Communication Matters with Carol Vernon
Episode 09: This week we’re talking to Carol Vernon.
We talked about:
Carol Vernon is a certified executive coach and principal of Communication Matters, an executive coaching firm that helps leaders and teams elevate their executive presence and communication skills in order to grow their impact. Carol was inspired to start Communication Matters after years of observing that doing your job well isn’t enough. Without executive presence and the ability to communicate effectively with diverse stakeholders, leaders can’t achieve their full potential or achieve the results they seek. Previously, Carol was the senior communications director at the National Cable and Television Association, as well as acting executive director of the cable industry’s education foundation, with both people management and budget responsibilities. Prior to that she worked on Capitol Hill and on more than a dozen political campaigns.
Welcome to Mission impact, the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I'm Carol Hamilton, your host, the nonprofit consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures, where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers, all for the purpose of creating greater mission impact. Carol Vernon is a certified executive coach and principal of Communication Matters. An executive coaching firm that helps leaders and teams elevate their executive presence and communication skills in order to grow their impact. Carol was inspired to start Communication Matters after years of observing that doing your job well isn't enough without executive presence and the ability to communicate effectively with diverse stakeholders, leaders cannot achieve their full potential or achieve the results they seek. Previously, Carol was the senior communications director at the National Cable and Television Association as well as acting executive director of the cable industry's Education Foundation, with both people management, and budget responsibilities. Prior to that, she worked on Capitol Hill and on more than a dozen political campaigns. Welcome to episode nine of the Mission Impact podcast.
Carol Vernon and I have a great conversation about communication, something so key to how organizations and teams operate. She explains four typical communication styles and why leaders need to be mindful of each when they communicate with others. We touch on what shows up in communications now that so many teams are working remotely, why it is so key to avoid assumptions as you work remotely and why having a conversation with your teammates, colleagues and volunteers about your communication norms is even more important now than it was in the past. We also consider how people can keep networking even while face to face events are canceled. So welcome, Carol.
Thank you, glad to be here.
So just to get started and to give people some context, what drew you to this work? How would you describe your journey?
I've worked in associations, nonprofits, and in the political world for quite some time, I always loved the work I did. I always felt very much focused on getting it done and eventually observed how you get it done matters oftentimes, just as much as getting it done. I started looking at how leaders were focusing on the how.
When did you start working with other leaders on that? And in that how, do you focus particularly on communication? Often when something isn't working in an organization, as an organization development consultant, I often hear people say, well, you know, communications just aren't working. What would you say makes communications challenging within an organization?
Yeah, absolutely. We are all different people. We as a society thrive on and could celebrate differences on many levels. But we forget the fact that communication is a big part of who we are. And we communicate differently. Each of us has preferences, and we have the ability to play with our preferences a bit if you will adapt them to other people's styles, but we often don't do it with teams. We have gender differences, cultural differences, all kinds of differences in terms of how we show up and it impacts the way we communicate with each other, which impacts our ability to work together.
Can you say a little bit more about those communication preferences? Are there some common things that you see show up in terms of the way people approach communications and they're probably not even thinking about it? It's not necessarily something that they're particularly aware of?
Absolutely. Again, communication preferences are something to some degree, they're hardwired, we're born with them just like we're born with a certain personality preference, right? We’re different. Some of us are more introverted, some of us are more extroverted. We have a communication preference, some of us tend to be very direct, very to the point and we don't need to meet face to face, we're fine right now and in the remote work world we're pretty comfortable with that. Sometimes we'll say that's more a masculine communication style, not that it's only for men, lots of us are very much a masculine, to the point, communication style. So there's some people who have a very direct to the point style, can they shift it? You bet they can. They can adapt it to talk to somebody who has a more traditional, when you use the word feminine again, does not mean that you know, speaking to you as a woman, but we tend to be more people focused, we're listening for how's that going to impact somebody, a real direct communication might not meet our needs, because we're going to listen more for how's that going to impact me or how that is going to impact my colleagues or my team or my organization. We're listening more for the people part. There's some of us who have more of a preference for the details. We're listening for the real detailed piece. So there is a communication style here, neither a feminine or masculine style, rather just a preference for more detailed, more systematic, more how kind of communication style. And then there's some of us who have more of that dialogue, I call it a why style. We're listening for the big picture. Why are we doing it this way? Not because we don't think it's a good way. We just want to hear different things. We communicate differently. And some of us are very much right to the point. Some of us are how, give me all the details systematic. Some of us are who, how does it impact me? Who's involved? Who's going to be impacted by what happens here? And some of us are, why, why are we doing it this way, not to derail it, but just want to step back, want to look at the big picture, give them time to process.
And it's interesting thinking about those as individual communication preferences and some are really more preferred in our culture, in the American culture than others. I think the direct communication style is definitely preferred. And getting to the point, just do it, all those kinds of things. And in other cultures, you know, it's the exact opposite where you know, it's people first. And if you haven't taken the time to do some small talk, ask me about my family, ask me about how my weekend went, that's considered rude.
Every organization has its own culture also, because obviously, every society has, all these pieces lay on top of the crucial part of communicating, which in the world we're living in today this is how we're collaborating. It's all about how we're, how are we communicating?
And as we're working now, remotely, what do you think is really important for leaders to consider as they consider their executive presence in a virtual world?
Well, we're using that term right now, the idea of sort of digital body language or digital communications, really being able to, to step back and it's not just about camera angles, hey, we're on zoom, and we got to make sure our camera angle looks good. It's really so much more than that. Digital communications in the remote world is just ripe for misunderstanding. There's so much here that we're not going to see, where if I were sitting across from you, I get a better sense of your mindset, I would know what you're thinking. I'd be able to pick up more on it. In fact, even, what could ultimately lead to conflict between individual leaders, between teams between whole organizations,
In the virtual world, or doing online meetings, working collaboratively, working remotely I think sometimes when we were face to face, people could assume that they knew kind of what the other person was thinking or they might pick up on a vibe from them. And they might be right about that, and they might be wrong. And so in some ways, now that we're forced to work remotely, one of the things that could invite people to do is to actually slow down, check their assumptions, ask more questions, check in with people more often so that they are getting a fuller picture of how folks are feeling, how's it going for them their work, etc?
Carol, that's a great point. There's a lot of opportunity right now, in terms of the world we're in, the world we're in in terms of digital communications, yes, the question around the idea of presence. And I think having a strong presence in the digital space is a lot about respect, a lot about trust, how do we show that in the digital space, it'll kind of have to do with the speed in which we respond to something. It could be everything from, you know, who do we see on that communication, there's so many pieces about having a strong presence offers a lot of opportunities for us to build more trust. To be more clear, in this case, some sort of short messages are not always the clearest messages, brevity could lead to a lot of confusion. Having a strong presence in the digital space is about, again, so much more than how we're showing up on camera. It's all the parts of communication, it's our words, it's our voice. And we have to think about those coming through in the different ways in which we are communicating right now.
Yeah. And it could be that people are paying even more attention to, you know, tone of voice, etc. Because that's what they're limited to, mid range up in terms of what they can see on video if people have video on and then and I do think that actually taking the time to think about some of those things you didn't have to think about before, which is, how is your computer positioned? How are you showing up on that video screen? What are people seeing, what's behind you, what messages do you want to convey in terms of that presence is something that we probably never had to consider in terms of our home offices or our home spaces before.
Absolutely, there's no question. Everything we do is communicating something and I go back to that idea of trust. And I almost want to say grace, Carol, this word in your company's name, Grace, Social, we need to give people a little bit of grace here, we need to assume good intent is there in the way we're communicating right now. There's a lot more opportunity for misunderstanding, somebody doesn't have their camera on, oh, they must not be engaged. Maybe they don't have their camera on because something's going on in their home or wherever they're working from. From that moment, we need to assume good intent, we need to create a little space for one another. I think the strongest leaders are communicating by showing we care. And I know with my coaching clients, right now, I'm noticing those who are taking the time, I don't want to say they're, you know, taking time to find out how the weekend went. But they're taking time just to slow down and to show that they care. They're really being very intentional in terms of their presence, how they're showing up, you know, they're getting to the point, but they're not, it doesn't mean that they're not taking the time, it doesn't mean that they're over relying on that very direct, very bottom line communication style, they're flexing, they're adapting their styles. They're creating space for others right now.
And you also focus in particular on women's leadership, what are some of the things that that women in particular can do to enhance their leadership?
Oh, terrific question. I think right now, women, just like men have, like many of our male colleagues have a lot of competing priorities. And I think, again, that opportunity to just to be a little bit vulnerable here, it'd be a little bit more authentic given I don't know if it'd be more authentic, but I believe women have that, women leaders have another opportunity to really think about how they're communicating authentically, to this point, this isn't the time to sugarcoat things, this isn't the time to be sort of stepping back, and I've got to protect my team, we need to really think about, and I know some terrific women leaders who are being very much focused on being direct and to the point.
What are you seeing in terms of hearing from your coaching clients of how they're seeing the current situation that we're in, remote working, the pandemic, the protests, all of the things that are going on? How are they seeing that show up on their teams?
I think the world we're living in is causing stress for many people, and we all experience stress in different ways. Again, we're all you know, we're all so different and we're experiencing it in very different ways. We experienced it as a whole society, but each of us is doing it differently. And what I'm seeing, again, from my leaders who are challenged right now is to look at how to communicate, how to shift and adapt their communications, to get the most out of their team. A coach and client said to me the other day, I'm walking a fine line between trying to motivate my team and help them move forward and not burn out my team. And I thought, how interesting to see, he said I'm just totally intrigued by all the opportunities that are in front of us, this sort of the opportunity to do things in different ways. And he said, but I'm finding that I'm having trouble getting other people to look at those. I'm finding some of that also that my clients are challenged by how to flex that and then we're also dealing with just the realities of there are some of us who are digital natives and some of us generationally have different levels of adaptation and a learning curve with technology. So we're seeing leaders need to really not just show up, so this presence is not like just let's fake it till we make it, they genuinely are looking for ways to be to be empathetic, to show up authentically, and to recognize we're different. We're all different. So communicating the goals, they're slowing down, they're probably spending more time communicating than if we were sitting across from each other in the office.
Yeah, because I think in the office, there's sometimes an assumption that word is getting around or communicated and once you're remote, and folks are not right there, you have to think a little more deliberately about it, rather than just kind of assuming that communication will flow through the organization. In terms of that burnout, I've seen some articles recently about how with more and more folks working from home, especially in the association world, certain types of nonprofits that folks are working longer hours since it's all one thing now work, home, everything together. It's all bleeding together and how are you seeing leaders manage that? And keeping work life balance?
I agree with everything you've said, Carol, and I'm observing the same thing. And in talking with some of my clients, in fact, just this morning, I had a coaching call with a terrific leader. As we were talking through the idea of boundaries, we were noting the fact that she's had to step back and create new quote unquote norms, new communication norms around her availability. So this idea, we're so used to you sending me a message, I'm gonna respond, oh, he texts, it's even more important, I'm going to get right back to you. We need to, we need to clarify those communication norms for the world we're in right now. The opportunities here are terrific for teams to be even more effective, more flexible, more adaptive, but without communication norms to help guide them again, right from misunderstanding. My coaching client was talking about the fact that it feels like 24/7, and in this case, this particular terrific leader has young children, and 24/7, she's always sort of split between one or the other, is it the family? Or am I at work? And she said, they're totally integrated. And I think a lot of us are experiencing that crossover. So creating communication norms for our teams is key for this world. And these are norms that may have a long term impact on the way organizations work and are going to work in the future.
Yeah, for sure. And one of the other things that you do is help people be more strategic about their career progression and network. What are some of the things that people can do now, without those more traditional networking events to move their career forward in this interesting time?
I'm hearing all kinds of exciting things that I wouldn't naturally have a thought of, I enjoy the whole process of going out and networking, I've watched some terrific leaders, you know, create really terrific sort of connections with people. And in this space now there's also terrific ways of doing it. But it means doing it differently, being very intentional about perhaps some of the networking groups and opportunities that are out there to meet people in the virtual space to do one on one follow up. So in terms of career progression, and continuing to build out, build out our networks in a very strategic way. We need to think about who are some of the people we do need in our worlds? I don't believe networking is ever a quantity, it really has to be very strategic, and thinking about what do we have to give others? What kind of expertise can we be sharing with others? What kind of info do I have that might be helpful to others? And we need to think about what kind of info would help me continue to build a new sort of community? Is that sort of a traditional way of what I have to give here? And then what is it I want to get? What do I want to learn, though? I mean, what do I have? What do I want to learn about how online is offering all kinds of opportunities to connect with other people? I'm watching my association clients create unbelievably powerful ways of networking online. And then I think it's the one on one, I think it's the individual follow up. Again, it's not about quantity, we need to be incredibly mindful of who we need in our world right now. And I dare I say, we also need to be careful about what we built, who right now we need to protect ourselves from, you know, the key piece here is we need to think about our own control, ourselves, that may be one of the only things right now we have 100% control over and think about who we need and protect, again, possibly who we need to protect ourselves from.
Yeah, it's been interesting, since all the events are now going online. One thing I'm actually seeing is, in some instances, some local associations that I had been involved in, you know, now we're seeing participation from people across the country, internationally. And then another very interesting thing that I didn't really think about, until I started doing this as I would be on a zoom call, or whatever networking thing, you know, because each little box, the person usually has someone's name written there, have written all the names down, look the people up in LinkedIn, you know, follow up afterwards, if I wanted to connect and have a conversation, and I know that I am following up with and you talked about quality versus quantity. But in this case, I'm actually following up with more people from a zoom event than I would have if it had been an in person event because I know that I wouldn't, I mean, yes, if you can get someone's business card, that's great. But you know, I'm not going to go around, peering at their name tag and trying to remember what their name was and write it down and then and then do the follow up. And so it's actually made it for me, it's made it easier to be consistent about that.
Carol, I love that example. We're also different, and some of us are thriving in the online world in terms of creating those relationships. And the truth is it is definitely more challenging for some others. For those of us who are more extroverted, we need to step back and allow other people in the online world more opportunity to step up. For those of us who are more introverted, we need to make the time to be able to come to something very prepared and ready to contribute, it's not the time to step back online. When we step back, I can't tell you how many times I've heard my coaching clients say things, the team seems disengaged. And you know, we've kind of talked to is it truly disengagement? Or perhaps are people taking time to think about what we're building in ways so this idea of something we're building, a network in the virtual space, you bet, there's going to be some people who are going to thrive in it. And I love to hear that you are Carol. And I think you have a terrific practice there of identifying who, for instance, is in a zoom or any kind of networking event, and then doing the individual follow up.
Right. That's all individual conversations. I mean, the event itself is a jumping off point, but then you know that I'm taking the time to reach out one on one. And the other thing that I've been doing with that is we'll set something up and is there a zoom link? I'm like, no, let's just talk on the phone. Because we're spending so much time on video these days. For those one on one, it's not necessary to get on video. I mean sometimes it's nice, but I feel like folks are also experiencing fatigue being on so many video calls. So those one on ones, I'm definitely just just having a phone conversation. And it works just fine.
Funny to think that the phone call is becoming sort of like what was old is new again. Pick it up, picking up the phone becomes a differentiator, it really allows us to say I care, it's really different. In this world, when we all have lots and lots of emails, it tends to instead pick up the phone. And you know, something that's also pretty obvious within here that the meetings that you would set up, a coffee meeting, for instance, was getting yourself to the place sitting down there, ordering the coffee, all of the pieces that took 90 minutes to do all that. And now we don't need to be on a zoom meeting for an hour, what was an hour might look like a 22 minute meeting. This is part of the idea of communicating respect and trust and having good intent is this idea that we may not need all this time that we put into it. What I keep going to is the idea of what's the opportunity here that we want to think about in terms of communicating. We may have a whole lot more opportunity to be more strategic with how we're communicating. This isn't about quantity. This is about quality.
We'll be back after this quick break. Mission Impact is sponsored by Grace Social Sector Consulting. Grace Social Sector Consulting helps nonprofits and associations become more strategic and innovative for greater mission impact. Download free resources on strategic planning, program, portfolio review, design, thinking and more at gracesocialsector.com/resources. We're back on Mission Impact. On each episode, I play a game asking one random icebreaker question. I have a couple here. So what is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
I think everyone at least once in their lifetime should go to a place that's on their bucket list. To make that happen in whatever way that is, to be able to experience how other people are living, that just can't be beat. So an opportunity to try some other place. See what it's like.
So what are some places on your bucket list?
I am absolutely fascinated right now by Vietnam. And what had been my hope this year to get to Vietnam at the end of the year, and we're going to postpone our trip probably another year. So that's what I've been reading a lot about, culture there and opportunities to travel through the country. I can't wait.
So what are you excited about? what's what's up next for you kind of what's emerging in your work?
Thanks so much for asking. And the biggest change for me is that with a lot of our executive coaching work I do with associations and organizations other than nonprofit and organizational leaders is going very virtual. So I miss the in person connection, but we're doing a lot more zoom. So trying to continue to, to build on that and find ways to work with teams in the virtual space. Again, I don't think that's going to be short term. I think when we move through this and of course we will, I think the way I'll work with teams will look different. And I'm really excited thinking about that. I've had a group of women leaders that gather over a four month training program focused on their executive presence as association, nonprofit leaders. And we're going to take that program virtually later this year. So I'm pretty excited about that as well. That's great.
Awesome. And how can people find more about you and get in touch?
Link in with me if we haven't LinkedIn, I'd love to connect with you. That way I post things there and check out my website, which is www.commmatters.com. I look forward to connecting with folks. All right.
Well, thank you so much, Carol.
Thank you so much. I really enjoyed talking with you.
Thank you for listening to this episode. You can find the links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/show-notes. We want to hear from you. Take a minute to give us some feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback. Thanks and see you next time.
Sponsored by Grace Social Sector Consulting. http://www.gracesocialsector.com/
Learn about the Effective Online Facilitation, 4 week group coaching program.
This week we’re talking to Becca Bartholomew.
We talked about:
• Ensuring all voices are included in planning processes
• Why it is important for leaders to not only have intelligence but also have emotional intelligence and somatic intelligence
• What the buffering sign on your computer has to tell us about today’s work environment
Referred to in the episode:
Barry Oshrey’s Tops, Middles and Bottoms
The Ladder of Inference
Your Body is Your Brain by Amanda Blake
A facilitator and coach with expertise in organization development (OD), Becca has extensive experience working with groups and individuals to foster communication and effective collaboration among diverse stakeholders. Becca helps her clients implement strategies that increase their emotional intelligence and efficacy. She is known for her clear communication, innate ability to foster trust, and firm, yet gentle approach to helping others recognize their blind spots and engage specific tools to articulate and reach their goals. She gracefully supports her clients toward self-reflection, new learning and increased awareness of their impact on others. She works with leaders of all types and has a special passion for those newer to leadership as well as those who hold societal privilege and want to address their roles in upholding and then dismantling systems of oppression.
Carol Hamilton: Welcome Becca to the podcast. Great to have you on.
Becca Bartholmew: Thanks for having me.
Carol: Just to kind of give people some context and get us started. Could you just describe kind of what drew you to the work that you do and, and how describe your journey to where you are now?
Becca: Sure. I'll give you the abbreviated version. I really feel like what I'm doing now has brought together a whole bunch of threads of my life into one place. It's a really inspiring, invigorating place to be. I am the third generation in my family to be doing organizational development work.
That's what exposed me to that human systems piece of what I do. I also spent a long time working in public health and sustainable agriculture, mostly in the nonprofit and academic sector, which has given me a continued learning journey around social justice and issues that I was working on at a systems perspective there.
I've always, my whole life, had a really strong interest in dance and movement and yoga and that sort of thing. And so now I feel like in the work that I do, which is mostly around supporting human systems, to be better at whatever it is they're trying to do. Especially around the communication within that system and the functionality within that system, I take a whole person and whole system perspective on that. Not just working with the mind, but working with other aspects of the whole being. It was sort of all these different interests of mine coming together into one place. I would just add to that is it was being in human systems. And then again, seeing things that I had sort of heard growing up that happen often in human systems, like we're humans, we have human tendencies and just seeing those things has inspired me to make the jump from public health, into really working with the systems rather than within the systems.
Carol: Can you give me an example of what one of those things were that you were like, “I remember them talking about that and now I'm seeing it.”
Becca: So, there's a lot of talk about people working either on or in their business or their organization. Sometimes we're so much in it that we forget to work on it.
We talk about process and we talk about content and sometimes people are so engrossed in the content that they forget to pay attention to the process and process can be relationships. It can be the processes for how information flows for the timeline, for projects, whatever it might be, the structures and processes, both interpersonal and organizational, that support what's going on.
I remember working in an organization and there was this person who came in and she went through this whole workshop with us about how to create work plans, start with activities and things that we wanted to do, and make these big plans. And then my boss said, “make a draft plan for our organization.”
I remember this so specifically because I went away with my family that week, but it was really important that it be done. So, I agreed to do it while I was away. I worked on it a lot while my family was down swimming in the lake and then I came back and I gave it to my boss and never heard anything.
Oh, it was just crickets. It was just an example to me of even when we're trying, we don't always follow through; those things sit on the shelf or in the email inbox and just never really get enacted within the organization.
Carol: From what you've learned looking back on that, what might you have said to the leader, how you might have done it, approached it differently considering your perspective now.
Becca: Great question. What I'm working on now in my life, and I think it relates to this, is getting really clear on my own boundaries and also exploring other people's expectations as much as possible. I think I would have had more of an upfront conversation with my boss: “What does this look like?”; “How do you want it to be”; “what's really important about this” and then, “what will be done with this once I finish it?” and can we put the meetings on our calendar now for the time we're going to talk about this and this and this.
I was younger then, and less experienced. I didn't really have the same initiative to make sure that this happens because, after all, it's my time and the organization's time, and I don't want to waste either.
Carol: Yeah. I also remember being on a board one time where I had raised the issue of the organization doing strategic planning and the Executive Director said, “well, why don't you go write a strategic plan?”
And I was kind of like, wait a second, that's not how it works. I could go do that but it wouldn't be at all useful because it wouldn't be informed by everyone in the group. How they're thinking about it. And, really sometimes the plan itself is a useful product, but the process is also such an important part of having all those conversations, thinking about what is our direction and what are our goals of having all those conversations. In a lot of ways, to me, it is even more important than what ends up on the page. Although that also is important, people want to see that it's actually used so that they don't feel like it was just a lot of hot air and a waste of time.
Becca: Yeah, it makes me also think about why I know a lot about design thinking and it makes me think about even within that process, not only is it important for buy-in and engagement, but there are things, especially that we don't always know about depending on where we are in the organization. Unless we're pulling from all angles, back to the organization through that process, we might miss something and in design thinking, there's that concept of bringing in sort of the smart but naive other person who doesn't have all the information about whatever's being talked about and really having that person there to ask questions and get clarification and guidance.
Pulling from that, I was just doing a leadership training the other day, and we were talking about Barry Oshrey's concept of Tops, Middles, and Bottoms within an organization, and how Tops feel really lonely and isolated and burdened because they have to make all the decisions about everything, and Middles in an organization feel kind of pulled between the Tops and Bottom. So, they're managing people below them, but then they're responding to the people above them. And then often the people at the bottom, I don't necessarily love the terms Top, Middle, Bottoms, but it's your hand and gives you kind of a visceral, real example of feeling of what this is, and the Bottoms, often feel like they have no idea what's going on, that they're at the whim of the manager of the Middle or the Top, and just kind of there without knowing. Really bringing all three of those levels into a strategic planning process or any planning process is really important. Well, also being clear - who are the Tops that have the decision-making power; I've seen in some nonprofits who are really trying to have a flat structure where everybody's important. Yes, that's true, but there needs to be clear leadership so you can have a clear process for gathering information, then it needs to be clear how the decision is going to be made: Who's going to be making the decision and the timeline for that upfront.
Carol: I totally agree. I think sometimes, with the notion that boards should drive the strategy for an organization, there's this tendency to, and kind of also a sense of, let's make it more manageable, so we'll have less people involved and then you miss all of those perspectives, but then as you said, so important for folks who are leading the process to also say, “We're gathering input from all these different groups, the board and senior staff, or whatever group it is, is ultimately tasked with finalizing the plan, approving the plan.
They are the ultimate decision makers. So getting clear and being clear about that decision making process is really key, too, as you can have lots of involvement, but if you don't that piece, you can actually demoralize people because they thought that they had equal say in this and then something that they were very passionate about doesn't emerge in the final plan and they wonder, “well, what was that for? “What was the point about, we're taking input from lots of people, but not everything's got to get in there for one, it's not going to be Christmas tree ornaments for everybody but also who's actually making the final decision.
Becca: Yeah, absolutely.
Carol: And, one of the areas that you focus on is somatics and leadership. Can you define what somatics is first? And then we'll talk a little bit about how that shows up in leadership.
Becca: Somatics comes from the word Soma, which is body. It's about the body within leadership. I really love ,there's a great book called Your Body is Your Brain by Amanda Blake. She talks about three concepts. I have it here because I always mix them up. So, Xterra exception, proprioception and interception.
Xterra, if you think about X, like external, that's our, our five senses. So, seeing and touching and hearing and smelling and tasting all of that is our Xterra reception. We're gathering information in three different ways and responding to information in three different ways. Then there's our appropriate section, which is our awareness of where we are in space. You might also tie that to sort of leadership presence, how are you using your body in space? Are you standing firm? Are your shoulders standing broad and relaxed? Exactly, are you clear in your stance? And then interception is the part where I think it gets the most exciting and juicy, but it's all important. That's sort of the internal, physiological, gut feeling or my heart. Some people think it's kind of woo, woo but it's not because there's a real physiology going on and your body often knows things before your brain knows them. Literally your Vagus nerve. Connects right from your gut to your brain, bypasses the cognitive part of your brain and goes right to the instinctual part of your brain and often you're taking in information and making a decision about it at a sub cognitive level, it's sort of your flight fight, flight freeze, animalistic instinct level before your cognition is even aware of it. The more we can become aware of our internal feeling sense, the more powerful we can be as leaders because we're using both levels of our intelligence, our emotional intelligence, as well as what I call our somatic intelligence, our bodies data gathering and processing.
Carol: As you know, science learns more and more about this, the whole notion that we're mind, body and spirit, that there are three separate things. It's really all one. Right. The body, your brain is part of your body, so it seems kind of obvious, but at the same time we experience it ourselves as a different thing. So, it's really interesting. So much of our culture has a kind of demonized feeling - like set your feelings at the door. We're professional beings with this professional meaning, and what's this leader mean? All of those things, I think sometimes what people think about, disconnects a lot of those pieces.
Becca: Absolutely. If you think about it, think about when you're in a really energetic mood or in a really tired or depressed or sad. Just a run-down mood and how much work you can get done or not get done, or have responsive in a way that takes care of relationships in a positive way you are, or you aren't depending on how your internal state is. And we're not taught in this culture to pay attention to those things. I mean, I have a six-and-a-half-year-old and I try to remember to engage with my kid about, “Oh, are you feeling this?” “I see that you're angry” or, “I see that you're frustrated” and kind of name emotions so that he can start to work with those things and at the same time, it's just not talked about. There's a line, not necessarily an advocate for bringing everything in the door and to the table at work. While I want the whole person to be there, but not necessarily all of the person. It's like the integrated wholeness of the person is able to show up and that person is able to manage what needs to be in the room and what doesn't need to be in the room. I used to joke that the definition for me of maturity is knowing when to be immature and when not. So, it's not being mature all the time. It's knowing when to bring it in when not to. And I think it's the same thing about emotional intelligence, somatic intelligence, any of this, we need our emotions and we need our gut instinct. Yet we haven't been taught to cultivate and manage them.
Carol: Yeah. And then that brings it up to mind kind of what you were talking about before in terms of setting boundaries and having appropriate boundaries. When our culture was kind of first exploring all this in the sixties and seventies, it was this let it all hang out, whatever, and learning over time that actually doesn't work at all, and it can be very detrimental to relationships. Being able to not only recognize, but manage emotions and manage your response as an adult, is a lot of what that's about.
Becca: Yeah. I think this bridges sort of into the diversity, equity, inclusion conversation because when I think about the whole person it's mind, body, spirit, emotions, and identity. So those five aspects: we need our mind, we need our body, we need our emotions, our spirit, or our values. However you want to define that for yourself. And then our identity is really important. All of the social identity aspects of who we are, whether that's race or gender or gender identity or sexual orientation or religion. There's a whole plethora of them. That's another piece we need to be able to bring our whole identity to work and we need leaders who are creating systems and environments where the diversity of those identities is able to thrive and be included and engaged with and valued. Often there's a leave that part of your identity at the door and I do think that bringing whole identity to work is important, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're talking all about various aspects of it if it's not relevant to the work at hand.
Carol: I wonder whether people in a dominant position or a leadership position and in a white dominant culture or whether people even realize that they're asking. They're assuming that people will leave those identities at the door and show up in a way that fits what's perceived in the dominant culture as kind of the right way to be at work.
Becca: Absolutely. And I think there are shifts happening in some spaces. Obviously we have a greater awareness around this as a country with the Black Lives Matter movement and other aspects but I think there's a long way to go. To me, this is what ties into the somatic intelligence work. I really think that leaders need to get good at noticing what's coming up for them when they start to engage in these spaces because a lot of times it can be scary. You don't want to get into legal trouble and you don't want to offend someone. So often people end up not even stepping into this space and not even having the conversation. It's really about doing as people who have what we call dominant identities, which is this white Christian male who’s heterosexual. There are a range of dominant identities in our American culture. Those of us with them need to do some work to realize that we have them and what it means.
It's not necessarily a problem that we have them. It is what it is. We need to realize that it is what it is, and then begin to work with it and ask ourselves, what are our values? What do I want to be seeing? What do I want my organization to be like? And, how can I play a role in creating that?
Carol: What kind of steps do you think if people, if leaders want to start stepping into this work, that they can start taking?
Becca: The first step might just be mapping your own identities. Identity maps - put yourself in the middle, draw a circle, and a bunch of lines coming off of that. Think about all of those aspects that make you who you are.
Whether it's where you are in your sibling order. If you have siblings, the economic situation that you have, grew up in, and are in now; your education level, your race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, a range of all those. Once you write that map of who you are, then look through them and try to label, which are done, I'm in it and which aren't. Then take some time with each of those and think, okay, what makes this dominant? How is the world set up such that things are easier for me because I have this identity? What are the systems allowing for me? Because I just happened to have this identity and then get in conversation with other people who have similar identities to you who are also trying to work on this.
One of the things that's really important, and I imagine folks have heard a lot about, is not putting the emotional labor on to people who have what we call the marginalized or subordinated identities. It's not their job to educate us. There's a lot of information out there already, some really great books and we could even include a list of some of those, especially around race, as part of this. To be doing your own learning and engaging with others who are similar identity to you, doing their learning as well.
Carol: And that I think is important to have those spaces of, similar identities so that people can have all the emotions they're having without putting emotional labor on other people. This whole notion of white fragility, people are going to have their emotions. They're either going to get triggered, and shaming them and bullying them to stop doing that is not helpful; at the same time, a person of color, a person with another marginalized identity, or intersection of those doesn't need to hear that same conversation over and over and over again. How can we create spaces so that white people can start their baby steps in this, and have the full experience of it all, and work through it?
Becca: Absolutely, Carol. I totally agree with what you say. I think you're hitting on a key point. I believe it's necessary to feel the emotions that are associated with this. I know a lot of white women who I've interacted with, especially have felt guilt or shame or sadness as they become more and more aware of what the white dominant culture and their role in that has created in this country. I've heard experiences from colleagues of color of mine who have had white men end up really angry in their sessions when they hear about things. These are generalizations I've mentioned, it's sad and women can get angry, but I believe we need to feel those emotions and become aware of them and let them move through us because as we talked about a little while ago, feelings are literally physiological. There are biological things happening in your body when you feel something and if you just try to suppress it, it doesn't really actually go away. Where are the spaces where that can be released, where it can be acknowledged, process looked at, digested and then do that in a safe space with support and then step into the other spaces of leadership of mixed identity interaction. I want to say clean, where none of us are super clean when it comes to it, but it's about having to
Carol: Sort of through a little bit of a muck, at least.
Becca: Exactly - cleaned up your boots or like simmered down your sauce.
I think that's really important that too often the message, especially to white people is, “Oh, don't bring your white fragility.” I see that and it's not to say, don't have your emotions. It's be aware of where, where you are displaying them and the kind of help you are seeking for them.
I say, do have those emotions. Become very aware of them and don't get stuck in them. Brene Brown also talks a lot about the difference between guilt and shame. Some of them are part of this learning, some of the learning I've been doing is through WWARA about White Women's Anti-Racism Alliance and they take Brene Brown's work and talk about the difference between guilt, and shame and guilt.
Well, shame says something is wrong with me. I am bad. And then guilt says I did something bad. If we say, “Oh, I did something bad,” then we have agency. “Oh, I did something bad. I can do something different.” If we stay in our shame as whatever dominant identity we might be working with in that shame, if we stay there, we're never going to be able to step into action and make the world a better place.
On the other hand, there's also often people who want to jump to action right away, “Oh, this is a problem. Let me fix it.” A lot of advocates of color, who I've been interacting with have said, “Please, don't jump to action right away. Please slow down, please do your learning. Please do your emotional work. Please get clear about why you want to do this work. Let's not do this work because it's all the rage right now. What's in it for you? Why is it important for you to make some shifts around racism in this country or around bias toward people with different sexual identities, whatever sexual orientation, whatever it might be?”
Carol: Yeah. That action orientation brings me back to one of the pieces that you work with as well, wanting leaders to bring more mindfulness to what they do. I'm wondering if you can define mindfulness in this context and why you think it is so important.
Becca: Yeah. I think when it comes to leadership, mindfulness is a key tool for engaging our emotional intelligence.
Actually, one of my favorite quotes that I came across recently is by Daniel Goldman. He’s a journalist who did a lot of work around emotional intelligence and has published a lot of books about it. He says the best thing a leader can offer is a well-managed nervous system. I have worked with various client systems where the leader can get triggered really quick and easily and make a lot of assumptions about things.
We talk in this work about the ladder of inference. How quickly we can sort of climb up this ladder of assumptions and then, “well this person said this for this reason, and this means that, and that means that.” And then all of a sudden, we're at the top of this ladder without even thinking.
Carol: Yeah, without even being conscious of jumping up the ladder, “I'm looking at you now,” and “Oh, she gave me kind of a funny look. She must think I'm a terrible interviewer.” I mean, and that's all going on in my head. I may not even be conscious ….
Becca: That I had something in my eye.
Carol: Right, right. 've made meaning of it. Just like that. Because we're meaning making machines.
Becca: Exactly. Mindfulness allows us literally to start to see our mind so we notice, ‘Oh look at that thought,’ ‘Oh look, I just had a thought about that’ and we become more aware of the chatter in our minds. To use the word agency, we have more agency in how we're using our voice and our body and our mind because we become more aware of the automatic parts of it. It can also allow just practice. Mindfulness can bring more pause and space into interactions. I think those are more and more necessary. These days everything is so fast. If we just take a breath before we respond, we might actually be able to be in a place of actually responding rather than reacting and the response to me is, where there's the choice and the agency, the reaction is where it's just automatically coming. Maybe even from that interception, that automatic physiological reaction, which sometimes serves us and sometimes does it. What we need is to become more and more aware of it.
That’s what I'd say about that. Go ahead. I was just going to tie it into the virtual world. I think it's, again, even more important in a virtual space to both engage mindfulness and engage the whole person. We can become, as we are in zoom, I gesture here with this rectangle that we forget that we have the rest of our body and we forget that, it might be, or even in a normal interaction, we might, if I were talking to you in a cafe, I might turn and look out the window while I'm talking to you and think, and that might shift how my brain is working, but because we're so used to the norms in our culture and are just looking at that rectangle and look at each other on the screen that we're literally not being mindful in the same ways that we might have otherwise.
Carol: So how do you say since people are just, you know, the reality of us working this way of working online, working remotely is probably going to be going on for quite a while.
What are some things that people can do to bring in more of themselves to online meetings?
Becca: I’m smiling because one of the things that's come I've been working on lately and telling clients and colleagues is to think about that spinning thing on your screen that says buffering. We hate it when that happens, but how are you creating buffers in your day?
It's not just the onscreen, but the, between meetings or between being at the meeting and being with whoever or whatever is in your household. How are you creating spaces? Cause literally we used to walk down a hallway to a meeting or get up and switch offices or pick up the phone, something shifted and took our eyes from the screen.
And one of the things is just to give yourself those buffer zones. Another is to literally take some time, whether it's a chime on your calendar or in your watch or note to take three breaths at various points in the middle of the day and then you can engage a full mind, body, spirit aspect with those three breaths.
On the first breath, what am I feeling; on the second breath what am I thinking; and on the third breath, what's important to me? That can really bring you back. What's important in this moment, to me? What brings you back to what you’re being present with, whatever it is that you really want to be present with rather than reactionary? What you just happened to be being present with?
I also have a whole set of questions that I go through when either designing a virtual meeting or working with others on it about how can we bring in. All of those parts of a person. What are the kinds of questions you can ask your colleagues, “What do you feel about this?” “What's your gut reaction?” What's your heart telling you? What’s your instinct on this? And then you can say, what's your mind thinking on this? What new ideas have you noticed? What are you thinking about now? How does this connect to the other things? You start to engage the brain in that, that's the body brain piece, and then there's just rain.
We just need to get creative. Like how does this tie to your values? Our values as a company that start to get to the spirit and values aspect of things, and then there can be questions, like look around the virtual room. Who's not in the room. When it comes to virtual meetings, there's a lot of inclusion. So not necessarily identity, but inclusion when it comes to are you remembering to try to engage the people who don't have their cameras on in the virtual meeting? Is there a norm that people have to have their cameras on, but maybe they can't. Maybe their bandwidth is low. Maybe their house is a mess. Maybe somebody else's in the room with them. So, what are the aspects of inclusion that we need to think about to make this a virtual space, a psychologically safe space?
Carol: Yeah. Thinking about the buffering, I was, working with some folks who were talking about, facilitating in a virtual setting and just saying that it just takes a little bit longer for people to kind of absorb, and instruction.
If you're wanting them to go do a next thing, let's say, put them in breakout rooms, to have them work on a separate document that you've sent a link to, and to create those pauses in the meeting as well, and almost imagining that buffer, things spinning, and their technique was to, when you've asked a question, assume that it's going to take everyone a little bit longer to answer because they're kind of waiting to see if anyone else is going to say something and actually take a drink of water while you wait to force yourself to wait a little bit.
Becca: I like that. Somebody once told me that children's brains, as they're learning, take longer to process. So, wait 17 seconds after you ask your child a question, which feels so long. I don't do that long online, but I do sometimes count to seven or 10, just to see and I think that's very true.
I've had a lot of experiences lately where I've given an instruction, we've gone to the next thing and then the person, or in the group, two or three people in the group of seven, have no idea what to do. It's had me realize, and again, if you think about it, we're not giving our nervous system any time to decompress or get in a place of being able to really absorb information again, when we're constantly looking at the screen.
I sometimes also give instructions to folks, you know, get up, stand up for a minute or stretch, or literally please look away from your screen while you think about this. So sometimes you have to be more overt and in the instruction, then slowdown, as you said, and repeat yourself, and then also provide the information in multiple formats.
I'll often put instructions in chat as well as verbally say them and that sort of thing. So absolutely, many things to pay attention to.
Carol: Probably all things that would be good to bring back when we're in person, working with groups that take that pause and make sure that everyone's understood the instructions of what's next or where you are on the agenda in a meeting or anything.
One thing I like to do on each episode is I play a little game. I have a box of random icebreaker questions. I've got one for you here, “How did you meet your best friend?”
Becca: Oh, how did I meet my best friend? Well, there's a childhood one, but here's my adult best friend. It's a kind of a fun story. She was the babysitter the summer after I went to college for my younger siblings. I had been in college; my parents were divorced and I went to see my father. I heard about this babysitter who was great with my younger siblings at my mother's house. I remember thinking, who is this person taking over the older sibling role?
I came home, eventually met her, and within half an hour, she was my best friend. We've been really good friends ever since then. I think it's been about 20 years.
Carol: That's awesome. So, what are you excited about now? What's up next for you? What's emerging in your work?
Becca: There are a few different things that I'm excited about.
One, as you know we've talked in other times about this, is about peer coaching, peer learning, and people being able to really connect and learn from and with each other in small groups. I'm really excited about engaging with that in a virtual space. I feel like the peer coaching really involves the whole person. It's not just sort of sitting back in a lecture on a webinar or listening to somebody, but it really engages people and it engages people around. What's important to them in the moment and it allows them to be helpful and of service to other people.
I think that's so important for us as humans, for mental health to just feel a value. I'm going to be setting up some opportunities for people within similar industries, but not in the same organization to come together in peer learning groups and connect with each other. I'm really excited about that possibility and really what's possible with that globally right now, because we don't have to get together in person for it and we can't get together in person for it. So, who can come together? I'm working with some of the groups that I do consulting with. They focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. and some of them have been around one of them for 30 years, another for 50 years. And they really know their stuff and their stuff has been in the room like physically together.
I'm really excited about helping them think about how to take it all virtually and keep it really effective and yeah, engaging. And then finally, I'm contemplating, and I might want to rope Carol into this, listeners. So maybe by the time you listen to this, she will have said yes. I want to develop a virtual workshop about engaging the whole person. Go more in depth into some of those example questions and examples scenarios that we touched on around engaging those five aspects of the of a person. Mind, body, spirit, emotions, and identity.
Carol: So, it sounds like a lot of fun.
Becca: Yes. Excited about all those.
Carol: How can people find out more about you and be in touch?
Becca: They could email me or I'm also on LinkedIn. My email is: Becca.b.Consulting@gmail.com
Carol: We'll put the links in the show notes as well.
Becca: Okay. That makes it easier. I'm also on LinkedIn as Becca Bartholomew. I'd love to hear people's reactions. What did you agree with, disagree with, what questions do you have? Let's keep the conversation going.
Carol: That will be awesome. All right. Well, thank you so much. And thank you for being on the podcast.
Becca: Thanks for the opportunity. Take care.
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I am Carol Hamilton, nonprofit consultant and podcast host. My passion is helping organizations cultivate healthy, inclusive cultures that live their values, fostering learning, creativity and results. Find me at Grace Social Sector Consulting and download free resources.
Grace Social Sector Consulting, LLC, owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of the Mission: Impact podcast, with all rights reserved, including right of publicity.