Strained and estranged relationships are everywhere in business. Salespeople are frustrated by the finance people, customer service, and operations people are frustrated by salespeople, and for some reason, everyone is frustrated by the IT people. It’s time to shift the conversation. In Krister Ungerböck, 22 Talk SHIFTs, you’ll discover unconventional, sometimes counterintuitive communication techniques that could make your year or your career.
Talk shifts create not only great teams but also create great families. These practical tools include fill in the blank phrases, powerful questions, and provocative exercises that can break the cycle of strained communication and strained relationships. Language changes that and makes a big difference, in business, partnership, and life.
Drew Applebaum: Hey listeners, my name is Drew Applebaum and I’m excited to be here today with Krister Ungerböck, author of 22 Talk SHIFTs. Krister, I’m excited you’re here, welcome to the Author Hour podcast.
Krister Ungerböck: I am excited to be here as well Drew, it’s been a long journey together. Three years in the process, actually almost four now. Before we get started about the book, I have to give a shout out to Scribe because they’ve been with me every step of the way.
I have rarely come across a partner who has given me the candor, so much so, that there were a couple of times in the process, when in so many words, they said, “You know, we’d love to have your money but we just don’t think that’s a good idea, so I think you should spend your money elsewhere.” It is so rare to find a supplier or a partner who is actually willing to say that, and I really appreciate the candor, and this book would not have been possible without the great team at Scribe.
Drew Applebaum: Scribe Media is not afraid to hurt your feelings.
Krister Ungerböck: I didn’t have my feelings hurt but there is something about actual candor, which is kind of talking about the book because the book is a little bit about candor. There’s something about candor when there’s an expectation of candor and it’s set the right way, that it actually doesn’t hurt people’s feelings. Scribe has actually done a pretty good job of setting that expectation that candor is part of how you do your thing and I really appreciate it.
Drew Applebaum: We’re excited and glad you had a really great experience with Scribe Media and why don’t you kick us off and tell us a little bit about your background?
Krister Ungerböck: I was previously CEO of one of the largest family-owned software companies in the world. And that’s part of the story of the book but about four years ago, a little over four years ago, I found myself at the YMCA, signing up for a gym membership, and the woman asked me who my emergency contact is. I broke down crying. Because at that moment, two weeks before that moment, I had walked out of the CEO job of the company that I helped build and loved. Then two weeks later my wife walked out on me.
I look back on my life and I’ve been pretty successful in business, I’m still an owner, and in that company where we’ve built a hundred million in shareholder value and growth. I started reading leadership books when I was 12 years old. By the time I went to college, I had read more business leadership books than some people read in an entire lifetime.
I went on a journey. Then, I said I’m going to set aside all these business books and I’ve got to find the secrets to leadership that I was missing all these decades. The end result was this book, 22 Talk SHIFTs. It’s really practical, fill-in-the-blanks phrases to give people tools to lead and communicate better, not just in a business context, but also in the context of a marriage. Or in the context of a parent.
So, while the book is a business book, first and foremost, my broader intention–I remember when I first had the conversations with Scribe, around four years ago and said, “Hey, here’s what I want to do, I want to create a business book that is also a relationship book.” They said, “You can’t do that, you got to pick a lane, you know? You can either be a business book or you could be a relationship book.”
Admittedly, if it wasn’t for the team of people that I’ve just been so fortunate to have help me walk the path and some of the amazing coaching, both from Scribe and also behind this book have been people who have been behind over a hundred New York Times bestsellers. Without their help and guidance, we would have never been able to thread the needle and create basically a business book that it’s also a relationship book, I don’t want to say in disguise because it’s not that. We made it somewhat obvious in the introduction what our intention is.
What Is a Talk SHIFT?
Drew Applebaum: Yeah, it’s very much in the book, let’s dive into the book. Tell us what a talk shift actually is?
Krister Ungerböck: A year ago, I was going to publish this book under a different title and then I discovered almost to the day, that the book was going to launch, I did go against the common wisdom and recommendations of Scribe in this particular case, and I actually sent the book out to a couple of hundred people as beta readers about a year and a half ago. Including a lot of people who were strangers and one of those people was a French guy named Ryan and he sent me a bunch of feedback on the book. I read his feedback in an email and I was like, “Wow, this guy is angry.”
He texted me and said let’s just jump on the phone. He gave me all this feedback verbally. It was really harsh feedback. And he said, “Krister, I was trying to take the ‘hater perspective,’ that people are going to give you a one-star review on Amazon and say that they hated your book. But I have to tell you this,” and tears came to my eyes, I didn’t break down crying but when he said this, he said, “Krister, I’ve read thousands of books in my life.” He’s a professor so I guess he reads a lot. But he said, “I’ve read thousands of books in my life and this is the best book I’ve ever read.”
That was what actually prompted me to pull the book back and rewrite it because I felt like I was maybe holding on to something that had the possibility of being something truly great. But I know that what I had sent him wasn’t truly great yet. Interestingly, the date upon which that version of the book was going to be published, I found out that I had a trademark issue with the title. The trademark owner would not sell it to me because she was, I think, writing a book with the same name.
I went into a dark hold because I thought about the thousands of dollars I’d invested in that name and brand and 24 hours later, I said “Okay, we got to come up with a new title.” And Talk SHIFTs was the result. By all measures, it’s a much tighter title than the last one, because the last one was three times as long.
So, a talk shift is really two things–a talk shift is a specific, simple, typically fill-in-the-blanks phrase or question that you can use to create a shift in a relationship. Whether it’s with your boss or a coworker or a spouse, or parent or child. At one level, that’s what a talk shift is. The book is 22 of these talk shifts.
More broadly, a talk shift is a process of shifting a relationship using one or more of these 22 talk shifts because sometimes, the key to shifting a relationship is literally just one of these 22 talk shifts. Then more broadly, what we’re seeing with 2020 and the things that have happened here–this is why I’m so grateful that the book was actually delayed by a year. This book wouldn’t have nearly been as successful a year ago pre-COVID because I’m seeing leadership dramatically change in the last six months. I am seeing people who are more open to communicating in new ways than I’ve ever seen in successful leaders before.
The last part is there’s the talk shift, which is this broader revolution, frankly, in communication, in business, that’s been spurred by the racial tensions in the United States, and there’s COVID, there’s just so many factors that have been building over time. LinkedIn is making it easier for people to find new jobs and escape toxic work cultures, Glassdoor is making transparent which companies have toxic work cultures. Millennials are demanding a new breed of leadership.
There are all of these forces and then you throw the Molotov cocktail of COVID and the racial tensions into that. There’s just this broader movement that is gaining momentum that I’m hopeful to be a part of.
The Compassionate Revolution
Drew Applebaum: I think employers now know that employee engagement is huge in getting results. You bring up something called the compassionate revolution that’s happening now. As you mentioned, there is LinkedIn now so people can find more jobs and be more accessible. Glassdoor will tell you about the culture of a company. Can you tell us what the compassionate revolution is and how it can affect employee engagement?
Krister Ungerböck: One thing we’re actually looking at in the compassion revolution is really the talk shift revolution because what I found when I originally wrote the book and talked about the compassion revolution is that business leaders, unfortunately, if you say, do you want to be a compassionate leader, it’s not something most business leaders will say. I’m really seeing it as it’s really the talk shift revolution. Ultimately, the talk shifts are tools to fuel more compassionate leadership in business.
A good example that I mention a book, is the Microsoft CEO. Bill Gates, the founder and CEO of Microsoft for 25 years, created 500 billion dollars in shareholder value. The current CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadela, has created one trillion dollars in shareholder value in six years. He did it with kindness and compassion. He created more shareholder value than Google, Facebook, and Warrant Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway combined.
I was a tech guy and a tech CEO. When I was 19 years old, I said I wanted to build a billion-dollar company. I modeled my leadership off of people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, these aggressive leaders. Ultimately, I think we took a couple of small data points with people who are wildly successful. And we assume that that was the recipe for outsize success.
We never really asked ourselves, if there is something even better. There’s a new breed of leaders that are showing us that, like Satya Nadela, actually this kind of cut-throat aggressive kind of leadership style isn’t really what gets the big results. It’s more the kind, compassionate style leadership.
Drew Applebaum: You also mentioned in the book to be a better boss, that there is a secret to inspiring people, and it’s as simple as doing something inspiring. Can it actually be that simple?
Krister Ungerböck: One of my coaches, who actually I just talked to on the phone last week, and who shaped some elements of the book, he asked me the question, “Are you inspired by your life?”
If you’re not inspired by your life, why would we expect other people to be inspired to follow us? That’s what hurt me when he first asked me the question. What I realized over the journey of writing this book is that, when I look back at how I led as a CEO, admittedly, we were pretty successful. We created a hundred million dollars in shareholder value–it’s not like my leadership style didn’t get results, it did.
What I realized is that people were following the vision, but they weren’t following me. And if we can actually create leaders where we can create a situation where we have both the vision that people want to follow, and leaders up and down our organizations that people want to follow, then that is the recipe for outsized, revolutionary results.
Drew Applebaum: Sometimes good feedback is just a way to understand how you are doing as a leader, but real feedback is traditionally hard to get. No one is going to tell their boss that they stink, right? So, tell us some of the techniques that you used to get honest answers to difficult questions.
Krister Ungerböck: That is one of the things that I mentioned in the book is that the talk shifts are things that leaders can use, but you can also use them in reverse. I call them ‘reverse talk shifts.’ So, let’s say you’re frustrated with your boss or you can be frustrated with your spouse, we always think it is the other person that is actually the problem.
I also mention in the book that we have actually grown our data. We now have 150,000 data points on the talk shift assessment. Anybody who is listening can take it at talkshift.com/quiz. So, we have 150,000 data points and originally, admittedly, it was a marketing quiz to just get people into the content of the book. About two months ago, I did the analysis. Of course, this is after the manuscript was written, so, I guess it will be in the next book.
We did the analysis and what was really surprising is that we found four specific questions that were most highly correlated with whether people said they had a frustrating relationship at work or at home.
Admittedly, I was very surprised by which of those four questions they were. We call them the ‘core four.’ The second thing that we found is that we were able to predict whether people have a frustrating relationship in their life based upon their words, not the other person’s words. I can predict whether you have a frustrating relationship in your life based upon your words.
So, here is the point, if we can predict that you have a frustrating relationship in your life based on your words, then that means maybe you can change that relationship simply by changing your words.
Somebody told me that when the Chinese came back from quarantine, there was a huge spike in the divorce rate. And divorce lawyers call January, ‘Divorce Month.’ So, I think we can probably look forward to January 2021 as being kind of a record year in terms of divorces. Because people have been cooped up in marriages and now cooped up in the same home and so tensions are sky-high.
We have even seen in the data that the percentage of people that say they have a frustrating relationship has jumped by nearly 20 points pre-COVID versus post-COVID. So, my intention, my hope is that all of those leaders who are looking for tools to be better leaders and have more success with less stress in business, we will see that these tools work equally well with their children and with their spouses.
Start with What or How
Drew Applebaum: I think one of the signs of a great leader is someone who leads people to their solution, not yours, as you say. Tell us about the differences between leading with questions and asking leading questions, and that nothing is more rewarding than an employee thinking they found the answer and walking them to it. How could someone do that?
Krister Ungerböck: Probably one of the simplest talk shifts in the book is simply start all of your questions with the word what or how. So usually, when I lead people to my solutions I say, “Hey Drew, have you tried XYZ and what are the answers, yes or no?” So, it’s basic advice disguised as a question but if I say, “Drew, what solutions have you considered and why? How are you planning to solve this problem?” So now, I am allowing you to come to your own solutions.
The interesting thing is, as a leader or a parent or a spouse, frankly when I ask these questions this way people are actually going to be more open to my suggestions after they’ve had an opportunity to kind of exhaust their own. So, if somebody says, “You know honestly, I really don’t know what I’m going to do.” That’s a good opportunity for me to give you my thoughts. So that’s probably one of the simplest examples of literally how just changing the first word in your sentence and your question can have an enormous shift in all of your relationships.
The most intriguing thing that, admittedly, I didn’t practice as a leader and CEO is that when you ask questions that way it takes so much less mental effort than actually trying to give everyone all the solutions. So, if I’ve got 100 employees and I am trying to get 100 people the solutions, I would be responding to 200 emails a day. But if I allow people to find their own solutions, I can actually ask the same questions over and over again.
What solutions have you considered Drew? What solutions have you considered Bob? What solutions have you considered Sally? And I could just ask those same questions over and over and over again and I will get more engagement, I’ll get better results, and with less stress.
Drew Applebaum: Now, are there any differences in talk shifts in personal relationships versus at the office?
Krister Ungerböck: So, some of them have subtle wording changes. So, in my talk shift 16, there is a statement about I demonstrate love and kindness. Well, I wouldn’t use that phrase in a work relationship, I would strike the word love. But part of what I have discovered on my journey is that I really surround myself with mostly people from outside of the business world and they have a lot of really good ideas but they just need to have subtle changes to the language to actually be workable in business.
I think that is one of the innovations in the book is subtle changes to things that you may discover in marriage counseling or that some of the insights were informed by a peace activist who did peace negotiations. So, taking some of those and tailoring them to more business-friendly language was, I think, one of the innovations in 22 Talk SHIFTS.
Drew Applebaum: Now of all of the talk shifts of the 22 in the book, what do you think listeners can implement first? And what could be the easiest that they could walk away with right now just by hearing you talk about it?
Krister Ungerböck: The easiest is to take the quiz because what happens when people take the quiz, is that we actually tailor the talk shifts we share based upon their responses. So, the interesting thing that I found when I had beta readers read the final version of the book is that I was surprised. I asked them, “What are your three favorite chapters?” And there were probably 12 chapters that people generally gravitated toward, but there weren’t any chapters that everyone had in their top three.
Which means, to me, that people take away from the book different things based on where they are. I really wrote the book, not for one person to read but really for two people to read together and discuss. So, for example, Drew, you and I work together. We read it and we are working on improving our communication with one another because we have some frustration. We don’t like each other or whatever and we start talking about it.
You say, “Well for me, what I would really request that you do Krister is talk shift number six,” and I would say, “You know Drew I think that for me if you practice 13, it would really make a big difference for me.” So that is really the intention is that you read the book together and then specifically ask the other person which talk shifts you’d like.
Communication for All Situations
Drew Applebaum: Now you actually flip the old cliché that actions speak louder than words and you say using words to make commitments that are followed with action. How do you find this? Is there a time in your life where this played out in front of you?
Krister Ungerböck: Well I guess part of it was the vision for the book. When we make commitments, part of it is to tell people but also make them very specific and time-bound. So, if I say, “Hey Drew, a part of my vision for the book,” which really for an author without a platform, delusion might be a better word, but my vision is to create the bestselling business book of all time. I am a big believer that you shoot for the moon because if you miss, you land on the stars.
Les Brown said that, but will I create the bestselling business book of all time? Probably not. However, you know there is an argument to say, with a business book, the total addressable market for a business book is people who are leaders in business. But the total addressable market for a business book that also helps transform parents and marriages is, for the most part, it is everyone.
It is a communication book more broadly than a business book. There is certainly a fighting chance that probably my biggest liability is that my mailing list is measured closer to the hundreds than the hundreds of thousands, but we’ll see how that evolves over time.
Drew Applebaum: Well regardless of book sales, writing a book is no joke. So, congratulations on finishing even if it was three years later.
Krister Ungerböck: Well, I actually joke, I say why write five books when you can rewrite one five times? Which is pretty much what this process has been. So yeah, thanks to Scribe and for continuing to push me to get it out to the world.
Drew Applebaum: Editing and rewriting is part of the process and oftentimes the most difficult process.
Krister Ungerböck: Actually, I find it to be the most fun part because I saw what the book was just like three months before the manuscript was finished versus the actual finished manuscript. I mean it, was light years better just because of the editing. So, I am excited for the book to be born finally, in the world. And even if no one else is excited, I will be excited that I can tell you.
Drew Applebaum: We’re all excited. Now, if readers could take away one thing from your book, what would you want it to be?
Krister Ungerböck: Everyone will take away a different thing. The easiest way is to take the quiz, it takes three minutes, it’s free, and then you’ll get some sample chapters tailored to this specific relationship that you would want to shift. So, if you say you want to shift your relationship with your boss, here are the five chapters. We recommend you read possibly with your boss or share it with your boss. If you want to do it with a spouse, here are the five, six chapters we share, and then if you want to shift a relationship with a child, then here are the seven chapters.
There is some overlap between these two, which is part of the power of the talk shifts is that there are probably six or seven chapters that apply in all contexts, whether it is business or personal.
My relationship with my father was transformed–we had a terrible relationship for over 30 years–when I read him the book and we read it together. That is why I am passionate about it. I mean we are actually going to do a video book with the intention that people can actually watch the video together, whether it is with a spouse or as a family, and then talk about it.
It is time that we start talking about our words because the difference between great relationships and then frustrating ones is often very little language changes.
Drew Applebaum: Krister, this has been such a pleasure. I am really excited for people to check out this book. Everyone, the book is called, 22 Talk SHIFTs: Tools to Transform Leadership, Business, Partnership, and in Life. You could find it on Amazon. Now besides checking out the book, can you tell us your website again and any other places people could find you online?
Krister Ungerböck: My website about keynote speaking and what I do in organizations to create talk shifts is Krister with a K. My first, name krister.com and the website for the book is talkshift.com.
Drew Applebaum: Krister, thank you so much for coming to the podcast today.
Krister Ungerböck: Thank you. I am glad to be here.