Rather eye-opening before I even got into the book. It’s hard to overstate the importance of communicating well. I am on a constant personal journey to learn how to connect with others more authentically, to listen better, and to express myself more clearly.
Today I am excited to introduce you to someone who is a master teacher on the art of communication. His work has helped me, and I hope you enjoy our discussion.
I’m a student of good communication and have been all my life. And Jack’s observations and practical book upped my game immediately from Chapter 1. I’m sure you will enjoy learning to recognize these sentences and strategies and how to handle them as they arise.
Jack Quarles is the founder of Buying Excellence, a company helping businesses choose the best vendor possible. He is a specialist on expense management, negotiations, and increasing ROI.
How to Spot the Expensive Sentence
Give us an example of an “expensive sentence.”
Skip, here are a few I’ve heard in the last week:
“I’m too busy to look at that now.”
“She’s the only one who can do the job.”
“It’s too late to change our plans.”
They surround us. Sometimes they take the form of proverbs, like, “You can’t change horses in mid-stream,” or “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Others can be very localized, like, “Our boss isn’t interested in new marketing tactics,” or “That’s just Ted being Ted.”
“The best time to manage the damage of an Expensive Sentence is right after you hear it.” –Jack Quarles
How are expensive sentences related to poor communication?
Unfortunately, Expensive Sentences have the effect of ending conversations and stopping communication. For example, imagine that you and I are discussing which consultant to hire for a project, and I say, “Well, you get what you pay for.” That phrase has weight; it sounds wise and definitive. You will probably think I am quite set in that position (of hiring the higher-priced consultant), even though I may only be 60% sure that it applies here. I’d be better off qualifying my words before they define our decision, and you might be smart to gently respond, “Yes, it’s often true that you do have to pay for higher quality… but is that true in this case? Or could that be an Expensive Sentence?”
Myths that Drive Decision-Making
Jack, you debunk many common myths that drive corporate decision-making. And then you give suggestions on how to handle them. I’d love to delve into a few, starting with, “The customer is always right.” You give examples of where customers are mistaken. Would you share one and the implications?
In the book, I share about a meeting I took part in with the CEO of Five Guys, Jerry Murrell. They’ve grown with a franchise model, and so they have customers who run restaurants (franchisees) and customers who eat burgers (“French fries-ees” – sorry, couldn’t resist!) Lots of people associate burgers with milkshakes, and a common request/complaint is that Five Guys should sell milkshakes. Other customers would love to see turkey sandwiches or coffee on the menu.
Murrell sees these potential expansions as diversions; he has always been laser-focused on burgers & fries. The chain prides itself on being the best reviewed restaurant in the world, in part because they serve such limited fare. If they were to start offering other items, they’d be graded on the average of their full menu, and Five Guys is not confident they can make what would universally be considered the best milkshake or turkey sandwich or cup of coffee in the world. (Burgers & fries? Done.)
There are only two reasons that our customers are “wrong” with their requests: either they add too much cost for us to serve them sustainably (i.e., profitably), or they lead us in the wrong direction, away from our core business. We must be clear and confident about our business model to avoid letting customers steer us in the wrong direction. This can be tricky because sometimes we need to experiment, and business models can evolve. But over-responsiveness is a proven path to exhaustion and losses.
Five Guys is an extreme example of focus (even within the restaurant industry), but note their success. Clearly, it’s not “wrong” in the abstract to want a turkey sandwich or a milkshake with your burger; the point is that’s not the kind of experience that Five Guys is offering.
How wide-ranging is your “menu”? Where does your business draw the line? What are the wrong kind of customers? Do you currently have a client who might be better served by one of your competitors? These are great questions to discuss with your team.
“The cost of Expensive Sentences transcends the income statement; it affects lives all around us.” –Jack Quarles
Author and serial entrepreneur G. Shawn Hunter is the founder of Mindscaling. His latest book, Small Acts of Leadership: 12 Intentional Behaviors That Lead to Big Impact, argues that it’s the simple things, when done extraordinarily well, that make a great leader.
Shawn and I talked about his book and how it’s not always the most extraordinary, sweeping actions that make the biggest impact.
“The greatest leaders cheer us on when we try something new.” -Shawn Hunter
I love this philosophy because all of us can make just a few adjustments and improve our leadership today.
Do One Thing At A Time
You advocate that small, incremental choices can lead to a big impact. In your research for this book, what one small choice have you noticed in the most successful leaders?
I would say the one thing that successful people do is that they do one thing at a time. That might sound small and trifling, but, honestly, the way successful people get things done, or have meaningful conversations, is to do only that one thing. They turn off their phone when talking to people. They turn off email. They schedule time for writing and reading. They block off time for exercise and reflection. It sounds small, but it adds up.
Is it possible to teach self-confidence? What are some ways to increase it?
The biggest contributor to building self-confidence is building competence. Nothing makes you feel confident like being prepared. There is also a type of self-questioning that can be quite helpful. Instead of repeating the mantra, “Yes, I can do this!” to build self-confidence, try asking yourself if you have the capabilities to achieve what you are envisioning. If you ask specific questions of yourself, you will be forced to answer to your weaknesses and reconcile them.
“The biggest contributor to building self-confidence is building competence.” -Shawn Hunter
You talk about building resilience through challenge. Do challenges make the leader, or does the leader seek out challenges?
From what I understand through studying flow states, it’s a self-reinforcing paradigm, but only if you get the challenge part right. As your readers may know, flow states occur when the level of challenge presented meets (or slightly exceeds) your skill level. In that state we can become hyper-aware and hyper-focused. We also accelerate our learning. Once we feel that state, we often seek out those experiences which create flow states. There are people who can actually get addicted to inducing this type of state. They’re called Type T people, also known as adrenaline junkies.
Pronoia: believing the world is conspiring for your success.
Persistence. I love the story of your daughter and how she ended up with a rare poster of Taylor Swift. What are some ways to develop persistent curiosity in everything we do?
Good question! The great physicist Richard Feynman once described how you can spot a real expert versus a phony. Look for three little words, “I don’t know.” The phony will have all the answers, while the experts will be willing to admit what they don’t know. Real experts are relentlessly curious, even assertively curious – that is, they will demand explanations for things that many others simply accept as rules.
Here’s an interesting fact about people who describe themselves as curious. These people are also assertive. Curious people are decision-makers. They are influencers. They often say they have direct influence over the outcome of decisions and change. If you think of the people in your company and community who consistently drive change, I bet you will be thinking of inquisitive people – people willing to ask the hard questions.
“Creating confidence is the result of applied effort and work.” -Shawn Hunter
You advocate the counterintuitive advice of taking breaks when we’re busy. Why is taking a break so important? How do you get a type-A, driven leader to follow this practice?
All-nighters don’t scale. Period. In some corners of business, we have created a work environment in which it’s cool to brag about how many hours we work, and how little sleep we get, and how many deliverables we accomplish. I worked in a company once that mandated a rapid response time to every incoming message. When you create an environment which requires people to constantly monitor correspondence over email and text, the next thing they do is constantly initiate messages.
Studies demonstrate what we already know intuitively. That is, our intellectual and productivity capacity diminishes rapidly when we are sleep deprived and when we are distracted. To answer your question, organizations and leaders should reward people who deliver meaningful, thoughtful contributions, not who puts out the highest volume of email noise.
12 Intentional Behaviors for Big Impact
1: Believe in yourself.
2: Build confidence.
3: Introduce challenge.
4: Express gratitude.
5: Fuel curiosity.
6: Grant autonomy.
7: Strive for authenticity.
8: Be fully present.
9: Inspire others.
10. Clarify roles.
11. Defy convention.
12. Take a break.
Of the 12 critical competencies, is there one that more leaders struggle with than others?
You’re walking down a busy city street and turn the corner only to see a small crowd of people all looking up in the air, at a point across and above the street. What are the odds you’ll be able to stop yourself before looking up to see what they’re all staring it? I know for me, it’s almost impossible…and I’ve tried!
Similarly, in movies and TV shows, it’s easier to laugh along when we hear the show’s laugh-track. I once watched a funny old movie with no laugh-track, and the child I was watching with didn’t know what was funny. We take our cues from others.
It’s the same online. One of the main reasons that people make a choice is because they have “social proof” that others have done so before. It’s a strong motivator.
“The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.” Ken Blanchard
Whether you are a business, a blogger, or an individual with career aspirations, you should be harnessing the power of positive social proof. The concept is not a new one, but its importance continues to grow both for businesses and individuals.
Wikipedia defines it this way: “Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation.”
Helps you stand out. Competition isn’t slowing down, isn’t letting up, and isn’t taking a break. If you want your business to get noticed, then social proof is one way to do it. With more sources competing for our attention every day, it’s vital to differentiate your offering from everything else.
Improves your success metrics. Studies show that we are more likely to share something that others are also sharing. We watch what we see others are watching. Visit a new town and you see two restaurants side-by-side. One has an empty lot and the other has a line wrapped around the block. Which one appeals to you?
Builds credibility. Unless you are already an established expert, a bestselling author, or a of host a worldwide talk show, it helps to build credibility. In Nashville, I see many up and coming music artists using quotes from famous musicians. Authors routinely ask for endorsements for book jacket quotes. Businesses include testimonials from others. All of these are ways to differentiate and add credibility.
“The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.” –Vince Lombardi
Some of you may say, “Sure, I can see that building social proof matters for a business. But it’s not something I need to think about.”
If you want to increase your chances of promotion, see higher raises, or reduce your chances of getting let go from your organization, you should use some elements of social proof. Do you have a marketing plan for YOU? Today, you must promote yourself.
You don’t need to blatantly self-promote. No one likes an egotistical, self-centered know-it-all. But, if I want the boss to choose me for a new project, how do I keep my name out there? How do I stand out? It may not be a blog, but it may be that you wrote an article in your company newsletter or an industry publication. It may be that you are speaking at a customer event. And there is nothing better than the word of mouth social proof because you delivered a key project or pitched in to help when it wasn’t even your responsibility. When your colleagues are buzzing about your performance, that is the best social proof possible. There are many ways to build your social proof as an individual.
“Intense love does not measure, it just gives.” –Mother Teresa
Recently, one marketer sent me a list of the ways I have used positive social proof on this blog. Here is what she shared (with my explanation).
Shares. On the top of each post, you can see the number of shares. Here’s where I ran into a problem last week. Because I have preferred Twitter to other social media, my Twitter shares are higher than others like LinkedIn or Facebook. Recently, Twitter made a strange, surprising, and I think wrong move by removing counts from everyone’s websites. That turns some posts that were shared by the thousands to showing nothing overnight. Why they did this is answered in a strange post, but I still don’t quite understand it. And, for the record, it alienated a large community of content creators who are now rethinking strategies for Facebook and LinkedIn over Twitter.
Does it matter? Adele recently smashed records with the release of 25, becoming the best-selling album in the US of any single week. Large numbers create even more numbers. What would have happened if just as her sales took off Nielsen made a decision like Twitter and just zeroed out the sales?
“A true measure of your worth includes all the benefits others have gained from your success.” –Cullen Hightower
All of us want to be more productive. David Horsager is a productivity expert. His work has been featured in numerous publications from The Wall Street Journal to The Washington Post. His research is focused on the impact of trust, and his client list ranges from the New York Yankees to John Deere.
Tip 7. Managing your energy is something few think about. We are often on autopilot. How do we become more conscious of our energy? What’s the best way to use our energy through the day?
Before you make any changes, you have to become aware of how you are spending your time. Take two weeks and log it. Keep track of both your time usage and the level of energy you feel at that time. Then, take time to study it and make a few adjustments with how you spend your time. Log for another week if you need to in order to gather useful information.
Try scheduling an early morning meeting and then not another until after lunch. See how creating this pocket of time affects your daily productivity and energy levels. Maybe you need to schedule as many meetings as possible on one day so that other days are left more open. I have learned that morning is my most effective time, so that is when I tackle writing, research, and other more difficult projects. I try to protect a morning power hour so I can have at least one uninterrupted hour on my most difficult tasks first thing in the morning. My team knows to try to schedule meetings with me right after lunch. Since I am an extrovert, the people I meet with during that low-energy time of day end up energizing me for the remainder of the afternoon!
You can’t dictate everything about your schedule, but you can influence it to meet your needs. A lot of people squander their most valuable time doing their easiest activities and tackle their toughest tasks when their energy is at a low point. Don’t let that happen to you! Leverage your time and schedule so that it works for you. Awareness and intentionality come first. If you can do this, it will build momentum and your work life will be easier.
“Clutter is a result of delayed decisions.” -Audrey Thomas
If you feel you have an e-mail problem, it isn’t going to go away any time soon. Ignoring your lack of a system will compound the problem and affect the rest of your work life. Some people have hundreds if not thousands of e-mails in their inbox. This is a very common area to struggle with because of the sheer number of e-mails we receive every day. Managing it is simpler than you might think once you have a process in place. It’s going to require getting disciplined about it. I know an executive who went from 57,000 emails to 9 in his inbox! He called and said, “I’ve never felt better!” Before you get too overwhelmed thinking about it, consider the following ideas.
Get rid of the chime or prompt. Ask yourself: Are the e-mails coming into your inbox worthy of dropping everything to read and respond? If the answer is no, then turn off the notification function.
Let them bundle. You think things are urgent, but the cost of interruptions is enormous. See if you can only check e-mail at the top of every hour. So much time is spent managing e-mail. Don’t fall victim to this.
Get in the habit of going through these four steps. The minute you open an e-mail, archive or delete if at all possible. Deal with it right away. Don’t read it now and also read it later.
File it or archive it. Get it out of your inbox once you’ve replied. It takes your mindshare if it’s always there as a distraction. It’s overwhelming. Feelings of being overwhelmed are the killers of productivity. Try setting up filters for certain e-mails you don’t want to see until you are ready. For example, I auto-filter newsletters for when I have extra time to read on the plane or in a taxi.
Flag it for later or attach it to the calendar. If you know you will need to reference it prior to a meeting, flag it for a later date or attach it to your calendar. Again, our mindshare is limited, so avoid constant exposure to something you don’t need to look at for a while. The information will be there for you when you need it.
By the way, e-mail with an emotional context can absorb an enormous amount of time. Leave the emotional conversations for a phone call or an in-person meeting. You will be less likely to be misunderstood and e-mail will be preserved as a means for information sharing – the way it was intended.