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Slowing Down
Episode 37

Slowing Down

CI to Eye with Jennifer Zaslow

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler.

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Erik and Jennifer talk about slowing down, the importance of having crucial conversations with colleagues, and the art of third level listening in our hectic and busy world.

Erik Gensler: You’re the first guest to come back for a second round on the podcast. I wanted to have you come back based on the popularity of the first episode, and I feel a lot of the things that we’ve just talked about have evolved and changed even since we spoke last.

Jennifer Zaslow: I’m so happy to be here.

Erik Gensler: For the folks that didn’t listen to our first podcast, can you talk a bit about your work as my executive coach, what an executive coach is and how we work together?

Jennifer Zaslow: What is a coach? A coach is someone – who’s job it is to see the magnificence in the people he or she works with.

Erik Gensler: Is that why I like you so much?

Jennifer Zaslow: (laughing) Could be.

Erik Gensler: You’re paid to see my magnificence. (laughs)

Jennifer Zaslow: Exactly. If you think about it, that is true. I am paid to see people’s magnificence.

Erik Gensler: Nice.

Jennifer Zaslow: But who else is committed to seeing that magnificence? There’s so much that gets in the way of that, with your friends or your boss or your colleagues or your spouse, a lot gets in the way of that and coaching is about reaching peak performance. It’s about fulfilling your potential, being the best version of yourself. And we have a lot of obstacles, self-limiting behaviors inner critics that get in the way of our ability to fulfill that potential, and the coaches job is to create a space in which you can feel sufficiently safe so that you can be yourself, and be courageous, push beyond your boundaries. And a good coach is gonna prod you and get you to go where you haven’t gone before.

Erik Gensler: You’ve also done group workshops for the team here at Capacity, and I think sitting through some of those workshops and seeing how the things we’ve talked about have impacted my team and how it’s become part of our shared vocabulary is one of the reasons I wanted to bring you back on the podcast, because I see you, and watching you as you develop and grow as a coach and learn new things, how you’ve brought those into your practice, both in our one-on-one work, but also with the team. So I thought it’d be a great opportunity to share with the larger podcast world.

Jennifer Zaslow: You and CI have been a great laboratory for me as I’ve learned new tools. We- I think we started our first teamwork together was on the Myers-Briggs.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Jennifer Zaslow: And that’s I think a fantastic tool for better understanding yourself, your own thinking preferences, and when it comes to teams, a great jumping off point for how people can leverage the power of difference, learn how to communicate across differences, learn what it means to, think like an introvert if you’re an extrovert. Extroverts think by talking. Introverts think by thinking. (laughs)

Erik Gensler: Explains a lot.

Jennifer Zaslow: It does. How can you stretch into a way of being that might be new and different and possibly uncomfortable for you so that you can get better? So we started with Myers-Briggs, which I think has given CI a whole new nomenclature about how you work together. Maybe you want to say a word about that.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, it started our exploration of using frameworks to I think recognize and strengthen our soft skills. So it started a shared vocabulary around soft skills and what that means, and I think that sort of laid the groundwork for more soft skill discussion and frameworks to develop.

Jennifer Zaslow: That’s really interesting. So, right, I mean a big part of what we talk about, you and I all the time is that people are very focused on developing their hard schools, and the people on your team are experts in their field at digital marketing. , but in order to be able to grow, to develop in your career, you need to be able to add skills. What got you here won’t get you there. That your hard skills will take you only so far, and that if you’re really gonna grow you need to be able to have all those soft skills. What are soft skills? And Seth Godin says, “Let’s not call them soft skills.” Right?

Erik Gensler: I actually pulled that quote.

Jennifer Zaslow: You did. (laughs)

Erik Gensler: I have it right here. Yeah.

Jennifer Zaslow: Right, right, right. What is that quote?

Erik Gensler: It says we can agree that certain focus skills are essential, that hiring coders who can’t code, salespeople who can’t sell, or architects who can’t architect, is a short road to failure. These skills, let’s call ’em vocational skills, have become the backbone of the HR process. But how to explain that similar organizations with similarly vocationally-skilled people find themselves with very different outcomes by mystifying vocational and focusing on the apparently essential skills, we’ve diminished the value of the soft skills that actually matter. We give too little respect to the other skills when we call them soft and imply they’re optional. It turns out what actually separates thriving organizations from struggling ones are the difficult-to-measure attitudes, processes, and perceptions of the people who do the work.

Jennifer Zaslow: What I always say about myself, and my ability to, advance, for instance, as a fundraiser, in the 20 years before I became a coach, had little to do with my actual hard fundraising skills. I always felt that I was, in fact, and forgive me for all my former organizations ( laughs) out there. I was never necessarily the strongest high-level fundraiser in the room. What I was was a great communicator, an ability to be the last person standing in the room…

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Jennifer Zaslow: … with the most difficult person. I had an ability to bring opposing forces together, to lead a team, to motivate people, to listen, to be resilient.

Erik Gensler: All the soft skills.

Jennifer Zaslow: Those are the skills. Those are the skills.

Erik Gensler: Totally. So I understand you’ve been taking a workshop with Shirzad Chamine and learning some really great stuff, so can you talk a bit about who Shirzad is and what you’ve been learning?

Jennifer Zaslow: Yes, yes. So, Shirzad Chamine, is the author of a book called Positive Intelligence, which is all about a framework to deal with, kind of the self-limiting, behaviors we have, that stem from that inner critic voice. What he really wants us to be thinking about is the percentage of time our mind is sabotaging us versus the percentage of time that our mind is serving us. He calls that our PQ, our positive intelligence quotient, and that the more time our mind can spend serving us, obviously, the closer we’re getting to reaching peak performance. And he sees our PQ score as kind of the operating system. This PQ work is the operating system on which all other skills and talents are built. So, if our hard skills are the software, your PQ is the operating system on which we run that software.

Jennifer Zaslow: So I’ve talked a lot with you, with your team, with lots of my clients about what is a saboteur. The saboteur, according to Shirzad, is that inner critic voice that undermines us. I think most people listening will probably have an idea of what I mean by that. in times of stress, when the stakes are high, because our saboteurs do their best work when the stakes are high, often there’s a little voice that comes into our head that says, I don’t know, something like, “Who do you think you are? You’re never gonna get that job,” or “You can’t say that in this meeting. You’re gonna make yourself sound like an idiot.” For each of us that voice may sound slightly different but what Shirzad really wants us to know is that we all have it. And Shirzad who teaches at Stanford Business School, coaches Fortune 100 CEOs, and talks a lot about how even those clients confess after some coaxing, that they too are suffering from the power of this inner critic voice. So he calls that really strong inner critic voice the judge, and then he talks about nine accomplice saboteurs, including the controller, the hyper-achiever, the avoider. That’s a big one for me, the stickler, and on and on. And he contends that these accomplice-saboteurs work in concert with our judge saboteur to totally undermine us, in times when stakes are high.

Erik Gensler: I think this is from Shirzad’s work where I came to you with something that was a situation that was challenging, and you told me the story that involved a stallion.

Jennifer Zaslow: Yes.

Erik Gensler: And I repeated it a number of times, and it’s been helpful. Is that from Shirzad?

Jennifer Zaslow: Yes. I started to tell it to another client who told me I didn’t have to tell him ’cause you had already told him. (laughing) So, yes. Shirzad tells that story, and here it is. So, a Chinese farmer has a prized, prized possession, his stallion. For miles around, everyone knows that this is really an extraordinary stallion. One day the stallion is stolen. All the villagers gather around, to bring condolences to the farmer, saying, “We’re so sorry that your stallion has been stolen, your prized possession. You must be in agony.” And he responses, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” A few weeks later the stallion miraculously escapes, and returns to the farmer, incredibly, followed by a herd of wild mares. All the villagers gather around and say, “Congratulations. This is so exciting. Not only has your prized stallion returned, but with the wild mares. This is amazing. It’s a miracle.” And the farmer responds, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” A few days later the farmer’s son rides on one of the wild mares and gets thrown and breaks his leg. All the villagers gather ’round. ” What a- what a nightmare. Your son has broken his leg. This is terrible.” The farmer, of course, says, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” Not long later, the army comes to the farmer’s farm because war has broken out and they’re there to conscript the young man, but they can’t conscript the farmer’s son because his leg is broken. All the villagers come ’round to say, “Hooray, your son has not been conscripted,” and the farmer says, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” I think you see where this is going. Right? The lie our judge saboteur tells us is that it knows what is good and what is bad. I never had the nomenclature to be able to describe a feeling that was growing in me over years and years of experiencing the saboteur myself, which was that certainty was my enemy. Now I have the language to be able to really understand that. Didn’t even really know what it meant, but I came to know it over time. I was always a person who loved being an expert. I loved having people ask me my expert opinions on fundraising. I loved being the smartest person in the room which didn’t mean I was the smartest person in the room. I just loved trying to be or appearing to be. But over time I’ve realized that that certainty has cut me off from being able to ask questions, being able to say, “I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that.” It cuts us off from seeking to discover. It cuts us off from curiosity. It cuts us off from our sage. One of the most insidious effects of this saboteur, which we all suffer from, is that it takes options off the menu for us, and we don’t even really see that. It’s invisible to us because it pretends it knows. So, what that story is about is that if we can find a way to cultivate the humility to not be so certain that we know what is good and what is bad, if we can live in the moment, if we can cultivate our observer mind instead of that judger mind, where we notice things; we take a Buddhist perspective, we notice what’s around us without judgment. We can be more fluid, and I think be much more successful and much happier at the same time. The idea here is that we’re going after a Jedi warrior mindset. Right? That we want to be both laser focused and totally relaxed. We have this idea that no pain, no gain, that we’re only going to be successful by beating ourselves up, and the harder we are on ourselves the harder we’ll drive ourselves and the better we’ll do. And I would really posit that that’s a fallacy. We can only go like that for so long before we just break. And that this framework, this model of fixing our operating systems, really recalibrating our idea that we can be Jedi warriors by cultivating our sage instead of our saboteur, that we really can be kind to ourselves. We have so much more available to us, so many more powers available to us than we know and than our saboteur allows us to know. So, like, namaste. I really, really believe in this, and I see its power, and I see it resonating for so many of my clients, you included.

Erik Gensler: In some ways it’s about slowing down.

Jennifer Zaslow: That is so true. So, I am obsessed with the idea of slowing down. Right? We used to read. Now we speed read. We used to date. Now we speed date. We used to dial. Now we speed dial. (laughing) And like faster is better. So, when I was doing my coach training we did a very, very simple exercise, where all of us in the class, in my cohort, about 20 of us, were in a kind of like a hotel ballroom setting, and we all had to walk at our normal pace around the room. I walk very, very fast. When I’m like out in the streets of New York, and I’m- I’m very short so it’s hard for me to make eye contact with people ’cause I’m not at eye level with other people, so I am marching through the streets of New York City going very fast. I’ve had many people over the years tell me that they tried to say hello to me on the street, but I marched right by them and they couldn’t get my attention. Right? We’re in our heads; we’re moving so fast. So, in this exercise we had to walk around the room at our typical pace, and then we were asked to cut that pace in half, and then we were told to cut that pace in half. So, when I cut my pace in half twice something extraordinary happened for me, and I really can’t overstate it. It was a profound experience. All of a sudden as I was passing people in the room at this very slow pace I noticed the expressions on their faces. I saw them. I became aware of myself. I became aware of my body, me in my body, of my own emotions, of my feet touching the ground, of sounds around me, of what I was seeing. It was for- just for lack of a better word it was profound. So, I’ve got some clients who move really, really fast, and I know this because when they come into a coaching they’re talking so fast I can hardly understand them, and I have to really ask them, “Please,” to slow down. I literally can’t process fast enough to hear what it is they’re trying to say. So, this is also part of the kind of saboteur and sage model. You see how these things connect, right? When we move so fast we become disconnected from ourselves, disconnected from one another. When we talk about reaching peak performance we’re talking about trying to find ways to be in the present moment. That’s what being that Jedi warrior is about. Maintaining focus means being here in the present, not being locked inside our minds unaware of what’s going on around us.

Erik Gensler: In this culture how you talked about speed dating and speed everything and the culture rewards speed I think, and the culture rewards not being present.

Jennifer Zaslow: Oh, God, totally. So, yeah, so I would say a word about the Western versus the Eastern definition of time, that our idea of time is linear. Right? The American idea of time is linear. Past, present, future. Time is finite. Use it or lose it. Time is money. Right? We even use all the same words to describe time. Spending, budgeting, wasting. In Eastern philosophy, time is circular. It moves with Circadian rhythms, right? With the seasons day follows night. Spring follows winter. Time is not a zero sum game. We know there’s always tomorrow. The sun will rise again, and we can start again. Right? That’s like meditation. So what I’m saying is that there’s this- there’s this crunch around time in Western culture. Right? This kind of frantic feeling that in order to make the most of our lives we have to do more; we have to cram as much as possible into the finite number of minutes we have in a day. Kind of quantity over quality.

Erik Gensler: One of the workshops that you’ve done with the team here at CI has been around crucial conversations. What is a crucial conversation? – why is that framework important?

Jennifer Zaslow: The term ‘crucial conversations’ comes from the kind of seminal book called Crucial Conversations, by Joseph Grenny and others. What is a crucial conversation, first of all? It’s a conversation like many that we’ve all had where opinions vary, the stakes are high, and emotions run strong. In non-profit that’s like every conversation we ever have. Why does this matter? Why are we talking about this? It goes back in a way to the distinction between hard skills and soft skills. your ability to resolve conflicts with clients, co-workers, your boss, your team members, is directly related to your ability to have success in the workplace and- and advance and do great work, make things happen, any good work environment will have conflicts. There should be conflicts.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Jennifer Zaslow: There should be disagreement. You should have a diversity of viewpoints. You should have a diversity of opinion. You should have people around the table who feel sufficiently safe to disagree with one another, but how do you navigate that without getting personal? Crucial conversations is a method that invites you to focus on relationship first and content second. The idea here is that if you can make someone feel safe you can say anything. As Grenny says, the problem is not the message; the problem is that we fail to help others feel safe hearing the message. But how do you do that? How do you create an environment that’s safe? You and I have talked about that a lot. Google poured a ton of people into something called Project Aristotle to study how teams perform optimally. What are the qualities that make for an optimal- optimally performing team? And the answer, in brief, was something called an environment of psychological safety. And the most important factor, that contributes to an environment of psychological safety is that people feel heard. So when you’re in a crucial conversation, you need to listen, which is not something most of us do particularly well. Again, going back to how we all focus on our hard skills, we’re all used to being experts, so we’re really good at talking. We’re really good at telling other people how great we are at our jobs and how much we know about what we do and the landscape. But are we good at listening? So we’ve talked a lot about a listening model that we’ve used with your team and many others that comes straight out of my coaching training at CTI. It’s- it’s called The Three Levels of Listening. So level one listening is what we call internal listening. That’s when I’m sitting across from you and we’re having a conversation and I’m hearing the voice in my own head, saying something like, “Oh, God, it seems like Erik’s really busy, like he doesn’t really have time for this coaching today,” or “Oh, I wish I’d eaten lunch before- before we had this conversation.” We all experience this level one listening. Level two listening is called focused listening. That’s when we have a hard focus on the other person when we’re listening for the content of what they say, or for instance, if you see a mother with a baby who’s sick, there could be chaos going on all around, but she’s completely focused and listening to her baby. That’s level two listening, focused listening. What we’re going for in the workplace, in a crucial conversation, in a coaching, is level three listening, which is called global listening. That’s when I open up the aperture from that focus, hard focus, laser focus, to a soft focus, a diffuse focus. Now I’m not only hearing the content of what you’re saying, but I’m taking in a lot more information too. I’m aware of your body language. I’m aware of my body language. I’m aware of the impact of my body language on your body language. I’m aware of what else is happening in the room. If there are other people in the room, how are they responding to what you’re saying? So, I’m taking in a lot of information, which also enables me to shift in real-time and change how I might respond to you based on all this information that I’m taking in. When we’re in a crucial conversation we’re going for global listening. We want to really understand where this other person is coming from. Right? We’re cultivating that sage innovate power. Even if we think that other person is 90% wrong, we’re focusing on the 10% that’s right, ’cause we’re trying to get to a win-win for both of us. We’re focusing on contact, the relationship, over content. And if you find that you’re in a difficult conversation with a colleague, for anyone who’s listening ’cause it’ll probably happen today or tomorrow, I would say pause for a second. You’re having a conflict with someone on your team or your colleague. You’re the development director and you’re talking to the marketing director. I’ve never met a development director and a marketing developer who didn’t have disagreements. So, you find yourself in one of those challenging conversations. Take a minute, pause, and think to yourself, “How could I make the other person feel more safe? What would move us forward?” You might say something like, “I’m noticing that you seem like you feel uncomfortable with what I’m suggesting, so what- what is that?” That’s getting out of the content of the conversation. Right? You’re talking about the membership program. And you’re bringing it to the relationship. You’re calling out what you see. You’re saying what you see. And you’re treating this person like a person, not just like a marketing director, but as an actual fellow human. “What could I be doing to make you feel more comfortable about what it is I’m asking? Because I think it could be a win-win for both of us. The executive director would be so happy if we were able to increase membership by 50%. It would put more bodies in seats and it would raise 10% more for the overall fundraising goal. How could we partner and work together in this? I see that you’re uncomfortable. What could I be doing there is a deep knowing that we all have, but we have to be sufficiently humble and porous to be able to access it. You have to be able to say, “I don’t know.” You have to be able to get curious. You have to be able to ask a question. You have to be able to look another person in the eye in order to be able to access that deep part of you.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm. Yeah. This all connects to the slowing down.

Jennifer Zaslow: Yes.

Erik Gensler: Right? You can’t third level listening if you’re speeding to your next point.

Jennifer Zaslow: Absolutely not.

Erik Gensler: Right. So, we’ve come to the final question here, and …

Jennifer Zaslow: (laughs)

Erik Gensler: … since this is the first time we’ve done the podcast with the same person, I looked up and- and played for myself what the answer to the CI to Eye moment question was, and the question is if you could broadcast to the executive director’s leadership team, staff, and board of a thousand arts organizations, what advice would you provide to help them improve their businesses, and you said investing in developing people and people’s professional development. And I wonder …

Jennifer Zaslow: Yes.

Erik Gensler: … more than a year later if there’s another bet to that or if you’d answer that differently or add to it.

Jennifer Zaslow: Without any preparation because I forgot you were going to ask me that question, I have a slight adjustment, which is invest in their own development. I’d love to see leaders investing in their own development. Put your own oxygen mask on first. Of course, I want them to develop their people, but they won’t believe in the power of development until they development themselves. And in order to understand that they need to development themselves, they need to reflect. (laughs) Leadership requires reflection. It’s not just about doing. It’s also about being. So that’s my dream for leaders of non-profits, but all leaders. I want to see them be porous. I want to see them reflect. And I want to- I want to see all of us, reaching peak performance.

Erik Gensler: Thank you so much.

Jennifer Zaslow: Thank you, Erik.

About Our Guests
Jennifer Zaslow
Jennifer Zaslow
Executive Coach

Jennifer Zaslow is an Executive Coach who believes that power begins with finding your voice. She began her professional life in New York as an aspiring opera singer, an experience that led to a twenty-year career as a leader and senior fundraiser in the non-profit sector.

Read more

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