A well-known Hollywood producer shares his simple trick for correcting awkward professional moments

Sage GrazerBrian Grazer.

  • Dan Schawbel is a bestselling author, speaker, entrepreneur, and host of the ” 5 Questions with Dan Schawbel” podcast, where he interviews world-class humans by asking them just five questions in under 10 minutes.
  • He recently interviewed Brian Grazer, the Hollywood film producer behind “Apollo 13” and “A Beautiful Mind,” as well as the author of “Face to Face.”
  • Growing up dyslexic, Brian had difficulty reading but was able to learn from human conversations.
  • Grazer learned that people only share their precious insights if they feel trust, interest, and safety.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Upon quitting law school after one year, Brian Grazer pursued a career as a producer focused on TV projects for Paramount Pictures in the early 80s. There, he met friend and business partner Ron Howard, embarking on one of the longest running partnerships in Hollywood history. Together, their films and TV shows have been nominated for 43 Oscars and 195 Emmys. He won the Best Picture Oscar for “A Beautiful Mind.” In addition, Grazer produced hit films like “American Gangster,” “Apollo 13,” “The Nutty Professor,” “8 Mile,” and “Liar Liar.” His films have generated more than $US13.5 billion in worldwide theatrical, musical, and video sales. His more recent projects include TV series “Wu-Tang: An American Saga,” and his new book “Face to Face: The Art of Human Connection.”

In the below conversation, Brian shares how face-to-face conversations have benefitted him, how having dyslexia impacted his career, how he recovered from two poor interactions, how technology and human connection work in tandem, and his best career advice.

Dan Schawbel: How have face-to-face conversations impacted you personally and professionally?

Brian Grazer: I was acutely dyslexic in elementary school. I couldn’t read at all. It was incredibly troubling, difficult, shameful and hard to read. I realised that I could learn by looking at people and if I look at them and have human conversations, I could reach their heart. I might not be able to reach them literally, but I can reach their heart and they can reach mine. I was able to learn so much that it enabled me to have all the success I have today. Every bit of the success I have today, on every movie, there’s a direct relationship to that and face-to-face human connection.

Dan: Can you give an example of a poor interaction you’ve had and how you corrected it using the power of face-to-face conversation?

Brian: With Dr. Jonas Salk, it took me about a year for him to agree to meet. Then, when he said yes, I had so much pre-anticipatory anxiety that when I approached him, I literally barfed. Then I fainted and he came down to help me and then I became revived. Then we had a conversation and it could have ended, but he was so humane and I recovered in a way that I was able to connect to my core self and we became friends to the final end of his life.

I had the opportunity to meet Michael Jackson. He came to my office and I asked him to please take off his famous black glove. I asked him if he could remove it, and he looked at me as though he was going to leave because he was offended by the request. I really felt like it would be impossible to connect with him if he had that affectation. He did remove it, but I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. When he removed it he became an entirely different person. He was the most articulate, communicative and instruct individual on choreography, lyrics, melodies and dance. He was able to speak to all of that with such clarity and with a different voice. His voice became more elevated and just regular.

With face-to-face communication you feel somebody’s spirit. It builds trust and with trust, people share valuable insights they wouldn’t share ordinarily. People only share the precious insights that they contain if they feel deep trust, interest, and safety.

Dan: I always say use technology as a bridge to human connection instead of letting it be a barrier between you and the relationships you seek. How can we use technology to create more human relationships?

Dan SchawbelCourtesy of Dan SchawbelDan Schawbel.

Brian: You use technology to create more human relationships by searching and accessing who is interesting to you, what is interesting to you, what subject might be interesting to you, and who defines that subject. Use it for all of the information that will lead you to a human connection. You first want to know who you want to meet and why, and then once you know who you want to meet and why, you want to be an excellent communicator with them so that they feel like they’re getting something out of it as well. All of that is available because of technology. It absolutely augments and enriches human connection. But, if you’re using it all the time when you’re around people or in elevators or walking the streets in New York, you’re human connections will be eliminated. They work together in tandem.

Dan: What are some of the biggest lessons you learned early in your career that were useful later?

Brian: To be an active listener and have smart, alive, and energetic eyes. I learned to come to the table with at least three valuable assets that I could offer that person. I come to the table always with a subject that could be interesting to them. You want to come to the table with something that is valuable that’s enriching their life, not just your life. I come to every conversation with a little piece of paper that has three subjects, insights, facts or news events that night that are not easily found. I come with three pieces of information, or ideas, that can benefit someone else’s life.

Dan: What is your best piece of career advice?

Brian: When you are faced with a big decision like buying a house, taking a job or quitting a job, always do what’s inevitable. Do you think it’s inevitable you can afford the house? If the answer is yes, then buy the house. Try to imagine what’s inevitable to you. It is inevitable that you will stay at this job for five years? Do you like it enough? Is it enriching you enough either financially or educationally? If the answer is yes, then don’t quit. If the answer is no, then quit.

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