Keeping Emotion Out of Difficult Conversations – An Interview with Jen Grant, Appify (Inspiring Women, Episode 37)
Some emotions can be positive, Appify CEO Jen Grant observes, such as the passion which drives us in our business or career journey. Other emotions, however, particularly those in highly charged conversations, can cause both short- and long-term damage. In this conversation with host Betty Collins, Jen discusses when emotions need to be harnessed, how to diffuse negative emotions which arise in difficult conversations, and much more. Inspiring Women is presented by Brady Ware & Company.
Betty’s Show Notes
When I think of emotions, I think of passion and drivers. It’s that ‘why’ of something.
So, in this episode, I want to talk about when we keep emotions out of something, especially a difficult conversation.
Why do we want to do that?
With me is Jen Grant. She is the CEO at Appify.
She has spent the last 15 years building companies from the ground-up and taking multiple companies to over a billion-dollar valuation. Recently, Jen was recognized as one of the Top 100 Princeton Technology leaders in 2021 as well as a Woman of Influence in Silicon Valley from the SVBJ.
When someone says something, you disagree with, ask them to “tell me more” and look for the gold — the thing they say that you CAN agree with. More often than not, you realize that you do actually agree with some of what they are saying and finding that point of connection is all you need to collaborate and move forward together.
Why is this more of a topic for women? Jen goes deep into that.
Bottom line. In a difficult situation, keep asking questions to get to the crux of the matter at hand. Keep being curious, and this will help you stop judging.
Jen highly recommends this for you to read – Leaders Eat Last By Simon Sinek.
This is THE podcast that advances women toward economic, social and political achievement. Hosted by Betty Collins, CPA, and Director at Brady Ware and Company. Betty also serves as the Committee Chair for Empowering Women, and Director of the Brady Ware Women Initiative. Each episode is presented by Brady Ware and Company, committed to empowering women to go their distance in the workplace and at home.
For more information, go to the Resources page at Brady Ware and Company.
Remember to follow this podcast on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. And forward our podcast along to other Inspiring Women in your life.
[00:00:00] Betty Collins
So, today, we’re going to talk about keeping emotion out of difficult conversations. Not always something that easy, and I hate that when they say, “Well, women are so emotional,” it’s somewhat irritating. But okay, I like emotion, okay? And I want to feel something or be moved, or I look to sometimes, really, that emotions are obviously positive. When I think of emotions, I think of passion and drivers, and it’s that ‘why’ of something. So, today I want to talk about when we keep emotions out of something, especially a difficult conversation.
[00:00:37] Betty Collins
Why do we want to do that? So, that you’ll have some success as you navigate, and it could be easier for you. So, also, I want to do this, so you don’t spend 10 minutes, or so, you can spend 10 minutes instead of 10 hours or 10 weeks, it just works better when you do that. So, sometimes emotions during difficult conversations, oh, can really hold you back. So, I’m interviewing on a really amazing woman today. Her name is Jen Grant. Her resume is so impressive. Obviously, her success is evident. It’s everywhere, when I read her articles and see her interviews, very inspiring.
[00:01:16] Betty Collins
And when I read her journey about how she spent the last 20 years building companies from the ground up, and taking multiple companies to over a billion-dollar valuation, I get excited about that as a CPA. Who’s a passionate- I’m passionate about the marketplace, and having success in it. And I love being around women in business who love just the game of business. So, when I read and listened, and interviewed women who have success like Jen Grant, I’m pretty sure that they understand the importance of keeping emotions out of those difficult conversations.
[00:01:52] Betty Collins
It really is a crucial skill set. I’m also sure that they have applied it more than one time. So, I want to talk to a very successful woman about this skill set, and get her insight. So, today, again, my guess is Jen Grant, and she is the CEO of Appify; by the way, where convenience is at your fingertips. She’s led three successful billion-dollar IPOs, and she is constantly looking at the bigger picture and has a passion for building brands from the ground up. In her past, she spent time working with Google, where she was part of the Google- I’m sorry, the Google Apps, edu, Gmail and Books search marketing teams.
[00:02:34] Betty Collins
And in 2007, she received the Founder’s Award, which is a pretty big award at Google, it’s the most prestigious award for her marketing leadership. So, I want to welcome Jen Grant to my podcast, and I thank you so much for being here today, and talking with my audience. Which a lot of it’s- I have men that listen to this, but a lot of women in business, or women who are business owners.
Now, Jen, I had made a big assumption that when you are building something from the ground up, that there is, sometimes, not a lot of time for emotion. And I’m confident that you have the skill set of keeping those emotions out of difficult conversations. But first, I want to get to know you a little bit. So, tell me a little bit about you, and being the CEO at Appify.
[00:03:22] Jen Grant
I’m excited to be here, excited to talk about it. This is actually one of my favorite conversations, because I think it’s so critical for for women, and how they show up in business. But yes, first, let me tell you a little bit about myself. So, I actually started as CEO at Appify, February of last year. So, it’s been a wild year. It’s my first CEO position after being CMO at many companies before that. And so, we have ridden through the pandemic ups and downs, and crazy times.
[00:04:00] Betty Collins
Good for you.
Certainly, emotions and difficult conversations are all over the place, and it’s actually been wonderful. At Appify, what we are doing is making it easy for anyone to build business applications or business apps. So, we have no-code technology, so similar to way back when if you wanted a website, you had to get a developer, and then all of a sudden Wix and Squarespace came along, and made it easy. And that’s what we’re doing for business apps, so that anyone and their business can avoid manual tasks, get rid of paper, be more efficient, be more agile, be able to pick up and change their business model at the drop of a hat, if they need to. So, we’re really passionate about helping businesses get the kind of agility they need to deal with what just happened to us this last year. To shift quickly and change. And that’s what we’re all about.
[00:05:03] Betty Collins
Well, I was really good until you said, “We help people get rid of their paper.” I still have a lot of that in my life, that I shouldn’t have. I know that, okay? There’s just comfort, sometimes, when I do that. But I’ve learned a little bit about, this year, that I don’t have to have as much paper in my life.
[00:05:21] Jen Grant
[00:05:21] Betty Collins
But I was really- when I was drawn to this topic, because women struggle with it, and then I saw your success. I couldn’t help but think you would have amazing insight and experience with it, especially when you’ve built something from the ground up. So, help women who struggle with this, give us your insight. What have you seen?
[00:05:44] Jen Grant
And I’ll start by telling a story of early in my career. So, I was much younger, and when we’re younger, we’re very passionate about, “This is how it should be,” and, “Why are you saying that dumb thing?” And of course, also, I wasn’t the CEO. I wasn’t even a CMO, I was just a member of the team. And this was when I was at Google, I was a part of the Google Books search team, which was incredibly inspiring because we were making books searchable on Google, and also incredibly crisis-focused.
[00:06:28] Jen Grant
So, there were authors and publishers, there was all sorts of, is this fair use of the Copyright Act, or is this illegal? There was a lot of action, and it came down on the team, and certainly on the marketing side, which is what I led. And so, heightened emotion, in crisis, everyone is very driven, solved the problems, there’s a lot going on. And I remember having conversations where my passion and my feelings got out ahead of me, where, effectively, someone would say something that was just not a good idea. And I would say, “Well, that doesn’t make sense. What we need to do is…”
[00:07:17] Betty Collins
Foot in mouth, but okay.
[00:07:20] Jen Grant
That’s exactly right. And I started to realize that I was, I don’t know, leaning too far forward, if there’s a way to talk about it like that. And I had this wonderful- I was very, very lucky at Google, and in much of my career, that I was reporting to a woman. So, in my early career, I had managers who understood me to some extent. And she ended up joining some of our meetings, seeing what was going on. And I watched her take on calmly this- and by the way, these are all men with very emotional about all this crisis that we were going through.
[00:08:04] Jen Grant
“We need to do this. We need to do that. Why are we doing this?” This whole sea of stress. And I watched her very calmly manage the situation in a way that I hadn’t thought of before. And it was one of those moments where I went, “Okay, wait a minute. This worked out way better.” And they all walked out of the meeting thinking, “Wow, that Michelle, she’s really got a hold of the situation, and driving through.” And what I started to think is, “Okay. So, clearly I am not handling this in the best way possible. What can I learn from this situation?” And so, that was the start of my journey in thinking about emotion in business, step one is the impact of remaining calm cannot be overstated.
[00:09:00] Betty Collins
But you know what was great about that is, you probably, maybe, didn’t see that in yourself till you saw another woman mentor you, and she didn’t know she was doing it. And you saw, that’s how you can be impactful with your emotion, or no emotion, or everyone thinks. And she probably went back to her office screaming, who knows? But in that moment, she kept it there. So, you were fortunate to see that, because a lot of people don’t get to see that side.
[00:09:35] Jen Grant
That’s absolutely right. And it was, certainly- and I think it’s fair to say we all struggle. And I don’t know why, if it’s nature, or nurture, or society, or whatever. I do think it’s a lot easier for a man to get emotional and people not to react negatively.
[00:09:58] Betty Collins
No, that’s absolutely a true statement. And I want to take it one step further with you. And I don’t have that in our questions, so I’m going to improvise here. But my question really is, why is this more of a topic for women, and why do we struggle with the skill set? But really, it’s not even just in that moment she was calm, if a man would have gotten emotional afterwards, everyone wouldn’t have thought anything about it.
[00:10:33] Betty Collins
So, it’s also how we clean up the mess or respond. I don’t know if that makes sense when I say it like that. But why is it more of a topic for women, besides men get away with this? Women just don’t have the skill set at times. I see it over and over again in my own company. And so, I just really wanted to talk about it today.
[00:10:56] Jen Grant
And I’m not entirely sure why, but I do agree with you. I think maybe it’s how we were nurtured, that it’s okay to have feelings. And, of course, I’m of a generation where it was okay for girls to cry, but it was not okay for boys to cry. There were definite gender differences that were somewhat ingrained in our culture. And I do think, now I have young people on my team, I do think there is a shift and a change, and there is more openness to men sharing more emotions. And who knows? Maybe as they come up in business, they will start encountering these same moments, where, like, “Maybe I shouldn’t let it out at this moment.”
[00:11:46] Betty Collins
You just said the key thing, “At this moment.” There’s a time to have emotions, like I talked to at the beginning, I think they’re good. I like passion, they’re drivers. They’re things that navigate and change us. but we just have to know when to use them.
[00:12:04] Jen Grant
[00:12:04] Betty Collins
So, it’s hard not to get worked up emotionally when you’re in that difficult conversation, you can’t help it. And defensive just sets in, you’re feeling threatened, or there’s the four-letter F word called fear. You’ve been there more than once. What is the common response to getting worked up, and what should it be? Can you give us some insight on that?
[00:12:30] Jen Grant
Yeah, absolutely. And I think I had a coach say this to me once, where I was in a situation where I had a difficult boss. He was very forceful and always, “Well, this is how it is.” And my instinct would be to say, “No, you’re wrong.” And then he would say, “Well, you get very defensive, Jen.” And I’d be like, “God.”
[00:12:59] Betty Collins
Okay, so what?
[00:13:02] Jen Grant
So, I was like, “Okay, this is not working. How do I get this to work?” And one of the things this coach, who’s actually also a good friend of mine, said to me was, “You need to ask questions. You need to get them to continue to share their point until you can find something you agree with, and then zero in on that.” And it was really a transformational moment for me to get this very simple piece of advice, that instead of saying, “No, you’re wrong,” to say, “Well, tell me more, because I don’t totally understand your point of view, and I really want to make sure I’ve got it, so that I can understand where you’re coming from.”
[00:13:50] Jen Grant
And just keep saying that until you get to this moment where you go, “Yes. That, I do agree with that. I do think we should do that, and you’re absolutely right.” And that was a big turning point for me in being able to manage more aggressive people around me, or emotional men around me, is, at that point, it sucks the emotion, not just out of yourself in your staying calm, but you use this deep curiosity about, “I really want to understand your point of view,” and it disarms the person that you’re talking to. So, the emotion starts to seek out of them as well.
[00:14:34] Jen Grant
And they start to think, “Oh, she’s interested in what I have to say. Oh, she’s listening to what I have to say.” Because in some cases, I found that even though they were saying all these things, they really just wanted me to acknowledge that I’d hurt them, but there wasn’t necessarily an action item that I needed to take. Other than, “I hear you. I hear what you’re saying, and I deeply understand it, because I asked you lots of questions. And now we agree on this one little point over here.” Which may not be anywhere near where they started, but it gets you back into, “Okay, now, let’s talk about this thing that I agree with and how do we make that better in the business?”
[00:15:15] Betty Collins
I did have a situation where I had to take- someone gave me the advice similar to yours. The end result was, “Take the wind out of the sail, but they’re not going to know that you’re doing that.” And it really was defining, very non-emotional, what my boundaries was. But then he was able to, as I did ask more questions and things, he was able to respond, and then it became a conversation.
[00:15:51] Jen Grant
And I had a lot of success, and I was able to let go of that. And my emotions were saved for when I got home to my husband, instead of right there in that moment where it shouldn’t have been there, because it would have been, instead of a 10-minute conversation, 10 hours or 10 weeks of just playing this game. And I’m reading a book that it talks about, ask the question, and it’s by, he used to be a Congressman, Trey Gowdy. I think he’s from the Carolinas, and if you saw him on TV all the time, he’s just angry, he seems to be angry. So, when they had- for some reason, I was flipping channels, and there he is talking about this book about asking questions, change the conversation when you ask questions.
[00:16:39] Betty Collins
And I don’t really- didn’t care for him when I saw him as a congressman on TV angry, but when I saw him in this interview, he’s selling his book on how he’s been successful in changing the conversation and influencing, it was really, really good. So, I like that insight that you’re giving us, ask the questions. Very, very good. So, from a CEO’s perspective, as you take over in a pandemic and do these things, you’re leading a team, and, obviously, you got to leverage. And that’s the best trait a CEO can have, in my opinion, to succeed. When you see the people that you’re just letting go to that senior team, or even below them, and you see them struggling with emotions in difficult conversations. And you know it’s not going to end well, because you can see it, right? You’ve been there.
[00:17:31] Jen Grant
[00:17:31] Betty Collins
How do you try to help them? What’s the fix?
[00:17:35] Jen Grant
I think the first thing I usually try to do is diffuse. So, if we are clearly in disagreement about something, and people are starting to get heated, to be able to sometimes, “Okay, let’s take this offline, and we’re going to go to the next agenda,” to, a little bit, just diffuse, give everyone time to calm down a little bit. So, that’s definitely one thing I’ve tried. And I think there have been other times where I have stepped in, I leaned in a little bit. Because sometimes things like that will happen, and you can see that there is, maybe, one person that’s a little bit too strong, and a little bit leaning into someone else unfairly.
[00:18:23] Jen Grant
And so, there are, also, those situations where I’ve very subtly said, “Okay. Well, we can think about that, and you make a good point. But we also need to make sure we understand the such-and-so’s point.” So, there’s the the art of deciding whether this is just a diffuse situation, or if this is a situation to make sure that everyone feels that their voice is equally heard. And so, there is a personality that is more aggressive, to make them understand that, “Yes, they’ve made their point, we’ve heard them, and everyone else’s point also needs equal time.” So, I’ve seen both situations where there’s a little bit of a guess, just what feels right in the moment.
[00:19:16] Betty Collins
But it sounds like, probably, your best skill set as the CEO, is really the example of that person you saw in the meeting.
[00:19:25] Jen Grant
[00:19:25] Betty Collins
And knowing that, “I got to portray that in work. Because at the end of the day, I want to influence and impact. If I’m going to do that, I have to have that skill set.” And it’s a hard one for women, it really is.
[00:19:39] Jen Grant
It really is, yeah. And then being able to take whatever is happening into a one-on-one conversation. Because that’s, really, where you can get a little bit- you get a little more emotional when you’re one-on-one, if it’s a more of a coaching-mentoring conversation to say, “Hey, I saw you were very passionate about this, let’s talk it through, and tell me more.” And often, then, I will give the person, or if it’s in particular, a woman, advice around, “Okay, so here’s the way to diffuse the situation that you can do, if I’m not around.” And try to help.
[00:20:18] Betty Collins
I just had someone who got- she’s another woman, and she got very emotional in a meeting, and she just made herself look ridiculous. And I said to her a couple of days later, I waited a few days, I said, “You have to understand how you’re being perceived sometimes.” And everybody wants to be at the table, and there’s three types of people at the table; there are people who come there and they eat, there are people who never pick up the menu, never had an intention of being engaged to order food, and then there’s people who throw the food. And they don’t know if you’re going to eat or throw the food.
[00:21:00] Betty Collins
And that’s why they walk around you on eggshells, it’s not because, necessarily, they’re men, okay? It has everything to do with they don’t know if you’re going to throw the food or eat the food. And you have to know that your perception- you still got to be you, and you still got to communicate, but if you want to be heard. I’ve tried to do with that, and I could be pretty levelheaded, or I know where I need to do… I’ve still had those moments of emotion that made it worse, but we all have, so we all have. We just [CROSSTALK].
[00:21:32] Jen Grant
We all have those days.
So, can you give the audience, just to take away, something that you would apply to them, regarding this topic, as we wind down, and then we’ll talk about something, one other thing I want to ask you.
[00:21:48] Jen Grant
I would roll it all up into curiosity, is really working on your ability to be curious, even when people come at you with emotion, or things that are wrong, or you disagree with, is just keeping that curiosity in your head, so that you’re not judging, or assuming they have a bad intention. Just curious, like, “Tell me more.” To me, that, “Tell me more,” my husband even says, “Oh, when you say that word, I know I’m pissing you off.”
[00:21:48] Betty Collins
[00:22:26] Jen Grant
But he’s my husband.
[00:22:27] Betty Collins
I love it. I love it. Well, I cannot thank you enough for being willing to come today. You’re an extremely busy person running a large company, a very, very, just inspiring woman that we need to see out there. So, I’m truly grateful. But one last thing I would ask, is there another podcast or a book that you would recommend for my audience today? I always love to get resources to people.
[00:22:56] Jen Grant
Totally. I’m a huge fan of Simon Sinek, and Leaders Eat Last, for me, was- I, actually, listened to the audio of it, which was, I believe, Simon reading. So, it is even more inspiring. So, I drive the same drive, and I think, “Oh, this is the moment when he explained this in the book.” But to me, that was a very inspiring book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is a leader.
[00:23:22] Betty Collins
Yes, he’s wonderful. He changed my world when he- the Start With Why, or Start With Why. That was just- I went from, “I can do your QuickBooks and taxes, and we can do these things,” to, “I care about the marketplace, because when the marketplace works in this country, it works for the world.” And I care about employers paying their employees, because those are households and families that form communities.
[00:23:48] Jen Grant
I love that.
[00:23:49] Betty Collins
That whole mindset just changed. And I still do QuickBooks, I still do taxes, and I still advise people. It’s just, I figured out why I really do it. So, he’s good. He’s good. Thank you for that today. I appreciate it.
[00:24:03] Betty Collins
Well, I’m Betty Collins, and so glad you joined me today. Inspiring women, it’s what I do. I leave you with this being strong speaks of strength, but being courageous speaks to having a will to do more and overcome.
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Betty Collins, CPA, Brady Ware & Company and Host of the Inspiring Women Podcast
Betty Collins is the Office Lead for Brady Ware’s Columbus office and a Shareholder in the firm. Betty joined Brady Ware & Company in 2012 through a merger with Nipps, Brown, Collins & Associates. She started her career in public accounting in 1988.
Betty is co-leader of the Long Term Care service team, which helps providers of services to Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and nursing centers establish effective operational models that also maximize available funding. She consults with other small businesses, helping them prosper with advice on general operations management, cash flow optimization, and tax minimization strategies.
In addition, Betty serves on the Board of Directors for Brady Ware and Company. She leads Brady Ware’s Women’s Initiative, a program designed to empower female employees, allowing them to tap into unique resources and unleash their full potential. Betty helps her colleagues create a work/life balance while inspiring them to set and reach personal and professional goals.
The Women’s Initiative promotes women-to-women business relationships for clients and holds an annual conference that supports women business owners, women leaders, and other women who want to succeed. Betty actively participates in women-oriented conferences through speaking engagements and board activity.
Betty is a member of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and she is the President-elect for the Columbus Chapter. Brady Ware also partners with the Women’s Small Business Accelerator (WSBA), an organization designed to help female business owners develop and implement a strong business strategy through education and mentorship, and Betty participates in their mentor match program.
She is passionate about WSBA because she believes in their acceleration program and matching women with the right advisors to help them achieve their business ownership goals. Betty supports the WSBA and NAWBO because these organizations deliver resources that help other women-owned and managed businesses thrive.
Betty is a graduate of Mount Vernon Nazarene College, a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and a member of the Ohio Society of Certified Public Accountants. Betty is also the Board Chairwoman for the Gahanna Area Chamber of Commerce, and she serves on the Board of the Community Improvement Corporation of Gahanna as Treasurer.
Inspiring Women Podcast Series
This is THE podcast that advances women toward economic, social and political achievement. The show is hosted by Betty Collins, CPA; Betty is a Director at Brady Ware & Company. Betty also serves as the Committee Chair for Empowering Women, and Director of the Brady Ware Women Initiative. Each episode is presented by Brady Ware & Company, committed to empowering women to go their distance in the workplace and at home. For more information, go to the Resources page at Brady Ware & Company.
Remember to follow this podcast on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. And forward our podcast along to other Inspiring Women in your life.
The complete Inspiring Women show archive can be found here.