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Why are People so Difficult to Understand? Interview with New York Times Best-Selling Author, Robert Greene

Robert Greene

I recently had the immense pleasure of interviewing 6-time international best-selling author, Robert Greene. Greene is the author of the New York Times best-sellers The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, The 33 Strategies of War, The 50th Law (in collaboration with rapper 50 Cent), and Mastery.

I caught up with Robert to learn insights from his highly anticipated sixth book, The Laws of Human Nature, covering one of the most important subject of all;  understanding people’s drives and motivations, even when they are unconscious of them themselves.

Robert has spent a lifetime studying power dynamics and his books have helped lead many to greatness.

We started our discussion with the most basic question, ‘why are people so difficult to understand?’ While the question may sound simple, Robert says the answer is complex and could take hours to answer. However, he quickly targeted our behavior in the office, especially that of the executives and the CEO.

“It’s not easy being human” Robert began.

Human beings are complicated by nature. The way we think, the way we react to things, the constant battle between emotions and rationale can make it even more complex. Let’s add to that external factors, such as COVID-19, economic pressures, and stress at home the situation can become even more volatile.

“(Executives) don’t realize that other people have egos,” Robert said. “Everybody has an ego, but people who are powerful and reach high positions have even bigger egos than anyone else. So, they’re riddled with insecurities. You don’t think that because they try and project an aura of incredible power and confidence, but secretly they’re feeling very insecure.”

Robert’s goal throughout all his books and research is to get everyone to look at the world through the lens of humility. He goes on to say most people don’t understand themselves, so it’s hard for them to understand others.

“So much of our behavior is unconscious. So much of our behavior is secretly motivated by emotions, not by rationality,” Robert concluded. “So that when you make a plan, you think that you’re being very rational and scientific and objective, but in fact, all kinds of desires and wishes are infiltrating themselves into your plan, so you don’t know yourself.”

He continues, “Then you have to admit that you don’t understand other people because your number one tendency is to project your own emotions, your own desires, your own wishes on to the people that you see. You’re not aware of this.”

 

Balancing your ego with empathy can be what Robert calls “a delicate dance.” While executives like us face tough decisions that might rub people the wrong way every day, you don’t want to come off too soft or too harsh with your employees. Robert says if you don’t find that sweet spot of handling emotions and projecting your vision, you will never know how to lead.

He went on to say the CEO doesn’t do it alone. In a world that’s moving so fast, leaders can’t afford the isolation of the c-suite. CEOs need “street-level” reports – coming from frontline customers, clients, and audience through their employees.

But it’s not simple matter keeping your ear to the ground, there is a fundamental generational shift taking place in and outside of the workforce.

“You must know what’s really going on in this world because things are changing so rapidly. We have to understand the younger generations that are coming up,” Robert said. “You have to understand that they don’t have a different way of looking at the world; they have a different spirit. You have to be able to pierce that spirit and understand it on a deep level.”

He added, “You need access to what’s really changing in the world right now so that you’re not just simply reacting according to the strategies that worked a year ago. You’re thinking ahead of where we’re going to be in five years.”

Robert goes on to explain where he learned this shift from his first-hand experience in Hollywood and how people put portray their sensitivity to change but their actions didn’t align with their portrayed value statements.

Becoming a best-selling author on the inner workings of human personalities wasn’t Robert’s professional goal. Before writing his first book, The 48 Laws of Power in 1998, Robert was working as a screenwriter in Hollywood. That’s where he found the inspiration to start probing into what makes us all tick.

“I was really kind of irritated by the way people talk about business and what really goes on in the world because I saw a lot of people being very manipulative being very clever, by always kind of presenting themselves, particularly in Hollywood, as the most liberal, the most ‘woke’ person around,” Robert declared. “Meanwhile, they were very, very nasty to people working for them. They were extremely manipulative. They were all about power.”

The popularity of The 48 Laws of Power persists, 22 years after it was released. To this day, it continues to be one of the most sought-after self-help books and is one of the most requested books in the U.S. prison system. It also caught the eye of a famous rapper, 50 Cent.

Robert’s books have been widely accepted and studied by many hip-hop and rap artists. The reason for this phenomenon as Greene explains best through an example of 50 Cent’s experience in the music industry: 50 Cent was selling drugs on street corners from the very young age of 13.

He went from corner drug dealer to one of the most successful rappers of all time as a self-made street dealer turned entrepreneur. While 50 Cent learned untold lessons overcoming street life struggles (having for example been shot 9 times) to growing a net worth of $30 million through record sales.

Nothing prepared the young artists for the level of Machiavellian power struggle that exists in the cut-throat music label industry. Leading the duo to collaborate on a joint-book project dissecting the struggle for power.

“I was very flattered, and I flew out to New York to meet him,” Robert said. “We met in the backroom of a steak house. It was like something out of “The Godfather.” He was surrounded by all of his team, and here I was just me, my lonely white guy self.”

He continued, “I was a little bit intimidated because you know he’s very imposing; he’s got all this incredible bling. We both got along really well because we both have a similar way of thinking we’re both kind of strategists. He’s actually has a very strategic, interesting mind.”

That meeting lead to the pair penning a book together, The 50th Law in 2009. With intimate stories from 50 Cent’s life on the streets and in the boardroom as he rose to fame after the release of his album Get Rich or Die Tryin, as well as examples of others who have overcome adversity through understanding peoples’ inner motives.

In a time where people have never been more self-obsessed. Robert believes that the source of most people’s pain and the walls they hit personally and professionally boil down in one’s inability to understand other people and what motivates them at a human level. And there is no leader more dangerous than the one that isn’t aware of who they are.

Robert was gracious enough to let us record part of our discussion for an episode of All Business with Jeffrey Hayzlett, which you can listen to here.

I’d like to thank Robert for his time with the C-Suite Network members. The C-Suite Network is a membership organization of executives dedicated to learning from exclusive interviews and making life-long business connection.  Learn more about the C-Suite Network here.

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