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What message do customers want to hear from you right now? What can you say and do to nurture resilience in your team? In yourself?
While these aren’t usually the topics covered in the Agents of Change podcast, these are unusual times. So I turned to my dad, Dr. Robert Brooks, a clinical psychologist who researchers, presents on, and writes about resilience. I wanted to hear from him what we should be saying to our prospects and customers, as well as our team members, to nurture resilience and help them through this crisis.
Rich Brooks: All right. We are live. This is very exciting. My first ever interview on Facebook live. My guest today is one of today’s leading speakers and authors on the theme of resilience, motivation, school climate, a positive work environment, and family relationships.
During the past 40 years, he has presented nationally and internationally to thousands of parents, educators, mental health professionals, and business people. His talks are filled with practical, realistic suggestions and he is renowned for the warmth and humor he uses to bring his insights and anecdotes to life. He’s the author or coauthor of 18 books, including Raising Resilient Children and The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence, and Personal Strength in Your Life. I am very excited to be interviewing my dad, Dr. Robert Brooks,
Dr. Robert Brooks: And it’s a pleasure to be introduced by my son, Rich Brooks.
Rich Brooks: Thank you so much. Dad, so first of all before we get started, for those of you who are tuning in right now, I just want to let you know that we are going to be taking questions. So whether you have questions now or towards the end, we’d love to hear from you. My dad is an expert in all things resilient, so please go ahead and leave us a comment and we look to hear your comments, join us and please say something to us. We’ll take a few breaks around and kind of check out your questions.
All right. Dad, so welcome to the show and try not to tell any stories that are gonna embarrass me, okay. Or otherwise, destroy my resilience. I always think of myself as the control child, and Doug was actually…anyway.
So not everybody had the benefit of growing up with you at the dinner table talking about the red Sox, the Celtics, and resilience. So how do you define resilience?
Dr. Robert Brooks: It’s actually a pretty complex concept, but just not overly simplified. Resilience for me is the capacity to bounce back from adversity. We’re all gonna face adversity. But what I’ve often said, Rich, resilient people see problems as things to be overcome and mastered rather than to be overwhelmed by.
What makes it so difficult in today’s day and age with the coronavirus is that so many people are feeling overwhelmed because there are so many things that are pressing, so many pressing needs. But a resilient person even facing the situation today really has to have what I consider to be a problem solving attitude and look at what they can do to really handle some of the situation.
Rich Brooks: Alright. So resilience is something where no matter how difficult or easy your life is, it’s something important because it does allow you to kind of respond to life’s challenges.
Dr. Robert Brooks: I think it’s one of the most important things. If you were to say to me, “What will a parent love to see in a child?”, one of the things – there is certainly compassionate and caring – one of the things is what I call a resilient mindset. The ability really to be much more hopeful and optimistic and to possess skills that will help them to overcome adversity.
Rich Brooks: All right. Dad, one of the things I’ve heard you talk about is the idea of a charismatic adult. What does this mean and why is it such an important concept for leaders in business and in other areas?
Dr. Robert Brooks: What it means is when researchers started to look at what helps people to be resilient, that they interviewed a number of people who had really overcome great adversity. People who grew up in poverty and under racism, people who grow up in abusive homes, and they ask them a very important question, “What do you think was the most important thing, even with all the adversity you faced, to help you to be resilient, to be more hopeful and optimistic?”
In every study that was ever done, Rich, the first answer was always the same. It sounded very simple, but in a very spiritual way. It’s why we’re all here. The first answer was, “There was at least one person along the way who truly believed in me and stood by me.” Even one person.
Now the term ‘charismatic adults’ came from the late psychologist, Julius Segal. In an article he wrote in the 1980s he called that person a charismatic adult in a child’s life. And while some people may not like the word charismatic, his definition was wonderful. It’s an adult from whom a child or adolescent gathers strength.
Now in terms of team leaders, in my books about resilience in adults this to me just makes common sense, even as adults, we need people in our lives from whom we gather strength. And what I’ve always said to team leaders and managers is this; “Every comment you make to one of your staff, every gesture, you can be that charismatic adult in their life.”
And one of the things I emphasize, and especially where all of us, all the struggles we’re having today is, there’s a wonderful concept called micro moments or micro affirmations. Even one or two comments, one or two phone calls to someone may make the difference whether or not they are more resilient or not. So what I always say to managers and business leaders is, you can be the charismatic adult in the life of your team. They can gather strength from you as long as you have a sense of what you would want to do.
Rich Brooks: All right, let’s talk about that. How can a leader be a charismatic adult? What kind of steps should we be taking both in a world that doesn’t suffer from a pandemic, but also now where everything is remote?
Dr. Robert Brooks: Okay. First of all, whether we were in a pandemic or not – because when you raise the question, I had this thought that a lot of these ideas were written before we had a pandemic – one thing is I talk a lot about a resilient mindset. And one of the things I talk about is a sense of personal control. And I’m going to bring this up first because if a person doesn’t have this – and I’ll define what I mean by this – if a person doesn’t have a sense of personal control, then it’s difficult for them to really engage in actions that will help them to be a charismatic adult.
What I mean by personal control is, resilient people basically focus on what they have control over. They put their time and effort into things that they can have an impact or influence over. People who are not resilient will spend so many hours and expend so much time trying to change things they have no control over.
Now, what makes it very difficult? Something I alluded to before, because of the Coronavirus, most of us feel we don’t have as much control over things as we would like. All of these outside forces have played a role. And what am I going to say now, Rich, is for me, one of the most important things I tell people is that we are the authors of our own lives. Sometimes we may not see it that way, and what I mean by this is that we have to look at even though we may have no control over the emergence of the Coronavirus, what we have control over is our response to things, our attitudes towards things. If a leader can sit down and say, “I have no control over this”, then when I say to that business leader or business owner, “What are the things you do have control over?” And they are far more things we have control over, then we realize.
Rich: All right, so I want to talk about this, and I want to talk about it in two ways. One is, I want to talk about it first, what we can do ourselves as leaders. And then also I want to talk about how we work with our team to make sure they’re seeing the same things.
I also just want to remind people that this is live and we are taking your questions. So if you do have some questions for Dr. Robert Brooks around resilience and leadership, please post the questions and we’ll do our best to get to as many questions as we can today.
So dad, let’s start with the idea of I’ve positioned myself as a leader or a manager within my company or within my organization, what are some of the things I can do that I have control over? What do you recommend, where do we start?
Dr. Robert Brooks: Well first of all, I think we have to start with yourself. It’s interesting, Rich, in all of the discussions I’ve had with people, I say, you’ve got to take care of yourself first. If I’m speaking to parents, I say, you have to take care of yourself first before you can help your kids.
So there were certain things, there’s a lovely concept that some psychologists use called TLCs. I used to think it was “tender loving care”, which it is, but therapeutic lifestyle changes. And you know, this morning I heard your interview on 207 which if people don’t know is the NBC affiliate in Portland, you talked about a regular routine. So when I say TLCs, what it is is to have regular exercise. You’re not training for a marathon or whatever, but to really have some regularity with what we eat, you know, part of it is, of course, I like to exercise so I can have that extra chocolate chip cookie, but even our diet.
Oh, there’s so many apps now on meditation. And again, you don’t have to be a world’s expert on meditation. Even learning during the day to take a break to meditate for 10 minutes. These are all things so that if we take care of ourselves, we’re not going to be as rundown. So we have to take care of ourselves is where it really starts.
Then getting into both our relationships, personal and professional has to do with the notion of a charismatic adult. We know that connections with other people are vital. And this is where it gets into – and please feel free to interrupt me because your question just triggered so much – this is where it really gets into the importance of maintaining relationships and connections. So when I talk to parents I talk about making sure you have time set aside, just individual time for each of your kids, and even more so during this very problematic time.
But in terms of, say, as a business leader towards your clients or customers, don’t wait for them to call you. Reach out to them and really discuss with them, everyone knows this, this is a very difficult time. This is a very problematic time. I just want to feel and get a sense of how you’re doing and then a very important question I have found is asking them, “Is there any way I can be of help?” Because when you offer that, what you’re really saying to them is, “I care about you, you’re more than just the client. You’re more than just a customer.”
So reach out to them. Don’t wait for people to reach out to you. They may be so overwhelmed. What research has found is when the head of a team or someone reaches out to clients and customers, the response from clients and customers is the feeling this person cares about me. You’re not even necessarily talking about the business relationship. “How are you? Is there anything I can do?” And then I’ll be quiet, because as I said, your question triggered a lot.
There’s wonderful research to show that one of the most important things in any relation, especially a business relation and a school relation, is to create positive emotions. And one of the most important positive emotions is a sense of connections with others. And that’s why teachers who are doing distant learning, just be connecting with people is just so important in terms of connecting with your students and finding out how they’re doing and being a presence in their lives.
Rich Brooks: Awesome. Dad, one of the challenges I think that people find is like you talked about a few really important things like exercise and meditation or taking deep breaths and what you eat and all those things are good. You know, sometimes we may want to instill some of those things in our staff if we believe that these are important.
How do you walk the line between nurturing resilience through some of these critical things and coming off as an authoritarian, telling people, “Are you taking your deep breaths? Are you meditating? Are you exercising? Are you eating right?” Like, we don’t want to come across as being, you know, the patriarch.
We just want to kind of nurture resilience in these people. What is the language we should use? Or what are the things we should do to make sure that message of caring and empathy is coming across rather than some sort of dictate.
Dr. Robert Brooks: It’s a wonderful question. What it touches on really is a topic I call empathic communication. And there are certain questions – two main questions – are in anything I say or do, what do I hope to accomplish?
But getting to your question. The second question is, am I saying or doing it in a way where the other person is going to be able to hear me and not get defensive? So if you come across and say, “Look, there’s all this research to show you should be exercising. You should be doing this, this, this…”, and this person especially is feeling overwhelmed. Even if they’ve had a good relationship with you, they’re going to feel like, “Oh my, another burden.”
So in terms of empathic communication, I started asking myself, okay, so how do you communicate? And as something like this, you could simply say to them, “You know, there are things I have found helpful and I just want to bring this up and see if any of these would be helpful to you.” And then you bring it up. You can’t force people to necessarily exercise. You can’t force this, but you bring up these are particular ideas. Is it possible for you to exercise? You could say these things have been helpful. And then if you want, which can be very helpful to say to them, “Have you found anything that you found that is helpful to you? We would love to hear this.” If you’re having a Zoom conference with several of your team, that’s a question you can ask. What have you found helpful?
Rich Brooks: I really like that, that’s great. Hey, I’m noticing some questions are coming in. So what I’m going to try and do is, we’ll take these questions. I’ll try this first one.
Nancy says, “Hi, Bob. Your information is so relevant right now. In the current situation I’m working to find the balance between working from home, teaching my children, and managing the household. Some days it feels I cannot do all three well. If I teach my children well, the house is a mess and I end up working into late hours in the night. How do I find that balance?”
Great question, Nancy, because I think all of us are struggling with trying to, this isn’t just working from home during a snow day. This is, we are being forced into this situation and trying to find that balance day after day. My team is in week five right now. So dad, would love to hear your thoughts on this question.
Dr. Robert Brooks: Yeah. First of all, I want to say hello to Nancy because her school I was supposed to speak at, and she helped to put together a webinar that I did for them.
One of the first things I’m going to say may sound overly simplistic, but there’s a wonderful concept in psychology. It’s not just in psychology, called ‘self compassion’, and I think we have to give ourselves leeway and we have to realize we’re not going to be able to do everything and that certain things are going to slip.
What I find important in terms of Nancy’s question – although we can’t predict, especially when you have kids at home, especially young kids as Nancy does – you can’t predict all that’s going to happen, as much as possible to think about some kind of structure, that you can build in. It’s not always going to stick. You know what I’m thinking of, and it’s easier because you and Doug are grown now so we don’t have kids at home, but I know, just like you said in your TV segment this morning, I get up, I exercise, I shower, and I know there’s not going to be any other kinds of interruptions.
So what I would say to Nancy or anyone is have a rough idea of a schedule knowing that it may not always be there. Set aside an hour or two if possible, where you know you’re just going to focus on your work. Recognize your kids may have certain needs that are going to interfere with that. I really feel that what happens is too often in situations like this, we get very reactive and we’re running to put out one fire and then another, and then another.
So if we have a rough idea to even say to a child, if they’re old enough, “Do you know what?” And even show them a clock. “I’m going to work for an hour and then for the next 15 minutes or half hour, whatever, I’m just going to spend with you.” And if parents have young kids, I’ve even said to them, “This is a very special time, we’re not going to have any interruptions here.” But I really feel we have to give ourselves a little leeway.
I’ve gotten calls, people saying, I can’t do all I want to do. We’ve never faced a situation quite like this. And that’s why the notion of self-compassion, which I’ve been speaking about, be kind to yourself. Imagine if a friend came to you with problems you’re encountering, what would you say to the friend?
You know, research shows we’re some of the harshest critics about ourselves in this regard. And having a schedule we could try to stick with. Like Rich, you as a small business owner; a time I’m gonna touch base with the staff, a time we’re to do this, a time I’m going to do this. I feel it helps a sense of what I talked before, personal control. At least you have a certain set schedule there.
Rich Brooks: Yeah, and I would just add in, try and keep up with that schedule, but also be forgiving of yourself as well. Because if you’re in charge of other people and you’ve got the household to take care of and kids and perhaps parents as well, there’s just a lot of stress there. So be forgiving to yourself.
Lonnie’s got a great question I want to jump to. As leaders navigate point to point during this crisis, what are some tips to help them paint a picture of what future success looks like?
Dr. Robert Brooks: Oh, that’s a wonderful question.Lonnie. As a matter of fact, one of the things is I often will have people look at this question. You could do it with your team. What is it going to look like when this – in this particular case, the Corona virus – is over, whatever over means, but at least mitigates to some extent, so you have some idea.
Why I love this question is, it’s really a question that is used often in solution focused therapy. What would happen once a certain crisis is over? And so one could say to a team, assuming whenever it is, so what is our organization going to look like. In your interview this morning and television you talked about that this could be an opportunity to really look at your organization, to really look at what you’re doing, what things do you want to keep, what are things you may not want to?
What the question also figures for me, Rich, is something I’ve been asking business leaders,I’ve also been asking parents this question. What words at the end of the crisis, what words would you, as you look at how you reacted, what words would you use to describe yourself? What words do you hope you would use? And then what are you saying or doing on a regular basis, intentionally saying or doing so you’re likely to use these words. So one sense if you say, at the end of this crisis I’d like to see myself having done this, this, this. Then you can intentionally think about what have I said or done?
And the other question to get very much to your team is this, what words do I hope my team will use to describe me during this crisis? And then, what words am I intentionally saying or doing so they’re likely to use these words? This also helps us to be very intentional about the things we’re saying or doing.
So you look now and you also, in terms of Leonnie’s question, you also look at what are the things we’d like this organization to look like when we’re all able to get back together? Are there any changes? Let’s use this as an opportunity to reflect upon what we’re doing, what we want to do differently. And I think these are very important questions. Get us to think about what we are intentionally saying or doing so that our team will use the words we would hope they use to describe our actions during these difficult times. The same is true with our customers and clients. How would we like our customers and clients to describe us?
Rich Brooks: I really liked that dad, because one of the things I’m always focusing on if I’m creating content, a presentation or a course, is start with the end in mind. In fact, I was just interviewing somebody on the podcast the other day about creating online courses, and I said, where do we start? And he said, start with the end in mind.
And I think if we are trying to imagine how we want to describe our own actions and our own leadership as well as how others will view us during this crisis, that kind of gives us the end point. And then we can start to work backwards from there and say, well, what actions, what words, what steps can I take to get to that desired place. It doesn’t mean I’m going to be perfect, it doesn’t mean I’m hopefully going to get there, but at least I know what I’m shooting for.
Dr. Robert Brooks: Yeah. And Stephen Covey talked about the seven habits of highly effective people, successful, effective, that you keep that in mind. And that’s why I like to make it very personal by saying, you know, how would your team describe you? Would you like them to describe you? How would you like your kids to describe you? Think about what you’re saying and doing. It gives you a plan. You feel more of that sense of personal control.
Rich Brooks: I want to kind of follow up on some of what Lonnie said. e all as leaders, um, when no one’s watching have our moments of self doubt. There have been days that to me have felt great, and then all of a sudden at the end of the day, I’m feeling completely overwhelmed, near tears, and just want to crawl into a corner and just be alone. What can we do to kind of manage that? How much transparency, I mean, I just kind of gave up, Ijust kind of showed myself. But how much transparency should we show to those people that we hope are looking to us for hope when we’re sometimes feeling doubt or concern ourselves?
Dr. Robert Brooks: It’s so interesting because Brene Brown in her book, There To Lead, talks about good leaders, effective leaders, they’re not afraid to show their vulnerability. Now vulnerability doesn’t mean weakness in any way. First of all, I always say we should try to remain as calm and reassuring as can be. But it’s very important that we validate what other people are feeling. There is nothing wrong, and I’m going to make two points here, there is nothing wrong with saying to a team, “We’re all feeling stressed” There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I’m feeling stressed”. There are times at the end of the day, I do question things. You know, again, who we would say it to would differ, but to what you just shared is to be human.
The next thing I want to say really ties to the notion of resilience, is that you also have to offer realistic hope. And so by saying at times I could feel down at times, we all feel down. Then to be able to say, “One of the things though is we all have to look at what we can do to really solve these problems. What will help us. That’s when I really get into a problem solving attitude. Okay, we’re feeling this way, we wonder about this, but we also can use this as an opportunity to reflect upon what it is we could do differently.
But I think for a leader to show his or her vulnerability – again, that doesn’t mean weakness – to share the feelings, but also to say there are things we could do about it. That to me is a true leader. And we have leaders today – and I’m not going to get into politics – who don’t show that human side. And that’s what gets people very angry.
Imagine if Rich, if you were to say to your team, “I’m feeling happy all the time, I feel this, this, this”. They could not connect with you. They would be more afraid of sharing some of their doubts or whatever. Now you’re not being a therapist, but I think good leaders are often very therapeutic. But then people feel more comfortable. And you know, it gets to that notion of positive emotions. If people connect with you, the research shows it almost frees up the brain to be better problem solvers.
So there’s nothing wrong with what was just shared. Now, if every day you were to say to your team, “I’m feeling overwhelmed with that”, then I would say get some kind of consultation from a business manager. But to be able to share human feelings, as long as there’s this message of problem solving, hope to me is what makes us human.
Rich Brooks: Good advice. And I just want to remind everybody who’s tuning in that we are taking questions from our audience. A lot of the questions have come from you guys checking us out. If you have questions around resilience for yourself, for your team, we’d love to hear from you. Dr. Robert Brooks, my dad, will be happy to answer any of these questions.
I want to shift from clients, or I’m sorry, I want to shift from our team to clients. But before I do, I just want to come back to this idea of being a charismatic adult, or perhaps in this case, charismatic leader might be a better term. But whatever the case is, what other tips or advice do you have so that we can be that charismatic adult that our team needs us to be?
Dr. Robert Brooks: Okay. So one is, as I said, they have to feel that you care about them, that you really, you know, agree with them. I’m not a great, you know, that you’re really with them there. And that’s why reaching out to them and seeing about them, they have to feel you’re listening to them. And that gets to the question of, “Is there anything I can do for you at this particular point?”
I think to be that source of strength has to do then with when I talked about problem solving. Let’s say there are certain projects that are in the works that you have. One could say, see, this is now a focus on things that can get done. “How is this project going? Is there any assistance you may need with this project? Is there more information you may need?” So now you’ve really created that atmosphere where your team feels you care about them, or employees feel you care about them. And then you could even focus on, of course, things like different projects you have.
I think one of the important things that helps people to be resilient, and I alluded to this briefly before, is that they feel – I have put in terms of problem solving – but they feel a sense of ownership. And this is whether there’s a Coronavirus or not. I always like to ask business leaders, “If I interviewed your staff and I asked them, what decisions do they make about their own work, can they all tell me something?” Because in my book about resilience in adults, I cite research that shows if someone comes to work every day and feels they’re being micromanaged and told what to do, it actually affects their health. It’s such an important need to feel this. So I could see in a phone conversation after, you know, we’ve created that certain positive emotions, really asking the staff for input.
One of the mistakes I think leaders often make is they feel they have to come up with the solutions. I hear this also sometimes from school principals. “What should I do with the staff?” And you know, sometimes my answer is – it depends on the issue – is to ask your staff. Ask your staff if there’s a certain problem. What do you think will work? The more the solutions come actually from the staff, the more likely they are to follow through.
I mean, I’ve written a great deal about intrinsic motivation, what comes from within, and the more we can involve staff in making decisions about projects, I think the more resilient they’re going to be.
Rich Brooks: Thank you. Alright, let’s shift this. So a lot of us are having to…
Dr. Robert Brooks: Rich, can I mention one other thing? Okay. There was one other thing I really wanted to mention here in my research about resilience. And this ties to any situation, but in my research about resilience, one of the things we have found that one of the things that most helps people to be resilient is when they feel they’re making a positive difference in the life of someone else. I call it contributory to charitable activities.
I know this may not be the top priority, but at any age, whether it’s a three year old or a 75, 80 year old is this, ask a team leader – and I have parents do this with their kids, or teachers – as a team leader, even to be involved, and I know we’re all so burdened about a certain charity in town, a local charity. I know you work with a lot of local groups to somehow raise money or to do something. I know that your group does that. I feel as a team, one leader, one can say, “What is it that we can do to enrich the lives of others and come together around that?” I think it makes us really feel that we’re making a difference.
The question Nancy before raised, and I just want to go into this because I think this has to do with compassion and caring and difficult times. When Nancy called in and she thanked me for doing that webinar at her school that had been canceled, I felt afterwards that I felt uplifted because I felt, “Hey, at least I was making a difference. At least I was doing something I was really enjoying doing at that particular moment.” So I really want to emphasize this in anything. If we can feel we’re making a difference, if our kids could write to first responders or something. Doing something will make the world of difference. I think it is a basic component that I’ve written about in terms of resilience. So I’m sorry to interrupt, but I really wanted to get that point in there.
Rich Brooks: No. It’s a great point because I think sometimes when we’re so stressed about everything that’s going on in our own life, when we can put the attention, the spotlight on somebody else in a positive way, helping out something like that, that takes a lot of the burden off actually. When we’re helping somebody else, it kind of removes some of the attention, the negative attention we’re putting on ourselves. So I find that to be very therapeutic.
And then from a marketing and sales and communication standpoint, which of course is more my background, it’s very challenging to market your business during a pandemic. It’s so easy to be tone deaf. But when you partner with a nonprofit, you partner with a charity, you figure out how you can give back to your community that you show that you’re part of the local web of what’s going on. I think that only has benefits and it allows you to remind people that your business is made up of people that you’re connected to the community. And that’s a better way anyways to communicate because then you’re communicating from a place of empathy rather than saying, “Hey, buy our stuff”, which nobody really wants to hear these days.
Dr. Robert Brooks: Well, and I’ll just say this since I’m a client of yours, too, Rich. I think you and your flyte team, with nonprofits or whatever, and having been at several of your conferences, you do that in such a magnificent way. And during these very troubled times, I know how you’ve reached out and it’s just very vital. And that’s why I really wanted to emphasize that point to find ways, and it’s a good opportunity for parents to involve their kids in small ways. That’s what really develops compassion and caring, not lecturing about it. But actual actions can be so helpful.
Rich Brooks: Well luckily I have an excellent team that I work with, so that makes it very easy. So I was going to shift over to talking about how we talk to customers, but I saw this question come in from Karen, which I think is more on talking with our co-workers or our employees. “I believe the biggest challenge”, she says, “is not the peers who are already resilient. It’s those who’ve all felt like a victim. How can you build that resilience once that is their pattern?” Tough question.
Dr. Robert Brooks: Yeah, it’s a lovely question. We’re not going to be therapists. And so the first thing I would say is, first of all, don’t let a person like this drag you down. But it’s a question that one could ask at any time, but it’s even more so now. You know, people will say, “Oh my God, I don’t know what to do:, or whatever. I have actually found that it’s trying to convince them.
You know, I talk a lot about mindsets that you should have a more positive attitude. It’s like trying to say to someone who says to you, “I’m depressed”. And you say, “No reason for you to be depressed.” It’s not going to go anywhere. So in this case, the best thing is to be empathic and say, “You know, I’m really glad you could tell me how you feel.” Your validation doesn’t mean you agree. You validate it, “You know, many of us feel this way, but I can see you’re really feeling this”. And then. Instead of trying to convince them, say, “Is there anything I can do to be of help?“
Now the typical response is going to be, “Probably not”, but you know what I always feel is then you could say, “If you could think of any way I can be of help or anyone could be of help at this time, let us know. Just think about it.”
You know, when I first started asking questions like that, I expected, when you ask people what their strengths are or you know what they hope for, they would tell you. And then, “I don’t know”. And I feel like saying, “You’re not being very helpful in therapy”. And then I realized they don’t know or they can’t even think about it.
So what you want to do was to start to create at least maybe some thoughts – I mean, I know I do this as a therapist – that maybe this can change. But you can’t convince someone who’s had a victim mindset or victim mentality for years, and now it’s even worse what’s going on, that you shouldn’t think this way.
Validate. Say, “I can see how you feel. Many of us feel this way”. And then just, “What is it that I might be able to do differently with you? How can I be of help?” And just have them think about it. And remember, you’re not going to be able to do therapy. There are some people that I’ve seen for two or three years in therapy. It’s a slow process. And right now with all that’s going on and so many uncertainties, the best you can do is maybe just to be there as support and not think overnight you’re going to change their mentality.
But the point I made at the beginning, don’t let their negativity drag you down. Just be able to recognize it but say, “Personal control. That’s how they feel, but I don’t have to feel that way.”
Rich Brooks: So this is a challenging time for companies and leaders to be communicating with customers and clients. What is it that customers want to hear from companies right now?
Dr. Robert Brooks: For me, one, they want to – and I’m going to emphasize this probably throughout this interview – they want to hear that you care about them, that you’re thinking about them. An opening comment should simply be, “I’m calling just to find out how you’re doing”, not necessarily how is your business doing. So, “I’m just calling to find out how you are doing? Are there certain things that I can be of help with?”
I think for me, then it takes it out of – what you said before – you don’t want to seem like you’re marketing and selling your product at a time when people are feeling that they need some kind of life raft or something to get into. And you could ask them – if you know their family, or even if you don’t – how is your family doing and how are things going.
You could share with them that this is not an easy time. Some people may say that sounds so simplistic. Those are things that bind people together, that say we’re all in this together. Then once you do that, one could get into much more specifics around if there was a certain project you’re involved in, maybe we could discuss this project at this point or whenever you would like to.
And something that I find very important is to invite them to contact you. You know, as a therapist I used to do that and some people would say to me, “Oh God, you can’t be on duty 24/7”. And I’d say, “You know what? The more I found that I let people know I was accessible, I actually got fewer phone calls than some other people.” It’s knowing that you’re there.
Another thing is, one of the things I found very helpful is actually setting aside a time – again, this has nothing to do with the Coronavirus, but maybe it’s even more important – maybe a call in time, or people could schedule a time for 15 minutes to chat with you. So now it’s on a schedule. So I used to do that. I’m an early riser and when I worked at McLean Hospital at seven o’clock from 7:00 – 8:00 people knew they could reach me. And some people said to me that that was very important. So that also, they want to feel you’re there for them.
If in any way – and this almost never happened – you feel people are taking advantage and all these hours they want, but I really didn’t find that at all on that. So it’s to really contact them, be very active, find out how they’re doing. And that doesn’t mean just one phone call.
And then also you could talk about their business. You could talk about how you might be of help. A question you asked me, it could be an opportunity for you to say to them, “As you emerge from this, as we all emerge, are there things you’ve been thinking about doing differently in your business? Have you talked to the team about it?” That to me is then the consultant is bringing up a real nice problem solving attitude. These are things to think about and consider.
Rich Brooks: A problem solving attitude. You know, I think it also depends on whether you’re in a B2B or B2C company. So B2B, because I know we’ve got two different audiences here. We have perhaps the flyte new media people who know me. And of course we have all the teachers and educators, and event planners that know you, dad. B2B is business to business. B2C is business to consumer. So those can be very different businesses.
You know, for B2C, it may be a lot about, maybe the focus is more about your role in the community. I was talking to a coffee shop today and we were talking about how people miss that routine of coming to the coffee shop, getting a pastry, and what could we do maybe to remind people of that. I
talked to a doggy daycare that of course, had to close at least temporarily. And they’re getting pictures from some of the doggies who are sad because they can’t come in. And in talking about how to kind of, you know, continue that conversation, versus B2B where people want to know, how do they market their business or how they do this. There are companies that almost need to fill a role. So maybe some of this has to do with the type of business you’re in it and what people want to hear from you.
But I do agree that checking in, regardless of how you’re checking in, definitely makes a difference. And we’ve seen that in our own business when we’re doing outreach for clients. Right now my team is probably busier than they’ve ever been. Not necessarily with billable work, but just in terms of making those connections and staying in touch with people and seeing how we can serve them. And I’m seeing a lot of our clients do the exact same thing with their client base and their customer base.
And it gets back to what you said earlier, it’s how do you want to be seen when all this is over. It’s great if that comes from an intrinsic place, but even if it doesn’t, just use that and kind of model that behavior of how you want to be seen. How do you want people to think about you?
Dr. Robert Brooks: But even when you think about posting pictures of dogs or whatever, I think that’s a wonderful idea. I would say who every business owner should invite all of the doors. Well, the dog owners post. Anything that connects.
And you know, the other thing I’m smiling is what’s the best way of saying this? Cause you want us to be careful. A sense of humor is one of the most critical aspects of being resilient. This doesn’t mean being sarcastic. I think I’ve gotten more cartoons sent to me at a time like this, and some are funny. I mean, it’s a very difficult time, but we should never lose that sense of humor.
And the other thing is not to be childish, but childlike at times. I smile with all the dog’s photos. I could imagine the coffee shop or something that they could do. I have no idea, but it connects with people. And again, it’s associated with positive feelings and positive emotions, which I could spend hours on. And in all my workshops now I spend a great deal of time on that. Do you create positive emotions so people will be more willing to listen to you because we know that positive emotions actually free you to be better problem solvers here.
But thank you for the distinction between B2B and B2C. It’s a very important distinction. Some of the ideas I’ve mentioned applied to both, but certainly there are differences in those towards audiences.
Rich Brooks: So dad, you mentioned earlier this problem solving attitude. How can we assume a problem solving attitude? What does that mean exactly, and what does it look like both for our clients and our customers?
Dr. Robert Brooks: There are several aspects that I talk about, about a problem solving attitude. One is, first of all, you have to agree that there’s a problem. And this may seem very funny, but sometimes I’ve worked with teams where someone thinks there’s a problem, someone doesn’t. So one, you have to be able to articulate the problem then, and this is going to sound very simplistic, but it’s not. Then you have to look at what your goals are and what are two or three ways of reaching those goals.
So you want to look at particular strategies. And I know I’m saying this horridly because the process itself could be months in the making. Once you have an idea of the goals and then the strategies to reach, look at strategy for each and select the one that you think will work best. Some strategy that you think will work best, you try that. But – and this is the part I’m going to underline under the ‘but’ on this – one of the big mistakes I made years ago as a beginning psychologist and as a consultant was, I thought everything that went on in my office as someone else’s office sounded great. But you know what I found, sometimes in “the real world”, it didn’t work.
So you have to also, in terms of problem solving, prepare for obstacles. And I started to bring this up, this kind of question, but I had to make sure it didn’t come across as a self fulfilling prophecy for failure. I’d say this sounds very good, but if it shouldn’t work, what’s our backup plan? Cause you know what I found, if you didn’t have a backup plan, people then felt even worse. They really felt, “See, I can’t do anything.”
And then the work of a psychologist, Gabriele Oettingen, she came up with a great technique, she called it ‘mental contrasting’. And just to let the viewers know, I’ve used this in school and businesses, she would say, “Now that we have this strategy, let’s consider two or three or one or two obstacles to reaching that.” And what she found is if you thought about the obstacles to make sure it wasn’t self fulfilling prophecies for failure, then she would say, “If this obstacle appears, and this gets to the problem solving, how do you think you’ll feel? But more importantly, if this obstacle appears, how do you plan to deal with it?”
So what she found is if you simply look at goals or strategies and not obstacles you got, if you were going to have a problem. If all you think about are the obstacles, you can have problems. But if you could think about what are the strategies or goals, what are the obstacles, but what are steps you’re going to take if an obstacle appears. She found those people were best able to be good problem solvers and they were best able to meet their particular goals.
And so thinking about obstacles does not have to be like thinking about a self fulfilling prophecy for failure. It’s preparing us. It’s another example of what I call ‘personal control’. Because when you feel you have ways of coping, you’re going to be more resilient. And so when you’ve anticipated obstacles, you now have ways of coping rather than feeling like, “Oh my heavens, I don’t know what to do next.”
Rich Brooks: All right, dad, I want to circle back to the question on humor because humor is great and I love sharing memes and stuff like that about what people are going through. I almost think memes are the hieroglyphics of the modern world. They’re just such a fast way, between that and emojis, to share what’s going on in a kind of humorous way.
One of the best reactions I’ve gotten since the coronavirus started was the Brinks truck rolled up in front of Hannaford, our local supermarket, and I took a picture and it said, “Oh, it looks like the toilet paper delivery has finally arrived.” And people love that because we’re all going through the same pain point. So it’s that kind of thing.
But you said, don’t use sarcasm, which is literally the only kind of humor I know. So what are your tips for using humor but not being tone deaf at the same time?
Dr. Robert Brooks: What I meant by sarcasm is, first of all, if you use it with people who know you, that is one thing. It brought back a memory. In the 1980s I wrote a chapter about the use of humor in therapy, and I said, “Don’t use sarcasm.” And someone asked, “Well, what if you’re not sure?” I said, “Then don’t use it”. Because you have to think of this, if you’re with your team and they know you and they like you, you could say things that you’re not going to say necessarily outside.
So I mean, one of the things I’ve often said is if I’m not sure – because I use a lot of humor with kids and adults – if I’m not sure this isn’t going to be experienced that way, because empathy means put yourself in their shoes, don’t say it at all. So you have to have a certain relationship.
Now, if you’re using it where people, you know, like watching here and you really don’t know them, one then has to say, “I have to be very careful because what I think may be humor may be really hitting someone where I shouldn’t.” You’re not always going to be correct. I remember when you sent that cartoon of the Brinks truck – and I’m laughing now – and toilet paper. Anyone could relate to that. And to me, it’s just something that you look at that and say, “Oh my God, yeah. Toilet paper is more valuable than money.” I mean, people were spending plenty.
That’s the kind I used with people we know who already have a history with us. We could probably say more things, but there are some things where 99.99% you’re pretty sure I’m not going to be offended by it. And what it does is, humor really…a workshop I gave for this stress summit I talked about, it really connects people. It really helps to, I think, elevate our spirits. It doesn’t deny things. Anything I’m saying, we’re not denying what’s going on, but we’re finding ways where we can find some relaxing, you know, some ways to relax, some ways to really connect with other people. And humor certainly can do that.
I think it also creates what I’ve been talking about, these positive emotions that you create in any environment. And Rich, I know you have a pretty good sense of humor.
Rich Brooks: Yeah. It obviously skipped a generation. That was sarcasm, by the way, in case people watch
Dr. Robert Brooks: Yes, because I know you.
Rich Brooks: And I also think it’s kind of like the humor that works today. I mean, there’s definitely dark humor and it can be funny. But it’s maybe not something that somebody from a position of leadership should be sharing. I think the humor that leaders should be sharing should be a little bit more uplifting. And that joke about the Brinks truck also is something that kind of shows the bond. We’re all going through this stuff together. I think that’s an important message to get across.
Dr. Robert Brooks: Yeah. Because no matter how much money you have, I know even wealthy people were having trouble getting toilet paper.
Rich Brooks: Absolutely. Tanner has got a question. Do you think it’s important to keep in mind that people may be looking to you as an example of what to do? Should we all keep that in mind? And I think he’s talking about as a leader or as somebody who’s very present and active on social media the way that Tanner is, how might that impact the way that you communicate with the outside world?
Dr. Robert Brooks: One of the things I always say, and it has to do with empathy, and Tanner’s question again is very important to this regard. People, especially if you’re in a certain area of expertise, are going to look towards you. So one of the things in my workshops, I say, “Write down all the words you will hope your family would use, your customers, your clients would use to describe you. And then what are you actually saying and doing?“ So they’re likely to use these words.
That’s why before I said, and I think about some of the books on leadership that we can share our feelings and whatever, but we always have to think about that here are certain boundaries that people will look to us. If we come across as not reassuring and it’s not very calm, then of course they’re going to begin more anxious, our team’s going to get more anxious. So we walk that tightrope, but it has to be genuine. I can feel anxious and I can feel a lot of different things. But if I’m talking about resilience, I know that there are things we can do. If I didn’t feel that way, I could never come on an interview like this, Rich. People know if you’re not going to be true to yourself.
So in Tanner’s question, keep in mind that people are looking to you. I always assume that every one of them is looking at you. Every one of them is going to form images of you. Every one of them is going to have words to describe you. Now, everyone is different. And this point, I want to emphasize. I could give a workshop for 50 people, 49 out of the 50 could love it. One person may or may not. I wish I didn’t think as much about the one person who didn’t. That’s human nature.
But I feel that if I’m talking about resilience, I have to model it. If I’m talking about exercise and don’t exercise, I’m not being genuine. So any suggestions I make, people know whether you’re really being true, and we have to adopt certain behaviors.
Teachers, if they say they want students to see them as caring, I always say, what does that mean? What are ways you could express your caring about them? Well, I was watching, there was some interview with a girl where the teacher, during this time when schools are closed, the teacher got online to wish her a happy birthday. I didn’t know what teacher would do that, but those are the little things that form images or impressions of you that are going to be lifelong.
Rich Brooks: Absolutely. So as we’re kind of wrapping up here, what are some other tips you have, maybe that we haven’t talked about yet, for staying positive or staying resilient during this pandemic?
Dr. Robert Brooks: well, there are a few. One is greatly limiting how much news you watch. I will tell you, other people have said this. It is very, very difficult. I have minimized the amount of news I watch because you know what, it’s repetition, repetition, repetition. Some people, I don’t want to see their news conferences and I say, why do that? I would rather, when I’m using the treadmill in the morning, get a few minutes of the local news, see what’s happening a few minutes in the national, and then what I’ll do is, I wait until the end of the day. I’ll go to cnn.com or something. Look at the main headlines.
The other, I think it’s very important in terms of the structure. As much as possible by five o’clock, I don’t want to do any more work. I know it’s not always possible. And you know, some of the questions that are raised, if you have little kids would have, but I don’t want to do any work.
Also find things that may be fun. Games you want to play. Your mother and I, you know, are watching some Broadway shows. There’s this Broadway HD. We found that we coalesced certain shows in that regard, and really to reach out to certain people, I think that really helps us to be uplifted. And by cutting down the amount of news we’re not in any way ignoring things.
We’re really saying that, I have control over this. Why aggravate myself or why see all of this. I’m still going to keep informed in our way, and as I said before, just reach out to all sorts of people who may need to hear from us. In that regard, it lifts us up well and for getting back to self-compassion.
Don’t worry if you know what your goals may have been. You’re not reaching all of them during this time. There are too many other things, unpredictable things going on. We have to be kind to ourselves. I know all of this is easier said than done, but we have to do it.
Rich Brooks: Yeah, I absolutely agree. And again, checking in on other people, family members, friends, clients, coworkers. I find it kind of releases endorphins in us as well. It takes some of the attention off of ourselves for a little while. It puts the attention on somebody else we can focus on. Their problems, their concerns, and how we can help. And that, at least for me, releases a lot of endorphins. Plus just getting a call out of the blue from a family member you haven’t talked to in awhile, or a vendor that you didn’t know cared about you and they’re not trying to pitch you on something, like that makes you feel good, too. So that’s definitely another way of kind of sharing some of your feelings of positivity or your feelings of resilience.
Dr. Robert Brooks: Did we read Elena’s comment on the screen? There was a comment.
Rich Brooks: I’ll read it out loud for those.
Dr. Robert Brooks: Yeah, I think it’s wonderful.
Rich Brooks: Elena says, “When very little, a friend of my mom’s told us that every time we giggled and laughed, there was a little bubble in our bellies that bounced up to our brains, which would make us happy. I remember this conversation to this day. Your message about humor strikes me as the adult version of this very sweet thought.” Thank you. Yeah. Your friend’s mom was describing endorphins, so that was fantastic.
Dr. Robert Brooks: I want to say, I remember to this day, it’s what I talked about before in research. That one comment you make, one little, even one comment, one gesture in my research, 40, 50 years later, the person will remember it. Hopefully it’s positive, but they will remember that. It is amazing. They may forget what happened the day before, but they will remember some of these acts of kindness, these brief micro affirmations.
Rich Brooks: Dad, which is your favorite son, me or Doug?
Dr. Robert Brooks: Someone just wrote, “Rich has a great sense of humor.” Yeah. Who’s my favorite son, you or Doug?
Rich Brooks: Yeah. I think that’s what everybody wants to know right now.
Dr. Robert Brooks: I didn’t see that. I agree, Rich has a great sense of humor. Doug would probably say, hands down it’s him. And you would say, I don’t know. Let me just say this. I’m not gonna embarrass you or Doug, but mom and I feel very fortunate that you’re both our sons and you’ve given us wonderful grandchildren. And I know it may sound funny that you and Doug, in many ways, are charismatic adults to us now that you’re both grown and it’s really just a pleasure to be interviewed by you for a show like this. And we’re just very proud of both of you.
Rich Brooks: Well, that is a very honest answer and I appreciate it.
Dr. Robert Brooks: Are people seeing this?
Rich Brooks: They are seeing this. Dad, I do want to thank you for your time. This has been absolutely great and I appreciate you making the time for us. People can feel free to continue to leave questions and maybe my dad or I as appropriate can answer those questions after the session is over.
If you missed any of this, it was recorded. First of all, you can watch it live or you can watch it on demand on Facebook Live soon, but we’ll also have a high def version that we’ll make available probably on my dad’s website, on flyte’s website, and other places as well.
Dad, for people who are just being introduced to you and maybe you want to check out some more stuff that you’ve done and created, where can we send them.
Dr. Robert Brooks: It’s on my website, produced by your company. It’s just drrobertbrooks.com. And as you know, Rich, since like 1999, I was one of the first people to have a website because my son was in the business.
I write a monthly article, 10 articles a year, on many of the things we discussed today, there are brief articles that people can find and there are other resources that are listed there. So that would be a nice place to go.
You were the one who convinced me to have a website before I knew what a website was.
Rich Brooks: Right. Well, and then you kept on letting me rebuild your website almost every three months for fear that I would fail as a business person and have to move back home. So I really appreciate that as well.
Dr. Robert Brooks: Now you have a staff doing that.
Rich Brooks: Yeah. But honestly, if you want to go check out my dad’s work, again go to drrobertbrooks.com. He’s also going to be producing some videos coming up in the next few months that he’s starting to work on. So that’s exciting. But in the meantime, he’s got a ton of great books. You can check out a lot of stuff for teachers and parents as well. Not just, in fact, that’s almost a focus, not just on business people.
But Dad, love you very much. Really enjoyed doing this. Give mom my best and I’m sure we’ll be in touch very soon.
Dr. Robert Brooks: I love you very much Rich, and Doug too, in case he’s watching. Okay. Thanks.
Rich Brooks: Of course he’s watching, because again, number one son. All right. Thanks everybody for tuning in today.
Dr. Robert Brooks is a well known and highly regarded psychologist, as well as thought leader on the topics of resilience, motivation and family relationships. Please visit his website for insightful and thought provoking articles and studies – particularly on this timely topic of resilience, and how to adapt it into your life.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.
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