Exceptional Leadership, Exceptional Relationships with Dr. David Bradford

Dr. David Bradford is Eugene O’Kelly II Senior Lecturer Emeritus in Leadership at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Along with Carole Robin, he's taught interpersonal skills to MBA candidates for a combined seventy-five years in their legendary course Interpersonal Dynamics (affectionately known to generations of students as “Touchy-Feely”) and they have coached and consulted hundreds of executives for decades.

In their book, "Connect: Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends, and Colleagues," they show readers how to take their relationships from shallow to exceptional by cultivating authenticity, vulnerability, and honesty, while being willing to ask for and offer help, share a commitment to growth, and deal productively with conflict. He has written several other books including, “Influencing Up” and "Reinventing Organization Development: New Approaches to Change in Organizations."

Inside This Episode

  • Building Exceptional Relationships
  • Why We Often Struggle To Build Solid Connections With Other People
  • How To Say Anything To Almost Anybody
  • Getting Back to Choice in Responsibility
  • The Danger Of Attribution
  • The Sliding Scale Of Authenticity and Vulnerability
  • Preventing Major Conflicts Before They Occur
  • How To Handle Disagreement
  • Strengthening Relationships Through Disagreements
  • Delivering Effective Feedback To Colleagues and Employees
  • Testing The Waters Before Managing Up
  • Role-Modeling Excellence As A Leader




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John Ryan
You're listening to key conversations for leaders. This is episode number 52.

John Ryan 0:04
Hey everyone and welcome to key conversations for leaders. I'm your host, John Ryan. And today we have a very special guest, Dr. David Bradford, David is a Eugene Kelley II Senior Lecturer Emeritus of Leadership at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Along with Carole Robin. They have taught interpersonal skills to MBA candidates for a combined 75 years in their legendary course, interpersonal dynamics, affectionately known to generations of students as touchy feely. And I've coached and consulted hundreds of executives for decades, in their book connects, building exceptional relationships with family, friends and colleagues. They show readers how to take their relationships from from shallow to exceptional by cultivating authenticity, vulnerability, and honesty, while being willing to ask for an offer help share our commitment to growth and deal productively with conflict. He has written several other books, including influencing up and reinventing organizational development, new approaches to change in organization. Thank you so much for being here. Dr. Bradford,

David Bradford 1:06
I'm glad to be here. Looking forward to this.

John Ryan 1:08
You know, the first thing I wanted to ask was what drew you professionally to researching and exploring fulfilling relationships?

David Bradford 1:17
What do I do? How do I do that? It's, it's, it's largely based on the course that you mentioned. But it's also based on the consulting that Carol and I have done. And it's what we observe. And what we see that successful executives do and what they do that causes us to shoot themselves in the foot. So we have years and years of this sort of observable data.

John Ryan 1:44
Wonderful. What was it that brought you in? Because before the show, we were talking about that you? You actually started this course many, many years ago, yourself designed the curriculum for touchy feely? What was it initially that drew you to the concepts that you both presented through that course, there's so many years?

David Bradford 2:01
Well, I think was two things. One is I've always been interested in interpersonal relations, in terms of what it is it allows people to connect at a more meaningful level. I'm not sure where personally that came from. But it's always been an interest of mine. And then when we start, I started to develop the course. And I saw the effect effect was very powerful. And I suggest there's something going on here that when you can get people to relate in a more open, authentic way. As code, I say magic happens. And students frequently say this has been a transformational experience. We hear from alumni. 2030 years later, I still use this material. So something powerful was going on that I want to explore in greater depth.

John Ryan 2:54
So 20, 30 years later, you're still having students reach out and talking about the impact that their course with you impacted them. That sounds like a professor's dream, I

David Bradford 3:07
imagine. It really is because we always wonder, do we have an impact. And, in fact, I recently did a zoom with some alumni that covered about 40 years. And they were saying, you know, I still use this, not just at work, but I use it with my family, I use it with my spouse. And that's, you know, we want to impact people and we want to impact people in all parts of their life.

John Ryan 3:35
So with some of the courses and the concepts that are presented in your book, and also the the course the touchy feely course, it's really about building that exceptional relationship and putting energy imagine into that. How do you define or what is it exceptional relationship really look like?

David Bradford 3:55
Good. Before getting there. Let me put that into perspective. Relationships are at a continuum. Not all of them can be or should be exceptional. We want friends, we want colleagues, we want companions. So we have to think of this as a continuum. But these dimensions that I'm going to talk about relate to all points along the continuum, just to varying degrees. So the first thing is, can I be myself? Can I let you know parts that are relevant? And not just share the sort of common things that one would share with anybody, but that share more personal things. You know, like you said, I'm Emeritus, so I'm retiring. So for me an issue is coming to terms with age and aging that's more personal. And I'm having some trouble with my eyesight, which is upsetting because I'm a person that likes to read a lot. So the first one is, can I tell you a little bit more about me.

David Bradford 5:02
Second, can I build conditions where you're willing to share more about you, because the more each of us share, the more we trust each other, the more areas we have to connect, and not just connect on similarities, but you may do something different that I've never done. And that's very intriguing. But I need to know you in order to make those sort of connections. The third is, in sharing this, can we trust, this information won't be used against us. And this is often an issue in organizations that we're afraid of the people will use this and for their own benefit, but at my expense. I think the underlying all this, the fourth dimension is can we be honest with each other. And it doesn't mean that I share everything, but I share the enough so that you know what's going on with me. And you don't have to read between the lines. I think fifth, when we get to know each other, hopefully it builds a relationship. But we're gonna find areas where we disagree, we'll do things that bother each other, can we raise these disagreements and resolve them in a way that also strengthens the relationship? Because it's can be a sign of commitment that I want to raise it. And finally, are we both committed to each other's growth and development. Now, that's a very, very high standard, we say if you have four or five relationships that are high, and all of these, you're a fortunate person. But these relate to all points on a continuum.

John Ryan 6:38
Amazing, thank you so much for sharing those points on that continuum. And imagine working with your students, your individual coaching clients and the companies that you work with, you know, one of the things that might come up, and I imagine you've encountered this is fear. I've talked to people all the time, who are the company wants to do a trust initiative and going through an experience of sharing things. And yet the people I work with, they're like, I don't feel comfortable in doing that, because I've seen it, where it's been used against them. Where Where do you as a leader, intervene in that situation? Is it that you have to establish the grounds? Or I don't know, how can it be? Can it be fixed? Or is there always that dichotomy of trust versus exposure, if you will?

David Bradford 7:24
Well, all of this is fear. It's underlined, otherwise would be easy to do. You know, you're saying, Do I dare share things that might be used against me? how honest Can I be? And john, if you're my boss, I'm gonna think twice before I say, you know, you're doing the sort of stuff that's bothering me. We we've all experienced that conflict can damage your relationship, there is no guarantee. So fear underlies it. I think what the leader needs to do is not just to say the good things, but to demonstrate them, can the leader in essence, be more self disclosing. So often, leaders think that I've got to present this image of, of that I'm perfect that I can solve all problems and so on. And leaders need to convey that, yes, this problem is going to be solved. But they can also ask for help. And they can say, you know, we need to pull together, because I can't do this alone. And that's not a sign of weakness, that's a sign of being human. If somebody disagrees with a leader, can the leader say, Gee, I don't see it that way. But I really am appreciative that you had the courage to confront me. So it's rewarding the courage for doing it, even if I may not agree with the content. So there's many things a leader can do to model. And often the leaders do things that model the opposite, as we all know,

John Ryan 8:55
so true, so true. From the employee perspective, the other side, if you have a leader who is not establishing those parameters and celebrating vulnerability and courage, like you mentioned, is it okay for them to withhold information and not share their vulnerable and show their underbelly?

David Bradford 9:16
Yeah, I think we all need to be cautious. I mean, we don't want a career limiting move. One of the things we say to the students, I'm going to give two suggestions. The first one is we say to the students, is use the 15% rule. And what we mean by that is I want you to think of three concentric circles. The inner one is my zone of safety. It's my comfort zone. And I can share things that with anybody and not be worried. The second one is a zone of learning. And the outer one is a zone of danger, which you don't want to get to. So we need to be wise and judicious. But what we say to students is and to clients is can you move 15%, outside of your zone of comfort into the zone of learning. So share a little bit more, and see what happens. Usually that's not a disaster. So let's talk about honesty. I may not want to confront you boss on, I think you've made a terrible mistake in in the presentation. But I may want to say something like, I think there was some parts in that presentation that could have been even stronger. Can I help you with that. So that doesn't get me into a danger zone, the boss may say, No, I'm doing fine, then I'll drop it. So but what we usually find is, the other person responds also, with moving 15% of their comfort zone. And then both of you become comfortable, so your comfort zone now expands, and you can move another 15%. So but if we stay within our comfort zone, nothing happens.

John Ryan 11:12
So that 15% rule is, is it in a way testing the relationship testing the waters to determine if it's safe, or if I'm at that danger zone,

David Bradford 11:22
it's doing that and it's also in testing the waters seeing that it isn't quite as deep as I thought it was. So I can now stay waiting out in that little water. I'm not way way over my head swept away. So I now have more of the beach, I could explore. And maybe I can take another 15 steps without getting into into danger. So it's expanding in our relationship, what we can talk about. And while we can deal with,

John Ryan 11:57
it sounds like the majority people need to, you know, take further steps and test the waters appropriately for their situation. Do you ever come across people who are on the hyper and of authenticity where it might be basically, too raw, or they just call it like it is and don't consider other people and situation at all.

David Bradford 12:22
That's absolutely true. And what we say is, you have to be aware of yourself, what your concerns are, what your hopes are. But you also need to be aware of the other person. It's I mean, we're talking relationships are interpersonal. They're not narcissistic, they shouldn't be. And so I need to be aware of that. So if I'm sharing this with my boss, I'm going to watch his or her reactions. And I'm going to also be aware of what the boss's concerns are. So another thing I could do is to be sensitive to what my boss is worried about. And bosses often express their concerns, then can I link with a boss? So the boss says, I don't know, why would I give these talks? People don't seem to respond? Well, you may have some hunches about that. So I can say, yeah, that's tough. And I think I have some ideas that might increase their receptivity. Now the boss may say, Well, it's all their fault. Well, she's signaling she doesn't want to hear. So I'm gonna back off. But the boss is like I say, Well, what is it? And then I can say, well, when you made that point, you kept on talking about it. Long after it was clear. So I think that's one of the things that cause people not to listen. And I know you're committed to that point. But you know, you get it over pretty quickly. So if you cut it shorter, you'd be more effective, was mighty likely to thank you. And not only that, bosses are often worried about being kept in the dark, that you've taken the risk, you've had the guts to move that 15% is likely to impress the boss. Now, if I've moved 55%, the boss may have a different reaction.

John Ryan 14:28
Absolutely. I love that. When you're making an I think both those examples, of course not representative of all the choices. But in both those examples, use the question, it seemed like you lead with the 15% the 15 steps with a question. Hey, I think I have some ideas on that. Would you like to hear them? I have some ideas on how you can improve the presentation is that soft approach to sounds like that might generate more receptivity than the attacking here's what you should do kind of direct feedback in that sense.

David Bradford 14:59
Yeah. In essence, feedback is to help the other person. And why give a gift when the other person doesn't want it. we've all gotten an ugly tie for Christmas. That's not a gift. So I want to check out is this something that allows me to collect information on where the boss is? Or where the other person is not just the boss, but I'm gonna do that with a colleague. Does a colleague really want to hear? So actually, yesterday, I was with a colleague, and I raised an issue about some stuff he was writing. And he said, No, I'm happy with the way it's going. Okay, I raised it. But I'm not gonna ram it down his throat. I still think he's wrong. But it's his writing, not my writing.

John Ryan 15:50
How do you mentally because I know sometimes when you try to offer that advice, and try to, of course, to be of service and to help be helpful and productive. And to not have that received, do you personally ever have to do any work and kind of working through your mind about an unfinished business perhaps?

David Bradford 16:11
Well, if this has been a relationship, which has been strained, and has had difficulty in it, I'm going to have to put some effort into that relationship. And there's many ways I could do it. One is, we know that when people work well together, relationships build. So I may want to focus on the task and help the other person. Or I may want to raise the issue directly. I want I may say, john, I am finding myself being careful. I don't like doing that. And it's getting made to hold back stuff, which I think is helpful. I'm wondering if you're doing the same, because I would like a more open relationship, then what I might want to ask, am I doing anything? Big, because interpersonal problems often have an interpersonal component. The our tendency is to blame the other person, but I may have done something. Now, I should only raise that if I want to hear the answer. Because of the view, john say, well, as a matter of fact, David, you are doing something nice. I know, I know. That ain't gonna help the relationship.

John Ryan 17:32
Not at all. With the same thing apply with annoyances and pet peeves in a relationship that you would ask for feedback on if I'm ever doing something to annoy you. If you had something you wanted to share with me.

David Bradford 17:49
I think so because I'm asking the other person to be vulnerable. I'm saying, you know, what's going on, in essence, is something going on with you. I want to level the playing field, I want to say I'm also willing to be vulnerable. And also, I think it makes it easier for the other person to share it. And, and also, I may learn something. I mean, I don't do everything perfectly. And maybe that I've done something unintentionally, that I didn't want to do. And now I'm finding out something. And in that process, I'm also demonstrating that I want a stronger relationship with you. So it's an affirming act. I'm doing this not to ream you out. I'm doing this because sometimes get in the way of our work, relationship or friendship, whatever it is. And I want a better. And I think that's an affirming act.

John Ryan 18:56
Absolutely. So with that affirming act and role modeling, how you take feedback and creating an authentic, vulnerable conversation, to those principles still apply with the bigger disagreements that can occur. And maybe are they more important to role model those types of things?

David Bradford 19:16
I think it is. But let me talk a little bit about what gets in the way of our giving feedback, particularly around difficult issues. Most of us do it in the wrong way. We is the way we put it is you don't you aren't sticking with your reality. So bear with me for a minute. This is a little complicated, but I think it'll soon become clear. They're actually got our three realities. There's my motives and my intentions. I'm an expert on me, even though I kid myself. The Second Reality is my behavior, the words the tone, the nonverbal. Both of us see that But the third reality, I don't know, which is the impact of my behavior on you. So, right now, I intend to be clear, I'm perfectly clear to me. Now, I don't know if I'm clear to you, now you're, you're nodding. But maybe you've been raised to be very polite. And it isn't really true. So so I need your reality if I'm to be effective, because I need to know if my behavior has the impact I want.

David Bradford 20:33
Now, with that model, we can say, Carole, and I sort of say, if you stick with your reality, you can say anything to almost anybody. And we put the almost in because we're academics do we always cover ourselves. But with two glasses of wine, we'd say, if you stick with your reality, you can say anything to anybody. And the trouble is, we don't stick with our reality. So I want you to envision a tennis net, between the first and second reality between what you know about yourself and your behavior. And as you can't play in the other person's back chord in tennis, you can't go over the net. We go over the net all the time and feedback. And that's what causes problems. So I say, well, john, you just don't really want to cooperate. Well, how the devil do I know what you want? I'm making an assumption. Or we say, The trouble is, you have a bad attitude. Well, I've never seen an attitude, I've seen behavior that causes me to draw a conclusion. And it's those sort of attributions, you just want to dominate. You just want to win every argument. You just want this. And that's why people get defensive. But if I stick with my reality, if I say, Shawn, you've interrupted me three times, which you haven't, so I have to make it. If you've interrupted me three times. And I feel ignored, I feel devalued. You can't say, No, you don't. You're overmind. That. I mean, my reality is my reality, you're likely to say, Well, I didn't mean that. So now we can start to work on it. And so around raising the important things, I would keep two things in mind. One is, what's the behavior? How's it impacted me? And is it likely to be costly to the other. So if you're not very receptive, I may want to add, you know, when you interrupt me a lot, it doesn't increase my desire to listen closely to what you say, I really like to but you know, that's, that's, that's one of the effects. So I'm speaking to your best interest. And I think that if we hold a vision of what we want, john, I really want a relationship where we do listen carefully to each other. to work on this, then I think even major issues can be dealt with. I love it.

John Ryan 23:17
I love that analogy. The tennis match makes so much sense. And I remember in reading about your work, that we know our thoughts, we know our behavior, we know their behavior, but we don't know their thoughts. And I think if that's right, right, that's the part, can we and I know this is absolutely the dangerous part that you're talking about right now? Can should we spend any time trying to figure out what their thoughts are from their behavior? Or are we going to be projecting our own stuff?

David Bradford 23:47
We're going to be projected? And then what it does, it gets us to play in prosecuting attorney. So I have a hypothesis of what's going on with john. And I'm going to ask leading questions. JOHN, isn't it true that you feel better when you have the last word? Well, that's not really a question. That's an accusation and cowardly terms. So when we start to make up stories, I'd want to try to have a, I think that's a natural tendency, we want to understand the other, nothing wrong with it. It's only wrong if we act on it. So I'd want to pull back. In fact, a colleague of mine says what I'm making up a negative story. Let me see if I can make up a positive story. And if I do that, then I realize I don't know. And I start to get curious. And if I get curious, and if I raise the issue, you'll tell me your motives. I don't need to figure him out. And you may say, Well, David, the reason I interrupt you Because you repeat yourself and you said something twice? Oh, I'd say okay. So if I cut to the chase, will you not interrupt me? We got to do.

John Ryan 25:14
It seems so simple when you put it that way, right? And you're getting to that state of curiosity. And like you mentioned, even in relation to the 15%, is finding out about the other person's model the world where they're coming from. If you don't have that information, then you can make a good decision on what you should do with your behavior and your communication.

David Bradford 25:33
That's right. That's right. I like that. And if I truly want to understand your world, that's an affirming action. And I want to do that not to manipulate you. But so we can work better together. So when we think of a work situation, and we're close colleague, I need to know what pressures you're under, I need to know what issues you're having with your boss, and other key players. Because not only does it allow me to understand those times in which you may be short, and so on, but maybe I can be helpful. So this is why knowing other people, certainly with friends, certainly with family, but also with work colleagues is important.

John Ryan 26:22
This seems like very grounded, centered, person centric, empathetic, authentic building relationships. It takes time, it takes energy, it takes commitment and discipline. And the idea that comes up is that notion of speed of trust, that you can only go as fast as the amount of trust that you have in that relationship is that is that related to some of the concepts you guys discuss in your books.

David Bradford 26:46
Um, it's related, but in an opposite way. That is, I don't, if I wait until we have trust, I'm going to wait until the cows come home. I've got to take the risks. And if successful, that's going to build trust. So trust is a product, not a precondition. Now, it takes time, but it actually takes less time than one thinks. And again, this is where the 15% rule comes in. I find that in conversations, I can respond at the same level of openness as you do. Or I could drop it 15%. So you, we may be talking about the pandemic. And you may say, yeah, it's really been hard for me. And I see, it's been hard for me to Can I could share why it's been hard. Or I could say, well, what ways has it been hard for you, and that crops at 15%, and starts to build a little more trust. Now, again, I can't fake it. If I really don't know about you do if I really don't want to know about you, it's going to come over as inauthentic. And that's going to hurt the relationship. So again, what we say is you don't do this with all relationships, many relationships, I want to keep on a just a friendly, casual level. I want to figure out what relationships are important to me, and am I willing to take the risk of moving along more quickly than I thought we could.

John Ryan 28:35
So in that sense, and thank you for that a very affirming, it's very humorous, like it's related in a completely opposite way, which is a very kind way to say it's the opposite way, potentially, what you're thinking. And I think what you're really saying is really important. It's an active process, you don't just have trust, that you have to be conscious of this process and knowing, Hey, is this word relationship going to be repeated? Or we have long term relation? What are one of this relationship? And am I willing to go there to drop it down, as you said, the 15, either on my end or enquire, for you to dig deep into your world as well, rather than existing, you have to actually make it happen, or at least create a situation where that can develop,

David Bradford 29:16
if I want more relationships, but if I want to go through life, in essence, just having the relationship determined by chance or by you, okay, but don't complain to me that I don't have good relationships. It's one of the things that we stress is we all have more choices than we think we have. And I may not want to take that choice. But we say to students, don't use the word I can't. because technically, I CAD is a physical possibility. I can't jump over my house. But most of what we do is a choice. So let's take a difficult issue that you mentioned. Before I we say, Don't say I can't raise it, say I choose not to raise it. Now that may be a wise choice, but it's a choice. And if we own all of our actions as choices, more possibilities, usually open up.

John Ryan 30:21
Brilliant. I love it. As part of the tools that we have to develop those exceptional relationships, you know, imagine conversations are a huge part of that. I know that you've written about that as well. Key conversations, we think conversations are the key. What are if you don't mind me asking? Are there any significant conversations that you've had either personally or professionally that had a big impact on you personally or professionally?

David Bradford 30:49
Has there been conversations I've had a big impact on me, oh, in many, many as I as I get to know other people at a deeper level, and know about their life. It makes me aware of more of the world, it makes me reflect about my life. feedback that I have gotten has profoundly changed me, it has often been easy to hear. There have been times in which I've been initially resistant, as my wife would tell you. But these have had major impacts on how I see myself and how I operate. But if I walk around saying, I've got a present an image of perfection, I'm not going to learn anything. And I'm not going to be very effective.

John Ryan 31:48
Fantastic, excellent. Dr. Bradford, what's the best way for our listeners and watchers to get in touch with you and find out more about the work that you are doing as well as your other publishing partners?

David Bradford 32:00
Well, I'd urge you to look at our website, which is connect and relate.com. It talks about the book, we also have a self assessment questionnaire in there that you may want to take. Or even better, you may want to give to three or four of your friends and have them fill it out on you. And then you could have a very interesting conversation. So I would urge the reader to listener to go there. The other thing, which we're finding people are doing, I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, and he said, I gave your book to my father. And my father read it, and we talked about it. And it's fundamentally changed our relationship. So if there's a relationship you really want to significantly improve. The other person may find it helpful to realize the concept you're dealing with what you're trying to do. And as a author, we always say buy two books rather than one. And that may be a way in which you can both learn at a deeper level and improve the relationships that are important to you.

John Ryan 33:14
Wonderful, I have several clients that I'm going to be buying that book for as well. So I'll put all the links in the show notes. And again, thank you so much, David, for being here. We really appreciate it.

David Bradford 33:24
I enjoyed it. Great questions. So have a great day.

John Ryan 33:28
Thank you. And thank you all for listening and watching until next time, develop yourself, empower others and lead by example. Thanks for listening to key conversations for leaders with your host John Ryan. If you enjoy the show, please let us know. Give us a rating or write a review. And if you'd like to connect with me and other like minded leaders, I invite you to join our Facebook group called Develop, Empower and Lead where I deliver free live training every week. If you go to www.developempowerlead.com it will redirect you right there. Hope to see you there soon.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

John Ryan

Host of Key Conversations for Leaders Podcast, Executive Coach, Consultant, and Trainer

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