Authoring Life Podcast

Straight Talk: Influence Skills For Collaboration And Commitment With Rick Brandon PhD



Faulty and toxic communication are some of the biggest reasons for employees to leave a company. Leaders need to straight talk while being respectful. These communication and listening skills will truly help your business in the long run. Learn more about interpersonal communication with Alicia Dunams and her guest Rick Brandon Ph.D. Rick is the founder and President of the internationally respected training firm, Brandon Partners. He is also the author of Straight Talk: Influence Skills for Collaboration and Commitment. Learn more about his book and why communication is the most important thing in business.

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Straight Talk: Influence Skills For Collaboration And Commitment With Rick Brandon PhD

I’m very excited to introduce my next guest, Rick Brandon. He’s the Founder and President of the internationally respected training firm Brandon Partners. He has devoted years to designing and delivering leadership and professional development workshops on influence skills, such as EQ, political and organization savvy, high impact presentation skills, self-talk, self-accountability and all the stuff I love to talk about so I’m very excited. Not only has he done this but he’s also done this for scores of the Fortune 500 companies. We are in good hands here. He’s also the author of a Wall Street Journal Bestseller called Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success.

It is great to have you here, Rick.

Thanks so much, Alicia. It is good to be on your show and in your world.

That is what we are going to be talking about, authoring your life. You talk about it in the way that you use your words. Let’s talk about your new book. Please share with us your book Straight Talk: Influence Skills for Collaboration and Commitment, which is out this 2022.

It is coming out May 10th, 2022 but operators are standing on call. You can pre-order at Amazon now but I’m so excited about this book and I love to talk about it.

Straight talk is important because we were talking about the importance of words, giving specific scripts and tactics for people to navigate this very complicated world that we are in. That is why I love your book Straight Talk. The first question is, “Why did you write this book, Straight Talk?



I have been into this communication thing since before I was born because I’m a twin. At a cellular level and there was something about connection, communication and growing up as a kid. I was in communication. I used to watch a show called The 11th Hour, which was about a psychiatrist. Who does that at age ten? I was into psychology and communication. That is what I did in my schooling, in my undergraduate, Master‘s and PhD but I realized, “I do not want to be a shrink.” I always thought of myself, “I want to work on communication and be what I call a stretch. Stretch people’s communication and their boundaries, potential and skills.”

I started teaching communication skills. This is now a time in my life where I want to codify it. I am taking my workshop and putting it in a book. It is in fact branded as a workshop in a book. That is what I was trying to do so people didn’t have to have their company send them to a program. That is why I wrote the book. It is not that I’m retiring. I like to tell my twin brother, Bob, “I’m on a five-year plan and I will let you know when the five years begin.”

I am in a place where I have been doing it for years and I felt that it is appropriate to put it out there. Finally, I would say, “Why now?” COVID gave me the time to do it but also during COVID with remote work, people feel incredibly disconnected. There is social isolation, loneliness and deep personalization. It was going on a little bit before COVID with remote work migration but now it is rampant. Fifty-three percent of companies are going at least hybrid. I wanted to heal some of the disconnectedness, loneliness and social isolation by upping people’s game when it comes to interpersonal communication. That is why I wrote it.

This is fantastic because I want to delve into interpersonal communication. We are obviously in a time of great strife, identity conflicts and issues of how people can communicate. We live in a world where some people feel that some people are over-sensitive, “I can’t say anything. I’m scared to say things.” There is political and identity strife and all of these different things are happening like a cauldron of chaos. I would love for you to share with us in this age and stage that we are in life, 2022. What are some tips that you have in your book to be able to communicate with people better?

You called it a cauldron. Some people would call it a maelstrom and others would call it a cesspool. That is related to the first tip. It is to not be in denial about the importance of positive communication, particularly interpersonal communication because a lot of people view it as “soft skills,” and they ignore it. What I’m trying to say is there is an interpersonal imperative in companies because of the reasons you said that there is so much stress and tension is imperative that we have a competitive advantage through better communication skills.

Do not be in denial about the importance of positive communication, particularly interpersonal communication.

If there is not good communication, it is faulty. There are costs, wasted time, money, morale or worse, if it is toxic communication then people quit and leave. That is what all the Gallup research says. If the manager doesn’t communicate effectively, it is the number one reason people say for quitting and leaving and I like to say worse, they quit and stay.

They have resigned while still being on the job because they are demotivated, whining about it and it drains their morale, motivation and results while they are playing “ain’t it awful?” at the water cooler. The skills that they want their manager to have and those tips are the ones that we do in this Straight Talk book. What we do is we need to look at are assertive speaking. “Are we being passive in our body language, voice and words? Are we being aggressive?”

People are either samurai supervisors or passive professionals. Straight Talk is direct, honest, open and transparent communication of my feelings, needs and what I need from you while being respectful. It is not okay, “Just saying. Just honest.” Great but if you are just saying or being honest, you’ve alienated that person, you are on their you-know-what list or they resent you, how you ask for them to buy into an agreement you want to make or a commitment that you need from them and delegation if you do it in a way that is not direct while being respectful.

It is a balance of assertive speaking with empathic active listening, which we mentioned before. That is what gets me to get my needs met but also maintain a positive relationship. Aggressive people think talking and getting their needs will do it but then they do not have the relationship. Passive people want to make everything nice but they lose respect. They do not maintain the relationship and they sure as heck do not get their work needs to be met.

The first tip is to realize, “This is bottom-line stuff. It is not touchy, feely, charm school stuff.” Secondly, it is about the mindset to change our attitude about the importance of communication. That is tip number one. I have got a bunch more but let me check in with you and use part of what I teach, which is not a monologue. It is a dialogue. What is your take on the importance of what I have said in terms of having the mental game together and having a mindset that this stuff matters? What are you getting from me?



Three types of communication styles, passive, assertive and aggressive and you are encouraging your book, Straight Talk, to use assertive languaging and communication to be able to communicate in a way that people hear, you are asking what you need and also you need the empathetic listening as well. It is not demanding. It is requesting so that is very powerful.

I have got to change my mind and my self-talk about communication because a lot of people do say, “This is just a charm school. I got to get the job done.” That is pretty critical.

I was talking to a potential client who wants to write a book and she does work in diversity, equity and inclusion and we were talking about compliance and when someone is mandated, when they must do something, when it is like checking the box and they have to do it, it is transactional. If that is where you come from, it is a mandate. It is not fun. It is not a change of heart. It is going from compliance to compassion. It is a transformation because if you are literally doing something because you have to or check the box, it will come across that way in your communication.

What you are talking about is the difference between compliance, “I’m doing it for this command and control boss because I got to.” Maybe they do not have position power but they bully. Peers or family members can bully us. We do not feel comfortable but we say yes and do not mean it so that is acquiescence or the employee is compliant. You called it compassion. Compliant is not compassion and it is not commitment.

The subtitle of Straight Talk is Influenced Skills for Collaboration and Commitment. That is the other tip, tell him what you need and give the reason or rationale. We teach what is called the GAIN Commitment. Tell them the goals and the results and behavior you want. A is for advantages. What is the advantage? How’s this going to help me help you? Help the team, company and customer.

Compliance isn\’t compassion and it\’s no commitment.

The I stand for impediments. Most managers are peers. They say, “Here is what I want,” and that is it but maybe they’ll give the reason, but then they push for the result, for the buy-in, they end it or they are doing it through an email. What we do is we have a conversation by then asking, “Is there any impediment? What could get in the way of you feeling okay about committing to what I’m asking you to do?”

We summarize what our agreement is and arrange the next steps. One tip that I like to suggest as people are delegating or asking for an agreement with GAIN is that you do not summarize the agreement that we’ve talked about. Let me put it me, I’m asking you. I do not summarize it. I already know what I want from you. I ask you, “Alicia, what is it that we are agreeing that you’ll do from here?”

You summarize the agreement and what the steps are. Now, I can hear if you got it. If you hear your own words committing, you are more likely to buy-in. The key here is to speak, check and paraphrase. Speak a chunk, check the reaction and then paraphrase what their reaction is. You also make it a dialogue by that I of GAIN. Ask what they think. Do not push it down their throat. Now, we’re talking about the mindset. We’re also gotten into a little bit on listening and making clear agreements in an interactive way because my expectation of you is not the same as having an agreement as a two-way commitment.

I love the GAIN model. That is important so people learn through these frameworks. Goals, advantages and the I stand for impediments.

What is the obstacle? What are you uncomfortable with? What questions do you have? What do we need to do to have you feel even more comfortable if you have any concerns at all?


N stands for Next steps. Having the other person summarize what they are hearing supports them in the co-creation of the agreement. It is not like you are mandating everything. It is a collaborative process.

Sometimes people are uncomfortable with that last thing. It is going to sound like I’m playing teach. “To make sure you were listening. What is it that word?” You got to find your own way and beautiful style of saying that. We have students come up with that. Some people say, “What is your recap?” Other people are self-deprecating like I did. “Sometimes I lose the forest through the trees. What is your takeaway here? Could you summarize our agreement?” How would you ask it?

I ask this and I’m curious what it is but I ask, “What are you hearing me say?” Again, it is the tone. If I’m running a team meeting, it is like, “What are you hearing me say? Are you open to repeating it back?” I like that. That is a pretty strong way to do it but if I say it to my daughter because she hears me say this stuff, she’ll know that it is a little bit templated.

That is something that we need to work with too because I can come off as inauthentic if we are robotic in our language. It seems to work until it doesn’t sometimes. Every new conversation is a new conversation, so we get to be agile and new every time. Even though we have a book of scripts or things that we say, it is not going to be agreeable with every person.

That is interesting the whole bit about the technique-ing that you are talking about and people can recognize it, which relates to one of the common problems with listening. A moment on empathy skills that I like to say that phrase, “Pay attention,” is not an accident because it costs us our time and agenda because we are hearing the others and focusing there and it takes concentration.

Communication is just a skill. Make it your own and use your own beautiful style.

A quick three-way tip, “What is listening?” It is FEE. The F is Focusing skills. I focus my mind. I see a traffic light that goes red for speaking and green for listening so I’m going to focus my mind. I’m going to focus on the environment, get rid of distractions and I’m going to focus my body on listening. Most people know how to focus their eyes and body, lean forward and be silent and nod your head but common sense is not always common practice so that is the F.

The E is to Explore. Ask and explore questions. Tell me more, encouraged, the following, the grunts and groans, “I see. No kidding.” The Empathy skill is what you did with me, paraphrasing the thoughts and feelings of the other person. The problem back to the technique is sometimes, when people do this, all they ever do every time they listen or paraphrase they say, “What I hear you saying.”

That was an excellent lead-in phrase that you use or they say, “Sounds like you are saying,” or, “In other words,” I call these lead-ins helpful to make sure you are not coming from your frame of reference because they all are focused on the person you are listening to. “What I hear you saying,” in other words you think. “Sounds like your saying,” so from your perspective, they are beautiful but they are like bicycle training wheels. They are good to keep you using the skill at first but if you are riding a bike as an adult with training wheels, it is a little bit awkward.

It requires a certain sophistication as you you are using this. It is like you are helping people through your book, Straight Talk, giving them scripts and strategies and this is something they get to wear and try on for themselves and incorporate and integrate into their language and style so they do not sound like they are reading from a book and nervous in the conversation because then that has a whole different read in itself.

They either use the same one over and over. “Sounds like you are saying,” the other person finally said, “What am I saying?” or they use the same listening training wheels, they use the same one or they use a bunch of them. “It sounds like you are saying.” “In other words.” “You feel from your perspective.” “If I’m hearing you right.” No, choose one. The other thing to do is drop it.


Once you can do the listening, just drop it. Instead of saying, “I hear you saying that you are frustrated,” say, “You are frustrated. She dropped the ball on you and now you are left holding it.” You do not have to use them all the time because if that is all you are doing every time especially the same one and you sound like a psychologist. “What I hear?” In other words, it announces the fact that you’ve read a book on listening or you’ve attended a workshop.

I love how you put it. All of these are skills. Make it your own, use your own beautiful style and find how you do it. It is a workshop in a book. There are a bunch of practices and your readers will download an exercise journal. That is a PDF fillable document so they can type in or if they want to print it, they can write on it. We’ve said another tip. We’ve given a tip about your mindset, GAIN and listening skills to not have it be that it is focusing, exploring and empathizing but we want to do it in a way that is not technique-y so that is what we’ve done so far.

I love all of these tips. First, where can people find the book?

The best way is either Amazon or Barnes and Noble. It is coming out in May 2022 but if you go to Amazon and type in Straight Talk Influence Skills, that’ll get you there especially with my last name, Brandon or the full name is Straight Talk: Influence Skills for Collaboration and Commitment but here is a present I want to give to your readers.

A lot of authors say, “If you buy this book, here is what I’ll give you.” I’m not into book bribery. On my website whether or not they buy the book, they can download several free reinforcement tools and learning tools. For instance, there is a 42-question self-assessment that you can do to learn, how are you doing with your listening, your assertive speaking, advising and guiding, your gaining commitment and assess your ability to confront people when you need to, which is taught in the book. It deals with all the different applications that we haven’t dealt with and they can download assessments.

Dare to be different. The only fish that goes with the current all the time is a dead fish.

What is the website?

It is or you can go to and look in the menu bar on the top for books and you’ll see Straight Talk. That is where you’ll be able to learn more about the book and download these free gifts.

Let’s go to our speed round because you shared why you wrote this book, lots of lessons and frameworks from your book. You can go to to purchase Straight Talk. I want to get in your brain a little bit with this speed round. What is your legacy going to be?

It may have nothing to do with the book. I hope my legacy is, “He knew how to have fun in life and live by his motto,” which is “Dare to be different. The only fish ever going with the current all the time are the dead fish. Take a risk and be different.” I’m the guy that plays the trumpet, happy birthday in the restaurant and embarrassed his people, even strangers but I hope my legacy is, “He had high energy, had fun and made a difference.”

I’m getting that energy from you so your legacy lives on. Your favorite book?


They are kid’s books. It is The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein and The Velveteen Rabbit. What is real? It is a great lessons but from the professional side, I was moved a lot by Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. We do not have a purpose if we’re not fulfilled by that purpose. We wither up and die. For your readers that do not know him, he was in a concentration camp and the way he survived was to help have purpose and help other people.

The life-changing book for me was Man’s Search for Meaning. Your favorite author?

From a professional standpoint, I love the work of Clark Moustakas. He wrote a lot about Loneliness and Loneliness and Love is another one. There is one called Loneliness and Solitude. He was a great scholar on loneliness. I mentioned Frankl but I also love non-fiction. I do not read a lot of non-fiction since my PhD but I like John Grisham’s books. I need action.

What are you writing next?

Articles and blogs to promote this book but the next book after this one and publishers do not like to sign new proposals for the next book until they see how this one has done. As soon as May 2022 hits and we sell the five million, the next book I’m writing is with my daughter, Carrie. I have a son, 31 and a daughter, almost 29. Carrie is a wonderful musical theater actress and has traveled around the country doing shows, including national tours.


She does coaching for vocal lessons on the side and some of her students have experienced stage fright for college auditions, etc. It is already outlined in the proposals. It is a matter of getting it either self-published or with a publisher.Iit is called the Stage Fright Rewrite: A Performance Pathway from Fearful to Fearless. It is going to be ten tools for handling stage fright. I’ll do the psychology part of it and she’ll come in with the performers’ and artists’ perspectives. We’re really jazzed about that one.

That is fantastic. Anything you are going to be reading next? What is next on your bookshelf or your side table?

I have several books from friends. One is called Erika Andersen’s Change from the Inside Out. Another one is my friend, Dr. Cindy McGovern. She’s a hoot. I want to recommend that you have her on the show. She wrote a book called Every Job is a Sales Job and then the third one I’ll mention is my friend, Dr. Lynn Schmidt wrote a very important book called Antisexist. It is raising consciousness in women and men about all the forms of sexism through history and no and what to do about it.

Those are all important to books. Please invite and send them an email. I love to have them on my show. Where can people find out more information about you? All your websites and social media.

The biggest one is, that is where they’ll find out about me. My LinkedIn, you can find me, Rick Brandon, that is a way to find out but the website is the best because my bio is there, you learn about the book and the other book, Survival of the Savvy and workshop, which is all about navigating company politics because interpersonal influence is vital but so is political influence. Not government or party politics but in my company, there is politics and power. How do I navigate that? That is what Survival of the Savvy is about.


You can also learn about that book by going to That book has a special, dedicated website. If you want to your readers want to ask me a question, they can reach me at You might be surprised I’m giving that out but I do and I will answer questions as best I can within 48 hours unless I’m out of the country.

Thank you for all that. I would love for you to share one more piece of a lesson or leadership advice from your book that we can leave the audience with.

We did not even get to handling defensiveness and conflict but I want to talk about supporting people but that compassion word and how do we advise and guide that is chapter six of the book. How do we use our assertive speaking and active listening to advise and guide? When someone comes to us with a problem, with a decision they are wrestling with, I’m not the problem. It is not about me. I’m there to be a sounding board and help them explore and understand the problem and then resolve it.

It might be that I’m giving input, advice and suggestions but the two things I want to suggest when you are listening to someone is to not jump to solutions in our workshops. We talk about this in the book. People are like, “I’m paid to manage. I’m paid to solve problems,” but we do not listen well enough or long enough to even get to the real problem and unpeel the artichoke leaves, I call it, to get to the heart of the problem when we solved the wrong problem by jumping in too soon.

The audacity that this person to live with the problem for 30 days or 30 months or weeks and we come in after 30 seconds. To wait, not react, to first absorb and then summarize what you’ve heard or paraphrasing 5, 6, 7 times before you make input. Before you jumped input, ask them what they have thought of or done so far. Managers come in and they give their input and the person says, “I already tried that it blew up in my face.” This will save you time and face.

Also, word of getting around, “Do not go and see Rick or Alicia to solve problems and explore them if you haven’t tried to solve them yourself first. This is about completed staff work because they are going to say, “He’s going to ask you before he gives you his input. What have you tried or thought of?” Listen longer before you give your input and before you do ask, “What have you tried so far or considered or what could you think of doing now? That also is going to give you a whole bunch of information about employees’ critical thinking skills.

What an awesome way to round off this interview. With those clarifying questions, “What have you thought of or considered in terms of solving that particular problem?” I love that. I wanted to thank you, Rick, for being here and sharing your lessons and tips from your new book, Straight Talk: Influence Skills for Collaboration and Commitment.

Thank you so much. I had a blast. I hope your readers did too. Take care.

You could purchase the book, Straight Talk at Thank you so much for reading. Be well.


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About Rick Brandon PhD

\"ALRick Brandon, PhD is the founder and president of the internationally respected training firm Brandon Partners. He has devoted thirty+ years to designing and delivering leadership and professional development workshops on influence skills (Interpersonal Savvy, Political and Organizational Savvy, High-Impact Presentation Skills, Selling Skills, Self-Talk and Self-Accountability, etc.) Dr. Brandon has taught for scores of Fortune 500 companies and others, helping hundreds of thousands to improve their results and work relationships by increasing the candor, clarity, and impact of their communication. Dr. Brandon co-authored the Wall Street Journal bestseller, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success (Free Press), which has been called “the pre-eminent book on organizational and political savvy” by Robert Eichinger, creator of Lominger’s FYI: For Your Improvement. The book won awards and global recognition, including Fast Company’s and the Institute for Management Studies’ (IMS) Book of the Month. Brandon serves as distinguished faculty for IMS and has taught graduate and undergraduate courses at colleges and universities. Dr. Brandon earned a PhD in Counseling at the University of Arizona, an MA in School Psychology from St. Lawrence University, and a BA in Psychology from Case Western Reserve.
His new book, Straight Talk: Influence Skills for Collaboration and Commitment is available on May 10, 2022.

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