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Episode 002: A Conversation on Avoidance with Dr. Teresa Peterson

teresa peterson interview

In this week’s episode of Conversations on Conversations, Sarah sits down with Dr. Teresa Peterson to discuss the human habit of avoiding tough conversations, what people can do to prepare and have those difficult conversations, and her upcoming book Don’t Feed the Elephants!

Episode Transcript

Sarah Noll Wilson
Hi everyone and welcome to Conversations on Conversations, the show where each week we have a conversation about a topic that can help us have deeper conversations and build more powerful relationships with ourselves and with each other. I am your host, Sarah Noll Wilson. And this week, my colleague, Dr. Teresa Peterson is joining us today to help us explore the idea of the elephant in the room. So I want to take a moment and tell a little bit about how I know Teresa introduce you all to her because this is the first time you’re all some of you are meeting her. Theresa and I our paths crossed three years ago at the time of this recording, and she joined the team in capacity of supporting from an executive administrative perspective. But then it was clear she had so much more to offer and evident by the fact that she has a doctorate in education. And now she has become my colleague and partner in crime when it comes to research and facilitation and coaching, and brings with her just an incredible amount of wisdom and wit. And I’m so excited. Hi, Teresa. Thanks for joining.

Dr. Teresa Peterson
Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

Sarah Noll Wilson
What would you like our listeners to know about you?

Dr. Teresa Peterson
That’s a great question. I hope that, like me, you’re enjoying a few minutes to yourself, right? To take part in this to listen, maybe you’re in your car, you know, while someone you love is swimming or doing a dance recital. And so thank you for giving that precious few moments to us things to know about me. Today, when work is done, and we’re getting a snowstorm and I’m going to watch yet another episode of the crown that I’ve already watched multiple times. So that that is a little bit about me today.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Sounds like sounds like a great place under under under the blankets and with something something warm. Well, I’ve invited Theresa today for a couple of reasons. One, Teresa will be a regular reoccurring co-host and guest. There will be opportunities where I’ll be interviewing her about the experience and expertise she has. There will be times when she and I may interview people together or just explore topics based off of the work we’re doing. So this will certainly not be the last time that you all get to spend some time with Teresa. But today since the timing of this episode is coming out, as of yesterday, the book has launched and in full transparency, we are pre recording this. So I’m imagining what it must feel like for the book to have officially launched. And for those of you who again, are new listeners, I just completed and published my first book called Don’t Feed the Elephants. How do we overcome the art of avoidance to build powerful partnerships. So we thought it would be valuable for us to take this time to just talk about the book, talk about the concepts, especially because that’s a big reason why we started this podcast is how can we help share tools and best practices? How can we validate when it’s hard? How can we navigate so that we can show up more powerfully for ourselves and for other people? So that’s that’s where we’re going to get started today. Where do you want to start, Teresa?

Dr. Teresa Peterson
The question I’ve been thinking about, a place to get curious. I have heard you say a number of times that you’re a reformed avoider. And growing up in the Midwest, I can certainly appreciate that. But the question I have about it is, was there a defining moment that moved you off of center to like this journey? Or was it kind of a slow build of just some experiences that made you think I gotta do something different here?

Sarah Noll Wilson
That’s a really great question. Yeah. So I’ll give a little bit of background and then some context as my other part of my brain is chewing on that question. I, a part of the the work of dealing with elephants in the room, and in the inspiration of writing this book is to write it as a love letter for my fellow avoiders. And I certainly wasn’t always conscious of the behaviors I was doing or my protection, right. Like whether it came from a place of protection or just habit. Growing up, I came from a family that we loved really hard. But you know, we didn’t necessarily always talk about the hard stuff, when when we were hurt, when somebody did something, when we had a regrettable event in between our relationships, and then that’s not unique to my family. You know, like you said, growing up in the Midwest, we have a high value of sort of that being nice and harmony, even if it’s a false sense of harmony, and I love the phrase the violent politeness. I think that there was an evolution, because I would observe in other people, maybe moments where I wish they would have stood up for themselves or maybe stood up for us. And they didn’t. And saw the consequences of that, but it wasn’t like this clear moment of, you know, light shining down, the clouds parting. And, you know, I need to show up and do differently. There were two really big moments. And, you know, and I, and I know I write about these, but they really, they’re, they were really instrumental in shaping me. And the first was, you know, I came into my relationship with my now husband, Nick, with a lot of patterns of avoidant behavior, right, the kind of quintessential, “I’m fine” when I’m not fine. And, he wouldn’t let me off the hook for that in a really beautiful and loving way. And, so from a personal perspective, having a partner who is willing to dance in the hard conversations together, showed me what was possible when you could do that. And then professionally, was during the 2008 financial crisis when the company was laying off people. And we were just going to — There’s my dogs — we are just going to avoid talking about it, and seeing how quickly the distrust just rippled from that. So I know, it’s an interesting question. I’m still I feel like I should say, I’m an in-progress reformed avoider, because there’s still times when I have to push. I know you know, like you growing up in the Midwest, what would you add to it from your experience?

Dr. Teresa Peterson
Yeah, no, I think you summarized it, like a high value of being helpful. Chipping in. And alongside that is, and you know, you wouldn’t want to be, you wouldn’t want to cause a stir, you know, you wouldn’t want to, you know, disrupt everything by bringing up a problem, kind of a thing as what resonated with me. I’ve got this theory brewing, and I don’t, it’s not proven. But when I think about why this is prevalent, and we know, because we have clients and friends across the world, but across the United States that it’s not exclusive to the Midwest, but this theory I have is that, because we have more physical space, we don’t need to navigate other people. Like we have more physical space, I don’t have to encounter people and repair as frequently I this is just something I’m chewing on about, you know, the more densely we live together, do we get a lot more practice in those moments? By necessity? I don’t know.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Sure.

Dr. Teresa Peterson
That’s just something I’m

Sarah Noll Wilson
I think that’s a really interesting hypothesis from the standpoint of, you know, we can we can retreat to our suburbian or, or, you know, right, if you live in more of a rural place, and you can kind of exist in isolation, and all of that. And, you know, one thing that I’d like to explore is a topic that’s been top of mind for you and I, and we’ve talked a lot about related to the the clients we’re working with is, is just that idea of, you know, people falling into different categories. When it comes to their comfort level, you know, some people don’t want to, and they don’t care to, like they, you know, just don’t care. And some people just, they might want to, but they don’t have the the tools or the skills available. And then others just might not know what it looks like. Because if you were raised in a situation, and I think that’s something worthy for us to explore, is just there’s so many factors and different reasons why we might avoid acknowledging or addressing a situation when it might be difficult. But there’s, but for some people, it’s like, you don’t even know what’s possible if you’ve never experienced it before.

Dr. Teresa Peterson
I think there’s a lot of power and just reflecting, you know, where those ideas show up, because I’m guessing there are times we see ourselves in all of those categories. Whether maybe I show up this way at work, but I can’t imagine myself showing up this way at home, or vice versa, right? Or in my role as a daughter compared to as a parent or a sister. You said something a bit ago that I want to dip our toe into a little bit and that was that idea that by avoiding we can erode trust, which I think is the opposite of what people sometimes think, which is if I avoid and we stay happy, then everything’s fine. Right? So shed some light on that from your perspective.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah, it’s you know, I think that has been one of the most powerful learnings over the last decade of paying attention to just relationships and learning what I can and experimenting, is that the comfort we gain in the short term never outweighs the damage in the long term. And I know, right, when we’re working with people, we’re talking about relationships, there’s a couple of truths, right? One is we know that regrettable events are inevitable. It’s inevitable. And moments where there is a sandpaper moment, where there is a regrettable event, where there’s harm that is done, it’s like it can be, maybe it’s a major incision in that connection. Like, you know, if you fully disrespect me, or something that’s important to me, that might be enough to just like sever that relationship. Or if it becomes clear that you’re behaving in unethical ways, or values are just so different, or you are, you know, intentionally hurtful, and aren’t taking ownership for it. Those might be like, pretty clear incisions to the relationship. But what we see is a lot of times is there’s this slow erosion that happens, and when we aren’t getting curious with ourselves, when we are getting curious about the other person or getting curious with them. This, the erosion can take place over time, and then, you know, and then we get to, you know, a year or two later in a relationship, and we can’t even put our finger on why doesn’t this feel good anymore. And, and I feel like, you know, doing this work for me now, personally and professionally, but sometimes it’s painful personally, when you go, “Oh, if we don’t recover from this, if we don’t heal this moment, this could be the start of that erosion that we might not be able to get back from.” Yeah.

Dr. Teresa Peterson
That’s an interesting perspective on, it feels so easy sometimes to avoid, right? Everyone’s busy, just go to another task. But that concept of valuing the relationship in the long term enough to say, “Well, hold on, this might not even seem huge at the moment, but it’s big enough, it got my attention. So like, let’s just go there.” Because that’s one of the things you know, as I’ve been on this journey with you, I feel like is, it often only takes a couple of minutes to resolve something, when it’s small, to call attention to a relatively small thing, instead of waiting until there are 700 small things and now you’re furious. Right? Or that you didn’t communicate, right, that there was a rub. And so everyone proceeds as though there wasn’t. And then it keeps getting deeper, deeper, deeper. So, like the repeat of that behavior. So I think that’s a really solid perspective, we want to avoid or ignore, thinking it will go away, or just hoping it will go away. I think sometimes we know it’s not going away. But we just

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah, we just like, well, and maybe, and maybe that’s worth us to, you know, spend a little bit of time on because, you know, one of the things that when we think about this idea of the elephant in the room, right? One of one of the ways that was an important clarification for for me is that sometimes when we hear people say, oh, there’s an elephant in the room, and they point to the leader. Or like Nudge, nudge, like, I’ve got an elephant in the room. And what we have to understand, first and foremost, is that elephant is created by the avoidance. The person isn’t an elephant, the behavior isn’t the elephant, the elephant is created the moment we don’t acknowledge or address. And that doesn’t always mean, because I think sometimes sometimes people think, oh, we gotta call out the elephant, means we have to have these big conversations. And sometimes we might not have to. Sometimes it’s just acknowledging and addressing for ourselves, and reflecting, and understanding ourselves better, understanding the situation. Sometimes it might mean, we have to have a conversation. So I think, you know, first and foremost, you know, I just want to clarify that. Because I mean, you and I, we’ve known each other for three years, we work very intimately together, you know, we know that we share a lot of similar values, but we have a lot of different preferences along the way that you know, if an issue comes up between you and I, and you know, and I think like, this is a prop to Teresa, for all of you listening, you know, Teresa was the one who introduced the idea to me of like, “Hey, I want to talk about this before it becomes an elephant.” When we talk about it, the elephant doesn’t exist. That just never comes up. And so I think it’d be worth you know, us exploring just you know, why is it so pervasive sometimes for some of us to avoid, because I know I hear from people who are much more comfortable with conflict. Or, you know, maybe you grew up in a culture where it was like, we just talked about it. And there’s sort of the sense of like, I don’t even know what to do with you avoiders, and I’m not sure how to navigate it. And I know we’ve had a lot of conversations, and by no means is this an exhaustive list, but reasons people might avoid, we might avoid because of our cultural upbringing, right? We might, you know, from a Midwest perspective, our colleague, Dr. Chris Wildermuth, who will be a future guest, and probably a reoccurring guest, you know, she grew up in Brazil, and in the Brazilian culture, it’s very sort of indirect communications, when things are of conflict. It could be because you’ve experienced trauma, right? Like, if you grew up in a household, or maybe you were in a relationship where you were physically or emotionally or verbally abused because of speaking up or standing out, you can understand and appreciate why people may be hesitant to that, you know, we have a lot of conversations about just the the dominant culture, right, like our work culture, which was created by and for, you know, white men. So from a white supremacist culture perspective, that avoidance of conflict is very insidious, too, as well. And the one that was — In my journey with this, I always understood, well, I always was familiar with the fear part, because I’ve experienced that, right? The fear of, am I going to hurt somebody, the fear of somebody’s going to think less of me, the fear of retaliation, right? That fear-based avoidance always made a lot of sense to me, because it was so intimate for me and that feeling. But sometimes we avoid to protect our power. And to protect our standings or our status, and that is not a comfortable one to admit. But it’s definitely one that happens. And it’s one that I know, we see sometimes where it’s like, well, I’m not gonna, we’re not going to open up that can of worms, because things are pretty good for me over here, and it’s not really affecting me in my job and my role as the leader. So I’m not going to do that. I don’t know, what would you add to that? That was sort of a list that I was giving.

Dr. Teresa Peterson
Yeah, no, I think as I was listening, I think everyone avoids sometimes. Right? So I think it’s always a fun thing, when we ask people, you know, where do you fall? Do you attack a problem? Is it kind of “let’s see”? Do you always avoid? Most people are a “wait and see” or a “depends,” right, like, kind of get back, let me have some space between this issue and me. And it depends what I do. So I think for all of us, it’s thinking about when do I avoid, and why do I avoid? And what’s the difference between avoidance and what I heard someone say, this week, I just needed to take some time to think about how I wanted to address it, right? Because those feel different, like a planful pause about an issue is very different from avoidance, which can kind of feel like putting the blinders on, you know, the ostrich, the whatever. That that’s a big aha I’m having about, I think I’m relating to that personally, because as you know, my brain, I like to think things through, I kind of like a slow burn, is what I like to say. And so there are times, I know, other people have been frustrated with me because I didn’t say something immediately in the moment. And I’m thinking, Oh, no, that’s fully going to be addressed. I haven’t — well, and now I’m thinking through the lens of like, Curiosity First Approach, right, but like, I need to take some time to prepare. Because it wasn’t such an egregious thing that it required a quick resolution, quick comment, right?

Sarah Noll Wilson
Planful pause. Can we just pause on that phrase?

Dr. Teresa Peterson
Let’s take a planful pause about it.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Let’s take a planful pause about it. You bring up a really good point that, and again, you know one of the one of the traps that we can see people fall into that we’ve worked with in workshops, and we’re even seeing it in people who are reading the book or have read the book, is this like sort of jump to, I always have to have an a conversation, and I always have to take action, and there always needs to, like you just got to get into it. And I want to make sure that we’re careful that we’re not swinging from one one end of the spectrum, from avoidance, to aggression, or or not being thoughtful about it. Because there are there are situations where you might not be safe to bring something up. Maybe there’s power dynamics, because you’re having challenges with your boss. And they have repeatedly shown, you know, there’s a pattern of not being receptive, or maybe there’s a pattern of retaliation. And you may choose to not engage, because you don’t feel that you have the, maybe psychological safety, maybe in a personal situation, physical safety, right? Or, like you were saying that maybe you are like, not yet, I just need to reflect on this and be thoughtful about how I approach it. You know, I know there are times for me, where if something happens, and if it’s not a pattern, I might go, I’m just gonna make note of this. And if it if it happens again, then I’m going to address it then. Because I just want to see, is this just like a one-off? You know, or is it a pattern, and then I can come to it and say, This isn’t the first time that this has happened. Or this isn’t the first time that our relationship has been in this situation. So can we talk about it? And then there’s just the — Can we just, like, I just want to call out the reality that humans are tired right now. Like as the recording of this, we’re going into year three of the pandemic, we’re in, you know, we’re in the Omicron wave, and people are just exhausted. And so there may be times where you go, I just don’t have the energy today, or I’m so busy taking care of a sick parent, or a young child, or I’m just trying to take care of myself and my own mental health. And the difference is, you know, is that not all avoidance is created equal. But if we come from a place of choice with it, of intentionality, that is a way for us to give ourselves power back. When we might be struggling or feel powerless, right? For somebody to say, I know this is important. I just, I’m not in the headspace yet. Or I just don’t, I don’t have it in me today, to explore, is much different than it just being a default reaction.

Dr. Teresa Peterson
Yeah, absolutely. No, I think this is reminding me of something I saw just a little, you know, GIF or something. But it said, Every parent I know right now is ready to walk into the ocean. But, but to your point of, there might just be things that I’m going to let go for now, maybe forever, because they’re — even relatively small things. You know, there are probably things right now that, because the heat is so high in a handful of areas, I’m like, this is just, I’m just gonna assume this is the best scenario for today down here, you know, and then this is kind of where I’m going to focus. Because I do hear that. And it puts into context — Now, the thing I’m thinking about is, we’re talking about the rubs, right, the things that people, you know

Sarah Noll Wilson
The pet peeves, the differences of preferences.

Dr. Teresa Peterson
Yes. Someone didn’t show up in a meeting the way you were hoping they would, or said something that didn’t quite sit, you want to check in about it. We’re not talking about things that are extremely unethical. Like, show a lack of humanity for others as people, just for existing, right, like all of the -isms that we might want to put put in there. Walk us through that path of your thinking. Because that’s, I know, that’s something that’s really evolved for you, for our company, and that we continue pushing ourselves on, but this work about avoidance or having these tough conversations. It doesn’t apply to certain situations. Right? And especially with your Human Resources background. Shed some light on that for us.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah, you know, sometimes what can happen is we can adopt a tool for ourselves, or maybe somebody presents it as like, here’s the one size fits all, right, just just take this class and you’ll know how to have all types of conversations. And that’s one thing that is really important for us is — Ultimately conversations is an interaction between two humans, and humans are beautifully complex. They’re messy, right? We’re messy. I guess should include myself in that. We have times when we don’t show up at our best, we all have varying levels of skills and energy and values and all of that. And so there is, you know, whenever somebody is like, Well, how would you approach this situation? It’s like, Well, it depends. I feel like I need to have a shirt that says “it depends” or “it’s situational.” And so it can be easy, and it’s something that I try to push myself against too, is that the things we talk about, the tools we talk about in the book are just, they’re just that. They’re just some tools to have that can help you some of the time. These aren’t going to resolve every situation, and they may not be applicable in every situation. And we definitely don’t want people to walk away feeling that, because you know, and just to break down the the core practice that we like to use with clients, when they’re struggling with say, employee relation issues, or maybe some trust issues to get, depending on the situation is, you know, what Teresa referenced, is a Curiosity First Approach. And this idea of curiosity, it really was born of observing myself and other people, and being sort of front row of all of these moments of rub, you know, the sandpaper moments, the regrettable events, the the moments where we’re talking past each other is that the pattern was that, it wasn’t often that people were slowing down enough, or taking the step to understand what was it about that situation that was so triggering to me, right? It’s just I’m so busy being mad at you, that I haven’t even processed for myself, right? What value of mine is being stepped on? What need do I have that’s not being met? What preferences do I have? Right? Just all those ideas and so, the focus was always external, instead of a moment of internal reflection of, What was it about this that was so triggering? And the reason that’s such that is an important practice is because it helps us understand ourselves, and it helps us understand the situation, and can give us language to approach that conversation differently. So that’s sort of the first practice of it, the first step, and then getting curious about the other person. And that’s not making assumptions, that’s not filling in stories, it’s just knowing that that person has a story and a perspective on the situation that is likely different than mine. And then finally, depending on the situation, getting curious with them, having a conversation. And so, you know, a lot of times when we’re working in the workplace, some of the situations we’re dealing with may feel a little bit more benign to maybe to other people, but to them it doesn’t. Whether that’s communication styles, being able to have autonomy in a situation, right? The roles we play, the authority we get. But then there are, you know, there are real situations of hurt and harm that happen in relationships, even in the workplace. We know it happens in the workplace, right? And so, you know, so this idea of, these tools may not apply to all situations. You know, for example, if somebody is experiencing harassment, I’m not going to ask them to get curious about the person who’s harassing them.

Dr. Teresa Peterson
Right.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Like, if you don’t feel safe, or even if you start to have a conversation, and like, everything goes out the window, and you do what you need to do. And one of the things that’s really evolved for us, especially for me, in this work, but I know we as a company — A lot of this this work and this practice, it does, it comes through the lens of my lived experiences as a, you know, a now middle aged white woman who’s working with leadership teams that are predominantly, you know, filled with white people, and what does that look like? And if we’re talking about, you know, situations of racism, of sexism, of misogyny, of all of those -isms, you know — There are times when the tools that are needed in those moments are just very different. But the one thing that has become really clear for me on my own personal journey, and in working with others, is if we can’t even talk about the small rubs, if we can’t have conversations about an email that was sent that felt snarky, how are we able to tackle these bigger challenges we have as a society, right? And also from from that perspective, that getting curious with self isn’t just understanding maybe how I felt hurt or harmed, or what was triggering. It’s also critical that, when a situation gets brought up to us, that we go, What role did I play? What assumptions am I making? How did I? You know, sometimes we get into this , people can get into this binary thinking, right? Like, am I a good person? Aren’t I? Am I self aware? Aren’t I? Did I do something? Right? Like, Did I say something inappropriate? Or didn’t I? Instead of asking the question, Well, so how might that be true? Or what did I do? And that’s a real hard question to ask. And it can be a really scary and uncomfortable question to answer. But I can share from my own personal experience, when I’ve been willing to sort of step into that, and people we’ve worked with, the awareness can increase exponentially, and then you can show up more intentionally and close that gap between what you intend to do and the actual impact you make. There’s a lot to unpack there. I was just like —

Dr. Teresa Peterson
I love all of it. Yeah, no, there’s so many gems. You said a few things that I want to check in about. One of the first being, we have this idea of having a conversation. And that makes me think of times we’ve talked about preparing for the conversation, which is different from preparing for a confrontation, or like defaulting to confrontation. And this makes me think of, you know, folks who have been in our workshops or on our teams, and the people we know in real life, who would put themselves in the category of attacking — I attack the problem, you know, which is often just a monologue about the problem. It’s not it’s not a dialogue.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Right, it’s not a partnership. There’s no conversation.

Dr. Teresa Peterson
Yeah, yep. Just like a grenade style. Right. So walk us through, you know, when you are preparing for a conversation, that, you know, I think sometimes even calling them difficult changes how we’re thinking about them. But a conversation that could be tough, that could feel uncomfortable, but is important enough to have, you know, what goes through your mind when you’re thinking about that?

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah. Before I answer that, I just want to give some pause that — something for people to get curious about is if you’re like, Well, I just attack it, or I just address it, is to also do the deeper reflection of, are you open? Are you really open? Or how are you open? Or when are you not open to someone else addressing or attacking it with you? Because sometimes what we see is that it’s, you know, it’s kind of the whole, I can dish it out, I can’t take it. And that’s not true for everyone. I mean, I have real lovely direct people in my life. And I just wish I had an ounce of their style of it. And they and they can take it and they, you know, it is just like, This is how, let’s just get it out. So I just want to pause on that. Because sometimes, what we see as a fairly consistent pattern is individuals who are like, I just attack it, sometimes are the ones who are the least open to receiving it. And so that’s an important part of this, even though this book is, again, my love letter to my fellow avoiders. And there are situations where we might not be able to prepare, but a lot of them we can. And preparing, you know, can look a lot of different ways, but at its core is getting really clear about, you know, what’s the impact you want to have with this conversation? What are you hoping to accomplish with it? And you can’t control the impact, right? You can’t control how the other person will show up or how they will receive it. But you can be thoughtful and intentional about, well, how do I want to show up? And so you know, that’s one of the practices is to be really intentional of like, if I’m giving feedback to a team member that might be difficult for them to hear, you know, maybe my intention and the impact I want to have is, I want to give this feedback. And I want to know that I have belief in them that they’ll figure it out. And I want to be supportive of how they move forward. Maybe the conversation you need to have is one of courage. And you need to advocate for yourself or advocate for someone else in a way maybe that you’re not used to or comfortable doing. And the impact you want to make is being able to show up from that place of advocacy and influence. And you know, some basic questions to think about is, So who do I need to be in this conversation? What do I need to do? And you know, Teresa, I’d love for you to share just that it’s valuable for us to think about, you know, What might I say? Or how might I start it? But I know a practice that you’re really passionate about and bring into our work is, What do you not want to say? So I’d love for you to elaborate on that.

Dr. Teresa Peterson
One thing that I think — I think a couple things are coming up for me. One, sometimes the hardest part is just starting, right? And I think for a lot of people just moving from zero to one is the hardest part. So I think I think kind of arming yourself with the words you want to choose right out of the gate is really powerful. And then I think, for me, it’s been helpful in the past, and so maybe this will resonate with others, to actually do some thinking about the words I don’t want to say, or how I don’t want to sound. Because it’s easy to think, I’m going to be strong, and I’m going to be direct, and I’m going to whatever. And I’m not going to get sarcastic. And I’m not going to use the word, you know, X because I know that doesn’t sit well with the other person, or actually, the word X came up before when we tried to have this, and then it sabotaged the rest of what we were doing. But yeah, I think there’s this idea of like going in with how I want to get started, how I want to show up and what my outcome is, right? Because the more clear I can be about that, and like the good intentions of it for us together, and then what do I not want to do? Right? Because, you know, I’m thinking about that, and some situations at home, too, quite frankly, where it’s like, I don’t want to go down this path. And so if I sense that I’m about to, I may respectfully just take a pause in the conversation, I might be like, I think I’ve kind of tapped out, you know, for right now, can we come back to it? Or I might, it might help me catch myself going there. Right? Or, which I haven’t thought about, maybe I do some of the things that were on my “no” list. What a great moment of leadership and, you know, humanity and humility to say, I didn’t want to say that. You know, let me try that part again. Right? At the other part that we’ve talked about quite a bit, and this comes from a mentor I had earlier on, but, no one records a pause, right? People are very quick, and I’m one of those people too, right? Like, if something comes out wrong, it’s very easy to pounce on. And so when the tension is high, just taking a minute, and the words I use in my mind are like, let me get my mind right about this. Like, you know, I don’t know what a phrase is, for anyone else listening if you if you have a phrase, like let me get my mind right. Like I want to, I know how I want this to go. But let me center myself on it for a minute. And then start, you know, with more intentionality. Because it’s so easy. It’s so easy in writing, you know, online, whatever, quick fire back just, and then you’re just digging yourselves deeper into this place. So yeah, the world doesn’t always take enough pauses to get to get it right. You know?

Sarah Noll Wilson
I mean, that’s always been such a gift you’ve brought to me and to our work is just sometimes it’s like, we can slow down. Like, we can slow down. It may not feel like we can, or may not feel like you’re able to, or maybe the rest of the world might not let you but, you know, that whole idea of, nobody records a pause. And also, you know, how do we give space — because if I’m coming to you, and likely if I’m coming to you, and this is like true, with something that is trying to prevent an elephant or to talk about a situation where there was a rub — because it’s me, I’ve probably spent a few hours thinking about it. I’ve probably spent some time processing from the initial amygdala reaction down to like the alternative, right? Which is like, Oh god, what is she gonna say? And is she gonna still like me? And is this gonna come out right? And am I gonna ruin our relationship? And, you know, and then some time to slow down and get clear about well, how do I want to approach this? And this is something that I feel like I don’t always hold on to, or maybe don’t always keep in my mind, which is, I’ve had all this time to prepare, and you’re hearing it for the first time. And to give, again, situationally, dependent on the situation and the response, but when appropriate, to give some grace to the other person that they may just be hearing about it for the first time. They may not have thought about that situation as harmful or a rub or frustrating or whatever. And they’re going through their own reactions, which may be in protection mode, which may feel, you know, you might feel sad or shame or disappointment. And so that’s one of the things I think that can be a trap for us to fall into, which is, yeah, we probably have spent more work, not because we’re better, but just because we’ve been thinking about it. And so how do we give the other person some space to think about it? And, knowing that, you know, this is something I know that we talk a lot about with the clients we support, is the goal is not to completely remove that initial reaction, that stress reaction, because we just can’t. We just can’t. But can we build up our ability to notice and name it so we can regulate it faster? Can we, like you were saying, like, Oh, I feel the word might be coming. The button — I really want to push your button right now. Right? I really want to go nucular. I really do. And I know. You know, so taking the breath or doing whatever. But yeah, it’s this dance, and we’re not always dancing to the same song. And we haven’t always all learned — I mean, that’s an analogy we use, like, we haven’t learned the same moves and haven’t been practicing together. And so what does that look like for that? And also that idea — and I’d like I would love to hear you speak to this, because this is something I think you talk about with great clarity, is it’s not going to be — it may not be resolved in one conversation. And that’s okay.

Dr. Teresa Peterson
Yeah. I don’t know, this feels like a moment to blame Hollywood. No, like, in movies, there’d be some moment, suddenly soft music’s gonna come, or some inspirational, you know, like, instrumental thing. And then it’s like it’s resolved, and you’re hand in hand again, I don’t know, charging forward. But, but — and — Yeah. And, I don’t know what percentage of the time that happens in real life, right? I think what we see most often is there’s an initial conversation. And I think to your point, Sarah, one person’s thought a lot about it. One person’s probably thought very little about it, right? Or even if they have, they’re like, Oh, crap, is this the moment this conversation’s actually like — Oh, I’ve been thinking about that, too, but — this would be my brain, right? Like, but I’m not really ready to talk about that right now. Okay. And there’s probably going to be another coming together, or a retooling. And that might happen a couple times, right? It might be, like, after the next meeting, Hey, we talked about X. Like, I was working on that, like, how did that feel to you today? Or, like, was I still clear, but also more inclusive? You know, whatever. So I think we have to, as humans, and gosh, always as humans, and in the context of our world right now — Lord, have mercy, do I just want things wrapped up in tiny bows? Just like instantaneous, like, just

Sarah Noll Wilson
Give me the package of clarity and certainty? And the simplicity. Just give it to me.

Dr. Teresa Peterson
Just I can’t. So I think it feels extra uncomfortable, annoying, maybe agonizing in some cases that things aren’t just cleared up right away. Because I think humanity needs that right now. But that sense of, and I think the flip side of it is, and how beautiful is it that we don’t have to get it completely right the first time out of the gate, right? That we can have a conversation that gets us a little closer, or maybe just untangles a little, right? It doesn’t push us closer to a bad spot, pulls us back a little bit. And then every time we can unravel, you know, in a positive way a little bit more, because — the teams, you know, that we work with, usually, the big change took a while to get to a crappy spot, and it takes a little while to get back. There’s rarely this aha moment where a harp starts playing. And it’s like, Oh, I had no idea, you know. And I’m in love with you.

And I also have some warm brownies for you as well for us to enjoy.

Yeah, that just isn’t how it goes. And so

Sarah Noll Wilson
Can I just — I feel like there are things you drop and I just want to give space to. Like it took a lot to get into that situation. Yeah, so it’s probably going to take some stuff to get out of it. And that’s so important. And our desire for the resolution, quick resolution — let’s be real honest with ourselves, isn’t always because we want the best solution. We just don’t want to be uncomfortable and afraid and wrong or whatever. It’s like, Let’s get to harmony as quickly as we can. Let’s get to this as quickly as we can, which might not, again, actually solve the issue. You know, the incision to the relationship that we talked about earlier, doesn’t need a quick bandaid, it might need some really intricate stitching that might open up or might need something else to heal it. And that’s the other thing with relationships. Because, again, the reason we’re so passionate about talking about relationships and conversations is because literally everything we do in life depends on them, right? Unless you’re like an individual — My glasses are — you like that? Sorry, I got distracted by my glasses. There’s my ADHD brain, I knew she’d show up at some point. 46 minutes in, this is pretty good that she held tight, that long.

Dr. Teresa Peterson
Attagirl.

Sarah Noll Wilson
But as long — Like, if I’m living off the land by myself, then maybe, but you still are in relationship with yourself. You still are in conversation with yourself and so much of our success, right? This is something I know we say is, our success, personally and professionally, relies on our quality of our relationships. And success isn’t just in the traditional capitalistic way of, like, get promoted and make more money. But just, like, living a life that’s meaningful, and doing work that matters, and having relationships that are fulfilling. And I sort of lost my train of thought of where I was going with that, but — Yeah, here we go. But in relationships, that repairing, that coming back together, it just is going to keep happening over and over and over. And even when, you know, because we’ve had moments between our relationship, like, even when that happens, we change. The situation changes, right? Like, who we are now is different than who we were three years ago, when we first started. Or you know, you’re navigating a house remodel and house moving, and that creates a different kind of stress. Or maybe I’m experiencing, like, we have some sick family members that we’re taking care of, or my own personal, you know, mental health challenges or whatever. And so, sometimes I think that one of the lessons that, if I could go back and tell younger Sarah, is the regrettable events are inevitable. And the repair is always part of the process. And the goal is, again, not to avoid those or never to have those, but it’s how do we show up in the moment to say, This relationship matters enough for me to heal it. It matters enough for me to be willing to step outside my comfort zone. It matters enough for me to take this risk. And you’re just going to be doing that dance. Anyone who’s been in any kind of romantic relationship for any length of time knows that it’s a coming apart and a coming together, and a coming apart and coming together. And that’s the, it’s just that’s what relationships are. And if we don’t enter into them understanding that, we can create a lot of unnecessary frustration and sometimes some unnecessary sadness. Because, going back to the Hollywood,

Dr. Teresa Peterson
Oh, yeah.

Sarah Noll Wilson
This story got tidied up in 60 minutes. You know, it’s kind of like — my husband Nick and I always talk about, you know, there’s movies where, I don’t know — the one that comes up to mind is The Notebook. Right? The true love between the two. And then she goes off and she’s with this other guy. James, what’s his name? What’s his last name, you know who I’m talking about. He is always the actor who gets left behind. Like, every movie he’s been in. Shoot, what is — Marsden. James Marsden. But like, but we don’t follow his hurt. We don’t follow how his life was impacted. We don’t follow the ripple effect of, like, the friends and family or whatever. And so like, it can be really easy for us to think it should be one way, when if we can embrace the sort of inevitability of messiness, it can be really quite beautiful.

Dr. Teresa Peterson
You know, and that — Gosh, one thing I love about everything you just said is, at the heart of it, honoring the humanity of the other person. The innate messiness of the other person, as a person. As a living, breathing person. And I think for me, that’s what makes this idea of freeing an elephant so powerful, because you’re so specific in separating the person from the conflict, the person from, like, the issue that’s leading you to avoid, right? Because — and I think, you know, we’re all human. We’ve all done this. You associate the person and the problem as this one intertwined thing that will never be separated and, therefore, I hate you both, right? I mean, I’m being dramatic, but when we separate the person from the rub, the person from this this thing that’s not going very well, it’s much easier to address the thing that’s not going well, right? Because we’re not seeing them as one in the same.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. In many situations, right? Because if there’s obviously like repeated patterns of behavior or whatever that might be different. And you’ll notice, like — for those of you who are listening, this will be something, as you hear Teresa and I talk, or as you know, we’re exploring other guests, is we’re really careful to reiterate that point that every situation is different. Every relationship is different. And at the end of the day, you need to figure out what works for you. And you know, what we’re hoping to accomplish with this book, and the work we do, and this podcast, is to just give you more possibilities than maybe we all knew existed, right? It’s, you know, sometimes somebody says something, you’re like, Can I say that? Can I actually approach a conversation that way? Like, I couldn’t even imagine that as a path forward. Because I’ve never experienced it. And so that’s just, we’ll probably be a bit of a broken record about that, that there may be things that work for us, that might not work for you in your situation, or they’re things that work for you, that might not work for someone else. But at the end of the day, can we become more intentional? Can we get more curious? Right? Can we have more compassion towards ourselves towards other people? And step into that candor when we need to? Teresa, I’m noticing time, and I think we’re wrapping up our first conversation together, but we know

Dr. Teresa Peterson
It went fast.

Sarah Noll Wilson
It did, and we have so much more to talk about. This is just gonna be us every — once a week, just talking. What final thoughts do you want to share as we’re wrapping up our time? You know, what are you holding on to from this conversation? How are you — As you would say, What are you thinking different, since we started?

Dr. Teresa Peterson
You know, one thing that we didn’t touch on — and everything we talked about is taking me to this place — How often, when we’re working with teams, individuals, they know what they want to say, there’s just something preventing them from saying it. Right? I don’t think we’ve ever encountered someone who genuinely says, I don’t even know what I want to say. They know the message they want to get across. And often, that’s the most beautiful place to start. Right? How often have we said to someone, Well, what are you thinking about saying? And it’s always, Well, that I really respect Richard, and he does an awesome job, and I want to talk about last Tuesday. What a beautiful way to start a conversation. But so many ways in. People get stuck on the one way in. I’m guilty of that, we all probably are, like, what’s the one way? Well, there are 15 ways into that conversation. So kind of dwelling in the possibility of how you open up, I think is where there’s a lot of power.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah. Especially when what you’re thinking about is coming from a place of that, like, getting clarity, collaborating and seeking closure. You know, obviously, if it’s coming from a place of confrontation, or hurt, because, you know, we all have times where it’s like, I know what I want to say to him.

Dr. Teresa Peterson
Oh, yeah.

Sarah Noll Wilson
I know what I, you know,

Dr. Teresa Peterson
I know what my amygdala wants to say.

Sarah Noll Wilson
I know, like, what — my shadow intention really has some words. But you’re right. I mean, there’s a lot of wisdom — or we’ll just, you know, when we hear people talk of — you know, I think about one situation where I was talking to somebody after a session in the middle of a hotel hallway, right? Back when we were doing in person events, and, you know, they were talking about some distrust, and they’re like, you know, I think that my team member thinks I don’t trust them, because I don’t share this aspect of my life with them. But that has nothing to do with them. That’s just me. And it’s like, have you had that conversation? No. Can I? Yeah, that’s a real beautiful place to start. And yeah, you know, and again, it’s figuring out there just isn’t one, there isn’t one approach. There isn’t one doorway in. There isn’t the one thing you’ll say that will make it all magically happen. And, you know, and in truth if you figure that out, like, let us all know. But it’s just, you know, like we always say, there’s no script, it’s an improvisation, but — it’s a dance. But if we can be intentional, hopefully we can have a far greater impact on ourselves and on them and the world around us. Teresa, thank you so much.

Dr. Teresa Peterson
Always a pleasure.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Selfishly, I’m excited because you and I have these kinds of conversations all the time. And I’m excited to invite people into these conversations to share their thoughts. And, you know, what resonated for them? And what questions came up for them? And yes, and hopefully, you know, people now get a sense of — our intention behind this podcast is, let’s keep talking about conversations on conversations. So we can show up more powerfully. So I just want to give a big thank you for listening to this week’s episode of Conversations on Conversations. It really was a treat, Teresa, and I’m so excited for future conversations. I think, you know, something I’m going to hold on to — Was it Planful Pause? I should have written it down. Was that the language you used?

Dr. Teresa Peterson
Yeah, I think so.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Just that planful pause, because I’m such — as you know, and people who know me, like, I’m a fast talker and a fast thinker. And just that, like, it’s okay to go a little slow. So if you’re listening to this, and if you’d like to have more information on holding deeper, more meaningful conversations with yourself or other people within your team, or if you just simply want to reach out to us, you can connect with us on www.sarahnollwilson.com. You can also connect with me on social media. You can find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and just search Sarah Noll Wilson.com. Teresa, how do you want people to connect with you? What’s your preference?

Dr. Teresa Peterson
In person, outside drinking a tea? Yeah. That’s a good question.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Do you prefer email? I know you’re on LinkedIn, you’re not maybe as active yet. But

Dr. Teresa Peterson
No, I would. I would welcome any emails. If that’s a little too old fashioned for folks, you can find me on LinkedIn.

Sarah Noll Wilson
That’s perfect. And we’ll put that in the show notes. teresa@sarahnollwilson.com. And I’m sarah@sarahnollwilson.com. And this is one of the things that is really important to us, is to be able to be on this journey together. We don’t have it figured out. And so we learn from all of you and your stories and your experiences and the perspectives you bring. So don’t hesitate to connect with us. The other thing that I would be remiss if I didn’t say, you can pick up a copy of my new book, Don’t Feed the Elephants, which is available where books are sold. And if you liked today’s episode, and you want to support our work, visit us on patreon.com/conversationsonconversations, where not only will your support sustain this podcast — we have an incredible team behind us. This isn’t just Teresa and I chatting. So it helps, you know, support their work financially. But you can also get access to some pretty great swag and benefits as well as some content that Teresa and I will be creating just for the Patreon group, and some events for that. So we would love your support in that. So again, that’s patreon.com/conversationsonconversations. If you have questions for us, or if you want to share with us what resonated for you, or if you just want to say really nice and flattering things about Teresa you can. We would love to hear from you. You can also email us at podcast@sarahnollwilson.com. And the other thing is, please rate, review and subscribe to the show. This is one way that you can support us and get this word out. You can do so on iTunes, Spotify and other podcast platforms. Why, that’s a mouthful for me today, podcast platforms. And if you are enjoying the show and you think others might enjoy it too, please help us spread the word. You can do this by telling a friend, or post on social, or just, you know, shout it at random passerbys from your front porch? Yeah, hey. We just, we we firmly believe that if we can change our conversations and we can change our relationships, we can change our world. And a big final thank you to our incredible team who makes this podcast possible. To Drew Noll and Nick Wilson for editing and producing the show. And Kaitlyn Summitt-Nelson for her marketing support, and general just amazingness. And the rest of the SNoWco team. And thank you again to all of you. Teresa. Thank you for joining us on this inaugural episode. And with that, you know, just a final thought is that when we can change our conversations with ourselves and with others, we can change our world. So thank you, and have a beautiful rest of your day.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

 

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Sarah Noll Wilson is on a mission to help leaders build and rebuild teams. She aims to empower leaders to understand and honor the beautiful complexity of the humans they serve. Through her work as an Executive Coach, an in-demand Keynote Speaker, Researcher, Contributor to Harvard Business Review, and Bestselling Author of “Don’t Feed the Elephants”, Sarah helps leaders close the gap between what they intend to do and the actual impact they make. She hosts the podcast “Conversations on Conversations”, is certified in Co-Active Coaching and Conversational Intelligence, and is a frequent guest lecturer at universities. In addition to her work with organizations, Sarah is a passionate advocate for mental health.

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