The Bregman Leadership Podcast
Episode 104

Todd Davis

Get Better

How can we understand the people with whom we disagree? By learning to differentiate opinions from facts, says Todd Davis. Todd, author of Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships At Work, has over thirty years of experience working in human resources, executive recruiting, sales, and marketing. Discover a simple exercise to help you see the other side of an argument, how to make your workplace safe for telling the truth, and why it’s time to start building your emotional bank account.


Book: Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships At Work
Bio: Todd Davis is the author of FranklinCovey’s upcoming book, Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work, available for pre-order May 9, 2017, and to be released on November 7, 2017. He is also a co-author of Talent Unleashed: 3 Leadership Conversations to Ignite the Unlimited Potential in People. Davis has also served as FranklinCovey’s director of recruitment and led a team responsible for attracting, hiring, and retaining top talent for the copmpany, which included over 3,500 employees.



Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, your host and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most.

Todd Davis has joined the podcast today. He is Franklin Covey’s Chief People Officer and he’s been entertaining and inspiring people throughout the world for more than 25 years. He has a deep understanding of leadership, employee engagement and talent management. He has written the book most recently, “Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships At Work.” I really enjoyed this book, there’s a lot of wisdom in it. You could see Steven Covey’s wisdom come through Todd, as well as Todd’s own additions and engagements with the topics, and that was really fun too. Todd, I’m really delighted that you are here with us on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.

Todd: Well, I’m happy to be here. I appreciate being invited.

Peter: So Todd, let’s just start with a book that you’ve written about how to build effective relationships at work. And this sounds like kind of a silly question, but I kind of want to get your perspective on why it’s important to build effective relationships at work.

Todd: Yeah. I don’t think it’s silly at all, I think it’s a great question. You know, we profess, at Franklin Covey, that culture is in fact your ultimate competitive advantage. And so the question is, “Well, what is culture?” We all describe it in different ways, but the commonalities are, it boils down to the collective behavior of your people. And that collective behavior is all driven by the nature of the relationships between your people. So you can have all the right people on the bus, as Jim Collins said, if you’ve got the right talent on the bus. And that’s great, and people are your greatest asset, but in the end it’s the nature of the relationships, it drives everything. Certainly it drives it being a great place to work. I mean, all of us, with very few exceptions, spend more waking hours with our associates we work with than with our family and friends in our personal lives. And so, how nice to be able to get along with them.

Well, that’s important. The more important thing is the contribution that it makes when you have positive relationships. You know, engagement’s a key factor to effective individuals in the workforce. And the number one driver of engagement is the relationships, the way we, not just get along, but work well with each other. We’re all measured in a lot of different ways because we all have different roles, but the ultimate measure for every one of us is by the results we get. So I would ask your listeners, “How do you get your results?” And maybe we have a pro golfer listening, but other than a pro golfer or someone who maybe runs a company where they’re the only employee, the rest of us get our results with and through other people. And other people are really hard to change. So that’s why relationships are so difficult.

Peter: I guess what motivates the importance of this book in some ways is that you talk about individual performance versus organizational performance in some ways. And I guess the ability to build relationships is the intersection of the individual and the organization. Meaning if you’re very competent at building effective relationships, it’s an individual skill specifically that creates the kind of culture that you want to create in an organization.

Todd: That is exactly right. And those with that individual skill that are so wonderful, they do it and model it by starting with themselves. And that’s the whole premise of this book. We can … I can see this book and say, “Oh man, I’m so glad somebody wrote this because Peter really needs to work on this or that.” And while that’s natural, human tendency, the most effective influential people in the world start with themselves. They look in the mirror so to speak every day and say, “What do I need to do differently?” So that’s the premise for these 15 practices, the things that I’ve seen in my roles over many years of coaching others and making mistakes myself. Those 15 practices if you will, that continual rise to top. As those things that really accelerate or damage our relationships.

Peter: Great. Your book is organized in such a straightforward, clear way in terms of 15 different practices, I think it’s useful to give our listeners a taste of what these practices are and to just pick some of them and talk about them. I’m most interested in application, that’s always what I’m most interested in, which is a lot of these practices as I read through them. They make a tremendous amount of sense, and common sense, and we’ve heard them and yet we often fall short of practicing them. So the greatest challenge, and I think you do a nice job in your book of this, is closing the gap between knowing what’s common sense and living what’s common sense.

I’d love to start with practice number one, and partially because I haven’t worn glasses in years and I just started wearing glasses. So …

Todd: They look great by the way.

Peter: Thank you very much. They’re new. I’m just getting used to them. “Wear glasses that work” is your practice number one. Can you talk about that?

Todd: You bet. And I appreciate the lead off on the glasses you’ve got because honestly, I got my very first pair of actual glasses when I was in the second grade, and prior to getting those glasses … Well, we back up. I remember the day I put them on, I saw leaves upon the trees for the first time. Maybe you’re thinking, “How blind were you?” I was pretty blind. What I saw previous to that, when I’d look up on the leaves, I’d see this kind of green blob or haze on the trees. And here’s the point, Peter, I thought that’s what everyone saw. And that’s the principle behind wearing glasses that work.

We have convinced ourselves over time that the way we see things is the true way, the actual way, things as they really are. And sometimes it is, but more often than not it’s just been shaped by our experiences and our belief system. And I’m not suggesting that, flash, let’s throw that away, we have strong beliefs for a reason, but be willing, as the most effective people are in respect to their relationships, be willing to step outside from those lenses, take them off for a minute, and say, “Am I seeing things as they really are?” You mentioned that Dr Covey … I don’t profess … Most of these practices come from my years of working with the principles and paradigms contained in all of Franklin Covey’s world class solution. So he talks about paradigms, and I just drill it down to experiences I’ve had specifically to relationships about considering another person’s perspective, considering the lenses they’re possibly looking through.

Peter: Let me ask an application question about that because in some ways the most important perspectives to listen to are the ones that are in direct opposition to yours, right? Because that’s where you have a lot to learn from. And yet, in an age where Conservatives listen to Fox, and Liberals listen to MSNBC, that we’re really led by our confirmation basis and people really tend to be so much more comfortable listening to their own perspectives. My question to you is how do we help ourselves get to a place where we could really listen and consider different perspectives?

Todd: Yeah. That’s a great question. Well, here’s the application at the end of this chapter, and it’s one that I live by, that I coach people by. So identify a situation or a relationship that’s not going as well as you would like. Okay. There’s a situation or someone you have some pretty strong beliefs about. And then list all of the reasons why that situation, that relationship, is not going well. Write ’em all out. And then here’s the trick. Circle or underline those things in all of your things you’ve written down, that are facts. And by facts I mean, if you shared them with 10 other people, or five other people, they would also agree, readily agree, with you on those things.

There are some things that will qualify as facts in this activity, but more of them will be your opinions. It’s a visual way for me to look at … And I’ve done this many times, it’s helped to say, “Okay, that really isn’t a fact. Now, I believe that about Peter ’cause that’s been my experience in the last five years, but it is an opinion.” And then I coach people to say, “So just choose one. They may be right, but choose one of those that you might consider …” and that’s the key word here. “Consider understanding or looking at a different way that you are.”

Someone asked me the other day when they were interviewing me said, “If you could put a sign up outside your door that people can reflect on while they’re waiting to talk to you.” It’s not like I’m a doctor, I’ve not got this line of patients. But it was an interesting question, and I had not been asked that before obviously. But I thought the sign that came to me would say, “Have you considered the other’s perspective? Have you considered …?” I have found in my years of coaching, and again, from my own trips as well, when we can stop and not agree or disagree, but just consider the other’s perspective …

Peter: And I guess it’s the practice. It’s actually getting some practice in doing this. So you’re not gonna make a list for everybody, but the idea of maybe taking one person you really disagree with and begin to sort of explore that, and then maybe you get better at it with other people.

Todd: That’s exactly right. And people … The biggest thing that … The biggest bunch of feedback is, “Gosh, I tried it and you were right. It was so uncomfortable for me to let her talk, or listen to him talk, it was so uncomfortable ’cause I kept thinking oh man, I’m not saying anything, they’re gonna think I agree with them. They’re gonna think I’m with them. No they didn’t. They just finally got their opinion out, and you could actually hear it, and then start to build it.” So yeah, it is the habit. You’re exactly right.

Peter: Okay. “Carry your own weather.” It’s the second practice, but it also has a similar kind of challenge to it, which is this idea that you, rather than being bat around by the prospectives and feelings of other people, look inward and build your own attitude and perspective from your own inner strength. Again, totally makes sense. Really hard to do, right? And it kind of goes along with this “Wear glasses that work”. It’s especially hard to do when you’re working with people, or you’re in relationships with people, and they might be aggressive, or they might bat you around, or you might have a board, you’re the CEO and you have a board that’s very, very difficult to work with. How do you do it? I mean, it makes sense. How do you do it?

Todd: Yeah. And here’s … If you ask me this question of how do you do it? I wanna just make sure your listeners know, “Oh well, Mr Perfect Todd Davis, he just does all these …” No, I trip and fall with these all the time. The “Carry your own weather”. Let me ask you this, Peter, and I was gonna say be honest. Of course, you’re being honest. Have you ever, ever, ever in your life said something similar to the phrase of, “he makes me so mad or she really frustrates me?”

Peter: Yeah, of course. All the time.

Todd: Okay. Thank you. Well we all have. And when you think about it … And I don’t want to be too ridiculous here, but when you think about it, what did he or she do to make you so mad? Did they really make you mad? They made you mad? No, what they did was they did something that really bothered you, but then you chose to get mad, you chose to …

Peter: It’s a little more complicated than that, I think. I think that they do something that triggers something inside me. It might be a memory, it might be an experience, it might be my mother did something to me, it could be anything, but they trigger something inside f me that makes me feel a certain way. So I get that I own it and I get that it’s mine.

Something happened to me recently where somebody did something, and it triggered something in me and I got angry. And I thought to myself, “Okay. I get it. I get this is me. I get that they do whatever they’re gonna do and that’s their issue, and I own it in whatever way I’m gonna own it, and that’s my issue.” Right? And yet, I still felt it, and I still held onto it. And the way I handled it is I wrote the person an email, and I said, “Look. You did this …” First of all I said, “Have I done something that offended you? And if I did, I really want to know so that I can apologize. And I, by the way, really feel this energy from you. And I don’t know if it’s you or I don’t know if it’s me, but I’d really like to talk about it and address it.” And from that point on, from the point that I sent that email, I could now relax a little bit because I’m happy to have the conversation, I might learn something.

Todd: Yeah.

Peter: But to just let it go I find very difficult, even though I know everything that you’re saying.

Todd: No. It’s such a great story, and I wanna hear the rest of the story now. I wanna hear how that played out. But you just tied into another practice. Practice 13 is “Making it safe to tell the truth”. You made it … It was such a great example, I wish I had put that in the book, your story just now. You made it safe for that other person to tell you the truth. You were humble, you said, “Look. Maybe it’s something I did, I just want to know so I can apologize. And if not, you did this, and I wanna know how I contributed to it.” You made it very safe for him or her to give you a response. Well, I really want to hear the rest of the story, I really do.

Peter: I would tell you the rest of the story, but I sent the email this morning. So …

Todd: Oh, okay. Stay tuned.

Peter: I don’t know the rest of the story yet.

Todd: Yeah. Yeah.

Peter: But I’m happy to follow up with you and let you know.

Todd: You bring up such a great point, Peter. It’s not okay … So I just have to be numb to all of that? Not at all. “Carry your own weather” is all about planning. It’s all about preparing, understanding yourself well enough to know what triggers you. And again, nobody ever perfects this thing, but I know certain things that trigger me. I know certain people, I know certain meetings and certain situations because of the topic. And I’ve learned enough that a response that it causes me to step back before the week begins, look at my schedule and say, “Okay. What do I value? I value making a difference, I value contribution, I value relationships. I know that these particular …” I’m making this up now. “I know that these particular meetings trigger me. I want to remember what I value so that when someone else says this thing that he always says, I don’t spend all my energy on defending that. I step back a little bit and say okay, I respect your feelings. Here’s some other alternative.” I’m making this language up. But that is how we start to make headway on carrying your own weather.

I work with a really talented, our directional … I actually taught him how to recruit. I was with him for many years, and we have … Guy’s amazing. We had a really heavy league candidate in through a ton of interviews. Our director of recruitment, his name is Aaron, he bent over backwards to get her. He got down to the deciding woman, that was the hiring manager, I was there at this time in this meeting. And Aaron said, “We’re ready for this hiring manager. Are you ready to go?” And the hiring manager said, “She’s really talented, I like her. I’d like to see a few more candidates before.” Well, Aaron knew and I knew, we were going to lose this candidate, and I wanted to put a fist through the wall, knowing how long we’d worked on this candidate. Aaron, much younger than I am, much less experience than I have. He said to this hiring manager, we’ll call him Fred, and he said, “Well sure Fred, you need to see other candidates that you feel comfortable with.”

We went back to Aaron’s office. I said, “How did you do that? I wanted to punch him and the wall.” And he said to me, much more mature than I am, he said, “Todd, in the end what matters is that Fred feels great about the candidate that we hire and that he is behind that person 100% of the way. So whether you and I think that this is the right person or not …” That is carrying your own weather. That is saying, “What do I really value as the director of recruitment? I value getting the person that you feel great about. So I’m going to put my emotions aside and I’m going to get focused on what really matters.”

Peter: Okay. Great. I love that story. I love that story, Todd. And it brings me to another point around the challenges of relationships, which is as a director of recruitment I think you’re 100% right. Right, which is that your job is to make sure that Fred ultimately is delighted with his choice. On the other hand as a director of recruitment, you’ve seen a thousand people walk in and out of the organization and you have an eye towards what’s going to really work. And maybe this situation is an example maybe to others, but where the relationship and the outcome seem to be at odds, right? Where the person feels strongly about something, you care deeply about the relationship, and yet you feel strongly that you have an answer that’s really important for the organization, for your own leadership and their success. How do you balance, and maybe you could jump to a practice here that can support us, how do you balance maintaining the relationship when there’s a disagreement about process or how to approach an outcome? So you don’t want to give up what’s really important, and at the same time you don’t want to give up the relationship too, which is also really important.

Todd: Right. Right. Now, great challenges, great example, because it happens all the time, you’re right. So in this case I would add, and this is what actually happened on the rest of this story. We had a very transparent discussion, just like you did with this person, the email you sent, we had a very transparent discussion with equal balance of courage and consideration, and say, “Hey Fred. Appreciate your decision on that. In the end you’re the one that needs to feel good about this person. Would you be open to hearing some of my concerns?” “Sure, absolutely.” “Here’s what I’ve observed. I’ve been recruiting for 18 years now. Here is the criteria that you and I agreed on when we met. Let me show you the examples. I know you met with her as well. Here’s where I think she … I#d love to hear …” So I’m just … That’s kind of the dialogue you would get into.

Peter: Right.

Todd: And you do it, like you modeled, respectfully, but directly. More often than not you always influence the other person to consider your opinion.

Peter: And ultimately if Fred is the decision maker, then what you have an obligation to do, and maybe I would argue that probably somewhere in between you and your colleague would be the right move, is to say, “Yeah. We could totally look at other people. I just want to share with you the risks of passing by this person at this time. She probably has two other offers, et cetera. If you’re okay with that risk, it’s no problem, but I just want to inform you of that risk so you can make a decision knowing all that.” Because he might turn around and it might end up hurting the relationship if Fred said, “Why didn’t you tell me we would have lost that person? I really liked her, and now we’ve lost her.”

Todd: Right.

Peter: And then that ends up hurting the relationship. I love what you’re saying and it seems like there’s some balance, and it’s sort of making it safe to tell the truth, which is your practice number 13, and also telling all of the truth in a way that supports a robust relationship.

Todd: Exactly. Yeah. That’s right.

Peter: Talk for one minute, just because I’ve always loved this, the emotional bank accounts. I think it’s a great concept and it’s your practice number eight. And we don’t have to spend a lot of time on it, but just share it with the listeners.

Todd: Yeah. Dr Covey in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” compared emotional bank account to the financial bank account, and there are some similarities and some differences. Certainly in both we make deposits and we take withdrawals. Now the big difference is in financial bank accounts we make deposits with the intent of building up a nice reserve and then taking withdrawals as we need them. But the emotional bank account, we make deposits but never with the intent of taking a withdrawal. Now because we’re human beings we know we do make mistakes, we take withdrawals. But if we build up a healthy emotional bank account, which is really measured by the level of trust you have with the individual, and the more consistent deposits you make over time, the higher that trust builds. Then when we do make the withdrawal, because we’re human and we’re dumb, we make mistakes, then it doesn’t hurt or devastate the relationship because we’ve got a high enough emotional bank account.

I work with a really talented colleague here who has a strength of execution, this guy gets things done. Oh my gosh does he get things done. And that strength can become a weakness when it’s at all costs, meaning the costs of relationships. He told me, he confided in me, that years ago he used to buy a box of apology notes because he knew in his drive to get things done he would be offending people, so he just wanted to be ready to shoot them off. And he said, “In my immature mind, I thought that was okay.” He’s matured a lot since then.

But again, so the emotional bank account is never manipulative and it’s not, “Okay. I’m gonna do something really nice for Peter, I’ve got a big project I’ve gotta fill in.”

Peter: It’s still a great practice I think to have a box of apology notes. Hopefully, it will take you years to go through the box, but the idea of a willingness to apologize is very powerful.

Todd: You’re right.

Peter: Tell me of all of these practices … We probably have time for one more practice. You know, maybe your favorite or the one you think is most important for people to understand.

Todd: Boy. How about all 15 of them? That’s why … We started actually the book for a year with 21 practices, and then … Yeah. We just narrowed it down, narrowed it down. I would say … I won’t talk about both of them, but two come to mind, and one because it’s the hardest for me, it’s the one I continually have to work on, it’s the harder than the others. And that’s number six, “Avoid the pinball scenario.” It’s so easy to confuse activity with importance. You know, we’re busy, we’re tired, we get home at the end of the day or the end of the week, and what of real value did we accomplish? Because there’s this rush, there’s this adrenalin where we’re getting a lot of things done, we’re checking off lists, and going to meetings and answering emails and all of that.

So I’ve learned the pinball scenario is all about stepping back and deciding before the week begins, before the day begins, what is important, that the one is most … They’re all meaningful for me, but I end with practice 15, “Start with humility” because it really is the foundation for everything else. If I’m going to even take a book off the shelf called “Get Better” and it’s all about how I can get better, I gotta have a pretty big dose of humility to recognize that. And the practice is all about recognizing that with humility it allows us to know we’re all works in progress, whether I’m the President of a small country or the CEO of a large corporation or a front desk receptionist, we’re all in this continuous state of improvement. And we think on, especially in the workplace, we don’t talk about humility a lot because I think people confuse it with a weakness.

If there is not a stronger competency that we can have because it allows us to … We get our validation from within, not from all of the opinions of others. We’re certainly respectful to others, but I’m not seeking out the acceptance or validation from others.

Peter: I often talk about this combination, this necessity to have an equal measure of confidence and humility. The humility in and of itself may lead you to not actually believing yourself, confidence all in itself without humility may lead to arrogance, but this combination of confidence and humility, which is rare and sweet and endearing and connecting. But it’s this combination of confidence and humility, is I think, really, really powerful.

Todd: No. You are spot on. And not believing yourself isn’t humility, it’s self doubt. Humility is a strength and I coach a lot of people on that, including myself. Humility is a strength.

Peter: Todd, it’s been such a pleasure. His book is “Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work.” Todd Davis, he’s the Chief People Officer at Franklin Covey. Todd, thank you so much for being on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.

Todd: Peter, thank you. It’s been my pleasure.


  1. David Skillicorn says:

    The sound quality on this interview was so poor that I could only catch about half the words. This is a regular problem — interviewees using poor connections or talking in echoey rooms, but this is by far the worst so far.

  2. Nedra Chandler says:

    Peter, these are just consistently great reads. I really appreciate being able to read the transcripts, genius! Thank you for your podcast and the great folks you bring on your show. They really do help with traction on the things that matter. So yay! Nedra

  3. Thomas Grimshaw says:

    Useful, practical and tactics for action. Loved this interview. Thank you.

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