All Episodes

349. Cracking the Communication Code | Relational Intelligence with Steve Cockram

the daily helping podcast Feb 19, 2024

Our guest today is Steve Cockram. He's the co-founder of Giant, a world leader in relational intelligence, trusted by Google, Microsoft, Delta, Pfizer, the US military, and leaders across the world. Steve is here today to talk about his latest book, "The Communication Code," which was the number one new release on Amazon in all categories when released, and currently the number one book in business and management on Amazon.

The impetus for the book was Steve’s observation that maintaining healthy long term relationships is the exception, not the norm today. When he looked at root causes, he saw that communication failures were at the heart of the breakdowns. He noticed that many times people don’t receive and respond to information in the manner which it was intended.

That’s why he came up with the 5 Communication Codes. Communication Codes help the receiver/respondent understand the intent and desired response of the messenger. The 5 codes are: Critique, collaboration, clarify, care, and celebrate. He gives the example that his wife might tell him something she is struggling with, letting him know that she is communicating in the code “care.” That lets him know she isn’t looking for him to solve a problem, but to just be emotionally present with her.

Steve tells us of marriages and business relationships saved by this Communication Codes concept. He encourages everyone to give it a try, even if they’re feeling like their relationship is on the brink of failure. A simple communication code could change everything.


The Biggest Helping: Today’s Most Important Takeaway


“Communication can be made to work in any relationship. And actually, with the tools, you have a real chance, but without you don't. Intent is not enough for communication in a relationship. You actually need some tools if you are wired differently. If you're the same as someone else, we just get on and we're fine. But I think for me is where people have given up hope or where people have almost reached a point where they're not sure this relationship is gonna last, I would say give it one last spin because the communication code has the ability to begin creating hope in people's lives, in the relationships they were most loved to see life happening.”



Thank you for joining us on The Daily Helping with Dr. Shuster. Subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts to download more food for the brain, knowledge from the experts, and tools to win at life.



Produced by NOVA Media



Download Transcript Here


Steve Cockram: 

Where people have given up hope, or where people have almost reached a point where they're not sure this relationship is going to last, I would say, give it one last spin, because the communication code has the ability to begin creating hope in people's lives, in the relationships they would most love to see life happen in.

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Hello welcome to The Daily Helping with Dr. Richard Shuster, food for the brain, knowledge from the experts, tools to win at life. I'm your host, Dr. Richard. Whoever you are, wherever you're from, and whatever you do, this is the show that is going to help you become the best version of yourself. 

Each episode, you will hear from some of the most amazing, talented, and successful people on the planet who followed their passions and strived to help others. Join our movement to get a million people each day to commit acts of kindness for others. Together, we're going to make the world a better place. Are you ready? Because it's time for your Daily Helping.

Thanks for tuning into this episode of The Daily Helping podcast. I'm your host, Dr. Richard. I'm really excited to share our guest with you today. He's amazing. His name is Steve Cockram. He's the cofounder of Giant, a world leader in relational intelligence. They're currently working in 124 countries. They're trusted by Google, Microsoft, Delta, Pfizer and the U.S. Military who all use Giant to develop their leaders and improve team performances. 

Steve is an inspirational communicator, serial entrepreneur, confidant to elite leaders around the world. He shares practical, actionable wisdom captured in a memorable visual tool that he uses every day with his family, team, and private consultants. His latest book, Cracking the Communication Code, was the number one new release on Amazon in all categories when released and currently the number one book, in business and management on Amazon. It's a lot to live up to in that bio, Steve. Welcome to The Daily Helping. It is awesome, awesome to have you with us today.

Steve Cockram: 

Dr. Richard, I could only tell you, as a Brit, how excruciating it is to hear your created bio and marketing release, but you Americans love picking people up. And you actually really mean it as well, which I'm always deeply appreciative of. The Brits would be reading that with such a huge sense of cynicism, and about to go, who do you think you are?

So, no, honored to be with you. And thank you, even if I find it difficult to hear. I think most of it's actually true, so that's even more embarrassing. 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Well, no. It's very impressive. And we do love our bios here in the States for sure. 

Steve Cockram: 

You do. You do. 

Dr. Richard Shuster:

So Steve, before we jump into Cracking the Communication Code, which I'm really excited to dig into with you, I always love to know people's superhero journeys, how they get started on the path they're on today. So take us back in the Steve Cockram time machine and tell us kind of what led you to do the work you're doing today?

Steve Cockram: 

Gosh, Richard, there is a long way back. I mean, if you really look to the different things I've done over the years, you would never, ever dream of creating a resume like it. So I was a school teacher, a pastor, a nightclub owner, a consultant to nonprofits. And in some senses was probably the least emotionally intelligent 30-year-old you would have ever had the privilege to meet. 

So in a sense, if you'd ask my friends 20 years ago, who would have a expertise in relational intelligence, it would not have been me. So I think that the most formative reason of why people love what we've created is because it's come more out of our own failures and reflections than necessarily out of our academic achievements and kind of awards from universities. So all we've done is really codified the struggles of our own life.

I always say I've been happily married for 31 years to Helen. Helen's been happily married for on and off about the last seven. Have we had things like the communication code of voices when we started, we think we'd have been a lot happier. So in a sense, the last 10 years have been spent working with Jeremy who is an American. 

We lived in America for five years as a family and love that kind of experience and the positivity. But really all we've done over the last 10 years is try to say, how do we equip people for the world that is, and how do we help people do relationships more effectively? So we sell, as it were, to organizations on the premise that this will help them with their teams. But I will promise you that the vast majority of the leaders we work with personally, the place it has the biggest impact is usually in their own lives and then at home. But you can never get them to buy that. 

But the reality is all of these tools came out of our own struggles in the key relationships of our life. But in the end, it's where you begin. So there's no having given read my full bio, I'm a now just letting people know that really, what you're really dealing with is someone who struggled with this all their lives and has basically found ways to help me be better. And people have been, I guess, grateful for the fact we've codified it so we can share it with them as well.

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

It wasn't the nightclub experience that that really shifted this?

Steve Cockram: 

No, no. I knew you’d go there. So, basically, I say, if you think of the worst, I did the most expensive MBA ever, I think it cost about two million pounds of my friends and family's money while I was a pastor at the church, 126 families in our church put money in to open the biggest bar nightclub in Central Manchester. 

So I literally the full business cycle from concept to Chapter 11 and administration liquidation over three years, it was really difficult. It was 20 years ago now. Probably shaped me more than anything else. I don't fear failure because in a sense, nothing could be worse than that happening. And I like to think that it's become, if not fully redemptive, it's something that we've used, A, to help other people make different mistakes. 

So when young visionaries for great dreams refuse to listen to wise counsel, they usually send them to me. And I tell them what it was like to have to go through that process and say, if you're really that arrogant that you don't want to be asked difficult questions about the due diligence, then probably I can't help you. So I tell them what it's really like and how it feels. And at that point, they usually go, no, I'd really like to listen, can you help? 

So that I hope is where you get the sense of going, I'm a fast learner, but I usually have failed before I've learned it, unfortunately are great sort of phrases to go. Hey, real wisdom is making different mistakes for the ones that we've already made. Some people have to make their own, the really wise go, do you know, I'm going to learn from what other people have struggled with. And that's really where Giant came from. 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

That's fantastic. I mean, I'm just envisioning your sermon pitching to get to --

Steve Cockram: 

We were good at sales. Here's the thing. I haven't done all the Jedi mind tricks in human behavior at that point. Looking back, we were able to press every trigger button that would cause grandparents who want to see their grandchildren cared for. We weren't doing it manipulatively at the time, but I look back and go, Cameron, he was my co-partner in that. We were a pretty formidable team, even without knowing why it worked. So there we go. Enough of the nightclub, Doctor. Come on, move on. I feel like I need to lie down for some therapy at this point. 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Yeah. No charge here, Steve. Well, let's shift gears. So I guess the question that, and I love to ask authors this is because Giant has been around for a while, the book is new, although you've written other books. What was the impetus for writing Cracking the Communication Code? Why were you called to write this book in particular? 

Steve Cockram: 

I think with most of -- a lot of authors who've got large book deals and kind of try and come up with a new idea and then they go and speak about it, whereas in sense, we built a toolkit for helping leaders and helping ourselves. And probably we've been teaching communication code to people for five, six years. So in a sense, it wasn't new. It was the one we always wanted to write, but in a sense, it was finding the right order with which to release it. 

So, in a sense for Jeremy and I, this was probably the one that we -- we were apart for two and a half years during COVID. The Americans wouldn't let us in. And relationships change over that period of time and Communication Code was about us to really learning to connect again, and committing again to go forward. So Communication Code was great content that we'd always had, but we took it a lot deeper as we really asked the question of our own relationship. What would the next season look like if after 10 years, we really agreed to go again? And what were the things from our past we needed to deal with? 

So Communication Code is actually deeply personal, but I think it's also the one, for me, when I stand on stage and teach it, something visceral happens in the room because it goes to the very heart of the deepest pain and need of every human being. And I don't know anybody who hasn't actually been touched by the fact that even the relationships, many of whom we wish were able to be more alive, it's always communication that really is the root of those things. 

So I often say when people came and sat on my couch for marriage preparation, none of them hoped it would end in a nasty acrimonious divorce fighting over the children. And when we've sat with many entrepreneurs over the last decade or so, none of them ever sit there together and go, I really hope we ended up hating each other, fighting over intellectual property and standing law court. So nobody sets out for relationships to break down. But what usually happens is communication becomes difficult and there's different things that begin to happen in that dynamic.

So our assumption, Dr. Richard, was this, that maintaining healthy long term relationships is the exception, not the norm. And actually, the average business partnership last five years. Their number of marriages percentages break down. So our question was really to go, is there a way that we can be part of actually helping people make relationships work for the long term? Because most people are unconsciously incompetent and they don't know why it doesn't work, particularly when they're married or when they're in business with someone who's very different to who they are. 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

So let's go through Communication Code 101 with that as our backdrop. 

Steve Cockram: 

Sure. Brilliant. So, the first thing I say is, if you imagine me talking to you, the transmission of information is not the same as communication. I can transmit a lot of information, but that doesn't mean necessarily you will respond in the way I hoped you would. So every transmission of information carries an expectation. Invariably, that's not communicated to the person receiving it. 

So for communication to happen, you have to be able to hear my transmission, understand the intent with which it was shared and respond in a way that shows me you've really heard both what I've said and what my intent was behind it. The reality is most people are guessing, when I transmit information to you, you usually respond however you normally would. Well, you might not, because you're a highly skilled clinician, so you know how this works. But the vast majority of people just respond the way they would wish to be communicated with. And you get it wrong about 80 percent of the time. 

So what we did was to say, in the same way that kind of the Germans had the Enigma code, we've been to Bletchley Park, which is near where I live, which is where all this happened, we’re asking this question and going, what if we could send a code in advance of the transmission that gave you receiving my transmission of information an understanding of how I would like you to receive that information and how I would love you to respond to me. 

So what that meant was that then I don't have to guess. I can simply respond in the way that you would most appreciate, even if it's not my default communication code. So, does that premise make sense of what we're trying to do? I'll share the codes in a second. 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Absolutely. In clinical terms, we often refer to this as reflective listening, right? So I'm excited to hear your spin on it. So please. 

Steve Cockram: 

So there's only five. They all begin with one letter. So therefore, it's easy to illiterate. So assume there are five communication codes, all begin with the letter C, all have a different tense. So my first one would be critique. So I might say to you, Richard is like, I'm going to send this to you. This is going to go live tomorrow. I would love you to do the due diligence to ask the difficult questions. 

If there's things that are wrong or we've missed, now is the moment, full critique invited. In which case, you know what I'm asking you to do, and you can have at it and shoot holes in it, because we're at the end of a process. And I'd rather be perfect obviously, but actually I would much rather critique happened at this moment, because it would be easier to do it now than before. Now what I say to people is, if critique is experienced as criticism, you haven't used the communication codes properly because critique is not about criticism of an individual. It's responding to a specific invitation based on the transmission of information I'm going to share. 

So the second C is collaboration. And I might say, Dr. Richard, here's an idea that I've been working on. I really think there's something in this. This is as good as I've got it so far. I think you've got superpowers, insights, wisdom that you could bring that would make the eventual outcome far better. So I'm really inviting you to collaborate. I might want you to listen as we'll come in a moment to understand what I said first. But I'm fully inviting you to help make this better and actually bring your contribution to add into and augment and advance what I've already come up with. 

So collaboration is an invitation. It usually means there's more time available. If someone says I'd like to collaborate and we've got an hour before it goes live, it probably means they're looking for your blessing rather than collaboration. So that's when there's time, usually do it. 

The third C is clarify. And this interesting is often the one where most people want you to start or most people don't. Clarify says this, it says, I know I've got something important to share but I'm not sure it's fully formed at the moment. So rather than kind of judging me on what I say first, will you take the time to ask good questions, to really listen to what I'm trying to say. Help me get out what I know is in me, and we may then move on to collaboration or critique or others. 

The thing I'm really asking you to do first is to go help me clarify what I'm really trying to say, because I'm not sure it's going to come out perfectly the first time I say it. So don't judge me on what I say. Don't try and critique it. We're not even doing collaboration yet. I really want you to listen. And usually, what happens when somebody does clarification, it's like, eventually they go, oh, that's exactly what I'm trying to say. Thank you. Active listening. Reflective listening. 

The fourth C is care. Now, this is the one which I'll show you the story in a moment, which I always get wrong in the hindsight. Care says this, I'm about to transmit something to you, Dr Richard. And it's probably not going to make much sense. I'm not looking for you to solve it. I'm not looking for a solution. I'm just struggling at the moment. And I'd really love someone I care about be with me. Don't judge me even when I'm being angry across whatever it is. And don't try and fix me because I just need to know you're prepared to be present with me, and simply almost allow me just three shots with me as a kind of hard charging pioneer. 

Care for me is give me a safe place because I'm going to fire off a few critique grenades because I'm so frustrated with what so and so's done. And if I don't, I'm going to go and talk to them and I'm going to blow them up and I'm going to be way harsher and probably more rude than is fair, but give me a safe place.

With Helen, my wife, who's a much more kind, compassionate, caring version. When Helen says, Steve, I want you to care, everything she says makes no sense. And if I try and solve it, it only makes it worse, historically. So care is that invitation to say, even the transmission isn't really what I'm trying to say. I just need to know that someone is willing to be present with me, not try and solve me, not trying to fix things, which for me is excruciating because I'm wired to fix problem. 

And the last one is celebrate. So if I send you the code advance, I'd say, hey, Dr. Richard, I'm so excited about a particular breakthrough, a contract win or something that's happened in my life. And what I want us to do is, I don't want us to miss this moment. I'd love us to open a bottle of champagne, have lunch together. I don't really want collaboration at the moment. I'm not really certainly not looking for critique. I just like to celebrate something which for me has been really significant.

So if you think about it, those five codes actually are quite clear and distinct in what they do. Often, people will want them to be used in different orders. But what we found was that where you give a clue with your transmission or even ahead of your transmission as to the intent with which you wish that person to respond, communication happened far more often, and people felt connected to that other person in a way they never did before.

I'll often do it now, even if somebody hasn't read the book or used it in their family or team, I'll say, hey, Dr. Richard, before I respond to you, what are you hoping happens here? Do you want me to just listen and ask good questions? Do you want me just to kind of celebrate with you because it's awesome? Or are you wanting me to critique it because it's about to go live? Or are you inviting me to collaborate to help make it better? 

Because what I know is my default, and we all have them, my default is collaboration and critique. If you say, hey, Steve, I'm thinking about this. My default is to help you make it better. If that's not your intent, then that feels really not that pleasant. So therefore, it began to make us more relationally intelligent and the more different the person is to you in the way they're wired and the way they view the world, the more likely you are to have opposing or opposite communication codes.

So my default is collaboration and critique. Helen's was care and clarify. Whenever we're accidental in our communication, we would miss each other. There we go. Thank you for letting me be the teacher for a moment and at least give hopefully enough context that people will go, oh, I understand what you're trying to say here. 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

A lot of C's there, Steve. We got your 5 Cs and then you said context and clue and connected. But you know what I, in all seriousness, what I couldn't help thinking as you're talking about this, particularly when you brought up your defaults, right, care and collaborate, critique, to me, that feels a little bit like five love languages, right?

And so, in a sense, because of our worldviews, and that shapes everything that we see, if you don't automatically know, obviously with Helen, you know what hers are, right? You know what her defaults are, but if you don't know, and you just go with your default, then you're basically blowing this all up, because who knows how the other party is going to receive, as you said, I'll use your word, the transmission.

So I really like this, and I think it's very simple. It makes sense. But there's subtle differences, but you could see that there are some overlap, and then you would clarify critique. You could see where there's some similarities. Same thing with collaboration. And I know that you said that people don't go through these. I imagine people want to go through them in a linear fashion, because we're wired that way. 

Would you say, and this is a very loaded question though, that there's one, like if you had to guess what would be the one to maybe start with, if you don't know the whole context of the other person, maybe which one do you begin with?

Steve Cockram: 

We often ask people, what's your default in terms of what you think you share with the world? What would you -- and the second question is, what would you most like to receive? And the reality is the one that always comes out top is clarify. So people really say, before we go anywhere else, I'd love you to actually take the time to truly try and understand what I'm actually trying to say. 

So to feel like somebody is listening to you and is going to do you the honor almost or the respect of saying before I try and jump in to make it better or before I launched into what I might, I'm going to actually be intentional in the active listening and asking good questions. I don't think you ever go wrong with clarify being your default response. 

Now, if you allow me a second bit, because obviously the Dr. Chapman stuff on love languages is interesting, because obviously we use that as well. The way I would describe it is, I think the love languages are, in many ways, a fractal of care. So if you actually want to unpack what does care mean for each individual, I think you could make a case to saying that the love languages are actually an a deeper expression or unpacking of what care means in the communication code. 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Oh, I love this. You mentioned it was kind of tongue in cheek that you've been happily married for 30 years. Your wife's been happily married not nearly as long because you've --

Steve Cockram: 

Not nearly as long

Dr. Richard Shuster:

Communication code. But clearly, as we're talking here, yes, this makes sense in a corporate or business setting, but it makes a thousand percent sense in one's family life. So if somebody begins implementing these Cs and they break them out and you start using them, be it in the boardroom or in the living room, typically, how quickly do you start seeing market shifts in emotionality from the other parties? 

Steve Cockram: 

Huge. I mean, almost instant because we designed every tool that we created went through the educated 13-year-old filter. So we said, if you think of how busy the new world and overwhelmed with information people are, if an educated 13-year-old can't understand, use and teach to their friends the concepts we're trying to share, our conclusion was we hadn't made them simple enough yet because you can be simple without being simplistic.

So what usually happens is most people are unconsciously incompetent that they just don't know why it doesn't work, but they're trying. That's the thing I think which causes the most pain for people is like, I'm really trying to make this relationship work better. But whatever I do, it seems to get worse. So it's not like we abdicate and give up. It's actually the pain is the relationships often with my children, with my boss, with my spouse or whatever it might be. Those are the ones that I find, however hard I try, it goes wrong. 

So the moment people go, oh, my goodness, my default, I critique. And Helen literally, we do something called personalized communication codes when they write what they mean and what order you want. I literally read the one Helen created for the workshop and it's like, just assume every communication with me comes through the filter of care and it was like for me profound. 

So I would say unless people are -- I've never known anybody who's really engaged with this. I can't think of any relationship where this makes sense of why it hasn't worked because we all have broken relationships in our lives. We all have disappointments, the older you get, the more you have. But what I will say is actually, unless a relationship has reached utter brokenness, we've seen so many moments of transformation because it always begins with hope. People often end up resigned to their expectation of communication in a relationship. 

Sometimes it's limited. And for a lot of times, it oscillates between limited and resigned, and it's never going to be better. What this does is it gives people a glimpse of hope. And in the book, we've mapped out quite a few ways that you can practically begin this process, but communication code gives people hope that things could be different. And the journey to conscious incompetence, which is nowhere near as much fun as unconscious incompetence, but you can't get to a place of conscious competence without going through conscious incompetence. 

And I think that's the bit for me where I used to go, whether it's around your dining room table, whether it's in your boardroom, whether it's with your team, whoever it might be, talking about the communication and how it's been and talking about how you could use codes to improve communication, it's a slam dunk in your language. It really is very hard to miss if there is still a glimmer or a flicker of hope. If someone's completely given up on the relationship and they don't want to be there, nothing magical will happen. But there's a lot of relationships which have become limited and almost people gone. Yeah, they usually get their communication needs met somewhere else. 

And I always say to people is it when I do a fair amount of marriage counseling, people become unfaithful in their communication long before they can become unfaithful with their physical life because you can probably tell me better than I will know, but one of the deepest human needs is to feel heard, valued and understood. And when that's not possible, when it's not working in the relationship, you'd most love it to work in, it probably causes some of the deepest pain in people's lives. And that's what we're actually touching into. 

So I said you've probably experienced all of me in this last 25 minutes or so being both the teacher, the pastor, the consultant, the coach, because in a sense, this really flows out of something. I go, the world would be a better place if more people had greater relational intelligence and relationships could be restored. I wish somebody had given me this, honestly, Dr. Richard, when I got married or when I started my relationship with Joe. I mean, it would have made a big difference because I'd have hurt less people. 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

I love this. So well said. Our time together has flown by. I wish we had more. We'll have to do a follow up episode sometime and keep going.

Steve Cockram: 

I’ll be on it.

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

This is terrific. Steve, as you know, I wrap up every episode by asking my guests a single question that is, what is your biggest helping, that one most important piece of information you'd like somebody to walk away with after hearing this conversation today?

Steve Cockram: 

What I say to everyone is communication can be made to work in any relationship. And actually, with the tools, you have a real chance, but without, you don't. Intent is not enough for communication or relationship. You actually need some tools if you are wired differently. If you're the same as someone else, we just get on and we're fine. 

But I think for me is where people have given up hope or where people have almost reached a point where they're not sure this relationship is going to last, I would say, give it one last spin because the communication code has the ability to begin creating hope in people's lives, in the relationships they were most love to see life happening.

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Beautifully said. Steve, tell us where people can learn more about you online and get their hands on the Communication Code.

Steve Cockram: 

Yeah. I mean, Amazon, probably the best place. Just type in Communication Code. There's a free assessment if you want to benchmark your current communication skills on And I would say on any podcast. If you've really found this helpful and you want to reach out, just find me Steve Cockram on LinkedIn. I'll always reply, and I'll always help in any way I can. 

This feels like a personal mission almost to kind of help the world be better at doing relationships than it is at the moment. So there's the three easiest ways, but the book is obviously a deeper dive into what I've shared and a lot more practical ways that you can really develop the skills of those five Cs. 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Perfect. We're going to have everything Steve Cockram and the Communication Code in the show notes at So we got you covered there. Steve, I loved our time together. Thank you so much for coming on today. It was awesome. 

Steve Cockram: 

Truly a pleasure, Dr. Richard. Thank you. Thank you for having me. 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Absolutely. And I want to thank each and every one of you who took time out of your day to listen to our conversation. If you liked it, if you're going to get the book, if you're going to figure out what your C is, what your default is, go give us a follow and a five-star review on your podcast app of choice, because this is what helps other people find the show. 

But most importantly, go out there today and do something nice for somebody else, even if you don't know who they are, and post in your social media feeds using the hashtag, #MyDailyHelping, because the happiest people are those that help others.


There is incredible potential that lies within each and every one of us to create positive change in our lives (and the lives of others) while achieving our dreams.

This is the Power of You!