22. Is Your Team Languishing + Finding Your Red Thread

Episode 22: Is Your Team Languishing + Finding Your Red Thread (Summary)

Is your team stuck between burnout and flourishing? There’s a name for that. Plus, my guest today knows the magic formula for making your ideas irresistible. It’s ahead now on Boss Better Now.

Links:
Learn more about Tamsen Webster and her book, Finding Your Red Thread at tamsenwebster.com.
To learn more about Joe Mull, visit his website ​Joemull.com​.
To hear more from Joe Mull visit his YouTube channel​.
To learn how to invite Joe to speak at an event, visit ​Joemull.com/speaking​.
To check date availability or to get a quote for an event, email ​hello@joemull.com​.
To explore options for coaching from Alyssa Mullet, visit ​Joemull.com/coaching​.
For more information on the BossBetter Leadership Academy, visit Joemull.com/academy.
Email the show at bossbetternow@gmail.com.
To leave comments, ask questions, or to message us visit our Boss Better Now Podcast Facebook Page.
Connect with Joe on Instagram.
Connect with Joe on Twitter.
Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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Transcript – Episode 22: Is Your Team Languishing + Finding Your Red Thread

Joe:
Is your team stuck between burnout and flourishing? There’s a name for that. Plus, my guest today knows the magic formula for making your ideas irresistible. It’s ahead now, on Boss Better Now.

Alyssa:
You’re listening to Boss Better Now. Please welcome speaker, author, and coleslaw snob, Joe Mull.

Joe:
Hello again, BossHeroes. Welcome to the show that aspires to be food for the boss’s soul. Every week, we bring advice, humor, and encouragement to leaders who care about being a great boss, but don’t always know how. Please welcome my co-host, professional coach, Alyssa Mullet.

Alyssa:
Hey, ya. Now if you tell me, you are anything other than a vinegar-based coleslaw snob, I will consider you not an actual snob of the coleslaw.

Joe:
Well, that’s pretty darn perfect because as we have figured out along the way here on our show, you’re the yin to my yang. I’m the vice to your versa. Um, my snobbishness around coleslaw first begins with the base. And I do not prefer a vinegar-based coleslaw. I’m sorry. It’s just, um, I don’t like the smell of vinegar. I don’t like the taste of vinegar. I don’t even like the word vinegar. There’s something about it I find troubling. So as far as coleslaw goes, I am a bit of a snob. I, there are two things that have got to be going on with the coleslaw to make it work for me. I see your incredulity. Did I say that right? Incredulousness on your face. Yeah.

Alyssa:
Yes. Uh, okay. Do tell about these two absurd factors that you believe are important to coleslaw.

Joe:
I see that you are already naming them as absurd, despite the fact that you haven’t heard them in their entirety yet. Okay. I will sit here and be judged. That’s fine. Um, the first is that I like a cream-based coleslaw. Um, I don’t even, I don’t know that it’s cream-based, as in like the ingredient is cream, I just mean that it’s not vinegar-based. Uh, the second factor is I don’t like it finely diced to the point where it’s like mush. I like a, um, like shredded coleslaw. So sadly, there have been many times when I’ve been in a restaurant… Not lately, uh, where, you know, you get a side, a coleslaw. And as soon as I see it, I’m like, no, that’s not my coleslaw. Or I’ll see it and be like, oh, this has potential. And then I’ll take a bite and I’ll be like, Nope, there’s a lot of vinegar in there. And so, I will admit with enthusiasm with gusto that yes, I’m a coleslaw snob.

Alyssa:
Okay. So, for our listeners who are listening to us, rather than watching us on YouTube first, you should understand that Joe has a Pirate shirt on. Okay. And so, we both in the Pittsburgh vicinity all, yes.

Joe:
It’s not a shirt with a picture of like the stereotypical cartoon pirate. That’s not what she means. It’s a Pittsburgh Pirates’ polo shirt.

Alyssa:
Yes. But now the question becomes as a Pittsburgher would have to ask … (Joe: Oh goodness.) How do you go in and eat a Primanti sandwich if you do not like vinegar-based coleslaw, because they’re not going to give it, give you a sandwich with anything else other than that coleslaw on it.

Joe:
Well, there’s two ways to go about it. The first is you can order it with the slaw on the side. And I know that is, um, it makes me a heretic here in Western Pennsylvania, and I get that, and I will own that. Uh, the other part of it is there are some things that I can tolerate when they are mixed in with other things. So, I would be lying if I said that I had never had a good Primanti sandwich with the vinegar-based slaw because with the right other components, uh, it’s, it’s been palatable.

Alyssa:
It’s, it’s those French fries on top, of the meat, the cheese and the bread, which is really like…

Joe:
You slap some bacon and fries and meat and cheese, and two big slices of bread. Um, and you tuck a little bit of coleslaw in there. I can handle that.

Alyssa:
All right. Well, I won’t completely disown you. Again, we’re racking up the, the points of incompatibility here, but thank God that podcasting doesn’t require simpatico-ness with the likes and just general rightness in the world.

Joe:
I also feel like we may have just broken a world record for the longest conversation about coleslaw on a podcast. So, I might, I might throw that out there and everybody listening to this right now, it’s like, oh, for the love of God, move on.

Alyssa:
Yes. Okay. Shall we then.

Joe:
Well, I want to talk today… We were languishing there in our conversation about coleslaw… Pro-segue. And I want to talk about languishing. Um, on April 19th, the organizational psychologist, Adam Grant, who is also a great speaker. He’s an author. He is the host of a terrific podcast called the Worklife Podcast, which you should definitely check out. You’re just… Listeners… You’re not allowed to like it more than our show. And he wrote an article in the New York Times, uh, on something called languishing. And it was really interesting. As soon as this came out, it zoomed around the internet. I saw this article shared more than any other in a long time. And languishing is the term that he decided to spotlight as the state of being that exists between depression and flourishing. And he talked about how it is the state of mind that so many folks spent a great deal of 2020 in, and that really the first part of 2021. And here’s what he said about languishing. He said, languishing is having trouble concentrating and feeling aimless. You, you still have energy, but there’s also a feeling of stagnation or emptiness. Uh, you’re sort of just muddling through your days in a way, uh, he says, you’re not mentally ill, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. And the result is that you’re not functioning at full capacity. And so, Alyssa, have you experienced languishing in recent months?

Alyssa:
Abso-freaking-lutely? You know, you were the third person that sent me that article. Right. Okay. So it is definitely getting its rounds out there. Yeah. And as soon as I received it, I saw it first from, uh, a therapist, friend of mine. Who’s forwarded it on. I was like this, exactly. This, this word describes and encapsulates what I have definitively felt. Um, I’m not sure all of 2020, but absolutely in the first part of 2021. I have just felt like I should have right… More energy, more capability, more capacity around certain things – projects or, you know, even, you know, remote school. We’re in the last nine weeks, you know, trekking along. And I feel like that should… Has kind of been a weight on me of like, this is what I should be feeling. Right. But I don’t feel that. But yet I’m not like depressed in the sense that I can’t get out of bed. I still, I still do have energy and capacity around, you know, doing my routines and, you know, serving the habits that serve me and all of those things. But there is a definitive drop in what I think I have the capacity to put forth into the world.

Joe:
When I read the article, it gave a vocabulary for me to what I think might be the biggest leadership challenge for 2022. Uh, I think this has the potential to be the thing that we have to work on. I think that the biggest leadership challenge for the rest of this year and into next year — because the COVID recovery is barely started and it’s going to take some time. Um, I think there’s a kind of workplace PTSD that we all have to learn to figure out, and that leaders are going to really struggle to navigate a little bit. Um, the, the word in the article and this idea really for me, was able to capture the kind of sliding back that everyone did once we got through that initial first part of the pandemic, right? You talked about the homeschooling, you talked about the work changes in those first few weeks.

Joe:
Everybody turns all of their senses and attention and energy and fear and, and everything up to 11. And we operated that way for a while. Right? And, and, and I think there was a time when we all expected that this would be kind of a short-term inconvenience, but when that proved not to be the case — operating with all of our senses, turned up to 11 is not sustainable. Eventually there are parts of you that start to shut down. And so, there are so kind of sliding back of our energy of our positive, healthy self-talk, um, for, for leaders in the workplace of the kind of rallying to come together and get through it that you see on teams. Sometimes that stuff just starts to fade away. And I think what we have slid into is languishing. And, you know, I, I think it’s important to, to note from the article the, that Adam Grant does note that this was a term originally coined by a sociologist named Corey Keyes.

Joe:
So, you know, giving credit where credit is due for the idea. Uh, and, and I think it’s important to talk about why it’s so harmful, right? Because obviously, if we’re languishing, you know, you, you, at one level, you don’t catch yourself. If your senses are dulled… But if you are slipping into a deeper mental health crisis, uh, when you’re languishing, you’re undoubtedly going to experience friction. Maybe, maybe it’s at home or maybe it’s at work, or maybe it’s just in between our own ears. And if nothing else, languishing, you know, if, if it results in you just kind of doing the minimum and trying to get through the day, well, then we’re sort of getting caught into a vicious cycle of languishing – aren’t we? Because if I’m just doing the minimum and then, you know, I’m not always staying on top of the laundry, or the dishes, or the work, or I’m not… Or the exercise and taking care of myself. And now all of a sudden, I have guilt about that, and worry about that. And now I’ve got more languishing. And so, there’s this kind of vicious cycle. So how else is it harmful? How else have you seen it take a toll?

Alyssa:
Well, I feel like what you just touched on that last bit of it, where is that, you know, the guilt, you know, that that’s kind of, that’s a more exacting term than that “should” umbrella – that weight that I mentioned. Right. So that’s exactly what it is. That guilt, that shame that you’re not doing all that you’re capable of. Right. And so, when you show up with that, with that shame and guilt in the workplace, think about what that’s going to do to your ability to lead – #1 — and your ability to recognize it, and help others help your team through it. So, I think that the, the first, um, things that we’re identifying here, um, from the article that are really super important, um, and there’s a large body of work around this on its own is naming the emotion. Naming that has real power, because when we can say, “I am languishing”, that means something. That identifies how we are operating, uh, within the world. Um, and thereby gives us the opportunity to shed some of that shame, some of the guilt, um, that we might be feeling and the other really imperative part of this. Um, and in speaking with, you know, friends and colleagues who are in the therapy field, um, is that this represents what, you know, you mentioned this whole post-traumatic syndrome, right?

Alyssa:
That is the next pandemic – a mental health pandemic. That is what all of my counseling and therapist friends and colleagues are saying is that that is really what we’re going to be dealing with for the foreseeable future is the fallout from how we had to be… what we had to do… in order to condition ourselves, to survive mentally and emotionally for the past year, year and a half. And so, um, being able as a leader to recognize that this isn’t an end timestamp, right. Um, and understanding that this is a long-term process, and how you, #1. Have to help yourself. Right. Um, and #2. Be prepared to help others through that process as well. What resources can you ready? What, uh, types of services? How can you work to de-stigmatize mental health, mental care, um, so that we can, um, not only get ourselves out of true mental crisis, um, out of languishing, but get ourselves to the point of mental health as the standard of care that we give first and foremost to ourselves, and then offer to those whom we lead.

Joe:
Right. And I’m so glad you brought that up. As you know, this is, this is not a short chat where you’re going to it by just encouraging someone to buck up. Right. And on the other side of that though, you know, the bosses that are listening are not in a position to be the therapist for the folks who are in their charge. And so, we, as leaders have to land in a kind of gray area — in between where we get comfortable, um, checking in on people beyond just, “Hey, how are you?” And, you know, uh, noticing that “Hey, you seem out of sorts. You don’t seem like yourself. Can we talk a little bit about that? I just want to make sure you’re okay. Or is there anything I can do to support you and what do you need and how are you feeling today?

Joe:
And give me an honest answer.” And we get there by role modeling that too, right? Somebody says, how are you? You can say, you know – “I’m only about 20% today, if I’m being completely honest, but I’m going to give you all that 20%. And I’m hoping that tomorrow we can maybe double that.” You know and being able to role model that kind of honesty and vulnerability and putting a name to it. And, you know, you talked about that. That was one of the first things in this article that the author points to as a core strategy to overcome languishing. The other thing that I think leaders have to remember is that when people walk through the door and they’re not at 100%, that is not a failure of their commitment, that is not a lacking of, um, devotion to you or your workplace or, or the mission of the work that you do there, it’s human nature.

Joe:
We are not all at a hundred percent every day, all of the time. And so, I think that the leaders everywhere who are working with teams everywhere are going to have to have a certain amount of compassionate flexibility around how they interact with people and recognizing that there’s going to kind of – be these constant rise and falls for folks for a while. Um, non-sequitur, here’s the other thing that I think is really interesting. Despite the fact that we discuss in the article languishing as, as not being a, um, mental illness, I do think it’s interesting that all of the strategies listed in the article for overcoming languishing are the same strategies that are encouraged to try to work through depression. So, you named one of them, which was naming emotions, giving voice to it, taking the energy away from it, being honest at getting honest about it, getting to the root feelings that live underneath, how we think we’re feeling.

Joe:
Um, the other things that were in the article that, that stood out to me, uh, we’re trying to get into what is called flow, right? This is a state of mind where what you’re being asked to do aligns perfectly with your, your talent and ability and your interest. Uh, so if you see this in athletes, it’s called being in the zone, right? Where you’re just operating at your best. If we can periodically immerse ourselves in something that we find really intellectually stimulating that, uh, kind of meets us exactly where we are. It’s, it’s the Goldilocks’ alignment, right? Not too big, not too small, just right. Um, that that can help. And it is admittedly harder to get into flow when we have trouble focusing. But but if we can try to pursue it, even if it is just a, a crossword puzzle or, or, or a fulfilling conversation, anything that we can get immersed in, and lost in a little bit, is helpful. There are a couple of other things in the, in the article, but you’re nodding. And so, I want to give you a chance…

Alyssa:
I just, w you’re you’re picking up about the flow thing, and that’s reminding me of what I, um, thought to myself while reading that, uh, specific section, which was, there was another component of flow in which, um, he specifies that it needs to be uninterrupted time. Right. And that’s why I was like, well, that explains a whole hell of a lot, because if I’m lucky on any given day, I get a half an hour, right. .5 of an hour — of un – truly uninterrupted time. And even then, my door to my office is open so that I can overhear what my kid is doing online school. So, there is no wonder that without the capacity to have that truly uninterrupted time, how was the flow supposed to start if there’s no ability for it. Right. Right. And so, then that kind of made me go, you know what, I need to give up that shame of that guilt, because there’s an actual, legitimate, time reason why I can’t get to that state. Right. Right now. Not that it’s not possible for me. Right. But right now.

Joe:
And we’re seeing organizations who are recognizing that, and they’re actually blocking off chunks of time in their employees’ schedules and saying, no meetings, no zooms. This is, you know, No… No… No-Zoom Tuesdays or No-Zoom Tuesday/Wednesday mornings to create for them an environment where we could potentially trigger that kind of experience. Because most of us in the workplace are getting yanked from one direction to another all day long. You know, the average leader checks their email 74 times a day. Um, don’t quote me on that. I just read something along those lines. I’m not trying to throw out, made up stats here somewhere, but, um, I believe I saw it recently in Gallop… (Alyssa: It seems reasonable.) But it does. It does, doesn’t it? Um, yeah. Sorry. I try not to throw out data without giving you the source. But I just read that this morning, but, um, okay. Even if it’s just 24, like, hello, it’s still 24. Um, right. And so, getting into that flow state is, is only going to happen when we are willing to take the protective steps to block our time, or to say no to, and, or resist things that caused those kinds of interruptions.

Alyssa:
Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s a really great start. Those are some hard, uh, tactics that people can start to take and make for themselves. The other thing that I think, um, as leaders, um, you know, like Joe mentioned, obviously you’re not their therapist and that’s not your capacity, but helping people name and role modeling, um, I think is really important. Uh, role modeling about your own mental health. And then the other part of that is, is that when something, when, you know, it’s out of your, your, uh, capability to handle, when someone is really truly struggling and you want to be able to provide them with more resources, make sure you have that information. If you have an EAP program, you know, check in with your HR professionals, get that list of resources that are available and ready for your teams so that you’re not stuck in the moment going, oh, I don’t know what to do. You have the resources available and ready because this is going to keep happening.

Joe:
Excellent, excellent point. Thank you for, for saying that. I feel like we could say that in every episode that you know that no matter what’s going on with your folks, you should have at the ready, uh, some comfortable language you can use to encourage people. Hey, have you ever thought about talking to somebody about this and have you, did, are you aware that these resources are at your disposal? So, thank you for pointing that out. I have… One of the things I want to say about flow, and it’s entirely selfish. So, a couple of weeks ago in one of our episodes, we talked about, um, activating talent. And if you look at a lot of the research about talent and people getting to use their gifts at work, it’s tied to the research on flow and that when we get into that state of mind where it’s, there’s perfect alignment between the challenge in front of us and our talent and our ability, um, we get kind of tunnel vision and we lose ourselves in the work.

Joe:
And anybody listening to this who has gotten lost in a project and looked up at the clock a few minutes later to find that two and a half hours has gone by, you’ve experienced flow. And so, a number of years ago, I was talking about flow a little bit more in depth when doing some leadership training. And it forced me to learn how to pronounce the name of the gentleman who is sort of the granddaddy of this research. He is a Hungarian American psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and I just wanted to break that out because I had spent a lot of time learning how to say this accomplished man’s name and I got it and it stuck. And now I was able to use it again here in service of our podcast. So, there you go.

Alyssa:
Hooray, you! And I don’t think any one bit of that story was selfish. I think it served our listeners. And by the way, it is your podcast. So, you’re allowed to be selfish whenever you want.

Joe:
And the only reason I can remember it is because I spelled it out phonetically on my notes when I was writing a training course a few years ago, as his last name “chick-sent-me-hi”, “chick-sent-me-hi.” And I was like, okay, that’s it. Cause I did. I looked up the phonetic and I was like, you know, I w I want to pronounce the name correctly. Uh, and yeah, so it’s there, it’s in there now. It’s never coming out. I’ve got it. So, if you ever need to know who the granddaddy of flow is, uh, just ring me up and I’m going to have it. Boom, right there at the ready.

Alyssa:
Will do, will do

Joe:
Well. That brings us, as it normally does, to our Camaraderie Question of the Week. As our listeners, perhaps know, by now, Alyssa, we provide a question every week that you can take to your teams in an effort to help them find some things in common with each other. We know bosses, build camaraderie on teams by making it easier for people to access each other’s humanity. So, the question we have this week for your next meeting, or your next huddle is as follows, Alyssa. If you had to start your career over and you couldn’t do anything related to what you are doing now, what alternative career path would you choose?

Alyssa:
Whew. (Makes noise.)

Joe:
Wow. There were like four sounds there all in a row. There was like a sigh, and a huh, and then a giggle. There’s a lot going on behind the eyes there.

Alyssa:
Well, you know, as a child, I always thought I would grow up to be a teacher and I’m laughing and choking on that word now, because after this year and a half of virtual school, uh, there is no way in Hades that I could ever be a teacher. Um, I think perhaps it might be a smidgen different whenever it’s not your own kid. Um, but nonetheless, it’s hard as heck. Um, and I think teachers are rock stars. I am not qualified to be that level of rock star. However, I think that if I could like do it all again and have no qualms about money and all of the rest of it titles, I would be a writer.

Joe:
No kidding. That doesn’t surprise me at all. I mean, just in, in, in watching, uh, just how your interests have evolved in the, in recent years, even just the kinds of things that you get passionate about here on our podcast and in our conversations. Um, that doesn’t surprise me at all. Are you writing around, are you writing a memoir? Are you writing fiction? Are you writing self-help books? Are you writing smut? Like what what’s that…

Alyssa:
I am writing…. I’m not writing smut, so don’t, don’t put my mom in that headspace yet. No mom, no. If I did that, it would be under a pseudonym. Okay?

Alyssa:
No, I think, um, I really connect with, um, being in a self-help space being of service to others. Um, but certainly with, um, personal experience. So not necessarily memoir, uh, but absolutely experiential-based. Um, I, I feel like I have in the last, you know, five years, uh, we’ll say been very intentional about, um, trying to understand what, what it is that I truly want in life and living my priority life and being able to help others live theirs. And so that’s where I really connect the most, um, with the writing space. And so hopefully…maybe.

Joe:
I was just going to say, you’re in the unique position that you can still do that. And we’ve talked a little bit about that.

Alyssa:
Stay tuned, stay tuned.

Joe:
Ooh. I like the foreshadowing tease. Maybe just maybe…down the line, around the bend…

Alyssa:
Ok, so lay it on us. What are you, what are, I mean, you’d have to be some kind of theater or, but… That’s really kind of connected to what it is you do now in a way, so, all right. Well, I’m just not going to guess…

Joe:
I like that you’re shaking the box. So, at, during the holidays, whenever I get a present, I’m the person that … shakes the box and tries to guess, so I like that you’re shaking the box and like… What do I know about Joe and what guess, what am I going to guess? You can even do this as an exercise with your team right before you could ask this question… But then you could say here’s a piece of paper with everybody’s name on it. Let’s pass it around the circle. And you write down what you think they’re going to say their alternative career would have been, or what would be interesting to them, if you wanted to do a longer, more extended kind of fun team building exercise. Um, so I’m going to give a double, a double layer to answer as you did. You gave me teacher – no way – then writer.

Joe:
And so, um, yeah, from, from high school, I, I had a desire to do theater, to do musical theater and to be on Broadway. And even that came late in schooling for me. But it’s what I really went to undergrad for at the beginning there. Um, and so always aspired to that. Um, still get to do some of that sort of thing, not at that level. Um, but if I had to go in a completely different direction and I, and that’s what I really like about this question. So, for leaders, I want to push, I want you to push your teams to try to actually go in and as alternative a direction as they can, something that’s pretty far away from what we’re doing. Now. I would want to do something with the space program. I, I we’ve talked about this a little bit, I think before on the podcast, I’m just in awe and, and completely mystified and impressed and moved by everything related to the exploration of the cosmos. I can’t even get my head around it. I I’ve read a lot of books on the space program and I’m; I love all, any movie about space. Aww, man, I love it. You know, every TV show about space. Oh yeah. I want to watch that. I just am consumed by it. And so being able to be a part of, of that in some way, I don’t think I would want to do the astronaut thing.

Alyssa:
Yeah. Okay. I was, that was going to be my next question. Okay.

Joe:
Though, if in my lifetime, there is a not terrifying way in which to experience going to outer space. I would absolutely do it. Um, I’m simultaneously afraid of heights. So, we’re going to work all of these things out.

Alyssa:
Me too.

Joe:
Right.

Joe:
But I could not imagine the experience of floating above the earth. I mean, I, and what that must look like and what it would, what it would be like. Um, so maybe if I got a job in the space program, it would be something behind the scenes. I would need to pull my math grades up though.

Alyssa:
Oh, that’s fun. Love it.

Joe:
Does that surprise you?

Alyssa:
It doesn’t, now that you say that. The instant, you said space, I was like, oh yes, he has that awe and the wonder for the space. And so, I, I, I love that for you. I think that, um, the whole astronaut part of it is, was the intriguing part to me. Whether or not that would be like your cause that’s kind of like the tactical arm. Right? You know, the scientific and the engineering arms. And there are so many different facets obviously, um, to the whole space thing in general, but the all, and the wonder and the reverence for which you speak about space in the cosmos, I can absolutely see that. Yeah.

Joe:
And I see the astronauts as the folks, they have to have all of it. Right. They have to be the engineers. They have to be the math gurus. They have to be the, the fighter pilots and the fearless. I mean, it’s just, it’s an incredible mix of knowledge. I feel like they need to have four to eight brains in their head. Whereas most of us only have one.

Alyssa:
Yeah. Yeah.

Joe:
And that’s the Camaraderie Question of the Week.

Joe:
Well, the last part of our show today, Alyssa is something that I am really excited about. And so, to introduce this for our listeners, I want to ask you to think about when you and I started doing some work together a couple of years ago to shape some of your coaching work into a potential keynote, right. We had started working on a keynote speech for you that you could deliver around helping leaders and executives live a more balanced life that that reduces burnout. And if you’re watching on YouTube, you can see that Alyssa is nodding and smiling. Do you recall that in that process, at one point I shared with you a formula that I thought might be helpful in getting clear on the structure of your idea.

Alyssa:
I do. And, you know, thank goodness for heavy sturdy shelving above me because in my bajillions of notes that linger above me, I have the paper in which I you’re, right. You’re asking me the questions and I’m writing the questions and trying to put my answers down, and then we’re going back through, and you can see my, my pen marks and my pencil scribbles going this and then that, and then this and then that. So, I do remember that conversation of which there were several, but I think I’m, I think I’m remembering the specific one in which you talked about what weaves that together. Right. Um… (Joe: Do you remember what it was called?) Well, I remember only because we have this lovely red run sheet here otherwise, but I remember also because I have referenced it several times, um, as your specific superpower, uh, on the, on the podcast, um, that you do this so beautifully and it is to leave the red thread through a story, having this theme, having this attachment to the emotions behind each element of what it is that you speak of. And it is a beautiful tapestry that you leave with this red thread.

Joe:
Well, I am so excited that we are going to have an interview with the author of that idea. So, I don’t get credit for coming up with the idea of the red thread. Uh, although it is something that I have leaned on and used a lot in years to help become a better storyteller and to help communicate a message in a way that is succinct and digestible that people connect with that people can understand. Uh, and so the, the author and founder of that concept is named Tamsen Webster. And after several years, she has finally written a book on this called Finding Your Red Thread. That’s all about making your ideas irresistible. And so Tamsen agreed to sit for a brief interview with us. And so, I’m going to introduce us now to our BossHeroes, take a listen to this, uh, and enjoy Tamsen Webster here on Boss Better Now.

Joe:
I am joined right now by strategist, storyteller, and author Tamsen Webster. She’s a former TEDx producer and has worked with organizations like Johnson and Johnson, Harvard medical School, and Intel, as well as with hundreds of individual founders, academics and thought leaders to help experts drive action with their ideas. She’s also the author of the new book, Find Your Red Thread – Make Your Big Ideas Irresistible, which is out this week. Tamsen welcome to Boss Better Now.

Tamsen:
I am so excited to be here, Joe Mull. Thank you for having me.

Joe:
I am so excited to have you here. Uh, what is the red thread and how does it make ideas irresistible?

Tamsen:
So, the red thread is the story that your brain builds to connect a question and an answer – a problem and solution, an issue, and an idea, uh, our brains make sense of information all the time. We tell ourselves stories consciously and not to explain why the world or we behave the way that we do. And the reason why figuring out what the red thread of your idea can make it irresistible as it essentially, you’re building that story that people will tell themselves about your idea. And those are the most irresistible stories of all.

Joe:
I think it’s obvious just in that description, that, that your model and this book in particular has a ton of utility for bosses. So, let’s talk about that. Uh, how can the book and the model function as a tool or a resource for leaders?

Tamsen:
Well, I think it, I designed it very much for businesspeople, um, because I think there’s, you know, when I first started figuring out this aspect of my work about five years ago, right? The early earliest days of the red thread, um, I was, what I was trying to do is reverse engineer, all the kind of intuitive knowledge I had gained in the 20 previous years, I’d spent a brain and message strategist. You know, in that case, it was my job to be presented with a situation and figure out not only what to say, but the right way to say it. And then, uh, about, you know, five – seven years ago, I was in a position of starting to help other people figure out what to say and the best way to say it. Uh, and I couldn’t just tell them, um, because in certain cases, these were speakers for TEDx Cambridge.

Tamsen:
So, they needed to be the ones to present this. And, you know, there were a fair number of leaders as well. And I mean, you know, being a speaker as well, you know, that the best way to connect with the audience is to make sure that you’re fully connected with what you’re saying. So, uh, what I found was that even though lots of us know that storytelling is a really powerful way to get information across – A. Not everyone feels comfortable telling stories. They don’t see themselves as storytellers and B. What I found particularly five-ish years ago was that a lot of the information on how to tell a story was really not business leader friendly. Um, a lot of it was based on the “hero myth”, which is a great story structure by the way, but it’s also 7 to 12 steps, depending on which one you want, you know? And so, I really wanted to find a simpler way for people to be able to structure information. So, it felt like a story and had the impact of a story, even if it wasn’t told as a story. Um, and the red thread is the result of that.

Joe:
Oh, it’s, it’s fantastic. And, and for so many reasons, I know that when I work with organizations and we do data collection at the employee level, and we ask folks what needs to change here? What needs to get better? Or what would you like to have happened more often, you know, to fix A-B-C problem, regardless of what A-B-C problem is. One of the most common complaints is communication. And when you ask folks what needs to change about that, the answers are wildly vague. And so, what are the keys to sharing ideas and information in a way that will lead others to feel informed and involved?

Tamsen:
Well, you, you actually stated the answer right, in your question in the way that you set it up, because a lot of times the big failure in communication is we forget to think about the other side of it. We focus so much on what we want to say and the point that we get across and the reasons why we think that’s the right thing to do that. We forget that the other people that we’re talking to aren’t convinced yet and may not have the same level of knowledge or predisposition to say yes to whatever this is. So, one of the big things that this book is really about, and one of the core ideas that it’s based on is that communication doesn’t happen unless what you send out is actually received. And so, part of what I’ve tried to build into the red thread is understanding what are those pieces of information that the brain needs to hear to connect between here’s what we’re doing and why sometimes just those two pieces aren’t enough there that we have to give people a little bit more information. Um, and so that’s really what the book is meant to do is to help people, whether they realize it or not, kind of slowly turn the camera around so that they’re looking at their communications, uh, from the perspective of the person who’s going to hear it and building that person’s case for the idea, not just their own.

Joe:
I’m thinking about what you say in the book about how most of our decision-making is unconscious and that our brains are navigating a maze we can’t see. And that sounds like something that might work against us when we’re trying to communicate. So, tell us a little bit more about that. How do we overcome those kinds of barriers?

Tamsen:
Well, so it comes back to the fact that in all of that pre-conscious, decision-making the, what is known is that the brain is making is processing that information and in a very specific way, and we know what that is. It’s… It’s story where we are, we are processing information as story, and it isn’t necessarily those “once upon a time stories”, uh, but there are explanations, right? And, and stories are explanations, and most explanations are stories. Um, and so what we can do to understand what really needs be part of any kind of really effective change communication is to look at those “once upon a time stories” and borrow from them what the main pieces are, because a story only makes sense when it has those pieces, like a “once upon a time story” only makes sense. So, this kind of, if you map over and say, well, if a story makes sense, when it has all these pieces, kind of any idea will make sense if it has all those pieces. And so that’s, that really is what the, the main elements of the red thread process are… Are figuring out and mapping over those “once upon a time” story elements to communication elements, what, what pieces of information must be in your communication in order for it to really be understood and ultimately acted on.

Joe:
And so, it sounds like this is something that at a very minimal level leaders at least need to build time in for, right. If I’m thinking about how I want to transfer knowledge or share information, or just to get people to buy in to whatever it is I’m either selling or advocating for that, I can’t just show up and wing it and speak off the cuff, right. And, and just sort of speak extemporaneously about it. I need to be intentional and carving out some time when that’s our most valuable commodity, right. We don’t all have time to do it. But what I hear you saying is if we can be thoughtful and intentional about doing it, and we can use the right ingredients, we supercharge that communication much more effectively.

Tamsen:
Absolutely. And the more that you do it, and I know this from seeing my clients now, having worked with this for five years, the more that you do it, the closer you can get to winging it in the moment. Um, and it’s, but it’s still never winging it without anything. I mean, in the beginning, it’s like any skill you’re going to want to spend time. It takes practicing. Okay. Well, what is the question that my audience is asking that this idea isn’t an answer for? Not what question do I wish they were asking, but what are they asking right now? I mean, just that one step is will, will radically change the impact of your message because you’re starting with what your audience wants to know and not what you want them to know. Um, but once you’ve got that basic framework in your head and those, you know, those elements, and I’m sure we’ll have a chance to talk about the quickly is, you know, goal, problem, truth, change, action.

Tamsen:
Uh, it, it becomes one of those things that becomes a little bit second nature. This is what my clients tell me, is it over time, even if they haven’t sat down and figured those things out, uh, that someone asks them a question, well, there’s that question they want to know the answer to and their brains can kind of immediately go, okay, well, what’s the, what’s the problem of perspective? Okay, what’s this truth that kind of makes that problem possible to ignore, okay, what, what’s my feeling on this? What do I, you know, what approach do I feel is the right one? I mean, what does it, what might that look like? And just having that framework ends up becoming a very easy thing to sort of know that you always can fall back on. And honestly, like I said before, it’s one of the reasons why I developed it, the way that I did is that I wanted to needed people who were busy and didn’t have a lot of time to have something that could in a short amount of time, really radically change the impact of communications.

Joe:
Well, and I don’t know anybody who doesn’t find value and comfort in structures and models that provide for us a kind of a roadmap to, too, if I plug the right pieces in, in the right order, what comes out at least has a pretty good chance of being effective. And so, it sounds like we’ve, we’ve got some of that here, so you rattled it off. Why don’t we go back, give those ingredients to us again. And within that list, where do people tend to fall short the most?

Tamsen:
Sure. Um, well kind of everywhere. Um, uh, well, the, the first, let me talk about in the order where people, things get missed, there are a couple of places that definitely get that get missed, and I’ll talk about that. But the very first piece is what I call the audience’s goal. Uh, easiest way to find that I set up before, ask yourself what question are these people currently asking for which they don’t have an answer, but that your idea, your communication contains the answer. So what question are they currently asking? So, it can be anything from like, why can’t we do X more, or how can we improve Y or what can I do to get X, Y, Z out of my company? Um, again, it’s not necessarily what you wish they were asking. It’s what are they actually asking right now? Um, it does need to be something that your idea answers but start there.

Tamsen:
So that’s the goal. That’s the audience’s goal. I’m going to say that again. Audience’s goal, not yours. Um, so that’s the first piece and that matches story structure in the way that when a story, “a once upon a time” story starts, we don’t really get fully engaged into that story until the main character — we establish what the main character wants but doesn’t yet have. So, most people generally are familiar with the Harry Potter movies. So, I like to use that as an example, um, we may be curious about why a wizard is leaving a baby on a doorstep, but we don’t really engage with the story until we meet Harry and realize that Harry wants a family that he does not have. He wants to belong somewhere and doesn’t yet. So that’s the goal. So, once we see the audience, you know, once we know what the audience wants, they are going to lean in, this is a story they’re going to tell themselves, because it’s the question they’re asking.

Tamsen:
They’re like, oh, this is about me. I have that question. The next piece is just like in any major story, there’s a problem that gets in the way, but a problem that the character didn’t know about when it got started. So, Harry has no idea that Voldemort is out there and is going to stand in the way and threaten the potential for him to have a place where he belongs. And the same thing is true in any kind of business messaging that standing in the way of your audience’s goal is something that they don’t know about yet. Now the, I call this a problem of perspective, because a lot of times speaking to where we sometimes get this wrong, we jumped right to, well, the problem is you’re doing it wrong, essentially. That’s what we’re saying, but, but if we understand that, how we see the world drives what we do, and the first thing we actually need to figure out is, well, what, how are they looking at the situation?

Tamsen:
That explains why they’re doing that. And so, we need to identify that lens. So, the, the problem is always a two-part problem. It’s their current perspective. And then a new perspective that kind of intuitively would make sense to them, but where they would agree. They’re not focusing right now. So, for instance, um, uh, one of my clients, Tracy Timm, I think, you know, Tracy, um, maybe don’t she’s out of Dallas. Um, she like her audience was CEO’s who have a lot of millennial employees. And their question was, how can we keep millennial employees from leaving? Like, what are these? They don’t respond to any of the incentives that we have. What are these new leavers of loyalty? That’s the question. The problem of perspective that we identified was that most of the time, the answer to that, like what incentives can we use? Were, were anchored to the position, you know, well, if you’re at this level then you get these perks, and if you’re at this little, we get these perks and there we’re focused more on the position perspective-one, then on the people in them – perspective-two.

Tamsen:
And you notice what we’re doing there is it, we’re not doing it, giving them anything radically different or radically new. We’re just saying, would you agree that you pay more attention to the positions than the people is this traditionally? What, what, where the focus has been? Yes. Okay. So now we’ve got a goal. We’ve got a problem in a “once upon a time story” There’s always something that’s known as the moment of truth, right? Where the, uh, the, and my favorite word for this is anagnorisis. (Joe: Oooh..that’s like a dollar and a half word.) Um, but it’s a Greek word talking about this moment in any story, every story, by the way, a good story, where the main character recognizes the true nature of their circumstances. And so, with Harry Potter, this is the moment where Harry realizes that in order for him to save his family, in order for him to, to battle, like it hits gonna come down to him, like he’s got to do this, and he’s got to do it, even if it means he doesn’t survive.

Tamsen:
Um, and your story that you’re building for your audience’s brain needs to have the same thing. It needs to have something, some additional piece of information that they believe is true. They would agree is true. That because they believe true threatens what they want. So, for instance, back to the Tracy Timm example, if they’re focusing more on positions than people, and yet we can agree, it’s true that people are what make positions work. If you want to keep your millennial employees from leaving all of a sudden, you’re like, oh, I’m going to have to do something different. I’m going to have to make a choice. So, on a story, that choice drives a change. So, we’ve got goal, problem, truth, change, right? Harry has to do something different. Harry has to embody the fact that Harry – you’re a wizard and he’s going to, he’s actually going to do this thing.

Tamsen:
And then in the, and in our message story, right? It’s saying, okay, so the solution then, and this is what Tracy helps leaders do is to personalize the incentives to the people in the positions. And she’s not saying get rid of the position levels, but she’s saying, hey, if somebody is at this level, give them options. And if at this level give them options. And what you see is now you’ve got kind of a complete story that someone goes, okay, I see why this makes sense. The last piece, or just what actually happens. What are the actions that people take? So, you know, for, for Tracy, these, those actions would be one of the specific programs and specific things that she does with leaders in order to help her do that. But those are the five pieces, goal, problem, truth, change, action. And when you’ve gotten all there, what you do is basically just wrap it back up to the goal and say, hey, look, you got, did you get what you wanted? Absolutely. And there’s actually a little bonus in the book because there’s this thing, I call the goal revisited where it’s like, it’s like the cherry on top of the sundae, on top of the cake, that you have just given them and allowed them to use as well, which is what else do they get? So, goal, problem, truth, change, action. And then kind of brings them back to the beginning.

Joe:
Well, I hope everyone who is listening to this will, will favorite this episode so that you can continually come back to that super mini masterclass that Tamsen just gave us, uh, and to go deeper, you can get the book. And I’m going to ask you in a minute to tell you, to tell folks where they can get the book Tamsen and what is so exciting to me as someone who has watched others, embrace your methodology, use it, uh, as someone who myself has used that very formula, you just outlined. What I see happening over and over again is when the audience experiences that they go, oh, I never thought about it that way. But then it feels like common sense. They say, well, of course it makes total sense. And so there, it’s almost paradoxical, right? I never thought about it that way, but it feels like common sense. And then I’m leaving inspired and excited to take action. Not because I saw a motivational speaker, but because now I have answers. I have insight that I necessarily didn’t have before. And I’ve got answers that I can go act on because this was packaged and delivered to me in such a way that it just all clicks.

Tamsen:
Yes, yes. I said it before. This is all about building the story that people will tell themselves. And the reason why that’s so important is because we’re going to do it anyway. And most of the time, our brains are wired to tell a story that talks us out of doing anything different than we’re doing right now. And so, what we have to do is we have to, we have to build a story that makes more sense than the status quo. That feels like it’s more able to achieve what somebody wants. It feels like it’s closer to things that they already believe. And I think that’s probably one of the more counterintuitive things that people discover through this method is that oftentimes that the best way to change people’s behavior, doesn’t lie in changing what they want and believe it actually lies in upholding what they want and believe, but getting them to look at those things in a slightly different way.

Joe:
Boy, talk about a truth statement. That’s a beautiful bow on the end of our conversation, tell folks where they can get this fantastic book.

Tamsen:
All things red thread book can be found at redthreadbook.com. And, uh, yeah, so we’ve got some, some good goodies there for people who buy multiple copies. Uh, but you can find the links to all the online places where it lives right there at redthreadbook.com.

Joe:
Well, I’m so glad you joined us today. And for our BossHeroes listening, I have a feeling that, that they, like I will be, going back through this conversation more than once and just mining it for all of that insight. Thank you for being here today, Tamsen.

Tamsen:
Thanks so much for having me.

Joe:
Well, that’s our show folks. If you liked what you heard, we will ask you to tell others about it, and you can do that the old-fashioned way on social media, share it, post it, tell other folks to check us out at bossbetternowpodcast.com. Thank you, as always, for listening and thanks for all that you do to take care of so many.

Alyssa:
This show is sponsored by Joe Mull and Associates. Remember commitment comes from better bosses. Visit joemull.com today.

 

 

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