Alex Jamieson and Bob Gower, co-authors of Getting to Hell Yes: The Conversation That Will Change Your Business (and the rest of your life) join the program to discuss the urgency of moving beyond zero sum thinking and reveal the model they created to resolve conflict and build trust effectively. They discuss the importance of tactical empathy for leaders and how leaders can integrate this model in all areas of their life. Discover the role that a facilitator can play in the process and the conditions that allow people to thrive and do their best work.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Alex’s diversity story of moving to a diverse community at a young age (2:30)
- Bob’s story of recovering from depression and trauma (4:00)
- The problem of win/lose thinking in the political space (13:00)
- A 4-step process for moving beyond the win/lose paradigm (20:00)
- The role of “tactical empathy” for leaders (29:00)
- The most common challenges that come up for men in the workplace (36:00)
- What leaders need to do to move towards more authentic conversations (41:00)
- How facilitators can create an environment that encourages safety and risk taking (43:00)
- The biggest factors that contribute to peak performance and work satisfaction (47:00)
- A new leadership competency that helps employees to feel seen and heard (50:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Alex and Bob, welcome to The Will to Change.
ALEXANDRA JAMIESON: Thanks, Jen!
BOB GOWER: Thanks for having us.
JENNIFER BROWN: So, you have a new book called Getting to Hell Yes. And it is so readable. It is short and sweet and powerful. I have taken a lot from it, and I know that our listenership will really want to get a copy.
Today, we’re going to spend some time going into the methodology that you introduce in the book, which I think is a powerful game-changer, particularly in the times that we’re living in. And we’ll get into why that is the case in a moment.
I know you both personally and you’re both such visible voices for personal transformation, for team effectiveness, for living your truest and most authentic life, and I think in a really courageous way, both of you. I always start The Will to Change with our diversity stories. We say everyone has a diversity story, perhaps those who we don’t expect to know about diversity. Perhaps that is our ethnicity or our gender, in your case, Bob. And, yet, I know you both have incredibly strong feelings and experiences with it and you may define it differently from each other. So, I’d love to hear your take on your diversity story, each of you. Maybe, Alex, we can start with you.
ALEXANDRA JAMIESON: Sure. So, I grew up outside of Portland, Oregon, in a very, very white town to very liberal hippy parents. And in middle school, my mom and I moved to Los Angeles so she could finish her degree. And I went from being a white kid in a white town to a white kid in an incredibly diverse community.
We were the minority. It was Hispanic kids, it was black kids, it was kids from different parts of Asia. I was, like, “Whoa, this is different, okay.”
I was kind of an idiot. I really didn’t understand my place in the world. Now, you know, I was raised by nice, progressive people, but I wore a blue bandana on my head one day to school. And a girl came down the hall and she was, like, “You are an idiot, take that off.” (Laughter.) “This is not the place to wear a blue or red bandana.” I was, like, “What are you talking about?”
I realized really quickly I didn’t know a lot and I didn’t know how to talk about what I was experiencing. My experience of difference and total ignorance. And that’s just one story of how, throughout my life, I have felt like any intense conversation was going to be a confrontation. And so I have hedged away from, I’ve stayed silent on a lot of important topics because I didn’t know how to contribute or be a part of conversations. And that’s actually really – writing this book and using this tool with Bob in our relationship has really helped with that.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you for that. I can’t wait to dig into those conversational techniques that you all have honed in this book, they’re so powerful. Thank you, Alex.
Bob, where do you start? You’re a previous guest on The Will to Change. There is too much to say.
BOB GOWER: Yes, there’s a lot in there. I was raised in a very conservative suburb of Philadelphia. My parents are depression-era parents. I’m the first year of gen X. I’m 53 right now, so I’m thankfully gen X, but my parents very much raised me as if I was a baby boomer. I feel like I was raised with older values. I don’t know quite how to describe it, but I was raised in a very conservative space.
And, yet, my father’s father died when he was young and he was raised by women. I was always raised with the example of a very sweet and very kind man who helped around the house quite a bit, but he didn’t do that in that sort of – I was always raised that there’s no shame in doing dishes, there’s no shame in doing house work. That was kind of what my father did and what he laid out before me. And, yet, I was surrounded by essentially Republicans in an incredibly conservative area. I always felt really, really out of place.
I also have a lot of background or personal history that involves trauma. I had a difficult childhood for a variety of reasons, and have a history of depression. Alex is my fourth wife. I have a history of bad relationships and a lot of mental difficulties and struggles.
One of the things which is interesting about me and diversity is that over the course of the last ten years, I’ve recovered from depression. I’m not depressed anymore. I think we talked about this a bit in the previous interview. I’ve also done pretty well in business. I’m a fairly successful strategist and facilitator and consultant these days as well as a writer.
In the last four or five years, I’ve woken up. “Oh, I’m actually kind of a wealthy, white, middle-aged man.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Yep! (Laughter.)
BOB GOWER: And I now need to own that identity. It’s now longer good enough for me to think, “Oh, I’m the depressed guy who’s always struggling,” which is how I feel like I spent most of my life, but actually to wake up to my power and my privilege. Yes, I did a lot of work, I did a lot of personal work, but it also helps that I had a middle-class education and that I’m tall and have a deep voice and I’m white. I have a lot of inherent privilege which I’m now dedicating my life to use that privilege in a way that helps create a more equitable society. And I think this work is actually an essential part of it because it often comes down to the diversity in our relationships. Who do we talk to? How do we talk to each other? How do we interact with each other? And as Alex said, how do we have courageous conversations? How are we more real with each other?
JENNIFER BROWN: More complicated than ever as we polarize, as dialogue breaks down, as we are living in these super chaotic times where trust is really being questioned amongst us and between us. And at the same time, we have so many of us who are waking up to what we have and the responsibility that comes with what we have, earned or not, whatever happened in the past.
I appreciate you showing the iceberg under the water line, Bob, being transparent that it’s part of your history. And yet, people will look at you now and assume that you have power and privilege because of what they observe about you, and that is true as well. It’s a really interesting mix. Disclosure is very important. Everybody’s story matters to someone who’s not being seen and heard and someone who feels that they don’t see their story represented in people who’ve achieved certain levels of success. It’s more important than ever to show all of who we are and speak to that. I appreciate both of you doing that.
The book felt like a burning topic for you all to write about now at this point in our society, to use your voices in a more proactive way. This is a conversation model. It’s linear, you can follow the steps, and I think it’s going to be important for a lot of people. How does that address our fractious times right now in a unique way?
ALEXANDRA JAMIESON: I’ll go back to my own life for some examples. It feels very difficult to have conversations where there’s a lot of emotion or a lot of baggage. Let’s be honest, are there any good, important conversations that don’t have baggage in them?
JENNIFER BROWN: True! (Laughter.)
ALEXANDRA JAMIESON: I felt like all important conversations were going to lead to confrontation because I thought somebody had to win and somebody had to lose. That’s a dynamic being played out a lot right now in the culture at large. This structure and using it together in our relationship and then teaching it and using it in business, I realized that this is a way that I could feel safe, right?
We talk about safe spaces or safer spaces. This was a way to develop some very simple rules, and this isn’t a place to win an argument, this is about understanding and putting all the cards on the table so that we can maybe avoid confrontation and develop empathy for each other. We’ll talk more about that in a minute. Just having a clue as to what’s happening. I don’t have to fight to win my point of view and destroy you in the process or be totally rolled over like a doormat. That’s not what this is.
JENNIFER BROWN: We’re binary, right? We view things in that way. We’re conditioned to do that, and then I think the business world is also a win-lose dichotomy. There’s us/them, insiders/outsiders, powerful/powerless. I think challenging that dichotomy, that tendency that we have is so important. And, yet, the tendency that we have is so important. And, yet, it can be so tempting to square off against each other. It can be so challenging to not be triggered to stay and listen. For some of us, it’s really challenging to articulate what we need and know what our boundaries are. I know that boundaries are a really important part of your model.
Putting my diversity hat on and everything I know, some of us don’t have a voice. And for some of us, when we try to exercise our voice and our boundaries, we are negatively judged as well. I’m thinking of women and women of color, we are forever discussing the double and triple standards that are applied to different people using their voice. There are some of us who are allowed to take a stand for ourselves and raise truths. Even in an empathetic way, we may not always be positively judged for doing so. There is that lens that lives in between all of these things as well.
BOB GOWER: I’m glad you brought up the win/lose and the win/win – the zero-sum game. As I’ve dug into all of this, a lot of people have been thinking about politics, our political landscape, and the increased polarization.
One of the things that seems to be happening is you have extreme groups mostly on the right, but also agree that they happen on the left. They’re shouting and polarizing, whereas a lot of people are lost in the middle. A friend of mine points out that when you ask people about progressive values like, “Do you think there should be reasonable gun control? Do you think there should be some level of environmental regulation or protection for the poor?” Most Americans will say yes. But for some reason, that doesn’t make it into the political spectrum. You don’t get people voting so much in that way. I think it’s largely because of this sort of polarization that tends to favor the fearful, frankly, it favors the people who do look at the world as a zero-sum game.
But that said, I feel like our brains naturally see zero-sum games. When I get into an argument with a liberal supporter of another candidate on Facebook, I immediately polarize what that person. I want to win and beat that person in that argument. Really, we are on the same side and we’re aligned. We’re a naturally aligned group of people. We don’t behave that way with each other.
A friend of mine used to point out that on the left, we circle the wagons and shoot in at each other.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s true. (Laughter.)
BOB GOWER: We live in a political environment where it is a winner-take-all, which means coalitions need to happen pre-election, not post-election, not the way they would in a more parliamentary system. We actually have to find common ground with each other. And I think the people that we can find common ground with is much, much, much broader than we tend to think. And so for me to challenge a conversation like this is really to ask myself, “What do I really want? What am I really here for?” My brain wants to win, but if I pause for a moment and say, “Actually, we can probably both get what we want. We can probably both become a “hell yes,” as the title of the book says, but what that thing is may not be the political party, the political candidate, or the structure that’s in place. We have to go deeper into human values, which requires vulnerability.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that you bring that up. I have to read the Brené Brown quote you have in the book. I want to hear about the model. I want you to take our audience through it, but you quote Brené Brown as saying, “Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and seeking approval, which are hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. True belonging happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world. Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
So your model, I think, is a mechanism to honor ourselves, actually. It’s funny. It’s a conversational model, but it is absolutely what I love to say, “Calling in instead of calling out.” When we have that conflict and fear that everything is going to fall apart, I like to orient my energy towards calling into conversation, not shaming, not judging, not making assumptions. Truly listening, and not just listening for anticipating what someone’s going to say and what my rebuttal is going to be.
The model holds this open space, but it’s a discipline and a process. It doesn’t mean it’s easy and we have to break some really bad habits in following it, and that’s why I like it so much.
That self-acceptance is a big part of it. I can relate to it because I think speaking up for myself, I’m probably on the other end of the spectrum around shaping my wants and needs around others and losing track of my wants and needs and boundaries that are really going to allow me to have self-care. Some advocates can really relate to that. We’re not the loud, loud, loud voice. We’re the ones who are trying to guide or facilitate the conversation.
Some of us risk getting lost in terms of what’s getting to us. Then it feels like a compromise, then a win-lose, then it feels like my needs aren’t important, et cetera.
Without further ado, I’d love one of you to take us through the model that you talk about and go as deep as you’d like into the different steps and we’ll go back and forth a bit about each.
BOB GOWER: Alex pointed at me. (Laughter.)
ALEXANDRA JAMIESON: You start.
BOB GOWER: Okay. I’ll say the model is about asking yourself really explicit questions and discovering what you feel and what you think. We think of it as making the implicit explicit – it starts with ourselves. Until someone asks me the question, I actually don’t know what my intention is. Intention is the first step of the conversation.
I will say also that the conversation is a structured conversation. We think of it as a masculine, procedural, structured process. What’s happening inside of it is probably something that we can classify as more feminine. Not that we have to gender everything, but that we’re taking something that’s inherently messy, which is human feelings and human emotions, and as we look to build workplaces – you know my work is about innovation, creativity, and collaboration. That means people bringing their full self to work, and diversity is a part of that. We want to integrate a diversity of perspectives.
If we’re going to do all of those things, we actually need to increase the level of conflict inside of an organization because it’s sort of natural that if people are coming from very different perspectives and very different backgrounds, to integrate those is naturally going to generate a little bit of friction. And there’s a messiness involved in that.
What we like about this process is it’s this sort of linear, okay, we’re going to take the mess and process it in a linear way. I’ll also say that we say that people can play at their own level. You don’t have to go super deep and vulnerable all the way to the most deep, most vulnerable thing because you might be penalized in a work environment.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.
BOB GOWER: You have to modulate yourself. I also encourage that the most powerful person or leader in the room goes first, and I encourage them to be as vulnerable as they possibly can be because they set the tone in hierarchical systems.
That’s the beginning set up for it. That’s what we’re up to. And then there are four steps. You talk about your intentions, your why, your concerns, your crazy brain where we catastrophize everything. We’re human and we have a really strong negativity bias when we look at the world. We’re naturally going to look at what’s going wrong, so let’s get that stuff out there.
There might be some good information in it. And some of them also evaporate when you say them. And then we talk about our boundaries. I always encourage people to think about, “Okay, we want you to be your best, how do you be your best?” That probably involves you taking care of yourself in some way, so self-care is a really important part of that. And then dreams or desires. If this was to be amazing, then what will it be?
JENNIFER BROWN: I love the order. I think you write that dreams are at the end, it’s the fun part. Give yourself full berth to dream, to fantasize about what would be wildly amazing. It’s interesting that you don’t start with that. How did you decide on that sequence? I’m sure there’s a logic to that.
BOB GOWER: It was an accident, I think. It was the order it was in. But as other people would take it, one of the motivations for doing this book is we found ourselves – this is a tool, by the way, that we developed years ago for a very short-lived series of couples’ workshops that we were teaching. It wasn’t even a central part of that workshop. It was a kind of throw-away tool to kick the day off. It was going to be an intense day with some people.
And then we started to realize, “Oh, we could use this when we visit my family, which can be a little bit stressful sometimes.” Or when we talk about finances or when we talk about our relationship, we actually use this conversation. We were talking about our relationship, our intentions, our concerns, our boundaries and our dreams for our partnership – romantically and familial. We have been sharing a home for six years now, and we decided that actually formalizing our relationship into a marriage would be a natural step. So, we decided to get married by having this conversation.
JENNIFER BROWN: And in the process, you each felt deeply seen and heard by each other and autonomous to make that decision together. Alex, go ahead.
ALEXANDRA JAMIESON: The four steps: Each person shares their intentions, then each person share their concerns, et cetera. And you’re not arguing points. You’re not trying to tell somebody that their concern is wrong, especially going into the concerns part. It really is a space to let your lizard brain be heard. Let your fight or flight response have the floor for a moment with the caveat that you’re not putting this stuff out there blaming it on the other person. You’re saying, “Look, these are the things that my brain comes up with, and I just need to put it out there.”
There’s a really wonderful strategy that psychologists use called “self talk,” where you give yourself a minute to express all your worries about something. And then you realize, “Oh, I’m worrying about the same three or four things over and over again. I can’t do anything about them right now, so I’m just going to move on.”
And it gives your brain and your nervous system space to just calm down so that you can move forward and realize, “Oh, most of these worries and concerns are just true fantasy and just catastrophizing the worst thing that can happen.” We actually used this conversation to write the book. We had the conversation about writing the book about the conversation.
JENNIFER BROWN: As one does. (Laughter.) In your marriage.
ALEXANDRA JAMIESON: One of my big concerns was, “What if we suck at working together in this creative, professional way? What if this has a negative impact on our relationship? What if we get divorced because we wrote this book?” And Bob said, “Well, obviously, we don’t write the book if that becomes a problem.” So, we don’t really have to worry about that concern.
Again, it’s not about arguing points or winning points, it’s there just to get clear together.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. Were your intentions aligned, backing up to the first step, which is intention? What was that conversation like?
ALEXANDRA JAMIESON: It was really interesting. Bob actually had an intention that I wasn’t brave enough to state myself. As Bob likes to say, your intentions are what gets you in the door. Why are you doing this? Why would you even do this? And one of his was, “Well, it could lead to clients and we could make money doing this.” I thought, “Oh, right.” I tend to have flowery thoughts about changing the world and ending conflict across the globe, which I still definitely want. But, oh yeah, there’s money while we’re doing this, too. That’s a great intention.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. The practical and the altruistic. It’s always a balance.
ALEXANDRA JAMIESON: I’ll tell you what really inspired us to sit down and finally write this. We were teaching and re-teaching this four-part structure for a couple of years. I shared it with a girlfriend of mine who ran with it a couple weeks later, got back to me and said, “I think this saved my marriage.” She has five kids, she has her own wellness and meditation platform, and she ended up writing the introduction to the book for us. Her name is Rebekah Borucki, and we got inspired by her and the level of impact that it had on her life. People keep calling us and texting us, “What were those four parts again?” The world is asking for us to write this book.
JENNIFER BROWN: Do it!
BOB GOWER: We were a little slow on the uptake from a business perspective. And I think, also, there was a time where we asked, “Will one of us write this book?” And because we had been studiously avoiding getting into business together because both of us had had previous experiences in mixed relationships, business mixed with romance and home-keeping that hadn’t gone very well.
We’re both big fans of each other’s work. We supported each other through writing other books. We’ve each written a book since we’ve been together, we’ve each had big changes in our business, but we had never tried anything together. Also, what’s interesting is the technique seems so simple to us. Often, that’s the case with things you’re good at. The stuff that comes easy to you is not the stuff that you value, and yet it’s probably the stuff that you’re best at delivering to the world. It took us a little while to realize that this is really valuable, because we keep getting calls about it, and we’re the people to write this book.
And through the process of writing the book, it forced us to get super clear on why this thing is important and how important it is.
I still keep peeling the onion. I still keep thinking it’s actually a profoundly disruptive technology. It is a profoundly disruptive technology.
ALEXANDRA JAMIESON: It is.
JENNIFER BROWN: I like that. I like that. It is because now we’re all terrified to speak to each other about what’s in our hearts, particularly in the workplace. The question I keep getting in all of my keynotes is the breakdown of dialogue at precisely the time when we actually need to be using empathy as a skill.
I think about what you just said, Bob. Some of us come to this more naturally because we come at the world with an empathetic stance. If we go into this work, which is essentially a helping role, that’s our language. You bring up something in the book called tactical empathy. Again, I hearken back to your comment about masculinizing and feminizing. Not to be stereotypical, but it’s interesting that when I read Tactical Empathy, I thought, “I wish I could teach leaders how to have that for diversity and inclusiveness.” I spend so much of my time feeling like some of us innately feel how important this is and we’re willing to go to the mat. There are legions – I’d say probably a majority of people who don’t care, don’t take it on board, and I don’t know if they can define what the role of empathy is in good leadership if I ask them, “What does that look like for you? How do you put that into play?”
Empathy is really valuing inclusiveness, at the end of the day. It’s seeing and hearing others and being seen and heard by them and then creating a “one plus one equals three” scenario.
I struggle with the whole question of what’s innate. And when you’re born with this stance toward the world, what do we do about all the people that don’t organically feel that? How do we invite and equip those folks to engage with empathy? If it’s a learned skill, I’ll take it as long as that empathy is the result. It sounds cynical, but that is the reality that I deal with every day. How do we generate empathy in folks that don’t naturally orient around it as leaders?
BOB GOWER: That’s really interesting. I have also experienced being an empath and having spent a lot of time in let’s call it progressive and personal development communities and a lot of empath kind of people.
I also think we have our own weakness when it comes to this. Because I can feel things so deeply, I’m actually liable to shut down a lot faster sometimes. I think we’ve experienced people – I think of it as the toxic boundary setting. I don’t know if you’re familiar with John Gottman and his “four horsemen of relationship decay.” One of them is stonewalling and leaving the conversation. One of the dangers of being someone who is more empathic is that we tend to be just check out faster. I know I can.
This conversation gives me courage. You also mentioned tactical empathy, and that comes from the work of Chris Voss, who was the lead hostage negotiator for the FBI for many years, and a dyed-in-the-wool, hardcore law enforcement guy. He grew up in the Cincinnati Police Department. He’s what you would expect from a cop. He revolutionized the negotiation world. He deeply influenced what the Harvard Negotiation Project teaches because he went through it and ended up destroying everybody in negotiations there.
It was because he was acknowledging the role of emotion. Whereas the work on Getting to Yes, which our book steals the title of, he talks about approaching a negotiation as if it’s a logical endeavor.
Voss was like, “Well, I’m trying to get hostages out. I can’t give you half the hostages to kill, I have to take them all. And I can’t give you anything in return. I have to get you into jail.” That’s the negotiation that needs to happen. He became really good because he acknowledged the emotions. Part of that was he said, “You have to understand the position of your counterpart. You have to understand their position.” It doesn’t mean you have to agree with their position, like their position, or love their position, which is sometimes how I think we think of the word “empathy,” but it means I have to feel with that person. I have to be able the perspective-take. And in the world of diversity and a world of diversifying the power structure and diversifying our workplace, which I think really is the act of desegregating and decolonizing these environments, it means that we all have to learn how to listen to each other better and take each other’s perspective.
To me, that’s how we teach this. Your job as the listener is to listen. Your job isn’t to argue, your job isn’t to debate, your job isn’t to do anything. You’re going to hear stuff that makes you uncomfortable, but you have to be listening to it as if you are stepping into that person’s world. That is incredibly valuable. That will help you get what you want. Period.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. Alex, how does that show up for you in the conversations and work that you do? You consider yourself deeply empathetic. Do you have that same tendency to get sucked in and it becomes toxic? Where is that boundary for you in terms of self-care in the context of conversations, too? How do you navigate that?
ALEXANDRA JAMIESON: I’ve been a coach for over 15 years. I work mainly with women. My work with them is really to have the strength and courage to believe that their emotions are actually valid, that their boundaries and self-care are worthwhile and worth standing up for.
I actually teach my clients how to use this conversation in the workplace and in their families because even women who run brand-name companies that you have heard of and probably use have been told and have been brainwashed that they’re too emotional and that their emotions are not welcome and are a problem.
And so in the boundaries that I teach them before they go out and use this conversation in their life is that, actually, you need to give space to your emotions and name them and feel them and recognize the gift of resilience and resourcefulness that is in them so that when you get to these conversations and use this four-part structure with somebody else, you feel valid. You feel a kind of righteousness. I’m not saying righteousness like, “I am right and all others will cower before me.” Hey, these are my concerns, these are my boundaries, and I believe in them. I’m not crazy. We go there first before they go off and use this in a boardroom setting.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. That’s right. I’m sure you notice that different genders get stuck on or struggle with different parts of the four-part model differently. Bob, what do you think the work is for male leaders and male family members in dialogue? Can you illustrate how the dynamic goes between two men and then across the gender difference? Have you seen different things show up like Alex is talking about for each side?
BOB GOWER: That’s really interesting. Men in general, and this is a gross generalization, but we’re not necessarily trained to talk about our family history or talk about – by just talking about our feelings and talking about our emotions, that doesn’t mean we’re less emotional. That’s a complete misnomer. One thing I’ll point out is that men don’t really get docked for being angry at work unless it’s really angry – rage. But women get docked for crying, right? Even a quiver in the voice. I actually think women, in many ways, are more capable of setting emotion aside because they actually process it more. They do find the conversation easier to have.
I have a client I worked with recently who is an older white man. I pegged him as being someone who I was going to have some difficulty with. His values are really strong, but his habitual behavior can be oppressive to some of the people around him.
We ran this conversation with his team. He immediately went to some childhood trauma, which was the impetus for him doing his life’s work. It actually brought us all to tears. It had us all deeply emotional. And then when it came time for one of his main female lieutenants to speak, she was able to say that one of her concerns is we’re creating a patriarchal structure in this progressive organization and that’s not good. And part of it is – looking at the leader – your behavior that’s leading to that. We didn’t solve anything because we weren’t there to solve anything. We were there to help the organization emotionally breathe and let these things come out.
We actually spent over an hour on the conversation, probably two hours. It got deep, emotional, and teary. We didn’t decide anything at the end of it, but it caused a seismic shift in the emotional landscape of that team. We have actually seen some deep structural changes in the team recently that have been really, really helpful.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love those moments, I live for those moments when somebody decides to jump in that you don’t expect and they go deep and fast. The title you use for that permission is “freedom in the framework.” I love that. It answers the needs for freedom and the need for a framework, but I find the permission you extend to leaders will often lead to them walking right through the door. It’s such a shock to be asked to articulate parts of your model. Whether it’s speaking about your “why” or your intentions and revealing something that you have never revealed, it’s a sea change that we need to see more leaders do, particularly in certain generations. We know how powerful it is for a baby boomer or gen X leader to do. It’s not how we’ve been raised to see leadership behavior.
Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability and storytelling, some companies are starting to really run with it and they’re featuring executive storytellers being vulnerable. Some. I would not say a lot. We need to see a lot more of that. Like you said earlier, the leader needs to go first in many cases because they are the ones that need to set that tone and take the first risk in order to give the permission to others to do the same, and then hopefully we can get underneath some of the “stuckness” in organizations that’s preventing them from becoming more resonant and truthful institutions. I think we’re all performing leadership in this really inauthentic, superficial way. It frustrates me every day.
BOB GOWER: Yes, you and me both.
JENNIFER BROWN: Sometimes two people in dialogue following this model, you bring up the role of a potential facilitator. I was struck by that. How does that look? Who is that person? Can we do all of this ourselves in a dyad. You make it very easy, but is there a role for a third person, observer, or facilitator to hold that space? I want to equip our listeners with some ideas for how to get started on this. If the conversation feels too risky and dangerous, particularly these days in the workplace, what does that look like? How would you recommend people get that support?
ALEXANDRA JAMIESON: I can start off by saying that Bob and I use this together and with our son, no facilitator necessary. We also use it by ourselves. We have started using it as a process to think through challenges or projects, but I think Bob should really speak to how facilitation works with this in the workplace.
BOB GOWER: I am a facilitator. I position myself as a variety of different things from a consultant to an organization designer to a strategist. I still do all of those things to a certain degree, but my primary work is really about generating experiences for people in a room, whether that’s a leadership offsite or training of some kind.
One of the things I do is a lot of training around meetings. I think every meeting probably needs a facilitator, and that facilitator should not be the most powerful or highest-paid person in the room.
JENNIFER BROWN: Indeed.
BOB GOWER: They set the tone and it becomes their meeting. We’ve seen a lot of this in the last few years – Tony Hsieh adapting “Holacracy” at Zappos. We tried to get him to come to a conference that he wanted to come to, and he said, “Well, that’s actually not my decision. It’s the decision of the team that runs that for Zappos.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Wow.
BOB GOWER: He’s willing to step back and let other people make decisions for him because he realizes that that’s how you build a society, essentially, which is what an organization is.
Hierarchy has a place. Top-down decision-making has a place. I still think it’s powerful and important, but at the end of the day, he can’t be present at all times. We need people to be more collaborative and team oriented. A facilitator is really just there to make sure everybody plays by the rules.
I’m sure you’ve seen the research on psychological safety, Amy Edmondson’s work and Google’s Project Aristotle and all that. Team functionality really thrives when people assess that it’s a safe place for interpersonal risk-taking. That’s all psychological safety means. I look at my team and it’s safe for me to throw out a new idea, an opinion, a thought, a feeling.
Part of what indicates you have that is when one person is not dominating the conversation. If one person is dominating the conversation, the other people most likely don’t feel safe to contribute or there’s not space for them to contribute.
In this case, the role of the facilitator is really just to make sure that people don’t talk over each other, they go in order, and they all speak roughly the same amount. And then we’re also developing a degree of sensitivity and empathy for each other. Our hope is that if you have a semi-healthy group of people that this will engineer a deeper level of psychological safety for everybody involved.
JENNIFER BROWN: You’re basically describing inclusive leadership as we define it. We like to say diversity is being asked to attend the meeting, inclusion is being asked to give input in the meeting, and then we take it to belonging, which we’re talking about more and more, which is that you can bring your best ideas. You’re comfortable enough that you feel that psychological safety in all of your interactions in the workplace, that you belong, and that’s a fundamental feeling that results from the first two being done well.
We laugh about it. I don’t know if you’re aware of the app to track “mansplaining” in meetings. Do you know about that?
BOB GOWER: I don’t have it. (Laughter.)
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s a real thing. I don’t know the technology that can track the assumed gender of speakers, but the idea is a powerful one. Meetings are where so many microaggressions and unconscious bias shows up for everything from who’s invited to who speaks to who is playing that facilitator role to ensure voices are not just heard, but actually the ideas are given equal weight, that they’re not being stolen, introverts are being engaged who don’t always like to think on their feet or might want time to reflect about how they’re asked questions and not put on the spot.
If it is the most senior leader in the room, that’s fine. I agree with you, everybody looks towards you already and you have a disproportionate amount of power when you have the, quote/unquote, “stripes” in the room. That’s why, often actually in my facilitations I ask the leader to not be in the room so we can actually get underneath some of this. It’s very difficult to be all of those things and be the boss. I’m sure you do that, too, Bob.
BOB GOWER: Yes. The makeup of who is in the room is incredibly important. Actually, one thing that we haven’t talked about but sits underneath all of this stuff for us, Alex and I did a six-month course on positive psychology a few years ago. It looks at the work that’s been coming out of U. Penn in the last several years about what really constitutes “human thriving.” Sometimes people think of it as happiness. That’s a little bit of a misnomer. It’s not about being happy all the time, but it is about living a meaningful life where you feel like you’re thriving, where you self-assess, “Yes, life is good.”
It really boils down to other people mattering. Who we hang out with and how we interact with them is the strongest indicator of whether or not you’re going to have a positive sense of your own life.
We spend a lot of time at work. Obviously, work is a real passion of mine. We’re also in a time where the nature of the work is changing to the point where we need people to show up in very different ways in order to just do a good job because there’s so much creativity and problem-solving as a part of today’s work.
I feel like we’re in this virtual cycle where in order to do better economically, we have to do better as humans with each other, and then that leads to us having better individual lives. I don’t know how to explain the political polarization in the midst of that.
JENNIFER BROWN: You and me both. (Laughter.)
BOB GOWER: But I do see it. And as you say, you give people an opportunity to play and they play.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, without exception. Every audience I speak to about all of this, it’s like there’s a pent-up, unarticulated need to be seen by everyone. When you build the framework to do that, give the permission, and give the structure, like you do in the book, it will let the air out of the balloon. You said that was around the concerns portion, step two of your model. Sometimes things have this tremendous power because we’re concealing them.
A lot of leaders are walking around thinking that things that shaped them that had such an important part to do with their lives, who they are, and what they value are also painful and shameful things they don’t want to talk about. There is so much that’s not processed.
I’m not saying the workplace is the best way to process all these things, of course, but we’re doing so little of that sharing. I think we need to swing the pendulum and focus more on the new leadership competency that’s pretty uncomfortable for a lot of people, but they secretly love it. I think they secretly love it. When I invite people to start talking, I can’t get them to shut up. The room just explodes.
ALEXANDRA JAMIESON: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s for all kinds of leaders – senior leaders, white men – everybody is eager to feel seen and heard. If we can come back to that and remove our agenda, truly listen, and witness another person, build that trust with them, and practice your empathy skills. It doesn’t matter if you’re not aligned topically. It is the experience you create with each other, and that goes a long way, regardless of whether you’re completely polarized politically, et cetera. How do we work together? How do we honor each other’s gifts? How do we see and hear each other? Honestly, I can’t imagine a more important competency for leaders, particularly in that chaotic, unpredictable world that you’re talking about. We’ve got to learn a different way of working. The old ways are not going to solve the complexity, unpredictability, and ambiguity that’s all around us. It’s only going to increase. What does it come down to? It comes down to our full selves as problem solvers and not just local. What do we say? Logos, pathos, ethos – marshaling all of those things. We’re going to need every single tool we have and then some. We’re entering a challenging age.
ALEXANDRA JAMIESON: Hear, hear! I agree.
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m excited to have this out there in the world. I wish you so much success with the book. I love that it’s a handbook. It’s short, it’s elegant in its simplicity.
BOB GOWER: It’s 9,000 words.
JENNIFER BROWN: Literally. Yes. It’s called Getting to Hell Yes. Bob and Alex, keep being the lights in the world that I see in you. You’re blazing a trail, you’re being brave, having conversations, and engaging. I’m so glad you decided to write this and codify it. You’re going to be doing workshops on it, et cetera.
If people want to bring you into their organization, how should they find out more?
BOB GOWER: It all starts by just going to gettingtohellyes.com. You can actually download a PDF of the book for free just by clicking, we don’t even ask for your e-mail address.
JENNIFER BROWN: Lovely!
BOB GOWER: You’ll also be invited to get some of the extras, which include a facilitator’s guide, a cheat sheet, some slides that you can use for facilitating, and we’ll be adding to that pack. Also, we have a video walk-through where we walk through the program as well.
Our goal is to get this out there. You can also get it on Amazon or Kindle as a print book. Obviously, that’s going to cost a little bit of money. Anything you want to know about us is there. We’re happy to come into your organization. We give talks, we facilitate workshops, and we’re also available to coach a team through the conversation as well. All the information you need is on our site.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you both for joining me on The Will to Change.
BOB GOWER: Thank you so much.
ALEXANDRA JAMIESON: Thank you.
- Understanding our Evolution: Why an Adult Development Lens is Critical to Inclusivity, with co-authors Christopher McCormick and Aman Gohal
- Second Chance Hiring with Fifth Third Bank’s Chief Economist, Jeff Korzenik
- Speaking from Lived and Learned Experiences: Insights on DEI Storytelling with Carin Taylor
- The Legacy of Belonging: Jennifer Joins the BE the CHANGE Podcast
- Activating Our Allyship Meter: A Senior Leader's Journey Towards Advancing LGBTQ Equality with Erik Day