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Inclusion · Belonging · Teaming: We Have So Much to Learn - Ep 3

[00:00:00] Emily: Hi, I'm Emily Fries Kemney, host of Let's Talk People, where leaders come to bridge humanity and profitability. Informed by a couple decades of work as a head of talent and leadership development, I'm here to amplify leaders so they can exalt everyone and everything they touch. 

Are you ready? Cause it's about to get real.

Let's talk, people.

On today's show, we're going to explore a topic that so many of my clients and people I've been talking to are struggling with, which is the idea of how do we really create the conditions for inclusion and belonging within our teams? And the challenges arise because we want to attend to the needs of the individual from a flexibility perspective.

However, we also have to attend to the needs of the team as a whole. We want to create the conditions for people to show up with authenticity and to build trust, but we've been struggling with how to do this. And the most challenging part has been for the people I've been speaking to at an emotional level, which is really worrying about making a mistake from an equity and inclusion perspective.

What if I say the wrong thing? What if I do the wrong thing? How will that impact my relationships with the people on my team? And what if it hurts my career as a leader, to mess up? 

Because this is such a complex and important conversation, I've asked two of my colleagues and dear friends, who are deep experts in this space, who come from different perspectives and walks of life, to join us so we can really dive in together on how do we build great teams and foster communication with a lens towards equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging.

Justin Scott Campbell is a coach, a diversity, equity and inclusion expert, that organizations of all types bring in, to help them to have some of their toughest conversations, and to help them really explore the way that they can bring more of these conditions of support into their own teams and their own leadership.

He's also a professor of English writing and literature. And Justin really brings both his professional expertise and his lived experiences to this work, which makes it so deeply meaningful. 

Justin Scott Campbell, welcome to the show. 

[00:02:33] Justin: Yeah, thanks for having me, Emily. 

[00:02:35] Emily: I am also thrilled to welcome Susan Rivers.

Susan is the executive director and chief scientist of I Thrive Games, which is an organization that designs and builds games for social and emotional learning. Susan, by training, is a social psychologist and deep expert in emotional intelligence and social emotional learning out of Yale University, where she co-founded the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

She is also one of my dearest friends.

Susan Rivers, thank you as well for being here. 

[00:03:11] Susan: Emily and Justin, I'm so honored to be at the table with the two of you, and in this conversation, 

[00:03:18] Emily: I am thrilled you are both here. 

I want to start by asking you both, what are some of the social dynamics you're seeing in organizations that leaders are getting the most tripped up on? What are the hardest things, you think, they’re navigating when it comes to team dynamics, interpersonal relationships? Give us your thoughts on that. 

[00:03:41] Susan: What I'm seeing and really speaking of what I'm close to, there's a caution, I think, in how we're showing up at work and being in a context of cancel culture, of people being called out instead of called in, for language they use, what they talk about, their beliefs and perspectives.

I think we're all really scared about saying the wrong thing.  And that creates a fear, I think, when we are in groups, when we are in public groups, especially, or work groups, that prevents us from being our authentic selves. 

Like, there's a fear of being judged, of being evaluated, of tripping up and saying the wrong thing and being in a place that is unforgiving, of us growing as humans and learning from our mistakes, and giving each other grace, blocking us from our full creative selves, from being able to be in deep connection with others, and from this idea that humans are fallible, and that we will make mistakes. And that is all part of the human experience.

So the openness and the acceptance of that, I do think, is a huge reality today in how we're showing up in any public place that we're in, including our workplace. 

[00:04:54] Justin: Yeah. And I think on top of that, one of the things I noticed is that when we talk about work, work has looked a certain way for a long time.  And I think it's more recent that we've been trying to bring our whole selves to work, or come authentically, or bring diverse groups of people together.  

For a long time, work was structured around homogenous groups of people who, there were a lot of chances, that they thought the same way about things, or felt the same way, or did things in a certain way. 

And so, when you get different people into the same space, you're going to have different expectations, different understandings of what normal is, different understandings of what community looks like.  And so there's a lot getting missed. So that's one thing that I'm seeing.  

The other thing I'm seeing is that there's a lot of folks that are bringing a lot of their past experiences into the present. People don't like using the word trauma to describe that. If you want to call it trauma, you can call it that. I don't really care what you call it.  But the dynamic is such that I always tell leaders, if folks have had an experience with somebody who maybe looks like you, or has your representation in the past, and it's a bad experience, it's actually safer for their nervous systems to assume you're going to do the same thing to them…

[00:06:15] Emily: Yeah. 

[00:06:15] Justin: … Than to assume that you're going to be different than the experience they had in the past. And I think a lot of leaders go in thinking — Oh, I'm just me, like they should trust me just off the fact that I'm me, and that they know my name and my title. 

And so I say, you know, you're like a cup and it's empty.  And either you're going to fill that cup with the meaning of who you are and how you're going to show up and how you want to be in this team, or other folks are going to fill it with their past experiences.

And I think, sometimes, the responses we're getting from folks is less about us, and more about them shadow-boxing with the past, and us getting caught in between. And so I think there's a lot of miscommunication.  A lot of folks thinking they're meaning one thing when they're being interpreted another way.

But I think a lot of those dynamics are coming up because of, honestly, a less homogenous workspace.  And so I think we're going to have to learn how to be together in new ways, in different ways and develop new norms. So I think I say all that to say we're very new at this. And so what it looks like moving forward is going to be determined by us figuring it out in real time, in a kind of trial and error way.  Which I think is what you're speaking to Susan around fallibility and grace and figuring out what's working and what's not working. So 

[00:07:27] Emily: I'm going to do like a whole F thing. I promise I won't use the bad F one.  The feeling that came to me is, it's like what would we rather have, fear or fake?  And then the punchline is the fallibility, meaning, none of us are going to get this exactly right.

So in some ways, we liked fake because fake felt safe. Because when you're fake, you just stay at the surface level. And we thought we could because, oh, we're just here to get work done. We don't really need to get that close. 

But the truth is, when you don't feel close, how do you collaborate? How do you co-create? How do you make people perform better by challenging their thinking? How do you even know who you can trust if you don't know each other? So it's like we were playing safe, but it was fake. 

And then to go past that, as you said, Susan, it's like that's where we're entering into — the fear zone. And we are three of the people in the world who study this, care about this, teach this.

I'm scared to make a mistake.  So if I get into it with somebody, and sometimes what I get into it about is performance, it's about contracting, agreements. I'm still scared it's going to become… you've wronged me, you've excluded me, like I'm worried it's going to go places that give me shame, and that I'll be talked about in a way that I don't feel safe anymore.

And how will other people judge me who don't know me? Because things go public within organizations and in teams.  They go public virally and in social communities. 

So I sit here and I'm like, okay, if we're scared to do this, but we definitely don't want fake, I mean that's why we've embarked on this deep work, all three of us  ---  what are the ways that we can help teams help organizations to bridge from fake to fear to practice. Like I think it's ultimately about practice, because we know it's not going to be about perfect. None of us are going to get this perfect because, as you said, Justin, like given trauma, given that we have whole life stories beyond work, like we're complicated.

So I think that's the thing, like what creates the conditions to practice, to like bring that element of play and connection so that we can all try to do this better together. How does that feel for you? What have you seen work? Like, maybe we can kind of just explore that a little bit. 

[00:09:45] Justin: I kind of want to zoom out because as you were speaking, an idea came to me. It's actually taking from psychologist Eli Finkel's book called The All Or Nothing Marriage, where he talks about the fact that our expectations for marriage have changed.  And I think if we map over into work, I think it's similar.  Like for a long time, if you took Maslow's hierarchy of needs, those of you who know this know that at the bottom is survival, and at the top is kind of like fulfillment.

I think, for a long time, we saw work as being a place where you just got your basic needs met. Like you just came there to work, to have a job, so that you could keep a roof over your head, that kind of thing.  And if we see that as like a mountain, you don't have to have many skills to get up to that first part, right?  You just show up, you do your job, and you go home. And that might be the expectation. 

Finkel talks about … with marriage, relationships, I think with work as well, if you want to go to the top though, if you want to summit Everest, or whatever mountain it is, you've got to have a certain set of skills to quit a movie.  And then also you've got to have people who are willing to do the work.

You have to be able to recognize that, “I am working with a person who maybe has a different story that's coming in”.  You've got to have adept use of communication skills. And the set of communication skills that I was not taught in grad school, unless you were in a communications major, even then, I don't know if you particularly get this set of skills, but it's not in most MBA programs.

Maybe it's becoming so, but how do we begin to raise our skill level? And then, like we were saying earlier, begin to practice. Because I think, until we begin to do that, we're not going to notice when those moments happen. We're going to believe the stories we're telling ourselves about what's happening.  Which on some levels, is very understandable because again, for our nervous systems, that's the safest thing to do.

Like if the ancestors, who were like, when there was a rustle in the tall grass, those ancestors were like, “I wonder if that's a saber tooth tiger or not”. Those ones got eaten, you know.  The ones who survived are the ones who ran, who believed the initial story.  

So I think giving ourselves some grace, even for ourselves, when we can look back and say, “Ooh, I misjudged that or I didn't call that right”.  I think all of that. 

So naming the expectations that have increased, I would say, in the past 50 years, 70 years.  And then also naming that to be able to get to where we want to go, we're going to have to change the types of tools we put in our toolbox, to get to that higher level of fulfillment that we want from work.

And then, also naming that perhaps not everybody wants that from work.  And I think that's also one of the conflicts, right?  It’s that some people want that lower level of like, “I'm just here to do my job”.  

And so how do we begin to name these things, instead of making assumptions one way or the other, I think, begins to get us to maybe a bit of a different place.

[00:12:26] Emily: I think the leader is the holder, in some cases, of the group dynamic.  But I never want to hold the leader responsible alone, because we know that every single member of the group of that community at work plays their part in contributing or eroding from it.  But we can't deny that the power position that a leader holds impacts the group dynamic, and impacts the ability to feel safe, to express how much people can bring their other stuff into the workplace, and how much there's boundaries established around that.

Maybe we can go through, like what have been some of the best situations we've seen around leadership?  What have been some of the worst?  But most importantly, like what's the learning in it? So I'm happy to start and share. 

One of the best that I've seen and experienced is where there's a lot of checking in.

It goes back to my favorite term, which is “assume”.  Assuming makes a blank out of you and me. I think we assume so many things about how people are feeling within a team, within a group dynamic.  Even if they seem okay, that's almost back to the fake, right? The fake is we've been taught that you're supposed to just smile and nod at work and make sure you seem like everything's okay.  Or you risk losing your job or not being included in special assignments, special meetings, exposure projects. 

It is the people who are like the “rah, rah, everything's great”  that win --- contributes to us not fully showing up. So when we assume as a leader that everybody's fine, that's our first mistake. And that's our first opportunity.

On the flip side, when I've experienced and seen and coached people through some of the worst of leadership, it's the shutting down. It's where there is a, “Oh, you can't attend that meeting at that time? You should be really careful because then it might seem like you're not committed.”   So they make declarations that make you feel not safe to express that you have needs, or that you have boundaries, or that you work in a different way. And it's like it's shut down. 

Those are to me the two bookends of what I've seen. And I think it'd be great if we can unpack, like how does a leader create the right level of conditions so that people can fully show up and be in community together in the way that at least we desire?  It doesn't mean everybody desires it, but at least in the way that we believe is

most optimal for connection and performance. 

Susan: Yeah, it's a big question, Emily. 

Emily: That's why we're here. This is what we do. 


[00:15:04] Justin: I want to just name those two ends of the spectrum. Well, I want to start with the second one, which maybe I would put maybe more in a top down category.

What I mean by that is like, when you go into the other side, it takes a lot of time. I think the checking in is always some of the best stuff I've seen. 

I always tell leaders, I believe that inclusion is the felt sense of love, safety, and belonging, and that you cannot mandate it. It has to be something that people say that they're experiencing.  And the only way to know that is if you're asking them and checking in with them. And that it's always ongoing, is “how is this landing for you today?” And again, there's a lot to do on a given day. 

And so when I'm coaching leaders, I'm kind of like, “look, if you want to do this, this is what it's going to look like, and it's going to take time.  It's also going to be incumbent upon you to be willing to change the meeting agenda in real time, to address something that's coming up for someone. Are you willing to do that?’” 

And so when I say efficient, I mean, in a capitalist system, where things need to get done a certain way at a certain time, right? If one person is the boss and says this is what we're doing, then it makes the whole machine work smoother. 

When people are like, “I don't feel connected to that”, or “that's not really within my … “,  when people start asking questions, it slows down that system. 

So I'm just naming that as a kind of like natural thing that happens.  And I think that's something that people aren't expecting, because I think they want  a more inclusive team.  They want a team that feels those things. 

And they may be having directives from up top above them that put that in jeopardy, because it doesn't give them enough time, or they have certain deadlines. And so there's a lot of competing values and competing needs that show up, especially when people enter into wanting to do this work, but haven't really done it before.  So we're also not even giving the time to learn the skills. 

So I'm just naming all that because I think that the teams that I've seen do it have been willing to commit the time to shift agendas, to do the check ins, to put that on the calendar, and to make it a part of, in terms of evaluations and performance, and “are you making the time for this in your weekly meetings”?

And so it's really building it in structurally, because everything is structurally built around efficiency and getting stuff done fast in most teams.  And so building this in as a part of it slows things down a bit, just as a natural outcome. 

So I'm not saying that's good or bad. I'm just saying that that's something I've seen happen, and that there's not really … people aren't expecting that.

[00:17:31] Emily: You're kind of ringing my bell. I am extremely impatient. Like my life's work is to slow down. And that's why I think I work so well with senior leaders because I'm like them. Like I have that “get it done, highly productive, high drive”.  And of course, I have this totally other side of like caring so deeply about connection.

So when you say time, I'm like, “Oh my gosh, yes”.  Like that is what we all suffer from. And that's what they fear. This is what leaders fear is that it's going to take a lot of time. 

To me, it's a both end. In some ways, I think it speeds things up. Because the amount of time that you lose from not knowing where people's heads are at, not knowing how to help motivate them, not knowing the group dynamics that are going on that are impacting creativity, innovation, problem solving, thinking about the client first ---  whatever it may be that you're trying to unlock, often has to do with the team dynamics, not even just one person stuff.  It has to do with what's going on in that system, cross team, cross roles. 

This is where I've learned to say it's “you go slow to go fast”.  So if that means we got to do a little bit more work to build our relationships with each other, to get aligned, to understand each other, when it makes each other tick, it will pay dividends in terms of all of the time.

And I want to also be honest and be realistic that you're right, Justin. Like it also is asking that question of “how is this project going for you? How's the collaboration going with your new colleague? What do you think about our team dynamic?” Even though it feels like, “oh my gosh, we don't have time to do this”.

At least every so often, to do that calibration, it does take a little bit of time. It does need to be scheduled in, and it's so worth it.  Because you worry about retention. You worry about whether people are performing and are engaged in the ways that you hoped they'd be, because we know that ties to higher profits and higher shareholder value, and all the other things financially.

That's the stuff. Like, that's what it is, is asking the questions.  And regardless of whether you like the answer or not, it's the holding space for the answer, and it's that understanding. 

Okay, I'm off my soapbox. Susan, get in here. 

[00:19:41] Susan: I mean I was resonating with me so deeply, that you're both speaking to is, oftentimes, our organizational structures are designed completely at odds with the values that we want to be living.

And so we're doing this exercise of looking through our employee handbook, and we want to be moving into a space of --- people are working in their genius, they're working in roles where they have joy, where they are in flow, so that work is actually energizing to them, and really filling their cup every single day.

And what that requires of me as a leader is finding that out, and giving people the space to discover where they inflow.  And how do we align work streams so that people are spending 50 percent, 75 percent, 80 percent of their time in flow, so that work is never draining, it is actually filling your cup? 

Doesn't mean you're working all the time. It doesn't mean you're not tired, but it's actually giving you energy and not sucking it away. 

And so how can I make choices? How can we, at the organization, make choices so that discovering what brings you joy is part of what we do? It's part of what we talk about us having conversations of, “are you efforting too much at something?” And what I mean by efforting is it just ---  “I keep trying to do it and I'm not getting anywhere, I don't want to pick up that task, I don't want to do it, when I'm working on it with someone else, we are constantly butting heads.”

Okay. That tells us something's not right about the combination of people working on it. Maybe it's not the right project for this team. Maybe it's not the right project for the organization. Maybe we're approaching it completely differently, but you're right. It takes time to do that. 

But you save so much more time in the end, like figuring out if I'm working on a project that gives me energy and it's really fulfilling to me. The outcome of it is going to be amazing because it's going to be aligned with where I think it needs to go based on the energy that I'm fueling it with.

That's where productivity happens. And it's not telling people they need to be productive. It's not putting rules and restrictions and demands in place for “how can I make you be more productive?”

It's how can I design a workplace that is tapping into your creativity and your flow, and how you best work by yourself, with others. How do I design that team so that the team is generative together? And that is human dynamics. That is group dynamics. And that stuff does work, but you need to pay attention to it.

And you need to make a choice of if I have a completely rule based system that's limiting people's freedom, I'm not going to also get flow and joy and creativity. Those don't sit together. 

[00:22:26] Emily: I love this, and I believe in this so deeply, and I'm experiencing it because being able to build a company from scratch, I get to pick what parts of the work I want to do.

The people on my team, we talk about and we learn about each other, and who's good at what.  And then we form the rest of the team around that. So this is possible. 

I think that where I want to go next, but also if there's anything else, Justin, you want to jump in and add to that before we kind of veer… But let me just kind of play it out there, is … what are the healthy rules? I think you have to have rules or you have chaos. So what's a good rule? What's a bad rule? So for example, for me, a good rule is there is work that has to get done. There are measurements, there's outcomes, there's goals, there's a purpose. There's a something you've come here to do.

Like, you've joined this organization, you've joined this team, you've taken on this role because there is actually work to be accomplished. And that, in the space that we're talking about, it is you're getting paid for it too.

I think, again this is my opinion, I think there are healthy rules for a team.  And a healthy rule, for example, is this is the work we have to deliver on. This is the outcomes we have to achieve. 

That's our sandbox. That doesn't mean you can't grow the sandbox, which is also an awesome goal, and is about allowing people to thrive. The starting point, however, is there's something we're here to do, and there are things that we're not here to do. 

So to me, that's one of the ways that we coach leaders is, if people don't know what the rules are, and the space that you're playing in, then in what context are you saying this is what I love to do? Where are you putting your energy towards? Or all that energy, it almost like floats off and evaporates in multiple directions, because it's not focused. That's one example.

The other rule is boundaries around appropriateness. And this is where I see challenges. Sometimes, appropriateness is people overshare.  They over expect to be taken care of, almost parented, by the team, by the leader, by the organization.  And that's boundaryless. So there has to be rules on both ends of like, what level of intimacy-sharing vulnerability is appropriate and feel safe for the group, and for the sake of the work?

And then, on the other end of things, there has to be some rules around to be a member of this organization, to

be a member of this team. This is what it means to show up. This is what it means to build connection. This is what it means to share enough about yourself, that we know how to calibrate and relate to you, and dialogue with you, and give you feedback, and help you to thrive, and support you.

And if I don't know anything about you, and you refuse to share anything, or everything becomes something else that’s really based in your trauma or your lived experiences, I don't know how to do this thing with you. 

Okay. Those are to me, like there are healthy rules and then there's oppressive rules, again, for lack of a better word.

[00:25:19] Susan: I bristle at the term rule, where I lean towards, and what I prefer is agreements.  Because you can make requests to change agreements, and agreements do set the boundary. Like, do we agree that this is the project we're working on? Do we agree that this is the role that you're going to play? Do we have an agreement that that's what you're going to do?

Emily: Love it. 

Susan:  … That this is what I'm going to do, and that this is the deadline. And then I can say, “You know what? Something happened. I need to change our agreement.” Are you willing to have a conversation for how we can change that agreement? 

So agreements, for me, are much more human-centered. They allow for priority shifting, life circumstances shifting.  But you need to make an agreement.  You need to verbalize, and have written down, or in some way, that the way that you're communicating in your organization, we agree to this, and we're both in agreement on it.   And we will revisit that agreement at a week from now, to make sure we got done what we got done. 

And if we don't meet it, then it's my responsibility. I'm accountable for my part in it. I'm not accountable for your part, cause we have an agreement that you're going to do A, and I'm going to do B.  But if I can't get B so you can do A, I'm going to come to you because we have an agreement that if I can't meet my deadline, I'm going to come to you, and we're going to shift the agreement, and we're going to figure out the way forward.

And so for me, agreements are more about connecting as humans. And then you can have agreements about disclosure. You can have agreements about what we share, what we don't share. And there's the opportunity for it to be individual by individual if needed. Right? 

But a rule is a rule. It creates the conditions that set for, well, I got to follow the rules.  It's the rule. 

[00:27:01] Emily: Mm hmm. 

[00:27:02] Susan: And for me, that's not the kind of organization I think that really promotes connection and purpose and joy. 

[00:27:08] Emily: Totally agree. I'm a rule breaker. So by design, I agree with that. It's just that using the language we're used to, so I complete, I love the word agreement, and I also think language is important.

[00:27:17] Justin: I think too, like the types of agreements we need are not just about performance, right? They're about communication. 

Susan: Yeah. 

Justin:  Like how are we going to be together? What's our North star? And I think the important thing about North star goals is that they are not reachable. They are points in the sky that we use to find our way.

So when things get murky, when we're trying to figure out which direction to go, we can kind of look up and know that we're going North. So I think that's a big part of why leaders, I think, need to be explicit about how they endeavor to show up, and want this team to be kind of run or operate.  What are the agreements?

Cause I think those are the four walls of the sandbox. And I think if you don't know what those are, then you're going to, again, make assumptions. You're going to make assumptions based off what's worked in the past for you, or what you did at a last job, or what the last boss wanted you to do.  

And so I think for leaders assuming that everyone knows what to do, and more importantly, how to do it, how to show up, I think that's one of the issues. 

I think too many leaders have not thought about this, partially because that wasn't done with them when they were coming up through the ranks. There was no one that ever was like talking like the way we're talking, and some of this is more of a newer way to talk.

And so, as leaders develop their own leadership, I think it becomes very important for them to be explicit about “this is the way I run my team”. Whatever that is, be explicit about it and let folks know, so that's not some kind of secret handshake that the people who have been there longer know, just because they've been around you a long time.  And make it, so that folks can opt in, and I think giving them that choice is important. 

I also want to name that if increasing some of the, maybe, belonging or however you want to frame it, if this feels a bit strange to leaders because they never experienced it, what I sometimes say is, when have you felt a sense of belonging anywhere? It doesn't have to be work. It could be a community. It could be a 12-step group. It could be whatever.  

What were the components of that that contributed to the sense of belonging that you felt? And how can you import some of those practices, maybe not all of them, but some of them, into a team meeting?  And so I think that's often, there's maybe a block about “well, I've never done that before at work”. How is this going to work?

And I think for many of us, we have experienced it in other places, and so figuring out how to import some of

those practices and skills, and even dare to say rituals, right?  Like a check in at the beginning of a team meeting, figuring out what that check in looks like, norming that, figuring that out in real time. 

And I think that's the thing you were saying, Emily, is like, if you begin to kind of expand what this looks like, we kind of have the old way down.  The norms are kind of set, you know, like you go in, you start the meeting, you go to agenda item one, you go to agenda item… right?

When you start getting into this newer space,  we're learning a lot of these norms in real time, what works, what doesn't work. And so there may be an awkward conversation that happens, or somebody goes too long. And... and then you just begin to figure out as a group.  But being open to that process, like we were saying, and being willing to have the conversations about “is this working and what we need to do a little bit differently” instead of scrapping the whole project, I think could be a more helpful way to think about it as you go into it.

[00:30:31] Susan: Justin, you're making me really think about the importance of the leader making a commitment to doing their self work. If this is not part of your current culture and climate at work as a leader, you've got to start with yourself, and the learning really needs to happen. And that's not overnight work. It's practice. 

And the discoveries that you'll make are incredible, and it's hard. And then you can bring it into your team.  And it doesn't mean you're… you have a decade's worth of work before you can start, but you got to start with yourself, and be aware of who you are as a leader and what's important to you, and what are you choosing to bring into the workplace with you.

That alignment has to be there. 

[00:31:15] Emily: I could not agree more. I think that we're always running parallel tracks. Like, I think this is the hardest part about work, is things happen before you got there. Things are still going on in real time. So there's always multiple tracks going on. 

So there's this track where we have to do our self work.  And I do agree with you, Susan.  I would advocate and say the bar is higher on leaders than it is on individuals at work, the staff members, employees who don't have people management responsibilities. Because you are responsible for the experience of others, and the bar is higher.  Whether we like it or not, it is.

And I think there's things that the group can learn together. Like, I think this is where we started the conversation, I want to bring it full circle to, which is that we're learning this together. Nobody's figured this out. Not because you're more senior should you have better skill. I think there's a higher expectation because of the impact you have on the group dynamic, because of positional power.

All of us in the group, though, share this responsibility for creating an environment where everybody can fully show up and be in connection, and do amazing things together. I think that even building off of the questions that you said, Justin, the questions of “what are experiences I've had in teams that I've really enjoyed, where I've really been able to show up and thrive? What are experiences I've had in teams which have not been as conducive to me being able to perform to my best, to want to stay in those team environments?” 

So at least you're calibrating on what people have experienced, what they're used to, what might trigger them, what they think it looks like. I think you need to have like, a shared basis of like, “this is what I know”. 

I think we always start from what we know. And even if you don't have a facilitator or training around this, at least you can say, here's some of the best practices, just like the conversation we're having. Here's some of the best practices from what I've experienced before that I've found helpful. 

I love this idea that the team becomes a source of learning for each other, and I think it might be one of the things that breaks down the fear piece, which is, let's figure this out. Let's co-create it together.

The other thing I wanted to then go to is, what happens when something goes wrong? I think that's the key component of this, because that's what we fear will happen or just erodes trust, erodes the relationships.  And things will go wrong. 

The types of things that my clients and others that I've been talking to, are dealing with, is that somebody brings the discrimination claim.  It gets mixed up in performance, it's the stickiest ones, where is it a performance issue? Is it a discrimination issue? Is it a belonging issue? Like, they're very difficult to unpack and make sense of. 

And scenario two is that, there is somebody in the group, it could be the leader, it could be any member of the team, has not done their self work.

And it's almost like, does the team drop to the lowest common denominator? Or does the team continue to rise, in their group work?  And what happens to that person? 

So those are the two that come up for me that I was hoping we could unpack a little bit 

[00:34:16] Justin: I guess I want to start with naming the fact, again, that this is new.

This is science fiction, right? We're literally creating something that has never existed before.  And attempt to bring together all these types of people under these economic circumstances, and ask that they participate and show up in a certain way, but not too much in that way.  But also talk about things, but not talk about things, right?

So I think if it feels like a lot for leaders and folks on the team, it's because it's a lot.  And I think just naming that and taking a deep breath around that, I think it's the first thing I'm thinking of. 

Second thing, I wonder sometimes how much of the issues are systemic, and are created by not having certain agreements in place, or not having a sandbox that's explicitly defined.   And then that's when people get confused.  All of them are very specific situations, right?

But that's why I think the agreement model like you were saying, Susan, is such a helpful one.  Because when you make an agreement, even though when I'm doing a training, I do agreements, some of them are like, “I'm not going to blame-shame myself or others.”  So when we see that coming up, we can bring up the agreement and say, “Hey look, we both agreed to this. What's going on?”

And you can move with curiosity, instead of kind of trying to do it after it happens. 

Susan: Yeah. 

Justin:  And so I think it's again, that's why it has to be so explicit at the beginning, like this is how we're going to show up, this is how we agree to talk to each other, et cetera, et cetera. Because when those things do come up, then you can bring back the agreement that was made by two consenting adults at an earlier time and say, “Hey, earlier we said we would do this, what's going on?”

And then we can maybe move towards some kind of resolution. But I do want to say, I do think a lot of this is about skills. I don't think it's about having superpowers that were given to you or something like that.

I think it's about learning how to do it. I mean, if we think about our personal lives, this is one of the hardest things to do, is to resolve conflict, in a way that doesn't lead to destruction. 

I'm still figuring out how to work with things like anger and sadness and grief and loss. And so to think that all of us are all of a sudden going to figure this out because we saw training, like you said, Susan, it's not going to be that quick.

But I think seeing it as a practitioner's path, right?... I'm on the path of being a practitioner. It's going to take time, but I'm willing to commit to practicing it. I think it can begin to be a bit of how we worked it. 

Now the specifics of the different things you shared, Emily, it's tough to even know what to do when I don't know the whole circumstance.

But I think, I always say to my clients, when you commit to something, when you make a commitment to something, life usually gives you an opportunity to practice.  And I think that that's what happens collectively too. And companies say, “Hey, we're going to be about this. We're going to be about that”. Then the real opportunity to practice shows up.  And that's perhaps how we can look at it.

And I know there's lots of stakes that are legal and financial and all these things. And so I think that's part of what the wrestling becomes. 

[00:37:07] Susan: So many juicy nuggets, just to know what you were just saying. I want to write them down. 

The skills we have as individuals and as groups to handle, to feel uncomfortable with each other, and to manage conflict, to handle conflict and to sit in conflict and discuss it, we're like at preschool level with our skill set there overall. And that is a big challenge when we are doing stuff together, because conflict will inevitably arise. And I've never met one person who's like, “I love conflict so much. Give me conflict. That feeds me.” It's really uncomfortable and we don't want to have it.

And with my upbringing, we didn't have conflict in my household. I mean, there was certainly under-the-water conflict, but we didn't…  I didn't learn how to engage in conflict growing up, which has made it really challenging as an adult to be in a world full of conflict, from big to small.  And we don't have skills for that.  It's really hard work to do. 

Agreements really help with that. As you were saying, Justin, like you can point to it. We agreed that we would discuss. We agreed that we would work this way. So you can point to something. That's not what's happening now. Let's talk about that. Do we need to change the agreement?  Do we need to talk through it? Do we need to work through it? 

And training each other, and having those practice conversations, and setting it up so that we have broken agreements that we can talk through, and get back to being an agreement --- all of that is super productive and helpful.  Because each of those things that you described, Emily, the root of that is unresolved conflict. Right?

[00:38:42] Emily: That's right. And I was cracking up and listening to you, Susan. I know a little bit about your background.  I grew up where there was conflict.  And I had to learn how to mediate it, navigate it, how to hold it in my system.  And as a result, I became more desiring environments where there wasn't conflict, but that's not healthy either.

So I think that either extreme, like we don't know how to get comfortable in the uncomfortable conversation. The only thing I was going to say that we know as truth is that we're all going to have feelings, we all have fears, and we all have perceptions. That is a given. Like when somebody's not performing and they say that they're experiencing exclusion or discrimination or harassment or bullying or whatever it is, there's lots of truths that are there.  And there's lots of feelings that are there. 

But to understand that part of our work at work, one of the hardest parts of our work at work, is that there are always emotions, there are always perceptions, there are always fears. You cannot eliminate it. You cannot create enough tasks, enough structures, enough rules, enough team buildings to eliminate it.  That is not the goal because that is not human. 

Susan: That's right. 

Emily:  What we're learning is to be able to sit with it, to listen to it, to hold it. 

Susan:  That's right. 

Emily:   And the thing that I think we're suffering from the most right now, is really appreciating that none of us know how to do this. That we are all in training, in practice, as we said. Like, we are all on our learning journey. 

Why can't we help each other? Why can't we make that the agreement, the norm? Which is, if I say something that upsets you, I want to learn. If these conditions are not going to make it as accessible for you to thrive as you need, let's talk about it. The more we can bring it back into the room, the more we can work with it, the more we can hold it, that's where you get to learn.  Like that accelerates the learning so much. 

I don't know if that's just a thought in terms of like how do we accelerate our learning. 

[00:40:50] Justin: Yeah, I didn't grow up in a house with a ton of conflict either. And so I recognize I'm very kind

of conflict-diverse.  Like conflict is kind of scary because it brings up so much uncertainty, like what's going to happen? 

I'm coaching my son's basketball team and we were at a game yesterday.  And the team's before us, the parents got in a fight in the stands. And I felt in myself almost like that kid-feeling of like, “Oh my gosh, what's happening? How is this going to resolve? I'm not really in control of what's happening between these two people”.

So all that, that's part of what we were naming earlier about the necessity for leaders to do their own work.  I think that's part of walking the practitioner's path, is being able to say, “you know what, as a child, this is what I saw, and this is how I feel about conflict”.  And then you can begin to learn different skills to be able to help with your own processing of conflict, and how it shows up.  So that when it does happen, because it will happen like you said, when people are together, there's going to be conflict, that's how it works. You cannot eliminate that as something that happens. 

We can just begin to gain more insight. I'm still learning about myself in conflict. It's not like I figured it out at all. There's still moments where I'm like, wow, when I got into conflict, I went totally offline, and another part of me came on, and all of a sudden I'm eight, you know, like, “what is this?”

So I think that's just gaining knowledge over time, and taking those lessons in, and learning from them as best we can. 

[00:42:10] Emily:  In closing, what's one leadership practice, life practice that has really guided you, and has helped you, that you would like to share and impart to others?  Just kind of one thing that has just helped you to navigate leading and navigate life.

[00:42:28] Susan: I think for me, it's being around other leaders who are committed to the journey to, and learning with them, having a cohort, having a group of … I'm part of a leadership fellowship.  And the learning we did individually going into that group,  I mean, it was like a PhD in leadership for like one small piece of what you need.  But the depth of knowledge, of practice, of supporting people in working through with their going through,  and that process of supporting someone else as they're working through a conflict at work, or bringing it into the group, is the interplay of some of those group dynamics that show up in the workplace,  to and processing them in a safe space, and getting pushed for other people noticing your strengths, noticing the patterns that you have that you bring into all these situations, that you just keep sort of rinse and repeat relationships, because you're not aware that you're bringing your own story into it, and actually creating a situation based on the story you've, you've had for so long, right?

And so for me, that collaborative learning, having um,... members on the journey with you, that you're learning with, has been super fun, really critical for my own development.

[00:43:47] Justin: That's great. I love the emphasis on community and doing this in community. I think mine is interesting, is a bit of my own practices that I've just come upon in my coaching training. There's a lot of emphasis on the somatic side of things, and paying attention to the body.  And that's a little bit of what we were talking about with emotional regulation, emotional identification. 

I think some of the most helpful things that I'm using, and learning how to use in real time, which is again a work in progress for those who know me, it's learning how to do, that is emotional regulation skills. Like how do I bring my heart rate down in real time?  And so some of that, if folks are interested, is the vagus nerve research on that practices, on that there's some really interesting, and I think, helpful breathing techniques that you can do in a meeting to bring your heart rate down immediately, or not immediately, but pretty quickly,  and just seeing how regulating the body, learning how regulating the body can lead to different outcomes. 

Because sometimes I think I thought I had to solve the problem, in order to not have to feel the intensity of the emotion anymore.  But what if I flipped that and reduced the kind of activation in the body, and then come at the situation from a space of calm?  And obviously there have been plenty of experiences where I have not done that, and seen how that works, so we kind of know how that works.  At least I do.  

And so I think for me, learning how in real time to, first, do the nervous system emotional regulation, and then approach the challenge and problem from that space of calm and connection, and see how that works as an experiment.

So those are just some of the tools that I've been trying to use and learn how to use a bit more in real time. 

[00:45:31] Emily: I love it, and I think all of this fits with the kind of the theme that we started with, which is this idea that this is a work in progress. 

We're a work in progress. Group Dynamics are a work in progress, getting closer to one another at work in an appropriate way, in a meaningful way, being able to deal with what's uncomfortable is self work, body work, emotional work. It's community work. 

We can't do it alone. We do it together. We learn from each other. We learn with each other. 

Thank you both so much for being on Let's Talk People, for the dialogue, for your wisdom, for being the amazing, positive growth oriented humans that you are. The world needs more of it, and needs more people role modeling it, teaching it, being it, caring about it, holding space for it.

So thank you for what you do. 

[00:46:17] Susan: Thank you, Emily and Justin, such a joy to share space with you. 

[00:46:21] Justin: Yeah. Thank you, Emily. Susan as well. Joy to be here. And thanks for putting this together. Emily, really appreciate you having me and having this conversation. 

[00:46:29] Emily: It was truly my pleasure and such a joy.

This was such a great conversation and such an important one for us to be having. I just want to sum up the

key points that I'm taking away from today. 

Workplace expectations have changed for us. And that's a good thing. The bar has been raised and people are asking for what we've all really longed for, which is to be able to fully show up, and to be seen and supported in a team environment.

We have a responsibility to do that. It takes making agreements. Agreements are the foundation for safety and clarity on how we support one another as a part of a cohesive and high performing team. 

And third, we need to take the time to check in. You can't go fast unless you go slow to understand what's really there for yourself.  Which means doing our self work as leaders, and checking in with our team members to make sure that we understand what they need, and what they're feeling and experiencing.  So that we can adjust the conditions and dynamics and support them, so that everyone on the team can thrive. 

Thanks for joining today's episode of Let's Talk, People. 

For more info and insights, visit and find me, Emily Fries Kemeny on LinkedIn and Instagram.

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Well, that's a wrap, friends. Until next time when we come together to Talk People.

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