Navigating Soft Skills for Hard Conversations with Special Guest Sam Horn (Ep. #88)

Published on
November 21, 2023
No items found.
Follow Our Podcast

In this episode of Building Better Managers, co-founder of Better Manager, Wendy Hanson, engages in a thought-provoking conversation with renowned author Sam Horn. Together, they explore the intricate landscape of soft skills, focusing on effective communication and strategies for handling challenging conversations in the workplace. Sam shares valuable insights from her latest book, "Talking on Eggshells: Soft Skills for Hard Conversations," offering practical advice and real-life examples. 

Join Wendy and Sam as they delve into the importance of empathy, the power of language, and the art of being a proactive force for good. Whether you're a leader, team member, or aspiring manager, this episode provides actionable tips to create a more harmonious, engaged, and productive work environment.

Meet Sam Horn:

  • Prolific Author and CEO: Sam Horn, CEO of Intrigue Agency, is a renowned author with ten books, including "Tongue Fu" and "Someday is Not a Day in the Week."
  • Communication Skills Specialist: As the founder of TongFu Training Institute, Sam imparts a trademark communication skills approach, teaching people how to give and get respect in various aspects of life.
  • Media-Featured Expert: Sam's expertise in communication has earned her features in major publications like the New York Times, Forbes, and Harvard Business Review. A sought-after speaker, she has appeared on every major network, sharing insights on effective communication.

View the episode transcript


Welcome to Building Better Managers, the Better Manager podcast with Wendy Hansen, where we talk with top leadership professionals about strategies you can use today to create a happier, highly engaged, and more productive workplace. Now here's your host, Better Manager co-founder Wendy Hansen.


Greetings, everyone. I am delighted to be with you all here today and excited to be talking to Sam Horne. I've been a fan and follower for years. I believe that communication, either lack of it, challenging or confrontative, is such a big issue in our workplaces. We move so fast that we do not realize the impact of our words. Sam Horne has given us a guide for this in her new book,


Talking on eggshells, it's amazing. Soft skills for hard conversations. I love the book and how she's organized it, with stories we can all relate to. This wisdom guides us towards more empathy and grace for others, which I think at any time in the world, we need that right now. Rohan Rajiv, LinkedIn's Director of Product Management.


was quoted in an article that she cited in her final chapter, soft skills have become even more important given the rise of remote work and are growing in importance across industries. In fact, they were featured in 78% of the jobs posted in 2022. Hard skills get recruiters' attention, but soft skills help you land the job. So that's a skill that we can learn a lot from Sam on that.


So let me do a little more formal introduction of Sam. Sam Horne is the CEO of Intrigue Agency, a positioning messaging consultancy, which help people design and deliver TEDx talks, keynotes, funding pitches, and one of a kind brands. She's also the CEO of TongFu, every time I say that, I laugh, I love that, TongFu Training Institute.


a trademark communication skills approach that teaches how to give and get respect at work, at home, online, and in public. Sam is the author of 10 books, pretty prolific, including, Tung Fu, Pop, Someday is Not a Day in the Week, and Ideapreneur, amongst others. Sam's work has been featured in dozens of publications, including the New York Times, Forbes, Fast Company, Harvard Business Review,


And she's been on every major network being interviewed. And I think you'll understand why. So Sam, welcome. I am so delighted to have you here. Thanks so much, Wendy. I've really been looking forward to sharing some stories and insights with your community. Great, great. And Sam, you think about words have a ripple effect. What's an example of what to say and not to say when someone makes a mistake or does something wrong?


You know, Wendy, I get to share one of my favorite stories because I was visiting my son Andrew in New York and his one-year-old son, Hiro, was crawling across the floor of the living room. We were getting caught up and he spies his guitar over in the corner. He crawls over, he hauls himself up on the guitar stand and starts banging away on the guitar. Now, Andrew could have said, no. He could have said, you know, stop banging on the guitar. He could have yanked the guitar away.


all of which would have made Hiro feel bad. Instead, he said one word. Do you know what he said?


gentle. And Wendy, I saw Hero's face transform in front of me and he reached back to the guitar and went strum, strum, strum. And in that moment he made music because instead of Andrew jumping all over and telling him what to stop to do, he told him what to start doing. Instead of criticizing him for doing it wrong, he coached him how to do it right.


And as a result, he will learn from that situation instead of losing face over that situation. And Andrew made him feel better instead of making him feel bad. What a great story for all parents because you get like, oh my God, something's gonna happen. You know, my guitar. And to keep that calmness and think, okay, what should the alternative be? I love that, yeah. In particular, when we talk about words,


If people have a fresh piece of paper unless they're driving, put a vertical line down the center and Wendy, you know in the book that every chapter ends with words to lose and words to use. And it helps people show the shift. So the next time someone makes a mistake or does something wrong, over on the left, put the word stop. You know, stop interrupting me. You know, stop being late all the time. It's like stop teasing your sister. It just reinforces the negative behavior.


know over on the right, what do we want him to start doing? If we use words that plant what we do want instead of what we don't, it's a lot more likely to happen. Yeah, and people sometimes can't quite figure that out themselves, you know? And that's really one of the things that I love about how you end every chapter with that, because it's like, oh, you know, I have been saying these things on the left-hand side, and I really need to.


and what's the behavior that I want. Yeah, that's great. And it's tempting to lash back at someone and take out anger and frustration out on us. You say that there are four words that can help us turn impatience into empathy. What are those four words? Well, just imagine someone says, you never listen to me. Over on the left, we are likely to deny it or argue with it.


I do too listen to you. And you see how we go down the rabbit hole of resentment and resistance when we deny a negative accusation or when we argue with something that we don't think is true or right or fair? Over on the right, say these four words. What do you mean? And if someone says, you never listen to me, instead of saying, I do too, if we say, what do you mean? They may say, you've had your head in the phone for the last hour, you haven't even looked up.


Ah, do you see how what do you mean reveals the real issue and we can address that instead of reacting to their attack? Yeah, yeah. What do you mean? Very simple, and it's not accusatory. No. It's just seeking some understanding. See, you just pointed it out. I mean, let's talk about a work situation. You don't care about your customers. We do too care about our customers, you know?


See, we take Umbridge and now we're arguing with our customers about whether we care about our customers. Instead, what do you mean? Well, I've left three messages and no one's called back. Oh, now we know what's really going on. Once again, we can fix that instead of arguing about whether we care about our customers. Yeah, yeah. And we make such assumptions about things. You had a story in the book about somebody that asked you to do a keynote and then it seemed like you were getting ghosted.


And it was really another problem, and they were so apologetic. But we have to stand back when those things happen and not assume, it's always assume good intentions. That's something that we always talk about a better manager and you really push that in the book. You know, and let's, since you brought that up, let's put over on the left is that a lot of times, especially if people are coming from a place of insecurity or fear, they fill in the blanks with worst case scenarios.


You know, back then that I was very excited about this keynote. I put it on my calendar and then I didn't hear back from them. And I reached out to them, didn't hear back. And so I was ready to take it off my calendar and think, well, I guess that's not going to happen. And then they got back in touch. They were so apologetic, etc. There had been a change in the management and someone dropped the ball. And now imagine if instead of reaching out and asking, you know,


wanted to see if that's still on the calendar, which gave them space to once again, reveal what was really going on. So if someone is ghosting us, so to speak, instead of assuming how rude, well, I guess they don't just care. No, no, no, let's reach out and ask what's going on because it might get our eyebrows up about something that's legitimate or justified instead of just assuming the worst. Yeah, yeah. It, it.


It's so true. Yeah. Assume the good intentions is really going to make a very big difference in any conversation. And in the book, you also said something that surprised me. If someone complains, we should not explain. What is that? What should we say instead?


You know, on a daily basis, somebody has got to complain. They're going to complain that we're late. They're going to complain that we didn't follow up. They're going to complain that, you know, we don't love them anymore or whatever. And over on the left, we often explain, well, explanations actually make things worse because they come across as excuses. People feel we're not being accountable. So over on the right, take the A train.


Let's say that we're late picking someone up and they say, you were supposed to be here an hour ago. Explanation, oh, I know I've been stuck in traffic. It's been gridlocked. No, no, no. Over on the right, A train, A for agree. You're right, I was supposed to pick you up an hour. A for apologize. And I'm sorry you ended up waiting so long. A for act. And in the future, if I'm gonna try and pick you up on a Friday, I'm building in a cushion for Murphy's Law.


Do you see how the A train expedites complaints, explanations, aggravate them? Yeah, I can definitely see that. And then you get into this confrontation back and forth. Yeah, that's right. Stop blaming me. It was out of my control. I couldn't do anything. Well, I've been standing here wondering if you weren't some ditch somewhere. Do you see how explanations once again down that rabbit hole?


And when we take the A train, it sets up a ripple effect of, well, you know, it's like you couldn't do anything about it. Now we're onto a pleasant evening instead of going back and forth about who did what and who was wrong. Right. And you talk about 67% of people identify as conflict diverse. And I just think that is such a true statistic. It was nice to see the statistic.


But I see a lot of it. What does it mean? And how can we become more conflict comfortable? Because I see that on all levels of management. And it's why people don't give feedback, because they don't. They're conflict-averse. And you know, Wendy, this is often, this happened in the home growing up, is that maybe we had parents that fought all the time. And so we did not want to do that. So if something...


is going to be unpleasant. We just had the other direction. Or maybe the opposite was modeled where our parents never talked. They gave each other the silent treatment. And if something went wrong, they just, you know, exited the scene. And so we learned that that was the way of handling conflict and being conflict diverse, it doesn't make it go away. It makes it worse. So conflict comfortable, I'll share a quick example of how we can turn a conflict.


into a clarifying conversation so that we're comfortable addressing it instead of avoiding it. And so let me tell this quick story is that a young woman I know worked at Salvation Army and she really applied herself and she was thrilled when her manager told her she was up for promotion. The next day he told her that she was in danger of getting fired. Now in before she was conflict


She probably would have left in tears, gone home, rehashed what happened, how unfair it was, maybe would have been so devastated she would have quit and just would have gone down the rabbit hole. Instead, her therapist had given her these words, could you please help me understand? So she went back to her manager and said, could you please help me understand?


how I was up for promotion at the beginning of the week and you're threatening to fire me. And they were able to explain that a customer had tried to bring in a mattress and she wouldn't let him. And so they got all upset and felt she should be fired off. She remembered the situation. It's actually illegal to take back a mattress with the cover off. And so she had very politely explained the policy.


Well, the customer wasn't happy and marched off threatening to get her fired. Once the manager understood what had actually happened, he apologized to Brittany, thanked her for enforcing the policy, and she got the promotion she deserved. Now, once again, avoid it just gets worse, loses the job, resents her manager. Can you please help me understand? Now they're on the same side instead of side against side. Yeah, yeah. I.


I think that's so important. I also think some people, I grew up in a home where there wasn't conflict. There had to have been behind the curtain, but there was never conflict spoken. You don't learn how to deal with it, that it's okay to push back and to ask those questions. I love that because whether you came from a difficult childhood where you got that all the time or anything can really bring that up.


And we don't do it at work enough. You know, I just had an opportunity to speak at the Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit, and William Urey, who actually wrote the seminal book, Getting to Yes, was one of the keynoters. And so I had a chance to spend some time with him, and he's very excited about his new book, which is called Possible, because it talks just about this. It talks about that conflict exists. We cannot avoid it. And if we try to...


it will get worse. And being conflict comfortable and understanding that, in fact, all of the techniques in the book talking on eggshell are about how to transform conflict by finding solutions instead of finding fault, about being proactive instead of reactive, about, you know, finding out what's really going on instead of assuming the worst. So conflict comfortable is our goal. Yes, yes. And


You are a lover of quotes and you use them as a wonderful jumping off place. There's 200 quotes in your book. And I can see where each one kind of creates the story. And I just love that. Tell us more about that. You know, I'm so glad you brought that up because just like a jazz piano player will riff off chords to make new music.


I riff off quotes and I attribute them because that was their original idea, not mine. I wanna give credit where credit's yours. However, then you can, as you said, it can lead into an example, it can lead into an epiphany, or I can perhaps, once again, giving credit, change some of the words of the quote so we have a new revelation. So some of my favorite is that Pema Chodan said, do not let people pull you into their storm.


pull them into your piece. And Elvis Presley said, when things go wrong, don't go with them. And Joyce Meyer said, life may give you a cactus, you don't have to sit on it. And Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, we are different, we are one.


And do you see the river that runs through those quotes, Wendy? It's all about once again, how we can understand that when we are different doesn't mean they're wrong. We are one. How can we pull together instead of pull apart? How can we respond and be the lead domino and go first in acting with proactive grace so that we really are on the same side instead of side against side? Yeah. Yeah.


Wow, that's such a lesson to keep in mind all the time. Yeah, brilliant. I just wanted to ask, there was one simple story that you told in the book that I think everybody could relate to. It was about an experience you had with an elderly woman in a grocery store. And I think this shows very clearly about turning things around. Would you share that story?


You bet. And Wendy, I think we've probably all been in this situation is that most of us are busy from the moment we get up to the moment we go to bed. We got things to do, we got places to be, etc. So I had stopped at the market on the way home and I had a podcast later that evening, etc. Well, there was a woman in front of me who is taking an item out of her cart one by one. And now this was an elderly woman. So she was taking her time and


she was having this conversation with the cashier. It's kind of embarrassing, Wendy, is I was getting a little impatient inside. It's like, hurry up, I don't have time for this. Oh my gosh, how long can you take? And then I'm so grateful because I realized that this woman looked to be in her 70s or 80s. This may be her only social outing of the week. You know, she may be kind of frail.


And it takes time and energy for her to carefully take items out of the cart. You know, who knows this conversation with this cashier, maybe she lives alone. It was the only conversation she was going to have that week. And I, and I quickly realized that, that impatience is a low grade of contempt. And the Gottman Institute has found that contempt is the number one precursor.


for divorce. And I think that when we are in a rush and we become impatient or contemptuous of other people that it means we're not seeing things from their point of view. And once I put myself in her shoes, then I realized that I wanted to be empathetic with this person instead of impatient. I wanted to be compassionate instead of contemptuous. And so then I was able to help her.


take items out of her cart, I was able to appreciate this caring conversation she had with this cashier and the warmth that they were exchanging and be in that moment and appreciate it instead of being patient with it. That's a beautiful story because we have all been through that. And how and the like, I got to move quick. I have to move quick. That only took a few minutes. And you.


had a much better experience. She clearly had enough a better experience. We have to remember those little things. We have those opportunities every day. Isn't that it is that the river that runs through the book is proactive grace. As you know, this is a continuation of the Tung Fu book that I wrote two decades ago.


And I really wanted to introduce new ideas that I felt were really timely and relevant to what we're experiencing. And you just brought up the rush rush world and the impatience that comes with hurry up, not now, catch you later, et cetera. Can't you move faster? And I think that there is a low grade resentment toward other people because they're not going as fast. They don't understand how busy we are. They're not getting to us in time.


And that then unfortunately blossoms into this resentment between us because it's based in this impatience. And almost any time we're frustrated, we're only seeing things from our point of view. And if we can put ourselves in the other person's shoes and say, well, how would I feel if I were them? How would I feel if that were happening to me? How would I feel if I was, you know, in my late 70s or 80s and this was my...


and it will actually move us right out of that impatience into empathy. Yeah. Yeah. Take the time to think about that. Take the time. Because sometimes as you point out, it's just a matter of minutes. It's just a matter of minutes and we can make such a difference. See, when you, what you're bringing up is, is this ethos, is this decision that we have on a daily basis.


of what quality of person are we going to be, what kind of person are we going to be? In fact, Albert Schweitzer said in influencing others, example is not the main thing, it's the only thing. So, what kind of example are we setting for our employees and for our customers or for our kids or for our spouse? Are we being kind? Are we being compassionate?


Are we being empathetic? Because if that's how we want other people to be, then it's up to us to go first. Yeah. And sometimes it is our family or our partners who suffer because we think, oh, they'll understand. But this is, woo, yes. This is important for everybody to get. I remember a nurse said that


that all day long she's dealing with patients in surgery, she's dealing with people who are ill, she's dealing with concerned family members, you know, she's dealing, it's a highly stressful job, and she said, I'm emotionally exhausted by the time I come home and I treat my family, the people I love the most, the worst, because I'm tapped out. And once she understood what she was doing, she was able to do another point of the book, A Pattern Interrupt.


is that once we become aware that we're behaving in a way, we're treating other people in a way that would lead to regrets, then we have an opportunity to do things differently. It's one of the wonderful things about being a human being is that any given moment, we can self-correct or self-reflect and then self-correct. And we can show up in a way that at the end of the day, when we look back, we're proud of the way we showed up.


instead of thinking, I can't believe I said that. I can't believe I did that and wanting it back. Yeah. In coaching people, sometimes we'll say, make a list of the things that you were successful at today, you know, and keep a list of these kinds of things so that it gets ingrained in you. That you say, ah, yes, that made it for a better day when I compare that. So I think people need to think about that.


And can we add to that, Wendy, because as you said, we're talking about habit change. And I'll always remember, I was speaking for a hotel and there was a gentleman, he said, you know, Sam, I agree with all these friendly phrases instead of these fighting phrases, the words to use instead of words. He says, but you can't teach an old dog new tricks. He said, I use all those words all the time. I used them all in one sentence this morning. And that's why I actually suggest that


people post the words to use and words to use on the refrigerator or by their laptop or by their desk or in their office because it keeps all of these good intentions in sight in mind so we can self-correct and the word but or should or you'll have to or can't because or about to come out. Oh, oh, no. And we use and instead of but next time instead of should. Yes, you can as soon as instead of no, you can't because.


And every single time we use these more proactive responses, people are a lot more likely to respond in kind. Yeah, that's a great tip. Keep a cheat sheet out there so that you can move in that right direction, yeah. And then in the book, you suggest being a blue caper and pattern interrupt as you're just talking about, but explain what blue caper is.


You know, I had an opportunity to see Peter Diamandis, who is the founder of XPRIZE at the United Nations. And he said, there's two kinds of people in the world. There's red capers who fight evil and injustice, and there's blue capers who are forced for good. And I thought, well, there's actually three kinds of people. Then there are gray capers, and they don't fight evil and injustice, and they're not a force for good. They just complain about everything and don't do anything about it. And...


What I really hope is that as a result of the Talking on Eggshells book is that we really take on a responsibility of being a blue caper, that we understand that on a daily basis with our interactions with others, we can model giving respect, we can model being kind and compassionate, we can model proactively finding solutions instead of fighting, let's not do this, you know, this won't help.


You know, instead, let's figure out how we can keep this from happening again. And by being a blue caper, once again, we set out this ripple effect of respect and rapport, and that's a win for all involved. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. New thing. Be a blue caper. Yes. And John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods, says your book, Talking on Eggshells, is the course


What's an example of how we can respond if someone's accusing us of something and it's something we didn't do? That's a difficult situation. You know, I'll always be grateful to John for giving that cover endorsement of the book. And I had a chance to see him just a couple of days ago at the Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit. And so here's an example of how we can course correct instead of just join the cancel culture is that.


I was speaking at a leadership conference and a woman said in the Q&A, "'Sam, why are women so catty to each other?' Well, now I knew that if I denied that accusation, I would actually reinforce it. Well, I don't think women are catty to each other. So if people have their notes in a vertical line down the center, if someone makes an accusation that's untrue or for something you didn't do, don't deny it because we'll reinforce it, instead redirect it.'"


I said to her, I said, you know, Don Draper of Mad Men said, if you don't like what's being said, change the conversation. I said, let's agree to never ask or answer that question again. Instead, use these words. Do you know what I found? Wendy, do you see how when we say, do you know what I found? And then I said, I think women are real champions of each other. I wouldn't have this speaking engagement if someone hadn't recommended me. Do you see the bridge?


from when somebody makes a negative accusation, untrue, unfair, unkind, do you know what I think? Do you know what I found? And then go on record with what you do believe, with what you do think, with how you do wanna direct the conversation. That's great. And it's about I, I have that opinion, right? And it doesn't make her wrong, but your experience is different. That's right. And if someone says,


Now don't get angry. I am not angry. Uh-oh, you see how that works? You women are so emotional. We are not emotional now, we are. So do you see when we deny negative accusations, we amplify them. Yeah. Oh, well, this has been so wonderful to be able to talk to you about this. And I'm sure that the listeners are gonna wanna reach out, you know? What's the best place for them to find out all about Sam Horne and-


and get your book, yes. Well, thank you, Wendy. It's real easy. My website is samhorn.com. So it's S-A-M-H-O-R-N.com. My TEDx talks are on there. Some of these quotes that we've talked about, some blogs and posts. And I also hope that people follow me on LinkedIn because I am a writer at heart and my life is my lab and I write frequently on LinkedIn with.


recent examples that I encountered just at the airport or checking into a hotel or driving in traffic or shopping at the grocery store with epiphanies on how we can show up as the kind of person we want to be even when other people aren't. So hope people follow me on LinkedIn so we can stay connected. Yeah, I think that would be great. And to be able to get little spurts of your wisdom and your newsletter and things that come out.


That would be wonderful. Yeah. So thank you so much for being with me today. And I want to remind our listeners too, if you could go on to where you listen to your podcasts and rate building better managers, that would be wonderful because it helps us get this out in the world, because it's really helping people, as you can see today by talking with Sam Bourne, helping us have the tools that we need at work.


for being better managers, better leaders, because we need help. We need help in this day and we need more empathy, as you've heard so much from Sam today, empathy and knowing the right things to say. So please go on and you'll be able to see links to Sam in the show notes. And we're so glad that you tuned in today and please pass this on to your friends and colleagues because I don't know anybody who might.


not be having a hard time with talking on eggshells and needing to work on those soft skills and how we manage this in the world. So thank you all for tuning in today. And thank you so much, Sam, for taking the time to be with us today. It was pure pleasure. Wonderful. Hope people find it inspiring and useful. Yes, great. Well, have a good day, everybody. Go out and show some empathy towards people. Use some of the things that you learned today.


Calm yourself down. We're not, you know, we have to make sure that we know that the work that we're doing is important, but we can take our time. Yes, make a difference in the world. Thank you all for listening. Take care.


For more information, show notes, and any downloads for today's podcast, please visit us at bettermanager.us slash podcast. Be sure to join us again and help us continue to build better managers with another insightful interview.

The future of work has arrived. It's time to thrive.