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Podcast Transcript

Isnt That Fascinating

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  0:11  
Welcome back to "Your Authentic Path To Powerful Leadership" with Marsha Clark where we believe there's a better way to be a woman today. With research, tools, books, and our own personal experiences, join us on this journey because in every episode we're uncovering what it actually takes to be a powerful leader in our organizations, our communities, and our lives. And, Marsha, I just kind of want to before...  Well, first welcome! Welcome!

Marsha Clark  0:45  
Thank you very much. Happy to be here!

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  0:47  
Absolutely. But I just kind of want to reinforce....  I know I've kind of stayed consistent with our opening every week, and I just want to reinforce that, especially this episode, is relevant to... I want to underline the last phrase "in our organizations, our communities, and our lives." And I really love what we're going to be exploring this week. So, why don't you share it with everybody else?

Marsha Clark  1:12  
Well, we're exploring EXPLORING. So you know, not to be double talk or double speak, or... What we're gonna do is we're gonna invite our listeners to join us as we really begin to explore and kind of, you know, de-layer and uncover our thinking that when we get stuck in our stories. Right? We're making up stories all the time. So we're going to talk about a couple of questions, maybe a thought or two, and use these questions as a way to help us get unstuck when we find ourselves in those stories. And what we tell ourselves as a part of those stories. So that's where we get today's episode name. "Isn't that fascinating?" is one of the phrases or thoughts. You can even think about it as a powerful question. So welcome, everyone. We're glad you're gonna join us in our exploring, you know, time today.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  2:09  
So "isn't that fascinating?" Isn't a lot... I don't... I want everyone because if you're like me, what you might be hearing in your head is that condescending, "Oh, bless her heart. Oh, bless your heart." like that. So I want to make clear to everybody that "Isn't that fascinating?" ISN'T along those lines.

Marsha Clark  2:30  
No, absolutely not. It is legitimate. It's valid. It's literal. And it's a it's a tool. It's one of those one-phrase one-line tools that can help us tremendously.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  2:43  
Excellent. So one of the many things that I love about your work is all of the little nuggets along the way. I mean, there's big tools that are invaluable, for sure. But sometimes it's these little phrases like, "Isn't that fascinating?" that are the ones that really stick with you and keep popping up sometimes daily.

Marsha Clark  3:05  
Well, you know, the people in my programs and coaching clients and things they always say these are "Marsha-isms." They come from all kinds of places. I laughingly say when you get older, the one-liner is easier to remember sometimes. And yet, these these phrases that we have They help us in so many different situations. You know some of our tools are very specific to a scenario or you know where I am at some point in place and that sort of thing. What we're going to talk about today could happen to us three or four different times a day.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  3:38  
So, this is feeling a little like insider code. You and I and program graduates or readers of your book understand what we mean by this question. "Isn't that fascinating?" but let's open this up to all of our listeners as well. So the key questions you reference in your book, "Embracing Your Power," are "Isn't that fascinating?" And, "What else could be true?" Both are questions. So....

Marsha Clark  4:06  
Right. So so, and you know, part of what we offer is language. So this falls into that languaging category where we... It's not intended to be insider code. I would love every leader to be thinking like this because I think it's most effective and useful. So we're gonna unpack this a little bit and actually walk through an example. And today, Wendi, you and I are going to kind of switch roles a little bit. You're going to tell the story, and I'm going to ask you questions, and then we're going to talk about this. And so I want you to think about the first... You can think of it as a phrase or a question. "Isn't that fascinating." Right? How we say it, you know, determines whether it's a phrase or a question. And then the second is there's there's kind of a 2A and 2B. One is "What else could be true.?" and then the variation of that is "What else could be possible?"

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  4:57  
Oh yes.

Marsha Clark  4:59  
So those those are the things and as we walk through the example that we're going to do, I think these things will begin to make sense about when to use them, how to use them, where to use them. Right?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  5:11  
So, what's going on with someone that they would need to use these questions or tools? I love that you call them tools!

Marsha Clark  5:19  
So let's talk about a real life scenario. And that's... This is where I want us to walk through the example. And you know, I think the one that the example you and I've talked about here is really one that a lot of people can relate to. Because, you know, we've got these stories going on in our head just day after day, minute after minute, hour after hour.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  5:38  
Right? Definitely. I mean, it's practically daily.

Marsha Clark  5:42  
It is. It is. So let's say that you're in... you're having some sort of interaction with another person. Could be a phone call, a meeting, even an email. And someone there says or does something that, you know, surprises you. Like, "Where on earth did that come from?" Or "What does that have to do with what we're talking about?" So it catches you off guard. And I just ask, "Has that ever happened to you?"

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  6:04  
Oh, of course.

Marsha Clark  6:08  
And so I'm guessing that each of us on a daily basis. It can be the insurance man, you know, asking questions. It can be something we hear on television. It can be a meeting that we're in. So there's many examples of it. And, you know, as as we've, you know, kind of queued up or teed up here is give us your example. And let's kind of walk and talk our way through that.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  6:29  
Right. So I most recently, I was, me personally, was a part of a local political campaign for city council. And we constantly had weekly meetings, and you know, with different levels of people who were at different levels of volunteering for, you know, getting this woman elected to City Council. And one during one of the mid-campaign meetings.... So let's say in March. We're really starting to come together, get into a groove, get into a flow. Everyone's on the same page. And then one member showed up, and it was almost like they were confused. Were at the wrong, like, just the wrong place at the wrong time. And I don't know, their suggestions, were just kind of, I don't know, they were they were difficult. They were challenging. They were I felt that they were kind of loaded, if you will. And felt like they that this person had their own agenda. I mean, it was it was really bizarre situation.

Marsha Clark  7:36  
Yeah. So it caught you off guard. You expect them to come with one set of thoughts or contributions or whatever, and they came with a very different from a whole different perspective. And so that's a great, it's a great example. It's not.... I'm sorry it happened but it's a great example. But and and so, you know, before we invoke, you know, the, or share some of the tools, let's look at what was really going through your mind or through your head at the time. So do you remember what some of your thoughts were as this was unfolding, or things were actually happening?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  8:10  
Yes, I think because it was a political campaign. And again, in last week's episode, we talked about the difference between being political and being politically savvy. This was an actual political campaign. So that was the underlying tone of what was going on. And I understood that, but it started... This person during this meeting made me feel almost like they might have been a spy, or were a plant. It caused all these feelings of distrustfulness in me.

Marsha Clark  8:45  
Well, yeah. You think that when you're going to have a meeting to get a political candidate elected that everybody's on the same page, and they have the same goal. And yeah. So initially, what were what were your feelings? Were you curious? Were you puzzled? Was there something else?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  9:01  
I was initially curious. So initially, I started asking further questions and other people in the meeting started asking further questions to go deeper, also. But then... That actually didn't last very long because I got frustrated and I also started getting very suspicious.

Marsha Clark  9:21  
Yeah. So that, "Are they from the opponent's camp?" kind of thing came in. So the frustration with that what do you think was causing that? What was the root of that?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  9:34  
For me, it was realizing that our time was extremely limited. You know, we've got an election day that is looming and the clock is ticking. And everything is hyper-important because the clock is ticking. And this is election matters and all of the emotionality that goes along with that. And then also, it was annoying to me because this person, if they had if they were truly legit, and weren't a plant, and if my suspicions were incorrect, then they were just not focused and unprepared. So then I was annoyed.

Marsha Clark  10:14  
Well, right. And what I'm thinking too is that, you know, especially in an election, you get one shot at that. You don't get do-overs! So the annoyance of "How dare you?" come in. And so a lot of that. So I'm guessing that any one of us of our listeners can think of an example where I thought we were going one direction. We ended up going in a different one. And it this is a great example for us to ask ourselves, what happened in that meeting is that you begin making up stories. First, it was frustration because they didn't come prepared. Secondly, it was puzzled. You know being puzzled because, you know, "Where are they coming from?" And then the third thing was, "Well, I can't trust them." or "They're here from the opponent's camp." So when, do you remember, how long did it take you to go from being, you know, puzzled to begin with with what's going on to annoyed because it didn't seem congruent with what you're trying to accomplish? To really going to a place of being distrustful? Gecause now you're wondering if they're not, you know, from the the opponent's camp. So how long did it take you to go from from puzzled to annoyed to frustrated to distrustful?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  11:29  
Pretty much faster than it took for you to say it!

Marsha Clark  11:33  
Right, right.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  11:35  
I mean, it was it was a it was a hop hop hop - there!

Marsha Clark  11:39  
Yeah. And that's the point, our minds work in such a way that it takes us literally nanoseconds to go from, you know, point A to point you know... Or point 1 to point 7 if you will. So were there any other thoughts or emotions that were going through your head at that time?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  11:55  
Yes, I was nervous to bring it up. Like it creates this immediate "Oh my gosh!" situation. "Am I reading this correctly? Am I jumping to conclusions?" I need to say something immediately. Because if this person really is a quote "spy" then I need to shut this down. All of a sudden it's a hot mess of things going on in my head. And I'm having to sit there and hold myself collected. Regardless, I was not a happy camper. In this scenario, of course.

Marsha Clark  12:28  
And you were you were nervous and worried about what would happen if we let it go on or what will happen if I intervene, or whatever the case may be. And this is where the questions come into play, and can help us kind of unravel and work our way through that, that hot mess, as you call it. And so it's... I want to talk about the questions as creating a time out for us. And that's what the timeout is going to enable us to actually see the situation a little differently, or at least open up other possibilities. And to be clear about what's really happening in this moment both to me and me in relationship to this other person. So what do you think about that?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  13:13  
Ah, love it. I love the idea of a timeout because it forces you to step back.

Marsha Clark  13:21  
It does when you when you think about the what you know. What the what role the referee plays the timeout, right? The coach calls a timeout. The referee call whistles and there's a timeout. It stops the action. It stops the motion, right? And it's when we're in that place that these questions can give us pause. And again, pause not only to the interaction with the other person, but also with the thought process and the stories I'm building in my head.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  13:50  
So why do we create the stories? Why do our brain start making up these things?

Marsha Clark  13:57  
Well, I'm going to get a little psychological and brain wisdom here as I explain this. So if it makes you feel any better, and our listeners feel any better, it is a pretty universal experience. It's it's just the human condition, and the way that our brains work. So we've all been through these, these experiences. So when something happens that we don't expect, it wasn't part of the plan, part of our expectations, we slip into this storytelling mode. And it's often referred to as "sense-making." I'm trying to make sense of what's happening here. And so most of where that comes from is a theory that centers around a built in an instinctive really a survival mechanism that's really deep inside our brain. So the reptilian brain of you know, pure survival and you know, that sort of thing. And at the first hint, or the first whiff of a threat of some sort is this person from the opponent scam. And and it could be, you know, a project getting off the rails, or a customer who's unhappy. All of those things could be a part of the threat, if you will.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  15:06  
Right. And I, for me, also, it was an idea of reputation management because I'm associated with this campaign. And if I let this person... If they're a spy, keep sitting here, that's going to become a problem, etc, etc, etc.

Marsha Clark  15:23  
Right. And so and again, thinking about even in a broader application, or if the project goes awry and I'm the project manager. That's gonna make me look bad as a leader. If it's an unhappy customer, and I'm responsible for that customer relationship, that's a bad mark on my part. So that's the first sign that our brain scents at a very deep and unconscious level. And it kicks us into protect, defend preserve mode. And that's when we start comparing the data that's coming in to us in this immediate situation, and compare it to all the other numb threats that we've experienced in our lives.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  16:00  
Yeah, it's like we're running through our own internal databases.

Marsha Clark  16:04  
That's right. In today's vernacular, that will be true. We have all these little files stored up. Remember when that happened? Remember, the last time a project went off the rails? Remember the last time this customer was unhappy? Or remember the last time that we didn't read the situation well, and got taken advantage of? And thinking about, you know, perhaps this person who's from the opponent's camp?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  16:24  
Right, and all of that is happening pretty much instantly. So yes, yeah. So where does the actual story fit in?

Marsha Clark  16:33  
So again, we're gonna go make up that story. And so while we're processing this threat, or this, you know, situation, we're trying to make sense of it. The data's all coming in. And it could be it could be contradictory. Because you said, you know, is it an opponent? Or is it that they just didn't get the memo? Right? That's just the way they think. So you're getting all of this, and you're trying to figure out what it is. And all of that the uncertainty and unknowing of it just adds to the perceived threat because now I'm out of control. I don't know. Uncertainty. Ambiguity is all at play here.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  17:13  
Exactly. That mean, that's exactly what was going on, it didn't make any sense to me why this person wasn't prepared. I thought, you know, maybe somebody sent out the wrong agenda, you know, I don't know, it's some life gets in the way, it's, this was a volunteer position completely understand that,

Marsha Clark  17:33  
Yeah, there's a lot going on in that time period. So it's the it's all the different data getting jumbled up, because we haven't organized it into those files yet, right? So all of that is whirling around in our heads. This storytelling, sense-making function kicks in to protect us. To say, "Alert! Alert!" And all of this... Our stories don't always help us. And that's the key point here is.... You know, typically, when we make up stories, there are three roles that we preserve for ourselves. And one of these is the Victim, "This is happening to me. They're coming in, and they're trying to hurt our, you know, candidate's chances of being elected!" or, "You know, I can't believe that the customer is blaming this on us. The only reason we're late is because, you know, one of their employees didn't give us information on time!" You know, those kinds of things. That's the "Poor, Pitiful Me" place. There's also this the the role that we reserve for ourselves that's the 'Know It All." And this is often I call it almost like martyrdom, self-righteous martyrdom. "I told you. It wouldn't work and now look where we are. I told you that if we invited that person... I told you if we just let anybody volunteer that, you know, we weren't going to get the high quality of people we needed." And so there's that piece. And then the third one is often the Hero or the Heroine sort of coming in, riding in to save the day on their, you know, white steed to rescue. Whatever, you know, the situation may be the client may be the team may be I'm coming to rescue that in order to eliminate the threat. And so recognizing whether you're playing Victim, Know It All, or Heroine, none of those are helpful. They don't help you move past it. So, again, our choice point is not whether we're going to make up the story. And I really want to emphasize this point. Rather, our choice point comes from whether we're going to hold on to that story that we're making up, and then convince ourselves that's true. So I want to read that and really reinforce that. Again, our choice point comes from whether we're going to hold on to that story and convince ourselves it's true. It's an echo chamber, right? I'm making myself feel better by thinking that my story is the right one and then I go take all kinds of actions accordingly.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  19:57  
And that's where the power questions kick in?

Marsha Clark  20:01  
It is and so here's what I do something that I've learned along the way that helps me to let go of the story. Or at least to, you know... It's like putting a bookmark in the story or again, the coach's timeout whistle. So I want to hold that story lightly rather than getting very invested in it. So when I hear myself or someone else say something that I consider to be wrong, or, you know, if I find myself being critical, or judging or blaming the other person, that's when I say to myself inside my head, "Isn't that fascinating." Because that's not a judgmental statement, in the sense of blind judge criticize out to get me from the opponent's camp, all of those things. It's just, you know, it shifts me from that place to one of curiosity. And though, you know, again, isn't that fascinating, could be a power question. And, or it could be just a really powerful thought. But what it is, is, it's like the whistle, that stops the action. It's a prompt, a reminder, a cue. And it's the, it helps us to then shift our thinking, and to step out of the situation, and be mindful that I'm in the middle of a story that I just made up. So if you think about your situation, Wendi, when would it have been useful for you to say to yourself, "Isn't that fascinating?" to help you shift your thinking?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  21:33  
Exactly! Well, I could have used it, pretty much as soon as I noticed their behavior instead of jumping straight into being critical, and then getting myself spun up in this story of suspicion. You know? And then being angry. If I had taken that internal timeout, at first, to be curious, and, and a little bit surprised, I would have given myself that room for that emotion as well. It might have saved myself from all the other negative assumptions and the emotions that go along with that story.

Marsha Clark  22:09  
Well, and I will tell you what I've learned, because I've been using this phrase now for over 20 years when someone shared it with me, and it was one of the most, I'll say, effective and liberating ways to change my self talk to change my thinking. And so when we shift from blaming, judging, criticizing, and so on to getting curious and staying in that curious space, what I have found out is I often learn something from that other person that I didn't know. I can hear something from them that says, "Oh, I hadn't made that connection." Or, "Oh, I didn't get that!" Or, "Oh, that's new information for me!" And so I then go to what else could be true? Well, it could be true that they're really there to be helpful, it could be true that they've heard something from the opponent's camp, you know, just from their neighbor next door, or whatever, that they want to make sure that they're bringing to the, you know, the election committee or the candidate committee to help be able to minimize or neutralize or refute whatever the case may be, or that enables us to respond to the unhappy customer in a way that they get to see a more complete story of what's really happening here.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  23:23  
Yeah, "isn't that fascinating" really is a great question. Because it not only causes me to check in with that story that I've made up about the other person, but it also gets me to check in as to what my own thinking is like, how did I get there in the first place? What's the storyline that I had to have told myself in order to get to that place?

Marsha Clark  23:47  
Yeah. So you know, one of the things we say is that great leadership always starts with self awareness. Right? So I've got to start with what's going on inside of me, I got to know what my patterns are, I got to know when I'm making up a story, I got to know when I'm moving into that judging, blaming, criticizing place. And so that, that ability to one be self aware about it, and then secondly, to self manage myself, and self managing, is what I'm doing. When I say "Isn't that fascinating? What else could be true? What else could be possible? Tell me more."

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  24:19  
Right? Right. And I love the movement from "isn't that fascinating?" which causes you to first just look at the scenario to then move to analyzing the scenario through "what else could be true?" And then further in more depth analyzation with "what else could be possible?"

Marsha Clark  24:39  
Well, that's right. And so when I'm able to do that I, I'm moving into the curious basis, which is gives me the opportunity to learn right, and to get the true story, not the one I made up in my head, and it also keeps me engaged with that other person. So rather than putting up barriers or shutting down totally or, you know, damage potentially damaging relationship by being accusatory when you're just miss reading or misinterpreting what's really going on.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  25:10  
Right, right. So if I think back over this scenario, I think these questions would have created a different scenario in that it would have lessened my stress level and just general agitation by not only asking them internally to myself, but but then forming those questions to the person of you. Just exploratory questions around what made you say that? Why do you think that? You know, what is it that you're hearing that we're not hearing? And that would have calmed me down a whole lot more, also.

Marsha Clark  25:48  
Yeah, it just takes a lot less curious to put yourself or a lot less energy to put yourself in the curious place, rather than it does that "GRRRRRRR." And, and, and when we feel threatened, that takes extreme energy out of us, right. So again, we don't think about these as threats necessarily, and yet, that's what our brain is processing. We're not getting chased by saber-toothed tigers anymore, right? You know, I put us at threat and yet these things that are going awry, or going as unplanned or unanticipated can still create the same visceral experiences inside our brains, our heads, our bodies.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  26:28  
Right, right. And I would have felt actual concern for the person and maybe even would have asked that out loud, "Is everything okay? You know, "Do we need to take a break? Or do you need to catch up with us at the next meeting?" Something along those lines...

Marsha Clark  26:43  
Well, well, you could have and, and that gives room for everybody, right. So if they really do have a situation that they need to come back to, or, or, you know, need some distance from, or whatever the case may be, you're up giving that opening, and they can then feel supported, and also feel heard, and feel cared for. And I think that's really good. So the impact of your story, you know, could have been had a different outcome, and you wouldn't have been as exhausted with all the tension that was raised inside your body with with the the negative thoughts story that you are going down. So, you know, how did how did your meeting end? I'm curious as to what really happened there.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  27:24  
Exactly. I mean, I think the the key thing that you just said was it was this whole gigantic cluster was going on inside me. Like, no one else was aware of it. And and so I wasn't disruptive to the meeting, but and the meeting ended up okay. And of course, all that worrying and frustration and then anger and the you know, that swinging back and forth. It was a complete waste of time. The outcome was okay, but getting there was brutal because I was so worked up.

Marsha Clark  27:58  
Yeah. And so that therein lies the power of the power questions, right? That it can help us really direct our energy in places that are going to help us get clearer, and then move towards achieving whatever it is we're trying to achieve. So I want to reiterate, the biggest rescue mission that we can complete in this process is when we rescue ourselves from our own, you know, I'll call it catastrophic thinking or hair on thinking, which, which is why the Isn't that fascinating and immediately then going to what else could be possible, or what else could be true. And so when you find yourself in that downward spiral, or that negative place, that's the time you want to use this, you know, I call it the, again, the coach's whistle or the timeout or the slow down, and then redirect your thinking to a more productive place.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  28:52  
I love that. I love this whole episode. This has been wonderful, Marsha. Thank you so much for helping us explore how these powerful questions can help us just take that time out when we get stuck in storytelling mode. It seems so simple. I know it's hard, and it's so powerful.

Marsha Clark  29:12  
Well, and I would just offer this start, just start noticing when you're in that place and begin practicing it. And pretty soon your your brain will start working that way. When I say I've been doing this for 20 years, plus years, I now think that way becomes my default thinking pattern, which helps me again to stay engaged and to keep the other person in the interaction. And the other thing I would tell you is if you work with people, have them help you when they see you spinning up that story and you're sharing it with them. You know, I often tell not just my clients but my friends, my family. Well what else could be true? You know, what else could be possible? Have you checked out what you're thinking? You know, when in doubt, check it out kind of thing. So, I would encourage you to not only practice it for yourself, but but be a good friend and colleague and leader in helping others to do it as well.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  30:10  
Well, thanks, everyone for joining us today on "Your Authentic Path To Powerful Leadership" with Marsha Clark! We invite you to download and subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Google Spotify or wherever you like to listen. And please visit Marsha's website at for all of the tools, links, resources, the email list we want you to subscribe. And you can also find out more about Marsha and her latest book, "Embracing Your Power," on the site as well as all of her social media channels.

Marsha Clark  30:48  
Well, thank you, Wendi, for sharing your story with us today and giving us an example to use something very real as a way of making our teaching points. And as always, I invite our listeners to contact us let us know if you have questions or thoughts or ideas, comments about anything that we've talked about today. And we hope that you'll join us again next week. And here's to women supporting women!

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