Episode 08: This week we’re talking to Becca Bartholomew.
We talked about:
• Ensuring all voices are included in planning processes
• Why it is important for leaders to not only have intelligence but also have emotional intelligence and somatic intelligence
• What the buffering sign on your computer has to tell us about today’s work environment
Barry Oshrey’s Tops, Middles and Bottoms
Ladder of Inference:
Your Body is Your Brain by Amanda Blake
A facilitator and coach with expertise in organization development (OD), Becca has extensive experience working with groups and individuals to foster communication and effective collaboration among diverse stakeholders. Becca helps her clients implement strategies that increase their emotional intelligence and efficacy. She is known for her clear communication, innate ability to foster trust, and firm, yet gentle approach to helping others recognize their blind spots and engage specific tools to articulate and reach their goals. She gracefully supports her clients toward self-reflection, new learning and increased awareness of their impact on others. She works with leaders of all types and has a special passion for those newer to leadership as well as those who hold societal privilege and want to address their roles in upholding and then dismantling systems of oppression.
Carol Hamilton: Welcome Becca to the podcast. Great to have you on.
Becca Bartholmew: Thanks for having me.
Carol: Just to kind of give people some context and get us started. Could you just describe kind of what drew you to the work that you do and, and how describe your journey to where you are now?
Becca: Sure. I'll give you the abbreviated version. I really feel like what I'm doing now has brought together a whole bunch of threads of my life into one place. It's a really inspiring, invigorating place to be. I am the third generation in my family to be doing organizational development work.
That's what exposed me to that human systems piece of what I do. I also spent a long time working in public health and sustainable agriculture, mostly in the nonprofit and academic sector, which has given me a continued learning journey around social justice and issues that I was working on at a systems perspective there.
I've always, my whole life, had a really strong interest in dance and movement and yoga and that sort of thing. And so now I feel like in the work that I do, which is mostly around supporting human systems, to be better at whatever it is they're trying to do. Especially around the communication within that system and the functionality within that system, I take a whole person and whole system perspective on that. Not just working with the mind, but working with other aspects of the whole being. It was sort of all these different interests of mine coming together into one place. I would just add to that is it was being in human systems. And then again, seeing things that I had sort of heard growing up that happen often in human systems, like we're humans, we have human tendencies and just seeing those things has inspired me to make the jump from public health, into really working with the systems rather than within the systems.
Carol: Can you give me an example of what one of those things were that you were like, “I remember them talking about that and now I'm seeing it.”
Becca: So, there's a lot of talk about people working either on or in their business or their organization. Sometimes we're so much in it that we forget to work on it.
We talk about process and we talk about content and sometimes people are so engrossed in the content that they forget to pay attention to the process and process can be relationships. It can be the processes for how information flows for the timeline, for projects, whatever it might be, the structures and processes, both interpersonal and organizational, that support what's going on.
I remember working in an organization and there was this person who came in and she went through this whole workshop with us about how to create work plans, start with activities and things that we wanted to do, and make these big plans. And then my boss said, “make a draft plan for our organization.”
I remember this so specifically because I went away with my family that week, but it was really important that it be done. So, I agreed to do it while I was away. I worked on it a lot while my family was down swimming in the lake and then I came back and I gave it to my boss and never heard anything.
Oh, it was just crickets. It was just an example to me of even when we're trying, we don't always follow through; those things sit on the shelf or in the email inbox and just never really get enacted within the organization.
Carol: From what you've learned looking back on that, what might you have said to the leader, how you might have done it, approached it differently considering your perspective now.
Becca: Great question. What I'm working on now in my life, and I think it relates to this, is getting really clear on my own boundaries and also exploring other people's expectations as much as possible. I think I would have had more of an upfront conversation with my boss: “What does this look like?”; “How do you want it to be”; “what's really important about this” and then, “what will be done with this once I finish it?” and can we put the meetings on our calendar now for the time we're going to talk about this and this and this.
I was younger then, and less experienced. I didn't really have the same initiative to make sure that this happens because, after all, it's my time and the organization's time, and I don't want to waste either.
Carol: Yeah. I also remember being on a board one time where I had raised the issue of the organization doing strategic planning and the Executive Director said, “well, why don't you go write a strategic plan?”
And I was kind of like, wait a second, that's not how it works. I could go do that but it wouldn't be at all useful because it wouldn't be informed by everyone in the group. How they're thinking about it. And, really sometimes the plan itself is a useful product, but the process is also such an important part of having all those conversations, thinking about what is our direction and what are our goals of having all those conversations. In a lot of ways, to me, it is even more important than what ends up on the page. Although that also is important, people want to see that it's actually used so that they don't feel like it was just a lot of hot air and a waste of time.
Becca: Yeah, it makes me also think about why I know a lot about design thinking and it makes me think about even within that process, not only is it important for buy-in and engagement, but there are things, especially that we don't always know about depending on where we are in the organization. Unless we're pulling from all angles, back to the organization through that process, we might miss something and in design thinking, there's that concept of bringing in sort of the smart but naive other person who doesn't have all the information about whatever's being talked about and really having that person there to ask questions and get clarification and guidance.
Pulling from that, I was just doing a leadership training the other day, and we were talking about Barry Oshrey's concept of Tops, Middles, and Bottoms within an organization, and how Tops feel really lonely and isolated and burdened because they have to make all the decisions about everything, and Middles in an organization feel kind of pulled between the Tops and Bottom. So, they're managing people below them, but then they're responding to the people above them. And then often the people at the bottom, I don't necessarily love the terms Top, Middle, Bottoms, but it's your hand and gives you kind of a visceral, real example of feeling of what this is, and the Bottoms, often feel like they have no idea what's going on, that they're at the whim of the manager of the Middle or the Top, and just kind of there without knowing. Really bringing all three of those levels into a strategic planning process or any planning process is really important. Well, also being clear - who are the Tops that have the decision-making power; I've seen in some nonprofits who are really trying to have a flat structure where everybody's important. Yes, that's true, but there needs to be clear leadership so you can have a clear process for gathering information, then it needs to be clear how the decision is going to be made: Who's going to be making the decision and the timeline for that upfront.
Carol: I totally agree. I think sometimes, with the notion that boards should drive the strategy for an organization, there's this tendency to, and kind of also a sense of, let's make it more manageable, so we'll have less people involved and then you miss all of those perspectives, but then as you said, so important for folks who are leading the process to also say, “We're gathering input from all these different groups, the board and senior staff, or whatever group it is, is ultimately tasked with finalizing the plan, approving the plan.
They are the ultimate decision makers. So getting clear and being clear about that decision making process is really key, too, as you can have lots of involvement, but if you don't that piece, you can actually demoralize people because they thought that they had equal say in this and then something that they were very passionate about doesn't emerge in the final plan and they wonder, “well, what was that for? “What was the point about, we're taking input from lots of people, but not everything's got to get in there for one, it's not going to be Christmas tree ornaments for everybody but also who's actually making the final decision.
Becca: Yeah, absolutely.
Carol: And, one of the areas that you focus on is somatics and leadership. Can you define what somatics is first? And then we'll talk a little bit about how that shows up in leadership.
Becca: Somatics comes from the word Soma, which is body. It's about the body within leadership. I really love ,there's a great book called Your Body is Your Brain by Amanda Blake. She talks about three concepts. I have it here because I always mix them up. So, Xterra exception, proprioception and interception.
Xterra, if you think about X, like external, that's our, our five senses. So, seeing and touching and hearing and smelling and tasting all of that is our Xterra reception. We're gathering information in three different ways and responding to information in three different ways. Then there's our appropriate section, which is our awareness of where we are in space. You might also tie that to sort of leadership presence, how are you using your body in space? Are you standing firm? Are your shoulders standing broad and relaxed? Exactly, are you clear in your stance? And then interception is the part where I think it gets the most exciting and juicy, but it's all important. That's sort of the internal, physiological, gut feeling or my heart. Some people think it's kind of woo, woo but it's not because there's a real physiology going on and your body often knows things before your brain knows them. Literally your Vagus nerve. Connects right from your gut to your brain, bypasses the cognitive part of your brain and goes right to the instinctual part of your brain and often you're taking in information and making a decision about it at a sub cognitive level, it's sort of your flight fight, flight freeze, animalistic instinct level before your cognition is even aware of it. The more we can become aware of our internal feeling sense, the more powerful we can be as leaders because we're using both levels of our intelligence, our emotional intelligence, as well as what I call our somatic intelligence, our bodies data gathering and processing.
Carol: As you know, science learns more and more about this, the whole notion that we're mind, body and spirit, that there are three separate things. It's really all one. Right. The body, your brain is part of your body, so it seems kind of obvious, but at the same time we experience it ourselves as a different thing. So, it's really interesting. So much of our culture has a kind of demonized feeling - like set your feelings at the door. We're professional beings with this professional meaning, and what's this leader mean? All of those things, I think sometimes what people think about, disconnects a lot of those pieces.
Becca: Absolutely. If you think about it, think about when you're in a really energetic mood or in a really tired or depressed or sad. Just a run-down mood and how much work you can get done or not get done, or have responsive in a way that takes care of relationships in a positive way you are, or you aren't depending on how your internal state is. And we're not taught in this culture to pay attention to those things. I mean, I have a six-and-a-half-year-old and I try to remember to engage with my kid about, “Oh, are you feeling this?” “I see that you're angry” or, “I see that you're frustrated” and kind of name emotions so that he can start to work with those things and at the same time, it's just not talked about. There's a line, not necessarily an advocate for bringing everything in the door and to the table at work. While I want the whole person to be there, but not necessarily all of the person. It's like the integrated wholeness of the person is able to show up and that person is able to manage what needs to be in the room and what doesn't need to be in the room. I used to joke that the definition for me of maturity is knowing when to be immature and when not. So, it's not being mature all the time. It's knowing when to bring it in when not to. And I think it's the same thing about emotional intelligence, somatic intelligence, any of this, we need our emotions and we need our gut instinct. Yet we haven't been taught to cultivate and manage them.
Carol: Yeah. And then that brings it up to mind kind of what you were talking about before in terms of setting boundaries and having appropriate boundaries. When our culture was kind of first exploring all this in the sixties and seventies, it was this let it all hang out, whatever, and learning over time that actually doesn't work at all, and it can be very detrimental to relationships. Being able to not only recognize, but manage emotions and manage your response as an adult, is a lot of what that's about.
Becca: Yeah. I think this bridges sort of into the diversity, equity, inclusion conversation because when I think about the whole person it's mind, body, spirit, emotions, and identity. So those five aspects: we need our mind, we need our body, we need our emotions, our spirit, or our values. However you want to define that for yourself. And then our identity is really important. All of the social identity aspects of who we are, whether that's race or gender or gender identity or sexual orientation or religion. There's a whole plethora of them. That's another piece we need to be able to bring our whole identity to work and we need leaders who are creating systems and environments where the diversity of those identities is able to thrive and be included and engaged with and valued. Often there's a leave that part of your identity at the door and I do think that bringing whole identity to work is important, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're talking all about various aspects of it if it's not relevant to the work at hand.
Carol: I wonder whether people in a dominant position or a leadership position and in a white dominant culture or whether people even realize that they're asking. They're assuming that people will leave those identities at the door and show up in a way that fits what's perceived in the dominant culture as kind of the right way to be at work.
Becca: Absolutely. And I think there are shifts happening in some spaces. Obviously we have a greater awareness around this as a country with the Black Lives Matter movement and other aspects but I think there's a long way to go. To me, this is what ties into the somatic intelligence work. I really think that leaders need to get good at noticing what's coming up for them when they start to engage in these spaces because a lot of times it can be scary. You don't want to get into legal trouble and you don't want to offend someone. So often people end up not even stepping into this space and not even having the conversation. It's really about doing as people who have what we call dominant identities, which is this white Christian male who’s heterosexual. There are a range of dominant identities in our American culture. Those of us with them need to do some work to realize that we have them and what it means.
It's not necessarily a problem that we have them. It is what it is. We need to realize that it is what it is, and then begin to work with it and ask ourselves, what are our values? What do I want to be seeing? What do I want my organization to be like? And, how can I play a role in creating that?
Carol: What kind of steps do you think if people, if leaders want to start stepping into this work, that they can start taking?
Becca: The first step might just be mapping your own identities. Identity maps - put yourself in the middle, draw a circle, and a bunch of lines coming off of that. Think about all of those aspects that make you who you are.
Whether it's where you are in your sibling order. If you have siblings, the economic situation that you have, grew up in, and are in now; your education level, your race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, a range of all those. Once you write that map of who you are, then look through them and try to label, which are done, I'm in it and which aren't. Then take some time with each of those and think, okay, what makes this dominant? How is the world set up such that things are easier for me because I have this identity? What are the systems allowing for me? Because I just happened to have this identity and then get in conversation with other people who have similar identities to you who are also trying to work on this.
One of the things that's really important, and I imagine folks have heard a lot about, is not putting the emotional labor on to people who have what we call the marginalized or subordinated identities. It's not their job to educate us. There's a lot of information out there already, some really great books and we could even include a list of some of those, especially around race, as part of this. To be doing your own learning and engaging with others who are similar identity to you, doing their learning as well.
Carol: And that I think is important to have those spaces of, similar identities so that people can have all the emotions they're having without putting emotional labor on other people. This whole notion of white fragility, people are going to have their emotions. They're either going to get triggered, and shaming them and bullying them to stop doing that is not helpful; at the same time, a person of color, a person with another marginalized identity, or intersection of those doesn't need to hear that same conversation over and over and over again. How can we create spaces so that white people can start their baby steps in this, and have the full experience of it all, and work through it?
Becca: Absolutely, Carol. I totally agree with what you say. I think you're hitting on a key point. I believe it's necessary to feel the emotions that are associated with this. I know a lot of white women who I've interacted with, especially have felt guilt or shame or sadness as they become more and more aware of what the white dominant culture and their role in that has created in this country. I've heard experiences from colleagues of color of mine who have had white men end up really angry in their sessions when they hear about things. These are generalizations I've mentioned, it's sad and women can get angry, but I believe we need to feel those emotions and become aware of them and let them move through us because as we talked about a little while ago, feelings are literally physiological. There are biological things happening in your body when you feel something and if you just try to suppress it, it doesn't really actually go away. Where are the spaces where that can be released, where it can be acknowledged, process looked at, digested and then do that in a safe space with support and then step into the other spaces of leadership of mixed identity interaction. I want to say clean, where none of us are super clean when it comes to it, but it's about having to
Carol: Sort of through a little bit of a muck, at least.
Becca: Exactly - cleaned up your boots or like simmered down your sauce.
I think that's really important that too often the message, especially to white people is, “Oh, don't bring your white fragility.” I see that and it's not to say, don't have your emotions. It's be aware of where, where you are displaying them and the kind of help you are seeking for them.
I say, do have those emotions. Become very aware of them and don't get stuck in them. Brene Brown also talks a lot about the difference between guilt and shame. Some of them are part of this learning, some of the learning I've been doing is through WWARA about White Women's Anti-Racism Alliance and they take Brene Brown's work and talk about the difference between guilt, and shame and guilt.
Well, shame says something is wrong with me. I am bad. And then guilt says I did something bad. If we say, “Oh, I did something bad,” then we have agency. “Oh, I did something bad. I can do something different.” If we stay in our shame as whatever dominant identity we might be working with in that shame, if we stay there, we're never going to be able to step into action and make the world a better place.
On the other hand, there's also often people who want to jump to action right away, “Oh, this is a problem. Let me fix it.” A lot of advocates of color, who I've been interacting with have said, “Please, don't jump to action right away. Please slow down, please do your learning. Please do your emotional work. Please get clear about why you want to do this work. Let's not do this work because it's all the rage right now. What's in it for you? Why is it important for you to make some shifts around racism in this country or around bias toward people with different sexual identities, whatever sexual orientation, whatever it might be?”
Carol: Yeah. That action orientation brings me back to one of the pieces that you work with as well, wanting leaders to bring more mindfulness to what they do. I'm wondering if you can define mindfulness in this context and why you think it is so important.
Becca: Yeah. I think when it comes to leadership, mindfulness is a key tool for engaging our emotional intelligence.
Actually, one of my favorite quotes that I came across recently is by Daniel Goldman. He’s a journalist who did a lot of work around emotional intelligence and has published a lot of books about it. He says the best thing a leader can offer is a well-managed nervous system. I have worked with various client systems where the leader can get triggered really quick and easily and make a lot of assumptions about things.
We talk in this work about the ladder of inference. How quickly we can sort of climb up this ladder of assumptions and then, “well this person said this for this reason, and this means that, and that means that.” And then all of a sudden, we're at the top of this ladder without even thinking.
Carol: Yeah, without even being conscious of jumping up the ladder, “I'm looking at you now,” and “Oh, she gave me kind of a funny look. She must think I'm a terrible interviewer.” I mean, and that's all going on in my head. I may not even be conscious ….
Becca: That I had something in my eye.
Carol: Right, right. 've made meaning of it. Just like that. Because we're meaning making machines.
Becca: Exactly. Mindfulness allows us literally to start to see our mind so we notice, ‘Oh look at that thought,’ ‘Oh look, I just had a thought about that’ and we become more aware of the chatter in our minds. To use the word agency, we have more agency in how we're using our voice and our body and our mind because we become more aware of the automatic parts of it. It can also allow just practice. Mindfulness can bring more pause and space into interactions. I think those are more and more necessary. These days everything is so fast. If we just take a breath before we respond, we might actually be able to be in a place of actually responding rather than reacting and the response to me is, where there's the choice and the agency, the reaction is where it's just automatically coming. Maybe even from that interception, that automatic physiological reaction, which sometimes serves us and sometimes does it. What we need is to become more and more aware of it.
That’s what I'd say about that. Go ahead. I was just going to tie it into the virtual world. I think it's, again, even more important in a virtual space to both engage mindfulness and engage the whole person. We can become, as we are in zoom, I gesture here with this rectangle that we forget that we have the rest of our body and we forget that, it might be, or even in a normal interaction, we might, if I were talking to you in a cafe, I might turn and look out the window while I'm talking to you and think, and that might shift how my brain is working, but because we're so used to the norms in our culture and are just looking at that rectangle and look at each other on the screen that we're literally not being mindful in the same ways that we might have otherwise.
Carol: So how do you say since people are just, you know, the reality of us working this way of working online, working remotely is probably going to be going on for quite a while.
What are some things that people can do to bring in more of themselves to online meetings?
Becca: I’m smiling because one of the things that's come I've been working on lately and telling clients and colleagues is to think about that spinning thing on your screen that says buffering. We hate it when that happens, but how are you creating buffers in your day?
It's not just the onscreen, but the, between meetings or between being at the meeting and being with whoever or whatever is in your household. How are you creating spaces? Cause literally we used to walk down a hallway to a meeting or get up and switch offices or pick up the phone, something shifted and took our eyes from the screen.
And one of the things is just to give yourself those buffer zones. Another is to literally take some time, whether it's a chime on your calendar or in your watch or note to take three breaths at various points in the middle of the day and then you can engage a full mind, body, spirit aspect with those three breaths.
On the first breath, what am I feeling; on the second breath what am I thinking; and on the third breath, what's important to me? That can really bring you back. What's important in this moment, to me? What brings you back to what you’re being present with, whatever it is that you really want to be present with rather than reactionary? What you just happened to be being present with?
I also have a whole set of questions that I go through when either designing a virtual meeting or working with others on it about how can we bring in. All of those parts of a person. What are the kinds of questions you can ask your colleagues, “What do you feel about this?” “What's your gut reaction?” What's your heart telling you? What’s your instinct on this? And then you can say, what's your mind thinking on this? What new ideas have you noticed? What are you thinking about now? How does this connect to the other things? You start to engage the brain in that, that's the body brain piece, and then there's just rain.
We just need to get creative. Like how does this tie to your values? Our values as a company that start to get to the spirit and values aspect of things, and then there can be questions, like look around the virtual room. Who's not in the room. When it comes to virtual meetings, there's a lot of inclusion. So not necessarily identity, but inclusion when it comes to are you remembering to try to engage the people who don't have their cameras on in the virtual meeting? Is there a norm that people have to have their cameras on, but maybe they can't. Maybe their bandwidth is low. Maybe their house is a mess. Maybe somebody else's in the room with them. So, what are the aspects of inclusion that we need to think about to make this a virtual space, a psychologically safe space?
Carol: Yeah. Thinking about the buffering, I was, working with some folks who were talking about, facilitating in a virtual setting and just saying that it just takes a little bit longer for people to kind of absorb, and instruction.
If you're wanting them to go do a next thing, let's say, put them in breakout rooms, to have them work on a separate document that you've sent a link to, and to create those pauses in the meeting as well, and almost imagining that buffer, things spinning, and their technique was to, when you've asked a question, assume that it's going to take everyone a little bit longer to answer because they're kind of waiting to see if anyone else is going to say something and actually take a drink of water while you wait to force yourself to wait a little bit.
Becca: I like that. Somebody once told me that children's brains, as they're learning, take longer to process. So, wait 17 seconds after you ask your child a question, which feels so long. I don't do that long online, but I do sometimes count to seven or 10, just to see and I think that's very true.
I've had a lot of experiences lately where I've given an instruction, we've gone to the next thing and then the person, or in the group, two or three people in the group of seven, have no idea what to do. It's had me realize, and again, if you think about it, we're not giving our nervous system any time to decompress or get in a place of being able to really absorb information again, when we're constantly looking at the screen.
I sometimes also give instructions to folks, you know, get up, stand up for a minute or stretch, or literally please look away from your screen while you think about this. So sometimes you have to be more overt and in the instruction, then slowdown, as you said, and repeat yourself, and then also provide the information in multiple formats.
I'll often put instructions in chat as well as verbally say them and that sort of thing. So absolutely, many things to pay attention to.
Carol: Probably all things that would be good to bring back when we're in person, working with groups that take that pause and make sure that everyone's understood the instructions of what's next or where you are on the agenda in a meeting or anything.
One thing I like to do on each episode is I play a little game. I have a box of random icebreaker questions. I've got one for you here, “How did you meet your best friend?”
Becca: Oh, how did I meet my best friend? Well, there's a childhood one, but here's my adult best friend. It's a kind of a fun story. She was the babysitter the summer after I went to college for my younger siblings. I had been in college; my parents were divorced and I went to see my father. I heard about this babysitter who was great with my younger siblings at my mother's house. I remember thinking, who is this person taking over the older sibling role?
I came home, eventually met her, and within half an hour, she was my best friend. We've been really good friends ever since then. I think it's been about 20 years.
Carol: That's awesome. So, what are you excited about now? What's up next for you? What's emerging in your work?
Becca: There are a few different things that I'm excited about.
One, as you know we've talked in other times about this, is about peer coaching, peer learning, and people being able to really connect and learn from and with each other in small groups. I'm really excited about engaging with that in a virtual space. I feel like the peer coaching really involves the whole person. It's not just sort of sitting back in a lecture on a webinar or listening to somebody, but it really engages people and it engages people around. What's important to them in the moment and it allows them to be helpful and of service to other people.
I think that's so important for us as humans, for mental health to just feel a value. I'm going to be setting up some opportunities for people within similar industries, but not in the same organization to come together in peer learning groups and connect with each other. I'm really excited about that possibility and really what's possible with that globally right now, because we don't have to get together in person for it and we can't get together in person for it. So, who can come together? I'm working with some of the groups that I do consulting with. They focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. and some of them have been around one of them for 30 years, another for 50 years. And they really know their stuff and their stuff has been in the room like physically together.
I'm really excited about helping them think about how to take it all virtually and keep it really effective and yeah, engaging. And then finally, I'm contemplating, and I might want to rope Carol into this, listeners. So maybe by the time you listen to this, she will have said yes. I want to develop a virtual workshop about engaging the whole person. Go more in depth into some of those example questions and examples scenarios that we touched on around engaging those five aspects of the of a person. Mind, body, spirit, emotions, and identity.
Carol: So, it sounds like a lot of fun.
Becca: Yes. Excited about all those.
Carol: How can people find out more about you and be in touch?
Becca: They could email me or I'm also on LinkedIn. My email is: Becca.b.Consulting@gmail.com
Carol: We'll put the links in the show notes as well.
Becca: Okay. That makes it easier. I'm also on LinkedIn as Becca Bartholomew. I'd love to hear people's reactions. What did you agree with, disagree with, what questions do you have? Let's keep the conversation going.
Carol: That will be awesome. All right. Well, thank you so much. And thank you for being on the podcast.
Becca: Thanks for the opportunity. Take care.
My passion is helping nonprofit organizations and associations have a greater mission impact.
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