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Episode 3: Mori Taheripour: Humanity in Business



"Worthy Words" podcast, aimed at enhancing listeners' communication and leadership skills, featured a discussion between hosts Stef Tschida, Agostino Renna, and guest Mori Taheripour, a negotiation educator and author.


The episode revolved around the significance of human, non-robotic interactions in business, and the role of empathy and connection in negotiation and communication. The hosts and guest shared personal anecdotes about their lives in Washington D.C., Minnesota, and Zurich.


They also advocated for battling imposter syndrome, promoting supportive environments, practicing mindful listening, and limiting reliance on technology to improve workplace communication. The importance of understanding the audience was also discussed along with the role of emotional intelligence and empathy in business and leadership.


The episode ended with advice on becoming effective communicators and fostering non-judgmental learning.


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Transcript of Today's Episode

Agostino Renna  

Welcome to Worthy Words, a podcast for people who recognize that being a great communicator is a requirement for being a great leader.

 

Stef Tschida

Communication and other so-called soft skills are finally being recognized as the absolute behavioral must haves that allow you to engage, empower, and inspire anyone you have the privilege of affecting. Ready to level up your leadership by becoming a better communicator? We're glad you're here.

 

Agostino Renna  

Welcome to Worthy Words. We are your hosts. She is Stef Tschida, a communications expert who has counseled executives across multiple industries on how to communicate proactively and intentionally.

 

Stef Tschida

And he's Agostino Renna, a senior executive in an international publicly listed company who understands the critical importance of culture and communication. The focus for today's episode is on bringing humanity into business. For a plethora of reasons, this is finally a topic of conversation and a genuine focus for many organizations that understand that impersonal robotic ways of behaving in the workplace, just don’t cut it anymore.


In fact, they never really did. Did they? We are so thrilled to have Mori Taheripour as our guest today. Mori teaches negotiation at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, is a sought-after speaker, is the author of “Bring Yourself: How to Negotiate Fearlessly”. And if you're wondering what negotiation could possibly have to do with humanity, you are in for a real treat today. Mori is going to help us understand how humanity and connection are the foundational building blocks of negotiation, communication, and business. And really all of life. I must add that Mori is also a teacher in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program, which is where I had the great privilege of meeting her and learning from her. More on that later. For now, Mori, welcome to the show.

 

Mori Taheripour  

Thank you. So excited to be here for this conversation.

 

Agostino Renna  

All right. Well, let's go ahead and kick off. Mori, we can't wait to get to all of your insights on bringing more humanity. And I think it's a very intriguing topic, right? Bringing humanity into all aspects of business. We actually start each of these podcasts with a little bit of a short exercise designed to bring humanity into this podcast and probably a fitting way to kick us off today. And we know that, you know, one of the governing hypotheses is that work happens between

humans and humans also happen to have lives outside of what they do for a living. So that's why we kick off each conversation with a quick get to know. So let's get started. Mori, where do you live? And what's your favorite thing about where you live?

 

Mori Taheripour  

So, I live in Washington DC. It's a beautiful city, like it's the nation's capital. It's gorgeous. There's a lot of history here. But honestly, I travel so much for work, that one of my favorite things about Washington is that we have three airports and a train station. So I can get out of DC quite easily and to get anywhere I need to go.

So, it sort of alleviates the stress of travel. And I hate for that, to be the reason why I love DC, is that I can get out of it quickly, but it really does make life for me much easier because I travel so much.

 

Agostino Renna  

Yeah, I know. That's terrific! Stef, what about you?

 

Stef Tschida

Yeah, I live in Minnesota just about an hour outside of Minneapolis. And what I love about this place is just the lakes. So we don't get to enjoy them all year round or, if I know I'm not a big winter person, so I guess you could enjoy them all year round. But that summertime period of being out on, on the water is just the best thing ever. Agostino, how about you?

 

 

Agostino Renna  

Yeah. So I live in Zurich Switzerland, believe it or not. And I'd probably say that my favorite thing about Switzerland is the landscapes. If you're a fan of the outdoors, we just have the privilege of living in a place that has some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world. Maybe my second favorite thing is somewhat stereotypical but somewhat accurate as well.

Everything here just works. Like it really works. It's reliable, it's precise, it's everything you would ever imagine about Switzerland. So it's a pretty amazing place actually. 


Stef Tschida

So Agostino, I'm curious to hear about this from Mori too because she's talking about going all over the place traveling. But to start Agostino, where's the last place you visited? And what brought you there?

 

Agostino Renna  

Oh, boy. That's a funny question. I, because I travel a lot for work. Probably not dissimilar to Mori. Last year, in fact, I traveled probably 40 plus weeks out of 52. But my most recent destination was Brussels, Belgium. I went there for a work-related meeting and I have a couple of interesting ones coming up. So I'll be in Turkey, China and India over the course of the next six weeks or so. So I spend a lot of time in a lot of, a lot of different places. Yeah, but Brussels was my last destination.

 

Stef Tschida

Awesome! Mori, how about you? What's your, what was the last place you visited?

 

Mori Taheripour  

Well, outside of the US, early, actually mid-December, my family and I, we went to Cabo, Mexico. And we used to go there a lot with the family, and then my nephews went to college, and then everybody's vacations were, you know, timed differently. So this was the first time in a while that I've been back and it was much needed after a really rough 2023. So it sort of capped off the year with a little bit of R and R, which was by the way, soon forgotten as soon as I got back to the US and started working again. But for that moment, it was really magical is that, it was great both to be with family and two, to just, just lay back and enjoy and not have to be traveling for work necessarily. 

 

Agostino Renna  

Really good. Stef, how about you? What was the last location?

 

Stef Tschida

Not super exotic, but I was in Tucson, Arizona last weekend doing some hiking and some yoga with a friend. And it was just a nice way to get out of the Minnesota cold in January. So it was recent. And I feel the same way, Mori, it was nice while it lasted in three days home. Now I'm like, oh, that feels like a distant memory too. 


Agostino Renna  

Well, slightly warmer than Minnesota for sure, Stef, hopefully!

 

Stef Tschida

Yes!


Agostino Renna  

So look now that everyone kind of understands a little bit about the humans that are on this call. Let's just go ahead and begin. Mori, as we look at sort of the macro theme of humanity and business, during today's episode, we wanted your wisdom because your career these days I think is focused on teaching negotiation. But in what I would characterize to be a little bit of a different way than many might think. You also red line or redefine the entire concept for many of us saying that we're always negotiating, right? Whether we realize it or not, I think there's an excerpt in your book that says it best meaning “negotiation is decision making, communication and critical thinking”. So in essence, it's light, right? So we're always sort of negotiating everywhere we are and more humanity probably required in that connection.

So I imagine that means a lot to the way you would consider doing business. So share more about this, this whole space around humanity meets negotiation because I think it's sort of your life's passion, if I understand correctly?

 

Mori Taheripour  

It is my life's passion and I think that a found passion need I say, but it's really interesting to teach a class that I think is so important and yet, and I think people recognize that, but they come into the class, really afraid of the subject, right? They have sort of all this anxiety around negotiations. And so the way that I approach it is to try to get people to sort of feel more comfortable and more relaxed in it.


And I think often times people have that anxiety because they do look at this from like a win lose perspective or they associate it with things like conflict or really transactional conversations that don't have much humanity in it. Right? It's really sort of black and white. And my thoughts around negotiations is look, this is where we find our voice.

This is where we get to express ourselves. This is where we can stand up for things that are important to us, or this is where we can find collaborative opportunities. It's part of business, it's part of life. And so the reason I approach it, the way I do is because I fundamentally believe that everybody is actually a much better negotiator than they think they are.

They are because they've been doing it their entire life and they do it almost every day. And so if I can sort of help lift that level of anxiety and really stress to people that this is, one, something that you do, you readily do and don't even realize that you're doing, you're much better at it than you think you are. There's a place for everybody in negotiations, every personality type, every approach, but that it's not black and white. That it's not transactional, but it's really

this sort of very elegant dance between two people or three people. Or, you know, it allows you to sort of think inward bring yourself sort of to the forefront of your decision making and give yourself a platform. Where like I said earlier, really have a place in this process of decision making and problem solving. So it's through empowerment. And I think it's really important that, you know, we all think about negotiations that way because it is so important.

So rather than thinking we're not good at it or rather being afraid of it, I rather people have a sense of enjoyment, dare I say enjoyment around it and, and they really embrace it as something that they're actually pretty good at.

 

Agostino Renna  

You're spot on. The other, just quick reflection, is that I think I always say that business is more, it is about people

first and company second in that order. And so to understand how to be good at business, you need to understand how to be good at people. And an interesting anecdote which originates in the space that I operate in. But in our industry right now, we're having a lot of conversations about hybrid work. OK. It's like the big hot topic because obviously we manage workplaces and workplaces are becoming less and less populated by virtue of the fact that people that wanna work from

home. And there's a ton of tension in the system that employers generally want kind of their people in the office and employees basically want more flexibility and autonomy. And those companies, my observation has been, those companies that line in a good place on this discussion are those that realize that this is first and foremost, a human issue before it is a business issue. And it's the reason it's so emotive. So I support everything you said. I think if we looked at this item, for example, through the lens of humanity and have that lead the way on the decisions and the discussions. I think we land in a much different place because short of that, it just becomes, “I want to win and you need to lose” and people are talking past each other, right? 

 


Stef Tschida

Yeah, exactly.One of my favorite statements from your book, Mori, is “negotiation is how people increase their capacity for empathy”. And Agostino, thinking about what you were just describing. How do you have empathy for, you know, employees that need to come back into the office or whatever. Again, this is such a new idea for so many of us connecting the idea of empathy with something like negotiation.

But if we extended it to all of business, because we know we're always negotiating. What would you say about how empathy can change businesses for the better, that idea of just like, empathy is a through line?

 

Mori Taheripour  

Yeah and people define empathy differently. To me, empathy means having a real sort of extreme sense of curiosity. You know, we all have stereotypical sort of notions of people, right? We have all that we all carry biases. It's silly to think that we don't. But how do we make better decisions despite those biases, despite those stereotypes, it's that we learn about people, right?

That we, besides what sort of we may have imagined about them, upon meeting them or upon having a conversation with them or having connections to them. You start asking questions, you start really sort of seeing people for who they are and realize that everybody is different, right? No race, no gender, like the generalization sort of get us in trouble, right?

And so having empathy for someone just means that you understand them in a way that's not superficial, but that it's deep. That you, you know, when we say, you know, you learn to walk in someone's shoes means that you, you wanna see sort of situation, maybe a problem, maybe a conversation, maybe a relationship through their perspectives, given their life experience.

And so I think when we have empathy for people and rather than that sort of making up in our heads, somebody's story or their reasons for wanting to do something. If we actually just ask and come from a place of curiosity and not certainty, then I think there's a lot to learn and I think that then dissipates the conflict, then it makes maybe working around some of those things was somewhat a lot easier because you can work together to maybe create a better environment or, you know, a flexible work schedule or what have you. But we don't know. And then we assume and then we get in trouble.

 

Agostino Renna  

Yeah, it's so cool. I, and the two words that you said that really hit home with me are, “curiosity and bias”. And I think if you think about it, right, curiosity is sort of an antidote to bias to a certain extent. But, you know, for me, if I reflect even sort of on my own career in the negotiating space, it's always, and yet when you're early in your career, at least my own reflection is, I didn't quite understand this, but you later figure out that it's really the art of building

bridges, right? Designed to kind of walk both parties to an area of common ground. And, if the mission is bridge building and the destination is common ground, then there's no chance of being able to do that without empathy, without curiosity and without being devoid of bias because you have to be able to look through the other person's eyes to be able to get there.


Stef Tschida

You know, I just loved when Mori, you said, “curiosity over certainty” and how often do we assume that we are certain, we know what the other person's thinking or what they're after or whatever. And I think there's some element of just that assumption, we don't even maybe realize we're making it. And so then we're coming at the entire thing from like the wrong place and we don't even realize we did it.

 

Agostino Renna  

Look, I wanna keep tugging on this thread and get into the topic of leadership against the backdrop of everything we've discussed and you work with, you know, some really cool organizations. You help them sort of place, I think a high value on humanity, connection, empathy, et cetera. And how, in your view, are the leaders that you work with thinking about these concepts and what can sort of other leaders learn from them?


Because I think there's, when I think back to the poster child leader when I started my career, and I fast forward to my, what I see in the operating environment today, that leader is extinct. And so how do you see all of this coming together in this evolution against some of these concepts, right, empathy, humanity, et cetera in the leadership space?

 

Mori Taheripour  

Yeah. And I have the great privilege of having worked with a lot of different companies from, you know, sort of corporate to sports, lots of associations actually over the past few years, which I find really interesting as well. And I think that the organizations that I've worked with, you know, I mean, all the way from sort of obviously Goldman Sachs Foundation that we talked about earlier, that has so deeply invested in this space of small business because I really do see small business as the future. And to know that they're doing it and it's an investment, right, they're doing it from the perspective of, how do we train these companies, these business owners to be successful? And what kind of effect does that have in their communities and the economy in general? And their commitment to that? And to have me play such a big role in this education space of these entrepreneurs, to recognize the negotiations, is such a big part of what they do.


And, you know, I feel grateful for the fact that they sort of really support the way I teach it, which is all about humanity, which is all about sort of the leadership skills from a place of leading with empathy and curiosity and self-advocacy and self-care, self-love. Like, you know, I see that as being tremendous. And to really know that people are making an investment, these leaders are making an investment. And somebody who's delivering this message from a place that's not traditional sales, that's not this angle of, you know, sort of, you know, kill or be killed, right? That, sort of a really, really competitive sense of negotiations. But there's allowing a space for somebody to come in and say, “maybe if you looked at it differently, then the future would be different.”

And they made space for that and they gave me the mic and said, you know, tell our people a different perspective. And, you know, I've done that in sports, I've done that with so many different organizations. And I feel like every time I have that platform, I get the sense of hopefulness because people are saying, “Yeah, we kind of like this too though, right?”

I'm very hopeful about this. I feel like my message is a really good one. I'm very, so proud of the way I teach because I feel like it's much more exclusive that it's not the traditional way that we look at negotiations, that it's not the traditional model of negotiations. And so every time I do this for these sort of different client bases, I actually think that is true leadership because you're saying there's a space for you and we're bringing somebody in that could

say that to you, that can create that space for you.  


Stef Tschida

You mentioned the self-love and the self-care part. And I think one of the most potentially surprising ideas you share about negotiation is all of the self-work that must happen to do it well. And how negotiating with ourselves is easily the hardest stuff we'll engage in. We talk a lot about leadership on this podcast, but we haven't talked a ton about the enormous amount of self-leadership it requires to lead well. So in your work with companies around the world and across industries, how do the very best lead themselves and understand their own value and self-worth as their starting point?

 

Mori Taheripour  

It's not easy. I think this is probably the most challenging thing that I do, right? Because what's pretty consistent whether it's at sort of the undergraduate level at Wharton where I teach, or all the way up to sort of ranks of CEO’s. This notion of really battling with that sort of negative self-talk, that sort of lack of confidence, the vulnerability that is sort of persists with all these populations is sort of the great connector, right?


I talk a lot about sort of impostorism and sort of not feeling like you deserve something, even though you've worked so hard for it and here you are, you should be really shining and be so proud and yet, you know, you have this sort of voice that's in your head and what you really want to do is quiet that voice. Like that voice may never go away. Right?

That sort of quiet whisper is almost there but you want it to be just that. You want it to be something that maybe drives you and says, “No, no, no, no, no, I’m better than that.” Right? Or, “look where I am, let me celebrate this.”


And I think that the people that can actually address those things that, you know, there's no guilt or shame associated with thinking, “I have this issue. Like I battle imposter syndrome or my lack of self-confidence and whether it's childhood trauma, whether whatever it is that I've carried with me, here's an issue and I'm gonna go get help for it. Or here's an issue and I have to find some way of conquering this.” And the folks that are sort of open and you don't have to be open to the world, but really to yourself and recognize that this is something I have to address. 


Those are the most successful of, whether students, or leaders, or employees, or what have you. They are the people that say, “Yeah, I've battled this for a long time. But look, here are my tools and this is the way I address it. And this is the way I've sort of been, sort of risen above it.” And I think that that's really important, but we don't honestly create a lot of opportunities for people to be vulnerable.

Right? So, a lot, this sort of imposterism, is a very lonely space, I feel like. Nobody wants to talk about it because they don't want to, like, let out that dirty secret and, but when they do and everybody's like, “Oh, I deal with that too. Oh my God, I wish I had better tools to address it.” And then now you turn that sort of very lonely space into a place of community.


So I think that if, first of all the most successful people, I think address it, it doesn't go away, right? But it's there. But they find ways to address it and they find ways to succeed and to arise above it. If there was more open conversation around it, then I think that sense of supporting each other, learning from one another, I think can be really important. So leaders can be better leaders, they can support their sort of teams better.


But actually, I think it also allows you to maybe even let that quiet little voice be the thing that drives you and you say. “I'm better than that.” And you know, like, “Shh, I'm not hearing you,” a better but I think that's really, really, really important. 


Agostino Renna  

I mean, for me, the topic of self-leadership has always been connected to what I call congruence. And what I mean by that is like as a leader, it's difficult to ask someone to do something or behave in a certain way if you wouldn't do it yourself. And so there's this notion of alignment, I, you know, I call it a “say, do” ratio. Meaning what you say and what you do are congruent.


And in order to be able to do that, you have to have, I think a pretty accurate sense of self. Because otherwise you're just pretending all the time and that can be exhausting. Anything other than that, I think is a little bit nonsensical in that nonsense is where people become disoriented, right? As they watch and listen to their leaders.

Sometimes it's not even a strong sense of self, it's an accurate sense of self, which is a little different. And as a result of that, they can bring congruence in terms of what they say and what they do and the things they believe in and the things they expect. And I think there's a lot to be said about that kind of consistency.

 

Mori Taheripour  

Yeah. And it's, you know, sometimes that I love that accurate sense of self, sometimes that's not pretty, right? I mean, and I think we learned this during the pandemic. I mean, all the sort of, the people that we held up as examples of successful leaders didn't show up feeling like they knew all the answers. They showed up with great vulnerability and humanity.


And we're OK, sort of, you know, showing that to the people that they led, and their vulnerability didn't make them weak, their vulnerability said, “We're all in this together. This is still our vision. I think, I know, in fact, that we can get there, but I'm scared too. But we're gonna get there because I have confidence in us as a team, or I have this vision that I think we can all buy-in to and get there. It's not easy right now, but we're gonna find a way.”


I think that's really important. I think that old sense of, you know, that what we defined as leadership, I think has changed tremendously and people who aren't on board yet, need to get on board. Because people, this younger generation especially, gravitate towards that model. And I think it's a new day, right? And unfortunately, something really awful like the pandemic had to happen. I think for people to recognize that it's changed the workforce, it's changed the way people make choices about where they are, and where they work, and how that has to mesh in order to create purpose and fulfillment. But it is a new day. And I'm thinking that, that recognition is coming, and it opens doors for actually greater diversity and leadership, right? There's, you know, more women, more people of color. I'm hoping that we learn to define success differently, in leadership.

 

Stef Tschida

Yeah. So our final kind of landing the plane in our conversation is getting into the communication side of things. So this podcast is all about how critical communication skills are to effective leadership. And, you know, I'm a professional communicator. One of the first rules of communication is to know your audience. I have just the shortest story here.

But Mori, the reason we wanted you to come talk to us today and probably the most impressive example I've ever seen in my 20 years in communication of “knowing your audience,” wasn’t while I was doing actual communications work. It was while I was sitting in your class, in New York City, last spring in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small businesses program.

So just to paint a picture for everybody, you were teaching in front of a room of a few 100 business owners that day and you were doing a few 100 more the next day. Yet, somehow in the course of our short time together, you made it clear that you actually knew your audience. You had studied our names, our faces, our businesses, where we were from, and you were effortlessly integrating all of that, into your interactions with the group.


How you did this, I don't even claim to remotely understand, but honestly, more than that sheer effort that you obviously put in to achieve it. What was left with the group was, how it made us feel. Many in the group were remote, rural kinds of people. We run decidedly small businesses that would seem inconsequential to so many people. But someone of your stature took the time to know us and it was truly unforgettable for me, and it was what everybody was talking about the entire week after your class. And it does show me that you truly practice what you preach about connection and humanity in such an authentic and incredible way. 


So, is there anything you'd like to share about why you do this? And honestly, how the heck did you do that?

 

Mori Taheripour  

It's making me actually, really emotional hearing it from you because I'm glad it works. I love to know who's going to be sitting in front of me. I think it makes me a better instructor because it's not one size fits all. You know, to give me a perspective of who's it, who's there, what their experience is, where they come from. I can sort of direct what I'm saying in a way that is more pertinent to the audience.

So that is the know your audience piece. But boy, I just, I'm so grateful for all the people that I get to know and meet. It's such a, well, I don't know why I'm getting so emotional, but it’s such a sense of great privilege and whether it’s my students at Wharton and how incredibly amazing I think they are and where they’ve come from and what they’ve experienced and the richness of this sort of their lives.

And for me to feel like I have a place in it, for four months, or three hours is not something I take lightly. And so I think it makes me better in the delivery of the information, but I also want to sort of express that I’m so grateful in this moment, that I'm so grateful for what I get to do every day. And I think that when you see people, when you really see people and you invest in them in a way that makes a difference, in a way that says, “You know, you may not feel like you were seen in this world, but I see you and I know exactly what you're going through because I've sort of learned all this stuff about you.” Or, “Wow, I wish I knew more about you.” And this is the great opportunity for me to do that. I don't know. I just feel like it's really important. It's sort of become, the way that I work, the way that I learn, the way that I think I get better. And yeah, I do because I enjoy it. It's hard work. 


Now, mind you, I don't remember anything else. So, you know, I leave my keys in my door. I, you know, forget all kinds of things. Where I left my, you know, air buds. You know, there's no, my brain is sort of filled with people and places. But, I love it and I think that it's this great story that keeps getting written for me every time I teach and every time I walk through the doors of a classroom and it's pretty amazing.

 

Agostino Renna  

So you just gave us a master class on communicating and communicating with passion, communicating with intent and with emotion. So, thank you for that. We're indebted to you. I guess, maybe just the wrap up question here, is for anyone who's listening. If you had to give them one short piece of advice on how to become better communicators, whether it's in negotiation, in business, in life and relationships, one small piece of advice. What would that be?

 

Mori Taheripour  

Learn. Don't judge. 


Agostino Renna  

I love it. 


Mori Taheripour  

You know, learn, don't judge. You may not like what you learned, but learn, don't judge. And you know, I just wish there was more of that these days. I wish that we wouldn't make up our minds about people so quickly and you know, the opportunity to again become better because somebody always has something to offer us. That sort of little nugget of information is pretty incredible. So have the humility. Learn. Don’t judge.

 

Agostino Renna  

Fantastic!


Stef Tschida

That’s amazing! Mori, thank you so much for taking your time to talk to us today about humanity and business. You're such an incredible role model for us and countless others on how to do this well and how it can change business. And I would say even the world! And if any of our listeners are in doubt about that, go read the last chapter of Mori's book on her thoughts about how negotiation can save democracy and you will be convinced of how this can save the world! If you want to continue benefiting from Mori's amazing expertise, follow her on LinkedIn, or Instagram, or visit her website. And as always, you can also connect with Agostino and me on LinkedIn. We’d love to keep the conversation going with everyone out there about humanity and business.

 

Agostino Renna  

Yeah. And finally, please stay tuned for our next podcast in this limited series. And we'll share more lessons from effective leaders on communication and a whole bunch of other interesting topics. So be sure to subscribe to this podcast, wherever you listen and don’t miss a single episode. 

 

Stef Tschida

Until next time, lead and communicate well.

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