575: Improve Your Career and Life by Becoming a Supercommunicator with Charles Duhigg

Discover how to transform your career and life through better conversations — become a Supercommunicator with insights from Charles Duhigg



Charles Duhigg, Pulitzer prize-winning Reporter and Best-selling Author

His books include 3 bestsellers: The Power of Habit, Smarter Faster Better, and his latest release Supercommunicators. Charles currently writes for The New Yorker magazine

on this episode

How good are you at communicating? I’m not talking about small talk or networking chat — I mean communicating on a deeper level.

Whether you’re asking for a raise, walking into an interview, or really doing anything that involves other people, it’s extremely helpful to be a skilled communicator.

So if communication isn’t naturally one of your strengths, are you just out of luck?

It turns out — no!

According to Charles Duhigg, and his new book, you can improve your communication skills and even learn the skills it takes to become a Supercommunicator.

“I think that there’s this common cultural myth, which is that people who are really good at communication are born with it, right? We say born with the gift of gab, or that they’re extroverts or they’re really charming. And the thing is research shows that just isn’t true at all”

One of the simplest ways he breaks down communication skills is with the three types of conversations. By knowing them, you can identify the conversation you intend to have and approach it correctly.

Anytime we speak with another person, we’re actually participating in one of three conversations:

  • Practical (What’s this really about?)
  • Emotional (How do we feel?)
  • Social (Who are we?)

If you don’t know what kind of conversation you’re having, connection is hard. In fact, Scott relayed a situation to Scott where a miscommunication resulted in him getting fired. He had approaced the situation with a practical conveersation, when he truly needed to have an emotional conversation (listen to this full story in the podcast episode above!)

Think about the next important interaction you are planning to have — let’s figure out how can you approach it as a Supercommunicator. Charles walks through an example of how to do this. Here’s what it takes to have a productive, enjoyable and genuine conversation —

  • Set the Scene: Before diving in, set the stage for your conversation. For example, if you’re preparing to ask for a raise, gather facts about your contributions and achievements to present a compelling case.
  • Get Ready: Understand the type of conversation you’re about to have of the 3 types of conversations. If it’s about a raise, consider whether it’s more about proving your value (practical), discussing how it affects you emotionally, or if it’s a more social conversation about company culture and team dynamics.
  • Ask the Right Questions: Instead of making statements, ask insightful questions. Prepare questions that help you understand the situation better. For example, “Why do we do this process this way?” or “How does the work I am doing to achieve our annual goal align with long-term company goals?” Avoid yes or no questions.
  • Manage Expectations: Don’t feel pressured to resolve everything in one conversation. Take breaks to reflect and process information. Duhigg suggests approaching discussions as ongoing dialogues, allowing time for reflection between exchanges.
  • Learn and Adapt: Conversations can change your perspective. Be willing to have your mind changed. For example, after discussing your career goals and achievements, you might understand your manager’s perspective better, leading to a more aligned approach on your growth plan.
  • Personal Growth Check: Reflect on how your communication style evolves. Compare past conversations that felt more rigid with others that felt more natural and engaging. What did you do differently? Try to get into the mindset of those positive interactions. Duhigg notes the evolution in his interview style over the years as he learned about Supercommunication, emphasizing the shift from structured interviews to engaging dialogues that foster deep connections.
  • Why It Matters: Genuine conversations are the key to improving your career, relationships, and life as a whole. Instead of just going through the motions, aim for meaningful interactions that build understanding and connection.

By incorporating these strategies, you can elevate your communication skills to a new level. Remember, it’s not about being perfect or having all the answers right away—it’s about being willing to learn and grow from each conversation.

As Duhigg emphasizes, the best communicators are those who are continuously evolving, learning, and adapting. This means recognizing that every interaction is an opportunity to refine your skills and build stronger connections.

So, the next time you’re gearing up for an important conversation, take a moment to reflect on the type of conversation you need to have. Approach it with openness, ask insightful questions, and be willing to adapt based on the responses you receive. By doing so, you’ll not only be on your way to becoming a Supercommunicator, but also a more empathetic and understanding person (+ someone people love to be around!)

Communication is they key to relationships at work and throughout life. Taking steps towards Supercommunication is a way to invest in your personal growth and transform your career and life.

Be sure to listen to the full podcast episode above to get all of Duhigg’s expert insigts and discover how you can become a Supercommunicator and unlock new opportunities in your career and beyond! 🚀

What you’ll learn

  • The common myths about communication and why they’re false.
  • How to develop the skills of a Supercommunicator.
  • Strategies for effective communication, including how to ask for a raise.
  • How being a skilled communicator can enhance all areas of your life

Charles Duhigg 00:01

There's a normal distribution of extroverts and introverts among super communicators. There's a normal distribution of charming and curmudgeonly. And if you ask super communicators, "Were you always good at communication? Is this something you were born with?" Inevitably, they say, "No."

Introduction 00:21

This is the Happen To Your Career podcast with Scott Anthony Barlow. We hope you stop doing work that doesn't fit you. Figure out what does and make it happen. We help you define the work that is unapologetically you, and then go get it. If you feel like you were meant for more, and you're ready to make a change, keep listening. Here's Scott. Here's Scott. Here's Scott.

Scott Anthony Barlow 00:45

If you want to get anything done, results of any kind, you're going to need to be able to communicate with other people. And if you really want to excel at just about anything career related, working with team, making meaningful connections, job interviews, salary negotiation, networking, and, quite frankly, anything else that you might be interested in being successful at, well, then it helps if you are a skilled communicator, or what our guest today calls a super communicator.

Charles Duhigg 01:20

There's this common cultural myth, which is that people who are really good at communication are born with it, right? We say born with the gift of gab, or that they're extroverts, or they're really charming. And the thing is that the research shows that that just isn't true at all.

Scott Anthony Barlow 01:34

That's Charles Duhigg. Charles is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, New Yorker staff writer, and best selling author. His previous books include 'The Power of Habit', 'Smarter Faster Better', and his newest book, which is out now, is 'Supercommunicators: How to Unlock the Secret Language of Connection'. Now I think this is going to be a great conversation for you to hear because, well, quite frankly, I found his insights extremely helpful over the years. I loved 'The Power of Habit', and for the last 10 years, I've been buying the book for our team, and quite frankly, anybody who I thought would benefit from it as gifts for people. So when Charles came out with his latest book on communication, honestly, I bought it because I'm familiar with his work. However, it was a pleasant surprise, because I've read so many books on communication, and this is very different than every other communication book, and I've probably read, I don't know, well, over 100 now at this point. Many other books try to oversimplify communication by saying, "Here's the research, and here's the tactics, and here's what you need to do in all circumstances." But supercommunicators, it adds a lot of nuance. Charles walks through helpful details that he pulls from research, like the different types of conversations you need to have in different situations at work. You're even going to hear how we walk through a specific example of how a supercommunicator would ask for a raise. But before we get to that, I asked Charles to share a bit about where his career began.

Charles Duhigg 03:09

So, after I graduated from college, I started a company back in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is where I grew up, to build medical education campuses. And after doing that for a couple of years, I realized that I didn't know as much about business and management as I wanted to, and so I went to business school. So I went to business school to get my MBA, and during my first year in business school, we ended up selling the company. And so suddenly I kind of had this... I had this, like, sort of freedom that I hadn't anticipated on. And between the first and second year of business school, you do an internship. And the idea is that you do an internship with a company that you hope is going to hire you. And so that's what I did. I went back to Albuquerque, and I did an internship with a private equity real estate firm, and I was trying to decide between becoming a journalist or going into business. And while I was doing that job, I realized that I really actually much more enjoyed doing journalism, and so that's kind of how I ended up here. It's not a particularly exciting story.

Scott Anthony Barlow 04:05

Well, let me ask you about that. I'm curious, though, because you were considering between business and journalism. But what caused you to lean that direction? What was happening way back then, where you're like, "Yeah, this is it. This is where I'm gonna lean."

Charles Duhigg 04:18

I think that the thing about business is that you spend a lot of time building spreadsheets and trying to get better and better and better and faster and faster and faster at evaluating deals. And so the fact... You learn something really, really well, and then you continue sort of focusing and getting better and better at one small thing or one large thing, but it's one thing. Whereas in journalism, you get to learn something new every single day, and that just seemed more entertaining to me, more interesting. And the idea of storytelling sort of seemed like it could be interesting to me for the rest of my life. So yeah, I mean, like many things that, I think that, in retrospect, we sort of force a narrative on our decisions and at that time, it just seems like this is the most interesting thing to do right now. And then there's some path dependence.

Scott Anthony Barlow 05:06

I think one of the things I really enjoy about your work is that you do a great job bringing people along for the ride. And what I mean by that... Yeah, absolutely. Well, I'll tell you what, I love 'The Power of Habit' so much that now, for the last 10 years, have been buying it for people– we buy it for our team, we buy it for gifts.

Charles Duhigg 05:27

Oh, that's very kind.

Scott Anthony Barlow 05:28

Yeah. So definitely enjoyed it. But also, I think about almost all your work, you tend to say, "Hey, I'm learning about this in one way or another, whether it's from an investigative point of view, or whatever else." And then you bring us along for the ride. When you think about supercommunicators, because we're going to talk about that here momentarily, so tell me about like, what is that central idea that we keep either pulling away from or coming back to, what is the drawing point that you were talking about earlier?

Charles Duhigg 06:04

The central idea is that communication is a set of skills that anyone can learn, and that there's nothing inherently special about supercommunicators, except that they understand those skills and they understand they can apply them the same things that they do with a best friend or someone who it's very easy to talk to, those are fungible skills that they can bring to any interaction. And when they do that, they'll achieve this kind of what's known within neuroscience is neural entrainment. They'll feel connected to each other.

Scott Anthony Barlow 06:32

I think it almost feels like the title and the subtitle are a little bit in conflict with how someone might understand, because it almost feels like supercommunicators, which you make the point in the book that anyone can become a super communicator. But when I first read the title, I felt like it was about these exceptional people in some ways. And I think that's one of the things that you address early on in the book, too, is that it seems like some of these people must have superpowers, and that was your theory, if I understood, as well, like, "hey, these people must be different in one way or another. But turns out, they're not."

Charles Duhigg 07:11

No, not at all. And in fact, I think that there's this common cultural myth, which is that people who are really good at communication are born with it, right? We say, born with the gift of gab, or that they're extroverts, or they're really charming. And the thing is that the research shows that that just isn't true at all, right? That there's a normal distribution of extroverts and introverts among supercommunicators. There's a normal distribution of charming and curmudgeonly. And if you ask supercommunicators, "Were you always good at communication? Is this something you were born with?" Inevitably, they say "No." They say something like, you know, "I had trouble making friends in high school, and I had to study how kids talk to each other." Or, "My parents got divorced, and I had to be the peacemaker between them." And what that's really telling us is communication is a learned skill. It's actually a set of learned skills. And so most people stop there. They say, like, "Okay. So, that's great. I want to learn those skills for having a hard conversation, or having a conversation with someone I disagree with, or a friend." But the next step that's really interesting is, you know, it is a fungible set of skills. The same with reading– no one would ever suggest to you–if you learned to read a nonfiction, that you can't read fiction, right? Or that if you can read a menu, you can't read a computer instruction guide. That would fundamentally violate what we think of as a skill. A skill is by inherently fungible, and yet, when it comes to communication, people assume that they are not fungible. But what the research tells us, and what supercommunicators the book tells us, is, once you learn how to do this, once you recognize the skills, then you begin to understand how you can apply those same skills to literally anyone.

Scott Anthony Barlow 08:54

We have so many people that listen to this show where they'll contact us and while I'm honored to have many of these questions, we'll get quite a few questions like, "Hey, how do I say the right things to convince my boss that I need a raise?" Or, "How do I go into this situation to persuade or, you know, convince that this other thing that needs to happen?" And what we find over and over again is that there's this misconception in many different ways, where it's like, "Hey, if I say all the perfect things in the conversation, then miraculously, people are going to get this different result." And...

Charles Duhigg 09:37

Totally. And they'll just agree with me, because, like, yeah. So okay, to answer your question, so let's distinguish what's happening when I sit down with someone. The first thing to figure out is, "do I want to actually have a conversation with them?" Because if my goal is simply to persuade them, then I'm not looking to have a conversation. Now, I will argue to you that that's a pretty ineffective way to persuade someone , it turns out, like, all the research tells us that if I sit down with you, and I'm like, "I want to convince you of something that you don't want to believe." It's probably not going to go well, right? A conversation would be better. But at the outset, like you have to decide to have a conversation. And a conversation does not mean I say something and you listen and you change your mind. A conversation is, I say something in a way that you can understand me, and you say something in a way that I can understand you. And we might walk away disagreeing with each other, but as long as we understand each other, then the conversation has been successful. So okay, so let's say I'm going in, I'm trying to, like, trying to get a raise, and I decide, "Look, the only way I can do this..." If I walk in and I demand a raise, if I don't have a conversation, my boss is going to be like, "Sorry, see you later." So what I want to do is I want to have a conversation. So in a conversation, we don't think just about what we want to say, we think about what the other person wants to say. And so the best way to start a conversation about getting a raise is to go in and ask your boss a question like, "What would you expect to see from me that would make you feel like I deserve a raise?" And oftentimes, when we're preparing for a hard conversation like that, whether it's a good conversation or bad conversation, we spend a lot of time thinking about what we want to say, right? I'm going to go in and I'm going to tell him X and Y and Z, or this person is bothering me, and I'm going to tell give them a piece of my mind, but we should spend as much time trying to figure out what we are hoping to learn from the other person, right, what questions we want to ask the other person, what they might want to say in this conversation, because that's the way that we engender a conversation, rather than just competing monologue, which is usually what happens when you ask for a raise, right? You go and say, "I want to raise", and your boss says, "Here's all the reasons you can't have a raise." And then you say, "Yeah, but I still want to raise." And they say, "Here's all the reasons we can't raise." They're just competing monologues. They're not actually conversations. But the key is, in a conversation, I never go into a conversation just saying, like, "Here's what I want to say, and I don't care what the other person has to say." I go into conversation saying, like, "Here's actually what I want to know from the other person. Here's what I want to learn. Here's the question that I really want to ask", and that should be at least as important, if not more important, than what you want to say or what you want to tell them.

Scott Anthony Barlow 12:18

Well, and it really seems like conversations, what you're describing as conversation right this moment, are the way that people get exceptions made for them. Like in that case that you're describing where it's like, "Hey, I'm gonna tell you that I want to raise. You're going to tell me all the reasons why I can't have a raise, and I'm going to be unchanged. I still want to raise." And that's not going to help, ultimately, in the end. But having a conversation, this different type of approach, where I can hear you what is going on with you, and want to understand you, then that allows me to be able to respond, and ultimately have a dialog which then leads to, or can lead to, at least those exceptions.

Charles Duhigg 13:05

Totally. And think about how different that conversation would go if you said, instead of my goal is to persuade you to give me a raise, to say, "Okay, here's my goal. I want to find out what would make you want to give me a raise. Not to convince you, like, what would you need to see that would make you want to give me a raise?" And because we're not just learning about you,"Here's something I want you to learn about me. Not that I want to raise, because everybody wants a raise", that's not really like an interesting piece of knowledge, "But rather, I want you to understand how a raise would impact my life." Because it might very well be that, you know, "I've basically estimated I can continue to have this job for another six months. But if I don't get a raise, I have to look for another job." Or, "I want you to know that my spouse is pregnant, and we have a baby coming, and I need to be thinking about my financial future. So it's not so much that I want you to give me a raise as much as here's something I want you to know about me, and here's a question that I want to know about you." That doesn't mean that necessarily the conversation will be perfect. It doesn't even necessarily mean that it will be a conversation. But that's a much better thing than saying, "I'm going to go in and I'm going to ask for a raise and I'm going to give them these seven reasons why I deserve it" without knowing whether those reasons matter or are interesting, and without wanting to have a conversation, but rather just hoping that this other person will listen to you .

Scott Anthony Barlow 14:24

Well, when you ask that type of question, what would it take for me to be able to get a raise? Or what would I need to do in order to...?

Charles Duhigg 14:35

Another way to do it is to even just say, to even make it sort of more general, "What would you need to see in order for you to want to give me a raise?"

Scott Anthony Barlow 14:45

Which is even one step back from that.

Charles Duhigg 14:48

And in some sense, it's better, right? Because now it's not, I'm not saying to you, I'm not mandating that you have to talk about me. I'm inviting you to talk about whatever you want to talk about. And this is a big distinction when we're asking questions. So what we're talking about right now are deep questions. Right? A deep question is something that asks about values or beliefs or experiences. And so I'm basically asking, like, "What do you believe is necessary in order to want to give someone a raise?" And we can ask those questions in ways that mandates, right? You know, "What did you think of my last movie?" Puts you on the spot. I am mandating that you talk about me rather versus saying, "Hey, what do you think... I'm just wondering, what do you think about movies, in general? What makes a movie good or what makes a movie bad?" Now, what I'm doing is I'm inviting you to talk about your perception of movies. Now, obviously, the fact that I have been in a movie, you know that I'm really curious about me, right? If I say, "What would it take for someone to get a raise around here?" You're not going to suspect that I'm asking the question in an academic sense, right? I'm obviously asking about myself, but by asking the question in a way that invites rather than mandates a particular response, what I'm doing is I'm making it easier for you, to be honest with.

Scott Anthony Barlow 16:04

I find that it also creates a different type of ability to partner, for lack of better phrase. So when I ask that type of question, then if I am shifting the focus from me to you, what do you think that strangely allows us to now partner on this thing? What would it take?

Charles Duhigg 16:33

Yeah, that's exactly right. And I and the way I think about it is, getting on the same side of the table, right? Are we facing each other, or are we both facing a question or a problem together? And you're exactly right. That if I come in and I say, "I want to raise", and I know you're going to say, "I don't have the money for a raise", then we're on opposite sides of the table, and ultimately, all we're going to be able to do is kind of battle with each other, at least tussle. But my goal, and this is true in any conversation, particularly in any hard conversation, is to get you on the same side of the table with me, and to say, "In a perfect world, it would be really easy to give me a raise, but we're not in a perfect world. So let's look at this question together and try and solve how do we make the world a little bit more perfect together?" Now, again, that doesn't mean that necessarily this is going to work like gangbusters. It doesn't mean that your boss is going to be like, "Oh, this was such a brilliant way of asking me. I'm now going to give you a raise." But that's not the goal. The goal is to understand, right? Once you understand better, then you actually can start moving towards that raise. Because there is something in your boss's mind where they're saying, "If X, Y and Z happened, I would want to give this person a raise, because otherwise, I would be terrified that they would leave. I'd be terrified that someone else would hire them." And so the goal is, let's figure out, and again, this is something we're going to work on together, shoulder to shoulder. Let's figure out, "What is that X and that Y and that Z that you wish I was doing? So much so that you'll actually pay me more to stick around, because you know how valuable it is."

Scott Anthony Barlow 18:10

I find that people tend to ask questions where they're really tactical focused and certainly self focused, to your point earlier. And it seems like shifting the goal from the... Here's the thing that I want: how do I get that to, instead, how do I connect with and understand the other person. Is a really difficult goal shift. Why do you think that is? Or do you find this?

Charles Duhigg 18:38

So I don't think it is a difficult goal shift once you understand that, right? So, yeah, again, I think it's about how we like the three to five minutes we spend before we walk into a conversation, right? I mean, again, our default is to be like, "Here's what I want to say. I want to tell that guy so and so. I want him to know that I need this and I need that." So we're very focused on ourselves in that situation, right? And if we just realign, and we just say, "Look, there are some things I want him to understand about me, but what do I want to understand about him?" And we put that forefront in our mind, that it actually changes our approach to the conversation. It changes how we behave in that conversation. Now, that being said, sometimes the tactics of achieving that are hard, right? Like, what do I do in the conversation? Well, at that point, your best friend is always asking questions, right? Because the nice thing about asking a question is it gives you more information without necessarily angering the other person. And so the question is, the question to ask yourself is, "What kind of questions can I ask that I think are going to make this conversation what I'm hoping it's going to be?" And that means that they have to be honest questions because if you ask a question like, "Why don't you think I deserve a raise?" That's not actually completely honest, I mean, it could be an honest conversation, but it's not going to come across as an honest guy. It's going to come across as an argument embedded in a question-like form, which is why it's better to say, "I'm just wondering, when you've given raises in the past, what are the things that made you decide to do that? When you look at my career here, what do you think I should be thinking about in terms of trying to increase my salary?" Right? Those are more genuine questions, and the other person can detect a genuine question versus an argument hidden in the questions form.

Scott Anthony Barlow 20:33

We're very good at that. We're really doing question detectors in many different ways.

Charles Duhigg 20:39

Yeah, no, absolutely.

Scott Anthony Barlow 20:41

So let's take a different situation here. I'd like to talk about the three different types of conversation. Let me just give you a couple other scenarios that we encounter all the time– we've had people who are experiencing serious racial discrimination at their work and they're trying to navigate through that, or even decide, can they impact that all the way to people who are trying to realign their roles with what is going to be a much, much better fit, so that they can contribute to this organization that they actually do enjoy, but they're not having a great experience with to many, many, many other thing. So I guess my question to you is, how can we approach those types of really challenging situations differently so that we can truly, one, understand the conversation that might be going on, or even approach it in a way that we can have a hope at understanding the other parties?

Charles Duhigg 21:41

Yeah, okay, well, and then I have a question for you. But before, you had mentioned the three kinds of conversations, so just for people who aren't familiar with them. So one of the big findings from the last decade is that we tend to think of a discussion as being about one thing, right? We're talking about getting a raise, or we're talking about my job, or we're talking about where to go on vacation, or why I'm upset today. But actually, what researchers have discovered is that every conversation, or every discussion, is made up of different kinds of conversations. And in general, those different kinds of conversations, they fall into one of three buckets. There are practical discussions where we're talking about making plans or solving problems together. There are emotional conversations where I might tell you what I'm feeling, and I don't want you to solve my feelings. I want you to empathize, and I want you to acknowledge and relate. And then there are social conversations, which is about how we interact with each other, how we interact with society, the social identities that are important to us. Okay, so here's my question for you, so think back to when you've been in one of those situations, right, where you've been unhappy at work, tell me what was going on. Tell me what was going on, and what you were feeling and why it was important to you.

Scott Anthony Barlow 22:50

Well, one that was a... this has probably been 20 years ago now, but there was a company that I worked for and actually owned a franchise for the same organization, loved that, went and worked on the corporate side and had a terrible experience. And essentially, I was being asked to collect some debts for the organization in a way that I didn't know at the time, but was illegal. And what I did know at that particular time was that it felt completely against everything that I valued. And I'm not even sure that I could have articulated at that time, 20 years ago, honestly. But that's part of what was going on. I was going and trying to collect some of these debts, and everything about it felt incredibly wrong.

Charles Duhigg 23:37

Yeah, it felt okay. So, did you end up having a conversation with your boss or the CEO? Did you ever sort of...?

Scott Anthony Barlow 23:45

Yeah. It took me a while, but I did have a conversation. And this is not what I would recommend in any way whatsoever. But the conversation I had, I was attempting to articulate some of those feelings the way that it came out, which so many things are not useful to the other party. The way that it came out is I ended up feeling like I needed to tell my boss that I made a mistake because I chose the wrong job, essentially, like this is not working, and I feel like I need to consider something else.

Charles Duhigg 24:22

And why did that not go well? Like, what happened that makes you think that's not the right approach?

Scott Anthony Barlow 24:28

Well, three weeks later, I got fired. So, okay, that's one indication.

Charles Duhigg 24:34

Yeah, okay. So let's break down what's happening here, okay. So what I hear you saying, and tell me if I'm getting this wrong, is that you came into a job and you were having an experience in that job that setting aside whether it practically made sense, whether this was the right business strategy or the wrong business strategy, emotionally, this was very challenging for you because it did not align with your basic values and beliefs. And simultaneously, and I'm guessing here. So please tell me if I'm off base, I'm guessing, you also felt like this was ineffective, that as a franchise owner yourself, like going and beating up on other franchise owners did not seem like the right way to run a sustainable company for a long time.

Scott Anthony Barlow 25:18

As it turns out, yes.

Charles Duhigg 25:20

And that's actually kind of a social conversation, right? Because it's talking about how we relate to other people. So what I'm hearing you say, though, is that when you brought this up with your boss, you actually tried to pose it as a practical conversation, instead of posing it as an emotional conversation or social conversation. What you said was, "Practically, I have a problem, which is, I chose the wrong job. Will you help me solve this problem?" And they did. They fired you. Right? If you chose the wrong job, problem solved. I mean, and from their perspective, possibly problem solves for you. You asked them to help you solve a problem that you're in the wrong job. And they said, "Okay, don't be in that job anymore." Now a better way to do that, and again, is if you had said time ahead of time, and you said, "Look, I don't want to have a practical conversation about this because this isn't a practical problem." It's not like you were having problems, like problems following their instructions. You just didn't want to do what they asked you to do. So if you had gone to them perhaps, and tell me if you think this would have been effective, if you'd gone to your boss and said, "Look, I completely understand what you guys are asking me to do here. And I think it's actually really effective. Like, I think we're going to collect these debts, and I think it's totally fine, like, I understand. The thing that I'm struggling with is it's making me feel terrible. It feels like I'm doing something that doesn't align with my beliefs and my values. Can you help me understand why I'm feeling that? Is this something you think I'm dumb to be feeling, or is it a right thing to be feeling?" Now, I'm not promising you that your boss would have been like, "Oh, I'm so sorry you feel that way. Let's try and make the world a better place for you, but it probably would have been a little bit more effective. And I think what this indicates, what this point said, is one of two things. Number one, when we isolate the conversation to the kind of conversation that we want to have, it becomes much easier, because we're no longer pretending like you can solve my emotional problems through a practical solution. Instead, what we're doing is we're engaging very explicitly on the emotional level. The second thing is, you could have had that conversation and still gotten fired. In fact, you might have gotten fired just for having that conversation. So having a conversation does not mean that all of us... iIt's not magic.

Scott Anthony Barlow 27:37

It doesn't guarantee an outcome.

Charles Duhigg 27:38

Doesn't guarantee an outcome. It doesn't guarantee that, like, you're going to agree with each other, but you're going to be much closer to understanding how to agree to each other and figuring out if there is some overlap what researchers refer to as the ZOPA, the Zone of Possible Agreement. You don't know what the ZOPA is when you go in and you're having an emotional issue and you pretend that it's a practical issue, because they're going to say something like, "Oh, okay. Like, if this job doesn't work for you, like, we'll just remove you from the job. We'll help you solve the problem." But for you, the actual problem was not that you wanted to be removed from the job, but that you wanted to be able to do the job a little bit differently. Is that right?

Scott Anthony Barlow 28:19

Absolutely, that's right. So let's talk about how we can better prepare for those types of discussions. Because the reality is, you know, I was in that situation, if we go back 20 years ago, I was working 90 hours a week, and I was pretty stressed out, and there were so many things that weren't working. I didn't do a great job of prepping for that conversation at all. Also, I think that that is very much the case when people are getting into these conversations. Sometimes it's difficult to even think through what kind of conversation this is, let alone how I'm going to go about having this conversation. What advice would you give based on what you've seen for how people can better prepare for these?

Charles Duhigg 29:02

So if you know what kind of conversation you want to have, that's one thing, right? If you're saying, like, and it's worth spending some time to just sit down and say, "Do I think this is a social conversation? Do I think it's a practical conversation? Do I think it's an emotional conversation?" And then in the book goes through a lot of the steps to do this, right? But let's say, again, it's 20 years ago, you're young, you don't have the presence of mind to know exactly what kind of conversation you want. You're confused yourself. Is this a practical issue? Is this an emotional issue? Then the best thing you can do is to sit down and say, "Okay, what do I actually want to know? What am I desperate to learn from this person? And what questions can I ask them to help me understand it?" So in this particular case, the questions might have been something like, you know, "I know that we do it this way, and this way doesn't seem to me like the best way. Can you walk me through why we do it this way? What's the history here that's led us to the point where this seems like the best way forward? Help me understand how this technique, this approach to debt collection, how it helps the long term goals of this company." Right? And again, you have to ask them honestly, it can't be like, like, "How do you think that this approach helps the long term?" Right? It has to be like, "I'm just wondering, like, I know you guys have thought about this a long time, and I know everyone's really smart. And I see a like, a little bit of tension here. And hoping you can help me understand why that's wrong. Help me understand why this approach makes sense." And here's what might happen, you might learn that actually you are wrong, right? That you're feeling all these emotional qualms, you're feeling all these ethical qualms, and that, like when they explain to you, "No, no. The only way this company works is if people actually pay their debts. Like when, when this franchisee does not pay their debts, they're actually creating risk for this other franchisee that's doing everything right? That's doing everything by the book. So, like, we have to come down hard on these people because they're threatening other people who don't deserve to be threatened." And you might walk away saying, like, "Oh, I didn't see it that way before. Now I understand why I'm doing what I'm doing." But I would say the number one thing that people can do is, instead of focusing on what they want to say, focus on what questions you want to ask because that's going to give you... and by the way, you do not have to resolve it. You do not have to resolve everything in one conversation, right? If I go in and I ask you a series of questions, I ask my boss a series of questions, then I can walk away and I can spend some time with that and processing that, and then come back and say, "Look, I want to reflect on what you told me. I have another question for you, but I want to just share with you my thoughts on it." That's a dialog, right? Then we're actually dialoguing with each other. And again, that does not mean that your boss is going to say, like, your boss might very well say like, "We do it that way because we can, because we hate our franchisees, and either you hate our franchisees too, or this isn't the right place for you." And that's fine. But it's better to know that than to get fired three weeks later, unexpectedly.

Scott Anthony Barlow 32:13

You know something that is really interesting, I went through and I listened to some of your interviews recently, just on different podcasts, but I went back 10 years ago because I was curious about, you know, how has this changed some of your conversations? First of all, have you done that? I don't typically go back and listen.

Charles Duhigg 32:34

No, no. I'm very impressed. This is a lot of preparation, but no, I haven't gone back and listened to podcasts for 10 years ago. Do I sound different now?

Scott Anthony Barlow 32:44

Well, yes, in very subtle ways. We were talking about nuance earlier, but I think some very subtle ways. So I think one of the things that you do really well now is you create a dialog very differently compared to how you did 10 years ago, it felt more like a traditional interview versus any conversations you've had in the last, say, year or so. It feels much more like a really interesting dialog every time. It's a way to go.

Charles Duhigg 33:13

That's really... Okay, so I'll answer this in two ways. The first is, how much do I or anyone else do it deliberately? This is actually kind of the awesome thing about the human brain. So if you think about it, communication is Homo sapiens superpower, right? It's the thing that has allowed us, our species, to succeed so well. And our brains have evolved to maximize and make that superpower as efficient as possible. So one really interesting thing is, when we are exposed to a communication skill and we say to ourselves, "I'd like to do that", we start doing it habitually, very, very quickly. So with many activities like running, you have to practice a dozen times, right? You have to push yourself to run a dozen times before it starts to feel automatic. With communication skills, if you push yourself to do it two or three times, it starts becoming a habit. And that's because the brain latches on to communication skills very quickly, and it makes them into habits very, very quickly. So that's the first part of it. The second part of it is the reason why... So in every interview I do now, I try and make a conversation, I try and ask questions, I want to learn about the person. In part, just because otherwise it's insanely boring. It's insanely boring to like, spend an hour with you and not learn anything about you. That's not that much fun. I like myself, but I've already talked about myself a lot. And I think that the thing that I have learned in writing this book is, it is okay to listen to that little voice inside your head that says, "Actually, this person wants to ask me a bunch of questions about real estate, but what I'm really interested in is I want to ask them about accounting", right? It's okay to give into that instinct, that curiosity that we feel where we want to learn about the other person, that is a good instinct. In fact, that's part of the same instinct that allows these habits, or these communication skills become habits so quickly. Our brain is really, really good at communication when we let it be good at communication. And the key is to learn how to listen to your own brain and to have a dialog. But let me ask you, does that correspond to your experiences?

Scott Anthony Barlow 35:19

It does.

Charles Duhigg 35:20

You do a lot of these interviews, right? How many interviews have you done at this point?

Scott Anthony Barlow 35:24

A thousand.

Charles Duhigg 35:26

So it's a lot. And what makes a difference when you walk away, setting aside whether the audience likes it, how the audio turns out, when you walk away from an hour interview slash conversation, feeling energized versus feeling drained and exhausted. What do you think makes a difference?

Scott Anthony Barlow 35:43

It's always the connection or lack thereof in one way or another. And so it is always the pieces that lead up to or block that connection from being had.

Charles Duhigg 35:55

I totally agree. I totally agree. And I will tell you, the worst conversations I have, the worst interviews, are when it's a person who they haven't read any of my work and they have a list of questions that some producer gave them or that they like found on the internet. And then what will happen is they'll ask the question, I'll answer it, and then, regardless of what I say, they move on to the next question. Right? So it's not a back and forth, it's not a discussion, it's not a dialog

Scott Anthony Barlow 36:23

That's not that exciting to listen to, in my opinion.

Charles Duhigg 36:25

It's not that exciting to listen to. It's not that exciting to do. It's super tiring and boring. And so I think that the thing is, if we approach every interaction with another person saying, not every, you never have to have a conversation, like when sometimes you get in the Uber and you just want to check your email, you do not want to talk to the driver, and that's totally okay. There's no rule that you need to have a conversation all the time. But when we are interacting with someone, if we say to ourselves, "I want to make this a conversation rather than competing monologue, rather than just some transactional interaction", it ends up not only being more fun, it's actually easier. Our brain literally can default to conversation much more easily than to the alternative.

Scott Anthony Barlow 37:12

Fun and easier. That's a hard sell, Charles. I don't...

Charles Duhigg 37:17

And some people listening are not going to believe me. They're going to be like, "No, it's so tiring to talk to people", and here's where that you don't have to have a conversation, not only do you not have to have a conversation, you can start a conversation and then just stop having it. Right? You can get in the Uber and you can chit chat with the driver for three or four minutes, and then you can just stop. Because it's oftentimes these anxieties of, "how do I end this conversation? How do I begin this conversation? How do I keep this conversation going if there's an awkward silence?" It's those anxieties that prevent us from having conversations. But actually, once the event manifests, you don't feel anxious about it at all. It's very natural.

Scott Anthony Barlow 38:02

Hey, if you've been listening to our episodes here at Happen To Your Career and you want to make an intentional career change to much more meaningful work, and have it neatly laid out into an organized framework, well, guess what, we actually have that available for you in the Happen To Your Career book. It's available on Amazon, Audible anywhere else where you get your books. You'll learn about the five hidden obstacles, stopping your career change, how to figure out what would truly make you happy with your career. And what brings you more happy more often. And more importantly, how to transition to a much more fulfilling career and life. You can find the book on Amazon, Audible anywhere where books are sold, by the way, people are particularly loving the audio book, which you can access right now in second.

Scott Anthony Barlow 38:50

Here's a sneak peek into what we have coming up for you next week right here on Happen To Your Career.

Speaker 3 38:57

It was just a feeling of dread, like, going into work and having to deal with these conversations. And then that led me to trying to avoid doing that work, even though that was my primary job. So it was just this... It just felt like a battle every single day.

Scott Anthony Barlow 39:11

I cannot tell you the number of times I've heard someone say, "Well, work is supposed to be hard. That's why it's called work." Or even, "Work is supposed to suck." It's the mindset that has been ingrained in us as a society. We are unconsciously taught from a young age that work is grueling duty and we have to put in our dues during our prime working years because that's just the way of the world. Luckily, this narrative is very misguided, and people are starting, just barely starting, to realize that work doesn't actually have to suck. And it all starts by looking inward and asking, "Do I really want work to feel like work, or could it feel differently?"

Scott Anthony Barlow 39:59

All that and plenty more next week right here on Happen To Your Career. Make sure that you don't miss it. And if you haven't already, click Subscribe on your podcast player so that you can download this podcast in your sleep, and you get it automatically, even the bonus episodes every single week, sometimes multiple times a week. Until next week. Adios. I'm out.

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