If you know the name Nick Tasler and we certainly hope you do, then the quote, “Changing the world one decision at a time.” is also familiar to you. Nick Tasler is a husband and father who just so happens to be an internationally acclaimed thought leader, organizational psychologist and four time number one best-selling author. Your private library most likely contains at least one of his books, “The Impulse Factor,” “Why Quitters Win: Decide to Be Excellent,” “Domino: The Simplest Way to Inspire Change” and/or “Ricochet: What to Do When Change Happens to You.” Nick graciously gave of his time to discuss with NXTFOCUS his recent post, Confessions of a Self-Hating Motivational Speaker, where he questions the assertion that a person’s life course could be influenced in a 45 minute to hour inspirational or motivational presentation.
The skills and abilities of an orator to encourage, influence and motivate others are powerful and they come with massive responsibility. As a leader and motivator our words can have profound implications in the lives of our listener’s future. At least that’s what’s believed but is it true? Are our words so powerful that they could actually change someone’s life? If this assertion were somehow quantifiable and it’s efficacy could be documented what would we learn and what would it mean for leaders, mentors, sponsors and motivators?
Interview with Nick Tasler
NXTFOCUS: Nick, in your recent blog post you mentioned a Stanford study that demonstrates how a positive interaction can actually have very long term effects in the lives of listeners. What does that mean for leaders today?
Nick Tasler: I think leaders should be aware that it’s sometimes those tiny conversations that can matter most. Even though they don’t seem like much at the time, and you can’t often measure their impact in monthly or quarterly metrics. The caveat is that there are a lot of subtleties and nuances in the science of what works to create positive change after brief interactions and what doesn’t.
NXTFOCUS: Can you give an example?
Nick Tasler: For instance, if you can get your team members to acknowledge that they already believe and endorse the viewpoint you’re promoting by. For example, asking them how they think they should explain this viewpoint to younger employees. They stand a significantly better chance of adopting it for the long haul than if you simply say something like “This is how successful people think, so I want you to think that way”. The latter approach will most likely feel threatening and unlock all sorts of buried insecurities that will make them disengage from the situation and maybe their jobs in general.
NXTFOCUS: Your blog also brought to mind the word “responsibility”. Today there are countless life coaches, mentors and alike who promise real results. Help us to articulate the responsibility we take on when stepping into such a role? As a follow up question: What are the serious ramifications if that responsibility isn’t taken seriously?
Nick Tasler: It is a big responsibility. And if we plant the wrong seed, the change can go in the wrong direction. We can accidentally reinforce people’s sense of helplessness. Another fascinating piece to think about is how one classic study from the 1970’s showed how people in a nursing home were made healthier by being given control of the scheduling of visits from students. The other group got visits too, but they were simply told when the students would come. But a couple of years later when the students stopped coming (because they graduated or the program was over), the control was taken from residents and their health actually ended up declining faster than the control group.
In other words, as coaches, mentors, or whatever, we have to be mindful of what we’re doing to set people up for release back into the wild. If we all we do is create an unhealthy dependence on us, it might create “repeat clients”. But it’s ultimately irresponsible if our goal is to help people create true change in their lives and not just “run them through the program”.
NXTFOCUS: It’s been said that people will remember bad news and bad life experience longer than the good. Today many wake up to post on social media from people venting their negative responses and frustrations to one thing or another. Or they’ll listen to or watch the news which lead stories are what’s most visceral. Further, as we go throughout our day there’s an exhaustive list of negative stimulus we face. Then, at the end of the day we fall asleep with more of the same stimulus and the cycle continues the following morning. How is this seemingly innocuous stimulus really a serious threat and what more can motivators do to help?
Nick Tasler: If you would have asked me this a year ago, my answer would have been somewhat cynical. Something along the lines of “not much.” But I don’t think that’s so true anymore. In my opinion, I think authentic motivation is key. Often times we are hired to “put on a show” and that is important to some extent. People aren’t going to be motivated if they are sleeping through a lecture.
But I do think we should try hard to not just be motivational, but also be insightful. Yes, it’s often about putting a positive spin on on negative events. We also have to be careful not to come across as naive or ignorant. So don’t just say there’s a silver lining behind every dark cloud, and leave it at the cliche level. But instead spend more time doing hard thinking that can allow you to truly uncover a novel and empowering way to treat a negative situation.
Sometimes shitty things happen in life. Telling people to ignore them isn’t necessarily helpful. Sometimes it’s even amoral if the shitty thing involves a social injustice. But we should say to ourselves “I’ve been given a knack for finding hope and empowerment in otherwise bleak situations. How can I use that talent here to uncover something others will be able to see if only I can point it out to them.”
NXTFOCUS: We appreciate the thought that as motivators we need to go past motivational and be “insightful”. Being insightful denotes a higher level of comprehension. With that deeper understanding a motivator will be able to focus her message and truly empower her listeners.
Nick Tasler: Back to question #1–often times the rapid turnover of social media cycles doesn’t allow us the time to go deep and do the hard-thinking I’m suggesting. Instead 8 shallow tweets preaching to the choir, I’d rather see 1 truly interesting tweet that actually inspires people to think. …But then again, I’m a grouchy curmudgeon when it come to social media so maybe I’m biased. 🙂
NXTFOCUS: Based on current trends and statistics, what do you think will be our greatest social needs in the future? and What do you do as a parent to teach and prepare you own children for their future?
Nick Tasler: I can only speak to what I think for my kids. For them adaptability to experience new places, new people, and new environments is skill number one we are trying to prepare them for. That means Competence, Confidence, and Compassion. I want them to understand that they have the ability and the toolkit to develop new skills. And to master new situations regardless of what that situation might be–physically, socially, psychologically, geographically…or whatever.
I think the compassion piece is a key component here, not just the confidence and competence. The world is changing and the deck is constantly being shuffled. If you can’t take a deep breath and acknowledge that maybe this person has something going on that you don’t know about you will end up making a long list of enemies that poison your social well-being. I want them to look at different people/places/ideas with more curiosity rather than condescension or condemnation. It’s tricky and something I’m still working on as an adult. But that’s the goal.
Competence, confidence and compass
“Competence, confidence and compassion”. Isn’t that what we all are really working so hard to cultivate in our clients, listeners and readers? We encourage, “big outside the box thinking” and “huge goal setting”. “Face your fear head on.” We say. We promote the idea that no amount of money is too much, if they think it they can attain it. Each person we interact with has their own unique construal. Our ability to influence change in their subjective view of the world and themselves should be taken very seriously because what you say does matter.
“In for a penny, in for a pound.” Nick has helped us understand that our work does make a difference. So if you’re in be all in. After all of what benefit would millions of dollars be to someone who lacks financial competence? How is encouraging someone to go out and ask for a promotion without first helping to develop their confidence? How can they understand the need to give in order to receive if no one has taught them the power of compassion?
Our words hold a great deal of power. People are looking to us to help them traverse some of the most difficult and tumultuous times of their lives. We’ve accepted the enormous responsibility of helping to shape those lives. What we say can change and in some cases save a life.
We’d all do well to heed Nick Tasler’s example and continue to work on ourselves. Our clients, listeners and readers are putting their lives in our hands and they deserve nothing less than our absolute best.