FTC 181 | Respect In The Workplace

181: How Not To Be A Jerk: Reclaiming Respect In The Workplace With Jordan Goldrich

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There are jerks everywhere, and it is up to you to learn how to deal with them or how not to become one yourself. Today, Mitch Russo interviews Jordan Goldrich, the co-author of the book entitled Workplace Warrior. Having experienced being set up and fired from his job, Jordan has had great realizations about such mishaps and decided to help others who are going through the same scenario. Jordan shares his techniques you can use on yourself or staff members who are being jerks in a business environment and disrupting the business flow. Listen to Jordan as he highlights the value of respect in the workplace and walks us through his coaching method by understanding neural pathways and behaviors.

How Not To Be A Jerk: Reclaiming Respect In The Workplace With Jordan Goldrich

Have you talked back to me yet? I’m getting several messages a day using the Speak to Mitch button on every episode. Want to react to what I say? Do you want to tell me your opinion on any topic as it relates to this show? Go ahead, I dare you. Let’s get this conversation started. This episode is sponsored by VEA, the Virtual Entrepreneurs Association. Finally, a place with all the tools, resources, discounts, education and community to help you on your entrepreneurial mission. Think of VEA as the triple-A or Swiss Army knife for business. For a limited time, you can get your free trial of VEA as well as a copy of Daven Michaels’ new book, The Virtual Entrepreneur at VEABusiness.com/mitch.

My guest was fired from his job in 1998 for being a jerk. He made the decision at that time in his life to change his communication style which led him to build a life he was proud of and teach others how to do the same. My guest has a simple way of describing his work. He challenges no BS executives to drive results without damaging relationships to take performance to a higher level. As the co-author of a book entitled Workplace Warrior, he knows how to help people get stuff done while dealing with others without creating the friction and resistance that comes with someone who is focused and intentional. He’s here to help us learn how we could do that in our own organization. Welcome, Jordan Goldrich, to the show. 

Mitch, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

It’s my pleasure having you. Jordan, I’d love to find out more about you. Tell us how this all got started for you. 

In 1998, I was sitting in my office in a large insurance company when I got a call from my boss asking me to down to her office. I walked down the hall. I opened up the door and there sitting with her was the vice president of human resources whose office was 3.5 hours away. Being the fast study that I am, I knew immediately that this was not good. In fact, they proceeded to fire me for mismanaging my budget.

You’re perceptive. 

I started to raise some questions about it because I had known there was a problem with my budget. I had asked for a breakdown and never got it. The VP, like any good VP of human resources, said, “We’re not discussing this. It’s decided, you’re leaving.” The next day, I was in a coffee shop in the neighborhood. I bumped into the woman who had been my consultant from the finance function. She came over and she said to me, “Jordan, I owe you an apology.” I said, “Why?” She said, “For the last couple of months, you’ve been telling me there’s something wrong with your overhead and I’ve been looking at you like I don’t have a clue of what you’re talking about.” I said, “Yes.” She said, “You know how you asked me twice for a breakdown of your overhead and I never gave it to you.” I said, “Yes.” She said, “I didn’t know what was going on, but I was told by our boss that if I gave you any information, I’d lose my job.”

I was somewhat in shock, but not totally because I knew I had been set up. I went out to my car. It was 90 degrees and I was sitting in my car taking deep breaths, etc. I realized that I had an incredible opportunity to feel victimized for the next several years. I hate feeling victimized. I decided to do what I previously would have taught my counseling clients to do. I am a licensed clinical social worker and I had been a therapist for a number of years. What I would teach my coaching clients to do, which is when something like that happens, focus on what you controlled in that situation versus what was done to you. As I thought about it, I realized that I knew well she wanted more deference for me than I was giving her. It wasn’t that I was profane or unprofessional but I didn’t respect her because I had seen things like this before. I had my New York tone of voice. I was born and raised in a loud New York family, a loud and somewhat crazy New York family.

No matter what you thought of somebody, always treat them more respectfully. Click To Tweet

We have that in common. I was raised in Brooklyn, New York. It would be ridiculous not to describe my family is loud. Here’s the question. When we started talking and, in your intro, it says that you were a jerk and that’s why you were fired. Doesn’t it sound like you were a jerk or were you? 

I was somewhere in between jerk and abrasive and annoying. I don’t think I was a full-fledged jerk. One of the stories I like to tell is being twelve years old and sitting at the table with my uncle, the psychiatrist, my aunt the teacher, my mother the dietician, and my father the podiatrist. I decided that it’s time for me to express a political opinion. My uncle, without missing a beat, looked at me and said, “Jordan, you’re a moron.” I didn’t think for one second that seemed or thought I was a moron. I knew that seemed more loved me, cared about me and wanted me to be successful. That was the way my family said you hadn’t thought this through. I grew up with some programming in my brain that when I disagree with people, I’m programmed to say things like that. I’ve been working on it my whole life and I’ve gotten a lot better but there is some programming there. Even to this day, when I’m brainstorming out loud, I have to warn my clients that I’m thinking out loud, I’m not telling you what to do. There was a lot of that style. In meetings with this woman, she would say things that I knew I hadn’t been thought through or I knew were completely honest and I would raise questions about them.

There was that New York tone. I knew she wanted more respect and there were two conversations going on in my head. One was you ought to be more respectful. She’s your boss. The other one was I don’t have the energy to do this. There was a third one, which is she doesn’t deserve it. I also had to admit as I sat there that I had previous bosses, mentors and the therapists, there are two along the way, tell me that I need to be more tactful and diplomatic. For whatever reason, I had often not paid attention to that because they are somewhat conflicting messages. I decided that the only way I could avoid being victimized or feeling victimized was to treat this as if I was being hit over the head with a 2×4, that it’s time for me to clean up my act.

That’s some good insight there. I might have lived next door to you it seems because I grew up with the same family members making the same comments. I had similar issues later in life as well because like you, I would react when people said things that I thought were nonsensical or the wrong way to do something that I knew precisely the right way to do. It is programmed into us and other people reading the blog who did not grow up in Jewish families, I don’t doubt that you had similar experiences in your own home. This is not related to a certain religious group of people. It’s related to all of us. If we were to react the way we would in a family situation, under most circumstances, it would be inappropriate. You made this decision, you’re sitting in the car and you said, “I’ve got to make a change.” Is that accurate?

That is completely accurate.

What’d you do next?

What I did next occurred over a period of time. First of all, I made the commitment that no matter what I thought of somebody, I was going to treat them more respectfully. There was no excuse for me not figuring out how to do that. Focus on the behavior, not the person. Later on, one of my favorite sayings came from the Dalai Lama who said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” That has become a big piece for my life and it’s also a big piece in my work. The way I talk about it now is that one of my goals in life is to cultivate compassion for people that my brain is telling me don’t deserve it.

What do you mean by deserve? Who are you to judge what people deserve or not?

FTC 181 | Respect In The Workplace
Respect In The Workplace: When you are in a shocking moment, focus on what you controlled in that situation versus what was done to you.


You’re completely correct. I have no right to judge that. It came from what I learned in my family about who deserves respect. If you’re saying something that you can’t back up, at least at this moment, you don’t deserve respect was the lesson that was ingrained in me.

Which is the wrong lesson, right?

It’s completely wrong.

It sounds like deserve is a judgment. Not in my family world, but in my world now, I don’t believe I have the right to judge anybody. I have an opinion and I can express it as openly in a way that would invite discussion but I don’t judge anymore. I got rid of doing that when it hurts me so much. It hurt me in many situations.

Mitch, I’m in complete agreement with you. It’s not that easy to stop and that’s a good deal of the work that I do is helping people figure out how to manage it over time. I noticed immediately that there was a change in my behavior once I made the commitment. I will tell you that people who knew me many years ago when this happened think that I have become a different person. However, people who know me now think that I could be a little bit more tactful and diplomatic that I’m still straightforward. What happened after that was a long period of time, my marriage broke up. It wasn’t because of the money but that was the last straw. I am proud to say that we had a happy breakup. When the divorce was signed, my ex-wife took me out for dinner and we sat and talked about our relationship. After we got done, I looked at her and I said, “What were we thinking?” She said, “We were in love, we were stupid.”

I’m pleased that happened but the financial stress of it created some problems. I decided that I wanted to start my own consulting business at that point. Being the slow learner that I am, it took me a while to figure out what I’m not good at marketing and branding. I worked for a couple of years and didn’t make a whole lot of money. I got involved with an organization called the Center for Creative Leadership, which is one of the largest and best-known executive coaching and leadership development organizations in the world. I’ve been with them for several years. I wouldn’t be half the coach that I am if it had not been for the center. One of the big lessons for me is that in a lot of ways, I’m better off not as the lead. I’m better off as a second-in-command or as an operations person. The other thing that occurred is a good colleague of mine who was the head of the Employee Assistance Program at one of the large hospitals here in San Diego is a long-time Buddhist meditator.

Stanford has done some research on the brain and the minds of the Buddhist monks, the Dalai Lama’s monks in fact, and had developed a program called Compassion Cultivation. One summer’s day, Bob called me up and said, “Jordan, I got certified in the Stanford program and I need to run a couple of programs. Would you like to be a guinea pig?” To which I responded, something along the lines of, “Is this a trick question?” I went. I am a licensed therapist. I’ve been through a lot of leadership training. I’ve been through Lean and Six Sigma training. At that point, I was through my coaching training and I figured I’d learn a technique or two. I did not expect to have the impact on my life that it had. If it’s okay, if it makes sense to you, Mitch, I can go into talking a little bit more about that because there’s some philosophy behind it.

Jordan, first of all, I hate to tell you but your entire career has gone in the completely wrong direction. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but what you should have done is become a coach and speaker on how to get your divorced wife to buy you dinner. That is the skill that we could sell much more radically, much more readily than anything else you might offer. That’s quite an accomplishment. You skipped right over that.

All major religions have the concept of compassion and it's about cultivating a different way of thinking as opposed to joining one. Click To Tweet

I will tell you what I did. At the time we bought the house, she put in a large chunk of money. This was a second marriage for her. We married at age 40 for both of us. When we got divorced, that money was under both our names. It was a big chunk of money. She came over one day and said, “I want you to turn this over to me. It was my money.” I believably could have taken half of it. I didn’t do that because it was her money. That is how I pulled it off.

The backstory now helps me understand why she did and she should have. After all, you’re a mensch and you did the right thing and you certainly deserved dinner. I hope you’ve got at least two glasses of wine with dinner that night. 

It was scotch, but it was fine.

As long as it was a single malt, then we’re all set. Jordan, what I’d like to do now is I want to hear in some detail of what this training was about. What I’d like to do, if we could, is a little bit of a transition into the topic of your book and what it is that you teach and coach on. Let’s start with that. If you’re working with a new client, and make-believe I’m your new client if you will. Help me understand how you’re going to change my life. Ultimately, what’s going on here is you’re teaching my audience what it is that you would normally be paid tens of thousands of dollars to do. Give me the content and the coaching that you would give a paid client so that we know what you do and we could use the information that you’re providing for us. 

Mitch, you would be referred to me rather than you called me up. You are a C-level person in a large company or you are at least the senior vice president. You have been either referred by the board or your boss or human resources after numerous discussions about the fact that you are incredibly valuable and we want to keep you. By the way, you’re creating some exposure that’s problematic such as people are complaining, we’re afraid of lawsuits for harassment or we’re losing key people who are offended by you. I will have talked with your boss beforehand to get clear on what it is and then you and I would have a conversation to make sure whether there’s a good fit. Do you even want to work with me? Can you stand me?

Let’s be clear, I’m a jerk. My boss told you I’m a jerk. I’m going to be a jerk when I talk to you too but nonetheless, I like you. I don’t know why but I like you. Help me. What do I do? 

The first thing is that I would ask you whether or not you have a similar conversation going on in your head that I had, which is there some conversation in your head that says asking me to change my behavior as a bunch of politically correct bull. The reason is that I can’t believe that you’re more concerned about my tone of voice. Then you are about the fact that these people are coming in late, they’re not performing, they’re not telling the truth and I’m sitting here having to talk to you about how I talk to them. That seems unreasonable. I’d ask you if you have that conversation.

The answer is absolutely yes. I have that in my head right now. They have no business being late. I paid for them to be here on time every day and do the job.

FTC 181 | Respect In The Workplace
Respect In The Workplace: To tamp down the reactions to your behavior, you don’t have to be a whole new person but change about 10% to 15% of your communication style.


I would say I don’t fully agree with you, but I do agree with you that we live in an overprotective society now and that people should be able to handle more. However, the reality is that we live in a time where you’re putting yourself in your company at risk and you’re getting a lot of pressure to stop it. What I know is if you stop it because you’re being forced to stop it, it’s not going to work. We need to dig around and find out an authentic reason, an intrinsic reason why you would stop it anyway even if you weren’t getting this kind of pressure.

You just gave me the key that unlocks the pathway to hearing what you have to say. You didn’t convince me of it, but now I’m open to hearing what you have to say. 

What is it that made you open?

What you said made me sensitive to the fact that I knew that I act the way I act and I have no problem with the way I act. After all, I’m doing what anybody would do in my mind. If I was running a company and people were showing up late or giving me lame excuses for not getting things done, I don’t need to be respectful to people who aren’t performing. This was important to me, is you said that I am causing problems for the company. I’m causing chaos for what’s going on. That is not something I want to do.

My goal would be if I can’t convince you that there’s a reason to do it for authentic reasons, minimally I want to teach you the least you can do to protect yourself. There’s another meaning to the term the least you can do, which is if you were in the street and somebody who was disabled asked you to help them across the street, you would help them cross the street and on the other side they wanted to pay you. You would say, “Of course not. This was the least I could do.” We’re looking for the least you can do in the sense that it’s the right thing to do. If we can find that, then you will change fairly easily or much more easily. If we can’t find that, there’s no point in our going on.

We are talking to the amazing Jordan Goldrich. He is sharing with us a technique that we could use on ourselves, staff members or partners that are simply being jerks in a business environment and disrupting the way business is done. Jordan, I get what you’re saying. What are the words I use? What are the ideas that I want to try to convey if I’m coaching a person who feels fully justified in his feelings and in his behavior to someone who’s simply not performing? Why do I have to pander to this individual who had sensitive feelings when they aren’t even doing the job that we paid them to do?

It goes back to your core values. My experience is that 95% of the people that I work with who are being called names like bully, jerk or whatever do not want to hurt people. What is going on is that their behavior is a defensive response to feeling attacked. That might be hard for most people in your audience to believe, but these people are what I refer to as warriors. They are uncommonly committed to succeeding. They take charge, they lead their teammates, they accomplish the mission, they demand discipline. They’re never out of the fight. We live in a time which is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. That’s part of a Harvard Business Review Article on VUCA. When you live in times like that in crazy, competitive, complex times, you need warriors to lead your team. You will not be successful without them. At the same time, they’re annoying. They say they’re not perfect human beings. They get frustrated. Their self-esteem is tied to being successful.

When the people around them are not demonstrating that same level of commitment, they experience it as a personal attack. If you could imagine that your self-esteem is being attacked, somebody is making you feel like you’re not worthy. It’s the same reaction that your body gives to as if someone were holding a knife against your throat in a dark alley. Fight, freeze, flight. The impulse is to either strike out, run away or freeze. It’s a ton of misunderstanding. They are being abrasive and disrespectful. Some of them go over the line to demeaning and abusive. In most cases, these are people who care about doing it right, serving, achieving, and we need them. The trick is to respect that and respect that in yourself. At the same time, recognize that you better be able to speak the language of the people around you.

Leaders should make everyone feel safe, accepted, and comfortable all the time. Click To Tweet

I liked the phrase you used. Warriors are uncommonly committed to succeeding. There’s a parallel to that and it’s in the sales profession. When I think of the way you’re describing the individual who’s been sent to you for fixing, I think of the great salespeople that I have had in my life, and those people are committed to closing and won’t give up until they close. The differences are that great salespeople understand the concept of rapport and they understand that if you break rapport with a potential client, you’ll never close. Balancing the desire to close the uncommon commitment to succeed without breaking rapport is almost the same formula that we teach when we train salespeople. We’re on the right track here.

What you’re saying makes a lot of sense.

Now, what do we do?

One of the interesting things is many of the people I work with are either spiritual or religious. As we’re digging around, I will often ask, “Is there a higher power in your life?” If there is, I’ll also ask, “Do you believe there’s a higher power acting in your life?” If ultimately I believe that they do, I might ask them something like, “Is it possible that your higher power put you among all of these lazy, dishonest people so that you could learn forgiveness, love and compassion?” People who don’t have a higher power in their life often have those similar, same beliefs that at the core they believe that all people should be treated respectfully. Part of the problem of being human is we have these mixed messages in our heads. It’s hard to be a good human being has been my experience. Once the a-ha happens, then there are a number of things that need to happen. One of those things is they need to change the conversation with the people who they work with and they also need to develop a new set of neural pathways in their own brain. I can start in either of those. Which would you prefer?

I like what you said about checking in on spirituality. What you’re doing here is you are trying to find a communications pathway to this individual by asking him that question, then you know the answer that there is an element of compassion that they have. With that, you have something to work with. If you know that about a person, the tools that you use, number one is you acknowledge the fact that they are in fact warriors, that they are in fact striving to succeed. In that many ways, their intentions are good. That’s step one. Step two then is to point out that as a good person, we don’t want to hurt anybody else and get them to agree that you’re heading down that pathway as well. They say, “Yes, of course, I’d help that person across the street and I would not accept money for doing so.” Now, you’ve achieved level two. The third level here is to get them to internalize this in a way so that they can change the behavior. How do we do that?

They need to understand that our behavior is triggered by neural pathways in our brains. Most of what I learned about the brain in college and graduate school is not correct. In the last number of years, I learned that you can rewire your brain. What we now know is that when an angry response is triggered, a scared response is triggered, even a love response is triggered. If we could look in your brain with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging machinery, we would see millions of neurons firing in a pattern. What we know is that neurons that fire together wire together.

For people who have a tendency to be abrasive like myself and perhaps yourself, it’s partly genetic and it’s partly that we’ve been practicing for many years. We have this big pathway of neurons in our brain firing away. The metaphor that I love, I wish I could remember where I got it because I’d love to give the person credit, is that if you’re doing 150 miles an hour on the autobahn and a deer steps out in the road and you’ve smashed the deer and you decide, “The next time, I’m not going to smash the deer. I’ll go around or I’ll stop.” No, you won’t. You’re doing 150 miles an hour on the autobahn, you don’t even have a split-second to think about it.

It’s the same thing. What you need to begin doing is building on another neural pathway that has a different set of responses. The chances are you’ve got a neural pathway that’s already partially built because there are people that you’re nice and respectful too. You have to learn how to calm yourself, calm your mind, recognize when you are angry or judgmental in real-time and stop it and then practice a bunch of different kinds of responses. As that other neural pathway starts getting bigger, my experience is it takes about three months that you find yourself in real-time in a situation where you had previously been triggered to say something nasty. All of a sudden, you have the split-second to choice and you decide, “I’m going to walk down this other path.”

FTC 181 | Respect In The Workplace
Workplace Warrior: People Skills for the No-Bullshit Executive

Jordan, what you’re saying is that by working on building the sudden neural pathway, I get to make a choice, whereas before I didn’t think I had one.

That’s right. Typically, what happens is you get ten yards down that other neural pathway. The other one comes and grabs you when you’re back over on the other side, but you made it ten yards. It’s a matter of practicing.

This neural pathway, it’s beyond the scope of the show to have you teach us how to create that. Let’s for the moment agree that this neural pathway is A, completely different than anything you’ve done before. B, it takes work to establish it. C, it takes courage to change the way you are with others. Would that be accurate?

I wouldn’t say it as extremely as you did. You’ve got some neural pathways in there. It’s not completely new. It does take courage. By the way, in order to tamp down the reactions to your behavior, you don’t have to become a whole new person. You have to change by about 10% to 15% of your communication style.

I would have said that I already know that those neural pathways exist, but not in this part of my brain. In other words, you pointed out to me already that if I was to walk somebody across the street, I wouldn’t want to be paid for that. There are some elements of that existing already. It wouldn’t be that hard. Jordan, this has been an incredible discussion for me. I have benefited from this. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop being a jerk though. I’m warning you. I at least learned a lot about this topic. Readers, if you learned a lot about this topic too, click on the button that says, “Talk to Mitch,” and say, “Mitch, I like Jordan. That was a good episode.” Would you do that for me, please? I’ve got to know what you like so I could have more Jordans on the show as well. Jordan, this is the point in the show where you’ve taught us a lot about your craft and you’ve told us about your background. This next question helps us to find a little bit more about who you are. Who, in all of space and time, would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch or an intense conversation with?

It would be the Dalai Lama. What I learned from the Compassion Cultivation Training was built upon working with the Dalai Lama’s monks and the pathway in Buddhist thinking that it is about cultivating compassion.

It does lead directly to your work. I could see why you’d say that. In fact, the Dalai Lama is still alive, at least this version of him. I know he’ll be reincarnated at some point. What would you do if you had this choice to spend an hour with? Do you have questions in mind? What would you ask? 

I am not sure how I would behave in front of the Dalai Lama. I do want to mention though that the Dalai Lama, when I’ve heard him speak, has said that the concept of compassion moves across all of the major religions. You do not have to believe in a Buddhist god in order for this. All of the major religions have the concept of compassion and it’s about cultivating a different way of thinking as opposed to joining a religion. I want to be clear about that.

You don’t know the questions you’d ask, which is fine. I have a feeling you’d have no shortage of questions when you did. The bottom line here is that the Dalai Lama is alive and I’ve seen him speak. I haven’t met him personally, but I’ve certainly seen him speak. I’ve certainly enjoyed listening to and being in his presence, even though I was among thousands. If I could set that up for you, would you take me along?

Practice how to cultivate compassion for people that your brain is telling you they don't deserve it. Click To Tweet

I would definitely take you along.

At least we have that deal going on and that’s good. Jordan, this is the second question. It’s the grand finale. It’s the change the world question. What is it that you are doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to change the world?

We live in a very polarized time. We have two messages in the workplace. One message is that leaders should make everyone feel safe, accepted and comfortable all the time. The other message is we need people to drive results, be aggressive, be competitive, and make it happen. This is true in our society in general. Both of those things are true and they are a paradox, conflicting messages, both of which are true. The change in the world that I would like to make is to be able to make both sides listen to a little bit and understand that it’s not either/or, that both are important. It’s about getting along better.

How would you make that change?

Part of what I’m trying to do is by talking with folks like yourself by stimulating the conversation and raising the idea that calling people demeaning names because you want them to be more respectful is somewhat ironic. On the other hand, I would like the folks who want everybody to feel natural and comfortable to recognize that we’re human beings. We need to grow up and be strong. We need to be able to handle it and being pushed is a good thing.

The lesson is that we’re not perfect either. If you forgive my imperfections, I certainly can forgive yours as well. That’s a great message. Jordan, this has been a terrific conversation, but we have something that we did promise the audience and that’s your free gift. Would you mind telling us what that free gift is? We’ll go on to explain how they can get it. 

The free gift is the battle plan for my book, which is essentially four chapters of my book. If you go to my website, www.WorkplaceWarrior.com, you can download that. What you are downloading is what I refer to as the battle plan, which you can use to channel your warrior spirit to an even higher level of success both in life and in business.

I definitely got to get that because I’m a little challenged sometimes in that and I need that battle plan. I’m going to get it. I recommend you to do the same. Jordan, this has been such a fun conversation and I apologize if I’ve been a bit of a jerk. I’m getting help with this. 

Mitch, you feel like my family.

Jordan, you take care and thank you. I can’t wait until we get a chance to talk again soon. 

That sounds good. Thank you.

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