The Ten Word Check In Call

Guest Post by Dr. Mark Goulston

Note from Bob:  You can click this Video link to view today’s “Guest Post” directly from Dr. Mark Goulston or you can read his “Guest Post” below: 

No Distressed Worker Left Behind… Feeling Alone

Ten Words:

  1. Anxious
  2. Depressed
  3. Afraid
  4. Frustrated
  5. Angry
  6. Ashamed
  7. Alone
  8. Lonely
  9. Exhausted
  10. Numb

Think of the worst you have felt in the past day or week and attach the feeling word from the list above that most accurately describes it.

Now say it aloud in your mind and see if you agree with it or want to change it to another word or perhaps more than one word or other words that are not on the list.

When you’ve finally selected it say to yourself, “Yeah, _______, that’s it,” then take a deep breath and exhale imagining that as you do it, you’re getting the word and feeling up and out of your chest and mind.

How do you feel now? Hopefully a little better.

Why might that be so?

There has been a good amount of research into affect labeling, especially by Professor Matthew Lieberman at UCLA, which has found that when people attach the correct feeling word to what they are feeling, it significantly lowers emotional agitation and people feel calmer.

Furthermore when people do that and express that feeling to another person who listens compassionately and empathically, it lessens agitation even more. That is because when the first person “feels felt” by another person it triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding, and oxytocin counterbalances high cortisol, a stress hormone, resulting in a calming response.

Here’s how to apply this to your virtual (everyone staying at home) team meetings.

And why would you do that? Some might be worried that it will only open a can of worms. Our evidence for it causing the exact opposite and a remarkably positive response is that if you felt better doing the above exercise, which you probably would have resisted if it was described to you vs. just plunging you into it, there is no reason to believe that your people would feel different.

Start by saying:

“We’re all going through very difficult and overwhelming times. It’s important and important to me that during these times that no worker or part of our team feels anymore alone than this situation is making them feel. Because of that, we’re going to do a different kind of check in call. It’s optional, but I hope you’ll all participate.

I’m going to list ten emotions any of which, we’re all likely to be feeling especially when we’re feeling at our worst.  Those words are: anxious, depressed, afraid, frustrated, angry, ashamed, alone, lonely, exhausted, numb.

Let me repeat them: anxious, depressed, afraid, frustrated, angry, ashamed, alone, lonely, exhausted, numb.

What I’d like each of you to do now in the chat area is think of the worst you have felt since we last met and select and write the word from the list that most describes it.”

In our experience having teams do this, something amazing happens.

As you see the names and feeling words populate the chat area, the entire group emotionally flexes and leans into the experience which feels like a collective, communal exhale. Nearly most individuals from most groups that do this report feeling less alone, better, relieved, motivated, inspired and have even reported that they didn’t know what a special group of people they belonged to.

The “specialness” comes from first the shared vulnerability; second, courage that everyone is demonstrating by just soldiering through it and third, that by doing the first two things, this really is a “special group.” In truth it is more the “special experience” of being vulnerable safely that they is making the group feel special.

Also, people report feeling lighter as they walk around wherever they are sheltered.

But wait, we didn’t stop there.

We have taken it a step further and encouraged people who selected the same feeling work to form subgroups that meet on a weekly basis to share what is really going on to cause them to feel that way.

Reports are now coming in from some individuals that they have never felt closer to anyone in their careers… a few have gone on to say… they’ve never felt closer to anyone in their lives.

We’re certain that other people have been discovering silver linings in the midst of the Corona pandemic, but this practice certainly could be one of them.

Note from Bob:  I am so grateful for Mark Gouston’s willingness to share his wisdom with all of us today! So many of you are leading remote teams.  We would love to hear your experience as you do “The Ten Word Check In Call” with your remote team. 

Several years ago I just spent a great weekend with Dr. Mark Goulston!  Not in person – although I wish – but devouring his book “Just Listen” – filled with great questions that will absolutely “Increase Your Leadership Effectiveness X10!”  This is a must buy book for every leader and every coach!  I continue to refer to it often.  

Mark Goulston


Mark Goulston, M.D.,is a psychiatrist, consultant, business coach focusing on founders, and is the author of Just Listen,  Get Out of Your Own Way and most recently,Talking to Crazy.  He is a contributor to Harvard Business Review, Huffington Post, Business Insider, Fast Company and Psychology Today.  He is frequently quoted or featured in The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, Newsweek and others, and on CNN, NPR, Fox News, and BBC-TV.  Mark lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.  For more information visit: contact him:



Note from Bob:  I just recently found this marvelous new book!  It is a Great Read! I was delighted when...


Note from Bob:  I just recently found this marvelous new book!  It is a Great Read! I was delighted when...

Ask The Right Questions

Note from Bob:  I just recently found this marvelous new book!  It is a Great Read! I was delighted when...

42 Questions to Test Your Knowledge of American Independence

How well do you know the story of American independence? It’s time to put your knowledge to the test!...


Guest Post by Dusty Rhodes  There is a popular quote you may have heard in recent years, which says… We...

20 Best Performance Review Questions To Ask Your Manager

Guest Post By Indeed Editorial Team Previously posted at  Throughout your time at a company,...

One Engaging Question

Excerpted with permission from Chapter 5 of “The Power of Conscious Connection” by Talia Fox Pam was...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.