P&M 45: How to Build and Improve Your Connections

In this People & Management episode, I catch up with speaker buddy, catch and great friend, Kerrie Phipps. Kerrie encourages us to talk to strangers, as this can lead to amazing opportunities. The underlying message and Kerrie’s A.S.K.I.N.G. model are helpful for professionals who need to widen and strengthen their networks for increased productivity and career success.


Kerrie’s Background:

As a speaker, author and leadership coach, Kerrie’s message goes beyond cultural borders, tapping into a yearning that lies within each of us; the desire to connect with those around us.

Best known for her book DO Talk To Strangers – How to Connect with Anyone, Anywhere, Kerrie is an expert at equipping audiences with thought provoking and practicaltools to develop the confidence they need in order toexpand their network and create more opportunities.



Sally:                       Hi, welcome to another episode of People & Management and I’m really excited about this guest that I have with us today and her name is Kerrie Phipps and Kerrie and I go way back. We actually go back further than when we actually met, which is really backwards and I’ll explain that in a minute, but let me tell you a little bit about Kerrie.

Sally:                        Kerrie’s driving message is one of living purposefully and communicating at your very best. Enabling you to connect with others in a meaningful way. She focuses on revealing how to create new connections, deepening the learning and creating new opportunities for growth. Kerrie equips people with the tools required to connect people in an authentic way. She shows you how to create connections in relationships that can lead to an increasing profit and impact, which I love the sound of. So, welcome to People & Management, Kerrie.

Kerrie:                    Thank you, Sally. It’s really good to be here.

Sally:                        Yeah. So you and I have a history through who we did our coach training with.

Kerrie:                    Yep.

Sally:                        I did mine on one side of the world, you did yours on the other side of the world and then years later we then finally meet.

Kerrie:                    Yes.

Sally:                        So, that’s the convoluted way how we know each other.

Kerrie:                    Which is great, because we know where we’re coming from in terms of the kind of conversations that we have. So when you emailed me and said, “Hey, can we talk?” I was like, yes, that’s lovely.

Sally:                        Yeah, it’s fantastic. And I think that we’ve got such diverse experiences and yet we have a similar platform from which to sing or to preach or to share. So, it’s really kind of cool.  Now I love that you’re all about the connection. I see you on social media a lot doing lots of connecting and connecting others as well. Not just you connecting, but helping others connect. And so I guess, I’m a raging extrovert, so to me I love it, I lap it up and it makes a whole lot of sense for me. But I know that I’m weird or unique and so, what stops people from connecting then when it’s not their thing?

Kerrie:                    I think the bottom line is fear. It’s like fear of rejection. That’s such a big one. Just fear of being awkward. Fear of it not going well. I think most things come back to fear of rejection. We don’t want to be misunderstood. We don’t want to, and that’s a big one for me. We don’t just want to get it wrong, so we hesitate and we hold back.

Sally:                        Yeah. I have to apologize for my puppy in the background there. She’s really quiet when she’s allowed in the room, but she’s contributing to the conversation. So, I think fear, yeah. I think that’s something that we don’t often talk about though either.

Kerrie:                    Yeah, that’s right. And I think sometimes that’s a big dramatic word. But, really it’s a silent conversation that goes on in our head so often. Hello puppy.

Sally:                        I do apologize.

Kerrie:                    She wants to be heard.

Sally:                        Yes, yes.

Kerrie:                    So, once we’re aware of that, then we can move forward from it. But we’re unaware and we want to call it something else or maybe it’s like, I’m too busy or you know those people aren’t important for my goals right now, or whatever it is. We can normalize and just move away from our fears by ignoring them.

Sally:                        I think the point you make about identifying it then we can move on, I think is a really big one and I don’t want that to go by this conversation just as a throw away line. I think the identification of an issue and you put that in your book, which I’ll talk about in a second. I totally agree that when this stuff goes on, whether it’s about connecting with people, any issue in our life.

Kerrie:                    Yes.

Sally:                        It gets bigger and bigger and uglier and more hassle. But the minute we can actually put language around it.

Kerrie:                    Yes.

Sally:                        It’s right-sizes. It doesn’t go away unfortunately, but it right-sizes and that’s easier to deal with than this.

Kerrie:                    Yes. That’s a great way of putting it.

Sally:                        Thank you. I will talk about your book because I have read it as you can tell.

Kerrie:                    Post it note.

Sally:                        Yes, post it notes everywhere. So, How to Connect with Anyone, Anywhere. The book about do talking to strangers which I think is a really great title.  What was your vision or your purpose for writing this?

Kerrie:                    I think initially it was in response to so many conversations with people where I would say, “I was on the train last week and I met this gentleman. I just said good morning and then anyway we swapped business cards and then this CEO called me and then this other CEO emailed and then we connected in Sydney and now there’s young people out West getting funding for tertiary education.” Or “I met this guy on the plane and he’s going to work at the Olympics.” And they’re like, hang on, how do you have these conversations? How do you meet these people? Or I might be, you know, let’s meet up with you in Darling Harbour and we’re taking a photo and people are like, “How do you meet all these cool people? How do you know these people?” I’m like, ah, it just starts with, well I was here or I was there and we had this conversation. People are like, isn’t that weird, like how did you get to the swapping business cards? How do you do that without it being weird? I’m like, hmmm, we just do.

Kerrie:                    And I realize it’s quite a challenge to unpack what’s going on when we do something naturally, but when I thought about it further, there’s only a little bit to which I was doing it naturally because I could just hide away, but I guess my desire to connect, was greater than my fear, but it was through learning coaching skills that I think really helped me to one, address the conversation in my head. So, realizing that my words matter. That I could just lift somebody’s day just with a little word of encouragement or a compliment. Being able to pay attention and really listen to somebody and seeing the impact that that has because people are not heard. We all want someone to just listen as we talk something through. This is what we do as coaches. Just in the everyday we can give somebody, even a couple of minutes of focused attention that can be really quite pivotal.

Kerrie:                    So it’s all kind of conversations that I was engaging in, but unpacking it really took more conversations and a lot of friends saying, “Kerrie, what’s your teachable framework?” And I was like, I don’t exactly know what you mean. It’s like, how I put something like this into a framework.

Sally:                        Something that comes so naturally for you, or you’ve landed into it because you came out of a fear as you said, you’ve gone through such a transformation that to turn around now and say, “Okay how did I do that?” It’s almost the curse of the knowledge of knowing it all. Now you have to actually unpack it and be able to teach it and I think you have really well.

Kerrie:                    Thank you.

Sally:                        Because you’ve got the asking model. The A-S-K-I-N-G model in your book and you unpack that completely and so, just very briefly, what’s the asking model share that just very briefly, we still want people to buy the book, so don’t give away everything.

Kerrie:                    Do you want me to go through each of the steps quickly?

Sally:                        Yes, if you’d like to, that’d be great.

Kerrie:                    Okay. So, ASKING. It’s A for awareness which is self and others. And the space around us. But particularly on yourself and others. So, being aware of what’s the conversation in my head, like am I walking into a business meeting, am I feeling nervous, okay, let that go because we can’t let it go until we realize it. We’re stuffing it down and it will come up somehow. People express nervousness or anxiety without even realizing it. But when they can just label it and let it go. So that’s really pivotal. Just being aware that others, we make assumptions about others that everybody else is more connected. Everybody else is more confident. You walk into a room and you see everybody in little groups laughing and they might have just met and that you could be an awkward laugh because they’re like, “Ha, ha I think everybody else knows people. But you see it from the outside and you make the same assumptions, “Ah, they all know each other.” So, again, watching your own thoughts about thinking how can I serve other people? How can I make somebody feel welcome? What might other people be interested here and how can I support that? So when we come from an attitude of serving, just makes everything so much easier. It just takes the pressure off.

Kerrie:                    So, S is start small. Start with a smile and scare yourself a little. So, it’s about just stretching yourself out of the comfort zone. It’s like, nothing about the ASKING model is a script. There are some questions in there that are really useful, but it’s more to think about the type of questions, which is what we’re getting to know. It’s the K, keep going with quality questions. But I don’t want anyone to take a script out of the book because then it’s what you’re doing rather than who you’re being.

Sally:                        Oh, I love that.

Kerrie:                    Like, if you’re just being with people then you don’t need a script.

Sally:                        There’s no scripts in here at all. There’s questions. There’s coaching questions. Yeah, definitely.

Kerrie:                    Yeah, so the quality questions. ‘Cause I found that sometimes it was a question like, on an airplane, ’cause I travel a bit, “Are you going to Sydney today or further on?” Because any flight we could assume obviously the destination is Sydney or Brisbane or LA, or whatever flight you’re on, but you could actually be part of a longer journey. So, just to ask that question, it’s a forward focused question. It’s not threatening, it’s just asking about your day. And it could be amazing what comes out of it. Even a question like, I’ve got it printed on something I created for a conference, “What else?” It’s got a little mirror. Quite fun what we can do with that, but just asking somebody what else? And your brain automatically engages with something else. So, quality questions are not complicated. And it can be a statement like, “Tell me more.” But it’s about the I, interest in others.

Kerrie:                    When we’re genuinely interested in other people and sometimes it’s actually choosing that for a moment. Sometimes I found myself, like oh I just don’t have the energy to talk to somebody today. But then I might just spend a minute with you and choose to be interested and then I find I actually am because people are interesting. People have different stories and just to express interest in them, then it just switches you towards them and you do discover all kinds of interesting things.

Sally:                        That key concept around choosing interest and therefore the interest comes. It’s the same as motivation. We’ve got to stop expecting motivation to show up. We actually have to take action and motivation is the by product.

Kerrie:                    Yeah, that’s great.

Sally:                        We need to take the action first and it doesn’t have to be a big action before the motivation comes. So, yeah, choose interest and then interest shows up. I love that, love it. Thank you.

Kerrie:                    So G is for gratitude. I think we’re both just saying thank you. Gratitude is a powerful connector. Whether it’s just saying, “Thank you for holding the door open.” Or “Thank you for saving me a seat.” But, if we can be specific. In Aussie culture, I think everybody just says “Thanks mate.” And not really, don’t share anything unique in that. But if you can say, “Thank you, I really appreciate your thoughtfulness.” Or “I really appreciate the way that you’ve put this together.” Or “I really appreciate your diligence.” “I just really appreciate the way you smile and that you lean in when you’re listening because that makes me feel heard, or it makes me feel like I’ve got something worthwhile to share.”

Kerrie:                    So, just little things, they don’t have to be complicated, but if we can just take a moment to think about what we’re grateful for, and again, like the interest, it’s choosing it sometimes. Stopping and asking ourselves the quality question of “What am I grateful for? What can I be grateful for?” So, this step of the model is great for our own mental health as well as in terms of connecting it’s a powerful connector.

Sally:                        Yeah, lovely. It’s a great model and I can see that applies when we head out into networking groups or if we just so happen to be going somewhere. But I also see it being really applicable internally inside organizations.

Kerrie:                    Yes.

Sally:                        You’re talking about the gratitude thing and the end part of the model and it reminded of a story, it’s not my story, I’ve just read it recently where a gentleman was really upset that the culture of the organization was getting really quite horrible and I think that story goes that his wife said, well do you say hello to everyone? He goes well why should I say hello to them? Is this your story by the way? I don’t know where I got it from, but it’s like, he doesn’t want to initiate it because no one else does. Someone has to go first.

Kerrie:                    I think there’s something in the book similar to that.

Sally:                        Okay, it might have been where I got it from, so it’s in my head. It’s just the perfect example of go first, set yourself and scare yourself a little bit. Have the awareness that someone has to start. Your whole model, you can see it in that and its impact on a workplace from not just managers, but anyone inside a workplace applying that model. The cultural shift, even if it’s just that little bit every day.

Kerrie:                    Yes.

Sally:                        Can make a difference.

Kerrie:                    Yeah, absolutely. And sometimes I’ll work with teams to look at this in a customer facing role. So, how can we use this, because I generally have it under the banner of connect with confidence because people are not connecting in a workplace, not connecting with customers or with other team members because of a lack of confidence.  It is that, I loved when you mentioned scaring yourself a little again because I just have to a shout out to Bernie Graham, for her incredible work, which I’ve spent a lot more time in since publishing that book. It was pretty new to me at the time and she’s obviously published a lot more since, but it does take that little bit of courage to have a better conversation because if people are in the culture of not saying good morning to each other, and I do remember one of the teams I worked with, somebody had an insight and they said, we could say good morning to each other when we come in. And just quietly like-

Sally:                        Don’t you already do that?

Kerrie:                    Because I’ve been in an office and seen it and it was like there’s partitions, so they’re just like around the corner from each other. You can just lean out say, “Hey, how’s it going? How’s your weekend?” But there wasn’t any of that. They just emailed each other. And I was like, okay. I asked about what impact that might have. They’re really excited about that being a good idea. So, just that one small step can really make quite a difference. It can be applied to the teams, the management conversations, but also the customers and providing an amazing experience for the rest of us.

Sally:                        Absolutely, and I think also, correct me if I’m wrong, but you talk about customers who could be our external customers and clients, but also internal customers.

Kerrie:                    Yes.

Sally:                        And I’ll be a bit cheesy here and say from a manager’s perspective, who are our customers? Well, any given day it could be my team or it could be my senior leaders. Or it could be the senior leader onto the board. If I think of them in a customer centric way, how do I serve them? What part of this model can I apply at what point to help me actually step up, speak up and be confident about it? Yes, scare myself a little bit, but I know my leader would want me to take the initiative and smile and ask questions and be interested. 

Kerrie:                    Yes.

Sally:                        They’re all the things that I hear when senior leaders engage me for their management teams. Quite often it’s, I want to stop being operational. I want my management team to stop being as operational as they are and I want them to bring things up and take the initiative. I think that model also helps in that context as well.

Kerrie:                    Yeah, absolutely. And you just reminded me of one of the big four banks in Australia, I was working with one of the managers and even the CEO has five customers of his own. So, they all, at any level, they’re all customer facing in terms of external customers, but it’s having that attitude of serving because customer service is people service. I’m sure you saw the part in the book, it’s called Be a Good Customer.

Sally:                        I had a giggle through that, yes.

Kerrie:                    That came up because of this newspaper article and I knew the writer and he was having a gripe about customer service in a particular town and I thought, wow, if you walked into a café, like you often see people walk in and look at the menu board. If he stood there with his arms folded, and he’s a pretty big guy, and just waited to get good customer service, the person behind the counter could feel a little daunted and then they’re confidence starts draining and they’re like, “Hi, what would you like?” And he’s just like, “They’re inefficient, they’re whatever.” And it’s like, no, if you went in there because I’ve seen him smile, so if you went in there and just like, “G’day, how’s it going?” They’d be lining up, can I be the one to serve him? It really is, what’s the vibe we’re taking into any conversation.

Sally:                        Yeah. I mean, you just shared this story and inside your book, there’s stories everywhere in here which is really lovely. And we’re both speakers so stories will always resonate with both of us, but I guess what we don’t see enough of is people telling stories as a way to communicate a message or to highlight where a value is in play. So, you’ve got lots of stories in your book, but I guess I wanted to ask and get your opinion of what’s the value of sharing a story from your perspective?

Kerrie:                    It’s a great question and I really like that you’ve highlighted this because I think we see ourselves in other people’s stories, or we see other people. So, I might be hearing a story that you share about some clients that you’ve worked with and I’m even thinking, “I’ve felt like that.” Or “Oh, I know somebody who feels like that or is in that situation.” So, then my brain just starts connecting automatically and you mentioned that at the beginning of the call that I like connecting people. So you see people in other people’s stories. So it’s really quite powerful because we’re surrounded by information and facts, but we’re engaged by stories. It’s the humanity in them I think. I think a lot of people don’t tell stories, well, okay this is why I struggled with telling stories, maybe other people don’t for other reasons, but I think we’re bored with our own stories, we think it’s not as spectacular as somebody else’s, but that’s because if you tell a story that I haven’t heard before, I’m like “Wow, Sally, that’s so interesting.” But then I start telling you a story and it’s been in my brain for, I don’t know how long, so I’ve seen it all before, I know how it plays out, so I just think, this is boring, it’s not a good contribution, which is not a fair comparison.  We need to recognize the value of our stories.

Kerrie:                    I think especially it’s really useful to reflect on the conversations that we have and notice what went well. Or when people said, “Thank you for telling me about that lady you saw down the street.” Just go, ah, that’s a useful story, maybe I can tell it more succinctly next time, or maybe I can remember to tell that really funny part of it, we can shape our stories better, but to remember the stories that actually do make a difference and not, like I have dome sometimes go, ah, it’s just one of my family stories, like maybe it doesn’t matter to anybody else, but especially the family stories that’s when people are going, “That was so beautiful, thank you for sharing that.” Because we’ve all had a grandma or we’ve all had these special people in our lives that come to mind. It connects us human to human.

Sally:                        I think if we preface a story with, oh it’s just a family or it’s just this, we don’t give it the service that it’s actually offering and the value that it’s offering. I had a gentleman, I was working with one of our big airlines, I won’t mention which one, he was up at Cannes in Northern Queensland and there’s a long, long straight stretch of road to get to the airport at Cannes as you know, and he was driving the work van back towards the airport because he’d been in town for something. He noticed that while every other day you’ve got the backpackers there with the board and the backpack and the board shorts and their little flip flops, just trundle along because they’ve probably run out of cash for their taxi to get to the airport.

Kerrie:                    Yeah.

Sally:                        But, strange, strange, strange, there was a lady in a suit, like a skirt jacket suit, high heels, dragging her suitcase behind her. That’s out of character, it’s out of the picture of the normal for what he sees walking towards the airport. He stops by her and says, “Do you need a hand? I’m going to the air port?” And she says, “That’ll be great.” And he says, “Who are you flying with?” And she said, the opposition. Now he had a smirk on his face going, I should have left her as a joke, but took her to the airport, dropped her off. That to me was a value in action, that was so easy to share, but he started with “Oh look, it’s not that big a deal.” Ah, yes it is. It’s an amazing deal.

Kerrie:                    Yeah.

Sally:                        It’s a little bit of our culture in Australia there, where we don’t want to be seen to be big [inaudible 00:23:34] ourselves, which I understand. But don’t even say that, don’t downplay it before you’ve shared it is the thing I think that comes to play in what you were saying that when we do see ourselves in other’s stories then, let’s not just downplay it because the story’s not for us, the story is for them.

Kerrie:                    Yeah. Exactly. I think, if it comes to mind, then it quite possibly is really useful. So, I mean it’s good to take a moment and go, is this useful. Because then we look at how is this useful rather than “Would anyone want to hear this?” It’s looking for the value in it before you share it.

Sally:                        Yes, I think that is a very nice little distinction in that about, would anyone want to hear it versus is it useful. If you can make that useful link and state that, that I think is very different to would anyone want to hear it?

Kerrie:                    Yeah.

Sally:                        We would answer that question on behalf of others. And probably inaccurately answer that question.

Kerrie:                    Yep.

Sally:                        I’ve got this vision of you just talking to so many strangers and collecting so many stories along the way and I love that you were challenged to put a framework around this because I think it’s really a valuable model for anyone, anywhere, whether it’s internally or externally of an organization.  So thank you for that. So, Do Talk To Strangers, How to Connect to Anyone, Anywhere. It’s a valuable resource to get into.

Kerrie:                    Thank you Sally and thank you to all of my friends who challenged me to put in a framework and those who sat up late in hotel rooms knotting out details. I was just thinking earlier today about the books that I’ve authored and co-authored and just how you write that in a bio and stuff, and I thought, but really no book is an island. No book is done by just one person. It takes a team to get these things over the line. So I’m grateful to all of the people in my world who got the books out of me whether by just questions or an encounter on a plane or a train. Sometimes I just think, oh I just want to share this story. Thank you to human beings everywhere.

Sally:                        That’s lovely. And I totally agree. I’ve got books out myself and it’s definitely not a one man show when it comes to producing a book. So I understand that completely. Thank you and thank you for sharing your wisdom on People In Management today, I really appreciate your time and your connection.

Kerrie:                    You are so welcome. I hope I see you again in real life soon.

Sally:                        Yes, definitely. I mean the last time we saw each other, it was another country of all things. Our crazy lives. So people want to find you, they can go to all the Ws Kerrie Phipps, and I’m gonna spell that out loud, so capture this down. K-E-R-R-I-E-P-H-I-P-P-S dot com and I put all the links into the blog as well. So, thank you Kerrie, thanks for being part of this. I really appreciate it and we will connect. I encourage everyone to have a little think about who is it they need to connect with before today is over for you. Just one more person to connect with and maybe have a bit of gratitude towards them. Just something to think about there. I look forward to seeing you again on another episode of People & Management. If you want to listen to blogs, the podcast, you can check it out on Stitcher and iTunes, as well as on the website. If you want to get more goodies from Sally Foley Lewis, then you can check me out at all the Ws, salllyfoleylewis.com. Bye for now. 


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