MELINDA: Welcome to Leading With Empathy & Allyship, where we have deep, real conversations to build empathy for one another, and to take action to be more inclusive, and to lead the change in our workplaces and communities.
I’m Melinda Briana Epler, founder and CEO of Change Catalyst and author of How To Be An Ally. I’m a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion speaker, advocate, and advisor. You can learn more about my work and sign up to join us for a live recording at ally.cc.
All right, let’s dive in.
MELINDA: So, welcome to our Change Catalyst Live Event Series and the Leading With Empathy & Allyship Show, where we have deep real conversations about how we can be more inclusive in our workplaces and our communities.
I’m Melinda Briana Epler, the author of How To Be An Ally and founder and CEO of Change Catalyst, where we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting, coaching, and events.
Today’s topic is recognizing the impact of current events on our work lives. This is a crowdsourced topic, by the way. A highly requested topic from our sponsor, and then also from feedback that we heard from you all, our audience. I will say I like to be informed and to bear witness to what’s happening in the world and the injustices that people experience. Many good allies do, right?
We also have a lot that’s happening in the world, a lot of injustice, a lot of pain, and violence. I find that I take it in. It impacts me throughout the day, perhaps throughout the week, the month. I carry it with me in my body and in my mind. I do some practices to kind of work through that. But right now, what I’m carrying are brutal wars in Ukraine and Tigray and other areas of the world, anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation, anti-trans, anti-Asian, anti-Black hate crimes, and other happenings that are in our lives, right.
I think we do a disservice to ourselves and each other when we go on through life and our work without recognizing the impact that this has on us. So, today, we’ll talk about our individual work to take care of ourselves, as well as the role of managers, companies, and allies to create safe, compassionate spaces for addressing our experiences.
So, I’m really excited to have two guests here to talk about this with us today. We have LT Frederick, who is the Director of People and Communities at Cisco Systems Incorporated. And I will say she’s also family, she’s my husband’s cousin. And then Jared Seide, Executive Director at Center for Council. Thank you both for being here, and welcome.
LT: Thank you for having us.
JARED: Thanks for having us.
MELINDA: The episode is sponsored by First Tech Federal Credit Union. Thank you so much to Sogol and the team for being a part of this work and change that we are creating together.
So, LT and Jared. Let’s start first. Can you start by sharing a brief background about who you are, where did you grow up, and how did you come to do the work that you do today?
LT: I will start. My name, again, is LaTricia Frederick. I grew up in a small town in North Carolina. I’ll claim the entire county. So, it’s Duplin. County, South-Eastern part of North Carolina in a very small family of educators. I am an African American female who then went off to college at a large majority of the White institution going to Upstate University in Raleigh, which was about an hour north of where I grew up.
I was the beneficiary, if you will, of diversity development programs. So, people that were trying to diversify corporate America. I was an inroads intern and benefited from lots of coaching and counseling around how to be professional, how to exist in a majority of the White corporate world, and what were the strategies and tactics to be successful in that environment.
I give a lot of credit to my parents and my family and my environment for raising me, but also to that program for existing to create the life that I have right now. And so, for that, it has been a personal passion of mine to give back and to help develop others and to also create space where others can be successful in environments where they may not have traditionally seen themselves.
JARED: Thank you for that. That was really cool. I appreciate meeting people. Thank you for being here and sharing that way. So, I grew up in New York. In the 70s and 80s, New York was a diverse and intimate, extraordinary place where folks really found themselves on top of each other to a large degree.
And so, you couldn’t help but feel all of the stories, all the diverse stories that you interact with all the time. I think I developed a love of this kind of storytelling because everybody’s story is so unique, and you couldn’t avoid it.
As you move through New York, in which we’re so proximate. It was the era of the movie Fame for those of you who are old enough to remember that. Many of the folks in my community. I started acting, and I was directing. And so, those were my kind of people.
I went off to Brown University and then to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, feeling that something about storytelling and about film and television and theatre would be kind of what I could step into. When I moved to Los Angeles, I realized that authenticity was not as valued as I expected it would be and that the work that I did that was most meaningful didn’t pay very much, but the work that kept me alive was pretty inauthentic.
I found myself trapped in that. If I’m going to be a storyteller, and I can’t tell my story. I think at this time, my daughter, who was in an elementary school just after the Rodney King riots were really traumatizing Los Angeles, in particular, South LA.
As a concerned parent, as the president of the governing board, I watched that school turn into a really difficult and tense place. I watched my fourth-grader kind of get scared to go to school and a lot of bullying and a lot of misunderstandings, and I felt something needed to be done as a parent, as a concerned stakeholder in that school community.
We found this practice of council that was being experimented with in Los Angeles schools as social-emotional learning was being leached out of school budgets. There was less and less art and music and ways to connect. This practice of just coming together and sharing our authentic stories and finding a way to listen to each other felt so meaningful.
And when we brought it in, it transformed that community. The community went from a place that none of us felt comfortable or safe really trusting to the closest thing I had seen to beloved community, this place where we may not come from the same place or even agree about things, but we really care about each other and what we’re there to do, which was to create a nourishing environment for the children.
I watched the adults and the elders and then the kids in that community really open their hearts to one another through this practice of council. I realized that the authenticity that I was missing in my career was really on display and building community in this place and decided I needed to change my life around. I needed to go that way.
And so, I learned what this was, what this practice of council was, and went to work for the folks who were trying to bring it into other schools and beyond schools, community-based organizations, and beyond that, correctional institutions, jails, and prisons, and then law enforcement and the corporate world and found that there was such an incredibly inspiring and nourishing work to be done around storytelling that heals and builds community, although it was not in the direction I thought it originally would be.
And so, the Center for Council has become that organization that brings this practice out into the world in any number of ways.
MELINDA: Thank you both for sharing. I think just that sharing gets to the heart of some of this work, too, right, is that creating that space for people to share their authentic stories and how they got where they are now is the second piece.
Let’s dive into that. How would you recommend that we as individuals work to recognize what’s happening in the world and protect our well-being as we bear witness to the injustices and the pain in the world?
LT: Yeah, I think that we all have to first acknowledge that there is injustice in the world and that there is pain that many people are experiencing from various vantage points. And sometimes, we may be are experiencing blind spots and are not aware of other people’s pain or where they may feel that the world isn’t quite fair to them. And just listen.
Sometimes we just have to pause and be open to hearing or seeing someone else’s perspective. I know in my work, I work at a global IT company, extremely large, you know, 95 different countries that we operate in. We have employees and team members that are in countries that may be perceived to be at odds, right? But they’re still people that are within these different countries and these different spaces.
Everyone may not have the same values or principles, but we often will have things that are in common that we do care about one another in different ways and oftentimes have already found common ground in which we can work and partner together.
And so, I think it’s really important for us as individuals to think about where do we experience pain? How do we like for others to engage with us in that moment and then mirror that back and think about how can we be a supportive force to another? Jared, I know you have lots of thoughts on this. I’d love to hear what you’d have to say on that.
JARED: Well, I so appreciate what you’re saying, LT, and I 100% agree with you. The current moment is just very perilous. There is so much happening right now with wars and violence and oppression and subjugation and sickness and inequity, not to mention our own personal lives that are filled with trauma and drama, all of which are very consequential to each one of us.
And the reality is all we can impact is this present moment. That is really the only impact we can have is right now. I think we are, unfortunately, ineffective in changing the past. Unless we have a time machine, we can’t go back and change something. So, all of the time, we take unpacking and replaying and washing, again, all of this trauma, re-traumatizing ourselves and others by getting stuck in that story of the past. We’re not really effective in doing anything about it.
Similarly, the future that we fantasize and dread about that we are constantly kind of fixated on is not something we can actually know until we get there because things are always changing. The only thing we can do, the only place we can be truly effective, is right here in the present moment as we prepare and resource ourselves such that we can meet each moment, including those that will come in the future and become our present moment in a good way.
And there’s a great deal we can do to bring online skillful means of regulating our nervous system, of training or attention. I think the ability to resource ourselves now is so critically important in how it is we navigate through because this current moment is all we have. It is truly the only place where we can do any real work. I think staying current and present is critical for our health, our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, and for our productivity in terms of collaboration, creativity, and engagement in our work. And also for making the world a place that we want to bring the next generation into. We have to focus on how it is to show up in the present moment.
I think we can become more conscious of the way our bodies are impacted by stressors and the perceived threat, and how it is that we get activated or dysregulated, you might say, with our sympathetic nervous system, kind of going crazy in this fight-flight-freeze mode, which is really effective. If a bus is barreling towards you and you got to run away, or a wild animal is attacking your child, we need to respond. But when the threat is not imminent, all of the stuff our physiology is doing to prepare us to fight or flee or freeze isn’t really effective. It just kind of holds us in the trauma.
And so, skillfulness around working with the sympathetic and the parasympathetic cyclicity that is so necessary in bringing about practices that bring us back into our bodies, into our right mind, so to speak, and into the present moment, are really important for each one of us individually, as well as the groups that we work in to provide resources and to help us prepare in a good way.
We are, unfortunately, really often ill-prepared and unresourced in a world that is so challenging. That’s a mess. And it really is something that I think we can do a better job of individually, organizationally, and as far as skill is concerned.
LT: Yeah, it also makes me think of building muscle memory. Right? When you get in the habit of skill-building, personally, how do you take a moment to pause and breathe and reflect and rejuvenate? Like, do you build the routine of almost like you you’re raising a child? Do you teach them those behaviors of what you do when you get out to bed to take your shower, to brush your teeth, to wash your hands? Building the skill of resiliency and building the skill of pouring back into yourself but making it a habit to do that, I think, is really important for us as individuals, and then we are able to then pour into our teams and relay appropriately.
JARED: You remind me of something. Maybe it’s the pattern on your blouse. There’s this wonderful book by Robert Sapolsky called Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. It looks like a zebra. But there’s this very interesting observation around the fact that human beings don’t have that muscle memory of how to shake it off. Zebras, however, you know, if you’re on the savanna, and you see the lion getting ready for lunch, zebras know, like, uh-oh, stop eating, we got to run, we got to find safety.
Poor zebra, who’s slow, is going to wind up being lunch for the lion, but the rest of us are going to get to safety. And when we get there and realize it’s safe, zebras shake. They do a little shake. They shake it off. They know how to do it. Their bodies show them a way to downregulate from that stress state.
If you have dogs and dogs get into it, you notice dogs sneeze. There’s this way in which bodies take care of themselves when we move from stressful states to rest and collaboration and discernment and relational spaces. And human beings don’t have that sort of ingrained pattern and don’t have something like the zebra shake stance that we know how to do to move.
We need to be taught that. We need to learn those skills. They’re critically important because if we stay in this state of watching the news and hearing the stories and reliving the traumas, the cortisol, and the adrenaline, all that the sympathetic tone is characterized by is really damaging to our health in the long run. And it’s absolutely prohibitive in terms of making relationships, collaborating, being productive and creative at work, all of these things that we meet and want to be relationally and in terms of our work life, and in terms of our health, really can’t exist unless we teach ourselves how to move and create the simplicity between this sympathetic and parasympathetic tone.
MELINDA: I’m not a practitioner on this, but some of the things that I have learned is just, you know, is that shaking. Shake one hand, shake the other hand, shake one foot, shake the other foot, and you can do it faster and faster. Kids are taught this when there’s heightened anxiety in preschools and early education. So, that’s one that I use. And then, I also do yoga to kind of move it through in a very different way. Are there other things that you would recommend?
LT: Yeah, first, I think part of it is also starting to understand yourself. So, being aware of when are you—I hesitate to use the word trigger, but when are you sometimes triggered? Like, can you check-in? Do you know when something is bothering you? Do you feel it inside of your bones that, oh, I’m not in a good place? And my colleagues know, I told him, I said, “Oh, I feel a little snappy. I know I’m maybe snapping at people a little more.”
It may be time for LT to take a timeout. I might need to just step away for a couple of hours. Or maybe I’m going to take a couple of days here and there. So just recognizing some of the things that might be happening with you personally, I think, is really important.
Things I personally do, I am a lover of vacation. And in the pandemic that has been one of my greatest challenges is not being able to fly off to an island or just get on a plane and go somewhere. But I found staycations in my own way. So, I took some days one time and took my camera and went to a flower garden. I just literally took pictures of flowers. And you know, nice walks, hot bath. It can be high or low budget if you will. But just taking the time to pause and do something that you personally enjoy is important.
I also want to caution not to just close everything off and forget about it. Close everything off for a moment, but don’t lose sight of the fight. Or investing where you can and where you would like to invest. So I know we’ll probably get to that later, but I just wanted to bring that up as well.
JARED: I think that you had me at, “LT is feeling snappy.” Because I think that this is self-awareness. And what it does when you’re able to reflect in this way is you’re activating your prefrontal cortex. You’re actually being self-reflective in this moment.
The way in which we can interrupt this sympathetic hyperarousal is to bring online the parasympathetic nervous system, and yes, there are things like shaking, and yes, there are absolutely steps we can take. Mindfulness practice and meditation and yoga—these things actually activate this nervous system, including everything we do with our prefrontal cortex, you know, counting.
We were told as kids, “You’re upset? Count to 10.” Well, counting is abstract thought. Lizards don’t count. Human beings count. We have a prefrontal cortex that gives us things like abstract thought and holding visions of the future and relationality.
We don’t make a lot of sense when we’re tense. And when we have a practice, the council is an incredible opportunity for a group to come together. And you know, what’s your word? Is it snappy? Is it relaxed? Is it chill? Is it exhausted? How do we look into ourselves, search inside ourselves to come up with a word?
And when I say my word, what’s that reaction in you when you hear the words of 20 of your colleagues who are snappy, overwhelmed, exhausted? How do you understand the world around you when you are witnessing people telling their authentic stories?
Speaking and listening in this kind of authentic way is a great way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and come back to this kind of balance.
I think ways in which we scan the body, ways in which we consciously breathe deeply, and ways in which we reflect and then can create a kind of relationality are critical kinds of tools for coming back to this kind of more effective way to be with one another.
There are definitely interventions. A staff meeting, a faculty meeting, or even a family meeting starts with people taking a breath, slowing down, reflecting on how it is that you’re doing, saying a couple of words, and listening to everybody else in the circle say a couple of words, you are doing just what you need to do to bring yourself back into coherence and into a place where you can be more relational and more productive.
MELINDA: I think it’s so important as a part of allyship to recognize what this impact has on us. “I’m feeling snappy.” That means I need to take a break. We know that when we’re more stressed, when we’re more activated, we’re more likely to activate our biases, so we’re more likely to activate microaggressions and to hurt each other unintentionally. And so, that is a key piece of all of this.
The other piece is having that compassion for each other and knowing that we’re all, in some way, we’re all going through something. And so, I wanted to kind of move into what we can do as colleagues and for managers, what managers can do as well. I do think that maybe we could jump in a little bit more into the practice of council. Jared if you could share a little bit about what that is, what that looks like, and how that might be useful.
JARED: Sure. It’s probably a much longer conversation, but I will say that council is a way to come together authentically and to offer regard. That’s kind of simply what it is. The word council comes from the Latin Concilium, which is a Latin word. It was a word used by Benjamin Franklin, who was a White European Judeo Christian, Latin informed dude who watched the Haudenosaunee folks practicing in the ceremony. Through his Latin-based lens called this Concilium because it was a gathering of people.
As I have traveled and worked in other places, a practice like this is called Ibitaramo in Rwanda, and Fambol Tak in Sierra Leone and Dare and other parts of Africa. It’s called Hoʻoponopono in Hawaii and Diwan Loya Jirga in Islamic traditions Ma‘agal Hakshava in Israel and in Hebrew tradition.
We have an incredible human desire to come together to be a community to offer regard to one another and to find our authentic voice. And the council is a practice that codifies steps we can take to do this in our time, in our organizations, and in our companies.
There are five basic elements of the council to just boil it down to the nuts and bolts. There’s a circle in the center and a threshold and intentions and a closure. We need to know who’s there. So, we need a circle so that everybody gets a good seat. There’s no VIP section, and nobody has any kind of privilege above anyone else when we’re all sitting in a circle.
Every seat is a good seat, and we know who’s there. There needs to be something that really embodies that which is common to all of us, our common values. Maybe it says something beautiful, like a flower or a glass of water. Or maybe it’s the product our team is producing or the service we’re offering. Maybe it’s a stethoscope if it’s a bunch of doctors practicing. Something that reminds us of something important to us sits at the center and represents our common ground.
This threshold in council, the practice of council, is an opportunity for us to step in consensually. This is not a coercive process. We need to decide we want to interact with one another in this way, in a different kind of way, step away from the craziness, and the overwhelm, and the speed and all the drama and multitasking to be together in a different kind of way and to practice intentions.
The intentions are really to speak and to listen to one another from the heart. It’s a simple thing to say. It’s not an easy thing to do. The practice of listening from the heart really asks us to set aside everything we think we know about the person who is speaking so that we don’t have to agree or disagree or analyze or take a stance.
We so easily listen to the sound of the wind blowing through the trees or the waves when we walk along the coastline. When you listen to the waves, you learn something about the surf. You don’t have to agree or disagree with the waves. You don’t have to agree or disagree with the cow in the meadow. And yet, when we’re with other people, we make a series of judgments and put them behind a series of filters, such that anything they have to say becomes filtered through an aperture that is increasingly tight.
When we listen to each other the way we listen to nature, there’s something about showing up with curiosity and open-heartedness to understand rather than to judge or analyze or fix. I think that’s the critical piece. Similarly, when we speak, if we can actually give words to what’s here right now, what’s alive, and present up the thing we think we should say, or we always say, or the thing that we think is going to accomplish the task or convince you of something or scare you or seduce you or whatever. But just to say what’s really present for us. This is intentionality in council.
And then finally, in council, we need to step away from this time together in a good way, such that what we’ve done is done, the agreements we made, the contract, like your slide at the beginning of this conversation that sort of kind of sets out the agreements. We know we’re stepping away from that space, and our life may be filled with a circumstance where we cannot maintain those agreements, so we need to step away in a good way and know we can always come back.
And so, those sort of five elements are what the practice of council looks like. It could be 10 minutes or 15 minutes. It could be 45 minutes. It could be hours, depending on what you decide to do with this container. But for each group, that feels that it’s an important way to come together. It can be extraordinarily generative and adapted, such that we can show up in a good way and offer each other this beautiful quality of regard, this permission to be present, to be actually alive in this moment, to bear witness to what it is, to feel the way we feel, and to understand in some kind of way recognizing how everyone else in the circle is showed up. And in that to be able to offer nourishment to each other.
It seems like a very simple process, but it is extraordinarily affirming and relationship-building. And through this kind of activity, there’s a kind of trust that is built in this vulnerable space of telling our story and our deepest, darkest secrets. Not the story from Adam, not this kind of like big narrative, but just present speaking the story of the moment that can be a really beautiful contribution to any community that’s wanting to create greater cohesion and cooperation.
That’s a lot. I’m sorry. I just took a deep dive in there, but I hope that that explains it in some kind of way.
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Thank you for sharing that. I think it gets to a lot of really important ways that we all can show up for each other. And develop those safe spaces for each other to be vulnerable, to be authentic, to step in, and have the courage to do that.
LT, do you have thoughts about how managers and colleagues, in general, can really show up for each other and create this safe kind of vulnerable space for exploration?
LT: For sure. There are a couple of things that we have done both on a programmatic level as well as more team-based. One of the areas that I’ll call out is a session in our program where we will have team leaders with a third-party facilitator come together to build trust and focus on being vulnerable and using your voice to create a space where others are willing and open for sharing maybe what’s going on with them.
A phrase that we use quite often is the elephant in the room. So, the big thing that’s right there in front of us that no one really wants to talk about. Is there someone that’s willing to be courageous and maybe break the ice and say, you know what, we’re really dealing with this one thing that’s holding us back as a team? Can we talk about it? Can we lean into it?
I might be very reserved, and we create this space where the leader will initiate the conversation and share where they’ve had to take a risk and lean in to a conversation that maybe is not as comfortable as others. One of the things that come to mind is when there were some police shootings that became more public. Our leadership team joined one of our EROs just to listen in and hear the conversations around what people were feeling and experiencing and the concerns they had about teaching their child the rules of how to drive and be cautious of how to engage with the police and what would happen if my son was in a car with your son, and my son was the driver? And what happens? Or how should my son engage differently if he’s of a different race or of a targeted race?
So, we just started having live conversations and making it okay to have a conversation. When I think about the global teams, one of the things, especially right now with the war in Ukraine and Russia, is we have team members that are in both locations, again, serving the greater good for our company. Unfortunately, they are being pitted against each other, not by us, but by the universe, if you will, right.
And so, what are we doing? We’re asking our team leaders to check in with individuals and stay close, you know, how are they doing? What can we do to support them? Just leaning in to say, we’re here for you, if nothing more than just to chat or just so you have a safe place, that you know that you can have a connection with another person, and it’s been beneficial for all because not everyone agrees with what’s happening. Many people, you know, have varied opinions about what’s happening right now. And so we wanted to just make sure that our team members know that we as a culture and a community and a company care about them as individuals and what they were there to do for us.
And so, there are many other things that we’re doing company-wide, but as a leader, as a people leader, the best thing that you can do for your team members is to just check in. Check in, connect, give them attention, and allow them to connect with their peers. But that attention piece is the piece that’s the most powerful for creating a space where people feel safe that they know that you have their back. So, that’s what I would offer.
JARED: I’m reminded of a podcast I heard many, many years ago when Joshua DuBois, who was the head of the then community organizer Obama’s faith-based initiatives before he was even a senator. He talked about how Obama had this incredible ability to bring people together and ask them to tell their stories as opposed to their opinion. And when you had a group of people telling a story about how they’ve been impacted by healthcare or by the military experience of being overseas, you can’t disagree with somebody’s story.
You can disagree with our opinion, but it’s just a question of either listening or not listening to their story if you can get them to the place where they’re sharing their stories, and I think presencing real stories, authentic stories, can’t help but generate resonance.
And when we experience that resonance, something happens that the presence that regard, I think it becomes a kind of an antidote to this tribalism and the sense of us versus them, when all of a sudden I’m resonating with a true story that someone else has said. And I think that further that the culture of the workplace either inhibits or encourages how much of us we understand to bring.
We either receive these sorts of cues and signals that it’s okay to show up or not. And I think these kinds of opportunities to come together and offer this quality of vulnerability sends really powerful signals that this is a place where who you are is valued and welcome. And through that vulnerability, we create trust. It’s often thought that it’s the other way around.
We got to trust each other before we can be vulnerable. And it’s actually, as many studies have found, and there are some wonderful books on this, including by Daniel Coyle called the Culture Code that, you know, vulnerability, when practice leads to trust, and these belonging cues that we signal to one another through telling stories that give a little bit of ourselves invite others into this space and create an environment where we become more invested and more connected and more creative, and more sort of focused on how we as a team, you know, we can move forward together as allies.
MELINDA: Just for anybody who doesn’t know, ERO, I assume that’s an Employee Resource Organization?
LT: Yes, that’s exactly right. Thank you.
MELINDA: Okay. So, affinity groups within a corporate setting. Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s important. So many managers and colleagues, and just in general, people who want to be allies. I think get stuck in fear of saying or doing something wrong. And so, they don’t do or say anything at all. It’s so important.
Like, what you both have said, you don’t have to have all the answers. It’s about showing support. It’s about showing and sharing vulnerability and sharing stories. And you start there. That’s how you build trust. That’s how you get at some of the deeper issues as well and really build those connections on your teams.
JARED: I just want to bring up that I’m a fan of the podcast. When you had Dr. Vivienne Ming on, it was really interesting to hear her take on the preference we have to be with like people and the fear we have of people who we perceive to be unlike, and how not only is that limiting, but it’s potentially dangerous.
When we start seeing the “them” and the “us,” I think it leads nowhere good. I’ve practiced and taught in Rwanda and Bosnia and in Auschwitz, and generationally folks carry what it is meant to be the result of a long and awful history of “us-ing” and “them-ing.”
I think what Dr. Ming talks about is the need for stereotypical counter exemplars, which is a beautiful term, and how we enact that, how we create the space to not just read someone else’s opinion but truly sit with them and hear their story in such a way that it really moves us and touches us, we realize that that person who we think we’re nothing like, and I’ve had this experience in prison with folks serving life sentences and with folks with politics, and life experiences very different from mine.
But hearing them talk about a grandma or hearing them talk about a beautiful sunset or a time they met their best friend, or if they had a superpower of what it would be or their favorite kind of cheese and why they love it so much. There’s something about the authenticity in the story that brings you closer to them on a human-to-human level.
There’s so much we can do if we’re skillful about getting to those human stories that begin this trend away from how it is. We kind of create our in-group and then not only distrust the out-group begin to think things and do things and create things about that out-group that lead nowhere good. It’s a danger.
We have to practice in such a way that we break that all down. I think the council is a wonderful opportunity to bring this practice of storytelling, of group mindfulness, such that we can presence the real stories of each other.
MELINDA: We can re-create this bigger in-group, right? The whole circle is the in-group there.
LT: We also think of curiosity and common interest. I think part, you know, you started with the fear component. I should be able to quote the research. I can’t go all the way there, but when we think about our natural inclination, scientifically, you typically go towards things that are most like you, right? And that is passed down in a number of different ways.
You have to actually be intentional about being curious in order to change that natural motion. It’s really important for us to think about how is the world evolving? How are our societies evolving? What’s the impetus for change versus continuing to do what you’ve always done to know what you are always known, or to do what you think is the right thing to do based on history versus based on the future and where you need to go and to evolve personally.
I think there’s something there around being intentional about being curious versus doing it because someone told you to do it or because to check a box or to not be classified as someone who’s not an ally.
JARED: If I could just say. I think you’re so right on it. My book is called Where Compassion Begins. I feel like it’s really important to understand that compassion is not the same thing as pity or sympathy, or even empathy. We have to understand that we can say, “Oh, poor you. That story really sucks.” Or we can say, “Okay, I hear you.” But until we take action, until we understand that compassion is not how we feel, compassion is what we do. And when we are moved by the story of another, where we see somebody actually feeling something, and we are compelled to take action that eases that suffering, that is where compassion emerges.
It’s not something that can be taught. You can create these opportunities for folks to show up and have an opportunity to speak and really allow yourself to experiment with curiosity and with vulnerability. When we are putting ourselves in that place, we give ourselves the opportunity to say, “You know what? I think I can actually do something here because I’ve heard the call for something.”
In that moment of activation around what it is that happens to us when we feel that someone is in pain or someone is in need is where we get to embody compassion, and it doesn’t come because we like something on Facebook or because the C-suite issues, an edict about DEI, it doesn’t come because somebody sorts of constructs it, it comes because we enact it.
And so, these steps of showing up, of downregulating, of really opening to what’s there, bearing witness, allowing ourselves to be moved and touched, and then taking action. That’s where compassion arises. And that’s what is going to, I think, make the world a better place as well as keep us healthier and more connected and more productive.
LT: I totally agree.
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. What does vulnerability look like? How do you practice that?
LT: For me, I would like to say that vulnerability looks like courage. It looks like taking a risk. It looks like sharing beyond what I call the surface. We often will do an exercise that we call if you knew me. If you knew me, you would know that I’m a southern girl from North Carolina. If you really knew me, you would know that following a southern girl from North Carolina, I hate the outdoors because it’s really sticky and hot. And North Carolina has all kinds of humidity, right?
If you really, really knew me, you would know that the spring can sometimes be a time of awakening. It’s kind of sad for me because it’s the time that reminds me of when I lost my mother. Right? Peeling the onion and getting more and more open but into a deeper space.
Personally, I might feel like I’m taking a risk because you might be judging me about how deep I’ve gone or what I shared. And that’s where the fear comes in. Are you going to now not want to invite me to your spring party because you know that it’s a triggering moment for me because of something I shared, right?
And so vulnerability is sharing anyway, giving yourself that permission and the space to lean in. And for you to also invite anyway, knowing that you may not get the response that you’re looking for, but it’s okay. Because together, we’re going to figure out what works for us.
JARED: I love that example. It’s so beautiful. I think that it’s important to point out that vulnerability leads to higher group functioning. It leads to cooperation and creativity and accountability, and productivity. There are ways that we are able to increase our trust in one another and our ability to work together.
I’m going to go back to this great book by Daniel Coyle. Teams that are highly productive often have a culture in which these kinds of conversations, these kinds of activities that LT was talking about, are encouraged and practiced on a regular basis. It’s hard to do it the first day, in the door, and everyone’s talking about all this weird touchy-feely stuff. Obviously, you don’t want to jump in too deep, too quick, and not scare anybody off. And there is a skillful way to move towards this. And to build it in any kind of team.
We have worked in situations where folks are really open to this kind of connection. We work with law enforcement officers and military folks, and doctors and heads of departments who are really used to being behind that white coat. This white coat means I have all the answers. There’s no vulnerability here. If you look to me for something, I’m going to give you the answer. You depend on me to prove that. I am absolutely not going to show you that I’m terrified, and I don’t know what to say to you at this moment.
This role I’m playing, I have come to feel, means that I need to be absolutely secure in my expertise, which is not a human condition. None of us is that secure. And yet, what happens when we take off that white coat. I worked with a bunch of judges in chambers at lunchtime who were dealing with human tragedy all day long in the cases they were seeing.
At lunchtime, when they took the robes off, and there was an opportunity to talk about something they feel really proud of, and it was a triumph and something that keeps them up at night, all of a sudden, a group of human beings who had seen each other in the hallways for decades, all of a sudden met each other as human beings, and realized I had no idea that that human quality was underneath that robe. And it’s the same wherever we go. I think that a lot of what LT was saying is echoed by Brené Brown is talking about courage and vulnerability.
One of the things she does with groups is to ask people to think about an act of courage. And then, think about whether there was any vulnerability involved in every act of courage that we are taught to respect and hold up. It’s important. There is always an element of vulnerability. And yet we are not trained in this. It’s not normed and something that’s welcome in the workplace. It’s something that has a lot of stigmas around it.
And so, we’re missing a critical component in terms of our ability to meet the world, to meet conflict, and overwhelm and do it in a way that we can support one another, and that’s real. I think that when a team develops the capacity to really function and work with those kinds of peer-to-peer kind of unburdening, there’s an enormous amount of nourishment in that.
There are cases when acute mental health intervention is necessary. That’s the C-O-U-N-S-E-L, the counseling that’s counseling. But the council is a gathering of people where we just have a space to share a story. And in that, you know, your story of the terrible day you’ve just had, and wonderful day you had last week is going to make me feel like I’m not alone, that somebody is carrying something similar to what I’m carrying, and that’s going to be a relief.
And then, when I tell my story, the same kind of reciprocity will be there. And I think that’s a beautiful way to enhance the culture of an organization. And you know, invariably people bring it home and all of a sudden, their family is talking to each other in a way that they haven’t before because they’ve given each other permission.
MELINDA: I think that’s a good thing for all of us to do, give each other permission and to give ourselves permission too to ask that question. What is that robe that we’re wearing? What is that armor that Brené Brown talks about? What is that cloak that we have and to peel that away like an onion? Yeah.
We have a couple of questions. Madeline asked earlier, “What are some of your favorite small acts to offer compassionately to somebody else?” And she was asking specifically about managers, “What are some of the ways that small acts managers can share and show compassion?”
LT: Yeah, I think simple things. Again, I go back to my check-in piece. But how are you doing today? Not just how are you doing? But make it real and more concrete? How are you doing today? You can acknowledge something that might have happened and related to that person’s community? I know we just saw really challenging confirmation hearings, for instance, for me, right. It may be triggering. I was just wondering how are you doing? What are your thoughts? Maybe I want to engage. Maybe I don’t. But at least acknowledging that there’s something there creates the space where your employee can engage with you.
I think, also small tokens of recognition. Sometimes we wait until the project finishes for the Big Bang. And sometimes, you can just acknowledge the milestones as you go. And make sure to do that for all of the team members. One example that comes to mind for me watching March Madness with Coach Dawn Staley on Monday when they won the women’s national championship. One of the first groups of people that she acknowledged or thanked was the third string on the basketball team.
Therefore, those that don’t follow basketball. It’s the group of people on the team, who likely didn’t get to play in the actual basketball game on the day on the main stage, but they were critical components of preparing the entire team for the day. That’s the team that people are practicing with and against, you know, challenging with different drills. But she made it a point, and she made a very specific point to acknowledge those team members because they contributed to the overall good of the whole.
I think sometimes we forget that, and we might forget those who might be the quietest on the team or some of our minorities or people who are remote versus in the same office. So, there are so many different ways to acknowledge people’s existence and just leaning in and taking a moment, again, to pause to see who’s there and acknowledge everyone’s contributions in their own way. This is really powerful.
MELINDA: Yeah, Madeline adds here: “I think we also serve well-being by having spaces to practice gratitude and share something an individual is proud of.” Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. We just have a couple of minutes left. Jared, we have one more question. And maybe you could just in a really short answer. “Please, can you elaborate on the impact of counting and abstract thinking? Because I do that subconsciously since childhood.”
JARED: So many practices of mindfulness ask us to be present at the moment. We don’t realize that the prefrontal cortex, which is a critical part of our parasympathetic nervous system, is doing all of these abstract thought exercises. This is the capacity to speak to hold ideas to scan our body to think about how we’re being. What’s the word? Is it snappy? Is it calm? Is it exhausted?
This self-reflective kind of process is contained in that part of our anatomy that shuts down when we’re stressed. Sympathetic arousal means that parasympathetic tone is lowered. So when we do these things, we actually raise the capacity to navigate stress. There are ways that we can just focus on the breath coming in and out. There are ways that we can think about our toes and our feet and our ankles and our calves. We can body scan. There are ways that we can check in with one another and hear their stories of each other.
All of these activate this prefrontal cortex, and doing that interrupts this sympathetic overload. I think there’s a lot to read about this. I would recommend folks do it. The important thing is that mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and practicing in council actually is a great resource for bringing about this kind of tone that interrupts this current and constant and chronic stress state.
MELINDA: Fantastic. Thank you. And we will share some of the resources that we discussed today, the episode with Dr. Vivienne Ming, and several of the other resources that we talked about in our show notes coming out of this session. So, stay tuned for that. And thank you, Jared and LT, so much for your wisdom, for giving us so many things to think about and ways to connect with each other at a deeper level.
JARED: Thank you for everything that you do, Melinda. It’s good to meet you, LT.
LT: Thank you.
MELINDA: To learn more about this episode’s topic, visit ally.cc
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