Finding Neutral with Kevin McCarney

Kevin McCarney is a successful entrepreneur, owner of the restaurant chain, Poquito Mas, public speaker, and mentor. He’s also the author of Big Brain Little Brain. Kevin has managed to flip neuroscience into easy to digest language. You can learn about:

  • Neurological responses in our big brain and little brain.
  • What the Little Brain Activators and Big Brain Boosters are and how we could use them.
  • How to “find neutral” and execute awesome communication.
  • How to avoid little brain baggage words and make sure every day is a big brain day.

Transcript:Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

The Leadership Hacker News

Steve Rush: There’s a communications theme in today’s show. So having spoken to hundreds and hundreds of leaders around the world, we’ve distilled the top five communication hacks to get us going. For many of us and for many companies and industries around the world, communication has changed drastically. And for many of us, our tried and tested communications methods may no longer work as they used to. Now, this might not seem like a big deal, right? But considering how many online collaboration tools there are available, even the choice of your online tool can make a difference to how you are communicating based on quality and experience. And when we change our communications channels, we fundamentally change how we also communicate whether that’s conscious or unconscious.

So, in the transit to remote working, we all knew video would be an important thing. And a lot of us still try to avoid using video. If we’ve had a bad hair day or feeling lousy, or we just want to put some really casual clothes on, but think of how many video conference calls you’ve had, where most of the participants have kept the camera off, what’s happening for you unconsciously? Well, Tracy Brower, author of The Secrets to Happiness at work says it’s a mistake to avoid using video. And she outlines those reasons as. Video demonstrates responsibility, communicates confidence, will help build trust and rapport, will help you engage, and video can make you memorable to other people. And Tracy goes on to explain, of course, video may not be appropriate all of the time, but situations where it’s preferable, take the advantage of making yourself known.

When we start skipping into writing, many of our in-person conversations have turned into emails, Ms Teams messages, texts, notes, and project management apps, and intuitively we tend to send simple texts or messages. But the problem is, that you lose a lot of contexts when you turn your verbal words into text. Business Communications Expert, James Chapman explains what this means. And he says, we can’t see smiles or friend expressions. We can’t hear a person’s voice when we read an email, we’re missing the details that help us perceive the mood of the moment. All we see are blunt words, black and white. Lacking is an important visual and audrey cues, makes us fill in the gaps. So, hacks when writing? Ask don’t tell, direct instructions can often seem as demands, try and avoid using exclamation points or overusing them. But if you do want to make a sentence sound upbeat or happy, then that’s the right time to make a statement appear less flat, start your message with a disclaimer.

If you’re given feedback or addressing a difficult topic, start with a sentence that says you are writing with kindness and a smile, positivity helps. When you’re communicating, explain your intent. And it might seem obvious, but there is a real short of digital body language when you were online and on our Teams or Zoom or Slack meetings. And because there are less physical cues to clarify our intent, people assign meaning to all sorts of non-verbal things that we are trying to say, but do so unconsciously. So, the hack here is by stating intent early, people understand where this comes from, where the message comes from, and it removes the ability for them to start deciphering their own meaning of what you’re trying to say.

Use storytelling to make your message more engaging, think of how many dull meetings you been into it where just didn’t really get to understand what the desired outcome would be. The hack here is to zoom out, to think bigger before we go deeper. And sometimes we get so enamored in the deliverable. We lose sight of the larger story or the larger strategy, and we focus too much on the detail and sure detail is incredibly important, but if people understand how it connects to a bigger story, they’re more likely to pay attention and more likely to take action. And finally focus on your communications by creating an experience. Jennifer McClure, CEO of UN Bridal Talent and disrupt HR said, that the adoption of a new communication tech wasn’t always a strategic, it could have been. Jennifer says that a major failure of adding in new communication technologies is they’re often implemented without a clear goal, which leaves holes in our internal communications and other communications tools get added to patch these up and in turn, it makes a mess of the whole communication system, but as communicators, we own it. It’s up to us to create an experience that unifies the people that are paying attention. So, use one platform, but use other tools if they add value, if they don’t, ditched them. That’s been The Leadership Hacker news today. We always love hearing your stories. So please continue to get in touch.

Start of Podcast

Steve Rush: Kevin McCarney is our special guest on today’s show. He’s a successful entrepreneur, founder and CEO of Poquito Mas chain of restaurants. He’s a speaker, mentor and author, and his latest book is called Big Brain Little Brain. Kevin, we’d delighted to have you on the show.

Kevin McCarney: Pleasure to be here Steve. Thank you so much for your time.

Steve Rush: So, you have a really great story to tell, and I’d love to kind of get to a little bit about how you arrived and what you’re doing today, because it’s not a traditional route that you took and actually involved a little bit of an epiphany along the way. So maybe tell us a little bit about the backstory?

Kevin McCarney: Yeah, thank you very much. Well, I grew up with a very, very big family where winning the argument was the right of passage. I had four older brothers, two younger sisters and my parents and we we’re constantly arguing about different things. And I learned how to win the argument. I learned how to deal with lots of different situations because we moved so much. I think we moved eight times before it was eleven. And so, I got used to reading people before I could even read a book. And I went to work early and I got a job at Universal Studios when I was about 19 and I became a tour guide there and I thought, oh, this is really cool. All I have to do is say the same thing every day, and I’m good, right?

And I don’t really have to pivot very much. I don’t have to think really. And so, it’s like, it was fun for me, but then, it was one particular day, you know, I’m this 19-year-old snarky kid. And there was a really hot day. The trams were breaking down because it was over 110 degrees. And all of a sudden, I got a call over the speaker, Kevin, tram on the right. They’re all yours. It’s a group from Europe, they are not happy, good luck. So, with that, I walk down the tram and I try to make smiles and say hello to people. And they are arms crossed, brow furrow, they were just not going to look at me at all. I get to the front and the leader of the group grabs my arm. He said, take us back to the bus. We don’t want to do this anymore. You can’t do this to us, and I looked at him. I said, sir, that’s way above my pay grade, but you’re going to have to sit down because we’re moving. And the driver heard me, immediately started moving the van, and this is a three-car tram. So, I have 128 people on this thing. And they’re all looking at me like they’re angry at me. Like I’m the one who’s responsible. And so, my immediate snarky, 19-year-old self-asked the gentleman to sit down, he did, but he looked at me. He says, well fine, but we are not going to have a good time. You cannot make us laugh. We will not enjoy this. And so, I looked at this and I said, okay, in my mind, my snarky 19-year-old says, oh, this is just another argument to win.

Right? I’m going to win this argument. I’m just not going to give them a good tour. I’m not going to point things out. I’m not going to show them different things that they’ve paid to see. I’m not going to do that. And then in the front row of the second car was a family from the Midwest who was completely sunburn like everybody else because of the time in the sun. And they had big smiles on their face and they had t-shirts from the football team that they liked. So, I could see where they were from, but they were smiling at me. And I looked at them and I didn’t realize that in a split second, I just made a decision like, wow. Instead of giving a really snarky tour, I’m going to give this family the best tour I can because they’re there to have a good time.

And so that’s what I did. And I began to give that tour to them slowly but surely the people around them came along on the tour and they all started laughing by the end of the tour. Everybody was having a good time and laughing except for the grumpy leader. But it was amazing to me that I didn’t even know I had that in me. I didn’t know that in a pressure situation, I pivoted from being this kid who wanted to get back at this group to somebody who wanted to make these four people happy because they were smiling. And so, the group said goodbye to me. They were very friendly. But the family waited to speak to me. The father looked at me, said, son, you really turned that group around. Because they were not happy. And I looked at the family and I said, no, you turned them around you. Your smiles gave me permission to switch completely, to a different attitude. And I said, I was going to give completely different tour. It was not going to be friendly. It was not going to be nice. But instead, I gave that tour and the mother of, I can feel her hand to this day, puts her hand on my shoulder. She said, well, I want to thank you for choosing to give us that tour because, we can never were afforded to be in California again. This is the only time and this just made our vacation. Wow, so, I had no idea the power that I had, even as a tour guide, doing my job on these people’s life.

Steve Rush: It’s an amazing story, Kevin, isn’t it? You think about the whole principle behind what makes people tick? You could have changed and made a bad day for dozens of people, right?

Kevin McCarney: Oh, so many and myself included because what I didn’t see until the end, there was one of my supervisors getting off the back row of the tram, because he was auditing me to see how well I was doing. So, you can imagine where my career would’ve gone and it’s a good idea for everything in life, you know, you don’t know who’s listening sometimes, but in this case, it was a lesson to me. She said chose, that stuck with me for a long time. I’m trying to understand what’s happening in pressure situations where you can pivot from one attitude to another one in a split second under pressure. And what I realized and I started doing so much more research on this, which was one of the Genesis of the book, I started making notes on throughout my entire career is how people handle different situations.

Steve Rush: What I particularly love about the story, because you tell it in the book is, you’ve described throughout the book, actually this whole kind of neurological response to how people deal with communication, except you’ve done it from a non-medical, non textbook perspective and used your own life choices and experiences in playing it back for people to understand in simple terms, right?

Kevin McCarney: Yes, absolutely. I started my own restaurant company after that, did a bunch of stuff, then started my company and I realized, okay, I’m learning this stuff myself, how I can manage any particular situation, I can handle pressure. Now, how do I teach my team how to do that? How do I teach other people how to handle these situations? And use a really important segment there, a non-medical, a non-academic language. So, it was easy for people to grasp and they could see it, rather than sounding like, oh, I’m going to use these fancy words. I want to use everyday language so that it made sense in everyday situation.

Steve Rush: And I guess that’s where the whole notion of Big Brain Little Brain comes from, right?

Kevin McCarney: Exactly, and I did enough research to where I started asking everybody and friends of mine, physicians and stuff like that, and you know, it really comes down too, you know, when people drink, their big brain gets cut off from their little brain. The little brain is that reptilian fight or flight brain. And the big brain is that neocortex, all the smart stuff that we know, we know what the right thing is. And what you realize is do different influences, whether they’re chemical or environmental have an impact on the way we communicate. Our communication is in constant state of evolution. We’re learning from the people around us, but one of the things I noticed and I started really understanding is that the big brain is that brain that’s in control. It’s genuine, it’s thoughtful, its kind, it’s a good listener, and it builds trust when you communicate with the big brain. The little brain is that impulsive, sarcastic, snarky, selfish. The brain that snaps back, just a slightest provocation and a really poor listener, and it creates mistrust. And the difference between these two worlds is you’re going to have a peaceful life or you’re going to have a life that’s going to have a lot of bumps of chaos in it. And little brain will create chaos, where big brain will try to come in and clean it up. But if you use your big brain to begin with, you have a much smoother path ahead.

Steve Rush: One of the things you said at the top of the show really interested me actually, and it plays on that whole notion of how you read people before you read books. And that’s kind of ironic because it turns out that you are dyslexic, and therefore actually you had to rely more on your unconscious behaviors playing out and reading people than you would’ve done, perhaps working around text and stuff. How much of that did you notice was developing into something over time?

Kevin McCarney: You know, so much in growing up. That’s exactly what I did. And one of the things that I got really good at reading and again, I didn’t read my first book until I was 21. And I was convincing from a friend of mine because I was just so frustrated with the words and everything. But what I got really good was reading tone and I realized how important tone was to every communication. And tone’s very difficult in a digital age because I don’t think emojis quite give you the tone that they’re intended. And so, what I really got to learn was, how much the tone is the message of what you’re saying, because you can say the same words in a different tone and they mean something completely different.

Steve Rush: Right.

Kevin McCarney: I walked into my house one time, 19-hour day. I just want to get in there, sit down and grab some water and relax. And there’s 25 choir kids jumping up and down and singing at the top of their lungs. I hadn’t known about this meeting, but I opened the door and it’s like, okay, what have we got going here? Right. That’s what I said, because I had trained myself in situations. But can you imagine if I walked in and went, okay, what do we have going here? Same exact words, but the message to the audience is completely different. And I can tell you, my daughters appreciated the first tone because that’s the one I used. And what you really understand, especially as a parent, but also with employees. The tone is the message. And if you can control your tone, you can control the conversation. You can maneuver any conversation. And the most important part of that is that tone is usually the first thing that begins to escalate in a conversation that turns it into a confrontation.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Kevin McCarney: I had four, older brothers, I had to get good at this, right. So, I got really good at managing my tone and pulling other people into my tone instead of following them into their little brain tone.

Steve Rush: And you call out in the book actually, little brain activators and big brain boosters, right?

Kevin McCarney: Yes, that’s correct, yeah.

Steve Rush: Got it. So, what are they and how would we use them?

Kevin McCarney: Little brain and in the book, we have the little brain words in that, but it really comes down too, what people think about you is the last impression that you made on them. So, if you’re thinking about, oh, I want to use this company for doing some editing or something and you’re thinking, oh, you know what, let me think about which company, and you go to that company and your first thought is going to be the last impression that person made on you, not the first impression, but the last impression.

So, if the last impression was that person’s rude or disrespectful or abrasive, you’re going to be switching to, you know what, let me look at somebody else because what happens is, when we get activated and it could be something as minor as somebody disrespecting our favorite football team and all of a sudden, we think, well, I have to fight for my football team and I have to say something back or it could be cutting off in traffic. Somebody cuts you off and I have to go after them or just somebody being loud in a movie theater. And I think that these are all little everyday situations that if we allow them to annoy us, it gives little brain a lot of power over what we’re going to say. So, the idea is, yes, there’s going to be things that annoy you and bother you every day. And it could be all these little things. It could be anything at work. It could be things that have been piling up. But if you allow any of these everyday situations to turn that annoyance into a confrontation, then it’s because you haven’t taken control of that moment. And that’s the whole idea buying Big Brain, Little Brain is keep Big Brain in control. Keep Little Brain out of the conversation.

Steve Rush: I remember when we first met Kevin, we talked about this whole notion. One of the things that I found really inspirational is your ability to what you call finding neutral. And often that’s the bit between where people are activated, triggered, other language in other walks of life. And that emotional response kicks in, is often then too late to tap into your big brain. But you find this bit in the middle called neutral. And I think that’s a really essential part, then isn’t it, how we then learn how to respond, right?

Kevin McCarney: Exactly. And as we mature, we get better at it. And the more we use neutral, the more natural it becomes for us in these situations like where, you know, I walked in and I got surprised, or you get surprised at work with somebody ambushed you with a report. They want you to do anything. But if you can get to neutral and you know, Victor Frankl who survive four different concentration camp, wrote 29 books on human behavior. He had the best line on that. She said between stimulus and response, there’s a space. And in that space is our power to choose our response.

Steve Rush: Right, yeah.

Kevin McCarney: Very much like I chose to give a better tour. And I didn’t even know about Victor Frankl at the time. We have a choice, no matter what pressure we’re under, whatever somebody has done, somebody’s poking us or prorogating us. We still have a choice. And we talk about the fight or flight brain all the time and media and stuff like that. Oh, it’s fight or flight, but it’s much deeper than that. There’s another part of that whole idea is neutral between fight and flight, there is neutral and between and neutral is where you get to pivot and decide where you’re going to go. And flight doesn’t always mean running away. Sometimes it means stepping out of the way of a problem and fighting doesn’t mean you’re always going to be confrontational as much as you’re going to stand up for yourself if you need to. But the idea behind getting to neutral and having a neutral word and my neutral word as you heard is okay, right.

I practice saying, okay, in a very positive tone of voice, because even if, no matter when I’m surprised, I’m going to use my neutral word or my neutral phrase, and we give a whole example in the book. People keep sending me their neutral words. One of them is already or oh really, or interesting, or gosh. Any of these phrases or whatever one people have. And I believe everybody has their own neutral word already. They just don’t see it as a tool, and it’s a wonderful tool because if you can get to neutral under pressure, it’s an immediate awareness that, oh, I had better not let my little brain finish this conversation because it’s going to create a problem for me that I got to clean up. That’s I got to bring my big brain into here to finish this off. That’s what neutral is. And more you use neutral. The more you use that neutral word, the better you’re going to be, because it’s going to make you stronger and stronger.

Steve Rush: So, the Importance of having a neutral word is really essential, isn’t it? Cause without it, I guess you would then trigger more little brain activators.

Kevin McCarney: Yes, exactly. And I think that what will happen is, you fall into a little brain cycle of, oh, what’s the next little brain thing I can use or say, if you don’t realize, because the neutral gives you the awareness that you need in that moment. You use your little brain, somebody else is going to respond with their little brain and you just get into a little brain cliche war of talking back and forth and you’re get completely off top and you get away from even the conversation you were in, you get more into a reactionary comment.

Steve Rush: And without that, can you still get into neutral or does access to big brain become really difficult?

Kevin McCarney: No, you can get into neutral at any point. Let’s say you’ve gone down the road a little bit and you may one or two little snarky comments, as soon as you become aware of that, you can go, oh, you know, I probably shouldn’t have said it like that. Let me rephrase that. Let me go back. And that’s where big brain takes over because it really does. You’re constantly evolving in that conversation. You’re constantly going to have different moments of awareness, but if you can know that your neutral word is, I see, or oh really? Or you want to take some time and let’s say somebody pushed pressure on you. Well, what do you think right now? And in the book, we have a section where we talk about time parachute. Giving you a little time before you answer a question.

And, you know, one of the things that I don’t like to do is when somebody pushes me, answer this now, right? I go, you know what, I need a little more time to ponder that. That’s a really interesting thing. Let me think about that. Let me give that some more thought, let me give it the thought it deserves. Something like a time parachute, gets you out of a lot of sticky situations when you get into them. And I think it’s one of those graceful exits that keeps you out of little brain.

Steve Rush: It’s also gets you straight to neutral.

Kevin McCarney: Yes, exactly. And it’s a tone of voice. As I never realized how critical it was, but if you watch any movie or any TV, you’ll see how manipulative tone can be.

Steve Rush: So, in the virtual world, how have you seen this change? So obviously you can hear tone, but I wondered if you could see tone through the way people are typing or the way that they are using emojis in the digital world.

Kevin McCarney: Great question. It’s more to difficult now than ever because tone is usually decided by the person reading the message, right? So whatever mood they’re in, they’re going to decide the tone that you wrote that in, whether it is not that tone or not, which is why I always tell people if they get a little brain email from somebody or the little bring text from somebody, instead of trying to out little brain them or out comment them in a text, pick up the phone and just say you know what, or say just say, you know what, can we talk? You know, can we have a conversation? Break away from that medium into a different medium? So, you can really have the time because it’s hard to read tone in text, it’s just almost impossible, but some people are really good at it.

But most people, when it comes to the quickness of communication today, I think the internet has made everybody so fast and impulsive and how quick they think they need to respond. And one of the things we discuss is, no. You don’t need to respond right away, give yourself some time, process some of the comments, especially in a business environment or even a family environment where you get an email where somebody was obviously upset or frustrated, you know, it’s a good idea to ponder for a little bit before you respond to that. And it really is, go to neutral and think what’s the best response I can have for this person in this moment, in this particular communication.

Steve Rush: I’d never really joined the dots together actually in so much as when you receive written word, you read it in your own emotive state. Of course, you do. But actually, now you’ve said it out loud, it makes loads of sense. And that’s why lots of people read same text and get a different message, right?

Kevin McCarney: Yes, absolutely. And I’ve been the guilty party on several of those over the years. And I think that one of the things, and I’ve also been a receiver of so many where I look at something now and I really train myself. And I think that when it comes to communication, we have to constantly being the state of improving, evolving, and training ourselves to get better. We have to practice our verbal muscle memory really to get better at how we respond to different things. And I’m grateful that I’ve had the time to sort of focus on this for the last several years.

Steve Rush: And to help that muscle memory as well in the book you call out some little brain baggage words. I just wonder if you could share to our listeners what they are and how we could maybe use them to help our communication?

Kevin McCarney: Yeah, what we call out in the book, there’s seven different areas of communication where all these different principles show up that I talk about, whether it’s control, tone, words, time, responsibility, power, and awareness. These are the seven areas where all these things can show up, but little brain, again, little brain. These baggage words is the last impression you made. And it’s the last thing you said, or the last interaction you had with that person. And so, if your little brain you’re going to have under control, you’re going to rude. And, you may have under tone, you may have disrespectful and words, abrasive. People know this stuff, they remember this, they remember the little brain component of your last communication, more than they remember the big brain component, because they’ll remember if you were immature or snarky, they’ll remember that, and a big brain, you know, legacy words, you know, you’ve got to work harder to make people remember those, whether it’s sincerity or trusting or welcoming, considerate, it is two different worlds when it comes to what people think about you. And it really is, you know, essentially your reputation is online with every communication that you do

Steve Rush: To your knowledge and experience, is the reason why we can remember little brain words more because it sits in the emotional part of our brain rather than the logical part of our brain?

Kevin McCarney: Absolutely, and again, with tone, but a lot of these words are how they make us feel. And the negative feelings are definitely more prominent and it sits there a little bit longer. And, you know, I think that you can erase these words by the way, you can get rid of the negative little brain baggage words by recognizing, oh, with this person. The last time I talked to them, I think I was a little bit rude. So next time I talked to them, I’m going to start off with, you know what, hey, by the way, apologize for last time, I think I was a little snarky or something. You can just take it away. And that’s the beautiful thing about, anybody that you’ve had a difficult communication with. You can go back and look where you may have made a mistake and you can undo it. You can erase it by, going in and literally addressing it and dealing with it so they can say, oh yeah, okay. I remember that, but he said something and he’s he apologized or they said, oh yeah, it was for a different reason. The idea is, you always have control over this communication. Even if you said something wrong, you can go back and fix it.

Steve Rush: So, I guess falling into the trap of little brain language, little brain words, and baggage words, that’s natural behavior because we’ve learned that way of doing things. And we’ve learned a response set in response to different emotions or events. So how can we make sure that we are spending more time in the big brain?

Kevin McCarney: Well, I think the first thing you can do is, every day you can take a look at where you’re at and recognize it. You get up in the morning, you go, okay, what’s going on today? Is anything wrong physically? Is there anything bothering you emotionally? What are some of the outside influences that might be controlling you today? And so, if you go through that and go, yeah, you know what? I got this report due and I’m of anxiety. Just go through, and there’s a whole list in the book, check them off. There’re eight little areas, check them off to make sure that if you know, you’ve got something, a situation that’s going to go into little brain, you know, that going in, which means you can stay in big brain much longer. And it really is a daily checklist of making sure you can do that. The other thing I think is the most important thing is every day, wake up with the idea that if you control your tone, you control your life.

Steve Rush: I like that, very powerful, the same words, different tone, different outcome.

Kevin McCarney: Yeah, different outcome completely. And that’s the greatest lesson, because you know, I’ve seen it so many times and I’ve given so many presentations to different groups and you watch sometimes when you talk about neutral, you see light bulbs go off. I have people practice their tones. I go, okay, say this word in an angry tone. Now say this word in a pleasant tone. And when you really use a little bit of tone training, all of a sudden you get people immediately to become aware, oh, and it’s because we’re not taught this in school or when we are growing up, we gather our information on communication by the environments we’re in. And if the environment doesn’t teach us, then we’ve got to go out and find it somewhere else.

Steve Rush: So, here’s the thing. It’s a really interesting point you just come across. Actually, I’ve had this conversation with a number of people over time. What’s the reason we don’t teach this stuff at school?

Kevin McCarney: You know, I think interpersonal communication is sometimes seen as it’s not academic. And it’s not something that people have paid attention too. My local school, just beginning to pay attention, because you know, everybody’s talking about mindfulness, right? Well, mindfulness begins with the way you communicate. And I’m pushing them to do something along the lines of getting people to communicate. And again, not just about, you know, how to handle confrontations or things like that, but really how to communicate more effectively. And I think from an academic standpoint, they’re looking at curriculum and that’s all they have time to deal with. So, it’s outside the curriculum, and I’ve spoken at a school every year, locally here to this group of kids because they want this message for that group. And it’s outside the curriculum, but it’s inside the school.

And it’s really beginning to help. I think it would be wonderful if more people could do this because you’re right. I just think that the academic world is not their fault as much as they’re not necessarily aware of this. And even my book, isn’t going to be seen by an academic culture as, oh yeah. Even though it’s laid out where you can teach this, it’s going to be, they have to understand it’s not based upon some academic school, this is street psychology. This is observational life psychology. And it’s not about white coats and animals testing or putting wires on people. This is everyday life and it’s more difficult for people to accept.

Steve Rush: And ironically, the more academia we have it’s put into work in everyday life, which is the, where the rubber really hits the road. So actually, what you have in absolute terms is the effect of all of that psychology going on, which I think is why it plays out so well.

Kevin McCarney: Yeah, I think it does. We have to always understand that we’re evolving in our communication every day and every situation and every environment we’re in and we can get better at it. And I think that everybody has the ability to get at communicating. And I think that’s going to be the challenge. I think that one of my favorite stories is my own story where, you know, I got much better at tone after my five-year-old daughter taught me a lesson when I was under a Christmas tree, trying to put up some lights. And I saw her walking up the steps of a ladder, and I said, Caitlyn, get down from there, right. And then she did, she kept walking up and I yelled again. Caitlyn, get down from there, raise my voice, right. And I get out from the tree and I’m about to launch a very louder, angry tone. And she looks at me and she’s got an angel in her hand. She wants to put it on top of the tree. I did not see that, which is a metaphor for life. We don’t see everything, you know, that we react to. And I looked at her and she looks at me and I said, Caitlyn, it’s dangerous. You’ve got to get down from there. And this five-year-old looks at me, she goes, I like that tone better daddy.

Steve Rush: Wow.

Kevin McCarney: Wow.

Steve Rush: How interesting is that?

Kevin McCarney: Yeah, because if we’re tuning into our kids, they’re much more pure in their communication. They’re much cleaner in their communication. They’re not muddled, by all the other extra words, they know what they’re reading, they’re reading tone. So, it’s a wonderful lesson for me. It was a wonderful lesson and it still is.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Kevin McCarney: But it really comes down to, we’re constantly evolving and don’t ever think that we’ve learned enough to where we don’t have to learn anymore about communicating. This is everyday communication. We still have to get better at it.

Steve Rush: And it’ll always be evolving because the world’s changing. The way we communicate changes, the medium in which we do so changes and in therefore our response to it. So, it’ll always be something that’s new and fresh for us to get into, right.

Kevin McCarney: Exactly, and I’m grateful. We got podcasts like yours, that are out there to get the word out to more people. Because I think podcasts have been one of the greatest things that the digital generation has created. More information, more sources of good information where people want to take the time to listen. The idea that there’s taking the time to listen to a podcast. They’re not just looking at something on a screen, but they’re listening is fantastic because we have to train people to listen more. Because that’s when they start thinking things through when they’re listening.

Steve Rush: Yeah, superb and thanks for endorsing our podcast as well. And the genre, because I’m with you, right. This is a means to help people and grow people’s awareness. And actually, the more we can do that collectively as an entire community, then the better.

Kevin McCarney: Yeah, absolutely. My goal is to get the entire world to neutral for a while.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Kevin McCarney: You know, so we can pivot and be more productive.

Steve Rush: So, I’m going to ask a step into neutral as we now pivot into the next part of our show.

Kevin McCarney: Okay.

Steve Rush: So, this is part of the show where we start to tap into your broad and extensive leadership career and I’m looking for you to kind of tap into all of that experience and think about, what would be the top three leadership hacks you could share with our audience?

Kevin McCarney: Probably one of the most important is something that came out of a situation again where I had employees not talking to each other and they were grunting. And I finally sat one of them down and said, listen, there’s a meeting coming up. The other, person’s not going to be here. I want you to say three things that person does really well at the end of the meeting, and then end the meeting. And he did a wonderful job of doing that. And the next day after that meeting where the person who he wasn’t speaking to wasn’t there, but the next day he walked in and all of a sudden that person was speaking to him and being very friendly. And what we noticed is that, without her being there, he used what we now have labeled as good gossip.

Good gossip is one of the greatest leadership hacks ever because you can strategically use it. It has to be honest, otherwise it won’t work, but it’s strategically talking nice about somebody or saying nice about somebody behind their back, because it does multiple things. In today’s world, it gets back to everybody, there are no secrets anymore. You can’t whisper, that doesn’t make a different. People just turn up the sound. And when it comes to that internal communication of a company. Gossip is a cancer where good gossip is a cure.

Steve Rush: Fantastic.

Kevin McCarney: Because if you can say nice things about people behind their back, it not only makes that person to feel good, because they’ll hear it, but it makes the people that are listening to you, trust you because now they’re getting, oh, that’s really cool that they’re saying something nice about somebody because that elevates their trust level in that person.

So, I would say, definitely say one of my hacks would be good gossip because it’s absolutely incredibly powerful and incredibly useful. The next thing I would say is, control your tone. You know, it is probably the most important thing and practice your tone. And I think that, you know, realize that no matter what situation you’re in, you always have a choice. You always have a choice. You don’t have to do or say anything. You always have a choice. It’s going to be to understand and really use these words, say it to yourself. How I can communicate is who I am. And how you communicate is who you are. And if you can understand it, how you communicate and that the words you use today are going to be with you forever. Especially in this environment, we’re in where everybody’s got a recording device on their hip. The words you use today will follow you forever. So, choose the words you want to follow you.

Steve Rush: I love those. I particularly love the good gossip. I think it’s just a great notion and would drive so many positive outcomes.

Kevin McCarney: I saw it work and we still see it work so often. And again, watch it even amongst your own friends and watch how they respond when you’re talking good about somebody who’s not there. And it’s a way we can train people to use good gossip because it travels the same path as gossip, exactly. But it has completely different and much more productive results.

Steve Rush: So, the next part of the show, we call it Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where something hasn’t worked out as well as you’d thought and would work out or maybe it’s quite catastrophic, but as a result of it, there is a learning experience for you. And it’s now a positive in your life or work. So, what would be your Hack to Attack Kevin?

Kevin McCarney: Well, I think that the thing that has taught me the most is standing behind the counter at the restaurant for the first seven years and realizing because I was so good at winning arguments, you know, customers would come in and they would say something and I know I’m right, right. I knew that they ordered the food wrong or something. And I kept trying to win the argument with the customer. And only realize is it’s not that the customer’s always right. They’re not, and I don’t want to throw employees under the bus. Oh, the customer’s always right. The customers not always right. But in the pressure of the moment, customer actually believes that they’re right. And I learned that lesson a couple times when I was trying to win the argument and I saw people storm out and I realized, gosh, how do I get that person back?

I don’t want to win the argument. I want to win that moment. I want to win that person back. So that was part of the Genesis of what we’re talking about is that, I had to learn that winning the argument is sometimes losing. And it’s not that the customer’s always right. Again, they’re not. The customer believes though in that moment that they’re right. And you have to bring them back. You have to bring them back to your reality because we’re in the hospitality business, we’re in the business of bringing people back to life. I realized when I was behind the counter that I’m in the business of serving people with low blood sugar.

Steve Rush: Yes, it’s true actually, right.

Kevin McCarney: So, they walk in, they’re hungry. So, they’re not necessarily mentally exactly who they normally want to be. And so, if you get anything wrong, it’s physiological. They’re hungry. So, what I learned is, oh, okay. There’s a physiological state here that I’m dealing with. I have to train all my people, how to deal with people in this age, because our job is to bring people back. I want to bring as many people back, you know, there was situation in a restaurant where a customer got completely out of control, and we were able to bring her back and to the point where she apologized. And when I tell my employees right now, I said, look, the word restaurant comes from the word restaurant it’s a French word, right? And it comes from a 1765. A guy named Boulangers in Paris is the story that Marion Webster puts out there.

Couldn’t get into any of the food union. So, he created his own little soup and stews place, and he put a sign, at his window, come in you weary traveler. And my stews will restore you. And it’s the perfect idea of what the restaurant business is all about. And I think any business, really. People are looking to be restored. They’re looking for something to make them feel good, whether it’s listening or whether it’s eating, they’re looking for something and make them feel good. So, they’re going to come back to something that makes them feel good. I’m in the business of restoring people. They come in, they’re hungry. Somebody was angry at work. Our job is to send them back out restored. My employees have done a wonderful job of doing that for 37 years.

Steve Rush: And what’s made Poquito Mas so successful Kevin? If you put communication at the heart of all of that, right?

Kevin McCarney: Absolutely, communication and honesty and freshness. And just knowing that your customers are human and your employees are human and you know what? You’re going to work with whatever situation comes up, it will be fine. I can’t say I’m not surprised, but I’m not shocked by many things anymore.

Steve Rush: Now the last part of the show. We get to give you a chance to do some time travel. You get to bump into Kevin at 21, and you get to give him some advice. So, what would it be?

Kevin McCarney: Listen more than you speak, because you will learn so much more and you will know what to say when you do speak. Because my 21-year-olds self was not a great listener. And I think that listening was probably the one lesson that I learned gave me the most insight. Do that, listen, and don’t be in a hurry.

Steve Rush: Really powerful words, really powerful. Love it. Now, having listened to you today and knowing all the great work you do, Big Brain Little Brain, by the way, is a great read. It’s packed of tools and traps you call it. So, if folks will listen to this, I wanted to copy of the book or wanted to learn a little bit more about your work Kevin, where’s the best place for us to send them

Kevin McCarney: And you can go to And I return all my emails and you can click on the link and get to Amazon to buy a book and please leave a review, good or bad, leave a review, whatever you feel about it. I think it’s the most important thing right now is to get the word out to people.

Steve Rush: And of course, unless you’re in California, you’re unlikely to bump into Paquito Mas.

Kevin McCarney: Yes, absolutely. Paquito Mas is in LA. We’ve got eight locations. We’ve been around, like I said, 37 years and we make everything from scratch every day. Every tortilla, everything. So, it’s good food. And you know, we’re still in business and I feel grateful that we’ve survived this last year and a half. And I know that no matter what’s ahead of us, we’ll deal with it.

Steve Rush: Yeah. Kevin, thank you ever so much for sharing your stories and helping us all find our neutral word. I think that’s the goal for the day and sharing your wider experience with us and just thanks of being part of our community on The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

Kevin McCarney: Well, Steve, I can’t thank you enough for doing this. I listen to your stuff and it’s just such so healthy to listen to a program like this. It’s healthy, and I appreciate you’re here

Steve Rush: And I appreciate you too. Thanks, Kevin.

Kevin McCarney: All right, sir.


Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there: @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there: @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: