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I have Meredith Thompson here today. She is a professor of management at the John M Huntsman school of business at Utah state university. She earned her PhD in organizational studies from Vanderbilt university. In a prior career, she spent five years at Deloitte. One of the big four accounting firms. Her research focuses on workplace culture, work, life balance, toxic work environments, and the joys and challenges of being a remote worker. Because the world needs more peacemakers. Something that Meredith is passionate about is arming people with negotiation and conflict resolution skills. And you’re recently an empty nester.

And because of that, you’re enjoying more traveling and investing in the lives and careers of others, especially. Millennials and gen Z women. So I just want to welcome you and thank you for your gift of time. I’m so excited for this conversation.

Me too. Thank you for the invitation. It, it is a treat to get to chat with you.

And I hope we can have some conversations here that, that people find useful. That’s really where I am in my career in my life. Like I wanna be useful to other people and invest in them. So this is an opportunity to do that. So thank you. So something that I have enjoyed about you is. You are an incredibly accomplished woman and you are also incredibly approachable.

I know enough of your story to know that you were not always as you are now. So one of the things I would appreciate is if you could tell our listeners, maybe just a couple of the hurdles that you’ve overcome to become the person that you are.

A Mantra

Sure. The one that stands out to me is one that gave me a a mantra that I’ve had since 2004, which is underestimate me.

I dare you. So I was, had just started a PhD program. I was two, two years in, so finishing up coursework and my spouse at the time got a job offer at our undergrad Alma mater policies at my PhD institution were, you know, you keep funding. Long as you’re on campus for your first two years in coursework.

But then when I told them we were moving, they yanked my funding. I, I think I was so hurt that you know, they didn’t have faith in me. So in the short term, it really stunk over the long term. It gave me that, that mantra underestimate me. I dare you. On the tenure track it’s made me more successful.

Cause it was like, you don’t think I can finish a PhD from afar, like watch me women underestimated more frequently probably than men for a whole slew of reasons. And I think for some of us it makes us more productive and it makes us more successful. Cause it ticks us off. But then I think it also comes to like, you know, a psychological, emotional, mental cost.

So it’s kind of a mixed bag. I credit that experience crappy though. It was for how objectively successful I’ve been as a, as a faculty researcher.

It draws attention to the whole concept of mindset. It sounds like that mantra was useful to you for beyond getting your PhD mm-hmm did that kind of become woven in the fabric of your life and you found it coming to your rescue at other times?

Oh, absolutely.

Yeah, actually you’re giving me goosebump by saying that because either professionally or personally Things were just really tough. And I would realize I don’t know if some, if the other party was like daring me to give up or trying to maybe bully me into giving up. Whatever I was pursuing, but it did just kinda like, okay, yeah, underestimate me.

I dare you. I will let me do it. And I will show you what I can do. And then when I was able to do whatever the thing was, I think in us fosters more confidence and competence. Like we, we know, you know, deep down in your core. When I look back you know, I was in a PhD program, a young child at home, a husband who traveled a lot for work.

A depressed husband who was talking divorce, pregnant, blah, blah. Any one of those things, would’ve been a lot you know, I, I probably wasn the star PhD student, but I’m, I’m one that my PhD program now likes to trot out. That’s an example.

So yeah, I bet they do.

It really underscores what you think matters and certain things you think lift your experience of yourself and your expression of yourself up other things that people think like really pushes it down.

Clarity in Personality

I’m in a relationship with an entrepreneur.

And he talks about himself as being a stage one guy. He likes the startup, he likes the building. And so I think entrepreneurs also need to figure out, do you want to start and build a business or do you want to operate a business? Cause those are different things and different people with different personalities may like one and not the other vice versa.

So understanding yourself, I think is, is really hard but importance so that you don’t get stuck in a situation you’re like, oh, you know, crap, this is not what I thought it was gonna be. And now what do I do? Yeah. Especially if you’ve got a lot of capital invested.

Sure. There’s some of that psychology stuff again, and I know you called it touchy, feely stuff, but I’m gonna challenge you on that.

Cause that like is money, not in the bank, but out of the. When you get involved in something that is not suited for you, and if you don’t understand yourself well enough to know, do I have the grit that it takes to follow this through? Am I a starter and do I get it to a certain level and then sell it?

Am I, I mean, your words are, are wisdom.

I wanna know what you see as your super power. kind of your gift to this world.

I have been told my, and I, I tend to agree my superpower is supporting or, and, and investing in other people.

Mm-hmm I have appreciated the opportunities to do that. I think much of my life it’s one of the things I liked about being a parent. Energizes me to be that for some of my closest friends and my partner and my parents, and you know, that to me, support can be a lot of different things.

It can be, you know, stop and buy the grocery store to get something that your, your partner really wants or needs, or to surprise them with something. Or it can be, you know, that listening ear to a friend or asking them hard questions.

I think part of it comes from having young adult children, not so much telling them what to do, or when a friend says, what do you think I should do? Blah, blah, blah. I try really hard not to tell them, but to ask questions, but help them kind of figure it out what they think they should do. Cause sometimes I think we know, or we have like an inkling, but we’re like, no, I can’t be that easy or it can be that straightforward. Cause I think, you know, when we. When we take ownership of, of a solution we’ve identified or, or whatever our next steps are in a situation.

And it goes, well, then we can say, Woohoo, you know, yay me. I, I did well. And, and we, we internalize that. And then I think. If it doesn’t go well, we also like learn from it. But when we attribute a solution to somebody else, then we’re much more apt to like say, oh, it, it went poorly. And so it’s that person’s fault.

Or they told me what to do and I did it and it worked well, so I don’t get the credit, they get the credit. And so I don’t feel like we learn as well. Kind of that deep down in our bones, learning if we’re telling somebody, giving them quote advice, here’s what you should do. I think that’s why I like the asking questions, cuz that way it’s, it’s their solution.

Too often, we look at the next steps in a problem as if we do this, then everything else is shot the heck. And a lot of times it’s like so much better. We say let’s experiment with us for a month just because we do it for month.

It doesn’t mean we have to do it forever and if it works great, and if it doesn’t work, then we’ll, you know, shift and go do something else. So like experimenting with our solutions instead of having this mindset of this is a permanent solution.

 

Negotiation

I love that you brought up negotiation, cuz that’s where I wanted to go. Next. Can you give a quick what people should be thinking as they go in or what they should be aware of?

Sure. Yeah, actually I’ll give you two one on the front end of a negotiation one for the back end of a negotiation.

The, the one for the front is, it’s what we call our BATNA. Which is acronym for Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. Let’s say a job offer situation. We wanna identify before we get a job offer, or especially before we negotiate a job offer. It is an action that we’re gonna take.

If we cannot come to a negotiated agreement with the other party, so with the potential employer. And so that may be that BATNA could be staying on the job market. Staying in the job. We currently have starting our own business, going back to school. Living off mom and dad or being a trophy spouse.

So it’s all these other things.

It’s an action. And so a lot of people don’t spend enough time figuring out what those alternatives are, and then taking a big yellow highlighter and circling the one that’s their best. And then the other tip I would say it comes at the back end of a negoti.

It’s what we call a post settlement settlement. And so I think we’ve all been in a, in a negotiation where we’re, you know, getting ready to sign on the dotted line and shake hands and all those good things. And it’s at that point that we should stop and ask the other side. Is there anything we could tweak in our agreement here that would help you without hurting me?

And so it’s, it’s a tactic that. As keep from leaving value on the table from walking away from a negotiation where we could have gotten more and helped the other side get more. So when you say, Hey, Before we seal the deal. Is there anything we can do here to make this deal better for you without hurting me?

If they come back and say, oh yeah, can we, you know, shift the start date to blah, blah, you can say sure. But then you be ready to come back with your ask. So if they say, yeah, we’d really like for you to start a week earlier, then the start we we’ve currently negotiated, say, sure, I can do that. If I do that, can you give me, you know, two more days of paid time off or whatever you’re.

For you highly value. And so when we do that at the very end of a negotiation, we open up a new opportunity. For both sides to say, Hey, I really need more of this. Can we, can we make that work instead of like ending the negotiation and then, you know, two hours, two days later, one or both sides are like, Ugh, darn it.

I wish I thought to ask for this, or I bet I could have gotten that if I asked. I think we worry that if we asked something like that at the end of a negotiation, we’re opening a can of worms, or we are trying to go back on the terms. And as long as you are careful in the way you phrase it, and you’re, you’re asking the other party, what can I do for you?

And then if they have something, then you can make your ask.

And so those two kind of bookends of negotiation prep, and then at the very end really help guide. The value that we claim

so if it doesn’t go well, you know, beforehand how you’re going to handle it. And that really puts you in the position of power.

It can, if your BATNA is strong,

right? What I hear you saying is going in having a plan that keeps you from feeling desperate or keeps you from feeling like this is my only option.

This is where I have to go.

. So talk to me for a second, about how men and women negotiate differently .

Justifying. If, you know, if you’re asking for more resources at work say, well, I wouldn’t be a good manager if I didn’t ask for these resources for my people. So it’s not resources for her.

She’s lobbying on behalf of someone else. Whereas if a guy did it and asked for him, it would be much more. Accepted. So mm-hmm, it stinks, but that’s, it’s kind of the way the world is right now. And hopefully won’t be that way forever.

Sure. But I do think it’s changing bit by bit as this research comes out and as people, you know, good men and good women are looking at how do we change these, you know, stereotypical norms?

Toxic Culture

In terms of business. I think I, you could extrapolate this out to relationships but I, I think a lot about how genders perceive each other. And in what ways do you see men damaging their credibility? And vice versa. I mean, you do a lot of work with toxic work culture or creating a non-toxic work culture.

I’m just gonna go with, how about non-toxic interactions for people who are, you know, developing their own company or they’re in relationships. I think that we each do things that are damaging, but those things might be different

I would like to hear your thoughts on that.

I will say I I’ve been in an organization where the culture was highly conservative, highly male dominated. And I very quickly learned that as a woman, it was not okay to ask questions, not questions about strategy, not questions about resources, not questions about anything.

It was say, yes. Say thank you, sit down, shut up. In a different organization with a different culture. Women’s questions are welcome, or at least not shut down.

I think a lot of times with both, both genders, what I have seen that undermines credibility. Is dishonesty and just unethical behavior.

And I think we’ve all, unfortunately probably experienced that, you know, we have a coworker that will lie to you. And you’re like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe they did that for a lot of people in organizations, both men and women, it can be tempting to. Not be honest in order to play the organizational politics.

You know, some of that’s related to some personality traits, those high and maconism are a lot more likely to endorse deception and to say it’s okay. And whether it’s negotiation or other things. And so, you know, if the end justifies the means, you’re like, sure, I’ll, I’ll lie to your face and tell you that, you know, this isn’t going on over here

it’s not necessarily distinctions between the two, but it’s how our society perceives them. Women can get upset at work and they’re, they’re labeled emotional or, you know, they can’t take the leadership role or whatever. If men get emotional at work and they’re mad and they throw things and they slam doors.

Oh, well they’re mad and they’re dude. And so it’s okay. And so it’s not so much that we’re necessarily doing things differently, but it’s, it’s the societal lens through which. The same behaviors are interpreted differently.

One of the questions I’m always asking is how do I show this person respect?

And, you know, because of our different backgrounds and genders and all these different things, sometimes those things don’t necessarily translate, but my heart is always to show the other person respect.

I’ll tell you a really quick story that still sticks with me now, like 18 years later of Deloitte and, and Jeff that I share with my negotiation students related to especially pay equity.

So I, I think I’d only been at the firm about a year and Jeff came to my little cubicle at the time and he was like, Hey, I thought you said you had a bachelor’s degree. And I’m like, yeah.

I think every other year Deloitte would do a compensation survey. They would look internally at compensation and go, is everybody being paid appropriately? You know, looking that’s really sometimes how gender bias, creeps into compensation is it’s, you know, it’s not like somebody’s out to get somebody or keep the women down or, you know, be evil or whatever.

And he said, HR realized that you were making, I think it was like five grand, less than this guy who was in my same role had come in about six months after me. And he said, when they dug into it, they realized you were in the system with a, an associate’s degree and not a bachelor’s. And I was like, oh, okay.

And he was like, just so you know, and we’re gonna get that fixed and we’re gonna fix it in arrears. How many organizations. Do that. Yeah. Like go looking for any problems, not only address the problem, but say, Hey, here’s what we found and we’re gonna fix it.

I left the firm in oh two, 20 years ago. And I’m still super loyal because I, I felt like that took such integrity, courage. and respect for people so anyway, I just had to share that a little bit.

From LeaveBetter

Hey, this is Miriam jumping back in.

Are you looking to go to the next level in your life or business right now? That’s what lead better is about my friend. We give you the coaching to level up. Have those breakthroughs, so you can stop the self sabotage that keeps you where you are currently. Let’s make self-improvement a way of life. Go to leaf, better.com and download the free resource that’s there today.

We change them regularly. So go and see what’s new at Leavebetter.com now back to our interview, you,

I felt like that took such integrity, courage. and respect for people. Like they respect every single one of their employees,

There are people listening who are considering paying people and , they need to have that in the back of their mind. You know, how, do I bump it up a notch in terms of the respect that I give to the other person in whatever way that plays out.

I think the older I get and. In organizations, but other relationships too, I really try and put myself in the other person’s shoes, which is sometimes easier said than done if I have to share some unfortunate news with a colleague or something sensitive, I would say, okay, You know, they aren’t me, but if, if I were in their shoes, what would it be important for me to know?

How would I wanna hear it

especially when I was associate Dean, Hey, would you come to my office? I would go to their. Because then I’m on their turf and they may feel more comfortable.

Their office has a solid door. My office at that point had like glass walls where everybody could see in mm-hmm . Trying as best I can to put myself in their shoes and go, what would I want to hear? What would be helpful? And what way could I hear it?

It takes into account that they are different than you and you take the whole conversation and you slow it down long enough that you don’t miss something that you’re trying to take it from their perspective. And you’re trying to help them. Look forward, not back. That is the premise of this entire podcast.

Helping people reach their next level, understanding we all start somewhere and we all have a next level. And what I’m hearing you say is that you, your leadership style takes that into a consideration that they have a next level and you wanna help them get there.

People who are kind people who are patient you know, It’s it’s ubiquitous.

The, the talk about, you know, how our especially American culture has the rhetoric has just shifted and people are ugly to each other. I, posted a kind of a silly thing on social media, a video the other day. And. It was mostly targeted towards women, but I got some, it was just negative.

It was trolls from men. You don’t even know me. Like this video was not targeting you. I was not saying men are awful. Like I kind of saying, this is how women are socialized.

And I think the world needs more. It needs more peacemakers. It needs more good humans. And if we could impart wisdom training for, for parents to know how to raise children that grow up to be kind and patient and giving and not self-centered jerks.

Oh man, this world would be a better.

Well spoken. Can you list a book that you either give to people often, or it had more of a life changing impact on you?

Yeah. Let’s see. About six or so years ago, I read a book called the woman code and it’s by Sophia Nelson. And I think it’s got four or five sections in it.

And each section has like maybe four keys. So whether it’s like spiritual, relational, personal professional codes that we should live by. And I still five and a half years later have a little piece of paper on my monitor and my campus office that has some of the, the, those keys that really stuck with me.

And they are know your front row. Know your value. Key is well, how to treat you, which when I started dating again in 2016, I focused a lot on that, cuz I had not taught people in the past how to treat me And then there’s one other one make peace with your past.

So many of us, me included can just like fight with that past and not really figure out how to kind of put it to bed and learn from it. I did some foolish things in. A prior relationship that hurt me and were not smart. And I can, I can still feel some guilt or shame about that.

And I have to turn around and say, okay, Meredith, I gotta make peace with that past. Which means I have to say to myself, however many times it takes is when I, I knew better, I did better. And you know, I, I did the best I could at the time. And then when I had. New realization, new information. I acted on it and that that’s all we can do.

And so beating ourselves up or about the past or not, not, not acknowledging it too. And there was some, some, you know, some of the tricky stuff that I had to acknowledge went on in my past,

I think a lot of people are unhappy. and not as functioning as they could be because they don’t, they don’t wanna acknowledge what has happened in the past.

And just because, and, and it can be scary, right? Like acknowledging, you know, abuse that went on in a relationship or when you were a kid or, you know, whatever it is like saying this happened is scary, but not acknowledging it and not figuring out how to deal with it and learn. Just means the damage is perpetuated.

At least that’s my perspective.

You know, being able to say, when I knew better, I did better acknowledges that we’re human, that we are. In a, in a process that we have a next level, that we’re well on our way to reaching it, you know?

One of the things that leave better, my company is about is, working on yourself and reaching that next level, but then leaving other things better.

And so I have a deep interest in philanthropy. Charitable organizations. I wondered if you had a favorite one that you just wanted to expose our listeners to.

CAPSA

sure. That’s CAPSA . . They help People who are in domestic violence, domestic, intimate partner, abuse situations, like get out and get safety and, and things like that.

My life is so easy compared to what some people have had yeah. To deal with. And so I’m very much also at a life stage, in a career stage I’m about empowering women. And so I think, you know, for the most part they’re working with. Children there in helping them leave better, like new beginnings. I am, you know, at, at 43 I had a new beginning.

I ended a very long term relationship and to my surprise found somebody new . Second chances. Helps provide that is just like man, to get a second chance at, at, at doing something. That’s a gift.

Remember second chances. Remember that we are not all that we can still yet be.

And Meredith thank you so much. Thank you for gifting us with your time and your wisdom.

head shot Miriam Gunn

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As someone who has been a therapist for over a decade and has been coaching people for over three decades, I am uniquely qualified to address your concerns.