Employing Differences

Employing Differences, Episode 37: What's your take (on professionalism)?

January 26, 2021 Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis
Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 37: What's your take (on professionalism)?
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Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 37: What's your take (on professionalism)?
Jan 26, 2021
Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis

"In a setting where money is being exchanged, where work is being done, we've been trained – we've been enculturated – to believe that we're supposed to only interact in these formal ways."

Listen on the website and read the transcript

Watch this episode on YouTube

Show Notes Transcript

"In a setting where money is being exchanged, where work is being done, we've been trained – we've been enculturated – to believe that we're supposed to only interact in these formal ways."

Listen on the website and read the transcript

Watch this episode on YouTube

Paul:

Welcome to Employing Differences, a conversation about exploring the collaborative space between individuals.

Karen:

I'm Karen Gimnig.

Paul:

And I'm Paul Tevis.

Karen:

Each episode, we start with a question and see where it takes us. This week's question is, "What's your take?" And this time around, I get to ask Paul his take. So Paul, I've been noticing in a couple of recent client interactions, that there have been these sort of sweet spaces where for one reason or another, I shared some personal experience, maybe a more personal or previous failure or things that I wouldn't normally just without thinking throw out at clients, probably. And I've just got me thinking about kind of what's the level of sort of personal professionalism in that sort of client space? And I'm curious what you think about that?

Paul:

Yeah. So I've been thinking a lot about this, too. Because, and this is partly because I'm reading a lot of Edgar Schein's latest books. And thinking about this idea of how do we provide help? How do we show up as individuals? How do we treat people as individuals? And so I think a lot of where this notion of professionalism comes from, I think is rooted in a lot of our ideas about Taylorism and scientific management, and the mechanistic ways of thinking about organizations. That it's just the roles that are interacting with each other. The problem is that anytime that you're dealing with something that is messy, complex, challenging, that sort of mechanistic approach isn't sufficient. And so what Edgar Schein talks a lot about and I have seen this to really true that we have to develop a certain level of trust with each other, in order to be able to work together effectively. And that requires seeing each other as actual people, not just roles. And so yeah, there is that piece of navigating, how much is appropriate to disclose? How human do you let yourself be seen in a particular situation? So I'm curious, what are the kinds of things that you've been doing and how have they landed? How have they been received?

Karen:

Yeah, so so one of the things that came up was, so I work a lot with cohousing communities, as you know. And so these are folks who not only share some work together, but they actually live together as neighbors. It's been described as being married to 50 people, which it's not quite like being married to 50 people, but you definitely are in closer than usual relationships. And you live next door to them, so you're kind of invested. There's that. So I think there's a level of intensity that comes with that. But I had a client recently say, "Well, has this ever happened to you, when you lived in, you know, like when you were in community?" and and saying, "Well, yeah, it did." And, and honestly, a lot of the sort of professional skills, like a lot of what I know that I can tell to other communities like, this is a pain point, or this is a thing that might happen, I learned because I did it all wrong when I moved into community. I hadn't done that before. And, and I hadn't done my Imago training when I moved in, and various other things. So there were a lot of like things I wouldn't do the same now, or things that maybe I would do like I learned that that thing didn't work from being in that situation and I tried to thing and I'm like, "Huh, that works. That's a better way to do it than that other thing that I've tried." So it was sort of some storytelling around some of those experiences. And, and the response was really positive. People liked it. I think it felt more real. I think there's a way in which what I am suggesting to folks, which is fundamentally vulnerable, fundamentally setting aside that competitive survival strategy that we've all learned and grown up with. And I'm saying, "If you want to be in close, connected relationship, you got to set aside a lot of that." And you can't just say, "You have to do this thing bcause it's the right way." Like if you want to change someone's behavior, you want to show up and say, "Would you do this thing because I would like you to." Which is a much scarier thing. And so there is this sort of, "Okay, sure, Karen, but we've never seen that done before." And so I think there is a way in which sharing the personal stories doesn't land.

Paul:

I think one of the places that professionalism comes from is there are times when we feel that in order to be seen as an expert, we need to be somehow removed from the group. "I am here, I have this knowledge, we're going to interact in a very formal way." And when we are holding ourselves as an expert, that is often where we create that professionalism. Because you think about it, like, there are a lot of experts that we interact with in completely formal ways, particularly in modern American culture. Doctors, lawyers, government officials, like we are used to there is this it's, I'm interacting with you in some in a lot of situations that's entirely appropriate to to think about the what are the examples that again, that Edgar Schein gives, he says, when you go to the doctor, the doctor is going to ask you all kinds of personal questions. You are not entitled to ask those same questions of the doctor. There's an asymmetry in the relationship. But the thing what a lot of research has shown is that when we interact in that purely formal way, we will often when we're interacting with experts, in that purely formal way we will sometimes withhold information that could be valuable. And so the the point is that if your doctor expresses interest in you as a person, you are actually much more likely to be honest with your answers, and you're much more likely to actually provide the information that they need. And so even though it's still not appropriate for you to ask those questions of them. So I think for for us as consultants, when we're working with our clients, we often come into this space where we go, "Well, I'm the expert. And so I'm being brought here for my knowledge." And we will fall into that very formal role. The thing is that when we do that, in that same way, people won't always be forthcoming with all of the information that is actually useful. This also ties in again, with a lot of Amy Edmondson research about psychological safety, about how when formal managers, formal leaders in organizations interact with their people, as human beings as whole humans, it builds trust and confidence, which means that people are more likely to speak up when there's a problem. That only happens when we interact as whole humans. And in order to do that, particularly when there's a status differential which exists both when you're brought in as an outside expert and also when you're in a formal management role the easiest way to facilitate that happening is for you, to start to reveal more about yourself. To be vulnerable, to reveal more than just that formal relationship would indicate that you should. So I think it's incredibly valuable for us to do if we actually want to be helpful to the groups and the clients that we're working with.

Karen:

The other thing that comes up for me, as you're saying, that was something that we learned in teacher school, which is that the importance of peer teaching. Because there's this thing that happens so if I'm the expert, I'm this highly trained, and I have all of this expertise, and I am so much better than all of you, because I'm such an expert. And then I say, "Well, look, you can do this thing." And the tendency is to go, "Well, yeah, you can do it. Because you've had all that training, and you're such an expert," or, you know, if you're talking about kids, it's like, "Well, yeah, you're a grown-up, you can do it." But that doesn't tell me that I can do it. It doesn't empower me to do it. And what is much more empowering is to learn it from a peer. Oh, there's somebody like me, and they can do it. And you know, maybe they're a couple years older, if you're a kid, or maybe they've had a bit more experience, but they're within reach. I have a sense that they're a peer. And then I believe that I can do the thing that they can do. And so I think there may be a piece of this, that by revealing more of myself and seeming more like them more like the folks that I'm with, which inevitiably I am very much like the folks I'm with, that it probably makes the skills I'm modeling and suggesting seem more attainable.

Paul:

Yeah. And I think that the it really is that we're what happens when we and I think what's kind of behind your whole question about, "What's going on with this professionalism thing" is we're not used to that it's a it's a breach of, of our norms, to move from that formal, that that purely role based interaction, to a human-to-human interaction in a professional setting. In a setting where money is being exchanged, where work is being done, we've been trained we've been enculturated to believe that we're supposed to only interact in these formal ways. And I think that's where some of that resistance comes from. But it means it can also make it potentially uncomfortable for the people that you're now revealing stuff about yourself, because they may go, "Well, does she want me to tell her about my stuff?" So I think you have to feel your way through it. Navigating the the appropriate level of disclosure, in order to create closer connection is the real challenge.

Karen:

I think there's a piece to that sort of getting aware of where is that instinct towards professionalism coming from? And in the realm of revealing the personal in a professional environment, for me, there's certainly a piece of "Am I really as good as they think I am? Am I really worth what they're paying me? Do I really have that?" And so let me put on my suit jacket, and let me put on my role and let me do everything possible so that they don't realize that I'm not as good as they think I am. Or don't see my weaknesses and reject or don't regret having hired me. Like all of that gets pulled in there. If I can sort of note, "Oh, that's what I'm feeding. Yeah, that that's not don't don't go there." But if I'm feeding, "I gotta hold it together because it's my job to hold space here." I can't fall apart because I'm doing my own emotional work on their dime. That's a reason to stay more professional and less personal. So I think you're right, that it's tracking, like, what actually works in the situation.

Paul:

Yeah. And that pointing to what's behind it, I think is really key. Am I actually doing this because I believe it will serve them? Or am I doing this because I need it for myself? That's something that is very resonant for me. When I was going through my coaching certification, one of the things we got through is supervision, which is where you record when you're working with a group, and then your supervisor reviews it with you, and you go through and see. And they ask a lot of questions about like, "So why did you do that? What were you thinking about when you did that?" One of the big themes that came up in supervision for me, was my need to appear competent. And I was telling myself, "Well, I was doing that, because that way, the group will have confidence in me." And what I eventually realized was no, it was because the stories I was telling myself about how I didn't really know this stuff. Like I didn't want to be found out. I didn't want them to think I'm a fraud. And as soon as I was able to recognize that I was able to start letting it go. So that's very resonant for me.

Karen:

And I feel like for me, there was a balance of like, so I can still wear the suit jacket and I'll just know that I'm wearing it for me. Not because they care whether I'm wearing this jacket. But okay, if that helps me feel comfortable and let go of some of this, then, okay, I can do that. But also getting used to the idea of, you know, they did hire me. They're not idiots. These are smart, professional, capable people who hired me. There must be a reason. And I have a thing to bring. So yeah, it's it's the all of that, I think. And I think what we're getting to is a word we use a lot, which is that discernment. It's not always the right thing to bring in your personal stories is what I'm hearing, but it's often the right thing, and that our sort of societal brainwashing has been don't. So we want to resist the don't.

Paul:

Yeah, start small, right? What's a little thing? And what's a little thing you can get curious about with them that's not threatening? Not just disclosing your own, but getting curious about what's going on with them. But in a way that's kind of if you think about where is the line of formality of appropriate level of professionalism. What's a thing that you can do that is just to the other side of that, to start to nudge it? And same thing with when you're disclosing stuff, when you're being vulnerable. Don't jump all the way to your deepest, darkest secrets. Start with what do I think might just be on the other side in this situation. Try it, see what happens and then you can slowly move it over time. So I think, that's that's really my take on it is how can you start to move those boundaries safely and slowly and navigate them in a way that people eventually are comfortable with.

Karen:

Makes a lot of sense. Thank you.

Paul:

Absolutely.

Karen:

I think that's gonna do it for us today, and until next time, I'm Karen Gimnig.

Paul:

And I'm Paul Tevis. This has been Employing Differences.