I close my mind to you, if because you’re a certain party or a certain color or a certain age or whatever, if I close my mind to you in the very beginning, then we get nowhere, absolutely nowhere.

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

Maryann Karinch
Well, they could go to my website. Both of them are being updated at this point. It’s Karinch.com and RudyAgency.com. Rudy Agency is all about the literary agency stuff. Karinch.com is all about me personally and professionally.

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

Maryann Karinch
Be absolutely true to your intent. If your intent is to live a life of fulfillment in your career, be really true to that. Be specific and honest with somebody who’s interviewing you for a job.

I know there were jobs that I interviewed for that I had no business interviewing for. It’s not about the money. It’s about whether or not you belong there as part of that team and whether you even like that team. Be true to your intent. Go where you should go. Look for opportunities where you really want to be and don’t just take some junky thing just because you can do the job. That’s work. That’s not a life.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Maryann, thanks so much for taking this time and sharing your wisdom. I wish you tons of luck with the book, Control the Conversation, and all that you’re up to.

Maryann Karinch
Well, thank you so much Pete. It is such a fun thing talking with you. I’d do it anytime.

359: Overcoming the Fear of Speaking Up with Karin Hurt

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Karin Hurt discusses how the fear of speaking up hampers organizational growth and what you can do about it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three steps for overcoming the fear of speaking up
  2. Approaches to encourage others speak up using the only UGLY framework
  3. The primary way we dampen the willingness of others to speak up

About Karin

Karin has over two decades of experience in customer service, sales, and human resources. She’s the award-winning author of two books: Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss.

A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin transformed customer service outsourcing (96M calls/year) to reach parity in quality with internal centers and developed a leading sales team that won the President’s Award for Customer Growth.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Karin Hurt Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Karin, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Karin Hurt

Thanks so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, first thing I want to hear about you is that I understand in your life you were struck by lightning. What is the story behind this?

Karin Hurt

Yeah. People tell me that explains a lot about my personality actually. It was not one of my brighter moments. I was a manager of a pool, and I closed the pool because of lightning, like you’re supposed to, and then proceeded to go sit down at a metal table to wait the storm out. And so the lightning got attracted to the metal table, split a brick in half that was right in front of me, and propelled me about five feet against a wall. But I was fine. Yeah, it was really crazy.

Pete Mockaitis

So, did it strike you directly or did it strike the brick in front of you?

Karin Hurt

It hit the brick and then the momentum of it, it ricocheted into me. So I didn’t get hit directly. Yeah, it was crazy. And I was sitting next to a guy who was like 300 pounds, and he flew too.

Pete Mockaitis

That is wild.

Karin Hurt

Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

And so you went to the hospital, or how did this end up unfolding at the end?

Karin Hurt

I went to the ER, but they didn’t keep me or anything. It was fine.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Wow, that’s wild. I always wonder if people take that personally, like with you and God: “Is there a message here, because this feels very intentional and targeted?”

Karin Hurt

Yes, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis

Did you choose to interpret it in any particular way, or you just said, “Hey, man, stuff happens”?

Karin Hurt

Just took the story and ran with it.

Pete Mockaitis

And you’ve been using it on podcast interviews years later. I’m glad that you’re safe and well. And how about the other gentleman? Did he turn out okay?

Karin Hurt

Yeah, he’s fine too.

Pete Mockaitis

Excellent. All right, cool.

Karin Hurt

Well, I don’t know. I mean, he was kind of a jerk.

Pete Mockaitis

Was he a jerk before lightning struck him?

Karin Hurt

Yeah, yeah, yeah, so maybe the lightning was directed at him and I was just in the crossfire.

Pete Mockaitis

[laugh] Oh, that’s good. Thank you. So, tell us a little bit – you are the chief executive officer of the organization Let’s Grow Leaders. What is this organization about?

Karin Hurt

We are an international leadership development company, so we do long-term leadership development programs, short programs as well. We work both with corporate clients and also government clients, and we also do keynote speaking and a little bit of strategic consulting.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. That’s a nice lineup. And so, you’ve packaged some of the wisdom in your book Winning Well. What’s this book all about?

Karin Hurt

It’s called Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results – Without Losing Your Soul. And so, it’s how do you get breakthrough results and remain a decent human being along the way? And it’s really focused on extremely practical tools to do that. So, how do you win well when you have to have a tough conversation with an employee, or when you need to terminate someone, or when you’re running a meeting? How do you do that in a way that really both builds results and gains better relationships?

Pete Mockaitis

Oh boy. There’s so much we could talk about there, and I want to hit a little bit there and in particular dig into a term you’ve turned into an acronym – the fear of speaking up, or FOSU. Is that how you pronounce it? Okay, I was wondering.

Karin Hurt

Like fear of missing out, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

We talked to Patrick McGinnis, who apparently coined that phrase – fun fact – in a previous episode. He didn’t coin it in the episode, but in a previous episode we talked to him and he coined it. He also said he had “fear of a better option” – FOBO – and that never really caught on.

Karin Hurt

So funny. Well, we’re hoping FOSU will catch on.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, it’s catchy and I think it’s a real phenomenon. Now we’re talking about it, so let’s talk about that now. So, what caused you to focus in on this phenomenon? Could you orient us to some of your research or findings or discoveries on this concept?

Karin Hurt

I will tell you that we were noticing a really significant pattern when we would go in and work at multiple levels of an organization. So, we would talk to the C-level. You go and you talk to the CEO or the senior vice presidents and they say, “I just wish our employees at the frontline or our first level supervisors would tell us when they see these issues or when they see that we have negative things that are impacting our customers” or, “I wish they would think more creatively or solve more problems on their own. I don’t know why they just keep their heads down, do their work and don’t speak up.”
And then we’d go in to do work at the frontline and we hear employees say, “Nobody cares about what I think. Every time I bring an issue to my supervisor, they tell me not to worry about it, just keep focused on my job.” And so, there was this massive disconnect within the same organization. And so, we started then looking at other organizations where that wasn’t the case, where people really were speaking up and what was the difference.
And so, we also have developed some very specific tools that we use to help encourage senior leaders to ask, or middle managers to ask, and make sure they are encouraging people to bring forth problems and to bring forth their ideas in a very strategic way. And then we also have tools where we help the frontline position their ideas in a way that can be heard, because there’s this other dynamic, and sometimes people blame the Millennials, but I don’t think it’s just the Millennials, or anything is just one generation’s issue.
But people say, “My problem is my employees are speaking up, but they’re not doing it well.” And so they’re just blurting out their ideas and they’re not positioning them well, so that they’re being rejected. And that’s another dynamic. So, really have been working on how do you get senior leaders and middle managers to ask, and how do you help frontline and lower level management to position their ideas in a way that they are well received? And that’s been a lot of fun and we’ve really been learning a lot about what works the best.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. This feels like a really big, important topic and I’m excited to dig into some of the practical how-to’s, but I’d love to get your take on this issue. How big is it, how important is it to tackle this, as opposed to any other matters of communication, collaboration, culture, stuff in the work environment? Have you made some discoveries in terms of the gravity of this issue?

Karin Hurt

Yeah. So, I think it’s getting more and more important. It’s always been an issue. This is not new, but why is it so important now? And as we go into an age where so much is being automated – the easy stuff is getting automated – if you want to provide effective customer service and it’s about something easy, you drive it to self-serve and people do it online. But by the time they get to a human being, they are needing more sophisticated conversation and they want somebody who can really hear their ideas.
So now you’ve got these folks at the frontline who are really getting to the heart of what your customers’ concerns are, and if they don’t feel empowered to do the things they need to do or to raise the issues upwards and let people know what that customer experience is like, you’re not going to have the innovation you need for your company. So, I would say that is definitely a piece of it.
Another is employee engagement continues to be a challenge. There’s the Gallup research that says 70% of managers are feeling disengaged or severely disengaged at work, and where does that disengagement come from? A big part of that is people who feel like they’re not being heard. And so, when you can give people a voice, that really helps create a deeper connection to the work that they’re doing.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s powerful. That makes me think about Google’s work, associated… Is the project Aristotle? I always get it mixed up – associated with psychological safety and teams being the thing that differentiates the high-performing teams from the not so high-performing, in which people just feel safe and comfortable expressing just what they think. And you had some research I saw on your Twitter, I believe, or somewhere in my research about you – you discovered that, was it less than 1% of employees felt very confident and comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas? Could you unpack this stat for us a little bit?

Karin Hurt

Yeah. So, this wasn’t from our original research, but this was just some of the work that we were doing to understand what was happening. It was actually some work that VitalSmarts did. It was their survey. But we’re actually in the process right now of doing a big, deep study with University of Northern Colorado, so I’ll have more of our own statistics soon.
But this basically said people are afraid to really say what they feel. And I’ll give you an example, a very real example of how this played out just a couple of weeks ago with a client we were working with. So, it was a big software implementation that had been done companywide, and throughout they had had user groups, user experience calls every single week. And the users would raise any issues that they had, and then they would knock them out. And they thought everything was going fantastic.
And then the vice president said, “Okay, great. I’m just going to go now, do some management by walking around, going to the fields, see how things are going.” And she sat next to a representative who brought up the software. And it took five minutes for the first page to load, and then it took another five minutes, which is not how this experience should be. And the software company had promised that this new system would be seven times faster than what they were working with previously. And here this was radically slower.
And so, she said to the representative, “Is it always like this?” And she said, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. But it has a lot of other great features.” And she said, “No, it’s not supposed to be like this. Why didn’t you say something?” And she said, “Because my manager said, ‘The company has invested a lot in this software,
so whatever you do, just tell everybody how wonderful it is and how grateful you are to have it.’”

Pete Mockaitis

Oh boy, sabotage.

Karin Hurt

And as it turned out it was just that the network couldn’t support it. They needed to do a network upgrade. There was nothing wrong with the software. They needed to do a network upgrade, which is not a big deal. And they were able to fix it within 24 hours. But these representatives have been suffering with the lost productivity of this for a month. And so, that’s the kind of thing where, who was scared there? Well, probably that person’s immediate supervisor. And you can’t have an environment like that if you really want to get to the root of problems quickly.

Pete Mockaitis

And so, we talk about fear there. Can you maybe unpack that, in terms of what is the specific fear, and how real is it, versus imaginary?

Karin Hurt

Yeah. And that is a lot of what we’ve really been thinking a lot about. How real is it? So I think people are afraid. You can’t get in trouble for not doing anything or not saying anything, but you can get in trouble if you say something that people think is dumb.

Pete Mockaitis

Fair enough. A safer bet is to keep your mouth shut.

Karin Hurt

Safer bet is to keep your mouth shut, exactly. And so, that is part of it. And also I believe sometimes it’s fear at the middle management level, which then trickles down. And so people say, “Don’t go to my… Don’t bother them with this.” So they keep the ideas down.
And then a big part of this fear, which we find, is that somewhere along the line somebody spoke up a long, long time ago, and it didn’t go well. Either I’m a manager and I used to have a terrible boss and I wasn’t allowed to speak up, and now I have a new boss, but I’m not giving my new boss the benefit of the doubt because I’ve learned these old habits.
I was working in one organization and it was so crazy. They were all telling these stories to me about how nobody ever listens and you could really get in trouble if you try to raise issues. And so I started saying, “How long ago was that?” And, “Well, that was 10 years ago. It was 15 years ago, but it’s still the same now.” They couldn’t come up with a current example, but it was so deeply embedded in this culture. And so, for that organization, we really had to give the management team very specific tools that they could use to encourage people to speak up and really come out and say, “No, the culture is different now.”

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, I dig that. So, when the bad things happen, could you unpack a little bit? Let’s just take a good, hard look at the worst case scenario when it comes to speaking up. So, in terms of someone just yells, like, “Don’t bother me with this! Handle it yourself, Karin, I’m busy!” Or what does it sound like in practice when it goes wrong?

Karin Hurt

Or, “That’s a dumb idea.” Or, “We’ve tried that before.” “That will never work.” “This is out of your swim lane.” You hear that. “Stay in your lane. Don’t worry about that. That’s not your issue to deal with.” Usually when you hear stuff like that, it’s coming from an insecure manager.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah. But what’s interesting is – call me an optimist – but none of those reactions were extreme, like, “You’re fired” or, “If you ever mouth off in this sort of a way, suggesting that all of the ways we’ve worked and the processes that we’ve implemented are inadequate for your higher standards and you’re ungrateful, then you could just find the door over there.” So, it sounds like it’s sort of dismissive, it’s kind of disrespectful, it would make you feel like… I’m hearing the Charlie Brown music in my head, like, “Oh, bummer.” But it’s not, brutal. It’s just sort of unpleasant and it just makes you feel not so good.

Karin Hurt

I totally agree with you. And that’s really the point. I think that a lot of this fear people have exaggerated in their heads, or they’ve extrapolated from one bad experience and then forgotten the other 99 good experiences they had when they did speak up.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So then, let’s dig into a little bit of the how-to. So, if you’re experiencing some fear of speaking up, maybe how do you tackle the emotional element of that, and then how do you actually do the positioning of the issues?

Karin Hurt

Yeah. So I would say first and foremost it’s, how do you connect your “What” to your “Why”? What is it that you want to say, and why is it so important? Because if you can ground in the greater good that you’re trying to accomplish, you’re going to get some courage from that. Another element in terms of overcoming the fear is, think about some times that you did speak up, and what did you do to make that work, and what was the impact? Rather than thinking about maybe the one-off circumstance where you spoke up and it didn’t go well. One of the best ways to build confidence is to recall on past experiences that were successful.
And then the next is to use some tools to do it well. And one of the most important techniques that we teach is, how do you initiate the conversation? So, you’ve got some hard news or some bad news that you need to give to your boss, or some feedback that you are worried is not going to be received well. Start by making a real genuine connection: “I really, really care about you and your career. I care about this team and I care about the projects that we’re working on, and I really want us all to be successful. I’ve had some observations. Do you have a minute?”
It’s very hard for anybody to become defensive when you start like that. So, start by creating the genuine connection. And then from there, make sure that you’re doing this in private. If you’re talking about something controversial, nobody wants to be confronted in front of a bunch of other people. This is different than if your boss is in a team meeting and says, “Does anybody have any suggestions?” That’s different, because they’ve invited it in. But if you are the one initiating it, it’s always better to take it offline and have that conversation.
And then the next piece is to really consider what is the person you’re trying to persuade – what’s big on their mind? What is their most important things and how can you position what you’re looking to accomplish in a way that relates to that? If their most important focus is the financial bottom line, how can you position what you’re worried about in terms of the impact it’s going to have on the financial bottom line? If they’re are most worried about the customer experience, how do you position what you’re going to say in the way that what you’re worried about is negatively impacting the customer experience?
And then the other is stakeholdering. Often there are other people who you can gather information from, or you can help engage in your argument, that may have more credibility on the subject than you. So, I’ll give you an example on that one. I worked at Verizon for 20 years, and at one point I was leading a 2,200-person sales team. We had had a particular month, where like Murphy’s law, everything that could have possibly gone wrong, did. We had several feet of snow, just a bunch of different things.
And it was very clear to me that there was no salesperson on my entire team that was going to make quota. And if you don’t make quota, if you don’t get to a certain threshold, you really don’t get any compensation additional to your salary. And this is a huge deal for salespeople. And so, what I was worried about was that if people were beginning to look towards the end of the month and they said, “There’s no way I’m going to make any commission this month”, they were going to sandbag and save all their sales for the following month, which would have been terrible for our revenue numbers.
But I really couldn’t go to my boss, who was the regional president and say, “We need to lower quotas”, because that looks self-serving, because if I lower my team’s quotas, my quota goes down. So instead, I went to our finance director and I explained to him and I did the math and I showed him how we would actually get more revenue and more margin, even if we paid out more commissions by lowering the quotas. He got the math, he said, “I think you’re absolutely right.” He went to the regional president and explained it, and they lowered quotas. So, I think sometimes so long as you get what you want, it doesn’t matter if you get the credit for the idea. So yeah, I think that’s also part of it.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s cool, and very sensible and proactive, to identify that and get that going. I’m fixated. Now, the snow – I know I did some work with wireless companies in training. So the snow impacts the quality of the signal, but are you talking about just their ability for people to get to their meetings?

Karin Hurt

To a store. So, I was retail sales, so I had all the Verizon Wireless stores in Maryland, DC and Virginia. So if you have three feet of snow, customers are not coming to your stories, even if you’re open.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, understood. Thank you.

Karin Hurt

At least not to buy a new phone. They may be coming for something to repair, but that doesn’t create revenue.

Pete Mockaitis

Understood. Okay, so we talked about the individual professional raising an issue upward to management. So now, what if you are the manager and you want to encourage people to speak up effectively? How do you do that?

Karin Hurt

A couple of different ways. One tool we use and I have created is called “Only UGLY”. And so, this is just four very easy questions that you can ask your team. What are we underestimating? That’s “U”. “G” – What’s got to go? “L” – Where are we losing? And “Y” – Where are we missing the “Yes”? So, an example of this – we did an “Only UGLY” conversation; it was a company that had grown from five people to 110 people in five years.
So, as they were growing, people were coming from other companies and they were bringing their favorite project management software, their favorite communication tools, and they just kept adding more and more tools to the mix. And so, we were doing this strategic offsite and we broke the team up into the four conversations. And the “What’s go to go” group listed every communication tool and project management tool that they had, and they listed like 27 of these.
And then they gave everybody in the room a dot and said, “Put a dot next to three of these that you think are the ones we should keep, that you use every day.” And all the dots clustered in the same couple of tools. So then they said, “What would happen if we got rid of everything else?” And everybody in the room was like, “Yes, thank God.” Then they looked back at the chief operating officer, and they thought he was going to be furious because they thought he wanted these tools. And he said, “Oh my gosh, I thought you wanted these tools. You know how much money we’re going to save if we don’t have to pay the licensing on all this?”
And then they simplified, because what they were finding is that people were spending as much time updating software and programs as they were working on the work. So, that was a quick, easy example. If you ask people, “What do we need to stop doing? Where are we missing the ‘Yes’?” Ask your team, “Where are there opportunities that you may not be thinking about here that could really add additional revenue or improve the customer experience?”
Every single time we use this exercise with teams, it is fascinating to me how fast how many ideas get into the room. We were working the other day with a company and we just spent two hours doing this exercise, and they came up with a list of a whole easel sheet of things that they could immediately implement within the next 30 days that would really make life better. And then they came up with three strategic projects that they would work on for the next year. A good investment of two hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, yes. So let’s review. So, we’ve got four components – the UGLY. Can we hear them again?

Karin Hurt

What are we underestimating? So maybe we’re underestimating competitive pressures; maybe we’re underestimating the shift in the job market; we’re underestimating this new call center that’s opened up down the street that’s going to take all of our best talent because they’re paying $2 more per hour. “G” – What’s got to go? What do we need to stop doing? “L” – Where are we losing? Where are we losing to our competition; maybe where are we losing talent; why are we losing talent? And then “Y” – Where are we missing the “Yes”? This is, where are there real strategic opportunities that we could be focused on that we’re not?

Pete Mockaitis

That’s excellent. And it reminds me of a powerful question we picked up from Jason Nazar, who founded Comparably. We interviewed him some episodes ago, and his power question was, “What am I pretending not to know?” That’s potent. And you’ve even made it all the more richer, more robust with subcategories of the ways we pretend not to know things. That’s cool. Thank you.

Karin Hurt

Sure. So the other thing I would say is if you really want people to tell you the truth – it’s not just management by walking around MBWA, but one of the things we often see, we call it, “Oh crap, here they come” – OCHTC. And how are you showing up? When people see you coming, are they excited to tell you what they’re working on? Are they knowing that you’re genuinely interested in hearing what’s working and what your ideas are? Or are you showing up pointing out everything that’s wrong, telling them your point of view, and shutting things down? And in every organization we see some of both. And so, just how do you show up in a way that is really curious? And when people really believe that you are genuinely interested, they’re going to want to show you what they’re doing, and that’s where you’re going to really get some of the best practices.

Pete Mockaitis

I’m curious, you mentioned being curious and best practices. Are there some more practices, some key things folks do that maybe subtly or not so subtly just kill that willingness to speak up from others?

Karin Hurt

The very best way to kill that is to ask people for their ideas and feedback, and then not do anything with them. You’ll see the employee suggestion boxes or the electronic version of that, where these ideas go to die. And so, even if you can’t implement the idea, somehow acknowledging: “Hey, we’ve heard you. Thank you so much for your input.” Really recognize people who are speaking up and bringing ideas forward. And even if you can’t, then you at least explain why: “This is a great idea. This is why we can’t do this at this time, but thank you. And please, keep these ideas coming because I’m sure you’re going to have one that will be exactly what we need.” And just really being encouraging of that.
I read an article the other day and I think it was Harvard Business Review, where they were talking about, this company had a recognition program for, if you stole somebody else’s best practice and implemented it and it was really successful, the person whose idea you stole would get recognized, and you would also get recognized. So people were really encouraged to not just keep doing their own things in their own teams, but to share with other people.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s great. Well, Karin, tell me – anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Karin Hurt

I think that’s good.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Karin Hurt

Eleanor Roosevelt, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I think that’s very relevant to what we’re talking about here, because half the time when we do things we realize that they weren’t as scary as we really thought.

Pete Mockaitis

Right. And how about a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Karin Hurt

I am a real big believer in the diffusion of innovations, which is old; it dates back to the ‘60s. But I find that theory has been one of the most grounding theories for me in large-scale change efforts. And the idea there is, who are your change agents? How do they influence people? Who are your early adopters? How do you get them involved in spreading the word early on? Who were the people who were reluctant? And really mapping out in any change, where do different people who you must influence fit in this change curve? And then what are the strategic ways that you can make sure that you are bringing people along and giving them what they need to feel comfortable about your change?

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Karin Hurt

I love almost anything written by Seth Godin, but my favorite is Tribes. One of the keynotes that I do is Turning Your Volunteers into Brand Ambassadors or Building Your Army of Brand Ambassadors, depending on whether you’re talking about internal or associations. I really believe in his theory of how do you make genuine connections, one person at a time, in order to build tribes that are meaningful, in order to influence the large-scale change that you’re trying to accomplish?

Pete Mockaitis

And how about a favorite tool?

Karin Hurt

Our blog is my favorite tool, I would tell you that. I believe that content marketing is just so important to be able to serve people and show what it is that you have to offer to add value every single day. So, I would say my WordPress blog is certainly my favorite tool.

Pete Mockaitis

And how about a favorite habit?

Karin Hurt

Exercise. That is the only way I can manage all of the stress of being an entrepreneur and keep the level of energy up, for sure. So, I’m a big fan of kickboxing and running and pretty much anything that keeps me moving.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Karin Hurt

Yeah. The big thing is really being willing to show up authentically. In so many of our keynotes, that’s really one of the most important messages, is how do you ground yourself in who you really are, and show up with confident humility in that way? And when you can do that, and balance the confidence, the humility and the focus on results and relationships, which those are the four components of our Winning Well model – people will follow you, and you will be able to accomplish great things, and you will have more influence.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Karin Hurt

Our website is LetsGrowLeaders.com, and you could subscribe to our free blog. We write two articles a week, and that’s a lot of powerful tools there. And also our book is available on Amazon and just about everywhere, and that’s called Winning Well.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Karin Hurt

I would really love for people to take something they really, really believe in and have the courage to position that argument well, to speak up, and to be the change. And we like to say, be the leader you want your boss to be.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, Karin, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you tons of luck and success with your speaking and your books and all that you’re up to!

Karin Hurt

I really, really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me. Thanks so much.

341: Decoding Body Language with ex-FBI Special Agent Joe Navarro

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Joe Navarro shows how to get to the bottom of body language and why observing it can better your relationships at work and at home.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why it’s so hard to tell if someone’s actually lying
  2. Four key, reliable body language cues
  3. The one good mannered behavior everyone should know and use

 

About Joe

For 25 years, Joe Navarro worked as an FBI special agent in the area of counterintelligence and behavioral assessment. Today he is one of the world’s leading experts on nonverbal communications and lectures and consults with major corporations worldwide. He is an adjunct professor at Saint Leo University and frequently lectures at the Harvard Business School.

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Joe Navarro Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Joe, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Joe Navarro
It’s great to be here, Pete. It’s a long time coming.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. Well, I’m super excited that I’ve been a fan of your work from afar for a good long time, so now here we are. But first I want to hear about how you got a pilot’s license when you were 17. Is that even legal or what’s the backstory here?

Joe Navarro
I don’t know how you dug that up, but not many people know that. That’s true. It was a funny thing. A lot of people make fun of our school systems, public schools in particular, but I was fortunate to go to a public school where the science class that was offered was aeronautics.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Joe Navarro
No, it was great. It was in Miami, Florida and you could study ground school, basic ground school. I took that when I was 16. Then once I turned 17 then I could begin to take flight lessons and I did, which you say, “Well, what do you do with that?” Well, interestingly enough, when the FBI came looking for me that was one of the things that set me apart.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting, so during your time in the FBI did you do some piloting?

Joe Navarro
Yeah. In the Bureau, you wear a lot of hats. The first four or five years, it was pretty much about learning the business of being an FBI agent, working counter-intelligence, but along about the fifth or sixth year there was a real shortage of pilots. We used aircraft for surveillance. They knew I had a license, so I did. I got somewhere around 2,000 hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool.

Joe Navarro
Yeah, it was pretty nice.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is cool. I have very little piloting experience, but I had a buddy who had a little four-seater Cessna in San Francisco. I’ve only piloted for like five minutes, but part of it was over the Golden Gate Bridge. It seems like that would be hard to top. It was just breathtaking.

Joe Navarro
Oh, it’s just a lot of fun. Once you get up to altitude and you can relax, you’re not worried about other aircraft, it really does give you a different perspective on the world. I used to take the airplane over to Miami Beach and fly along the coastline. It was – you’re 17 years old and you say, “This is pretty good. This isn’t bad.” Yeah, it was fun. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. You’ve written 13 books now and were a special agent with the FBI and are quite an authority on body language. I want to get into some particulars of body language signals and how to read it, what to do with it.

But first, I’d love it if you could set the scene for us with some drama. We had Chris Voss on the show. I’m just going to go out on a limb and say FBI agents make great podcast guests. Two for two so far. I asked him if he could give us a dramatic tale to kick us off, so I’ll put you on the same spot.

Can you think of a time where, boy, a body language signal or insight just sort of changed the whole story for an interrogation or an investigation or something you were working with?

Joe Navarro
Yeah. One of the books that I wrote was Three Minutes to Doomsday. In that book, I talk about this individual who was willing to cooperate or seemed to want to cooperate with the FBI, but he was hiding a lot of information. When we asked him to come forward and tell us the truth because he didn’t really have all the access to classified material that we knew had been stolen, he said he wasn’t going to reveal their names.

One of the things that we decided to do since we understood body language was to basically not trick him into revealing it, but getting him to reveal it at a subconscious level. What we did was we wrote the names of everybody that could possibly be involved on a three-by-five card. As we showed him each three-by-five card, we said, “Will you tell us a little bit about what their personality was like?”

What he didn’t realize was that when you see something that can hurt you, your pupils squint. His pupils and his eyes squinted on two names of the 32 that we presented. Then we sent agents out with the army to two military bases, one in Alaska, one in Georgia. On the two names that he squinted, both of them confessed.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow. That’s good.

Joe Navarro
What’s interesting, Pete, is he wasn’t lying. He said, “Look, I’m not going to tell you anything.” What he didn’t know was how he was going to react.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Joe Navarro
We know from studies of babies, eight – nine months old, when they see somebody they don’t like or they see something that is not pleasing to them, oftentimes they will squint, turn away, or their pupils will actually constrict.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve got a little seven-month-old at home. I hope he doesn’t do that to me shortly.

Joe Navarro
No, that will come when they’re 14.

Pete Mockaitis
Daddy, I’m tired of you.

Joe Navarro
Pete, you’ve got 14 years.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool. You’re latest here is called The Dictionary of Body Language. How would you frame or position this one in terms of kind of the main idea and how does it kind of fit into your opus and the catalogue of the other books?

Joe Navarro
Well, that’s a great question, Pete. It was one of these things where when I wrote What Everybody is Saying, which became the number one-selling body language book in the world years ago. It’s been at the top for the last eight years. There were only 140 behaviors in there.

Two years ago I was talking to my agent, Steve Ross, at Abrams. He said, “I’m looking at your book.” I said, “Well, I hope you’re learning something.” He said – he kind of said, “Is that all there is?” I said, “No, that’s not all there is.” He says, “Well, how many behaviors do you think are important and we should know about?” I said, “Well, the problem is, is how do we write it? There’s many behaviors.” I said, “Let me look through my notebook.”

I’ve been keeping notebooks on behavior for years and years and years. I went through and I said, “Well, I’ve got about 600 in here.” He said, “Well, let’s talk about it.” We talked about it and then we reduced it down to just over 400 because some of them replicate because they’re similar behaviors.

He said, “Have you ever thought about writing a book, but making it like a field guide, where you can quickly look something up and there’s a paragraph and it says, ‘if you see this, then you can interpret it this way?’” He liked the idea. He took it to Harper Collins and Harper Collins said this would be a great follow-on to go from 140 behaviors to over 400. That was – there is your opus, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That’s cool. That’s cool. So good. I loved What Everybody is Saying. I’m looking to forward to getting into all the more depths of The Dictionary of Body Language. Thank you for writing it. It’s just fun.

I’ve got a ton of things I’d love to dig into. Maybe I’d like to hear your take on – so when it comes to sort of gauging people’s true intentions, and I know that’s one of the juiciest areas of the body language stuff, it’s like, “How do I know when someone’s lying?” That seems to be popular for your poker books as well as maybe sort of untrusting partners or any number of contexts.

Why don’t we go with that first? How do you get to the bottom of people’s true intentions and whether they’re being honest with you?

Joe Navarro
I knew you were going to hit me with this because you always ask profound questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh shucks.

Joe Navarro
Let’s divide it up because when we’re talking about intentions, for instance, you’re talking to somebody and they’re right foot begins to orient towards an exit. Usually we begin to communicate, ‘I have to leave’ with our feet. Before they even look at their watch, before they say anything, we show intentions by foot orientation.

We show intentions such as ‘I really like that cake’ by literally leaning towards it. You see that in courtship behaviors. I’ve certainly sat at enough cafes and bars studying individuals and you can tell when they’re interested in each other.

But the more profound question is, well, what about detecting deception. I have to say both as someone who has been intimately involved in all aspects of forensic interviewing and in doing research for the books and for teaching that as Dr. Mark Frank at University of Chicago says, there is no Pinocchio effect. There is really no single behavior indicative of deception and we need to get away from that because we do a disservice to ourselves and to others.

I think it’s been too easy to say, “Well, I think you’re lying.” “Well, why do you think that?” “Oh, because I asked you a question and you were touching your mouth.”

Well, the fact of the matter is, both the honest and the dishonest do it and we do it because maybe we don’t like the question, we thing the question is too intrusive, maybe we think that you are not entitled to ask that question because of social status or whatever.

There’s – what I found interesting in doing an article for Psychology Today is I looked at the 261 DNA exonerations. As I delved deep and I contacted the people that had done the research, looked at the case work of the police officers, every one of them thought that the suspects were guilty and lying when they said they didn’t do it.

What’s interesting is not one police officer could identify who was telling the truth, but they all thought they could identify somebody that was lying. What does that tell us? What it tells us is that as Paul Ekman found in 1986, humans are terrible at detecting deception. We really shouldn’t be in the business of detecting deception.

Now, so what is it that we’re looking for? What’s interesting is, is that humans are actually very good at detecting when something is wrong, when there’s an issue. The question is we don’t know why.

Babies are born communicating comfort and discomfort. We humans immediately reveal discomfort through our bodies, whether it’s a heightened heart rate, a pulsing vein, pacifying behaviors, but what we don’t know is the why.

If I can tell you an FBI story, I was at – I worked mostly counter-intelligence. We were short of personnel one time and I was asked to do an interview of a white-collar criminal. This woman is called in and usually we spend the first 20 – 30 minutes getting people to calm down because obviously when you get called in by the FBI, it’s pretty nerve racking.

But as I’m talking to this lady, she seems to be demonstrating more and more behaviors of nervousness and tension. She’s biting her lip, she’s grabbing her collar, she’s squeezing her hands together. Finally, I said, “Ma’am,” I’m thinking to myself Joe, you’re the Bureau’s expert on body language, surely you know what’s going on here, so I thought I’d cut to the chase. This is a lesson in humility.

I said, “Ma’am, you look like you need to get something off your chest.” She said, “Oh, thank God Mr. Navarro because when I parked downstairs I only had a quarter in the meter.” Here were all the behaviors of nervousness and tension and anxiety, but what was the cause? The cause was she didn’t want to get a ticket, didn’t want to have to pay a fine.

As it turns out somebody had stolen her identity and filed some bogus claims, insurance claims and that’s why she was being called in. It was a – it really taught me a lesson about humility and saying all we can really say is that I’m seeing behaviors, they’re indicative of psychological discomfort. The question is what’s driving that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Then what’s interesting is some people can just be anxious in general I imagine. That is sort of who they are all the time and they’re just not that comfortable in their own skin or talking to other people or talking to strangers or talking to official people like judges and FBI agents.

Joe Navarro
Oh sure. Look, and not even nervousness, there’s people who don’t like to make eye contact, that really feel uncomfortable being questioned and so forth.

The investigator has to look at that and say, “All right, who am I dealing with? What are the baseline behaviors?” Then if they do notice behaviors – I mean if you ask somebody “Where were you last night?” and if a question like that causes them to look like they’re doing trigonometry, the question then becomes, why does a simple question cause so much mental turpitude? Why is there so much cognitive loading going on? But then that’s for the investigator to figure it out.

As an agent, I can tell you that no matter what people said, we always had to prove what they said. It was a matter of if I asked a question, how did they react to that question. No matter what their reaction was, I needed to pursue it anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Although, what’s cool though is with those 32 names because you got an indicator you were able to really accelerate that hypothesis, like we have a good reason to suspect these are the two to go after rather than going through all 32.

Joe Navarro
Right, well, it’s because I understood that when an object or a name or something is a threat to you, that you react to it. Now, what was important was not to give any indication of – that anyone of these individuals was any more special than the others. It was just a matter of what can you tell me about their personalities and then watching for their reactions. We lucked out with that.

Now, if the two men hadn’t confessed, certainly we couldn’t go to court and say, “Well, Judge, we think they’re guilty because this guy blinked.” It doesn’t work that way.

In the same way that when a child comes home and – or a spouse comes home and they’re having some sort of difficulty. Maybe it doesn’t help to ask any more questions at that moment. Maybe it helps to delay it to another time so when they’re relaxed you get a better read to find out, “Oh, is somebody bullying you at work or at school or somewhere else?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay, so that being established in terms of it’s hard to know whether someone’s lying or deception, but rather you just kind of get a sense for what’s causing discomfort. I’d love to hear out of the 400-ish behaviors, what are some of those that are kind of like the most reliable, like, “Pete, over 90% of the time when I see this behavior, it tends to mean that thing.”

I remember from What Everybody is Saying, you said some things to say about feet and how it’s absurd that in interrogation rooms there are opaque desks and they need to be transparent so that we can observe their feet.

It was like this is a guy who speaks from experience because I’ve never seen anyone or heard anyone go on a rant quite like that. I dug that. Tell me is it the feet or what are some of the most reliable tell-tale things to look toward?

Joe Navarro
Well, actually one of them you just did. You did what’s called eyelid flutter.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh boy, what’s it mean?

Joe Navarro
Eyelid flutter we do when we are emphasizing something, when we feel negative about something, when we’re flustered by something. You were channeling me there quite accurately.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

Joe Navarro
When I wrote about interviewing and how you’re a paid observer and here you’re sitting for an interview and the person’s hiding behind a desk and you cannot even see their feet or their hands or their torso. I was like I cannot believe that you as a professional cannot see the object of the interview and they’re hiding behaviors that are critical.

As you were channeling that, your eye – you did the eyelid flutter. Eyelid flutter is very accurate when we’re struggling with something.

But you mentioned the feet and I think this is one of the things that was astonishing. There’s a really good section in the new book, The Dictionary of Body Language, dealing with the feet because I got so many questions over the years after I wrote that of people saying, “Well, is there anything more about the feet?” I said, “The feet are very accurate because they reveal our emotions and we tend not to hide them.

In the same way that we might do a social smile, the feet, if they don’t like you or if you don’t like someone, your feet will move you away from that person. You will immediately rotate away. If you’re excited and happy to see someone, you can hide a smile, but try to hide the feet of a child.

I was just at the airport the other day and a little kid arrived with a family. They were going to Disney. Every time the mother mentioned Disney World, the child’s feet were jumping up and down. She had happy feet. You can’t hide that.

Even with adults, poker players soon found out that you can see the happy feet of a player that has a monster hand just by the shirt shaking. The feet certainly have a lot of information.

You were talking about what are some of the more accurate significant ones. There’s another one that you do, which is great. It’s the gravity defying behaviors of the eyebrows.

Pete Mockaitis
I just did that before you – the first – we don’t have the video for the listeners. It’s fun that you started with the video. It should have occurred to me, of course he wants the video.

Joe Navarro
Yeah. Well, because it’s very instructive. You can see how excited you are about things because you arch your eyebrows and you go, “Well, what about this and what about that?”

Think about the times when you greet somebody and they arch their – they flash their eyebrows and they go, “Hey, how are you?” and compare that to other times when you greet someone but you don’t have those behaviors and you realize, “Oh, that just doesn’t feel the same. There’s something going on here.”

I often get this with – when – I’ve taught many clinicians over the years. They say, “A lot of times these couples come in and they say, ‘Well, I had no clue that she didn’t love me anymore or he didn’t love me anymore,’” I say stop right there. There were plenty of clues. You just didn’t see them. You just didn’t see them.

You didn’t see the eyes that never flash when they see you.  You never saw that two years ago she was touching you with her fingertips rather than with her full palm hand. You didn’t notice that rather than smiling at you, it was more of a little smirk and the corner of her mouth was pinched, which shows disdain and so forth. I said there’s always behaviors there. The question-

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so sad.

Joe Navarro
Well, it is, but the argument that I never saw it coming.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Joe Navarro
One of the important things I really believe Pete is that if we’re sensitive to other people’s body language, we make better friends and better mates because we early on can begin to sense “Oh, there’s an issue. Something is wrong.” To wait for something six months, two years on, is sometimes too late.

I think if you begin to sense that “Oh, my partner, she’s bored watching TV another night and when I mention going out, her eyes light up.” Well, that’s a clue.

In the same way that as parents we look at the baby for every single little sign of a smile, of any kind of discomfort because we transmit information fairly much in a binary fashion, comfort, discomfort. The same thing applies in real life. That’s part of having that social intelligence, but it’s also about equity, what we bring to the table as a partner and as a parent to ensure that those we love are cared for.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful, yes. It’s funny, I’m thinking about my buddy Muhammed, who’s going to be on the show a little later. It’s exciting. That is one – I always feel very – I don’t know, I guess, welcomed or liked, appreciated when he greets me because his eyebrows really do do that. I guess I have not articulated or thought of that specifically until we really got precise about that fact just now. That’s intriguing.

We’ve got some feet. We’ve got the eyelid flutter. We’ve got the arching and lifting of eyebrows for excitement. What are some other big ones?

Joe Navarro
Let me give you – yeah. Let me give you one that is just a remarkable behavior. It really stands out with women. In part because oftentimes their necks are more exposed than men because we tend to wear shirts that have high collars or we wear a tie and a coat or – and so forth. Women have more of an open neck.

The behavior is covering of the lower neck area. There’s a little dimple there called the suprasternal notch. The suprasternal notch is just above the sternum and that’s why it’s called the suprasternal.

Pete Mockaitis
… Okay, yeah.

Joe Navarro
Invariably when someone is struggling with something, having difficulties, is insecure, there’s a little bit of fear, they will immediately bring their hand up and cover this very sensitive area of the neck. Men, we tend to mask it by grabbing our necks more robustly and grabbing our shirts. Women tend to just put their finger on it.

In fact, just the other day, in fact I think the day we talked or we emailed each other, there was an attack on a speech that was being given in Venezuela, on the President of Venezuela. It was a drone attack of some sort. While all the soldiers stood there at attention, being mindful of their duty, the First Lady, as soon as she sensed that something wrong, her hand immediately went to the suprasternal notch to cover it.

This is a very ancient behavior. This has to have been with us for tens and tens of thousands of years. Maybe even longer because it’s seen in every society. It’s been seen in every culture. Interestingly enough, it’s been seen even with children who are born blind, who have never seen the behavior and yet they perform this behavior when they feel threatened or scared.

I would say it’s one of those behaviors that it’s probably in the 95 to 96 percentile of communicating that something is wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one.  That’s a good one. Any other sort of top, top probability items coming to mind?

Joe Navarro
Yeah. One of the ones that I talk about in the new book is – has to do with what is in essence a reserved behavior. Reserved behaviors are those behaviors that we really hold back until something is really stressing us and then they come out. We don’t tend to do them every day, but every once in a while when something is really bad.

One of those reserved behaviors is with the fingers. Now in the previous book I talked about steepling, that’s where you put your fingertips together and you straighten them up and it looks like a church steeple.

Pete Mockaitis
It makes me think of evil genius.

Joe Navarro
Right, like Mr. Burns.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent Joe.

Joe Navarro
But this behavior is very similar, except that the fingers are rigid straight and they interlace and the person sort of rubs them back and forth with very straight fingers. And I started to see this behavior probably in the ‘80s, with people in – who were going to be interviewed, people who were in trouble.

I also verified it by looking at these very old videos. They weren’t even videos; they were 35 millimeter movies from the 1950’s of couples in therapy. One of the things that I found was that when they were about ready to say, “Look, this relationship is over,” they would often do this behavior.

I call it teepee hands because when they interlace and the fingers are straight, if you were to hold it right in front of you, it looks like the top of teepee with the poles sticking out.

I tell parents, “Look if you’re talking to a child and they start to do this behavior, because they do it subconsciously, put your iPhone away and pay attention because something is significant here.” This is a reserve behavior.

We have another reserve behavior, which is kind of interesting. I hadn’t written about it before, but it’s in the new Dictionary of Body Language, and that’s called facial denting.

Facial denting is – you often see this at sporting events where the score is really close and you’ll see people squeeze their cheeks to the point where as you look at them you say, “Surely, that’s got to hurt. They’re going to pop a tooth.” They’re squeezing themselves so tight.

That’s one of those reserve behaviors for when we’re dealing with a lot of stress and we don’t know what the outcome is going to be.

Why we do that it hasn’t really been very well studied. I’m hoping – one of the things that I’m hoping – you were asking me earlier what are some of my hopes for this book. My hope is that researchers will look at it and say, “Okay, so here are things that this FBI guy over 40 years picked up by watching people. Let’s go and test it. Let’s go and verify it. Let’s go validate it.”

I hope they tear into it and they try to demonstrate that it’s universal or not universal, that it’s peculiar to this area of the world or that world or that it’s used when we’re stressed or unstressed or whatever. But I’m hoping that the average person can use it to learn, but I’m also hoping that the researchers will look at things that they’ve never looked at before.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really cool. Just to note, that if you’re seeing the teepeeing or the facial denting that we’re dealing with something serious here.

Joe Navarro
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny. I can think of a buddy who everything was going wrong on his wedding day in terms of things coming together. So and so didn’t pick up his tux and this person’s late and he’s getting all these texts. It was a lot of stuff. He was sure doing some good squeezing there. That all makes sense that it was intensely troublesome for him, but it all worked out. They got married. They’re happy and it’s good.

But that’s cool. Well, I’d love to hear maybe precisely or more specifically when it comes to in the world of professionals in their day-to-day job/career lives, what do you think are some of the most helpful things to be on the lookout for in terms of what you’re observing or what you’re projecting.

I’m thinking about things like maybe someone is bored or thinks that idea is wrong and just a terrible – I think that happens a lot in meetings. Someone says something and someone thinks, “That is a terribly bad idea,” but they don’t say anything because they don’t want to stick their neck out. That’s the big boss. They don’t want to offend or insult. Are there any indicators along those lines or other helpful kind of career scenarios?

Joe Navarro
Well, I’m glad you asked that question because it’s really a good question. I would have to say number one, if you’re taking notes, write this one down. We are always transmitting information.

A lot of people think, “Oh, I’m in the parking lot. Nobody’s going to notice me,” or “I’m in the elevator. Nobody’s going to notice me,” or “I’m sitting outside for an interview. Nobody’s noticing me,” or “I’m at the end of the table. Nobody’s going to notice me.” Stop right there. Welcome back to Planet Earth. The fact of the matter is that you are being observed constantly. People are picking up on everything.

Let’s go through a few of the things that you probably never thought about. Good manners. Manners are non-verbals, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you, sir.

Joe Navarro
If you see a piece of paper on the floor and you pick it up and you put it in the garbage can, that is a behavior. You don’t have to talk to do that one.

How you talk to people, your intonation, how quickly you respond, do you face them or do you roll your eyes before you answer them and so forth. Good manners is a non-verbal.

The fact of the matter is, is that we’re all being scrutinized. People look at us and they notice how well groomed we are. Walk into an office and change your haircut. People will – “You’ve got a different haircut.”

You probably have gone through your life thinking, “Nobody notices me.” No, everybody notices. They notice if you’re wearing glasses. They’re noticing if you wear new glasses, if you change your hairdo, your color, if you’re not well-groomed, if all of the sudden you’ve gone from really nice clothing to really tattered clothing. They notice-

Pete Mockaitis
They’re noticing the wrinkles in my Polo shirts, Joe? Do I have to start ironing these things?

Joe Navarro
Yeah. It makes you think. Shakespeare was right, life is theatre and we’re on stage.

For a lot of jobs, how we look may not matter, but the fact of the matter is that for a lot of jobs it does matter. It matters how we, as clinicians say, how we present. Are we on time? Are we eager? Are we leaning forward? Are we interested?

Something so simple. We were talking earlier about great behaviors. Here’s one behavior that you need to build into your repertoire.

That’s when people are talking to you that you tilt your head slightly because we know that from a very young age babies respond to this and it’s a behavior that says “I’m listening to you. I’m interested. I don’t have an agenda for the moment and I’m actively listening.” It’s a very easy behavior to emulate, especially with children and loved ones.

I live in a community not far from central command where there’s a lot of Navy SEALS. These guys have great bodies. They’re like world-class athletes. But I notice how they talk even to their spouses and they look like drill sergeants. It’s like they can’t stand down.

I think one of the things that enhances communication, especially with loved ones, is if we can stand down and relax and tilt that head and just say, “I’m listening and tell me about your day,” and not look like we’re looking for the next marching orders.

I have to say a lot of executives come home and do the same thing. They have that very stern, I’m in charge sort of look. We know that humans respond to that look of interest and kindness.

Pete Mockaitis
Interest, kindness, kind of letting go and not being in charge, tilting the head. Any other kind of indicators of “I’m listening. I’m interested. I’m not bored. I’m not formulating a response. I’m not getting my argument ready?”

Joe Navarro
Yeah. I’m on the road all the time and I’m giving presentations all over the world. You’re running – one day you’re in Germany, the next day you’re in Romania, then you’re back in Chicago, and then you’re on the West coast and you’re talking to people – and Beijing. You’re talking to people from all over the world. What’s interesting is is what seafarers found 400 – 500 years ago, that affability, having a smile.

One of the things that works really well and I encourage young business people to do this is don’t feel like you have to stand directly in front of another person. That in fact we tend to increase the amount of time we are with others if we will just slightly angle to them so that we’re not directly in front of them. We’re just at a slight angle to them. By angling, we increase what’s called face time. Obviously, for business, this is really critical is increasing face time.

I have found this works in every culture wherever I’ve been. Instead of just standing right in front of them, I – you greet them, you angle to the side and there’s a sense of harmony.

We have to remember that when the conquistadores arrived in the New World they saw the same behaviors here that they had seen in Queen Isabella’s court. The king had better clothing. He sat higher. He had an entourage. He couldn’t be touched, blah, blah, blah. Everything in Queen Isabella’s court.

These are universal things that are endearing, such as giving people the requisite amount of space. In fact, I just wrote an article about that for Psychology Today because I go around asking folks “How far away do you like people to stand near you?” It’s kind of shocking to listen to what they say. It’s always greater than where people are standing next to them.

They say, “You know three to four feet,” and some people want even more. Be sensitive to the spatial needs of other people, that some people just don’t like others to be too close.

Be yourself. Be natural. Not everybody’s going to be an alpha. There will always be omegas. There’s a place for everybody. But also, be mindful that if you have something important that you should be heard.

One of the things I notice a lot with, especially with young women coming into business is that often they sit rather demure at their seat. Then almost the meeting is over and they don’t have an opportunity to talk. Oftentimes, they’re not giving away the cues that say, “I have something important to say.”

Those things are instead of leaning back, leaning forward and in when you have something ready to say, making direct eye contact with the person that is either presently speaking or is the moderator to let them know, “Hey, I have something to say.”

The other one is not steepling. Steepling, and that’s where the fingertips are together, is the really the only universal sign that we have of confidence, that we’re confident about what we’re thinking or about to say. I think-

Pete Mockaitis
So we should not steeple?

Joe Navarro
No, we should when we have something important to say. You don’t want to do it all the time.

What I found in my studies was that oftentimes women will do it low on their lap or not very high. When in fact, they should do it so it’s visible so that it communicates to everybody this is important and I’m very confident at this moment.

Look at Angela Merkel, over in the UK – or in Germany, sorry. She steeples all the time, but then she is a – she has a doctorate in engineering and she is very confident. You see those behaviors. I used to see them also with Margaret Thatcher and others.

It’s a behavior you want to emulate. You want to use it at the right time and the right place, but you also need to communicate “I want to be heard.” Those are some I think good indicators there.

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

Joe Navarro
I think one of the important things about body language is that I continue to be a student of it. I’d like to one day be able to say yeah, I have the definitive expertise. I’m reluctant to do that because I’m learning things all the time. I’m observing things all the time.

I think it behooves us to learn this language that is so part of us as humans and it’s the primary way that we demonstrate love and empathy. That’s pretty important.

It’s also the way that we sense and detect danger. We’re at an ATM machine. We’re looking over our shoulder. It’s late at night. We’re looking for somebody sneaking up on us.

It’s the number one way that we choose our mates. We don’t ask for a resume. We look at them. We smell them. We touch them. We watch them and we make decisions based on nonverbal.

A lot of people think, “Well, is it really that important?” Well, I can’t think of anything more important than safety, child rearing, and mate selection. That pretty much hits it out of the park.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. Thank you. Well, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something that you find inspiring?

Joe Navarro
Yeah, I think one of my favorite quotes, and I know a lot of people will hear this who have been to my seminars, it’s – I’m going to paraphrase, but it comes to us from Carl Sagan, Carl Sagan the cosmologist, absolutely brilliant, taken from us at too early of an age. He said, “We’re really not who we think we are. But if you were to ask what are we. We’re the sum total of our influence on others.”

I think it’s very true. You, yourself, with your podcast, sharing knowledge, sharing ideas, that’s influential. I look at the people that have influenced me in life and I think what was it that was great about it? Could they build something? Could they do this? Yeah, we love people that are skilled with a craft, but we’re mostly influenced by those that are influential and they do that by how they live their lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Joe Navarro
One of my favorite ones came out a few months ago. It just goes to show how sensitive we humans are to the smallest of little details.

They grabbed somebody and they put a green sweater on him. They said, “Go out and ask for favors.” They did. Then they took the same person and they – on the sweater, they put the logo of a high-end clothing manufacturer. It was only a half-an-inch logo.

They sent him out to go and ask people for favors, like, “Can I use your phone? Can I park here? Can I come inside?” and all this stuff. The times when he wore the logo 52 – 53% of the people agreed to help out. When he didn’t wear the logo, only 13% would help out.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh my gosh. Wow.

Joe Navarro
What does that tell – that tells social scientists – and I’ve done this experiment, interestingly enough, with people just wearing beach shoes, flip flops, ones that cost $1.99 and then ones that were from a famous manufacturer.

Pete Mockaitis
So they’re still flip flops, but just different – yeah.

Joe Navarro
They’re still … but different manufactures. Invariably in my non-scientific study, those that wore the nicer got better treatment.

What does that tell us that anthropologists and biologists would say look, we’re primates. We’re very sensitive to hierarchy and we’ll always be sensitive to hierarchy and the markers of well, who is the alpha, who’s the silverback and who is everybody else. We cannot escape that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s powerful. Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Joe Navarro
My favorite writer is Steinbeck, so Grapes of Wrath.

But the one book that I return to over and over and over again is the Histories by Herodotus. It’s the only book that I’ve actually read six times. Here’s the father of history writing 2,500 years ago. He’s telling us about the world as it existed then. It’s just exquisite in its breadth.

Pete Mockaitis

How about a favorite habit?

Joe Navarro
Favorite habit, it has to be going out for a walk with my family at night. I love them dearly, my wife, my dog. I enjoy their company.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate? Folks retweet it. They quote it back to you often.

Joe Navarro
Yeah, there’s one in particular. I’m glad you asked that. I put it out there many, many years ago when I first started on Twitter. I didn’t know I would become that significant. It’s – someone told me that it may have been not necessarily borrowed, but it’s a variant of what somebody else had said. It probably is since there’s nothing new under the sun.

But basically what it says is that what we do in private when nobody is watching us is more important than when we’re in public and that when we help those who can do absolutely – can do nothing for us, that is the true measure of our humanity because there is no expectation of any kind of reward. For some reason that seemed to resonate with a lot of people.

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

Joe Navarro
Very easily, my website, JNForensics.com. My books are at all the major retailers. Certainly they’re available on Amazon or they can come to your website.

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm, sure thing.
Do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks who are seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Joe Navarro
I do. Become better observers and you’ll become better humans. You cannot attend to others if you can’t observe them. I think most of us know how to look, but very few of us know how to observe.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Joe, this has been such a treat. Thank you for taking this time and good luck with The Dictionary of Body Language and all that you’re up to here.

Joe Navarro
Well, thank you Pete. It’s a pleasure and an honor to be on your show.