Lead With That: What Awards Season Can Teach Us About Professionalism and Emotional Intelligence

image with microphone and lead with that podcast episode title, What Awards Season Can Teach Us About Professionalism and Emotional Intelligence

In this episode of Lead With That, Ren and Allison explore what we can learn about professionalism and emotional intelligence from current events surrounding awards season in America.

“The slap heard around the world” has been the talk of the town, but Will wasn’t the only one throwing hands out there. For some, Jane Campion’s comments at the Critic’s Choice Awards was a slap in the face to the Williams sisters and Black women across America. Are these just Hollywood problems for Hollywood people?

Or is there an opportunity to glean lessons from these events on how leaders can better manage conflict on their teams, and create spaces where meaningful conversations can happen? Let’s explore how conflict in the workplace can be an opportunity to strengthen our professionalism and emotional intelligence skills, and lead with that. 

Listen now or read the full transcript below. 

Listen to the Podcast

In this episode, Ren and Allison explore what awards season can teach us about professionalism and emotional intelligence.

Interview Transcript:

INTRO:

Welcome back to CCL’s podcast, Lead With That, where we talk current events and pop culture to look at where leadership is happening and what’s happening with leadership.

Ren Washington:

Who would’ve thought the Oscars would’ve adorned our show 2 times in a row, but it is award season after all. And with “the slap heard around the world” still being discussed, could you expect any less? But Will wasn’t the only one throwing hands out there. For some, Jane Campion’s comments at the Critic’s Choice Awards was a slap in the face to the Williams sisters and Black women across America. But really, aren’t these just Hollywood problems for Hollywood people?

Maybe, but maybe these 2 things (and many more) are just emblematic of what people experience in the workplace every day. I mean, there’s plenty we can glean from this experience about professionalism in the workplace and about emotional intelligence.

So today, we’re going to explore some of the events over the course of this award season, and talk about how to manage inappropriate conduct, leading through conflict, and even learn more about your role in leading people through these things as a leader or a teammate. I’m Ren Washington, and as usual I’m joined with Allison Barr. Allison, what’s the worst workplace conflict you’ve ever been a part of?

Allison Barr:

Oh, I was not prepared for this question. Do you mean like I was involved in the conflict or saw it or-

Ren Washington:

Where you were directly involved.

Allison Barr:

Oh my gosh.

Ren Washington:

A conflict involving Allison Barr.

Allison Barr:

Oh, oh, I got it. I got it. Okay.

Ren Washington:

We got one.

Allison Barr:

This was way back in the day when I was… Well, I don’t want to give away people who probably don’t want me to talk about them on a podcast, so I’ll be vague about what my job was. I was a manager. Let’s put it that way.

Ren Washington:

Okay. Yep.

Allison Barr:

And our clients were deeply attached to somebody who I had to fire.

Ren Washington:

Wow.

Allison Barr:

And so I got many, many phone calls and many, many phone calls from the person I had to fire as well. And it was very uncomfortable because there are certain things I, of course can’t share with our clients as to why this person was fired, but she was fired for stealing and so I can’t share that. Right. It was a masterclass on, I suppose, having to be politically savvy, which at the time I was not. But now looking back, it was a good lesson.

Ren Washington:

Okay. So the conflict was, I guess, twofold. One of the conflicts could have been with the person who stole something, and then the other conflict was managing it, or managing the conflict with, the client.

Allison Barr:

Right. Yes, managing the client. Yes. Who threatened to take away business and that sort of thing. And it’s just such an awkward territory where you have to say, “We wouldn’t fire somebody without good reason. I can assure you of that. And I understand how much you loved her. And we loved her too. However, X, Y, Z.”

Ren Washington:

Well, when we maybe shift to the person about that they loved who got caught stealing, is it hard to keep your cool in situations like that?

Allison Barr:

When she was caught stealing?

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Or when you found out about it or when you had to have the conversation?

Allison Barr:

No, not from me. No.

Ren Washington:

No? Is that just personal to Allison Barr or just the stakes weren’t high enough?

Allison Barr:

I think it was not that hard of a decision and I was not personally invested in that at the time. Now, if it was you that I had to fire, I would be terrible because I know you better, right. I consider you a friend and a colleague and this person, we didn’t have any sort of particular relationship aside from me being the boss.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Well, I’m so glad you said that, because it’s interesting and maybe I’m going to just… I know there’s a couple of things we can talk about. I think we’re going to talk about Will Smith first here. And-

Allison Barr:

You are.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Well I think we’re going to explore some of what happened. Yes. And I think too, gosh, I want to talk more about what you just said there. Maybe we will actually. So what do you mean? So you said I will, and I think we talked about something that was really interesting when we were thinking about what we could explore with some of this. And I think this topic came up and I think it’s worth exploring. And so I said, “We’re going to talk about Will Smith.” And you said, “Well, you are.” Can you give us some insight into what you mean or what’s behind that?

Allison Barr:

Yes. I’ll give you insight into what’s behind that.

Ren Washington:

Sweet.

Allison Barr:

So as you’ve already stated, we pull our topics from popular culture and news and what’s happening in the world. And I, full transparency, did not watch the Oscars, but I did see the clips of exactly what you mentioned. And I also follow some anti-racist Black women educators who have advised White people to keep their voices out of this conversation. So I am going to do that.

Ren Washington:

And out of what part of the conversation, just so I think this is important to, and maybe explore some of why you think it’s important, but what parts of the conversation are you keeping out of exactly?

Allison Barr:

The whole thing.

Ren Washington:

The whole thing.

Allison Barr:

I mean, the situation that you’ve mentioned already, which was that Will Smith slapped Chris Rock and that entire conversation, it’s not appropriate for me to give my perspective on.

Ren Washington:

And why not?

Allison Barr:

Because I follow anti-racist Black women educators who advised not to. It’s complex. There’s a lot to be learned in that scenario that as a White person, I have never experienced. And I am a woman. Yes. But I’m not a Black woman and I’m not a Black woman with a disability like Jada has. It’s not my lane.

Ren Washington:

Right. So that’s the why maybe the suggestion is to stay out of it is, that these are lived experiences and maybe it’s not really your place to have a point of view around how she should feel or anyone should feel about it. Is that what you’re staying out of?

Allison Barr:

Yes.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. I think that’s really interesting and it reminds me, I was just doing this wonderful award-winning program. I can’t take any credit for the awards. I see you chuckling out there. It was built by one of our predecessors who since retired, but it was transitioned to me. And it’s a program designed for primarily underrepresented groups who don’t maybe normally get access. Yeah.

Allison Barr:

You have to tell us the name of the program. I’m on baited breath here.

Ren Washington:

That’s very true. Well, it’s called… And I can tell you because it is award-winning… It’s called our Merck Diverse Leader Program.

Allison Barr:

Thank you.

Ren Washington:

So we’ve been a long partner client with them and we just finished our seventh cohort, super proud, but we just finished our first intensive week and one of our colleagues, Angel Nick, shout out to Angel Nick, she’s a superhero. Allison, do you know Angel?

Allison Barr:

I do know Angel. She’s a superhero.

Ren Washington:

She’s fun… I can’t even imagine how she does all the things that she’s able to accomplish. So shout out to her. But we were having this really interesting conversation around a woman that she knows, and we were just talking about allyship and it was a woman that she knows. And she said, she sent out a tweet that says, “When Black women are talking, I shut up and listen.” And it reminds me, I think, what you were talking about here, that if we were to talk about Will Smith and maybe the context for which the slap happened or the historical pressure of Black women and discussion around their hair. If we were going to explore that, maybe that’s not your place here. And I thought that was just an interesting perspective and I think one that a lot of people probably appreciate, so I thought it was worth digging into.

But one thing I think, Allison, that I want to talk about for Will Smith that I think we can talk about and I think safely. You said to me earlier if you were firing me, it would be a little bit different than when you were firing this other person, because you weren’t so connected. And I think we saw that happen with Will Smith in the moment where, I don’t know if you since read about it. But the Oscars said that they firmly told the publicists of Will Smith that he should leave, which I think is hilarious. They told his publicist-

Allison Barr:

They firmly told, okay.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. They firmly told his publicist that he should leave and they had police on standby if Chris was ready to press charges and I guess Will Smith said, “No, I’m not leaving.” And then as we saw, I guess not only he said to the Academy, “No, I’m not leaving,” but then at the end he gets an award to a standing ovation. And so it’s such an interesting exploration of maybe favoritism, or maybe, “Well we know Will, and we’re not going to address the thing that just happened.” I mean, what’s your interpretation of that?

Allison Barr:

Well, it’s a hard parallel to make. Like I said, this is not my lived experience. However, we’re focusing on me having to fire you versus me having to fire this woman. If it was literally the same behavior, I would… Let me be clear. I would still fire you.

Ren Washington:

Oh, that hurts.

Allison Barr:

It would be terrible. It would just be terrible. I wouldn’t want to, I would feel badly about it. I would want to know why you did that. And I would want to not have to do that. Firing people’s never fun. However, the consequence needs to be the same. In the scenario that I’m talking about, of 2 people stealing…

Ren Washington:

Well, let’s take Will out of it and go into this situation where, what if I punch someone? What if I hit one of our colleagues?

Allison Barr:

First of all, I have a very hard time with that. Even if you all have never met Ren, it’s very hard to believe that you would ever punch somebody in the face at the workplace. If you punch somebody and I witnessed it, I’m not… Let me clarify too. I’m not Ren’s boss. He and I are equals at the workplace. If I witnessed you, I would leave that space.

Ren Washington:

You would leave?

Allison Barr:

Let’s just pretend it’s in the cafeteria, right, for drama’s sake. We’re having lunch and you slap somebody that we work with. My response would be to exit that space.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Well, I want to explore that there. I want to explore some of the feelings that would come up. So why would you leave? What would some of the feelings that would come up if I did something that was out of hand, like I’d slap someone in the face. Why would you leave?

Allison Barr:

Well with physical, with that kind of physical violence… I have, it scares me. Violence scares me and I don’t know why it’s happening and I don’t know what could escalate. And so I would want to exit that scenario. Because I could never, I mean, I could never see you doing that. Not that it would make it any better if I could, or any safer, but I just wouldn’t want to be in that immediate area.

Ren Washington:

Right. And I’d like to think that I wouldn’t slap anyone in the workspace either, but don’t test me, world. I’m just kidding everyone. I’m just joking. But what if I did something that. Can you think of something that a nonviolent behavior that would elicit the same kind of responses from you where you would say like, “I need to get out of here,” or where it would be like that elevated?

Allison Barr:

No. Physical violence to me… And that’s interesting what you said about violence, because verbal violence is also a thing. And so if I was a witness you mean, and not a recipient? No, I don’t think I would have the same response.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. What would be some of the things that you might do if you saw me not slap someone, but maybe verbally slap someone?

Allison Barr:

If you and Joe Schmo got into it and you verbally slapped someone in the cafeteria-

Ren Washington:

As like, Joe, smack, smack.

Allison Barr:

Smack, smack. It’s not my place to step in. I don’t know that I would do. I wouldn’t leave the space out of fear. However, I might just sit there. I wouldn’t intervene if that’s what you’re asking. I wouldn’t say anything.

Ren Washington:

Well, I wonder. I look at a room full of people who just saw a man slap another man. And it was, I guess, shocking, but then just moments later, there was no intervention and then celebration. Now, I don’t know if in this scenario that we’re creating after I slap someone in the cafeteria, we’re then going to go celebrate me in our own training room, but I’d love to hear a little bit more around you say, it’s not your role, it wasn’t your role to intervene, or why not?

Allison Barr:

It just really depends, Ren. It’s hard to play this hypothetical because if you deeply marginalized somebody, then I might. But there’s still a way that you handle that. Right? I would check after that conversation was had, I would probably check with that person and say, ‘This is how I experienced this situation. Are you okay?” I’d be happy to say something to Ren. “Would you like me to? Here’s what I’m thinking. Does that work for you? I want to support you. How can I support you?”

Ren Washington:

So yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. I mean, I think part of the work that we do too is around interpersonal savvy and a component of interpersonal savvy is reading and adjusting to the environment. And so I think I can empathize with that. If you saw that in a public space, maybe the first reaction for you would be to see how you could help the other person. I think that’s a great takeaway. What is it someone’s role to step in though? I’m curious.

Allison Barr:

Again, it depends. You brought up Jane Campion as well in this conversation. And for those of you who maybe didn’t follow that story, she won an award and during her acceptance speech, she said, and I’m quoting her here, she said literally, “Venus and Serena, you are such marvels. However, you don’t play against the guys like I have to.” If a White woman at the workplace made a similar comment to a Black woman at the workplace, I would absolutely… And again, this is how I experienced what you just said. I mean, she used that moment for no reason to slight Venus and Serena because they don’t play on the tennis court with men, which they do by the way. They do in mixed doubles and they’ve won handily and they usually do, which is a whole other podcast.

Allison Barr:

You know how I feel, Serena Williams is the greatest athlete of all times. There we go. I plugged it. Also, women, Black women especially, have to compete with men in other ways off the court. So insinuating that they don’t have the same barriers as her is a really unnecessary drag. And they’re forced every day to exist in a historically White and racist industry in the tennis world and I think her behavior points to the White feminist ideology, that in theory, focuses on women reclaiming their power without considering the distribution of that power. And so your original question, I’m going way off track was — when would I step in? — and I might then.

Ren Washington:

So who else would it be appropriate to step into that scenario? So you’d step into for Jane. Is that because she’s a White woman. You’re a White woman, or like, could I tell something to Jane? I’m curious. What would be appropriate?

Allison Barr:

Well, what do you want to say to Jane?

Ren Washington:

So, okay. It would matter about the context upon what I would have to say less about who the person is saying-

Allison Barr:

No, no, I literally want to know.

Ren Washington:

Oh.

Allison Barr:

I actually want to know.

Ren Washington:

I heard about Jane doing that, and then I read an article. I read a very impassioned article about casual racism and this being an example of a throwaway, like when a woman in America who experiences what a woman in America experiences has got this award and she has a chance to celebrate, the first thing she does is slight another group of women in America who have to go through what they do in America and plus they’re Black. And so I thought that was interesting. And I think I would like to really sit down with Jane over a cup of tea and just ask her, “What were you trying to communicate?” Because she since let out an apology. I haven’t read it, but I have to imagine it’s a manicured apology, like many more.

So that’s a great question. I haven’t really thought about what I would say to Jane. I’d really like to start with just hearing a little bit more around what she meant, because I don’t know if she woke up that morning was like, “When I win this award, you know who’s going to get it? Venus and Serena, they going to get it from me.” But I think maybe that goes to something, what you and I talk about all the time that I can imagine Jane being a champion for people who have had a tough go of it and maybe she just needs to know why what she said was kind of strange. And then we could explore the real discussion around why we’re habitualized to say things like that. But now I digress.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. I think what’s interesting is there are a lot of people who would say, and have said, that that comment from her was relatively harmless and she didn’t mean it. And that’s what I mean by saying words can be violent sometimes and have a similar, painful impact. And what caused her to say that? I would imagine it was a reaction and perhaps she was up there being nervous. However, she still said it and it came out of her mouth, and again, she apologized. You’re right and hopefully she will learn from it perhaps. However, it does highlight the overlapping of this notion of White feminism with White supremacy and transphobia and ableism and so on and so on because it upholds the same structure that tears down other marginalized groups. So she slighted Black women on a topic that has nothing to do with why she’s standing up there in the first place.

So feminism at its core, by the way, doesn’t mean just equality with men. So I think it’s just something that White women need to investigate. And I am a White woman for those of you who don’t know me, it’s something that I investigate too. And I know I’ve made mistakes, but it’s important that White women understand how they also uphold these exclusionary structures.

Ren Washington:

Well, I see that as a little bit of a bridge to our last conversation or one of our last conversations where we were talking about “cancel culture” and this idea of the importance of helping people navigate through a mistake. And as you’re saying that, I think it’s important to create the environment for us to have these conversations about these mistakes that we might make so we can then start to be intentional about remedying them. I mean, I do think it’s interesting if that can happen with Jane, I wonder what other kind of things happen so easily and flippantly in the workplace. If you’re in a meeting, how many times have you, Allison, had an idea that someone else took credit for, or how many times has someone or one of our other colleagues who has just been directly ignored for an opportunity or a role or a part in the conversation, and maybe it’s these kind of casual things where someone can say, “Oh, that wasn’t my intent. I’m really sorry,” but then keep on keeping on.

And so one of the big things, I think my takeaway for Jane in this role of how we manage and lead conflict is to present the idea potentially that kind of behavior, that kind of, “Well, I’m sorry,” and then you’ve been forgiven, is a big part of the problem. And so I wonder, investigating in the workspace where these casual statements of undermining, how can we win together, as opposed to when I’m winning, I’m on stage, I kind of say, “Now I’m here and I’m going to make sure everyone else is thrown under the bus.”

Allison Barr:

Right. And you and I talked about if you got into an altercation with somebody in the cafeteria, as an example, right, and then later our organization gave you an award, those 2 things can exist at the same time. You can make a mistake and also be incredible at your job and be deserving of that award. And so I think it’s about understanding and focusing on the problem at hand and not necessarily addressing that problem to the whole person. However, at the same time, understanding the difference between intention and impact. Sometimes interpersonal conflict has an impact that is life-changing for people. And so it’s tricky. It’s very tricky. How do you resolve that?

You and I also talked about centering and I think  in any conflict, even if I’m having a conflict with another White woman, and I say, “Susan, when you said X, I felt devastated.” If Susan centers herself, that could sound like, “Well, I’m devastated too,” and then it takes away from the person who was hurt in that moment. And that happens in all kinds of conversations. And it gets very, very complex when you’re starting to talk about conversations of sexism, racism, homophobia, all of those.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. And thanks for that. And I think it’d be important too, for folks to hear a little bit more around this concept of centering. And if you could explain it for someone who might be hearing it for the first time or might have heard it by another term, could you round that out for us? I think that’d be really helpful.

Allison Barr:

Sure. Did you say you want me to do it?

Ren Washington:

Yeah.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. Explain it. Okay. And then you chime in, of course, if I’ve missed something.

Ren Washington:

For sure.

Allison Barr:

Centering means that instead of listening to understand somebody else, we become defensive and derail that conversation by sharing either our own perspective or our own hurt. This can also happen without being defensive, by the way. It’s an attempt to protect our privilege and make ourselves feel comfortable when talking to someone in a marginalized community, for example. For me, it could sound like, “Well, I’m a woman too. I’m also marginalized.” But in comparison to someone like Serena Williams, the obstacles that I face are pale in comparison. So anyhow, centering gives a clear indication that you are not in fact listening — however, upholding the same exact structure that marginalizes people in the first place.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Thank you. No, nail on the head. I just thought it would be important for those who maybe are less familiar as we think too and we see it all the time. I love the intent versus impact. It’s one of my favorite things that we talk about in our programs around this idea that what you intended to do is one thing and the impact of your actions and others is an entirely different thing. And how often we, as people, just judge ourselves on our intent. And I think that’s the root of centering. I think immediately after Will Smith, the thing happened with him, whether or not he was doing some centering, there seemed to be some centering around the reasons of why. Around, why he did that, and why maybe he stood up in the event that he did or the way that he did.

And very quickly to me, it seemed like the impact got lost of the situation where a man stood up, walked on stage, hit another person, walked off stage in that scenario and almost in an area where there was no reprisal too. I was listening to someone say he turned his back on a person that he just hit and rarely in any kind of conflict situation that elevated would you turn your back on someone that you just struck. But I mean, it was on the stage in the Oscars. What’s Chris Rock going to do? I guess, really play into an already amplified stereotype?

So anyway, it was just interesting. I think this proclivity, this rush to defend ourselves and maybe too, when we’re trying to manage people through elevated conflict, or if I’m verbally yelling at someone or demeaning someone in the workspace, helping me understand the impact of my behaviors, as opposed to debating its validity or its righteousness, I think is really important, because there’s plenty of people I think who would look at Will’s Smith’s behavior and be like, “Well, he’s defending his wife. He was doing what men do in America,” or something. I don’t know. It seems awfully archaic in the behavior, but whether or not, I don’t want to get in an argument about the validity of it. I want to get in the argument around the impact of the behavior and to inform how we might have a different behavior.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. And I think we also need to understand that sometimes asking the recipient to explain why it was harmful is also centering. I don’t think that’s what you meant in what you just said. However, it’s important to talk about that too. If I harm a Black woman, and then ask her to explain to me why what I did was harmful, again, I’m upholding that structure of centering the White person, right? It would be my job to educate myself and ask maybe an ally or somebody else who has education in this space to help me understand it. It’s my job to apologize. And then a proper apology comes with changed behavior. And that’s how you rebuild trust with changed behavior.

Ren Washington:

Well, I want to explore that with you a little bit because it could sound like you would suggest never to ask someone why something bothered them.

Allison Barr:

Well, I didn’t say never.

Ren Washington:

Yes, fair. You didn’t say never.

Allison Barr:

Oh gosh. It depends. I hate that I keep saying that.

Ren Washington:

That’s our favorite thing here though. It does depend.

Allison Barr:

I know it does. Here’s the thing. If I harmed you and I said, “I’m so sorry,” and you said to me, “I want you to understand this deeper,” I would be all ears, and I’m talking about if I microagressed you, I would never expect you to explain that to me. And if you wanted to, I would listen, a thousand percent. And you and I have an established, I think, relationship where we do have trust. And I think the conversation might look a little different than if I were your manager or you were my manager for that matter and we didn’t have a friendly rapport.

Ren Washington:

And are you saying that you wouldn’t broach the topic that way because of who you are? Or if you just saying generally that would be your advice for someone, let’s say someone who’s less maybe, less familiar with the education around this topic. I feel like you probably have a lifted onus on your shoulders, because you’re more aware. Let’s say someone who’s a little bit less aware, like someone who doesn’t understand the emotional implications of, “Wow, your hair looks nice today,” to a Black woman or, “Can I touch your hair?” to a Black woman, right. Let’s say they don’t really understand the implications of that. Is there ever space for that person to seek education or seek explanation from that person? Or maybe like you said, maybe the job is to actually go do some of your research, then come back and say, “Hey, I realize now what I did, how it could have impacted you. Can you help me understand now?” I don’t know. Where do you fall on that continuum?

Allison Barr:

Where I fall on that continuum is, if I’ve marginalized somebody in a different marginalized community, like you just said. I’m a woman. I technically am in a marginalized community, if you want to get technical here. However, Black women experience deeper layers of marginalization. And so, if I harm or oppress a Black woman, I personally would never ask them to explain it to me. I am saying never. I would never ask them to explain it to me.

Ren Washington:

As a representative of another marginalized group?

Allison Barr:

Correct.

Ren Washington:

Okay.

Allison Barr:

Yeah.

Ren Washington:

Because-

Allison Barr:

Because then it furthers the focus on the White… It centers the White person’s feelings, it centers my feelings, and not that woman, when I did the harm. I did the harm and so the focus should be on me repairing the harm, and that could look like me educating myself, but not by way of their energy.

Ren Washington:

Right. So the focus should be repairing the harm, rather than the issue as opposed to seeking explanation about why it’s an issue.

Allison Barr:

Exactly.

Ren Washington:

Seeking explanation about why it’s an issue first is maybe is like, that is the centering behavior.

Allison Barr:

Yes.

Ren Washington:

Even though it could be veiled as something that would be like air quoting here, “thoughtful” or “right,” you’re like, “Oh, well I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…” Help you understand why, when actually maybe it should be more of a, just like you say, try to address the issue, as opposed to learning more about why it’s a problem.

Allison Barr:

Exactly. And I just want to be clear. I am absolutely saying that you should apologize while you’re at it. I’m not saying skirt away from that as quickly as you can and go educate yourself. I am saying, apologize, educate yourself, and change your behavior. Changed behavior is the best thing you can do and we’re talking about conversations around marginalized communities.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Perfect. I’m curious what happens on a tighter timeline.

Allison Barr:

What do mean?

Ren Washington:

You used an example earlier around so if I slap someone in the cafeteria but they were going to give me an award later, there’d be complexity. Both things can happen at the same time. I could be deserving of the reward, and I could have also done that poor behavior. But what if I was getting a reward that day or literally 30 minutes later. Let’s put ourselves into the Academy’s shoes or to the Critics Choice Awards’ shoes for Jane Campion, or whatever, or an any system or person or manager or structure that has to hold people accountable for their behavior. What do you think the leaders of the Academy should have done after that event happened? Is that a fair question? We’re not really getting into territory of it, I’m just asking, what do you think the Academy should have done after one of their members struck another one of their members?

Allison Barr:

Okay. Ren, with all the love in my heart, I don’t think I’m the right person to be commenting on that. So let’s turn it back.

Ren Washington:

Okay.

Allison Barr:

Can we turn it back to you? Use this hypothetical of you?

Ren Washington:

Yes.

Allison Barr:

I would, first, if you slap Joe Schmo in the cafeteria, first, don’t expect Joe Schmo to be giving you a standing ovation, right? But seriously, allow him to be fully not in your corner around that. And this would be a case of something that was probably decided a while ago based on your performance. And we wouldn’t take that away from you necessarily in the moment. However, if it were me in charge, I would then want to talk to Joe Schmo and be like, “What would make you feel good? Tell me. What do you think would remedy this and let’s have a conversation about it.” I’m not agreeing to anything that he says. But it is like, “What would repair this for you? What would repair this for you?” And he might say something like, “I just need Ren to apologize.” And that’s great. We can, well maybe we can do that.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Who knows? But I might be throwing more hands.

Allison Barr:

Maybe. I don’t know.

Ren Washington:

I don’t know if I… That one’s tough for me. When I saw the whole thing going down, I thought to myself, “Well, wow, all right, getting an award and everyone’s clapping.” And I thought, “Okay, let’s see if I was in those shoes, would I even have gone up to accept the award?” I wonder now of course, I could have this faux piety now because we’re just having this conversation over the internet. But I wonder maybe the response isn’t just to pretend like nothing happened. In fact, I would say using our scenario, if I did that, there would have to be some kind of an immediate, an addressing of it. And I think if you were in a situation like that as a manager or a leader where if someone did something way off-base where someone did something that maybe they’re not hitting people in the workspace, but where someone did something that’s really against our employee guidebook or against the norms that we set as a team, I don’t know if I could just let that thing slide until we rebound from the shock and maybe that’s where I’m getting at.

I think that I love the idea of talking to Joe and asking him how he feels and what he thinks. I love the idea of just considering it in the plan for what’s next. But I think sometimes behaviors like that warrant some kind of an indefinite pause. Yes, you still get the reward, but you get to accept it in front of a room full of people who are going to then… I don’t know, applaud like saying that it was okay with what happened?

Allison Barr:

Yeah. I mean, I think those are all important things to consider and I would like you to consider that. Okay. So excluding physical violence because that feels a little bit more obvious to me. But these kinds of verbal violence lights happen at the workplace every day, every single day. And literally nothing’s done about it. So it’s, again, people need to understand, you’ve said this before Ren, the weight that words have and the impact that can come from that. And just because somebody doesn’t speak up about it, does not mean that harm hasn’t happened.

Ren Washington:

Well, maybe as you say, these verbal slights and abuses happen in the workplace all the time. Maybe it’s because they’re not addressed. Maybe it’s because people stand in rooms, hand people awards, and they applaud them. And then that person’s looks around and goes, “Well, my behavior seems to be working.” It’s like when we don’t give anyone feedback. Then it’s reasonable for them to look around at their behavior and say, “Well, I don’t know. Am I doing a good job? Well, Allison hasn’t told me I’m not doing a good job. So maybe I am.” And I wonder then if these verbal slights or these verbal abuses are the things that feed into conflict, not just a disagreement or a perceived disagreement on ideas, for that in interpersonal conflict that rots a team or really starts to hurt people interpersonally.

Maybe the opportunity is, if I’m a manager or a person and I hear someone bash a team member or belittle them, that there is some kind of reprisal and maybe that has to come down with the social contract. We have to agree what interpersonal conflict looks like and then what happens when we cross that line?

Allison Barr:

Yeah. I feel like, honestly, feel like we should do a part 2 to this because there’s so much more to talk about because, gosh, in some levels you’d want your team to be able to rectify interpersonal conflict on their own in theory, right. Again, depending on severity, you and I should be able to remedy conflict because you and I have the same position and in theory we wouldn’t have to pull in the bigger bus. But however, if it’s severe and one of us is creating a hostile environment for the other, then that’s very different. You can’t expect your workers to address that. It’s unrealistic and it’s unfair. And so there’s varying levels. And so I think you’re right. Agreeing on conflict is important. I used to work for a company where it was a very clear policy that you do not gossip about your peers. And if you do, you will be terminated and people were terminated for that.

Ren Washington:

Terminated.

Allison Barr:

Terminated.

Ren Washington:

Okay.

Allison Barr:

Yep.

Ren Washington:

I guess you had to sign that employee contract when you came in?

Allison Barr:

I don’t remember signing it, but I’m sure I did. And so then it comes down to, “Well, define gossip.” It’s so tricky, right? Again, I’m getting a little bit into the weeds here, but gossip is when you’re sharing details about somebody’s life that are private and et cetera, et cetera, or slandering them. But gossip is not like, “Hey, I talked to Ren today and he is tired.” I don’t know. That’s not gossip. So conflict is something that I suppose needs to be defined, but also understood that there are varying levels. So how do you create continuity around how you address it? That’s hard.

Ren Washington:

I think you’re right. And I think maybe we do have to have one of these topic-specific episodes where if we really dig into some of the nuance around conflict, because I think I love the idea of defining it now. I think of it, “Geez, gossip and I’m fired. I mean, I don’t even get a strike.” To me that’s a little harsh, but if I read the paperwork and I’m told that that’s what I’m signing up for, then I think if I agree to that, there’s something to be warranted. And maybe that puts me to my major takeaway of all of this stuff.

When I think about award season and whether it be Jane or Will or anyone, I think… We were talking about this the other day, like resilient organizations. Organizations that stand the test of time that go through all of these pain points. They tend to have something in common, which is they identify potential challenges and they identify the next bad thing that’s going to happen. And then they put redundancies in place for when that bad thing happens.

So when something happens, it’s not really like the shock and then the quick reaction. It’s the shock and then, “Okay, let’s deploy our plan.” I think the same thing has to be true for conflict management or professionalism or when we have these situations come up, it’s how can you as a team member or a leader be prepared? Have conversations around, “What is our response going to be if Ren is cursing someone out in the cafeteria?” Well, I don’t like this image. I’m really generous and kind to everybody, but what happens if Ren is cursing out the student in the cafeteria? Okay, well we know that we have these redundancies in place or these are the things that have to happen and being ready and prepared for more people get into the conversation. And we talk a lot around how can we democratize leadership development? How can we get more people into the conversation, get more people access to our content?

Well, as more people get involved, we have to have more plans about how to deal with inevitable conflict points. And so be prepared, have those systems of what to do when we butt heads? How are we supposed to operate? I think that’s crucial for general leadership effectiveness and managing these kind of things.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. I would agree. I don’t want to be too repetitive about what you just said. And I would add that you and I talked about this the other day too. We expect adults to come to the workplace and act professionally. And what does professional even mean? And we’re human beings. Human beings are going to have conflict. And again, there’s varying levels of conflict. And so to your point, it’s important to acknowledge the perhaps more extreme levels of conflict and have a plan in place for how you’re going to navigate those. And for the more subtle conflicts that happen, and I am addressing my fellow White women here, as a White woman, myself, really important to expand your advocacy to include all women from all different types of backgrounds. So I’m really big on educating yourself. And I’ll give you a couple of my favorite educators too, in that space, but there’s a whole plea and a movement to support women at the workplace.

There’s amazing research around what happens at organizations when women are elevated. However, we need to make sure we’re including all women in that, and understanding all backgrounds. So a couple of my favorite educators there are Rachel Cargill, Bell Hooks is a must-read, Mikki Kendall’s a must-read, Blair Imani, also a must-read, and there’s probably a thousand more. But sometimes that interpersonal conflict can be in the form of a quick statement in a meeting that has a tremendous impact. So I would say understanding impact, the difference between intention and impact can be really very important as well. And so, I think when, again, like, I feel like this is a topic we could talk about for another hour and a half. So perhaps we’ll do a part 2 or something. Either way, I appreciate you. And I appreciate this conversation and-

Ren Washington:

Yeah, it was great to see you again.

Allison Barr:

To our listeners, you can find all of the links to our podcast, our show notes on ccl.org. You can also find us on LinkedIn. Let us know what you want us to talk about. Do you want an episode on conflict?

And a special thanks to the marketing team, and Ryan, and Emily, who is in another country supporting us, and Allyson, who’s doing a lot of work behind the scenes to make this happen. And we’ll look forward to talking next time.

Ren Washington:

That’s right. Thanks Allison. See you next time.

 

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