Refocus Your Focus: An Excerpt from Don’t Take Yes for an Answer

Over the past two decades, AWE, A—Authority, W—Warmth, E—Energy, has become the prism through which I observe, assess, coach, and grow every single one of my clients. As a professional talent agent and coach, I listen for it when we’re analyzing recordings of their voice, and I look for it while observing them perform simulated interviews, meetings, or sales calls. And it’s helped us build the premier sports and entertainment talent and marketing consultancy.

Those professionals who have stuck with me, who have refused to take yes for an answer, have seen their stars rise. And now I want to do the same for you.

Below is a brief excerpt from my book, Don’t Take YES for an Answer, which is out today and available to everyone. I hope this sneak peek will offer you some inspiration and a sense of the results that the AWE effect can help you achieve at work, at home, and in life.


Look, it’s actually great news that 85 percent of your financial success is attributable to your soft skills. Whereas robots can now automate many technical skills and proficiencies, genuine and solid human connection still isn’t easy to simulate or outsource, and yet they’re applicable to every job function, industry, and level of seniority. Master communicators and connectors set themselves apart in every field. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson could have remained another respected research scientist working in a lab, but his passion for science and his gift for explaining complicated topics like subatomic particles and quantum mechanics in funny, familiar terms turned him into a household name whose lectures sell out in theaters around the country. Technically, Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen is just another good food blog, but she owes her multiple awards and best- selling author status, plus over a million Instagram followers, to an unpretentious, self-deprecating wit and an uncanny ability to transmit her enthusiasm for every dish in such a way that readers and viewers want to eat it right now.

But I’m not like them, you might be thinking. I don’t want to be a performer, and I have zero desire to become a celebrity. That’s fine, but don’t kid yourself. When you’re at work, you’re being judged on your “performance”—how you execute your job,
sure, but also on your overall persona: how well you sell yourself and your ideas, how easily you work with others, how effectively you communicate, how smoothly you resolve conflicts, and how well you anticipate others’ needs.

However, there’s an important detail to note: Those who excel at these interpersonal skills aren’t performing at all—it’s second nature. It’s authentic. It’s how they live their lives. You’ll get the same attention and engagement from them whether they’re leading you through an important project or you bump into them at the grocery store. To reach a celebrated status within your field or even just within your office takes more than just plain hard work and know-how. It takes charisma, leadership, empathy, deep listening, and confidence—all the “soft skills” no one taught you anything about during your years of higher education or certification. You can develop all of these qualities by maximizing the three key communication traits that, in my experience, human beings respond to the most—AWE. That is, the Authority you exhibit, the Warmth you convey, and the Energy you exude and bring out in others.

AUTHORITY. We know it when we see it. We know it when we hear it. Authority stands up tall. It’s competent and commanding. Whether it’s delivered softly or loudly, it sounds confident. The most successful salespeople, businesspeople, broadcasters, and politicians—all people—embody authority. Do you?

WARMTH is communicated through humility, vulnerability, empathy, and by your attentiveness, your listening ear. That’s because effective connection isn’t just about output—projecting your message outwards into the world. Input, how you receive the crowd, group, or single individual you’re communicating with, is equally important to making an effective connection. Warmth is necessary to create trust, as well as relatability, which is crucial to solidifying your position on a team.

ENERGY is communicated through your emotional commitment to your message. When you believe in and trust what you’re saying, your audience inevitably will, too. Your emotional commitment makes an emotional connection that can be extremely memorable, impressionable, and persuasive. That doesn’t mean you have to always be “on.” There are benefits to high and low energy; what matters is how it’s communicated and received. When your new date is completely focused on you and making it clear they’re interested in you—by making eye contact, for example, and nodding a lot to show they’re listening—not only do you feel attended to and warm toward this person, but also you’re energized because of their attentiveness. But no matter how hot they are, if they’re not attentive and not listening, they will deplete your energy, and you won’t be eager to seek out their company again.

There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for success, but AWE is a pretty near fit for everyone. There is plenty of overlap that can occur within these categories, and in my experience it’s possible to assign any trait to one of them. While you don’t necessarily have to excel in all three categories of AWE to be an awe-inspiring connector, you need to be pretty effective in at least two of the three. And if you’re tanking in any one of them, you’re more than likely tanking in some important area of your life. The bottom line is this: those who fail to see the value in understanding their own weaknesses do so at their own peril. Upping your AWE is not necessarily about bringing down the house by giving the most rousing speech at your best friend’s wedding, or at your next meeting or company retreat. Rather, it’s about helping you tweak, shift, and swap out your weaknesses or bad habits so you become more compelling, more confidence- inspiring, and more respected than you are now.

Adapted and reprinted with permission from Don’t Take YES for an Answer by Steve Herz, copyright ©2020. Published by Harper Business Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers LLC. 

Catapult Your Career and Your Life Forward

Steve Herz, one of the nation’s premier talent agents and career advisors shows you how to catapult your career and your life forward with three key communication strategies—Authority, Warmth, and Energy. Available now from HarperCollins.

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