Improve Your Messaging with the Red Thread Method | Tamsen Webster


How can you better communicate your big ideas?

How can you close the gap between messaging and understanding?

Pull on the Red Thread Method.

Tamsen Webster has been helping leaders move from ideas to actions and implement messaging strategies for over 20 years. Part storyteller, part English-to-English translator, she focuses on finding and building the stories that organizations will tell themselves and others. Her Red Thread Method gives leaders and businesses the ability to see their explicit and implicit messaging in a new way and allows them to change what isn’t working. In our conversation she shares many insights, including: 

  • How to harness the 5 elements of storytelling 

  • The importance of practicing cognitive empathy to change thinking 

  • How to use a mad lib technique to jumpstart the process

When you pull on the Red Thread you begin to create stories that are more exciting and compelling for your team and clients. Listen to the full episode and start pulling today!

Mentioned in this episode:


Tamsen Webster: If you don’t understand what they’re thinking about the situation right now, you are very unlikely to help them build a path to a new way of thinking. But if you know where they are right now mentally, then you’ve got the ability to start to draw a map between where they are right now and where you want them to go.

Voiceover: You’re listening to the Vibrant Leadership podcast with leadership speaker and consultant Nicole Greer.

Nicole Greer: Welcome to the Vibrant Leadership podcast. My name is Nicole Greer, and they call me the vibrant coach and today I am so thrilled to have Tamsen Webster on the Vibrant Leadership podcast. Let me tell you a little bit about her before we get started because she’s amazing. She has spent the last 20 years helping experts drive action from their ideas. So it’s one thing to get an idea. It’s a whole nother thing to make it happen. And so that’s what Tamsen, does she makes it happen. She is a part message strategist, part storyteller and part English to English translator. 

Her work focuses on how to find and build the stories that partners, investors, clients and customers will tell themselves and others. Tamsen has honed her expertise through work in and for major companies and organizations like Johnson and Johnson, Harvard Medical School and Intel, as well as with startups that represent the next wave of innovation in life science, biotech, climate tech, fintech, all the techs and pharma. And she’s a professional advisor at the Martin Trust Center at the MIT Entrepreneurship and mentor for the Harvard Innovation Labs. I am out of breath. Hold on. And she’s also served for over eight years as an executive producer and ideas strategist for one of the oldest locally organized Ted events in the world. TEDx Cambridge. There you go. 

She’s a TEDx speaker. She’s gonna tell us where to go find that. Well, you know, you can just Google it. Tamsen Webster TEDx. It will come up. And she was a reluctant marathoner twice. And so we have something in common. Tamsen, I have run one marathon and two halves, so we might have to talk about that. She is a champion ballroom dancer in her mind. Don’t miss that, and learned everything she knows about messages, people and change as a weight watchers leader. True story, please welcome to the Vibrant Leadership podcast. Yay, Tamsen.

Tamsen: Hi. So glad to be here. I aspire to be a vibrant leader. So I’m, I’m excited about what I can learn.

Nicole: Okay, well, gosh, we’ll just keep sharing the genius back and forth, back and forth? Well, yeah, well, the first question, because I always want to get everybody’s take, you know, it’s like, what is your definition of leadership? How do you view it?

Tamsen: I view leadership leadership as a, like two people on a shared journey, I think is the is the is the way to think about it. And that you’re going to a place together. And it doesn’t mean that both of you have already been there. But one of you probably has more experience than the other in certain areas. But one of the things that I really just believe about humans is that you can learn something from everybody. And so anytime that I’ve been a leader, or any of the leaders that have been particularly great that I have worked with and for there really has been that sense of we’re of this shared journey of this if we’re on this road together. 

And you have this exchange between, you know, where are we going? Do we agree with that? How are we getting there? What are the skills that you bring to the table? What are the skills that I bring to the table? What are the ones you want to learn? What are the ones that I want you to learn? And I just think that that exchange back and forth in pursuit of a destination, you know, and is really kind of at the core of how I think about it.

Nicole: I love that a shared journey. So I write that down in your notebook, because I know every time you listen to the Vibrant Leadership podcast, you’re writing down these definitions. So I think that is a beautiful one. And the thing I love about you Tamsen after I visited your website, and so of course, everybody needs to go over to her website, which is t a m s e n 

So you might want to pop over there and take a little peek while you’re listening. But is that you help people get their message together. And one of the things that I have found in my consulting is that leaders have what they want to do in their head. But they don’t know how to talk about what they want to do in a way that’s compelling or exciting or engages the crew. And I think that is what your your thing is, is helping people find that and don’t you call that about finding the red thread?

Tamsen: Yes. So, the red thread is both the desired outcome and the approach. And just to back up a little bit, you are so right. And I think we have all been in that situation ourselves where we know what we’re trying to say. And then we try to get it out and it just doesn’t come out the way that we were hoping. And I definitely had enough of those experiences personally in my life that I wanted to figure out a way to solve for that. You know, I 25 years and brand and message strategy and a lot of what I knew was intuitive. 

I kind of but there are still those moments where I would I myself would struggle. And so the red thread is I borrow it as an idiom from Northern European language. And they use it to mean like, what’s the big idea of something? What’s the message? What’s the? What’s the kind of logical progression of ideas? What’s the theme? What’s the thing that makes it makes sense. And I think all of us are looking for that. And we as humans, in fact, we need to hear that message, that red thread in order for what someone’s telling us to make sense. And if we don’t hear all the pieces, we try to put them together ourselves. 

And so I want to develop a process to help people find that. To help people build that that was repeatable, that took into account how busy people are, and how, even though our brains are wired for story, that most people that I meet in a business environment aren’t comfortable in the role of seeing themselves as storytellers. So how can I do all of that, put it together? And you know, what, I end up calling the red thread method to find a red thread was the result.

Nicole: Oh, that’s fantastic. That’s fantastic. Well, how did you happen upon the red thread? Were you reading a book? Did you see a video? I mean, like, where did you find this language, this Northern European language? It’s really cool.

Tamsen: Well I had a Swedish client. So it’s, it’s fairly common in Sweden. And I had a Swedish Swedish client, I was working with a company Ericsson at the time, and we were talking about something about, you know, I was working for another company. And one of the big things that we would say over and over again, that I have other company, a great company called, oratium, was that you need to powerfully land a small number of big ideas. And in response to that, someone said, oh, so we need to make sure you know, this is all about how to, we need to make sure that we understand the red thread of our of what we’re presenting. 

And I just thought at the time, I was like, well, this just must be Erickson, because I’ve never heard this before. But I you know, you kind of, it’s just this beautiful, visceral visual image that you can’t get once and you can understand contextually, but I just thought it was Erickson until three years later, I was working with a different company, in this case, State Street Bank. And they had one of their team members was from Sweden. And then she used it the same, the same phrase, you know, okay, what’s the red thread that we’re trying to get to here? 

And I was like, huh! At first, I was like, did you work for Ericsson? She’s like, no, it’s a Swedish phrase. Like, do you not have this over here in the US? And I’m like, no, but I want to. And that just that set me on a path to understand more about what it meant from an idiomatic standpoint, but also what the story was behind it. And when I found that story, that’s when it became clear that it was not only the right word or phrase to describe what I was help people doing. It was also the right phrase to describe how I was helping them do it. Because the origin story of the red thread is really pretty cool.

Nicole: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. So in my mind, what I’m hearing you say is that like, you know, we have all these things going on inside of an organization. But there’s one message that is woven through the tapestry of everything we’re trying to do. Do I have it right, in my mind?

Tamsen: You 100% have it right in your head? Yeah, that’s right. And I mentioned that I spent many years in brand strategy. And I found over and over again, that brand is important brand is obviously you know, how you see yourselves. And importantly, it’s like how, you know, I defined brand is the sum total of people’s experiences with you. Like that’s, you know, there’s aspirational branding, when you’re like, we want to be seen as x. And then there’s your actual brand, which is how people actually look at you. And yet, that it just, it didn’t always fit the bill for the work that I needed to do when I was like running marketing departments. Or didn’t always, it wasn’t always useful when I was working in agencies and helping supply that brand positioning. I was like, there must be something else. 

And why is it that there can be a gap between what a what a company says its brand is and what people experience? Like there must be something deeper. And that’s what I have now come to understand as being the red thread of a company. It is the it is think of it in many ways as the operating system. Right? An operating system produces a computer that works a certain way. Like it’s like a computer code. Like just like your HTML code behind your website makes it look a certain way. But the code itself is actually what produces that. And that’s how I see the red thread. It’s very much the, whether you were talking about it for an individual which we have them too or organization. 

It’s not just the organization’s why, which I think in a lot of ways is it kind of its vision or its mission. It’s why they do what they do the way that they do it. Right. Like that’s what I mean by the operating system. It’s it’s kind of it’s this connective piece about that gives rise to what the company does. What the company says, how it says it. And it’s that red thread that when you know what it is, you can, you know, if you’re interested in grabbing better hold of your brand, it’s a lot easier to do that. It’s a lot easier to understand why it’s not working, if you don’t understand really what’s driving all that you do.

Nicole: Yeah. So it’s kind of like, there’s mission, there’s vision, but then there’s almost like a philosophy.

Tamsen: Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s, it really is kind of just keep coming back to that operating system. It’s it is it is the kind of set of assumptions about how the world works, or how the company works, or how they want to work in it, that drives everything else. You know, it’s, it is that combination. It is this, you know, so a red thread, you know, the best definition I’ve come up with it is the red thread is the story that we tell ourselves about how the world works, or, you know, the story that we tell ourselves, that makes things make sense. And, you know, a story doesn’t have like one element. And I think that’s one of the places where, you know, it’s, it is simultaneously a very simple concept. 

But also it isn’t just like, well, our brand is safety, like Volvo, right? You know, this red thread is more nuanced than that. But still fairly straightforward, because it has these elements that are true across every message. Every attempt that our brains make to make sense of something. And so when we can understand that, because it has those multiple elements, it actually has much greater power in my mind, then it’s kind of a simple brand tagline or something like that. Because it is it is nuanced, it is multi dimensional, it helps you understand, well, who are we serving? What questions are we solving for them? What are the perspectives that we bring to bear on those problems that are different? Why do we believe those perspectives? What are the values and the assumptions that we have about why that perspective is the right one? 

Once you understand that, then you have a much better understanding of okay, why we do what we do, the way that we do it. So it’s, it’s kind of all of this is the, the argument, the strategy that leads up to, here’s what we do as a company, or here’s what I do as a leader. And I just think having that knowledge is what a one thing that we don’t a lot of times have, because a lot of times the we are blind to our own assumptions about how the world works. Just like a computer doesn’t consciously read its own code, it just executes it. Right? You know, and it takes a special thing, you know, a special step for us to open up a window and look at that code. 

Same thing is true for us, whether we’re leaders or organizations, is that we, we don’t consciously read our own code, we just execute that code. But when you understand what the code is, then you can understand why something’s not working, how to make it work better, and how to make it deliver exactly what it is that you’re hoping it will deliver in a way that is uniquely true to you. And that’s I think, one of the additional places where really understanding your red thread in addition to your brand, and your mission, and your vision can come in really helpful.

Nicole: Yeah. And so I kept getting this image of like, you know, if you pull the red thread out of the tapestry, tapestry falls apart, because it’s like that is the thing tying it all together, right. Yeah. Yeah. So if if I’m a leader, which I which I am, which we all we all are, that’s my definition. That’s my download. But if I’m a leader, and I, you know, I’ve been in a company for a long time, it’s very, very, very well established. But maybe it’s going through change, it seems like so many of the companies I’m working with right now, are, you know, being disrupted by all the technology and COVID, and all the things that are going on in the world. And I think this is the perfect time to stop and slow down and figure out your red thread, because it could really give you something to hold on to in the midst of all this turmoil. Right?

Tamsen: I 100% believe that. Yes. Yes.

Nicole: I mean, you get your hand on the thread people. So yeah, how do we do that? Because I think a lot of times, we’re a little bit asleep at the wheel, like, you know, we’ve been around since you know, 1927, or something like that, you know, and we’re pretty sure we know what we’re doing. But it’s like, you know, we need to reestablish, it’s almost like, I’m thinking also about project management, you know, they have the five why’s, you know, why did this happen? And why does that happen? And why you get all the way down in the weeds? Right? So how does a leader go about figuring out their red thread? How do you do this anyway? I know they call you. Call Tamsen. And then what else do they do?

Tamsen: Well, the philosophically what you’re doing is that you’re retracing the steps that got you to where you are in the first place. I mean, that’s that’s really what it is. Based on what we’ve talked about so far, it really is a process of understanding, of making explicit what had previously been implicit, right. Making clear bringing, you know, opening up that control window and looking at the code. So what are the elements of that code? Well, it comes back to something I mentioned earlier, which is that each of us humans, period, all humans. We create explanations, rationalizations, in other words, stories to explain what’s happening in the world or explain why we do what we do the way that we do it. 

You know, if I take an action if you act, and then I act and my brain is going to make an explanation about why my action was the right one based on what you did, that’s essentially a story. It’s a story that we tell ourselves, right? Like, it’s a story that we tell ourselves to kind of just generally to make ourselves feel smart, capable and good. So that’s kind of point one is that we do this anyway, we build these stories. Point two is that, you know, based on the research that I’ve done, that these stories have common elements, that in order to make sense of the world, we’re looking for key pieces of information. Why is someone doing this? How is it you know, what is it? What are they seeing that I’m not seeing? What’s driving that behavior? What happens as a result? 

And it turns out, not by accident, those elements that we’re always looking for, to make a story makes sense, are the same elements that are present in actual once upon a time stories. Not just, you know, not just these rationalistic rationalizations and explanations. So we can actually borrow from classical storytelling, and use that almost like, do remember that game Madlibs? You know, like there was a story, but there were holes missing. That’s how I really think about this. Is that this pattern of the story, we all have the same kind of universal Madlib and our brains are always trying to fill in the same blanks, but each of us fills in those blanks a different way. 

So that’s really what the red thread is. It is about saying, okay, what are those blanks of the story that each of us tries to build to make sense of something? And it turns out that there really, there are five elements to these stories. And they are, as I said, before, you know, perhaps surprising they, but they’re the same elements that drive a classic story forward. The first is a goal, something that somebody wants, and doesn’t yet have. So if you’re trying to figure out your red thread, then most of us if you really start to stop and think about it, you’re like, you know, there is something that if I look over the course of my life, there is there is a question that I constantly ask. I am trying over and over and over again to solve. 

So for instance, I would say that with my work, I’m constantly trying to help people close the gap between the aspiration you know, what’s aspirational, and what’s actual, like, between potential and reality. And I can look at all my jobs, including Weight Watchers and go yep, that’s what I was trying to do is help find answers to that question, help people solve that question. So that’s the first piece, a goal. When it comes to a message. That’s the audience goal, what we can get back to that. But the second element is a problem that gets in the way. And generally, I think about this as a problem, you know, as in classic stories that somebody doesn’t know about when they’re starting. 

But when you’re thinking about your own red thread, this is really about where you become aware that your perspective differs from many other people’s, or where you see again, a different kind of gap, but that you are always trying to close. And that’s pretty well summarized for me between you know, I’m I’ve spent my education and my career kind of usually sitting in between two worlds. And sometimes it’s the business world in the art world, or sometimes it was a company and its market, but always, always just sitting in between two worlds and operating as a translator between. Thus my English to English translator thing.

Nicole: I got it now!

Tamsen: Yeah, yeah. And so the that kind of perspective, that problem that I solve, you know, beyond just trying to help people close that gap really comes does come down to communication. And that it’s closing that gap between what you want to say and what people need to hear. That that is like that, that’s the problem we have to solve before we can close the gap between potential and realities that we have to close that gap between what you want to say and what people need to hear. And so that’s the second element of problem. Usually of perspective, I talked about in my book is a two part problem. Always needs to be two parts, because you need to establish kind of current and new. 

And then the third element from borrowed again, from classic storytelling is something called the moment of truth. And I shortened that to the truth. But that is to that five why’s exercise you were talking about before. If you keep going, why, why why, why why on your problem, you will eventually reach something that’s inarguable, right? You’ll get to a point where you’re like, oh, oh, okay, that’s true, right? Like, you know, I could use as an example, for my own work. I love the quote by Blaise Pascal that says, people are generally better persuaded for the reasons that come into their own minds than from those that come from the minds of others. In other words,

Nicole: And anybody who has a teenager that’s listening to this knows that’s the truth.

Tamsen: Exactly. We love our own stories the best, right? Like it doesn’t matter what you say, like I’m just gonna take what I say like that’s the most important thing. So that truth that moment of truth is in a classic story, the moment where somebody recognizes the true nature of their circumstances. But when it comes to you and your own red thread, it is something that you, like, believe at your core really is a baseline assumption that you have about how the world works. And that’s really key. And I can tell you right now that the vast majority of messages, this is the piece that’s missing. And it’s critical. Because if you think about a story, that moment of truth is what decides the ending. 

It’s the moment where a character has to make a choice. They have to make a choice between what they wanted, what they believe about the world or themselves, and what they’ve been doing so far. And if they don’t do anything, they’re not going to get what they want. And the same thing is true. If you’re talking about a message where you want something that basically tell you know, more people will believe it, they agree that it’s true, but because they agree that it’s true, that it puts what they want that goal in jeopardy if their perspective doesn’t shift. And so that leads to the fourth element, which is a change. 

So we’ve got goal, problem, truth, change. So since the truth forces a choice, we’re hoping that that results in a change. That, well it’s always going to result in a change, it’s either going to result in a change of the goal, or it’s going to result in a change of perspective, or it’s going to result in a change of belief, like one of those things is going to happen. So we’re identifying what that is. So if your own personal red thread, that’s usually okay, what is the, what is it that you help people do? You know, I help people build the story people will tell themselves about their idea. 

And then the last piece are the actions. What are the specific steps that you you do with specific skill sets if we’re talking about your own red thread that you put into play. So this goal, problem, truthm change, action. Those really are those open blanks and that universal Madlib that when we fill them in, we really start to understand that we have, we actually do have a unique way of looking at the world. And knowing what that is, as you were saying, can give you something to hold on to go back to serve as a lifeline when you’re trying to navigate fairly choppy waters as we have been doing for the last oh, I don’t know. 18 months.

Nicole: Now, it’s been a long time. But I feel I feel hopeful. I still have hope. I know you do, too. I’m holding on to my thread that everything will work out. Absolutely. Yeah. So so you help people get to this place. And I think that part, you know, where you said, people find the truth, and then they make a choice around the truth. You know, and when people make that positive choice. or they’d be like, that’s the point where like, you’re either gonna lead or you’re not. You know, like, when I think about leadership, it’s like, oh, this is the truth about my life, or my company, or my community, or my world. And now I’m going to like, do something. And then when they decide they’re going to do that’s when I think people get vibrant, they get lit?

Tamsen: Oh, 100% Yeah, I call those I call that I mean, I don’t talk about it in the book this way. But I talked about that moment of truth oftentimes is a green light moment, right? It’s the moment that something like that light goes on, and you’re like, oh, and it’s it, I often describe it to as the, it’s kind of the inhale before the oh right. Like, it’s that moment of that realization that all of a sudden, like, you almost don’t notice, it happens that fast. Because you notice that what you do different. A lot of times you don’t notice that there was that all of a sudden there was that flip that happened. Something I do say in the book is that when two truths fight only one lives. 

And frankly, this is what I’ve discovered over and over again, throughout my life, not just my career, is it like that’s actually the secret to driving action for yourself or for anybody else is to take two things that somebody believes to be true, and set them against each other. And somebody will make a choice, you you will make a choice, you because you will say am I do I actually want this goal that I’ve set out for a leader. Maybe there’s a thing that you want. Maybe there’s also a thing that you believe to be true about how you how you function as a leader, how you serve as a leader. 

If you can kind of get to a point where those two things are at odds with each other, you’re going to choose, and and you’re going to either say I am a leader who operates this way, that means that if I still want this thing, I’m going to have to go about this differently. Or sometimes you’re going to say okay, this, maybe this means I need to actually change my goal here. Because if I’m going to continue to be this person that I see myself to be. If I’m going to live true to this value that I have about myself or the world, then I can’t do, I can’t do that and have this thing. So one of those things will always will always win out. 

And that’s really what’s it that’s the mechanism, frankly, that it’s at the heart of using the red thread to build a message is that you’re you’re building, you’re actually creating a three way battle between what somebody wants, what they believe and the perspective they’ve been taking so far. And when you set those three against each other, typically only one moves and because it’s very difficult to get people to unwant things that they want. 

And it’s very difficult to get people to unbelieve things that they believe. So if you can sandwich a shift in perspective within what somebody already wants, and what somebody already believes, then you’re very likely, again, whether this is yourself that you’re trying to move or somebody else, you’re very likely to get that shift to happen. And it can be incredibly powerful.

Nicole: Yeah. So I love what you’re talking about, because I just had a little light bulb come in my brain is like we’re talking about like the message the leader needs to have. But I’m also hearing that you could use this methodology you’ve put together to actually coach somebody.

Tamsen: Oh, 100%. Yes, yes. Yes. Well, remember in my bio I spent 13 years as a Weight Watchers. Leader. That’s where I get intuitively learn this. I kind of went back and really figured out what was happening that made it you know, what, what was happening in those times where I was more successful as a coach, not not just with Weight Watchers, but also as a leader. You absolutely can use this because you can use this this methodology to get to, in some ways, point out to somebody that there is a conflict amongst the things that they want, believe and the perspectives that they’re taking. 

And it’ll break one way. Like you have to be as a leader, you have to be open to the fact that it may not break the way you want it to. I mean, a thing that’s central to my work is that you can’t create long term change for somebody. You can only create the conditions that may lead to it. And I think there’s ways to really raise the game there that you can really raise that probability of success. But yeah, I think it can be incredibly powerful coaching tool. Absolutely. great insight.

Nicole: Yeah. And so the three things are, what do you want? What do you believe? And what are the perspective you’re taking on it? Did I get that right? 

Tamsen: You got it, yeah. 

Nicole: I just want to make sure people were jotting that down. I know. They’re on treadmills and driving their cars. Just slow down, you know, make sure.

Tamsen: Yeah, exactly. And it maps out to the my red thread methodologies. What somebody wants is something I call the goal. The perspectives they’ve been taking, so far as I refer to that as a problem, but it’s a problem of perspective. It’s kind of the, it serves the role of a problem in the story. It’s like kind of what has to shift in order for something else to happen. And then there’s that truth, which is what do I believe. And if you can, if you can set those three up in a way that what somebody wants, and somebody what somebody believes puts pressure on their current perspective, then you are very much raising the probability that someone will change that perspective. 

As long as the new perspective that you’re offering still feels consistent with how they see the world right now. You know, you can’t get you can’t ask someone to change their stripes overnight, you can’t, that’s just not gonna work. So you need to find a perspective that still consistent with their worldview. But that’s not as hard as you would think it. But it does mean that you have to really do some work and build a kind of empathy. I think that’s gotten a little underserved is something known as cognitive empathy. 

Nicole: Let’s talk about that, yeah.

Tamsen: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So I think I love that we’ve done so much work as humans and leaders talking about emotional intelligence and EQ, and you know, which is all fancy ways to talk about empathy, and emotion, and specifically emotional empathy. In other words, understanding how somebody else feels in a situation. But one of the things that I learned both of my life and as you know, weight watcher leader and other places that you you can’t really dictate how somebody feels. A feeling as a result of something else. It’s a result of an action. And more often than not, it’s a result of a thought. 

And so as a leader, since you can’t directly affect how someone feels, but you can give information that would influence how they think about something. I got really interested about that. And it turns out that that ability to not just understand how someone feels about something, but how someone thinks about something, is another form of empathy. And it’s called cognitive empathy. And you remember, because it’s cognitive thinking, cognitive empathy, understanding how like what somebody else is thinking in a situation. 

And I think this is one of the most powerful skills that a leader could develop is understanding how the people that they’re talking to, working with, coaching, etc, how are they thinking about the situation right now. Because if you don’t understand what they’re thinking about the situation right now, you are very unlikely to help them build a path to a new way of thinking, because you’re just asking them to kind of just like land out of nowhere and someplace else. But if you know where they are right now, mentally, and how they’re thinking, what questions they’re trying to answer for themselves, what perspectives they’re taking, what assumptions are they bringing into the situation. 

You, then you’ve got the ability to start to draw a map between where they are right now and where you want them to go. And that’s one of the reasons why I often say that your message is a map. It’s a map to help build that connection, that red thread between where somebody is and where I, you know, ultimately, you’d like them to be. Again, they may not always follow it, but it’s much more likely that they will if you’ve at least shown them how to go.

Nicole: Yeah. And so I think one tool that will be really helpful for people as you’re talking about this cognitive empathy is that what you call it?

Tamsen: Cognitive empathy. You got it. 

Nicole: Okay. All right. Thank you. Oh, so I’ve learned so much today. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Tamsen. But I’m dovetailing it with something that I learned when I was at Queen’s University taking. I don’t know what class I was taking. I think it was team dynamics or something like that.

Tamsen: Fun. Sounds like an organizational behavior class.  Yeah, my MBA is in organizational behavior. So I’m like, that sounds just like my kind of class I want to go.

Nicole: It is so nerdy, right. So the thing is, is the class we talked about, Chris Argyris. Is that how you say it? Chris Argyris’ work on the ladder of inference.

Tamsen: Yes. Oh, that is such! Yes. That was actually the ladder of inference was the core of a Erotium’s work but yeah, go please. Yes, I love ladder of inference. Go.

Nicole: Okay, so maybe Chris came after him. But anyways.

Tamsen: Chris inspired that work. So Erotium, yeah. So.

Nicole: Okay, well, thank you for helping me, I get all my professors and my PhDs in place. But anyway, so I love it. Because if you go Google, or if you email me,, I’ll send you this great little document I have about the ladder of inference, because I think what you’re exactly right. Leaders need to kind of observe what’s going on. Select, you know, in the in the environment data, you know, from what you observe, and then take that data and like, what meaning are people giving that data? What assumptions that’s the next level on it, you know, that are people are putting into place? And then after they’ve done all of that observes, like, give it meaning assumptions, then they they come to a conclusion. And then they believe something? 

Tamsen: Yes, exactly. 

Nicole: And then take action on that belief. So I just was like, oh, the ladder of inference is exactly what Tamsen is talking about. 

Tamsen: Yeah, it is. Yeah, my work is very much informed by that kind of idea. Because it comes down to the stories that we tell. And the ladder of inferences does a beautiful job of of talking about where those stories come from. Like, you know, what do we experience? What information from what we experienced do we attend to? What conclusions do we draw from that? What beliefs do we draw from those conclusions? What are how are those beliefs drive what we what we do as a result? And, you know, I think it’s incredibly powerful. And one of the things I was trying to do with the red thread was okay, let’s simplify that. In other words, bake it in, so that by asking questions like, alright, I’m trying to talk to this person right now, what what is it that they want? 

Like, what are they trying to do? You know, I borrow another concept from therapy, actually, known as a universal, no unconditional positive regard. That’s what it how it’s what it’s called. And that’s the that’s the principle that many therapists most therapists ascribe to, which is that they view everything that their client is doing through the lens of unconditional positive regard. In other words, without conditions, I’m going to think good thoughts about this person. And the way that I translate that the way to kind of make it more adaptable is to remember that all humans want to be seen as a smart, capable and good. As the way I like to put it. 

So this smart, capable and good being seen as smart, capable, good drives, most, if not all of our behaviors and our thoughts, and therefore our feelings about what we do. And so if we can start this process from a leader, and let’s say, we’re coaching somebody, and we think they’re doing absolutely like something that makes no sense to us whatsoever. By practicing, again, the cognitive empathy is built into the approach by saying to yourself, okay, if I A assume this person is a smart, capable and good person, you have enough evidence to support that for yourself. 

Then you say, okay, there must be a good reason here. And actually, that’s a that’s a tenant from weightwatchers, there’s a positive intent behind every behavior. So what question are they trying to answer? What goal are they trying to achieve for themselves by doing this? Okay. Because if I understand what someone’s, why someone’s doing, what they’re doing, like what they think it’s going to achieve, what problem it solves for them. Well, now you have that starting point of back to what I was saying this shared journey and my seeing a leader is really as a fellow traveler, right? Like, that’s, that’s really how I see leadership as a fellow being a fellow traveler. 

Then all of a sudden, you are starting in the same place, and you’re like, oh, I see where you’re trying to go. But you might be, once you’re in that perspective, you can go oh, my gosh, because of how the perspective you’re taking, you may not see that you’re actually taking the long way around to this. So your job as a leader is to say, okay, I see a shorter path, but how can I get them there? And so that’s where that second piece comes in. Like, okay, well, what lens are they looking through? Again, they’re smart, capable, good people, they’re trying to answer a question like, you know, how can I get a, how can I get a better seat at the table? Maybe that’s the question they’re trying to answer. 

And the this you know, the person they’re trying to coach you’re trying to like, they really they want to be seen and heard for the contributions that they’re making. And, again, cognitive empathy, you’re thinking, oh, what perspective are they taking right now, that is how they’re trying to go about it. They’re smart, capable and good, and they’re trying to be valued. And, you know, maybe that the lens that they’re looking through this person is just that they do all sorts of stuff that just, they just turn through, they’re working all the time. Whatever you’re like, okay, so maybe the lens that they’re looking through, and you can categorize that say, maybe they’re looking at it this through the lens of actions. 

That this is clearly a person who feels like, if they do enough stuff, then they will get the credit they’re looking for. But based on your perspective, as a leader, you’re like, yeah, actions are important. But you know what, this person sometimes just runs roughshod over people when they’re trying to get these things done. And so there’s another added, there’s another perspective here to look at for getting that, you know, credit for the work that you do. And that’s attitude, maybe, you know, so you’ve got this current perspective of actions. And if you can get this person to say, you know, would you agree that, you know, you know, the attitude how somebody feels after you know, about the actions you’re taking is also important. 

Now, you’ve made progress, because now they’re kind of like they’ve taken a step on your path. And if you can follow that up with something that, you know, back to that truth piece is something that you’re fairly sure the person you’re talking to would agree with. You know, I like to think of as something inarguable you want an inarguable truth, that would get them to say, oh, my gosh, the only way that I can get the kind of positive regard I’m looking for from my people, is to make sure that not only I have the right attitude about what I’m doing, but they do too. Then that’s going to lead to, ideally, to a change in behavior where you can say, okay, we need to take these things into account. 

So I think that kind of process of, you know, the ladder of inference of kind of directing people’s attention to certain aspects of what they’re doing. Of, from a cognitive empathy standpoint, thinking through what perspective somebody else is taking on this right now and taking your best guess, or at least using that as a basis for a conversation about it. And then coming at all of this, again, with a belief like truly in like this, and it can’t just be faked, it really needs to come from, alright, I am going to consider this person to be a smart, capable, good person. I am going to do the work to figure out why their approach to this is so fundamentally different than what I would take. It can be an amazing journey of discovery, not only of the other person, but of yourself as well.

Nicole: Right. Right. And, and I think that that’s where the motional intelligent part comes in. Is to care enough to slow down to do that work with these people. you’ve invited on your journey that you know, or that you’ve hired into your organization. Yeah, so I absolutely love that. Okay, so here’s the thing I know is that if you want to discover your red thread go through the process with Tamsen all you have to do is go to And she has an intake form there, I looked too her phone numbers on there, and you could give her a buzz. And she would absolutely help you figure out your red thread. 

So in addition, she’s got her TED talk out there. So make sure you go out to YouTube Google up the TEDx talk that she’s got out there. And then finally, you know, I’d like you to leave us with this Tamsen, if there was one leader who’s like, oh, I am so intrigued by this idea of the red thread. I’ve got a mission statement, a vision statement, I know my core values, but I don’t think I have this thread, red thread thing figured out. What piece of advice would you give them, you know, to that special listener that wants to go ahead and get on that journey. Like, right now. What would they do?

Tamsen: You know, there’s a there’s kind of the quick and quick and dirty, though it’s very clean, because I tried to make sure it was as simple as possible. Is I’ve actually built a Madlib for people to just get started on this process. And I call it the conversational case. And if you if they go to, so conversational with an a l, they can download that worksheet, and it’ll essentially back them into just just like, as if they were filling in a Madlibs, they fill in those blanks. 

It’ll help them create, you know, a case for an idea that they’re trying to make, you know, you know, or you know, change a behavior or a coaching conversation or even a, you know, presentation they’re trying to put together. So I’d recommend they start there. If they’re intrigued if they want to make it even tighter. Yeah, of course, they could work with me, but I also, it’s exactly the reason why I wrote my book. You can find that on my website as well or just go to

Nicole: That’s fantastic. That’s fantastic. Well, I have absolutely had a major like, electrifying brain session with you, and everything you had to share. I’m all psyched up. I’m gonna go get the conversational case download, and I already bought the book. So I’m, I am all ready to go. But Tamsen, thank you so much for being on the Vibrant Coaching podcast. We just absolutely loved having you. And then also, Tamsen is available out on LinkedIn as well if you’d like to meet up with her out there. All right. Well, I loved having you was great being with you. Thank you so much.

Tamsen: Thank you so much. It was great to speak with you and just to learn more about what you do as well.

Voiceover: Ready to up your leadership game? Bring Nicole Greer to speak to your leadership team, conference or organization to help them with her unique SHINE method to increase clarity, accountability, energy and results. Email and be sure to check out Nicole’s TEDx talk at

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