Meet Steven Gaffney
Our very own “real guy” – meet the man behind our most popular advice column!
-April Daniels Hussar
Steven Gaffney has been a sought-after and successful business speaker and coach for many years – and lucky for us he realized long ago that the same principles that make good business make great personal relationships. With his expertise in communication (he is the author of two best-selling books), his dedication to honesty and his years of experience, he’s the mastermind behind Betty’s incredibly popular ASK REAL GUYS advice column – where women can get straight answers from real guys about ANYTHING. No strings attached.
Here’s an inside look at how Steven got started in the business, what he thinks about books like The Rules and some great advice for anyone looking for a successful, healthy relationship.
Betty + Steven…a match made in heaven!
Tell me a little about the work you do in the business realm.
At the Steven Gaffney Company, we teach communication and influencing strategies to corporations, associations and government organizations, and the foundation of everything we teach is being honest. What we bring to the marketplace when it comes to honesty is it’s not about what people are saying to each other, it’s what they don’t say – it’s what they withhold from each other. The communication strategies we teach are designed to get the unsaid said. And the outcomes we drive for are better teamwork, collaboration, and ultimately, it drives the bottom line.
How did you get into that field?
I came in from the business side. I was an agent for people in the creative community. The very first seminar I ever did was for photographers about communication and motivation. And out of that I started getting referred to speak at other associations and organizations. Eventually my partner decided to dissolve the business, and I took that as an opportunity to focus on seminars. And in my field of work, if you can stand up and teach people things, and they go produce results, you’ll get rehired. And so it was all word of mouth – as is most of the business we generate today.
So how did you then start working with personal relationships?
When I started doing these seminars, people would come up, on the side, and ask for relationship advice with husbands, wives, kids. Because when you think about it, what breaks down a relationship is when somebody is withholding. If you ask people who have really good marriages how they stay married, almost always they’ll say it’s because they have great communication. So I was doing these seminars on attitude, being up front, how to say difficult messages, and people were using this stuff on their personal side; and a light bulb went off in my head: what we stumbled upon were great strategies for improving relationships. People were saying, you saved my marriage; my situation with my child has been dramatically transformed. We had one case where one gentleman was disconnected from his son or daughter, and he used the strategies to reconcile his relationship. He later died of cancer, and I was told that he attributed what he went though in the course to allowing him to reconcile with his child, and it made a huge difference in his life, and I imagine in the life of his son or daughter.
There have been a lot of great stories. And of course, sad stories – for example I had one man say to me I wish I knew this before – my wife of 25 years just old me she wants a divorce and he didn’t recognize the signs, which comes down to communication.
What was your initial attraction do doing the BettyConfidential.com ASK REAL GUYS column?
I know there are a lot of relationship experts – but there aren’t a lot of real guys giving real advice. Not psychobabble, not deep dark stuff, but tangible advice where you can fix it. Because here’s the good news: I really believe that most relationships can be fixed. The key to that is to have an upfront, honest conversation. Without that, it’s never going to work.
People may ask you: How can you give marriage advice or advice about children, when you’re not married and you don’t have kids? What do you say to them?
That’s a fair question. And the answer is because people have been using in those domains what I’ve been teaching for over 15 years, and I know it works. That’s really important because I think sometimes in my industry people are giving advice that when you really test it, it doesn’t work that well. There’s some really common stuff out there that doesn’t work and is verging on harmful
Can you give us any examples common relationship advice that you consider bad or harmful?
One of the top traditional books out there about men and women is Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. And overall, that usually gets a laugh, you know, men and women are different, and if we just understood each other we’d get along better. In the book, like other relationship experts, they say that women want to be heard, and men want to fix things. Here’s the problem. If you’re in a work environment and a woman has a problem, and a manager just listens to it – really listens, but just listens – and doesn’t do anything with it; and then a man has a problem, and the manager talks about how to fix it – that’s sexist. He just treated them differently, and that can cause a huge, huge problem. Well, at home it’s the same way. I believe that people are not that simple. Women can sometimes be upset and they want something fixed; they want a solution. It’s actually degrading for a man to just think, oh I should just listen to her.
So women want to be heard, and men want to fix things – it’s a nice concept, and it often gets laughter, but the thing is that it’s not true all the time. So what IS the answer? I have a much simpler answer, and here’s an example I often give – a gentleman came up to me and said, “My wife is having a problem at work, should I listen to her or try to help her fix the problem? And I said, “Well, why don’t you just ask her?”
People tout solutions, but when you test them they don’t really work.
Do you enact the concepts you teach in your own relationships?
Absolutely. There’s nothing I teach or advocate that I haven’t personally done in some capacity. People ask me why I’m not married. That’s a fair question! The answer is because I’ve loved being a bachelor and love the ladies for years. I loved it! Am I ready to settle down now? Yes, I am. It just took me a long while to mature – but it wasn’t because of communication issues.
So is it fair to look at advice givers and relationship “experts” and see if they are living their own advice?
Yes. If we’re teaching this stuff we should live by it or we shouldn’t be teaching it.
Part of what you’re talking about in regards to you not being married yet sounds like it’s about you being honest with yourself, about where you were, and where you are.
Absolutely. What you’re talking about is being aware of ourselves. We have to be honest to ourselves. The worst lies we tell are the lies we tell ourselves. If I’m going to tout honesty and I’m going to advocate certain things…people can look at my life and see that I’ve made many mistakes, and I’ve probably hurt people and screwed up in a lot of ways, but I’ve always been about honesty and being up front. We learn from our mistakes. I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes, and the advice I give women in ASK REAL GUYS is what I learned by seeing how all my single guy friends and guys I know have dealt with women. Techniques on how they’ve cheated, what signs to look for…
What I realized is that for some reason women go to other women to get advice about men. And I’m sure there are some women that are really good at giving advice about men, but a lot of the advice I noticed was just silly.
Part of the problem is that a lot of women don’t have guy friends. It’s not impossible, but not common. I don’t have a man that I can call and ask advice about men.
You just tapped into why we struck a chord with ASK REAL GUYS. Women ask us a question, and I always give them a direct answer. I try to give them something they can do about it or how to look at themselves related to this situation. A woman can ask advice from a man, but a woman might not have any guy friends, or if she does – and this is true so often – men have an agenda.
I don’t think any of my guys friends from my single life ever turned out to be just…a friend. There’s always something.
Isn’t that interesting? There’s always something. A lot of times people just lie about it. Men will definitely have an agenda. It’s a pretty common technique…men will just come in on the friend front. And hope to wear her down. And what’s funny – you can ask women how they met the guy they married…Well it’s funny, he was a friend of mine, and eventually I just saw the light. Meanwhile that was the guy’s plan all along! “I’m gonna wear her down! Hahahahahahaha!”
So what do you think about a book like The Rules?
It’s horrible. From what I understand, it’s horrible. It’s trying to create a rule where you’re missing the point.
Instead of “playing hard to get,” if a woman really respects herself, then the way she behaves will work accordingly. For example, if you’re coaching an employee, you can say, “Here’s what to say on the phone.” Or you can say – here’s the MINDSET. The mindset is our customer is always right. That will create a different attitude on the phone than if you tell them to be nice and say hello.
If I remember correctly about that book, it says to wait X amount of days before returning a call. Now, I know men who will wait X days in response. So that attracts men who like a chase. I, in particular, am not interested in a chase. I can think of many women I was initially interested in, but I lost interest because they were so much work – a wall was up, and I lost my attraction to them. Now some men like a chase, but often they’re the wrong man. They’re the kind of man who likes a chase, but ultimately when they get it they lose interest.
How about the book He’s Not That into You?
I like the spirit somewhat – but again it’s an oversimplification. The principle is that these are the signs that a man’s not into you and you should fish or cut bait. But if you really look at a relationship, it ebbs and flows. He may not be that much into you, but it is possible that he will come around. And also women are that way. The ebb and flow eventually gets settled out, possibly. It’s a little more complex. Things can change. The answer to a lot of it is you just have to have an upfront conversation. If a women is thinking oh he’s not into me, she just needs to have an upfront conversation.
So the bottom line is you can’t depend on pat little rules — all you really can do is be honest, have that conversation, be brave enough to hear what they’re saying and deal with the results.
Can you make somebody be honest? No – but you can create an environment that encourages honestly, and have that conversation, and decide accordingly. If a man doesn’t want to talk about something, a good response is, well how am I supposed to deal with you and talk about things? And if he says I just don’t like dealing with this type of thing, then do you want to be with a person who has clearly said that when things are tough I really don’t want to talk about it? That’s probably not a good thing, and it’s not going to change. Even if you can survive it right now, the long-term program for that is it’s not going to work well, because there are always things that are going to come up.
Some people say, “Give them space.” Ok, but how long? If they need a two-day cooling off period, that may not be that bad in the beginning, but over time – every time there’s an issue you have to wait that long? That’s just not practical.
Sometimes we train and condition people in how we want to be treated. If we give them space, and we keep doing that, we’re teaching them that it’s OK to cop out of the conversation and they’re going to do that more, not less. Sometimes people reward the behavior they really don’t want to reward.
Rapid Fire Questions:
1. When you were 10 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
President of the United States. Anything’s possible!
2. What type of kids did you hang out with in high school?
The nerdy kids. I was a nerd and didn’t have very many friends.
3. What person from the past do you most identify with?
Identify? I don’t know. The people I looked up to for various reasons have been many. Personally, my parents and my grandparents. Historically, Abraham Lincoln, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King. In all of those cases they remind me of the power of one person — and the difference one person can make by inspiring others.
4. What’s your workout?
I lift two times a week and run twice a week. And try to avoid my favorite restaurant McDonalds as much as possible.
5. Cat or dog?
Neither. Never grew up with animals and was bitten by a dog when I was young. But I love children.
6. What do you do when you want to completely tune out?
7. What book is sitting on your shelf, waiting to be read?
(Grins) Can I plug my own books here? (Betty: Sure!) Honesty Works! Real-World Solutions to Common Communication Problems at Work and Home and Just Be Honest Authentic Communication Strategies that Get Results and Last a Lifetime.
8. If you could have dinner with any two people, whom would you choose?
My grandparents because I miss them, and there are so many questions I wish I had asked. Historically – Abraham Lincoln, Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
9. What is the one thing you want or do not want the next generation of girls to encounter?
I don’t want anyone to have to wait to learn that if you don’t stand up for yourself nobody else will. We train and condition people in how we want to be treated every single day. The key question is how are we training others to treat us?
10. If there were one thing you could change in your life, what would it be?
To mature quicker so that I could find and appreciate the woman I love, get married and have children. That’s my one regret.