Awakin Calls » Jeannie Kahwajy » Transcript
Jeannie Kahwajy: Getting the People Part Right
Guest: Jeannie Kahwajy
Moderator: Preeta Bansal
Host: Aryae Coopersmith
Preeta: Jeannie Kahwajy Is a scholar. She is a professor. She is an executive coach. She's a relationship builder. And above all she is really a love warrior who is trying to impart and teach the attitude of love to all interactions including workplace interactions. The core her work is about learning the skill of bringing love and transformative participation into every interaction primarily in the workspace.
She believes it is possible for a single participant in an interaction to adapt behavior and alter the communication dynamic even when interacting with someone stuck in another mode. She was inspired to explore the challenge and challenge the traditional paradigm of of interactions and behavior including the well-known theory of self-fulfilling prophecy. This is a theory that states that when a teacher or other higher standing individual expects of me for better or worse will often define how I perform or behave in that interaction. The classic expression of that concept is known as the Pygmalion effect named for George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion which found popular expression in the Broadway hit My Fair Lady. I love being able to reference this because my high school graduation speech was actually about the Pygmalion effect. so I was just so fascinated to come across Jeannie’s research.
In that play, just to illustrate self-fulfilling prophecy, Eliza Doolittle explains to Mrs. Higgins. She says that the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves but how she is treated. “I shall always be a common Flower girl to Professor Higgins because he always treats me like a common flower girl and he always will. But I know that I shall always be a lady to Colonel Pickering because he always treats me like a lady and always will.”
This theory which is designed to explain the performance consequences of low expectation views the low status target as just that--a target who is powerless to affect the power dynamic within the relationship. This phenomenon combined with confirmation bias which is the concept that those with authority tend to hear and agree with people and ideas with those they agree can lead to organizational stagnation and lack of creativity because those in power see what they expect to see and what they expect to see can actually help make it happen through the facets of self-fulfilling prophecy. 22:00
So Jeannie kind of uproots all of that. She was motivated to understand how a single person especially the low target person can interrupt this negative cycle. And how that lower status target doesn't have to be a passive recipient and can push this interaction beyond this negative catch-22. And what she found in her research and what she coaches people on is that the target can actually love the higher status perceiver into behaving his or her way out of their own belief consistency trap. And she called this mode the receiving mode. It is one of receptivity, openness, and learning. It is one in which the target uses every relationship before him or her as an opportunity to learn and to love rather than to perform, do, and display. So it turns out that one person Is sufficient to initiate an upgrade and that person can always be me. Fundamentally, this is a life skill within reach of us all, relevant to improving our effectiveness in our professional as well as personal lives.
And about turning transactions back into relationship.
It's a skill that can be learned and help us achieve our full potential and help others do the same. So Jeannie’s approach is scientific, it is innovative, and it is counterintuitive. And it has achieved breakthrough results with senior executives In major corporations on six continents. Dr. Kahwajy holds multiple degrees from Stanford University, a PhD in organizational behavior and a Ph.D minor in social psychology. An MBA, and an MF in engineering economic systems with a concentration in decision style. And she also has a bachelor's in systems engineering from the University of Virginia. So an amazing person we have. I'm very excited to have this conversation. So welcome Jeannie.
Jeannie: Thank you Preeta. Wow what an introduction. I think you are ebodying the entire message both in content and how you are being when you're talking about the content. You've got that so right and complete.
Preeta: There's so much we could talk about. How are you approach interaction. How you teach about them. But I would love to start with your story, your foundational story. How did you get interested in exploring interpersonal interactions? Did the power of the human interaction discover you or did you discover it?
Jeannie: I've been given the answer to that question. People have been iterating to me over the course of many decades that this problem found you. And I think I was running away from the problem and it caught up to me. Finally, kicking and screaming, I ended up asking. It feel a deep curiosity in me when I was looking around. I grew up in a wonderful family with Lebanese origin. Both of my grandparents came from a European or Middle Eastern country. My mother's side is from Romania. My father is from Lebanon. I have siblings that are very close in age to me. And because we had so many people in the same age group and I was actually the youngest of three, that there developed in our family a real--in fact my mother used to stagger our naps so she could make sure that we each got our attention that we needed. So I guess I grew up in a democracy or in a place that democratized opportunity. So I never had in my mind that I wasn't able to have my own opinion even.
Even my grandfather, I notice how whenever he walked into a room everything seemed more important. And he wasn't doing all the things that we are typically taught in how you gain a person's goodwill. He would tell you exactly what he thought. And he wouldn't waste your time. And he would like him more. Somehow I was faced in my family and upbringing with behaviors that seemed extremely effective but they didn't have any of the trappings of what we would consider even political correctness or trying to convince other people.
So something as simple as I would like this, would you give it to me? Is far superior than let me give you all the reasons why you should want to give this to me. And so I guess I grew up with a dichotomy, a contrast effect, and that developed in me I think a real curiosity of paying attention and of observing what's going on in the world and what is really truly effective. And how I started was I just started to take notes. I took notes on just observing other people. Wow that really made me feel good. Or this didn't make me feel good. I guess I was just a journalist really. Collecting all kinds of data. And then ultimately practicing it and testing it out and finding out for myself how powerful it was to adapt almost an opposite approach to what we often as a tactical strategy of trying to change others.
I grew up in Maryland and spent all of my growing up years there near Washington DC. I went to University of Virginia and then studied systems engineering there. And got very interested in what I accidentally found called decision science. And I was drawn to medical decision-making. And if we didn't get the medical decision-making right really dire consequences could follow. So I wrote my undergraduate thesis on medical diagnostic decision making. And that spawned me on to come to Stanford. I apply to one graduate program and one faculty member I wanted to work with called Ron Howard. I wrote in my essay that I wanted to work with Ron Howard. He wasn't even taking Master students as advisees. But lo and behold I ended up as his advisee. You know that biblical statement “ask and you shall receive” is quite powerful. And you better be careful what you ask for with your heart. And I think the universe will give it to you and give you more than you actually expected.
Preeta: You said you became kind of a journalist monitoring which behaviors made you feel good and which ones work. What did you find? What did you find that is magical about what was working and what wasn't? Before you got into the research of it, just as a lay observation.
Jeannie: That is a very good question. I think sometimes you learn this particular way of being not actually cognitively but just by behaving it and even not realizing what you are behaving. I remember when I was 17 I worked at this family theme park called Wild World. And one of my colleagues there was a friend of my brother's who I had known about 10 years. His name was Steve.
And he came up to me one day and said “I've been observing you for 10 years.”
And I said “Oh,really.”
And he said, “Whenever we are in a situation you seem to get things that aren't even on the menu. And the people seem happier to give it to you then you as the recipient are. I've seen you do this routinely.”
As he was trying to explain this phenomenon that he had been observing of me, I had been eating french fries and I had wanted ketchup. and I was tired and it was so far away at this big cafeteria.
And he said, “wait a minute let me get you ketchup.”
And I ran across this big cafeteria and got me the ketchup. And then he realized, “you did it to me. You did it to me.”
They were making claims that I was doing these things like a magician that didn't know she was a magician.
I also think that growing up with my wonderful siblings, I always felt even though I was the youngest one I was the middle child of 4, I think structurally I should have been overlooked. If you are a middle child, you're not the oldest or the youngest. You don't necessarily gain structural advantage just because you're in a lucky situation. so it turns out that the methods that you need to use because you are in this predicament are very different than the tactical manipulative approaches. They have to be genuine and they have to be receiving oriented really.
We had this rule in our family that when you had a piece of cake one person gets a cut the cake and the other person gets to pick which piece they want. I remember being startled that I would cut the cake and my sister would pick the smaller piece. So I had all these examples falling in my lap how things weren't supposed to work. And I was always involved in that situation. So Steve, this guy from this summer program, looked at me very sternly and said “you need to figure out what you're doing and articulate it to the world because I want to know what you're doing.”
And that one comment was probably in the back of my head and I was always in pursuit of that. And that is when I really started taking notes because Steve wanted it. Even the birth of receiving theory was invited by a receptive interaction.
Preeta: So in that ketchup story when Steve went across the cafeteria and got touch up for you, do you have any sense what you were doing that led him to do that? Was it verbal? Was it non-verbal?
Jeannie: Well, a couple of things that I think I was doing. I was being clear with what I wanted. I must have told him that I would enjoy these french fries so much more if there were ketchup here. But I didn't share with him with any kind of expectation or force or agenda for him to have to go and get it for me. I was almost offering it as: “Oh, here is what my situation has enlightened me to my desires. Let me share with you. Maybe you can help me get enough energy for myself get over there and get the ketchup.”
So it didn't have a rigid prediction on who was supposed to do what, and that has parlayed into the definition of receiving theory. Share with people what you truly want but not in a forcing way. So I could almost invitationally invite him to help solve my problem but not forcing him to do it. not even forcing him to do it or play any role or any particular role in it. It reminds me that I used to use one of the earlier Macintoshes when I was writing my dissertation. It would crash on me almost everyday. Then a box would come up that said, “You shutdown your computer wrong. You should not do that ever again.” And then it had one button and that button was “okay.” And it called itself a dialog box. I think we are having a lot of monologue that we are pretending are dialogues.
Even in the vice presidential debate, I was marveling at the fact that Tim Kaine was making statements and then saying, “Now why isn't Mike Pence answering these questions?”
And I was saying to myself in my living room, “Because they are not questions Tim. They are statements.”
I see the subtleties now. I could say something like “do you have any questions?” and really communicate “you better not have any questions for me.” Or I could say, “Do you have any questions?” And you might not see a difference at the visual level because it is almost identical words, but there is this space underneath our actions that I call the intentional space and it is like wind or gravity. And I am in control over whether I am inviting you. I'm having the wind come from you to me in terms of an invitation. Or I'm trying to push you away with a gust of wind. In one case when I'm saying, “you don't have any questions to you?” If people have questions they won't ask them because I'm not ready to receive them. And if I say, “what questions do you have question?”
I once asked, “What vision of your company do you have?” And I guy in the company said, “We don't have one, but it looks like you want one, so can you give us a couple of minutes?” These are lots of examples that were pepper through my consulting career, growing up, jobs, and friends. And I was always observing that there were two states of being. One that was effective. And one that was ineffective. And I came to this conclusion that we didn't know we had complete control over this. And so I started to figure out if I could uncover over time. When I was being most effective, I noticed that the other person was delighted and so was I. But when I was being ineffective I was really frustrated and so was the other person. So I developed and have gotten to test notions that if you win, I win and if you lose, I lose.
I grew up with a very Catholic religious upbringing. Even now when I study Luke's gospel which I think Luke was a psychologist back in the day even before Psychology was invented. You see different stories that were told in that tradition that speak out loud to me. Oh, this is telling me to be receptive to have a receptive heart. It is not what we are doing, it's how we are being. And so I was able to with the help of a lot of wonderful advisers and students and participants in my classes, I would share these notions. I would share how I developed them in a laboratory. And then I'd convert them to an application that they could try. And then I beg them to try it out and get back to me. And I was flooded with emails that would say things like “I've been working on this problem for 20 years and this worked like magic, instantaneously.” So I got fueled by the feedback that people were so generous to give to me over the years.
Preeta: Wow. Let's look at your work around those low status individuals. Let's say you are working for an auto dealership. I am the worker. I have the idea that we should be expanding to a new market. My boss consistently has rejected my idea. He doesn't think much of my contributions on the creative side. He just wants me to do what he tells me to do. So I'm having an interaction with him and it is kind of based on past interactions. It is a little dismissive on his part in terms of asking my ideas, but I really want to try and shift that dynamic. How would that work?
Jeannie: You have a focus. If I'm an employee going to my boss, I typically have this focus. I am focused on my boss changing. He has to change. And I'm judging. I don't even realize this but I am judging. And I can't be judging and receiving at the same time. There is a wonderful quote by a retired guy at Harvard, “there is no middle ground between arrogance which I believe is trying to change other people and humility which is wanting to be changed.” And so when I approach my boss. Instead of throwing my suggestion at him. I am going to play a game of throw at. I am going to offer it as a gift. and you know when you offer a gift you are curious to know what the recipient thinks of it. I can hardly wait. Tell me what you like it. Tell me what you didn't like about it. So the manner in which on either offering or throwing at is going to shift. and I can decide if I'm going to have my throwing hand ready or my catching glove ready before I even walk into the door.
What is so surprising is that I was working in an investment bank in London and I was approaching this guy who failed to comply with what I had told him to do. He wasn't my direct subordinate, but he ran the whole computer systems and an order for my program to be implemented in the investment bank his had to perform. And I started telling him what he didn't do and why he should do it. It was days when smoking was allowed. He started blowing smoke in my face. He started blowing more and more smoke in my face. And I was literally suffocating. And I had just finished business school, and I was employing all those negotiation tactics that we traditionally use that my brain actually thinks should work. He was he was giving me a very big gift. He was giving me correct feedback. So even though my brain was making logical, rational, brilliant, killer arguments, I was really killing myself as I was doing this.
So all of a sudden as I was choking, I got to the end of my unraveled rope. And in a very non sequitur way I said, “Am I really yelling at you?”
And he said, “Why yes you are.”
And I said, “Well that really surprises me. Does that surprise you?
And he said, “No.”
“How come? I want to know,” I asked.
“Well, you’ve been hanging out with all those traders over there.”
The traders I was working with were lovely people and very different people outside the trading desk, but I was actually becoming like what I was hanging around, and what the norms had become. So immediately once shifted to that, it was an instant shift. He then gave me a VIP tour of the bank and he himself delivered all of the computer systems before he went home that evening.
So I was marvelling at this. And this is right after my MBA and right before I entered my doctoral program; it was the summer in between. I know that story really influenced me when I was seeking a solution to this negative self-fulfilling prophecy effect because I saw a really brilliant ideas in brilliant people being prematurely dismissed. it's like an opportunity cost problem in economics. We would prematurely dismiss somebody's idea or we would even prevent them from even offering it. And we would never be able to learn what we missed. So it was a problem that was really hard to get correct feedback on. The only person aware of it was the person who you dismissed.
P: So I just want to get that story right. It is kind of fascinatingSo you are talking to this person who is literally blowing smoke into your face causing you to suffocate. And in the middle of that you are able to say, “Wait a minute I'm not being very effective with you and my?” Is that right? So you shifted into receiving mode with someone who was physically assaulted you with smoke.
J: Well, you enter into what I call crisis mode. And when you are in crisis mode, you are just like “help me, man, help me.” And when you are in crisis mode the person that can help us the most is the person who is offending us the most.
I think I actually learned this from the feedback. I was teaching a course in New Orleans to some senior oil executives. I was teaching with my colleague. It was an unusual situation because I thought a 3 day class. And with the same group of people is going to teach a two-day class later that week. And we typically have evaluations at the end of each course.
I got an evaluation. It was remarkable because it was so clear to me. Most of the things that come to me from the universe we're so clear. So here was a clear signal. I got all fives from people and I got one one on an evaluation. And this guy who gave me the 1 was going to be in my next class. So I was devastated. I still have a difficulty with how we evaluate classes and how we create them into judgments instead of learning arenas. I was jogging through the streets of New Orleans and it was raining even, and my lovely colleague Leo who was there he knew whether I did a good job or not, but I was still disappointed. And he looked at me and said, “Jeannie, I have a problem with how you are still perseverating over this. You have this information. You're going to see him tomorrow. You go up to him directly and ask him about it. so you really understand why he gave you this one and what he is thinking.”
I had one other person invite me to do that. That is what receiving really is, if we give people correct feedback that really fuels them. Well it turns out this guy didn't really understand something. It is trying to rationalize why he didn't understand it and he blamed it all on me. I then said well that is great to know. And it turns out that he was incorrect about what I had said but this is how I found out in the world is that we look around who can take the blame and we usually look for a very smart woman to do that. So it is very common, this gender bias, this gender problem and that became a whole new area of my research and application of this. And that deserves its own call or own book.
So I was able to get around what he was judging and I converted that judgment into what he truly wanted. I explained it to him again personally. And then you change its my grade to a 6. So the people that are criticizing us they are our teachers. So I just learned for the first time. And I could have learned this unless I did it with my own feet but what prompted me to do it with my own feet for the first time was my colleague. And he really reprimanded me. He said he had a problem with me. And I said that was brilliant.
Preeta: What do you do in a situation let's say you in a workplace situation where there actually is Insidious bias involved. I am African American and I have a boss that thinks no matter what I put forward is not worthy of serious attention. How do I put on the catcher's mitt there? How do I shift that? How do I get heard?
Jeannie: Here's the thing, however my brain things I would get heard, do the opposite of it. And it will be more right. I remember I was overlooked for a consulting position and I was available. It was a very clear situation. I had just come off a another project. It was a wonderful project in Mexico. And the head partner decided to take this guy named Jim off of this case that he was in the middle of and put him on his thing overlooking me. And I had even submitted my interests. So here I was kind of rejected from even worse than my opinion not being heard, my whole body wasn't picked as capable of doing this project.
So I went to him in an inquiring mode because I wanted to shift what I really wanted. And I really wanted to be prepared to be a viable candidate in a similar situation in the future. And I went directly to him and I asked him from my heart, “Can you help me understand why you picked him over me?”
And I said, “Because I am available and he is not. Was it because he speaks Spanish?” because actually he didn't and I did.
Then I said to him, “I bet it was that you worked with him before.” And he hadn't work with either of us.
And then I said, “I know he's probably done a lot of these portfolio projects before” it was a particular kind of analysis project. And it turns out that I had and he hadn't.
So here I am offering him information that he was unaware of and probably if he had been told in a different way would have just rationalized away. That afternoon I was put on the project. And I'm very grateful to him. So I wasn't angry at him for being biased against me even if he was even if he had been biased. I went to him because I wanted to learn from him. I wanted to learn from his bias. So I had to love him and his bias and the injustice or else I was going to leave value on the table unrealized.
You know it reminds me when I TA-ing a negotiation class at the business school at Stanford and I was marveling at a negotiation exercise in which students then were willing to take a lower outcome for the very reason that it hurt their partner also. And I thought that was crazy. You know that objective of this negotiation it's for you to maximize your points. And I see you've made a decision that doesn't do that. Why? And I really think that we feel like we need to have a transactional bad outcome that we give to an erring other person who is biased against us. They really need our help. They don't need our judgment.
Preeta: I was really struck when you said, “I needed to learn from his bias, learn from his injustice.”
Jeannie: Yeah and I really consider that to be a large gift. So my eyesight is changing. One of my clients in Geneva, Switzerland said, “You are retraining people's eyes.” So I want to catch what people are offering. I want to catch everything as help, like Aikido. Aikido is a martial art where it doesn't matter the intention that somebody is moving towards you with. I can always catch it as helpful energy, that I get to develop this skill in redirecting and using that energy in the direction of what I want. You know you remind me of another pivital story that happened in my early childhood. And this might have been what triggered a lot of this shifting. When I was in junior high school a person I knew ended up getting pregnant. And it was a shock. It was so sad. She had the baby and I believe had great difficulty with her family but I remember my across the street neighbor came, and she was a girl scout leader and she made one statement she said,”You know this girl needs our support and our encouragement and our help she does not need our judgment.” So even that came from another source external to me. I really pondered that for a very, very long time. So I think it's similar to this. The person who we could judge and get away with judging, and in anybody's court of law be found not guilty judging, the person who is biased against me or holding resentment towards me for an incorrect reason. But in my court of law I would be found guilty not them. My judgement of their judgement is worse.I tell my husband men typically think when you're giving them suggestions you’re judging them, and I tell them it’s your judgment of my judgement that’s bothering you. I’m so delighted to be among the scholars and the curious people in the world who have the privilege of thinking deeply about these issues and more so having people allow me to talk with them about it. It’s a great delight.
Preeta: Your theory, your practice all of this sounds brilliant and exactly right. How do you coach or teach this in others? I’m struck by what you said at the start of the call, that you grew up in an environment in a family that democratized opportunity, So you were demonstrated very early on that your opinion matters that your views matter. When you grow up in a different environment where you haven’t had that, that sense of being, how do you open those channels up in people? How do you do that through your teaching?
Jeannie: You know that is a good question. I’ve had that question very often because each person is a little bit different. And in fact I had the pleasure of talking with one of my longtime and long ago clients from a tech company here, and I asked her that question yesterday. I said, “How do you think you learned this? What happened?” And I have my notes that I actually took from that conversation yesterday. And she told me that she felt comfortable talking with me, first, about her hardest problems. And I think initially I have to demonstrate to people that I am interested in helping them, and not in judging. That then enables them to share with me their real struggles. And when somebody comes and says, “I really care so much about fixing this situation,” -- here's the other thing -- I know that I'm doing my job when people say, “You need to come to my house for dinner.” When a client says, “You have to meet my children and they have to meet you.” I had the daughter of one of my Australian clients here with her husband for lunch. And she reminded me that, “The very first day of your lecture with my dad he went up to you and said, ‘You're coming over to my house for dinner tonight,’ and then he called all of his children who didn't live at home and said you guys are coming here you guys have to have a conversation.” So there is something about authenticity. And I often think of it as, I have to be receptive, and that is what allows them to be unafraid, and then to present real challenges that they have. And that's what happened yesterday in front of me as the daughter of my client said, “Would it be okay if I told you about the situation I have with my brother-in-law? I really want to sit with it.” And they almost see that this approach has a chance of working. Whereas the many other approaches that they have tried have not. Have not given them that choice that they still want.
And I think once you do it first and then you keep doing it and keep doing it it becomes almost like an addiction. After you learn good grammar you can't use bad grammar in an interaction anymore. When you know internally what it feels like to be in an effective interaction then it just doesn't make sense to do otherwise. I had a roommate in college who was a gourmet cook and she would say to me, “There is absolutely no reason for food not to taste delicious. No reason.” And I then decided to think about interactions that way. I said, “There's absolutely no reason for interactions not to be effective. None.” And so I had a very high goal. Does that answer your question.?
Preeta: Yes beautifully. Do you have any examples of any aha moments or shifts that you've witnessed over the years?
Jeannie: Sure. I love lawyers and I got the chance to work with a general counsel of one of the tech companies here and he wasn't particularly spiritual or religious. And I remember I once called him a couple of months after we had finished our work together and I asked him, “How are your peers doing?” and he says to me, “Jeannie they are being particular jerks. But that just means I get to love them more.” (laughter) That kind of surprised me. I said, “Hey I'm going to use that-- that's amazing!” So often somebody will share something that they somehow attribute to me but was really our co-created conversation. They go out do it and they have an ‘a-ha!’ they come back and tell me about it and that then surprises me. So there was another story that came up yesterday. I was at the Amtrak station in Philadelphia traveling from Philadelphia back to Washington DC many many years ago. You know that beautiful Philadelphia train station, it’s been in a couple of movies I think. I was sitting down waiting for my train and there was a British couple who were complaining. And I was like, “Why?” and I guess I had grown up with a sensitivity to being aware of the needs of others. In fact I remember this prayer that I've gotten instilled in me and I say it everyday. “Please make me ever mindful of the needs of others.” The sort of prayer that ends every prayer. And I know I learned this from my parents or my mother especially. And so I guess I grew up with that awareness. So I went up to them and said, “Hey can I help you?” And the woman said, “It's my husband. I gave him the portfolio and he left it with our passports and our credit cards and money in the taxi. He always leaves it behind!”
And I look at her and here's the interesting part, I inject a little humor, I said, “Really? You knew that? You knew that he always loses it -- then why the heck did you give it to him?” “Well,” she says, “Nobody's going to return it.” I said, “Well you know if I got into the cab next and I found it I would give it to the taxi driver.” And I turned to= the woman next to me and I said, “Hey what would you do?” and she said, “Oh I would hand it to the taxi driver.” So I said, “There are two people out of the billions of people on this planet who would actually give it to the taxi driver so I call into question your hypothesis. So given that there's a possibility that you'll get your portfolio back you have to play your role or else you're not going to get it back because of you.”And I said, “Stand right here. Wait in a central location. Have your eyes fixed on the door that he would come in. He’s going to be waving. And if he comes in waving your portfolio and you are not there ready to catch it, then the reason you're not getting it is because of you.” I said, “I'm working on this theory of receiving so I’d just love if you try it out for me and see if it works. Because you really don't have anything to lose.” And I said, “Here's my number if you need anything when you get to the area if you need any money just give me a call.” Well I took an earlier train and then I arrived at my parents house in Maryland. And a couple hours later there's a phone call that comes to the house. And I'm taking a little nap my dad answers it and give me the phone and says, “There's this British woman on the phone.” And she's saying, “Put me in your class! I did exactly what you said. I looked and it was like an angel coming through and the doors opened and a flood of light comes in and there's that taxi cab driver waving my portfolio just as you said.”
And that was really surprising to me because I hadn't realized it would happen in that way. And a similar thing happened to me when my purse was stolen on the train in Geneva and I actually talked the thief into giving it back to me by using this approach. How they steal your purse on trains is they have one guy who helps you with your luggage while the other one steals your purse while he's nudging you. Well I nudged him back which is part of the receiving Theory you give people correct feedback so I nudged him enough so that he ended up remaining on the train instead of exiting the train before it took off, both he and his partner. So there I was standing next to the guy who I thought had stolen my purse right? And so I looked at the door and I kept saying this is what I want here's what I want I don't need this but I really truly want this and here's the thing about receiving. People want to give to those who are ready to catch. People give to the ready. And so I was explaining in great detail what it was that I wanted even to the extent that I told him where to leave my purse, and he did exactly what I said. A thief! So this represented to me the real power, and that was an aha moment for me. The real power, I can actually be using this approach on everybody.
Preeta: That is so brilliant. Let me just ask you - given the contentiousness of this year’s political cycle. What would be your advice to the incoming leaders about how to receive those Americans who seem this devoutly opposed to them.
Jeannie: Here’s a notion that I often think of. We must be inclusive. All the time. It’s my relationship as an elected official to the people I’m representing. Not their relationship to me. The first thing I would ask which would be very helpful I think, is if people could focus instead on how they are learning from or being affected by everyone. Instead of worrying that other people like them or find them likable enough. And that puts me in a whole different world. Im either in the receptive space or Im in the judgement space. And judgment often can look like niceness.
And I think we fall into that trap very much. So there are ways that we are excluding people when we really don’t realize it. And here is -- if you are a teacher or a student in a class and the teacher kind of dismisses somebody’s question that actually affects me as his fellow classmate. I'm not going to ask a question then because I might be treated just like that person. So what we don’t realize is if I as a political leader am communicating in a way feels like I'm excluding even just one person it’s affecting everybody adversely.
So ways that you can develop this on your cabinet is when I speak with somebody I don’t want them to tell me things that they agree with me on I want them to tell me things that they disagree with me on. And I want to make sure I put on my advisory cabinet people who are especially different from me so they can help me see things that I couldn’t see without their help. And I know I felt good when Obama asked Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State. This was his former rival and he was inviting her to be on his cabinet. And I know they were from the same party and there were reasons for it. But I could also envision another scenario where I wouldn’t want to include somebody who I was so contentious with. It goes back to going to the person who game me the low rating and asking for his help. Then you’d be engaged with working in the solution or really finding solutions rather than just working the problem coming up with rationalization and proof and that don't advance any one and kill human spirit. I don’t know if you watch this new show on TV called Designated Survivor.
Just in last week’s episode, there’s this speech writer who has now asked to fill in as the press secretary. And he starts his speech with, “Ok you guys I’m going to make mistakes and I would really like you as the press to help me. My goal is that we just do the best we can every single day and this is really an impossible job. So how can you guys help me?” And I guess he’s feeling like he’s going to change his relationship to the press just with that very small initial statement of a minute and a half. So that’s another idea. But people can accurately tell if I am receptive to them or if I am judging them. Even a dog knows that you are afraid of it even though you’re saying, “Nice dog”. We’re communicating all the time, whether we are approaching somebody wanting to help or be helped or approaching them wanting to judge or be judged. So I'm either asking for help or judgement and only one person needs to go first. And help trumps judgment.
Preeta: To maintain this openness to keep learning from anybody and especially to learn from those who are biased or unjust against you. You talked about Aikido. Do you have a set of practices that allows you to catch whatever they send and redirect it in the direction you want?
Jeannie: What a brilliant question. Btw this is all we need to get to. Here’s what I do, I have a bunch of mantras. And I offer them and some people offer them to me and I keep a little list. Here are some of the things on it: Find Something to Like and Like It. Find Something to Learn and Learn It .Respect all Others. No Exceptions.
And I define respect as my attempting to understand them. No exceptions. And when I'm in a very difficult situation and I think this person is not deserving of respect I say in my head -- “It’s my rule. I already decided this. It's a decision I already made to respect him. To respect everyone. No exceptions.” And I hold myself to that. And then once I'm there just for a couple of minutes, the magic happens and I shift, and my eyesight changes. I don't ever want to leave the situation until I like that person more. And that means I tell my feet stay where you are. Find something else to learn,or like, or comment on, or offer. I tell my feet not to move. And that has worked for me so many times.
My goal is to hold myself to being in this space, that's my ultimate goal so when I teach people I say I'm teaching it to you so you can catch me and help me get back in this state when I fall off. I was teaching this one semester, and then sitting on the airplane going to Lebanon for the first time. Our plane had been delayed by a couple of hours and there was some turmoil going on, flights got rearranged, but I ended up sitting, next to the only non Lebanese person on the flight. I thought how unlucky! My first time going to my country where my roots are. So I looked at the guy and I said, “I have got to find out what to like and like it, or learn something about him.” So I said, “Well okay. Better do it.” And I force myself to do this. Turns out I noticed my bias. And this is the real challenge in that I am biased. You mentioned an organisation that has biases -- every organisation has biases if they have a human being in there, even just one, right? They are biased. There are biases I have that I don't even know I have and it distorts how I make sense of stuff. So I was asking this guy who I didn't like yet, what is he? He's a singer. Opera? He says, “No, more like Frank Sinatra.” And I was judging him, “So he thinks he's like Frank Sinatra.”
He did a concert last night. I said, “Oh how many people did you have?” He said, “50,000.” And I heard 5000 because I was harboring judgment eyes, and my judgment eyes distorts what I actually hear. So my perception is not clear unless I am in this receiving space. So I still don't like him. Then I noticed all these kids are walking down the aisle, tall people, little people all looking at him. And he says he's a singer, and I said, “I just saw this show on Celine Dion and she has a couple of managers. You should get a couple of managers.” “Three of them are sitting in the back of the plane and the other two couldn’t get on the plane,” he says. Iit turned out something I didn't know was that his plane had gotten grounded he took the last seat available and we were flying on the last row of business class and he had his Entourage somewhere else.
He didn't look like he was Kazem Al Saher, the most famous Middle Eastern singer. His trappings looked very different. And so we are so quick to judge-- even after I just finished teaching a class on how to not be judgmental. But what I ended up doing was inserting my own protocols: Don't stop until you find something to learn and learn it. And I could have left that plane not even realizing he was sitting next to me. I asked him if we could take a picture and then when I went to my Lebanese friend’s family, I said, “Guess who I set next to! Kazem Al Saher!” And they said, “You did not you did not!” And I said, “Yes look at this picture!” But see that's kind of a nice story that I try to remind myself of. That I missed seeing there was gold in front of me, and my job is to see it.
Aryae: wow thank you so much. As I’ve been listening to this conversation, I’ve got a couple of questions. One is I don’t know if you said this, but I’m curious about using this approach with young children, in schools. Have you had this experience or trained teachers? How does it work with young kids?
Jeannie: What a beautiful question Aryae. That is the goal. When I was teaching to about 200 people at an oil company they said we are only paying you to pay the bills but you have to teach this to second graders worldwide. So I have developed a practice in helping little elementary school kids love their bullies. So it’s basically trying to cure the bullying problem. And i have this wonderful voice mail that I’ve saved from my niece who was second grade at the time and a bully comes up to her and starts falsely accusing her and denying her trial that’s how I consider bullying. I'm going to tell you something and you can’t say I’m wrong. And she looks at the bully and says can I get back to you tomorrow because I'm going to talk to my Aunt Jeannie and she’s going to tell me how I can respond to you.
And she says Aunt Jeannie here’s the situation. So I don’t know what’s going on but can you just call me back and tell me what I can do to fix it. So a couple of things - the particulars of this thing are irrelevant. She is not going to be fooled into talking about the square footage. But what’s the real thing going on. How can I love this guy? So I told her - he was basically as silly as these things are, it was about he was telling her that she pronounced a word incorrectly. So she went back to him and said, “I actually like how you pronounce it, but I just happen to prefer pronouncing it differently.” Imagine -- he’s telling her she does it wrong and she’s saying, “I actually like the way you say it I just happen to have this preference” That’s like a non sequitur.
Then the bully says to her well I kind of like the way you say it, in fact I’m going to start saying it that way too. She doesn’t even tell me what happens. A couple of months later I say Ellie what happened? And she says, “Oh I don’t have to tell you about it because it’s all fixed.” Another brilliant observation.
That we only attend to things that we are in pursuit of participating into a achieving a status quo upgrade. If I've already done it, I’m onto the next thing that is calling my living participation. Then I tell her - I actually am interested in hearing the story so that I can tell people and they can learn from it. And she says, “Oh in that case,” and she continues the story and then ends it with, “He said that he liked how I did it. He said that to make me feel good. And he did.” So it gets right back to how he was affected. And I might not have made this as clear - we can kind of talk from our heads or we can talk from our hearts after we’ve digested it. And it’s the difference between saying the desert was very good or I enjoyed it very much.
Aryae: Jeannie what about the kind of bully that - getting a little bit older -- maybe 4th or 5th grade, who actually might physically threaten kids on the playground? And there’s a situation where the child might be feeling frightened. Is there a way in your approach that the child can deal with this?
Jeannie: I really believe that we oftentimes need to enlist and invite the help of other people. When I am most afraid I get to go even to a senior teacher, or principal and say Here’s my situation. And instead of saying tht guy is doing something wrong, the child can say, I am actually afraid to be around the person and this is why. So instead of saying - the dessert was terrible, I would say, I would really like it if the dessert could be different, or this is how the dessert affects me. And substitute bully for dessert. The magic that takes place is that you will convert that principal into approaching extremely differently the situation and pulling out her own effective response to it.
So it’s kind of the same. It’s the same spirit or approach. But the first thing to do is to ask who is the person who I want to play a game of catch with. I feel afraid to play it with the bully as my niece did when she was in second grade. She converted a game of throw t to a game of catch with- with that maneuver. Similarly when I was in the Western Bank I was playing the game of throw at and then I changed the game to catch with once I put up my inquiring - one interruptive question like that. But in this case, it would be who do I believe really can help me? And I don’t want to tell them what to do, I want to share my situation with them. There are lots of words I like to use. Here is my situation.
Or I find that I no longer want to play on the playground and I would like you to help me figure out how can I do it. So that person isn’t necessarily interacting with the bully but they will interact with someone and maybe eventually they can interact with the bully. And it could be likely that the bully needs to be loved more. They are acting out for an underlying other reason. And you get very fast to the underlying reason. You cure it. And then the situation instantly changes.
Aryae: Good. This is a question from Jyoti in Mountain View. And she writes, “Good to hear you Jeannie. As always! I find myself shutting down and withdrawing as a way to cope whenever I am treated like a flower girl when I believe I have been a lady.” Going back to the early metaphor, “Any practical suggestions on how to find the courage to be more open to taking what feels like abuse, maybe I’m judging but it is also honoring my feelings.”
Jeannie: Jyoti is -- Hi Jyoti! She’s one of my long time friends. I still remember my first meeting with you. You remember when I said that some of the most discriminating people on this planet Earth are smart women? Very often we are taught as women to do exactly what Jyoth you were saying - retreat in. I can’t think my way out of this. I can’t convince my head of anything, because it’s already co-opted in this embedded social bias.
And I’ve already developed almost a reflex to do exactly as you so beautifully stated, retreat into yourself. And what I need to do in that situation, I believe, is to go right up to the person, almost as though you’re having this out of body experience, and you’re observing your own self asking the question of the person who is treating you like a flower girl, and saying, “Can you help me understand why I feel this way? Can you help me understand why I think you’re dismissing this problem. And I have to ask a real question. I think this is a very powerful intervention. It turns out that courage follows that. That’s what’s going to create my courage. So asking a question about something that I really want to know.
My curiosity will then create the courage to help me have this receptive conversation. But I’ve got to go first. And it reminds me of the movie with Dustin Hoffman. Rain Man and he was, you know not very liked by people. And there was one poignant scene, very short. He looks at his brother and says, “Why don’t they like me?” At that very moment you fell in love with the guy. And it doesn’t matter if you hated him a lot or just a little bit, or even liked him, in one step you parachute into great love and it doesn’t matter where you start. You’re always one step away. When I was teaching in business schools I remember one of my students in this very arrogant setting initially said, “You know Jeannie, you have to get us to like you.” And I was trying to really employ these tenets that I had learned about receiving and one of them is that my relationship to others is very separate from your relationship to me. So I looked at my MBA student and I said,” You know it doesn’t really concern me if you like me. But I care an enormous amount that I like you. How can you help me?” And it’s almost like I became beloved in that instant. It was an instant shift. And I wasn’t asking them to change, I was being affected by what they said, reminding me of something that I truly wanted, and expressing that to them. And it was like magic. Magic that happened.
Aryae: So going back to Jyoti’s question how do you find the courage to do that? When somebody is speaking disrespectfully to me I want to strike at them and put them down. How do I find the courage to respond in a different way? What do you do inside yourself?
Jeannie: I basically adapt a mantra. When I was at Stanford I had a mantra: “respect everybody no exceptions.” So I would have to apply it to that very person. I would have to respect them. So shift my inner focus. I still have these negative thoughts and beliefs about this person. I'm not saying get rid of those. Stop looking in that direction. And shift just a little bit over. And looking for ways in which you could hear them. Kind of a rule of thumb is if I want to be heard then let me figure out how I can hear. Demonstrate hearing. if I want to be loved, let me figure out how I can love right now. So I'm using what I am lacking as a guide to say, “let me be exactly that.” I noticed you over there. It's like I'm pointing my finger at somebody. You are judging me. Instead of shifting my focus from my index finger pointing at that problem, I'm going to shift to the three fingers that are actually pointing in my direction. And I'm going to physically shift. And I think I might have to hold my hand under the desk with my finger pointing out and even look at my hand and physically look and take my eyes from my index finger to my middle ring and pinky fingers that are pointing at me. To give myself permission. It is really giving myself permission, not courage. I need a permission slip. I have two permission slips in my pocket. One to invite me to truly participate in a learning way. And one to invite you to participate in a learning way.
Aryae: I can relate to that middle finger under the desk. That is very helpful actually. Here's the next question. This is from Mickey O'Toole. “Drinking in every word from the first minute I have been drinking in every word of this call. It couldn't have come at a better time. I recently reached out to my adult birth daughter who is now 21. It is an open adoption. But contact cooled after the first ten years. I wrote a letter over many years trying very hard to be careful how I worded it. I want an open dialogue. I got back a letter with lots of opportunities to learn, let's put it that way. I love your prayer--help me know what people need. That is what I need to do here. I'd love your input. Thank you for this beautiful call.”
Jeannie: Wow. You made me cry. It doesn't get more important than this. I often think that when we are giving these very very challenging situations we are being trained by God to become these amazing role models. it's a compliment to be and to have such challenging situations but you have a deep want. Here is what is happening. I have to have my want be bigger than my fear. in many cases my fear is so enormous and I really can't diminish my fear. It just is. and when you say that you are being very careful, when we are very careful or polite we are often preoccupied with diminishing barriers instead of asking for what of truly want.
To first do. I truly would like it if I could have a relationship with you. Let me tell you what I truly want. Your carefulness, concern is going to go away because there is nothing more powerful than sharing even in a written word what it is that you truly want. And what I would love to do is. Here is how I think that I might be able to offer this answer in the best way, if you would be willing to share with me your letter, what I often do is to offer a version of it. And I can certainly send you versions of it. Version 1, version 2. Version one usually comes from my head. Version 2 comes from my heart. And the content is much deeper. It's irresistible. So you can unlock fear by going first as you express what you truly want instead of try to convince the other person that they should do this. And I hope that makes a little bit of sense. But I would like to offer you and anyone else my email. Maybe we can provide that on the website. And if you would like to send me a version of the letter or an email that you were hoping to send somebody, I would be happy to think with you on it of how to make its message of receptivity most clear.
Aryae: Beautiful. Thank you for that offer Jeannie. We can go ahead and offer your email when we send people the follow-up note to this call.
Jeannie: And that is the best way to understand it. As for me to do it. I would like everybody who is interested in having a personal example just like my little niece did and too often thinks about that. Oh yeah you coach me into behaving it for myself. And that's when I began to understand it.
Aryae: Beautiful and thank you for that. I'm sure there are people who would want to take you up on that. Our next call here is from Maya in Maryland. Her question is what are some effective techniques to relay to people that you are ready to receive? How do you signal that you are ready to receive?
Jeannie: Maya thank you for your question. What a wonderful question. But inherent in your question here is a little bit of a catch-22 situation. I'm not trying to convince them of anything including my interest in being receptive because it turns out that very thought gets me out of being receptive. I know this is extremely subtle but I must focus on techniques that make me want to love you more. Rather than techniques I'm getting you to think or know something about me. In other words I have to be what I call modifiable instead of trying to prove I'm modifiable. so to answer the question and that way, if someone is being interruptive, This happened in my business school. There's a guy a couple seats away from me who wasn't very popular I think and at the time he was asked to speak. And everyone started talking over him including the professor. And I just leave forward, looked at him, called him by name, and said, you know I would like to hear what you have to say. Will you please continue?
And that fueled him. And he started talking in a commanding way. Everybody was silenced. I didn't think anything of it until ten years after that. I was running on an airplane. I was sitting in the back. And there was this guy who kind of tricked me. He was in business class. And it was this man. This guy who I hadn't seen in 10 years. And he said, Jeannie I don't even remember that class I don't remember The comment but I remember how you made me feel.
He talked a flight attendant into upgrading me to sit with him in business class. I have to tell this woman something that I Have been thinking about every day and using every day. And he told me that the trajectory of his life was different because of that. So it is a small act of kindness much like Mother Teresa would say. Do small acts with great love. I often like to tell myself love will not get me there only great love well. Which means the only people I have to love that are those people that are really not loving towards me. Everybody else can handle it on their own. It's almost like I'm doing triage for the world. If you just have a cut, that will heal on its own. You can find your own Band-Aid. It's the people who are the most unloving who are the most in need of my loving them.
Aryae: Beautiful. And speaking of Love, here is a note from Mish in New York. and she says, “on the subject of receiving, so it comes down to faith. Faith that what you ask for or need in a situation will happen or come to you. ‘I aspire to be a giver, a giver of love, a giver of Good Vibes, and a giver of strength.’
Jeannie: Yeah. Beautiful, beautiful. Thank you for that. And I would add it's not just what I get it changes what I want. So sometimes if I truly ask. So if I truly ask someone to come to my party. and I'll say something like you should come to my party or I’ll say won't you come to my party, my party won't be the same without you. it's a pure invitation and I know I did my best for the world. And they don't come. I'm actually okay that they are not coming because they have something better to do and I want them to do that. In fact when I would teach courses in the business program, I would say, “If you have a better place to be, a more useful place for you than my classroom, then I don't want you to stay here. I benefit from you using your time the most wisely.” So it kind of broadens my way of looking at the world. I asked for things.
So for example I’ll ask to be upgraded on an airplane but all the seats are taken. The person at the gate will say, “ I really wanted you on it. Here's my cell phone number so the next time you come through here call me because I really want to do my best. And I was so satisfied to not have first class. I got the goodwill of the interaction.
Aryae: Beautiful. So here's the last question in the queue. This is from Anush. related to listening, what are some practices that help you become aware And focus on listening deeply in a business setting so you can speak to that when the time comes Not from your own agenda or the situational agenda that was created? How do you do this in a business setting?
Jeannie: I remember coaching one of my executives. Very often you are in executive situation where you have The rules and the performance evaluations that I am giving credit for what I do and give and how smart I am, but not so much on how I learn from other people. So I have this little trick that I often do. I have the piece of paper that I take my notes on, and I make a little square in the upper right hand column. So I have an empty little square like 3 inches by 3 Inches on my piece of paper. And what I do is I tried to say, “I need to put stuff in there that I learned from this meeting that I didn't even know I didn't know.”
So very often I'm coaching somebody and I say you, “You know what. Here is what I'm ready to see you. I'm ready to learn what you got out of that meeting that you didn't know before.” So we often go in like Preeta mentioned this Confirmation bias. That it is very highly likely that I'm going to see what I expected to see. And I'm going to create it into being. But what if I had the added goal, I'm using goal not as an agenda but goal, to look for something that I didn't expect?
Even if I don't write anything in that, it is going to change how I listen. It is going to change how I talk. And I'm going to unknowingly, unbeknownst to myself, I'm going to go first. I'm going to shift myself into this receptive state of being not because I'm cognitively trying to prove it but because I have other want. I have to learn something from you that I didn't even know you were going to tell me. and that seems to be a sufficient initiating move. That is just one idea
Aryae: great. Thank you.
Preeta: Jeannie, this is been so rich and so beautiful. in service space we talked a lot about inner transformation and your entire theory is about that. How can I change myself? How can I change the way in which I'm perceiving the situation to shift the energy? We started out with your foundational story with how you were tracking people and then you did the research trying to bring that to life for other people. But how has your research change to you if at all?
Jeannie: I was rereading my dissertation when you had asked me for it, and I noticed the last of my acknowledgments for it said this research has changed me. I see with different eyes. And I give myself permission more to go first because one of the things that I realized is that people are doing the best they can. It is very easy for me to understand where I can't know something. I can't know what you want. But I forget that other people are in the same predicament that I am in.
The big aha moment for me was when I realized the other person is in the very same predicament that I am. And probably has similar needs for the interaction that I do. So I use my inner voice. This is where it becomes most important for me. This story I remember very often. I was just TAing an an accounting course In the industrial engineering department at Stanford in 1995. And I was giving one of two review sessions for this accounting midterm that was about to come up. If you can imagine all the undergraduates were huddled around squeezed into this small room, and everyone asked a question except for one individual in the back of the room. It was a minority women. And I remember my head was saying,, “you know it is a review session; it is her job to ask a question. If she doesn't have a question then fine.”
My heart said, “maybe it is hard for her to ask a question. It's my job. I'm going to know if it's my go.”
So I was having this internal discussion between my own head and my own heart. And my head was saying you shouldn't do it. And my heart was saying you must do it. I had my head win for a couple of minutes and I realized I wasn't feeling very well. I was affected by that. And I looked up and I said to her, “I don't even know your name, but I noticed this. That everyone is in round two or three of their questions and I would like to know if you have a question.”
It turned out she didn't have a question. But at the very end she said, “I was very happy to be learning from what everybody else was doing.”
I didn't know this but she was one of the top performers in the class. She had got a hundred percent on all her homework. But she came back at the end of that review session and thanked me for inviting her question. So it didn't matter that she didn't have a question, but the fact that I had by invited it had made a huge difference. Because in my head, the best argument I had on my head was that I'm doing another session in an 2 days she can come to that session and ask her question.
Well it turned out that very night after the very first session, there was a road trip from Stanford to Berkeley with about 8 people in a van and the van encountered a truck which had shifted lanes and to avoid the head on collision the driver of the van went off the road and into a ravine. There was one casualties on that van. And the casualty was that student who I thought I would see two days later. So the enormous gratitude I have for listening to my heart. It changed how I think about interpersonal interactions. If I am in the know it truly is my go and I can get on that side of the interaction in which I can be the inviter. If I'm the boss, I can ask my subordinate,
“I would like to know if you have any ideas?” Or if I'm the subordinate, I could say, “Would it be okay if I share with you some of my thoughts?” So it doesn't matter which side of the interaction you are on, if I am in the know it is my go to be invitational.
Aryae: Beautiful thank you. So we are at the end of our time for a call. Jeannie, I want to thank you again. I think it is clear from the questions people have been asking and certainly from all of us listening to you just how moving this has been and your message which on the one hand is so simple yet on the other hand not so simple. So transformative. Thank you so much.
So here's the final question to you. How can we as the ServiceSpace community support you and your work?
Jeannie: What a beautiful offer. I feel as though that I am just one member of this team, this receiving team. I would be so honored if everyone who has an inkling of an interest in this could join this team of helping to shape this message. My goal is to have stories of people courageous enough to say,”You know what I have this version one that I am do, and maybe I'll just email Jeannie see if I can approach it in a version two kind of way." So I can provide an example that I can offer as a contrasting example that might help somebody else into the future. I am very interested in creating a platform that we can all encourage each other by our own attempts to decide to be receptive. It is really an attempt. All I have to do is decide that I want to try it and that gets me there. I would be so honored if I could have a way of keeping in touch with those who are interested and engaging in an interaction and a discussion.
Aryae: What would be the best way? If anyone is interested, should they just email you?
Jeannie: I'm thinking that there might even be someone out there who might be able to talk with me and others about even creating a space on the web that we can have a joint meeting space that we can actually enter into conversation about this with examples and questions that I would be happy to answer for the benefit of anybody else who is reading it.
Email would be a great start. Please email me. I would be delighted to hear from you.
Aryae: Beautiful. You've put out what you want and opened yourself to the invitation.
Jeannie: Thank you. I'm so grateful for this conversation and this opportunity to meet you all virtually. And thank you,
Aryae, for such a wonderful facilitation. And thank you, Preeta.
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