What is the biggest stumbling block for a good leader to be a phenomenal leader? In the age of distraction, we have so many ways to communicate. But we don’t genuinely connect.
We hide behind emails and messages. And we cringe at having those difficult talks. We lose sight of the purpose of real conversations. And we often miss golden opportunities to be aware, connect, network and learn.
I chat with Alan Samuel Cohen about the tools you need to be a great connector. Alan is a results-driven executive leadership coach, professional speaker and book author.
The key is to be genuinely curious about people by asking just ONE more question. You never know where that may lead you for the better.
- Alan’s professional journey of finding his passion and purpose
- The connection challenge
- Those difficult talks: how best to say what needs to be said
- The thinking that got you to where you are today is not the thinking that will get you where you need to be tomorrow.
- Leaders need to evolve both IQ and EQ.
- Corporate EQ is a success indicator for organisations.
- Dial up your self-regard and dial down your impulse!
- The paradigm of awareness – practice – habit.
- Overcoming bias with reality testing.
- Working on a balanced emotional scorecard.
- Letting go of the dis-empowering hymn of perfectionism.
- Connection killers include self-centredness, negativity and judgement.
- Connection thrillers include optimism, acceptance and empathy.
- Avoid the adrenaline rush of negativity and complaining
- Practicing the “three best things today” mantra.
- Concepts of judgment, separation and rejection.
- Developing listening and questioning skills
- Multi-tasking is a misnomer – be present and focused.
- The tools of expressing emotions with maturity under stress
- Creating psychological safety for teams to express their views.
Connect with Alan Samuel Cohen
Check out Alan’s website for more information on his books ans services!
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Lisa Linfield: 00:09 Hello everybody and welcome to today’s episode of Working Women’s Wealth. I’m joined today by Alan Cohen who is not only a keynote speaker, he’s also an executive coach and the author of two great books, The Connection Challenge: How Executives Create Power and Possibility in the Age of Distraction. And Those Difficult Talks: How Best to Say What Needs to be Said to Clients, Colleagues, and Employees.
Alan, thank you so much for joining us today.
Alan Cohen: 00:51 Thank you, what a pleasure to be here. I appreciate the invite.
Lisa Linfield: 00:56 Alan, you’ve spent over three decades working with business leaders as both an executive coach, and as a senior marketing professional and human resources consultant. And another one, which I love, is that you also presided over the launch of the Harry Potter series in the US, as director of marketing. I’m always interested in this whole question of passion and purpose. And how each one of us discover our unique passion and purpose. And you have such an amazingly interesting journey that you have done, from marketing, executive coach, human resources consultant. What was your journey and how did you discover your passion and purpose?
Alan Cohen: 01:40 Thanks Lisa, I love that question. It’s always so helpful to reconnect with that moment or the series of moments that helped you really get clear about what it is that you’re here to do, and for me it certainly hasn’t been linear, but there are a couple of pivotal moments, which I think really underscore what I’m about. So the one story probably most relevant to what we’re talking about today is in leading the team for the Harry Potter books, the publicity launch, I was always a good publicist and did it for many, many, many years. But for me, there was a moment working on the Harry Potter books where I was able to really give visibility and elevate one of the women on my team, a woman named Chris, who was a great PR person, but really lacked confidence, but she had a really strong affinity for the Harry Potter books, and a relationship with J.K. Rowling and I gave her the reins, and I got out of her way even though a lot of my bosses said that I needed to be in the front of it, I believed that Chris had the heart, and the inspiration to lead.
And to this day, Chris is still very good friends with J.K. Rowling, and she arranged the PR for her foundation in the US, and she to that moment really changed her life. So for me it was more the realization that I’m about leadership, I’m about helping people tap into their excellence, and to really elevate talent, and that’s something that I do also with my clients, and with everyone that I meet, so I’m elevating them and helping transform them. And so that experience really was a pivot for me. From there I moved into human resources and talent management, and then moved into coaching, which I’ve been doing for about a decade.
So that story is pretty important to me, because it really speaks to this nonlinear path, but an awesome one.
Lisa Linfield: 03:24 I always think that life is an unlinear path, you know? The melody I love most is the ship that goes from Cape Town to New York, it never goes in a straight line. It always has to navigate the sea, and the winds, and the storms, and sometimes the storms are against you, and sometimes they propel you forward. And I think that this whole notion of suddenly finding a passion and a purpose, I think it is as you say, it’s a nonlinear journey that we all navigate, hopefully in a direction of working within that passion and purpose.
So having been in corporate, and living from the inside corporate to outside corporate and starting your own business, was that a difficult personal transition?
Alan Cohen: 04:07 I love that question, Lisa. It was not a difficult decision because I knew in my heart of hearts that I was up for something greater, and also being raised by an entrepreneur father, I thought entrepreneurship was kind of in my blood. But I think what made it hard was not so much my confidence that I could be successful, but just capital. Just not having the money, or feeling like I had enough money to really sustain myself for the amount of time that it might take to ramp up. But the universe can be really helpful sometimes, because I left my corporate job and then they offered me six months consulting, and that just worked out perfectly because it gave me some startup capital.
But what was funny, which did make it a little tougher is that I made the decision to leave and then the bottom of economy just fell out. And so now I’m like, “Okay, WTF, how do you start a business in a crashing economy?” But what happened is, through the power of connection, I met somebody socially who was looking to bring in some coaches to do some out placement work with all those Wall Street guys who just lost their jobs and were trying to reinvent themselves. So that was a beautiful accident, or serendipity, or whatever you want to call it. But that actually helped me for the first year or two, doing more career transition coaching for those poor Wall Street executives that had to give up their third homes.
Lisa Linfield: 05:24 So you’re all about connection, and making human connections without the digital distractions. What is the biggest thing that you think stops executives from becoming breakthrough leaders? They might be great leaders, and they might be good leaders, but what is the real stumbling block to their breakthrough leadership level?
Alan Cohen: 05:48 Sure, I’ve got a few, but I’ll go with the main one. So I think that the business leaders spend a lot of time working on their business, whether they’re entrepreneurs working on their business or they’re in corporate and running their divisions, but what they don’t spend enough time is working on themselves. And fortunately, I do get to work with those who are committed to working on themselves, but they … initially they feel like all the work is going to be focused on outer, getting people to do more X, Y, and Z. And it’s a surprise to them when they realize that they’ve got to shift their mindset, their paradigm, their limiting beliefs, a lot of the kinds of thinking that got them to where they are today, they soon realize is not going to get them to that next level of play.
And related to that is I think that a growth mindset is just so integral to being a greater leader. And what I mean by that is in a fixed mindset, people really believe that their traits are fixed and they can’t change. And they don’t work to really develop and improve their intelligence in their accounts. And a growth mindset is much more with a focus on learning, and growing your intelligence, and believing that you can get smarter, and then doing those things to help you build that muscle. And learning from others, right? Senior level executives can learn a ton from their millennial employees, so they need to just get out of their own way and stop letting ego run the show, and be open to new ideas, and learn, and grow.
Lisa Linfield: 07:18 You raise an interesting point, because you mentioned growing your intelligence, and the traditional view of intelligence being IQ is very much a fixed one that is not really growable. Whereas, the view of EQ being much more dynamic, do you agree with that?
Alan Cohen: 07:39 I absolutely do. And most of the coaching that I do with executives and teams is rooted in emotional intelligence, and the study and application of that. So there are so much data now to support that emotional intelligence is more important than IQ, and it’s a better predictor of success, and quality of relationships, and our overall happiness. And so while tools and technology can help us master new information, nothing can replace our ability to learn, manage, and master our own emotions. And so that’s … whether it’s increasing our empathy, or our vulnerability, or our emotional self expression, or our impulse control, or any of these defined components of emotional intelligence, it really can make all the difference in the world in terms of our leadership.
There have been studies recently that have provided that EQ has a direct impact on effectiveness, efficiency, and profitability. So a ton of research on that, but it’s well documented that organizations to focus on EQ, and social connection, and all of those things outperform most other companies that don’t place as high a value.
Lisa Linfield: 08:47 So on a practical level, I’m Lisa and I do five different types of meeting in a day. How can I think about EQ to understand how I make each one of those meetings, and each one of those connections with people that frustrate the living daylights out of me, or that I enjoy, but they don’t really work very hard, or I can’t seem to kick their butt, or the next meeting that everyone wants to have their say? How in all those different situations do I practically think of EQ to change my behavior?
Alan Cohen: 09:21 Yeah, what a great question, Lisa. I was working with a female executive at American Express the other day whose calendar is just a nightmare. She goes from meeting to meeting to meeting to meeting to meeting without any stops, and often she doesn’t even know who is in the next meeting. So working together the first thing that we did was to say that she has to give herself a couple of minutes in between each meeting, which seems so obvious but it stressed her out initially. And then also that she won’t go to a meeting unless she knows who’s there, so that we can actually strategically assess if she needs to be in the meeting, and how she needs to show up for the meeting.
But to your question more specifically, so EQ, unlike things like personality and other kinds of tools is really a very fluid kind of thing, it’s not fixed. We can adapt, we can leverage certain EQ elements depending on what situations we’re going into, or we can dial up, or dial down. I like to use the image of kind of a dashboard in front of you, with these 16 different components, and we can say, “Okay, well, I’m going into this meeting and knowing who’s in the room and knowing what I need to achieve, I need to dial up my assertiveness, I need to dial down my empathy, I need to dial up my self regard,” and clients working with me actually do an assessment to understand what their lean is, and I coach them to help them build some capability in some of those less practices, less used areas.
So it’s cool, because it’s kind of situational leadership. It’s knowing what’s needed of you in any situation, and then being able to adjust and adapt depending on what you’re being called to do and what you want to achieve.
Lisa Linfield: 10:57 Say if I take myself, for example, I struggle with that little thing called impulse control on one of those dials. You know, the others, I think I’m pretty okay, but that impulse control. Can I change that? Can I became fantastic at impulse control, or is it always going to be something I’m going to struggle with? And what does it take to change it really?
Alan Cohen: 11:21 I feel like you are reading my personal assessment, because I too have less practice in that area of impulse control. You know, in a lot of ways, there’s an expression that every asset can become ass ache if it’s overused or underused, depending on the specifics. So I made a commitment about a year ago that I wanted to work on my impulse control, I actually have an accountability buddy for that, because I felt like being in the moment, and saying yes to things, and just kind of going with the flow has been helpful in many situations, but also can create stress for me, over burdened, over committed, all of those things, and also to not restrain myself in pen or tongue can sometimes leave some wounded behind. So needing to just pause has been so helpful.
And so over time, I would say while my inclination is still probably to be more impulsive, if I were to this assessment again today I would probably 50% higher in the impulse control department, because I’ve really been practicing it. I had the awareness first, we always say awareness, practice, habit, right? So awareness is that I’ve got this behavior that doesn’t always work for me, and it’s something I want to work on. Practice is really committing on a regular basis to practice saying no, and then ultimately it becomes habit. I wouldn’t say that it’s completely embedded as a habit for me yet, but I think it’s definitely moving in that direction. And I also that to make something go from practice to habit requires a level of courage and resilience because when things get rough, when the you know what hits the fan, you’re like to default to old ways. So it requires courage and resilience to keep pushing through even though it’s hard. People always say they want change, but they don’t necessarily want to do the things that are required to change. But I try to model that, I try to do the hard stuff.
Lisa Linfield: 13:15 So if I look at us women in particular, in general we’re not very good at asking for salary increases. It’s something that really challenges me because I often think that there are only two ways that you can get more money to invest and make sure that you’re financially free, and the first one is to earn more, and one of the first steps of that for many people is to make sure that you at least earn what the market going rate is for you. If not, have the courage to go for what you’re worth. And in general, we’re not very good at asking for salary increases. Is that something in our EQ profiles, what are the EQ elements or dynamics at play that result in us not being as courageous in asking for salary increases?
Alan Cohen: 14:02 Sure, and there is data that I don’t have at my fingertips, but it would support the fact that when we’re looking at gender and EQ that women tend to score much higher on empathy, much more on sort of focusing on caring, and caring for others, and putting themselves second. I would also recall that self regard tends to be lower for women than for me. And also assertiveness is generally lower for women. Although I think often when triggered, when that amygdala goes to fight or flight, or freeze and the stress response, sometimes a woman’s assertiveness can become very dialed up and can actually be perceived as more aggressive. That’s also, I think, bias and hopefully that’s something that will change over time.
I also think that … we talk about reality testing. Reality testing is an aspect of EQ as a reality testing, also known as making stuff up, right, MSU, can sometimes have a woman already decided or making up a story that she’s not going to get what she asks for so she doesn’t ask for what she wants. That is not exclusive to women, I think we’re all great storytellers and we don’t always create the most empowering stories. I do think that that can impact a woman’s assertiveness in terms of asking for what she wants. And I know you do a lot of work with this, around mindset, and money, and all that. But I think there’s been a lot of conditioning for a lot of women to believe that they might not have as much value as a man, or that it’s not okay to ask for more.
I work with male and female executives to overturn some of these limiting beliefs, and try to work on some of these unfortunate realities.
Lisa Linfield: 15:41 So if we were to take the self regard and assertiveness, what is self regard rather than self esteem, or liking myself, or any of that stuff in the workplace?
Alan Cohen: 15:52 So self esteem is an aspect of self regard, but self regard is … there’s a lot more to it. So self regard would be the ability and tendency for you in full light, with both your positive and negative qualities, to both like and have confidence in yourself. And the lower level of self regard, one might be very self doubting or critical, even disrespecting of themselves, and lacking self esteem. An average level of self regard would have somebody feeling pleased with some aspects of his or her life, but not others. And then sometimes too much self regard can be a problem. So excessive self regard can result in feedback that you’re arrogant, or vain and conceited, or narcissistic, or overconfident, or superior.
So really finding that right balance of self regard is part of the work that we do in coaching, and part of the journey to have a more balanced emotional intelligence scorecard.
Lisa Linfield: 16:49 That fascinates me, because it’s always a real challenge to not only get the right level of self regard, but also to understand therefore what does it mean. So for example, if I am in an organization and I recognize that I am good at sales, but I lack certain areas, etc., many times the perfectionist in me will say, “Well, that means that I don’t deserve a raise, because I’m not perfect in every single element,” as opposed to being the word you used, balanced, in the elements, you know? And that potentially because I don’t score 120% on the test, I think I’m therefore lacking and won’t ask for that raise.
Alan Cohen: 17:31 Right. We call that the gremlin, right? The gremlin or the saboteur. The itty bitty shitty committee, that voice in your head that tells you that because you’re not perfect you’re not good enough, it’ll really take you out of the game. And we’ve got to reframe that, and we’ve got to look at in terms of what do we want, right? What do we want, and where are we willing to let go of some of that disempowering belief that we’ve got to be perfect at everything in order to get what we deserve. That’s the work of personal growth.
Lisa Linfield: 18:00 Sure. And the hardest work of all, the work inside the brain that tells the perfectionist to be quiet, and allows the space for that other little voice that says, “Hey, you know, actually I’m okay. I might not have every area perfect, but it is okay. And I do deserve a raise. And I do deserve to at least get paid equal to what either my industry or my peers are.”
Alan Cohen: 18:21 I love the expression progress not perfection. It’s helpful. I also like to really try to remember and have people remember what we’re here for. Like what’s the ding in the universe. What do we want to achieve in this lifetime, and who are we depriving of our unique talents and gifts while we’re waiting in the wings to get it right, or to get it perfect? Every day that I stay idle, or that I don’t take the action, I’m depriving some person or some group of people with some inspiration or some tools to help make their lives better, and I don’t want to be that guy.
Lisa Linfield: 18:54 No, absolutely, absolutely. So you talk about connection killers and connection thrillers. What are they and how do we make sure that we’re always having connection thrillers in our lives and not necessarily connection killers?
Alan Cohen: 19:10 Right, right, this is one of my favorite topics. It’s so easy to talk about the things that kill connection, it’s kind of fun, too, even though I know it can create pain for some people. But I like to look at the three big ones, negativity, judgment and self centeredness, as really the things that can drive a wedge in connection, and then what are the antidotes to that? So for negativity it’s optimism. It’s balancing that with optimism. Judgment, it’s balancing it out with acceptance. And self centeredness is generally to balance it out with empathy. Those are my cocktails.
So with negativity, our negativity bias is too ingrained. It’s very much that the old part of the brain, the amygdala, the fight or flight or freeze, the focus on negative news headlines, it’s like why we’re more likely to crane our necks to look at the accident on the road than we are to look at the person helping the other person. It’s the adrenaline rush of negativity, it’s that feeling of being understood, it’s sort of negative people attract negative people, they love to sort of vent and complain. And I’m somebody who personally has really worked hard all my life to overcome that. I was raised by people who were pretty negative, who focused on what’s not working rather than what’s working, more problem focused. Not that I’m a Pollyanna, but I’ve had to work really hard to practice gratitude. One of my favorite tools is the Three Best Things, so all day long I create a list of the three best things that have happened to me so far, and then I reorder and re-rank and replace throughout the day, so my reticular activating system is constantly scanning for positive things to put on the list.
Positive people can broadcast positivity and attract positive people. You think of it like we’re radio channels constantly broadcasting. Who do we want tuning into our frequency? So I try to broadcast, and I’m not Pollyanna, I know shitty things happen, but I choose to focus more on what’s working than isn’t. We’re a judgmental people, we can confuse ourselves and we can kid ourselves to say that’s really just discernment, but judgment, making ourselves right and making other people wrong can also drive a wedge in connection. So working on practicing acceptance is a really critical skill to create more connection. There’s nothing for me that can shut down a conversation with a peer, or colleague, a friend, more than feeling like I’m being judged. So while I may not be able to control their judging, I can certainly work on my being more accepting.
And then finally self centeredness, it’s not about me. What do you think about what I’m wearing? I think that most of our thoughts tend to be focused on ourselves, and that can create a lot of pain. And also a great sense of separation. So there it’s simple, it’s asking more questions, it’s being curious, it’s reframing, it’s practicing some of that impulse control to hold back on sharing the story about what happened to you today, to be more curious about what’s going on in another person’s life. And when we do that, the reciprocity would suggest that other people would be then in turn interested in what we’re about. And we end up getting what we want properly anyway. But it’s a less painful process.
Lisa Linfield: 22:19 And I think the word that you used which resonates with me is separation. Because if I think … I recently had dinner with someone where for three hours I asked all the questions. The friends, friends, friends questions because I had run out of … I mean, for one side to be asking questions for three hours and not one question ever came back, the immediate feeling was one of complete separation, you know?
Alan Cohen: 22:43 Yeah.
Lisa Linfield: 22:44 There is no way I actually want to do this again, because it’s exhausting, you know?
Alan Cohen: 22:49 Yeah, yeah.
Lisa Linfield: 22:50 There is no empathy in this thing whatsoever, because you have expressed no desire to ask one question, not even one about my position. And I guess it reflects the self centeredness in me that it would be nice to have one question asked, but it also reflects the impact, or it’s an extreme example of the level of separation you can feel as a human-
Alan Cohen: 23:10 Yeah.
Lisa Linfield: 23:10 When someone does not ask you one question in a three hour period.
Alan Cohen: 23:14 Absolutely. I work with a handful of people who are new into the work market, and coaching them on interview skills and whatnot, and I say that employers are looking for employees who have a high level of empathy, because they know also that empathy is a great success indicator. So practicing even in like the job interview process is so important. Which is asking more questions, right? It’s actually about how can I help you solve your problems? It’s not about what you can do for me, it’s about what I can do for you. And so being curious, being interested, it seems so obvious, but I’m not sure that those kinds of communication skills were taught to most of us when we were growing up. Listening skills, questioning skills, not taught as much as reading and writing, probably could be.
Lisa Linfield: 24:02 And I agree with you. I mean, I absolutely agree that it’s actually a taught skill. I used to think it was an innate thing, and the more I go through life the more I realize it’s actually a taught skill. And it’s incumbent on us that have children to teach them that skill. I mean, my friends always laugh because I will not allow my children to finish a greeting with, “Hi, are you?” “I’m fine, thanks, how are you?” They have to ask at least one question after that. “How was your day? How was your weekend? How was your holiday? How was something?” And people like look a bit confused, but I guess the empathy that as a parent I’m just trying my level best to get children who are naturally self centered to actually stretch outside and ask just one more question, besides-
Alan Cohen: 24:45 I love it. I teach listening skills in corporate, I’ve taught listening skills in companies like MetLife, and Bloomberg, and you would think that these senior level leaders and their teams would be so adept at listening, but I teach them everything from different levels of listening, to verbal and nonverbal cues on listening, to listening positions. And it’s fascinating, and it’s especially timely still, because we are so distracted, that our brains are overloaded because of technology, and social media, and everything else that we’re confronted with, so being able to create a space of listening, and listening, really listening for not only content, sorry, I should say content and context, listening for people’s values, listening for what’s really driving them, listening for what needs they’re expressing is such a nuanced and important skill. And we can always get better at that. Absolutely.
Lisa Linfield: 25:40 I mean, you speak about it in your book in terms of The Connection Challenge, and this age of distraction. If you were to be able to look forward, what do you think it’s going to do to our connectivity in the workplace? I mean, if you go into a modern workplace now, everybody’s got a chat app in their thing that can help them speak to their project teams, nobody has to physically get together anymore physically because you all virtually Zoom in from wherever you are, and off you go.
Alan Cohen: 26:12 Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Well, it’s funny Lisa, 25, 30 years ago I had AOL as an account, and if you were on the AOL account you had to use instant message like with all your teammates. And I was like, “God, this is so bizarre,” I mean, literally, the person is next door. I could really get off by butt and just go next door. And I do think that there is an energy of connection that’s greater when we’re not just in that sort of one dimensional texting, chatting, etc. I think phone is better than just chat, or just email, I think video is better than phone, and I think that in person is the best of all.
My bias is I think connection happens in person. Dialogue is two way, where you can read body language, and facial expression, and you’ve got all the senses involved. Smell, touch, appropriate touch, I should say. I mean, I think we have to embrace technology, it’s not going away, but I do think that the pendulum is going so far in one direction that it’s got to come back to center. I think our kids are really going to suffer in terms of social relationships, and all that if we don’t start working on finding more balance. Kids on social media can be so cruel, people can just say whatever the heck they want. The only consequence is that they’re unfriended of blocked. I think there’s a lot of irresponsible behavior on social media. So I think that real, face to face connection is so much authentic.
I think social media, or technology is great, like sometimes for if the teams are virtual, or whatever, but I think it becomes too much our default. So, that’s my two cents.
Lisa Linfield: 27:49 And I love your way of describing connection as energy. And obviously the more of you that is present, the more energy will always be present. If it’s just a text, “Have you got that document for me?” There’s only one answer, yes or no. I might not see the fact that actually the person I’m talking to has burst into tears because they’ve just found out their mother’s passed away or something. All I know is the yes or no, that the document is there. And you miss so much of the ability to reach out and connect with people because we do it in this electronic form.
And it’s also a great way to hide. I mean, if I’m totally honest, in days when I’m not feeling my best self, I love the fact that I can hide behind email or message, because I don’t have to create the energy to have a connection with you.
Alan Cohen: 27:49 Right.
Lisa Linfield: 28:38 But I do know that there’s huge danger in it, that if I hide too much behind my email and text message, that I will miss the golden opportunities of deepening connection, and broadening that energy that it takes to have connection.
Alan Cohen: 28:51 Right. Right. And I think this idea of like complete disconnection is a bit of misnomer. Because I think we’re always connected to something. I may be disconnected from my spouse, but I’m connecting my pillow or my … I mean, it’s like we’re always choosing somewhere to put our energy. It’s not always an optimal place that we’re putting it. But yes, I’m all about deepening connection, while also making sure that I’m deepening my connection to myself. Which sometimes means more … not isolation, but more down time, more alone time, more sort of doing things to nurture my soul. I’m a horrible extrovert, it’s like I get so much energy from other people, but I need to chill sometimes and just take … self care.
Lisa Linfield: 29:39 But I think that one of the challenges with that that I’ve found in myself, is that the ability to do nothing has become very difficult. The minute I’m doing nothing, I find myself reaching for my phone to check in the news, check in the friends, check in the whatever. And not allowing the space in my head to do nothing. And I actually now have to be quite disciplined, to say, like, “Put that thing away,” I have instilled a discipline that I cannot get onto my … any form of phone until I’ve been up for an hour doing my exercise, pray, whatever it is, and that for me has been hugely difficult to break the habit of immediately waking up and seeing what’s happened out there. You know, that sense of FOMO.
Alan Cohen: 30:18 Yeah, the kids call it FOMO, fear of missing out. But I actually reframe it, I call it COMO. C-O-M-O, which is the certainty of missing out. But that’s like empowering the choice not to be everywhere.
Lisa Linfield: 30:32 Yeah.
Alan Cohen: 30:32 It’s like I’m absolutely going to miss out on that party if I don’t go. So what? [inaudible 00:30:37] I’m going to be somewhere else. There is definitely an inevitability that we can’t be everywhere. And I think that multitasking is also a misnomer. I don’t think that we can divide our energy and our focus into so many different ways without it impacting the quality of our relationships, the quality of the work itself. I think that we kid ourselves to think that we can do a lot of things at the same time.
Lisa Linfield: 31:01 I’m very clear that I cannot multitask. I don’t create the misnomer that I can. Maybe it’s age, maybe this brain doesn’t fire what it used to do, but I just go, “Okay, guys, guys, hold on, let me just do one thing at a time, because I can’t”-
Alan Cohen: 31:01 Right.
Lisa Linfield: 31:16 I can’t get there.
Alan Cohen: 31:16 Right, right.
Lisa Linfield: 31:18 So why do we find it so hard, as human beings, to communicate authentically with each other?
Alan Cohen: 31:28 Yeah. So I talk a lot about the masks we wear that impede our connection. I always say, if you want to look at like where that mask of inauthenticity was probably formed, go back to your elementary school report cards and read the teacher’s comments. There was some message in that that said that whoever you are was not enough. So we develop these kind of false self, these artificial veneers to cover up what is truly who we are at our core. So for me, like the mask that I wear, or often that I’ve worn, is the people pleaser, it’s the guy that says yes when he means no, this is more a past tense, but that I wouldn’t tell you what I really thought, for fear of hurting your feelings. But underneath was somebody who was angry. Angry, and resentful. And so it would’ve been better for people to see more of my anger because at least it was real, rather than this kind of artificial, nice guy, this thing that wasn’t really me.
I mean, that’s kind of an extreme, but I mean, I think there are other masks that we all wear that keep people from really knowing who we are. You talk about perfectionism, that façade of like having your shit together all the time can really impact the quality of our relationships, because you become sort of unattainable. People feel like because they’re not perfect you don’t have a place for them. And so when we begin to show more of who we are, then we let people in, we let people in to be who they are, and then those relationships are real. But I think that the reason that it is so difficult is at the most basic level, I think we’re all afraid of being rejected. I think we’re all afraid that if we show who we really are that people aren’t going to like us, and that they’re going to pull away, that we’re too much. That was always my report card, by the way, in school it was like, “Must learn self control,” right, you know, “He’s too much.”
But then you become this like response to those judgments, and it’s not who you really are. The more we can embrace what’s under the mask, the more we’ll be present of what other people may not be showing us. And again, that takes courage. Right? It takes courage to step into who you really are and to share that, and express that. The good, the bad, and the ugly, right? It’s not always showing the beautiful aspect, sometimes it’s showing the warts and the pain, and all of those other things that are universal.
Lisa Linfield: 33:48 So in work, there are often times when there are some really angry exchanges, and blame, and the project’s running late, or it’s running over, or it’s … someone’s not done something. And it’s kind of one of the most common things that either we tend to try and avoid, and so we make a false peace, and nobody really addressed the situation. Or there is a view that anything goes, and under the name of authenticity, and under the name of showing my good, bad, and ugly, I feel it’s okay that I can [inaudible 00:34:24] and take you out at the kneecaps whilst I’m doing it.
Alan Cohen: 34:26 Right, right.
Lisa Linfield: 34:27 How do we handle those interactions better when we’re keep being told to be authentic, but then our authentic self’s maybe not necessarily what everybody wants to see?
Alan Cohen: 34:39 Right, right, and I think we want to distinguish like authentic and toxic, right? Like authentic and dysfunctional behavior, but I think this is why I use so much emotional intelligence work in corporations, because people have [inaudible 00:34:54] emotional lives, and that’s helping people manage their emotions appropriately. We’re emotional beings, and so it’s wrong to think that we need to suppress all of those emotions, but how do we express them in a mature, responsible way, and arm everybody with a toolkit of EQ skills, and also help people understand what happens when we’re stressed. Stress is a huge thing in corporations, and we’re all being pushed, and pushed, and pushed. So how our defenses kick in when we feel like we’re being pushed beyond our limits I think is really important.
So sometimes it’s actually just some training around empathy, and awareness, which at the most basic can help people understand why are we acting this way? But when I work with teams, I also always want to sort of take a helicopter view of what’s going on. Not so much focusing on the individual and why this person’s misbehaving, and that person’s misbehaving, but what are the behaviors that we as a team value? And how are we going to hold each other accountable to maintaining those values? And then also looking at, from a consulting perspective, is also look at what are the systems, or the situations, or the processes that are creating more stress which has us disrespecting each other. And trust is such a foundational tool that I go into companies and work with teams all the time around that, looking at where the trust fells are and how we can move through that.
Lisa Linfield: 36:14 You know, one of the things that you raise is the importance of making sure your whole team is aligned with whatever the methodologies that you’re going to use, that you can develop not only a common set of what behavior is acceptable and not behavior, but also common language to deal with when someone transgresses. I remember in one of my corporates, we developed a shorthand as a team for when you are pushing my buttons, that ability to say to someone, “Actually, you’re pushing my buttons and I’m about to really lose it.” We didn’t say that, we would say, “You’re loading a CD,” you know how as you load the CD there’s a gap between that loading of the CD and the fact that it whirs, and whirs, and whirs, and then it starts playing, you know? It’s like we have a very small gap here before I’m about to lose it, step away from the vehicle before it explodes kind of thing.
Alan Cohen: 36:14 Right, right.
Lisa Linfield: 37:06 And I think that it helps if you have a common agreement of what is appropriate and not, and then a common language as to how do you get out of those situations without causing shame, or with a little bit of humor, with a little bit of humanness to get out of a situation that could potentially derail.
Alan Cohen: 37:23 Absolutely. So I always use the analogy, like sports teams, they practice 80% of the time and they play on the field or the court 20% of the time. But teams, professional teams in business, they’ve got it reversed. They’re on the field playing 80% of the time and maybe they’re practicing how to be a cohesive team 20% of the time. That’s not workable. We need to really look at what is a team, what are the behaviors that are expected, how do we hold each other responsible, and to your point, have a language, my favorite is MSU. Making stuff up, it’s like where are we MSUing stuff? So I’ll have my clients, they’ll own it, they’re like, “I may be MSUing right here, but I’m getting the sense that you guys just don’t really care about sales targets.”
You try to just sort of lighten it up by making it not so personal, making it more about the business and the context. There’s a buzz word that goes around about psychological safety, but it’s so important, like we need to make it safe for our teams to say anything in a respectful way, all right, not in an attacking way, but to even express the, “I don’t know,” or, “I’m confused,” or, “I’m frustrated.” Or, “I feel like we’re going down a rabbit hole.” Whatever the conversation is, teams need to feel safe to express where they’re at at any given time. So that leads the road forward.
Lisa Linfield: 38:48 If there was one thing each of us could do to create better connections, just one thing, what would that be?
Alan Cohen: 38:57 Wow, just one thing, huh?
Lisa Linfield: 39:00 Just one thing. I’m going to limit you to just one thing.
Alan Cohen: 39:03 Right. I’m going to sort of throw it out as a question. So for most of your listeners, there’s probably something in their life that they haven’t yet realized. It’s a goal that they haven’t hit, it’s a relationship that isn’t working, it’s some business that they haven’t launched. So I want people to reflect today on the question of what’s the one thing that you need to connect more to in terms of your thinking, in terms of a relationship, in terms of an opportunity that could really be the gateway to your achieving that possibility.
So that’s the question. I would say in terms of the action, I would say there’s probably somebody today in your network who could be a gateway to a lot of opportunity in your life if you actually just created more authentic connections. So my favorite thing is actually, especially if it’s somebody I haven’t spoken to in a while, I shoot these short little videos and I send them out, I text them little videos just saying, “I was thinking of you, you’re important to me, somebody that’s important to me in my life, let’s schedule a time, hop on a call because I miss you and I want to see how I can support you and what you’re about and just hear what’s happening in your life.” So that’s my quick tip for better connection.
Lisa Linfield: 40:11 I think that’s fantastic. So Alan, how best could my listeners get ahold of you, learn more, or to get EQ assessments personally, or as teams, or just to read more of your fantastic blogs and insights and information?
Alan Cohen: 40:27 So the best way to reach me is to go to my website, which is AlanSamuelCohen.com. A-L-A-N, S-A-M-U-E-L, C-O-H-E-N dot com. And there you can actually download two free chapters of my book The Connection Challenge. And you can also hit the request for a consultation if you’d like to chat about coaching for yourself, or for your teams. I’d also like to make a special offer to do the EQ assessment and an online coaching call at a deeply reduced rate. When you respond just say that you hear me on Lisa’s podcast, and I will be delighted to set that up for you.
So this was a delightful hour spent, thank you so much for having me on your show.
Lisa Linfield: 41:09 Well Alan, thank you for joining us and for sharing your great insights with those years of experience both being a leader and coaching leaders. And I think that that is just invaluable in terms of the authenticity you bring, and the understanding. And I really thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise on connections today.
Alan Cohen: 41:28 Thank you so much, Lisa.
Lisa Linfield: 41:30 Take care.
That was Alan Cohen, and I have to say that it just always reminds us how much we need to focus on the level of communication that we’re having so that we can have authentic conversations even if they are difficult. And I’m very aware for myself that in the long run, putting off those difficult conversations actually does create more challenges for each of us. And I think at work, if we want to be our best, and achieve what we can achieve, we need to make sure that we’re dialing up the dials on our dashboard of EQ, and that we’re just being really conscious of whether we are approaching the connection with those connection killers such as negativity, judgment, and self centeredness.