Neil discusses Microaggressions: Recovery and Building Trust with Kimberly Tiedeken. They break down what they are and what leaders need to do to correct their infractions and build the capacity to be skillful in conversations that build and rebuild trust. For those who experience microaggressions, they lay out what to do to protect yourself, have conversations, and set boundaries.
Neil: Welcome. I am Neil Edwards, and this is The Leadership Range. This is episode 2, and if we can get through 2, we can get through 4 and 8 and so on. I want to say thank you to everybody that listened to episode 1. It gave us a great boost coming out of the gate. I really appreciate it. Leadership Range brings you content that elevates the voices of Black and brown coaches and their allies through soulful conversations about all things at the intersections of leadership, teams and relationships, well-being and inclusion in the context of corporate work, and it’s also relevant to what’s going on in society today. Now, I’ve already gotten great feedback from the first announcement of Leadership Range from the trailer with Zach over at Living Corporate, on the first episode, folks love the conversation, and I want to get better for you. Some listeners know me and some don’t. People want me to share a little bit more about who I am and maybe credentialize myself a little bit. What I’ll say to that is if you keep listening to the episodes you’ll get to know more about me in the conversations as I share stories and insights with other coaches and guests that come on the podcast, and so you’ll get more of that over time. For now, I’ll share a little bit. If you caught the conversation last week with Ayana Coston Jordan, you might have heard her mention I didn’t grew up in the U.S. I get a lot of questions about my voice when people hear it for the first time because they can’t quite place it, so I’ll start there. I’m from the Bahamas, known officially as the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. It is an independent country archipelago off the southeast coast of Florida. I was born and raised there. My family of origin is there. I am very connected to my roots, and I’ve been dropping in to visit my family and hang out and vacation a couple times a year–except of course for this year because of COVID-19. So shout out to the Bahamas, to my people, my family, my roots. Now, I moved to the U.S. for college like a lot of people do, and then graduate school and, you know, got my degrees and went into the workforce to begin my professional career. So my entire professional career has been in the United States, and it started out in management, consulting, and I did a ton of work in IT transformation projects, mega projects and change management projects. I was always on the functional side of those projects that a lot of people work, and it is during that time that I became a coach, a professional coach. So I am a professionally certified coach a couple times over through the International Coaching Federation Coach Training programs that are accredited, one through the Co-Active Training Institute, CTI, as a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, and another through the Center for Right Relationships or known better as CRR Global today, and I’m a certified organization and relationship systems coach through CRR Global related to my academic background in health and wellness and public health. I’m a national board certified health and wellness coach through the National Board of Medical Examiners and the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching. And I have a couple other credentials and team performance coaching, emotional and social intelligence coaching, adult development, leadership embodiment and a bunch of tools that us as coaches use to support us in our work. I train and supervise new coaches globally as a faculty member at CRR Global, and I’m also faculty for CTI’s Co-Active Leadership Program, which is a 10-month experiential contextual transformative leadership development program, but that’s inactive right now because of COVID-19. I’ve coached thousands of hours as an internal and external coach across all of the areas that we’re going to be discussing here on Leadership Range. So for now, I’m just gonna leave it there, and if you–like I said, if you continue listening to the podcast, you’ll get to learn a little bit more about me. I want to shift and focus on what you’re about to listen to today. This is a really special conversation. My special guest today is Kimberly Tiedeken. We talk about microaggressions. Kimberly has a huge heart for humanity that comes through in this conversation as much as it does through her work in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. You’ll hear Kimberly share a couple of stories about her childhood that so clearly and beautifully illustrate how she grew into who she is today in the world and the work that she does. It’s so beautiful. I don’t want to give it away or give away anything in the conversation, of course, but what you will hear in this conversation is what leaders who are guilty of microaggressions need to do to correct their infractions, what things they need to do, to work on how to get better, and how to show up if a subordinate comes to them and says, “Hey, you messed up,” and doing that all while strengthening the relationship. We also talk about how to protect yourself if you have been harmed by microaggressions and how to approach the situation where you need to stand up for yourself, and you need to set boundaries for yourself and so on. This is real for people who have been micro-aggressed, and this is also real for leaders, especially white leaders or male leaders, who want to get better, and this was such an important conversation for me, so I think it’s an important conversation for you. I have dealt with microaggressions and macroaggressions for years. I have dealt with them this year. I have dealt with them in the last few months and in the last few weeks at work, and I’m pretty good at being in these conversations, but at the same time, sometimes they’re so egregious you can’t deal with them right away because emotions run high and–it’s so stunning sometimes some of the things that people do or say to your face. So, you know, this is really a lesson today for a lot of people, and I suspect that we’ll have a lot more conversations about this particular topic over time because it’s such an important one and microaggressions are so frequent in the workplace across so many dimensions of diversity. But anyway, what I want to do is get you into the conversation right now so you can have a listen. Enjoy it, and give us your feedback. We want to hear everything you have to say so that we can get better for you.
Neil: Welcome, Kimberly.
Kimberly: Thank you, Neil.
Neil: So happy to have you here. So before we get into this topic, you know, I want to share that we know each other. We’re friends, colleagues and peers in the space of diversity, equity and inclusion, and I just so feel so privileged and honored to have you on the show because I know who you are as a person. I know your professionalism, and I know the wisdom that you bring to this space. So thank you for being here again.
Kimberly: Thanks for having me, Neil. I was really excited about this ask, and I’ve just really looking forward to listening and participating in your podcast.
Neil: I’m gonna listen to everything I put up there so that I can hear the wisdom that you get from people like you. Thanks again for being here. Before we jump into the topic, I would love for you to talk a little bit about you share your story as a leader and how your leadership range has evolved and expanded over time.
Kimberly: Yeah, thanks, Neil. So I’ll tell you a little bit about myself first, and then I’ll share maybe two stories with you that will talk a little bit about why and how I think of leadership the way I do. So you said already that I work at the intersection of diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging, HR and coaching, and I will tell you that I’m someone who believes in humor and love and honesty, but also in setting boundaries. We chat about scuba diving all the time, and I also love running and eating very nice meals in silence. That’s the introvert in me. And, you know, what I think about myself and some things that define me, I’m the daughter of an unsighted man and the product of two really strong, beautiful brown parents, and I am the mom of two young kids under five and a special needs mom, and those things define who I am and how I live my life right now. You know, when I think about being a leader and what helped to evolve the way I think about leadership, I’ll tell you that it was two main stories that come to mind. The first one was that my dad lost his vision when he was in his 40s. And growing up, I had to be his eyes. I had to see for him, you know? He planted the seed of advocacy and community service in me, because I used to read for him and record it to tape, and as he navigated life, not only did I become more involved in being in community and being in service with him for others, but I also became more comfortable speaking up and creating space for him to be able to reach his full potential. And that strength really matters to me. I think another story that really helped to make me who I am maybe happened when I was in–I think I was a freshman in college, and I remember, you know, being home for Thanksgiving, and my mom ate something and had an allergic reaction. And we drove to the hospital and, you know, her throat was was closing up, and I remember being there understanding that I was her advocate, but the nurses, you know, it was a really busy night, and they just said, you know, “Hey, we’re so busy. Sit here and be tight,” and my mom kept telling me, you know, “Can you get the nurse? Can you get the nurse?” And I remember just saying, you know, “Hey, Mom, the nurse said she’ll be right back,” and I looked up from my book, because I was an avid reader, and I realized that my mom’s face and throat were just so swollen. And I stood up in that moment and went out into the hallway and stopped caring about everything and yelled and screamed for the nurses, who came in and they had to fight to intubate my mom, and if my mom would tell you that story, she would tell you that I saved her life. But when I’m telling you that story, I share it in that being a moment for me to say, “I will no longer care about what other people think of me. I will always be in the best service for those around me.” And that was a true defining moment, and I took that lesson and decided to use both of those to live my life. So you already know that I worked at PwC, I worked there for 20 years. I consider myself a recovering auditor, and the auditing space, you know, I remember looking up and saying, “How did I get here?” It’s a really great place, but “Is this what I want to do?” And the answer was no. So I leaned in to my voice and spoke up and moved to New York, jumped into HR, and kept driving my need for knowledge and interaction and, you know, had conversations with many different partners, got engaged in diversity and inclusion, which gave me even more information through which to understand myself and others, and through the continuation of that learning, I would tell you that my leadership is still growing. I mean, my range is expanding. And hopefully, Neil, it will continue to evolve, because there’s a lot that I don’t know and a lot that I’ll learn from others, but I’m happy that I get to share part of my journey with you and also thank you for the role that you’ve had in my journey.
Neil: You’re welcome. I love–your stories are so powerful, and I love stories. I love stories about leadership, and as I listen to you I hear strength, you know, from the time with your father and the recognition or the acceptance that you needed to be strong, and that you were strong, and that you could use that to sort of live into the other part of what I heard, which was service and advocacy, and that’s what I heard all the way through both of your stories, and that’s who I know you to be beautifully, a strong woman and advocate, and always kind, you know? Steady and intentional. So I love that about you, and I love that it came through in your story. So here’s what we’re going to talk about today – microaggressions: recovery and building trust. Wow. So write that down for us. Give it some context. What do you mean when you say microaggressions: recovery and building trust?
Kimberly: So microaggressions I want to start with first, so for those of you who don’t know they’re, you know, indirect, subtle and intentional actions, words of discrimination against folks who may be different. And those actions, again, while you may not intend for them to do so, make someone feel as though they are less valued, less respected, and just different, and when I think about–just for some examples of microaggressions, and I’ll tell you that I experience them all the time, it’s people saying, you know, “Can I touch your hair?” Or maybe they don’t ask and they just touch my hair, or they tell me “Oh, you’re so articulate,” or you’ll hear someone say, you know, “You’re really not like most other Black people.” One more is, “Oh, I see that you’re in this leadership position. What was the special break that got you there?”
Neil: Every day.
Kimberly: Your bias comes in and you say these things. You open your mouth, and you put your foot right in it. And then you say, “All right, clearly, as a leader, I can’t leave this situation, so how am I going to come back from this? How am I going to address the harm that I caused and deepen the relationship with the person that I harmed.” And that’s important. It’s important to me, Neil, because when I think about the way that this shows up in my life, I don’t believe in canceling people out over mistakes like this because it’s a missed opportunity on all sides.
Neil: You know, again, taking, well the strength to stand in that as you’re on the receiving end of the microaggression and to stay and to reflect on how you might respond, again, is a reflection of your own leadership. So, you know, here, for context, this is relevant in all of life. For us, for today, we’re talking about in corporate America and what this looks like in the workplace. That doesn’t mean, you know, it doesn’t happen in other areas, and we may not touch on it. But really, what makes this so important in the corporate space, in the workplace?
Kimberly: When we think about our role as leaders, we are always being watched and studied, and people are always learning from us. So when you think about your responsibility, it’s in the spotlight, especially now. Right now we know we’re in this time where feelings are raw. Everything is under a microscope. There are people who feel as though they don’t know how to move forward. So it’s important for us all to take ownership of the impact that we have. When you think about microaggressions in the workplace, they’re tied to the way that we give value to the credibility to the interactions that others have. So especially if you’re a leader in a group setting and you are a perpetrator of a microaggression towards someone else, you know, you’re essentially harming that person’s career, their path forward. So we need to take ownership of that and figure out how we navigate it, how we make things right with that person, and how we make the microaggression that we are in a learning moment for everyone so that we can continue to elevate the folks around us.
Neil: And that “we” is the “we” of leadership, if I’m hearing you correctly. What is the responsibility of a leader who perhaps does something that is received as a microaggression or is in fact a microaggression? What is the responsibility of the leader?
Kimberly: So the responsibility of the leader is to first be open to learning about the microaggression that they were a part of, you know? Many times when we’re going through this, you say something and you don’t even realize that you said the wrong thing until it’s too late. So someone will come back to you and share this with you, and the first thing that you need to do is be open to the feedback. And that takes a lot for you to be open to it. You need to think about how you’re going to respond versus the general reactions that we feel when someone tells us that we did something wrong. You think about the defensiveness that comes out or the denial and what the impact of those are. So after you think about it listening and thinking about how we’re going to respond versus reacting. I encourage leaders to take a moment and put their own fragility aside, and in that moment, remember, it’s not about you. This is about understanding the impact that you cause. So reflecting on that impact, on the harm that you caused, in many different ways is so important. Whether it’s physical harm or emotional harm or spiritual harm or harm to the community, you have to reflect on that and make sure that you understand the full extent of the harm.
Neil: Now, this sounds like a lot of work that a leader needs to do to prepare in advance. It feels like there’s some growth, some inner work to build up to becoming skillful at being able to respond to feedback that may not feel so great when you receive it, if you are, you know, the source of the microaggression. And so, you know, talk to me a little bit about feedback that is sort of clunky, you know? We can have people who look to our leadership, they’ve felt harmed by you, and they, in fact, may not be very skillful in providing feedback and letting you know that you did something that harmed them, so it comes across perhaps in a harsh way or a clunky way or a clumsy way. What’s the responsibility of the leader in that scenario?
Kimberly: Questions, questions, questions, my friend. Being able to take the emotion away from the situation when someone is coming at you and telling you that you did something–of course they’re going to be nervous, maybe insecure or anxious, in telling you that, but your job as the leader is to take some of that emotion out and listen to the words that they are saying, and then to ask questions that will allow you to dig deeper. It’s an opportunity to ask that person about how they felt about it, what it means to them, and even to understand a little bit about the background or their perspective that allows them to show up and feel that hurt or whatever the other emotion is that they may be feeling and that may have been caused by you. So asking those questions and giving them the space to feel heard will be helpful for the leader, but also really helps to deepen that relationship so that you can move forward and grow that trust.
Neil: Thank you for that. There’s a muscle to be built there around asking questions in a skillful way when you perhaps feel a bit of an emotional charge as a leader, so there is definitely practice there. And I–you didn’t say this, Kimberly, but there’s something about asking questions that don’t come across as an interrogation. Empathetic asking of questions. We still–you know, the leaders listening, they’re asking questions, they’re responding, and they’re doing an okay job or a great job now because they’ve received this feedback. What do you want the person who might have been impacted to know about themselves and what they need to do as they enter into these types of interactions, or they’ve, you know, experienced this microaggression?
Kimberly: Neil, I think it’s so important to put yourself first. In this world, so many of us will experience microaggressions, and some people would say it’s death by 1,000 paper cuts. So you need to put yourself first and think about your own boundaries. If you were triggered by a microaggression and you need to step away and do a little mindfulness and meditation, do that first so that you are protecting yourself and you are okay. When addressing the microaggression, you’ll need to think about the dynamics of the environment. If it was your boss who did this to you or, you know, if it was done in a meeting or some other environment, you need to put some thought into how you’re going to address it so that you don’t cause more damage to yourself. Obviously we don’t get to say the things in work that we might want to say outside of work, so we have to take some patience and just take a moment to determine how to move forward. And then what I would also encourage them to do is weigh what they want to do with that relationship. I shared with you, Neil, that I don’t believe in cancel culture, but I do believe in setting firm boundaries. If you want to grow the relationship, you need to put some time into thinking how you will do that and when you want to do it.
Neil: Yeah. How do you define or how would you describe what a boundary means in this context, or in general, so people really understand what you’re talking about when you say set boundaries?
Kimberly: Yeah. So I think a boundary is really a line that you don’t want to cross. The way that I think about it for myself is that I have boundaries and areas that I will talk about and areas that I won’t talk about with people. And I’ll give you an example. I shared with you that I am the mom of a special needs son, and so there are some times where people will use certain words that trigger me, and depending on how I am feeling in that moment or in that day, I know that I do not have the emotional or mental capacity to engage in a corrective conversation with them. And that becomes my boundary. I believe it’s important to give yourself grace around those boundaries. So if I say to myself, “Hey, today’s not the day that I’m going to interact with this person who said a certain word that triggers me,” I am okay in standing in that boundary and not feeling bad about it.
Neil: Well, I love that because there’s at least a dual role for the boundary, one noticing that something is bumped up against the boundary and you, you know, need to take a break. This is a signal to me that I need to go and renew, I need to give myself space I need to protect myself. The boundary is also a tool that provides you information about the conversations you need to have with the person who’s bumped up against the boundary. So there’s the caring for oneself, and then it’s also the advocacy for oneself at a time that makes sense for you and in a way that makes sense for you after a little bit of reflection. I think that’s what I heard.
Kimberly: Yeah, I would say that’s absolutely what you heard. Neil, the one thing that I’d like to add about boundaries is that as we grow our trust with people, sometimes those boundaries tend to get a little softer and can melt away. And so when I think about–especially with microaggressions, right, we know that everyone’s going to say something silly at some point in time, it’s just human nature. But when we think about the value of our relationships and the importance of those relationships, you know, you’ll find that your boundaries will move, and that’s why it’s always so important to have candid conversations with people and to get to know one another more, because we’ll expand our awareness. And hopefully, we’ll create fewer microaggressions because of that, but we’ll also feel more comfortable in the knowledge exchange, and it’ll make it a softer correction when these events do happen.
Neil: Yeah, it feels so enriching to me for a relationship that has grown, you know, versus has grown in the relationship, there’s perhaps a little bit more flexibility in the relationship, and the relationship is strong, so the boundaries are softer. That doesn’t mean that we need to accept or live with these microaggressions. I think the relationship becomes a little bit more skillful in dealing with them when they show up, you know? Well-meaning people also create harm sometimes. Well-meaning people cross boundaries, and there’s a need for correction from time to time. Round off the edges, I call it. Let’s round off the edges when we’re having these brutal conversations. So let’s talk about trust a little bit more in these relationships when there’s a bit of infraction. What do people need to do when there is an infraction and you do need to enter into those conversations to repair or to expand trust? Let’s talk about that a little bit more. What are some things that need to happen?
Kimberly: So I would tell you there’s two parts of this. So the first one is around the mutual agreement to address the conversation. You know, I think we can all think about situations where we’ve done something wrong, and you want to go back and revisit it, and the other person is just not open to it, and sometimes you got to leave it there. And so making sure that you have a mutual understanding that you’re okay to revisit this is extremely important. What I would also say is that education is important, right? If you have a misunderstanding with someone, it’s not fair for you to create the expectation that you will put the weight of your education on that person’s shoulders. You leaning on me more does not make me trust you more. So show me that you care by educating yourself and then continuing the dialogue with me. You know, across the board, Neil, when I think about trust, when I trust someone, it’s because I know that they will continue to do the work and do the right thing and put the effort in, and that is what we need to demonstrate, not just communicate but demonstrate, in order to grow that trust, and it takes time.
Neil: It takes time. And it takes–no, I love that, because it points to the work that we both do as coaches and the work that I do as a relationship systems coach. I wear this lens. There’s something to be said about designing the relationship so that we know what the expectations are to be in this relationship together, and one of those expectations, and agreements really, might be, like you said, that it is, you know, each of our jobs to educate ourselves, and we just know that that’s happening, you know? So relationship design is something that really bubbles up for me as you describe the sorts of things that need to happen in the context of the relationship when there’s a infraction. It continues to help the relationship to grow and thrive and help trust to expand.
Kimberly: Something that’s on my mind right now, which is the executive order that President Trump put out that touches on diversity and inclusion training–and I have a whole lot of thoughts on that, and I won’t share all of them, but what I will say is that when we think about these microaggressions, for me, it really solidifies why it’s so important for us to have conversations in this area, because when we as a group come together around the reading of an article or the watching of a video or some other way to have a shared experience or shared education and we speak about this, it gives us as a team the opportunity to build that trust and awareness and ask questions that make recovery a little bit easier later. So it’s just so important to have that continued dialogue.
Neil: Yeah, no, I love that. And again, I’m wearing this relationship lens to have that dialogue and to practice having those dialogues. It strengthens the relationship. You know, there’s this compounding effect where the relationship becomes more and more capable of holding those conversations, no matter the difficulty of the conversations. In the absence of practicing those conversations, those muscles atrophy. You know, those metaphorical muscles, conversational muscles, atrophy, they shrink, and you don’t have the capacity and skill to have those conversations within the relationship, and therefore you lose the opportunity to develop understanding and to build trust. So leaning in to those difficult conversations and having those conversations is essential to recovery, but also just practicing them in general helps to expand trust. So, Kimberly, for folks out there who are listening and don’t have the privilege of having you as a coach or having a coach, is there anything else that you would want to offer as tips, one or two things that they might do for themselves to either avoid or bounce back from these infractions on the one hand, or to avoid or help the recovery if you’re the person who, you know, commits the infraction. So is there anything you want to offer as a tip, or a trap, to avoid?
Kimberly: Yes, my friend. So first of all, what I’ll say is a trap to avoid… the trap to avoid is saying nothing. Believe it or not, it is better to make the error and learn and deepen your relationships that way than to be so safe that you are sterile. So avoid that. What I would tell you to do is educate yourself, educate yourself in an interactive way. I’m not going to tell you to go out and Google all kinds of things, because you can find all kinds of things, but what I will tell you is to join a book club, join a discussion group. You can find living room conversations online, and find some discussion guides that help you navigate these conversations. The 1619 Project. There’s so many resources out there for you to read and discuss. The other area that I would recommend is to create a conversation buddy, someone who is from a different perspective, different walk of life, different experience than you that will allow you to ask for feedback to get more comfortable having those uncomfortable conversations and to be your sounding board as you navigate this space. There is no silver bullet, no easy answer, so getting yourself comfortable in doing the work with the recognition that you will, at one point, say the wrong thing, and then make the most of it.
Neil: I keep hearing half the conversation, “Don’t say nothing.” You know, where the conversation doesn’t exist, there is no relationship, and in the absence of that, the needle does not move. Trust does not grow. No, thank you, Kimberly. So how can people get in touch with you if they want to reach out, get some more of you, get some more of this wisdom and this deliciousness? How can they find you?
Kimberly: Oh, thank you, my friend. They can find me via email. It is firstname.lastname@example.org, or they can find me on LinkedIn, and my LinkedIn is linkedin.com/in/kimberlytiedeken01.
Neil: All right, thank you for that. Thank you for joining us today, Kimberly. Our conversation was about microaggressions: recovery and building trust. I appreciate you.
Kimberly: Thanks for having me on.
Neil: This topic is big, folks. Microaggressions: recovery and building trust. Wow. Indirect, subtle, unintentional words, actions of discrimination against folks who may be different. These make people feel less valued, less respected, and just hurt. They damage trust, and therefore they’re damaging in the workplace, where people need to feel safe and, quite frankly, need to feel safe so that they can do their best work, which is difficult when you’re surrounded by people who almost incessantly cause harm, even if not intentional. So if you don’t want to be a microaggressor, then you need to do inner work and outer work. You need to create the kinds of alliances with people who are different from you and learn from them, and you need to listen, not defend. You need to allow yourself to be corrected, even by your subordinates. The world has changed. It’s just more diverse, and if you want to be a great leader, which means you also need to be an inclusive leader, this is a part of the work that you need to do, and people like Kimberly and me and thousands of others can support you and help you with that if that is what you aspire to be, a great leader and an inclusive leader. Thank you, Kimberly, for bringing your heart and courage to Leadership Range. Thank you all for tuning in today. You can listen to new episodes every Monday. Please send your feedback or any topic suggestions that you have to Neil@NeilEdwardsCoaching.com, and you can connect with me on LinkedIn at LinkedIn.com/in/nedwards07. Thank you for listening.