Disturbance as Ally (w/ Neil Edwards)

Neil talks at the intersection of wellbeing, personal leadership, and justice through the lens of relationships systems work. He uses the notion of “Disturbance as Ally” to lay out a way minorities can take a new perspective on race-based aggressions at work and use them to support wellbeing practices. Walk away with a new perspective and four tips on what you can do to survive and maybe thrive in what could be a hostile work environment in corporate America.

You can connect with Neil on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. You can email him by clicking here.


(00:11) Neil: My name is Neil Edwards, and this is the Leadership Range, where we elevate the voices of black and brown coaches, leaders, and allies, and have soulful conversations about all things at the intersections of leadership, relationships and teams, well-being, and inclusion. Here, I offer deep insights and practical tips for work and life.

(00:31): Take a moment and recall a recent incident, or maybe an incident that is just powerful for you. A microaggression that left you feeling a bit dejected. Not the worst trauma ever, but something that stuck with you in a way that went beyond the intellectual conflict. That left a bitter lingering taste. One that you felt in your heart, around your whole body, permeating your spirit and soul. Your body and its essence does not forget it. The body keeps the score. This is conflict. It lives in your body, not just in your mind. It is a disturbance to the entire internal system of yourself. And that is self with a capital S.

(01:17): When there is a societal conflict, it has a corresponding effect on us. For example, think about the acute and then lingering impact of 9/11 on us. Think about the acute and lingering impact of George Floyd’s murder on us. And think about January 6th of this year and the insurrection in the United States. In society and corporate spaces, many people live in conflict and with conflict often. Black and brown people, in predominantly white workplaces, live with micro and macro aggressions regularly. Some might say their experience of microaggressions is nearly incessant. Glassdoor.com recently showed that black employees rate their employers lower than the average for all employees. There is a chronic disturbance. Just this last year with increasing occurrence since the pandemic emerged, we’re seeing an acute societal conflict through violence against Asian Americans. It is a disturbance and it has the opportunity to become chronic.

(02:26): When there is a disturbance, we typically tighten up, contract our bodies, curl in, get frustrated, and exhibit a range of dissident and emotions that are basically reactive. It makes complete sense because we don’t want to be disturbed. Over time, when the disturbance is perpetual, it impacts our performance at work and in life. It makes us sick and sicker. More often, COVID-19 has exposed this societal aggression and its disproportionate impact on black communities. It takes our life prematurely. This is not news. Public health professionals have known unequivocally that racial oppression negatively impacts morbidity and mortality. Society is what it is. And although we can put energy into effecting change, to produce a more just equitable and kind society. We must also learn how to take care of ourselves differently, to make the best of an unjust set of circumstances.

(03:24): And we do that by approaching and treating disturbance differently. Where I’m coming from with this notion is, and I’ve may have mentioned this before, that my academic background is in physiology, exercise physiology, psychology, and public health. I have a Master’s in public health. I’ve studied the epidemiology of illness and death across populations on race. I started health and wellness coaching way back in the nineties. And I’m now a board certified health and wellness coach. Which is really just a modern intervention to support health behavior change.

(04:00): I bring those competencies into the work I do with my clients, and I’m also a organization and relationship systems coach. Which is really just jargon for how systems work, and our internal and external awareness and dynamics that bring us into relationship with ourselves, with others and the world around us. And I bring these two disciplines together today to help you lead yourself better. In a world that is trying to be more diverse and inclusive, but not quite fast enough. There is division, conflict, and disturbance all around. Yet, you still need to work. You still need to lead. You still need to be in relationships and you deserve every opportunity to thrive. And I’m sure we can all agree on that.

(04:47): At the end of this episode and it won’t be long. You will have a new, or hopefully, more productive and life-giving path to positivity, clear headedness, purpose, and physical stamina to live in a world that is disturbing. You will know what it means to make disturbance an ally. Underrepresented minorities particularly black professionals, experiencing aggressions and various forms of racial related disturbances at work can feel dehumanized on top of all of the other negative emotions. And the reality that companies are unwilling to change things that actually matter, can then make black professionals feel ignored and stonewalled with meaningless positive intent.

(05:30): So what do you do? You sharpen self-awareness so you can notice disturbance. Develop resilience skills, learn to look at disturbance as an ally. There’s a verse from the gospels, I really connected with in 2009 or 2010, when I was doing some personal leadership work. And not so much because it was from the Bible, but because of the practicality and power of the message. I’ll share it here from the New International version of the Bible. It’s from James one, verse two through five on trials and temptations. Quote: (06:06): «Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be complete, not lacking anything.»

(06:20): End quote. My secular translation goes something like this. «My brothers and sisters, consider it pure joy when you face conflict, and disturbance, of any kind, because you know that the testing of your resilience produces perseverance. Let resilience do its work so that you may remain whole lacking nothing.»

(06:42): So, let disturbance be an ally. This is a notion I learned from my mentors in organization and relationship systems coaching. The idea is that, disturbance serves to bring awareness to a breach. A breach and peace leaving you in a state of being disturbed. The actual disturbance is the thing on the outside, over there, with another, or in society. And because the body keeps score, we experience it in the body.

(07:09): So, that microaggression I had you recall, remember, early in this episode, that you experienced in your body. That is how you experience a racial disturbance, become exquisitely aware of exactly what that feels like, because it is your ally, and source of information that informs what needs to happen next. The practice here is not easy. It is to get better at noticing the disturbance, and responding to it from a new perspective. Consider it joy, and a test of your resilience.

(07:47): If you cannot consider it joy, then explore what works for you. You can do it on your own. You could have someone to support you, whatever is better. That’s the approach you want to take. And this is where the wisdom from disturbance as an ally kicks in. Victor Frankl said, «Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.» These next four points are pretty straightforward. Yet, they are easier said than done with consistency, but they are essential to your life if you want to thrive.

(08:32): Number one, choose positivity. The science of positive psychology and neuroscience tells us positive emotions are a remedy to disturbance. We have to be intentional about doing things to elevate positivity through our own choices. In the moment, when you experience a disturbance at work, you might respond with positivity if you can. If that is not your path, then it is best to leave the situation as soon as possible. And what you do after that is up to you, but it can be any number of things to restore you. It could be looking at photos that make you happy. Having a go-to person who understands what you need. A song. You get the point.

(09:15): Number two, choose spaciousness. This is about finding time, even if only a couple of minutes to give you a brain, a break. By a break. I mean a break from any form of mental processing. This is the reason why meditation and mindfulness have become popular. One of the practices in mindfulness is to allow yourself to let go. That does not mean to have an empty mind, void of anything. That’s impossible. It means to let come, let go. Let your mind wander, daydream. Don’t let anything stick. Don’t judge. Don’t assess. Don’t get curious. Don’t don’t plan. Don’t try to stop and don’t try to start. Just be unnoticed and let go.

(10:03): Number three, choose your body. We have become extremely familiar with our bodies. Some would say it is an obsession. But what is true with our body is that, you need to take care of it because you only have one. Black and brown bodies are under attack incessantly, and acute disturbances do not help the situation at all. It is crucial to exercise, to eat and drink healthy, to sleep, to take breaks. Exercise by itself, is medicine for the whole body. «Just do it», quoting Nike there.

(10:39): Number four, choose your why. Reconnect with what matters most to you. This is the thing that will get you off the ground when you’ve been knocked down. The thing you will fight for without question. The thing that gives you meaning at a soul level. That at the end, you must have in order to feel complete and lacking nothing. I quoted Victor Frankel and I’ll quote him again, as we wind down. In his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, he wrote, «Those who have a why to live, can bear almost any how». Let disturbance be an ally, that points you in the direction of choice to care for yourself. Build resilience, lead with purpose, and thrive. Corporations and society are failing. And I don’t expect that to make any big moves anytime soon. For me, it’s a matter of freedom of identity, body, and soul. Working in corporate America, for many people, is often treacherous. And for black and brown people, it is more often hostile.

(11:46): I’m not making it up folks. I coached numerous minority professionals. Dealing with racial and disturbance is not listed as a leadership skill, but it is one that minorities need to develop because it is a ubiquitous reality in companies. And they don’t want to admit that. I also need to say this, because it’s important to note the similarities in corporate spaces. Sexism is also a problem that creates disturbances. I’ve coached those women. Make the translation. I’m calling you to an investment in yourself, because cooperations will not address the most burdensome aspects of being a minority at work. The will and courage doesn’t seem to exist. In the preamble to the constitution of the World Health Organization it says this, «The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of human. Every human being, without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic, or social condition. The health of all peoples is fundamental to the attainment of peace and security and is dependent on the fullest cooperation of individuals and states.»

(12:59): Governments have a responsibility for the health of their peoples, which can be fulfilled only by the provision of adequate health and social measures.» The failure is clear. So it is up to you to be at your best. And I hope you learn to create something new from disturbance, as ally.

(13:17): Listen to new episodes of the leadership range every Monday. Connect with me on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/NEdwards07. If you have a topic suggestion, want to join a conversation here, or know someone who ought to be here, send an email to neil@neiledwardscoaching.com. I look forward to you listening to future episodes.

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