We all know that what happens in our world outside of work doesn’t stop at the office door. How do you approach discussing global events with a multicultural team, and how do these conversations affect corporate outcomes?

Culture Moments host Larry Baker (he/him), Harvard Business Publishing’s Vice President of Diversity and Culture Ellen Bailey (she/her), and The Culture Mastery’s Founder and CEO Christian Höferle (he/him) discuss what it means to create brave spaces where employees feel empowered to embrace discomfort and have authentic conversations.

After tuning in to the conversation, we encourage you to share your takeaways on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Show Notes & Highlights

5:13  Larry distinguishes courageous and brave conversations

10:50  Ellen shares an example of creating a safe space for authentic conversations

16:48  Christian and Ellen discuss generational differences in embracing discomfort

21:39  Christian shares a story about tackling difficult conversations across cultures

32:13  Ellen gives three tips for successful brave spaces in the workplace

38:04  Christian analyzes assumptions about “soft” and “core” skills

42:27  Ellen gives her closing thoughts on owning brave conversations

43:04  Christian gives his final thoughts citing The Four Agreements

44:38  Larry wraps up by linking grace and authentic curiosity

Show Transcript

Larry Baker: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Culture Moments podcast. I’m your host, Larry Baker, and I am thrilled to have you join us for our second season called Brave Conversations with LCW. In these episodes, you’ll hear from a panel of guests from specific communities offering a range of perspectives on the past two years. We’ll hear about their own experiences as well as their insights on what has changed, and more importantly, what needs to change to move equity forward.

As we all know, so much has shifted and changed over the past two years, and for many of us, we’re still in recovery from a very difficult 24 months.

So welcome. On today’s episode of the Culture Moments podcast, we’ll be discussing how to create brave spaces for your employees in the workplace. Now you might be familiar with the term “safe space,” which is an environment that is closely associated with comfort, but with authentic conversations surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion, they’re not always comfortable. These conversations—while oftentimes uncomfortable and challenging—have the ability to be transformational. So how do we create brave spaces intentionally structured to allow contributors to share their own experiences, To engage in difficult conversations, and to challenge one another?

How do you create brave spaces for your employees? To help us dive into this important discussion, I am joined by Ellen Bailey, who is the vice president of diversity and culture at Harvard Business Publishing, and Christian Höferle, President and CEO of The Culture Mastery. Welcome.

Ellen Bailey: Thank you.

Larry Baker: You are welcome.

Christian Höferle: Thank you for having us, Larry.

Larry Baker: It is absolutely my pleasure. So I gave a very high-level, generic introduction of who you are, but I do wanna give you the space to officially give your introduction. And I’m gonna start with you, Ellen, if you would kick us off.

Ellen Bailey: Sure, absolutely. So as the vice president of diversity and culture at Harvard Business Publishing, I lead our work not only on the diversity equity, inclusion, and belonging front but also when it comes to employee engagement and that cultural shift that we’re trying to make. I have been with HBP for almost 11 years, and we are a sole subsidiary of Harvard University. And so we have access to that thought leadership, which is great, but we’re kind of run as our own separate business. I have been in this space doing this type of work since 2020, like many people I think have

Larry Baker: Okay, amazing. Thank you so much for that, Ellen. Christian you’re up.

Christian Höferle: I am German by birth, American by choice, and at heart I am a Bavarian—that only matters to people who understand the regionality of the German culture. I usually introduce myself like this because it highlights that our culture and where we belong, who we are, and what we identify as has so many layers… and nationality or profession or ethnicity or whatever other layers. If you look at them singularly, they will never give you the full picture. As the owner and founder of my company, The Culture Mastery, we’ve been working for the past…well, it’s been more than 15 years now, with global professionals. These include typically either expatriates who are going into another culture for work reasons, or include multinational, multicultural organizations who have teams that are composed of members that are from different cultural backgrounds and therefore want to become better at being and working with one another in light of all their behavioral differences.

Larry Baker: Amazing. Thank you so much for that, Christian, and thank you so much for that, Ellen, for that introduction. We’re gonna kick off our conversation by doing a little bit of level setting, and what I mean by that is we’re gonna talk about what do you consider a brave conversation and why it’s important to make space for it in the workplace.

I’ll start by giving an illustration of how I interpret the difference between brave conversations and courageous conversations because I think many people are familiar with the phrase “courageous conversations,” but in my opinion, there’s a difference. Because when we talk about a courageous conversation, it is an individual that may not feel like they have all types of information, or they’ve done a lot of research to really engage in the conversation, so they’re going into it with a little bit of trepidation. But with a brave conversation, this is an individual that has spent time engaging with whatever cultural difference or whatever difference they decide to focus in on, and they’ve done some homework, and they’ve done the work. Now they’re ready to engage in that conversation with their information bravely to challenge those concepts and those things that they’ve studied. To me, there’s the difference between courageous is a little bit about, “Well, I know a little bit, but I’m not too sure, but I’m gonna have the conversation anyway,” but the brave conversation is “I’ve done some work, I’ve dug into these concepts, and now I’m ready to challenge that and engage in some difficult conversations based upon that knowledge.”

So Christian, I’d like for you to jump in and talk to me about what do you consider a brave conversation, and why is it important to make space for it in the workplace?

Christian Höferle: First of all, I like your definition and explanation of that definition. As you were elaborating on this, I recognized myself that I often don’t know where that transition is happening for myself from courageous to brave. How often, potentially, did I have those conversations that were only courageous and I thought I was being brave? I would ask myself first, “Did I do enough work? Have I done enough homework to be considered a brave conversationalist on these topics?”

For me, topics that I find myself to at least be courageous are questions about ethnic and socioeconomic inequality in the country that is now my country of residence, which is the United States. It often involves inequalities in the workplace around gender and the new newly shaping or evolving definitions of how do we “classify gender.” Also a little bit age in the workplace—generational gaps seem to become sometimes contentious topics. I think the one that’s dominant for me in my work life and also my personal life is the inequality that we continue to experience in the United States based on the systematic oppression of people of color.

Larry Baker: Yeah, great. Thank you so much for that, Christian. Okay, Ellen, your turn. Tell me: what do you consider a brave conversation? Why is it important to make space for it in the workplace?

Ellen Bailey: Sure. I regularly quote Martin Luther King. I don’t have it on today, but I often have on a shirt with his quote that says “The time is always right to do what’s right.” I live by that in my personal life and my work life. I think that the time is always right to do what’s right, and if we don’t have both courageous and, as important or more important, brave conversations, then we won’t see change and we’re condoning the current state. That is why to me, it is so critically important that we have these brave conversations. Why it’s so important that we have the brave conversations is because while the courageous ones are certainly a great first step, are a phase one, we need that additional education/research to be able to present the business case, the potential outcome, or the impact so that people then feel it a little bit more and are actually driven to change.

Larry Baker: Yeah, that’s a great point. I love how you made that connection to the business case because again, if we’re trying to set it up in the workplace, there has to be some business result that we can tie these initiatives to. So that’s an excellent point as well, Ellen. I appreciate you for saying that.

Ellen, I’m gonna start with you on this particular question because I know that that is one of your responsibilities in the role that you do. Can you give me some examples of some workspaces that have done a good job at this, and if you’re willing to be transparent, maybe some examples where it is not going so well?

Ellen Bailey: Not so much? Yeah, for sure. Well, we encourage everybody to have that culture feedback and have those courageous and brave conversations. Does really happen in the workplace? Not near as much as I think we would all hope. Right? And that goes across the entire business, everything from culture and race and all of the hard stuff to the business topics.

Larry Baker: Yes.

Ellen Bailey: We’ve done a couple of things that have worked and not worked, so I’ll share first the positive on what we’ve seen really work.

We decided—and I say we, the president of our organization, Josh Mock, and I decided—that we needed to demonstrate what these brave conversations look like. We started with honestly kind of a pure experiment, and it was here in the U.S. after the Ahmaud Arbery jury selection was announced where there were 11 white jurors and one Black juror. Josh and I decided to have this impromptu safe space call; we sent out an email just an hour or so in advance to all employees and they could join for this 45-minute conversation, which was a complete, safe, and brave space for you to share and to ask questions. What we decided to do was join five minutes early and just start having the conversation so that as people then tuned in, they heard us saying things like white privilege and different things like that are tough topics. Then people just started chiming in, and it became one, large, honestly quite brave conversation because we had people talking about kind of doing your research and prepping before. We had people that had legal backgrounds that we’re talking about the challenges in this situation, etcetera.

I say that because then that has teed us up, so as different things happen, not just in the U.S. but around the globe, we then have these what I call kind of impromptu safe space calls where people can come and chat, and that has worked brilliantly. What I have found is when we try to force it a bit and we actually have storytelling sessions or people perceive it as formal development, they don’t go as well. So while you do need to prep, I think they need to be natural, I think they need to be in-the-moment, and I think they need to be optional.

Larry Baker: That’s great because again, that true, authentic conversation has the opportunity to avail itself, and what you are going to see from individuals in your positions within the organization is that there could be moments where we missed the mark as well. And that level of vulnerability is really what’s needed to have these conversations because far too often, I feel that people believe that “I have to be perfect with this conversation.”

Ellen Bailey: Right.

Larry Baker: It’s not about being perfect; it’s about getting better. That’s what, hopefully, that interaction that you’re having is showing.

Ellen Bailey: That’s exactly right, and that is what it does. It helps fuel additional conversations. Then what we are finding is that people are then taking something that they’ve learned or something that they’ve shared back to their teams. Even if everybody didn’t attend, it is still helping people have those brave conversations outside of that particular space so that they hopefully are encouraged to have those brave conversations as needed on their own.

Larry Baker: Amazing. Thank you for sharing that. Okay, Christian, I’m not gonna leave you out. I’m gonna get you into this mix as well. So talk about some of the good examples that you’ve seen and some that, you know, maybe not so much.

Christian Höferle: Well, the good examples: I’m gonna be vague about this because I have to preface this answer a little bit. I don’t go into my rooms or into my client engagements with the DEI hat on. When I enter the conversation, it’s usually about crossing cultures efficiently and the DEI portion feedbacks on that.

I’ve seen the biggest successes usually in teams that are more diverse, and diverse also in the generational sense. The higher the percentage of gen gen-Z and millennials, the better of the outcomes—in my experience—in these brave conversations. The negative examples are usually with groups that are monocultural, or who don’t see themselves as monocultural and turn out to be, and are predominantly white. I have to throw shade on my own ethnicity. It’s those rooms when a more, let’s say… I don’t want to call them “conservative” because that’s a misuse of the word… let’s say a more old-fashioned or old ways of thinking types are in a room together and feel that they’re not under the microscope and can let loose, then that’s when some of that nastiness that persists is breaking out. This has been tough for me because I shut that down usually, or I mean, if it’s really nasty I shut it down. If it only seven-out-of-ten of nasty, then I engage your conversations, say, “Okay, let me challenge you on these positions, and let’s see where this goes.”

It’s easy for me to say this on microphone as a middle-aged white guy, saying, “I feel myself as an ally and an advocate and all this nonsense.” It’s easy for me to say that; it’s hard for me to prove that. The proof would be in people that see me as their ally confessing to that, and we don’t have them on this call. So I’m not gonna flaunt that card because it’s kind of ludicrous, but it’s these conversations when they become fragile, when my white brethren and sisters show their fragility is when it becomes interesting, and that’s where I think I am brave. That’s when I want the challenge, and I want them to embrace that discomfort in that conversation. These brave conversations, in my opinion—and this is very biased point of view, probably—I think they have to be uncomfortable. Without discomfort, there is no change.

Ellen Bailey: That’s right. I was just gonna chime in on that real quick cuz you know, Christian, I agree with you a hundred percent. I will say that even prior to being in this role officially, I was pushing our organization since 2018 to do more in this space. We needed to do more for our employees, and we needed to do more for society. It took George Floyd being murdered to make that happen, to be quite frank. When we first started talking about the challenges, as a Black woman, I said to our white executive committee, “We need to say the word ‘Black.’ Let’s just say the word Black. Let’s just say that out loud. Let’s put it in print. We just have to say that.”

I’m in my fifties, so I will say my generation and above that is hesitant on “I don’t know how to say it. I don’t know what to say. I’m gonna say it wrong…” because we were taught not to talk about it. And it is this younger generation as like, “Wait, what? We don’t talk about that?” So that’s refreshing.

Larry Baker: That that’s an excellent point. You know, we actually have a program where we talk about the Black experience in America, and that’s something that we address. “How do I know whether to say Black or African American?” Well, the biggest thing is just ask them, right? Or you can listen to how they’re referencing themselves, and that can give you a clue to do it. But it does go back to that point of people are too wound up and wrapped up in being perfect with these conversations. The reality is even if I’m from the cultural group, I don’t represent the entire group because we’re not a monolith. There is no way that I can speak on behalf of the 40-some-odd million Blacks that are in the United States and across the world. I am giving you my experience, so please don’t take that as the gospel and run over to Ellen’s house and say, “Well, Larry told me that Black people…” Whoa, whoa, whoa.

Ellen Bailey: Right.

Larry Baker: We can’t go there. This is an individual type of conversation, and this is what’s gotten us in trouble already because we take this blanket approach to an entire culture without the acknowledgement of the differences even within that specific culture. Whether we wanna get around it or not and say, “I talked to my Black friend or my Black colleague,” it’s going to require some deeper, brave conversations in which you do the work, you have these conversations, you mess up, but then you get back into the game. That’s the key.

Ellen Bailey: That’s the key.

Larry Baker: So I appreciate that discussion,

Christian, I’m gonna come back to you because you added a really interesting perspective that I don’t want you to gloss over. You said, “The DE&I comes later. I focus more on the multicultural perspectives.” But that’s huge because culture is a part of our behavior.

Christian Höferle: Oh, I completely agree

Larry Baker: I want to touch on that point, Christian, because we know that our teams can be global teams, and they bring with them that multicultural perspective. So Christian, kick us off and tell me: how do you approach discussing global events with the multicultural team?

Christian Höferle: Let me give you a personal story. That memory was triggered by what Ellen just said. This is my personal story, so I’m not representative for my culture, right? I’m just one member of that tribe, just like you said, Larry. It just so happened for my wife and I and our family that the connections that we made living here in the United States, the really true deeper connections, were ethnically very mixed. I would argue that we have more people of color in our circle of friends than  Caucasian white people, and this is—I think—by happenstance maybe to a certain degree but also to our surroundings. We live in the Southeast of the United Stated, lived in the Chattanooga, Tennessee area for more than a decade, and now in Atlanta for the past five years and change.

I’m a minority in my neighborhood, right? I am surrounded by people of color. We met another African American family years ago that we befriended, and we got really close—closer than your superficial type of friendship, like breaking bread, hanging out til way past midnight, and having all these brave conversations. One of these brave conversations was me addressing my friend Aaron, saying, “Hey, Aaron, we hang out quite a bit, and every time we hang out as groups it appears that my wife and I are the only white people you hang out with.” I kind of jokingly said, “Are we your token white people?”

Larry Baker: (laughs)

Christian Höferle: And he laughed and said, “No, you’re the white people we hang out with because you’re the only white men who would dare ask me that question the way you just phrased it.”

Larry Baker: Yeah.

Christian Höferle: And I paused for a second and because I didn’t understand. I didn’t grow up in the U.S., so I didn’t grow up with this ethnic dilemma that this country has been in for 400 years. I asked him what that meant, and he said, “Most white people in the south would’ve not phrased this question that way and probably would’ve never said it to him like this anyway for fear of being labeled as racist.” And I said, “Well, do you think I’m racist?” And he said, “No, you’re not. You asked this question out of a position of genuine curiosity.”

This is, for me, the litmus test: if you can have a conversation. It has to be a brief conversation. In my opinion, it needs to be a conversation that is not full of blanket statements. It has to be a conversation with a lot of asking and with a lot of listening, and you wanna ask from a position of heartfelt, genuine curiosity and not from a position of judgment—that is often what derails these brave conversations.

As we continued and elaborated on my question about “token white people,” my friend Aaron said a lot of the white folks that he interacted with through the course of his life in the south have what he labeled as “slavery guilt. They said they are not slaveholders, they probably will never be, and in living memory, none of their relatives wear slave owners—maybe they were 160 years ago, and they don’t wanna go there and don’t know does it matter. In today’s life, they have this hangover guilt and therefore seem to be apprehensive when interacting with POC.

That’s when I realize—and this is where I make the connection in my cross-cultural work, as it touches a lot of German-speaking Europe and English–speaking North America—I have that same feeling or a very similar emotion. I don’t have slavery guilt; I grew up with Holocaust guilt.

Larry Baker: Ah.

Christian Höferle: My generation, I’m a gen-Xer, so I feel with you Ellen; I’m in my fifties. I grew up learning about German history and about the crimes of my grandparents and great grandparents’ generation and learning about this in a very unfiltered way, meaning we took field trips to concentration camps. You walk into the “showers,” where they gas people to death. It’s something that leaves a mark on a young person, and it also teaches us—at least that’s how I view it—to be witnesses to the crime: to not be silent. I like what you said about that MLK quote, Ellen. It reminds me of that Elie Wiesel quote… Elie Wiesel the Holocaust survivor, who said, “You can’t be neutral in the light of oppression. Silence encourages the tormentor and never the tormented.” We are raised to be not silent about this, and we in Germany are raised a little different with our history than most people in the U.S. are raised in the school system, but there is this lingering guilt, some might say, that I cannot interact without inhibition when I am in touch with people of Jewish faith. I’ve overcome this now. I look at this as an obligation. I don’t feel guilt any longer. I’ve done the work. I’ve done the work with people of Jewish faith for years. I continue doing the work with people of color in the United States, and this conversation happens in the training room when we talk about crossing cultures. I confront—bravely, I would argue–German-speakers with their history and how we might be able to draw parallels to U.S. history. I confront my U.S. audiences with their history and draw a parallel to European history. So it does enter that space. It was a long answer, and I hope it, it did some of the things you wanted to know.

Larry Baker: Christian, you’ve literally captured what the Black or African American community has been begging our white brothers and sisters to do: to embrace that history and confront it. It’s not about what happened in the past—it’s important to understand that–but what do you do from here on out. I think far too often, the resolution has been let’s not talk about it and hopefully it’ll go away. Well, that really hasn’t worked out. I’m so glad that you take some of those parallels between the Nazi Germany experience and the Jewish experience with the African American experience in America because the reality is some of those frameworks came from the Jim Crow segregation laws in America. So there are literal connections to that experience with the American experience.

Christian Höferle: Yeah. Nazis looked exactly at the Jim Crow laws as did South African apartheid.

Larry Baker: Absolutely. Ellen, I don’t wanna keep you out of this because I know you have some global reach as well. How do you tie in discussing global events with multicultural teams? Talk to me about some of the things that you’ve done, and again, we could take it from the aspect that they worked or “Yeah, maybe we shouldn’t have done it that way. “

Ellen Bailey: Yeah. I actually don’t have a ton to add here. I think that when I mentioned earlier those open safe spaces that we create, they are global and they address global issues. It’s not just we’re a particular population that we’re favoring, so to speak, or giving more attention to as things go on across the globe. We create this safe space hoping that people will have the brave conversation, I guess, is the way to put that.

What I would say though, to what Christian said… I think Christian you nailed it because when you go into these conversations, it is actually not about you. It is not about me. It is about the other person: the group of people. We need to listen and learn. You gotta get over your fear. It ain’t about you, so listen and learn so that we understand the history—we understand that individual’s experience—so that we aren’t putting them in a bubble or we’re not standardizing all people are this or that. Truly understand their individual experience and their culture and understand the history and where they intersect so that we can learn and collectively then get better. Because if we don’t go into it with a learning mindset and we don’t seek to understand and listen, then it’s all for naught. That’s not then a brave conversation at all. That is lip service, and that’s saying that we care but not demonstrating Larry Baker: Amazing.

Christian Höferle: Yep, right on.

Larry Baker: That is such an insight. I think that that’s dead on the money. You know, one of the things that I like to do with these podcasts is to make sure that we are giving folks things that when they hear this, that they can actually go off and apply into real world situations.

So Ellen, I’m gonna start off with you and I’d like for you to give me some advice for… what are some good first steps that somebody can do that really wants to try to create these brave spaces? What are some things that they should probably think about to make this successful? Ellen, if you could gimme some insights on that…

Ellen Bailey: Sure, absolutely. I will list three things. First, think about what is going on in the world right now that people need to have that brave conversation about. First identify that topic, that issue, that challenge, whatever it is. Then two, you demonstrate it. You be the one that leads. Regardless of who you are on this call, somebody’s gotta be first. You step up, and you find a teammate, a colleague, a group of people in your organization where you can demonstrate this with. It could be you pulling in one colleague and having a conversation one-on-one and then sharing the output with your team. It could be in a weekly or biweekly team meeting, and you ask for people to partner with you on this first engagement because somebody has to be first. The third is tied to that, which is what I just mentioned, is it has to be visible. It’s actually, honestly, not enough to do the good work and have the brave conversations if people don’t hear about them, see them, and see the impact that they have. Then it’s almost like you just did it in secret, and so they need to be visible, to be honest with you, to be impactful. Those are kind of my top three “get started” pieces of advice.

Larry Baker: Amazing, amazing. Thank you so much for that. Christian, same question to you: advice, things to consider before beginning…

Christian Höferle: Ellen said one person has gotta be first, and in order to create a movement, somebody has to be second because the second person is who starts to movement, right? My work often reaches leadership, so I implement this best practice with leaders in organizations saying, “You need to be the one stepping up. “Let me backpedal this a little bit…

I’m brought into these conversations as an outside consultant, so I sometimes am in a position to guide leadership or to mentor and coach and somewhat direct leadership into new best practices. That’s when I make that instructive recommendations that you are the one in charge. You are the nominal leader of this group. This is upon you to be the first one to step up and create that conversation. We’ve done simple exercises that have been around for decades that still seem to work. We do this once a week, maybe some organizations do it daily: the team sits around the table or in a circle or however for the format they choose and they go around the room and say, “What I would like to say is ‘blank, blank, blank.’” Then they fill it in with a minute or two or three and then hand it off to the next person. The next person receives that without comment, without judgment, without pushing it—just says, “Thank you, and what I would like to say is ‘blank, blank, blank, blank.’” This gives everybody the same equal chance of contributing to a conversation.

From that, as a leader, you can choose which of these topics you would like to engage more in and enroll your team into having a bigger conversation around the suggested things that were being brought up. Again, for me goes back to the curiosity. If it happens as a forced, top-down approach: “We need to talk about this, and we need to do some DNI and we need to… we need to…” The word needing to comes from a space of scarcity, right? I need something because I don’t have it. If you feel you need it, then it’s probably you do, and it’s probably not the right energy to begin this conversation with. If we can create this environment of “Hey, we have things that we would like to address. What might be the best ways to go about this within our group? What works for us as a group may not work for the next group over, so let’s find our way.” This is again a longwinded answer that doesn’t give you a template answer or a template structure. I’m a fan of customization and this is how we’ve been successful.

Larry Baker: Yeah, and Christian, that’s a great point because there’s really no magic bullet, right? Because if it were, someone would have already created it and put it into a format and a pill or whatever, and give you the magical steps. You have to be able to customize it for different organizations. And that really leads me to one more question that I’d like for each of you to chime into because I don’t want the listeners to think, “Oh, my goodness. This is super simple. We just do Ellen’s three steps, or we just do Christian’s this, that, or the other.” But there are some difficulties in creating these brave spaces.

And I’ll start with you, Christian. Tell me some of those difficult situations that you’ve had to address, and what did you do to address it? And then I’ll ask Ellen to chime in as well.

Christian Höferle: Well, just from a corporate perspective, the difficulty is that we don’t have time for that, or I can’t pull my people away from the desk for something like this. It it’s usually economic reasons that are either what they think is the reason or just a pretext for something else.

Much of the work that we do is often labeled by outsiders as “soft skills work,” and this makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up—actually all my hair stand up—because none of this is soft. I struggle with the terminology because soft implies weak. Soft is juxtaposed to hard, and hard is important, right? That’s bottom-line relevant. These are the relevant organizational and economic skills. Soft is nice to have, and maybe if we have time and a budget for this. I make the case to my clients without these so-called soft skills, none of your hard skills will work because if you cannot communicate in your team, if you cannot unearth the discomfort and look at it and resolve it, it will linger on. It will inhibit your success. It will be bottom-line relevant.

Larry Baker: Absolutely.

Christian Höferle: For me, it’s not “soft skill.” It’s a power skill. What we do are power skills, and this has been my mission for the past couple years to drive this home with my corporate audience, that the attitude towards our work moves away from something that is either forced upon them by social events or current events. Know that is actually something that will positively affect their economic outcomes if they address it proactively. That’s my two cents.

Larry Baker: Yeah, and Christian, I love how you had the same issue or the reaction when someone called it soft skills because when I was in corporate America and they referred to it as soft skills, my immediate response is “No, these are core skills.” We always are combating that connotation with “This is the fluffy stuff. The feel good.” But what you don’t realize is if you don’t have this, you’re not gonna get to those hardcore skills or whatever that you’re looking for.

So Ellen, you’re up.

Ellen Bailey: That’s exactly right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. The HPR article by Robin Elie and David Thomas, I’m paraphrasing the title, but it’s something like “Enough with the Business Case.” Nope. Unfortunately, we still have to present that day in and day out. I wish that was the case, but it’s just not. I think, to me, I go back to the word fear. I think that there’s the fear of having the brave conversations, but that’s not the kind of fear I’m talking about. I am talking about the majority having a fear of some sort of loss or something being taken away or losing something.

Larry Baker: Yes.

Ellen Bailey: It is not a zero sum gain. We can have these brave conversations, and I have to present the business case regularly to encourage people to have these brave conversations so that we can all elevate together. Still tying it back unfortunately to that business case because exactly what Christian said, if you don’t leverage the brain power of your team and create the space and the opportunity for them to share up their brain power, then you’re not gonna get to where you need to be. Period. It is continuing to present the business case so that people, even if they’re not feeling it, are honestly kind of forced to give over that fear and embrace these brave conversations so that we can excel in the business, which will also then create sustainable.

Larry Baker: Amazing. That is so spot on, Ellen, and everything that you’re saying, it really resonates with me. As we come towards the close of our time, I’m gonna give each one of you space to have a closing thought. If you could sum up this whole conversation that we’re having today, what would you want to instill in our listeners?

That would be something like your aspirational goal or your closing thought or something to motivate individuals to engage in these brave conversations. Ellen, and I’ll start with you and then Christian.

Ellen Bailey: Sure. We, every single person listening, every single person on the globe, owns this change, so it takes every single one of us. If we can each—be the first, be the second—proactively have and encourage these brave conversations, that is what will make the difference. That is my hope—it’s not my job as the black leader of diversity and culture…

Larry Baker: Yes.

Ellen Bailey: …but every single one of us own this, and we all are willing to have these brave conversations.

Larry Baker: Thank you so much, Ellen. Christian, your turn: closing thought.

Christian Höferle: It’s all right on, Ellen. It’s only an inclusive conversation if we all take part in it.

Ellen Bailey: If we all do it, right? (laughs)

Christian Höferle: Exactly. So I will close this off with kind of the house rules for both my family and in business. It’s basically based on the book by Don Miguel Ruiz; the book is called The Four Agreements. Some of you might be familiar with it. Don Miguel Ruiz says the four agreements are kind of the guideline of efficient, non-violent human interaction. Number one is be impeccable with your words: that means speak with integrity, say only what you mean. Number two: don’t take anything personally because nothing that others do is because of you, it has everything to do with them. Number three: do not make assumptions because we know what happens when we assume. You’ve all seen those circles around ass and you and me, right?

Larry Baker: (laughs)

Christian Höferle: Number four is always do your best, and what is your best today may not be the same as it was yesterday. In the U.S., we have this fixation with breaking our personal best every day, which is breaking our backs literally. Always doing your best is best on what is possible with the resources you have available at that given moment. These are the four agreements that seem to work well for us and that we’ve been instilling with our clients. Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take anything personally, do not make assumptions, and always do your best.

Larry Baker: Yeah, that’s some great parting thoughts, Christian and Ellen. I wanna share just kind of, in my perspective, my overriding wish. I do believe that I see a lot of correlation with the statements that both of you made to close out, but for me personally I really want a bunch of people who are interested in becoming what I call “accomplices to me” to get it wrong because I promise them they’re going to get it wrong, and they’re going to get it wrong likely more than once.

But hear me when I say this, please get it wrong for me. Be wrong on my behalf. I want you to try stuff. I want you to learn stuff. I want you to make attempts. I want you to fail. I want you to be a person that embraces the discomfort of not knowing, of not even being certain of not understanding, and then I want you to be motivated enough to learn and get better.

I promise you, if you have that authenticity—if you have that true curiosity—I am going to give you grace if you give me effort. That’s exactly what I’m thinking about, and I think all of our statements really tied in to that concept today.

I am so thankful and grateful that, Ellen and Christian, you decided to take this time out of your extremely busy schedules and to provide this insight to our listeners. I thank you, thank you, thank you so much for your participation and the wisdom and the knowledge that you shared. This was truly inspirational. Thank you both so much.

Ellen Bailey: My pleasure.

Christian Höferle: Thank you. Honored to be here.

Larry Baker: All right. Thank you both.

And to all of you that are listening, we wanna know what were your biggest takeaways from this conversation? Please share them with us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn at Language and Culture Worldwide or LCW.

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