• Jenn Oliver, University of Virginia, The Influence Ecology Podcast, Transactional Competence, Transactionalism

Put Your Oxygen Mask On First with Jenn Oliver

Jenn Oliver, Senior Director of Service for the Academic Division at the University of Virginia, has learned a valuable lesson about what we refer to as “putting the mask on first.” Before her study with Influence Ecology, primarily, other people’s needs informed her plans. Her work was oriented only around doing for others, leaving her overwhelmed and aimless. Like many people, she was waiting for others to notice her value and reward her accordingly. She now takes care of herself and her aims first before assisting others. She’s learned to decline requests, respect her own aims, and spend time on what matters to her personally and professionally. Her interview demonstrates how she has expanded her value while gaining more time, more money, and more focus.

Later in our episode, Co-Founder Kirkland Tibbels teaches about the willingness to decline and how doing so produces more authority—and freedom.

Below you’ll find a transcript of this podcast episode that has been edited for your reading pleasure. You’ll also see links at the bottom of this post where you can find more information on the people and ideas mentioned in the episode.

by John Patterson
Produced by: John Patterson, Jason Kelley & Tyson Crandall

“Early on in my career, I did everything for everyone except for myself.”

Helping people build ambitious and satisfying careers, businesses and lives. This is the Influence Ecology Podcast. Now here’s your host, John Patterson.

John Patterson: Good morning, good afternoon, good evening wherever you are in the world. I’m your host, John Patterson, the co-founder and CEO of Influence Ecology, the leading business education in Transactional Competence. Broadcasting from Ventura, California, this podcast features case studies, stories and lessons from business owners, executives and entrepreneurs who found real solutions, real results and real satisfaction not only with work, career, and money, but in every area of life. You’ll hear how these ambitious professionals found that those who transact powerfully thrive.

If you’ve been on an airplane, the flight attendant tells you to put your mask on if the cabin loses pressure. They repeatedly instruct you do it first before helping others, but why? Surely, you should help children first. Destin Sandlin, who explores the world using science is a U.S. engineer and aspiring astronaut, had created a video to show the exact science behind this rule. We’ve included the video in our show notes. He enters this special chamber to find out what happens if you don’t put on your mask. After a few minutes, he starts to lose brain function, cannot identify basic shapes and can’t even speak or put his mask on. Someone must step in and put it on for him to prevent him from dying.

Are you all about others to your own detriment? By the time you’ve helped someone else, you may not know how to help yourself. Sound like you? What do you do to act or think in another way? Jenn Oliver is a senior director of Service academic division at the University of Virginia who has learned a valuable lesson about putting the mask on first. Before her study with Influence Ecology, primarily other people’s needs informed her plans. Her work was only oriented around doing for others, which left her overwhelmed and sometimes aimless. Like many people, she was waiting for others to notice her value and reward her accordingly.

She now takes care of herself and her aims before assisting others. She’s learned to decline requests, respect her own aims, and spend that time on what matters to her personally and professionally. Her interview demonstrates how she’s gained more time, more money, and more focus. In today’s episode, co-founder Kirkland Tibbels teaches about the willingness to decline and how doing so produces more authority and freedom. Here’s the interview. Well, Jenn Oliver, welcome to the Influence Ecology podcast. Great to have you with us.

Jenn: It’s great to be here.

John: Take a second and introduce yourself.

Jenn: My name is Jenn Oliver, and I am the senior director of service for academic division at the University of Virginia, human resources department.

John Patterson: Very good. In the way that we teach it, you identify as which personality?

Jenn: I identify as a producer.

John: Describe that personality from what you understand about it.

Jenn: Producers do a lot of things and struggle declining to do a lot of things, and many others in the environment with us often come to us for things because they know that we’ll do them for them-

John: [laughs]

Jenn: -whether we should be doing them or not.

John: Good. Well, I think that leads us to what I suspect from your notes and from observation and working with you for how long we’ve been working together now?

Jenn: Just over five years now.

John: Goodness gracious. We have said in many different ways throughout our study, put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put it on others, because many times people don’t do that. Especially our producer personalities, they tend to put the oxygen mask on others first. It sounds like you’ve had some important lessons about that throughout the years, yes?

Jenn: Yes, I definitely have. I have been very successful in my career, but I will say that it came with a cost. Early on in my career, I did everything for everyone except for myself. I was that person that everyone came to, and I would always find a solution to whatever breakdown they had, every issue they had, even if it wasn’t in the domain that I should have been dealing with. I didn’t take care of myself and I suffered pretty greatly in certain areas of my life because of that. So, yes, I didn’t put the oxygen mask on first. I will say that has completely changed, and I’m doing that today.

John: How is life now?

Jenn: Life now is much better. I take care of myself and I concentrate on what is important for where I need to head, and I am comfortable in declining requests that people make of me, but in a very respectful way. That was really hard for me in the past, even if it was just my kids. Not even just in my career, it was throughout everything. I was on every board, I was on every PTO, I was the coordinator for this, that and the other thing, I was on every committee at work. It took hold of my life and who I was, it defined me.

John: What was all that like for you? It sounds exhausting. [laughs]

Jenn: It’s funny you ask that, because I look back on a regular basis now and say, “How did I handle that?” I think because I was just on autopilot constantly, I didn’t know any different, and so I often didn’t know what I was missing until it was missed. That was a huge “a-ha” for me. I also felt value by doing, that’s just in my personality, but I was spending time on that doing in the wrong places in my life. I wasn’t focusing on areas that were important. Marriage, kids, things that made me happy. I just thought by taking care of everyone else was what I was meant to do.

John: There are different personalities, of course. As we teach it, there’s the inventor, the performer, the producer and the judge. The producer tends to be the doer in all transactions. Oftentimes, when people come study with Influence Ecology and come to understand transactions, the way they work, where they’re best suited in transactions, they learn to be responsible for both the asset and the liability of their personality in transaction. There is an asset to your personality in transaction, and it’s obvious. You can hear it, you can hear, how needed, how useful, how helpful, how included you are in all of it.

Yet, there there’s the liability of it, which is what you’ve been describing. Where am I in this transaction? I’m thinking about people who might be hearing about this for the first time and wondering if I identify with Jenn and the way you described yourself before. What are some of the things that you began to do or see that started to change life for you? What would you advise someone?

Jenn: A very first thing that I noticed, first and foremost, when I started studying with Influence Ecology was not only was I doing everything, but I was also so in this mind frame of everyone must do it as well as I. That was really becoming a problem for me in career as well as some other areas of my life. That was the first thing that I focused on. Once I started learning those personalities, I really started focusing on what was important to those individuals and how I needed to move differently with them, and that it wasn’t about everyone being the same as I. That was actually a really bad approach for me to have taken for so long.

John: You mean like people didn’t have to do it with the same perfection as you?

Jenn: The same rigor, right. The same rigor, perfection. I really started accepting people for who they were and where they were at at the time that I had those transactions with them. That’s the first time that at least people in the office started saying to me, “What are you doing? Something’s different.”

John: Was that because you began to see the other personalities would move in different ways than you or be concerned for different things than you?

Jenn: Yes. I was really focusing on what I saw was causing relationships to break down for me in that area. When I’d get a call from a senior leader that says, “Jenn, you pissed that person off,” [laughs] I was starting to take note that it was all embedded in my personality and how I was moving. I was not moving correctly with others that had other personalities. I just expected that everyone should see me as who I am, and if I set a deadline for something, everyone should turn it in on time, and that wasn’t the case. That was the first thing that I really started focusing on.

I would say the second thing that I started focusing on was, as a doer, I am very involved with many different charities and I love taking care of people, and certain missions and areas of my life where– And it shifts all the time, but those that have less than me. So, I really focused on how could I bring that humility that’s in my personality into the workplace and the office and in my career, and really tend to that more often. It really started to show itself in ways where I was recognizing people more. I would say thank you to people privately, but I never thanked them publicly, in front of people, when they did something great. I completely recognized that. I just started to change the way and let people be where they are, and found that they followed and performed better when I stopped being in their business and really telling them how they should do their work.


John: How did that impact things and the family life?

Jenn: Well, it definitely impacted my relationship with my spouse, because he is a judge and he is an introvert, and he is always right first. So, I learned how to provide feedback. I wanted an immediate answer right away, and I’ve learned that if I want to have a conversation, I have to give him 24 to 48 hours for him to think about it. That’s made such a difference. I mean, just some basic things like we have to talk about what camps the kids were going to go to over the summer and I wanted to have it all blocked out and fixed in an hour at 7:00 o’clock on a Wednesday night, and he didn’t want any part of that. He was like, “I just need to think about this for a minute,” and I didn’t understand why. I didn’t want to understand why.

John: I think this is really good. What I love about this is, one of the things that I personally find extraordinarily valuable about understanding personality and Transactional behavior is not just the things about myself, but all the things about how I might speak the language of the other personalities. How do I speak that language? How do I talk to them in a way that works for them? One thing that we’ve seen for sure is that a producer’s mind is like a file cabinet. It’s very much organized where things are objective in certain places. It’s a very black or white, yes or no, on or off kind of world. Then, for the other personalities, they don’t see that way, don’t live that way, don’t think, can’t think that way. It sounds like you gave a lot of room for people to think or see in other ways. Anything else you want to say about all that?

Jenn: Well, yes. I gave them room to think, and then in return, I was able to actually receive from them so much more. All the different possibilities that people who are either on my teams or on workgroups with me at work. I sometimes was quick to shut people down. Not intentionally or to be rude, but I started to recognize how I was moving that way and just really started to see the possibility. I really talk about living in the gray these days. Even with my team here, I say, “We have a lot of process oriented work, and that is our job. We are a service organization, and we provide a very high level of service, but it doesn’t always have to be within the rules. Be able to find the grey within the black and white.”

I was not there seven, eight years ago. It was black or white. I very much live in the, “Well, let’s call this person and see what they think about that.” It brings such a level of collaboration and respect for people, because you’re asking their opinion. It basically is, I’m taking some relationships and I’m building up my favors, right? Any time I ask someone for their opinion on something, usually it’s very well received, especially in higher ed. We’re very collaborative, and it was very hard for me to be in that environment. I’ve adjusted to it very well, but it’s been really great for my personality. I go to my favorite bucket and sometimes I’ll call them up and ask them for a favor when I need to. It’s been very helpful.

John: That’s fantastic. I can only imagine what it’s like for you. As I imagine a character in a movie, if you will, who’s always trying to get everyone to be, and do, and think, and act in a way that’s precise and blah-blah-blah. As in someone else, someone in another character who’s got a lot of room, got a lot of gray areas, et cetera, but both get stuff done. One is certainly more likable. [laughs] One is certainly more enjoyable to be with, and to hang out with, and so forth. What’s happened for you over the course of these five years in terms of your sense of being liked by others, being appreciated by others, being included in new ways? Can you say anything about all that?

Jenn: Well, I would say I’m probably liked a little bit more by my family. [laughs] Not that they didn’t like. My teens think I’m the cool mom, so that is a good thing, but my relationships with people here at this institution have really changed. People will come to me not out of request, but just to say hi. That didn’t used to happen years ago, when I started, 16 years ago with this institution. I think sometimes I was that intimidation factor. I was that one that they only called if you had to call that HR director. [laughs] Now, people will just call, “Hey, hi.” I’m invited to go to coffee and I’m invited to be on workgroups because I’m viewed as valuable now, not just because I can do the work, I may not be the one that’s doing the work.

It’s also lended itself to my ability to really work with others in a way where I see what their needs are and I’m responding to their needs, kind of forecasting it. So, we’ve had a lot of transformation here over the course of many years here at the university. I’ve been able to move myself into positions that I’ve wanted, into committees that I want to be a part of, not that I’m asked and must be a part of. That has been a huge change and benefit to my identity here. Not just at this institution, but at our peer institutions even nationally. When you’re asked to speak at a national conference that’s a big deal.

John: Certainly is. You’ve been participating for five years, and you’re still active and participating today at Influence Ecology, in this study. Why for you is this a valued study?

Jenn: Well, when I started, I did not realize that this is a constant inquiry, and that is something that I’ve definitely learned in the last couple of years. I just did the programs, and to be honest, in the beginning I didn’t get value out of them like I should have, and that’s because I was being my producer self and not doing it for myself but doing it for the program. Especially in these last few years, practicing on a regular basis in this ecology, makes me stronger every day, every month, every year. I’m in a fabulous study group and we have very different opinions, and we really push upon one another.

I said to myself this year, “Do I really have time? Should I continue membership?” If I didn’t continue, I wouldn’t be practicing on a regular basis. This study is not one that you can just stop. Even if I wasn’t participating, I would have to make sure that I had enough rigor to be able to study on my own, but I wouldn’t have that additional education that’s brought from Influence Ecology every single day, every month. There’s always something new and I don’t want to miss out on that. [chuckles] I don’t want to miss out on it.

John: Understood.

Jenn: It’s fascinating.

John: It is. [laughs] It keeps evolving for me and all of us here. Your inclusion and other people’s inclusion, as you know, we’re continuing to grow and evolve in all kinds of wonderful ways, simply because we have so many people from all over the world that are valuable assets to us all, valuable resources to us all, valuable new thinking to us all. It’s been a remarkable journey. Many people often have something they would love to say. So, is there anything else that we should know about anything?

Jenn: I would say that early in my studies, I was slightly intimidated by the fact that there were many individuals that were entrepreneurs that were part of this study. I kept questioning myself, do I need to become that? Do I need to do that as well? Over the course of the time, I think it took me probably a good two and a half years for me to accept the fact that I need to be comfortable with the offer that I have, whatever that may be and whatever specialized knowledge I’m providing to the world.

That was a tough thing for me to do, but I will say that by doing that and focusing on that has really made it tremendously valuable, not just for myself but for this institution. Many people these days don’t stay in one organization for more than 7 to 10 years at most, these days. I’ve been at this institution for 16 years, and in the last five have just found so many opportunities because of the study. It has helped me be able to present the value that I am rather than me sitting back and waiting for someone to recognize me.

John: Yay. [laughs] I’m going to stop. That’s good.

Jenn: I would just sit back and wait. I would do really great work, and I’m not someone that needs accolades, but I would just, “Oh, yes, they’ll promote me because I feel like I deserve it.” Or if it didn’t happen, I wasn’t really upset about it. I was like, “Well, that’s not the right attitude to take. Where do I want to be and how do I position myself to be there?” I will say from a career standpoint, and the deliberateness of the study, and the eye-opening information and education that you provide that makes some of us go, “Oh, wow,” or “Oh, crap” on that [laughs] really is phenomenal. It’s just been a really great place for me in my life, both personally and professionally.

John: Truly great. Well, Jenn, it’s been a pleasure. I loved working with you at one of the conferences recently, where we had you on a panel and you did a fantastic job, by the way, if you haven’t been told enough. You did a really extraordinary job. Always a pleasure to work with you. So, anything else you wanted to say?

Jenn: This has been a great opportunity, and I thank you, and thank you for your continued drive to provide additional education to us. I value it more than I can say in words.

John: Thank you so much, back at you. Jenn Oliver, thank you for being here today for the Influence Ecology podcast.

Jenn: Thank you very much, John Patterson.

How the Willingness to Decline Produces More Authority—and Freedom

John: Now we listen in on the Fundamentals of Transaction program where Vice President Drew Knowles and co-founder Kirkland Tibbels talk about the willingness to decline and how doing so produces more authority and more freedom. Here’s the talk:

Drew Knowles: Staying present to your aims in each condition of life and being informed by the commitments, promises, and obligations already in place will be your greatest guide for what invitations, offers, and requests will or will not offer you the best use of your time, energy, talent, and concerns. There is something to develop in this program as a habit and a practice, willing to decline. Are you willing to decline? We are defined as much, if not more, about what we decline as we are by what we accept. So, I’ll open the floor to you, Kirkland, to expand on this a little.

Kirkland Tibbels: All right. When you were speaking, Drew, I was reminded of a conference session I was in this weekend. There were a group of people there who were making offers to the general conference population, and it just happened to be one of those situations where they were putting on a pretty good pressure. They put up pretty good high-pressure moment, and when they approached me on the third time, I knew that I was going to need to do something a little extra for them to understand that I’m a no, I’m a decline.

I used this language. I said, “Listen, I need you to accept my decline.” That language is meant to get folks’ attention, and I strongly recommend that through the duration of this program, at least that you practice with some language like that. You’ve got to be willing to decline invitations, offers and requests that are coming at you. If it hasn’t already started, you can bet it is going to happen. That the more you move powerfully in the marketplace, the better you are at transacting, the more invitations, offers and requests you are going to get.

I love letting people in on that one early on in the program, and then having them be on a focus lecture or be at one of our live events. Here, the folks who’ve been around for a long time say, “I remember when they told us back in the early days of SOT that you better get good at declining.” That’s why we talk about it early in the program, because the better you are at transacting, the more invitations, offers and requests you’re going to get. Now, the question, of course, is, how do you know what to accept, and how do you know what to decline? This goes back to step number one of the 13 steps, that depends on your aims. The more focused and concentrated you are, the more that you are able to articulate your aims in each condition of life, the faster and cleaner you’ll be able to move around accepting or declining invitations, offers and requests.

It is not uncommon to hear people say that they have an inordinate amount of respect for people who can say no and do it powerfully. People who know how to decline invitations properly do it with some grace, they do it with some class, they do it with some gratitude and humility, but they do it and they do it all the time. The most successful people I know are in a near constant state of decline of invitations, offers and requests. Chances are, you don’t even recognize the number of invitations, offers and requests that you are getting on a day-to-day basis. Ambitious adults are inundated with invitations, offers and requests in so many forms and in so many ways that sometimes they’re unrecognizable.

I would ask you to consider if you’re any good at declines. I even go so far as to say that you are more defined by what you decline than by what you accept. We as human beings are regularly attracted to people who are so crystal clear about where they’re going and what it is that they know that they need to produce, that they will gravitate toward those who decline and do it openly, and do it publicly, and do it graciously, and do it with ethics. On a regular basis, you will need to be able to accept the declines of those who are not responding to you and your own invitations, offers and requests. You’ll need to get good at it many times.

I don’t know how many times you’ve done it this week, but I’ve done it three times already this week where someone said they would get back to me with something, someone will get back to me with a contract or get back with me with a proposal, or get back to me with some intellectual property that was due on a deadline, and I’m pretty quick to let them know that something along the lines of, “Hey, listen, we had an agreement. I checked in with you, I haven’t heard from you. It looks like that you are no longer interested, and I want you to know that while I appreciate the opportunity, I accept your decline.”

What happens on a regular basis when you recognize and respect your own offer enough that you offer people the clarity about where you hold your offers, people will respond. I’ll tell you a story how I– Years ago, when I first got to Hollywood, I was very lucky and got a meeting with Ron Howard’s company within the first few months of actually being in business with my production company in Los Angeles. This particular company is known for their rigor, they’re known to move pretty effectively. We went in with my writing partners and my producing partners. We went in and we pitched this thing, and it doesn’t happen very often anymore, but we actually sold the project in the room that day. That means that they made us an offer.

They took us down to the legal department and we met with the head of legal, and they told us at that time, they said, “Now, let me be crystal clear. When we close this door, the jurisdiction for this project changes hands.” The creatives who were all in these really good moods had turned everything over to the legal department, and they made it really clear, they couldn’t have been any clearer that whatever they say goes in this department. Now, the lawyer was a very nice guy, very congenial, very gregarious guy. We had a nice time, we drew up a deal memo, and there were steps that we needed to take to get back to him. He said, “I’ll expect it by Friday. Do you agree?” We agreed and everybody was on the same page.

Friday rolled around and we were working on the project, but like everyone in Hollywood, we were somewhat indifferent to the deadline. At 5:00 o’clock, a fax came over the machine and they had accepted our decline of a project that we were absolutely working on and fully expecting that we would deliver. Now, that fax got my attention. Basically, they said, “Listen, it’s a pleasure to do business with you. We had an agreement that 5:00 o’clock by Friday. We understand if this project is not in your interest, and we’re moving on.” That was the language that they used. “We’re moving on.”

Well, it wasn’t two minutes, Drew, before I was on the phone and call that lawyer on the phone. They made it perfectly clear that that was the way they’re going to do business. The words that he used ring in my ear today, and it was, “We would appreciate your respect of our offer.” They made us an offer, and it was a good one. I ask you, do you respect your offer enough to do the same? When people don’t get back with you, you know as well as I do, they’re probably just not paying attention. They’re probably indifferent, they’re probably busy, they’ve probably got some things going on, and they will run around they take as much advantage and use as much space as you give them.

John: In our next episode, we interview John Severson, an event and venue specialist who’s helped us find amazing venues for our global conferences.

John Severson: Some possibilities are dangerous. I used to think there was no such thing as a bad idea. If you get enough people to believe in it, you can do it. That’s what I’m noticing that’s the most costly in some of the people that haven’t done the Influence Ecology work versus the people that are starting to do it. They get to sit down and go, “Maybe that’s not a great way to go.”

John Patterson: My special thanks to our guest, Jenn Oliver. In our show notes, you’ll find links to connect with her and all the links to websites, books or downloads mentioned in this podcast. Some episodes include a transcript and support material. The Influence Ecology Podcast is produced by Influence Ecology LLC in Ventura, California. This episode was recorded on May 4th, 2018, and was produced by me, John Patterson and Jason Kelly. This program is made possible through the assistance of the Influence Ecology faculty, mentors and students around the world.

We’re grateful for co-founder Kirkland Tibbels and his 30-plus years of specialized study in the philosophy of Transactionalism and the fundamentals of Transactional Competence. This episode includes contributions by Karol Gregory and Tyson Crandall. For this episode, the sound design and editing are by Jason Kelly. The podcast theme is by Chris Standring, entitled Fast Train to Everywhere. You can subscribe to the Influence Ecology Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or via email at podcast@influenceechology.com. If you haven’t yet offered a rating or a review I ask that you take a moment. Go to iTunes or your podcast app and let us know what you think. This helps us more than you know.

The Influence Ecology Podcast is produced by Influence Ecology, LLC in Ventura, California. This episode was recorded April 8th, 2018 and was produced by John Patterson and Jason Kelly. This program is made possible through the assistance of the Influence Ecology faculty, mentors, and students around the world. We’re grateful for Co-founder Kirkland Tibbels and his 30+ years of specialized study in the philosophy of Transactionalism and the fundamentals of Transactional Competence.

This episode includes contributions by Karal Gregory and Tyson Crandall. For this episode, the sound design and editing are by Jason Kelley. The podcast theme is by Chris Standring and titled ‘Fast Train to Everywhere.’ You can subscribe to the Influence Ecology Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or via email at podcast@influenceecology.com.

If you haven’t yet offered a rating or review, I ask that you take a moment go to iTunes or your podcast app and let us know what you think. This helps us more than you know.

Influence Ecology is the leading business education specializing in Transactional Competence, having published and contributed to the only comprehensive text on the subject, Transactionalism: An Historic and Interpretive Study by Trevor J. Phillips. Co-Founder Kirkland Tibbels has authored more than 500 papers on the subject, study, and discipline of transactional competence and is a sought-after lecturer at universities, major corporations, and civic organizations around the world. 

Influence Ecology’s curriculum includes conferences, webinars, online tools, podcasts, and mentorship utilized by men and women in over seventy countries around the world. Our membership includes an international assembly of accomplished professionals, faculty, and peers from a variety of countries, industries, and cultures.