The Bregman Leadership Podcast
Episode 70

Judith Glaser

Conversational Intelligence

Are your words building trust and enabling your colleagues to do their best work? Judith Glaser, author of Conversational Intelligence, asserts that humans are wired to be profoundly impacted even by simple conversations. Discover the revolutionary theory behind Judith’s work, how your unconscious behaviors may be negatively affecting your coworkers, and how you can refine your speech to activate their best output.


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Book: Conversational Intelligence
Bio: Judith E. Glaser is an Organizational Anthropologist. She is one of the most pioneering and innovative change agents, consultants and executive coaches, in the consulting and coaching industry and is the world’s leading authority on Conversational Intelligence®, WE-centric Leadership, and Neuro-Innovation, and is a best-selling author of 7 business books including her newest best seller – Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results. Through the application of ‘the Neuroscience of WE®, to business challenges, Judith shows CEOs and their teams how to elevate levels of engagement, collaboration and innovation to positively impact the bottom line.



Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I am Peter Bregman, your host and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you get traction on the things that matter most. With us today is Judith Glazer. She’s written a few great books. The latest one is Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results. Judith, welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast.

Judith: I’m thrilled to be here today. It’s a rainy day in New York City, and it’s a warm and cozy day where I’m speaking to you from, so thank goodness.

Peter: That’s great. I’m in New York City, and actually we have a little fireplace in our apartment. I just started a fire, so this is a fireside chat from my perspective.

Judith: I love it.

Peter: Judith, what is Conversational Intelligence?

Judith: This is the short version of a long story. It turns out that human beings are hard-wired to have conversations impact them in such profound and significant ways that it can actually turn genes on and off. That’s a core, fascinating challenge for all of us and insight.

Peter: Well no, it’s great, because it’s something that you talk a lot about in the book, obviously. This idea that things we say can create physical and chemical reactions in people. That words literally change our physiology. I’m curious for you to talk about that a little bit and maybe give some examples.

Judith: Okay. This is what it is. Conversational intelligence is hard-wired into every single human-being’s cells. It’s the way the cells engage with each other. Believe it or not, cells talk to each other. The immune system talks to the cells. There is all sorts of conversations going on inside of us. That’s why when you ask, “What happens? Is there a chemical thing that happens?” Absolutely. If I say any word to you, like, “Sit next to me.” There is a chemistry inside of my brain and your brain that is figuring out what that means and turning that request into action. The brain is designed in a way to enable us to translate these strange interaction codes that people have with each other into something that can manifest a whole company’s success. That’s so extraordinary and that’s what’s going on. Everybody in the world needs to know that, in the whole planet. I just talked to somebody who studies cosmoses. She said, “Cosmoses need this.”

Peter: I thought you were going to tell me, “I just spoke to someone from Mars and they needed this.”

Judith: That’s right, that’s what I should have said. This woman is from Mars, so maybe it’s the same thing.

Peter: Is it certain words that elicit the same reactions in everybody? Is it different words that elicit different reactions in different people? Give us some examples.

Judith: The backstory behind this question is that I’ve spent years studying words. Linguistics, language, the power of words, the power of phrases on human beings. All of that. It’s part of my, almost obsessive, fascination. It turns out that there are some keys that we all need to know about how conversations impact us, because they do at a chemical level. There are certain things that if we learned this, it would totally change our interactions with others, and that’s the following. There are certain words that have a feeling of, “I love you, I care for you, you’re in my tribe.”

We have a big part of the brain, called the Limbic Brain, which measures when we’re in or out of a tribe instantly, in .07 seconds people know that, based on what a person says. If I say to you, “Peter, you sit over there.” And, “Hey, Sarah, Charlie, and blah, blah, blah, you sit over there.” Now, you’re thinking to yourself, “I just got excluded from the most important team on this planet. What’s going on here?” Your brain doesn’t stop thinking about and fluffing about and being irritated about the conversation that just happened, because now you’re excluded. Your Limbic Brain says, “You’re not part of the important team.”

Peter: That sounds more about where you seated me than the words you used. You used the same words to say, “You sit over here and you sit over there.” Or, “You sit over there and you sit over there.” It’s the same words, but it’s where you’re positioning people, which seems to go beyond the conversation.

Judith: It does go beyond the conversation. Everything has a spacial part of the word, and then there’s the actual, physical part of the word. It’s all relative. I was in a program where I was awarded something or other for this. Human beings really think about relativity. That’s part of what the brain does. If my relativity just then was a physical space, and I’ve marked where the teacher wants me to go as the not-so-important people, and the people on this side are the high-flyers, I’ve gotten a read of what the environment means that she’s putting me in. Those are still things that we translate into words, but emotional words, like, “Oh, I’m not in the important team.” We start to talk to ourself by that kind of thing. It’s the words, but also what the physical environment is saying to us in the language of interpreting what’s going on.

Peter: Is it all context, or are there particular words that we don’t want to use unless we want to exclude people? Or words we do want to use that represent that they’re part of our tribe?

Judith: Yep. We have a whole study in the conversational intelligence immersion process, where we have people that have signed up. 1,000 people last year, we have 1,500 people interested in this year in our program. It’s because what it does is teaches us how to decipher all of those things that you’ve just said into a syntax of understanding of how leaders need to wake up, to be prepared to handle the world that we’re moving into, which is a world of constant change, where people don’t always get to sit in the best seats, but we have to have a better rationale for how engage with human beings, and we have to help them translate. It’s what we call making the invisible visible.

What’s the story behind what you said is what every human being needs to know to be a great parent, for a teacher to be a great teacher, and for a business partner to be a great business partner. We can’t fall back on, “Oh, I only said it once and it didn’t matter.” That kind of phrase. That’s a not-good thing for a leader to hold inside. If what that leader did is do that separation and this person now knew that they were not going to be on the popular team, doing it once and then not doing it again isn’t enough to erase what just happened. I want to share with you why. Is that, like, is that a burning thing in your heart to figure out why that’s a thing?

Peter: It’s great to understand why, and I want to. I still want to get the clarity of the previous example though. If you feel like you’re in an “in” group that’s going to do something very different for you, physiologically, than if you feel like you’re in the “out” group. We’ve all felt that. We’ve all felt like we were in the “in” group and we’ve all felt in the “out” group.

Judith: Completely.

Peter: It makes a tremendous amount of sense that part of the job of a leader is to be sensitive, and clear, and intentional about who they’re putting in the “in” group and the “out” group, and whether they’re putting anyone in the “out” group. It’s also the job of us as listeners to take ownership, to be accountable for our feelings, and even if we feel we’re on the “out” group, what do I do about that? How do I manage my own emotions around feeling that?

Judith: Yeah.

Peter: My question is specifically around this thing you said around the conversational intelligence. The fact that words can shift our physiology, and I’m wondering if it’s really specifically words, meaning, is there a word that I say that sets off the neuro-system in my brain that will make me feel excluded, or is it more about the idea that if you say things that exclude someone, they’re going to feel a certain way?

Judith: We have a list that we’ve created over the last 40 years or 30 years or whatever of what to say and what not to say.

Peter: Can you share some of that with us?

Judith: Yeah, I can pull it up. I have to take a second just to get it off my computer and bring it up here, because I don’t have it all memorized. I mean, we literally have hundreds if not thousands of them that we’ve identified, but an example might be-

Peter: Yeah, just an example is fine.

Judith: Yeah, so one thing might be, a leader is very busy, there are a lot of people in the room, and somebody says, “I want to pass this over to you for our project.” And they said, “Forget it right now, I’m working with other …” That’s the same thing. “I’m working with other people.” Kind of message. Or, somebody, the leader says instead, “Wow, that’s awesome.” Anything that has some sense of, “You have value.” That hits a person in their heart as feeling important and valuable. You can almost say anything once you’ve done that, once you’ve activated that part of their body in a relationship with you, that they’ll know how to translate that this is what love looks like from that person. This is the part that’s very … It’s deeper than just that, but I will say that we have, “Say this, don’t say this, do this, don’t do this.”

We give that to the leaders and we ask them to circle what are the things that they’ve done in the last ten days that is on either side where the words are actually explicit. Leaders fall off their chairs. I’m telling you, there are leaders that in meetings will say, “Oh my god, I don’t even live on this other side where I’m showing appreciation in whatever form I need to have.”

Peter: Right, and that makes sense. There are certain things that we do and that we say and some of them are specific words, but it is also the energy that we put out, or the way in which we look at someone, or the way in which we treat them that shows that they’re appreciated or not. If they don’t feel appreciated, they’re not going to feel in the “in” group, and that’s going to negatively impact their motivation and their drive and their engagement and that kind of stuff. Is that right?

Judith: Yes, and I’m going to give you an actual case-study of where this happened that was profound. It adds a little bit more sizzle to what you said, because it’s so real, and you can see a lot of what I’m talking about. A leader … I was called in to interview a leader, a CEO, who was being considered. Actually a Senior Vice President, or an Executive Vice President who was considered to become the CEO of a very large, global organization in publishing. The reason why he hadn’t automatically been given that position is they got feedback from his direct reports that he didn’t like them. He didn’t value them as much as he thought they should be valued. I interviewed him about … I interviewed them first to find out that walking down the hall every morning, they saw him. He saw them. He looked up, and he would often give curmudgeoning faces, or weird faces to these people who were his direct reports.

They came away feeling that he didn’t value them, and that when they were interviewed by the board, that’s what they said. “We’re not sure we have a good relationship with him. We can’t tell.” Because these signals are being sent around in our interactions, and we literally are scared and frightened to be direct reports of his if he is the CEO. It turned out to be what you were talking about. He was walking down the hall, did not realize that when he was thinking, he was a high-introvert, he was planning his day, and when he picked up his eyes, he passed the people in his office, but he had a thought in his head about what he was thinking about. They got the backslide of that thought, whatever that was. He had no idea he was doing this.

When I coached him on it, all of a sudden he said, “You want me to be an experimenter? I’m an experimenter. I’m going to walk down the hall, and I’m just going to connect with everybody.” I said, “Brilliant.” He did it. We interviewed the people again, and they said, “What did you give my boss to drink?”

Peter: Yeah. It’s interesting. I was coaching somebody once with a very similar situation, where it was nine in the morning, and she was a very senior person in a bank, and she would pass people, and she wouldn’t say, “Good morning” to them. They would complain that she didn’t say, “Good morning.” I had a conversation with her about it, and she thought, “It never occurred to me to say ‘good morning’ to them, because I’ve been in the office since six in the morning. By the time they’re getting in the office, it’s not morning for me anymore. I’m not thinking about starting my day. I’m just thinking that this is the middle of my day. It just doesn’t occur to me to say that.” When she shifted, that made a big difference for her.

Those are great examples. It seems like, as I read the book, and as I’m listening to you, a big piece of this is as simple and as profound as seeing the world from another person’s perspective. Meaning, rather than just going through the world in your perspective, to pause long enough to say, “How am I being heard? How am I being seen? How is what I’m saying landing on other people?” And understanding and being curious enough to understand what the other person is experiencing to be thoughtful about what you say and what you do so that it has the interned impact. Am I thinking about this correctly?

Judith: You are. It’s actually something that we call developing the third eye in others. The eye is that … people have intention when they’re interacting, and often don’t realize that there is an impact for everything that they do. The littlest thing, from scratching their head back here. This is, universally, “I don’t understand what you said.” That’s what the scratch behind the ear means. If we know that, it’s a whole other level. I could go back and say, “Let me do this again, because I’m seeing that it’s not fully registering.” Or, this up the nose thing, when somebody has upped somebody and done better in a conversation. We have all these things that are going on. We should be teaching these to people, is what I’m saying. We should get people down into that level where they realize that the impact of everything that they do makes a difference and it could last for years and months. [crosstalk 00:13:59].

Peter: What’s interesting is that it’s deeply embedded in our psychology, so if I name-drop, right? And it has an impact on you that says, “Oh, this guy thinks he’s full of himself.” Maybe I don’t realize it, but there’s a reason I’m name-dropping. I’m name-dropping because I might feel insecure, or I want to show that I’m great. I’m doing it out of this deep, psychological need, or an insecurity. The reason I make a conversational move, or the reason I make any kind of move in a relationship is because I’m hoping that it will do something for me. Often times, it has the opposite impact.

As I read the book, you said something that I found very, very interesting, which is that ultimately, the measure of a conversation is whether it builds trust or how much it builds trust. I think it’s really interesting and useful to bring something to its basic simplicity, which is any time I open my mouth, I should assess what I’m about to say by the question, “Am I building trust, or am I diluting trust?” Again, am I thinking about this right? Do you have examples you want to share around that?

Judith: I want to share that I had many years, and still do, and a great relationship with Angela Ahrendts, who is now over at Apple. She’s heading up global retail. She was the CEO of Burberry. I worked with her for such a length of time I could see how she took this concept of trust and cascaded it throughout everything that she did. One of the things that I saw her do at Burberry was that every person she screened for a job, they had to go through the trust test. Do they understand what trust even means. Do they consider it in their life. Give me an example of when you had trust and didn’t have trust and how you handled it. If people didn’t pass that part of the test, they didn’t get into Burberry, because she wanted a team, and I can tell you, it was extraordinary to be with her time in New York, be with her team in London, and have them all have a conversation that they were having with her regardless of where they were in the world, because they loved working with her because she brought them to the height of their best behaviors, including trust, which is the most important thing here.

People then felt like they were all having a conversation with Angela, and they were. That’s how Burberry, one of the reasons why Burberry did so well. She created that cozy environment that encompassed the globe, because that’s where people were working. Still enabling them to feel like they had one conversation. Trust is the most important thing, because when trust is low, the part of our brain down here, the Amygdala gets really fired off. It’s part of the Limbic Brain, which is the part that measures, “Am I in or out?” Then, it’s part of the lower brain, the primitive brain that says, “All I can do is fight, flight, freeze or appease when I’m in distrust.” That part of the brain is in surveillance all the time, and in .07 seconds knows what’s going on between us on trust.

What we’re trying to do in conversational intelligence is not only define that trust continuum for people, not only helping them notice, which is so important, what’s happening in them and others when distrust lives, but also how to bring people in trust, like Angela was doing, with each other. When they do, what happens, this part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex is loaded with wisdom, integrity, strategy, insights, empathy, foresight. It’s beautiful. It’s so designed for that, and often it’s turned off because people don’t have trust with each other. They access what they know, which is up here in the neocortex, and then people argue about whose neocortex is smarter than the others. We end up in very positional things in companies that are going through transformation and change that set them back. I put it all together in a story, but that’s how my mind capitulates it. I hope it’s clear.

Peter: It’s great. Does it work the same way for ourselves? Meaning, if I want to build trust in myself, can I say certain things, or relate to myself in a certain way, the same way I would build trust in me from other people? Can I build trust in myself?

Judith: You’re building trust in yourself, but is it for yourself, is that what you’re saying?

Peter: Yes, so that I trust myself more. Are there things that I can do so that I trust my trustworthiness? So that I trust my capability to achieve something. So that I trust my willingness to stand up and speak and say something that’s important. The same way that I want other people to trust me to stand up and say something that’s important, I want to trust myself. That precedes it. There are a lot of people who are sort of frozen in that area, whose greatest issue isn’t getting others to trust them, but simply trusting themselves. So maybe they don’t take bold action, which would be useful for them and for the organization. Can we build that in ourselves by how we speak to ourselves?

Judith: It’s 100% important, maybe 1000% important to have a dialog with yourself going all the time. I was just thinking about that today. It’s funny you should ask that. I’m walking around this office, and I’m thinking, “Okay, who’s the relationship? Is there any that I need to work on? Okay, and how am I going to work on it?” Then, there’s another question that I always ask is, are people going to think that I’m saying that I can over-deliver, or are people saying I can deliver? If I promise something and I don’t deliver, then I’m going to be out of sync with others, but how do I deal with my own ego? My own ego might want to say, “Yes, I can run a triathlon the first time I’m out on the race, I don’t need training.”

That’s an ego talking to you, beckoning you to do more, but it’s not the voice that you need to have in order to solidify the trust relationship. You have to be really transparent with yourself and say, “What can I do now?” What can I really do and how do I bring that into the world in a way that doesn’t cause people to come back and say, “Hey, you failed again. You said you could do this and that was your ego talking. Am I supposed to excuse you?” You know, in other words, those self-talk, we have to constantly be auditing, is our voice inside our best friend? If it’s not, you have to make it your best friend.

Peter: Judith Glazer, thank you so much. The book is Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results. Judith, it has been an absolute pleasure to have you on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.

Judith: I’m thrilled to be on. If people want to have any more materials that go with the book, our site,, they go to it, there’s some interviews with Fran Tarkington and me. I was there for a day, he invited me up. People could listen to him and to me, and a couple of other … Alan Stellmen, I think, is his last name. I have to go back and look now, but a number of videos and handouts and things like that. This is a book that you can use with people in your organization. Every week if you want to do a book club, or every month and there is a lot of great stuff there. Thank you for letting me be on sharing my enthusiasm, and sharing yours with me, I love it. Thank you.

Peter: It’s my pleasure. Thank you. If you enjoyed this episode of the Bregman Leadership Podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes. For more information about the Bregman Leadership Intensive, as well as access to my articles, videos, and podcasts, visit Thank you to Clare Marshall for producing this episode, and to Brian Wood who created our music. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned for the next great conversation.


  1. David Lee says:

    Thanks Peter for a fascinating interview. I especially liked the part about creating trust as I’ve been reading and digesting The Neuroscience of Trust which has some fascinating research as well as practical applications.

    I think you will really like it:

    Best regards,


  2. L.C. says:

    I was interested in finding out what she was going to say in this part of your conversation:

    If what that leader did is do that separation and this person now knew that they were not going to be on the popular team, doing it once and then not doing it again isn’t enough to erase what just happened. I want to share with you why. Is that, like, is that a burning thing in your heart to figure out why that’s a thing?

    Peter: It’s great to understand why, and I want to. I still want to get the clarity of the previous example though.

    You never got back to the answer.

  3. Mike says:

    An interest and useful podcast on something we often take for granted. I would just like to add that how you say something can often be as important as what you say, something I’m sure Judith covers in her book, which I’m just about to start reading.

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