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Author: Dan Docherty

Doing Something Difficult

     When was the last time you tackled something difficult? We all know that doing something difficult is not only challenging but requires 2 things:


  1. Motivation
  2. A deep desire to change


     Do you have someone in your personal or professional life that pushes you to do the hard things? If you do, you are blessed. 


     My friend Matt has been one of those people in my journey. Matt is a successful entrepreneur, father, and adventurer. He has a “wild at heart” mindset and is always striving to be better and conquer the difficult. If you’ve never read the book Wild at Heart by John Eldridge, I highly recommend it.  


     Here’s the story.  Back in 1999, I was at my house and the phone rang. I immediately recognized Matt’s voice, and he said with tremendous excitement, “there is an up-coming Marathon that is taking place this May in Cincinnati called the Flying Pig. Let’s do it!” He then shares that the race is the marathon’s “inaugural running,” and it would be a fun and challenging adventure. Honestly, I’m on the other side of the phone thinking to myself, “there is no way I’m running a marathon.” Matt then shared that he had done all the research, he has charted a training program that will lead us through the winter. He then reinforced to me in his ever convincing voice, “We can do this!” 


     Let me pause for a moment.  I want you to think of a time when you have been challenged to accomplish something that you knew in your mind was going to be difficult. 

  • How did you respond? 
  • What was your reaction? 
  • Did you shut down the idea or open yourself up to new possibilities? 


     Let me tell you what I did.  I informed Matt that I was happy that he is so excited, however, the one big problem is that I’ve never even run a 5K, much less a marathon. Yes, you read that correctly. Everything in my body wanted to say no, but for some reason, “yes” popped out of my mouth, and I couldn’t get it back. 


      That winter forever changed me. His plan included a full running schedule from Hal Higdon that broke down this monumental mission into day by day activities that would lead us to the goal. If you are interested in running a road race of any type, check out the following website – www.halhigdon.com


      At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate that the day-by-day program placed me in a completely different mental state of positivity, with small wins leading me to a huge win. The journey started with us running less than three miles, and within 18 weeks, we were running 20 miles. If you had told me to focus on just the 20 miles, I would have shut down and become overwhelmed. I would have gone into change resistance mode because it would have been too much change at one time, which would have filled me with anxiety and stress and I never would have started. Instead, we took it day by day, and we had accountability. Was it easy – no way. However, I will never forget running on the bike trail at 5:00 AM on snowy mornings in the middle of an Ohio winter with a running light on my head. In the end, we completed that marathon together and even beat our goal time of running it under four hours.  


      Here is the point:  Success doesn’t happen on its own, and you can’t bypass the hard work as we move into the new year “goal setting” season.  I want to encourage you to reduce your tendency to be hyper-vigilant on the end goal and start focusing on the day to day learning agenda that builds a performance plan and ultimately, goal achievement.  When you write down a goal, ask yourself this question – when I think about this goal, what plan is needed to perform and reach this goal? Don’t proceed until you answer this question.


      Here are a few learning agenda tips for tackling difficult journeys.    


  • Get in the right mindset
  • Do your research
  • Break down the learning plan into micro-steps
  • Find an accountability partner
  • Stay at it every day
  • Celebrate the small wins
  • Never give up 


        Thanks to Matt’s leadership and friendship, I have embraced the joy of running for 20 years and have completed multiple marathons, countless half marathons, and yes, even a few 5Ks. If you want to be the best, then you must do the work. Best of luck accomplishing something great as you close out 2020 and dream forward into 2021. 

Hot Questions and Hot Wings

     After reading the title of this blog, you may be asking yourself a great question. “When I think of myself as a professional communicator, what does this topic have to do with anything?” Well, let me tell you. 


     In my years of practical experience, academics, and consulting at Braintrust, my observation is that the concept of asking great questions is woefully undertrained, understood, and under-practiced. I can further illustrate this point by directing you to a course that CEO/Founder of Braintrust, Jeff Bloomfield, has completed on behalf of LinkedIn Learning. 


     Of the numerous courses Jeff has created at LinkedIn, the number one course in both views (over 60,000) and comments is “Asking Great Sales Questions.” As the COVID-19 Pandemic hit, LinkedIn/Microsoft committed to providing free educational resources for the over 40M people that found themselves without employment.  They selected their “Top 10” based on content, impact, application, and overall value add.  “Asking Great Sales Questions” was selected for this list and is still available if you are interested.  Click here 


    Asking great questions is a skill that takes knowledge, resources, and practice.  We use questions every day and for some professions, it separates the good from the great.  Professions such as lawyers, TV hosts, sales professionals, doctors, and school counselors emerge in that conversation. When you look at these professions though, you will begin to realize that each asks questions to accomplish a different goal.


     For example, lawyers are trained to ask questions that may be deemed more interrogative to get information that the lawyer cares about to prove or disprove their position. If you remember the great speech from the classic play and movie, “A Few Good Men”, Tom Cruise plays the part of Lt. Junior Grade Daniel Kaffee, and the legendary Jack Nicholson plays Colonel Nathan R. Jessup. To illustrate my point, recall this famous courtroom scene. 


A Few Good Men


Kaffee: Colonel Jessup! Did you order the code red?! 

Judge Randolph: You don’t have to answer that question!

Jessup: I’ll answer the question. You want answers?

Kaffee: I think I’m entitled to it!

Jessup: You want the answers?!

Kaffee: I Want the Truth!!

Jessup: You can’t handle the truth! [The truth then comes out]    


     Now contrast this with an example of a medical show on TV.  Check out this final scene from ER that took place in 2009. You will observe that the mindset, actions, and questions in this scene are focused on serving the injured patients coming into the ER. As I side note, A Few Good Men and ER are great programs to binge-watch the next time you are looking for classic entertainment.




    Now, I would like to clarify that both types of questioning approaches work, are needed, and serve a purpose. The critical difference is that the “lawyer courtroom approach” is focused on eliciting information that serves the lawyer’s agenda where the “doctor consultative approach” is focused on eliciting information that serves the patient. 


     As a professional communicator, ask yourself another question. Thinking back over your last ten customer conversations… Are you the lawyer or are you the doctor?


    Here are three quick practical tips for beginner “Hot Questions”:


  1. Prepare your questions in advance by understanding your customer’s story
  2. Determine if your questions are self-serving or other-person serving?
  3. Do your research and practice your questions consistently


     “Hot One’s” is a phenomenal YouTube show hosted by Seth Evans where he interviews famous individuals while they eat hot wings.  In his opening, Seth starts by saying, “It is the show with Hot Questions and even Hotter Wings.” As the interview progresses, you will observe something fascinating. Seth has a gift for asking questions that open up his guests to not only compliment him on his questions, but they then offer information that other hosts simply don’t get. There is no doubt that Seth practices the “Hot Questions” approach to his interviews. Seth and his staff do a tremendous amount of research, and he knows their story. He then asks questions that seeks information that allows him to continue to build the relationship. In the end, the hot wings don’t hurt either! (I want to give a disclaimer that if you join the MILLIONS of people who check out his YouTube interviews, the language is adult in nature.)


     We will dig even more in-depth on what it means to ask provocative and insightful questions in future blogs. Best luck asking “Hot Questions” and don’t forget the wings!

Fourth Quarter Mindset

     On January 26, 2020, I was stepping off an airplane in New York City while returning from a great trip to Europe. While I was there, I had the opportunity to both work with one of our global partners and present my research at Aalto University just outside of Helsinki, Finland. The trip was one of those non-stop adventures where in 14 days, I would fly from: 


  • Cincinnati to Charlotte 
  • Charlotte to London 
  • London to Frankfurt 
  • Frankfurt to Helsinki 
  • Helsinki to New York 
  • New York to Cincinnati. 


    If you look at your calendar, this was just before the world stopped in March with the global spread of COVID-19. On the day of my return, the world stopped for another reason. 


     As I departed, I went through customs and entered the main terminal. At that point, I looked up at the TV screen to see a report that the great Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others had died in a plane crash. Within minutes, I received a shocked text from my son that asked me “if I had seen what happened.” It was one of those moments that I will never forget. In my life, I can remember other moments that are emblazoned in my mind like January 28, 1986, Space Shuttle Challenger disaster that killed all seven astronauts just 73 seconds after liftoff. It was 1986 that I graduated from High School. 


     When the world stops, it will often make you look into and study things you usually wouldn’t have considered. As I studied Kobe Bryant, I was even more amazed by the impact he made worldwide outside of basketball. There is no doubt that he had issues in life, but his influence is non-debatable, and his life at 41 was just getting started.  


     A perfect example of this happened just last night. After making the game-winning shot, the camera noticed Anthony Davis as he mouthed the name “Kobe.” Just minutes earlier, Anthony, LeBron, and the team were reminded by their coach Frank Vogel that they are wearing the “Black Mamba” uniforms designed in part by the late Kobe. The “Kobe Connection” has led them to a 3-0 record when they wear the uniforms.  


      If you want to learn more about someone connected to Kobe, check out our recent podcast with author, entrepreneur, and business coach Todd Herman. Todd is the author of The Alter Ego Effect and a former business coach to the late Kobe.    


      So how can the “Kobe Connection” help you as you head into Q4, 2020? What do you think about when you know you have a game-changing conversation with a critical customer or a career impacting conversation with an employee? Where is your mindset? These questions can be quite thought-provoking as we head into the stress-filled season of the 4th quarter. The unforeseen enemy of COVID-19 has impacted many businesses, and I don’t think any of us had COVID-19 or a global pandemic in our SWOT plans at the beginning of 2020. The uncontrolled and unforecasted events of 2020 require us to assess our mindset for the remainder of 2020.  


    As I read articles and watched  videos of Kobe, the following video I came across titled “The Mindset of a Winner” had some tremendous principles that might help you focus and navigate the rest of 2020.     

  1. Desire to Win – “you want first place, come play with me, you want second place, go somewhere else”
  2. Watch the Best – observe the best in whatever your line of work
  3. Talk to the Best
  4. Do everything it takes to be better – “the world becomes your library”
  5. Understand your strengths & weaknesses
  6. Switch my mind to something somewhere else (Alter Ego Effect) – “put yourself in the cage”
  7. Get over yourself – you must practice
  8. Tailor your training – one size doesn’t fit all
  9. Great to have passion, but need to commit to it as a choice  
  10. Have a desire, always do more


     At the end of the interview, Kobe is asked about his business mindset and in particular, he was asked about his leadership in running his studio. Kobe said that you must understand the business, ask if you can help somehow, understand the barriers to entry, be an obsessive leader, have other leaders you believe in, and have a culture of obsessiveness. 


    There is no doubt that 2020 has been a year unlike any other. Challenge yourself to perform with a winner’s mindset so you finish the race strong and embrace your own “Black Mamba” mentality.  

Finding Hope at 30,000 Feet

    In a recent conversation, a colleague and I were discussing how unbelievable it is that we haven’t been on an airplane since February. In 30 years of business, I can’t recall a six-month period that I went without flying. There is much about traveling that I don’t miss, but one component that I always enjoyed was that feeling of the calm (after the chaos that comes from everything before the flight) so I could look down, see the world, and the perception of my problems at 30,000 feet.  That perspective always gave me hope.  


    Let me ask you… does this following pre-flight journey sound familiar? 

  • pack your bag
  • drive to the airport
  • park your car
  • get through security
  • rush to your gate (for some of us)
  • grab something to eat or drink
  • stand in line to board
  • squeeze your way through the aisle
  • wrestle with your bag in the overhead compartment
  • squeeze past the person next to you
  • slide your bag under the seat in front of you
  • turn on the air vent
  • get out your headphones
  • listen to the announcements
  • wipe the sweat from your brow


    As my stress cycle goes into overdrive, I finally get a moment to look around and settle in. The boarding door closes, I take a deep breath and maybe even close my eyes for a couple of minutes. 


    Then it happens, the plane departs, and the magical bell rings. Suddenly, I’m mentally and physically transported to a different experience. As the aircraft climbs past 10,000 feet, I am now momentarily freed from that chaos, and an odd calm comes over me. I look out the window as the world gets farther and farther away and a sense of peace and hope comes over me. Has anyone else ever felt this feeling? 


    My mind clears and the worries I felt just moments ago suddenly start to dissipate or at least momentarily seem a bit easier to solve. I love the feeling of being above the clouds with the sun coming through the window, and I can finally sip my little cup coffee with my single sugar packet. I’ve even convinced myself that the coffee tastes better than Starbucks or Dunkin. 


    At 30,000 feet, I’ve read great books, written blogs, relaxed to music, watched movies, thought about friends and families, solved business problems, planned worship services, blocked theater productions, and so much more. I love the brain clarity and hope that comes from being at 30,000 feet!

Here is my question for you – where do you find hope? For the past 30 days, this word HOPE has been all around me, and I felt compelled to write about it and direct you to some great resources. For our Podcast people, I highly encourage you to check out the Driving Change Podcast hosted by Jeff Bloomfield and listen to the following. 



 If you’re a reader, I want to direct your attention to two books that I have recently read and re-read.  



    If I told you that your health and life could improve by listening and reading these resources, would you do it? Here is the good news… it can. You will hear from Dr. Rigsby about the power of hope, even in the darkest of times. You will hear from Linda about how leadership and hope come from stepping into places that others won’t and choosing to lead through vision, love, purpose, and hope. 


    If you’re more interested in learning about the long-term health benefits of hope, read about the power of the “Renewal Cycle” in Resonant Leadership. Do you know that resonance & renewal involve mindfulness, hope, and compassion, which spark positive emotions & healthy relationships? In the book, renewal is described as a dynamic process that restores us and counters the destructive effects of power stress. 


     If power stress isn’t bad enough, you will read in the Longevity Plan that hope and a strong sense of purpose can help prevent adverse health outcomes such as plaque build-up, blood clots, and high blood pressure. The authors write about how a focus on the future is an essential part of having a purpose. 


    In these times of constant pressure and stress, I’m encouraging you to take action today. Find the place where you can have your “30,000 feet clarity moment” and remove yourself from the cycle of stress. There is scientific and practical power in words like HOPE. Everyone needs hope now more than ever, but sustainable change starts with you. 

Blocking The Noise

     Finally, last week our family excitedly drove our son back to college at “The” Indiana University in beautiful Bloomington, IN. We were thrilled that he got the opportunity to return to some piece of normalcy to hopefully enjoy his final year. 


     To move him back in, we decided to load up his Jeep and rent a large U-Haul for the journey. As we hooked up the trailer, I was thinking about the power of mastering something to the degree of unconscious competence. Unconscious competence is the idea that an individual has enough experience with the skill that he/she can perform it so easily they do it unconsciously. This is the phase following conscious competency, where he/she may need additional practice to master the task at hand. We frequently teach about this principle with our customers and I got the opportunity to live it through the experience of pulling a U-Haul.  


      To be 100% honest, I’m not unconsciously competent at pulling a U-Haul. Don’t get me wrong, I do have some experience pulling equipment, but I was trying to convince my son that I was completely capable of accomplishing this task without incident. Isn’t that what Dads do? I suddenly had to process new information that I didn’t have to think about just moments before. If you have ever pulled a trailer, you know what I’m talking about. The checklist is as follows:


  • Secure the trailer
  • Allow ample time and room for breaking
  • Increase the frequency of looking out each mirror
  • Make wider turns, so the trailer clears the curb
  • Plan out your parking spots


     As we were pulling out of the driveway, I decided my best course of action was to dial-up my attention,  attempt to filter out unneeded noise, and keep both hands at the proper 10 and 2 positions. What struck me was that I could process this “new information” because I was so unconsciously competent at all other aspects of driving. Once my environment was secure, and we were safely driving down the road, I decided to re-listened to one of our Driving Change Podcasts.


      The episode was The Alter Ego Effect with Jeff Bloomfield and our guest Todd Herman. As the podcast played, and the U-Haul was bouncing behind me, the conversation between Jeff and Todd challenged me. Here was the question that crossed my mind: 


How can we more fully step into our purpose while handling all the NOISE around ourselves to more  fully master the mental game of life?


     Todd’s interview reinforced that talent alone is great, but hard work is what helps you block out noise and attain unconscious competence. In the hundreds of people that I am fortunate to coach and serve every year, I’m consistently trying to reinforce that performance comes through hard work. There are no shortcuts. If you want to be a peak performer and attain unconscious competence, all the while being able to block out noise… you must master your “Field of Play.” 


In the podcast, (click HERE to listen) Todd’s additional tips hit me:


  • Own your story, your identity, and master your field of play
  • Step into a “Performance Identity” & drive towards excellence regardless of context
  • Develop your mental game, excel to be your best, and capture your wins
  • Find the best person at whatever you want to do and tuck yourself under their wing



      Peak performers can filter out the noise because of the hard work put into mastering their field of play. If this message can resonate with me as I’m driving a U-Haul, think of what it can do for you as a parent, co-worker, professional, leader, or coach. When you are working through the daily noise of life, are you unconsciously competent at the core levels of what you do?


     Take a moment today and list out the 3-5 things that you must do within your learning agenda to move toward a level of unconscious competence. It will not only help you filter noise, but it will also boost your mastery to reach peak performance.         

Active Listening vs. Hearing – Do you know the difference?

      Does the title of this blog capture your attention?  There is no doubt that this is a tough one for me. In the essence of humility, I have often struggled with the difference between listening and hearing. People have asked me the question, “Are you a good listener?” and I would answer yes even though others close to me may disagree. 


      In reality, I think we are asking the wrong question. The real question is this, “Are you good at active listening?” The difference between the two will be instrumental in having a high-quality vs. a low-quality relationship. 


  • Listening is an ACTIVE mental process – the art of paying thoughtful attention with a mind toward understanding the complete message being delivered. 
  • Hearing is receiving information.


      Think about our world today. We need active listeners more than ever. A lot is riding on this concept. I would be so bold to say that our future depends on knowing the difference. 


     Five years ago, I was given the assignment to interview an executive. The instructions were clear, interview an outstanding performer, “coach” them for an hour, and try to facilitate a positive mental framework the entire time. I was apprehensive, to say the least. 


     As I stepped into the office of a very busy executive who wasn’t sure what I was doing there and why she was being interviewed, I simply needed to trust the process. To trust the process, it was critical that I do more than listen and that I must dial into a deeper level of active listening. Can you imagine someone you don’t know very well walking into your office in the middle of the day to interview you for an hour? Trust me, it wasn’t the most comfortable of situations. My anxiety level was high, but fortunately my professor and mentor provided me with a set of provocative questions. 


  • If your life were perfect, and your dreams came true, what would your life and work be like in 10-15 years?
  • What are the values and virtues that are most important to you?
  • What kind of person would you love to be?
  • Who helped you the most become who you are or get to where you are?
  • What would you wish your legacy to be? 


     Those are some excellent questions. I hope that you are sitting somewhere at work, home, or vacation, and you’ve stopped reading to think about those questions in your life. The interview was a fantastic exploration of another person’s journey. 


      Here was the real breakthrough moment. In one hour, I knew more about this relative stranger than I did about people who had worked for me for over five years. It was a sobering realization and one that made me realize that I get so focused on myself that I don’t actively listen to someone else’s story. WOW!! There is no doubt that this exchange changed me at the core, and after the interview I sat in the parking lot for over an hour, processing what just happened.  The combination of questions, focus, and sincere interest in someone else turned this from an assignment to a mission 


Four plus years later, I vividly remember another professor putting up a slide with the following definitions. The slide had the descriptions of listening and hearing.  


      During the class, we watched a funny clip from the hit television show “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and I had a tipping point moment. I’m an “ok” listener but NOT a great active listener. After the clip, we were provided three tips about the mindset of active listening. (Another great clip is from the movie “Patch Adams,” featuring the late great Robin Williams and both clips are included below for your reference.)


  1. Suspend judgment – approach interactions as a chance to mine for gold not dig for dirt (that ought to make us think)
  2. Maintain an open mind – if you have already made up your mind, you will not hear anything new
  3. Be fully present – the other person deserves your full attention (this means stop multi-tasking)


     Look at the three tips more carefully. To “suspend judgment” illustrates that we have to slow down and turn the attention away from ourselves. To “maintain an open mind” demonstrates the direct opposite of having a closed mind. To “be fully present” means stop multi-tasking. 



     In hindsight, the interview was a success because of these three principles. I challenge you to go into your next three conversations with a mindset of active listening, NOT just hearing. For most of us, this will take practice and discipline. I believe that our relationships demand it. Best of luck.




Everybody Loves Raymond

Patch Adams

Keeping Your Eyes on the Horizon

     This past weekend, my wife and I had the opportunity to spend a few days at beautiful Lake Oconee in Central Georgia with dear friends of ours from Cincinnati. If you have never been to Lake Oconee, I highly recommend it. Our weekend was filled with relaxation, laughs, reading, great food, euchre, and outdoor activities. The weather was perfect, and the atmosphere couldn’t have been better. As you begin your summer activities, I hope you get a chance to find a place where you can take a deep breath, count your blessings amidst the current chaos, and be reminded that our country is beautiful.   


      As my friends know, l love the pure joy of being on the water, whether it is paddling a kayak or attempting to look calm on a Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP). My wife and I had the opportunity to SUP this weekend. As we walked across the dock, put our knees on the board, and pushed away from the edge, I was quickly reminded that the sport is called “stand up paddleboarding” and not “kneeboarding,” or “stomach boarding.” Maintaining your balance and relaxing on a paddleboard isn’t easy. For those of you that can practice yoga on a paddleboard, congratulations, you have my deepest respect. 


  Once we finally launched from the dock, the real adventure began.  I found myself giving pointers to my wife as we attempted to maneuver around and through the oncoming waves that were being generated by ski boats, wave runners, and even pontoon boats. In the essence of humility, the advice I was providing to my wife was being given as I took a few face plants into the water myself. I was reminded that continuous learning is a gift, or at least that is what I’ve been told. 


      As we were heading back in, I asked my wife what she felt were the three biggest challenges to Stand Up Paddleboarding.  Her response was immediate and unequivocally clear, “standing up,” “arm fatigue,” and “looking down instead of ahead.” After my wife finished paddling, I decided to go out for another 45 minutes so that I could cross the channel and circle this beautiful island. As I was paddling I thought about what my wife said and how the same challenges to paddleboarding also challenge us in life and business. 


      As I continued across the lake, it dawned on me that there are a few simple tips to overcome the challenges described by my wife. 


Challenges Tips
Standing Up 
  • Use the paddle as a support tool by laying it perpendicular to the board as you stand  
Arm Fatigue
  • Use your arms, stomach, hips, legs, and feet to take the pressure off your arms 
Looking Down Instead of Ahead
  • Keep your eyes up and look at the horizon


    Then it hit me like a paddle to the head: those are also great tips for life during these times. 


  • When you get knocked down, and you have to stand back up, use the resources around you to support your efforts
  • When you get tired, challenge yourself to use your mind, body, and spirit to channel energy
  • When you spend most of the time looking down, start looking up to see the vision of where you are going 


     As I was heading back to the dock, I thought about the path I needed to take so I picked a spot on the horizon, and that became my focal point. I stayed fixated on that location so I could better read the waves coming at me, see on-coming boats, and take in the beauty of Lake Oconee. The additional benefit to looking out at a point on the horizon was that the board also stayed straight, and I didn’t go off course. 


     This summer, I hope that you can get a moment to lift your head and assess where you are going as you journey into the second half of 2020. Happy paddling! Oh yeah, don’t forget that when the wave of life knocks you down, get back up! 

A Janitor and The Class Reunion

    If you could…would you go back to high school? I’m not sure of your experience, but I wouldn’t go back even though I enjoyed those formative years. Fortunately, there is the historical tradition of a class reunion that allows all of us to see old friends, tell stories, and reminisce about the good, the bad, and the ugly of our high school days. 


    When I graduated, my 600+ classmates dispersed all around the world, and I wouldn’t see most of them again until the five or ten-year reunion. When you think about prepping for your reunion experiences, did you get excited and energized, or was it more like apprehensive, nervous, fearful, and nauseous?    


    Since the very first reunion was ever held, this is the question that needs to be asked:  “Do we go to reunions to learn about what others have done or are dreaming to do, or do we go to judge and be judged by what we have or have not done ourselves? 


     We all think and care about what people think of us. It’s human nature. So as I was prepping to attend my ten-year reunion, I felt great about walking in. I was happily married to my college sweetheart, we were on the verge of starting our family, my pharmaceutical career was doing great, and life was good. 


     The night came and as we arrived I quickly began to notice the superficial and repetitive nature of the questions being asked. 


  • What do you do? 
  • How are you doing? 
  • How is it going? 
  • Where do you live? 


     As this continued to go on, I decided to take a risk and go in a different direction. One I hoped would elicit a different response. So I began to ask one simple question, “Have you found your passion in life?” 


    That simple yet complex question yielded the most incredible responses. Person after person lit up as they shared very personal stories of success and failures. This one simple question cut through the clutter and noise of the bland conversation and penetrated the heart of the person I was communicating with that evening. 


     Then at one point in the evening, I walked up to an old friend I had not seen since graduation. I asked the question about “passion,” as I had done all night long, and he just stood there in silence, staring at me. He then told me that no one had ever asked him that question. As he started to talk, I could see the emotion in his eyes. His answer was a simple “Yes”. 


    After that, I was curious as to what he was doing for a living. He went on to explain that he was employed as one of the janitors in our high school. He then shared how he was nervous about sharing that news with others because his life choices might not meet the expectation of what others might think he should be. He explained how he loves being around the energy of the school, the impact of the environment created by and for the students, and the opportunity he gets to be with his family every evening for dinner. How amazing is that? 


    What dawned on me in recalling this is that when we operate in a place of purpose, it does the following.


  • Alters our perspective
  • Shifts the energy of a conversation
  • Reinforces what impact is all about
  • Makes a difference for others
  • Has long-term value in building relationships


    After reflecting on that evening and writing this blog, it is the only conversation that I remember from that night. 


     How about you? Do you live in a constant social rat race of being what you think you ought to be? Living a life that is defined by what others want you to be is self-limiting. We all know that social media doesn’t help us with this. 


     We need to learn to focus on who we want to be and how we can get there. Remember the phrase “bloom where you are planted!” This phrase centers on taking advantage of the opportunities you have in life right where you are.  


    Thinking back to my high school reunion, it’s amazing how a single conversation can change your world. So a huge thanks to my friend for impacting me in ways he never knew. Until now!  




Emotional Contagion

     As we have lived through the last three months, all of us have been impacted by emotionally charged messages. From the words and warnings of our leaders forcing us into isolation, to the stories of resolution and bravery from our first responders.  Over this past weekend, news stories from around the country have demonstrated how emotionally charged messages can bring us out of isolation and into the streets.  Some of those involved in these protests have brought a message of positivity and needed change, but unfortunately, those messages have been swamped by the negatively charged emotions which shows the speed of how contagious emotions can be, whether they are positive or negative.      


    Have you ever considered the complexity and depth of the good and the bad that is created from these two powerful words; “emotion” and “contagion?” Look carefully at these definitions.    

  • Contagionthe communication of disease from one person to another by close contact. 


  • Emotionconscious mental reaction (i.e., anger or fear) subjectively experienced as a strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological & behavioral changes in the body (“Merriam-Webster Dictionary,” 2020). 

What happens when we put these words together and define “Emotional Contagion?” 

  • Emotional contagion –  the phenomenon of having one person’s emotions & related behavior directly triggers similar emotions and behaviors in other people (Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1993). 

    Emotions trigger behaviors and then those behaviors spread. In our blogs, we often discuss these types of topics in the context of sales and coaching conversations. Today, we are extending the dialog to business and life conversations. 


    You know what it is like when you are around someone whose positive emotions are contagious. It is that contagious phenomenon that makes us want to be around those people because it boosts our energy and that is then transferred to making us feel happy. The flip side of this coin is when we are around someone that has negative emotions.  They are unfortunately just as equally contagious.  So as the news continues to bombard us with stories, take notice of both the positive and negative emotional contagions and how it impacts behaviors.   Here is a great example of a positive contagion I hope you choose to participate in.


    A couple of weeks ago we launched a new episode of the Driving Change Podcast featuring comedian and motivational speaker Michael Jr. I encourage everyone to listen to this Podcast as Michael Jr. speaks to Jeff about how he has spent his career making laughter common in uncommon places.  These places include homeless shelters and prisons, churches, and arenas.  He has dedicated his life to inspiring his fans through multiple mediums, including sketches, stand-up, short films, and appearances in feature films. 


     I also want to direct you to click on the link below to view a video where Michael Jr. demonstrates the power of “why” as seen through Daryl, a music director. This off the cuff interaction with Daryl will inspire and change the way you think about your emotions and purpose. 


Michael Jr. Clip


     What struck me most in the clip was what not only happened to Daryl but what happened to the people around Daryl as he sang. You will notice that the audience around him powerfully felt his emotions and the impact was both immediate and powerful. This clip might be precisely what you need today. 


     In tough times, we need to be reminded of the impact of emotions. Emotions can bring out the joy in others, but they can also be used to feed our fear and anger.  So, the real question is what type of emotional carrier are you? 


     In our future blogs, we will continue to write more about emotional capabilities and the impact they have on our relationships. If you are interested in diving deeper into this topic, check out the best-selling book Primal Leadership (Goleman, Boyatzis, & McKee, 2013). This book defines emotional capabilities like self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Emotional capabilities are a complex set of dynamics that impact everything we do and learning how to master them should be a goal for everyone. 


      The ultimate message for this blog is for you to do your best to be a positive carrier of emotions and take the time to observe the impact that it has on those around you. Positive emotions can change the world, but so can negative emotions. It is your decision on which you will focus… Choose carefully! 


Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R. E., & McKee, A. (2013). Primal leadership: Unleashing the power of emotional intelligence: Harvard Business School Press.

Hatfield, E., Cacioppo, J. T., & Rapson, R. L. (1993). Emotional contagion. Current directions in psychological science, 2(3), 96-100. 

Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/emotion


Virtual Pictures

     Here we are closing in on the end of May, and many of us have been at home hosting or sitting on virtual calls at an unprecedented pace. I went back and looked at my calendar over the past four weeks, and I have either hosted or sat on the following technology platforms: Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, WebEx, and Google Hangout. 


     Check this out. Zoom reported in April that as of December 2019, that the maximum number of daily meeting participants was ~10M. In March 2020, Zoom reached >200M daily meeting participants, and this was at the beginning of the current crisis. Based on the surge in volume, Zoom had to respond to numerous issues of technology and security (Yuan, 2020). 


      Zoom isn’t the only one that had problems; we as communicators had to adjust. How do you connect when you no longer have the ability to leverage live meetings? Overnight, the world had a cosmic shift that has been reported on, written about, and chronicled for future generations to look back upon. Based on the change, have you leaned into how you communicate or fallen victim to the technology?  


     As fast as technology had to adjust, how did you as professional communicators improve? At Braintrust, we work every day with individuals on how to leverage communication skills to connect, serve, solve, and add value in a way that is supported by decades of science. The methodology doesn’t change whether you are live or virtual. 


So here is the question…


“Are you the Director of a “connecting virtual picture” in your conversations?”


     Our Driving Change podcast is launching a new episode next week with Dr. Tony Jack. Tony is a Neuroscientist from Case Western Reserve and a recent member of my dissertation committee. In 2018, Tony and his colleagues published an award-winning article that was discussed on the podcast hosted by Jeff Bloomfield (Boyatzis & Jack, 2018).  


In the article and podcast, Tony discusses the importance of two critical networks of our brains:

  •  the empathic network
  •  the analytical network 


     These networks can open up or close down our minds to new ideas, imagination, and creativity. Decades of research continues to support the power we have as communicators in impacting decision making and change by accessing these networks in a specific way.  So why is this so critical in our current global environment? 


    We, as communicators, need to be even more mindful of how we are communicating in the virtual world. All the questions that were referenced above pound our analytical network and make it very difficult to connect with the people on the other side of the technology. Let’s be honest, this is how every call is being opened, and it goes on for minutes! Here is part of the secret recipe to disrupt this ineffective messaging. 


    If you want to be a “virtual director” in your communications, then you must be able to leverage stories, pictures, metaphors, and analogies that open up the empathic network. The best storytellers know how to paint a picture even when they can’t efficiently utilize a brush or canvas. 


    Yes, you can share screens, utilize PowerPoint, or drawing tools, but here is a warning. You better practice it before you try it. Some of you have trouble coming off of mute…


So, I want to provide you with five practical tips to assist you in being a connecting virtual director that leverages networks within our brains.  

  1. Start with a connecting story and customer’s objectives (minimize the COVID story) – empathic network
  2. Discuss your customer’s challenges – analytical network
  3. Describe a vivid picture through an analogy or story – empathic network
  4. Demonstrate value by serving and solving your customers challenges – analytical network
  5. Close with connection as you discuss next steps – empathic network


    If you can practice this formula and create vivid pictures in your customer’s mind, you will leave an impact. The best communicators can create a virtual image in the way you use your words and the way you tell a story. 


    I encourage you to check out the podcast, get out a notepad, and get ready to listen to it multiple times. I recommend that you listen to both the podcast from Tony Jack and Richard Boyatzis. It will have an impact on how you communicate, whether you are face to face or on a Zoom call.  Click here to listen.


Boyatzis, R. E., & Jack, A. I. (2018). The neuroscience of coaching. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 70(1), 11-27. doi:https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/cpb0000095

Yuan, E. S. (2020). A Message to Our Users.  Retrieved from https://blog.zoom.us/wordpress/2020/04/01/a-message-to-our-users/