Getting Lost in Translation

How to get everyone on board with your vision

May 07

Getting Lost in Translation Do you remember playing the game of telephone as a kid? You and your friends whispered a saying one to another, hoping that when it reached the last person it would be the same phrase that was shared by the first kid. But the sentence would always become hopelessly mangled, leaving everyone laughing.

It was hilarious then. Today, it’s sobering to realize how quickly your message as a leader can get lost in translation when it’s shared across your team or through your organization.

Your vision’s meaning can go astray in subtle ways.  Meaning derives from the perceptions of the listener and is therefore subjective.  When each listener shares your message with others, it may become more and more distorted as it gets mixed up with the misunderstandings of each person along the way.

Unlike the kids’ game of telephone, the more your vision gets muddied the graver the consequences for your organization and for you as its leader.

Getting your vision out with clarity is something every leader grapples with.  As you develop a message that all will comprehend, always remember that understanding lies in the ear of the listener.

Add these tools to your skill set to save your vision from getting lost in translation:

Filter It First

Remove all extraneous details from your message.  Remember that what you remove is as important as what remains.  Evaluate and refine what is left so that it is an unambiguous statement of your intended goal, the work needed to get there, and how you’ll track progress and measure success.

Tear Down the Walls

When you want to inspire others, it’s counter-intuitive to think about the misunderstandings that could block you from the goal.  It is hard to admit that success might not be achieved. Yet if you don’t tear down the wall of fear and talk about the challenges and difficult moments ahead, others won’t either. Break the ice to make it easier for everyone to admit when something isn’t working in the future.

Elevate the Intangibles

Focus more on the worthwhile, positive aspects of the process you are about to undertake, rather than on concrete rewards like bonuses or pay. When people have clarity about your expectations and a clear goal like elevating their skills in mind, they are better equipped to be resilient and to keep the essence of your vision as their focus. Persuade them to buy in to the big-picture benefits for the organization, your customers, and society.

Frame It for All

Ultimately, it is your obligation to discover the subjectivity of your audience. Pinpoint everything they need to know about your vision so that they can to act on it.

It isn’t easy to make your vision less subjective. In the end, though, doing so means that those who hear and understand your concept will know when something isn’t aligning with it and will quickly move to fix it.

Simple Strategies To Fine-Tune Your Pitch And Change People’s Minds

Apr 04

Whether you’re pitching your new business idea to the CEO or pitching buying a new car to your spouse, crafting a winning argument, once you’ve passed the feasibility hurdle, is highly dependent on the tactics and strategies you use to sway the decision maker. We’ve all been on both sides of the equation—delivering and receiving successful and unsuccessful pitches. I’d be willing to bet that when you’ve been the person on the receiving end of an awful pitch you know exactly why the pitch failed. Awful pitches are horrible for many different reasons: sometimes the person is unprepared, sometimes they’re condescending, and sometimes the person believes that all it takes to win the day is including all the relevant information in the pitch, and letting the collective weight of the data convince the person to decide in his or her favor.

However, I’d also be willing to bet that when you’re on the delivery end of an awful or unsuccessful pitch you rarely know the exact reason why the pitch didn’t sway or persuade. And the truth is, we’re rarely given the opportunity to query the decision maker once we’ve pitched and failed to zero in on why exactly they weren’t convinced to decide in our favor. Often this leads people to go down a rabbit hole of wrong explanations, wondering if they weren’t specific enough or left out a critical piece of information, when in truth the answer is far more clear-cut. Setting aside being unprepared or condescending as reasons for a pitch not succeeding, most pitches fail simply because the person making the pitch shares everything they know about the matter at hand, rather than everything the decision maker needs to know to make their decision.

It’s no wonder the pitch was an epic failure—it was crafted from the perspective of the pitcher and not from the vantage point of the decision maker. An exceptionally subtle yet influential distinction that spells the difference between winning over a decision maker and a failing pitch. Avoiding your next disastrous pitch starts with making some smart and meaningful changes in the process that you use to craft your pitch that make a meaningful difference in how the pitch will be perceived by the person you need to make the decision.

These simple yet powerful tweaks will help pare down your pitch, focus it on the decision maker, and therefore substantially increase your ability to successfully win over any decision maker you face.

Be Sure That You’re Presenting To The Ultimate Decision Maker

It might seem a bit simplistic to say this, but be sure that when you’re pitching someone on an idea that you’ve targeted the presentation to the decision maker with the authority to ultimately make the choice. This is critical especially when pitching to a group where multiple players may hear the pitch but not have the authority to make the decision, or be the person you want to work with on a deal. Failing to target the pitch to your audience, even if it is only to one person in the room, can sometimes alienate the true decision maker you want to sway. Persuasion, no matter how effectively done, directed to a person who has no authority to make the decision is never going to yield the desired effect.

Know Your Decision Maker

Learn as much as you possibly can in advance about the person making the decision. The most important information to understand concerns their patterns around what motivates them to make decisions and draw conclusions. How are they motivated to do something or not do something? Is it to avoid problems or achieve goals? Are they convinced to take action when they know within themselves that something is right? Or do they use facts and figures to help them decide? And lastly, are they proactive or reactive: do they like to initiate change or wait until a situation is right to act?

The best place to get answers to these questions is directly from this person. Observe how this person has made decisions in the past, note how they present information, listen to their words, and notice their body language in certain situations. You could even sit in when someone else is pitching them and watch what happens, what they ask, and what works and what doesn’t. Look for little peculiarities that you might want to take advantage of: think “royalty deal” and Shark Tank’s Mr. Wonderful, Kevin O’Leary.

Know The Question And Know The Recommended Action You Want Them To Take

Have you ever tried making a decision when you didn’t really have a clear idea about what you were really being asked to decide and/or the person doing the asking didn’t know a hill of beans about what they were asking you for? You can’t expect someone to give you a decision when they can’t clearly identify the question they’re being asked to decide, or the action they’re being asked to take. Your first and foremost responsibility is to know the question that needs to be answered and to define what action you think would best works to solve/answer it. Without this level of clarity, you can’t ever hope to make a successful pitch. At this stage you’re really working to figure out your best guesstimate of what would work best and why the decision maker would want to take the action you’re proposing. Write both your question and answer down, keep clarifying it to make sure that there is no ambiguity and that your recommended action is the only action that will bring about the desired resolution to the question, and perhaps most importantly, that you can state why convincingly.

Carefully Lay Out And Select Your Best Points: Concentrate Your Ideas

Your very next step is to begin laying out the facts, information, and arguments that are central to your pitch and form the basis for your core action/recommendation. Laying out and structuring the information and arguments in a logical manner will help you spot gaps in your knowledge of the facts, understand where challenges to your recommendation might come from, and help you counter potential objections with real counter points. Pay careful attention as you go through this process to keep the information tight and concise, making sure to only include only the most compelling and salient points in your outline so that your ideas are concentrated and therefore have the most influence and impact on the decision maker. Select your best and strongest reasons why this action should take place—preferably no more than 3 or 4—and develop them fully. This is not to say that each of the 3 or 4 cannot have a few smaller points within them. However, loading up a pitch with everything but the kitchen sink and taking a scattershot approach is ineffective. It gives the impression that you don’t come from a position of strength and that you don’t have strong points that can stand on their own. Your criteria for including a point should be:

  • That it is essential to the core of your pitch
  • It is scrupulously accurate
  • It is presented from the vantage point of the decision maker

If it doesn’t fit these criteria, it isn’t going to help, and will most likely become a straw man that can sidetrack your pitch.

Create A Story

Now that you’ve worked long and hard on your outline and you believe that you’ve created a compelling pitch for the recommended action you want the decision maker to take, you’re ready to translate your outline into the story that will take the person(s) step by step through your pitch to its conclusion. Make sure that the story proceeds methodically through the information, starting with a statement of the question you want answered or solved so that the decision maker knows from the start the very decision they are being asked to make. Once the decision maker knows what they’ll be deciding, they’ll be more attune to the evidence needed to support the decision you want them to make, as you spotlight the most important merits for your core action or recommendation being adopted. This step guarantees that they’ll be better able to tie the facts back to the core action or recommendation and understand how the facts either support or disprove the course of action being sought. Make sure that part of your appeal is to the person’s common sense and not only the facts and evidence. Sometimes decision makers will make decisions on what their gut sense tells them and then look for facts to support it, so it is wise to appeal to both in your story. Avoid hyperbole and phrases that contain absolute negatives like “There will never be another…” or “No one has ever seen…” since these can result in a loss of credibility in your presentation, as negatives are always difficult to prove. Always make sure to begin the story with your strongest points because as they say: first impressions are enduring. Make sure that the story starts out in a positive vein, and if you have to address or refute something that you do it in the middle and not at the beginning or end. Close powerfully and explicitly tell the decision maker what it is you need them to do. Your closing should move the decider to action with a recap of the principal reasons they should take the action and why your recommendation is the only response.

Give Your Story A Test Drive

Practice makes perfect, and sharing your story with others before the actual pitch can help you hone your pitch and give you the needed practice so that you’re comfortable with giving the pitch seamlessly. Choose a group of people to practice your pitch with and ask to track your story against your outline and to give you feedback on areas that you might have missed or might be overkill. Then incorporate their suggestions and refine the pitch until you think you have it in its final form. Choose one person whose decision-making style mirrors that of the person you’re pitching and pitch for them as if you were doing it for the intended decision maker. Debrief them on what worked and what didn’t, and if they’d have made the decision in your favor. Hone your presentation again until you’ve got it where you think it needs to be. You might even want to video this session so that you can watch not only your presentation but also their reactions to what you were saying at certain points in the pitch.

Decide What Final Form The Presentation Will Take

At this point you already know a lot about the person you’re pitching and you’ve spent a great deal of time honing your pitch to match their style. You’re at the point where all that’s left to do is help them understand what you need them to do, and the key to doing that effectively is selecting the right format the final presentation will take. Deciding what the final form is may not always be under your control and that could go either way. It might be that the decision maker has preset the format to be what he/she prefers, and so understanding the best way to utilize the features of that format to showcase your pitch means making sure that you know and understand how best to showcase your information in a variety of ways. If you get to select the final form, be sure to choose one that you know makes it easiest for the decision maker to best understand and be presented with the information. Knowing in advance if they prefer reports, executive summaries, slides, or even an email with key decision and data points, followed by a face-to-face meeting or an in-person pitch, will go a long way to helping you showcase your idea in the most favorable light. No matter the presentation method—or if you’ve chosen it or not—as long as you’ve structured and crafted the pitch with the strategies above and ensure that you’ve placed what they are being asked to decide on early in the presentation, the presentation is pared down to include only the most salient points, your closing moves them to action, and you’ve told them everything that they need to know to make a decision, then you’ll be better positioned to be successful.

Remember that no matter what, you have to know your stuff, stand your ground, and do so as equals. When you step before the audience next time you pitch, have this clearly in your mind and know that you are there to help the decision maker understand what the circumstances demand of them, what they need to know to make the decision, and in doing this effectively, you’ll show them that you knew what you needed to know about the matter at hand too.

Let me know how your next pitch goes in the comments below.


Give It To Me Straight: Getting People To Tell You The Truth

Feb 01

As a leader, each and every day you’re besieged with irreconcilable demands from those you work with and for. And although you have sway over the direction of your business, you rarely have access to the much-needed objective and ongoing feedback about your ideas, plans, and performance. Perhaps you’re not that worried about it, but here is why you should be.

Failing to seek out and encourage those you lead to share the unvarnished truth and actionable feedback about how best you can boost your performance and lead better can have dire consequences for you and your long-term success.

The longer you delay asking, the less likely it will be that you’ll get the type of candid perspective and opinion you need to keep you from making critical errors in judgment. You can’t become an effective leader by trial and error, but conversely, you certainly can become a terrible one.

So why are so many leaders afraid to ask those they lead to give it to them straight?

The answer is really two‐fold. As a leader they haven’t learned how to or don’t want to open themselves up to being vulnerable in this way with their team. They haven’t invested in building the trust that encourages people around them to tell them the truth without fearing negative repercussions—especially when what is being said will contradict them or be negative about their performance as a leader.  Realizing your success as a leader goes through and depends on those who work for you is the first step in getting those you lead to tell you what you might not want to hear.

Here’s How You Make Give It To Me Straight The Rule Of The Day

Make sure you’re the one who shakes up the status quo and takes the active role in asking for feedback about how you’re doing on a recurring basis. Follow these simple guidelines:

  • Call Out The Fear – Recognize there is a degree of fear and risk when someone is willing to be candid with you. As the leader, it is your obligation to take the first step toward making the situation a relaxed one for the other person. Enable them to speak openly by calling out the fear and acknowledging it. Let them know that you appreciate and understand that it is difficult to share feedback with a boss—especially if it is negative in nature. Tell them you want to know no matter what because if you don’t have a realistic picture of what you’re doing well and not doing well, then you don’t improve as a leader.
  • Make It A No Repercussion Zone – Make it clear there are never any repercussions for sharing feedback that helps learning or growth, even if it is different than what you think or believe. Be consistent and apply this beyond these feedback conversations to meetings and all matters.
  • Have A Go-To Question – Have a go-to question that you can easily call upon to break the ice and start the conversation flowing like, “What is it that I can do to become a more effective leader for our team?”
  • Speak To More Than One Person – Make sure you ask more than one person the same question separately and outside of a formal conversation. Reiterate that you want them to give it to you straight. You don’t have to ask everyone every time—just make sure that you reach out to everyone over the course of a few months.
  • Read Between The Lines – Listen for what is being said and perhaps not being said. Follow up and get clear by asking for specifics and asking for examples and use open ended questions to solicit more input.
  • Get A Concrete Step You Can Take And Implement – Ask them for one future-focused suggestion that if you implemented today would improve your performance.
  • Share What You’re Going To Do – Look for areas in which to agree, and say so when you find them. Let them know what you’ve chosen from what they said to implement.
  • Reward The Sharing – With “thank you”—as a leader, remember that any time someone shares his or her insight with you it is a gift.
  • Make Asking For Feedback Your MO – Ask for their input often and in all things that impact the work and performance of the team. Especially follow up on how you’re doing with the suggestions you implemented from your conversation with them. It doesn’t just have to be in formal ways. Ask for quick feedback on ideas also. The key here is consistency.

The people who work for us shouldn’t be the only ones desperately seeking more frequent and actionable feedback—as their leader, you should shake up the dynamic and be the first one to ask for future-focused suggestions, opinions, and perspectives on everything ranging from business matters to how you can boost your performance as their leader.

Let me know how you’re planning to ask those you lead how you’re doing.


The Choice Is Yours, And It’s Simple: You Need Great People Skills

Jan 17

A take-no-prisoners brashness with respect to people when it comes to leadership doesn’t go as far as it used to—you know this as a leader as well as I do, and if you don’t then you really need to read this post.

As a leader, you’ve focused on unabashedly pursuing the technical skills that sustain the setting of a vision, creating the strategy, and driving bottom-line results. However, you know that a myopic focus on the technical aspects of leadership and being high maintenance isn’t going to be enough to keep from being replaced, let alone excel, in today’s highly competitive and ever-shifting business world.

As a leader, you have to be unswerving in your pursuit of what distinguishes you from the rest of the pack.

Distinguishing yourself from the pack isn’t something that you can do on your own as a leader—success goes through the people that you’re interdependent with and work for. And the next part is what is really scary for you—you know that working with people can be really difficult and challenging. Sadly, many talented and industrious leaders have learned the hard way that they are expendable when they become high maintenance and toxic. No longer does high performing results producing leadership overshadow and excuse a gap in your people skills.

Leaders need to heed the wake up call, and—don’t shoot me for saying this—learn what they resent having to learn. But without learning it they won’t succeed – the people skills that will make possible their ability to excel as a leader.

As the founder of an executive coaching firm, I’m often asked, “Why is it that some of the most intelligent, creative, and trailblazing leaders never add acquiring mind-blowing people skills to their leadership development itinerary?”

The answer is straightforward: they’re far more adept at leveraging all the tangible aspects of running their businesses and have developed a shortsightedness when it comes to doing something they’re less skilled at: the difficult and challenging work of having to learn great people skills. And if you don’t believe me, just ask their families.

I’d like to share with you some surefire steps that will help you know if you’re ready to change, and then how to go about it.

Go From Thinking You Might To Knowing You Will

Having standout people skills seems like something leaders should have had on their leadership itinerary to develop early on, but unfortunately many don’t. Being aware of the need to make a change and actually being ready for change are two completely different things. Taking this journey begins when you first start contemplating doing so, and it ends when you discover what you’ll lose if you don’t make the change. If you have any question about your people skills and where they need to be, start asking yourself some hard questions like these: What’s at risk if you don’t get better? What has not being better already cost you, and what has been standing in your way? Ask the people around you what you can do better with respect to how you interact with them. I’m sure your colleagues, employees, and your family will appreciate having the opportunity to share their thoughts with you.

Know What It Will Take To Close The Gap

Now that you’ve gotten some insight into the skills you need to work on, you have to grab the bull by the horns and make a candid appraisal of where your people skills (EQ) stand today. There are various self-assessments, tools, and books that can support and guide you through the process of taking stock of your EQ skills. As the gaps emerge, you’ll learn exactly what you need to do and how much work it is going to take to get you where you need to be. Understanding what you value, how you’re wired, and how you apply what you know is vital to figuring out how to integrate your people skills and technical skills into your leadership operating system. When you have all the information you need, it’s time to turn thought into action. You can create checklists with specific behaviors based on the skills you need to acquire and invite trusted friends, mentors, colleagues, and employees into the process first by sharing the skills that you want to acquire and then by asking them for suggestions on how to go about doing it. These people will be able to further support you if you ask them to share in-the-moment feedback about how you’re doing against what you said you wanted to do, and offer actionable suggestions for improving that will make possible your taking a step closer and closing the gap.

If You Want To Fast-Track The Process, Hire An Executive Coach

Starting this process on your own isn’t out of the question. However, letting go of and replacing the behaviors that are holding you back, figuring out what works best for you, and getting exceptional results can be challenging to accomplish alone. Having someone in your corner—a strategic partner and sounding board—makes it easier and faster. Choosing to work with an executive coach gives you someone working side by side with you whose sole focus is you and what you need to do to improve your skills. Be mindful, however, that coaching isn’t a magic bullet or a short cut. It won’t absolve you of doing the difficult stuff that it takes to get better with your people skills. But it will certainly help fast-track the process as you work with someone whose expertise and guidance you can leverage so that you stop spinning your wheels and get really focused on what behaviors you need to target, learn, and stop that will have the most impact and bring about your success.

As you can see, it doesn’t require drastic measures to affect a change—all it takes are readiness, commitment, self-control, and following through on your part. Are you willing to add getting better at your people skills to your leadership development itinerary? I can assure you that making this type of investment in yourself will pay dividends well beyond the office.


Let’s Change The Conversation

Nov 08

Let's Change the ConversationAre you still clinging to your predictable old and outdated feedback practices as a leader—those arbitrary timeframes and artificial exchanges that accompany performance reviews?

We all know there are kinks in the system. One of them is not delivering the timely and vital feedback that your people are desperately seeking. Your people want and need to know how they’re doing on the job more frequently than just at their annual review. And you struggle with the harsh reality that the status quo doesn’t cut it anymore, and you’re not all that sure how much you can really do to change it.

Instinctively you know you have to do something because lurking just below the surface are some dangers for you as a leader. You know that if you don’t take the initiative and step up to challenge the status quo, it will be quite costly in terms of your becoming a leader everyone respects as strong, trustworthy, candid, and highly competent.

Now I know exactly what you’re thinking—some days the enormity of the task and the uncertainty that goes along with providing timely feedback in an actionable way that recognizes contributions can be overwhelming. However, the downside of not doing so is much worse.

“How?” You Might Ask

Gone are the days of those stellar performers who will work just for the sake of a paycheck without seeing steady progress from one level to the next. Failing to deliver genuine feedback about a person’s performance—or not rewarding them for their contributions, results, and talents more frequently than an annual review—can cost you damage to your reputation and real impact to the bottom line.

The talented and motivated high performers will describe working for you as hopelessly boring and lackluster. Since they’ll feel as if they’re going nowhere, they’ll quietly bide their time until they can jump to a job that offers them the feedback that fuels their growth.

Trust me, recognizing and rewarding people for the work they do for you—and providing feedback in a timely and actionable way—doesn’t have to swamp your boat or leave you feeling uncertain about how you’ll actually get around to doing it.

So I’ll share my secret with you.

Being the kind of leader who gives authentic and actionable feedback is a process, and all you really need is a road map to get you where you need to be. Think of these things as your GPS for becoming the leader who separates real results from meaningless accolades, and gives genuine feedback on performance in real time.

Get Yourself So You’re Practiced At Giving Feedback

You’re the leader—so it all starts with you. You have to think and prepare long before that first feedback conversation. You need to be a model for both imparting and hearing the type of feedback that is impactful and helps other progress in their careers quickly based on their merit and ability. Increasing your own self-awareness is essential. Acquiring an appreciation for the feelings and thoughts of other people, recognizing your emotions, knowing why you feel the way you do, and recognizing the sway they have on those around you are some of the critical things you have to have on day one. Conveying your thoughts clearly, precisely, and explicitly while at the same time being sensitive to the needs of the other person, along with taking their temperature and perspective, is what will help you effectively guide the conversation to a productive outcome. Doing these things connects you with the other person and supports them as they see the feedback as the gift you intend it to be. My last tip—and probably the most important one—is to think before you speak, and by that I simply mean find your key point about every bit of why you are giving this feedback by asking yourself the following three questions:

  • Why am I sharing this? What’s my objective?
  • What is my key take on the topic? What’s my point of view?
  • Why does it matter to the person I’m trying to reach?

Field The Right Team In The First Place

Organizing and putting the right people on the field is critical to making certain that people are capable of what you’re asking them to do. Stack your teams with people who have the skills, are open to constructive feedback, and who can take a compliment with grace and dignity. This reduces the chance that you’ll have to deliver feedback to those who may react in an overly emotional or defensive way. Focus on making sure that all the people on the team have the resources they need to execute and make decisions, have a measure of autonomy and discretion, and are willing to challenge the status quo themselves. Encourage bi-directional feedback, let them know that you’ve got as much to learn from them as they do from you, and teach, as my kindergarten teacher used to say, sharing is caring.

Tackle Their Needs With As Much Focus As You Do The Bottom Line

Multitasking is a given when you’re a leader. And as much as you have to keep your eye on the bottom line, you have to tackle their needs with as much focus as you do the bottom line. Spending time with them means balancing priorities and making sure that the time you spend isn’t always about the nuts and bolts of what everyone is working on. There need to be moments when it’s just about them and what is going on in their lives—listening to them, learning from them, and sharing stories that have absolutely nothing to do with work. But what is the right mix of tasks versus personal connection time? You’ll have to see what works best in your workplace, and if you have to err on one side or the other, choose tackling the needs of the person before the business.

Prepare For Things To Go Off Track – And Know How To Get It Back On Track

In spite of our best efforts, there are times when we’ve got to deliver feedback that is going to be difficult for the other person to hear. If you’ve done the work in step one you’ll be well-prepared to do the heavy lifting required here. Timing is everything—when at all doable, schedule these feedback conversations for the end of the day so that when the conversation is done, the person doesn’t have to go back to their workspace and can leave the office to process and think outside of the gaze of their coworkers. How you start the conversation usually dictates how it ends, so affirm that you’re in this together. If you’ve established yourself as an honest broker acknowledging significant contributions as well as areas for growth, you’ll have a baseline of trust to leverage. Focus on the performance and how you’ll work together to choose strategies that will help them succeed. Diffuse emotional reactions by leaning in and listening. If the conversation gets out of hand, delay responding by calling for a break, and regroup when everyone has time to cool down before things spiral out of control.

Follow these steps, defy convention, and become the one leader everyone respects as being strong, trustworthy, candid, and highly competent. The journey is less challenging when you have a roadmap and your focus is firmly on the destination. Share with me the stories of how you broke away from your old feedback habits and what happened when you did.

Give Less Advice And Listen More

Oct 19

Give Less Advice And Listen MoreIn the early 1970’s there were a series of commercials on TV that featured a “know-it-all” spokesman for a brand of wine called The Answer Grape. He had a very stately demeanor and would answer any question posed to him. Why is it that like the Answer Grape, we feel compelled to impart our advice to others, even when we’re not quite sure what to say?

Perhaps it’s because over a lifetime we’ve learned and believe that giving advice, sharing our viewpoint, and telling others exactly what they should do—even when we aren’t quite sure ourselves—demonstrates credibility, adds value, and builds trust. But does it really?

Of course sharing your ideas and giving advice can be valuable to others—I’m just suggesting that when it becomes our fallback response to every request, it can have unintended consequences for both the advice seeker and giver. When people unduly rely on you, it disempowers them and wears you down.

I’m not suggesting that you abandon sharing your ideas and giving advice completely. Instead, I’m suggesting that it not be your default position when the matter at hand doesn’t require a practical or more expedient answer. There is another alternative, and it is simple yet exceedingly powerful: to give less advice and listen more.

Listening more starts when you can:

Resist The Urge To Answer The First, Second, Or Even Third Time

Jonas Salk is quoted as saying, “What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question.” Instead of diving in with an answer, ask a question that will trigger a dialogue and uncover what the true question is. Then listen without an agenda to the answer and experience the power in that moment. Questions open the door for the other person to take time to actually think and sort things out for themselves. In all likelihood, answering your question is probably the first time they have heard themselves verbalize what they’ve been thinking aloud. Resist the urge to jump in after your first, second, or even third question. Keep asking questions that help both you and the other person focus on what the challenge is, what they need to resolve it, and what they can do, and when you’ve finally gotten to that point you can then ask them, “What do they need from you?” And then you listen again.

Don’t Disguise Advice As A Question

Preparation is key in asking questions that support dialogue rather than advice that masquerades as a question. Choose a few all-purpose, open-ended questions that you can pull out whenever you need them. They can be as simple as: “What’s on your mind?” or “Under the present circumstances, what might you find helpful?” And one of my favorites: “And what else?” Keep them handy at first until they become second nature to you.

Banish the following questions, which are really a wolf’s advice in sheep’s clothing: “Have you thought of…?”, “Did you consider…?”, ”And have you tried…?” Always opt for the questions that curb your desire to give advice and lead to more opportunities for the other person to go deeper and explore their thinking. Remember too that this isn’t an interrogation, so asking one question at a time is key. Complex multi-part questions qualify as more than one, so also avoid asking those.

Recap And Ask Them If This Was Helpful

When the time comes and the person has really had the chance to explore and talk about what’s on their mind, you now have a great opportunity to guide the conversation toward a natural conclusion that may or may not include sharing your viewpoint. Recapping the highlights of the conversation and asking the other person what they found most helpful to them is a good way to gauge where they are and if they still need something from you—namely advice or perspective. You can simply ask them, “What might you need from me so that you can take the next steps?” If they ask you for your thoughts, now is the time to share them, and because you’ve listened intently you can better craft your advice to meet their needs. Remember it should be in the form of future-focused advice and things that they can absolutely take action on themselves. You can close out by offering your support and willingness to be an accountability partner too.

Asking questions doesn’t make you unsure, lack confidence, or even lack expertise. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Empowering others to discover their expertise, talents, and solutions guides them towards self-reliance and builds momentum in a powerful and personal way. It creates an enduring cycle of discovery and learning that breaks through bottlenecks and motivates all involved. What are you going to do to listen more and give less advice?


How To Own A Compliment

Sep 27

How To Own A ComplimentWe set high expectations for ourselves and strive to meet those expectations, but when someone notices and offers us a well-earned compliment, many of us in a quavering voice quickly launch into a stream of self-deprecating comments, denials, and deflections. Perhaps you can empathize, because someone simply giving you a compliment disarms and dissembles you so completely that you immediately shift the focus, talk down, or cast off the compliment entirely.

Answering a compliment with anything other than gratitude and a sincere thank you has only one lasting effect—it creates awkwardness for both the person extending the compliment and you. Failing to acknowledge the gift of that compliment can help you be seen as ungrateful, lacking confidence, and worst of all unappreciative. From your vantage point, how confident can you really feel about yourself when you second-guess, deflect, or deny what you’ve done well to the point where you can’t even concede that you were able to achieve something?

Here are four surefire ways that you can own a compliment the next time someone is gracious enough to offer one.

Let Your Body Language Speak For You

A smile and a nod go a long way in conveying that you appreciate what someone is saying to you. Before even your words express your sense of gratitude, your body language can be your best ally. Smiling and looking the other person directly in the eye not only indicates agreement, but it also goes a long way in building and reinforcing the trust and connection between you and the other person. If you’re feeling comfortable in your own skin, you’ll be less likely to walk down the road of shifting the focus, deflecting, or not accepting the compliment as it is intended and given.

Simply Say Thank You

You can simply express your gratitude by saying thank you, and then either adding a short personal anecdote about the thing the person complimented, or how you feel about what they complimented. A thank you can express so much in so few words, it’s really easy to learn to say, and it can be practiced beforehand. Saying thank you to others and watching how they respond can really help you become comfortable with saying thank you to others because you understand firsthand how powerful those words really are.

Don’t Trade Compliments

When someone gives you a compliment, your first feeling might be to offer him or her a compliment in exchange. No matter how well-intended and honest your compliment may be, in truth this is really another form of deflecting the focus from you and the compliment you were given. Trading compliments isn’t going to help you learn to accept a compliment any better. If you truly feel a compliment is merited for something they’ve done, save it for a time where they have the chance to be the focus and shine.

Be Humble Not Boastful

Sometimes we lean toward diminishing what we contributed or what we’ve done when others pay us a compliment because we’ve been taught that focusing on our accomplishments is boastful. There is a real difference in boasting and being overly focused on what you do, and being humble and accepting praise for what you rightly have earned. Knowing the difference will help you own a compliment without deflecting or attributing the good expressed to someone or something else. Not recognizing your abilities and strengths in an honest way—especially when someone else does—isn’t strength of character. It is false modesty. Being humble is about knowing what you know and what you don’t, and it doesn’t preclude being pleased that someone else notices.

The next time someone takes the time to offer you a compliment, I hope you own it with all the grace and gratitude you have. It will be the best thing you can do for yourself and the other person.


3 Easy Ideas To Halt Meeting Monotony

Sep 13

3 Simple Ideas to Halt Meeting MonotonyIt’s 8 AM, and one glance at your calendar tells you it’s another day crammed full of an endless stream of mind-numbingly boring, antagonistic, and unproductive meetings. We’ve invested thousands of hours—which we will never get back—in contentious, monotonous, and frustrating meetings with nothing to show for it other than our being stressed, tired, and dreading the next one on the calendar.

If you’re anything like me, you’re continually on the quest for a few simple ideas to shake up and halt meeting monotony. Here are 3 simple ideas to make what seems like an impossible task possible.

1. Disruption Is Crucial

Even the most disciplined among us are inclined to approach familiar situations and people in routine ways. Disrupting well-known patterns is crucial to halting meeting monotony, along with shaking up the routine thinking that lulls everyone into a trance of just going through the motions.

There is no right or wrong way to disrupt the status quo. Simply changing the venue, length, format, players, and asking people to assume different roles (e.g. meeting manager, devil’s advocate, solicitor of other’s points of view) can create enough disruption to spark the various players to pause, reflect, think, and respond more intelligently.

Noticing when people seem to be coalescing around repetitive thinking is vital to halting the cascade toward monotony. Asking innovative questions designed to spur debate and challenge the common thinking reinvigorates the discussion and disrupts the trend toward groupthink.

2. Don’t Dictate The Approach

Disruption is vital to invigorating your meetings, and yet it isn’t all that’s required. Dictating the way in which the players interact in the meeting isn’t a great strategy for spurring enthusiasm, creativity, robust debate, and trust. How everyone will interact is fundamental to creating the space needed for transparency, fruitful dialogue / debate, and learning to happen. The approach must reflect the collective values and principles of everyone involved, along with those of the organization. Here are a few essential ones that you can build upon:

  • Common focus—the success of everyone involved.
  • Respect for each other regardless of title or position.
  • Free expression of perspectives, views, and beliefs, especially when they highlight flaws and assumptions.
  • No one sits on the sidelines—active solicitation of participation.
  • Recognition and support of the role of the ultimate decision maker.
  • Agreement to support the final decision once it is made.

These principles must extend beyond the meeting and become part of the DNA of the team or organization. Everyone needs to embody these at all times.

3. Design With The End In Mind

We are all well-versed in the trail of breadcrumbs that Hansel and Gretel use to guide them back home to safety when the moon rises. There is a lesson there for us. It is critical to the success of the meeting that we know EXACTLY where we want the journey to end.

Starting with the end in mind stems tangents and unnecessary side discussions that quickly derail and catapult us toward decisions that don’t serve our needs and that we aren’t invested in. Designing meetings with the end in mind, simply stated, means delineating and clarifying what the ultimate goal being sought is, and establishing the path that gives you the best chance of seeing it come to fruition. Agreeing in the short-term on where we are ultimately headed—even when we don’t all agree on the nitty gritty of the how this will be done—is what creates the shared enthusiasm and investment in striving for the same result. Here are two quick ideas for you to experiment with:

  • Start with the meeting invite. Include a request for people to get ready for the meeting by thinking about the ultimate outcome, and what gives the team the best chance of attaining it and get the creativity and focus going.
  • Use technology to gather the data and share the information with everyone so they come aware, informed, and prepared. A low-tech way is to collect people’s thoughts and ideas at the start of the meeting on a flip chart.

The information gathered becomes the genesis for the conversation that will build consensus, set the ultimate outcomes, create enthusiasm, and define the trajectory of the meeting.

Perhaps implementing these strategies will feel strange and uncomfortable at first—most change is. However, in the long run, changing the direction of your next meeting is critical to leveraging the differences, bonds, and insights of the brilliant minds in the room, and most of all their impression of you as the meeting leader.

What tips have you used to take a break from meeting monotony and give your meetings a well-deserved shot in the arm? I’d like to hear them so please feel free to share them below.


Spike Your Assertiveness EQ

Aug 02

spike-your-assertivenessIQ is fixed and immovable therefore the actual key to spiking your performance is to nurture, balance, and develop your EQ skills. Infusing your life with just the right mix of EQ skills that work for you is a great way to separate yourself from the competition, and vital to living a less-stressed and happier existence.

Are you ready to spike your EQ? If so, let’s take a look at one of the most misunderstood EQ skills: Assertiveness. A bit ironic, isn’t it?

We often confuse being assertive with being aggressive—failing to realize that aggressiveness is assertiveness gone wrong.

Assertiveness isn’t aggressiveness. The failure to make that distinction leads to hurting others, discounting others’ desires, appearing unlikeable, and often not getting what you set out to attain. Aggressiveness is highly corrosive to relationships—both personally and professionally—where learning to be assertive supports connecting with others and achieving mutually satisfying outcomes for all concerned.

But what does assertiveness look like?

Assertiveness encompasses the ability to communicate clearly, confidently, and unambiguously, while at the same time being able to be responsive to and considerate of the desires of others in any given encounter.

If you’re looking to spike your assertiveness, here are some time-tested strategies to get you where you want to be:

1. Picture What Being Assertive Looks Like

In your mind’s eye, picture the line between the words “passive” and ”aggressive.” The midpoint between the two is where assertiveness thrives. Assertiveness is characterized by:

  • Letting others know what you think, feel, believe, and want in an unambiguous way.
  • A clear statement of one’s beliefs and / or feelings in conjunction with consideration given to the thoughts and feelings of others.

2. Cultivate the Assertiveness State of Mind

It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how influential you are, or how much power you have in any social interaction. The ability to assert yourself is dependent upon your cultivating an assertive state of mind. To do this you need to:

Assess and figure out the self-talk that is interfering with your ability to be more assertive.

  • Over the course of the next two weeks, notice and write down times where you behaved assertively, passively, and aggressively.
  • Keep track of the things you were saying or thinking in those moments. Note the tone of your voice and how your body was responding.
  • Debate, dispute, and identify the defeating self-talk, and brainstorm new and more positive ways in which you could respond in the future.

3. Push Yourself to Behave More Assertively

Use what you’ve learned from cultivating an assertive state of mind to and begin turning ideas into actions. Push yourself to behave more assertively by experimenting with the following strategies:

Start Small

Cherry-pick low risk situations at first, and practice being clear about what it is you want in ways that demonstrate thought for others. Involve those you know well and trust to support you and serve as practice partners. Note the difference in how the other person responds. Evaluate yourself afterwards, tweak what needs adjusting, and use successes to motivate you the next time.

Identify Times When Opinion is Masquerading As Fact

Vital to your being more assertive is being able to identify and articulate the difference between what we believe to be fact, and opinions that are masquerading as facts. Look for clear, undeniable evidence to confirm and / or deny the position you’re advocating for. Develop a keen sense for spotting when a preference, point of view, or opinion tries to masquerade as a fact. Shift your language and begin using “I” statements to let others know you’re sharing your thoughts, beliefs, or opinions.

Run Through What You Want to Say

Use the lessons learned from cultivating your assertive state of mind to practice responding more assertively to the common scenarios that seem to trigger either your behaving passively or aggressively. Write down what you want to say the next time, and then say it out loud. Do a little perspective taking, and ask a friend for direct feedback about your response.

Increase Your Exposure Over Time

Increase your exposure over time to situations and people who present increasing degrees of challenge for you. This serves to gradually build up your skill level so that it becomes second nature to you. Remember that learning to be more assertive happens over time and under pressure.

These time-tested strategies will help you hold your ground when others offer resistance and increase the probability of you attaining what you set out to achieve.



An Interview With Mark Goulston (Part 2)

Jun 28

Who among us hasn’t encountered an irrational person? Whether at home or in the workplace, encounters with these people leave us feeling drained, defeated, and anxious. What we do know is that reasoning and logic don’t work. In his #1 Non-Fiction Bestseller, Talking to Crazy, Mark Goulston, M.D. teaches us all a revolutionary new way to deal with the irrational people in our lives by leaning into the crazy.

Mark Goulston, M.D. may be best known as a “people hacker.” He is a business advisor, consultant, speaker, trainer, and coach to CEOs and Founders. Mark’s rich and diverse background and experience includes: FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer, UCLA professor of psychiatry, and Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He is a contributor to the Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, Fast Company, Huffington Post, and Psychology Today. Mark is a frequent media guest on all the major networks and cable television. He hosted a PBS special, “Just Listen with Dr. Mark Goulston,” authored and co-authored seven books, and set the Citrix webinar attendee record with 9,200 participants. Mark is also the co-founder of Heartfelt Leadership and Resident Big Brother at Business Women Rising. He serves on the Board of Advisors of American Women Veterans and Dr. Oz’s foundation, Health Corps.

I loved Mark’s book so much that I asked him to sit down with me to share with all of us some insights and strategies that will help us best “lean” into the crazy so that we can learn how to change the dynamic and transform ourselves from a threat into an ally. I feel very privileged to have had this conversation with Mark and to be able to share it with you as part of our Leadership Compound Conversations Series. I hope you enjoy reading Part Two of our two-part conversation.



Susan Gilell-Stuy: When we know that a person we are interacting with is behaving irrationally and alsoTalking to Crazy by Mark Goulston know that it isn’t time to run or to avoid the encounter altogether what comes next? And what’s that one thing that we’re most inclined to do that we really should avoid doing in that situation?

Mark Goulston: This is the process that you can use. Identify those crazy-making people—make a list of them—and next, never expect them not to act that way when they want to get out of something, when they want to push you into doing something that’s really unfair and unreasonable regarding other people. Identify who they are and never be blindsided by the conversation, because sometimes what happens is you’re dealing with one of those people—you’re kind of like Bambi wandering through the woods—and you give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and what happens with these people is you forget to realize that they’ll say something in the conversation that knocks you off balance just like Bambi hearing the hunters’ rifles, and what it does is it triggers your amygdala to hijack you, and pushes you into wanting to rip their throat out, which goes against your core identity, and then once they do that you’re off balance, and then they can go for your jugular.

So the first thing is to identify who they are and never expect them not to do it. If they don’t do it it’s gravy, but don’t expect that to happen. Therefore, hold a little bit of yourself back so you’re not caught off balance. But that doesn’t mean being aloof. Expect them to do that. And then what happens is when the conversation happens and they move in that provoking direction, what you say to yourself—and this is what the people I coach say to themselves, “Dang, happens every time. This is just like the trains being on time. They do it every time!” But don’t smile in front of the other person because then they’ll know that you’re onto them. And remember, that at that moment when they do it, they’re going to expect you to be provoked.

I’ll just give you some of the steps that you can take. Let them finish whatever they’re saying to knock you off balance. First, say to yourself, “Okay, there they go.” And if you’re with them, look into their eyes. Not in a angry way, but a very calm and intent and unwavering way, in which your look basically says, “I’m onto you,” or, “You just did this again, didn’t you?” That’s what you’re saying with your eyes.

They may not notice it because they just think they’re going along, trying to provoke you, and then it didn’t happen. After they say whatever they say, pause for two to four seconds and keep looking in their eyes. What’s going to happen is they’re going to become anxious, and they’re going to become anxious because their plan to provoke you didn’t work. In all likelihood when you’re doing that, and you’re still looking into their eyes—and maybe it’s one to three seconds, since you have to pick the right time for you—they’re going to say, “What?” in an offended accusatory tone. And they’re going to bark at you because they’re nervous. They’re nervous because they’re afraid that you’re onto them.

At that point, there are a variety of things that you can say. One of those is, “Would you repeat what you just said in the last few minutes because my mind wandered?” And they’re going to go, “What?” And you repeat, “My mind wandered and I started thinking about something else.” That’s going to discombobulate them.

Or you can say, “Could you run that by me again in a different voice because the way you said it to me before just triggered me, and when I get triggered I get reactive, and then I don’t think very clearly, so can you take it from the top again in a calmer voice so that I can think about what you said?”

Probably the shortest version is you look at them and you tilt your head and you just go, “Huh?”

But if in your mind’s eye, you can picture that, and then you watch them, they may get agitated and may even say, “That’s stupid! Why weren’t you listening?” And then you say, “I was trying to listen but then I got distracted.” Or, “I was trying to listen, but your tone of voice reminded me of someone else’s tone of voice and I started thinking about them, and I forgot what you were saying, so can you run it by me again?” And so those are for people who tend to try to bully you.

Here’s another tip for people who are either bullies, venters, or complainers. This technique is called the FUDN technique. F-U-D-N. What FUDN stands for is frustrated, upset, disappointed, now what? And the way that works is when they’re complaining, or whining, or venting—but not bullying you—again, you let them finish whatever they’re saying, what they’re complaining about. You look in their eyes, you pause, and then the first thing you say to them is, “You sound frustrated, what’s that about?” The reason you start with frustrated is because almost everybody will own up to being frustrated. If you were to say to them instead, “You sound angry,” then they’re likely to become defensive and it is going to escalate.

Most people will talk about what they’re frustrated about. And something you can learn in both my books Just Listen and Talking To Crazy is using something I call “conversation deepeners,” and a conversation deepener is getting people to say more about what they’re feeling underneath.

So when they tell you what they’re frustrated about, there are four things you want to notice that reveal emotion that you want to actually have them go deeper about. First, there’s hyperbole. For instance, if they use “awful” or “horrendous,” that’s hyperbole. Next is inflection. That’s when they raise their voice and say loudly, “We’ve got to do something about that!” Both hyperbole and inflection reveal emotion.

For people who really like this training and want to go further I tell them to notice adverbs and adjectives, because an adverb is a way to embellish a verb and an adjective is a way to embellish a noun, and those also have emotional juice on them. So if you notice those four things—hyperbole, inflection, adverbs, and adjectives—as they’re speaking, they finish and imagine they’re talking about being frustrated. If they say the word “awful” or ”horrendous,” you pause again and say, “Say more about the ‘horrendous’ thing.” What you’re doing is that instead of shushing them, you’re helping them even get more off their chest but without having it upset you. You’re not becoming upset because you’re in charge of the conversation and because you’re learning a way to be present with these crazy-making people.

After they talk about that, say, “If I were you,” and you say it that way. You don’t want to talk about anger. “If I were you, I’d feel upset. I wouldn’t just feel frustrated, I’d feel upset. What’s that about?” That’s different than saying, “You sound upset,” because that’s like, “You sound angry,” and they’re going to get defensive. You say, “If I was you, I’d feel not just frustrated but upset. What’s that about?” Then let them talk about that. Then use the conversation deepeners to get more out of them.

The real game changer is what you say next which is: “If I were you I wouldn’t just feel frustrated or upset, I’d feel disappointed. And I don’t know if I’d feel disappointed in the company, in me, in yourself, but I’d really feel disappointed. So what are you disappointed about?” There’s something about the word “disappointed” that’s very calming, and is very powerful.

That’s why it’s difficult to say to your child, “I’m not angry at you, I love you. I’m just disappointed.” When you enable irrational people to express their disappointment you’re actually going to see them calm down. Then what you do is when they finish and after you’ve again used conversation deepeners to have them go deeper, you say, “This is really important so I want to be sure that I got exactly what you said.” When you use the word ”important,” that further calms people down. You’re not telling them they’re right— you’re just saying what they said was important, because it was important to them. It doesn’t have to be important to you.

Then say, “So let me see if I got this right. What you said you were frustrated about is (repeat what they said). What you said you were upset about is (repeat what they said). What you said you were disappointed about is (repeat what they said). That correct?” Causing them to have to listen to you repeat to them what they said—because it was “important”—further calms them down.

Hopefully they will say, “Yes,” or correct what you said, and having that kind of dialogue further calms them down.

Then say, “Well, given that all of that or some of that might be true, now what?” They’re going to go, “What?” Say, “Yes, given that a lot of that is possibly true and I can understand how you feel all those things, now what?”

Can you feel and see, Susan, in your mind’s eye, that you’re actually taking charge of a conversation with someone who drives you crazy?

You’re actually calming down their amygdala and your own and you’re letting them vent into you without getting defensive, you’re re-framing it, and you’re letting it all come out.

It’s almost like if you think of the amygdala as boiling water, and when an amygdala hijack happens is like turning up the boiling water too high and it just goes all over the stove. What you’ve done with the FUDN technique is you’ve lowered the heat under the boiling amygdala at which point it doesn’t need to hijack anyone anywhere, and you can now have a rational conversation.

Now I know this seems so artificial and the reason that sounds too complicated if you’re reading this is because you’ve had your amygdala hijacked so many times, you’d rather go to plan A, which is to rip their throat out, which would feel great but it probably wouldn’t be that effective.

SGS: Sometimes crazy gets the best of us, how do we recalibrate, learn, and prepare for the next time?

MG: There are a number of things you can do. One thing is one of my favorites, but people who want to really get even with the people don’t like it. What I would say is to identify those people ahead of time so they don’t blindside you, and then when they do their crazy-making behavior what you say to yourself—and what I say to the people I coach is, “Use my words talking to you, if you can’t use your own… think of me as a benevolent big brother or whatever and say to yourself ‘opportunity for poise.’”

Poise is rare in this world. And when we see people showing poise—and by poise I don’t mean being shut off like Mitt Romney was in the last presidential election—I mean being poised and present. That was the problem with Mitt Romney. I think he was a pretty decent guy, but people experienced him as shut off. Poised is being present. But if you say to yourself “opportunity for poise”—and if you know that every time these difficult people act up, you’re going to get another opportunity to build that muscle—then it becomes something to be motivated to do. You take a conversation you want to avoid and turn it into an exercise, and you can use all the different approaches you can learn from my book and other people’s books.

Now people get angry at me because most people bark in their mind’s eye at me, “I don’t want an opportunity for poise. I do want to rip their throat out. I don’t want to think reasonably. I don’t want to think rationally.” What’s happened is your amygdala just hijacked you and you just left the barn. You better lasso yourself and bring you back in there. Using the “opportunity for poise” internal script I think is a real neat thing to be able to develop because if you do it, and you handle the situation with poise, you’re going to leave a situation feeling classy, and I don’t mean that in the arrogant way. You’re going to leave and say, “I can’t believe I handled that situation in such a classy way,” and you’re going to feel better about yourself. And if other people see you handling it with poise, they’re going to say, “Wow, that person’s classy.” Then you start to be looked at as a potential leader because there’s a hunger to have leaders who are classy in the way they act especially during confrontations.

Another technique that I use that’s near and dear to my heart is I think of my mentors. All my mentors have died, and I think how they made a difference in me not only because the believed in and respected me, but all my mentors enjoyed me. What I realized is that while respecting me was great, but when I would see them I’d put a huge smile on their face just for who I was. Just feeling enjoyed like that healed something in me, and it didn’t just make me a better leader or coach—it made me a better person. It made me more giving, generous and even loving.

Now, what I say to mentors and bosses is, “You have a grand opportunity to heal the people in your company because many people in your company did not come from the happiest of homes. They came from negative homes in which not only did they not feel enjoyed, but nobody enjoyed anyone.” It’s amazing when I feel my mentors’ enjoyment of me. I immediately feel blessed that they were in my life, I immediately feel appreciative of them, and the reason that works for me is whatever chunk this crazy-making person is taking out of me immediately gets filled.

I can picture any of the mentors smiling and saying something to me. One of my earliest mentors was the Dean of Students at my medical school and he died too young of lung cancer. In my mind’s eye he has an Irish Catholic Boston accent, and he’ll say in a thick Bostonian accent, “M-a-h-k. M-a-r-k, get a hold of it. M-a-h-k, be poised. Come on it’s not a big deal.”

As I’m repeating it to you, you’re laughing, and in turn I’m laughing, but I just got a buzz right now from loving and missing and being grateful to him. I don’t even know what I was ticked off about now. So to me, I think that’s one of the best ways to center one’s self because it’s very human and interactive. It’s making the most of the people who cared or still care about you. That’s my favorite approach. So those are a couple techniques, and there are more in the book if you like those kinds of ways to deal with the crazy makers.

SGS: Great. We’ve talked about situations where someone we know is behaving irrationally and yet there are times when someone’s irrational behavior could be a sign of a more significant issue. How do we distinguish between the two? And in those cases, what should we do?

MG: You don’t have to be a psychologist or psychotherapist to pause and say to yourself, “Are they crazy-making or are they mentally ill?” I think what happens is if you can calm yourself down, and know a way to deal with crazy-making behavior, you’re able to think more rationally. And so part of what you can do is part of the way psychiatrists assess mentally ill people: they kind of pause and say, “I wonder how they’re functioning in different parts of their life, or different parts of their life within their company?” Are they withdrawing from other people? Are they on the defensive? Is there increased absenteeism? Is there something where they could be really depressed? Hopefully it will change with the millennials because they appear to be more forthcoming than prior generations, but sadly what’s happening in older generations is something in their private life has happened that they just haven’t shared. You’ll find out that their grandpa or grandma died, or their parent died. They just don’t talk about that at work because people don’t talk about that stuff.

Here is another tip for calming yourself down from one of the people I speak about in Talking To Crazy whose name is Bob Pratt. He is president of Volunteers of America, Los Angeles. There was something about him. I told him, “I’ve never seen a person who is so positive and not a Pollyanna. How do you do that?” What he said is, “I assume innocence. If someone cuts me off in traffic, I assume someone cut them off at the office. I just assume innocence.”

That’s something I’m aspiring to be able to do because I think it’s a great way to go into the world. My view of the world is that there’s really not that many evil people. When you identify evil people, stop them, keep them from hurting other people, avoid them, and cut your losses. But everybody else is just flawed. I’m flawed. You’re flawed. Assume innocence and cut them some slack.

SGS: I’d like to shift the focus and talk more about your experience writing the book. Was there something that you learned that you didn’t expect to learn about yourself? If so, what was it and how has it affected you since?

MG: I think the insight—which I wasn’t aware of while I was writing the book, but now it’s one of the key things that I talk about—is the power of leaning in to people to calm them down, and getting them to listen to reason. And part of why that works— and I’ll go back to a little bit of neuroscience—is when people are stressed, their cortisol is high. High cortisol and stress correlate with each other. And when people feel close to another person, cortisol goes down and oxytocin goes up. Oxytocin is the hormone related to bondedness. It’s what causes mothers to be able to bond to screaming children. If mothers didn’t have oxytocin and that child was having a tantrum, they’d throw them out of the car.

What I realized is that a number of people that are acting crazy do so because their cortisol is high, nobody is bonding with them, and they’re taking it out on the world. So when you can connect with them by leaning in to them, it immediately gives them a burst of bonding oxytocin and lowers their cortisol. I think in the first chapter, or an early chapter, there’s an anecdote, which is a favorite anecdote of many readers, from when I was moonlighting in a psychiatric state hospital.

When I did that, I’d be on call 48 hours and I’d be taking turns with another psychiatrist, 12 hours on, 12 off. Basically this would be the weekend: I’d go in, I’d get calls to order medications to someone who was acting up and tearing apart the day room and put them in restraints, something like that. I remember there was one time I was called to write an order for security to come in and restrain this large man, and get him a shot of an antipsychotic tranquilizer. I remember when I entered the room, all the nurses were in the nurses’ station. The day room, which is where patients spend their day outside their rooms, was all torn apart. Chairs everywhere. There was this big hulk of a man standing with his back to me. If you saw the movie One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, he was very reminiscent of the American Indian character who was central to that movie. So he’s just standing there.

He wasn’t throwing things around actively when I got there. I think he’d done what he needed to do. I walked into the unit and the nurses said, “Where are you going?” Because I didn’t go into the nurses’ station. I said, “I’m going to go talk to him.” They said to me, “You’re crazy.” I smiled at them and I said, “Why don’t you make two orders for restraining orders [laughter]? One for him, one for me. I said, ‘I’m going to see what’s going on.’” This was an example leaning in to people, going into their world. One of the things that happens in state hospitals in the day room is that nearly all patients smoke cigarettes. They’re even smoking parts of cigarettes. That’s what they did. You’d often see cigarettes and ashtrays on the floor with burn marks into the linoleum. And the favorite cigarette back then was Camel because there was no filter on it. You just went directly into the tobacco and got a straight hit from the nicotine.

I got about ten feet from him, and his back was to me, we’ll call him John. I called out, “Hey, John,” and I said it in an inviting vs. confrontational tone. I said, “Hey, John.” And he said, “What?” He turns around and looks at me. And I said, “Do you think they have any Camels in the cigarette machine outside?” He said, “What?” I said, “Do you think they have any Camels in the cigarette machine outside?” And he says, “Yeah, I guess so.” And I said, “Do you think they have any matches?” He looked at me and he laughed. He said, “What are you crazy? This is a mental hospital. They’re not going to have matches!”

And I said, “Well, you’re probably right.” By the way, I was noticing it looked like he had calmed down already, even though they were still sending security over. I said, “Well, I’m going to go get a pack of Camels and bring you a few, and leave the rest for you in the nurses’ station. That will be yours and you can have some of those later. And by the way, some people from security are going to come around and assess this situation and they may have to put you down with restraints. John, you’ve been here long enough. You know the routine. Are you okay?” What happened is I leaned into his world, a world where he had had his tantrum—it’s kind of like after you have sex, you want a cigarette [laughter]. He’d had his “sex” in the day room in the form of a tantrum and he wanted a cigarette. So I ordered that for him, and I was immediately his friend.

He even said to me, “Jeez, I kind of went crazy. I kind of went bonkers.” I said, “John, look, I’ll get you the Camels. They’ll come. They may not even have to put you in restraints, but cut yourself some slack, you’re in a mental hospital. Going crazy happens so don’t be too hard on yourself. They can rearrange the furniture, it’ll be okay.” And that worked out. I think that was an example of the power of leaning into someone.

By the way, when we talked about FUDN, that was also a perfect example without using the specific steps overtly. Taking someone who’s agitated and you go through all the levels of their agitation: frustrated, upset, disappointed, and then now what? And you can see it’s a way of leaning in to where they’re coming from. When you lean in and you’re there helping them talk it through, their oxytocin is going up, and they feel bonded to you as opposed to alienated. They don’t feel judged by you—they feel cared about by you, which is all the stuff they feel is missing in the world. Then they bond to you, and they’re more agreeable.

SGS: As we draw near the end of our time together there are two things that I wanted to talk about. The first is, what mix of skills and abilities do you think makes up your unique success compound, or what I would call your leadership compound? And then secondly, I’d like to give you the chance to share with everyone what you’re doing now and what they should be on the lookout for from you in the future.

MG: I’ll share a very personal story, and this will actually explain nearly everything I’ve said and answer a question that might be on your mind, namely “How did you learn this?”

One of my greatest personal accomplishments in life, other than my great family and kids, is that I dropped out of medical school twice before finishing. I don’t know anyone who dropped out of medical school twice and finished. I didn’t drop out to see the world. I dropped out because I hit a wall where I was highlighting all the books I was reading and I was retaining nothing. I probably had an untreated depression.

I took an initial leave of absence and worked in blue-collar jobs, which I loved. My mind came back at a blue-collar level. I went back to medical school after my first leave of absence and my mind came back for a few months, and then I lost it once more and where I was just highlighting books again and not retaining anything. So I asked for a second leave of absence, and I was passing everything so they couldn’t kick me out.

Then I got a call from the Dean of Students with a deep Irish Catholic Bostonian accent, Dean McNary. I was of the mindset—not an unusual mindset—where you’re only worth what you can do in the world, and if you can’t do anything, you’re worthless. You may not even deserve to be in the world.

I was at a point where I really couldn’t do anything so I wasn’t worth anything, maybe not even being in the world. Hopefully you get my mindset. So I get this call from Dean McNary and he says in his Bostonian accent, “M-a-h-k, come in heah, I got a letter heah from the dean of the school, you gotta read this thing.”

So I go in there and the letter is from the dean of the medical school who is focused on finances and every time someone takes a leave of absence the school is loses matching funds. By asking for another leave of absence I was becoming a real financial liability.

And the letter said, “I’ve met with Mr. Goulston and suggested an alternate career. Perhaps the cello.” I have no idea where “cello” came from. “And so I’m advising the promotions committee that he be asked to withdraw.” Again, they couldn’t kick me out because I was passing my classes.

I think a miracle actually happened, and I mean that in the literal sense, because what happened is I think I said to Dean McNary, “What does that mean?” He said, “You’re being kicked out, M-a-h-k.” And so I’m there and I didn’t become sarcastic where I could’ve said, “They can’t do that to me. I’m passing, they can’t kick me out!” I was too far-gone. It was my good fortune that I also didn’t go into some “woe is me,” pathetic kind of sobbing thing either.

Instead, when he said that, I just became quiet and about 20 seconds passed and I felt my cheeks getting wet. I kept touching them. I was crying. I wasn’t sobbing, I was crying. It was like I was bleeding. I remember touching my cheeks and looking at my hands. Hopefully you get a sense of my mindset. You’re only worth what you do and I couldn’t do anything. So at that point I didn’t feel worth anything.

Then imagine hearing this, Susan. Dean McNary says, “M-a-h-k, you didn’t screw up, because you’re passing. I don’t know how you’re passing. But you are screwed up. But if you get unscrewed up, I think this school will one day be glad that they gave you a second chance. And even if you don’t get unscrewed up, M-a-h-k. Even if you don’t become a doctor. Even if you don’t do another thing in your life.” Which is about what I thought I was capable of.

He said, “I’d be proud to know you because you have goodness in you, and you have no idea how much the world needs that goodness. And you’re not going to know it until you’re 35. But you have to make it to 35.” I’m crying because he’s pummeling me with kindness and I’m just standing there. He’s just there with me. He’s listening into me and he leaning in to me, and I can’t even look at him. Then he says, “M-a-h-k, look at me.” And with difficulty because I was so vulnerable and exposed, I looked at him and he points his finger and me and he says, “You deserve to be on this planet. Do you understand me? And you’re going to let me help you.” Then he set up an appeal.

Basically what happened in the appeal is people could see—I don’t know if they saw my goodness, I didn’t see it—but they saw something. So they gave me another leave of absence. I then actually went to work in Kansas.

I grew up in Boston and went to undergraduate school at Berkeley, but I went to a place called the Menninger Foundation, a psychiatric center in Topeka, Kansas. It’s now in Texas. I remember going there and I thought, “Well, I don’t know much about psychiatry. I’m going to find myself or they’ll lock me up. So either way I’m in a good location here.”

What happened is that I found a way to connect with schizophrenic farm boys. I’m from suburban Boston and I don’t know how I was able to do that. I remember going to other psychiatrists there and I said, “Is this legitimate? Is this a legitimate profession?” And they said, “What?” I said, “Just talking to people, trying to find out where they’re coming from and going on walks with them in the snow here in the middle of winter.” And they said, “Yes, it’s legitimate. It’s different from the other medical professions, but it’s legitimate. And you have a knack for it, Mark.” And so I held onto that as kind of my true north and went back to medical school and was able to finish it and go into psychiatry and to become a suicide expert.

That takes me to today and what I hope people will find out about me is that I’m on a mission to end violence in the world, and my first focus is adolescent and teenage violence. I interviewed Sue Klebold. She’s the mother of Dylan Klebold, who was one of the shooters at Columbine. She had a book that came out called A Mother’s Reckoning, and I interviewed her for The Huffington Post in three parts, but you get it in one full chunk in Psychology Today. It’s heart-wrenching and touching. And so I am now pulling together people to further this mission.

There’s a movie that’s being distributed through high schools, but I think it needs to be distributed through theaters. I’m doing my best to get it out there. If it does, I believe it will win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It’s called Listen. You can see the trailer, the official trailer, Listen. The filmmaker, Erahm Christopher, went around the world for nine years and listened to over a million teenagers—and just listened to them in a program called Teen Truth. He asked them, “What are you so frustrated about? What are you so angry about?” It’s a magnificent and absolutely riveting movie.

What I’m trying to do is pull together those elements. And I’m also co-authoring a book with a 47 year-old man called Inside The Mind of a School Shooter, who 29 years ago had a 1000 rounds of ammunition and guns in his rural Minnesota high school, where he was also going to kill many people including students, teachers and the principal after being bullied for years. Then five days before he was to do it, he had a religious experience, changed his mind and safely removed the guns and ammo. He went on to graduate a police academy and work at a prison and now in construction, but he never told his story to anyone but his wife. He wants to tell it now because of the increase in adolescent violence and shootings and because he believes sharing his story might lessen the violence. I agree with him completely. In fact I think he’s an angel from God who has come to earth to help with ending adolescent rage and violence. And so I’m putting all these pieces together because it’s something else I think others will want to join in to help.

Something that I’ve discovered about life is I think there are three phases. The first phase of life—and maybe this is your professional life—is doing what you should do. You can’t be a rebel without a cause when you’re in your 20s or 30s. If you’re a genius maybe you can get away with it. If you’re not a genius, doing what you should do is about not being stubborn and rebellious and contrary. That doesn’t mean you have to be obedient and let yourself be walked over, but you’re building credibility. You actually accomplish things and can work with a team.

Then, by about age 35 to 55, it’s doing what you could do. That’s your work-life balance and spiritual balance. That’s when you look to fulfill your potential. And what’s the best use of my potential?

I’m in the last stage of life. And that’s when you’re above 60. That is what are you meant and born to do? Why am I on this earth? What is my purpose?

Maybe you can hear some emotion in my voice as I say that, because that is where I am. What was I born to do? Why the heck am I here?

And so I have two focuses. My purpose is to help, find, develop, and support the leaders that the world needs because my late mentor Warren Bennis shared with me the Schindler moment towards the end of his life where he felt leaders were worse than ever and that perhaps he hadn’t done enough. And he kind of invented the field of leadership studies. That really bothered me because I loved him and he’s right.

It’s helping develop—I don’t know how it’s going to happen—something about leadership. I have a site called Heartfelt Leadership. If you go there and look at the “Be Inspired” videos, these are examples of the leaders we need.

My other passion and mission is stopping violence. Partially it’s because as I’ve gotten to know the author of Inside The Mind of a School Shooter, I can just feel the pain under his anger. It’s really amazing how he got through this.

I can’t wait to introduce him to Sue Klebold, because every question she never got to ask her son, who was one of the shooters at Columbine, this co-author of mine will be able to answer. So she’ll finally get some answers. So stay tuned.

By the way, if this speaks to people, what I really need is people who can implement this stuff, or partner, or whatever, because I’m more of an initiator and creator, but I need help after that. I know that was long-winded, and I apologize for that, but you gave me the green light and I took it.

SGS: I so appreciate our conversation today. I’m looking forward to traveling that journey with you, and if I can help in any way, Mark, I’d be more than happy to do so.

MG: Well let’s stay in touch because things are picking up speed in a positive way, and people are hearing it and what I’m looking for is for people to say, “Let’s do this together.” And I say, “As long as you’re happy to be the doer in any of these projects, let’s do it.”

If you’d like to purchase Mark Goulston’s book, please click here.

In case you missed it, read Part One of my interview with Mark here and be sure to keep your eye out for the next Leadership Compound Conversation!