EPISODE 297: Well-Known Leadership Coach Dr. Brian Harman Breaks Down How to Tell an Impactful Story that Will Show Your Customers You Are Truly Listening to Them

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the OPTIMAL SALES MINDSET Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales and hosted by Fred Diamond on October 29, 2020. It featured Dr. Brian Harman, a well-known leadership trainer and executive coach.]

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EPISODE 297: Well-Known Leadership Coach Dr. Brian Harman Breaks Down How to Tell an Impactful Story that Will Show Your Customers You Are Truly Listening to Them

BRIAN’S TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “If you’re going to bring your highest energy into your sales, work, life, and relationships, you should get more involved in hearing other people’s stories because it will help you tell a better story yourself. You’re sharing your story in order to build relational trust which is a reciprocal emotion, you give it to get it. Even though you’re talking, you’re doing so in a way that’s very much about the other person. If you’re going to be of service to others, you have to listen and don’t ever want minimize the behavior and act of listening. Listening is the best gift you can give your customers.”

Fred Diamond: It’s great to see you, Brian. We’re bi-costal today which is pretty cool, you’re out on the left coast and I’m here just outside of Washington DC as I always am. We’ve gotten to know each other over LinkedIn over the last couple of months, we’ve been following each other, we’ve had a couple of great conversations and you had such a great following that I wanted to get you on the Optimal Sales Mindset because that’s what you’re an expert in and that’s what you do. First of all, it’s great to see you, thanks again for being on the webcast today. Brian, everybody needs an energy boost, we’re going to be talking about how you can get this energy to take your sales career, get yourself pumped up and get to the next level.

Brian Harman: Fred, thank you so much, thanks for having me and I can’t wait to jump right in. I want to take a second with you all, we’re going to find our silence, we’re going to take a space to have some silence, we’re going to do a little breather, this 30 seconds here. Take a second to get comfortable, stretch it out, let’s get our best energy, get rid of any of that stuff that you’re holding onto for the day and let’s just find a little space here to have some silence together. Get comfortable in your chair, find your center of gravity about an inch or so beneath your belly button. A couple deep breaths in through the nose, out through your mouth, all the way out. One more time, fill your lungs to 100%, I’d invite you to close your eyes, breath in there for a second and this time you’re going to take that breath from the center of gravity through the back of your lungs all the way up to the crown of your skull. Big, deep breath, fill it up 100% in through the nose. A couple more big breaths, alright.

I like to start off with some silence because when I’m talking about bringing our highest energy into your life, into your sales, into your work, into your business, into your relationships, most importantly it’s about having that space for silence with yourself so you can reflect on your story, you can find your clarity and you can engage in that really crystal-clear mindset that helps you to operate at your best. We’re going to jump right into here, I’m going to tell you a little bit about my story and then I’m going to show you the framework that I use to tell my story. We’ve got some worksheets that will go up in the handout section but let’s just show you what this looks like.

Our story is from birth into what got us into this room together today. In order to find our clarity, we should have a really easy understanding of not just our elevator pitch but the story that drives our purpose and meaning and we want to be able to reflect on that in order to find our highest possible mindset. I’m going to show you mine and then I’m going to show you the structure that I use to tell my story. My name is Brian Harman, I grew up in Los Angeles, I have three brothers, grew up in a big family, I’m married to my first childhood love. This picture on the left is me and my now wife but back in the 8th grade when she asked me to the Backwards Dance I had to borrow that suit from my friend’s dad and I was a perfect gentleman, I kept my hands above the waist, as you can see. This picture on the right is my wife and I – her name is Christina – and we got married in St. Lucia in the Caribbean, that’s us on our wedding day about 10 years ago, we’ve been together for almost 20 years now.

Right when I returned, immediately within 4 days of our return from that wedding I was diagnosed with an ultra-rare bone disease in my spine. While we were out doing snuba, I noticed this pain in the back of my neck and it turned out to be a bone tumor that was causing this clicking in the back of my neck at strange angles. Over the course of four surgeries, 14 screws, 4 rods and a lot of physical rehabilitation and pain, I’m good now. I’m smiling up in that upper-right picture because that first surgery I had gave me two weeks off from a job that I hated. I was so happy to be home from work that I was actually happy to go into the hospital, that’s how much I hated my job. I didn’t trust the people I worked with, I didn’t trust my boss, I didn’t trust the leaders of the company. This is the Vulcan death grip, any Star Trek fans will probably recognize this so even though I’m smiling, it felt like that inside, I was the poster child for success on the outside and inner turmoil in the front. It felt like utter misery and I think we’ve all probably been in these situations where we’ve had a bad boss or we’ve worked for a place that wasn’t all that great for you.

Over the course of those four surgeries it just got very clear to me over the pain and rehabilitation that I didn’t want to do that anymore so I went on a new path. I started getting educated, I opened up my business, I wrote a book, I got some dogs here, my two little Houdini and Lulu, and I went on this new path that helped me to redefine what would be my purpose in my life. This is a picture that I’m happy to share because it took us over two years to get pregnant, ended up doing the IVF process, this is little Benny, he’s now three and a half years old. As a result of me changing my career and getting my PHD, I was able to do three of those Ted Talks, I was able to write for Amazon and for Forbes and teach and work all around the world which has been just beautiful, such an enlightening experience. I now teach at UC Berkeley, UCLA and that University ESAN in Lima, Peru and that’s really the summary version of my story.

I want to give you a quick walkthrough of the storytelling framework that I use to introduce myself, you got the context, the problem, the climax, the falling action and what’s called the denouement and my instruction for you at the end of my story, the call-to-action is to use this framework to tell your story. If we go back to the context in my story, that’s like, “I was born in LA, I’ve got three brothers, married to my first childhood love.” I told you about the complications in my story regarding my health problems, the climax in my story, the turning point was when I started my business and changed careers.

I now work as an executive coach and a corporate trainer, I do a lot of those executive retreats. The falling action, you can sprinkle in some accomplishments, tell us why does that purpose, why does that matter to begin with? How has that changed your life as a result? Then lastly down here at the bottom, act 5, denouement. The way that business stories are different than stories like in the movies is really on using a call-to-action at the end of your story, it’s an instruction, a guidance, a request and the more clear that call-to-action is, the more clear it can become for the person to know what to do with that information that you just gave them. In business you tell stories for a purpose, you tell stories so that there’s something that happens, some action takes place as a result. I use this for business cases, for pitches to my clients, I use this storytelling framework in all kinds of different things, how I even do my presentation formatting and the story is what led me to my clarity. Like I told you before, the story was from birth until today, clarity is about from today to the moment of your death, now it’s future-looking. In the worksheet I’ve provided you with a couple pages that ask you some questions and prompts that lead you up into then creating your vision statement if you haven’t already. Even if you’ve already done an exercise like this before, I still encourage you, re-visit that frequently because on a personal level, your vision statement is values plus your goals and those goals do change because you never know what your highest possible potential is.

Example is I had this dream that I’d become a UC Berkeley professor but then two years later I became a US Berkeley professor and I was like, “Well, what’s next?” So Brian from the past couldn’t envision how much further I was able to go, so that’s why you always have to revisit this vision statement. Again, just take some time to do this. What my clarity is, what my purpose is is I teach leaders how to build high trust, that’s what I do every day. I coach CEO founders and executives and I do a lot of those retreats and even so far on this webinar, a couple things that we’ve talked about, the personal story, this is something that helps you build relational trust. Reason for that is we actually don’t relate with people on their highest achievements but it’s on the dark challenges that they’ve been through.

We want to relate with people on a human level over the challenges we’ve overcome. If you want to have those conversations with your colleagues or even with your potential clients or current clients, you can ask them, “What’s the biggest challenges you’ve overcome in your life?” That’s one way to build relational trust, it’s this unity feeling of ‘we’re all in this together, we’ve all been through stuff’. Whether or not you’ve had a rare bone disease in your spine and had four surgeries, we’ve all had some type of a health issue somewhere down the line. I told you it was difficult for my wife and I to get pregnant, if you haven’t experienced that maybe you know someone who has. Your story gives you all these golden opportunities to create relational trust with the people that you’re speaking with. Then when you go into your vision statement, when you have it crystal clear, when you have a laser-focused purpose in your life, this is another way to build trust because now people know what to expect from you, they can rely on what your future looks like, they can rely on what you want to bring into the world, what intent you have.

Next, what we’re going to talk about is the mindset. Mindset for me is about generating high trust behaviors for my self-trust, for my interpersonal trust, for my social trust, organizational trust and onwards. As you scale out trust, leadership becomes more and more important because of the number of people that are involved so I always say it starts with you. The same way you hear these, “You can’t love unless you love yourself” or, “The amount of love you have to give comes from within”, all that stuff, this is very much a philosophy that I believe in. One of the ways that I bring my mindset, my highest possible outcomes into every day is through this diagram right here. The way that this diagram works is you can picture the red lines being the top of every hour, 12 p.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. At the top of every hour I take time to go reset mentally, disassociate from the blast activity that I’m doing, the last client call, whatever that last thing is. Maybe it’s as simple as walking around the house – I’m working from home right now – going to the bathroom, getting some water, grabbing a coffee or a tea, going outside to water the plants. Anything that will give you a mental close out from that last activity, that’s what the red line is for. That can take as little as 60 seconds but it has to be some mechanism to close out from what’s happened before. Here’s where the cool part comes in, I never book meetings hour to hour, I do not believe that back-to-back meetings are the best way for anyone – especially executives – to maintain any level of high performance and highest possible outcomes.

I like to book my meetings off-hour like this or if they’re on-hour, then I gap the time before or after. You’ve got this mental break here, a trip to the bathroom, whatever, then in this zone before your meeting starts – this could be 5 to 10 minutes – let’s say this meeting starts now from 12:10 to 12:50, you’ve got those buffers on both sides. In this section before, every single meeting that I go into I’m constantly thinking, I’m reflecting on my purpose and then I’m thinking, “What’s the highest possible outcome of this meeting?” I do that before every single meeting, and then I create two or three questions that will help me to get to that highest possible outcome, that’s what I do in this gap right here. I call it the HPO, the Highest Possible Outcome, I’m constantly in the mindset of how do I make this the level of excellence, the level of clarity, purpose and deliberate intent that I really set out to in order to achieve my ultimate long-term vision? In here again, highest possible outcome, then you have your meeting and then there’s something that you do afterwards.

This is the pausing to reflect, in that moment there’s a couple things you can do. #1, you can get your follow-ups done and if your follow-ups require more time than that tiny little 10 minute slot, you calendar it so that it’s on the calendar and it’s not just adding up into your not-in-top to-do list that never seems to move. Actually block some time, put it on the calendar, now you know your follow-ups will get done. The second thing you do that I do and that I coach leaders to do is if you’ve hit that highest possible outcome for that meeting, you want to go and send positive feedback publicly. If you did not hit the highest possible outcome, now it’s time for constructive feedback to occur. That can be with yourself or that can be for someone else that was there, depending on the scenario. Then you start over, you do the mental break to disassociate from that last task to get a clear mind for what’s next, then you create your next highest possible outcome for your next meeting.

I’ll just run through this one more time for you, this is how I keep a clear purposeful mindset every day, all day throughout the day. Mental break, highest possible outcome where you pause to plan, that’s what this is for here, then you go through your meeting or whatever that may be and over here you pause to reflect, follow-ups and feedback. Then you start over again and you go into your next meeting thinking, “What is my highest possible outcome?” Sometimes the highest possible outcome can be as simple as “I’m going to listen, I’m going to remove my distractions and I’m going to give this person my focus.” One thing that’s terrible about this pandemic, the worst thing in my mind is that we get on these Zoom calls and we’re multi-tasking. Research on multi-tasking is clear, it is not effective, there are no multi-taskers, there’s just shitty performance. That’s what multi-tasking means, bad performance. If you can focus on one thing, then you’ll always get the highest possible outcome so reduce the distractions and the ways that I like to reduce distractions, one is by actually removing physical distractions.

You might want to set your phone to do certain things like go to theater mode or whatever, but the other way you can reduce distractions is actually just by having clarity. The story and vision that we were just talking about before, it gives you this foundation and base to have clarity on a daily basis which is the mindset at work. I picture clarity as this laser line and when I get anxious or I’m confused or I’m doing the wrong things or I’m spending my time in the wrong places or if I feel busy, that laser line starts to get very blurry for me. I have to then pause and bring that back to that laser clarity that I really want and that my clients deserve. If you’re going to bring your highest energy into your sales, your work, your life, your relationships, I think you should get more involved in hearing other people’s stories because it will help you tell a better story yourself and you should tell your story. You should find your clarity, you should write it down, you should make the word ‘together’ a verb. Sharing your story isn’t even about you, you’re sharing your story in order to build relational trust, trust is a reciprocal emotion, you give it to get it. Even though you’re talking, you’re doing so in a way that’s very much about the other person. That’s why I wrote this here, always be of service to others and your energy will always be at its highest. If you’re going to be of service to others, you have to listen and you don’t ever want to minimize the behavior and act of listening. Listening is the best gift you can give someone and then in the mindset, you want to make those small but mighty changes to how you design your days, that’s the meeting box, don’t go back-to-back. Give yourself that time to pause and plan and to pause and reflect, make those small but mighty changes to how you design your day and then go back to your clarity and your purpose every time you’re generating that highest possible outcome. If you want a free copy of my book, you can feel free to email me, I would love to speak to any of you further if you ever want to have a virtual coffee or if you’re in LA, let’s go do the real thing. It’s been my pleasure to walk you through that presentation and now I think Fred and I will have some conversations about some of the implications of all this stuff.

Fred Diamond: Brian, why don’t we try something different? We very rarely do this but if somebody wants to engage with Brian directly, because what he just described is very powerful, let me know via the question panel and we’ll unlock your phone and allow you to specifically ask some questions. By the way, Brian, I put the handout inside the handout panel so if you’re watching today’s webinar, just go find it under ‘handouts’. Nick says he loves the handout, good seeing you, Nick.

Brian, let’s go back to the slide where you had the story. We do webinars every single day, authenticity is so critical right now because everybody is going through a similar type of challenge. It might not be specific but everybody that we deal with is going through the results of the health and pandemic as it relates to COVID and everybody is going through the results of the financial and economic impact related to COVID. Then as our good friend David Morelli said, everybody’s going through a third thing, whatever it might be. Gina also says she’s loving this.

Let’s talk about authenticity right now, tell us how that plays into the story. You shared some very authentic things and it’s not something that people are naturally able to do in sales, especially prior to the pandemic. A lot of it is scripted, you’re supposed to say something specific to the customer, you shared with us your challenges having a baby, you shared with us your challenges having the spinal tumor. Let’s talk a little bit about your work with leaders and sales professionals on truly being authentic and how that can play to their advantage.

Brian Harman: The way that I picture the word ‘authentic’ is by the act of transparency. Obviously you’re not going to put your social security number up on your LinkedIn profile or anything, but there are some personal details, there are some things that you can be transparent with that do push you a little bit further down the road to demonstrating your truth in the world. When I’m posting LinkedIn videos every couple of days, about half of my content strategy is just to put personal and silly stuff, me and my son dancing or some old wedding pictures with my wife like the ones that you saw in this presentation. There’s no harm to that in my mind because all I’m doing is I’m sharing a part of myself with my potential clients and my current clients and anyone else that’s on LinkedIn. When we’re talking about being authentic, all that really means is just being yourself and if you only show the world the nice polished version of you, we all know that’s not the full self. We all struggle with those things like, “This wasn’t good enough” or, “This wasn’t my best, I want to do more, I want to do better.” I’ve been arrested before, I’ve put that on LinkedIn – now that I’m in my own business and not trying to actively look for a job.

That’s probably further than I would suggest that many of you go with what you put out there, but it’s really just as simple as we don’t want to do business with names of companies anymore, we want to do business people to people and that means I want to know you. I don’t even know what Coca-Cola stands for, most of us don’t even know the word Nike and what that word means, it’s the Greek goddess of victory. Or if you talk about Mercedes or BMW, any of these large brands, how much do we actually know about them? We don’t know a lot. When I’m reaching out to prospective clients, my business is small, there’s four of us but I don’t use, “We’ll get back to you later” like trying to show that I have this big business and I’m a big executive coach and you’re so lucky to work with me”, it’s not like that. It’s me, I’m actually the one reaching out. “My name is Brian, I would love to work with you, here’s why.” That’s not actually the sales message I use but I’m just giving you an arbitrary example that I want to know who the person is on the other side of the line and I want to give my clients that.

Fred Diamond: Brian, a question here comes in. “Go back to the story that you told from hating your job to getting on the path to doing what you love.” It’s an interesting question, thank you so much for the question. We talked about reflecting, prior to the pandemic we did one three hour session on mindset every year at the Institute for Excellence in Sales, now we do a webinar every single week and thank you so much for taking us through the initial stage of your program. Breathing is something that comes up very frequently on the Optimal Sales Mindset, but talk a little bit about how you made the shift because a lot of people are in a place right now where they’re not sure they want to continue working where they are, it’s gotten harder obviously during the pandemic for everybody to be successful. People have taken time to reflect but talk a little bit about that transition that you made because it’s critical for people to be on the path doing something they’re passionate about and love. Talk about that moment in your story where you went from “I hate this, this ain’t for me” to how you eventually went to Europe and eventually got on the path where you have tens of thousands of followers, you’ve written a great book and you’re a very high in-demand consultant and coach.

Brian Harman: The truth is it was a very messy path. When I first got into the whole, “I hate my job, I know I want to do something different”, that was a very self-destructing, self-sabotaging thing that my wife pulled me out of. I went into group therapy, individual therapy, I knew I wanted to leave that company that I was with so I did, I left that company, I tried to find a better company, it turns out that one was pretty similar to the last one but my scope of work increased so I was getting bigger and bigger projects and I was responsible for half a billion dollars in annual spend as a global supply chain manager and director. That was that part, then I thought, “This still isn’t right” so I left the world of construction management to then go into bio-technology and I worked for a company that was actually focused on rare diseases. Because I had the rare disease in my spine, I thought this would drive more purpose in my life so I went into that. Same thing happened there, that was another spring board. “I feel like I’m getting closer but I’m still not at that moment of clarity, I want to bring more high trust into the field of leadership.”

That continued and I started teaching part time, at the time it was UC Berkeley and Berkeley Global, Berkeley Global is their extension program for open enrollment and adults that are working professionals. I taught a couple classes in there and then that turned into different classes and through that process, it started to become clear. This is again 10 years, you sometimes have to let yourself move slowly so that once you do find that clarity, you can move fast and effectively. The transition for me is I knew I needed to change something and I was willing to experiment, I tried some things for a few years until I ultimately landed on, “I know what I’m going to do now, I know what the next move is” and that was opening my business. Even when I opened my business I was doing humor workshops because my dissertation was on how to use humor to build trust. Let’s go back two years now to when I first started doing that, I thought, “This is great, humor that builds trust, I get to go in and work with these executives in these workshops, everyone’s laughing for 8 hours in this awesome workshop.”

Then I still thought, “What’s really the foundation of this work that I’m doing is trust, it’s not about the fun.” If you go into a workplace and you see those walls break down and you see people joking and laughing, that’s only a symptom of high trust, high trust is still the foundation. You’ll see I just kept chipping away at this until I finally found my purpose is to build more trust in leadership. I think you just have to give yourself that space and continue to pause and reflect so you can gain more and more clarity down the road.

Fred Diamond: I hope that answered the question for the person who asked. Another question comes in here about finding your passion, thank you so much. I want to talk a little bit about being coached and the ability to accept guidance from mentors. We have a number of people who are relatively new in their sales profession, as a coach you’ve coached hundreds of business leaders, you’ve coached hundreds of sales professionals and people in all different industries, you have a PHD. Let’s talk from your expertise, how can people listening to this effectively be coached by somebody who can provide them value uncovering some of the things you just talked about? And I’m thinking specifically for the sales professionals who are listening, there’s tons of people out there who could provide them value. Give us some of your insights on how you could be more effectively coached.

Brian Harman: The word coach itself comes from the horse-drawn carriage, it was the purpose to get people to their destinations faster. When I think about any given pillar of my life – health, nutrition, leadership, meditation, LinkedIn video marketing, sales coaching – I didn’t have a history as a salesperson, when I started my own business a couple years ago I had to become the best salesman that I could be. I didn’t have the luxury of spending 10 years learning so I went out and got the best coaches that exist, it drove that 10 year period down to a few months for me and it was the dedication that I put in that made me really good at selling my business now. It goes again back to any part of your life where you want to get faster progress in something, you go out and you get a coach that has the right skillset for you. At this current moment I have five coaches, over the course of my last 10 years I attribute a lot of my growth and being able to find that clarity ultimately to being coached and to being someone that wants to go out and continuously learn. If you don’t have a coach or you haven’t worked with a coach, I’m not saying you have to get a coach but go out there and experiment. There are some tools on LinkedIn called ProFinder. You go into the little top section where it says work and you hit that little dial pad, you can go into ProFinder and you can actually go in and look for coaches. You’ll have some information about the different coaches, the different kinds of coaching, life coaching, career coaching, leadership coaching, executive coaching. Just see what you get back from those individuals, you might be surprised at what you find.

Fred Diamond: Brian, we have time for one more question before you give us your final thought. This question comes in from Nelly and Nelly wants to know, “This handout is great, what’s the best way to ensure I get value from it?” Maybe you could spend a minute or so on your advice on the best way to fill out these handouts that we had submitted.

Brian Harman: Good question, Fred. The worksheet is meant to be very easy to fill out, it’s a fillable PDF so download it, put it on your desktop, I would encourage you to send this to a trusted colleague, a family member, spouse, friend, someone that’s an accountability partner, someone that you can go through this journey together with. The value is you want to get to that place of clarity but it’s about being together, it’s about sharing the energy. If this is valuable to you, share it with other people. You can give this to whoever you want and it’s not like you have to pay for it or anything, it’s there for you. If you have someone that maybe you think they’re in the wrong career, maybe they’re in a job that they don’t love, give them this, it’s an introspective time to reflect and that’s all it’s meant to be. Just fill it out, meditate on it for a little bit, just sit there and give yourself the space to pause.

Fred Diamond: Brian, I want to thank you so much. Lot of actions here, definitely take some time to pause and reflect. I encourage everybody to fill out the handout, I have it actually opened here on my second screen, I’m going to be filling this out right when we end today’s webinar. Give us one final action item, a step that people watching today’s webinar or listening to the podcast sometime in the future should do to take their sales career to the next level.

Brian Harman: One thing you could do, next time you go on a sales call, take that 5 minutes before the call and just visualize what the highest possible outcome of this call is, trust yourself that you will have the knowledge to answer it. Thank you.

Fred Diamond: Once again, the great Dr. Brian Harman, thank you all so much. Reach out to him, follow him on LinkedIn he has a fun LinkedIn show every day, he does provide some great value. To everybody else watching today’s webinar, thank you all so much. Thanks again, Brian, appreciate all the great stuff.

Brian Harman: Thanks, Fred.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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