A lot of times, what keeps you from stepping outside your comfort zone are psychological roadblocks. The problem is that if we avoid something over time, it’s not going to get any easier. Andy Molinsky’s goal and work are to help people understand what the challenges are. Andy is a professor of Organizational Behavior and International Management at Brandeis University’s International Business School. Andy says he gives people the tools not to create some magical moment where they suddenly feel tremendous confidence in a situation where they’re feeling very incompetent and scared, but to nudge them forward to have the courage to take a lead. Andy’s work helps people develop the insights and courage necessary to act outside their personal and cultural comfort zones when doing important but challenging tasks in work and life.
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Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone with Andy Molinsky
My guest is Andy Molinsky. He has a ton of credentials and we’re going to focus on his work. His work helps people develop the insights and the courage necessary to act outside their personal and cultural comfort zones when doing important but challenging tasks in work and life. Andy, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me on.
You do have a ton of credential. Can you tell us how you got to where you are into the work you’re doing? Give us a summary of how that came to be.
I have a PhD in Organizational Behavior in Psychology, so I come from an academic background. I started as a professor at the University of Southern California. I’ve been for many years a professor at Brandeis University in Boston in the International Business School. That’s my background. Ten years ago, I started to write, work, consult and do all sorts of stuff for the more general audience and companies. I’ve written two popular business books. The first is called Global Dexterity, which is about stepping outside your cultural comfort zone and adapting behavior across cultures. I’ve done a lot of work in that area. Then, I wrote my second book with Penguin Random House called Reach. It is about stepping outside your comfort zone period, why it’s hard, how we avoid doing it and how you can be more successful. That, in a nutshell, is a bit about me.
What is going on today in terms of corporate America, in terms of leadership management? What’s going on in the world that keeps people in their own comfort zone and not looking outside of that?
A lot of it does come from the world, from ourselves. From my book, Reach, for example, I’ve worked with and interviewed people from across the spectrum. You talked about corporate America, I certainly interviewed the executives, managers, entrepreneurs, small business owners, but I also expanded it to doctors, police officers, therapists, actors, students, clergy members like priests, rabbis, and all sorts of people. I was trying to understand what was keeping people inside their comfort zones and what distinguished people to step outside. One key finding, which is the answer to that question, “What keeps people inside their comfort zone?” is I found a bunch of psychological roadblocks. In fact, five of the people experienced those everyday moments and situations of courage where you know you need to go network, pitch and promote yourself, but it’s hard giving a speech, making a small talk with someone you don’t know, speaking up in that meeting, being assertive when that’s not your nature, those kinds of things.
In terms of psychological roadblocks, number one, authenticity. People feel often inauthentic, not themselves when stepping outside of their comfort zone. That’s hard when you’re feeling that way. It’s hard to approach something when every bone in your body is saying to avoid it. Another challenge is likability. In addition to feeling inauthentic, someone could worry that people won’t like this version of me. Let’s say in your situation, we’re talking about is being more assertive than you normally are. What if people liked the assertive version of you? What if you were more on the point? What if you fear that people won’t like that version of you? That might cause you to avoid. A third is competence. What if you’re bad at this and what if people can see you’re bad at this?
If it’s something outside our comfort zone, there’s a decent likelihood that we might not be bad, but at least not be tremendously skilled and experienced. A fourth is resentment. Sometimes people in Rome act like the Romans. You need to adapt and adjust. You need to act in a certain way to achieve a certain effect. What if deep down you feel resentful that you have to do that? For example, I talked with a lot of people who are introverts in Corporate America. We probably argued that extroverts have a bit of an advantage in a lot of situations. Let’s say trying to get to know people, get to know your boss, get to know the decision makers, making a small talk about last night’s game or a TV show. An introvert could be standing there in the corner thinking to him or herself, “I can’t do that or that’s a massive effort for me to do that, which is easy for that other person.” That other person’s getting all the opportunities because of that “I feel so resentful.”
A fifth one is morality. This didn’t happen as much as what I saw in my research, but occasionally and certainly with enough frequency that I included it. It’s the idea where you feel like you’re doing something wrong when stepping outside of your comfort zone. I opened my book, Reach, with the story of a young entrepreneur who after two months of starting her company ended up having to fire her best friend. You asked what keeps people in their comfort zones, the fear of feeling inauthentic, the fear that they won’t be liked, the fear that they’ll be incompetent and be seen as incompetent, the idea that they’ll be resentful about having to do it, and the fact that they might fear that they’re doing something wrong.
I’m thinking about a client who is a CEO of a large corporation. She said, “There’s much expected of me on my plate and I don’t feel authentic.” I said, “What does that mean? She said, “I’m not sure that I’m as competent as people think I am. I’m being asked to do some things that are a little bit unpleasant for me. I fear in doing them.” As we were talking, she had concerns. One of them clearly was about her competence and her likability. As you were talking, I’m literally relating this to a client story. All of us can relate to this in our lives and certainly in business.
If you think about it in terms of situations outside of your comfort zone, the higher you get in your organization, if you’re a solopreneur or an entrepreneur, you often have a lot of flexibility to craft your life and job, so you avoid things outside of your comfort zone. If you’re an executive and you’re uncomfortable giving speeches, you can craft your job, so you don’t have to give those speeches. The problem is that if we avoid something over time, it’s not going to get any easier. In all these situations, my goal and my work are to help people understand what the challenges are. I give them the tools not to create some magical moment where they suddenly feel tremendous confidence in a situation where they’re feeling very incompetent and scared, but to nudge them forward to have the courage to take a lead. That’s what my work is about.People feel often inauthentic and not themselves when stepping outside of their comfort zone. Click To Tweet
Let’s take somebody who won’t go outside their comfort zone and are avoiding to go outside their comfort zone. They’re worried about taking a risk. They are concerned about how they’re going to look and how they’re going to show up. What’s a small step that they can take?
What I found are three key things. The first is conviction, discovering your sense of purpose, like why does this matter to you? If you can’t figure that out, maybe it’s not worth going outside your comfort zone in this situation. Figure it out. Why does this matter for you? For the people you serve, why does it matter? Number two, customization. That’s something I found to be incredibly powerful for people. What that means is that there’s no one size fits all version of any situation that you’re in. Oftentimes, when people encounter something outside their comfort zone, they freeze, get scared, and think they have to hit the bullseye in the target, like do it exactly right.
What people often forget is that there’s a range. You can personalize, customize or put your little tweak on something whether it’s the words you use, your body language. You can play with timing. You can play with the context. I know people who even bring a prop to a situation like an actor. There are all sorts of cool ways that I discovered from people across all professions. When I started to reflect on my own life, on myself too, I was doing this to make a situation a bit more on my own and to make it a little bit more comfortable.
I will give one example, which is not even in the book, so this is like a bonus material. This is from an email of someone who read my book and said, “That part of a customization totally hit home and inspired me to do something.” Her situation is with a small talk. She would go to parties; get-togethers and it was very uncomfortable. She’d sit in the corner and wouldn’t approach people she didn’t know to make a small talk. It was a problem for her because she wanted to try to make connections, make friends, and create a sense of community. She had this epiphany after reading this part about customization in my book. She realized that she loves photography.
Her epiphany was to bring a selfie stick to parties. A selfie stick was her prop. She brought a little selfie stick in her purse to parties. She’d take it out and people would say, “What’s that?” She’d say, “It’s a selfie stick.” A lot more people have heard of a selfie stick than actually identify it, maybe they can but some can’t. Then they’d say, “That’s cool. How does that work?” She’d say, “Let me see your cell phone.” Then she’d take their cell phone. By the way, you can tell already and imagine her experience was in my story, how different it was from before she brought that. It created an amazing catalyst for kickstarting a conversation and she said it transformed her experience.
I have to thank you for that bonus material because that story resonates much. I can see how that prop, that idea, that suggestion can change everything. Why does this matter, the conviction, the sense of purpose? When you know your why, it’s a lot easier to step outside your comfort zone. I have a huge why and I take risks. I step out of my comfort zone all the time because of that. Sometimes my clients will say, “I could never do it the way you do it,” and I’ll say, “Good, don’t. Find your way of doing it and your way of customizing it.” Any other final tips?
The idea of conviction, what we just talked about is for people to realize that it could be professional, it could be personal, or it could be a combination. It could be professional like the woman who ended up having to fire her best friend. It was hard for her, but she realized that in order for her business to survive and in order to serve all the other people she had hired from other companies who left very good jobs to join her somewhat risky startup, she felt indebted to them. By firing her best friend who was underperforming, who was causing the business in some ways to tank, she was going to be able to support these other people that she felt dedicated. She’d be able to support the business, the clients, and the customers that she was serving.Discover your sense of purpose. Why does this matter to you? Click To Tweet
Stepping outside your comfort zone can also be very personal. I have kids who are eleven and a half and thirteen and a half. Oftentimes, when I sense that I’m avoiding instead of approaching a situation and avoiding something outside of my comfort zone, I think to myself, “I’m always telling my kids that they need to step outside of their comfort zone in an age-appropriate way. Am I practicing what I preach? I want to be a good dad. I want to be the role model that I hope to be and that ends up as a super strong source of conviction for me.” I resonate with your point that wherever it comes from, personal, professional or combination, find it, embrace it and use it. That’s very powerful.
We’ve got tips here that every single person can use professionally, personally. It’s a great combination. Andy, how and where can people get your books? How can they connect with you?
Connect with me on my website, which is www.AndyMolinsky.com. I’m also very active on social media, especially LinkedIn but also Facebook and Twitter too. You can get my books anywhere it’s sold, Amazon and so on. I’d love to connect with people so please reach out. I’d love to hear from people. I will be honored if folks looked and read those books. Let me know what you’re saying.
Andy, thank you so much for coming.
Thanks for having me on. It was fun.
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About Andy Molinsky
Andy Molinsky is a Professor of Organizational Behavior and International Management at Brandeis University’s International Business School. Andy received his Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and M.A. in Psychology from Harvard University. He also holds a Master’s Degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in International Affairs from Brown University. Andy’s work helps people develop the insights and courage necessary to act outside their personal and cultural comfort zones when doing important, but challenging, tasks in work and life. His research and writing has been featured in Harvard Business Review, Inc. Magazine, Psychology Today, the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, NPR and Voice of America. Andy was awarded as a Top Voice for LinkedIn for his work in education. His first book, Global Dexterity (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013), received the Axiom Award (Silver Medal) for Best Business Book in International Business & Globalization and has been used widely in organizations around the world, including Boeing, AIG, the US Air Force Academy, and the Clinton Foundation, among others. His new book Reach was published with Penguin Random House in January 2017. He teaches, consults, and lectures widely to university and corporate audiences.