Ep 176 – The Lost Art of Connecting with Susan McPherson

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How can we reverse the growing trends of disconnection to forge meaningful connections in business and life? In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Kristin and Darren are joined by Susan McPherson, author of The Lost Art of Connecting: The Gather, Ask, Do Method for Building Meaningful Business Relationships. Susan discusses the difference between connecting and networking, going from FOMO to JOMO, the importance of being a good listener, and how technology plays a role in deeper connections.

Author Bio: 

Susan McPherson is a serial connector, angel investor, and corporate responsibility expert. She is the founder and CEO of McPherson Strategies, a communications consultancy focused on the intersection of brands and social impact. Susan is part of the year’s 50 over 50: Impact list curated by Forbes magazine.

She is the author of The Lost Art of Connecting: The Gather, Ask, Do Method for Building Meaningful Business Relationships (McGraw-Hill). Susan has 25+ years of experience in marketing, public relations, and sustainability communications, speaking regularly at industry events including Inspirefest/Dublin, BSR, Center for Corporate Citizenship’s Annual Summit, DLD, and Techonomy. She has appeared on NPR, CNN, USA Today, the New Yorker, New York magazine, and the LA Times, and contributed to the Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Forbes.


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Full Transcript: 

0:00:00.2 Speaker 1: The Elements Massage brand believes massage therapists deserve a supportive team, business and marketing resources, linens, lotions, and the chance to learn as much as they want, so many Elements Massage studios offer continuing education too. What's better? They're hiring. To get your foot in the door, let them know we sent you by visiting ElementsMassage.com/ABMP. That's ElementsMassage.com/ABMP.


0:00:41.4 Darin Buford: I'm Darin Buford.

0:00:42.4 Kristin Coverly: And I'm Kristin Coverly.

0:00:44.0 DB: And welcome to the ABMP Podcast, a podcast where we speak with the massage and bodywork profession. Our guest today is Susan McPherson. Susan is a serial connector, angel investor, and corporate responsibility expert. She is the founder and CEO of McPherson Strategies, a communications consultancy focused on the intersection of brands and social impact. Susan is part of this year's 50 Over 50 impact list, curated by Forbes Magazine, and she is the author of The Lost Art of Connecting: The Gather, Ask, Do Method for Building Meaningful Relationships. For more information, visit MCPStrategies.com. Hello, Susan. Hello, Kristin.

0:01:22.5 Susan McPherson: Hello. Lovely to be here.

0:01:26.9 KC: It's so lovely to have you here, thanks for being with us. I'm really excited, Susan, to talk to you today and see how we can take these concepts that normally apply to bigger corporations and really bring them into focus to see how our sole proprietor massage therapists can use them in their own businesses. So, thank you so much for being here. We're very excited. Let's jump right in. You write in your book that you grew up thinking that connecting with people regularly was a natural occurrence, in many ways because your parents were natural connectors. So how did this idea become so central to who you are?

0:02:03.0 SM: Well, honestly, every single morning at the breakfast table, and I'm not exaggerating, I would literally vie for real estate for my bowl of cereal or my cinnamon toast, because my parents would have the five local newspapers. There used to be many local newspapers, by the way, for those of us of age. The yesterday's New York Times and the day before's Boston Globe. And they would be clipping and cutting and then going to their respective typewriters typing up short little missives, and then sticking the missives and the clips into envelopes and then putting out into the postal mail. So they kept the US Postal Service well in business, but I just assumed everybody's parents did that. I am grateful though that they embedded in me a real sense of the fact that every single person, no matter who they are, where they came from, their religious or social background, or what job they held, would believe that that person was deserved of attention, curiosity, compassion, and kindness. And that I think was even more importantly embedded in me than the notion of connection as a super power.

0:03:11.5 DB: Susan, what role do you think technology plays when it comes to connection and creating a community around us?

0:03:17.5 SM: Well, they used the technology they had at the time, right? The rotary phone, we didn't even have a push-button phone. And the manual typewriter. And I'll just tell you a side note, my father was a professor for close to 40 years, and he retired in '93, and my siblings and I gave him a computer as a retirement gift, and he put a sheet over it. He, until he passed in 2008, was still using his manual typewriter. But I do believe technology has played... It's a bitter sweet role, right? There's a ton of good. And certainly during this pandemic, it has been a gift to be able to see people who aren't in the same room, right? Can you imagine if we hadn't have had video technology. But I think with the advent of the immediacy of technology, what has become less likely is the intentionality, the thoughtfulness that used to go into when you would pen an actual real letter or you would make a phone call. 'Cause it's so much easier just to zap out a tweet, or send a text, or even send an email and not think about what you're putting in that email.

0:04:25.5 SM: So it has it's goods and bads. Where a positive is, you can connect with anyone on the planet. I mean, that is something that is worthy of magic when you think about it.

0:04:37.7 KC: I'm curious, Susan, what advice do you have for us who need to use technology to communicate? How can we bring that intentionality into play using our current technology?

0:04:49.5 SM: Sure. Well, I would find one or two platforms that you feel the most affinity towards. I also, when I meet people, I often ask what is their mode of communication that they want to be corresponding in. Because, oftentimes, if you are trying to build a relationship or a rapport with someone, whether you're trying to build a business with them or sell them something or just be supportive of them, if you're communicating in the mode that they tend to live in, your chances of making it successful goes up exponentially. But I think in terms of the social platforms that we have... And every few years there's new ones, so I suggest people keep open to new, right? I'm sitting here trying to teach myself TikTok. Good luck to that. But I think instead of trying to know all of them is find one or two that you feel comfortable with, because we know when you're comfortable with something you're much more likely to use it.

0:05:46.3 KC: Absolutely. Susan, you have a great twist on networking, saying that we should strive to create a constellation of relationships. What does that look like, and how does that differ from what we might think of as a traditional networking model or method?

0:06:01.2 SM: Well, I have found in my lifetime, and maybe just because I'm getting older, I just turned 57, the communities and connections that I have built over my lifetime have overlap, and they are interchangeable. And when connections are made, stories come to life. I like to think of them as tapestries of stories, if that makes sense. And if you look back into antiquity, when people would look up into the sky, they actually to make sense of it all, created stories and they assigned the patterns they saw into various Greek gods and tales that we've learned as we've grown up. Now, I'll be honest with you, when I look up in the sky, the only one I ever see is the Big Dipper, but that's beside the point.

0:06:52.2 SM: But when I think about this is when you do the pleasure of introducing people or connecting people, you can't even begin to think of the impact you're gonna have because the stories that will come, that will unfold because of those people, the two or three or four, is... We can't even begin to guess what's gonna happen. And that's what I think when they looked up at the sky, they were creating, making sense out of what they were seeing.

0:07:16.2 DB: Susan, can you explain the premise of your book, the gather, ask, and do method?

0:07:23.2 SM: Sure, of course. The book is a business book, so I was told that the only way it would get published is if I had a methodology. So I had to really think about how have I made so many zillions of connections all my life. And I really did some soul searching, and the gather, ask, do is that very methodology that I have used for many, many years. And I will give you kind of a 30,000-foot view, 'cause I don't want your listeners to fall asleep. And, of course, if they wanna get more information, they can certainly read the book. But in the gather section is when you do a bit of self-audit and self-reflection and really think about what your goals are over the next one year, three years, and think very intentionally, who do you want to connect with and/or reconnect with, dormant contacts, connections, old friends, old colleagues, that could help you meet your goals, but also how could you be helpful to them?

0:08:21.2 SM: Also in the gather phase, you think about what are your super powers? And it's interesting, through this journey after publishing it, I get a lot of questions from people who are just out of college or approaching a retirement that say, "Wait, I don't have any super powers." But I will fight you to the end that every single one of us has, and they will ebb and flow. Also during the gather phase, you really think about how am I going to break that hermetically-sealed bubble that so many of us live in, myself included, where we tend to attract and hang out with people that look like us, sound like us, the same age as us, the same sex as us, the same race and cultural background as us. And I love the old proverb that says, "After all, if a gold fish doesn't break outside of her bowl, she never sees her water." I think there's something to be said, we learn so much more, we meet people, and we connect with people who aren't just like ourselves.

0:09:19.9 SM: So that's very much the gather phase. The ask phase is learning to ask the meaningful questions of others so that you can learn what their hopes and dreams are, and what they hope to aspire to do, because after all, one of the themes that runs through the entire book is the notion of pivoting networking as we have grown up thinking about it. Instead of, what can I get, what's in it for me, it's how can I be helpful? So in order to be helpful to others, you have to be able to ask them the questions to learn. And lastly, in the do phase is where you take all of that feedback you've received from the person and you become reliable, responsible, trustworthy, because you follow through on the things you said you might be able to do to be helpful to them.

0:10:07.7 DB: So Susan, I have to ask, what's your super power?

0:10:10.4 SM: You know the answer to that question.


0:10:13.0 KC: Starts with the letter C.


0:10:15.2 SM: It's connecting. And I have a funny little story. In 2007, I was in my mid-40s, and I went with several other girlfriends to go for a weekend get away up in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. And the goal of that weekend was to really articulate our elevator speeches, or kind of our 30-second who we were. And it was that weekend that I finally got the guts to say, "Hi, I'm Susan McPherson, and I'm a serial connector." I almost peed my pants after I said that. [laughter] It sounded so bloody ridiculous. But then 16 years later, I wrote the book on it.

0:10:54.9 KC: And what I really like, Susan, the way you just described the gather, ask, do method, it seems very shall I say doable for anyone. So I'm thinking of our sole proprietor massage therapists out there creating their businesses and connecting with one client at a time. It feels like that can absolutely apply to what they do, right?

0:11:17.5 SM: Absolutely. My company I founded at 48, and about 90% of our business now over eight years has been in-bound. And I credit that with literally making meaningful connections starting in my 20s with no idea that I was eventually gonna run a company. And I'm sure there's many listeners who started their massage therapy business later, perhaps as a second career or a third career. And so it doesn't mean you can't go back to connections that you made, but you'll have a much better chance of going back to people if you were first likely to actually be helpful to them in the first place, right? Now, I'm not saying don't give up and, "Sorry, it's not gonna work." But I meant, for people who are just starting out in their career or early in their career, there is a methodology to the madness. When I'm asked by people, "What's the point?" There's only good that can come from being supportive of others. And I'm not suggesting we don't take the oxygen mask first and help ourselves. This is very much about... Remember in gather, you're doing a self-reflection first. But there's nothing that is going to be negative about leading with being helpful.

0:12:31.3 KC: And that's what we as massage therapists love to do. That's in our DNA. So that's perfect.

0:12:36.7 DB: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors.

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0:13:13.0 DB: Now, let's get back to the podcast.

0:13:16.7 KC: Okay, Susan, you talk about going from FOMO to JOMO, J-O-M-O. What does that mean? Tell us more about that.

0:13:24.3 SM: We all had FOMO, probably, and I certainly did, in high school when I would come back on Mondays after a weekend and hear about all the parties I didn't get invited to. And then fast forward to modern day with Instagram and actually seeing the parties in real time that you are not at. Although, those have been a little off the table for the pandemic. But in the early 90s, when I was running a sales territory, I was in a situation where I couldn't get meetings. The company I worked for was the underdog, and nobody knew who we were, so when I would make calls, I wouldn't get the meeting, I wouldn't get invited to luncheons or anything. So what I started to do, I picked the four people that I actually knew in the profession, and we got together for... We called it a coffee clutch. And we had so much fun, we decided, well, in two weeks, or maybe it was four weeks at at this point in time, bring one other person or bring two people. And within six months, we had about 80 people that would routinely get together.

0:14:29.2 SM: So what I learned from that is to flip fear of missing out, FOMO, not into Joy of Missing Out, but the joy of meeting others. And I have carried that with me, and I do believe when we are fearful of being a host, we don't have to do all the inviting. This is where you can, by taking it on and saying, "I'm gonna gather these people," you're being a connector, you're bridging people together, but you don't have to be the one that is inviting those 80 people. So that is what I have continued to do for years to come, and it's worked out quite wonderfully. And the beautiful thing is is you can gather people based on discussing massage therapy, right? I mean, it doesn't have to... You can have it based on your love of tomato soup. I don't know why I just thought of tomato soup, but it does sound good, doesn't it?

0:15:22.4 KC: It does.

0:15:24.1 DB: It does, absolutely. Susan, we were just talking about first asking, "How can I help you", not, "How can this person help me?" And why is that approach so important, and how can we be more intentional about it?

0:15:38.1 SM: Well, I think when you're... You have to be authentic, right? If you're gonna be offering up help to people, you have to understand how you can be helpful, right? And this is where it's so important to figure out what your super powers are. But I believe when you offer up help to others, you are showing up in a far more humane fashion, as long as it's genuine. It basically says, "I see you, I'm gonna listen to you, and I care about you." And I think we could use a little bit more of that in the world.

0:16:10.0 KC: Susan, one of the critical aspects to building relationships, you say, is being a good listener. What tips do you have for us to improve those skills?

0:16:18.8 SM: Well, I learned how woefully bad I was at listening in the research I did for the book, and I spent a good deal of time listening to Dr. Julian Treasure's TED talks, and then I spoke with him. And I realized that one of my issues, not to mention all the other issues that we've had during the pandemic where you'd be in a Zoom room and you'd have your email running and your text running and your kids at your feet and your dogs running and whatever else, so good luck trying to listen. But one of the things I learned that I was woefully bad at was the fact that I would do anticipatory listening, meaning I would be so busy thinking about how was I gonna be helpful or try to help that I wasn't paying attention to what the person was saying. So a couple of things that I have learned to do. One, I always have a note pad with me, and if I don't, I use the notes function on my phone.

0:17:06.6 SM: Two, maybe it might be age, but I no longer am afraid to say, "Woah, woah, woah, can you repeat that? I missed it, because I was thinking about the pizza or the tomato soup," now that we're on tomato soup, "That I am craving." So in other words, I think it's be up front, don't be afraid to take notes, repeat things back. I think that's an all old one we've learned. But I would also recommend to your audience, the TED talks are exceptional and really give you lots of tips to be a better listener.

0:17:39.9 DB: I totally agree with what Susan was saying, because I catch myself all the time... What was your phrasing? Anticipating al... I'm actually creating my answer while someone is speaking. I either do that or I'm daydreaming about this magical thing that's gonna happen in the meantime.


0:17:58.4 SM: I think as long as we make a conscious effort to be better. And it's hard, I'm not suggesting... We have so many distractions in our lives, and I don't think those are going anywhere. But I do think if you catch yourself, it's okay to tell the person that you missed what they were saying instead of pretending that you heard it and then afterwards... Because I find when you get to the do phase, when you can follow up and rewind something of something someone said, it's a wonderful gift because it shows that you were paying attention, that you cared enough to pay attention.

0:18:32.7 DB: Susan, we're still in our global pandemic right now, and that created us and caused us to be physically apart. With a situation like that, how can we create meaningful relationships?

0:18:45.6 SM: Well, that's where that intentionality comes in. And I have thought that through this summer, this is the time to think very thoughtfully about what are our goals, what do we hope to accomplish now that we have realized what it's like to be without our connections close in hand. So it is a good time to bring out that proverbial Rolodex or whatever platform you use, and think about who do you wanna reconnect with, and use the damn pandemic as a means or a reason that you've lost touch, right? Let's just squeeze it dry for all it's worth, right? And use technology where it's comfortable.

0:19:23.1 SM: I'm certainly not suggesting to give up the picking up the phone, although you know what, the phone is technology. But I do think it's a good time to reach out and also think intentionally about who it is that you want to meet that are gonna not only help you meet your goals, but that you can be helpful to.

0:19:40.7 KC: Susan, I'm sure a lot of listeners are really relating to everything you're saying, but then the breaks go on because they think, "I'm an introvert. The idea of networking is scary to me." What tips and advice do you have for them to overcome that?

0:19:54.8 SM: There's a reason I call the book The Lost Art of Connecting and not The Lost Art of Networking. I am not anti-networking by any stretch of the imagination. We will eventually go back and be back into those functions where we're shaking, maybe not shaking, people's hands. But connecting is more one-on-one, it's a more deep and meaningful relationship. I also think, given what I shared about the methodology is, you would be asking questions, and then guess what, you get to sit back and listen. So if you're an introvert, you may be... And again, I am far from an introvert, and I sometimes fantasize about in my next life I'll be an introvert. But I do know from the research that I've conducted and many introverts that I know that they are much happier listening. So if you can ask a few pointed questions of others, then you get to sit back.

0:20:43.5 DB: Susan, one final question. If readers were to take thing from your book, what would you hope that would be?

0:20:51.5 SM: Well, I think massage therapists will appreciate this, but actually making it a point to build meaningful connections throughout your life is going to add longevity to your time on this earth in the same way that eating kale every day and running every day will. But I think for your own health, right? And I will also just say, and I might have said this earlier, but every good thing in my life that has happened has happened because of connections, so I think when we are open and filled with curiosity about other people, only good will come from that.

0:21:27.6 DB: I wanna thank our guest today, Susan McPherson. To find out more information about Susan and her book, The Lost Art of Connecting, visit MCPStrategies.com. Thanks, Susan, and thanks, Kristin.

0:21:41.2 SM: Thank you, Darren, and thank you Kristin.

0:21:42.3 KC: Thank you, Susan, that was wonderful information that every one of us listening will be able to use in both our personal and professional lives. I appreciate it.

0:21:51.8 SM: I'm so happy. Thank you.

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