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Book Summary: “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith (part 2)

Last month, in part 1 of this book summary, we discussed the trouble with success, including the “success delusion” which states that we delude ourselves about our achievements, our status, and our contributions. We also covered the twenty most common faults and challenges in interpersonal behavior, which Goldsmith proposes successful people who are committed to change need to stop doing. In part 2 of the book summary, we will cover his seven-step method for already-successful people to change their interpersonal relationships and to make these changes permanent.

Step 1: Feedback

Goldsmith writes that successful people only have two problems dealing with negative feedback, but that they are big problems: (a) they don’t want to hear it from us and (b) we don’t want to give it to them. However obtaining honest, confidential feedback is critical to understanding what a person needs to change. Goldsmith prefers conducting a 360-degree feedback review, soliciting input about his client from all the people he or she works with regularly. The really interesting stuff that is learned is the information that’s known to others but unknown to us (in other words our “blind spots“).

Step 2: Apologizing

The author regards apologizing as “the most magical, healing, restorative gesture human beings can make.” And it is the centerpiece of his work with executives who want to get better – because without the apology there is “no recognition that mistakes have been made, there is no announcement to the world of the intention to change, and most important there is no emotional contract between you and the people you care about.” The healing process begins with an apology. His simple process for apologizing is to say “I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better in the future.” And then…you say nothing. Don’t explain it. Don’t complicate it. Don’t qualify it. Merely apologize and then move on to telling the world.

Step 3: Telling the World, or Advertising

After you apologize, you must advertise. It’s not enough to tell everyone that you want to get better; you have to declare exactly in what area you plan to change. Goldsmith writes that it’s a lot harder to change people’s perception of your behavior than it is to change your behavior, and that you have to get 100% better in order to 10% credit for it from your coworkers. But the odds improve considerably if you tell people that you are trying to change and how hard you are working at it, repeating the message week after week. And your odds improve even more if you ask everyone for ideas to help you get better.

Step 4: Listening

Goldsmith contends that 80% of our success in learning from other people is based upon how well we listen. However listening is not, as many people believe, a passive activity where you sit there and don’t do anything while you hear someone out. Good listeners regard what they do as a highly active process – with every muscle engaged, especially the brain. Basically, there are three things that all good listeners do: They think before they speak; they listen with respect; and they’re always gauging their response by asking themselves whether what they’re about to say is worth what the other person will feel after hearing it.

Step 5: Thanking

Thanking works because it expresses one of our most basic emotions: gratitude. Saying “Thank you” is a crucial feature of etiquette and being mannerly, and, if done sincerely, can create closure in any potentially explosive discussion. What can you say after someone thanks you? You can’t try to prove them wrong. You can’t trump them or get angry or ignore them. The only response, Goldsmith writes, “is to utter two of the most gracious, inviting, and sweet words in the language: “You’re welcome.” It’s music to anyone’s ears.” So, get used to saying “Thank you.”

Step 6: Following Up

Once you master the subtle arts of apologizing, advertising, listening, and thanking, you must follow up – relentlessly. Go back to coworkers every month or so and ask for them for comments and suggestions. If you do this your colleagues will eventually begin to accept that you’re getting better – but not because you say so but because they do. The bottom-line from Goldsmith’s research is that people don’t get better without follow-up.  Following up shows that you care about getting better. Following up with your coworkers shows that you value their opinions. And following up consistently shows that you are taking the process seriously. Becoming a better person is a process, not an event.

Step 7: Practicing Feedforward

With the previous six skills, you’re now ready for feedforward (as opposed to feedback which focuses on the past). It’s a simple idea that has four simple steps: 1) Pick the one behavior that you would like to change which would make a significant, positive difference in your life; 2) Describe this objective in a one-on-one dialogue with anyone you know; 3) Ask that person for two suggestions for the future that might help you achieve a positive change in our selected behavior (these two ideas represent feedforward); and 4) Listen attentively to the suggestions. Don’t judge, rate, or critique the suggestions in any way. The only response you’re permitted is “Thank you.” Then repeat this four-step process with others. It works because we can change the future but not the past.