It can be easy to complicate things when it comes to business and leadership. But in this episode, Dr. Nashater Solheim explains how in reality, effective leadership really boils down to willing and winning relationships. Her unique background is as a forensic psychologist and a Harvard Law School educated negotiation expert. Dr. Solheim breaks down the art of persuasion, influence, and negotiation to a simple ABC strategy and explains how it’s these skills that lie at the heart of truly effective leadership.
Nikki Van Noy: Today, I’m joined by Dr. Solheim, the author of the new book, The Leadership PIN Code. Dr. Solheim, thanks for joining us today.
Dr. Nashater Deu Solheim: It’s my pleasure and thank you for inviting me.
Nikki Van Noy: Absolutely. You have a very interesting professional background which I would love you to walk me and listeners through. You actually worked in forensic psychology and neuropsychology of criminal minds. What exactly did you do and what was that experience like?
Dr. Nashater Deu Solheim: That’s a great question, I get asked that all the time because I think I have a peculiar, maybe interesting background. I was a clinical forensic psychologist working with people who had committed offenses but also had psychiatric problems.
They were housed in what in the UK is known as special hospitals or maximum-security hospital environments. That’s really so that the offenders could both have their mental health concerns taken care of but also looking at how we could try and help to understand the offenses that they had committed and how we could help them to perhaps think about living a different life, a better life going forward.
I was interested in working with offenders to really understand what motivated them to do their crimes. What kind of background had they come from? How had their childhood affected their later decisions to live the life that they had chosen? And in the course of that, I really got into trying to understand how the brain works.
People are very different, and they have different experiences and as we get older, we make choices about how we want to live our lives. Some of those choices are affected, of course, by the experiences we’ve had in earlier life. My interest really always came from what makes us different, what is it that makes one person choose to take a direction that another person doesn’t?
In the course of that, I really go into how the brain works and whether there was neuroscience to those differences. Is it just personality? You’ve probably heard of the nature-nurture debate. You know, are we born this way? Can we learn to be a different way? I was curious really about that with offenders. To what extent are they born that way and to what extent do they learn to be that way?
I studied the neuropsychology of the criminal mind. In particular, sex offenders because they are notoriously some of the most, I would say, worrisome and concerning, especially the type of offenders I met who are in, I would say, the extreme end of the spectrum of their offending. I was really curious to what extent they were either born that way or had learned or made decisions that took them down that path. I studied neuropsychology at school which is how the brain works.
If you think about a computer having hardware and software, the brain has hardware so it’s physically made up of nerves and neurons but there’s also a software element which is, what kind of processes takes place in the brain that help us to be very planned or perhaps very opportunistic in the way that we work and operate?
A long answer to a short question, but I’m fascinated by the extremes of personality and differences in people.
Nikki Van Noy: It’s amazing and I love the way you broke that down too, it’s fascinating to listen to, but what I am curious about next though is you were also an expert negotiator. Was that a direct jump off from what you were doing as a forensic psychologist or did you decide you wanted to try something different–how did that transition happen?
Dr. Nashater Deu Solheim: That’s an interesting pathway because part of what you train to do as a forensic psychologist is really the art of investigative or persuasive interviewing. Because if you think about the people I was working with, they were locked up, they were incarcerated, usually for life or certainly for decades. They were perhaps not very motivated to share the reasons why they’re offending and certainly not often very motivated to be thinking about doing something different and living a different life–they were going to be locked up for a long time anyway.
But our purpose really is to try and understand what causes people to commit these crimes so that we could really mitigate that risk going forward, both in these individuals, but also in society. The more we learn about what makes people commit these horrific offenses, maybe we can go back and prevent that from happening by looking at some of those causes and those early factors.
When you’re working with people who are not very motivated to share that information and certainly not very motivated to change, you really need to work with how you build trust and rapport, how to use different types of questions to help people open up and to share the information that you’re going to need to make a judgment about whether they’re going to make those offenses again or they’re fit for release.
During that training, I was fascinated by those persuasive techniques. They really are at the heart of negotiations. I think that has always been an interest of mine. Certainly, when I was in forensics, in a maximum-security hospital, we had negotiation training but it was really then in the context of hostage negotiation, for example, making sure that if there was a hostage scenario in a hospital where a patient or an offender managed to take either another patient hostage or a member of the staff hostage, it was highly unlikely, but of course, you had to prepare for the likelihood of that.
Some of the staff were trained in that and though I wasn’t at the time, I was very curious about well, how you would use those same techniques to get somebody out of a situation that’s not dangerous and risky? As I learned through my forensic training and then subsequent experience as a psychologist, I was fascinated really by negotiation techniques, not just working in hostage situations but everyday situations.
It became more and more apparent to me as I worked with different client groups and patient groups that actually we’re doing it all the time. It’s not just about these extreme situations, these frightening situations, we actually negotiate on a daily basis. I really wanted to go and formalize my understanding and get to grips with, well, how can we do that in an everyday situation, whether it’s work or at home?
I went to the Harvard Negotiation Institute training at Harvard Law School to learn from the best really, in how they do that.
Nikki Van Noy: First of all, after hearing about your background, I feel like we should be talking about the screenplay about your life rather than the book you’ve written but maybe that will come later on.
Dr. Nashater Deu Solheim: My gosh. I’ve just about managed to squeeze a book out. I think if I manage anything more than that Nikki, you’ll be the first to know.
Nikki Van Noy: Excellent. I will be here. The next iteration of the podcast. You know, it’s interesting hearing you talk because I feel like this is something I’ve only become aware of very recently in my own life is this idea that the negotiations are constantly going on.
I’m realizing that as someone who is, I would say, that I do not have the innate gift of negotiation. I kept kind of finding myself in these situations and wondering how it happened when I was up against people who I came to realize in retrospect, we were engaged in a negotiation, I just didn’t realize it at the time, if that makes sense.
Dr. Nashater Deu Solheim: Absolutely. Think about everyday scenarios, such as you’re negotiating a salary when you’re going into a new role or new job. Children are great negotiators if you think about that–negotiating whether it’s bedtime or extra sweets or hanging out with their friends instead of doing their homework. I mean, they are constantly negotiating.
Sometimes we do it more than we realize. I think once I became conscious and made explicit some of those things that we do, I realized that we need to demystify it. It sounds like you said, an innate ability. I really believe that we can learn it and it’s not difficult, which is why I wrote the book. It’s not as difficult as it may sound and seem when we see it on television programs and we see these experts flying around, having these great conversations that look so difficult and challenging.
Really, if you get down to what’s at the core of either negotiating or influencing, it’s that ability to understand what somebody else wants from this conversation, as well as what you want. We do that every day. Whether it’s talking to a friend and asking them for help, you know, “I need help painting my living room. Do you have any time at the weekend?” And they say, “Sure, but you know, on the other hand, time is very precious.” You start doing what we call a quid pro quo conversation, maybe about, “Well, if you help me now maybe I can help you with whatever is you’re dealing with next week?”
We’re trading or negotiating, I think, in all kinds of scenarios in our lives. Certainly, in the work environment. You probably would do it much more than you realize. You might be negotiating with other members of your team for either help on a task, or it might be that you’re negotiating for extra resources on a project, maybe you don’t have enough people or the competence you need. You’re trading in a way, asking people for something and offering something in return.
Nikki Van Noy: You know, something jumped out at me, probably because I have a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter who is a master negotiator.
Dr. Nashater Deu Solheim: Yes.
Nikki Van Noy: Is that idea that negotiation is to some extent hard-wired into us? That’s really interesting.
Dr. Nashater Deu Solheim: I wonder if it’s hardwired but I think in the core of it all is that we as humans, it’s my personal belief, are always looking to build relationships with others. You know, we really are relationship orientated beings. Right from the get-go from as early as children can remember, they are looking to seek a relationship.
Whether it’s with the parental figure or with other siblings or with playmates as they get older, it’s at the core of that wanting to have a relationship with somebody that we realize there’s a give and take. There’s reciprocity to it. I can’t just keep asking for your love and your kindness and your support and your generosity and your help without you also wanting that.
It’s something, that if we come from a very positive intention, “I want to be your friend, I want to have a relationship with you because I like you and I value your qualities. Then, I also want to do that for you. What is it you need from me?”
I think even for your two-and-a-half-year-old. You know, they’re negotiating, not necessarily for love, which is very primitive and I think very innate our need for that as humans, but then maybe more for, “Am I allowed to do this and how far can I push the boundaries before you say no? How much can I trade on those limits of climbing on the top of the sofa and saying I’m going to jump before you lose your patience and tell me I can’t because it’s fun for me but it’s not for you?”
Can I do it once, will I negotiate doing it once just for the fun? It’s those kinds of things that children will negotiate to test limits and boundaries but because it’s relational, they want something from the relationship, and they can see that you want something back.
Nikki Van Noy: Okay, perfect. It’s like you’re a fly on the wall, you know all about our couch negotiations, that’s strange.
Dr. Nashater Deu Solheim: I have a 15-year old so I’ve been through a few phases of negotiations I can tell you. He’s actually brilliant at it. He’s got me wrapped around his finger when it comes to jumping into what do you need out of this before I tell you what I want from you, mum.
Nikki Van Noy: I love it. Well, I would hope so being your son.
Dr. Nashater Deu Solheim: He’s under pressure, right?
Nikki Van Noy: Exactly. You have just this wealth of knowledge coming from all of these different sectors. What made you decide to apply all of this to leadership like you’re doing in this book?
Dr. Nashater Deu Solheim: I went from working with criminals and offenders in this maximum-security hospital I mentioned, to working in the Ministry of Defense in the UK. Where, although we were still working with patients, typically soldiers or military personnel coming back from peacekeeping or war zones, they were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and we were helping them to readjust to normal life.
After I left the Ministry of Defense, I was really struck by how much of what I was learning about working with people in extreme situations and helping them to adjust to everyday life, how much off of that was relevant to people working with challenging situations in other contexts.
As I started to work in business, which I did when I moved to Norway, in corporate business I should say and, in the oil and gas business specifically, I was working with leadership development within these companies–designing their leadership programs with other professionals. Looking at what it is we need of leaders leading large teams, large businesses, and big changes.
I was really struck by the commonality of the challenges they were facing, context is very different absolutely, but they were still dealing with sometimes difficult people. People who are resistant to change. Perhaps having a conflict, perhaps dealing with big changes and wondering how they were going to mobilize these people to accept those changes. I could see the common threads with the experiences that I’d had before. It was less extreme absolutely, but the challenge is nevertheless the same. And one of the things that really struck me after I had been working on these leadership programs for a while was that we were perhaps overcomplicating what we were teaching or training these leaders.
So, the programs were addressing understanding your business and how to lead teams in terms of what were the right models to have with you. What are the theories that drive that? And we were talking about concepts, but not really getting into the how of that. So, we would talk about how it is important to build trust with your team and then we’d move on. It’s really important to show empathy and make sure that your team understands your agenda as well as finding a way to motivate them, don’t forget to motivate your team. And then we’d move on.
It struck me that when we were observing these leaders standing up and delivering presentations to us on what they had learned, that the very basics were often missing. So, they weren’t able to translate what they’d learn to us or the audience in a way that was interesting and inspiring for us to hear. They were lacking sometimes either the right words or perhaps their body language was getting in the way.
So, they looked bored or disinterested in what they were saying, or they were anxious and that was showing up in their behavior while they were trying to present. It dawned on me that if we just went back to basics on how to get your message across as leader, we’d really be helping these leaders to take all of that complex information that they need to translate to people on a daily basis and give them the simple tools about how to get that across in such a way that it has the impact they were trying to have.
So, they would often say, “You know we learned lots in that program, Nasheter, but when we got back to the office, I was still struggling with how to get people on board. I had all of this knowledge, but I really couldn’t translate it in a way that I felt met them and they looked inspired or motivated.”
That really drew me to thinking about the book, as I started to coach people in this method that I have put together, which is very simple. It is not at all rocket science, but it is really about getting to the core of how you translate what you know into how you have the impact you want to have. I realize that we just needed to go back to some of those principles, which I call persuasion, influence, and negotiation. Those core principles of how you get your message across and have the impact you want to have and taking the luck out of that.
That is how the book came about. It was really, on the one hand, translating what I’d seen and observed. I’d been an executive leader myself in corporate business, so I’ve understood the challenges. I knew how demanding those roles can be. You get multiple requests, multiple demands, you are serving multiple stakeholders and it could be very difficult in the storm of all of those different tasks and demanding to really understand your own way. It is really difficult for you to easily find a coherent way of getting your message across.
You often find yourself responding in a knee jerk way or jumping into things quickly because you don’t have the time to think it through and prepare, or you just don’t have the information at hand to best get the message across. So, I wrote the book really for my clients who said, “You know this is great. I get it, I understand that we’ve had this conversation how to do it. I’d love a reference where I could go back to this and keep looking at it again.”
So, the book is really about the core task of leadership, everyday leadership, which is how you create willing relationships and winning relationships. What I mean by willing relationships is where we work with other people and we gain their cooperation and collaboration because they want to work with us. As leaders, they are our employees and they are contracted to work with us, and they may even feel obliged to work with us because we are the leaders. But the skill of an effective leader is really encouraging and motivating people so that you create willing relationships so that they want to follow you. They are inspired to follow you. They understand what it is that you need. They feel motivated to join you on that journey and to deliver the results with you. So, it is really about willing relationships.
The winning part is, in a business environment, it is about creating value. Whether that is financial value, whether that is creating goals together and achieving those goals together, or whether it is perhaps about producing better products or processes, but it is really about creating the win. What is it that you as the leader of a team need to create in terms of a win or value? So, I wanted to really address the willing and winning part of relationship building for leaders.
Nikki Van Noy: I really like how you’ve gone about doing this. Because as you were saying earlier, when you are practicing negotiation and persuasion, it can be a very difficult thing to break down and translate how you’re doing it, but what you have done in this book is broken it down into ABC’s, which I would love for you to share with listeners.
Dr. Nashater Deu Solheim: You know it’s really simple. Sometimes I think it is trying to get to the essence of these things that if leaders managed to get these three things–I don’t say right because there is a different way for every leader–but right for them, then they would have a much better chance or effect in their communication with others. I call it the ABC because it really boils down to a simple memorable framework.
I talk about it in the book that I have learned a lot in neuropsychology that we tend to remember things in threes. You will see it all over the world in terms of marketing that we tend to see slogans in three words. We like to chunk telephone numbers in often threes or fours. So, there is neuroscience to the fact that we as humans tend to remember things in threes and we better remember chunked information.
So, I certainly knew that if I was going to try and crystalize what I wanted leaders to know about persuasion, influence, and negotiation it was going to have to be simple and probably come in a chunk of three. So, I looked at these skills and I realized that the cornerstones of these skills are good preparation, being conscious of your body language, and then saying the right things in the right way.
I thought ABC is an easy acronym to remember. A for your approach or your advanced preparation. That’s really about what do I need to know before I start a conversation or going into a meeting before I have a dialogue? What do I need to prepare? What do I need to know about the other person I am going to have this conversation with? What kind of research should I do? What should I know about what makes them tick? What is the hook that motivates them to come into this conversation with me?
And then B is really behavior. It is both body language and behavior. What am I doing that helps my communication? What kind of body language adds to and makes my communication more effective and what in my body language is getting in my way? Are there things I do that put people off that perhaps are distracting or noisy?
There is a second part to behavior–it is also the behavior of the room, I call it. What I mean by that is when we are in a room, where we sit or stand, how we organize our seating, whether we use a table or a PowerPoint slide or flipchart, the behavior of the room also has an effect on the kind of communication we have.
So, what kind of influence we are going to have? You can certainly create a very formal stiff behavior in the room by having a large table and sitting opposite to each other, for example. That is much more from the boardroom style seating. I wanted to really get into helping people to understand that it is your behavior and the behavior of your environment that you need to pay attention to in the B.
Then the C for me is the conversation. So, once I’ve made my plan and I have prepared what I want to say, what I am going to do, where I am going to be in the room or how I am going to hold this conversation, then where I see leaders really struggle and perhaps the hardest one is how do I have a conversation? What questions do I start with? Do I even start? Perhaps the other person should start and what kind of questions can I use, and what responses can I give that help people to open up?
How can I help them to understand what it is that I am trying to express but also how do I listen in a way that has them share what they need to so that we find the win-win in the conversation? That is tricky because we talk a lot about open questions. There is a ton of literature about asking open questions and I think what I really wanted to get to was trying to think about what it is you want to achieve in this conversation and plan a little about the kind of questions that you think will help you get there.
I have opened up my toolbox as a psychologist. Some of the tools come from my early experiences as a forensic psychologist and a clinical psychologist and my experiences as a negotiator and conflict mediator. I am sharing some of those questions and some of the framing, and also the structuring of these questions that I think leaders would benefit from by taking some of those and using them when they are steering conversations.
So the ABC really is, if you do nothing else, if you prepare, if you think about your body language and the behavior of the room, and you plan what you are going to say to the extent that you can be prepared to ask the right questions, you are going to be at least 1% better and more effective as a leader than you were without that ABC.
Nikki Van Noy: It struck me as you were talking through those ABC’s with the understanding that this book is geared toward people who are looking to enhance their leadership skills, this seems to me like it would be applicable for most people, going back to that idea that we are negotiating all the time in life.
Dr. Nashater Deu Solheim: I’ve had quite a few people who have been working with my PIN method now for the last few years say the same to me actually, Nikki, that a lot of these skills are applicable to difficult conversations with your partner at home or in a conflict with a friend or perhaps, in your everyday life in negotiating. In fact, a friend of mine was using it when she was negotiating with contractors who were looking at helping her to renovate her home.
They are actually very generalizable techniques. I think what makes them so easy to use is that they are not something that’s in addition to what we also do in our private life. They really become something that they recognize as, “Well, you know what? I think I do that in other parts of my life so why don’t I do that at work?” Perhaps what we do is forget a little bit about what we have in our toolbox and what is available to us when we walk through the door and go into our office environment and we need to bring something else into that environment.
The skills that I am talking about in the book, I put them in the context of leadership because really that is the environment where I see a lot of leaders who are struggling to get their message across. They are really looking for skills that help them work with very diverse people that they don’t know very well. I can also see that these techniques will be very valuable and useful to people in everyday situations, whether it is with people they know or within their friends and families.
Three Things to Remember
Nikki Van Noy: Wonderful, okay and my last question for you, what do you really hope people take away from this book?
Dr. Nashater Deu Solheim: I would really hope that they take three things away. One is that it is as simple as ABC. Do those three things, give some thought to your preparation, your body language and behavior, where you are and what you’re going to say. Even if you don’t use even half the techniques in the book just give some thought to those three things before you have your next conversation or interaction with somebody you know. I really believe that you will be that much more effective in your influence with those people.
The second thing I hope people take away is that being a leader isn’t about being a leader. It is about leading other people and so it really isn’t about you. It is about the people that you are engaging and the people who you rely on to do your work. So, you need to get out of your own head because the leader really needs to get into the head of other people.
The final takeaway I hope people have from reading the book is that practice is what really makes a difference.
You will read the book, and you will get some tips and techniques that I think you might find useful. I really hope that you try and use them in everyday encounters. This is not a special occasion book or a book for complex situations. It will be useful for that, of course, but it really should be something you see as part of your everyday talk as a leader.
Nikki Van Noy: Beautiful. All right, Dr. Solheim, the book is The Leadership PIN Code: Unlocking the Key to Willing and Winning Relationships. Where else can listeners find you?
Dr. Nashater Deu Solheim: Probably the best place to find me is on LinkedIn. If you look at my name and you’ll jump onto my page there, it has my email details and telephone number. You can also go find me on our website, which is progressingmind.com and you’ll find a bunch of details there about the services we provide and also the contact page where you can contact me. I would also suggest to people that we are on Facebook. So, feel free to just shoot me a message on messenger and I can get right back to you from there too.
Nikki Van Noy: Excellent. Thank you so much for joining us today. I’ve taken away quite a bit from this conversation.
Dr. Nashater Deu Solheim: I am so pleased, Nikki. It was lovely talking to you and thank you so much for your time today.