Episode 29 – Words Reveal and Conceal: A Conversation with Dan Goodwin

side-by-side pictures of host Norah L. Jones and guest Dan Goodwin
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
Episode 29 - Words Reveal and Conceal: A Conversation with Dan Goodwin

“You have the ability to raise someone to their dreams or to crush them in your hand. You absolutely have that power. Ronald Reagan said “Trust but verify.” I’ve modified that. I say “Trust and verify.” It’s okay if you don’t vibe with everybody. Let those people go and vibe somewhere else. My job, our job, is to make the most positive impact to their world by practicing grace, mercy, and love at the same time. DTFW: do the fantastic work.”

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We say we use words to say what we mean.

What happens when we seek to choose words but we are not really clear about what we mean when we seek them? Do we choose wisely?

What happens when there are words left unsaid because we are afraid of sharing them? Do the unspoken words show up in other forms in our lives?

What happens when we don’t even think about a concept, conceive of a possibility, because we do not have the words available to express it, to bring it into our lives?

What happens when we use words as weapons, either intentionally or unintentionally?

Dan Goodwin is professionally trained to listen to what people say, and what they don’t say, to observe and act on what people say, what they don’t say, and how people use words to protect themselves and others, or potentially to hurt them. Take a look at his bio to see his background, training, and the services that his training provides others.

Dan Goodwin may be a professional investigator, a person trained and practiced to look at words through such lenses, but we all benefit from being aware of the use and power of words from various perspectives such as these. As human beings, we are always, consciously or unconsciously, investigating the motives and experiences of others every day. We do well to investigate ourselves, too. Take a close look at the intentions of words in every day life, corporate life, political life, the world of education, and in all places where human beings seek to use language to reveal their thoughts–or conceal them.

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It’s About Language – Episode 29 – Words Reveal and Conceal: A Conversation with Dan Goodwin

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Norah Jones:                     It’s my great pleasure today to welcome friend and a great counselor and big help, as a matter of fact, with taking a look at business and life in general, Dan Goodwin. Hi Dan.

Dan Goodwin:                  Hey Norah. Great to be on the show today.

Norah Jones:                     Well, I’m so glad to have you here. And as people see on my website in your biography, you have been leveraging 30-plus years of corporate and entrepreneurial experience to work with your CYA Consulting. And you’ve got this really interesting corporate background that has led you to an interesting question that you shared with me. So I’m just going to start out with it, here we go. Do people weaponize their words? What is it that you mean by that question, Dan? What makes you ask that question?

Dan Goodwin:                  Well, Norah, thanks for asking. “Weaponize the words.” What an intriguing and explosive way to start it off. So weaponizing words. So what I meant when you and I talked about this and I posed this question was, it’s not do we, it’s really, how do we and how are we aware of what we do? And weaponizing words it’s… and I see this in business and politics is too easy of a target. So we don’t have to talk about politics, but…

Norah Jones:                     It’s the target, as you say. Yes.

Dan Goodwin:                  Exactly. But even this goes into our personal relationships, do we weaponize our words? Do we use words as a weapon, either overtly or covertly in our lives?

Norah Jones:                     Well, almost certainly we do. And the question of how is it that with your interests, with your background. With your business that, that part of how words are used would be something that would have come to your mind?

Dan Goodwin:                  Well, so this goes back to my corporate career and it goes back to working for a top 100 communications company and doing internal investigations on their behalf. So, in my training and background, I went to the same school in Chicago that the law enforcement personnel from the feds to the steadies to the counties, to the locals went to, when it came to, how to conduct investigations? And what I found Norah, is that training course that I took back in 1995, wow how time flies. That training course was a little bit of sales, a little bit in negotiation, a little bit of NLP, neurolinguistic programming. And a whole bunch of base setting questions, and then it was just a matter of how we interpret answers and then how we move forward. So the whole thing about that investigative training was listening to answers that people gave us when we were looking at some sort of an issue and listening for what was said, or even listening for what was not said, just as important, just as important.

Norah Jones:                     Interesting. Listening for what’s not said, why? Why is that important?

Dan Goodwin:                  Well, there is a rule that we call it the 7-38-55 rule. And what has been studied is that 7% of communication are the words that we use. 38% are tonality and 55% is non-verbal. So the 7-38-55 rule is a holistic approach to communication. And this is a rabbit trail but this is why… and you and I have talked about this Norah. This is why all of my coaching and consulting appointments are on Zoom with working video. I, with my background, I want to see people. I want to see reactions. The next best thing to being there, is look to the camera. Now I am a people person, you know that about me. Although, Norah, you and I haven’t ever met in real life, right?

Norah Jones:                     That is correct.

Dan Goodwin:                  That is right. We’ve only met through the screen. However, you’ve observed me, my energy, my behaviors, I’ve observed you, your behaviors. And it’s such an important piece of communication that’s a basis of understanding before you can actually get into the interpretation, a weaponization of words.

Norah Jones:                     When a person has a skill set that allows them to emote through their words, through their visual, they accomplish certain tasks I presumed or they connect with you. And I’m speaking here of you and the training that you’ve had in a way that has a particular impact. Do you find that there are times where your training has meant that you’ve had to adjust what you do, because they don’t seem to be exhibiting a skillset of allowing their bodies to express what their words are trying to?

Dan Goodwin:                  Oh, absolutely. So you’ve heard, you’ve met these people. People that can walk in and quote, unquote, read the room. How do you read the room? Are you looking for energy? Are you looking for body language? Are you looking for attitude? And the answer is yes. On all of those. And then when you engage with people, you’re looking at words, you’re listening to the words that they’re using. Are they a technical person? Are they speaking in technical jargon? Are they using a lot of three- and four-letter acronyms? So my background in telecom, I think we were second only to the military. And how many three-letter acronyms that were used?

Norah Jones:                     Now your expertise, your training is an interrogation and interview. Interrogation has a certain connotation, potentially you want to repair that connotation or affirm it for us. How-

Dan Goodwin:                  Well, we never used the word interrogation in a corporate environment at a telecom company that brought down too much negative press, right?

Norah Jones:                     Okay. So the connotation is indeed there. So talk about those techniques and what you have learned again, and what you applied in your corporate history and in your corporate present.

Dan Goodwin:                  Well, I’m going to give you some very top level. I… to go into this would take hours, but let me just talk about some of the basics. So on how you can read the room, how you can communicate effectively with others. Part of it is setting the physical space, if somebody is in distress, if they… the thing about it is, Norah, we don’t know whose dog bit them on the way out the door this morning. We don’t know if somebody had a fight with their significant other. We don’t know whose kid is in trouble at school, or has legal issues. So to practice grace, mercy, and love to others at all times is a good starting point. And I always tell people, “I will trust you until you prove to me that I can’t trust you.” Right? So the setup is this, to prepare our physical space and then to prepare emotional space. A lot of how we react to situations, deals with mindset.

So without going totally Freud-y in here, going back to the wounded child and the family of origin, and that’s for a different podcast with somebody much more qualified than me. But the reason I bring this up, it makes a difference and to your question, Norah, yes, it is your responsibility as the interviewer or the investigator or the one asking the clarifying questions to make those observations and adjust your approach accordingly. That is what leads into EQ, Emotional Intelligence. Do you have the tools you need in order to help set the stage and to create a… what do the cool kids say now? The safe space, right? To create a safe space for people to communicate with you, does that help?

Norah Jones:                     It certainly does. And can you give some examples of where you have experienced, well, safe space and then unsafe space, things that will help our listeners to understand how those things get set up with languages used as a tool or as a weapon?

Dan Goodwin:                  Sure. So it’s easy to think of a myriad of conversations I’ve had over the years. My goal, anytime that I would walk into a conference room with… for an interview, an employee interview. Number one, you have to imagine that if an employee is asked to drop what they’re doing and go to a conference room and meet with two guys, or a guy in suits or dressed up, that immediately would create a little stress in their life. So to create the safe space, I may do something as simple as saying, “You know, Norah. I know you weren’t planning on talking to us today. I tell you what, would you mind? I’m just going to take my jacket off and lay it across the chair. I just want to make sure that…” And so on and on and on, on. The whole act of getting in rapport quickly with people to make them feel seen, to give them an opportunity to be heard and to validate them as a person of worth.

Now, whether they’ve done something bad or not, they need to feel that they’re a person of worth. So that would be the first step in creating a safe space. Now, there are times that I have not felt safe myself. So we had a case in the West Coast in California, and we were at a call center and the call center was in Southern California. And there were some employees that had been hired, and basically we found out later they were associated with the gang. And yes, those interviews did not go very long because these people were equating a company investigator with law enforcement, and basically they were getting up and walking out. So that’s fine. And then of course the safe spaces is those conversations where after you help people get to a point that they… you’re in rapport, they still might not trust you explicitly, but that at least they feel that you are going to give them the opportunity to tell their side of the story, whatever that story was.

Norah Jones:                     You mentioned listening early on today, the nature of listening to the folks’ story. How does that play into the ability to use language and to provide the validation and the mercy you even spoke of?

Dan Goodwin:                  Well, yes, there is an ART and there’s a three-letter acronym—

Norah Jones:                     Of course there is.

Dan Goodwin:                  … [crosstalk] that I use in my business. Of course there is. The ART stands for the approach, the reach and the timing. Approach, reach and timing. And I always go back to Stephen Covey in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Said, “seek first to understand and then be understood.” So it’s the art of intelligent listening to what’s being said. What’s not being said, because that is normally where the answers lie. It’s either the minimization or the justification, or the rationalization, all these junks on the end. But these are things that people use to swatch their own guilt, their own involvement. And the important part is that when you ask clarifying questions, that it helps people come to accountability, come to realization.

Norah Jones:                     Interesting. I’m just commenting on the fact that, that is a huge thing, that realizations, that accountability aspect. Wow, that’s powerful, Dan.

Dan Goodwin:                  It is. And the only way you get there, Norah, the only way you can get there is for them to have trust in you that you are believing them, right? So the point is in our investigative class is, we were taught how to ask thought-provoking pattern-interrupt questions, and then the use of follow-up questions could raise or lower the stress level in the room. But the beauty of the questions is to create cognitive dissonance, and what does that mean? That means the uncomfortable feeling when you realize that the actions you have taken are not congruent with your closely held values or beliefs. And when somebody realizes that they have done an action that is against their core values, it creates an internal stress. And the words that an investigator uses can raise or lower, or just the simple act of silence, Norah inside of an investigative interview, can create unbearable amounts of stress that the only way that person can relieve that stress is to say something. And a lot of revelation knowledge, it’s shared when that stress has to be released.

Norah Jones:                     That’s a huge insight. That is part indeed of what you work with yourself. And I presume, train others to do as part of your consulting the security issues and coaching and mentoring, correct?

Dan Goodwin:                  Yes. Yes. A lot of it’s just getting real with ourselves and then admitting to ourselves that we haven’t done the work. We haven’t processed the work. I have another four-letter acronym; it’s called DTFW, just do the fantastic work, just do the fantastic work. So the thing that I enjoy working with my consulting clients on is another three-step formula called could you, should you, would you? Could you, should you, and would you? Could do a thing? Could you launch this marketing program? Could you start this initiative? And the “could” refers to our physical, financial, emotional, spiritual strength to do a thing. So, yes, physically I’m up to the task. My health is at the point I can do this. Financially I have the funds to invest in it. Emotionally and spiritually, this is not in congruent with my deeply held or core beliefs.

Now, should you do it is a different question. It’s an implementation question. Should I do this? Is this the highest and best ROI? Does this contribute to my overall vision? Et cetera, et cetera. And then the “would you” is the payoff question. That’s where the rubber meets the road. Will I do this? So my coaching and consulting, I’ve always told people coaching and consulting is 80% accountability, 10% tools, and 10% technique. When you commit to a thing, when you do the, should I, could I, would I? When you commit to the “would I” piece of it, yes. Now I have something that you have the honor and privilege of paying me for to keep you accountable. Isn’t that awesome?

Norah Jones:                     That is awesome. And I don’t think people think of it that way, but that certainly is exactly right.

Dan Goodwin:                  Yeah. It’s a beautiful thing.

Norah Jones:                     Certainly that’s… Now. And what kind of impact? This is the use of reflective language on people’s decision-making and how do they internalize that? How do they continue to apply that with your coaching or with what you have seen in people’s lives so that they continue to use this linguistic technique to keep themselves focused, aimed?

Dan Goodwin:                  Well, I tell you why. One of the things that I have found, the more I work with people is they are… we’re in our first two or three meetings. They may make a spontaneous comment on something that they believe or think they believe. I qualify that because sometimes when you challenge people, they come to conclusion. They don’t know where that came from, and you have to dig a little bit sometimes within and define terms and language to make sure that, I, as their consultant or their coach, that we are using the same definition of a word. And so the whole point of that is how they reflect that change over time, as they learn, as they get to know me and learn how I think about language processes. And then what that output is.

I want to say my clients become a little more careful about it, because they know they’re going to be challenged and, Norah, I know I’ve shared this with you, is, I like pattern interrupts. I like people that are not on autopilot. They say there’s always two answers to any question. The answer that sounds good, and the real reason, that’s the two. So my pattern-interrupt question. My favorite one is, how would you know if that wasn’t true? And that is my challenge question, 80 to 90% of the time. How would you know if that wasn’t true? It forces people to take the thought out of their brain and hold it in their hand and look at it and defend it from the opposite point of view. And then that could break down at any time. But anyway, that’s my go-to question.

Norah Jones:                     But Dan, it’s taking that beautiful language right there and using it to… you have a visual impact that you just shared, taking the thought out of the brain, holding it outside oneself almost in one’s hand, there’s a physicality to the response of that. I’m sure you’ve watched people respond physically to that with what? Confusion, hesitation, delight from time to time, concern.

Dan Goodwin:                  Yeah. Concern, confusion. It was never delight, almost never delight at least initially. At least initially, never delight. But yeah, especially the first time I present that or spring it on them either way. But yes, I guess the thing that my clients realize when they engage with me, Norah, is I am not accepting the status quo answer. The answer may be the same at the end of our dissection process, but I’m not accepting it at face value. One of the things that I make a mission is to teach critical thinking skills, which can lead to better intuitive decision-making. And part of that is to get people to actually think through a statement before they present it. I think that’s so important nowadays.

Norah Jones:                     And does it happen as frequently as you would hope or even close to it?

Dan Goodwin:                  I think it’s an acquired taste. Listen, I’m at the point in my life that not everyone has to like me. What they say, I’m not everybody’s cup of tea, but I may be your shot of whiskey, I don’t know. I don’t know, Norah, which resonates with the audience better, right? But I’m just letting you know that, that is how my brain thinks. And I’m always looking, I’m always processing incoming data. So the challenge is people have the skill, but if they have abdicated the judgment muscle. They’re not taking those disparate pieces of data and information, synthesizing it to create a different narrative. And listen, this can apply to arteries of life. I don’t care if you’re on a spiritual journey. If you’re doing the self-talk, if you’re doing meditation, if you’re applying it to business. The skill sets that I work with my clients, obviously they’ve hired me to help them with their business. What the outcome is and what the serendipities are, is it helps in all areas of your life when you apply the principles.

Norah Jones:                     That’s certainly true of my experience with you, because I think-

Dan Goodwin:                  Well, I appreciate that.

Norah Jones:                     Absolutely. You’ve stated it beautifully and succinctly, because one could look at this as being a business solution, conversation opportunity. But it goes because of your skillset, because of something that you said earlier that I’d like to draw you back to. You mentioned about the grace, the mercy, and the love being shown to people. You’ve mentioned about validation and all of these come from a care to go well beyond something that is specific if important as say, business. Yet, we started out with the question about, “Do people weaponize their words?” So kind of combined some of these ideas, Dan, how do we take a look at how language is used in those two directions? You talk about the grace, mercy and love, et cetera. You also talk about weaponizing, which perhaps inappropriately I’m thinking of is having a negative connotation. Help us to understand how those things can be addressed with this critical thinking or with other approaches that you can provide.

Dan Goodwin:                  Absolutely. Listen, the first thing that they taught us when I went to school at the company in Chicago. The first disclaimer they made, which was quite amusing was, “What we’re about to teach you will work on everybody except your spouse.” So I always thought that was funny-

Norah Jones:                     Oh, it is.

Dan Goodwin:                  … because they… So unfortunately, my kids did suffer through that, but my spouse just selected me and said, “Yeah, right.” She just counted me immediate, anyway-

Norah Jones:                     I can corroborate those experiences, yes. By all means, please continue.

Dan Goodwin:                  Of course you can. But anyway, the whole point is whatever skills we have and we use, it goes back to what motive do we have to employ those skills? Yes. Somebody can take what I learned in my skillset and use it for self-serving purposes. So I think it comes… so when we say grace, mercy and love, I always want to give people not the doubt piece of it. But to give people the opportunity to move forward, none of us is perfect. We’re on this human experience. So all of that being said, practice grace, mercy, and love to all you meet, because you do not know what battles they are fighting at the present moment. So that’s how I go into every situation. Investigative, questioning, coaching consulting. I want to meet people where they’re at, that being said. So that’s part A.

Part B is weaponizing. So what have I seen? What have I experienced? Do people use big words that they know others will not understand. That means that they are not practicing great communication skills to communicate to their target audience. Now, it may be an education situation where you take the time to break a complex subject down. It may be a technical briefing, when you see people’s eyes glazing over, you are not communicating to them. And we’ve all sat there and done this, right? It could be the use of jargon. So we talked at the top of this interview. We talked about three-letter acronyms. We talked about business language. We need to make sure that we have broken this content down into something that’s understandable. Now, there is a balance, Norah, between knowing your audience and then expecting your audience to be up to speed on the briefing that they’re invited to be at.

If you keep getting interrupted by that one person who says, I’m sorry, I don’t understand that. I’m sorry, I don’t understand that. Can you clarify that for me? Those are valid questions. It would depend upon what level of meeting you were in. And I’ve seen this pressed down the weaponization of words. I’ve seen this used gender. I’ve seen this used race. I’ve seen this… what’s the term? Microaggressions and I’m not sure. I am not the expert to talk on microaggressions, okay? I’m just telling you right now, but I’m telling you that the words that are used in order to make one feel less than, that is a problem. There is a way to communicate with respect to a human person that doesn’t have to include the put-down. Does that make sense?

Norah Jones:                     Oh, it absolutely does. But there’s an awareness factor here. There’s an exposure to how words have an effect.

Dan Goodwin:                  Absolutely. The awareness, and I think that’s what people are working towards. Is to create awareness, and so when I look at our current state of affairs in the world, how we relate to one another, how we don’t challenge narratives from either side. I don’t care which side of the fence you are politically, religiously, gender, I don’t care. When we don’t take the time to employ critical thinking skills and we accept the narrative as presented, that doesn’t do us any service. Here’s the simple fact. If you want to remain a victim, guess what? You can, because it takes no energy to propagate something that you’ve heard. It takes no energy to continue the narrative without challenging it. You know what takes work? What it takes work is for you to say, “How would I know if this wasn’t true.” That takes work, Norah. You’ve got to dig in and now you’ve just got me preaching.

Norah Jones:                     I was listening, the energy in your voice as you just did that was amazing. But it’s a critical… even life-giving or life-threatening aspect is what you’re talking about really.

Dan Goodwin:                  Oh, absolutely. You have the ability to raise someone to their dreams or to crush them in your hand. You absolutely have that power. This goes back to my purpose in every investigation and we’ve talked about this, Norah. I want to make sure that people feel seen. I want to make sure they feel heard, and I want them to go out feeling like they are valued as a human being. They may be a criminal. They may be scum of the earth. They may be very difficult to like. My job is not to judge them, we’ll leave that to whatever higher power you believe in, or karma or whatever you want to call it. My job is to help them along life’s journey and towards whatever they envisioned their life could be.

Norah Jones:                     Powerful Dan. So this is a calling, a way of expressing how you make this happen. How you provide this positive gift. So when you turn to the listeners to this podcast and you address them about what it is that they can bring, they can do, they should watch out for, however you want to interpret it. What will you say to them about what they do?

Dan Goodwin:                  Great, great wrap. Great question. So to quote the president of my childhood, Ronald Reagan. He said “Trust, but verify,” and I’ve modified that. I say “Trust and verify,” because that involves active application of the skills that we’ve been discussing. And that also brings us to a point where that coupled with the issues of practice, grace, mercy, and love, Norah it’s okay if you don’t vibe with everybody. Let those people go and vibe somewhere else. My job, our job, the listener’s job is to make the most positive impact to their world by practicing grace, mercy, and love at the same time, DTFW, do the fantastic work.

Norah Jones:                     Dan Goodwin. Thank you very much for everything that you’ve shared today. Do you feel like you’ve had an opportunity to indeed use the words that you wanted to use to express what’s important in life to you that you wish others would follow?

Dan Goodwin:                  I do. I do, Norah. I think our language… I so appreciate your podcast in that you are bringing these different people from different perspectives of life and different personalities, different skillsets. And the ones that I resonate with may not be in the investigative field or the business coaching consulting, but we are all striving for that same thing.

Norah Jones:                     We sure are, Dan. That grace, mercy, love, validation and the positives that you’ve brought today, I’m very grateful. Thanks for being my guest, Dan.

Dan Goodwin:                  I so appreciate you Norah, and appreciate the job you’re doing to reach your tribe. So thank you so much for allowing me to be here.

Norah Jones:                     Thank you, Dan.

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