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Author: Dan Docherty

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/


Gaining Commitment – It starts at the beginning

     If you Google “Trusted Advisor” for sales, you would find all types of blogs, articles, and buzz around these two seemingly simple words. 


     Let’s take a second and breakdown the words “Trusted Advisor” according to the Oxford Dictionary: 


  • Trust – assumed reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something. One in which confidence is placed.
  • Advisor – someone who gives advice.


     In your customer conversations, are you someone who has relied upon speaking the truth to your customers by delivering advice/guidance in helping them to solve a problem? If you engage this way on every customer conversation, you never really close!


     Here is the take away from the above statement:  Great communicators don’t close; they solve problems that lead their customers to feel the urgency and need to change. For me, this helped break the mold of how I was trained for years – “the A,B,C’s – Always Be Closing.” The difference between gaining commitment vs. closing is that stress is reduced based on a customer vs. me focus. 


     For most sales professionals, the anxiety and Cortisol start flowing as you feel yourself building up to the close. At Braintrust, we want you to change your mindset about gaining commitment. What if you start gaining commitment from the very beginning of the process? 


To prove this, over the past few months our blogs have followed a process: 


  • Build a personal connection
  • Align with your customer objectives and challenges
  • Define the gap that he/she is facing
  • Bring in your product/solution to solve the problem your customers face
  • Remove barriers that lead up to you gaining commitment 


     When we train communicators to think about this, we ask them to think about the beginning – “How did you build an authentic personal connection and align with your customers’ objectives and challenges?” This is the key to gaining commitment. You become the trusted advisor, you can then look forward to asking the million-dollar question – “What would you like to do?”


     What makes this work so effectively is throughout this entire process, your customer is the hero of the conversation, not your product. By placing the focus on them, you can create an atmosphere where your customer feels both confident and comfortable as you gain commitment. If you set this up correctly, your product then becomes the solution to their problem.  Go for it – put the power in their hands, you might be surprised by the results. 


     In Jeff Bloomfield’s new book NeuroSelling®, he writes it out this way.


“I recommend saying something like this, “Mr. Customer, based on the conversation we’ve had today, the problem you’re experiencing and how much it’s actually costing you, it seems like our solution is the perfect fit, what would you like to do?”   


     Here is the take away – become the trusted advisor you have desired to be by letting your customer drive. If done properly, you have then earned the right to ask the question.   



Mastering the Coaching Conversation


     Coaches, this process goes for you as well. You can ask the same question to your team members – “What would you like to do?” I have highlighted the word you because the power goes to the team member. 


     As a trusted advisor, you are empowering your players to align with their objectives and challenges. Have you noticed how power sits in the middle of empowerment?  Take the pressure off yourself. You don’t have to be the hero of the conversation, but your team members should be. When this happens you will witness an increase in both action and commitment that will keep your team moving forward. 


Engagement: “Boss” or “Coach”?

    Over the past four years, I have been studying, researching, and learning about the complex topic of employee engagement within US corporations. As a coach, let me ask you 2 quick questions:


  1. Does a lack of employee engagement keep you up at night? 
  2. Are you actively involved in impacting employee engagement? 


     Our blog is all about “Mastering the Customer & Coaching Conversation.” Have you ever noticed that the title isn’t “Mastering the Boss Conversation?” Gallup just published new data on employee engagement, and the research points to a precise insight into the world of employee engagement. High-development Cultures (HDC’s) train their managers on new ways of managing – moving from a culture of “boss” to “coach.” Does the following formula resonate with you?


HDCs: Engagement + Productivity + Performance + Profitability = Sustainability


    Gallup has been tracking engagement levels since 2000, and they published an article on February 4, 2020, titled – “4 Factors Driving Record-High Employee Engagement in the U.S.” by Jim Harter


    Historically, employee engagement rates have been hovering at around 30%. Yes, that is correct. According to Gallup, 70% of U.S. employees are “not engaged” in the workplace, and of that, 18% are “actively disengaged.” Gallup defines being “not engaged” as those in your organization that are psychologically unattached to their work and company, and those who put time, but not energy (or passion) into their work. They go on to say that unengaged employees will usually show up to work and contribute the minimum required, and they’re on the lookout for better employment. Now, think about your team. Is it possible that 7 out of 10 of your team members fit this category? 


    Let’s look at another definition of engagement that might help to further broaden our understanding about engagement – a work-related state of mind that is characterized by Vigor, Dedication, and Absorption (Schaufeli, Bakker et al. 2006) 


  • Vigor – high levels of energy and mental resilience
  • Dedication – sense of significance, enthusiasm, inspiration, pride, and challenge
  • Absorption – fully concentrated and deeply engrossed in one’s work 


    As I clicked on the Gallup article, I wanted to quickly look at the tables and see the change. What represents the “record-high” levels that Gallup referenced in the title. I thought to myself, was the old mark obliterated? Can we now show that this great “bull run” we’ve had in the economy is yielding crazy high levels of engagement? 



    As I read on, I was disappointed. The article reports that we have seen improvements, but the % of “not engaged” has moved from 70% to 65%, and the “actively not engaged” has declined from 18% to 13%. Yes, this is good news, but WOW do we “coaches” have a long way to go. As coaches, if we care about this topic, we need to dig into how we can add rocket fuel to these modest changes. 


Coaches Corner:


    I want to draw your attention to the four factors presented by Gallup that are driving the change. Gallup reports that changes in employee engagement are linked directly to organizations committed to High-Development Cultures (HDC’s)


  1. HDC’s are CEO and board initiated.
  2. HDC’s educate managers on new ways of managing – moving from a culture of “boss” to “coach
  3. HDC’s practice company-wide communication.
  4. HDC’s hold managers accountable. 


    As coaches, we can actively influence #2. What would change in our conversations if we incorporated the following mindset  – a facilitative or helping relationship with the purpose of achieving some type of change, learning, or a new level of individual or organizational performance?” (Boyatzis, Smith et al. 2019) We must have a mind-shift on what it takes to activate performance within our players. 


    Finally, with baseball spring training upon us, we will be reminded that a .300 batting average over a season has the chance to get a player to the all-star game and if this average is held over their career, a possible seat in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  However, business isn’t baseball, and this isn’t and shouldn’t be enough. We need to set our standards higher and remind ourselves that real transformation and sustainability comes from getting the best out of our players each and every day. Focus on a learning agenda that facilitates change in the individual and performance will follow.     



Boyatzis, R. E., et al. (2019). Helping people change: Coaching with compassion for lifelong learning and growth. Boston, MA, Harvard Business Review Press.

Schaufeli, W. B., et al. (2006). “The measurement of work engagement with a short questionnaire: A cross-national study.” Educational and Psychological Measurement 66(4): 701-716.


Barriers: Don’t Fear the Orange Barrels


I remember years ago driving home to Ohio with my family after a beautiful vacation in Hilton Head, SC. The music was playing, the windows were down, everyone had their nice bronze tan, and we were cruising along as we entered the mountain phase of the trip. Suddenly, I look up and there it was ahead of us – orange barrels, brake lights, and slowing traffic. As we quickly dropped from 70 mph to a crawl, I went directly into problem-solving mode. I asked my wife to reach into the glove box and pull out the map (this was the 90’s and we didn’t have in-car navigation as of yet). I vividly remember us being detoured through Gatlinburg, TN which added hours to the trip and needless to say, stirred up all kinds of strong emotions.  Looking back, it wasn’t the detour that aggravated me, it was being caught unaware and then having no control over the outcome.


How many times have you been in a conversation with a customer and everything feels like it is going well when all of a sudden, emotions start taking over and the next thing you know, things have gone off-course? When this happens, it is analogous to suddenly being stopped in traffic by the dreaded orange barrels that we encounter every summer. 


If my trip back from Hilton Head were today, technologies like Waze would have provided us with options even before we came to the construction. Wouldn’t it be great if our human brain was programmed in a way that we could avoid the orange barrel’s in our customer conversations before we get to a point where a barrier or objection actually stops us? The Waze app (now owned by Google) says it right in their tag line – “Outsmarting Traffic, Together.” Let’s discuss how to outsmart those barriers together! 


In our CEO, Jeff Bloomfield’s new book, NeuroSelling®, he reminds us that to reduce change barriers is to understand that our customers’ objections are rooted in emotions to their problems and their historical anchor points. As professional communicators, it is our job to maximize three critical levers in reducing or eliminating these barriers.  


  1. Reset the Anchor Points
  2. Reduce the Risk
  3. Reestablish the Value


Removing change barriers is meant to reduce emotions and therefore it shows your customers that you, your product, and your service can help overcome these barriers. Your customers are constantly evaluating risk and value. Jeff uses the following formula in his book.


Barrier = Risk>Value

Change = Value>Risk


Let’s head back to our vacation trip and our non-Waze decision-making. I followed everyone else because: 


  • I was already in it and eventually, it would get me where I want to go, I hoped…
  • I wasn’t sure if I had any other options and,
  • the risk of going a route I didn’t know was not worth it based on previous experience  


Your customers are feeling the same way with the problems they are facing. In our customer conversations, we are the “Waze” application! There is no technology that can program us out of removing barriers for our customers, so we have to prepare an alternate route that will not only get them where they want to go but remove the risk and amplify the reward. For more information, check out NeuroSelling®, which is now available on Amazon here.   


Mastering the Coaching Conversation


Hey coaches, how do you support your team members in removing their barriers (orange barrels) that stand in front of them on a daily basis? The great news is the formula remains the same. It is our job as coaches and leaders to help remove some of the emotion behind barriers to change. How often in our conversations with our team do we actually add emotion to the situation or try to force in a solution when our team member isn’t ready for it? Just like customers, our team members are processing risk and value. 

Next time your team members have a barrier, help them do the following:

  1. Identify the barrier
  2. Identify the emotion 
  3. Identify the perception of risk vs. perception of value
  4. Use information from prior conversations to alleviate concerns

Value Clarity: Beware of Knowledge Dumping

Mastering the Customer Conversation


      It’s hard to believe, but 30 years ago (this May) I was graduating from Miami University in beautiful Oxford, OH. After graduation, I had the fortunate opportunity at the age of 21 to enter the Pharmaceutical Industry as a territory manager. Have you ever received an opportunity where you felt the dichotomy of a tremendous blessing with the overwhelming fear of whether or not you can actually succeed? Well, that was me. 


      I remember going to training. In my new hire class we had nurses, pharmacists, seasoned pharmaceutical sales reps, and other team members with backgrounds in more science-related fields than I had. I also remember entering the training thinking that the only way that I could compete was to work harder than those around me by digging in and getting it done. Then it happened, we were hit with the avalanche of materials, processes, training, exams, and role-plays. It was at this point that I entered the “Pharmaceutical Rep Factory” – review disease backgrounders, clinical backgrounders, product modules, brand message training, objection handling, and then the ever torturous live training and role-play scenarios!


      Every day in the mail, I would receive package after package. After weeks of studying, the next step was getting on a plane to fly into New Jersey, where I would spend three weeks learning more, practicing more, and yes, more ROLE PLAYS. What sales professional hasn’t been through the gauntlet of role plays? Almost three months into my training, the day came when I was finally certified to go out into the field and start my customer conversations. I had made it through the Parke-Davis scientific think tank. It was no joke. The training team made me into a knowledge machine and my highest level of knowledge was product value. 


      By all definitions, I should have been ready to go out into the world and sell with value-based features and benefits! Does this experience sound familiar to anyone else? Have you or are you being trained this way? If so, here is the question for today – how do you define value, and what do you do with it?


      We hear it from our clients all the time; our team members value sell every day, yet the value selling isn’t shrinking the gap of eroding market share, longer sales cycles, and frequent discounting. Here is a harsh reality. Unless your customer is already buying from you or exceedingly motivated, you are losing opportunities based on two issues.


  1. Not putting the value statements in the appropriate order of the customer conversation.
  2. Not linking the value statements back to the buyers’ actual unique challenges or problems.


      This may sound simple, but challenge yourself today. How many sales customer conversations do you have where you back the proverbial dump truck of knowledge onto your prospective buyer? By doing this, you miss one of the two critical steps listed above. In order to stand out above the rest, we, as professional communicators, must think differently about our customer conversations and where we place our value statements.


Here are some practical tips: 


  1. Know your product or service value drivers better than anyone (the rep factory is important).
  2. Be subconsciously competent with this information. Nobody should know more than you.
  3. Once you have this level of knowledge and skill, you will be more apt to naturally connect these value statements to the unique challenges and problems your customers face.  
  4. Place the value statements after you have created a connection, defined the buyers’ gap, and quantified that gap with your customer.
  5. Then, link the value statements back to the actual problem that was agreed upon.


      Guess what more buyers will do? They will feel the urgency behind solving THEIR problem and will make faster buying decisions.





Mastering the Coaching Conversation


      As coaches, we must be persistent with our team members that having excellent product knowledge is great, but it isn’t enough. Value comes from using value statements in the right order and with the proper linking back to our buyers’ unique challenges and problems. You can help your team members take this extra step in their customer conversations. 


      When you are observing customer conversations or having practice sessions with your team, you must actively listen for the transition from value statements to how these statements solve a problem for the customer. Your coaching feedback should reinforce the importance of value-based knowledge, but you must be listening for the link. 


      One suggestion is to take a marketing collateral piece that is filled with product or service value statements and ask a question on each bullet – does this value statement solve a problem that my customer cares about? If the answer is yes, then write down what it addresses and share it with your team. If the answer is no, then get on the phone with marketing ASAP! 

New Year, New You? How Peloton Changed My Perspective

Mastering the Customer Conversation


     On January 8, I received a great e-mail from Apple titled, “Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions – you’ve got goals for 2020. We’ve got apps that can help you reach them.” Thanks, Apple! Then I began to wonder why this email came out on January 8th instead of the last week in December or even the first couple of days in the new year. Here’s why.


     If you believe current estimates, 40 to 45% of you made one or more New Year’s Resolutions. So, let’s do the math – according to current projections, the US population coming into 2020 is ~330 million people. Thus, simple math informs us that over 132 million people made New Year’s Resolutions. 


     In February 2018, TIME magazine published an article referencing that research has shown that about 30% of resolution-makers give up on their goal before they even reach the two-week mark. To make it even worse, by the second week of February, some 80% of those resolution makers are back home with the remorse of disappointment.  Apple clearly knows this so they wanted to offer their “encouragement” right about the time you were starting to give up.  


    So I started to reflect on the #1 ranked resolution of exercising more. About 2.5 years ago, a friend of mine showed me this cool bike in his personal gym called Peloton. I originally had no intention of buying a Peloton, but I did, and now I’m a full-fledged Peloton fanatic.  Here is my Peloton story and how it makes me think differently about New Year’s Resolutions.  


     A little background may help. I’m a 205lb (maybe 210) runner including finishing both half and full marathons. As a runner, I knew the day would come that I would need to begin cross-training more frequently in order to achieve my goals. So about a year ago, I bought my Peloton and it sat in my basement with an occasional ride. There is no doubt that the bike, the trainers, and the technology were worth the investment. The problem was that I didn’t have a passion for cycling and no learning plan to get there. So heading into 2019, I had a New Year’s Resolution to use my bike more frequently in order to EXERCISE MORE. Guess what happened, the goal was established, but my behavior didn’t change UNTIL – my focus changed. 


     As I continued working on my doctoral thesis on coaching, I read a new book entitled “Helping People Change” by Richard Boyatzis, and the lightbulb went off. Change isn’t about just setting a goal and then hoping it happens. In order to really change my behavior, I needed to understand my personal vision for why I wanted to change. Using this book, here is how I reframed my goal of exercising more in 2020. 



  1. Reframe the goal (more exercise) – Moved the goal from my first thought to the last
  2. Reset the real purpose – Focus on why I want to exercise more – more energy, less stress, feeling good in my clothes, etc.
  3. Learning agenda – Understand the why behind various methods and levels of training to build excitement around learning and doing – HIIT (High-Intensity Interval), HRZ (Heart Rate Zone), Low Impact, and Tabata 
  4. Experiment and practice – have fun and reduce fear by experimenting with new rides and runs in my training  
  5. Snapshot Progress with an accountability partner – self-monitor progress in small snapshots in order (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly) and communicate with someone joining in the journey


     One of the most common “goals” for the new year is to increase our income or sales attainment.  That’s always easier said than done, huh? Here’s the hard question for you to ponder:


“What specific skill improvement steps will you take in Q1 that will make you more effective in the customer conversations you will have throughout the year?” 


    Do you need to improve the way you connect?  What about the way you ask questions that are prospect centric vs. self-centered? What specific training, reading or learning do you need to do to ensure you grow your skill in the coming year in a way that will help you exceed your income or sales targets?


    In one of our recent “Driving Change” podcasts here at Braintrust, Tom Ziglar, son of the famed speaker and author Zig Ziglar, said it this way, “Doing what you’ve always done in today’s age will actually get you less than you’re used to getting”.  He’s right. Life is moving way faster for us than previous generations.  We have to do things differently. 


     It is up to each of us to change the narrative. All of us at Braintrust believe that you can drive change in 2020 by changing your mindset. Set your mind on what you want your life to look like on December 31, 2020 then make a list of what needs to be different to make that vision a reality.  From there, set your action plan to remove the barriers preventing you from your best life and begin adding in the actions needed to grow. Let’s do this!   






Boyatzis, R. E., et al. (2019). Helping people change: Coaching with compassion for lifelong learning and growth. Boston, MA, Harvard Business Review Press.


Coaches Corner – Mastering the Coaching Conversation           


     Coaches – Happy New Year! You know what else Peloton has – great coaches. They inspire, push, challenge, and engage with riders and runners both in the studio and through technology. No different than what we do every day as we strive to be great coaches in 2020 with employees that we see face to face and those that we work with remotely. 


      My challenge for us is not to allow ourselves to think that goals are enough. Can you tap into a learning plan for each employee? Don’t leave one employee behind in 2020. As you head out of or into the performance management season, I hope that you sincerely invest the time and energy to identify the learning plan for each employee that will put them on the best path to capitalize on their strengths in order to help them perform at a higher level.       

Source: Lourie Shaull

Purpose – Thanks Salvation Army

Mastering the Customer Conversation


     Do you ever think about how purpose is truly the backbone of your customers’ business? How much do we really know about what is at the core of their business or what is at the heart of the companies they serve? What drives their purpose? 


This is our last blog of 2019, and as I sit and think about the year gone by; it is impossible not to think about my personal and professional purpose. And more importantly, the question I ask myself is “Am I able to live out my personal purpose through my profession”? This is a time that many of us take to be with family and friends and to “re-set” for the coming year. To recharge the batteries a bit. 


This reflection hit me a few weeks ago when I was driving to a client meeting, and I realized that I left my glasses at home. Ten years ago, this wouldn’t have been a problem but today, I needed a solution fast. Fortunately, it is not difficult to find a pair of reading glasses anymore so I pulled over, ran into the store, bought my glasses, and got to my training session on time. As I was leaving the store, I passed the Salvation Army “Red Kettle” and just kept ongoing, like many of us do. I didn’t stop to think about the purpose of the “Red Kettle” that I have seen outside stores since I was a little boy. My agenda had me on a different purpose and I just ran on by. I didn’t give it a second thought until yesterday. 


As I was waking up this morning and began to write this blog, I couldn’t help but think about the “Red Kettle” when it comes to purpose. I see them all the time but I often ignore them and even intentionally use a different door to get to where I need to go faster. Then it hit me, what is the real purpose of the “Red Kettle”? Have you thought about it recently, or ever? Based on this, I went to Google and typed in Red Kettle. 


I’ll save you the time from looking it up:  “In 1891, Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee was distraught because so many poor individuals in San Francisco were going hungry. During the holiday season, he resolved to provide a free Christmas dinner for the destitute and poverty-stricken. He only had one major hurdle to overcome – funding the project.” The story goes on to describe how McFee would lay awake at nights worrying about how he could find the funds to fulfill his commitment of feeding thousands of the city’s poorest individuals on Christmas Day. 


Based on his past experience, Captain McFee placed a pot near the Oakland Ferry Landing that had a simple sign on it; “Keep the Pot Boiling.” His passion that was filled with a purpose took off from there. Within six years, the kettle idea spread from the west coast to the east coast. Did you know this, “In 1901, kettle contributions in New York City provided funds for the first mammoth sit-down dinner in Madison Square Garden”? Today, the Salvation Army assists more than 4.5 million people during the holiday season and the tradition has spread from the US to Korea, Japan, Chile, and other European countries. Doesn’t this blow your mind – one man saw a need, problem-solved, stayed focused on purpose, and thus led to a sustainable cause that has been in existence since 1891. 


At Braintrust, we recently had a team conversation about our purpose.  It’s always been to help people operate from their place of purpose to help them move from a “sales” mindset to a mindset of “serving” by “solving” problems for their customers that ultimately helps them drive revenue and profits. It is so important to think and “re-set” on your purpose. 


Isn’t it interesting how, when we are stressed in business, that pressure tends to force us into a profit mindset, many times at the expense of purpose.  I have seen this happen and when it is sustained, it can destroy a great company. Ironically, we know that companies and individuals who learn to lead with purpose ultimately have better results when it comes to profit.   


As we reflect on the year that has been and dream about the year to come, it’s our hope that you will take some time to think about your purpose. Think about it from an individual, organizational, and customer level. What I love about the “Red Kettle” is that you don’t really think about the Salvation Army, you think more about the purpose of serving those less fortunate.  What’s your “Red Kettle” going to be in 2020?  


You are a big part of our “Red Kettle”.  To all of you that we have had the opportunity to serve in 2019, we say thanks. To those of you that we hope to have the opportunity to serve in the future, we look forward to that connection. To all of you that read our blogs or listened to our podcasts, we are committed to helping you and your business think deeper, drive change, and grow with purpose. 


As we close out the year, we have a straightforward request. Between now and the end of the year, take a moment, stop by a “Red Kettle,” make a contribution, and realize that you are doing a small part to fulfill a purpose and help someone less fortunate than you.         



Coaches Corner – Mastering the Coaching Conversation           


Coaches, I have five simple questions that I want you to ponder heading into 2020. 


  • Do you understand your purpose?
  • Do you understand the purpose of your team members? 
  • Do you teach people in your team about the purpose of the organization? 
  • Do you understand the purpose of your customers? 
  • Do you believe that serving your people and customers with purpose will lead to profits?
Source: Lourie Shaull

Solutions – Who is the HERO in your customer conversation?

Mastering the Customer Conversation


Ok, here it comes. If you go to the movies or turn on your TV, you know that it is holiday movie time. Potential blockbusters are hitting the theaters, and classic holiday movies seem to be on every channel. At a recent operations meeting within our office, we were discussing great classic holiday movies and a number of them quickly hit the list. The usual suspects came to the forefront; A Christmas Story, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Love Actually, Polar Express, National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, Miracle on 34th Street, and Elf. To my shock and amazement, the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life didn’t come up until I referenced it. In fact, a colleague of mine who is a movie buff then says something shocking…”I have never seen it!” Based on that, I went to the internet to see where this classic movie ranks.  


According to goodhousekeeping.com, of the 55+ Best Christmas Movies of All Time, It’s a Wonderful Life ranked #7 out of 57! The caption reads, “This 1946 Frank Capra film isn’t just one of the best Christmas movies of all time – it’s one of the best movies in general. It’s a Wonderful Life was nominated for six Academy Awards and ranks #11 on the American Film Institute’s original list of the 100 Greatest American Films of All Time.” (Matthews, 2019) Based on that, this movie is not only relevant to the season, but it is a focal point in this blog – who is the hero in your customer conversations?   


It always fascinates me how classics become classics. Did you know that…

     1. it was originally a 21-page Christmas card before the movie rights were purchased? 

     2. Cary Grant was set to star in the film instead of Jimmy Stewart? 

     3. the movie wasn’t originally a blockbuster? 

     4. it was actually filmed in the summer? 


It has become a classic, so let me set the context of this movie with two key actors in the story. 


In the story you have the Protagonist George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) and Clarence Odbody (played by Henry Travers), who serves as the sage or coach that is sent to help George. If we take this analogy a step further, George is the customer who has a problem and Clarence is sent to help him solve it. 


George lived in Bedford Falls, NY, with his wife Mary and their children. George was the loyal, committed, longtime manager of their small town building and loan company that provided loans to working people so they can buy homes. During troubled times, George knew he couldn’t kick people out of their houses and he wasn’t willing to foreclose on their properties even though he had pressure to do so. (Much like your customer, he had bosses to answer to and goals to meet.)  

Then on Christmas Eve, facing the tension between hurting the townspeople he loved to serve and financial ruin and disgrace, we find him contemplating suicide by jumping off the local bridge.  We are then introduced to the stories sage, Clarence. 


Clarence is an AS2 (Angels Second Class), who after 200 years, has yet to get his wings. To prepare for the assignment, Clarence watches a few scenes from George’s life which shows him all he needs to know about the selfless acts George has done for the people of Bedford.  Here is where the lightbulb went off for me. 


Our CEO, Jeff Bloomfield, and I were having a conversation last week about how so many sales people often fall into the trap of trying to make ourselves and/or our product the “hero” in the story. When in reality, we need to make our customers the hero of the story. 


If you are familiar with the Neuroselling concepts at Braintrust, this will sound familiar. You, as the sage for your customer, have the opportunity every day to make your customer the hero of the story. Are you doing that, or are you making yourself and/or your product the hero? 


Now back to our movie:  To the untrained storytelling eye, It would be so easy to say Clarence is the hero in the story. 

     1. Clarence comes to earth, 

     2. Gives George a solution, 

     3. George makes a decision to change (buying decision),

     4. Clarence gets his wings (reward), 

     5. Everyone lives happily ever after. 


Now think about your last customer conversation… Who is the hero in your story? More often than not, it looks like this: You make a sales call, and you find out your customer’s problem.  You, as the shining knight on a white horse give your customer a solution to said problem, your customer makes a buying decision, you hope they laud you with praise for saving the day for them, you get a commission or a trip to Hawaii (let’s go big), and everyone lives happily ever after.  In this all too familiar sales “story” the characters are in the wrong costumes.  


What if we looked at it this way:

     1. Clarence (you) is the sage, 

     2. The sage brings a solution to solve George’s (your customer) problem, 

     3. George((your customer) makes a buying decision, 

     4. George (your customer) uses your sage solution to solve the problem and becomes the real hero of the story inside the company.

     5. George (your customer) now trusts Clarence (you) even more and goes to you (buys more) time and time again.  


If you do this, George (your customer) wins, Clarence (you) still gets his wings, and yes, you get your commission or trip to Hawaii! 


In the final scene, Clarence gives George a book with a note in it.  The note read the following – “Remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the Wings!” – Love, Clarence. 


The bell rings and George’s daughter says, “the teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” When your customer becomes the hero of your conversation, the bell still rings for you. As professional communicators, this is so important for us to understand. Now – go watch the movie! (And use this lesson to change your next customer conversation!)


Source: Goodhousekeeping.com, November 26, 2019



Coaches Corner – Mastering the Coaching Conversation           


Coaches, do you make your team members the hero of the story? I recently heard a speaker say the following, “we must lower ourselves in order to lift others up.” As you read the blog this week, I want us to challenge ourselves as coaches regarding our conversations to see if we are lifting up ourselves as we coach or are we lifting up others? Are we solving problems so we are the hero, or so that our team members are the hero? The concepts from above apply to our daily conversations with our team members. 


It is a mindset to realize that we are the sage/coach and that we must help identify the roadblocks that stand in the way of our people so that when we can offer or co-create solutions. These solutions are then centered in a place that is driven by helping our players be the hero of the story. This is so difficult to do in practice but it is something we must practice with vigilance if we want to win for the long-haul.       


Your challenge for today is to think about being the coach that guides your team member, so they become the hero of the story.

Source: Capra, Frank, and James Stewart. It’s a Wonderful Life. Los Angeles, CA: Liberty Films, 1946.

Anchors Away – How Your Subconscious Reference Points Drive Your Buying Behavior!

Mastering the Customer Conversation


Hang on everybody. We are heading into the whirlwind of the holiday frenzy over the next 30 days. Sources report that the craziness actually begins in September! Let’s be honest, in the US, we really have two new non-official holidays in this country – “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday.” 


The holiday season is reported as the largest economic stimulus for many nations around the world as sales increase in almost all retail areas. According to Statista, retail sales generate in excess of three trillion U.S. dollars during the holidays. Process these amazing insights for a moment (staatista.com, 2019). 


  • US consumers expect to spend $794 on average for gifts this season 
  • In 2015, there were over 120M shoppers on Cyber Monday 
  • The average number of holiday gifts expected to be purchased by U.S. consumers is 14.9
  • In 2017, U.S. Christmas tree sales alone were valued at over $2B 


I want to introduce a concept called “anchoring.” You might be asking, what is anchoring? Anchoring is a form of cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the “anchor”) when making decisions.  We then use that information to compare to our own past experience to determine some form of “value” that helps us make decisions.   


This concept became overwhelmingly clear to me in a recent conversation I had with my wife. We were discussing a shopping experience she had at Nordstrom. As she walks into the kitchen, she says, “Dan, you are not going to believe the deal I got on these new shoes.” I then respond with, “Oh, please share the great news with me.” Yes, there is a little sarcasm built into my response. My wife then responds with, “These shoes were originally marked at over $100, but that price was crossed off, and I got them for less than $50!” It hits me like an anchor dragging you down to the bottom of the ocean. This conversation that we have had over the past 30 years is really just the anchoring effect in all its glory! 


Think about it. My wife is justifying her buying decision by anchoring the value of the purchase on the original price. This type of phenomenon happens to all of us every day. In fact retailers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday are banking on it! So, here is what I want you to do. When you hit the malls or the computer over the next 30 plus days, and you are about to add something to your shopping cart or online basket, think about the anchor that is set, which has just influenced your buying decision. At that point, just smile!         


As we think about the holidays, isn’t there this fantastic juxtaposition of anxiety and joy as we ponder what was in 2019 and what we plan for in 2020. In business, we are continually thinking about closing the year strong and getting off to a fast start in 2020. Personally, we are processing what has been over the past year with the excitement of what will come in the new year. 


Throughout the past year, we have all made decisions based on anchor points. Guess what, so have your customers. Here is an essential question for you in the customer conversation, “do you know your customer’s anchor points and can you quantify them?” Why are these so important? As we all know, our customers have made many decisions long before we ever arrived. Do you realize that when you are asking them to change, you are actually telling them that what they were doing before is wrong? You are basically ignoring their anchors. This sets up a natural barrier to change and slows down the decision-making and buying process. 


On my shopping list for you, I want you to think about three simple questions when it comes to anchor points. 


  1. What are the influences or anchors that drove your customer’s prior buying decisions?
  2. How long has it been since your customer has made a change in their buying process? 
  3. Can you quantify the anchors from your buyer’s perspective when it comes to the problems you are trying to solve with your product or service?


If you can answer these questions, then you will be on the road to having your customers put your product or solution into their shopping cart. 


Source: Statist.com, April 5, 2019


Coaches Corner – Mastering the Coaching Conversation


Coaches, do you understand the anchor points that your team members carry with them on a day to day basis? As you head into your next employee conversation, I challenge you to think about the last conversation you had and/or the previous formal documentation you made post an employee conversation. At Braintrust, we often refer to these anchors that your employees carry as the “junk in the brain trunk” or the “crap in the backpack.” I fully appreciate that your employees don’t usually walk into your office with their backpack on (some of your millennials might) but metaphorically they are carrying it. The pack can keep getting heavier with a whole host of historical anchors that have been filed and stored away by your team member and long forgotten by you. 


After you reflect on the last conversation, take the time to actually review your notes, and see how many items in the feedback you provided were actually focused on facilitating learning and growth for your employees. There is a powerful antidote when your coaching comes from a position of facilitated learning. It actually lightens the load in the backpack and changes anchor points for your team members. 


Your challenge for today is to think about the anchors that you have helped to set for your employees, deliver coaching from a learning perspective, and watch the “junk in the brain trunk” actually change.