Ignite a Shift – Engaging Minds, Guiding Emotions, and Driving Behavior with Stephen McGarvey
In this episode, we delve into Stephen’s past, his love for learning, his dislike for school, and how being labeled as “learning disabled” in elementary school propelled his career. Stephen shares his thoughts on how to build positive and influential leadership skills, how to engage with remote teams, and the most effective ways to build relationships in the workspace.
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger. I am so excited for our guest today. He is the Founder and President of Solutions In Mind, which is a world-leading authority on unconscious communication, positive persuasion, and influencing with integrity. He has worked with businesses around the world to optimize their performance by helping them understand how their staff and their customers think, and what unconscious elements and patterns drive their behavior. He is a sought-after speaker presenting to a variety of international audiences and myriad event venues ranging from the American Psychiatric Association Conference — that would be fun — and to numerous Fortune 500 companies. Welcome, Stephen McGarvey.
Stephen McGarvey: Thank you, Steve. A pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.
Steve Shallenberger: So excited for this today. Before we get started, I’d like to tell you just a little bit more about Stephen. He is uniquely qualified to teach the art and science of unconscious persuasion and influence. He ran his own private practice in Toronto, Canada for over 20 years. He is a Certified Master Practitioner and trainer of neurolinguistic programming, and a certified master hypnotist. Man, I’m going to be careful today, Stephen. I want to know more about hypnotism. We’ll talk about that if we have time, but this goes so fast. So, there are so many things we can talk about — he’s got a great background. To get us kicked off today, Stephen, tell us about your background. Any crossroads you’ve gone through, and what’s helped you get to where you are today?
Stephen McGarvey: Well, it’s interesting, Steve. I never did well in school. And from an academic perspective, I failed grade two, they told me I was learning disabled. I loved learning and I just hated school, and I never fit into that mold of school. That was my starting point. And then I found this subject matter, I went back to university as a mature student, went and studied and did a four-year BA in interior design, believe it or not. Halfway through school, I discovered this area of neurolinguistics and the psychology of the unconscious mind and how we process and filter information. And quite frankly, it explains so much about how I learn differently, how people process and filter information differently, that it just became a passion of mine and I knew it was something that I wanted to do for a career for the rest of my life.
Steve Shallenberger: Wow, that is amazing. Where were you raised?
Stephen McGarvey: Toronto, Canada, and grew up just outside of downtown Toronto.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s terrific. Now, Stephen has just recently launched a new book entitled “Ignite a Shift: Engaging Minds, Guiding Emotions and Driving Behavior”. Tell us about the book; how’s it doing? And why did you write it?
Stephen McGarvey: Well, the book is doing exceptionally well. We hit number one on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list. We also hit USA Today’s bestseller list. And I wrote it based on demand from our clients. For years, clients would say, “When are you going to write a book? When are you going to write a book? When are you going to capture what you teach us?” So, the last thing I ever thought, Steve, was that I would write a book, and I even talk about that in the intro to the book. Because failing grade two being labeled “learning disabled,” I told the teachers that they were teaching disabled. I knew how to learn, just not the way they were teaching me. The book was one of those things that played into my weaknesses rather than my strength. I could get on a call like this and chat with you and not even break a sweat about it, but writing a book triggered all those negative experiences of school. And the demand of our clients is really why I wrote the book.
Steve Shallenberger: So, let’s get right into leadership because leadership is so influential in everything we do in our own lives, in our relationships, and in our organization. So, what sets apart a good leader from really an amazing leader?
Stephen McGarvey: It’s interesting, Steve, when I hear that subject — leadership — I always think of my “acid test.” Working with corporations around the world, I always ask myself, “Could I report to that person?” I always think of positional leadership versus actual leadership. We see people in corporations, as I’m sure you’ve seen as well in your career, that may not be in a positional leadership role, but they are actually true leaders and you see people following them; you see them turning to them for advice, etc. So, I think, to be a true leader, we need to look at: does that leader actually has people willing to follow them? And we’ve seen it over and over again, where a leader will leave a company and go to a different company, and before long, there’ll be a flock of people following them to that new company. And that’s really what I see as true leadership; that people — aside from the position that person’s in — are willing to follow them.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, and leadership is so essential to success; it does play a role, whether you’re the warehouse manager, a CEO, a division leader, a coach, a teacher, whatever it is. And how often have we seen, where there’s been an organization or a team that was underperforming and a change in leadership took place, and all of a sudden, this team became one of the best teams around? What are some of the things that contribute to that, from your experience, Stephen?
Stephen McGarvey: I think one of the key things is integrity. When you see a leader who walks the talk, who has vision, and who communicates with integrity and congruently, I think people tend to buy into that vision and want to be part of the bigger picture. And I think that one of the key things is integrity, and more we see leaders with vision, and they can communicate that vision in a passionate way congruently to their audience, whoever that audience might be, that really sets those leaders apart.
Steve Shallenberger: I love that. Stephen and I were talking about the work that we’ve had the opportunity to do with Becoming Your Best and “The 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders”, and I was giving him a little background on this and talking about what the research was on what sets apart high performing individuals and teams. And I mentioned to him that we had observed 12 things. He just mentioned the number one and two in his very brief answer.
Stephen McGarvey: It’s funny, Steve, because we never really got into the details, and I look forward to reading your book. So, it’s interesting that when you asked that question, I just gave you my honest opinion based on what we’ve experienced and observed. And it’s ironic that those are the top two in your book as well.
Steve Shallenberger: They are — it’s integrity and lead with a vision. That’s what inspiring leaders do. And it is totally transformational, isn’t it?
Stephen McGarvey: Yeah. It gets people excited to want to be a part of the vision to want to — I refer to it as their discretionary time. And they’re willing to go above and beyond in order to accomplish that vision that’s set out by that leader. So, it’s wonderful to see it. And too many times, and I’m sure you’ve seen it as well, you have people in those positional leadership roles that, quite frankly, if people weren’t getting a paycheck, they wouldn’t be following them too far.
Steve Shallenberger: True. That’s right. Let’s shift gears just a little bit. We’ve had so much change. This has been an epic transformational time with COVID in the last two and a half years, and we’re still feeling the impacts; one of those is in the work environment. I think you touch on this a bit in your book. So, what tips do you have to help professionals communicate effectively in remote work environments? Because things really frankly are not going to go back to the same, and we’re going to always see this change in the mix.
Stephen McGarvey: It’s interesting, Steve, you bring that up. When COVID hit, we were on a five-month world cruise finishing off our book. When it hit, we came back and we got cut off halfway through. So, two and a half months in, COVID hit, the world started shutting down around us. And speaking of leadership, we saw leadership at work on the cruise that we run through — 350 passengers. And when we got back, we weren’t sure if the business will be dead or we’d be busy. And quite frankly, thank God, we’ve been busier than ever. And one of the things that have been very, very popular is exactly what you’re asking about: What differentiates us in this virtual world? How do we communicate more effectively? How do we engage someone effectively in a virtual dynamic or environment? Watching you, you’re actually living it out, Steve. You’re sitting back a bit from the camera, you’re using gestures, you’ve got great fluctuation in your tone — those kinds of things hold the audience’s attention. Rather than just being another talking head on a computer screen, you’re a bit animated, and you sit back a little bit, and you use your gestures with intention, and you use your fluctuation in your tone of voice. I think that’s one of the key things that really engage people in this virtual environment.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s a great answer. Thanks so much. Yeah, the dynamics are different and we need to be more prepared.
Stephen McGarvey: Yeah, we need to be prepared, and we need to be open and patient with technology as well. And I think, everybody, at some point, in the last two years has had glitches with computers, zoom, Skype, WebEx, or whatever we’re dealing with. So, I think it’s really given us that patience; “Hey, we’re all human, we’re all in this together. Let’s put our best foot forward and make sure that we’re understanding and patient with people as well.” It’s been an interesting ride for the last two years, that’s for sure.
Steve Shallenberger: So, Stephen, what’s been your observation on how to build a really good connection with people so that when you do talk and you have your experiences together, you can work through the challenges? How do you build this rapport and a good connection with people so it’s easier to work through challenges?
Stephen McGarvey: It’s funny that you mentioned that, Steve. One of the things that we cover in our training with companies is the difference between rapport versus relationship. And in a lot of cases, salespeople think, “Oh, I don’t have a good relationship yet,” or “I can’t influence,” or “I can’t sell. I need to focus on building the relationship.” They think of it as this thing that is like a book that you can sit on a table, or like a glass of water, as opposed to thinking about the process of how am I relating to the other person? How are they relating to me? And so rapport is really about “How do I relate to the other person in a way that gives them that experience of being understood, which triggers emotional fulfillment and it gives them a sense of connection?” And right away, whenever you and I got on this call, it just felt natural and it felt like it was going to be a great conversation right out of the gate. And I think that what people need to focus on is how do they relate to the other person in a way that gives them that experience of being understood, as opposed to focusing on building a relationship over, for example, a period of time. It’s really “I relate well to that person and I’ve done that for quite some time,” or “I don’t relate well to that person,” and then we refer to it as a good or bad relationship. But we need to take ownership of how are we relating to them. And I think that’s one of the key things when people get that, it empowers them to interact more effectively with others.
Steve Shallenberger: Those are great tips. Stephen, thank you for taking the time to share that because it is. You also talk about, in your book, how to think, feel, and due process. And why is that such an important process as we work together?
Stephen McGarvey: Well, it’s funny, Steve, in corporations, we see people wanting to shift behavior, hence the name of the book: Ignited Shift. And what they do is they focus on logically attempting to convince people. And the reality is if the person continues to think the way they’ve always thought and feel the way they’ve always felt, they’ll keep doing or not doing what they’ve always done. So, if we want to ignite a shift in their behavior, we need to understand what their story is; what are their beliefs and their values; what’s their criteria; what’s relevant to them; why is it relevant. When when we understand how they’re thinking, we understand what’s driving the emotion, which inevitably influences and drives behavior. So, it’s almost swimming upstream to the antecedent of behavior and getting at the thinking, the story, the beliefs, the values, the criteria, etc.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, Stephen, let’s get into it here. Let’s talk about how do we understand how a person is thinking. And if that’s the starting point — which I fully agree if we can work on the thinking part — can you talk about the dynamics of that, of understanding, of communicating? Because we’re both going to be changed as we interact with one another, and if that affects then how we feel, and ultimately, what we do. Do you mind taking a few moments on that?
Stephen McGarvey: I’d be happy to. I think, Steve, number one, I coach people to start from a position of curiosity. And if we’re genuinely interested in someone else and genuinely curious about them, we’ll listen more intently. And as we listen, we’ll get insights into not just what they’re saying, but how they’re thinking, what’s relevant to them; why is it relevant; how’s it relevant; how is it meaningful for them? And asking clarifying questions to really get inside the person’s thought patterns and understand how they’re thinking.
Steve Shallenberger: What have you found the best questions to be?
Stephen McGarvey: I’ll tell you one of the most underutilized questions. In fact, we have a whole chapter essentially dedicated to it. And we call it the “paradox of why.” And I’ll tell you why it’s an interesting question. When we ask the question “Why?” Let’s use an example: a child is upset, and we say, “Well, why are you upset?” We just grow roots under the thinking patterns that are causing the child to be upset in the first place. We keep them rooted in the very thinking that’s creating the emotion. So, I would say, “why” is the most paradoxical question; it’s overutilized in the wrong context and underutilized in the right context. So, if you said to me, for example, “I’m nervous about something.” And I said, “Well, Steve, why are you nervous?” Notice, all I do is grow thinking in the roots under the thoughts that are creating the nervousness in the first place. Or if I said, “Steve, how would you like to feel instead?” And you say, “Well, confident.” “Oh, out of curiosity, what would make you feel that way?” Notice what I’ve done is, with one question, created a shifting your focus and your thinking, which changes a reaction, changes your emotional state as well.
Steve Shallenberger: Wow, now that’s an art, Stephen.
Stephen McGarvey: It is. It’s an art of knowing how to strategically ask questions based on intent, based on direction. In the book, we map out a current state and desired state. So, how’s the person currently thinking? How are they currently feeling? What are they currently doing? And how do I want them to be thinking? What do I want them to be feeling? What do I want them to be doing within the context of influence? And if it’s a coaching dynamic, I’m going to coach them to tell me how do they want to be thinking instead; how would they like to be feeling instead; what do they want to be doing instead. And then, as I’m sure you’re well aware, create some well-formed outcomes around that and keep them focused on their goals. It’s fascinating. I think, Steve, most people focus on what they don’t want, and then they get more of it; as opposed to focusing on what they do want and figuring out how they can move in the direction of accomplishing it.
Steve Shallenberger: So, you’re really proposing the thinking, feeling, and doing around excellence about bringing out the best in people and then working together with them to get to that place?
Stephen McGarvey: Absolutely. And I think that’s the key when we’re focused on that excellence. I’m really looking forward to reading your book because we can actually model excellence; we can find one of those people that are demonstrating excellence, what are they doing differently than everyone else is doing? And it sounds like you’ve distilled that into some beautiful teachable points. So, I’m really looking forward to reading your book, Steve.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, thanks. Well, likewise, I can’t wait to get yours. Well, part of what you talked about in your book, Stephen, you talk about the power of certain words. So, maybe you just talked about those, what are these words? And why should they be used carefully and with intention?
Stephen McGarvey: I think, from a leadership perspective, there are a couple of key ones. Number one, we talked a little bit about rapport and how do we build a rapport. One of the keywords for breaking rapport is the word “but”. If I said, “That’s a great idea, Steve, but…” It’s almost like I discarded and thrown out your idea, and I’m now placing my idea as the central focus; as opposed to, “That’s an interesting idea, Steve, and another thing worth considering is…” So, I think when leaders eliminate the word “but” from their vocabulary, they become better at establishing rapport and guiding people in a direction. We don’t need to necessarily accept everybody’s ideas, we can acknowledge that their idea has value and then redirect them in a direction based on whatever it is that we want to accomplish. So, I think “but” is one of those key report breakers. Another one that we see from a leadership perspective is the word “try”. And I always say the tribe presupposes failure. So, if we say, “What we’re trying to accomplish is…” What we’re doing is literally installing an expectation of failure, as opposed to, “What we’re moving in the direction of accomplishing is…” And that sets a tone of confidence and direction toward that goal. So, I think those are two key ones. And the other one that’s really common sense and not so common, as we all know, is stating things in the negative versus the positive. From an unconscious perspective, the brain fails to process negation — so, if I say, “Don’t think of an elephant.” The first thing through your brain is an elephant. So, if I say, “Don’t worry.” If I say, “It’s not too expensive,” or “It’s not too much work.” If I state anything in the negative, I’ve unintentionally installed that very thing in someone’s mind. So, one of the other things is to make sure that we eliminate the word “try”, eliminate the word “but”, replace it with “and”. And then move in the direction of stating things in the positive; instead of what we don’t want, what is it we do want. And I think those are three key things from a leadership perspective, that really have an exponential impact on our ability to lead effectively.
Steve Shallenberger: One of the things I love about podcasts, reading a book, listening to a book, or even attending a seminar is the fact that you might get an idea that really inspires you. I mean, this interview we’ve had today has been inspiring, it’s been fun, you shared some really great ideas, and these last parts are wonderful. They’re kind of simple things but they have really a huge impact. And I think as our wonderful listeners, and I mean, these are listeners that are leaders across the board of organizations of divisions, coaches, teachers, parents, or people really building their own relationship, and these are key things. So, this idea of using “and” rather than “but,” and what but does that actually just erases the previous statement. So, you’re so much more effective when you do this, and these are little things that have a big difference. And “try” — tell us about that again. Let’s let that one really drive a little deeper. I love it. Our listeners couldn’t see my reaction on the screen here today, but when Stephen said “why?” I took two steps back and felt like I’d been hit with an airburst. But the minute he started talking about– Well, how did you say that, again, Stephen? If you thought this, how would that impact you? Share that again.
Stephen McGarvey: Yeah, the “paradox of why” we call it. And if we ask “why” in the wrong context, we’re just growing roots. We refer to it as planting seeds, an idea, a thought, a belief in someone’s mind. And then the “why” question grows roots under that seed and makes it grounded. And if someone’s upset at the example I gave, and you say, “Well, why are you upset?” All I’ve got them doing is dwelling on the very things that were upsetting them in the first place. Whereas if I ask them, “How would you like to feel instead?” I interrupt their pattern and shift their thinking in a new direction. “What would get you to feel that way? How else could you think that would make you feel that way? What else could you focus on?” So, it literally gives us an opportunity to engage and guide someone’s thinking, which shifts the change and creates a change in their emotional state. And in 25 years of private practice, it really is one of those simple things that’s really easy to execute and get into the habit of, instead of asking the “why” question unless the current state is desirable. If somebody says, “I’m really excited.” I’m going to say, “Why are you so excited?” Because I may want to build that excitement and grow roots under that excitement. Whereas if they’re in a negative state, I want to avoid that “why” question and redirect them to something that’s more useful and more positive.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, the time has absolutely flown today. Before we wrap up, what are some final tips that you might be able to leave with me and our listeners?
Stephen McGarvey: I think one of the key things, Steve, is to recognize that we’re in charge of our brain; we’re in charge of our thinking; we’re in charge of our mind and how we run it. And all too often, people think that things happen to them, and they fail to recognize that they’re, in most cases, missing that opportunity to take ownership of how they’re actually running their brain, which is generating the emotional states, which is driving their behavior. So, I think one of the key things that I hope and trust that people walk away with is an increased ability to be intentional about their thinking, to choose their words and their language wisely, and to really take control over that mind and that thought process, knowing that it drives their emotional states.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, that is great advice. Now, congratulations on the success of your book. What a great start.
Stephen McGarvey: Thanks, Steve. It is exciting. In fact, I just got the hardcovers in yesterday. And I’ve got one sitting here on my desk. We’re thrilled to have them. We’re thrilled to have hit the number one Wall Street Journal bestseller list and USA Today bestseller list. So, it’s an exciting time, as you’ve been through multiple times with the various books that you’ve written. It’s our first time in this rodeo. And listen, I really want to thank you for having me on today. I feel like we’ve made a connection. I feel like I can talk to you for days and learn something from you each hour that passes. So, it’s an absolute pleasure to meet you, Steve.
Steve Shallenberger: I feel the same way. How can people find out about what you’re doing?
Stephen McGarvey: They can go on our website. I use LinkedIn. In fact, I just sent you an invite on LinkedIn earlier today. So, you can reach me — Stephen McGarvey on LinkedIn. And our website is SolutionsInMind.com. More than happy to have you connect with us and reach out and hear about your successes. And it sounds like you’ve got a great following and a great audience, Steve.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you. There we have it. Stephen McGarvey, the author of “Ignite a Shift: Engaging Minds, Guiding Emotions and Driving Behavior”. It’s been so fun to have you on today. I feel the same way. Love talking with you. Thanks for the connect, and we wish you all the best.
Stephen McGarvey: Thank you, Steve. Happy to chat with you anytime. It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.
Steve Shallenberger: And to our listeners, we’re so grateful for you. Thanks for sharing your experiences when you do; we love hearing about them. And I can just imagine in my mind you today working on becoming your best all over the world, lifting and inspiring other people, finding peace and happiness in your own life. It’s been great to have our guests with us today. We wish each of you the best today and always.
Founder, Becoming Your Best
CEO, executive, corporate trainer, and community leader.
President and Partner of Solutions In Mind
World-Leading Authority on Unconscious Communication, Persuasion, & Influence.