#116 - Human Powered Teams With Emotional Intelligence - Trenton Moss

 

 

“Emotional intelligence is about knowing yourself, empathizing with other people, and always defining a win-win outcome in everything you do."

Trenton Moss is the founder of Team Sterka and the author of “Human Powered”. In this episode, Trenton shared the importance of having good emotional intelligence and people skills in digital product teams. He shared the 6 key skills we need to succeed as outlined in his book: conflict resolution, building strong relationships, leading and influencing, facilitation, storytelling, and outbound communications. Trenton also shared some frameworks we can use to improve some of those skills, such as PLEASE, MASTER, and LEAD frameworks. And throughout our conversation, Trenton emphasized multiple times the importance of achieving the win-win outcome in every interaction we have with each other.  

Listen out for:

  • Career Journey - [00:05:37]
  • Importance of People Skills - [00:10:07]
  • Emotional Intelligence - [00:12:52]
  • 6 Key Skills - [00:20:45]
  • Win-Win Outcome - [00:22:58]
  • Conflict Resolution & PLEASE Framework - [00:24:59]
  • Improving Conflict Resolution Skill - [00:29:54]
  • Active Listening - [00:33:10]
  • Strong Relationships - [00:36:50]
  • MASTER Framework - [00:38:43]
  • Negative Behaviors - [00:45:05]
  • Leading & Influencing & LEAD - [00:48:47]
  • Over-communication - [00:51:47]
  • 3 Tech Lead Wisdom - [00:55:36]

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Trenton Moss’s Bio
Trenton is a business leader, trainer and coach who inspires everyone around him to achieve more than they think they can. His bestselling book, ‘Human Powered’, was published last year. It helps you gain all the people skills and EQ you need to succeed. He’s the founder and head coach at Team Sterka, a training and coaching business that creates high-performing teams. Previously, Trenton spent 15 years as founder and CEO at one of the UK’s first product design consultancies, Webcredible. When he’s not working, you’ll usually find him running around after his kids. Or sleeping. He loves a post-lunch power nap.

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Quotes

Career Journey

  • Their stories were incredibly educational and really showed me just how many challenges if you’re a tech leader that you have. And generally speaking, all of your challenges fit under two buckets.

    • The first bucket of your challenge is everyone I work with at the board level doesn’t really understand what I do. They don’t understand why everything costs so much or why everything takes so long, and a lot of my objectives directly conflict with their objectives. So challenges with their peers, with stakeholders.

    • The other bucket of challenge that I found really interesting was that tech leaders will talk about the people in their team, how they had really good practitioners, great engineers, designers, product managers, and so on. But a lot of these guys struggled to interface well with the business, to lead and inspire stakeholders, or potentially to work well within their cross-functional team.

Importance of People Skills

  • Most technology projects don’t actually fail because of the code, but mostly because of people not playing nice with each other.

  • A big part of it is that engineers and designers and so on, practitioners think that just doing amazing work, really great work is enough and it’s not. Doing great work is half of the battle, literally only half, and the other half of the battle is having everyone around you think you’re doing really great work. Because what’s the point in doing amazing work if no one thinks that it’s amazing?

  • This isn’t just in engineering, this is across every profession. What most practitioners do is you’re really into what you’re doing. You’re really passionate about it. You want to do a great job. You work really hard to try and make it as good as possible, and you forget that everyone else around you who doesn’t do your job isn’t that interested.

  • If you could grow your empathy skills—and empathy is half of emotional intelligence, you can start to understand what other people need, what their drivers are and what motivates them, and then when you talk about your work, you communicate in a way that works for them, not just what you think makes you excited, cause they’re not going to share your excitement.

Emotional Intelligence

  • Many of this kind of team issues, 70% you quoted, are due to lack of people skills. According to research from a Stanford-Harvard study, 85% of job success comes from well-developed people skills.

  • If you’re going to break it down to its most simple, it is just emotional intelligence. Because the majority of people skills are derived from really good emotional intelligence. People skills, things like your ability to resolve conflict. And conflict doesn’t mean a massive argument. It just means when you and someone else have a difference in opinion.

  • Conflict resolution. How to build really strong relationships with the people that you work with? How to build rapport? How to influence people so that they buy into the work that you’re doing? How to facilitate meetings and workshops so that you get to a good outcome? How to tell stories to bring your work to life so that stakeholders buy into it?

  • If your emotional intelligence is down at zero, you’re going to be useless to all of them. Whereas if your emotional intelligence is at a pretty high level, these people skills are going to come far more naturally to you, and with just a bit of guidance and kind of someone helping you with the know-how you can actually get very good at these people skills and be far more successful in your job.

  • Tech leaders, we often hire people for their engineering capabilities and what they’ve done in the past, which is important. It’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is, are you able to interact well with people? Because 10 years ago and before, engineering was done in a very siloed way. In fact, all of product development was very siloed.

  • And products just failed. And we now work in Agile, which is the far better way of working. But this means that the importance of working in a team, of being able to interface well with business stakeholders and your cross-functional team, is just amplified.

  • Emotional intelligence is about empathy, which is about your ability to understand where other people are coming from. But it’s also the second part of emotional intelligence is understanding yourself. Understanding the things that trigger you because people are going to say and do things that frustrate, annoy, and upset you.

  • We all communicate in different ways. There are four core communication styles. Some people will have the same communication style and you’ll enjoy interacting with them, and some people will have wildly different communication styles and you’ll struggle, potentially, with them.

  • Emotional intelligence. Half of it is about understanding yourself. So it’s the things that trigger you so you can control them. So you can understand, I’m being triggered here. And if you can learn to take control of those emotions, your relationship can potentially thrive with that other person. If you can’t, your relationship will go on a downward spiral, because you’ll be annoyed at them.

  • Emotional intelligence, having empathy for other people, really understanding where they’re coming from, why they’re communicating the way they’re communicating, and assuming the best of intentions in them, because other people always have the best of intentions. You may not like the way they talk or the way they behave, but their intentions are almost always honorable. Their objective is not to annoy you. It’s to get something done.

  • Number one with emotional intelligence, empathize with other people. Number two, understand yourself, the things that trigger you, and also the impact you have on other people. So the way that you talk, the way you communicate, the way you behave, it will have a negative impact on some people that like to communicate in a different way. And then the third thing, which I guess is like an extension of those, is to always define a win-win outcome in everything that you do. So in every interaction you have with everyone you work with, be it within your cross-functional team or be it with stakeholders you’re interacting with, just finish two sentences.

    • The first sentence is, “At the end of this interaction, I want them to do, think or feel something”. So work out what you want out of that interaction. Then also, you’re going to finish the sentence, “At the end of this interaction, they want to do, think or feel something”. And then once you’ve worked out what you both want, the outcome you want, then just take a stand for a win-win.

6 Key Skills

  • Conflict resolution, which is anytime you disagree with someone, how you get to that win-win outcome. And that, for me, is almost the foundational one. Because without that, if you’re not going to get win-wins, that leads to deterioration in your relationship.

  • Number two, building up strong relationships with people, knowing how to be like a master of building up relationships with people, how to build rapport, understanding the four different communication styles, so you can adapt how you communicate depending on the different person.

  • The third one is around leading and influencing. We no longer live in a world where leadership is hierarchical. Everyone should be a leader. No matter where you sit in a hierarchy, you should be a leader to the people that report to you. You should be a leader to your peers, and you should be a leader to the people that are more senior than you. Towards win-win outcomes.

  • And the last three: facilitation, storytelling, outbound comms. Facilitation, making sure you get the group towards that win-win outcome. Storytelling, which is one of the most important influencing techniques. If you want to get people on your side, you’ve got to start getting good at storytelling. Outbound comms, which is about the way you present yourself or the way you write. Cause obviously a lot of comms is done through written chat now. So making sure that you are communicating in a way that works for other people.

Win-Win Outcome

  • The keyword that you use in your questionnaire is the word “outcome”. We get so bogged down in the detail and move to the question why? As in W-H-Y. The five whys technique.

  • What engineers and designers and product managers should ideally be doing is saying, “Well, tell me more why you want that. What’s the outcome you’re trying to get to?” And if you can always be working at a level of outcomes, and then you work backwards from there to define actually how it’s going to happen to get you there. And that’s a far better way of working than just three people coming to a meeting, all with their own ideas of what they think should happen, and then just like arguing about whose idea is best.

  • Start from the outcome, make sure everyone’s happy with it, that everyone wins with that outcome, and then you just work backward.

Conflict Resolution & PLEASE Framework

  • In the book, I talk about the PLEASE process.

  • Win-win is at the core. You never make the other person wrong because you always assume the best of intentions. You don’t like what they’re saying. You don’t like that they’re being pushy about trying to make you do this, but you assume the best of intentions. You will never make them wrong.

  • Essentially, after the problem is stated, which is the P, you just listen and explore and you just really get into the detail of why they’re trying to get to where they want to get to.

  • You just imagine the other person’s head is a glass bowl. So no fish in it, just their head is a glass bowl. And imagine it’s full of water. Now if you try and speak every time you speak, you’re putting more water in that goldfish bowl. So what you want to do is you want to let them drain that goldfish bowl. Just let them talk about all the things they want to do, where they want to get to. Keep listening, keep exploring, validate what they’re saying. Cause even though you disagree a lot and you want to argue with them, just validate them. And then, once they’ve emptied that goldfish bowl, they’re ready for more water to go in. And then you can put across your point of view, and you don’t need to argue, and you must never make them wrong. And, again, you want a win-win outcome, as I keep saying. You say, “Okay, so here’s the outcome I’d like to get to. Sounds like you want this outcome. I need this outcome”. And that’s it. That’s all you need to say.

  • In a conflict, the worst thing you can do is speak a lot and try to push your point home. It’s so much better just to listen. Don’t disagree with them at all, just listen. And then put your point of view across.

  • The opposite of agree is not disagree. The opposite of agree is I don’t agree, and that’s a really important difference because even though you don’t agree with them, it doesn’t mean you have to disagree.

  • The A of PLEASE is to articulate what success looks like for you. Really short, really succinct. And then say I want a win-win solution.

  • When you listen to someone, you show empathy. You reflect back the things they’re saying. You validate them. It is amazing how they move away from a position of entrenchment. Because when you respond that way, you’re not disagreeing.

  • If you just stop disagreeing and instead start validating and listening and then say what you need to get to success, “I want a win-win outcome”, it’s amazing what opens up and how the conversation changes.

  • There’s no such thing as a difficult client or a difficult stakeholder or a difficult colleague. There are people who you will find it more challenging to work with, but with patience and with following some of these processes, you can get there.

Improving Conflict Resolution Skill

  • No one’s conflict resolutions are well-taught in education. And for me, it’s madness.

  • If emotional intelligence and empathy were taught in schools from young, from four, five years old onwards, and if that was a core part of the curriculum, just imagine what the world would be like. Just imagine what it will be like going to work every day with people that were willing to collaborate, and just imagine the reduction in stakeholder politics.

  • What can people do given that background? Read books and go on training courses, essentially.

  • You’ve got two different extremes of people.

    • Someone who will just, “Right, I’ve got to win this conflict. I’ve got to win this debate. I’m going to just keep talking, put my point of view across and I’m not going to back down.” And they probably get win-loses a lot, right? Where they win, the other people lose. But to be honest, they lose as well because no one likes them and no one buys into the things that they’re telling everyone to do. So no one’s going to work particularly hard or try and do a good job on it.

    • And then the opposite extreme is obviously someone who stays very quiet, never stands up for themselves and then someone else just railroads them. And so it’s win-lose again.

  • And both of these are bad outcomes. And, again, going back to the win-win, everyone takes a stand for win-win. So if you are someone who’s a bit more pushy, try to be a bit more assertive, try to always get your point of view across. You’ve just got to stop. And you’ve got to listen and you’ve got to tell yourself, it doesn’t matter about the execution. All I need is the outcome. And you’ve got to really ask yourself, what is the outcome I want? I need this outcome. How do we work together to get to that outcome? What’s the outcome you need? How do we get there?

  • If you are then the opposite extreme and you are more the person who’s a bit quieter, a bit more cooperative, and perhaps doesn’t get your way, to be honest, you don’t need to change very much. So the other person’s talking, you do your listening. Make sure they know you’ve understood. Let them drain the goldfish bowl.

  • And then you just need to say, “For me, I need to get to this outcome. How do we get a win-win?” It’s just one sentence. And you might need to be courageous to do that if you’re someone who shies away from conflict a lot.

Active Listening

  • It’s probably the most important skill you can have in the modern workplace. Everyone likes to be listened to. It feels good having someone listening to you.

  • What active listening does is, it’s about you playing an active role in the conversation while the other person’s talking. So the sort of things you can do when the other person’s talking is nod, to show that you’re there. You can kind of grunt, go “mm”. Then, when the other person finishes talking, there are two really powerful things you can do.

    • First one, you can paraphrase what they said, almost like repeat back to them what they just said to show that you’ve listened. Now you must never repeat verbatim what they said. That doesn’t show you’ve listened. That just shows that you’ve heard. So you have to take their words and rephrase it and then say it back to them to show that you’ve listened. Paraphrase back to them. Tell them what they said, repeating it back to them, but in your own words. That shows you’ve listened.
  • Then you can take that upper level to show that you’ve understood. And the way that you do that is you reflect back the impact that this has had on them or that this is having on them.

  • You’re not going to go too deep into people’s feelings often in a work context, but you want to talk a little bit about the impact on them and verging a little bit on the feeling. Because then that person will feel understood. And it is astonishing that if someone feels listened to and understood, everything opens up.

  • And then they’re going to be so open for a win-win solution and they would’ve ended their fishbowl in a really nice way, and they’ll be ready to have more water put on top. They’ll be more open to different viewpoints. But you’ve got to listen and empathize first and be an active participant in that conversation while they’re talking.

Strong Relationships

  • Good relationships are everything. So within your team, if you want to be a high-performing team, you’ve got to have really strong relationships.

  • There was that famous Google study many years ago now, where they spent two years, looking at their best performing teams and, I guess, the worst performing teams, and trying to work out what is it these highest performing teams all have in common.

  • And what they found was really surprising to them. It was psychological safety. Those highest performing teams consistently had the highest levels of psychological safety, and for the lowest performing teams, it was the opposite.

  • So it’s all about building up these relationships and feeling that psychological safety with each other so that you feel confident and comfortable being able to put forward ideas, being able to criticize what someone else is saying, and being able to contribute. And doing all of those things, everyone’s going to accept what you say. No one’s going to ridicule you or belittle you.

MASTER Framework

  • The M and A of MASTER stand for map out people’s communication style, and then adjust your communication style.

  • There are four core communication styles, which are director, thinker, socializer, relator. Essentially, there are four different styles and you’ve got to work out what everyone’s core communication style is. Once you learn about them, it’s not that hard to work out what people’s styles are, and then you just have to adapt your communications to fit to them.

  • Negative behavior can creep in where people can make each other wrong, try and make themselves right, try in getting power. And it’s very important with negative behavior. That’s the S and T of the MASTER framework, which is suppress your own negative behavior. Like I said, you’ve got to become more self-aware. Understand what your negative behavior is. How you have a negative impact on others. And the T is to take ownership of difficult situations. So if someone else is displaying negative behavior to you, taking ownership of it and responding in an appropriate manner.

  • But sometimes, that negative behavior will creep in. It’ll be quite strong and you can’t do anything about it. And then you move on to the E and R of the MASTER framework. And this is all about what you do afterwards, recovering from the aftermath of a difficult meeting or a difficult situation. And the E is about empathizing and assuming the best of intentions.

  • The other person doesn’t have the objective to annoy or upset you. It’s not what they mean to do. And finally then reframe for strength and resilience. And this is about taking that difficult event and working through it and trying to understand what were the other stories I could tell myself from it.

  • For so many of us, we think that a strong relationship is about what you do when you are with the other person. And it is, that’s the big part of it. But also a decent chunk of it is what you do afterwards and how you react to those difficult situations.

  • The people with the strongest relationships, it’s not just what they do in the moment, it’s also how they react afterwards, and how they’re able to process what happened and reframe it to assume the best of intentions in the other person and not just be thinking about their bad behavior.

  • Reframing helps to create alternate conclusions and stories from a difficult event.

3 Categories of Negative Behaviors

  • The three classifications I write about in the book are: making other people wrong, making yourself correct, and gaining power. Particularly with the first two, if you really are going to seek a win-win, you’re not going to do those.

    • Making other people wrong is criticizing what other people do, blaming them for things that have gone wrong, perhaps belittling them in meetings, and you may do that without meaning to.

    • Making yourself correct is like getting defensive, justifying your opinions with very strong statements. Perhaps, playing one upmanship, always having an answer.

    • And all of that is about picking yourself up, gaining power. And it’s things like, I mean, so many people do this, regularly being late for other people’s meetings, interrupting people in conversation, being distracted during meetings, particularly on Zoom calls or Teams calls.

  • All of those things are not ideal behavior. We all exhibit negative behavior. If you can become aware of your negative behaviors, then you can work on them, and you can hold yourself accountable to them. And then ideally, you tell other people that you want to work and you want to get better at it and ask them to hold you to account.

  • There was an interesting study done about accountability and around goals. If you don’t tell anyone that, you’ve only got a 10% chance of it happening. Whereas if you tell other people and you ask them to hold you to account, that increases to 65%.

  • You got to be very brave to do this cause it’s admitting to people like the things you do that negatively impact others. You’ve got to know yourself. You’ve got to understand yourself. And then if you realize you’re doing things that are negatively impacting others, you’ve got to stop it. Because if you want to have really strong relationships with people, if you’re doing all this negative behavior, it’s going to impact that.

Leading & Influencing & LEAD

  • Leadership is not actually a role. Everyone can be a leader.

  • Historically, we lived in a very hierarchical corporate environment, where if you wanted anything done, you have to ask your boss, who would ask their boss, who would ask their boss, who would ask their boss. If anyone was having a bad day, that good idea got shut down.

  • The companies born in the internet era, the likes of Amazon, Google, Facebook, and so on, have created new operating models, where decision making is now decentralized and it’s pushed down to the people on the ground because, hey, guess who’s got the best ideas? The people on the coalface, not the leaders in their ivory tower.

  • The L stands for look for the basics and get these right. It is astonishing how much we just annoy people around us and don’t do these basics. How we just aren’t aware of some things that we are doing, that are just frustrating people. Being late to other people’s meetings, not responding to their requests in a timely manner. Under communicating.

  • There’s something called a mere-exposure effect, which says that we only get used to an idea if we’re told it 10 to 20 times.

  • We do a lot of over-promising and under delivering because we want to please people. There’s so much that we do that just is the basics. So you just got to get those basics right.

  • The LEAD frame is like a pyramid.

    • The L is at the bottom, look for the basics, get this right, and then you’re building on that, establishing a great rapport.

    • And on top of that, then you amplify your impact and then on top of that, you delight stakeholders continuously. Amplifying your impact is around influencing and persuasion skills. Again, try and get that win-win outcome to really lead and inspire people around you.

    • And then, finally, delighting stakeholders. And that’s about going above and beyond. So with all the stakeholders and everyone you work with, thinking what’s going on for them at the moment? What are they trying to achieve? What can I do to help just contribute to what they’re trying to achieve?

Over-communication

  • It’s the mere-exposure effect. We don’t get used to an idea until we’re exposed to it 10 to 20 times.

  • You get requests from people all the time, which you forget about, because you only get exposed to that request one time, because they only tell you once and then you forget it. And then maybe they’ll send you a reminder.

  • We all do this because especially in the modern world where there’s WhatsApp, there’s Slack or Teams, there’s email. The amount of communication channels is just overwhelming for most of us. We can’t keep up with it all. So please don’t expect that just one message is sufficient.

  • If it happens many times, then you’ve got a conflict and you start the PLEASE process. And you go in and say, “Here’s what’s going on. I’m sending you these things. I’m not getting a timely response from you. What’s going on? How do we get to a better outcome here?” And you listen and you explore where they’re coming from.

  • Often the core of it is because you are communicating in a way that doesn’t work for them and it’s hard for them to process it, and they’re not wrong for that.

  • You come up with a solution. Do you know how deeply that other person is going to buy into that solution? Like so much. So that when you do it differently the next time around, the chances of them responding that time and doing it in a timely manner are so high because you work with them to get to a good outcome. You haven’t made them wrong.

3 Tech Lead Wisdom

  1. Know yourself, understand the impact that you have on other people.

  2. Empathize with other people. Assume the best of intentions of them all the time.

  3. In every interaction you have, always define a win-win outcome as soon as possible so that everyone knows what success looks like.

Transcript

[00:01:31] Episode Introduction

Henry Suryawirawan: Hello again to all of you, my friends and my listeners. Happy New Year 2023! Welcome back to the Tech Lead Journal podcast, the show where you can learn about technical leadership and excellence from my conversations with great thought leaders in the tech industry. This is our first episode for the year, after around 1.5 months of me taking a break from releasing new episodes. I hope you had a great end-of-year break too, and enjoyed your time with family and friends. And I also hope you have had a great start in this new year, and I wish you all a great successful year ahead!

If this is your first time listening to Tech Lead Journal, don’t forget to subscribe and follow the show on your podcast app and on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. And if you’d like to support my journey creating this podcast, subscribe as a patron at techleadjournal.dev/patron.

My guest for today’s episode is Trenton Moss. Trenton is the founder of Team Sterka and the author of “Human Powered”. In this episode, Trenton shared the importance of having good emotional intelligence and people skills in digital product teams. Trenton shared the 6 key skills we need to succeed as outlined in his book, which are conflict resolution, building strong relationships, leading and influencing, facilitation, storytelling, and outbound communications. Trenton also shared some frameworks we can use to improve some of those skills, such as the PLEASE, MASTER, and LEAD frameworks. And throughout our conversation, Trenton emphasized multiple times the importance of achieving the win-win outcome in every interaction we have with each other.

I really enjoyed my conversation with Trenton. I find emotional intelligence and people skills are super critical in a highly performing team, no matter it is a digital product team or any other team. So many team’s challenges, conflicts, and politics can be avoided, if we are more aware of the 6 key skills shared in this episode. So I hope by listening to this episode, all of you can learn a few tips and tricks on how you can improve your emotional intelligence and people skills. And I also recommend you reading the book, if you are interested to learn more Trenton’s frameworks for the other key skills not covered in this episode.

And if you find this episode useful, as always, please help share it with your friends and colleagues, so they can also benefit from listening to this episode. I always appreciate your support in sharing and spreading this podcast and the knowledge to more people. And before we continue to the conversation with Trenton, let’s hear some words from our sponsors.

[00:04:57] Introduction

Henry Suryawirawan: Hello everyone. Welcome to another new show of the Tech Lead Journal podcast. Today, I have with me someone named Trenton Moss. Trenton is actually the author of a book titled “Human Powered”. This book is very interesting. It helps digital product teams to actually learn about people skills and emotional intelligence that are required for us to succeed. As we all know, emotional intelligence is one of the best indicators of successful person and team. So IQ itself is not enough. Today, we’ll be talking a lot with Trenton about how we can use more emotional intelligence to actually succeed in building digital products. So Trenton, welcome to the show.

Trenton Moss: Hey, Henry. Thanks for having me.

[00:05:37] Career Journey

Henry Suryawirawan: So Trenton, maybe in the beginning, I always love to ask my guests to share more about yourself. Telling us more about your major highlights or any turning points in your career.

Trenton Moss: Yeah, Yeah, sure. Well, my career’s been going for about 20 years now. It kind of started with me starting my own product design consultancy. So it was kind of on a whim. I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself after university and traveling for a bit. And so I just decided I’d start my own consultancy. Knowing very little with no connections, no money, no clients, but a lot of enthusiasm. I was young then, right? I was in my twenties, so I was just sharing a house with some friends, and there wasn’t space in my bedroom for a desk. So I put a desk in the hallway and I got a computer and a dial-up internet connection and away I went. And it worked, fortunately. I had a good offering, I think. I managed to grow that business. We moved out of my house after about nine months and I got some office space, hired some staff and the business grew from there, and I ran that business for around 15 years with lots of highs and lots of lows.

2008 was a pretty challenging year for us. Whereas other years, things went really well, and we were able to really grow the business and work with some big brand, big name clients. Doing some really great user experience and product design work, stuff that many consumers in the UK, millions of consumers would interact with every day. So that was really brilliant. A couple of the really big things that affected where I went after that were one of the things I started doing was running a kind of Friday skill session. So every Friday from 9 to 9:30, you had to be in the office. This is very old-fashioned when you talk about having to be in the office nowadays. You had to be in the office for half an hour, and we train people on emotional intelligence. Because we’re a client facing business, it’s really important that my consultants were great with clients and we’re able to lead and inspire our clients. Which, to be honest, it’s the same if you work in-house. If you’re a product designer or an engineer or a product manager, you have to interface with stakeholders day in, day out. You’ve got to have really good emotional intelligence so you understand the impact of your communications on them.

So I started that at the business, and it ended up being so successful, we kept it going for about five years. We had huge success in terms of what it meant with our clients, like winning pitches, being with clients, growing accounts, and being able to do more and better work. Getting clients to sign off our work better. All the sorts of things that whether you work client-side or in-house would be helpful. So that was something that was incredibly successful.

Another thing that I did that really influenced me when I was running my consultancy was I ran a community of digital and tech leaders. I ran that for about two or three years, and we did a round table every month where everyone would come along and talk about the challenges they’re facing. I mean, obviously, those were my clients anyway. But being so close to the coalface of their stories was incredibly educational and really showed me just how many challenges if you’re a tech leader that you have. And generally speaking, all of your challenges fit under two buckets.

So the first bucket of your challenge is everyone I work with at the board level doesn’t really understand what I do. They don’t understand why everything costs so much or why everything takes so long. And a lot of my objectives directly conflict with their objectives. So challenges with their peers, with stakeholders. That was one bucket of challenge. But the other bucket of challenge that I found really interesting was that, generally speaking, tech leaders will talk about the people in their team, how they had really good practitioners, great engineers, designers, product managers, and so on. But a lot of these guys struggled to interface well with the business, to lead and inspire stakeholders, or potentially to work well within their cross-functional team.

Shortly after around 15 years, my consultancy was acquired. After 15 years of running my own business, I realized I was allergic to working for anyone else. As any business owner might know, who’s been able to exit a business, you can’t do it. It’s not possible. So I stayed around for about a year and a half for the business that acquired us. Well, I need to do something else now. And I thought, well, if so many tech leaders have got this problem, of practitioners in their team, not being able to interface well enough with their colleagues in cross-functional teams, not being able to interface well enough with business stakeholders, well, perhaps I can solve that problem because I ran a really successful program internally to my team to give the skills and emotional intelligence and people skills. So I thought, yeah, I could probably help with that. So I wrote a book about it and started a new business, Team Sterka, in order to solve that problem.

Henry Suryawirawan: Really interesting story. So I was interested when you say that you forced your employees to come on Friday morning to do this in emotional intelligence session. Oh, I’m sure, I mean, since it’s Friday, you guys did not just go training, right? But after you’ll do some fun activities together, I guess.

[00:10:07] Importance of People Skills

Henry Suryawirawan: So you mentioned about two challenges for digital tech leaders. So the first is the board doesn’t really understand what you do. I mean, it’s quite typical. So engineering is always slow. Engineering is always doing some stuff that we don’t understand. And secondly, is that tech leaders, even though between themselves, they don’t actually communicate well. So, cross-functional team, different roles also have different perspectives and different perception.

And in the book you mentioned that most technology projects don’t actually fail because of the code, but mostly because of people not playing nice with each other. Tell us more about this, because I’m quite intrigued, although I know I’ve experienced it, but maybe there’s a reason what you pick from this trend.

Trenton Moss: So tech projects failing, as you’re saying, it’s never down to bad code. It’s always a people thing. A big part of it is that engineers and designers and so on, practitioners think that just doing amazing work, really great work is enough and it’s not. Doing great work is half of the battle, literally only half, and the other half of the battle is having everyone around you think you’re doing really great work. So everyone within the team that you’re working in, getting them to buy into your work, thinking that what you’re delivering is really great. And then, perhaps more importantly, the stakeholders that you are interfacing with across the business, making sure that they think you’re doing really good work. Because what’s the point in doing amazing work if no one thinks that it’s amazing?

This isn’t just in engineering, this is across, I would say, every profession. What most practitioners do is you’re really into what you’re doing, right? You’re really passionate about it. You want to do a great job. You work really hard to try and make it as good as possible, and you forget that everyone else around you who doesn’t do your job isn’t that interested. And so when you go and present your work, you go into the minutiae, you talk about all of the detail and the ins and outs of it all, and people don’t care. Actually, if you could grow your empathy skills, and empathy is half of emotional intelligence, if you can grow your empathy skills, you can start to understand what other people need, what their drivers are and what motivates them and what’s going to make them be like, “Yeah, that sounds great”, and then when you talk about your work, you communicate in a way that works for them, not just what you think makes you excited, cause they’re not going to share your excitement.

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah I do agree with you. So most engineers and techies, right? We are all passionate about building our stuffs, either writing the code, building good design, building great UIs, and things like that. But eventually, when you present your products, you think the stakeholders or the listeners are one of you, or one of us. Actually, at the end of the day, they don’t get what you do. So we cannot translate to the language that stakeholders understand. I think that’s where the struggle is.

[00:12:52] Emotional Intelligence

Henry Suryawirawan: And also you observe in the book that actually many of this kind of team issues, 70% you quoted, are due to lack of people skills. And then, according to also research from Stanford-Harvard study, 85% of job success comes from well-developed people skills. So what kind of people skills that you are referring to and why are they so essential?

Trenton Moss: Yeah, Yeah. I mean, if you’re going to break it down to its most simple, it is just emotional intelligence. Because the majority of people skills are derived from really good emotional intelligence. So people skills, things like your ability to resolve conflict. And conflict doesn’t mean a massive argument. It just means when you and someone else have a difference in opinion. So, conflict resolution. How to build really strong relationships with the people that you work with? How to build rapport? How to influence people so that they buy into the work that you’re doing? How to facilitate meetings and workshops so that you get to a good outcome? How to tell stories to bring your work to life so that, again, stakeholders buy into it? And all of these are examples of people skills. If your emotional intelligence is down at zero, you’re going to be useless to all of them. Whereas if your emotional intelligence is at a pretty high level, these people skills are going to come far more naturally to you, and with just a bit of guidance and kind of someone helping you with the know-how you can actually get very good at these people skills and be far more successful in your job.

Henry, you talk about the example from Stanford and Harvard. I just want to say it again cause it’s so important. 85% of job success is people skills. Tech leaders, we often hire people for their engineering capabilities and what they’ve done in the past, which is important. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is, are you able to interact well with people? Because 10 years ago and before, engineering was done in a very siloed way. In fact, all of product development was very siloed. Your BA wrote 200 page document of requirements, which no one really read, and then your BA would throw that to the designers. And the designers were like, “Well, I’m a creative, I can’t read 200 page document”. They would just create whatever they wanted. And then they’d throw their designs over the fence to the engineers who would be like, “Well, I can’t build this, so I’ll just make it however I can,” and products just failed. And, obviously, we now work in Agile, which is the far better way of working. But this means that the importance of working in a team, of being able to interface well with business stakeholders and your cross-functional team, is just amplified.

Henry Suryawirawan: You mentioned a good point there where previously traditionally before the agile trend, people used to work in silos. It’s like, throw over the wall kind of work. It is being passed down like a waterfall, from requirements to designers, developers, testers, and so on. People don’t talk. And now I think with the agile trend, people are working more inside a cross-functional team where there are different roles together in the teams. I think also that’s when the conflicts tend to arise because different roles tend to have different perspectives, right? So you bucket all this as emotional intelligence. I think it’s pretty large bucket. So you mentioned one is about empathy. Are there any other top, maybe two, three skills that you think are like important in the emotional intelligence?

Trenton Moss: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, emotional intelligence is about empathy, which is about your ability to understand where other people are coming from. But it’s also the second part of emotional intelligence is understanding yourself. Understanding the things that trigger you, because people are going to say and do things that frustrate, annoy, and upset you. That’s just life. We all communicate in different ways. There are four core communication styles. Some people will have the same communication style and you’ll enjoy interacting with them, and some people will have wildly different communication styles and you’ll struggle, potentially, with them.

Emotional intelligence. Half of it is about understanding yourself. So it’s the things that trigger you so you can control them. So you can understand, okay, I’m feeling annoyed here because that person did this, and they didn’t mean to annoy me. That wasn’t their intention. I’m being triggered here. And if you can learn to take control of those emotions, your relationship can potentially thrive with that other person. If you can’t, your relationship will go on a downward spiral, because you’ll be annoyed at them. They’ll pick up on your bad vibes and the relationship just goes downhill. So emotional intelligence, having empathy for other people, really understanding where they’re coming from. Why they’re communicating the way they’re communicating? And assuming the best of intentions in them, because other people always have the best of intentions. You may not like the way they talk or the way they behave, but their intentions are almost always honorable. Their objective is not to annoy you. It’s to get something done.

So number one with emotional intelligence. Empathize with other people. Number two, understand yourself, the things that trigger you, and also the impact you have on other people. So the way that you talk, the way you communicate, the way you behave, it will have a negative impact on some people that like to communicate in a different way. So a classic example is engineers. Engineers have a communication style that is generally very much around the detail. And most engineers are very, very into the detail, and that’s fantastic. As an engineer, we need you to be into the detail because you are working on some really complex products with hugely complex edge cases that need managing. We need you to be into the detail. However, many senior stakeholders, their communication style is more often around our big picture and the impact that’s being had. So when you go in as an engineer and you start communicating around all the detail, you’re going to rub other people up the wrong way because that’s not how they like to communicate. So really get to know yourself, how you like to communicate and the impact that can have on other people. It’s not always positive.

And then the third thing, which I guess is like an extension of those, is to always define a win-win outcome in everything that you do. So in every interaction you have with everyone you work with, be it within your cross-functional team or be it with stakeholders you’re interacting with, just finish two sentences. The first sentence is, " at the end of this interaction, I want them to <do, think or feel something>". So work out what you want out of that interaction. And then also, you’re going to finish the sentence, “at the end of this interaction, they want to <do, think or feel something>”. And then once you’ve worked out what you both want, the outcome you want, then just take a stand for a win-win. And in everything you do, obviously you don’t want to lose. You want to get the outcome that you want. But I would urge you to take an equal stand for getting the outcome you want and the outcome that the other person wants. And it is not acceptable for you to not get what you want and it is not acceptable for the other person to get what they want. They are both equally important, and the moment you start getting that clear in your head and going into all your interactions being like, I want you to win. I want to win, but I also want you to win and I’m going to take a stand for you winning as well as for me winning. You do that and you’re going to be so much more successful in your role.

Henry Suryawirawan: So you mentioned about assuming best intent, right? So I think this is one key theme or key mindset to have when you deal with other people. Because I assume these days, everyone in the team, nobody wants to create chaos or create mistakes, right? So always they have a good intention, but maybe they lack some perspectives or some different mindset, and hence they do what they do.

And I like the thing that when you explain about emotional intelligence. Yeah. I mean, people know we should try to understand others, empathize with others. But sometimes, we don’t understand ourselves better. Like what you mentioned, what triggers us? What kind of emotions? Maybe when you read some chats or hear the boss say something, you assume that they are blaming us, or you assume that this person is angry. While actually, all this probably is just in your mind, right? It’s just how they communicate that is different than you. So I really like the way you explained this, like, know other people, know yourself. And the last one is about win-win outcomes. So I think this is also pretty rare in a world where some people just want to be dominant and show they are more powerful than the others. Yeah, I really love the way you phrase it.

[00:20:45] 6 Key Skills

Henry Suryawirawan: So, in the book, you mentioned about six key skills. So you have mentioned some of them, but maybe if you can summarize, what are the six key skills that you want to advocate for digital leaders and tech practitioners here?

Trenton Moss: Yeah. Yeah. So six are conflict resolution, which is anytime you disagree with someone, how you get to that win-win outcome. And that, for me, is almost the foundational one. Because without that, if you’re not going to get win-wins, if you are going to end up losing or they end up losing, at least one of you is going to be annoyed. And that leads to deterioration in your relationship. So number one, conflict resolution.

Number two, building up strong relationships with people, knowing how to be like a master of building up relationships with people, how to build rapport, understanding the four different communication styles, so you can adapt how you communicate depending on the different person. So conflict resolution, strong relationships.

Third one is around leading and influencing. We no longer live in a world where leadership is hierarchical. Everyone should be a leader. No matter where you sit in a hierarchy, you should be a leader to the people that report into you. You should be a leader to your peers, and you should be a leader to the people that are more senior than you. So kind of leading and influencing people is incredibly important, you know, towards win-win outcomes, right? Not towards you winning and them losing. Towards everyone winning. So conflict resolution, strong relationships, leading and influencing.

And the last three: facilitation, storytelling, outbound comms. So facilitation, obviously, getting the group towards the outcome that you all want to get to. Again, a win-win outcome. I think I’ve said win-win about 3000 times already. But it’s kind of the core of all of this. If you just remember one thing, if you’re listening, just remember win-win. The only two words you need to remember. So yeah, facilitation, making sure you get the group towards that win-win outcome. Storytelling, which is one of the most important influencing techniques. If you want to get people on your side, you’ve got to start getting good at storytelling. And finally then outbound comms, which is about the way you present yourself or the way you write. Cause obviously a lot of comms is done through written chat now, through team chat, Teams and Slack. So making sure that you are communicating in a way that works for other people.

Henry Suryawirawan: Thanks for mentioning all these. I repeat one more time. Conflict resolution, strong relationships, leading and influencing, facilitations, storytelling, and outbound communications.

[00:22:58] Win-Win Outcome

Henry Suryawirawan: I hear you. You have mentioned about win-win outcome, almost like, I don’t know, few thousand times, right? If I’m not wrong, it is also one of the 7 habits. If anyone has read about the book, “7 Habits” from Stephen Covey, one of the habit is actually also creating win-win outcome. I’ve read your book and I can see you mentioned about this outcome in all six key skills, actually. Maybe tell us more, elaborate further why we should always think about the outcome first, and it should always be win-win? And how can we always have this mindset every time we probably deal with other people?

Trenton Moss: It’s a great question. The keyword that you use in your questionnaire is the word outcome. We get so bogged down in the detail and thinking, “I need X to happen because if X happens, then I’m going to be happy”. And then someone else thinks, “Well, I don’t want X to happen because I think Y should happen”. And you end up, again, disagreeing potentially in the relationship deteriorating. And actually, if you both just took a step backwards and say, “Okay, hold on, hold on, hold on. X is just a means to an end and Y is a means to an end. What is the end? What is the outcome that we want here?” And if someone says, “Well, I think we need to have the solution Y”. Then you move to the question why? As in W-H-Y. The five whys technique. Okay, why is it you need that? And you get to the crux of it. Okay, that’s what success looks like for you. The stakeholder within the business, they’re saying like, I just want you to put this live in this product. Do it this way. Which often happens to people working in products. If you’re an engineer, like build it, monkey, it’s almost like that attitude, right? I just want it this way. Just build it and don’t ask questions.

And, actually, what engineers and designers and product managers should ideally be doing is saying, “Well, tell me more why you want that. What’s the outcome you’re trying to get to?” And if you can always be working at a level of outcomes, it’s like, “Well, you want this outcome, I need this outcome. How do we make that win-win?” And then you work backwards from there to define actually how it’s going to happen to get you there. And that’s a far better way of working than just three people coming to a meeting, all with their own ideas of what they think should happen, and then just like arguing about whose idea is best. Far better, start from the outcome, make sure everyone’s happy with it, that everyone wins with that outcome, and then you just work backward.

[00:24:59] Conflict Resolution & PLEASE Framework

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah. I love what you’re saying. For engineers and techies, we always love to go to the solution, instead of probably the problem itself. That’s the first thing, right? And what will be the outcome that we want to achieve together? So one challenge normally when people don’t have this mindset. Like when we’re dealing with other people who are in this mode, how can we actually invite them to actually start thinking about outcome? Knowing that there are different styles of personalities here.

Trenton Moss: It’s a great question. Again, this is kind of conflict resolution, essentially. Because senior stakeholder, you are just telling me what to do and from my perspective as, say, an engineer or a tech lead, that doesn’t work for me. I want to be working more towards outcomes so I can work within my team and use our expertise to get to the best possible outcome.

The way to do it is to kind of go through a kind of conflict resolution approach. So in the book I talk about the PLEASE process, which is a process you can easily follow, where essentially, again, win-win is at the core of it, right? Obviously. So I haven’t said the words win-win in like a minute, so I feel I have to say them again. But win-win is at the core. You never make the other person wrong because you always assume the best of intentions, right? You don’t like what they’re saying. You don’t like that they’re being pushy about trying to make you do this, but you assume the best of intentions. You will never make them wrong. And in the PLEASE process, essentially, after the problem is stated, which is the P, you just listen and explore and you just really get into the detail of why they’re trying to get to where they want to get to.

Something I talk about in the book, which in my training courses I talk about quite a lot, which seems to resonate with people, is you just imagine the other person’s head is a glass bowl. So no fish in it, just their head is a glass bowl. And imagine it’s full of water. Now if you try and speak every time you speak, you’re putting more water in that goldfish bowl. So what you want to do is you want to let them drain that goldfish bowl. Just let them talk about all the things they want to do, where they want to get to. Keep listening, keep exploring, validate what they’re saying. Cause even though you disagree a lot and you want to argue with them, just validate them. And then, once they’ve emptied that goldfish bowl, they’re ready for more water to go in. And then you can put across your point of view, and you don’t need to argue, and you must never make them wrong. And, again, you want a win-win outcome, as I keep saying. You say, “Okay, so here’s the outcome I’d like to get to. Sounds like you want this outcome. I need this outcome”. And that’s it. That’s all you need to say.

In a conflict, the worst thing you can do is speak a lot and try and like push your point home. It’s so much better just to listen. Don’t disagree with them at all, just listen. And then put your point of view across. The opposite of agree is not disagree. The opposite of agree is I don’t agree, and that’s a really important difference because even though you don’t agree with them, it doesn’t mean you have to disagree. So let them. Do your listening. Do your exploring. Let them talk as much as they need to drain that goldfish bowl. And then very succinctly the A of PLEASE is articulate what success looks like for you. Really short, really succinct. And then say I want a win-win solution. You’re telling me you need this, and this. Cause you’ve been speaking for the last 10 minutes, so I know this. I just told you very succinctly in two sentences that success for me is this. What should we do? How do we come up with a win-win solution, then?

When you listen to someone, you show empathy. You reflect back the things they’re saying. You validate them. It is amazing how they move away from a position of entrenchment. Because when you respond that way, you’re not disagreeing. As soon as you disagree, they get kind of entrenched in their thoughts, as do you, as do we all. So if you just stop disagreeing and instead start validating and listening and then say what you need to get to success, I want a win-win outcome, it’s amazing what opens up and how the conversation changes. This is one of the core things I do in the training programs I run, and it’s amazing the stories I hear back of people with difficult stakeholders, how suddenly it’s just so much better.

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah, so the term difficult stakeholders, or difficult colleagues to work with, difficult peers, difficult clients. We have heard it multiple times in our work, right? Difficult people.

Trenton Moss: Maybe you are the difficult person. Maybe they’re not difficult. Maybe it’s the way you are behaving and you are communicating that’s triggering them, making them upset, angry or annoyed, or any type of negative emotion, and then that comes back in terms of their communications. So maybe it’s you. There’s no such thing as a difficult client or a difficult stakeholder or a difficult colleague. There are people who you will find it more challenging to work with, but with patience and with following some of these processes, you can get there.

Henry Suryawirawan: You mentioned about this conflict resolution, right? I think many people, also from my observation, including me myself last time, we had struggles. Everyone I think struggles with conflict resolution. That’s why we always deem other people difficult to work with. I think it’s also because of partly we are not trained well enough, maybe from childhood, from school. We are not actually taught how to resolve conflicts. Every time there’s a disagreement or something, the teacher will just say, Okay, you shut up or behave. And then, yeah, that’s why we don’t know how to resolve all this.

[00:29:54] Improving Conflict Resolution Skill

Henry Suryawirawan: You mentioned also in a conflict resolution, there are two types of people. One is the one who pushes so hard about their agenda, and the other one may be feeling lost. They will just keep quiet. So tell us more, how can people train their conflict resolution skill if they are not well taught since, maybe the education?

Trenton Moss: Well, well, Henry, no one’s conflict resolutions are well-taught in education. It just doesn’t exist. And for me, it’s madness. And I genuinely believe that this is like my vision. I’m really passionate about this stuff. Like if emotional intelligence and empathy were taught in schools from young, from four, five years old onwards, and if that was a core part of the curriculum, just imagine what the world would be like. Just imagine what it will be like going to work every day with people that were willing to collaborate, and just imagine the reduction in stakeholder politics. So yeah, it’s not modeled well at all. We have very few good role models when we were kids growing up into it.

But to answer your question, what can people do given that background? It’s read books and go on training courses, essentially. And you are right. You’ve got, I guess, the extremes. Two different extremes of people. Someone who will just, “Right, I’ve got to win this conflict. I’ve got to win this debate. I’m going to just keep talking, put my point of view across and I’m not going to back down.” And they probably get win-loses a lot, right? Where they win, the other people lose. But to be honest, they lose as well because no one likes them and no one buys into the things that they’re telling everyone to do. So no one’s going to work particularly hard or try and do a good job on it. So you end up losing, anyway. So even if you think you win, it’s not a good outcome for you. And then the opposite extreme is obviously someone who stays very quiet, never stands up for themselves and then someone else just railroads them. And so it’s win-lose again. The other person wins, they lose.

And both of these are bad outcomes. And, again, going back to the win-win, everyone takes a stand for win-win. So if you are someone who’s a bit more pushy, tries to kind of a bit more assertive, tries to always get your point of view across, you’ve just got to stop. And you’ve got to listen and you’ve got to tell yourself, it doesn’t matter about the execution. All I need is the outcome. And you’ve got to really ask yourself, what is the outcome I want? At the end of this, I need X to happen. And that’s all you’ve got to care about. You’ve got to get your head out of all of the details. Just I need this outcome. How do we work together to get to that outcome? What’s the outcome you need? Is that the same? How do we get there? So you just got to pull yourself back and focus on the outcome.

Now, if you are then the opposite extreme and you are more the person who’s a bit quieter, a bit more cooperative, and perhaps doesn’t get your way, to be honest, you don’t need to change very much. So the other person’s talking, you do your listening. Make sure they know you’ve understood. Let them drain the goldfish bowl, which they’re probably doing anyway, cause you might be quite quiet. And then all you got to do is say one or two things at the end. It’s just what I was saying before. All you got to say is, “Okay, so you feel A, B, C and you are saying X, Y, Z. Have I got that right?” “Yes.” Okay. And then you just need to say, “For me, I need to get to this outcome. How do we get a win-win?” It’s just one sentence. It’s one extra thing you need to say. And you might need to be courageous to do that if you’re someone who shies away from conflict a lot. But all you got to do is say it once, and it’s out there, and then the other person knows they need to get to a win-win.

Henry Suryawirawan: I think that’s a great tip for both sides, right? For people who like to push hard for their agenda, and also for people who tend to keep quiet. So thanks for sharing all this.

[00:33:10] Active Listening

Henry Suryawirawan: You mentioned a few times about listening. I think it’s also one of the key traits these days for leaders, for people, to always have a good listening skill. And you mentioned about active listening in your book. Tell us more about this technique, active listening. What is active listening, actually? And what is the impact of doing active listening?

Trenton Moss: Huge. It’s probably the most important skill you can have in the modern workplace. Everyone likes to be listened to. It feels good having someone listening to you. And what active listening does is, it’s about you playing an active role in the conversation while the other person’s talking. So the sort of things you can do when the other person’s talking is nod, to show that you’re there. You can kind of grunt, go “mm”. But then when the other person finishes talking, there are two really powerful things you can do.

First one, you can paraphrase what they said, almost like repeat back to them what they just said to show that you’ve listened. Now you must never repeat verbatim what they said. So if they say like, “Okay, and I need this product to be live in three weeks' time”. You say, “Okay, you need it live in three weeks' time”. That doesn’t show you’ve listened. That just shows that you’ve heard. So you have to take their words and rephrase it and then say it back to them to show that you’ve listened. It’s like, I don’t know, Henry, if you were naughty in school and you were misbehaving, and the teacher says to you, “Henry, stop misbehaving. What did I just say”? And you can always repeat back the last few words of what they said. You weren’t listening, but you heard it. So it doesn’t feel good. So the first thing you can do with active listening, one of the first things you can do, paraphrase back to them. Tell them what they said, repeating it back to them, but in your own words. That shows you’ve listened.

But then you can take that upper level to show that you’ve understood. And the way that you do that is you reflect back the impact that this has had on them or that this is having on them. So the senior stakeholder goes, “I need to get this live. We got three week deadline. Loads are riding on this, blah, blah, blah”. You can say, “Oh wow, you’ve obviously got loads riding on this,” or like, “Wow. Okay. I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but yeah, this sounds really stressful for you with the CEO putting all this pressure on you.” Or whatever you’re comfortable saying, right? You’re not going to go too deep into people’s feelings often in a work context, but you want to talk a little bit about the impact on them and verging a little bit on the feeling. Because then that person will feel understood. And it is astonishing that if someone feels listened to and understood, everything opens up. Like that entrenched position they might have had, it just goes. And then they’re going to be so open for a win-win solution and they would’ve ended their fishbowl in a really nice way, and they’ll be ready to have more water put on top. They’ll be more open to different viewpoints. But you’ve got to listen and empathize first and be an active participant in that conversation while they’re talking.

Henry Suryawirawan: Wow! When I even hear you simulating this, for people to be listened and understood, it’s really powerful. Because I think we are all human, we want to be listened and we want to be understood. I think it touches us to the core, and I think this technique, hence, is very important.

And I like the way you mention also listening and hearing is kind of like similar, but they’re actually not the same. So for some people who learn about listening, right? So sometimes, yeah, people say that you should repeat back what you hear, but, actually, it is sometimes annoying, right? When you said something and the other person just repeat back what you said.

Trenton Moss: It’s like a robot.

Henry Suryawirawan: It’s like passive aggressive also sometimes. But the key for you is like paraphrasing it. So don’t repeat the same sentence, but actually try to paraphrase that. And one level up is actually to include the empathy, the emotion part that you actually understand the other person. The other thing that I learned about conflict resolution from what you mentioned is don’t try to make the other person wrong. So your job is not to make yourself win, but try to find, again, win-win outcome.

[00:36:50] Strong Relationships

Henry Suryawirawan: Let’s move on to the second skill, which is about strong relationships. You also have a very interesting framework, MASTER framework. First of all, why do we need to build strong relationships? I think maybe it’s kind of like common sense, but maybe if you can explain what strong relationship here means?

Trenton Moss: Good relationships are everything. So within your team, if you want to be a high-performing team, you’ve got to have really strong relationships. I mean, there was that famous Google study many years ago now, where they spent two years, looking at their best performing teams and, I guess, the worst performing teams, and trying to work out what is it these highest performing teams all have in common. And they thought maybe it’s the skill set that’s in there, the level of experience, whatever it might be. And what they found was really surprising to them. It was psychological safety. Those highest performing teams consistently had the highest levels of psychological safety, and for the lowest performing teams, it was the opposite.

So it’s all about building up these relationships and feeling that psychological safety with each other so that you feel confident and comfortable being able to put forward ideas, being able to criticize what someone else is saying, and being able to contribute. And doing all of those things, everyone’s going to accept what you say. No one’s going to ridicule you or belittle you. You’re okay to do those things. You get those strength of relationships in the team. You’re going to get that psychological safety, and the team becomes high performing.

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah, so I think many people would have listened psychological safety. We know the term these days, but maybe not many really understand what is psychological safety, right? So I think here what you mentioned is that, yeah, people need to be able to put forth their ideas, express their ideas, including maybe things that they don’t understand or maybe the mistakes that they did. So without having some fears of other people will retaliate or be angry or blame them. So I think that’s really important.

[00:38:43] MASTER Framework

Henry Suryawirawan: So you have this MASTER framework. Tell us more, what are some of the key things in MASTER framework for this building strong relationship?

Trenton Moss: Yeah. Yeah. So the way it works is the M and the A of MASTER stand for map out people’s communication style, and then adjust your communication style. There are four core communication styles, which are director, thinker, socializer, relator. I mean, to be honest, it’s a whole other podcast to kind of explain what they all are. But, essentially, there are four different styles and you’ve got to work out what everyone’s core communication style is. Once you learn about them, it’s not that hard to work out what people’s styles are, and then you just have to adapt your communications to fit to them.

One example could be engineers will often have the communication style thinker, not always, but often, and that’s kind of in the detail. Really like to kind of deep work, like to think things through, quite introverted. If you are an engineer and you’re having to communicate with a stakeholder, and, let’s say, that stakeholder is the opposite communication style of you, which is called socializer, which is much more big picture thinking, enthusiastic, full of ideas. You go in and just like go on about the minutiae, it’s going to rub them up the wrong way. And instead, what you do is you go in and you say I’ve done all of this work, and here is how it’s going to help you achieve those big picture goals. So you’re going to spend almost no time talking about the work. You’re just going to talk about how it helps to achieve these big picture goals, and then you’re going to build up a good relationship with that person. Cause they’re like, “Yeah, I like what you’re doing here”. So that’s the first part of master the M and the A is map out their communication style and adjust your communication style.

So, in theory, all your relationships should be great, right? Cause you’re all adapting how you speak to the right people. But it doesn’t always go that way. Negative behavior can creep in where people can make each other wrong, try and make themselves right, try in getting power. And it’s very important with negative behavior. That’s the S and the T of the MASTER framework, which is suppress your own negative behavior. Like I said, you’ve got to become more self-aware. Understand what your negative behavior is. How you have a negative impact on others. And the T is to take ownership of difficult situations. So if someone else is displaying negative behavior to you, taking ownership of it and responding in an appropriate manner. Again, that’s quite a lot to talk about, but it’s all written about in the book. So then, again, in theory, your relationship should be great cause you’re adapting your communication style, and then if negative behavior creeps in, you’re doing something about it.

But sometimes, that negative behavior will creep in. It’ll be quite strong and you can’t do anything about it. And then you move on to the E and the R of the MASTER framework. And this is all about what you do afterwards, recovering from the aftermath of a difficult meeting or a difficult situation. And the E is about empathizing and assuming the best of intentions, which we’ve obviously spoken about already. The other person doesn’t have the objective to annoy or upset you. It’s not what they mean to do. And finally then reframe for strength and resilience. And this is about taking that difficult event and working through it and trying to understand what were the other stories I could tell myself from it. Cause I’m telling this story that stakeholder hated my work because they were rude to me. And, actually, the stakeholder might have really liked your work, but the stakeholder was still rude to you.

I love that last little part of MASTER because for so many of us, we think that strong relationship is about what you do when you are with the other person. And it is, that’s the big part of it. But also a decent chunk of it is what you do afterwards and how you react to those difficult situations. If you take on the burden of that difficult situation, you’re like, “Oh God, that went really bad. Oh God, that person was really rude to me”. And you just like have that, and then that happens again and again and again. Every day, you’re going to have difficult situations. That adds up 10 times, a hundred times, a thousand times. That becomes a really big burden. So the people with the strongest relationships, it’s not just what they do in the moment, it’s also how they react afterwards, and how they’re able to process what happened and reframe it to assume the best of intentions in the other person and not just be thinking about their bad behavior.

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah. I also love this reframing. When I read your book, I remember some trainings that I did last time about the powerful technique of reframing. So maybe the first thing for people who may not be familiar, what is reframing? So reframing helps to actually create alternate conclusions and stories from a difficult event. So imagine you have a certain conflict. Yeah, it’s a kind of like difficult situation. But you actually don’t reframe at that point in time, you actually reframe it maybe in your mind or maybe sometime when you reflect a difficult alternate situation. So it’s not exactly the same, but actually maybe, for example, using the other person’s hat why they behave that way. What makes them so upset? And sometimes, you can also use this not just in work, but also in personal life, maybe with your wife, maybe with your, whoever that is. And I think it’s really powerful.

The key for me is when I do that, is actually empathy, right? So trying to be in other people’s shoes and the other thing is like you then understand why maybe they do things a certain way. For example, maybe they’re tired, they’re upset about something, and that kind of like gives you a very good reflection for maybe the next time you deal with them. You can come up with a better win-win outcome again, win-win outcome.

Trenton Moss: Yeah. Yeah. It’s really right, and your example about, you know, wife and kids is a great one. Like, when you think about the example, one of your kids comes home from school and just shouts at you, just talks in a way that’s really rude, like shouty loud, not acceptable. So you could shout back and say, “Don’t talk to me like that”. But, actually, a far better way of doing this is to try and show some empathy, because probably your kids had a really hard day at school and have had to keep it all in. And when they get home, the only person or people they’re comfortable with letting it out is their parents. So, again, you can reframe that situation and be like, “Okay, my kids shattered me. That’s not okay. I’m really annoyed”. Or you can say, You know what? My kid had a really hard day at school and my kid feels comfortable venting with me.

Now I’m not saying you should accept their shouting. But that’s how you reframe the situation. And then once everything’s calmed down, then you can go and talk to your kid and you use the PLEASE process where you listen and explore where they’re coming from. And then you say, the outcome I want to get to is where you are not shouting at me. The outcome I want to get to is where you are not rude at me. You’re not making them wrong for having shouted at you. You’re not telling them off or anything like that. What you’re doing, though, is you are explaining that the way you talked to me before is not okay for me and here’s the outcome I want to get to. How do we get to that outcome? And that is such a different conversation to reacting in the moment and shouting back and having a big argument.

Henry Suryawirawan: Wow! Great parenting tips here for those of you who are parents. Sometimes kids can actually frustrate us, so use this technique.

[00:45:05] 3 Categories of Negative Behaviors

Henry Suryawirawan: So you mentioned in the MASTER, S, suppress negative behaviors. I think there are three categories that you mentioned in the book. I think this is really important to probably explain to people. Because sometimes in the heat of the moments, we tend to have negative behaviours, but we don’t actually understand, or we don’t actually realize that we have these negative behaviors. What are the three categories that we should avoid in this classification of negative behaviors?

Trenton Moss: Yeah. Yeah. So the three classifications I write about in the book are, yeah, making other people wrong, making yourself correct, and gaining power. So, again, particularly with the first two, if you really are going to seek a win-win, you’re not going to do those. To be honest, they do creep through those.

So, making other people wrong is criticizing what other people do, blaming them for things that have gone wrong, perhaps belittling them in meetings, and you may do that without meaning to. Making yourself correct is like getting defensive, justifying your opinions with very strong statements. Perhaps, playing one upmanship, always having an answer. And all of that is about picking yourself up. And the final one is about gaining power. And it’s things like, I mean, so many people do this, regularly being late for other people’s meetings. That is an example of gaining power. “So yeah, no, I’m very busy. That’s why I’m always late”. Well, why don’t you just always be on time? So, you know, regularly being late, interrupting people in conversation, being distracted during meetings, particularly on Zoom calls or Team calls. It’s always obvious when you’re doing something else. Especially if you wear glasses, by the way, we can see your screen changing in the reflection in your glasses.

So all of those things are not ideal behavior. We all exhibit negative behavior. Like my negative behaviors are very much in that kind of gaining power category. So, like my default behavior is to be late to meetings. I have to work very hard to be on time to meetings. It’s quite an interesting one. I hate it when people are late to meetings. I really hate it and I only hate it that much because I know it’s one of my negative behaviors and I know it’s something that I do. So if you can become aware of your negative behaviors, that’s one example of mine, I’ve got a few, then you can work on them, and you can like hold yourself accountable to them. And then ideally, you tell other people that you want to work and you want to get better at it and ask them to hold you to account.

Because there was an interesting study done about accountability and around goals. So if there’s something you want to do, so let’s just say, you know what, being late for other people’s meetings, it is disrespectful. They book time in. I’ve said, Yes. I’ve accepted the invite. I’ve committed to being there and I come in late. Even if I don’t like that meeting, it’s going to be a waste of time, I’m still committed to being there. Should be there on time. So then you say to a few other people, I’m going to be to every meeting on time. I’m making that commitment. And if I don’t, I want you to call me out on it. And the difference in terms of that being effective, if you don’t tell anyone that, you’ve only got a 10% chance of it happening. So if you think, you know what, I really should be on time to meetings, there’s only 10% likely that you’re going to do it. Whereas if you tell other people and you ask them to hold you to account, that increases to 65%.

So you got to be very brave to do this cause it’s admitting to people like the things you do that negatively impact others. But this kind of ties into what I was saying right at the start. You’ve got to know yourself. You’ve got to understand yourself. And then if you realize you’re doing things that are negatively impacting others, you’ve got to stop it. Because if you want to have really strong relationships with people, you’re not. If you’re doing all this negative behavior, it’s going to impact that. So do something about it. Be brave. You have to be brave and tell people I’m always late for meetings. Do you know what? I’ve been thinking about it. It’s not okay. Can you hold me to account on this and just tell me how I get on over the next few weeks? See if you notice whether I’m more on time to meetings.

Henry Suryawirawan: Thanks for the tips. So there are three categories of negative behavior. So, obviously, we should try consciously to understand when we behave negatively and try to suppress that. That’s part of your MASTER framework.

[00:48:47] Leading & Influencing & LEAD

Henry Suryawirawan: So, maybe, let’s move on to the third skill, leading and influencing. You also have a very unique framework here. It’s called LEAD. I mean, it’s kinda like obvious, right? Tell us more. You mentioned in the beginning, leadership is not actually a role. Everyone can be a leader.

Trenton Moss: Not anymore.

Henry Suryawirawan: So tell us about this concept.

Trenton Moss: Yeah, Yeah. No, you’re right. Because, historically, we lived in a very hierarchical corporate environment, where if you wanted anything done, you have to ask your boss, who would ask their boss, who would ask their boss, who would ask their boss. If anyone was having a bad day, that good idea got shut down. And then, the companies born in the internet era, you know, the likes of Amazon, Google, Facebook, and so on, have created new operating models, where decision making is now decentralized and it’s pushed down to the people on the ground because, hey, guess who’s got the best ideas? The people on the coalface, not the leaders in their ivory tower. So we all need to show leadership to each other, and yeah, as you say, I’ve got a framework that I talk about in the book, which is the LEAD framework.

So the L stands for look for the basics and get these right. It is astonishing how much we just annoy people around us and don’t do these basics. How we just aren’t aware of some of the things that we are doing, that are just frustrating people. Being late to other people’s meetings, not responding to their requests in a timely manner. Under communicating. There’s something called a Mere-exposure effect, which says that we only get used to an idea if we’re told it 10 to 20 times. So we might like send to a stakeholder, “Here’s the stuff. Can I get your feedback by next Thursday?” And then next Thursday comes around. They don’t reply and it’s always their fault. Look, look, I got the audit trail here. I sent them an email last week. It’s not their fault. We only get used to ideas if we get told 10 to 20 times. So I’m not suggesting you email that the stakeholder 10 to 20 times, but just sending one email and being like, brushing your hands off responsibility. “Well, I’ve told them that. It’s their fault if they don’t get back to me”. So it’s all these sort of things. We do a lot of over-promising and under delivering because we want to please people. There’s so much that we do that just is the basics. So you just got to get those basics right. That’s the start. And then you can kind of build on that.

So the LEAD frame is like a pyramid. The L is at the bottom, look for the basics, get this right, and then you’re building on that, establishing a great rapport. And there’re loads of things that you can do to establish rapport. If you’re not naturally good at it, it’s just a skill, you can learn it. And on top of that, then you amplify your impact and then on top of that, you delight stakeholders continuously. So amplifying your impact is around influencing and persuasion skills. Again, try and get that win-win outcome to really lead and inspire people around you. And then, finally, delighting stakeholders. And that’s about going above and beyond. So with all the stakeholders and everyone you work with, thinking what’s going on for them at the moment? What are they trying to achieve? What can I do to help just contribute to what they’re trying to achieve? It could be as simple as being like well they got to get this part of our product increasing in revenue by 10%. I know that’s their goal. Go online, look up a few articles and send them a couple of links. So I know this is your goal. I just found a couple links that I thought might be useful to you. And just doing small things that add value to people, it is amazing what that can do to your relationship.

[00:51:47] Overcommunication

Henry Suryawirawan: Thanks for this LEAD framework. So when you mentioned about the basics, right? I think many leaders tend to forget about these basics because they think it’s a basic. So one thing that always, sometimes, a struggle for me as well is about under-communicating, like what you mentioned. We always struggle with time. We always struggle with so many contexts, so many different priorities. We tend not to over communicate simply because we don’t have that time. But you are saying in your book, it’s almost impossible to over-communicate. So we always have to repeat and repeat, and you mentioned maybe 10, 20 times. And I think maybe this is worth to probably re-explain one more time for leaders out there who always struggle with different priorities, why we should over communicate? Maybe tell us more about this concept?

Trenton Moss: Yeah. Well, it’s like I said, it’s the Mere-exposure effect. We don’t get used to an idea until we’re exposed to it 10 to 20 times. Let’s just say you want sign off from a stakeholder about something. You maybe send them the pack or whatever it is that you want to them, and you wait a day. And if they didn’t get back to you, just mention saying, “Yeah, just want to check you’ve got it. Got any concerns? Yeah, just want to make sure everything’s okay.” And then if you don’t hear back a few days later, maybe try and set up a quick call with them or whatever it might be. Some different format just to kind of check in with them. It’s, basically, you’ve got to take responsibility for getting to the outcome. And you’re just saying, “Well, I told them that I needed that and they didn’t respond. It’s not acceptable.”

And by the way, if you’re listening, you are the same. You Henry, me. If you’re listening, you get requests from people all the time, which you forget about, because you only get exposed to that request one time, because they only tell you once and then you forget it. And then maybe they’ll send you a reminder so then you know, “Okay, well, I forgot about that. I’ll do that”. We all do this because especially in the modern world where there’s WhatsApp, there’s Slack or Teams, there’s email. The amount of communication channels is just overwhelming for most of us. We can’t keep up with it all. So please don’t expect that just one message is sufficient.

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah, I like your joke just now when you mentioned you see the audit trail, right? So see when I sent you this message X days ago, and you didn’t reply and you forgot, right?

Trenton Moss: Yeah, I’m right. You are wrong.

Henry Suryawirawan: So again, put your empathy here. Try to understand other people’s situations. Of course, if it happened continuously, then it’s a problem, right? But, I guess, if it’s once or twice, then I think we should probably just remind them. Over-communicate.

Trenton Moss: Yeah. But Henry, if it happens many times, then you’ve got a conflict and you start the PLEASE process. And you go in and say, “Here’s what’s going on. I’m sending you these things. I’m not getting a timely response from you. What’s going on? How do we get to a better outcome here?” And you listen and you explore where they’re coming from, and they might just say, “Do you know what? You keep sending me these really in-depth emails with all this detail, and it just doesn’t work for me. I don’t communicate in that way”. They wouldn’t use those words, but that’s often the core of it because you are communicating in a way that doesn’t work for them and it’s hard for them to process it, and they’re not wrong for that. So then you say, “Okay, it sounds like the way I’m communicating to you. Yeah, it’s just not working. It’s not what’s best for you. What would work better for you? What can I do to help us both get to this outcome?” And then the other person will hopefully tell you something. You come up with a solution. Do you know how deeply that other person is going to buy into that solution? Like so much. So that when you do it differently the next time around, the chances of them responding that time and doing it in a timely manner are so high because you work with them to get to a good outcome. You haven’t made them wrong.

Henry Suryawirawan: That’s a great tip, actually. So if it happened multiple times, go back to the conflict resolution. Use the PLEASE framework. So I think this book is really interesting. And so many other frameworks actually in the book. We haven’t touched on the other three key skills, right? You have the READY framework, you have the DRAMA framework, and you have the ABC framework. So for people who are interested to learn the other three skills, please go check out the book and maybe read and learn from there.

[00:55:36] 3 Tech Lead Wisdom

Henry Suryawirawan: This conversation to discuss about emotional intelligence, it will never end. But unfortunately, we have to wrap up. But before I let you go, I have one last question that I always ask to all my guests, which is to share your version of three technical leadership wisdom. Think of it like an advice for listeners here to maybe learn from your experience or your expertise.

Trenton Moss: Yeah. Yeah. So three things. To be honest, it’s kind of what we’ve spoken about. I would probably say is number one, know yourself, understand the impact that you have on other people. Number two, empathize with other people. Assume the best of intentions of them all the time. And then number three, in every interaction you have, always define a win-win outcome as soon as possible so that everyone knows what success looks like.

Henry Suryawirawan: I almost kind of guessed that you will mention this win-win outcome, and there it is. The third wisdom. We hear it one more time. Win-win outcome. So thank you so much, Trenton, for this conversation. If people want to check out further with you or discuss maybe about your book or your techniques, is there a place where they can find you online?

Trenton Moss: Yeah, LinkedIn’s probably best and one of the benefits of having an unusual name is that I’m quite easy to find on LinkedIn. There’s actually, there’s another Trenton Moss in Salt Lake City, America, who’s a network engineer. So that’s not me. I’m Trenton Moss. I do what I do and I’m in London.

Henry Suryawirawan: So thank you so much, Trenton, for this conversation. I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot. So hope you have a great luck with transforming all people to have a better people skills and emotional intelligence.

Trenton Moss: Brilliant. Thanks, Henry.

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