Touchy Feely Takeaways

As I come to the end of my time at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB), I have begun to reflect on what I will take away from my experience. The Stanford MBA program is renowned for many unique classes. At the top of this list is one called OB374: Interpersonal Dynamics,  which is fondly known as  ‘Touchy Feely’ (TF), so I’ll start there.



Firstly a bit about the class itself.

Even though TF is just a single quarter class it does represent how the GSB’s approach to management training differs from the status quo. It is definitely not your typical case-based business school class. At the core of TF is the T-group – a 12 person group constructed by the Professor in a way that maximizes diversity (across several parameters) and separates individuals with strong relationships.  With this T-group in-hand,  a laboratory of interpersonal dynamics is created. By interpersonal dynamics I mean simply how others perceive you and your impact on them. Key to this is being able to have a trustful and safe environment, where individuals can give the requisite feedback on these actions.

Sounds strange? It is!

A T-group is void of norms, expectations, goals, leadership and process. As a group, you create these, if you want. There is the odd contrived activity that provides content for discussion, but essentially the 12 of you sit in a room for 4-5 hours per week and talk about whatever you want. Learning is achieved by taking a step back from your interactions and addressing how your actions and language affect those that you engage with, and then re-engaging. Typically, this is prompted by a group member making a comment on the effect you had on them, positive or negative. You also find yourself on the other side of this, seeing how you react to the actions of others and giving them direct feedback. Core to the experience is the development of a vocabulary that allows you to engage with others on interpersonal matters in a way that is devoid of ambiguity, is productive, is well intentioned and concise.

You can see how it gets its ‘Touchy Feely’ nickname

Now that I have introduced you to this weird experience I’ll share three of my Touchy Feely takeaways:



‘In order to influence others, you need to be influenced by them’

While it may sound like a phrase from a fortune cookie , it actually makes a lot sense.

When I’ve typically thought about how I have been influential, the following mechanisms seem most relevant:

  • Use my domain expertise and come from a position of high technical know-how
  • Using a power distance e.g. a leadership position
  • Exhibit behavioral traits consistent with an influential person (or at least what I thought) e.g. confidence, conviction, decisiveness
  • Through relationships that transcend the task at hand i.e. friendships

Following this the result would be one whereby I have caused an individual to think, act or behave in a certain way. Thus someone who is influential would typically be seen as someone who gets their opinion supported by others. However, if I am an individual that is swayed by someone else does make me, by default, uninfluential. We typically see people as at either of these ends of this influence spectrum. But this suggests that in order for one to be influential they need to avoid being influenced. This actual answer is opposite to this line of thought.

Influencing is a two way process.

Its core premise is that if I am to have influence with you, I have to be open to influence from you.

Think about it for a second. There are two people: One who listens to your opinions, positively responds to your actions and changes their own because of your influence (doesn’t have to be every interaction). The other is one that consistently doesn’t.

Which of these two individuals would you be more open to?



When was the last time you showed appreciation to others?

When was the last time someone showed appreciation to you?

My bet is that it’s pretty hard to think of a specific time. I find this crazy.

If you can think of a time, what did that feeling of being appreciated cause you to do? (In a work context). Motivated, warm, close, heard, wanted, confident are probably some of the words that spring to mind.

If something so simple as appreciation can have these profound effects, why don’t we see more of it?

Simply showing appreciation towards others not only strengthen relationships but enhances your ability to be influential.

Next time someone does something that you appreciate, let them know. You’ll change their day, week or year for the better.



What does vulnerability mean to you?

For me it represented revealing things about oneself that would result in that individual being viewed in a weaker light. Thus for an individual that wanted to show any degree of influence or leadership (refer to Takeaway #2), vulnerability would seem  to compromise this. After all, people look to a solid, strong figure for reassurance, confidence and direction, don’t they?

I believe this sounds pretty familiar to many others, especially males.

But what if I told you to simply think about vulnerability as letting others know more about who you are. This doesn’t mean baring your soul in every conversation you have with people. It may be more about sharing your past experiences, your upbringing, your perspectives, or what you felt in a given situation.

Turns out if you are willing to engage on subjects such as these, people are willing to reciprocate. They feel closer to you. They know you feel comfortable discussing those items with them. There is a sense of trust – a basis for relationship. As a result people find you more influential.

However, there is a cautionary note. Different people, are different (duh!). Some (possibly many or most) individuals aren’t comfortably diving into the deep on this. Some require a few baby steps to test the water. Thus there is a bit of try-and-see game element to this that someone has to start. Let it be you for a change.



What is telling about these three takeaways is that they aren’t learnings buried in deep and complex ideology. They simply require you to reframe how you think about concepts, particularly influence, you confront every day.

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