Andrew Sykes: “We Are Our Habits: How to become a magnetic human being” | Talks at Google


[MUSIC PLAYING] STACIE ASAI:
Without further ado, please help me
welcome Andrew Sykes. [CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] ANDREW SYKES: I’m the
youngest of eight children. In my family, there are
four very well-behaved girls and four very
badly-behaved boys. People that knew her said
that my mom was a saint for putting up with all of us. She said that, on average, her
children were pretty normal, which is why she loved us
all completely and equally, although I’d like to think
she loved her youngest just a little bit more
equally, despite the fact that I was by far
the naughtiest child. I once made my mom so
angry that she said, Andrew, if you weren’t my son,
I wouldn’t let my children play with you. [LAUGHTER] Ouch, Mom. You might wonder why my
mom even had eight kids, or, as some people would
say to her, Mrs. Sykes, why did you stop at eight? And she would stand and
clutch her handbag and smile and say, well, we only had
eight seats at the dinner table. And then my older brother,
Greg, whose nickname is Moose, would say, oh, Mom just
kept having more kids until she saw Andrew, and she
was so disgusted, she stopped. Now, I have my own theory. I think my mom just kept having
kids until she got it right. I am very grateful to
my mom for teaching me all of my good
manners, and to my dad, and especially for
my good habits, because I learned my bad
habits from my brothers, and especially from
Moose, which is why, when I was just six years
old, I had my first cigarette. Just six years old. Now, I know what
you’re thinking, where can I get that
awesome haircut? See, when we were kids,
we played in a big yard. And one day, I was walking
around the back of the yard when I saw my brother, Moose,
puffing on a stolen cigarette. When he saw me, his face
went from shock to fear. He was worried that
I’d tell my mom. And so his quick reactions
kicked in, and he said to me, hey, want a puff? I really did. So I took that cigarette,
and took a long, slow draw like I saw them doing in the
movies, and then held it in and slowly started
to turn green. And then I coughed my lungs out. Terrible. And I decided that
day I would never again smoke another cigarette. And then, just about
three months later, I was the kid offering my friend
Tyrone his first cigarette. And so began what became a
decades-long smoking habit, for myself and for
my friend Tyrone. By the time I got to college,
I was smoking a pack a day. As you heard, I
studied to become and qualified as an actuary. That’s someone who studies
the science of mortality. That’s the science
of what kills us. And so I knew better than anyone
I know that smoking kills, and that knowledge made
absolutely no difference to me. Maya Angelou said, do your
best until you know better, and when you know
better, you’ll do better. As wise as she was, I’m afraid
that, for most human beings, knowing better has very little
to do with doing better. Raise your hand if you’ve got
a bad habit that you’ve been trying to quit for some time. Be proud. And keep your hand up
if you know how to quit. I know, you just
haven’t done so yet. When I turned 21, I started what
became one of South Africa’s largest and most
successful health care consulting businesses. I would present to
clients on the benefits of health and
wellness, including sometimes the benefits of
smoking cessation programs. Then I would get in my car,
drive to the next meeting, and along the way
smoke three cigarettes. The complete inauthenticity
of that wasn’t lost on me, but that, too, made
no difference for me. See, we learn to tolerate our
bad habits by telling ourselves better stories. My story? I’m not a smoker. Just not a smoker. But Andrew, you’ve got a
cigarette in your hand. Oh, I can quit that anytime. I’m just a social smoker. I just happen to be
a very social person. When I was 25, my mom
contracted pancreatic cancer. And over nine
short months, I saw the most wonderful and vibrant
woman slowly lose her light. On the night she died, we
got to say our last goodbyes, and I got to say,
Mom, I love you. Then she said to me,
Andrew, I love you, too, and my greatest hope for
you is that, one day, you’ll figure out how to
quit smoking for good. I said, Mom, I promise you,
I’ve had my last cigarette. Three days later, my
whole extended family comes together for
my mom’s funeral. And then we cried together,
and then we drank. And at 11 o’clock that night,
after more than a couple of drinks and the sharing of
a thousand wonderful stories about my mom, my
eldest sister, Bev, said to me, want a cigarette? And without even
thinking, I took it and I smoked it, and
a second and a third, before I remembered
my promise to my mom. In that moment, I realized that
who I had become was a smoker. And that’s who I was
destined to remain unless I could figure out
how to finally change or quit for good. The next morning, I made
a new promise to myself, that I would do whatever it
takes to finally figure out how to quit for good. Now, I wish I could tell you
it took a couple of weeks. It didn’t. I was actually very good
at the quitting part. As Mark Twain said,
quitting is easy, I’ve done it hundreds of times. For me, it was staying quit
that was the challenge. To help me solve the problem,
I founded Habits at Work. And with a group of very
smart behavioral researchers, we studied how humans quit
and then how humans create new habits, and
which habits really make a difference to
human performance in life and at work. With these new insights, I
did finally quit for good. And along the way, we
discovered something that is as true for me
as it is for all of us– who we are and who we become
is entirely determined by the habits that we practice. Therefore, if we can learn to
change or create new habits, we can become highly capable,
powerfully compelling, and irresistibly
captivating human beings. In a word, we can become
magnetic human beings. My goal for today is to share
with you the three habits that create magnetic human
beings, and the expert move of using these habits
with your customers to build deep and lasting relationships. What are these three habits? Number one, practice
with feedback. Number two, ask more questions. And number three,
listen with your heart. Three habits that– I think
you’ll agree with me– appear to be simple to
do, yet, as we’ll see, are seldom done, or
seldom done well. How do these three habits
create magnetic human beings? Well, if we practice with the
intention of getting better, with a coach that knows
what excellence looks like, who gives us the right kind
of performance feedback, we can become highly capable
masters of our chosen craft, elite athletes like Tiger
Woods or rockstar musicians like Mick Jagger or
standout business people. We are drawn to
people that perform at the very highest level
of their profession. That’s magnetic. If we ask more questions of
ourselves and of our customers, we unlock new
pathways for action that they’ll feel powerfully
compelled to take. When they do that, they’ll
achieve previously unimagined results for themselves and for
their business, for their life. Who wouldn’t want to be around
someone that makes us flourish? Because that’s magnetic. When we listen with
our hearts, not just to what people say they want,
but by paying attention, we’ll see what they really need. And if we attend to that,
people fall in love with us, and they become irresistibly
captivated by our presence. We are attracted
to people like iron to a magnet that stand out from
a crowd from their excellence, that unlock greatness in
us through their questions, and that see us
for who we really are because they listen
with their hearts. Magnetism is not some born-in
gift, some natural genius, but a trait built by
these three habits. Being magnetic is not
something that we are, it’s something that we do. Magnetism is a creation,
like so many other forms of apparent genius. But you may say, Andrew,
can we really create genius-level superstars? Can we create this magnetism? At just seven years old,
Mozart wowed audiences across Europe with his skills
on the piano and the violin, but it’s another of his talents
or his skills that seems almost more impossible to imagine. And that’s the key reason why
he was labeled as a genius. Mozart had perfect pitch. He could identify
individual notes on any musical instrument. He could even identify the key
of your cough or your sneeze. Today, being pitch perfect
is much less mysterious, but just as rare. Less than 1 in
10,000 people have this amazing genius-level skill. But in 2014, the true
nature of perfect pitch was discovered by a Japanese
psychologist named [INAUDIBLE].. Love that name. He conducted a
fascinating experiment, where he collected together
24 children just four years of age, and over
an 18-month period had them practice identifying
individual notes on the piano. But here’s the cool part. They only practiced a
couple of times a day for just a few minutes. Not a big investment at all, yet
at the end of those 18 months, every single one of these
kids had become pitch perfect. They had become a genius. Did Mozart have a gift
with which he was born? Did he have some natural genius? Absolutely. But what this study
shows is that each of us is born with that same gift
of a flexible, adaptable brain with which we can become
masters in our chosen craft. And when we do, people
will be drawn to each of us to see us perform at the highest
level, because that’s magnetic. And what did these kids do in
those 5 or 10 minutes each day that allowed them to
get so good so quickly? By a show of hands, who’s
an experienced driver? Yeah. On a scale of 1 to
10, how good are you? How good are you? AUDIENCE: I think I’m an eight. STACIE ASAI: An eight. Pretty good. Anyone a nine? A nine? There’s my ride home. Thank you very much. When I first learned to
drive, I was terrible. I had no skill at all. I sat next to my dad, who
was less than patient, and I would lurch
forward and brake hard, being a danger to
myself and others, getting yelled at
most of the time. Luckily, after a couple of
weeks, I got pretty good. And I remember, I’m
driving down the road. The window was down. We drive on the other side
of the road in our country. That’s why I’m doing this. And of course, I was
smoking a cigarette. And then I said to
myself, I’ve got this. And from that point
on, I drove in order to get from A to B
kind of on automatic. Have you ever driven
to work in the morning, and you just didn’t
remember how you got there? That’s automatic experience. Now, when I said I’ve got this,
something interesting happened. And when I look back now over
my entire career of driving, these 30 years of experience
mostly on automatic, what I now see is that I haven’t
gotten much better than I was when I was 25 years old. All that time in the
car has made me as good as I’m ever going to get. I’ve reached a plateau. And the same is
true in business. Have you ever met someone
who’s got 20 or 30 or 40 years experience, and they’re
just not that good? In fact, sometimes
it gets worse. Now, I know we’re
in New York today, so I’m guessing
everyone in the room has been in a New York taxi, yes? With a cabbie who spends
eight hours a day in the car. They’ve got lots of
driving experience. How was that experience for you? When we gain experience
on automatic, bad habits creep in that make
us worse over time. Now, when I asked you to
rate your driving ability, I didn’t define the scale. If 0 is not being
able to drive at all, but 10 is the driving ability
of Danica Patrick or Mario Andretti, would you still rate
yourself an 8, or maybe a 9? Or even above 5? See, when we look back
on their driving career, even though they, too, couldn’t
drive at all when they began, year after year, they’ve
gotten better and better. And today, they are maybe
5 or 10 or 20 times as good as we are. And the question for us is,
what explains this enormous gap? Three things. Number one, when we
said I’ve got this, they said, I want
to be great at this. And from that point
on, they spent every day driving with the
intention of getting better. And indeed, they have. But number two,
they have coaches that know what excellence looks
like who guide their practice. How do they do that? By giving them the right
kind of performance feedback. Performance feedback
determines not only how quickly we improve, but
how good we become in the end. My friend and colleague
Craig Wortmann and I, from the Kellogg
Sales Institute, recommend a very simple
but highly powerful approach to giving the right
kind of performance feedback. After a round of
practice, my coach will say to me,
Andrew, what’s one thing you think you did well? And I’ll reflect on all of the
things that I think I did well, choose the one that I think
was the most powerful, and share that answer. Then my coach will say to me,
having looked at her notes and chosen for her the
one thing that she thinks I did that was most
powerful, Andrew, here’s the one thing I
think you did well. And I’ll say thank you,
because feedback is a gift. By beginning with what I did
well, we achieve three things. Number one, we focus on
what had me stand out. Have you ever heard that
saying, if you want to be good, work on your weaknesses,
but if you want to be great, work on your strengths? Number two, we
build my confidence. And by doing so, we
achieve a third thing. And that third thing
is that I become primed and open to
the feedback that I’ll get next, that constructive
feedback that I can really use. And then my coach will
say to me, Andrew, what’s one thing you think you
can do differently next time? And I’ll go through
my mental checklist, and this time I’ll choose
a thing that I think could be the most impactful. And I’ll share that answer. And my coach will go
through her notes, choose the one thing she thinks
would have the biggest impact for me next time,
and she’ll say, Andrew, here’s one thing I
think you can do differently next time. And I’ll say thank you,
because feedback is a gift. By ending on what I can
do differently next time, we focus on how I can improve
and we build my competence. You see, without confidence,
we’re afraid to start, and when we do stumble,
we give up too early. Without competence, we’re
destined to fail anyway, and we’ll lose
motivation as a result. What those kids did in those
few minutes of practice each day, when they received
this kind of performance feedback, allowed them to get
really good really quickly. But of course, all of this
depends on us being coachable. And my question for you
is, how coachable are you? If you were to get this kind
of performance feedback today, how much better could
you be tomorrow? How much higher could you reach? Could you be 50% better? Anyone in the room
could be 50% better with one day’s worth
of great coaching? Not too many optimists. What about just 20% better? A couple of small hands. OK, what about just 5% better? Anyone at 5? I see there’s about half the
room that are pessimists. 1% better? Yes? Can we all agree we could at
least get 1% better each day? That’s a very low
and unimpressive bar. But here’s the thing– feedback
is like compound interest to our talent bank account. And if you today
practiced and you got this kind of
performance feedback, and you did that every
single day for a year, over 240 working days in a
year, that compounding effect would leave you 10 times
better a year from today than you are right now. Now, if you are
today 10 times better than you were a year
ago, please stand up so we can acknowledge
your coach. OK, we need more
coaches in our lives. But you may be saying,
Andrew, can coaching really make a difference like it
did for those kids to how good I become and how
quickly I become good? And the answer is yes. Judit Polgar is the world’s
greatest female chess player ever. She became a grandmaster
at just age 15. But what’s more
impressive is, at age 12, she was already
ranked as number one, a title she held continuously
for 25 years until she retired. That’s a record unmatched
by any other human being in any other sport. People are drawn to her to see
her amazing skills in chess. But I have to say, I pity
the man that challenges her. Because in those
25 years, she never once agreed to compete in the
women’s world championship. She refused. Instead, she chose to take on
and defeat some of the world’s strongest male grandmasters. Her competence was
matched by her confidence. And she broke through
this gender barrier in chess, paving the
way for other women by refusing to believe that
women couldn’t be every bit as good as men. Indeed, a lot better. Now, if you find her
impressive, what’s amazing is that her
elder sister, Susan, is equally impressive. She published her first
chess puzzle at age four. She, too, was a
grandmaster by age 15. And she did compete in
women’s world championships, won a bunch of them, and
Olympic titles, and at the peak of her career,
ranked number two. It’s amazing. Now, there is a third sister,
Sophia, the middle sister. Always the middle sister, right? When it comes to chess,
she’s an absolute disaster. She was ranked sixth. What do these three amazing
women have in common? It’s the gumption to take
on and defeat anyone. Sophia, ranked just sixth, also
dominated in an all-male world. At the 1989 Magistrale
di Roma, she chose to take on and
defeat not one, not two, but four male grandmasters
in a performance that was so powerful– I love this phrase– it’s been called
the sack of Rome. Do these three
amazing woman have some natural,
born-in, innate gift? No, they have the same
extraordinary coach, their father Laszlo Polgar. He’s a very interesting guy. See, his coaching
of his children was not just born
from a love of chess. He’s a chess teacher. Nor was it born from a desire
for his children to do well. See, he’s an
educational psychologist who studies intelligence. And as a young
man, what he found is that all geniuses
have one thing in common, or so it seemed. They practiced with the
intention of getting better with feedback from a coach. And to validate this
claim, he decides to run an amazing experiment. Now, he’s single at the time,
and being a very practical guy, he decides that the first
step is to find a wife. To prepare for that, he
reads the 400 biographies of history’s greatest men. Then he starts a
courtship of letters with Clara, a foreign language
teacher from the Ukraine, who believably agrees to marry
him, but kind of unbelievably agrees to participate
in this crazy experiment to create their future
children as chess champions. But what Laszlo proved is
that, through the right kind of coaching and giving this
kind of performance feedback, you can create
genius-level superstars. That’s extraordinary. People are drawn to
these three sisters because they perform at
the very highest level, and that’s magnetic. But what can we all
do when it comes to asking people for feedback
and enrolling a coach? Well, the expert move is to
ask our customers for feedback, to enroll them as
our coaches, too. A couple of weeks ago,
I went to a meeting with one of my customers. And she’s been a client
for a couple of years, so she’s used to the draw. At the beginning of the
meeting, I said to her, at Habits at Work,
as you know, we aim to have every meeting
be better than the last. To make sure that
happens, could I ask you for some feedback at
the end of our meeting today? And she smiled and
said, yes, of course. And in that moment, she
became not just my customer, but my coach, rooting
for me to do better. That completely changes
the relationship. Towards the end
of the meeting, I started to wrap up with
the agreed next steps, and then I said to her,
it’s time for feedback. Now I’ll ask you, what’s one
thing I did well to serve you today? And she said right
away, I appreciated that you had an agenda,
you sent it beforehand. And that made the
meeting really easy. And you stuck to it, even
finishing a little bit early. Who likes to finish early? Yeah. So she was very
grateful for that. And I smiled and said thank
you, because feedback is a gift. And then I said to
her, what’s one thing that I could do differently
next time to serve you better? Now, that’s a hard
question for most people, and they won’t immediately
have a good answer. She said, oh, nothing, I
think you’ve done a great job. And that’s very
kind, but you know what we’ve learned is that
we just give people some time to think about it, they often
astound us with their answers. And that day, I was
not disappointed. I sat there smiling at
her, waiting for her to think of something
for what was admittedly a pretty awkward 15 seconds. Felt like an hour. And then her face
changed suddenly, and it was clear an
idea had come to her. She straightened up her body. I could see her
summoning her courage. And then she said to me, almost
apologetically, well, there is one thing you
could do differently. She said, my boss,
the CEO, keeps track of who’s subscribed
to our newsletter, and she saw that you
had unsubscribed. She was right. I had unsubscribed, and to 100
others from other customers. And so I started to
sweat a little bit. And I was embarrassed. I started to blush. And then I started
to worry that we might lose this
client over this, or that maybe I had 100 other
clients who were annoyed because they had noticed
and they’d said nothing. So I did the only thing
that I’m trained to do. I said thank you,
because that kind of feedback, that is a gift. Because that day,
as hard as it was for me to hear that
feedback, I got to restore a relationship that
I didn’t even know was broken. I promised her that
I’d resubscribe, and I’d done that before I
even got to the elevator. And I will never make
that same mistake again. I challenge each of you
to pick one skill today that you will practice with
just a few minutes of time every single day
for the next year. Recruit a coach, your
manager or your colleague, or even ask your customers
to be your coaches. Because remember, experience
gained just on automatic is the enemy of mastery. Practicing with the
intention of getting better, with feedback from a coach,
that’s the genesis of genius. And if you do that,
a year from today, you will have risen
from the crowd. People will be drawn
to you to see you perform at the highest level. You will have become magnetic. Our second habit is
to ask more questions, because when you do that,
you help people see options that they hadn’t seen
before, new opportunities, new solutions that they’ll feel
powerfully compelled to take. And when they do,
you’ll help them make their dreams come true. If you do that, people
will flock to you, because that’s magnetic. When I first met Steve Pinetti
in the lobby of a Kimpton hotel, he was surrounded by
a group of his employees, who seemed absolutely
mesmerized by his presence. And as I watched,
the curious thing was he wasn’t doing
much of the talking. And every time I’ve
seen him since then, the same thing is true. Surrounded by a group
of employees who just want to be in his presence. And the more I’ve
met him, the more I spent time with him,
the more curious I became about why this
guy is so charismatic. Now, he’s clearly a
good-looking guy, right? But he seemed to have
something special about him, some kind of secret. And my conclusion was
that perhaps his secret was that he is just in
the hospitality business, because Steve is a co-founder
of the Kimpton Hotel Group. Anyone ever stayed at a Kimpton? What was your experience like? AUDIENCE: Just blown away. ANDREW SYKES: Blown away. What was your experience like? Good? Amazing? Kimpton is known for every hotel
providing every guest every day with an amazing, a blowing
away but unique experience. They coined the
phrase boutique hotel, and ever since, they’ve been
building these unique hotels, creating unique experiences
for customers every single day. They have the highest rate
of return for shareholders in the industry. They’re known as the
hotel that is the best place to work for employees,
and year after year, they win customer service
awards for guest excellence. Now they’ve got more than 100
properties around the country, and it’s easy to look back on
this track record of success and assume that it was
guaranteed from the beginning. But Steve will tell you
that is far from true. In fact, things were so
bad in those first years that he literally had
to move his family into that first hotel. He couldn’t afford to pay rent. And like so many
accidents of history, that decision led to a
serendipitous discovery, because what he saw by being
in the hotel at the [INAUDIBLE] was that all the decisions
made by the board and the senior managers
had very little to do with unique experiences. Instead, a unique
experience happens at the interaction of guests
and frontline employees, or indeed all the
employees in a given hotel. And fueled by that
insight, Steve has spent 30 years going from
one new hotel to the next. And what he does
when he’s there is he asks employees more questions. What do you want for your life? What does your daily
schedule look like? What are your habits, your
ruts and your routines? Because if you do the same thing
over and over again each day, how could you possibly
create a unique experience for your guests? But here’s his
favorite question– what’s one thing that you
could do today to make our guests’ experiences unique? What’s one thing
you could do today to make our guest
experience unique? And employees at
Kimpton ask themselves that question every
single day, and come up with some amazing answers. Have you ever had
an amazing idea, and you’ve taken it to your boss
or your manager only to have it shot down? How did that make you feel? Not good. And what would you do
with your next big idea? Probably not share it. At Kimpton, managers are
trained to say yes as a default, even in the face of risk. Not to every idea,
but to most ideas. To be open to experimenting,
to see what happens, because as Steve says, if you
can dream it, we can do it. When Steve met with a group
of employees in housekeeping, he challenged them,
what’s one thing we could do to make our
guest experience unique? One employee realized that
most guests in a Kimpton hotel are business travelers, and
they probably miss home. And so thinking about how
to solve that problem, her answer to that
question was a fish in a fishbowl to soothe
travelers’ stress and to create a sort
of home away from home. Is this unique? Absolutely. But if you were this employee
and that was your idea, how would you feel? That’s why Kimpton
is consistently rated as the best place to work. When Steve met with a group
of people in merchandising, he asked them,
what’s one thing we could put in the room that
would create unique experiences for our guests? A female employee had a theory
that every woman on the planet, secretly or not, owns at
least one item of animal print clothing. Based on that theory, her
answer to the question is these. Now, when I go to other
hotels, I open the closets, I see those crisp, white
robes, and I hang up my suit and close the closet again. But when my wife, Maddie,
and I stay in a Kimpton, I wear the zebra. [LAUGHTER] When Steve meets with
managers, he challenges them, because it’s not just about
these unique experiences, it’s also about the bottom line. And the way he
challenges them is to fill every bed every night. That’s a goal that most
other hotels can only dream of achieving. When he talks to
managers about how to make that happen, what
he’s urging them to do is to be highly creative. And they do that by
asking and answering the same question,
what’s one thing we can do to create unique
experiences for hotel buyers? And one manager, realizing
that most of her buyers were local, because the bread
and butter of her bookings were conferences and events
from local businesses, and realizing that
local buyers probably got invited to 10 or 20 or 30
events at a hotel each year, and each time they were, they
were shown the facilities and given a nice tour, maybe had
a drink in the bar or a dinner at the restaurant, or
if they were lucky, a cheese and wine
in the guest suite. Now for most of us, that
probably sounds pretty good. But if you’re a hotel
buyer and you’re being invited to do
that two or three times a week, after a
while all these hotels just blend together, and maybe
even become a little boring. So this manager’s
answer to that question was to invite local
buyers to her hotel. She took him up onto the roof. And for a couple of hours,
they smashed pumpkins onto a target on a tarp below. How many of you would
like to do that? And if you did,
would you remember the hotel that created
that experience for you? And are you more likely to book
your event in such a hotel? Absolutely, because
that’s unique. Ideas like this help Kimpton
to fill every bed every night. And they thrill customers
with unique experiences. But more than that, when Steve
asks employees this question– what’s one thing you can do
to create unique experiences for our customers?– and that question
has them unlock new ways of making guests
experiences amazing and making their
dream come true, they feel extraordinary
about themselves. And that’s why they flock
to Steve when he visits. That’s his secret, because
asking more questions is magnetic. So why don’t we all ask
more questions, especially questions of our customers? Maybe it’s because
we’re afraid to be seen as ignorant or stupid for
not having all the answers. In fact, many of us think
that customers expect us to always have all the answers. Or maybe, we worry
that they’re going to just feel like we’re
annoying them with asking them too many questions. But research from
Brooks and Gino points to a very
different conclusion and to our expert move of asking
our customers more questions, because what they found
is that rather than ask too many questions, most
of us ask too few by far. And we pay an enormous
price for that. Why? Because when we ask our
customers more questions, we learn more. That’s kind of obvious. But when we ask
them more questions, they also like us more. Why? Because we’ve given
them the opportunity to talk about what
they like, what they’re interested in, their business
problems, their challenges, their lives. That self-disclosure feels good. And they attribute that good
feeling to us and like us better as a result.
In fact, they may even say, what a great
conversationalist, not noticing that all you did was
ask them questions and they did all the talking. Now, if you’re single I want
you to pay close attention, because in a related study in
speed dating, what they found is that people that ask
just one more question– not even a good question,
just any question– increase their chances
of a second date by 5%. Now, I see some of
you taking notes. Whether it’s an interview or
speed dating, whether you’re in sales or customer success
or during a negotiation, we tend to think we need to
speak more to convince people why they should hire us, why
they should work with us, why they should buy from us,
when the reality is we need to ask more questions period. But the most fascinating
result of all is they found that people who ask
their customers more questions were better– were viewed as more competent
and smarter by their customers, especially if those
questions sounded like asking their customers
for advice in a subject that their customers
already know a lot about. How does that work? If people ask us for
advice in an area that we know a lot about,
they’re clearly smart, because they’re asking us. So I challenge you to ask
each other more questions, to ask your customers
more questions, even counterintuitively to
ask your customers for advice about how to solve their own
problem, something you think you’ve been hired
to do for them, because sometimes having all the
answers is not the best answer. But what’s the point of asking
more questions if we’re not prepared to listen? Now, most of us think we’re
pretty good listeners, right? And we are pretty good. We listen in order to respond. We listen to know when
it’s our turn to speak. But listening is a
little bit like driving. Unless you spend time practicing
with the intention of getting better every single day with
feedback from a coach that knows what excellence
looks like, you tend to simply gain
experience on automatic and not become a
master of the art. And some people
really are masters. I’d like you to think of someone
in your life who you consider to be a really good listener. If that’s difficult, maybe
someone who is just above average. How do you feel
about that person? How do you feel about them? AUDIENCE: I believe they get me. ANDREW SYKES: They get you. How do you feel about them? AUDIENCE: They help me recenter
and focus on what my issues are ANDREW SYKES: They
help you focus. What’s the emotion that
you feel about them? Do you like them? Do you respect them? How do you feel? AUDIENCE: Intimate closeness. ANDREW SYKES: Intimate
closeness, yeah. We love people that are good
listeners, because they give us the opportunity to
speak about the thing that we love more than anything
in the world, ourselves. We find them fascinating,
because they pay attention to us. There’s that old
saying that says, if you want to be
interesting, be interested. And we are attracted
to interesting people. That’s why listening with
our hearts is magnetic. But if today you
weren’t just surrounded by your work colleagues, but
in the room where your friends and families and all the people
that know you and I ask them that same question– think of a really
good listener– how many of them would say you? See, there’s quite a
difference between thinking we’re pretty good listeners
and having other people think we’re great listeners. And so the question for us is,
what do these master listeners do that the rest of
us just don’t do? Nelson Mandela won
the Nobel Peace Prize. And he is admired as
one of history’s most respected and
extraordinary leaders. But more than that, he was
known to be just a fantastic listener. When people were
in his presence, they felt like they were the
only one in the conversation, that he was speaking just
to them, even if there were other people in the room, and
that he connected with them in a very personal way. Mandela says that
he learned to listen from his father, the
chief of their village. During a village
meeting, he would allow everyone
else to speak first before choosing
to speak himself. And that has some
clear advantages. For one, you get to hear
everyone else’s perspective and synthesize that before
you have to share your own. But the key advantage is that
this is a kind of life hack that helps us resist
the urge to respond, resist the urge to speak. And in so doing, it gives us
the opportunity to listen, because the first step in
listening is to be silent. To listen, begin
by being silent. If we begin with being
silent, we give ourselves the opportunity to listen. But of course, being silent
is just the first step in listening with our hearts. And it’s not enough on its own. Have any of you been
in a conversation with your spouse, or your
partner, or a friend, and they’re talking to
you, and you’re listening, but maybe you’re
on your cell phone? And then suddenly,
out of the blue they say, you’re
not listening to me. Has that never
happened to anyone? If it has, just wink at me. OK. Now, if you’re smart, what
you’ll say is I’m sorry. I wasn’t listening
and that’s rude of me. And then you’ll start
paying attention. You’ll put your cell phone down. But if you’re me, you’ll
probably try and defend yourself. I’ll say, I was listening. You said that your aunt
is mad with your cousin because she’s not invited
to a niece’s wedding. I’m curious. Has that ever worked
for anyone else? Why doesn’t that work? Now, to hear what someone
says to you so well that you can reproduce it for them
almost word for word, why is that not satisfying? In fact, that makes
things much worse, because listening
is not something we do primarily with our ears. That’s hearing. Listening is something
we do with our eyes, because to listen
means to pay attention. Look it up in the dictionary. To listen means
to pay attention. And that’s the second step
in listening with our hearts. When you judge whether
someone is listening to you, you don’t look at their ears
to see if they are listening. You look at their
eyes to see on what or to whom they’re
paying attention. If listening begins
with being silent, it proceeds with
paying attention, because when we do that, we
can see what people really need and attend to that. Nelson Mandela was
behind bars for 27 years as a political prisoner
of the apartheid government in South Africa. And for most of those
years, he languished there while the world paid
him no attention. But he kept up the struggle,
and so did many other people. And eventually
after those 27 years of sanctions being applied and
prolonged and intense pressure, eventually in 1990,
he was released. And that day, many South
Africans, myself included, took a breath. We didn’t know
what would happen. I had grown up in the bubble of
white apartheid South Africa. And until that time,
I had seen no evidence that the endemic racism
that plagued our country was disappearing. We were worried, we were scared. We expected that there
would be a civil war. And certainly, that’s
what history predicted. But almost immediately,
Nelson Mandela went to work negotiating
the dismantling of all the apartheid laws. And along the way, there
were many setbacks– the Boipatong Massacre,
Chris Hani’s assassination, and a bunch of car bombs
and other violent events that just set back
the negotiations and derailed them completely. Nelson Mandela started
by being silent, and then he paid
attention by listening to the concerns of
people on both sides, and saw what they needed,
and attended to that. And in due course,
negotiations would resume. And eventually after
four long years, South Africa had its first
free, and fair, and thankfully peaceful elections. On April 27, 1994,
20 million people lined up to hear or to
have their voices heard. Most of them had never
voted in their lives before. Many of them stood in lines
for more than 24 hours, so desperate were
they to be listened to, to have their country pay
attention to what they really needed. When the results came in, Nelson
Mandela was our new president. The old South African
flag was lowered, and the New South
African flag was raised, representing the
many colors and races coming together in unity,
in what the world now called the Rainbow Nation. Our new national anthem was
sung, “Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika.” It’s the only national anthem
on the entire planet that’s sung in five
different languages, representing just some
of the many dialects and languages that made
up this new South Africa. People started to
call Mandela Madiba. Isn’t that an awesome word? Madiba. It’s an affectionate
word meaning father in his native tongue. But for me, the hope of
this new South Africa and the magic of Madiba wasn’t
clear until a year later. In 1995, South Africa was to
host the World Cup of rugby. We had been banned from the
sport for many years because of the apartheid government. But now, with Mandela as
president, we were back and we were hosting. Mandela saw this
as an opportunity to bring our country together,
because previously rugby had been a sport in South
Africa that was exclusively played by white people. In fact, there were a few
black people that played, but not many. And not many black people
supported the game. In some ways, rugby was a symbol
of the apartheid government. Nelson Mandela paid
attention and he saw that what we needed
as a country was to heal. And so he threw his
full force and support behind the national side, behind
a mostly white rugby team, despite the advice of some
of his closest confidants. Beyond our wildest expectations,
we made it to the final. And I was lucky enough to
be in the stadium that day. The journey to the final
was extremely hard fought. And the game itself
was equally hard. With just a couple of minutes
to go before full time or before the final
whistle in a game that had gone into extra
time, the two sides were drawn 12 points each. When the ball came
to South Africa, it came out of the
scrum, was passed to the fly half, who caught
the ball, stood his ground, and dropped kick the
ball towards the posts. And as that ball flew through
the air, time stood still. But as it went over those
posts, for the winning points, the crowd erupted into a scream
and a shout and a celebration like I’ve never heard
in my life before. People were jumping up and down. The noise was almost deafening. And it went on for five,
for 10, for 20 minutes before we became,
all of us, a little exhausted from the effort. And we started to
calm down, but no one left, because it was
time for that trophy to be awarded to our captain. And when Nelson Mandela
came on to do just that, wearing the rugby jersey of our
national side, the Springboks, that crowd roared like I’ve
never heard a crowd before. It became not this time
somewhat deafening, it became literally deafening. I became overwhelmed. And it was like the entire
stadium became silent for me. And as I looked
around the stadium to try and take it all in, I saw
for the first time in my life black men and white men hugging,
celebrating our nation’s victory as one people. That day, Nelson Mandela
gave us all hope, gave the whole world hope. That’s the magic of Madiba. And that’s magnetic. Now, I get it. We’re no Mandelas. But we can each put
empathic listening at the forefront of our
customer service efforts. How? By asking our customers
the kinds of questions we ask them everyday, and then
listening with our hearts. By show of hands, who’s ever
bought shoes from Zappos? They’re known for massively
scaling the online shoe selling business and for their
extraordinary customer service. Unlike their parent company
Amazon, when you call them, they want to listen. They want you to call. How do I know? Go to their website. Top left-hand corner, you’ll
see their customer care number. They want you to call,
because they want to listen. When you do, you’ll hear a
message that sounds like this. Thank you for calling and for
letting the customer loyalty team put a little
Zappos in your day. If you’d like to hear the
joke of the day, press 5. 5. Yesterday’s joke– how do
you make an orange smile? Tickle its navel. When you do go through
to an operator, they answer almost immediately,
because they want to listen. They overstaff their call
center just so they can do that. The average call time is about
12 minutes, unlike or similar to other call centers. But other call centers
manage that number down, whereas Zappos doesn’t
care how long you spend. In fact, they’re very proud of
their longest call in history, 10 hours and 51 minutes. A little old lady
from Queens called in. And over that marathon call,
she shared her entire life story about partying in Manhattan at
the it club at the time, Studio 54, with Andy Warhol. Over those 11 hours nearly,
she and a call center operator shared stories about
their favorite vacations. They laughed together. They cried together. And yes, they took a couple
of toilet breaks together. And at the end of those
10 hours and 51 minutes, do you think she
bought any shoes? Yeah, she did. Of course, that’s
why she called. But that transaction was
completed in the first 10 minutes. See, Zappos call center
operators are trained not just to hear what people want. That’s the transaction. They’re trained to pay attention
to what people really need and to attend to that. And when they do,
people fall in love. Even when they’re
phoning and they’re angry about something going
wrong with their shoes, they become captivated by
those call center operators, so much so that for that person
who called in after the call, their purchases of shoes
skyrocketed compared to before. That kind of listening
is good for business. And that’s magnetic. Now, we’ve heard about
some amazing, really magnetic human beings today and
the habits that made them so. But these three habits
can make each of us– transform each of us into
magnetic superheroes. I challenge you to practice
one skill every single day for the rest of the year
with the intention of getting better, with feedback
from a coach that knows what excellence
looks like, and even by asking feedback
from your customers. If you accept this
challenge, you will rise to stand
out from the crowd. People will be drawn to
you to see you perform at the very highest level. That’s magnetic. I have a couple more
questions for you. Will you ask more
questions of each other? Will you ask questions
of your customers? And especially and
counterintuitively, will you ask those
questions of your customers that sound like
asking them for advice on how to solve
their own problems? Because if you do that, you
will unlock greatness in them. And they will flock to you. That’s magnetic. I invite you to listen
with your heart. Begin with being silent, then
hear not just what people say, but pay attention to them,
so you can see what they really need, because if you attend
to both those things, people will fall
in love with you and be irresistibly
captivated by your presence. You will become magnetic. Magnetism is not some born-in
gift, some natural genius, but a talent built by
these three habits. Magnetism is a creation. And being magnetic
is only something that we are because it’s
something that we do. Or as Aristotle probably
should have said, we are what we repeatedly do. Being magnetic then is not
an act, but our habits. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] STACIE ASAI: My
question for you is, which one of the three
habits that we talked about is your favorite? And why? ANDREW SYKES: Easy,
asking more questions, and especially because I get
to listen to the answers, which is a good segue. Anyone like to ask a
question before we leave? AUDIENCE: I have
a question about– you emphasized having
a coach so much. But I know there’s been some– lots of great people in
history who, as far as I know, are self-taught. I don’t know who was the coach
for Einstein, for example. In some areas, it feels that a
person could be their own coach or could not. What’s your opinion? ANDREW SYKES: I think the
better you get, the more likely you are to be good at
being your own coach. But I think if you dig behind
these people’s careers, you’re likely to find a father,
a friend, a mentor, or someone who was in the
background guiding their practice until
they were good enough to become their own coach. AUDIENCE: Thanks. ANDREW SYKES: My pleasure. AUDIENCE: Hello, I’m Natalie. So I ended up watching
a Ted Talk having to– I think it was Simon
Sinek– not sure how to pronounce his last name. But he emphasized the
non-verbal actions connected with listening and
how, when you’re listening to someone,
that nodding or giving that type of influential
nonverbal behavior detracts from someone fully
being able to share with you. What are your thoughts on that? ANDREW SYKES: I don’t
agree with that, because I think
that when someone’s looking at you, if
they’re nodding along, it’s a signal that
they’re paying attention to you, which is what
we’re really looking for in a listening partner. Now, if they’re saying
yeah, yeah, I get you, and they’re trying to
force you along, of course. But there’s a lot
of science that says that empathetic actions,
meaning mirroring what you do back to me, helps us connect. It releases oxytocin
in our brains, which is the trust hormone. And that builds relationships. AUDIENCE: And also as
another side question, because I know you use a lot
of sense-oriented language, really being able to get
people in the zone with what you’re sharing– are there like any authors
that influence the way that you either speak or write? ANDREW SYKES:
Hundreds of authors. AUDIENCE: Your favorite? ANDREW SYKES: Les Brown. He is a professional speaker. I think he is
originally a pastor. But he has this amazing
voice and this laugh that just makes you want to
melt. He’s extraordinary. I aspire to be half
as good as he is. AUDIENCE: First,
thanks for coming. My question is actually
a segue to what you were just talking about. Something that I want to
do and get more feedback on is public speaking. Do you have a suggestion for
how to practice that and get feedback on that
on a daily basis? ANDREW SYKES: Other than
practicing it and getting feedback? AUDIENCE: Right, well, I mean
I’m in meetings every day. But it feels– when
I think through it, it feels a bit awkward to
ask the people in my meetings to give me feedback on how I
am speaking in the meetings. But maybe it’s not. ANDREW SYKES: It is awkward. It is awkward. And it takes a
little bit of time. But what you’ll
find, I think, is that it becomes less awkward
the more feedback that you get. The better you get, the
more confident you’ll feel, the less awkward it will become. And find someone who
is similarly interested and recruit them as your coach. You don’t have to have
an expert speaking coach, although that’s helpful. You can have someone else
who builds their competence with you. My colleague Tia is
now my speaking coach. She’s been working with
me for three years now and has become an
extraordinary coach and was not a speaking
coach before that time. Does that answer your question? AUDIENCE: It does, thank you. ANDREW SYKES: Pleasure. AUDIENCE: So I was going
to ask who your coach is and you do just– but it’s only three years, and
it sounds like obviously you’ve had a longer career. Can you tell us a
little bit about some of your coaches, perhaps,
and how you identified them as a good match? ANDREW SYKES: Yes, I
have a couple of coaches. The first one I
spent a year looking around the world for the
world’s best speaking coach. And unbelievably, I
found her in Chicago. She’s a Hall of Fame speaker. She’s just celebrated
her 76th birthday, and she is an extraordinary
and phenomenal woman. Her name is Mickey Williams. And she has taught me more
in the last two years. And I’ve grown more than
I did in the last 25. And then I have
several other coaches who are used for
different things, like the transition
between stories, which I’m currently working on. And a couple of other things,
I’ve got lots to work on, but I find having
several coaches is good, but having one
main coach is best. AUDIENCE: How do you establish
that it’s mutually beneficial, because it almost seems like
you’re asking a lot from them. So how do you make it so that it
seems worthwhile for them to– ANDREW SYKES: Well, two ways. One is to pay them, if they’re
professionals, and many are. And the second is
to reciprocate, to be coaches for each other. Tia’s headed to her sister’s
wedding in three months time. She will be both the
MC and delivering the maid of honor speech. And I am her coach for that. It’s payback for her coaching
me for the last two months. AUDIENCE: So thank you. This was great and
incredibly engaging. I was actually at
Kellogg with Wortmann and I notice a lot
of similarities in your storytelling. But I have a question,
which is, how often do you find that you’re falling
out of your own habits? And do you recognize
it right away? Or do you have any big tricks
to get back into the swing if you go off course? ANDREW SYKES: You
mean since breakfast? About 30 times a day. And yes, there is a trick,
which is to have a partner. So apart from being
my speaking coach, Tia and I have what we
call a willpower contract. She looks after my
alcohol consumption. So if I have more than one,
she slaps it out of my hand. Also cookies, if you see
us in the cafeteria later and you see a cookie on
the floor, that was Tia. And I’m her partner for
habits that she’s working on. And here’s why it works. I have infinite willpower
to tell you what to do. I can do it all day long. I’m indefatigable. But for myself, I’m
a bit of a mess. And the same is
probably true of you. So if we swap, we suddenly
both have infinite willpower. And I think the other thing
is give yourself a break. No one’s perfect. And when you do fall off,
that’s the most dangerous time, because what’s likely to happen
is the what the hell effect. Well, I’ve had a
piece of cheesecake. I might as well have all of
that, two glasses of wine, and a tub of ice cream. You need to pull the break
after the first failure and say, it’s OK, get back on. Does that help? AUDIENCE: Yeah, thank you. ANDREW SYKES: Pleasure. AUDIENCE: Hi, Andrew. Thank you for your talk. I’m Amir. So my question is about
listening with the heart. A lot of times when
we’re listening, we have the intent to
respond, or we have an objective or agenda in mind. How do we– What do you recommend
for turning your mind off and opening your
heart when it comes to listening to somebody else? ANDREW SYKES: Well,
the first thing I spoke about, which
is decide that you’re going to speak less– speak last. And you’ll find, if
you make that decision, it makes it a little easier. It gives you the
opportunity to listen. It does though
take some practice, because it’s such
a natural thing to just want to respond as
soon as you’ve got that idea. So the second thing
is to notice that you have a second voice in your head
that’s speaking the whole time. And it’s saying, oh, I’ve
got one, I’ve got one, I want to say this. And just tell it to
shut up for a while. And then when it comes to
listening with your heart, it sounds like
it’s a soft thing. I think it’s
nothing more or less than if you pay
attention, suddenly you start to see the
look on someone’s face. The mirror neurons in our mind
prime us to feel the same way, unless you’re psychotic. We feel what other people feel
when that emotion shows up on their face. So it’s not hard to do. I think what is hard to do is to
distinguish between what people say, which is often an
attempt to hide how they feel, and instead to look at
what their face says, which reveals the truth. That make sense? AUDIENCE: Yeah, it does. Thank you. ANDREW SYKES: It’s my pleasure. AUDIENCE: So there are ways that
you’ve given us to practice, or encouraged us to practice
being a better listener. But is there any advice
you can give in order to encourage somebody else
to be a better listener? And that’s without giving
them unsolicited feedback. ANDREW SYKES: Not
naming any names, right? AUDIENCE: No. ANDREW SYKES: I always find
its easier to help others change by asking them
to help us to change. So you might recruit
this person as your coach and say, let’s
practice listening. Here’s an exercise. I’m going to say
something to you. Or rather, you say
something to me. And my job is to reproduce
for you exactly what you said. That’s active listening. To try and identify
how you felt, that’s sympathetic listening. And to try and discern what
you are really concerned about, what matters below all that,
that’s empathic listening. And you practice it with them. After a while, they’ll
say, can I have a go? And you’ll be on the journey
to creating a great listener. AUDIENCE: Thank you. ANDREW SYKES: Let me know
how he does, or she does. STACIE ASAI: OK. I think that concludes
our talk for the day. Thank you so much, Andrew. ANDREW SYKES: Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

17 thoughts on “Andrew Sykes: “We Are Our Habits: How to become a magnetic human being” | Talks at Google

  1. ارجو الاشتراك في القناة وتفعيل الجرس
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXQd7wx1k3E

  2. Madiba! The Master Listener. It is call the Relationship Driven habit of building customer and sales loyalty. I have asked several questions directed to the Google staff and never received any answers. That is very sad, but, I am still a Google paying customer.

  3. The Mama of the Polgars is a Hungarian too, from a Hungarian territory that had been attached to the Soviet Union/Ukraine After WWll.

  4. I enjoyed this talk immensely, it was inspiring while being fun to listen to. I think "moose" deserves all the credit for your success.

  5. Hey Little Brother, this is a great talk and really makes a person think about how habits can become changes in ones life . Excellently delivered with enough mix of funny antidotes and serious information. I am going to have all my sales staff watch the video and try the listening side, I for one have realized how bad I am at listening as I will be monitoring mails while people are talking to me. Thanks for the great talk.

  6. "We learn to tolerate our bad habits by telling ourselves better stories" Great talk! Makes me assess what stories I've been telling myself about how I've been developing skills and habits.

  7. Extraordinary Work, I really enjoyed it!, See this New Album 'Monish Jasbird – Death Blow', channel link www.youtube.com/channel/UCv_x5rlxirO-WKjLIyk6okQ?sub_confirmation=1 , you can try 🙂

  8. Loved this whole piece which I actually listened to . Sharing
    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/listening-leadership-paradox-naveen-khajanchi/

  9. This talk is so important. One of my favorites of all time. The section I will never forget is about giving/receiving feedback: focus on strengths, build confidence + competence. Great job, Andrew! 👏👏👏

  10. I'm so proud of you and so impressed and LOVE LOVE LOVE this talk. It's touching, heartfelt and so inspiring. One of your best yet! xox

  11. Thanks so much Andrew, loved the stories and I believe incredibly powerful advice to make huge changes in our lives – professionally and at home. Great question Amir

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