How can togetherness be encouraged during this pandemic? Alicia Dunams interviews leadership expert Mike Robbins on the show to take a closer look at this concept and share some strategies that promote connections. Having partnered with some of the top organizations in the world, Mike shows us how to lead with authenticity, trust, belongingness, and appreciation. Today, he shares some vital content from one of his books, We’re All In This Together: Creating a Team Culture of High Performance, Trust, and Belonging, as well as some leadership perspectives and tools that we can utilize to bring togetherness especially during the Coronavirus crisis. Tune in to today’s show to learn more about communication, opinion-sharing, neutrality, and so much more!
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Tools For Togetherness With Mike Robbins
I would like to welcome Mike Robbins. He’s the author of five books, including We’re All In This Together: Creating A Team Culture Of High Performance, Trust, and Belonging. For many years, he’s been a sought-after speaker and consultant who delivers keynotes and seminars for some of the top organizations in the world including Google, Wells Fargo, and Microsoft. His work has been featured in the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, NPR and ABC News. It is wonderful to have you here, Mike.
Thanks for having me. It’s good to see you, be with you, and reconnect. It’s been a while but it’s always nice when we get a chance to connect.
I know that you have five books out including We’re All In This Together. Why did you write this book?
There were two primary reasons that I wrote the book. It seems to have taken on a third more significant one, given what’s going on in the world. The main reason that I wrote the book is that my other book, Bring Your Whole Self To Work, which we chatted about a few years ago, the fifth and final principle of that book is called Create a Championship Team. My work has focused a lot on team culture and team performance over the years, but I’ve never written a book specifically on how teams create that kind of culture. When I wrote my last book, I wanted to double click on that idea of how we create a championship team as I call it from my sports background. This book, We’re All In This Together, was my attempt to almost be a sequel to the last book to go more deeply into that and look at some of the research more on what does it take for teams to perform at a high level.
Authenticity is honesty without self-righteousness and with vulnerability. Click To Tweet
The second reason that I wrote the book and I wanted it to come out in 2020 is because our country and our world have been unbelievably divided in this hardcore way. Not that’s a new phenomenon, that’s existed for a long time, but as I travel around the US and the world, it feels different to me out there and it has for the last years. I wanted to make a statement from my work and my perspective without oversimplifying or minimizing some of the challenges or the reasons underneath why things may be as divided as they are. My experience of life and my work has been that when we get to know each other and we connect more deeply, there’s way more common ground. There are way more ways that we’re more alike than we’re different. I wanted to delve into that, which is a big part of why I wrote this book. I didn’t expect the book to come out amid a pandemic where everybody seems to be using the phrase “We’re all in this together” because we are. The book is not about that specifically, but more than ever, we are all in this together. It’s taken on an even deeper meaning for me and for a lot of people that I’m talking to.
With that deeper meaning, what are some of the tools that you suggest for people? Your book is about the corporate world. Let’s expand it out a little bit. What are some of the tools in a world that is divisive and struggling? I think that this pandemic is a global reset in terms of what was happening wasn’t working. From a leadership perspective down, what are some tools that we can utilize to bring togetherness?
The first thing we have to do in general is we’ve got to be real. This has always been a cornerstone of my work in most of the books I’ve written. We’ve got to be real with ourselves and with each other. How are we feeling? What’s going on? The first principle or pillar that I talk about in We’re All in This Together for teams is creating a sense of psychological safety. This is true for us in any group. Psychological safety is group trust. It means the group is safe enough for me to speak up, disagree, take a risk, try something different, even fail. Ironically, we’re in this environment these days where we all can speak up. We can express ourselves on social media. Most of those environments aren’t all that psychologically safe because if I say something and you don’t agree with me or someone doesn’t agree with me or thinks I made a bad point, people are going to start piling on and telling me what an idiot I am and why I don’t know anything.
Even in an environment where we’re meeting with friends, family members or team members on Zoom or Skype, we’re trying to communicate with each other. The question that I often have for people when they think about their families, their teams or any group that they’re a part of is, “Does that group feel safe enough for you to be yourself, to speak your mind, to make a mistake or take a risk? Those things like how we build more psychological safety within any group, whether it’s a small group or a big group are by people being willing and able to show up authentically. On the one hand, we live in a culture where we talk about authenticity more. We’re encouraged to be ourselves and be authentic more. At the same time, it seems harder to be in some ways especially these days. I agree with you about having a reset. The question then becomes like, “How do I show up authentically when I don’t get to see anybody?” Maybe except for my family members that I’m sheltering in place with, “How can I show up authentically, virtually or in a disconnected way?” It’s not necessarily all that easy, but it’s even that much more important if we’re going to connect and build trust with each other virtually that we do it from a place of authenticity.
What you’re saying is one of the tools or one of the mandates for people to feel safe is to be psychologically safe. We’ve been in this environment for decade-plus in which we’re sharing our opinions and thoughts in a social setting. There’s this concept of authenticity and vulnerability, which you talk about in your book, Bring Your Whole Self To Work. Where does that leave us? I’m asking myself, “Do I feel psychologically safe?” I feel that I’m authentic and I open my mouth and I share. I don’t share my political beliefs or any religious type of beliefs on social media. If I was being honest with myself, I come from a neutral space. One of the tools that I teach in my corporate training is, what does it look like to be neutral? Is being neutral being authentic?
If it’s a conscious choice, it can be. If we do it from a place of “I’m afraid to say what I think because I don’t want to offend people or I don’t want people to be upset,” I can relate to that. All of us to some degree is like, “Do I want to dive into the deep end of this?” One of the origin stories behind this book and this title, I’ll come out and say what happened. After the election in 2016, I was on the road. I was out of the country when Donald Trump got elected, which was a weird place to be. I had a trip to Europe that I had to go to and speak and my daughters were upset. They were like, “Dad, you’re leaving. The first female president is about to get elected. What’s wrong? You’re going to miss it.” I was feeling sad that I was going to miss it. I get on the plane. I land in Amsterdam. I’m watching Donald Trump give his acceptance speech as I’m taxiing and like many other people, I’m shocked. It was not the way I expected the election to go. I don’t think many people did. It wasn’t the way that I wanted the election to go.
In my shock and disappointment in my emotional experience with all of that, I woke up in the middle of the night in Amsterdam and I wrote this piece. I wasn’t sure if I even dared to post it, but I decided to post it first on my blog. We then posted it on the Huffington Post and other places where we syndicate. The title of the piece was An Open Letter To My Fellow Straight White Men. The reason why I wrote it was I’m white, straight, male and through the whole election and all that had come up, there had been divisiveness around many things, around race, gender and orientation. I was waiting for the election to be over, hoping that we would move past some of that nastiness. I felt strongly that people who look like me, in particular, have an even greater responsibility to speak up and say things. That was my opinion. I shared that. I was not prepared for what I was about to get back.
Mostly, I don’t share about stuff like that in my work. I tried to stay away from controversial things. I got a bunch of people who responded and said, “I agree, I hear you, I feel you,” and a whole bunch of people who were not disagreeing with me, but nasty, name-calling, threats, and all that mostly from other people who looked like me. I was like, “Oh my God.” All of this hate came my way, which was both painful but then confusing to me. I started to think about it more deeply. The next post that I wrote the next week was called We’re All In This Together. My response back was, “I understand everyone’s feeling emotional. I also understand that I shared some strong opinions about what I think about things. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or see it my way. What I don’t think is helpful is if we all start calling each other names and calling each other out. I don’t think that’s the solution to anything. I don’t want to be overly simplistic or Pollyanna about it, but I don’t think anyone thinks, ‘I have a solution for how we figure this out. Let’s yell at each other and call each other names.’”
This book and my work are not about politics. It’s not about some of those issues per se that we get divided about in our culture. It is about the idea that I believe not only great teams, but great cultures and societies figure out a way to listen to each other even when we disagree. Figure out a way to engage with each other even if we see things differently. Do it in a way that, “I think my opinion is the right or the correct opinion, otherwise, I wouldn’t have it. At the same time, that doesn’t invalidate your opinion and your perspective if you happen to disagree with me.” The truth is we don’t have to be talking about politics. We don’t have to be talking about race, gender, abortion or other issues that get people all riled up. This happens every day in the corporate world and everywhere else inside of families where one side takes one opinion, the other side takes the other opinion and we have disconnection and separation. People don’t talk to each other. People don’t work together. People don’t share information. It creates all problems for everybody involved. We have to figure out as human beings how do we navigate that. That’s not easy to do, but it’s super important, especially right now.
What you spoke into is it seems like we’ve lost the art of listening and someone’s mere existence or opinion is instantly confrontational. It’s interesting for self-awareness opportunities to think about if someone else believes in something you don’t believe. Why are you confronted in that way? I feel there’s an opportunity here that many opinions and thoughts can coexist at the same time.
One of the things that I’ve learned over the years in my journey with this but also teaching and researching this, the way that I define authenticity is that its honesty. It’s honesty without self-righteousness and vulnerability. Self-righteousness is that sense of, “I’m right and you’re wrong if you disagree with me.” There is nothing wrong with having strong opinions about anything. There is nothing wrong with debating with people and discussing them. That’s super important in any healthy relationship, in any family, team, and environment. When I come into work with a team, if people say, “We never get into arguments. We never have any conflict.” I’m always like, “Someone’s lying if that’s the case.” You can’t get a group of talented, smart and passionate people together to work on anything and not have differences of opinion. That’s a healthy thing.
The challenge is how we navigate them. Self-righteousness though is, “I’m right, you’re wrong.” What happens is in the online world we live in, people are more than happy to engage and disagree and say, “You’re an idiot. That’s wrong.” In real life, most of us don’t do that. We water it down. We say, “That’s fine, I’ll consider that. Thanks for sharing.” We then leave the meeting or we get off the Zoom call or whatever and go, “He’s an idiot. That’s ridiculous. I don’t agree with that,” or I text someone who I know agrees with me and says, “I’m not doing that.” We’re more passive-aggressive about it in person. All of a sudden, some of us were bullish online, “I’ll say this. I’ll rant and rave.” In-person, it’s a lot harder to do that.
The issue that we have to look at, and sometimes people think authenticity is about neutrality. Authenticity isn’t necessarily about speaking up all of our opinions because if we do it with self-righteousness, what we do is we disconnect. We push people away and we don’t even realize we’re doing this. There’s a story that I share in the book that’s funny that a lot of people can relate with. I was in the car with my wife, Michelle, with our two daughters, Samantha and Rosie. Rosie was nine and Samantha was eleven at the time. We’re backing out of the garage and we were in the car that Michelle normally drives. She asked me if I would drive and I said sure.
We were going somewhere as a family, but the cars in our garage sit close to each other. When you back out, you have to be careful. You don’t want to hit the other car or get the mirror caught on the side. Whenever I drive Michelle’s car, I always have to adjust the mirror in the seat. It’s a little awkward for me because it’s on the other side. As I’m backing out, her car seemed to be parked close to my car. I was struggling as I was backing out, thinking, “I’m going to hit my car. This isn’t right.” In the middle of my struggle, I stopped and I turned to Michelle and I said, “If you park the car like this,” and I start explaining to her the way I parked the car and what I look for.
The natural response to self-righteousness, no matter what we're talking about, is always defensiveness. Click To Tweet
As I’m explaining this, Rosie was sitting behind me. She said, “Dad, stop mansplaining to mom.” To which I was impressed that she knew what that was. I’m like, “You go, girl,” but then I said, “I was not mansplaining to mom.” I looked at Michelle, Samantha, and Rosie and all three of them were like, “Yes you were.” It caught me and stop me in my tracks. I realized, “I was. What had happened?” I was uncomfortable with the situation. It wasn’t set up exactly the way I would have set it up. Instead of dealing with my discomfort, I decided that was the appropriate moment to coach Michelle on the proper way to park the car in the garage.
I’m sure everyone reading can relate to either side of this scenario and it’s not surprising that Michelle was not sitting over there going, “Thanks for the feedback. Anything else?” Not that it’s never appropriate to give feedback to our spouse, coworker, our friend, our child or anybody. Is it coming from a place of self-righteousness? I love Michelle. I respect her. She’s smart. She’s amazing. I was saying at that moment, “I parked the car the right way. You parked the car the wrong way. I’m superior. You’re inferior.” That’s the underlying communication. The natural response to self-righteousness, no matter what we’re talking about, is always defensiveness. “I’m going to defend myself against your opinion if I don’t agree with it because it’s coming from a self-righteous place.”
I always say when we’re bumping against someone’s ego or we haven’t articulated in a way that fully lands for them, we will receive from them one of the three Ds. One is defensiveness, another one is deflection, and the third would be denied. That’s what we’re seeing play out in front of us every day on social media, in the news. The media is defensiveness, deflection or denial. When we’re in the three Ds, we’re playing in this space of ego, self-righteousness, complete lack of humility. What I feel is this will not end. I believe from a purely spiritual perspective that this will not end until our leaders come to humility where they come down to their knees. I’m not mentioning who. This is a beautiful opportunity for everyone. I’m hoping and praying for all of them, including myself.
I love those three Ds because you’re right. We defend, deflect or deny. It’s a symbiotic relationship though. We’ve got to take ownership of our denial, deflection, and defensiveness. However, if someone comes at us with self-righteousness, it’s hard not to go to one of those places. Using that scenario, after I speak at an event and I share that story about Michelle, people will often ask me, “What if she parked the car the wrong way? How are you supposed to bring that up?” My response is if I was being authentic in that situation, what I could have said was, “I’m having a hard time here,” which was true. “I’m struggling. I’m worried I’m about to hit the car. Let me stop.” If I thought maybe I need to make a suggestion, “Does this ever happen to you? Do you ever struggle with this because I’m struggling with this?”
Maybe she would have said, “It does sometimes,” or “No, I never did.” “Are you open to an idea that I have of what might make this easier?” To get to it from a place of humility and vulnerability, “Here’s what’s going on for me. Here’s how I’m feeling. I want to give you a suggestion but before I do that, let me tell you what’s happening for me and see if you’re even open to my suggestion. Maybe then we can have a collaborative conversation about how to solve this problem for me at this moment, but for you moving forward or whatever.” If she’s not open to it, she’s going to let me know, “No, I’m good. I never have that problem. You’re having the problem. I love you and care about you, but you’re going to have to figure this out.”
It then becomes, “You can’t give feedback to someone who doesn’t want your feedback.” It’s disrespectful and it’s not effective. Even if you’re their spouse, their parent, their coach that they’ve hired. As you and I both know, I’ve had people hire me to coach them and then not want my coaching. I’m like, “You’re paying me for this, what is going on?” I realized, “They’re not open at this moment to the coaching.” I have to do a better job as a coach, even though that’s the nature of the relationship. “Are you open? Are you interested?” Sometimes there are moments, even when I’m paying someone to coach me, I’m not open to the coaching at that moment. It’s like, “You hit a hot button. I’m shutting down. I’m not going to listen to whatever you say after this.” All of this takes an enormous amount of self-awareness.
Self-awareness and effort. Communication requires effort. The conversation you shared with you and your wife, it requires style flexing, where are they in the moment. Context is key. One way it was put to me when you communicate, you style flex based on people’s personality type. I was training communication. It was brought up as individualized care. When you’re in communication with someone, you realize how they’re responding, if they’re defending, deflecting, denying. What can I do at this moment to flex or provide them individualized care? It requires effort.
It does. That’s what’s interesting about that because another piece of what we can do, but also what I know to be true about what creates a strong and healthy culture within any group, the family, team, whatever group it is, is a sense of belonging. When we create an environment, people feel like they belong. For us to be able to do that to your point, what happens in the world we live in and with the way we mass communicate, a big email or post on social media to lots of people. You can’t individually communicate that. Not that we necessarily need to on those platforms or in those environments, but that’s why sometimes I could say something. You and I are having this conversation, all the different people reading this, they’re going to interpret it and hear it in their way. They will relate to it or not relate to it or agree with it or not agree with it.
That makes it challenging because we can have an individual conversation, but people hearing the conversation will have their own opinions and their perspectives, which is fine. That makes it tricky for us to communicate, particularly about sensitive issues, stuff that does matter that brings up emotional reactions from people. It’s hard to do that effectively in a mass way. It’s one of the challenges for any of us who find ourselves in communication roles in life. As you and I do, and lots of people reading this, anyone who’s in a leadership role has to figure out how I can communicate in a way that resonates with people but is real and true and doesn’t intentionally try to disconnect and have people separate from me necessarily. It’s not an easy thing to do as we both know.
Hence, why I choose neutrality. It’s interesting because there was a post at the beginning of the whole COVID thing. There was a post, “You have all the time in the world to write a book and start a business.” Some people found that offensive. I’m not going to write a book or start a business or what have you. There’s this whole thing that anything can be found. Even if someone’s like, “Use this time productively.” Anything can trigger. What I’m finding is that people are highly sensitive. There’s nothing wrong with that. There are seven billion people, seven billion interpretations and perspectives. What is your thought? Even Ellen DeGeneres got into some trouble because she was saying something like being at home in quarantine is like being in jail. People are looking at her $10 billion mansions. I want you to also talk about this. I believe that we can’t offend people. People choose to be offended and believe me when I say that, that can be offensive. Do you agree that people choose to be offended?
I do. This is one of the many paradoxes of this moment of life. On the one hand, I agree 100% that we are the ones that choose to be offended or not. It’s something a mentor of mine said to me years ago. He said, “Mike, there are two things you could do. If you did these two things, it would dramatically improve the quality of your life. There are simple concepts, but they are not easy to practice. The first thing is to be genuinely easy to impress like a child. Be in awe of life, people, experiences, beauty, and creativity.” He said, “The second thing, and this one is even harder, be hard to offend. If you woke up in the morning and said to yourself, ‘I’m going to be easy to impress. I’m going to be super hard to offend. It’s going to take something extraordinary awful to offend me.’ You would probably set yourself up for success that day or life in general if that was your mindset.”
He said, “Most of us in our culture have it the other way around. It’s hard to impress us because we’ve seen a lot. We’ve been around and technology and all kinds of stuff are like, ‘Show me something cool,’ and we get offended super easy.” I think about that a lot because even though I know that to be true, I watch myself flip those around. It takes a lot to impress me or I get offended easily. I remember that being offended is a choice. That being said, I also believe that we live in a world where there are a lot of people in positions of power for many generations up to this point who have done and said incredibly offensive things without being held accountable for them.
Both things can be true at the same time. I don’t think we need to walk on eggshells around stuff all the time and be worried about it. If you put stuff out in the world, people are going to have opinions about it. The more people see it, the more people are going to have opinions about it. We’ve got to have a little bit of thick skin and not take everything personally. Yet, at the same time, we can also be open and have a growth mindset and realize, “Things I do and say might offend people or it might be different.” One of the experiences that I’ve had in the last couple of years around some of these issues, I wrote this book, Bring Your Whole Self To Work. It came out in 2018. I’m traveling around the country and the world. I’m speaking about it. I had people come up to me earnestly and authentically say to me, “Mike, I appreciate the message. That’s great, but you’re white, straight, and male. You have all these privileges. It’s easy for you to say bring your whole self to work. It’s harder for me.” They would then tell me a story of why it was hard.
When they said those things. At first, I got a little defensive. I went into, “I grew up in Oakland. I had a single mom. What do you mean?” I’m like, “Let me listen to what people are saying.” Part of what they were saying and it was helpful for me to have some of those conversations were like, “My experience of walking through the world is not the same as other people’s experience walking through the world.” That doesn’t mean my experience is wrong. It doesn’t mean I need to apologize for it. However, I can do a better job and all of us can, but particularly, those of us who find ourselves in privileged positions to listen to and pay attention to. I love Ellen. If Ellen says, “Being in my mansion is being in prison,” for people who are in prison or have been in prison, that’s probably a little offensive to them. Does that mean she shouldn’t say it or it’s not a good joke? I don’t know. She has to figure that out for herself. Is it possible we could say people are being a little overly sensitive about a comedian making a joke in the middle of a pandemic?
Where’s the line? We can then all argue about the line. Both things can be true at the same time. We can get over ourselves a little bit about being sensitive and offended by everything. I also think we can be mindful back to your neutrality point, you make a conscious choice. I’m not going to wait into things that I know by their nature are going to create a lot of us in them and people are more likely to get offended. I do the same thing all the time. One example is in my life. If you and I were hanging out, I swear all the time. I try not to swear in front of my children. I never swear when I’m on stage. I don’t swear on my podcast. I don’t swear when I’m on other people’s podcasts, but it’s a choice I made a long time ago because I was like, “I did it a few times. Some people got offended.”
I realized, “It’s not that important for me to drop an F-bomb in this situation if it’s going to have people turned off by what I’m trying to say.” I don’t do it. You could argue and say, “You’re the authenticity guy. Why don’t you let it rip and say what you want?” It’s like, “That’s a choice that I’ve made.” To the point where people are swearing all over the place publicly. It makes me feel a little funny because I’m like, “You’re not supposed to do that.” The rules seem to have changed around language, especially in the past few years, particularly in the podcast world. I still make that choice for me because that’s what feels right for me. It’s simply because I don’t need to do it for the sake of doing it. If it ends up turning people off and offending people or having them not listen, I’d rather them hear the message than being turned off by my language.
It’s something I choose as well. I choose not to curse. I want to make sure one of my values is not being judgmental. One of my values is making sure that everyone feels seen, heard and understood. That’s why I think neutrality is such a something that’s a value of mine. I’m someone that I don’t belong anywhere and I belong everywhere at the same time.
The word neutrality is an interesting one because some people could hear that like, “Are you selling out? Are you going right down the middle trying not to offend?” The other way to think about it is in inclusivity. That’s been one of my challenges with some of this stuff is like I don’t want to go too far one way or too far another way in what I talk about per se because it can easily be spun in this way. “You’re one of them,” whatever they are. There’s a story I share in the book about this. I was sitting on an airplane flying from Fort Lauderdale up to New York. I was on the road for a week with a bunch of different events. I’m on a JetBlue flight. They have little TVs and I sit down. I turned on the TV to catch up on the news a little bit before we were taking off.
This man who was a few years older than me and what I assumed was his mother because she was quite older. They get to sit next to me. I’m in the aisle. They’re in the window and the middle seat. We have a little, “How are you doing?” thing. About 10 to 15 minutes into the flight, I had stopped watching my TV, which happened to be turned on to CNN. I had taken my earbuds out. I plugged it into my laptop because I was listening to a podcast that I was editing or something. I heard the guy and he’s sitting in the window. He’s pointing at my screen and he’s going, “Fake news.” I’m like, “Is he talking to me? Was he talking to his mom?” I don’t know what’s happening, but I tried not to pay attention to. I kept working. He does it again. I take my earbuds out and I look at him and I say, “Are you talking to me?” I didn’t know. I wasn’t trying to start something, but he says, “It’s fake news. It’s liberal propaganda.” He and his mom both have Fox News on their TVs. I’m thinking, “This is out of a Seinfeld episode or something.”
What should I do? I have this moment where I should not swing at the pitch and not get into it with this guy. I decided I’m going to try this on as a sociological experiment and see what happens. I said to him, “I would be careful if I were you because what I’ve read is that Fox News viewers are often the most misinformed news.” We were off to the races. He was super upset and offended. He starts yelling at me. We have this interesting and uncomfortable conversation for 45 minutes about politics back and forth. We were talking about Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, healthcare and you name it. We sound like two pundits on cable TV. I was more trying to see, like would it be possible for me to influence him in any way? Was it possible for me to hear or listen to anything from him that might influence me? Towards the end of the conversation, it wasn’t going well.
He started calling me names and I put my hand up and said, “This is not working for me. We met less than an hour ago and here we are yelling at each other. This seems ridiculous.” I said to him, “Do you have children?” He said, “What?” I said, “Do you have children?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “I have two daughters.” I told him my girls’ ages, whatever they were at the time. He said his oldest was 30 and the other was in their twenties. I said, “Sometimes even though I try hard to be a good dad, I worry that as hard as I’m working to be a good father, maybe I’m screwing up. Maybe I’m saying or doing things with my girls that’s screwing them up. Do you ever worry about that with your kids, especially when they were younger like my girl’s age?” He looked at me funny. He said, “Every parent thinks that.”
A great practice, in general, is to start challenging yourself to ask for help more than you normally do. Click To Tweet
I said, “Maybe with all this stuff, all the politics we’re arguing about and as passionate as I feel about all these things, they’re super complex issues. I know what I believe and what’s true for me, but I don’t know the answer or the solution to some of these complex problems, like how I feel about parenting.” He looked at me like I was crazy, but he acknowledged it. The conversation ended at that point. He didn’t have much more to say. I went back to my laptop. He started talking to his mom. I share all that because the point is what I took away from that conversation. There was a moment in the end when I was able to be vulnerable with this man and found some common ground between the two of us that we were able to connect human to human.
I didn’t agree with him. He didn’t convince me to take his opinions on a bunch of things. I don’t think I did with him either. At some level, what we want as human beings is to connect. What we want is to understand each other and be understood. There’s away. This isn’t about politics per se, even though that’s a lot what you and I were talking about because we can all relate to it, but can we find those places of the common ground of connection and feel like there’s a sense of inclusion and ultimately belonging that there isn’t an ingroup and outgroup or us into group or the group? That’s one of the things that I have learned over all my years studying and working with great teams. Great teams make sure and understand and operate with the notion of there is no them. It’s all for us.
As soon as it’s an us and them, maybe you could argue with the competition, whoever the competition is, but some of the greatest teams that I know from my background as an athlete too, it’s like them, whoever they are the competition, they’re us because they’re like we are. They want the same things we do. They push us and make us better. If we start otherizing them to justify whatever we’re doing, that leads us down a potentially dangerous path. If we can connect with them as us and still compete, but do it healthily, it makes everybody better.
That others that you talk about, us against them conversation, I always say when you’re coming from that space, you’re usually communicating from your amygdala.
One of the things I’ve been noticing during the pandemic, I don’t know what your experience has been, but I feel a lot of different emotions up and down all over the place that a lot of people do. When I’m home, when I’m with my family in the midst of this, as crazy as it is, there is a sense of I feel connected, I feel safe and super grateful, especially as I watched the news and my heart breaks every day with what’s happening. When I go to the grocery store, it’s a different experience. It’s not that the grocery store ended up itself. I love the grocery stores, whether I go to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or Safeway or the different grocery stores we go to. I have to put gloves on and a mask on and I’m trying to stay away from people and all the things we need to do to keep ourselves safe. I come home usually and say to Michelle, “I don’t know if I can do that because it is a total amygdala experience.” I’m like, “That person is trying to get the toilet paper.”
I turn into this thing and it’s like, “I want to get what we need for our family,” but it’s such an odd experience that I’ve been noticing it personally on what the emotional and sociological experience of it is. There is this heightened state of fear that understandably, most of us are experiencing. That part of it has been both fascinating and challenging for me and a lot of people that I’ve been talking to are how to navigate this experience that none of us have ever had before. There are not that many of us unless we live in some part of the world where there was an outbreak of Ebola or some other infectious disease like this that we’ve had to mitigate and manage, which most of us haven’t had to do at any time in our lives.
It’s a sociological experience as your experiment. With your book, We’re All in This Together, what’s a piece of advice that you’d like to share with the audience.
One of the things that all of us can do, and this is a great practice in general, is to start challenging ourselves to ask for help more than we normally do. When I’m speaking to a group of people, I often ask this question, “How many of you like helping other people?” It doesn’t matter where I am, how big or small the group is, whatever city or state or country I’m in, everybody in the room raises their hand. I always figure at least 90% of them are raising it authentically. The other 10% feel bad like, “I want to help people.” Most of us genuinely like to help people. I then ask a follow-up question. I say, “How many of you love asking other people for help?” Maybe it varies, but maybe about 10% to 20% most in any room, even the people that start to raise their hand, they almost put it down like, “Am I not supposed to? Is that bad? Is that weird?” What I then follow-up to talk about is like, “What’s weird is that most of us have a bit of a challenge.” Anyone comfortable asking for help, I would say to them, “Please keep doing that and teach the rest of us. Keep modeling that because it’s important,” but it’s challenging to ask for help.
What are we afraid of? I’ll be judged. People will think you can’t handle it yourself, you’re needy or whatever. It will be an imposition on other people. Polite people will say yes, but they mean no. Maybe they’ll flat out reject me and they’ll say no. Being judged, being an imposition or being rejected, none of those experiences from my experience of being human are very pleasurable. We don’t do it because it’s vulnerable and uncomfortable. When we ask for help, a couple of things happen. First of all, we admit to ourselves and everyone around us that we’re not perfect. We’re not superhuman, which none of us are, which is liberating. We also might get some help. The answer is always no if we don’t ask. Even the people who love us most, I love Michelle, she loves me. I love my daughters. They love me.
We’re not constantly walking around the house going, “You need any help?” We do sometimes, but even the best teams, the most generous teams I work with, people are super busy. They’re not necessarily proactively offering help. When we ask for help, we let people know, “I could use some help.” The third thing is the most important. When we ask for help, we give other people permission to do something that almost every human being loves to do, which is help and support another human being. If we come from a place of we’re all in this together, which by the way we are, what ends up happening is, “I want to help you and you want to help me.” We don’t keep score.
I’m busy and I have my issues and challenges and things going on. If I can’t help you at the moment because either I’m too busy or you’re asking me for something that I don’t know how to do it or I’m not good at, I can find someone else. We’ll figure out away. There are more than enough resources within our team, community or the world that we live in. I’ve been saying to people all the time, as challenging as this pandemic is for us being socially distant and all this, can you imagine if it was 1975? We’d be on the phone and writing letters to each other and watching three channels on TV. That would be it. Maybe we’d be reading books out in the backyard if we’re fortunate enough to have a backyard.
As much as Zoom is driving me crazy and getting on my nerves. I’m super grateful for Zoom, for text, for social, for the internet and for all the ways we can communicate and all the ways we can find out so much stuff that like, “This is hard and weird, but it could be way harder and weirder if it wasn’t today with all of the technology that we have.” When we ask for help, we can get it. If we can’t get it directly from our family members or team members, there’s someone out there that can easily help us. Have you ever had that issue? As much as social media can be tricky, have you ever post a question on Facebook or Twitter or something and you get all these responses, you’re like, “People know a lot of stuff about this thing?” When you search on YouTube for, “How do you figure out how to wrap the hose up like this?” There are fourteen videos of someone doing it. You’re like, “People are helpful and have a lot of insight to share.”
I always say be a master asker. It’s a powerful tool. With that, Mike, how can people find out more about you and your book?
The best place to do that is on our site. We have a page specifically for the book. It’s Mike-Robbins.com/together.
The book is out, so I encourage you to read it, share it and believe that we’re all in this together. We are. Does the book have a hashtag?
Yes, it is or #Together. Mike, it has been wonderful to have you here. Thank you for sharing with you and bringing your whole self to this interview.
Thanks for having me.
Take care. All the best.
- We’re All In This Together: Creating A Team Culture Of High Performance, Trust, and Belonging
- Bring Your Whole Self To Work
- An Open Letter To My Fellow Straight White Men – article
- We’re All In This Together – article
About Mike Robbins
Mike Robbins is the author of five books, including his brand new title, WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER: Creating a Team Culture of High Performance, Trust, and Belonging. For the past 20 years, he’s been a sought-after speaker and consultant who delivers keynotes and seminars for some of the top organizations in the world.
His clients include Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Genentech, eBay, Harvard University, Gap, LinkedIn, the Oakland A’s, and many others.
He and his work have been featured in the New York Times and the Harvard Business Review, as well as on NPR and ABC News. He’s a regular contributor to Forbes, hosts his own podcast (called We’re All in This Together), and his books have been translated into 15 different languages.
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