Award-winning lawyer turned mediator Doug Noll lets us in on his secret to calming an angry person, never arguing with your family or partner, reducing the released prisoner re-offending rate to zero and the qualities a great team leader must have.
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Hi everyone, my name is Dex Randall, and this is the Burnout to Leadership Podcast. Where I teach professional men to recover from burnout and get back to passion and reward at work. Hello my friends, Dex here, and today, I have a very special guest, Doug Noll who is a renowned trial lawyer and an adjunct professor of law teaching on decision making under certainty... Under uncertainty conflict he's also an award winning mediator, author, speaker and trainer, specialising in teaching people how to stop arguments and calm angry people by developing emotional intelligence using neuroscience, and he's written four books,one of which intriguingly is called De Escalate:
How to Calm an Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less. And to be honest, I got in touch with Doug because I thought conflict mediation was kind of a curious leap for a trial lawyer, and I really, really wanted to learn more on that, and I'm kinda willing to bet you'd like to know the secrets too particularly on the conflict resolution side. And by the way, we're gonna get into this in a minute because it's Valentine's day here, so conflict resolution could be a good topic. So with that said, here he is. Welcome, Doug Noll, to the Burnout to Leadership. Hey Dex. Thanks for having me on the show. You're welcome, great to see you. Did you have anything you'd like to add first of all, to your introduction. I would say that I was a civil trial lawyer for 22 years until mid career, I went back to school in my late 40s and earned my Master's degree in Peacemaking and Conflict Studies, and walked away from my law practice in 2000 with a week's notice, leaving $10 million on the table to become a peacemaker. Wow. Why? I'm dying to know why. Because I finally concluded that I had really only served five people well in 22 years as a trial lawyer, even though I tried hundreds of cases, there were only five people that really came out of the system better than going in. And I didn't wanna spend another 20 or 30 or 40 years of practice and only touch the lives positively of 15 or 20 people. I wanted to do... I wanted to serve in a broader, bigger way, so that's why I left the practice of law and became a peacemaker and I serve more people in a week than I did in 22 years as a trial lawyer, money is not as good, but I don't care, it's not about the money, it's about leading a fulfilling and satisfying life, helping others. I'm with you on that one, if you're not keeping your heart happy. It doesn't matter. Perhaps not quite in line. That's right, there are a lot of centimillionaires and billionaires that are really miserable despite all their money. Good, that's great to hear. So I'm gonna have to ask you this right up front, the first question, because it's Valentine's day today, you suggested you could tell us how to never argue again with your spouse or partner. That's right. So it's a three step process. I'm gonna warn everybody, but it's counter intuitive and counter normative, it's counter intuitive because you would never think that this would work, and you could never figure this out on your own, and it's counter normative because it flies in the face of everything you think you know about listening. And the three step process is this. Let me say before I say the process, however, is also backed up by brain science. Brain scanning studies show that this is the only thing that works. Nothing else works. This is it, it's the foundational skill of life, if you can master this skill, you will stop all fights and arguments in your life for ever. So how do you do it? Very simple to describe, takes a little practice to get it wired in. Step number one, let's say you're confronted with an angry person, could be a partner or spouse or child or a co worker, the first thing you're gonna do is ignore those angry words, just ignore them, it just becomes white noise, and you're gonna ignore them because one, there's no new information there. You've heard angry words before, you don't need to hear them again, and two, you wanna pre up the bandwidth to do the next two steps, and three, you don't wanna get trigger yourself. So just ignore it. Don't ignore the person. Just ignore the words. Step number two, you're going to read this upset person's emotions, what I call reading the emotional data fields, emotions are data just like numbers on a spreadsheet, and our brains have an innate ability to read other humans' emotions, this goes back millions of years of evolutionary biology, developed the skill in us. Most people don't know that Hominids as a species, only developed language 230,000 years ago, I mean the actual ability to speak words. And how do we communicate for three or four million... Three or four million years, we've been on the planet before we developed the ability for speech. We did it through emotional gesturing. And so our brains became extremely attuned to the emotional states of other people. Now in our current culture where we believe in the myth of rationality, that is what makes humans human is rationality, which is totally false. And no science to support that at all in fact, we're 98% emotional and only 2% rational, but we live in a society where emotions are bad and evil and irrational, we don't have an opportunity to use this innate ability to read other people's emotions, but it very quickly develops. And then the third step is to reflect back the emotions of this upset person using a simple you statement, so it would sound something like this Dex, man, you're really pissed off, you're angry, you're frustrated. You're feeling completely ignored, you're completely disrespected, nobody appreciates you, nobody supports you, and you're anxious and concerned and worried, and you feel humiliated, and you're sad... Like we met before. And you're sad, you're feeling a lot of sadness and grief and upset and despair that the situation won't correct. And you feel completely abandoned and rejected and all alone, and you feel unloved and unlovable. Now, you're not in any of those things right now, but what did it feel like when I described it? Well, frankly, I felt seen, 'cause I... Now that's exactly right. I entertain each of those states myself of course. That's exactly right. You felt... You felt validated, you felt seen, you felt heard in a very deep way, and even though you're not upset right now, this technique, this skill has the unbelievable effect of calming an angry person in less than 90 seconds. And there's the brain science to show what happens. Basically what happens is that the emotional centres of the brain are inhibited, while at the same time, the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, our executive function is activated, and the whole process takes about 30 to 45 seconds. And you can't help yourself, if I'm really mad at you and you start ethical labelling me, it's what the skill's called, if you're ethical labelling me, I cannot help but calm down, I can't stop, I can't continue to be angry, because it's operating at an unconscious automatic level and that's why you can calm any angry person in literally seconds. And once you get this dialled in and you've gotten skillful at it, you'll never have a fight or argument again with anybody. If you're a leader, you'll develop what's not... What I teach is leadership empathy, and you'll become the leader that everyone wants to follow. I get that, now I'll try to use that most of the people that are listening to this podcast are leaders, but also I've got quite a big following of coaches, learned in the style that I've learned, which is using basically cognitive behaviour therapy, people make decisions with their emotions, and I don't think I've ever heard it described in the way that you've just described it. Right. I'm the only one that's talking about this, and the reason is because it works. For example, that whole active listening stuff that everybody learned that, that doesn't work. Never has worked. Never will work. It's all based on a misunderstanding of psychologist Thomas Gordon's work back in the 1950s, he invented the term active listening in 1956. His work has been completely misconstrued for what now, 60, 70 years, and whole therapy models are based on this I statement stuff and it doesn't work. And there's no science to support it. There's not one brain scanning study that shows that active listening actually does what it's supposed to do. Let's go to the hard science, and the hard science is that when you use a you statement in your ethical labelling, you label somebody's emotion, you tell them literally what they're feeling with the you statement, then that's what calms the brain down almost instantaneously, not quite instantaneously, but pretty darn fast. And for coaches, those of you in the audience that are coaches, if you develop this skill as a coach, you will never lose a client and you will close every single prospect that you have as a coaching client because you will validate them into existence. I call it listening other people into existence, and you will learn a skill that will be your most valuable coaching skill, and your clients will love you because they will feel deeply validated and heard and seen by you in a way that nobody else has ever done for them before. This is what separates the really great coaches from all the wannabes when they learn these skills. You know, what I'm thinking in the back of my mind as well is those books we read about hostage negotiation and stuff, how do you deploy them? Your mediation skills. Now, what area do you look. I do, I was just gonna say, Chris Voss wrote the book... I know Chris Voss, yeah. Yeah. Never Split the Difference. Well, he kind of stumbled into this ethic labelling, but he stumbled into it many, many years after I did. I think when I read his book, I think he said he started figuring it out about 2013 or 2014, I had already developed it in 2005, of course, we don't know each other. And I had already started deploying it in maximum security prisons, training murderers to be peacemakers and stop prison violence with the prison of peace project with my colleague Laurel Kaufer in 2010. So I've had many, many years to really develop not only the skill, but also how to teach the skill, the question was, how do you deploy... When do you deploy this. Yeah, how do you use your mediation skills? Okay, well, I use it... I use it in... I just got off a call with a very dysfunctional couple who've got two twins and one of them tried to commit suicide in November, and I've been working with them since November. So this is just a classic example of where I am acting as a mediator and a facilitator to get them to get over their dysfunction, listen to each other and make the decisions that they need to maintain the health of their twin boys. And that's kind of a classic situation, I've also used it in other mediations where emotions are extreme, I've got a very... I've got a large case coming up where there's $40 million or $50 million or $60 million at stake, and the principles of these businesses hate each other's guts. And so how do you get them to make a good business decision? So you have to get them de escalated first, they have to be listened to and heard, and once they're calmed down, then their brilliant business minds come to work and they'll solve the problem, but they will never solve the problem as long as they're escalated. So those are typical examples of where I use these skills, it's my go to skill, and in any given negotiation or mediation, depending upon how escalated people are to start with, I might get them calmed down, we'll go into some problem solving or some negotiating, and then they'll get escalated again, and then it... So it becomes an iterative process over and over again during the day or the weeks that we're working together. Yeah, I also teach... I teach these skills a lot, so I teach these skills... I teach them... I've taught senior members of Congressional Budget Office how to de escalate members of Congress and staff. I've trained many schools how to de escalate angry parents and kids. I've taught tons of leaders, how to develop leadership empathy, same skill, same application, being able to walk into a room and read the emotions in the room and know exactly what everybody's feeling, and then if it's appropriate, label those emotions. Okay, you guys are really frustrated, you're really pissed off, none of you feel like you're been listened to, you immediately get the attention of the room. So holding stuff. Maybe you'll give us, at the end, a little bit of a link to some of the training that you do, but I'm looking at some of the questions that you said you might answer on the podcast, and I think all of them have got the same answer. I've got this sneaky feeling, what separates a leader from a manager, what are three critical services a leader provides a group, maybe you can help me out... Oh, yeah, so let's start with the three critical psychological services that leaders provide to a group, and most people don't know this, it's safety, direction and focus. So the first thing that a leader provides is psychological safety. Google has done a major study to understand why its top 1% of its teams are so superior to everything else, and it all comes down to psychological safety or emotional safety on the team. And that is created by a team culture fostered by the leader. If you want a high performing team, pay attention to the emotions and make sure that people feel emotionally safe. The idea of a leader being this rational, cold decision maker is a myth. When you're dealing with human beings who are emotional, you have to have emotional maturity, emotional confidence and emotional mastery as a leader if you want to succeed. So providing psychological safety is critical. The second psychological function a leader provides to a team is focus, telling the team members what their tasks are and what the expected outcomes are and then letting them do what they do, but not letting them become deep focused on extraneous ideas or diversions or what we call work avoiding activity. Work avoiding activity is what people engage in when they don't have the capacity or the tools or the skills to solve the problem that's in front of them and... So if you have a team, that's engaging in work avoiding activity, it's because the team is overwhelmed. Well, it's either overwhelmed or it's under challenged. It could go either way. So you're always watching for work avoiding activity, and then you're focusing the team on the things that are most important in the moment. And then the third, most important or the third important leadership service that a leader provides to the group is direction. The one thing that a leader can do that the rest of the group can't do is look out over the horizon and see what's coming, and think about the future, think about why is it that a troop of Orangutans will follow the old mother and not the young teenager, because the young mother knows when she sees the lions that they just ate and it's safe to go by them without getting eaten, the mother knows where the next watering hole is, the mother knows where the most likelihood food is gonna be based on experience she can look over the horizon and provide the direction for the group to go, to maintain group safety and help. And that's what leaders do. Leaders are the old moms of the Orangutan. Old mothers, they have the ability to see out over the horizon and see what are the risks and opportunities and challenges that are coming along. And then as those challenges arise, lead the team in the process of meeting those challenges in whatever way is appropriate at the time. So those are the three fundamental psychological services that every leader provides and must master, which is safety, focus and direction. Interesting, I made a podcast episode on more or less, this very thing. I fundamentally agree with all the things that you're saying, but it's so fascinating, the unique perspective and clarity you've taken on all of this, and I can hear the depth of thinking that's going on over the years in you about how to communicate and present, just to be really... I'm really enjoying listening to you. What else are you gonna tell us? Maybe it's the same, maybe it's the same about children, what's the most important thing a parent can do for a child? Well, the most important thing... The most important thing a parent can do for a child other than making sure the child is physically safe and fed and kept warm and sheltered, which is obviously foundational, is to validate the child's emotions. Unfortunately, we live in a society where that does not happen. So you remember Dex when you were let's say three years old and you're out running around, little boy, having a good time, you fall down, you scrape your knee, it starts to bleed and you start to cry. What are you told? Get up. Yep, big boys don't cry. Suck it up, in it. It doesn't hurt. Don't be... Don't be a drama queen, don't be a sissy girl and this is... And the girls get it the same way, different language, but the same thing, and so little children will learn from a very... Let me back up. First, let me back way up. We are not born with emotions, we are born with something called affect, emotions are cognitive constructs that we start creating at about 18 months of age, and basically we're taking the affect that we were born with, the nine different affect, and we are starting to associate cognition, words, ideas, concepts around the various affect of state that we might experience throughout the day, and this is a developmental process that starts when the emotional centers of the brain start to mature at about 18 months of age and continues for quite a while, it always continues throughout life, but a large part of this development occurs between the ages of 18 months, a year and a half, and six to eight years old, eight to nine years old, where the child is learning basic emotions... Should be learning basic emotional competency. Now, how does a child learn these skills? Basically, hopefully good modeling by parents, and also experiencing the extremes of emotion. So that's why you have a two year old, a toddler, who one mom is rapturously happy, and the next moment is a screaming and raging maniac devil. What that brain, baby brain, is doing is it's testing the extremes of emotions to try to figure out where are the extremes here in affective experience, and how do I navigate this? But to the outside adult, it looks like this kid's just gone nutso. And so what happens? We slap the kid around, they stop doing that. And we begin to, as adults, we emotionally invalidate children because when the children become emotional, we become nervous and anxious, unconsciously. And since most people are not good at managing their own anxiety, their brain goes into defense mode and says, stop that, because if you stop being emotional, I'll start feeling better about myself. And this emotional invalidation occurs in every single family, it's handed down from generation to generation, and it's basically an unconscious method of self soothing one's own anxiety around a child, or anybody else's emotions. And all the science shows that when you emotionally invalidate a child, really bad things happen. The extreme, of course, is the populations that I work with in the maximum security prisons, but there's a whole lotof bad stuff that can happen besides going to prison:
Addiction, divorce, all kinds of antisocial behaviors, inability to form a healthy relationship with somebody, inability to have friends, inability to communicate, stunted intellectual growth. I mean, the list just goes on and on and on and on. And this is something that happens to all of us, in varying degrees. Some people it's pretty bad, and other people it's just bad. It's never good, because parents don't know how to do this. And interestingly, they don't want to learn. That's the thing that shocked me when I first started studying this stuff. So how do you prevent this? Instead of invalidating your child's emotions, you validate them. So you've got a two year old who's having a tantrum. You'll say, you're really angry, you're really frustrated, you're really upset, and you just keep hanging in there with that child until the child calms down. And every time you do that, you're helping that child construct an emotional database that's associating words and cognitive constructs with the affective feeling that the child is experiencing, whether it be exhaustion or anxiety or rage or whatever it might be. And so we're building up this emotional database for this child. And the bigger the database is, the more emotionally competent the child is gonna be later on. And what studies show is that when parents start ethic labelling their children at two and three and four years old, by the time they're nine, 10, 11, and 12, they're usually two grade levels ahead of their peers academically. They've got the maturity of a 21 year old and they're enormously resilient because they're emotionally competent. And the kids whose parents just do the same old emotional invalidation are what you would see as kind of normal kids. They've got a lot of dysfunction. The other thing that happens, and this is really bad, is that for most kids who live in families where their emotional invalidation is present, which is just about everybody, by six years old, they have learned that the universe is an emotionally very unsafe place. By six, five or six, they're getting their own agency. Now they can tie their shoes, take care of themselves a little bit. They're no longer the cute little cuddly baby that everybody liked to love over. Now they're starting to develop a little will, a little self autonomy, they're a little defiant, and they get beat on, emotionally if not physically, by their parents. And they learn that this is an emotionally unsafe world. My parents are really not that safe. And so they go inside themselves. They start to build up these big walls, defenses around them, and they carry that all the way into adulthood. And in my business as a peacemaker, when I watch people get really angry, they're just basically reverting back to that six year old state, because they've never matured past that in their emotional competency. And again, this is something that many, many, many, many people suffer from. It's fixable, but unless you're aware of it, you can't fix it. And it's the cause of a lot of grief, and a lot of upset, and a lot of unhappiness. So if you really truly want to raise resilient children who academically perform, learn how to validate their emotions. Listen them into existence. Don't put them down for beingemotional. Allow them to express all of their emotions:
Good, positive and negative, and teach them by modeling to them how to manage their emotions. Not repress or suppress, but manage. And that really is what underpins a lot of burnout as well. So this is the material that I'm working with and people who come to me is, how can we create a different relationship with those early difficulties as children? Why do people burn out? They burn out because they're addicted to work. They're trying to run from something, or they're trying to grab something, and they put all of their effort into work as an escape, usually from their emotional pain. And of course they're going to burn out, rather than find a good work life balance. From my perspective, there are other factors. Yes, that's true, but there are other factors. But I think as well, it's therefore actually fairly straightforward to bring people back to balance and to a much deeper sense of enjoyment that doesn't need to overwork and over invest in the work persona. That's right. And come back to actually having the emotions meaninglessly come up. Right, I think it's a function... Yeah, you tell me if I'm right on this. I think it's a function of learning emotional management, learning emotional competency, and learning how to create meaning and fulfillment inside your life so that you're not looking for externalities to satisfy you. Absolutely, and I also think it's about developing a much better, kinder, more compassionate, airing relationship with oneself. Yes. Which is usually missing in those circumstances. That's right, because you've been taught as a child that you're no good rotten whatever, and so you're trying to compensate for that. Or you've been trained that the only kind of success that matters is getting straight A's or getting the big job or the big thing, and there's no other definition of happiness other than those indicia of success that people put so much value on, which in my view is all BS. Yes, and those wounds are still open. That's right, they never get healed. They have remained open. That's right, and they haven't been healed. Absolutely, absolutely correct. But I think they can be healed, and it's actually not that difficult. No, of course... No, and it's not that hard. With the right tools, you can fix all of this stuff. It's not... Your brain is plastic. It learns quickly. All you need to do is use the right tools, and it's not that difficult. And I think that's extremely encouraging for people listening to this. You might be relating to some of what we've been talking about, and also it's very encouraging for those people because quite often they have difficulties amongst their children. It can still be resolved. Let me give you some proof. Yeah, here in California, over 6,000 of my students have been released from prison on parole. Not one of them has re offended. Wow, not one? Not one. Crikey, that's an impressive track record. If I can train a murderer to be a peacemaker, and if released on parole, no longer re offends, imagine what people not in that situation can learn? Apparently the incidence of trauma background is extremely high in people who... Well, I would say it's 100%, pretty much. For the people... Yeah, secretly I probably would agree with you on that. It's certainly between 80 and 100. That's right, absolutely. The stories that you hear from my incarcerated students are horrendous. To a person, they're horrendous. And there's no wonder why they're in prison. No wonder why they killed somebody. But there's hope. If they're willing to do the work, and willing to learn, they can change. I'm curious then, does this mean you're flowing through life without ever having a disagreement? Yeah. Well, I can disagree with people, but I don't get into fights or arguments. That certainly is the work that I do with my clients, but I have never really heard it spoken in your perspective, and I'm going to apply this. But the difference is up. If you have to argue with somebody, argue to learn, not to be right. You can fight to be right, which is what most people do. Or if you need to really argue with somebody, somebody really has a sharp disagreement and you need to thrash it out, then argue to learn. And you do that by asking some simple questions. What is it that you're... What's your hypothesis, or what are you proposing? Why do you believe it's true? Why do you believe it's true, and where's the evidence to support what you're saying? And listen. Yeah. When you're listening, what are you listening for? I'm always listening for emotions, because I've learned that if I listen for emotions, I can always remember the words, because all memory is associated with emotion. And emotions are far more important. Words are only 7% of the communication that a human gives us. The other 93% is all non verbal, and it's all... That's where all the emotions are contained. Facial expressions, tonality, timbre of voice, body language, all of that conveys far more meaning and far more information than the words themselves. So I rare... In fact, and here's the other thing that's really cool. When you listen to emotions, you no longer need to take notes. I don't need to take notes when I hear somebody. I was at a business meeting last week up in Silicon Valley, four hour meeting, discussing all kinds of business plans and stuff that we're working on, and I didn't take any notes. I drove three and a half hours home, and next morning got up, I wrote a three and a half page memo that I circulated to all the participants and said they couldn't believe it. I captured every single thing that was talked about accurately and put it into an organized state with no notes because I listened to the emotions. My brain retains information based on emotions, not based on words. Yeah, true. I guess that's always what comes up with the memory. Yeah. So that's why law school's so hard, right? You start that first night opening up that first casebook at law school and saying, oh my God, I don't even know... This isn't even in English, I don't even know what I'm reading. Because it's so... It's just dry, so dry, it's so unemotional. It makes learning really hard, really hard. Yeah, it becomes clear to me why you have taken the path that you have the more I listen to you. It's been really fascinating talking with you today and I wonder if you've got anything that's come up today into your mind you'd like to share before we go. Well, I think that if people are really interested in finding out more about my work, I've created a webpage for this audience. Nobody else will ever see this webpage except people that are listening to your show, Dex. And that is dougnoll.co/dex randall. Doug Noll is... I'll put it in the show notes. Yeah, and what people will find on that page are one a free eBook that describes everything that I'm talking about here. So you can get the ebook if you don't want anything else. My fourth book, De Escalate, you can purchase it off the website. And I've got two online video courses, one on how to de escalate an angry person and the other on how to develop emotional competency, which you can purchase and utilize. And I recommend if people take the courses that they find a trusted friend and do the course with a trusted friend. So it's a twofer, you know, two people get to take the course for the price of one. And then also there's a link to my Difficult Conversations project where I'm facilitating and transforming difficult conversations that you've been avoiding. And this is kind of kicky because I'll facilitate it absolutely for free if you allow me to live stream it to YouTube. If you want to keep it confidential, I'm fine with that too, but you've got to pay me. So there's a link to that. If you've got a difficult conversation and you want to have a transformative conversation, then I explain how we do that. Okay. And for anyone listening, I'm going to put all those links in the show notes so you can go back and find them. No worries. Thank you so much for being here today. Talking to us, Doug, it has been absolutely intriguing all of the things that you've said. Well, thank you, Dex. Thank you so much. And if anybody has any difficulties with these, particularly if you are trying to I'm coaching together, let's go. If you're in burnout and ready to recover, come and join my Burnout to Leadership program. You can book in to talk with me at burnout.dexrandall.com. Just tell me what's bugging you and let's make a plan to fix it.