How to Navigate Company Politics & Have Hard Conversations at Work

June 20, 2018

(Coming Soon)

Asia Matos Orangio

Startup Growth Consultant & Founder of DemandMaven

Company politics are inevitable in SaaS, just like they are in any company. It’s one of the most common struggles we hear about from the thousands of marketers we’ve spoken with over the years we’ve been running Forget The Funnel: “I can’t get buy-in on my ideas. I can’t seem to establish my seat at the table. I feel like big marketing decisions are made without me.

Sound familiar? If so, this workshop with Asia Matos is what you’ve been looking for. She’s the Founder of DemandMaven, where she helps startups get to their first $100K. Previously, she served as the Head of Marketing at Hull (where we met her), Demand Generation Manager at Terminus and Marketing Manager at #FlipMyFunnel. In her workshop, she shares tried-and-true strategies for working with colleagues more effectively, how to set yourself up for success within a new company, and how to have tough conversations with colleagues with trust and compassion.

Company politics are just one aspect of many we cover in our SaaS Marketing Workshop series. Click through to learn about other aspects of building an effective SaaS marketing department.Here are the highlights from Asia’s workshop:

Acknowledge That Politics Will Happen

No matter how great your company is, there will inevitably be times when politics come into play. It just comes with the territory of working closely with other people.

This doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong — in fact, if you’re lucky enough to be at a company with a strong culture, you’ll be able to work through these issues more effectively.

But we need to work through our knee-jerk reaction to the phrase “company politics.” As Asia defines it:

The keyword here is principles. Everyone has their own a set of beliefs about how something should be happening. And then you meet another person who has a certain set of beliefs about how something should be happening, and then boom: politics.Anytime you get a group of people in the room together, you're all going to have different walks of life, different opinions about how things should be happening, and therefore, politics are 100% totally unavoidable."

Accepting that politics will happen isn’t the same as being okay with backstabbing behavior, or not working to fix problems. Rather, acknowledging that politics are inevitable, is to acknowledge the fact that 85% (!) of a person’s financial success is determined by their ability to communicate. In other words, learning how to navigate this stuff really matters.

Remember: Everyone Wants To Feel Important

If you’re looking to solve a problem or communicate more effectively with others in your company, it’s important to remember a rule from How to Win Friends and Influence People (one of Asia’s favorite books): Everyone wants to feel important.

This means that as you go into difficult conversations at work, it’s easier to get the other party on your side by acknowledging their role in the company, and the expertise they bring to that role. This kicks things off on a warm note.

As Asia puts it:

A lot of what you might encounter with politics in the company actually stems from where someone's coming from emotionally. That's totally human and very okay. But because of that, you aren't always gonna be able to debate with pure reason. You're gonna have to think about the emotional side of an issue, as well.”

This doesn’t mean that you should throw logic out entirely when discussing an issue with someone in your company. But you should acknowledge that the other person may oppose an idea on an emotional basis that has nothing to do with what you’re presenting about the idea.

Asia shares an example in which she she had an emotional reaction against a rebranding effort. But as she discussed project with her colleague and heard the logic behind the decision, she realized that she was emotionally attached in a way that wasn’t entirely helpful. We recommend listening to the full workshop to hear the story.

Learn the unwritten rules

Every company has unwritten rules. Sometimes they’re small, like “the person who drank the last sparkling water in the fridge is the person who orders the next case.” Other times, they’re paramount to how major strategic decisions are made.

Think about the examples in this list: What are the unwritten rules regarding these topics at your company?

  • How do projects move forward?
  • How is budget secured in a company?
  • Why are things deprioritized or shot down?
  • Comparatively speaking, what are some other projects in the company that do get pushed further or pushed more quickly than others?
  • How do people pitch these projects and how do things actually get done?

Knowing these rules is essential to getting things done within your company.

In Asia’s words,

One of the ways you can learn the unwritten rules is to study the people who get stuff done. Anytime you're new in a company, one of the best things that I recommend in your 90-Day Plan is to partner up with someone who can show you how they pitch projects and how they do things.”

Identify internal stakeholders

Every decision that takes place in a company has internal stakeholders, who may or may not be apparent. Often this is true in Marketing, since you’re regularly working cross-functionally with Sales, Customer Service, and Product to make sure things get done.

Asia recommends figuring out who those stakeholders are ASAP, since building strong relationships with them is key to moving ahead and making sure things get done in the company.

“Who are the internal stakeholders in your organizations? Who can you actually really get in front of and start creating a very real relationship now instead of waiting until you have to suddenly win everyone's opinion on something, and you're not on the same playing field at all? Don't wait until that happens.”

Focus on unpacking

If (okay, when) a disagreement arises, it’s important to recognize that butting heads doesn’t just happen at random. There are underlying factors you’ll need to suss out.

Asia puts it this way:

“Again, we are not as logical as we think we are. As you start to uncover and unpack [what’s really going on], the emotion will eventually surface. And then at that point you can say, ‘Okay well, it's not this. I am not trying to offend you, or trying to hurt your feelings, or put you down. It's actually this very tactical thing that is super specific to a product or a platform.’ So by unpacking, you can get down to the root of it and then say, that is not at all what the intention is or what we're trying to accomplish. Unpacking is like gold once you can master it.”

Unpacking can also stop major conflicts before they start. If two people are from different departments or professional backgrounds, they may see the same principle very differently. There may not even be a common work language between them (what does a “lead” mean to a marketer vs. a salesperson, for example?). Unpacking helps people find a common purpose and breaks down unclear vocabulary that may hinder communication in the workplace.

There’s no way we could have included every single point that Asia shared in this workshop (including a great section on using the Socratic method in the workplace!). We highly encourage you to listen to the full workshop to learn all of Asia’s techniques for navigating company politics and having the hard conversations at work.


Claire: Hey, everyone, welcome to Forget the Funnel. So, this week I am so excited about who we have on and the topic we're gonna be discussing. We've been on a good roll lately. A lot of the topics are very near and dear to my heart. But today, we are so excited to have Asia Matos, founder of DemandMaven, on. So Asia and I met last year when she was still Head of Marketing at an in house role, we did a project together. She is a boss. And she's going to be talking about how to navigate company politics and have hard conversations at work, which is just the reality of being in any leadership role and I would say especially in a marketing leadership role at a tech company.

Claire: So, Asia, I'm gonna turn things over to you.

Asia Matos: Awesome. Thank you so much. Both of you. I am super excited to be talking about this just because it's something that I think we've all encountered and all experienced. And I am just going to make this pop up really quick. Okay, whoops oh wow. All right, first, a little bit about me. So, hi, I'm Asia. Also founder of DemandMaven, where I help start ups get to their first 100k [inaudible 00:01:21]. Previously I have served as the Head of Marketing at Hall. Also Demand Generation Manager at Terminus and previously before that the Emarketing Manager at #FlipMyFunnel.

Asia Matos: Fun stuff about me. I play the ukulele, I do the occasional stand up comedy. I'm obsessed with period pieces so like Pride and Prejudice is my jam. And I do a bunch of hiking. And probably most importantly, with all of this, I have seen some things. Especially from a politics perspective and we are going to unpack all the things involved with it and so much more and I'm super excited.

Asia Matos: So, what are you gonna get out of this? Because I just absolutely love covering what are we actually going to cover in this. The first is learning how to navigate politics and internal team dynamics. Because you're going to get in situations where you have to do this and being equipped and armed with actionable things to say, things to process together, I think that that's super important. You wanna have something to stand off on essentially. And then there's also just how do you build trust and compassion? I feel like we're actually all very good about this. But how do you do it with people who are particularly spiky? They have much more challenging personalities just with you? And then also actionable advice for very hard conversations which we all have to do. It doesn't matter whether you're a marketer or not, you are going to have a conversation like this at some point. You need to know what to do.

Asia Matos: So, we're gonna cover all of this and more. But, I think the first thing that I wanna make sure that we just get out of the way is acknowledging that politics happen. And, I think a lot of us squirm in our seats a little bit when we hear this because we're like, "What? Not in my company." But the reality is that it absolutely does happen. And what I'm going to hopefully convince you is that not all politics are bad. Some of them are actually very good and they're extremely common. So for example, most of us, when we think of politics, we think of this. And you're not wrong. This is not a wrong definition. Of course this is also politics.

Asia Matos: But, it can actually also mean this as well which is that someone has a particular set of political beliefs or principles. And to me the keyword here is principles. It basically just says, it's what happens when a person has a set of beliefs about how something should be happening. And then you meet another person who has a certain set of beliefs about how something should be happening and then boom politics. And it's really, anytime you get a group of people in the room together, you're all going to have different walks of life, different opinions about how things should be happening and therefore that makes this 100% totally unavoidable. And I can hear the echoes in the background of like, "But we have a great culture and we don't have politics."

Asia Matos: I would actually argue that you absolutely do have politics, but if you have a great culture, you breeze right through them. And, your great culture ultimately helps you cut through politics like a hot knife through butter. And you don't get hung up on it and it doesn't become toxic. So if you have a great culture, that's awesome. You probably move through politics and it probably doesn't even feel like politics. If you don't have a great culture of if you're in a situation where the politics are super toxic, it's probably due to the culture.

Asia Matos: But I do wanna make sure that we cover just the basics. I am not going to teach you how to back stab people or do anything awful. This is 100% about how do you handle the politics that do happen that have nothing to do with the toxicity, but do have things to do with how you really set the framework and just for marketing period. And then also how do you evangelize what is it you're trying to get across?

Asia Matos: And the reality of this is exactly what Claire said at the beginning of this. Is that marketing is extremely visible. And everyone is going to be a critic of just about everything that you do. Some people are going to be like, yes, Queen and then other people are gonna be like, maybe no. And, being able to navigate that, that is ultimately going to be something that, if you can master this, you will be pretty much set for life.

Asia Matos: But I think the other really big reason why covering this is so important is, actually the statistic right here, which to me speaks volumes. But 85% of one's financial success is due to skills in human engineering. And, we actually, there's tons of research about what it means to sit out of politics and to put your head down and to not care about this. But the reality is that 85% of a person's financial success is really based off the ability to communicate. To negotiate and to lead. Whereas the technical knowledge is only 15%. And actually, this exact research actually further states that the 15%, what gets you in the door are your cognitive skills, but what enables you to get the promotion, to secure infinitely better paying jobs, all of that is based off of your skill at human engineering period.

Asia Matos: So, I wanna make sure that we look at a very common example. It's one of my personal favorites. The website. It is the mecca for your company. And the website is going to be something that, as a marketer, everything that you do is very highly visible. The website is probably something that if you haven't dealt with it internally, you probably will at some point in the future down the road. It's the first line of defense for just about every FTF Guest Workshop -[inaudible 00:07:17] company out there and it's also the touchiest subjects for most teams. And it makes a certain sense why.

Asia Matos: I think about the website just like a storefront. You have all of the products that you need to see. It's probably very lean, in this case it's just like, literally just a tiny shop. You don't have tons and tons of pages built yet or just this super robust store front. It's really just like the very first iteration or the first lean version. And then, of course, as you grow as a startup, you have a ton of different teams where you really have to [inaudible 00:07:53] in and build things as fast as possible. But it also means that you end up with tons of extra builders, a lot more subject matter experts and the roles in the website and how you build into it and what content you produce, you end up having a lot more stakeholders as you grow and as you scale. And this isn't a bad thing. It's extremely common and it's probably one of the most normal and expected things I think.

Asia Matos: But pretty much you have marketing on one side that's just like, "Hey, listen, we need to be able to execute on these things." And [inaudible 00:08:26] has an opinion as well, and product and the investors and the executives. I mean it's full gambit. So, how do you manage all of this? How do you manage all of these very valid points? It could be based off of the CMS that you're using, based off of the words that you're using, product might only care about product sections, but they have a very vested interest in what is representing the company on the website.

Asia Matos: So, okay great, so how do we actually navigate all of this? I am going to start with probably one of my favorites. This is Dale Carnegie. He is probably one of the most influential people I would say when it comes to how you become a great leader. And, he wrote this amazing book called, "How to win friends and influence people." And to me it is the ultimate guide on leadership and relationships. And, the reason why is just strictly because as you grow in your role, or even as you take on even greater and larger roles,everything about how you influence others and how you win friends internally, that's going to affect the way that you're perceived in the company and also going to affect the way that you get shit done, which is super important.

Asia Matos: So I absolutely love Dale Carnegie. I am going to use his book as the framework and the baseline through which we're gonna talk about all these points. And if you don't have it or you haven't read it, I highly recommend that you go and get it. It's the best and yes. It's going to completely change your whole entire world. And it is also a huge truth bomb. Dale Carnegie teachers us things about humans that are still true to this day. And you're going to read the book and you're going to be in shock and I am super excited for when you do.

Asia Matos: One of the things that Dale teaches that is the fundamental law of humans is that we all want to feel important. And it's important that we start here because when you're navigating politics in your company and you're having those hard conversations, if you always approach every conversation you're about to have with this in mind, everything that you do afterwards will be much smoother and it'll also feel much more natural. I think a lot of us when we hear, navigating office politics, we shut down because we think that that means something negative. But the reality is that you're gonna have to do it, but if you're gonna do it, you can start here. And it's just going to give you a primer for every conversation you have, which I think is very important.

Asia Matos: And if, as if we didn't need more proof about this, and there's tons more, one of the things that Sigmund Freud says that Dale Carnegie also talks about in the book is that we like to think that we're very logical and the reality is that we're super not. We like to think that we make decisions based off of logic and reason, but in reality we're actually creatures of emotion. And a lot of what you might encounter with politics in the company is really because of where someone's coming from emotionally. And that's totally human and very okay. But because of that, you aren't always gonna be able to debate with pure reason. You're gonna have to think about the emotional side of it as well.

Asia Matos: And, once again, just to reiterate this, Amy Cuddy also writes another great book called "Presence." And, it is probably one of the best books I've ever read when it comes to how do you carry yourself and hold yourself as a leader and what are the things that you can do to feel powerful before you walk into the very hard meeting or before you pitch something. And one of the things that she says is that warmth is the conduit of influence. And, when it comes to navigating politics and really working with people, because that's all that means, and working with their principles, if you come into it with warmth first, it's the same saying of honey goes way further than vinegar. You will get way more done and accomplish way more, but then also still win a friend in the end, which to me is the best thing that you can do.

Asia Matos: So okay, we're going to talk about one of the very first principles if you will and then we'll get into actionable things that you can say for the hard conversations. But the first, learn the unwritten rules. Every company has politics and, if you can, and as quickly as you can, there are unwritten rules about how things happen. How do projects move forward? How is budget secured in a company? Why are things deprioritized or shot down? And comparatively speaking, what are some other projects in the company that do get pushed further or pushed more quickly than others? Those are the unwritten rules. How do people pitch these projects and how do things actually get done? Those are ultimately your politics in a company. And again, that's not a bad things at all. It is extremely common and again you're gonna run into it. But this is already the very first step. The very first step is just learning the unwritten rules.

Asia Matos: One of the ways that you can learn the unwritten rules is to study the people who do get stuff done. And this is actually something that anytime you're new in a company, one of the best things that I recommend in your 90 day plan is to partner up with someone who can show you how they pitch projects and how they do things. This is gonna sound super weird, but I actually had an executive, who if you pitched a project to him and you said the word playbook, he would shut it down immediately. That was a trigger word for him. It was a touchy word in the organization, and he didn't like it. So, if you had a marketing idea or a project related to marketing, you did not use the word playbook. It was one of the unwritten rules that I learned from another person in the company. And we actually worked on this together and she was like, "I know you wanna say playbook but don't." That's kind of politics in a way.

Claire: What's so interesting about this is, it's basically the same work you do to form a marketing plan. You do customer research, you do user research. All you're doing is doing research on the internal working of your company and figuring out where do I fit in here? It's the same thing.

Asia Matos: Yeah. Learning a company's internal lexicon and what are the words that people use and say to move things forward? I think those are politics and yeah, it's also part of the culture, but again, if you know how to leverage it, it's not negative at all. It's really just understanding.

Gia: I also think it's so key, and I love that you've brought up the deliberateness of finding this stuff out as opposed to learning it along the way. But you're being so much more not only proactive but also strategic in learning this stuff up front. Because it's the stuff you inevitably find out. One way or another, it's the easy way or the hard way that you learn this stuff. But being proactive to try to figure it out as soon as possible when you're into a new role I think is so valuable.

Asia Matos: Yeah absolutely. [crosstalk 00:15:48]. Yes it does. And get a lot more done.

Gia: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Asia Matos: Okay. All right. Okay yes.

Asia Matos: Surprise. You have internal stakeholders. A lot of us I think are already very much aware that we have other people involved in the company who we have to work with. And for some people might be an option, but I know for a lot of tech companies, you wanna be working with sales, with product, with customer success, with virtually everyone. Marketing is very much a pinnacle of all in the organization. So you're gonna have internal stakeholders. And I think a lot of marketers realize a bit too late that they do have stakeholders that maybe they haven't given the right attention to and potentially vice versa.

Asia Matos: Understanding exactly who your internal stakeholders are is also going to be crucial to getting projects moved ahead and just done, executed on. And at the same time, they can be something that can block you as well. Something that I like to do, with a new role, with even now, even if I were in house even today and I had been there for six months, a year, this is something that I would still do. But schedule regular one to ones with your internal stakeholders. They don't have to be every single week. They could be one to two times a month, but getting out of the office, especially with your internal stakeholders. It took me too long to realize in one of my roles that one of my huge internal stakeholders was actually product. Took me way too long to realize that. And so when it was time to make very real decisions about certain things with marketing, I realized I had no idea where he was coming from and it was because we hadn't really had the regular one to one and that was totally my bad and that was something that I should have done way sooner.

Asia Matos: Who are the internal stakeholders in your organizations, who can you actually really get in front of and start creating a very real relationship now instead of waiting until you have to suddenly win everyone's opinion on something and you have no real, you're not on the same playing field at all. Don't wait until that happens.

Asia Matos: Another way to think about this is everyone has a sphere of influence. And, these are the people that you both are directly influenced by and people who you directly influence. And understanding where everyone kind of is and where you are in all of that will also help greatly with navigating this as well. Oh and I do have this one last thing. So sometimes you might have an argument with someone or a very heated debate about a thing. If that happens, don't let it fester. Address it promptly because if you let it fester, it might come back full circle way later and if you never really put it to bed when it happens, this can also totally affect the way that you operate and things that happen. And I speak from a lot of experience on this because I have been there and I have done that and I have made the mistake. And it's a very tough lesson to learn, but I think when you come forward with, again, everyone wants to feel important, you can totally avoid this almost entirely just by addressing it immediately and you can still win someone at the end and still be friends and still have a great relationship.

Asia Matos: So this is one of my favorite things to talk about. It's the fourth principle now, maybe it's the third. But focus on unpacking. Sometimes, especially if we are working with someone who does have very strong opinions about something and you totally butt heads and you totally disagree, if you focus on unpacking, which is literally asking questions that will open up the conversation to what is the actual challenge here? What is the actual issue? You I think might be shocked at what you discover and what you find based off of the question that you ask. And especially if you both realize that there is a common enemy that you're both trying to actively avoid. And I'm gonna give two very specific examples of both of these later in the presentation. But, the global idea is to focus on unpacking if you are really butting heads with someone about something or your departments are butting heads about something. Uncover the reasons why.

Asia Matos: A classic example is marketing and sales. "Your leads suck." "Well, you don't follow up with our leads." Let's unpack this. Let's understand exactly why. And the last piece here is taking the emotion out of it. So, I also find with unpacking, if you do, assuming that you're already really good at this, you'll also find that as you unpack, you take more and more the emotion out of it and you understand where is the emotion actually in this? Because again, we are not as logical as we think we are. As you start to uncover and unpack, the emotion will surface. And then at that point you can say, okay well, it's not this. I am not trying to offend you or trying to hurt your feelings or put you down. It's actually this very tactical thing that is super specific to a product or a platform. So by unpacking, you can get down to the root of it and then say, that is not at all what the intention is or what we're trying to accomplish. Unpacking is like gold once you can master it.

Gia: So common. That even one of my favorite examples that always seems to happen is people will use the same word to describe something, but because they come from different departments or they've got different backgrounds, what they mean by that one word, like a lead. A lead might mean something completely different to marketing than sales. And it usually does. Or to product for that matter. That shared common language and defining that shared common language is often missing. Especially when it comes to disagreement or having these tough conversations, it often comes out in the woodwork. Oh we weren't even talking about the same thing.

Gia: So unpacking is the only way you're gonna find out whether or not you're truly talking about the same thing.

Asia Matos: When things come out of the woodwork, that's how you know that oh my gosh, we should have unpacked this forever ago. And that to me is the number one leading indicator. It's like, "Oh man, oh it's this." It's great if you can arrive at that as fast as possible. And that's why unpacking to me is the number one strategy.

Asia Matos: Okay. This is, I have a pretty funny story about this. Leverage your manager. If you're new to a role or even if you've been in your role for months, years, what have you. Leveraging your manager as a way to understand the landscape that you're in is also, it's a shortcut. Not all manager, now there's a small caveat here, not all managers are gonna be great at this and that's totally okay. You're dealing with human. But, if you have a manager who is great at this, leveraging that whenever you can, and playing it by ear. You don't wanna be squeaky wheel gets the oil, but at the same exact time, you don't wanna step on anyone's toes if it can be totally avoided or if someone can just tell you exactly how to do it.

Asia Matos: One of my favorite moments in one of my previous companies was when I was getting blocked by another department. And I remember I was getting very frustrated and I remember thinking, I don't know what I'm doing wrong, I don't know what I'm saying wrong. And I know I'm approaching this incorrectly. And so I remember I talked to my manager about it. And, he just joked and he was like, "If you ever feel like something is above your pay grade, please use me." And I was just like, that is, on the one had it sounds kind of demeaning but at the same exact time, I'm not necessarily here to negotiate with co founders or anything like that. Sometimes, if it's above your pay grade, use your manager.

Asia Matos: And also, you might be the people who has to do this for someone else. So if you have direct reports, be the person, be the guiding light in the organization for your direct reports to actually navigate this as well. Because if you can tell someone how to just totally get right to the point and into this direction and into this corner, then you can set yourself up for success and your direct reports as well. So it goes both ways. Paying it forward is everything here.

Asia Matos: All right. So, this is where it gets really fun. When you have to stand your ground. Everything before this was on navigating and understanding and painting the sphere upon which you're operating and the role that you have and the department that you are running. And there are absolutely going to be times when you have to just stand your ground on something. And there are some issues that are worth it. You have to dig your heels into it and you can't budge. And if you do budge, it's as small as possible. Because marketing is so visible in the organization, you might feel like you have to compromise on everything and with everyone and that's gonna feel very natural. And there are gonna be times where it's gonna also feel okay.

Asia Matos: But there are also very specific moments, and I honestly, I can't even really say, here is when you do it, this is the rule. Just know that you will get to a place in your career where you will have to. And in many cases the website it a great example. But it absolutely begs, one of my favorite questions, which is, is this the hill that Asia dies on? And it's the question that I ask constantly internally and there are times when that answer is yes. And when the answer is yes, the next few slides are exactly what I think about whenever I'm trying to move a project forward, get something done, execute on something, get approval for something.

Asia Matos: And then when the answer is no, this is not the hill that I wanna die on, I compromise. And the next few slides will also be just as valid. But to me, typically when you're about to have hard conversations, which is your next slide, when you're about to have hard conversations, it's usually because you're standing your ground on something or you're trying to minimize the amount that you have to compromise on something. And there are absolutely valid situations in that.

Asia Matos: I have also been there many a time. And I hope that what I have learned and also what I have borrowed from Dale Carnegie and his book, I hope that these things, they paint a very real and tactical picture about what exactly what you can say. This is my goal.

Asia Matos: Okay. So. You have to have a hard conversation with a coworker. The first step is stop trying to win. We have been trained since birth to win. And I don't just mean soccer games or I don't know, debate team. We've always been trained to have the absolute best of something. And I would be willing to bet a few things. That I'll get into in just a second. But, the first thing to remember is that there aren't any winners in discussions, there aren't any winners even in arguments. People don't win. In fact, you just get mad at each other and then you walk away and you haven't changed your opinion. So, if you stop trying to win, just to begin with, you will instantly set yourself up for success. And also people are very perceptive. You're not gonna pull the hood over their eyes, they can sense if you're trying to win. They can feel that.

Asia Matos: And that is usually a very great way to shut someone else down. Is to come off as you're trying to win this argument or win this debate or win this discussion. So just keep in mind that there are no winners. And also this is one of my favorite favorite quotes. This is actually something that my grandmother says. What she says, "Getting someone to admit they are wrong is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." You are never going to accomplish getting someone to admit that they're wrong. Instead, there is a much better path that we can approach in this situation.

Claire: That is a great quote. I've never heard that one.

Asia Matos: Yes. It is like, it's awesome.

Asia Matos: So again, we've been trained to win. And right off the bat, if you have to have these hard conversations, I know for a fact, you're a marketer, you've done your homework, you've come to the table ready with your full argument, your list of things to argue about, to debate about, to say, here's bullet point by bullet point exactly why this has to happen this way. And that's fine. I am not saying doing do that. What I am saying though is come to the table prepared to do this instead and have this in your back pocket. But first, just dispel the narrative just for a quick second. It's something that you will use as you have your conversation and as you unpack things. But to start with, just dispel the narrative entirely.

Asia Matos: So back to the website example, [inaudible 00:29:42] just doesn't get it. They aren't marketers, they don't understand what we're dealing with. Let's just pause that narrative internally and instead reframe the narrative with curiosity and empathy. Typically if you need to unpack something, it's because someone missed something along the line and there's the saying that's just give people the benefit of the doubt. This is 100% that. So instead, with curiosity and empathy, let's say instead, I wonder if maybe there's something missing or that they're dealing with that even we don't know about. There's a missing puzzle piece here. So instead of coming in with like, "I have all these bullet points to go over about why this should happen this way," let's just take a step back and check ourselves for a quick second.

Claire: So, I'll keep it really quick. I was actually at a meet up earlier this week and it was for developers, not for marketers. My husband works for a software company and their target company is [inaudible 00:30:40]. And, I heard this one guy, who's a developer, the meet up was all about web performance and making sure your website's really fast. And he went on this rant about how marketers just put tags everywhere. You gotta track this with this tag, we gotta track all this with this other tag. And he was so mad about these tags.

Claire: And I was like, this guy has no idea why that's important. He doesn't know. And there's probably never been a conversation at his company between [inaudible 00:31:08] and marketing as to why in the world marketing's doing that. And it was just this, well first it made me think, when I was in house, I bet I couldn't' count the times that I felt that way from a marketing standpoint and I was mad at [inaudible 00:31:23]. And then I thought, how valuable would it be to sit down with that due and here's why these matter to us. What are you focused on that matters to you regarding this and how can we work together to set up our tag architecture in a better way so it doesn't make your life hell?

Asia Matos: Absolutely.

Gia: A sustainable solution version of this is have one on ones [crosstalk 00:31:50].

Claire: Right.

Asia Matos: It's funny too because it's like, if you have one to ones with people regularly then this is never hard or awkward. But, Claire, you actually brought up a great example of something that, this is not in the presentation so this is a freebie, but one thing that Dale Carnegie says is to ... give people a reputation to live up to. Which is a great tactic. Where it's like, listen I know you to be a very patient person and I also know that you're very technical and you probably understand this way better than I do. Can you show me how you would apply this instead. And it's a great reputation for them to live up to. They're like, "Well yes, I am very patient and technical."

Gia: That's brilliant. Especially the patient part. Lay that one on too.

Asia Matos: Yeah exactly. I know that you understand this so I'm curious how you would do it. So yes, it's a very very powerful technique so I'm so happy that you brought that up.

Asia Matos: All right. This is one of my favorite gifs. Okay so, always how respect for other people's opinions. I feel like this is not a thing that I have to dig too deep into. Except for this one very specific thing. Okay wait, but how? So I think one of the laziest things that we say in meetings, in just everyday life, is I totally respect your opinion or I completely respect your opinion. And to me, that's super lazy. And I think Dale Carnegie would agree. Very lazy just to parrot that back. Instead what we should say is, we should actually think about bookends. Repeat exactly back what their point was and, so back to the website example, I think your points about WordPress is not exactly being the hottest tool in the [inaudible 00:33:42] community, and that other CMS platforms are far more advanced, those are totally valid. I value that perspective 100%. I completely respect it.

Asia Matos: That is a way better start than just saying, I respect your opinion and then going immediately into yours.

Claire: The classic I'm hearing you, but I'm not actually listening to you and now I'm gonna talk at you.

Asia Matos: Yeah. It's a great way to get people to again shut down or to not even hear what you're about to say.

Asia Matos: One of my personal favorites and actually something that I find that the most charismatic people do so naturally is, they always say that they come in peace. And they might not literally say like Buzz Lightyear, I come in peace, but, they start every hard conversation with intent. And, by doing that alone, they automatically, it's like they almost, I don't wanna say recharge, but they totally neutralize the situation just by stating the intent at the very beginning. And ultimately, it's like, the examples that I have I even feel like aren't even good enough. But it's like, I legitimately wanna hear your opinion because I know you understand this so well. Or like, first off I just want you to feel super comfortable about everything we're about to talk and just know that this is not my intention to do this, my intention is to do this.

Asia Matos: And mastering even that before you have the super hard conversation is, again it will just totally neutralize the situation and actually position you in a place where it's like, I really wanna understand. Because the one rule is that we all wanna feel important. And by starting with this, again, you will have a jumping off point that's gonna be way more successful than if you just go immediately into the conversation about the tactical thing or whatever it is. And, I think mastering this I just feel like is so important.

Asia Matos: Okay. This is for the literature students out there. The people who have studied Socrates or have even read anything by him. It's not always the most fun of reads, but you can actually use the Socratic method in everyday life. Especially when you're about to have a hard conversation. And it's all about getting the yeses and creating more opportunities to agree with each other than to no. And when you get nos, you unpack them.

Asia Matos: So, this is a lot of text to read. But basically, and I wanted to write this all the way out so you could see exactly what this would look like. But, when you're about to have the hard conversation, be thinking about what questions that you have that you want answered that will ultimately help you guide the conversation. And I feel like any great political navigator will be able to understand this. But then also, if you're pretty good at having the hard conversation, this will also be very natural as well.

Asia Matos: But, tactically, what is the example? Okay. Let's say [inaudible 00:37:00] completely just thinks that WordPress is the worst tool on the planet, which is actually very common. And they really want you to be on something else. They want you to be on a totally different thing or they'd rather just have you send them all the content and the copy and they'll just hard code it themselves. Very very common and [crosstalk 00:37:18]

Claire: So much rage.

Asia Matos: Depending on your situation, this might be super unrealistic. And you know it and they want to feel important so they have their opinions on it as well. Still very valid and we respect it. See? Teaching you guys. And, but, one of the ways that you can unpack this but then also use the Socratic method is, okay, but would you agree then that [inaudible 00:37:47] doesn't really have the time to be doing this? That the number one priority is for [inaudible 00:37:52] and product engineering to focus on bugs and to focus on building new parts of the platform? It's like well yes, that's our priority. Would you also agree that maybe [inaudible 00:38:01] doesn't exactly have the bandwidth or the time to help with this because the time that they do have is spent doing other [inaudible 00:38:09] things. It's like well okay yeah. And I even put in a well if they were small, because I hear that a lot, well if they were small website changes, we could do that.

Asia Matos: And, even then, the next yes answer would be, but given the current state, wouldn't you agree that [inaudible 00:38:25] rarely has the bandwidth for extracurricular stuff? It's just not a thing that they have. Okay yes. And then, but would you also agree that marketing isn't exactly qualified to write their own HTML or CSS either? And you continue to build that list of yeses. These are all reverse engineering the questions. And to get the other team or the other person to understand, okay, we've built the list of yeses, therefore the most logical thing to do here would be to use a tool that marketing is comfortable with, that doesn't impact engineering or [inaudible 00:38:56] in any, hopefully, in extremely small ways. And if it does, what can we do to mitigate those things?

Asia Matos: But this is an examples of building the yeses.

Asia Matos: [crosstalk 00:39:06] oh go ahead.

Claire: Oh I'm sorry go ahead.

Asia Matos: Oh I was gonna say another great example of building yeses is marketing and sales and customer success talking about qualified leads. Another really good example of not only unpacking the situation, but asking in the Socratic method, which is would you agree that these are the best customers? No. Okay well let's unpack that. Why? If you're doing that, and you're probably doing this already and you don't even realize it, but continuing to build a list of yeses and to uncover and find the nos and then unpack them, that is how you're going to get that understanding and navigate it and have the hard conversation.

Asia Matos: This is probably one of my favorite ways to do this. And, next to unpacking, I would say the Socratic method is one of the things that I use the most next to all the other tactics. But this especially for sure.

Claire: I think what's so cool about this concept of building a list of yeses is if you're someone who really struggles to get through highly tense conversations, which is myself, I really struggle with conflict. I am a shut down type of person. And so, this is so cool in giving you a way to prepare for that conversation. You're thinking through all the ways that you could be argued against and then you're coming up with ways to slowly, and without offending the other person, kind of disarm and keep moving forward. So it's a really good preparation tactic for someone who isn't naturally good in points of conflict.

Asia Matos: Some of the best sales people in the world actually use the Socratic method for selling products. All they're doing is asking questions. And that's all they're doing. And this, you can use this to sell products. You can also use this to sell ideas. And to arrive at the same conclusion, which is extremely powerful. And, if you practice this on your friends, family, coworkers, please let me know how it goes. Because I would love to know what questions you asked and how you arrived at it because that would be really cool.

Gia: I got a couple banked debates with my husband. [inaudible 00:41:25].

Asia Matos: Yes.

Asia Matos: All right. Okay. This is actually something that is very much inspired by a lot of the work that I've been doing for my clients, also Claire.

Claire: Oh yay.

Asia Matos: You're a huge proponent of jobs to be done and I am a huge believer in it as well. You can actually use jobs to be done in just about anything if I'm being real. But you can use this especially in conversations that you have and even the hard ones. Earlier I mentioned taking the emotion out of something. This is another way to do that. So, if you think about the jobs to be done framework, it's all about everything that you're doing from a product perspective, that product serves as a job that someone is hiring your product to accomplish.

Asia Matos: If you're having a hard conversation with someone or even just trying to understand something or unpack something, thinking about what the job ultimately is that you're trying to accomplish and eliminating all of the other distractions in that is a great way to get your point across and to again stand your ground because that's the important piece about this entire end cap of the presentation. But jobs to be done is great. I actually have, it's not website related, but a great example of this is actually with one of my clients, they are potentially going through a rebrand. They're still testing the waters to see if it's viable. But, as I go through this rebrand, I heard about it and I was kind of depressed. I was like wait what? But I love your brand, it's the best. Why would you get rid of it?

Asia Matos: And it was emotional. That was very emotional of me to feel super attached to it and yeah, we fall in love with things, don't get me wrong. But, he did something, without even realizing it, and he made it a job to be done. He externalized it as a function, as opposed to some deep port of my identity. And the way that he did that was, he made it about the job. Said based off of where the product is going, the kinds of investors that we wanna attract, doing the rebrand now makes a lot more sense than waiting three plus years down the road and then having to restart all over and then trying to rebrand.

Asia Matos: So the job to be done was attracting the right investors with the exact product they wanted to build. And to me, in my head, I said, wow, he totally made it about the job to be done, but also he externalized it as a function and not this super internal part of my identity. And to me, I was like, wow, yeah, well, you're absolutely right. I'm still sad, but this makes a ton of sense. And he just totally changed my mind right there by making it about that simple job to be done.

Asia Matos: From a website perspective, in the earlier example, the job to be done, with the Socratic method, the job to be done was really about, we need to be able to publish effortlessly quick and without taxing other teams. That is the job to be done. And that alone can be part of the hard conversation that you have and still convince and influence others. And not offending at all the other person. Because it's about the job. It's not about your deep dark secret emotional thing, which in my case, about the rebrand, totally was emotional. And then immediately was not. But yes. Jobs to be done, it works in many different use cases, which I'm a big fan of.

Asia Matos: Okay so, reinforcing the common enemy. I was, when I was looking for gifs for this slide, I was gonna use Mars Attacks, and then I was like, do people know what that is? So instead I just used Arnold Schwarzenegger. Crush your enemies. You're all in this business together and you all have one common enemy and ultimately you all together have really the same threats. If you think about the team aspect, and I know that sounds super fluffy. But you do have a common enemy.

Asia Matos: In the website example, if you're not able to publish content to the website as fast as you need to or as efficiently or effectively, you're ultimately saying, okay competitors, you guys obviously have it figured out so you can just come in and crush us because you're able to do it way faster. The common enemy here is speed. And being able to act as quickly as possible with the website example. So, there are two things that you can say. We're really up against speed and time here, that's the common enemy, both are finite unless we can figure something out. And we can figure out a way to fix speed because you can't fix time, right?

Asia Matos: So, that's a way that you can also reveal a conversation in a light that allows you both to unite against the same thing because ultimately any kind of yeses that you can create between the two, that's gonna help you drive the point across and again stand your ground.

Asia Matos: All right. So, final tidbit, and I think that this is probably one of the most important lessons as well is to check thine own ego. Which is, when you are wrong, admit it and quickly. Dale Carnegie talks a lot about the speed at which things happen. And one of the things he says is that when you're wrong, you should admit it and very fast and be very clear and up front about this. A lot of people dance around being wrong and they'll say things like, "Yeah, well that probably wasn't the best decision," instead of owning it and saying, "I did not make the best decisions." It's a night and day difference and even just saying and doing that can again help you win whenever you are trying to have, I say win lightly, but it will help you ultimately create the right impression with other teams. Because again you're not trying to make enemies here, you're all in this together. And hopefully you like the people that you're working with. That should be a thing. But especially when you're wrong, if you wanna win people, it's going to be by admitting it very very fast.

Claire: You're so right about that. There's nothing, nah, nothing is an exaggeration, but it is incredibly frustrating when you've been on the opposite side of a disagreement with someone and then, their decision moves forward and then it doesn't go well. And then they never own up to that. People remember that. So, I think this gets overlooked because nobody likes to be wrong. But I'm glad that you added this on as a final tidbit.

Asia Matos: Yeah. It reminds me of a quote, and actually, I don't really know who said this. It says that Maya Angelou says it, but it also credits it to someone else. But it's, people rarely ever remember what you said, but they do remember how you made them feel. And that, when you admit that you're wrong about something, and fast, that gives people the good feels for sure.

Claire: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gia: Especially when you're in a leadership role too. Admitting that you're wrong to your team can give them also the freedom or maybe relief that they could also admit when they're wrong. It just creates an environment that is more sort of accepting of mess ups. Luckily though, at startups, fails and failures are luckily not something that people would lie about or maybe hide. Failing is quite popular at start ups. But then like, interpersonal relationships, this is probably a little more complicated, but when you make a fail on a product side, it's like, failure is celebrated. But I guess in interpersonal relationships it's definitely ...

Asia Matos: Probably less so.Gia: A little additional layers there. Yeah. I love it though. So good.

Asia Matos: Awesome. Well, that was everything. Please reach out to me on Twitter and, for me, I'm all about, I'm always on Twitter. But also I'm all about having very real conversations. So if you have a question, if there is something that you're trying to navigate, please don't hesitate to reach out, DM me, [inaudible 00:50:02] into my DMs. Please. And that, I mean I really hope that this was valuable and that you really got something super actionable out about this. And that you can employ this is your everyday life, career, and really everything if I'm being honest. Life lessons here. Gia: 110%. PS one of the best books ever. Dale Carnegie's book. I love that you use it here. Yeah this is the kind of thing too that, again, so transferrable from any job, even as a human, it's transferable to your personal life, but obviously to your work life. It's too easy to be like, "Well that sucks." Or, "That conversation sucked." Or, "Well this jobs sucks." Or, "My boss sucks." Or whatever. And you just sort of cough it up to like, it's them not me kind of thing. You don't take responsibility for fixing it or looking at yourself and how you might be contributing to the problem. I love how deliberate you or, or how all these ideas are in addressing the problem, being proactive about this stuff.

Gia: Too many people are like, well that was just bad and okay, I have an email I've gotta respond to and they're just onto the next thing rather than being like, "Okay, how am I gonna fix this?" Because it can go such a long way. Especially if you either have your eye on a leadership role or want to move up within the company, your human ability or your ability to connect on a human level with your coworkers is, like you said at the beginning of this, it's way more important at the end of the day than the skill set you bring to the company when you first come. So, I love it. Thank you so much. Yeah.

Gia: Thank you very much also for offering yourself up on Twitter so if anyone has questions, please find Asia on Twitter and ask and thanks everybody also for taking time out of your day and joining us and we'll see you guys next time. Bye.

Asia Matos: Bye everyone.

Claire: Bye.

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Asia Matos Orangio

Asia founded her consultancy, DemandMaven, with one goal in mind: to help founders of early-stage SaaS companies & startups build their marketing engine and get their first 100 customers. Asia’s areas of expertise include running paid advertising campaigns, optimizing marketing websites, and creating onboarding flows to attract the right visitors, keep trials coming in, and create insanely happy customers.

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