269: Elevating Performance Through Communication and Connection, With Dr. Kimberly Davis

July 4, 2023

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Dr. Pelè
Host
00:00
Hello happy people. Welcome to the Profitable Happiness Podcast. Hello everyone, this is Dr Palais with the Profitable Happiness Podcast. Today, i have with me a very special guest, dr Kimberly Davis. Dr Davis is an organizational behavior management expert. She talks about things like process management and accountability and human performance management, and we just share so much nerdy stuff. I can't wait for you to teach us about all the things that are involved in creating high performance cultures. Dr Davis, how are you doing today?
Dr. Kimberly Davis
Guest
00:40
I am fantastic. Thank you for having me today.
Dr. Pelè
Host
00:43
Absolutely Whatever I talk to people who, as you called yourself, a nerd, i get so excited because I know we're going to go in all kinds of directions and I have no idea where we're going to go. But let's start with a very simple beginning, which is from all the places that you've worked or consulted. If you were to boil down something for our viewers and our listeners the core problem or challenge that you've seen in organizations that requires the intervention of a Dr Davis what would that core challenge be?
Dr. Kimberly Davis
Guest
01:16
I think the biggest thing I come across and it's even more pronounced since we've had the pandemic and the isolation of everybody is finding the common ground for effective communication and being able to really find the directions that we want to go and how we're going to get there. That common ground is, i think, probably the most important thing that I have to address in each organization that I go in and talk to.
Dr. Pelè
Host
01:42
Interesting, dr Davis. Let's peel that back just a little bit When we talk about the challenges that organizations deal with. Obviously, something brought you to this table. When you look back at your history, what exactly was it that said hey, dr Kimberly Davis is going to help solve these kinds of problems? What puts you on this path?
Dr. Kimberly Davis
Guest
02:06
It's a very interesting story. Actually, i had been a mortgage broker and owned a mortgage licensing school for many years. At the time that, in 07, when the industry imploded, i had sold my materials and took a no compete. I decided at that time I would go back to school. I had told my college professors that I wanted to become a professor. They said, well, you didn't have to have public school teaching on your license in order to do so. I thought, well, that doesn't seem reasonable. I've been in adult education. I want to teach adults, but, okay, i'll go do it.
02:44
Well, as I got into it and I realized that I was really good with behavior students that were not motivated, that I call them reluctant students I realized that I had an opportunity to change lives, and that put them on a different trajectory. My focus became behavior, especially those that were emotionally disturbed. They had trauma in their life. They had different challenges that made it very difficult to access Learning. I really started to focus on what does it take to help somebody not only learn something, but how do you retrieve that learning and use it moving forward in life, not just in school, but in jobs, in relationships, parenting skills, because you're not just changing that individual, you're changing generations. At that point I became very interested in human performance improvement. I ended up going all the way through getting my doctorate in transformational leadership, which is a very holistic view of leadership. My dissertation focused on determining the impact of appreciative inquiry which appreciative inquiry is a strength-based change process model.
04:00
It's a matter of change in succession in a direction that we need to go with positive reinforcements. I started using those techniques with my students and realized that you can improve human performance while you're rewiring the brain from the trauma. You can actually change so much for that child and so much for that individual. But learning to go back into an adolescent brain to do that and then applying that into a business model for organizations was a very small leap. I always say from cradle to crypt we're the same. That's the only thing about humans that does not change.
04:47
But if you learn to manage them effectively and utilize them appropriately. There are no limitations for somebody. So then it became a human performance focus for me. At the end of my dissertation. What emerged from the research was that there's really only three ways to determine impact of any change. You're going to change how somebody feels about what they do.
05:12
You're going to change how they think about it, or you're going to change how they physically act around it. So that took me on paths towards emotional intelligence and applied behavior, of course, just leadership in general. it brought me to this holistic view of changing cultures, one individual at a time. So that's what brought me here.
Dr. Pelè
Host
05:38
That's powerful. I'm particularly drawn to how you really embrace the idea that there are three things happening There's how we feel, then there's how we think, then, of course, what we do, the actions. So many of us think I think. Wasn't it Descartes who said I think therefore I am? But I think you and I would probably agree that it should be I feel therefore I am because that drives thinking and it drives actions, so much more than just thoughts alone.
Dr. Kimberly Davis
Guest
06:08
It does. It goes both ways. I mean, we could be in a conversation and I could be. well, i could be talking about my best friend and how much I care about her and all the things that we do together and be in a place of happiness. But I might call her and she doesn't pick the phone up at a scheduled time and it might hurt my feelings And that may start a negative thought process.
06:35
It was Epstein, seymour Epstein, that coined the terms constructive thinking and destructive thinking, and we are hardwired for destructive thinking, or absolutely thinking for safety.
06:47
That's survival right there. And so it's a Nelson and Lowe And I think it was in 2015. They have a model of transformative emotional intelligence And I love their their definition of emotional intelligence And it's the learned ability to think constructively and act wisely. And so, as I go back into all of this and I really start to form what I wanted to do, i'm really thinking about how do we teach people to do this, because when my friend didn't answer the phone at our scheduled time and I got my feelings hurt, i went into destructive thinking. I was not acting wisely. If she called me right back, said sorry I was washing my hands, then it's all better. So our feelings and our thoughts are so intertwined in behavior and applied behavior.
07:38
We call that the inside story because it's not overt but it impacts the overt behavior that we do see And how we interact with ourselves and those internal conversations, with those feelings when they start to trigger the thoughts, and how we can curtail that makes a huge difference in the overt behavior that we see.
Dr. Pelè
Host
08:00
You know, i have to say you know earlier, when you talked about the central challenge that you've seen, i almost feel like you've just unpacked that to what's happening underneath what you've seen, Because, my goodness, how big of a problem could this be? I mean, look, i have to tell you this idea. I think you've already defined some of it, but I'm going to just call it the negativity bias, where we are biased. We are biased to see the negative before the positive, and that's just a human thing, as you said, to protect us. It is so powerful, it is just so devastating and so much in the forefront of how we are. It's like, how do we overcome it to find what I think you call common ground? Right, how do we get past all these negative emotions everybody's having and find the common positives?
08:50
Let's talk about that because I know you're really big. You're a proponent of common ground. Tell us about that.
Dr. Kimberly Davis
Guest
08:56
Well, and actually I'm going to add one more thing to that, if you don't mind. At the end of my dissertation, i talked about moving people from thoughts to action. How does that happen, especially in a positive direction, and I actually called that the paradigm fulcrum. How do you?
09:13
choose somebody's paradigm, and that's what I do in practice with my common ground activities, and it's based on principles of several things actually Appreciative inquiry, which is, again, it's a process model for a strength-based change What's working and how do we do more of it But also the principles of applied behavior analysis and understanding the inside and the outside story. And people don't tell you the inside story unless they want you to know it, and or they don't tell you what it really is unless they want you to know it. So there's a trust factor. So the biggest part of being able to find the common ground is to not start from positions.
09:56
And this is, you know, when we start asking for people's opinions or we start giving our opinions, then we are automatically in a position that we have to defend or join to somebody else's, and that makes us very territorial sometimes, because not being in the same position a lot of times feels oppositional or needs to be defended. So we're territorial with it. But that's normal, that's human behavior, that's a normal behavioral reaction, a response. But if we are able to, you know, go through the process of finding what we all bring to the table, and even though it's different, we may not agree and we have different experiences in life and education and thoughts that have shaped us to where we are today. There are still common things or themes that come out of our conversations, if they're structured properly, that we can build on. And now we're not building from a, we're not trying to get buy-in from people.
10:58
We've eliminated that need altogether. Now we're building forward from a common ground, from a common knowledge, a collective collaborative knowledge, from that from those activities.
Dr. Pelè
Host
11:12
You know, it's really interesting because you know you have a leader in an organization, you have employees, so there's a peer-to-peer need for common ground. There's also a need for common ground between leaders and employees. You know, i learned once this little trick and I'm going to ask you to give us your how. How do you build cultures of common ground? right? But I want to tell you my little trick that I learned. I was at Dale Carnegie, i was a vice president there and we had this thing called CEO. So if you and I disagree on something right, we're going to learn how to disagree agreeably. That's the strategy, right? So here's what you do.
11:51
Ceo stands for give a cushion. So you don't say what's bad or what your opinion is. You start with a cushion like oh, i love what you said, or people agree with what you say, or it's well known, you are right, i validate them right. Then the E stands for evidence. Bring the science, bring the evidence, you know, don't even talk about what you think. And then O stands for your opinion. Last, which is exactly what you said Don't bring opinions into this thing right in front, because everybody's going to go to their corners and start the fight right. So, anyway, that's just my CEO strategy from Dale Carnegie. Now let's launch into how exactly because it's not a trivial issue, it's not easy to do How do you build these cultures of common ground? It?
Dr. Kimberly Davis
Guest
12:37
depends on the ground that we're standing on. I'm going to start Where my first phrase is. That I will say is we're not, we're going to flip the script today. We're not going to say that's because that's how we've always done it. We're going to use the phrase as evidence to buy, and so we're going to start with that. But I usually, when we start these activities, we're starting with a reflective interview And it's based on the appreciative inquiry interview process very reflective, very personal to that individual.
13:11
And I'll just give the example of the one that I did today before this podcast. I'm speaking with educators And I asked them to. They interviewed each other about a meaningful learning experience. What was the? they had to describe that experience, and there's a series of nine questions that they ask each other. They take their takeaways from that. They're working in groups of six, even though they're paired. Right now there's, you know, like 42 people in the room And we go through the iteration process of you know what, what stood out most to you in that conversation, you know, were there any themes that emerged?
13:50
And we get the group down to where they have their little poster papers out and they have their, their themes from their table, and then we vote on them. They put their little colored sticker dots on them, and then, visually, it's very easy to see what the three things are that the that they agreed on as a group. What's interesting, though and this I love the way that this unfolds every time What's interesting is that it doesn't matter how they worded it. The meaning and what they're doing. That purpose and their work is the same, just worded differently. Interesting.
14:25
And so, even though the conversation started from 42 different meaningful experiences from 42 individuals who do not work together every day, we found a common ground and made it a regional mission to fulfill these.
14:44
And then what would that look like? So now the conversation is not what are you doing that works, or what are you doing that works And people say, well, that won't work in my area because we have a different demographic, or whatever It's more about. these are core principles for what we need to build on to make this meaningful. So how do we build from there? What does that look like? And now we have the common ground to build that overall vision or that overall process, or that overall project.
Dr. Pelè
Host
15:12
It's like.
Dr. Kimberly Davis
Guest
15:13
But we're on a common ground And I think it's important to start things whatever initiative that you're working on or trying to fix from that, because and I learned this a long time ago and you can back way back in the day- I sold the cards, and one of the things that they were talking about is different ways to do marketing.
15:34
And if you can find a connection with somebody, then it usually really helps. And this one gentleman, his last name was O'Brien. He lived up in the New England area and he lived in a small town but he sent postcards out to people with the last name O'Brien And that was his marketing strategy. But because they had the same last name, there was already a connection And he was in it all the time, and so it seems like kind of an off the wall example, but it really really exemplifies the need for us as social beings, to make a connection. If we're going to buy from or work with or live with or communicate with somebody, we must have a connection. Because we're social beings, we are so conditioned to be an isolated and siloed and things that we do and competitive that we've lost that human connection. And if we're going to progress, if we're going to do the things that need to get done, if we're gonna do the work that needs to be done, we must start from common ground.
Dr. Pelè
Host
16:37
Oh wow, i can't tell you how powerful a manifesto that is that you've just shared. I have to say that in organizations today and I'm sure you're gonna agree with me a lot of leaders versus employees. They're not even having that conversation at all. So there's no sense of participation on the side of the employees. There's almost the leaders say what it is, and that's what it is and let's move forward. Right, we make the decisions. But I think what you're saying is, if you can bring employee participation into the mix as a forefront strategy, then you can find common ground by listening and by hearing each other. Is that what I'm hearing you say?
Dr. Kimberly Davis
Guest
17:24
Absolutely, and as a leader and someone who facilitates leadership a lot, it is not unreasonable to guide that conversation to common goals that you want, and it's not just as it's not unreasonable to make your goals evolve from the themes that are evolved from the activity. but you could, a skilled coach or executive coach can actually help leadership guide those conversations so that even though through that common ground activity, you're moving the direction of leadership once. But what I don't wanna do is have people have the idea that when we involve the employees, there's two things to keep in mind.
18:12
The first one is that as humans, we must have meaning in the things that we do. We have to have purpose, otherwise we don't stay in that job. We get frustrated, we're just disgruntled. We don't enjoy it.
18:28
So sometimes having a voice is all they need, but motivation comes in different forms for different people, and so it's important to really understand who your people are and who's participating and who's not, and why.
18:45
And so I think that, when we also look at how we communicate, what is said as much as what is not said is a very I want to try to find the right word here, as I'm talking about communication What we do is just as important as what we say. One of my favorite sayings has always been and I have a bunch of them is I can't hear what you're saying, because your actions are speaking so much louder. And when we have leadership who is able to engage and involve their teams in the organizational function, human performance increases exponentially. Now, sometimes we just have to hand down decisions, though, and that's okay, because that's what leadership does. I mean we make organizational decisions with and without specific input. If we are able to engage them and have that common ground, even if we don't take their decisions or their input into the final decision that they were participated makes a world of difference. If you give them meaning, give them participation, and you will get a lot more from them.
Dr. Pelè
Host
20:05
Yeah, so true, so very true. Earlier, you talked about feelings and you talked about the link between emotions and performance. I'd love to dive deeper into that, because I think there are actually people leaders even who don't see that link. I once worked for a CEO and leader. she said in a very public place that she wanted everybody to stop with all these emotions already. Let's just get the work done here. I'm like what wait a second? Did you just say this place should not have any emotions right here? But that's truly how some people see the world. So tell us about how you see the link between emotions like happiness, profitable happiness and productivity and performance, or this idea of engagement and performance. How do you help people understand the link?
Dr. Kimberly Davis
Guest
21:00
So, again, this comes from different schools of thought into what I'm going to talk about, and I really started on this when I was working on my dissertation And I know it's just, it's been several years ago, but it was a starting point for me And it was interesting to go into an interview. I interviewed appreciative inquiry practitioners from across the world. I had people from Australia, canada and the United States And I would just ask them how do you determine impact when you have this activity, when you do these sessions? Well, it depends, and I'm sorry, hon, that is not going to write me a dissertation, i need a little more data. Or I was told well, it's just, it's very similitude. I'm like, i'm sorry, can you spell that for me?
21:50
And then, you know, it's basically just that it is known, it is known that it works And or that it's a palpable shift of energy in the room. I'm like that's not, i don't have enough here, i need some more. So I really started to kind of think through that. I looked up energy, you know, and why is it that some people can go? you can have two people you and I might go listen to a great, you know speaker and a motivational speaker. We both know some And we can leave that all pumped up right. We've got this palpable shift of energy. We're all hyped up And one of us may go home and change our lives And the other one will go home back to our lives. What is that fulcrum that changes them from thoughts to action? What is that thing that shifts that energy from deficit thinking to happiness?
22:41
What is that thing that drives human performance. And so I started, you know, digging a little bit deeper into it, and I did. I read some of Sean Acker's work from Harvard University, who studies happiness. That's what he does And I know that in, you know, applied behavior, you cannot, you can't, have competing behaviors. You can only do one behavior at a time. Thinking and feeling are behaviors and you cannot be happy and sad at the same time. Yeah, behaviors. So how do you put people in that happy space then And why would you want to? And you know it looked a lot into his research where we looked at he looked at brain scans and that reliving and experience actually activates the same parts of the brain and to the same level as actually experiencing that at that moment And we go through the same emotional responses. So if I tell you a sad story, something that happened, i'm going to cry again because it's same parts of the brain are activated. If I tell you a funny story, i'm going to laugh so hard through the story I probably won't even tell the story, but reliving it as a memory. But what's interesting? as these they're doing the brain scans in this research, they're learning that when you the neural pathways that are put in place. You know, when we, we learn something and any, any knowledge or experience with our senses that we have is a learning experience. So if we are experiencing happiness and joy, then we are actually able to create a pathway that has been more worn like up in a field. We walk that same path over and over and it becomes an easier path to cross, so we stay in that space.
24:27
Now let me tell you what I've done with this information. As I was working with students in behavioral situations. I was doing a behavioral intervention group, trying out a new theory that I had with if we can't have a happy and sad thought and I want to flip that script and move them from destructive to constructive thinking what would that look like and what? why would I do it and what would I expect the outcome to be? And I'm going to tell you about this little girl who came into my intervention class And it just so happened.
24:57
She was having a really rough morning, bless her heart. The backpack came in and didn't get put on the hook, it got thrown across the room. She did not pull her chair out to sit down, she flung it across the room. She was crying and I I wasn't real sure what had happened. I knew that I did not want to give her more sensory input so I didn't speak right away. But I did put a piece of paper out and it's my flipping and reframing activity that I do, and I do this with adults too. Again, cradle to crypt were all the same. Yeah, it's blank on one half of the paper, or the other half has a picture frame and then there's a few lines to write a sentence at the bottom and I put that in a pencil on the table And after a few moments, without additional sensory input, i did turn dim the lights a little bit.
25:48
Again, we're on sensory overload. I don't want to. I want to reduce the amount of stimulation coming in so that The body begins to slow down. The more, the more. Like you go to a concert, there's a lot going on, you get hyped up. I need to slow the body down again. Our physical environment is affecting our emotions, our heart rate, everything. So she sits down fine. I asked her what's wrong And she said that it rained on her birthday and she'd get to be at the beach. She had to go eat ice cream instead.
26:19
Yeah and So I had her draw it for me. I didn't ask for any details. Again, i'm not wanting to reinforce that pathway in the brain for what made her upset. So I just no color, just a pencil, no questions asked her to draw the beach with the rain, and, and she did, and I said so what did you get to do instead? Now I've planted a seed of positivity What did you get to do instead, not what did you have to do or what did you do, what did you get to know? I'm starting to focus on, i'm flipping to a growth mindset.
Dr. Pelè
Host
26:54
Mm-hmm.
Dr. Kimberly Davis
Guest
26:55
Okay, pick up her pencil and I'm putting the crowns down now And now we have color and I'm asking her to draw the ice cream parlor at details. I'm asking questions. We're putting, we're drawing sprinkles on the ice cream.
27:09
Mm-hmm and I'm watching her. It took 17 minutes, when I time, for her to change from throwing things in the room to Being able to have a happy conversation. Wow, 17 minutes. Now I'm gonna take this a step and then I had her rewrite again. I'm wanting to reinforce and give a positive, happy Experience to the ice cream parlor. I flipped and re-frame that.
27:37
Mm-hmm and now I had her write it rained on my birthday So I got to go eat ice cream, totally that script. Here's what was really interesting. I think this is what's gonna tie into what you're asking me. I To. I made a list of questions, like three or four questions for the teachers.
27:56
Mm-hmm different ones that she would have throughout the day, and I wanted to reactivate the happy factor, the happy Thought, to put that, because you re-experience it right. I wanted to bring that joy back to what she was doing. So what I asked them to do is, if you see her starting to Go towards the deficit thinking again, don't let her get down the path. Just say Did you, did you go eat ice cream? What, what, what flavor was it? And watch see if she changes. Don't say anything else, because we're not gonna satiate her on the the actual questions. We want to just, yeah, we would, we would. We're just going to keep triggering that happiness right.
28:37
Because you cannot have a happy thought and a negative thought at the same time at the same time Yeah we're just gonna keep triggering. You want to flip that switch? What was amazing to me is we only had to use phrases from that experience twice that day. Mm-hmm and one other time during the week, and she had an Outstanding week with no behavioral referrals by triggering that happiness, that happy thought and taking her brain, firing those neural pathways that way. Now what else happened? She passed her spelling test for the first time that year.
Dr. Pelè
Host
29:11
Wow.
Dr. Kimberly Davis
Guest
29:12
She completed all of her work that that week. She was able to complete chores at home. We got, you know, mom involved as well, and we kind of played with it at home a little bit. The idea, though, is is it by promoting and Finding a way to maintain that happiness, those happy thoughts? it increase your productivity and her ability to learn for the entire week.
Dr. Pelè
Host
29:39
Wow, wow. That is a direct link right there And in fact I would add one more thing that I think you probably were building, which was those neural pathways and making them easier. You were building habits, you were making it habitual for that transference from the negative thinking Habits of yes.
Dr. Kimberly Davis
Guest
29:58
Exactly.
Dr. Pelè
Host
29:59
Yeah, yeah, and I just I love that. In fact, that's central to my work is, you know, the idea not just of happiness by itself, but how do you take happiness, turn some of these processes, like engagement and so on, into habits so that our powers of habit can push us forward? You know we could geek out for like a whole hour here, just keep going. But as we wrap up, i'd love to ask you what you're excited about next, what projects you're working on and, most importantly, how people can reach you online so that they can interact with you or learn from you or work with you.
Dr. Kimberly Davis
Guest
30:37
Well, I have a lot going on right now in several realms. I am very excited about having an opportunity to work with the SBA's Small Business Administration's Thrive Program right now as a subject matter expert in leadership.
30:51
I also have article. The International Journal of Education is publishing an article for me on the middle of July 17th, i believe, is the date in the I'll be presenting my findings and I actually talk about you know this particular scenario and how that changed behavior and increased learning and productivity, and I'll be presenting that at their international conference on I believe it's July 17th. I also have I've got a few things going on. The best way to reach me, though, is on my website, motivatingexcellencecom, but I have wonderful opportunities that have been presented recently to work with.
31:35
Like the group of educators that I worked with today, i've done training for a lot of different types of organizations, and the thing that I want to say about it is you don't have to be an expert in an industry. I'm an expert in human performance improvement and crypto decrypt. We are the same, and human performance is such a passion. It is such a passion, but look, i'm getting so impassioned now it's hard to even speak. The idea of improving somebody's life by giving them the opportunity to be happy, by improving their life for generations because that you know that we talk about nature versus nurture their habits in life become everybody's habits in life.
32:27
You know, happiness is contagious. Try to be around somebody who's laughing and not laugh with them. Yeah, yeah, yeah It's mirror neurons We emulate what we see, And so the joy that is spread from that and the ripple effect that comes from that knowing that you have something to do with that is a blessing that just can't be replaced.
Dr. Pelè
Host
32:49
No, it truly is. And, by the way, when you were talking about the mirror neurons, i couldn't help but just think about the fact that it works both ways. There's also the negative, which we need to avoid, and just a very innocent example is when you're talking with someone, like I'm talking to my wife and she yawns, for example, before I knew it, i want to yawn too.
Dr. Kimberly Davis
Guest
33:11
That's a mirror neuron. We're both yawning What happened, oh my gosh.
Dr. Pelè
Host
33:15
We're falling asleep while we're talking here.
Dr. Kimberly Davis
Guest
33:18
That's a great example.
Dr. Pelè
Host
33:20
Yeah, no, just exciting stuff, lots of exciting stuff here. I really appreciate most of all and you talk about how passionate that this got you feeling is that you are really your community builder. You bring people toward their common ground using your processes, your body of knowledge and your experience, and I really appreciate that. So I want to thank you so much, dr Kim, for joining us on the Profitable Happiness Podcast.
Dr. Kimberly Davis
Guest
33:47
Thank you so much for having me.