[00:00:06.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success with your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:12.6] MB: Welcome to The Science of Success. I’m your host, Matt Bodnar. I’m an entrepreneur and investor in Nashville, Tennessee and I’m obsessed with the mindset of success and the psychology of performance. I’ve read hundreds of books, conducted countless hours of research and study and I am going to take you on a journey into the human mind and what makes peak performers tick with the focus on always having our discussion rooted in psychological research and scientific fact, not opinion.
In this episode we discuss why people struggle to reach outside their comfort zones. Why it’s so critically important that you do. We explore the five core psychological roadblocks stopping people from stepping outside their comfort zones. We go deep on how you can become tougher, more resilient, and embrace discomfort. How you can master the art of small talk. What you need to do to cultivate the skill of global dexterity, and much more, with Dr. Andy Molinsky.
The Science of Success continues to grow with now more than a million downloads, listeners in over a hundred countries, hitting number one New and Noteworthy and more. I get listener comments and emails all the time asking me, “Matt, how do you organize and remember all these incredible information?”
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In our previous episode, we discussed an old trick palm readers use the you can leverage to get people to do what you want. Why persuasion does not lie just in the message itself, but rather in how the messages presented. What the research reveals about why the context matters as much, if not more than the content itself. Why you shouldn't ask people for their opinion, but instead ask someone for their advice. How small differences that seem trivial make huge impacts on human behavior, and much more, with the godfather of influence himself, Dr. Robert Cialdini. If you want to master the tools to influence anyone and listen to a titan of psychology, be sure to check out that episode.
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[0:03:32.2] MB: Today we have another awesome guest on the show, Andy Molinsky. Andy is a professor of organizational behavior and psychology at Brandeis University. Andy is the author of Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge and Build Confidence, as well as Global Dexterity: How to Adopt Your Behavior Across Cultures Without Losing Yourself in the Process. He’s been featured in Inc., Psychology Today, The Harvard Business Review and was named one of LinkedIn’s top voices of 2016.
Andy, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:04:06.0] AM: Hey, Matt. Thanks for having me.
[0:04:07.2] MB: We’re very excited to have you on here today. For listeners who not be familiar with you and some of your work, tell us a little about yourself and share your story.
[0:04:16.6] AM: Sure. I’m a professor at Brandeis University, the international business school and I’m also in the psychology department. I kind of got in to all these just at a personal interest. When I went to college, I never studied psychology. I might have taken psych 101, but very little. After college I went and I lived abroad and I was in France working for a French company and became just fascinated by interpersonal communication, cross-cultural communication, stepping outside your comfort zone and so on, and I came back to the US and I was trying to figure out what this was. At the time I don't have words to describe like, “Oh! That's clearly social psychology and organizational behavior.” I didn’t know any of that.
I was trying to search for what this was and I found it and I just became so fascinated that I decided to go off and do a Ph.D., and the rest is history, and now I’m a professor and I do a lot of academic writing and also very practical writing and speaking and consulting and so on.
[0:05:15.2] MB: One of the topics that we are incredibly passionate about here on the show, and actually one of our very first episodes was about the idea of — As we called it, embracing discomfort, but that he whole notion of stepping outside of your comfort zone, and it's such a vital thing to do and so important, and I love to dig into that concepts. Tell me a little bit why do you see people struggling to step outside of their comfort zones?
[0:05:43.3] AM: I should say, my new book Reach is about exactly this topic about stepping outside your comfort. You might think that I’m some expert on stepping outside my comfort if I wrote the book on it, but I definitely am not. I struggle as well, have always struggled, in fact, stepping outside my comfort zone. In college, I was the kid who never spoke in class, whose heart was beating in the back of the room thinking about maybe raiding the hand but never doing it, or I’d sign up for networking events and not go to them, or I’d avoid giving speeches for years and so on.
I think it's important, if we want to grow and develop, especially around transition points in our lives when we move from high school to college, college to the “real world”, when we’re considering taking chances in our professional careers when we’re moving up, when we’re getting promotions, new responsibilities, new tasks, considering something entrepreneurial, and so on. In order to achieve that personal growth you’re going to have to step outside your comfort zone, but it's easier said than done. It's very hard. It’s legitimately hard.
[0:06:52.8] MB: I completely agree and it’s something that — One of the things I’ve worked to cultivate in my own life is sort of starting with an awareness of when are those tension points or moments when I see myself kind of entering an area of discomfort or exiting my comfort zone and how do I recognize that moment and step away from it or push myself into whatever that discomfort might be. What do you see being the common sort of themes or challenges that people have when they fail to step out of their comfort zone or when they’re sort of trapped within their comfort zone and they can’t get to the next level, they can’t grow and they can’t improve because of that?
[0:07:35.8] AM: Yeah. In my book I interviewed and worked with people from all sorts of professions to answer that exact question and others. I talk with entrepreneurs, executives, managers, teachers, students, police officers, lawyers, rabbis, priests, circus performers, even a goat farmer in all sorts of situations to try to kind of find some common denominators. What I found across all these cases was that there were five core, I called them psychological roadblocks, or psychological challenges, that keep us inside our comfort zones or make it hard to step outside our comfort zones.
The first one is authenticity. It's the idea that when stepping outside my comfort zone, this fear that — Or not even a fear. It could be legitimate that I don't feel like myself. This is not me. This is not who I am. Of course, that’s perfectly natural when you're stepping into a situation that you’re not comfortable with. Very few of us want to feel inauthentic, and so that can hold a lot of us back.
Confidence; the idea that you don't feel like you do it well, whatever this happens to be. Frankly, that other people can see that you don't do it well, and as a result of feeling inauthentic and may be incompetent, you may feel like a poser, like an imposter, like “Who am I to be doing this kind of thing?” or want to be. That, again, is a very uncomfortable feeling to have.
A third one — You got authenticity, you got confidence. Another one is likability. The worry that people won't like or respect or will hate this new version of me. They’ll hate me if I deliver that bad news or if I act more assertively or if I speak my voice or whatever it might be. We all want to be liked. Likability; the fear of not being liked is a real deterrent.
Resentment; I find a lot of people feel, logically, they know that they need to adapt to just and act in a certain way, but more unconsciously or psychologically they feel resentful about the fact that they have to do it.
I spoke with a lot of introverts as part of this research and a lot of people who were introverted feel resentful, that why can’t the quality of my work matter? Why do I have to schmooze? Why do I have to network? Why do I have to go off and play golf with these people in order to get the deal? Why can't quality of my work just stand on its own?
I imagine a lot of us would agree that the work world of today is kind of geared towards extroverts. It’s sort of an extroverted world in a sense. Self-starters, and assertiveness, and leadership, or at least leadership as its conventionally understood. I think it can be challenging for introverts to make their way and a lot of people feel resentful having to step outside your comfort zone.
Finally, morality. You’ve got authenticity, you’ve got confidence, you've got likability, you’ve got resentment. Last one is morality. Of course, you’re not going to experience this every single time you step outside your comfort zone, but I encountered a lot of situations where people worried for ethical or moral reasons that what they were doing was just wrong. In fact, I opened my book, Reach, with the story of the young woman who had to fire or decided she had to fire her best friend from her startup, and she experienced any number of these conflicts in, definitely, the morality conflict around that as well.
Those were the psychological roadblocks I found holding people back, and you can see why it's hard to step out. It’s really legitimately hard to step outside our comfort zones.
[0:11:10.7] MB: The one that rings especially true for me is the — As you call it, authenticity, or I would almost conceive of it as identity or self0image. When we have this image of ourselves of, “I'm not good at small talk,” or, “I'm not good at handling X, Y, Z situation.” It is a very powerful thing that controls the way you think and feel and it's such a challenging thing to break out of. That one to me in particular really stood out.
[0:11:38.8] AM: I remember talking to some young entrepreneurs who are telling me that when they had to pitch their ideas to venture capitalists to try to get funding for their businesses in sort of a shark tank type of situation and they would stand up there with a suit and tie, and of course they never wore suit and ties, and they would have to put on their grown-up voice that they called it and how incredibly inauthentic they felt.
I remember actually myself too — This isn’t about small talk as you mentioned, but for me I remember so well my first moments as a professor 20 years ago or so, I was at the University of Southern California and I stepped into a classroom for the first time teaching MBA students and I was pretty young and I stand there and I’m thinking to myself, “Who am I to be standing here and saying these things?” I felt like a complete, complete imposter.
[0:12:30.1] MB: Is imposter syndrome kind of a part of what something the traps us within our comfort zones?
[0:12:36.8] AM: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think I sort of feel imposter syndrome is that combination between authenticity and competence, really. It is very hard to when you're feeling like an imposter, like you don't belong, like you’re not worthy in a sense. You’re swimming upstream, put it that way. You’re swimming upstream psychological.
[0:12:55.5] MB: In Reach, you talk about our amazing capacity to avoid. Tell me a little bit about that and how that factored. How all of these factors kind of play into that?
[0:13:05.6] AM: If you’re feeling inauthentic and confident, you're worrying that you're not going to be liked. You’re feeling maybe resentful deep down and perhaps you feel a morality conflict, it's quite tempting to avoid, right? When you think about it, there's a positive side to avoidance, that’s why we do it. Of course, the positive side of avoidance is relief. You get to avoid the thing that you're afraid of. You’re afraid of snakes and you avoid the snake. You know what? That’s great. It’s awesome. You don’t have to encounter the snake, but the problem is is that the next time that the opportunity to encounter a snake comes around, it’s probably going to be that much harder, unless you're in the Amazon or in a snake field are and working in the wilderness. It's not that important probably to be able to encounter and come face-to-face with the snake. If your sort of metaphorical snake is making small talk, or networking, or speaking up at a meeting, or selling, or whatever it might be, the more you avoid, the more difficult it becomes.
Now, that said, people are really good at avoiding. Me too, by the way. I find a variety of ways that people avoid it. People would avoid — Simply, sometimes, they would simply just avoid the thing. They would avoid whatever it is that they’re afraid of. Sometimes they would do the task, but only do the parts that felt most comfortable, so they sort of like kind of avoid certain parts of the task. You see that with the feedback a lot, people who have to be a critical negative feedback. The classic feedback sandwich approach where you deliver positive feedback, “You are doing so well. We really are happy to have you,” and then negative feedback, “There’s just one little thing,” and then the positive feedback again, “But in general, we’re really happy to have you there.”
If you're really super conflict avoidant in a real people pleaser, the meat in that feedback sandwich might shrink smaller and smaller and smaller to the point that someone might not even hear that critical feedback.
Sometimes, people — I did what I call inappropriate or imperfect substitutions, is a way of avoidance. If you’re a small business owner and you’re not very comfortable networking at a local event, even though, by the way, as a small business owners, it’s really critical for you to know people in your community. Maybe you’re afraid and you send your assistant do it, or maybe you decide, “You know what? I’m just going to put out an email blasts, or I’m going to post it on Facebook,” or something like that. By the way, posting on Facebook or an email blast aren’t bad inherently, but they’re probably an imperfect substitute for what you probably should be doing if you want to grow your business.
A lot of us just say, “You know what? It’s just not that important. We rationalize.” “Working really isn’t that important. I don’t really have to do it or whatever it might be.” “Speaking up in a meeting, it’s not really that important. If I just sort of knockout really good report, I’m going to be just fine,” and so on and so forth.
People, of course, can do a combination of these. They can avoid and they can maybe deliver only a part of the feedback and rationalize of sort of like an interesting cocktail of avoidance. I think the bottom line is that many of us are good at avoiding. That the more power/autonomy you have, I think, in your job, the more able you are to avoid. If you’re at the very top of an organization with very few people supervising you, or if you’re a freelancer, or if you’re on your own, there are fewer checks and balances. It’s much easier to craft a life where you can avoid things outside your comfort zone.
[0:16:51.6] MB: One of the really interesting things to be behind all of these is the evolutionary biology underpinning a lot of this and the idea that our brains were designed not to thrive and survive in modern-day society, but in the hunter-gatherer society of tens of thousands of years ago, if not millions of years ago.
All of these fears and things that create self-sabotage are in many ways hardwired into the brain, but at the same their fears and anxieties and things that we’re concerned about are often — There's very little downside to doing them in reality and there's a tremendous amount of upside.
[0:17:31.1] AM: Yeah, it's true. It’s very functional. Fear can be very functional. If you are in the jungle and a bear is coming at you, you don't want to sit there and start reasoning to yourself, “Well, this bear is not that bad. Bears are often very nice,” and stand there while the bear comes over and mauls you.
I think the fight-flight reaction is very functional, obviously, throughout the sort of lifecycle of our species. Yeah, nowadays if you sort of take that core tendency and you apply it to situations that are fearful, but really fearful in anticipation. Fear is predicting the future. Fear is about predicting the future, and I think we’re oftentimes very poor predictors of our psychological future, so to speak.
That said, we perhaps can talk about this later. I wouldn’t say my point of view is that for everyone listening to this to go run out the door do everything possible outside your comfort zone. That’s not the message, but I think the message is that it is worth taking a hard look and sort of do a psychological inventory of yourself and see where — Or maybe there is a bit of room for growth.
[0:18:43.7] MB: I think there're so many negative consequences, and I agree with what you’re saying that it's not about just being ridiculous and doing things that are crazy over-the-top. It's more about, if there are opportunities in your life or things that you want to achieve and you're not taking the steps that are necessary or you’re rationalizing to yourself, “Oh, I don't need to do that,” or you're substituting, as you said, an imperfect substitute and not really doing what's necessary to achieve it, it's time to take a step back and look at yourself and look at the way that you're acting and push yourself to jump outsider or to leap outside of that comfort zone and get uncomfortable.
[0:19:21.8] AM: Yeah. It’s sort of hard to do on your own as well, purely on your own. That's why I wrote this book, frankly, is sort of a way to give people, hopefully, a resource that they can use to understand themselves, to jumpstart the process. I think, often times, we very functionally rely on close friends, on a spouse. Someone to sort of help inspire us, help us see that we’re rationalizing perhaps. Someone who we really care about and trust who can be honest with us.
I think that these journeys, I think the spark of it needs to be from inside of you, but it's very useful to have a tool like the book I wrote or perhaps there are other useful tools out there. Also, someone you care about. Someone you trust. Someone you like. Someone you feel comfortable with to help you step outside your comfort zone.
[0:20:16.2] MB: Let’s dig into that a little bit. What are some of the specific strategies that you recommend for helping people step out of their comfort zones?
[0:20:25.5] AM: Yeah. Across all the — Of course, that would be like a really bad book, wouldn’t it, if I sort of talked about all the challenges and then how we avoid them and say, “Oh, end of book.”
I really wanted to spend a lot of time carefully listening to people's stories trying to figure out across all these different professions, across all these different contexts what distinguish people who are successful from people who weren’t successful in stepping outside their comfort zone.
I found three main things. The first was conviction. Now, this isn’t rocket science. You’re probably going to say, “Yeah, of course,” but I have to tell you this was essential. Conviction is that sense of purpose. That sense that this is something that I really feel I need to do. Something that's going to push you to say yes whenever your psychological bone in your body is saying no. People locate it and embrace their source of conviction for many places. Sometimes it’s very professional.
I’ve always dreamed of being an entrepreneur. Ever since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to be one. I desperately want this to work. Whatever I need to do, whether it's making a sale, whether pitching venture capitalists, whether it's promoting myself, speaking up at meetings, networking, whatever it is. I’m going to push myself to do it because I deeply care about this professional goal. That’s a professional thing.
Of course, it blends into the personal and sometimes it gets quite personal. There are other kinds of sources of conviction that are very personal. I'll share with you my source conviction that I often rely upon, which is I am a parent, I have two kids, a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old and I'm always wanting to have my kids step outside their comfort zones, and for them it's not easy. I’m trying to cajole them. I’m trying to inspire them and so on. Then when I took a hard look at my life in situations that I encounter, say to myself, “Hey! I got to practice what I preach here.” I want to be a good dad. I want to be a role model and so on. That's my source of conviction. Of course, I have a professional conviction as well, but that would be an example of personal conviction.
Whatever it is, wherever it comes from, whatever is meaningful to you, I think it’s very important to find, locate, embrace that source conviction for yourself. That’s number on. Number two is what I call customization. I have to say this is probably the most interesting, surprising, in some ways inspiring aspects of what I found in this work, in this this research, was that people were able to customize, personalize, tweak in a way the situation that they were in in a way to make it just that little bit more comfortable for themselves.
I guess a good analogy might be like a tailor. Like let’s say you buy a pair of pants at the store and very few of us can put on a pair of pants and they fit perfectly around the waist, at the legs and so on, usually we need to tweak them here or there and may be go to the tailor. It’s still the same pair of pants, but you’ve tweaked it a bit.
As a metaphor, you can think about that in terms of adapting and adjusting your behavior. I found people were able to tweak in a lot of different ways and make interesting slight but very meaningful customizations for themselves. Sometimes it was through body language. Sometimes it was from prop, bringing a prop. What I mean by that is, for instance, when I was — Earlier on in my career, I was afraid of public speaking. Of course, it’s really bad if you’re a professor and you public speak like three or four times a week in multiple situations. Now, I love public speaking. Back then, not so much.
I used to wear a ring, a lucky ring, and it was a ring that had a stone in it, and that stone was found in the beaches of the South Pacific in World War II by a great uncle of mine. When he brought it back, he had it made into a ring and I always admired it as a kid. Eventually, I inherited it. It always represented courage to me because of what he had to do to find that stone. I wore it and I always remembered that and I had the sense of courage, that it sort of gave me this little boost in some way when I was going off to do something outside my comfort zone. No one knew it at the time. Of course, you all do now, but no one knew, but it was meaningful to me.
Sometimes you can tweak or adjust the context. You’re afraid of public speaking, we just talked about that. Maybe you go early to the event and meet a few people and maybe so then you’re not public speaking in front of a crowd of unknown people. You’re public speaking in front of a crowd of people who you do know a little bit. You’re afraid of networking. You’re afraid of loud, busy, noisy, intense networking situations. Well, a lot of people are. Maybe you play with time a little bit and you go at the very, very beginning, which I’ve done before, because a loud, noisy, intimidating, huge networking event is less loud, less noisy, less intimidating, less huge at the very beginning.
We could go on and on, but what’s interesting is the myriad of ways people find to customize, tweak in subtle ways to make that situation just a little bit more comfortable for them. That’s customization. You’ve got conviction, you’ve got customization.
The last one is clarity. Clarity is pretty simple. It’s the idea that in these situations outside our comfort zones that are scary, legitimately scary to us, we often do what psychologists call catastrophizing. We look at the worst possible outcome, the worst possible scenario, “I’m going to give that speech. I’ll be a total flop. It’ll be awful.” Or we look at the extreme on the other end, the idealistic unrealistic positive extreme that, “I’m only going to give this speech if I’m a TED Talk extraordinaire, or I’m only going to start this business if it’s a billion-dollar business,” or something like. I think anxiety and fear can drive us in these extreme directions.
What I found for people who were successful at stepping outside their comfort zone is that they're able to claim that much more realistic grounded middle case, right? For example, “I’m probably not going to be the best Ted Talker in the world and I probably also won't faint on stage, but I’ll kind of be somewhere in the middle. Next time around I'll probably would learn a lot and I’ll probably do a little bit better,” and so on and so forth. Claiming that, sort of grounding yourself in some sense of clarity was really critical. That’s it. Those are the tools that I found; conviction, customization and clarity.
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[0:29:46.7] MB: What are some of the ways that we can build resilience and make sure that we can keep these habits around once we start implementing them?
[0:29:57.5] AM: Yeah. You don't want to be a one hit wonder, and I think that's really important. I think there're some basic core building blocks of resilience. One is to actually go off and do it at some reasonable pace, like frequency, or pace. For example, if you deliver bad news and you use customization, you use clarity, you use conviction and so on and you’re able to do it, but then you’re not delivering bad news for another 17 months. Chances are it's not going to stick. You’re not going to build that resilience, so you want to try to find ways of practicing even if you're not in an actual consequential scenario or situation. I use the term adjust right type of situation. Anyone who’s a parent who has a kid who’s learning to read will recognize this idea, the just right book, where the teachers of your children or maybe you as are looking for a book that’s just right. It’s like a bit of a stretch, but it’s not too scary and intimidating and it’s going to stretch your skills and give an opportunity to kind of buildup that resilience. Looking for just right opportunities to practice, get feedback from others and also sort of take your own pulse about the situation and then adjust accordingly. Revisit your senses conviction. Revisit opportunities for customization. Revisit this idea of clarity.
I think one other thing that's really critical for building resilience, ideally, is having what I call a learning orientation. A Stanford psychologist named Carol Dweck who’s written a book called Mindset, and she also did a lot of psychological research, and some of the listeners might be familiar with it. It’s just the idea that a learning mindset versus a performance type of mindset is very important, ideally, to have in these types situations outside your comfort zone where you can see slipups and faux pas and mistakes as part of a learning process as supposed to some sort of testament about your inherent inability to do this.
I would say that’s important to cultivate, but even as I say that, you might be thinking to yourself, “Well, that’s easier said than done. If not born with a learning orientation, if I’m really a performance oriented person it’s pretty hard to get. It’s pretty hard to adapt. In and of itself that’s maybe stepping outside my comfort zone.” Ideally, you’d have or at least you’d try to push yourself to have a bit more of a learning perspective.
[0:32:26.5] MB: We are huge fans of Carol Dweck on the show. We've done a couple of episodes about Mindset and we actually had a recent interview with her as well. That's probably one of, if not the single most impactful books that I've ever read in my life. I can't recommend enough kind of thinking about and orienting your life around a focus on learning instead of a focus on proving yourself.
I’m curious, are there any sort of kind of specific exercises or strategies you use or recommend to help people in a very simple way? Kind of start pushing the boundaries and getting outside of their comfort zone?
[0:33:04.5] AM: Yeah. I feel like I honestly don’t mean to be an infomercial for my book, but I thought of that exactly when I was writing it. At the very end of the book, I have actual tools that you can use to operationalize every single element of the book for yourself. That’s really my best suggestion.
I think even before that I would say in terms of trying to pick a situation, trying to think about a situation, we’re good at rationalizing why things are worth stepping outside our comfort zone for, but do a little thought exercise for yourself. Think to yourself, if you had some sort of magic eraser and you could erase the fear and anxiety at least in a thought experiment just for a moment, think to yourself and be honest with yourself, is this something that you actually would like to be able to do? Maybe you’re rationalizing it away, but if you're honest with yourself and the fear and anxiety went away just for a moment, if you could snap your fingers, would this be something you would be interested in adding to your repertoire and learning to do? If the answer is yes, this might be a good candidate to at least start thinking about stepping outside your comfort zone.
The next thing I would do is I would start to imagine. Imagine yourself in this situation. Imagine what those fears or worries are. Trying to understand and process them and understand what perhaps your psychological roadblocks are. Imagine what it's like if you could somehow make those roadblocks disappear. Imagine what it’s be like if you could be successful in this situation.
Now, I think that often times, stepping outside our comfort zones starts in our minds in terms of thinking exercises and thought exercises before we even take those little baby steps towards changing our behavior. Those are two things you can do if you’re listening in the car right now.
[0:34:58.0] MB: One of my favorites — This is sort of specifically within more of a social context, but one of my favorites is the concept of rejection therapy. Have you ever heard of that?
[0:35:09.6] AM: I probably have, but save more an maybe it will ring a bell.
[0:35:14.7] MB: Basically, what rejection therapy is, and we’ll put a link to it in the show notes for people who want to explore this idea, but it's essentially a game where every single day your goal is to get rejected by one person and you kind of continually sort of escalate the things you’re doing to push yourself more and more. Going to Starbucks and ask for a free cup of coffee, or ask somebody out on a date or make a cold call and get rejected, but the goal is, basically, every single day do something or keep doing something that's more and more outside of your comfort zone until somebody rejects you.
It's a really good way to kind of build that tolerance and it’s also something that I know you talk about, the notion of desensitization and how that repeated exposure outside of our comfort zone can help us become more comfortable with that. I’d love for you to dig actually to the concept of desensitization and tell us a little bit more about that as well.
[0:36:06.7] AM: Yeah, that's exactly what I was thinking about when you said rejection therapy, that it’s almost like a specific case of the grander idea of desensitization. I think what happens is that when you are able to take that leap and to actually try something and to try it multiple times, I think that you often start to discover things about yourself that, of course, you would not be able to discover if you were on the other side of fear, on the other side of not having taken the leap.
What I found in people's stories and examples and also, of course, reflecting of my examples and my stories, was that there were two main sort of pieces of discovery that you got from repeated exposure and one of them was that this isn't as hard as I thought it was. Another one is, “I’m actually a bit more capable than I thought I was.”
Those are two very powerful ahas, personal ahas, and then if you're able to then repeat the situation to some degree and with some degree of frequency, those feelings and those discoveries can stick. I think that's really important. I think that desensitization often times in the psychological literature has sort of this connotation of numbing, that you get numb to something. The idea that a doctor performing a painful bloody procedure gets desensitized and after 30 times doesn't even hear the screaming of the child or something like that. That’s possibly true.
I think that there’s other more growth oriented elements to repetition and practice and experience that are important to consider alongside the desensitization effect, and that’s what I was talking about, those discoveries.
[0:38:01.5] MB: I’d like to dig in not to maybe one or two contextual examples of how we can step out of comfort zone, and one of those that I know you've written about is the notion of delivering bad news. Can you talk about how people struggle with that and how that's a concrete example of this?
[0:38:20.7] AM: Yeah, it’s interesting. When I ask people about situations outside their comfort zone, this is one of the very first ones that pops up, the idea of delivering bad news. I have a colleague, a friend of mine from graduate school; Joshua Margolis, and we were grad school friends at Harvard Business school and he’s now a faculty member there, and I’m at Brandeis, and we collaborated for many, many years on this topic of delivering bad news and we studied managers and executives delivering bad news. We studied doctors performing painful procedures, pediatric physicians and delivering bad news. We also studied police officers delivering bad news or evicting people from their homes, which essentially is delivering bad news.
I was actually the one who went on those interviews and also the site visits where I went with two police officers during an entire day of evictions and we evicted — I didn’t actually evict them, but I was there with my bullet proof vests and everything, evicting 20 people from their homes and delivering bad news.
We’re very interested in the challenges that people faced in delivering bad news. In the psychology of literature, in the organizational behavior literature, the focus typically is on the victims, on the recipients of bad news for a good reason of course, but there was very little on the performers, and so that’s what we’re interested in in that area of research.
We did research for many years about the challenges that people face in delivering bad news, and a lot of those ideas, I think, have found their way into my book, Reach, about the dysfunctional conversations that people can get in when trying to deliver bad news. For example, you can never let bad news become an argument. You can never let bad news become a negotiation, because you're going in there to deliver a fait accompli. You really need to do that even to treat someone with dignity and respect. You can't let it become an argument or a negotiation if that's not your intention to begin with.
You have to avoid them but why dynamic. There's always this, if you’re delivering bad news and someone says, “But why? But why?” and you have to figure out a way to make sure that you can deliver the message in a clear consistent but compassionate way to avoid that dynamic and the conversation playing out when the reality is that it can't play out.
What I’ve always been told by human resources managers is that if people are surprised in a corporate context with a firing or a layoff, for example, the you’ve done a really bad job, because “bad news” or critical feedback should be something that’s delivered on an ongoing basis so that people understand where they need to improve and they’re given opportunities and performance plans to actually achieve that.
Unfortunately, because delivering bad news is often outside people's comfort zones, many people and many organizations fall short on that. I think delivering bad news is a very challenging situation. I can tell you, if we’re interested in like a social media perspective as an indicator of how popular the topic is. I had a post on LinkedIn maybe last year that got over a hundred thousand views of delivering bad news, because I think it just really resonates with people.
[0:41:37.5] MB: I couldn't agree more about the premise that firing should never come as a surprise to anybody. You should be having very clear conversations on an ongoing basis well before that conversation about your performances and up to par. We need to do the following things or we’re going to have a more serious conversation. That needs to happen several times down the road, and then when you finally get to that, it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone if firing is happenings. I totally agree with your analysis and I think that’s very important. Many people in many different walks of life have to deliver bad news in one way or another, and so that's a great skill to kind of pick up and cultivate
The other example that I know you’ve talked about in the past is small talk, and that’s something, being somewhat of an introvert myself, that’s definitely something that I’ve had to push myself out of my comfort zone and develop that skillset. Can you tell me — Share with me that example and how that challenges people.
[0:42:33.5] AM: I think it’s interesting. I spent many years, in fact, my first book was called Global Dexterity, dictionary which is acting outside your cultural comfort zone. I still do a lot of work and a lot of training and teaching and consulting and so on and speaking, but acting outside your cultural comfort zone.
One thing that you might not know if your listing is that the United States is one of only a few cultures where it's very, very common to make small talk with people you don't know. I have people from other countries. For example, they cannot believe that at the market you’d be there with a couple mangoes, a loaf of a bread, bananas, milk or whatever it is and someone would start to chit-chat with you about what you’ve bought and then very quickly learn that they just had a divorce or whatever it might be. That’s somewhat of an extreme example, but frankly not all that extreme. That’s sort of a social example. In the corporate world or the work world, small talk is very important for building a quick sense of trust and bonding, which can have lots of implications down the road for who gets favored, who gets plum assignments, who gets cut slack and so on and so forth.
Small talk is really a critical skill, but it's very hard for a lot of people to engage in conversations with people around small talk. It’s hard to start a small talk conversation for a lot of people. Then once you learn how to start a small talk conversation, it’s very hard for a lot of people to continue it, to make it not just sort of stop, to not just be like, “Oh, how is the weather?” “Good.” “Yeah. Oh, it sounds great.” “Yeah,” and then have that uncomfortable stop to actually sort of continue it, and then, of course, to end it. Some people are comfortable ending small talk fearing that the other person will think that they're not interested in continuing to talk and so on.
It’s actually quite an art, and I’ve written a lot about it. I think small talks in some ways — I can understand why a lot of people struggle with it and they can get frustrated and resentful about its importance. I think it’s also important to remember that, probably, every meaningful relationship that you have with someone that you're not related to begin with small talk.
I met my wife through small talk. I met some of my very best friends through mall talk. As superficial and seemingly meaningless as it is, it's a very important catalyst to engaging people but also outside many people's comfort zones.
[0:45:06.0] MB: That's a great point and that’s something I’ve actually never thought about, the idea that every meaningful relationship outside of your blood relative essentially is a result of small talk and just underscores the importance of it.
One of the things that I've found to be really helpful with cultivating small talk is focusing on kind of a deep curiosity and wanting to really understand the other person and just asking them lots of questions about themselves, getting them talking about themselves and then once they start answering that gives you more material to then pull from and continue to get more and more questions.
[0:45:40.8] AM: Yeah. I think that's right. I think that being a careful listener, knowing how to share as well as listen and to also share — I wouldn’t say personal information, but I would almost call it quasi-personal information about yourself is important, because you're trying to build a sense of camaraderie in a sense. First, camaraderie, at first rapport, and then ultimately, over time, perhaps a bit more of real trust and a real relationship.
I think that it’s a skill. It's really a skill, being able to listen to try to make connections, to ask questions in an open-ended way as supposed to a closed-ended way. In other words, if you ask a question that invites a yes-no answer, it oftentimes can be a small talk killer. If you ask the very same question in an open-ended way, it you can invite the other person respond in a more elaborated way which then can bring more potential information for you to hook on to and to connect to. There’s an art to it.
[0:46:47.8] MB: You talked about your previous book; Global Dexterity. Tell me briefly, what is that concept and what is kind of the core message of that book.
[0:46:56.2] AM: Global Dexterity is about acting outside your cultural comfort zone. For many years I have studied and worked with people adapting behavior across cultures. In fact my Ph.D. dissertation in graduate school was about Russians learning to interview and network in the United States and how hard it was for them and how it wasn't just merely understanding the cultural differences. It was learning to adapt and adjust their behavior in light of those differences and that’s the critical point about global dexterity.
Listeners have probably heard or read a blog or even a book or an article about how Chinese are different than Americans, or Germans are different than French, and so on and so forth , which is important and useful to know. It’s really critical to be able to learn how to adapt and adjust your behavior in light of those differences. That's the key point.
In the business world today, there’s a lot of rhetoric about globalization and about companies going global, but the reality is that, of course, companies are going global, but the people who are actually going global aren’t the companies, it’s the people. It’s the people negotiating contractors. It’s the people making small talk, as we’re talking about, networking and so on. It’s really critical to be able equip people with the ability to sort of adapt and adjust their behavior across cultures.
In some ways now that we’ve talked a lot about Reach and my new book, in a lot of ways global dexterity is a very specific application or case of Reach, but to the cross-cultural environment. That’s in a nutshell about what global dexterity is about.
[0:48:37.2] MB: For somebody who’s listening to this that wants to really implement some of these ideas and start stepping out of their comfort zone. What would a small piece of actionable advice that you would be able to — Kind of one piece of homework that they could start on immediately.
[0:48:53.3] AM: I think that would be to do what we talked about before, to try to identify a situation, something where they can try to — There might be a lot of noise in their head around rationalization, very strong impulsive defenses that they're putting up about, “No. No. No. That's not that important.” “No. No. No. I don't really need to do that.” “No. No. That's not that important.” That kind of thing. The more you seem to be sort of defensively rationalizing, the better probably that is a candidate for stepping outside your comfort zone. I take a hard look at that situation, whatever it is for you. I’d think to yourself, if you could erase fear and anxiety in that situation just for split second. Consider whether minus fear and anxiety or at least minus tremendous fear and anxiety. It might be something worth doing. That might be a candidate for stepping outside your comfort zone, and that’s something anyone can do at any point. You could do that right now. I think that would be probably the immediate actionable step.
Of course, I’d love people to check out my book and the tools and so on and I think it genuinely is really helpful, but I think minus that, simply trying to identify a situation that you might want to work on would be a great first step.
[0:50:09.1] MB: Where can people find you and your books online?
[0:50:12.2] AM: Yeah. I have a website, www.andymolinsky.com. It’s spelled AndyMolinsky.com. I love to connect with people on social media, and I have my email address there. I’m happy to communicate with anybody, with listeners. There are links my books. There are also some great stuff there as well. There's a free guide to stepping outside your comfort zone. We just talked about cultures. There’s also a free guide to the cultural codes of 10 different cultures around the world. I try to make my website, like hundreds of articles and so on, and quizzes, and I try to make my website a fun place to visit. I hope you visit it.
[0:50:55.4] MB: Awesome. We’ll make sure to include all of those links in the show notes for everybody to be able to check out.
Andy, thank you so much for coming on here and sharing your wisdom today. We really appreciated having you as guest.
[0:51:06.8] AM: I really enjoyed it. Thanks for having me on.
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