Jean Marie DiGiovanna: Stop Talking and Start Asking (Ep. #15)

Published on
March 31, 2020
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Building Better Managers Podcast Episode #15:  Stop Talking and Start Asking

Recent events have changed business and personal life in a matter of weeks. The world has moved to practicing physical/social distancing, and working remotely. At BetterManager, we are trying to use our experience to support our clients, customers, and the world, so we decided to invite a very special guest, Marc Lesser, to talk about how to find solid ground in times of uncertainty.

In this episode:

Meet Jean Marie DiGiovanna

  • Bio & Background
  • The genesis of Stop Talking and Start Asking

The Principles of Rennaisance Culture

  • Ask a New Question
  • Honor the Diversity of Ideas
  • Connect to Innovate
  • Act with Accountability
  • Magnify the Value of Your Ideas

The Power of Questions

  • Having the right tools.
  • Not enough leaders are trained as coaches.
  • Great coaching is about listening.
  • The more you know about your team members, the more you know what motivates them, the more you know what engages them (and the more you know what ticks them off), the better you can all work together.

Psychological Safety & Diversity

  • The elements of authenticity.
  • How can we as leaders & managers create a space for our team to bring all of themselves to work.
  • A psychologically safe space to say, "Hey, this doesn't work for me." So one of the suggestions and that that's in the book is, how can you as a manager, create forums where you get your team together to literally allow them to speak their truth of what's going on.
  • Without trust, as a leader or manager, we're nowhere we cannot do anything without that trust.
  • We have to be careful as managers not to immediately go to solutions.


  • Tips for improving one-on-ones: changing environments, movements,
  • Appreciating team members.
  • Creating a culture of play for innovation.

Downloads & Resources

Follow Jean Marie on LinkedIn and at JeanMarieSpeaks.com.

Subscribe to our podcast on your favorite podcast platform!

Check out our blog articles on Leadership here.

About Jean Marie DiGiovanna

Jean Marie DiGiovanna is an international keynote Speaker, corporate educator and certified executive coach who is passionate about helping people think and lead differently. She is a master of experiential learning with over 25 years of experience speaking and consulting on leadership, communication and team effectiveness.

Jean Marie's programs are highly engaging and content-rich, with tools leaders and their teams can apply immediately to succeed. In true Renaissance Spirit, when Jean Marie isn’t working, she is busy traveling the world, working in her art studio, skiing fast or dancing to live Latin music.

View the episode transcript

Wendy Hanson: It is so wonderful to have you all here with us today. I've been getting such great feedback that people are taking what we talked about and putting it into action. And that's what we want to do on this podcast. And so it is just tremendous that I'm able to share some wonderful things with you today because of a great guests that I have. And I'm going to tell you a little bit more about Jean Marie did Giovanna, I'm not so good at my Italian So I hope that was good enough, but Jean will correct me if that's not right, Jean Marie, Jim Murray, by the way, we've known each other for quite a while. So it's just delightful that when I can bring people on that I know everything they're saying is true authentic, and they've been there done that. So let me tell you a little bit about her before I bring her in. Jean Marie dg Ivana is an international keynote speaker, corporate educator, and certified executive coach who is passionate about helping people think and lead differently. She is a master of experiential learning, and has been speaking and consulting on leadership, communication, and team effectiveness for 25 years. Jean Marie's programs are highly engaging and content rich, and I've been to many and I know that with tools for leaders and their teams that they can apply immediately to succeed. In true a renaissance spirit, which you'll hear more about. When Jean Marie isn't working. She is busy traveling the world, working in her art studio, skiing fast or dancing to live Latin music. So welcome Jean Marie.

Jean Marie DiGiovanna: Thank you. It's great to be here, Wendy.

Wendy: Yes, I was so intrigued with your book I saw when it just came out. And I said, Oh, that's right up our alley, a better manager, you know, we want managers and their teams to just really be the best they can be. And we know from having done a lot of research, Google project oxygen, that coaching skills and asking questions are really so fundamental. And it's the thing that people need the most. So I was so excited to be able to bring your knowledge into this so that we can spread the word so what moved you you're an executive coach, but what moved you to write this book start, stop talking and start asking I love the title. Stop talking and start asking.

Jean Marie: Yes. Well, the book as you know, many of us experienced as business owners, there's many books inside of us and I was, you know, for Yours thinking there's a few books inside me and but what actually inspired this one was, as I was, I've been in business for 20 years doing corporate training, doing speaking. But in a way, I've always been doing courses on Team effectiveness, leadership coaching, but I thought, What's the thing that is consistent across everything I do? And what are the consistent tools I provide leaders and their teams? And I realized there are actually a set of questions that I bring into almost every course I do. And I thought, well, if if these I'm bringing them in, they seem to be working really well. I hear great feedback on them. How can I package these up and make them available to the masses, so that I, you know, I, we can't be everywhere at every, you know, moment in time. So this is a way that I could package it up and make it available. So in a way, it's kind of like Having my course in your back pocket. But it's a resource. And I really wanted to make it just like your program is here is practical. I want something someone can read and do something with immediately.

Wendy: Yeah, I love that about the book. It's so easy to read. I put little stickies in like every other page. Oh, this is a good point. This is a good point. Because even coaches that are out there, you know, when you hear things and frame things a different way. And the way you've bucketed them, I think is really very powerful. And you came up with Renaissance culture, like what is Renaissance culture? And how do you know if you're fostering Renaissance culture in your organization?

Jean Marie: Yes, as several years ago, actually, when I had thought about writing this book, I was also looking at again, what's my message? What's the thing that's consistent in everything I do, and the term Renaissance Coming through not only because, you know, people have said, Oh, you're a renaissance woman, and I'm like, what does that mean? And so I started researching the Renaissance as a period and also the leaders of that time and started noticing some qualities and characteristics that they brought to that period. It was a period of rebirth, and a period of invention and innovation. And so what I started to do was create what I call the five core Renaissance principles. And these principles are principles that show up in your culture, and they're also principles that leaders can possess. So how do you know you have a renaissance culture is one, people are asking questions they don't normally ask. So they're asking new questions. They're honoring the diversity of ideas, as opposed to judging them and you know, right away, right. They're making new connections that lead to innovation because so Often our departments are so siloed, we miss out on all the opportunities to bring other kinds of people into our discussions to help create new ideas. The fourth principle is acting with accountability. It's not just taking action, but it's being responsible for your actions. And then the last one is magnifying the value of ideas, meaning, you have a great idea. Your department implements it. How is that idea being magnified and leveraged across the organization and even across the industry? Because again, we innovate but it's in these pockets. And so when I say when these five core principles exist, is what I call having a renaissance culture. And the book is talks about fostering these kinds of things inside your culture.

Wendy: And give us the five again, cuz you're a PDR. Don't miss them.

Jean Marie: Sure. But number one is ask a new question.

Wendy: Ask a new question? Yeah, because that's people get stuck, right asking the same old thing of you eggs in the hollow?

Jean Marie: Yeah. Okay. I'm honored. Oh, yeah, set number two is honor the diversity of ideas. It's actually honored the diversity, but I happen to say ideas, perspectives, people, you know, you can replace ideas with a lot of things,

Wendy: Right? And make sure that you have that diversity on your team. Right? And that this is the only you know, we I remember a story from when I was in my 20s. And I was first hiring people and I had an HR consultant. And she said, you know, that everybody you're bringing in kind of looks like you even they're both, you know, young blondes that are this and that and it's like, oh my god, I never realize that. And so I learned about this diversity. Thank god very young, like find people that are different. Find people that have different backgrounds. So diversity of ideas was number two. Great. What's number three.

Jean Marie: Number three is Connect to innovate.

Wendy: Connect to innovate, say more what you mean by that.

Jean Marie: That, or what I mean is when we, it's kind of like, how can you connect to disparate things to create new ideas? So for example, one of the exercises I do in my talks is think about something you love to do outside of work, right? What's the quality of that thing that you love so much? And how can you bring that quality inside work?

So for example, one woman I worked with is she loves to bike ride, for example. And I said, well, what's the quality of that that you love? And she said, it's the freedom, you know, the freedom of just going, going wherever I want to go. And I said, Well, how can you bring the quality of freedom more into your work? And she started thinking of ideas like I could look at having a four day workweek, could work part time at home. So then then from those ideas, she was able to talk to her manager and say, Okay, what can we you know what's possible here, right? So we connected something outside of work to something in work, which we don't normally think of doing. So what I mean by make new connections Connect, to actually innovate, to create new ideas.

Wendy: I love that concept. And it's such an important piece for managers to be aware of when they do one on ones when you get to know someone personally, and you can say, so what would you do today if you were riding a bike as we're working on this project, you know, so it's a wonderful cue for people.

Jean Marie: Number four is act with accountability. And I believe with accountability is critical, as you know, working with so many managers, right, it's accountability is one of the biggest sore points right the thorn In our side, like how do we actually enable our people to be accountable? So that's, that's the fourth one. And the the other important piece of that is taking action. Right? Just taking that next step.

Wendy: Yeah, to be accountable.

Jean Marie: And number five and number five is magnify the value meaning magnify the value of your ideas, the value of your accomplishments of the information you have, how can you take that idea, that piece of information and leverage it and make it available to more people so that you can start to streamline in your across teams across departments? And even across team members, right we there's so much incredible knowledge that doesn't get shown it's not exposed because we don't share it enough. Yeah, so magnify it.

Wendy: Yeah. I think when something great happens magnify it. Yeah. Exactly. Other people are going to be able to see how do I model this man and make it ask good questions of Wow, what? What made you think of that approach to this?

Jean Marie: Yeah? And who else could this benefit? What other groups or departments could use this information? Or who else could we build this for? Right? What other target markets? So there's so many ways and questions you can ask to help magnify your own ideas and what you're doing within your own team. Yeah.

Wendy: And we come back to really the premise of your whole book, which is the power of questions. So when we talk about how can the power of questions transform a team and a culture and, and what have you noticed in your 25 years experience, both like leading groups coaching, leading workshops that this is something that is so it's missing right now and we need more of it?


Jean Marie: Yes, it is. Surely is missing. And I believe the reason it's missing is we just don't have the tools. It's not that we don't want to. But when you think about it, not every leader is trained as a coach. Right? And you and I know that coaching skills is it's not about the coaching, it's about the listening. And it's about the listening that then informs you of the next question to ask. So, you know, it's kind of like, we all know that the the model of command and control, the model of top down approach is no longer working in companies. And so the power of questions gives leaders these tools to get more curious to learn more about who is working with me on this who is on my team, because the more you know about your team members, the more you know what motivates them. The more you know what engages them, the more you know what ticks them off, the better you can all work together. And so it's but like you said, it's difficult because we keep wanting to fill the space with talking. It's just our natural we want to tell people what to do. It's much easier to tell someone what to do. But actually, in the long run, it does not benefit us because it doesn't allow us to then grow and move on and it doesn't allow them to think for themselves.

Wendy: Yes, we are a society of tele-holics. And it is a hard habit to break. Because I hear this from so many managers. We've coached over 1700 managers now. And I'm sure all my coaches would say the same thing that people are like, it's much quicker if I just go tell them what to do. But then I had a I had one person that I coached a very senior leader who We had this like visual of what it was like, even though he was working with so many people remotely, it's like one person at a time taking the ticket at the butcher counter coming up to the desk and next question, and what would happen if you coach them the first time, and maybe the second time, they may not show up your desk at the third time. But you need to know that if we just keep telling people what to do. And we don't ask the right questions. And I, I'm big into as coaches, we need to ask the right questions. But we also have to know when to say, let's brainstorm this together. Like I've been, you've been doing this work for 25 years, you know a lot about business. And there are some new managers or even middle managers that we work with when we coach them that you know, you've got to share some like, here's an idea how would you make this your own? Yeah, but still that that whole question piece is, is critically important. Another piece you talked about in the book that I just love is authenticity on the job and Part of that for me is that as managers, we need to create a safe space for people to share, you know, their authenticity without being judged today we call it psychological safety a lot, you know, how do we show up as who we are and make it a safe place? Tell me more about that. How do people get to that place if they're serious about it?

Jean Marie: Yes. And, you know, I think more and more. That kind of ties with diversity too, is when we're not honoring the diversity then people don't feel they can bring all of themselves to work. And when I talk about authenticity, there's two pieces. One is how can we as leaders, managers create a space for our team to bring all of themselves to work and that means, the parts of them they feel may not even be like they may disagree with an idea or they may not like the What they're being asked to do, that it's actually safe, like you said, psychologically safe to say, hey, this doesn't work for me. So one of the suggestions and that that's in, in the book is, how can you as a manager, create forums like, I just call them an open forum, where perhaps even once a quarter at the very least you get your team together to literally allow them to speak their truth of what's going on. And a lot of that is in the questioning the facilitation of that. You as a manager to be able to ask the questions of, you know, what's been taking up your mind space that's stopping you from being productive? Or you know, what's been, what have you been hesitating to share? for fear of repercussion or being judged or not being a team player, like we get an opportunity right now in the next hour or two? Just share it no judgment. Nothing happens from this meeting. And what's really important about these open forums is the first one, let it be a vent session, if it has to be, don't go in with how can we solve problems that will come. Because once people can feel they have the opportunity to vent, then the next time they come back together, they're going to be more more prone to want to solve problems. So we have to be careful as a manager not to not to immediately go to solutions. Because the first time you're creating these kinds of open forums, you want people to feel safe. You want them to know it's held in strict confidence, the information is not going anywhere. And we're not doing anything with it just yet, unless you want to write. So that really to me is one of the first steps and that question. Trust and we all know without trust, as a leader or manager, we're nowhere we cannot do anything without that trust.

Wendy: And I love how you speak about that it reminds me of in our personal relationships. Often, if you have a friend come to you, who is having a challenge, you need to just let them blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, because people need to verbalize and let go of things. And that and we cannot be in solving mode. You know, and we do that as a friend. We do that as a colleague, and we need to do it as a manager. You know, sometimes we just need to really listen and, and maybe empathize. Things like that, that are critically important.

I've done a similar exercise with a team that I didn't work with all the time. I was in doing a consultation, but I had them do this and I had them write things on sticky notes because they were kind of like I don't want to say anything. So you can do the same thing. Agree Put a put a window, we actually had a big window in the room. So we put the sticky notes of the things up there. So you can get feel heard. But yet, you don't have to totally own it. Because sometimes people will hold back. Absolutely. And I think you can do that in a team meeting to make it easier for people to let those things out. And then we'll come back to some of put them in, like, Oh my god, some everybody else had the same issue that I had. So you bucket them and then say, next time we're together, maybe we'll look at those and we'll deal with them.

Jean Marie: And sometimes you can do that in small groups within your team and they brainstorm and create the post it within the team. So that then when they come when when they're put all up on the board, there's less time to look at there's it takes less time to look for duplications. But I love the idea of the post it so that people feel safe that they don't have to put their name to something they don't have to say it out loud. But it's there. It's all up there.

Wendy: And eventually you can get to we're saying it out loud. But yeah, we have to take babies Steps Yes. And that's a good way to take baby steps. Absolutely. One of the other chapters in the book that I loved is like the importance of creating a culture of play inside your organization. And one of the studies that you talked about was Price Waterhouse, Cooper said that 77% of CEOs name creativity as their biggest skill shortage, and isn't creativity and you know, this better than anybody as an artist is very related to play. So what can managers do to foster this kind of culture of play in an organization? And and know that this is related to productivity?

Jean Marie: Yes, right. Right. Separate it's not.

Wendy: It's not the ping pong table.

Jean Marie: I know I remember when I was reading this chapter. I thought to myself, play is a serious business. And that's what I wrote. It's like, what if we looked at play as serious business because, you know, if we take everything so seriously, all the time, we actually miss out on innovation and, and we we lack that engagement from our team. So a couple of things that I love and I do this in my own office is I know this sounds, you know, so simple but on your desk, what if you took colored paper and just rolled out colored paper onto your desk? Okay, and maybe Everyone has different colors of paper. And as you're working with people at your desk to brainstorm ideas, why not just right on top of your desk on the paper, right? It's, I did this part of why I think this is, believe it or not really important is when you're on the phone with someone, right? We have virtual calls all the time. And we can use our desk literally to write ideas, right. And what this actually does, psychologically is you actually come up with more ideas because you have space, it's right there. There's not thing stopping you, when I do encourage though, is when you're clearing that and getting a new piece, take pictures of this because there's lots of ideas and sometimes scribble and everything. So it does, it just brings a little more playing to the office. The other is, why not step outside of your office and, you know, go down the street and go to a park and do your brainstorm session, at the park or on on the grass or, you know, somewhere outside of your environment. The more you can step away, it helps you rejuvenate, and the more different environments that you're brainstorming in and that you're discussing conversations, having conversations and the more ideas you come up with, because you have different simulation.


Wendy: Yeah, there's there's, I don't know the exact studies but there's a lot of neuroscience behind this, about people doing their one on ones going out. for a walk, because if we have movement, and you and I have done, we're part of the National Speakers Association, right? A lot of speeches, if you're practicing a speech, and you do it while you're walking, there's some magical thing to that that it will be much easier to remember things because you've got it in. I think that's where the expression you get it in your bones come off. Yeah, yeah. So have that play out there, do cool things change the environment around. I'm forgetting the name of the book. But but one of my favorite people, which will come to me maybe by the end of this call, or maybe not says, if you're trying to solve a problem, like go to a museum, and look at the artwork, and think of the challenges and think of what that is, because when you change your environment, you can change the way you look at things you'll change your perspective, which is really, really important. Now, another I love so many of these chapters, and one of them was about acknowledging team members. My goodness, I think we have a terrible, terrible shortage in this whole world on acknowledgment and gratitude. You know, I have a, I have a personal thing about that that's very important. But what's the biggest mistake that you see managers making in acknowledgments? And how can they shift that?

Jean Marie: Yeah, one of the biggest mistakes that managers make we all make, we are, it's just part of human nature is we talk about the job they're doing, you know, we say nice job or great work or thanks for coming in early or Thanks for staying late. But you know what, that's actually not a true acknowledgement. And as you and I know, from our training with CTI, the coaches Training Institute, acknowledgement is really about acknowledging them for what it took for them to do that, their way of being so you know, instead of saying, Hey, thanks for staying late. You say, Hey, you know, thank you for, for, for the commitment, I acknowledge you for the commitment that you've made all week, by staying late. Or, you know, it really took a lot of confidence to speak up in that meeting, and share what was really on your mind. I appreciate that. Now, when you acknowledge who they're being guess what they're gonna do, they're gonna be more of that in the future. But to me, like in the book, I say, you know, nice job is like saying, nice shirt. I like your shirt. It's not the same.

Wendy: Know what you're going to know again, because you know what, they appreciate it

Jean Marie: When it lands and then it's done but you want your acknowledgement to actually land and then shift something and be able to inspire that behavior again. So it's it's really an in the book, there are definitely questions I have to think about on how to acknowledge them. Like, what did it take for them to do that? So yeah, that's just it's such a, it's such a big shift that doesn't take a lot of time to make on the job. We just have to be more conscious of it. It's,

Wendy: Yeah, and I love the way you explain it too, because it really is. You just got to get used to it. It's a habit. You know, we have a bad habit of saying, good job. It's a bad habit because it doesn't get anywhere. Nobody appreciates it. You know, if you say I love that you come in in the morning and you just brighten up this office when you walk around and say, Well, what am I going to do tomorrow? I'm going to come into that office and try to brighten things up again, because I built up my you know, oxytocin. got I got a dopamine hit from that because I was like, the neurotransmitters were like, Whoa, I did the right thing and I'm gonna do it again. And then the more you get acknowledged, the more it works and it doesn't have to be all the time but no different than that. Makes you know who you are and how you show up. Yeah. Now, if the world just got that message, right, it would be a better place. So the final one, I was so loving collaboration, and you gave an example, which I thought was great about random coffee, which is a global company based in France. And tell us about that concept of having coffee.

Jean Marie: I loved when I found this random coffee works with companies to implement programs within their company, for individuals to have a random coffee with someone else in the company. And we're talking someone in a completely different department, right? So you know, if I'm an operations or if I'm in sales, how much do I actually work with someone in, you know, let's say if I'm in sales, how much do I work with someone? You know, of course, I shouldn't say sales. They do work with a lot of people but you know, customer service. person works with a legal person, like, how often is that going to happen? But here's the thing a random coffee happens, they get together with coffee for coffee. And they learn more about what each other is up to. And guess what they can do, they can help solve each other's problems in different ways, because they are not used to each other's, you know, day to day activities. So a lot of this goes back to that principle I mentioned earlier, connect to innovate is make new connections, you know, back in the Renaissance metaphor, he would bring together artists, engineers, scientists, philosophers and brainstorm ideas, because he knew that when you get these different minds together, new ideas come up. And so that's what random coffee literally does inside organizations. And companies hire them to kind of just implement this process and it's fairly straightforward, but it's a wonderful way for people to Connect.

Wendy: I did not realize that I remembered from fifth grade when you were talking about the Renaissance that that was part of the thing was bringing together drummers and artists. And somehow we've lost that went through a period a birds of a feather flock together like that don't help them birds, they're not getting new stuff, you know, unless they're different birds. Ah, no, that's great. One of one of our our client companies and and a dear colleague and coach, also from CTI, David Evans works at amplitude. And we were having dinner one night, and he was saying there was something about, it's this random coffee concept, but they have a budget so that you can go out with anybody in the company. And there's some way they do that internally, that you go out and share lunch together. That same thing, and I had never heard that beforehand. So when I read it in your book, I was saying, Wow, yeah, companies need to think about that and whether it's to go out for coffee together go out for a drink after work, you know, sponsor lunch with the company. Yeah, I think it's so unbelievably important because one side of an organization very rarely knows what another side of the organization is doing. That's right.

Jean Marie: And in fact, I don't know if I think I mentioned in the book but literally right before I wrote that book, I had met at just rent again, randomly at a, at a cafe to individuals in Boulder who were at a conference working for a company called Juhi JUW I, and they are just starting to implement a program where they actually partner with the company next to them physically, completely different company and they have mentor programs with people complete, but because they're next door, they go out to lunch together. So it's a similar concept, but why couldn't companies do that with companies that are just next door, completely different, you know, you could Have a telecom company and a retail company or something.

Wendy: Oh, I love that idea. They are brilliant. Marie, this has been so much fun. And you have shared so many cool things that people can take action on right away. And we're going to take a transcript of this and we'll put it on in the show notes so that people can look up some of the interesting ideas and concepts that you talked about. And if people want to connect with you, what's the best way for them to reach out to you?

Jean Marie: Oh, sure. They can just go to Jean Marie speaks COMM And my emails on there and my phone number and and then you can always look for the book at stop talking, start asking calm or right on Amazon.

Wendy: Great, great. Well, we'll have all that information in the show notes. And thank you for sharing your wisdom today and helping people and teams be better at what they do, so that we can be happier at work. which will make us more productive, more collaborative, and we'll have more play. So all is well in the world. All right. Thank you so much. Take care. I will talk to you soon. Everybody have a have a wonderful day. Take care.

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