Episode 121: Opportunity at the Office with Eric Barker

Description:

The WealthAbility Show #121: Are you taking advantage of the opportunities laid in front of you? Are you keeping up with the people that will truly propel your future? In this episode, Eric Barker joins Tom to discuss which relationships are worth keeping, and what opportunities they may hold.

 

Order Tom’s new book, “The Win-Win Wealth Strategy: 7 Investments the Government Will Pay You to Make” at: https://winwinwealthstrategy.com/

 

Looking for more on Eric Barker?

Website: https://bakadesuyo.com/ 

Book: “Plays Well With Others”

SHOW NOTES:

 

00:00 – Intro

02:00 – How do we build and protect relationships?

06:51 – The two-week rule.

08:38 – How often do we need to get into the office?

12:18 – How do we prioritize our social bandwidth?

15:30 – What are some consequences of entertaining toxic relationships?

Transcript

Announcer:
This is The WealthAbility® Show with Tom Wheelwright. Way more money, way less taxes.

Tom Wheelwright:

Welcome to the WealthAbility Show, where we're always discovering how to make way more money and pay way less tax. Hi, this is Tom Wheelwright, your host, founder, and CEO of WealthAbility. The hardest part of entrepreneurship is relationships, and today we're going to discover how to build productive relationships and how to avoid the bad ones or the toxic ones. And we have a very special guest, Eric Barker, who wrote the book, Plays Well with Others: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Relationships Is (Mostly) Wrong. Eric, welcome to the show.

Eric Barker:

It's great to be here.

Tom Wheelwright:

Eric, if you can, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you decided to write about this. I know you've had other best sellers, but why this one?

Eric Barker:

My first book was all about the science of success and looking at the maxims we grew up around success, whether they true or not. I look at the science to stress test them. And Freud basically said the two part parts of life are work and love or work and relationships. So, figured the second book I should stress test the maxims we knew about relationships. And for me, it was crazy because I've never been very good with relationships and I ended up writing this during the pandemic. So it ended up being something that probably everybody needs right now.

Tom Wheelwright:

It is. So, this is a time, I think this probably been the most difficult time in history to build relationships. We got technology that should help relationships, but seem to hinder relationships.

Eric Barker:

Exactly.

Tom Wheelwright:

We have a lot going on in the world that historic relationships are on the fritz, even between countries. So, how do we protect relationships? How do we build relationships? How do we protect relationships? Let's just get right into it.

Eric Barker:

No, it's really fascinating what I've found because it's really crazy. Especially something we all dealt with a little bit to some degree or another through the pandemic was loneliness. And what was really astounding was just basically, loneliness is correlated with every negative health metric you can imagine.

Tom Wheelwright:

Mm-hmm.

Eric Barker:

It's terrible. But the crazy thing was, John Cacioppo did most of the key research found that people who are lonely don't spend any less time with people than non-lonely people do, which sounds crazy. It sounds staggering. But what he found out is that loneliness isn't about just being proximate to people, you could be in Times Square on New Year's Eve and still feel you're not connected to people.

            It's not about being proximate to people, it's how you feel about your relationships. So, it's really critical for us to get out there. Not only have contacts or coworkers, but to try and deepen those relationships and get closer to people, not just to be physically near them.

Tom Wheelwright:

All right. So let's get into that, how do you do that? Just from a practical standpoint, especially if these aren't people you're talking to every single day, how do you maintain those relationships? How do you make those relationships stronger?

Eric Barker:

So, the first thing I did here was I looked at Dale Carnegie because that's the book we're all familiar with-

Tom Wheelwright:

Of course.

Eric Barker:

… But that book's almost a century old and it was done before the advent of most social science research, it's all anecdotal. Truth is, for your first meeting somebody, Dale Carnegie's book actually holds up pretty well, according to the science. Almost every one of the key pillars he mentioned, almost, holds up, is pretty effective.

            The only thing about Carnegie is that's about the initial meeting. That's about just getting to know someone. It's not about deepening that and feeling a little bit deeper. For that I found there were two critical factors and that was time and vulnerability. Time is a really powerful signal because you only get 24 hours in a day. If you're spending an hour with someone every single day, that's a clear sign of commitment.

            It's a clear sign you care about this person and a Notre Dame study of 8 million phone calls showed that if people touch base every two weeks, that's what tends to maintain relationships over the long haul. The second thing was vulnerability, and that's just opening up because when we show someone, we tell them something that could make us look bad, could make us look silly, that's a powerful signal that we trust them.

            It's not merely saying, “I trust you,” it's, “Dammit, here's a weapon that you could use against me. I trust you.” And people are more likely to reciprocate. So time and vulnerability are the two key things for deepening friendships.

Tom Wheelwright:

So, that's interesting. One of the things we do when we bring in a new employee is we have them tell us one thing they don't want us to know. So we force them into the vulnerability.

Eric Barker:

It's really powerful and it's good for us too, because we need to open up. Robert Garfield, at the University of Pennsylvania found that not being vulnerable prolongs minor illnesses, it's correlated with a first heart attack and it increases the chances that heart attack will be lethal. We need to open up.

Tom Wheelwright:

Yeah. So, talk a little bit about that. So a lot of us, I'm a CPA, CPAs aren't exactly known for opening up.

Eric Barker:

Yeah.

Tom Wheelwright:

How do people get past that fear of vulnerability? That fear of being transparent?

Eric Barker:

What I call it in the book is, “The Scary Rule,” which is basically, if it scares you, say it. Now, be incremental. You don't have to confess to any murders the first time you meet someone but the point is, if you're hesitant, it's like I said, is it hesitant like, “Oh, this is a big deal,” but if it's smaller, go for it.

            And then wait. If the person reciprocates, go a little bit further. Daniel Hruschka did a lot of the research on friendships and he found this kind of back and forth, this reciprocation is how you progressively deepen it. So, if you're concerned about something work-wise, you don't want to look incompetent, you could talk about other areas of your life.

            You can say, “Hey, I'm taking these tennis lessons and man, I am horrible at it,” and that can progress to, “Hey, my kids are in their teens, it's getting challenging now.” And then you can start to, if the person reciprocates, mention, “Yeah, this area of work is difficult.” Because the thing is a lot of us feel like we're not getting supported in our relationships, but if you don't tell people your weaknesses, the problems you're having, they can't help you.

Tom Wheelwright:

Yeah. It's a good point. Now, let's go back to the first thing, which is every two weeks. So, you talked about a phone call every two weeks. Can you talk about the difference between a phone call, a Zoom call and in-person?

Eric Barker:

Yeah.

Tom Wheelwright:

[inaudible 00:07:05] developing the relationship.

Eric Barker:

Basically, you want to get face to face as much as you can. There is a difference. They did a study of online cancer support groups versus in-person support groups and in-person support groups, the depression rate was zero. In the online groups, depression rate was over 90%. There's something about the emotional connection between that.

            But Hey, technology is better than nothing. The issue around technology, what's really critical, because you hear a lot of back and forth, “Social media's bad. Social media's okay.” In the end, social media's great if we're leveraging it to actually get together face to face or if there's no other way to talk to that person.

            But. The critical thing is we don't want it cannibalizing. We don't want to have that. You get that social time, you get that budget, your 24 hours every day and you don't want social media and technology taking over where face to face used to be. That can cause problems.

Tom Wheelwright:

So, let's take this into the workplace since we're talking to entrepreneurs here. Now we're talking about this whole get back to work, right? Do we do go in the office? Do we not go in the office? And we did a survey and over half of our employees say, “I don't want to come into the office.”

Eric Barker:

Yeah.

Tom Wheelwright:

And I'm going, “Okay,” at the same time, you're missing a lot of the benefit of being in a business organization.

Eric Barker:

Absolutely.

Tom Wheelwright:

What's the balance there? How often do people need to get into the offices? Because clearly if you're going to maintain relationships, you do at least have to do that once in a while but how often is enough?

            Hey, if you like financial education, the way I do, you're going to love Buck Joffrey's podcast. Buck's a friend of mine, he's a client of mine. He's a former board certified surgeon and he's turned into a real estate professional. So he has this podcast that is geared towards high-paid professionals. That's who he is geared towards.

            So, if you're a high paid professional, you're going, “Look, I'd like to do something different with my money than what I'm doing. I'd like to get financially educated. I'd like to take control of my money and my life and my taxes,” I would love to recommend Buck Joffrey's podcast, which is called Wealth Formula Podcast with Buck Joffrey. I hope you join Buck on this adventure of a lifetime.

Eric Barker:

I don't have strict numbers in terms of it, but the truth is there's a lot to support what you're saying, where basically so much in critical. My first book, when I was talking about success, it's like networking is really critical and so much of networking, at least in terms of the office, it's very passive.

            You're in meetings with people, you're bumping into them in the hall, you're seeing them in the elevator, that just stops. All of a sudden, all of your upkeep of relationships has to be very deliberate. That's really hard. You can do it, but it's really hard and it's not going to be as high bandwidth as seeing somebody face to face.

            You want to do your best to maintain that but it's really difficult. Like I said, those accidental meetings, those accidental moments, that chance to talk with the senior VP who decides whether you get that promotion or not, or that potential client or something else, it gets hard to schedule. So it's good to get as much face-to-face time as you can while thinking about the pandemic and everything else.

Tom Wheelwright:

Interesting. So if you were talking to employees and you were advising employees, you'd say, “Get into the office”?

Eric Barker:

For employees, you absolutely want to be doing that. And in fact, again, taking health and safety into consideration, you could look at this as a really powerful time right now, because if nobody else wants to get into the office, if nobody else is going to be in the office, that's a very strong leverage point for somebody who wants to get in the office and will have face-to-face time with a lot of other people that they wouldn't.

Tom Wheelwright:

This is a fascinating topic. I've been actually talked to several people about design of the office, design of how do you bring people back in the office? How often do you bring them back in the office? And what it seems like is the owners always want to bring people back in the office. The employees don't always want to come back in the office. My view is, if you just want to be a piece of equipment, don't come in the office. But if you want to be part of the team and part of the organization and an integral part, then you need to be in the office. Does that make sense?

Eric Barker:

Absolutely. If you look at Jeffrey Pfeffer's research at Stanford, he found amazingly, for you to do well, for you to get promoted, your boss needs to like you. Basically, he found that if your boss likes you, performance doesn't matter as much. And if your boss doesn't like you, performance, isn't going to save you.

Tom Wheelwright:

Doesn't matter at all. Right?

Eric Barker:

Yeah. So, that critical aspect of A, getting that face time, being there, but also, like I said, it's a really high leverage point right now. If nobody else is coming back in, it's clear your boss wants people back in and you're the only one who's doing it? That sends, again, a pretty powerful signal that you are a loyal, dutiful employee.

Tom Wheelwright:

Well, that's a good point. Now, you mentioned earlier that optimally, at least every two weeks, you're contacting somebody to maintain relationship. How many people can you contact every two weeks? For example, as we were talking earlier, I just launched a new book and in launching the new book, I made contacts with people that I hadn't talked to for, sometimes, one or two years, and I felt like, “Oh, I need to make contact more often with these people.”

            How do you decide, “I can only contact so many people. I can only have that real relationship with so many people.” How do you decide which of those people?

Eric Barker:

This is where we're getting to the distinction between personal relationships and work relationships. For work relationships, you can be a little bit more strategic about it, where it's like, “What are the high leverage relationships?” If you're trying to promote a book or something like that, then you're going to be thinking about who's really going to be able to move the needle in terms of sales, exposure, etc.

            With personal relationships, who do you care about the most? You want to prioritize those. So to some degree you want to be thinking about ranking, because there is what's called Dunbar's number. This Robert Dunbar who basically did research at Oxford that shows we can only maintain close relationships with so many people. At every level there's kind of a threshold, how many people we can feel close to. And one slot doesn't open until somebody moves out.

            And this is consistent with all literature because basically, the research shows after seven years, half of close friends aren't close friends anymore. There's this dance of who's close and who's not. So, for personal relationships, think about who's closest to you.

            For business relationships, yeah, you do need to think about who's going to be most helpful in terms of your career and prioritize those. Because you're right, we can't stay in touch with everybody every two weeks. Two weeks was just the pattern that Notre Dame found in the study of which relationships persisted, and what they found was the ones that stayed in touch every two weeks were the ones that a year, two years later, were still going.

Tom Wheelwright:

Got it. So, not all relationships are good relationships. So, when you meet somebody or when you're trying to decide, “Do I want to develop this relationship?” How do you make that kind of decision? I know you talk about that, so, how do you go about that process?

Eric Barker:

So, what you really want to be looking for there, because the truth is, we're pretty good at sizing people up when we first meet them, generally like the 70% level. But in terms of reading what's on somebody's mind, body language, we're pretty terrible at that. That's what the literature shows consistently. So what you really need to do is, it's how do people reciprocate?

            So, if you're making an effort to make that time and they're not, not a great sign, that's kind of a litmus test. If you're opening up and being vulnerable and they're not, again, litmus test. And then, when you're talking about dealing with really difficult, potentially toxic people like people who are narcissistic, those are the times when we also really need to test in that way, where when we talk with them we want to try and develop their empathy muscles, because they're probably not that strong.

            So we want to emphasize community, vulnerability, similarity, those three. And if the person warms up a little bit, great, there's an opportunity here. If they don't, again, they don't respond to it, community, vulnerability and similarity, it's probably not going to be there. They're failing the litmus test. This is probably the one you want to deprioritize.

Tom Wheelwright:

So, in your research, have you found or looked at what the consequences are to staying in that negative or toxic relationship?

Eric Barker:

Yeah, it's pretty bad. What's really interesting, Julianne Holt, once did this research that, you might think that enemies are the most difficult relationship, that, that's what causes us the most stress is people, we don't like them, they don't like us. It's actually not the case. The people who cause us the most stress are those frenemies. Those people in the middle, those people who this time they're nice, next time they're awful because that unpredictability, that lack of control drives our brains crazy.

            We never know what's coming next. Enemies, you try and stay away from them, you just try and minimize it, that's easy. Frenemies are hard and the research shows that those ambivalent relationships make up 50% of our relationships and we don't see those people any less than we see real friends. And part of this is due to the office. You're going to have to deal with people you don't necessarily want to deal with for certain projects or entrepreneurs, certain vendors, certain clients.

            So again, that issue of emphasizing similarity, vulnerability, community to try and get that litmus test, “Can I get this person to open up a little bit? Can I see if this person has some goodness inside them?” And that's a really difficult challenge. If they're not responsive, they stay difficult, they're not responding to those things. It's best, if you can, to just minimize contact to the degree you can. It's the easiest way. And most people don't try to do it because they feel guilty.

            However, business relationships, you may not have a choice. And if you don't have a choice and this person is going to stay cold, distant, difficult, then you want to focus on making it a more transactional relationship. That way you don't get taken advantage of, that way it doesn't drive you crazy, that way you're not wasting your effort.

Tom Wheelwright:

Got it. Like my wife would say, “Don't pretend they're a friend if they're not a friend.”

Eric Barker:

If they're not going to act like a friend, focus on the transaction, focus on the business, do what you have to do because otherwise you're probably going to get hurt. You're going to taken advantage of. It's not worth it.

Tom Wheelwright:

Got it. So, when you talk about business relationships and whether they're office relationships, like you say, vendors, clients, whatever, what would be the top three things that you would advise people to either look for in the relationship, to deal with in the relationship, to do about the relationship?

Eric Barker:

I would go back to those key things of time, vulnerability and looking for reciprocation. Because the key thing here is, once you get past a Dale Carnegie, “Hi, how are you? Oh, your shirt looks nice,” You want to get to that level of, “Can I develop something more akin to a friendship, where we can trust one another?” And the key element there is those costly signals. Time, vulnerability are costly signals.

            Giving you my time, that cost me something. That's opportunity [inaudible 00:19:21] I can't get that time back. Vulnerability, I'm telling you things that might make you look bad. So, if I put that out there and the person reciprocates, great, meet them and try and push a little bit further. If they're not reciprocating, then, again, you want to shift to something more transactional because it's not worth it.

            So, immediately, you want to get the friendliness, the really key thing that Carnegie reveals is that issue of building similarity is really powerful. But past that, push for time and vulnerability. If you're not feeling it back then downvote that a little bit. And if [inaudible 00:19:58] reciprocate and try and deepen that to where you're spending more time, you're getting to know each other better and you're sending those costly signals that, “Hey, I'm investing here, maybe you should too.”

Tom Wheelwright:

I like it. It sounds like that's a good way to narrow that field. Only got so much time and really so much capacity. And some people are more introverted, some people are more extroverted. So some people have more capacity for that than others in the first place, then that seems like a really good way, those are really good approaches to narrowing the field.

Eric Barker:

Well, another thing I would say is in terms of networking for both employees and entrepreneurs, again, you have that time issue. What's really critical in terms of making new connections, new networking is there's research on what's called super connectors and that is, if you look at your contact list on your smartphone or whatever, you'll realize that a disproportionate number of the people were introduced to you by a very small number of people. There's this one person who's connected me with so many friends, so many vendors, so many clients.

            So if I'm going to network, I want to start with those super connectors. I want to start with those kind of hubs where there are connected, the most nodes in the network. That's where you want to do 80, 20 pro rata.

            That's where I want to spend a disproportionate amount of my time is reconnecting with those super connectors and asking them, “Hey, is there somebody I should talk to? Hey, do you know anybody who might be good in this arena?” If you only have so much time, that's the best place to start and to put a disproportionate amount of your resources.

Tom Wheelwright:

I love it. Super practical advice, Eric. Thanks so much. Eric Barker, the book is Plays Well with Others: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Relationships Is (Mostly) Wrong. Any final words?

Eric Barker:

No, it's great. I really hope that everybody can check the book out and use it to improve both their business and their personal relationships because it's been a tough time for all of us.

Tom Wheelwright:

Yeah, for sure. And one thing I know for sure is that when we do improve those relationships, and I love the super connector idea because when we get there, my experience is when you have those deeper, the better relationships you're always going to make way more money and pay way less tax.

Eric Barker:

Absolutely.

Tom Wheelwright:

Thanks so much. We'll see y'all next time

Announcer:

You've been listening to the WealthAbility Show with Tom Wheelwright. Way more money. Way less taxes. To learn more, go to wealthability.com.

 

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