Who Are You Listening To? The Question That Can Change Your Life With Douglas Hardy

by | Oct 26, 2023 | Podcasts

SWGR Doug Hardy | Change Your Life


Life is like a room where we either let people come in or keep them out. We should take extra care with whom those we let in because our relationship with them will impact our lives. Today Douglas Hardy, the co-author of Who’s in Your Room: The Question That Will Change Your Life, delves deeper into the book to guide you on how to control and change your life. Join Elizabeth and Douglas as they discuss the different types of people in your room and how to deal with them. If you want to control your life, it’s time to have your Concierge control who gets in.

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Who Are You Listening To? The Question That Can Change Your Life With Douglas Hardy

This is the show where we talk about leadership, communication skills, presentation skills and the various things you need to be a leader in this world. Before I get to our very interesting guest, I’d like to invite you to see where your presentation skills are by taking our free four-minute assessment at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are strong and where perhaps a little bit of support could help you get the results you need and the recognition that you deserve.

My guest is Douglas Hardy. He’s someone I’ve known for many years who works with very interesting people. With his latest book, I said, “It’s time. I’ve got to get you onto the show,” because he’s a very articulate, interesting person. The official biography is that he is a Business Strategist and Writer specializing in the topics of human innovation and work collaboration.

He’s written eighteen books and numerous articles for industry and academic leaders, including Deloitte, Elkus Manfredi Architects, Workhuman, Monster.com, Bentley University, Babson College and many others. Previously, he was the media executive at the New York Times, Random House, AT&T, New Media and others. His writing appears under the client’s bylines in Forbes, Fast Company, Inc. and other publications.

Doug’s areas of research include organizational culture, technology leadership, employee engagement, pandemic and post-pandemic workforce issues, workspace design, entrepreneurship, artificial intelligence applications in industry and the employment economy. It’s a lot, but that’s because he’s a smart person who has a lot to say. I am delighted to have gotten Doug Hardy on to the show. Now, let’s go to the interview.

I have with me my dear friend, Douglas Hardy. We are going to talk about an awesome book. Before we do that, though, let me first invite you to see if you’re curious where your presentation skills are working or not, you can take our free four-minute assessment at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are strong and where perhaps a little bit of support could get you the results you need and the recognition that you deserve. If you score high enough, you will get a free 45-minute assessment with me. Doug, welcome to the show. I’m so glad I finally got you here.

It’s great to be here. Thank you.

Douglas Hardy is a Business Strategist and a Writer specializing in the topics of human innovation and work collaboration. He’s written eighteen books and numerous articles for industry and academic leaders, including Deloitte, Elkus Manfredi Architects, Workhuman, Monster.com, Bentley University, and Babson College. Previously, he was the media executive at the New York Times, Random House, AT&T, New Media and others. His writing appears under the client’s bylines in Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., and other publications.

His recent areas of research include organizational culture, technology leadership, employee engagement, pandemic and post-pandemic workforce issues, workspace design, entrepreneurship and artificial intelligence applications in industry and the employment economy. Doug Hardy, welcome to the show.

It’s wonderful to be here.

How does it feel to listen to your bio being read?

I wonder how this guy had a minute to do anything else, but I will tell you a secret. I wrote that bio for a client. They had their PR person rewrite my bio, so that’s somebody else’s PR talking about me.

You should never have to write your own. We’re always too close to our own material to be objective about this.

Even the ghostwriter needs a ghostwriter.

I should point out where it says that you’re writing has appeared in all those publications under the client’s bylines. That’s because you write things that appear under the name of your clients.

That’s correct. A CEO of a company with whom I’ve spent a lot of time. The longest relationship I’ve had now is fourteen years with the CEO. We can read each other’s thoughts.

I’m going to talk to you about ghostwriting in another episode. In this episode, I want to talk about this wonderful book Who’s in Your Room? Tell us how this book came about and the two people who engaged you to help put it together.

A little bit of background. Stewart Emery is a pioneer of the Human Potential Movement. He was one of the dozen or so people back in the ‘70s who got it going. He was an intellectual leader there, but he was also an operational leader. He was the fellow who turned big organizations into working groups with a hundred thousand members but also twenty-member cells of people practicing a lot of that human potential stuff.

Ivan Misner is the Founder of BNI, which is the world’s largest business networking organization, Business Network International, which your readers should check out. It’s terrific. I’ve been a big believer in Ivan’s ideas around how people should network for many years. In fact, I interviewed him several years ago for a book I wrote about how to network to find a job because we agreed a lot on principles.

For years, they presented the concepts in this book to various workshops. They presented this central metaphor about your room, which will get to in a minute, to tens of thousands of people. They wrote a short book a few years back. It was an expanded pamphlet explaining the ideas and then people asked them to write a full-length book with stories that illustrated the principles, especially with written exercises, so that people could make the program personal.

A mutual friend put us together. He knew I did this, and we just hit it off. We got a one phone call and said, “We’re going to have so much fun.” We spent dozens of phone calls brainstorming, telling stories, and kicking it around, and pretty soon, the format of the book came into focus, and I wrote it using their words and mine.

What’s your 30-second explanation of what this book is about?

The book is a metaphor. People have asked me, “Isn’t this just one big metaphor?” I tell them, “Yes, most religions are, too, and most explanations for business processes.” Someone was once explaining how does Warren Buffett do it? It’s like a snowball rolling down the hill. We all use metaphors. The concept is this, imagine you live your entire life in one room. It can be as big as you like. You get to design your room.

You live in this room and this room has a door. Nothing’s unusual about that, except there’s one thing about this door that is unique. It says, “Enter only. There’s no exit.” Everybody you let into that room is going to be with you for the rest of your life. This is a metaphor that’s grounded in brain science. We don’t forget anything that happens to us. It all gets put in there somewhere. We can repress it or say we forgot, which means it’s not top of mind.

Everybody you let into that room will be with you for the rest of your life. Click To Tweet

Every meaningful relationship you’ve had in your life is a person in that room. Now, the question is, since they’re never going to leave, who are you going to let in? Who are you going to keep out? Who do you have no choice about because you already let them in? Who do you want to let in? Where do they belong? Do they belong close up next to you or way in the back? Maybe even locked up in a closet somewhere. The reason people asked for a book is that this metaphor, people go, “I get it, but how do I apply that to my life?” That’s what the book does.

It gives you the exercises. It’s a wonderful book. It’s very useful. I went through it and I went, “That’s a good way of thinking about it.” The voice in my head talk to me all the time.

We all know it. It’s, why won’t those people leave me alone? I haven’t seen them in 40 years.

Why am I still talking back to my mother? I particularly liked the concept of the doorkeeper and the concierge. Can you talk a little bit about who they are and what their functions are?

The doorkeeper functions as a character who lets people into your room or stops them at the door and says, “Sorry, no admittance,” or, third possibility, “You stay on the porch for a while. We’ll see about it,” or a fourth possibility, “You can come in, but you have to leave your baggage outside.” The doorkeeper chooses who comes into your life and, importantly, how they come into your life and with what.

SWGR Doug Hardy | Change Your Life

Change Your Life: The door keeper chooses who comes into your life and how they come into your life.


The concierge metaphor is there’s an upright concierge. I think of her as a very proper, beautifully dressed woman in a $1,000 suit right there at the front who tells people where they belong in my room. Some people are over in a corner called that business relationship didn’t work out, but they’re still here. I still remember them. The concierge just told them, “You’re back there.” There are other people who are very dear friends, and they’re right up with me in this room that is my life.

When we notice that, we probably unconsciously do this, but we don’t think about who gets to come in and who doesn’t or where to put them. How can we use the metaphor of the doorkeeper? I particularly like the idea of leaving your baggage outside. It’s something not always that good at it. These are boundaries, basically. Setting boundaries.

I’ll give you an example. I presented this book at a terrific three-day festival of books and authors up in Woodstock, Vermont. It’s called Bookstock. It’s every June. The fellow came up to me afterward and said, “This is a neat idea. I run an online group of seminars from a very prestigious nearby university. Would you consider doing it?” I said, “I’ll consider it.” He went away to travel for the summer, then he came back and said, “Would you like to do this seminar?”

I thought, “I’m writing a book now. I’m finishing one up, and I’m traveling at the end of September.” I said to myself, “I don’t think this guy belongs in my room.” We’ve had one conversation, but I don’t want to have a relationship with him. Not that he’s a bad guy, but I’m setting my own limits. I’d love to get the word out there and I like teaching and so forth, but I have a bad habit of taking on too much. My doorkeeper said, “Thanks very much. Maybe we’ll talk later. Stay out there on the porch, but not now.”

What about when somebody comes in, and the doorkeeper is on a break, and you let somebody in and they brought their baggage with them? Talk about that a little bit. Especially for international readers, you’ve all experienced this, but maybe you don’t have any experience with these words before. Explain a little bit more about how that goes.

Baggage is someone’s life experiences or points of view or habits that they carry with them. We all do, but they want other people to pick it up and carry it around, too. Here’s an example. I have a good friend. I saw her and her particular piece of baggage is that she likes to gossip. She likes to gossip in that way that we all know.

Do you know the person who says something negative about someone else very intimately to you as if you agree? “You know her, she’s boring.” I like this person. She can come into my room, but when she tries to get me to agree with gossip, I change the subject, ore it or, or She’s welcome in my room, but her baggage isn’t.

I’m alert to that. A lot of this book is about the people who have found their way into your room, relatives and bad bosses come to mind, where you don’t have a choice. They’re already in there. How do you manage them? There are many ways to manage them. If we have time, I’ll go to probably my favorite page in the book, page 121, where we talk about a dozen ways to say no without sounding like a jerk.

That’s my next question, but a couple of thoughts about that. It makes me think of people who’ve been through either a bad boss or a bad relationship that’s broken up. The classic story is someone who’s gone through a divorce, and then the next 2 or 3 people they’re dating are trying to replay the old relationship, which happens in business. I have 2 different clients, 2 different companies now. The person I’m working with is dealing with their boss’s baggage from a previous company.

The boss had a terrible experience with someone in her position in their previous company, so they didn’t trust her. Part of what we’re working on without saying, “I am not your previous manager,” to say, “See me for who I am, and please don’t replay that horrible experience here.” The hard part is that he’s not aware. That was one of my other questions. Once you understand this concept, is there any way to get somebody else? When you see someone else going into a pattern and you say, “That’s what’s happening,” can you tell them? Is it possible?

It depends on the degree to which they’re willing to let you in. One of the best ways to handle a situation like that is to be genuinely curious. Don’t assume you know the answer. When you’re familiar with the construction of setting boundaries, which is you say, “When you say this, I feel that,” so you keep the focus on yourself.

We’re talking a little abstract here, but let’s say that you have a boss who learned elsewhere not to trust people. You can say, “I appreciate you checking in with me on this project. Do you need more than one update a week?” You’re not their strength, but you can go to their behavior and say, “You seem to need a lot of updating on this project. Is something bothering you? Is there a particular concern you have?” One of the things that works that we don’t do enough in business is being genuinely curious about the other person, especially in relationships where someone else has a certain degree of power over us.

We tell ourselves stories based on our previous experiences about what they think and what they’re doing. They might not even know what they’re doing or how they’re reacting to something in the past. By being genuinely curious about why they’re behaving in a certain way, you don’t have to say, “I’m genuinely curious.”

If you take that open point of view, then engage them in conversation about specifics of behavior, if you’re willing to be surprised, you might find out someone who says, “I’ve always needed three updates a week,” and say, “Would two be okay or should we change the format?” You’ll never get anywhere if you tell somebody, “You’ve got trust issues because of people you worked with before.” You’re not their strength. It’s not that. It’s focusing on your feelings and your interactions. It’s hard to find a word, but open-mindedness is it. There could be a lot of explanations for behaviors. For one thing, most people respond well to someone else being empathetic.

For another, if they’re at all mature enough to give you an honest answer, you get to find out better where you stand. You might say, “Your last three updates were too long or weren’t accurate or your projections didn’t work last year. They were off by 20%.” You say, “Let’s talk about how the projections can become more accurate.” You’re getting back to the reason that exists between the two of you instead of a whole bunch of static and noise that you can’t do anything about.

It’s a very good point that we also bring our own baggage. I’ve certainly, all too many times in my life, been in places where I’m interpreting what someone did according to what I’m afraid they might be thinking, which wasn’t what they were thinking at all. A classic example is if you’re talking to a group and there’s someone in the front row who’s frowning, my voice will always say, “They hate it. They’re not talking to me.” It might be, “I’m speaking English and it’s not their first language, so they’re concentrating.” That took me a long time to learn. Since you mentioned it, let’s go to how do you say no without being a jerk.

I’ll read a paragraph and then I’ll give you a couple of ways to speak. If someone wants to come into your room or someone’s already there and wants to come up close to you. You’re thinking, “No, you don’t.” You might want to say it out loud, but the trouble is then they think you’re a jerk or worse. Now, you are opponents. You’re trapped in the room together and butting heads. They’re going to get all the defensive.

SWGR Doug Hardy | Change Your Life

Who’s in Your Room?: The Question That Will Change Your Life

Instead of saying, “Hell no,” or, “Go away,” here are thirteen examples we give. I’ll give you a couple of my favorites. This is from Ivan Misner, and it’s his favorite. Tell them, “If I said yes to you, I’m afraid I’d let you down. I want you to succeed, and I can’t do this for you as well as someone else.” If they’re already in your room, a family member, for example, you can name their baggage and have the concierge take it outside. “I know you had a difficult relationship with Dad, but we’ve talked about this before. If you want to talk about a difficult relationship with Dad, I can do that, but I had a good relationship with Dad. I don’t think you need to characterize him in that way.”

That’s a way to say, “No, I’m not going to have this conversation where I agree with you the Dad’s a jerk.” Here’s another thing you can say, “I’ll listen to what you have to say, but when the discussion is over, the answer will almost certainly be no.” That’s what to say when a relative or a friend asks for money. I’ll read one more. This is important. Ivan and Stewart both use the term Seinfeld as a verb. “Don’t Seinfeld the situation.”

If you remember the television show Seinfeld, the characters would always go off on some crazy, complicated subterfuge or ruse to get out of conflict. They’d end up getting into more trouble than they got into, to begin with. Be polite and still be direct. Don’t try to make up a reason that doesn’t exist because you will get drawn into a doom loop of greater difficulties. There are at least seven other ways to say no in the book.

Be polite and still be direct. Don't try to make up a reason that doesn't exist because you will get drawn into a doom loop. Click To Tweet

It’s good to have an example so that you can look at it and say, “I could use that there.” I want to expand, though. You mentioned the grenade thrower. This is also part of saying no or how not to get stuck on the grenade. What’s the concept of the person who’s throwing a grenade?

The grenade thrower is the person who comes to Thanksgiving dinner and, right when everybody gathers, says something horrible. Something about somebody or about the situation or, “Mom always loved you best,” or, “Everybody knows that you’re a liar,” or just tries to blow up the whole room. The grenade thrower wants attention, wants to control the room and has been waiting all year to make this big disruption.

There are two ways to deal with it. The first way is to agree with other people in advance. It doesn’t have to be a big secret, but agree and then go back to your conversation. In other words, it sounds simplistic, but don’t take the bait. Just ignore it. The second way, typically, a grenade thrower will persist and try to leverage one person often. “Don’t you agree?” You then have to structure a conversation back to the, “When you say this, I feel that. I don’t agree, so I’m going to ignore this remark from now. We will discuss it. I’m not going to discuss it here and now.”

What you’re trying to do is diffuse the group situation. “If you want to discuss it later, I will do that with you but again, the answer will probably be no. If you want to have an open, honest and direct conversation, we can have it later.” The main thing to do is you call out the meta-message, which the grenade thrower is asserting the right to take over the room and disrupt a situation. They will often try to push back and say, “You can’t handle the truth,” or, “I’m doing this or that.”

“What’s the matter? Can’t you take a joke?”

When you hear the term, “What’s the matter? Can’t you take a joke,” or “If you would just,” it is never just. It is always more. They’ve set it up. The decision you have is whether you give them control of the room literally and metaphorically or you take that control back.

This is the thing that happens when I talk about with my clients who are female leaders. Why, quite often, is there someone younger in their departments or meetings who’s doing their best to disrupt things or distract or take them away from the topic off onto a tangent? I’ve had a couple of clients who have had active saboteurs in their departments. People who are doing their best to make the boss give up and quit so that they can take over the position.

Learning how to not take the bait is a hard one and that’s one for me. I want allies. I want allies who are going to back me up because that’s the thing that’s hard to do on your own when someone suddenly undermines you. Maybe once you’ve got some practice, but learning how to do that, I want allies. Do you have any tips for that?

In fact, I’ll recommend a book. It’s a classic and it’s very good. It’s called Difficult Conversations. You need to have the difficult conversation with that person about the fact that, 1) You’re the boss. You have those responsibilities. 2) You expect a certain behavior. If they can’t conform to that or don’t want to do that behavior, I’m not talking about someone’s different gifts or different styles. I’m talking about being open, honest, and direct rather than subterfuge. That conversation is best done privately because the person who is in public is trying to undermine you. On the one hand, you not having a public confrontation, and on the other hand, you not having a private confrontation because you want to be a good boss.

SWGR Doug Hardy | Change Your Life

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

They’re leveraging your good intentions or they have something to say to you that’s important. You need to take that offline, out of the group, and go out to lunch and say, “When you do this, I think it’s undermining the group. Talk to me about why you’re doing that,” and then be open-minded but also be very firm about what behavior you expect and why you have the right to assert it.

I find often that I hear the word, “I outrank him. Why is he taking over? Why is he trying to take over?” With my female client, the way I hear it is would be on the organizational chart. She outranks the person who’s disrupting the meetings and who’s trying to take credit for the idea. It is seen in a totally different way by the disruptor.

The disruptor who says, “These are cool ideas.” It’s also the idea that the person who outranks them is already working on. How do you stop them? Sometimes, there’s always a matter of degree. There are people to whom, if you glance sideways at them, they will crumble. There are other people who sometimes you have to hit them over the head before they get it and that’s always a tricky dance.

When we talk about being open, honest, and direct, that’s a consciousness-raising exercise. You may be dealing with someone who is oblivious, enthusiastic, pushing your own insecurity buttons, representing a threat or somebody who doesn’t represent a threat but feels like it because your conditioning and his conditioning are quite different. We’re all still working our way through this ocean of power relationships, whether that’s based on sex, race, or where we are in the hierarchy.

Many of your readers will be familiar with Brené Brown, but I’d go back to her because she talks very lucidly about group dynamics and how people’s not only conditioning but people’s fears and self-images feed cycle and negative cycles of conversation. When we talk about a metaphor like Who’s in Your Room, we’re trying to cast a clear light on what is often a murky situation and that’s the helpful thing about a metaphor. To repeat, whether the person you’re dealing with is oblivious or purposeful, we make a lot of trouble for ourselves when we misattribute motivations.

People's fears and self-images feed negative cycles of conversation. Click To Tweet

We assume they have a motivation that is not the motivation.

It’s resonating with something you’ve had in the past. We’ve all had bad bosses, “This one’s just like Bob and he was a jerk.” He’s not like Bob. He’s a whole different person. He might be behaving like Bob. He might even be behaving like Bob for the reasons Bob behaved that way, but when you’re up in your head having the whole conversation instead of having the conversation with another person, you’re perpetuating the problem.

These are the lie awake at 3:00 in the morning worrying about something and making up stories.

We’ve all done it.

Doug Hardy, it has been so much fun to have you here. I’m excited. It’s a wonderful book, Who’s in Your Room?

You will see the same title on a short orange-covered book. That’s not this book. That’s the way titles go. Amazon still has a short pamphlet-size version of this, but the blue cover is the revised and updated with all the stories and exercises version of Who’s in Your Room?

It’s wonderful and easy to read. It’s full of useful information. Doug, if someone’s reading and says, “They’re speaking my language. I need it,” what can you do first? What’s one thing that our readers can do if they don’t have access to go buy the book now?

Think about the metaphor. Sit down for five minutes, close your eyes, and imagine you live in this room. Everybody who you’ve ever let in, everybody with whom you’ve had a relationship is in there. Some people are close and far away, but they’re all behaving according to their own characters and experiences. Who do you want close? Who do you want way in the back and far away, and why?

Thank you so very much, Doug Hardy, for joining us on the show. If you enjoyed this conversation, first of all, go buy the book. Also, tell your friends to subscribe to us on whatever app you’re using. Subscribe to us on YouTube as well. There’s lots more stuff on the YouTube channel, and spread the word so that we can get more information out to the people who need it. I’ll see you on the next one.


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About Douglas Hardy

SWGR Doug Hardy | Change Your LifeDouglas Hardy is a business strategist and writer specializing in the topics of human innovation and work collaboration. To-date, he has written 18 books and numerous articles for industry and academic leaders including Deloitte, Elkus Manfredi Architects, Workhuman, Monster.com, Bentley University and Babson College.
Previously, over the course of 20 years, he was a media executive at The New York Times, Random House, AT&T New Media and others.
Currently his writing appears (under client bylines) in Forbes, Fast Company, / Inc. and other publications.
His recent areas of research include organizational culture, technology leadership, employee engagement, pandemic- and post-pandemic workforce issues, workspace design, entrepreneurship, and artificial intelligence applications in industry and the employment economy.