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“Is All Feedback Relevant?”

      A beloved mentor of mine once asked me, “Franc, is all feedback relevant?”. My initial answer was “I think some is and some isn’t”. He then challenged me on my answer… “Why is some feedback not relevant?” he asked. “Some feedback is not always given with full context or might not be right” I answered.


     He then clarified one of the most misunderstood elements and goals of feedback: “Franc, I did not ask you if all feedback is TRUE, I asked if all feedback is RELEVANT.


     The goal of feedback is to receive data and observations from someone other than ourselves. All of it is RELEVANT, especially if it’s not true. This means the giver of feedback may have a gap between their perspective and actual reality… or maybe we do!


     Our brain attaches meaning to everything we experience so we generally filter our feedback to others through our own biased points of view based on those experiences.  In other words, when an event happens to us, our memories influence how we react. Memories have emotions attached to them, and it’s those emotions that create meaning and consequently drive the corresponding behavior. It’s how we make sense of the world and interact with it. 


  • Good memory – Good emotion – Good meaning – Good behavior
  • Bad memory – Negative emotion – Negative meaning – Negative behavior. 

(You can thank the limbic system for all of that processing, and research has shown that it can do all of that in as little as 0.085 seconds…)


     For example: If I say the name “Mother Teresa”, most of us will recall good memories and thoughts about her name which leads to positive emotions.  Now if I say the name “Charles Mason” this will bring very different memories and experiences and consequently very different emotions. It is those emotions and the meaning we assign to them, that helps drive our actions.


    My personal relationship with feedback could be characterized as “strained”. You might know of individuals who have great difficulty receiving feedback. You know the ones… To be honest, I was/am one of those individuals. Now let’s be clear, I am mostly talking about negative feedback as I do really enjoy positive feedback (more on that in a bit). 


      Long story short, when I receive feedback, my limbic system gets triggered because for my brain, negative feedback means I am not good enough and if I am not good enough, I will not belong…my deep-seated big trigger.  Here’s why, growing up I changed schools every year between grade 2 and grade 7 and language of instruction three times (French to English and back to French). This gave me great skills, but also some deep-rooted issues.


Why is any of this important for you to understand about yourselves and your teams?


     As leaders and managers, we need to give feedback as part of our responsibilities. How often we do it and what we say is critically important. University of Akron researchers (Medvedeff, Gregory & Levy, 2008) found that feedback involves more than a simple evaluation of whether someone performed poorly or well. They found there are 4 general categories of feedback:


Positive Outcome Feedback – “Good Work”

Negative Outcome Feedback – “This work is unacceptable”

Positive Process Feedback – “Great work, you built a great team”

Negative Process Feedback -“This work is unacceptable, your team was dysfunctional”


     The Centre of Creative Leadership published a white paper in 2017 (Busting Myths about Feedback) and found that the proper ratio of positive to negative should be at a minimum of 3:1 positive to negative and ideally 5:1. They also found that when these ratios were maintained, employees wanted more negative process feedback over negative outcome feedback. 


     If we look back at our brain discussions from earlier, the negative process feedback provides specific context and content to improve.  This forces the brain to focus on the specific skill or process to improve vs negative outcome feedback that does not provide context. This process also happens when positive feedback is given. Positive outcome feedback provides context and content to the feedback that is more valued than positive outcome feedback.


    Over all, we as leaders must understand that all feedback will create emotion in the person receiving it. We must be intentional in how and at what frequency we deliver that feedback so we can accomplish the ultimate goal of bettering performance and engagement from those we lead.


So, is all feedback relevant…YES…and how we give it and receive it matters.

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/


Why Repetition Improves Performance


      As a college athlete, I played football (for my European friends, the American version of football) at the position of cornerback. My job was to defend against some of the fastest players on the opposing team – the wide receivers. 


     Back in the day, a cornerback was one of the positions called a “Hero or Zero” position. If you execute by preventing the late game, long pass for a touchdown to win the game…Hero… OR… if you don’t execute, they make the touchdown and they win the game…Zero.


    I still clearly remember my very first game as a starter because I had the opportunity to experience both the Hero and the Zero outcomes:


  • Hero – Early in the game, I covered my opponent perfectly and was able to not only intercept the pass but run it back for a pick-6 touchdown. 
  • Zero – Then in the second half, that fast wide receiver was able to run a half step ahead of me, where I made a critical mistake, and he scored his 60-yard touchdown.  


We still won the game though…


So what was the critical mistake during my Zero moment? 


     In football, when you defend against a wide receiver, if you look back to see the ball you must turn towards him, not the main field so that you can see both him AND the ball.  Rookies tend to make this mistake quite often and so did I.  I turned away and could not see him when he changed angles to catch the ball, hence the touchdown!


     So after that game, we decided as a team to practice “long bomb drills” (turning our heads towards the player) at every practice for the rest of the season.  We ran this drill so many times throughout our season, it became muscle memory for me to execute this fundamental. I broke the habit that did not work because we chose to practice it over and over and over.


      Fortunately that year, we made it to the championship game.  There were two minutes left in the game and we were leading by 10. Guess what play was called by our opponents? My wide receiver takes off at a full sprint toward his end zone! 


      I follow… I fall behind… I turn … towards him?  I was able to punch the ball out of his hands for an incompletion because I could see him and the ball. We won the game…Hero.


      Neuroscience now understands why repetition improves performance. You are familiar with the saying “practice makes perfect”. With neuroscience, we now know that “practice makes permanent”. Neuroscience also knows why, when we are under stress, we perform to our highest level of knowledge or habit.  Unfortunately, it’s not always the knowledge or habit we want to use. 


      The key to understanding this paradox is to know how our neurons are developed when we learn a new skill. The best analogy for neurons is a power cord and inside the cord, you have a copper wire that transmits the electricity (in the brain this wire is called the axon.) Outside the power cord, you have a rubber wrap that insulates the wire so that outside forces cannot affect the transmission of electricity (in the brain this is called the myelin.)  The better insulated the axon, the faster and more reliably the signal can travel from one neuron to the next.


     We now understand that practice and repetition (muscle memory)  increases the myelin so that the signal can move more rapidly and consistently. The other benefit of strong myelin is when you become stressed, the synapses are “protected” from the stressor hormones, which means the brain will execute the most “protected” habit. 


     As a rookie, I had formed a stronger habit of turning away from the receiver than towards him, so when I was under stress I would go to the stronger habit. I needed to strengthen the myelin on the “turn towards him” habit so that when the stress was on I could execute, especially for the big game.


So the key takeaway…practice to make permanent.


Coaches Corner


     As a coach, you need to coach yourselves (or find someone) to develop new and improved skills to assist your players in improving their playing skills. You need to create context, skills, and execution for both yourself and your players.


     Take the time to learn about brain science, and how it controls all human behavior and change (context). Then translate that science into applicable knowledge and training (skills) that will result in new or better actions as a coach (execution). How you communicate and run your “practices” will be the new behavior you need so that your players can change. Once you have your stuff in order, then you coach your player… that part is a bit easier as it is built into the system (practice/training, monitoring, feedback, adjust).


So practice makes permanent … for your coaching skills.






Reflection that Fuels Direction

     It is March 23rd, 2020 and this morning I was reflecting on the last 10 days and the incredible range of emotions being felt since the Covid-19 virus really started taking hold here in North America. Here are a few of them so let me know if you can relate…


  • The calm resolve of first hearing that cases had arrived in our community and thinking “just go with the flow and keep calm”. 
  • The sadness as one of my son’s friend who owns a small business that will probably not make it due to a lack of sales combined with supplier debt and pain of having to lay off his employees.  This is all the while having a wife and a newborn at home and very little money in the bank. (more on him later…)
  • The fear setting into my psyche as I start running scenarios (all bad) in my head on the prospect of my business and how we can generate more revenue in these conditions. 


     However, I finally experienced a deep sense of peace this morning by appreciating the many blessings I actually have and knowing “this too shall pass”.


     The interesting aspect in all this is that I teach on the neuroscience of how the brain works when it is asked to change. As I attempt to observe these emotions happening to us, it’s somewhat of an “out-of-body” experience. 


     Here’s what we know to be true:  All decisions we make are initiated and executed emotionally first, and only after that “meaning” is decided, that any rational thought comes into the mix.


     In other words, how we feel about a situation will drive what we do.  Our limbic systems (feeling brain) will always be the core decision-maker, and the neocortex (thinking brain) will then justify or shame us in the observed behavior.  What’s interesting is that it has no capacity to stop it…until the feeling brain assigns new meaning to the situation. Dr. Antonio Damasio, a world leader in limbic system research explains it this way: “Yes, rational thought and logical reasoning do exist… but they cannot be recruited appropriately and usefully in the real world without emotion.”


     The meaning we assign to a situation will drive the emotion and subsequently, the behavior. So, how do we change behavior? You need to change the emotion by changing the meaning (thought) behind the emotion which will then lead to a new behavior. Simple…but not easy!


     Now the rest of the story on my son’s friend…after he told us the story of his friend, my wife asked a simple question – How can you help? This question changed everything (as most good questions do). The short version, he decided to get his friend a grocery store gift card (for diapers) and managed to convince 2 others to match his gift…A little hope in dark times.


     “How can you help?” completely changed the meaning of the situation for my son from being sad and mad (previous behavior) to involving others in helping his friend (new behavior) which leads to happiness and joy.  I strongly encourage all of us in these trying times to really change the meaning of the pandemic reality from a crisis to be feared (which it is, but it shouldn’t be the only feeling!) to an opportunity to do well by others in need…even when you yourself may also be in need.

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.