How to build deeper, more robust relationships | Carole Robin (Stanford professor, “Touchy Feely”)

How to build deeper, more robust relationships | Carole Robin (Stanford professor, “Touchy Feely”)

Carole’s background (00:00:00)

  • Carol Robin, a Stanford professor, teaches a course called "Touchy Feely" that helps people build strong relationships and become effective leaders.
  • To avoid defensiveness when receiving feedback, use questions that start with "what," "when," "where," and "how" instead of "why."
  • There are three realities: our own, the other person's, and the objective truth. We can only see two out of the three, which can lead to misunderstandings.
  • Anger is often a secondary emotion that stems from fear or hurt.
  • Vulnerability is essential for great leadership because it allows others to connect with us on a deeper level.
  • Building exceptional relationships is crucial for personal and professional success.
  • Command Bar is a tool that helps businesses create less annoying and more impactful in-product behaviors like confusion or intent classification.
  • Command Bar works with web apps, mobile apps, and websites.
  • Over 15 million end users have interacted with Command Bar.
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The importance of building robust relationships (00:05:17)

  • Most people experience a richer, fuller, and more meaningful life when they have at least some high-quality relationships.
  • Relationships exist on a continuum from contact and no connection (dysfunction) to exceptional.
  • Exceptional relationships have a particular set of characteristics.
  • The skills needed to move along the continuum from contact and no connection to functional and robust can also be used to take a few relationships all the way to exceptional.
  • If a critical mass of people had the skills to build robust and functional relationships, it would lead to more functional teams, stronger communities, more functional schools, and potentially even a more functional government.
  • Former students of Carole Robin's course at Stanford Business School have reported career successes such as becoming CEOs and raising funding, as well as personal successes such as saving their marriages and reconciling with estranged family members.
  • Her book has also been helpful for people in tech leadership positions to understand and apply the concepts she teaches.

The “Touchy Feely” course at Stanford (00:10:20)

  • The "Touchy Feely" course at Stanford Business School is called Interpersonal Dynamics.
  • It teaches students how to be more interpersonally competent and connect with others in more functional ways.
  • The goal is to help students become leaders that others want to follow.
  • Students learn how to show up in a way that makes others trust them, feel closer to them, and want to spend more time with them.
  • This type of leadership is based on referent power, where people are more likely to be open to influence and work harder for someone they see as a role model.
  • The class is a quarter long and includes various activities to help students develop interpersonal skills.
  • Students engage in self-reflection, group discussions, and role-playing exercises.
  • They receive feedback from their peers and the instructor on their communication and interpersonal skills.
  • The class emphasizes the importance of empathy, active listening, and emotional intelligence.
  • Students learn how to manage their emotions, resolve conflicts, and build strong relationships.

An example of the in-class experience (00:13:29)

  • Students engage in experiential exercises to learn how to connect with others.
  • The exercises involve uncomfortable situations to facilitate learning.
  • The book "Touchy Feely" includes experiential activities after each chapter.
  • The class lectures provide a framework for the experiential learning.
  • Small group discussions called T-groups (training groups) are a key component of the class.
  • T-groups consist of 12 participants and two facilitators.
  • In T-groups, students are given tasks to practice connecting with others.
  • One example task is to pair up with someone and get to know them in 10 minutes.
  • After the task, students reflect on their choices and interactions.
  • The course focuses on having interactions and analyzing them to improve communication skills.
  • Confidentiality is emphasized in the group conversations.
  • Students report feeling more connected and known after the exercises.
  • Building relationships involves self-disclosure and allowing others to know us.
  • Disclosure is a key way to build relationships.
  • The second conversation after learning about disclosure is more uncomfortable but leads to feeling more known and connected.

Leaders in Tech: developing interpersonal competence (00:17:19)

  • Leaders in Tech is a nonprofit organization that offers programs to help individuals develop interpersonal competence.
  • The organization was founded in January 2018 and has since expanded to include a 10-month fellowship program and a 4-day retreat.
  • The fellowship program is designed for current or previous founders or co-founders of companies that have not gone public.
  • The 4-day retreat is open to any manager in the tech industry.
  • Participants in both programs receive a copy of the book "Touchy Feely" and are encouraged to read it together with someone they want to develop a stronger relationship with.
  • To learn more about Leaders in Tech and apply for the fellowship program or 4-day retreat, visit their website:
  • The deadline for the 10-month fellowship program is April 30th.
  • Individuals must be nominated in order to apply for the fellowship program, but self-nominations are accepted.

Progressive disclosure and the 15% rule (00:21:36)

  • Progressive disclosure involves experimenting with revealing more about oneself to build trust and vulnerability in relationships.
  • The 15% Rule suggests stepping outside one's comfort zone by 15% to promote learning and deeper connections, avoiding the danger zone while still experiencing slight discomfort.
  • This approach allows for gradual expansion of the comfort zone and deepening of relationships.
  • Sharing personal stories or experiences that are slightly outside one's comfort zone.
  • Asking open-ended questions to encourage the other person to share more about themselves.
  • Providing honest feedback, even if it might be uncomfortable to hear.
  • Engaging in activities together that challenge both individuals.
  • Active listening involves paying full attention, understanding the speaker's perspective, and avoiding distractions.
  • Empathy involves understanding and sharing the feelings of another person.
  • Both active listening and empathy are essential for building strong relationships.
  • Touch can convey warmth, support, and connection.
  • Appropriate and consensual touch can strengthen relationships and create a sense of safety and trust.
  • Touch should be used mindfully and respectfully, considering the other person's boundaries and preferences.
  • Trust is the foundation of strong relationships.
  • Trust is built through consistent actions, honesty, and reliability.
  • Betrayal of trust can severely damage or even end a relationship.
  • Boundaries are essential for maintaining healthy relationships and self-care.
  • Boundaries involve setting limits and expectations regarding physical, emotional, and mental space.
  • Respecting and communicating boundaries is crucial for avoiding resentment and conflict.
  • Forgiveness involves letting go of anger and resentment towards someone who has wronged you.
  • Forgiveness can be a powerful tool for healing and moving forward in relationships.
  • Holding onto grudges can hinder personal growth and emotional well-being.
  • Relationships require ongoing care and attention to thrive.
  • Regular communication, quality time, and shared experiences help strengthen relationships.
  • Expressing appreciation and gratitude for the other person can deepen the connection.

Appropriate disclosure (00:24:28)

  • Stepping outside one's comfort zone by disclosing challenges or personal information can be beneficial in building deeper relationships.
  • Appropriate disclosure involves sharing relevant and appropriate information, while avoiding oversharing or inappropriate vulnerability.
  • Leaders who pretend that everything is fine when it's not, or who completely suppress their feelings, may damage their credibility and ability to inspire and motivate others.
  • In the past, leaders were expected to leave their feelings aside in the workplace.
  • However, suppressing feelings can hinder a leader's ability to inspire and motivate others, and make it difficult for them to be seen as authentic and relatable.
  • In Silicon Valley, people may initially follow a leader with a great idea, but they will quickly move on if they have other options.

The power of vulnerability (00:26:52)

  • Vulnerability is a powerful tool that can make leaders more influential and build deeper, more robust relationships.
  • Admitting mistakes, being open about feelings, and developing a vocabulary of emotions can increase credibility and allow for deeper connections.
  • Building strong relationships requires nuance and context-dependent approaches, and social media can negatively impact these relationships.
  • Anger is often a secondary emotion, and understanding the underlying fear or hurt can lead to more effective communication.
  • Expressing vulnerability and concern can foster stronger connections and motivate others to take action.

Admitting mistakes and sharing feelings (00:34:57)

  • Anger is often a secondary emotion that masks underlying feelings of fear or hurt.
  • Expressing anger is socially acceptable, while expressing vulnerability through other emotions like fear, sadness, or loneliness is often discouraged, especially in professional settings.
  • This can hinder professional development and prevent people from building deeper connections.
  • Being vulnerable and disclosing personal feelings can foster trust and closeness in relationships.
  • Sharing fears and concerns can make others feel more connected and willing to trust you.

Understanding mental models (00:37:08)

  • Outdated mental models and beliefs developed early in our careers can be harmful if not updated.
  • Common mental models that hinder personal growth include:
    • Believing that vulnerability leads to being taken advantage of or perceived as weak.
    • Thinking that giving feedback damages relationships.
    • Ignoring small irritations (pinches) without addressing them, leading to increased irritation and potential conflict.
  • To build deeper relationships, it's important to:
    • Be open to updating mental models and beliefs based on new experiences.
    • Practice discretionary self-disclosure and use feedback as a tool to build, rather than damage, relationships.
    • Address small irritations (pinches) promptly to prevent them from becoming bigger issues.
  • To build deeper and more robust relationships, address issues while they are small to prevent them from becoming bigger problems.
  • Use "I," "you," or "we" instead of "it" when discussing issues to make them more personal and relatable.
  • Consider whether an issue is worth raising by asking yourself if it would be worth it if it were about you, the other person, or both of you.

The “three realities” framework (00:42:57)

  • There are three realities in any exchange between two people: our intent, our behavior, and the impact of our behavior on the other person.
  • We only have access to our own intent and behavior, so we should avoid making assumptions about the other person's feelings or thoughts.
  • When giving feedback, we should focus on our own intent and behavior and use "I" statements to express our feelings and needs.
  • We should avoid making attributions or imputing motives, as this can make the other person defensive.
  • Be willing to be vulnerable and ask for feedback from others, and pay attention to your nonverbal communication, as it can impact how others perceive you.

The power of feedback and personal change (00:53:52)

  • Constructive or complimentary feedback is important for problem-solving and appreciation.
  • All feedback is positive data, and more data is always better.
  • Interpersonal feedback is crucial for resolving issues and improving communication.
  • Unresolved interpersonal issues can hinder effective feedback and collaboration.
  • A manager starts a meeting by encouraging participation but then interrupts and ignores a team member's input.
  • The team member feels discouraged and less inclined to contribute.
  • To address the issue, the team member privately provides feedback to the manager about the impact of their behavior.
  • The manager gains awareness of the unintended consequences of their actions and can make adjustments to improve communication and inclusivity.
  • Feedback demonstrates care and builds stronger relationships.
  • Feedback helps individuals recognize and correct problematic behaviors.
  • Interpersonal feedback is essential for effective communication and collaboration.
  • Inquiry is a fundamental component of strong interpersonal relationships.
  • The root of the word inquiry is "Quest," which means to be in search of and not knowing what you're going to find.
  • Artful inquiry requires suspending judgment and being curious about what the other person is experiencing.
  • Questions that can be answered with yes or no are typically limiting and unproductive.
  • Questions that start with "why" can be defensive or make the other person less likely to share.
  • Questions that start with "what," "where," "when," and "how" are more productive for inquiry.
  • People can change their behavior, but not their personality.
  • Changing behavior requires discipline and a willingness to learn from others.
  • When giving feedback, it's important to focus on behavior that the person can control.
  • People should own the fact that their choices are their own.

How to get better at giving feedback (01:03:27)

  • Giving feedback doesn't guarantee success, but it increases the probability of it.
  • Repairing relationships is important when feedback goes wrong.
  • Repairing involves understanding why someone reacted the way they did and trying again.
  • An example of repairing a relationship is when the speaker's husband misinterpreted her offer of help as criticism.
  • Net jumping (criticizing the other person) invites net jumping in return.
  • Labeling someone as rude or self-involved is not behaviorally specific and can make them defensive.
  • Instead, provide specific examples of the behavior that is causing the problem.
  • Staying on your side of the net and focusing on your own experience reduces defensiveness.

Exercises and continued learning (01:07:47)

  • The book has a section called "Deepen your learning" at the end of each chapter, which includes suggested activities to apply the concepts.
  • Role-playing exercises are used to practice giving and receiving feedback.
  • The third person in a role-playing exercise acts as an observer and provides feedback.
  • Using "I feel" statements correctly is important for effective communication.
  • The phrase "I feel that" is often used incorrectly and can lead to misunderstandings.
  • The book has been well-received by married couples who read it together.
  • Advice can hinder relationships because it implies that the advice-giver knows more than the advice-receiver.
  • Advice can be dismissive of the advice-receiver's feelings and experiences.
  • Advice can create a power imbalance in the relationship.
  • Instead of giving advice, it is better to listen, empathize, and offer support.

“Advice hinders relationships” (01:10:49)

  • Leaders should aim to find the best answer rather than believing they have all the answers and should act as thought partners, helping others explore options and develop their own solutions.
  • Instead of taking on others' problems, managers should help them find their own solutions.
  • In friendships, unsolicited advice can be annoying and ineffective, so it's better to ask questions and understand the person's perspective before offering advice.
  • Resisting the urge to give advice and asking more questions often leads to a better understanding of the person's actual concerns.

Failure corner: AFOG (01:16:49)

  • The speaker introduces the concept of "AFOG" (Another effing opportunity for growth) as a way to reframe failure and learn from it.
  • AFOGs can be painful and take time to recover from, but they are usually recoverable if we invest the energy in understanding what we can learn from them.

Takeaways (01:20:30)

  • All relationships are works in progress because both individuals are constantly changing and evolving.
  • It's important to be aware of the mental models that drive our choices and behaviors, as they can impact the quality of our relationships.
  • Stopping to reflect on our choices and the underlying beliefs behind them can help us make more conscious and intentional decisions.

Lessons from long Covid (01:21:51)

  • Carole Robin, a Stanford professor, shares her experiences and learnings from living with long Covid.
  • She emphasizes the importance of not making an organization overly dependent on a single leader and gradually delegating responsibilities to build a sustainable and long-term organization.
  • Robin highlights the value of acceptance and reframing beliefs during challenging times.
  • She stresses the significance of empathy and understanding that everyone has their own struggles, cautioning against making assumptions about others' situations.
  • Robin encourages self-disclosure to prevent people from making up their own narratives and to maintain control over one's self-perception.
  • Robin provides her email address for those interested in connecting with her, but requests that people refrain from trying to sell her anything.
  • She explains that her long Covid condition affects her capacity to respond to messages and emails, and she appreciates understanding in this regard.
  • Robin mentions that not everyone wrote her off despite her reduced responsiveness, which was a valuable learning experience for her.
  • She directs listeners to the website for those interested in applying to her program.

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