Strategies for Collaboration and Strong Relationships in the Workplace with Sally Helgesen (Ep. #79)

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June 27, 2023
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Strategies for Collaboration and Strong Relationships in the Workplace with Sally Helgesen (Ep. #79)

Welcome to "Building Better Managers" the podcast that brings you insightful conversations and actionable strategies for creating an inclusive and thriving workplace. With your host, Wendy Hanson, and in today's episode, we have a very special guest, Sally Helgesen, joining us.

Diversity and inclusion are more than just buzzwords; they are essential for driving success in any organization. In this episode, we'll explore why cultivating a diverse workforce is so crucial. We'll uncover the tangible benefits it brings, such as enhanced creativity, innovation, and increased productivity. By collaborating with individuals from different backgrounds, we can make better decisions and adapt more effectively to our rapidly changing global market.

Meet Sally Helgesen

  • Sally Helgesen is a globally recognized leadership expert, speaker, and author with an extensive background in women's leadership development.
  • She has received acclaim for her groundbreaking work on fostering inclusive workplaces and bridging divides through her bestselling books, including "Rising Together: How We Can Bridge Divides and Create a More Inclusive Workplace" and "How Women Rise" (co-authored with Marshall Goldsmith).
  • Sally's work extends beyond writing, as she has delivered impactful workshops, keynotes, and coaching sessions to numerous organizations and professionals worldwide, helping them unlock their full potential and thrive in their careers.

Downloads & Resources

Follow Sally on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and at SallyHelgesen.com.

Subscribe to our podcast on your favorite podcast platform!

Check out our blog articles on Leadership here.

View the episode transcript

Transcription ep 79

Intro 0:02

Welcome to building better managers, the better manager podcast with Wendy Hanson, where we talk with top leadership professionals about strategies you can use today to create a happier, highly engaged and more productive workplace. Now, here's your host better manage your co founder Wendy Hanson.

Wendy 0:24

Greetings everyone. If you are listening to this, you probably know that having a diverse workforce is good for business. We need different outlooks, perspectives, talents and strengths to create a strong we capital W capital E at work. The benefits of an inclusive resource include enhanced creativity, innovation, increased productivity, which is when people from different backgrounds collaborate, it often leads to improved decision making and outcomes. And in our rapidly changing global market, organizations need to be adaptable more than ever. diverse workforces are generally better equipped to handle change because of the range of perspectives, skills and cultural insights. We have read why being inclusive works for us is so important, but we don't have the tactics and behaviors to figure out how well you are in for a treat. Because my guest today Sally Helgason has studied this for years and offers practical advice. I'm so excited. This is the second time Sally's been on a podcast because she's just brilliant and she does what I consider the better manager way and gives us things we can do right away.

Wendy 1:46

My goal is that you'll always leave with something that you can make real and I think you're gonna get that today from Sally. So let me tell you a little bit about Sally Elkins if you don't already know her. Sally is cited in Forbes as the world's premier expert on women's leadership, and is an internationally best selling author, speaker and leadership coach. She has been inducted into the thinker's 50 Hall of Fame, which honors those whose ideas have shaped the field of leadership worldwide. Sally's latest book rising together, how we can bridge divides and create a more inclusive workplace offers very practical tips on how to have inclusive Relationships, Teams and workplaces. All the things I talked about above. It's soared to Amazon's number one top seller in the field the first week of publication, rising together builds on Sally's remarkable success with how women rise co authored with legendary executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, which examines the behaviors most likely to get in the way of successful women as they move in their careers. And you can look back at our podcasts on better manager and you can listen to that one in here, Sally talk about that book, because that's a wonderful resource for women. for over 30 years, Sally has delivered workshops keynotes for companies, partnerships firms Association, working in 37 countries around the world. So welcome, Sally, I am so delighted that you could join us today.

Sally 3:20

Thank you, Wendy. It's wonderful to be back with you.

Wendy 3:23

Yes. Oh, now I love that you are addressing diverse workplaces, your new book rising together, it has pragmatic advice which I love. Can you give us a high level overview of what you see the issues that get in our way in this area?

Sally 3:41

Well, I think that part of the reason that we are still struggling with it because we all buy the story of why diverse workplaces are more collaborative, more creative, more inspired, and do a better job of reaching customers and clients. So the evidence is there. And yet we still struggle. I think that part of the problem has been we have been very focused on surfacing unconscious biases as a way to create more inclusive workplaces. And as far as that goes, that can be fine, although it can also create some some problems. But it's all about what we think it's not about what we do. It's all about the ideas and thoughts running through our heads rather than how we behave to one another. And also how we address emotions that can be stirred by the complexities of working in that kind of workplace. So what I'm trying to do here and I really am on a big mission to change things is to get how diversity is done and approached in organizations all around the world. have to have a more tactical approach to help people and teach people how to behave in ways that are more likely to build strong relationships with people different than themselves, so we can create better teams, more high functioning teams, and so people can enjoy the experience of working in diverse workplaces more.

Wendy 5:28

Yeah. Oh, that's wonderful. And I love when you're on a mission, things happen. So I hope there are a lot of people that join your mission, because this is I'm on your mission. Yes, because I think this is so important. And for you to be able to tell us a little bit of the house. So one of our big culture initiatives at better manager is collaboration, you know, how do we get collaboration out there? And I love how you keep pointing to WWE, capital W E, in your work? What has your research shown you about that? 

Sally 6:01

Well, first of all, a couple of things, you know, a certain degree of humility, which you know, isn't always rewarded in the workplace is very important for collaboration, the ability to really and actively listen to others, structuring meetings, so they're not just people presenting, what they've already come up with, which is a standard way of doing things is very important. I think we are moving out of this sort of hero leader, construct or idea or mentality that we've had, really since the industrial era. And it's kind of a holdover where, you know, the leader is the great person, and everybody else is just, you know, sort of doing usually his bidding. And, and that's made collaboration very difficult, I think in general. So, so I've watched a collaborative ideas evolve, and we see them as much more important. And it's also interesting in a Wendy two things. Some years ago, when I started my work in this field, about 35 years ago, the research was showing that women were far better at collaborative or work, then man, in my observation, that has begun to shift, because it is so much what the workplace and the culture that we're a part of, really requires and demands. Now, so much work is done in teamwork. So, so the experience, you know, we have women and men's experiences are more similar than they used to be. So it makes sense that our skills would begin to develop in more similar ways. The other thing we see is that with the younger generation with Gen Z, and the millennials, I always get mixed up about which one is which and where the cut offs are. But their approach is highly collaborative. They worked in study groups in school, in grade school, in high school in college, they didn't work alone at their desks, like we didn't go home and do their homework alone. They're very accustomed to collaborative work. So they, you know, they're pushing that to in a way that I think is going to be very, very good for the workplace. 

Wendy 8:39

Yeah, I love that you point out you miletti, which is something that we didn't see a lot in leaders before. And I think when you have a leader, who really is, you know, stands back a bit doesn't take back control, you know, everybody benefits. And when people are collaborative, as you say, that they really are going to win, it's when they had a little skin in the game for this idea, instead of it being put on them. Boy, they'll be so much happier and more productive and moving things forward. So it's just such a lesson for all of us. Now, you are also a very big proponent of building strong relationships at work, you know, and this, we should all have this as kind of a given but sometimes, you know, people don't, you know, especially people I feel bad for people that are introverts, and they really have a problem reaching out sometimes. But what advice would you give folks about building stronger relationships at work and why is this so important? 

Sally 9:44

These relationships are very important to have strong relationships at work. First of all, we spend a lot of time working. So strong relationships are much more rewarding than very surface or weak relationships where we're not sure you know, we're natural or we We stand with other people, excuse me. And also strong relationships are more likely to be trusting relationships. And we really need that kind of trust at work, what people, in my experience, the best way to build strong relationships is to really solicit a lot of information and a lot of feedback. You can, if you're trying to get better at something, we talked about this, with how women rise, if you're trying to get better at something, say you're trying to be more concise, or when you speak, you can work on that that's good. But it's also good to tell people and say, you know, I'm really trying to work on being more concise when I speak, would you watch me in this meeting, I'd love to have some feedback afterwards, that would be very, very helpful, or, you know, I'm trying to get more concise when I speak. And when I present, you're very good at that. Do you have any tips that could be useful to me, so getting advice for yourself, but also building strong relationships? it from the perspective of what your role is, you know, if you're more senior, and you have junior employees, you know, do you have any strengths or any skills that you feel are not getting used? That you would like to develop? Where do you see your career going? Are there people that you might, it might be useful for you to me, is there a way I could be helpful to you in terms of that, so being proactive in asking the kind of questions that help you get to know people. And I think, you know, it doesn't matter whether you're an extroverted person who's the last one to leave the bar, or, you know, a more introverted person who joins the group, and then go back up to your hotel room, if you're on the road, and read the book it either way, these are skills, these are, these are techniques that we can practice. And they go a long way to building strong relationships and relationships, where there is a good given take, you know, even if you do your you can say to your, to your boss, or whoever you report to, what will be most helpful to you, in terms of how I do my job, you know, based on the recognition, that part of your job, of course, is always going to be to make them look good. So all those things are just, you know, there are things we can do. They're small behavioral techniques, and it doesn't really matter what our orientation is, or, or whether we're introverted or extroverted.

Wendy 12:55

That's great. I love I want to underline what you said about our jobs are all really to make the person we report to look good, you know, that that is, you know, look good, fulfill obligations that we have. And that's important. And I loved your story about, you know, just asking somebody for advice, it wasn't asking them for advice, it was also recognizing and appreciating them saying, you do this really well. And when you use that with somebody to tell them that, then that really makes them feel like wow, I do have something to contribute. So it's a win win. I love that, you know, ask advice, but make sure you're telling them, You do this so well and be be authentic about it. Don't make it up. And that's important. Actually, I think that's when you talk about humility. Is that too, right?

Sally 13:45

You can't you can't ask a person that, oh, I'm trying to be concise like you. And there are somebody who's running off at the mouth, that's not going to be helpful to you your information, you're wasting your own time. And also they may say really, I'm concise. What? Yeah, yeah, you want it to be?

Wendy 14:06

Yeah, yeah. Very truthful. very truthful. Yes. Now in writing together, you talk about common triggers that undermine our ability to collaborate. You know, tell me more about that. What are some of those that we might not really realize?

Sally 14:23

Well, this is very important, because triggers, we may have the best of intentions, but we may be triggered by certain people in certain ways. And that's going to get in the way of our being able to build a strong relationship with them. And this is particularly and often common across boundaries of age and race and gender and ethnicity, etc, because of just lack of familiarity. So a trigger is basically anything it's a person To a place or a situation, that stirs an emotional response within us. In other words, it is environmental, it is not something we can control. We spend I know, in universities, they spend a lot of energy trying to get people to, you know, no trigger zones, etc, then they're thrown out in the workplace, there plenty of trigger zones happening in the workplace, it's nonstop martial described it as a non stop triggering environment. So the important thing is, you know, we all get triggered by things. And the two things that are important is number one, we need to recognize that we not need to acknowledge, Oh, I see this situation is triggering me, there's no shame in it, it happens to all of us, we can't control it again. And then we, when it becomes problematic, is when we we revert to some kind of self serving narrative about it. Example. So visibility is very common trigger, you know, somebody's good at getting noticed for their achievements, they always, you know, seem to be being talked about or thanked or acknowledged in some way. They're very comfortable talking about what they contribute, we're not so comfortable. So we may revert to a self serving narrative about that, oh, she's such a showboat Oh, he's always talking about himself, you know, I'm not like that. I'm a better person. I'm a more modest person who's, you know, who's not trying to suck up all the air? Well, that can make us feel good. But that's a self serving narrative that's going to keep us stuck, rather than saying, Hmm, okay, I'm being triggered by that person's visibility. So that's important information to know. Now, how, what can I learn from that person? About how they're compelling the visibility, that I'm obviously not able to compel? What what do they do that I don't do, let me study that a little bit, doesn't mean I need to be like them, I may not be comfortable being like them. But I can find other ways of expressing what I'm doing, you know, a person might say, I had the client eating out of my hand, and we might want to and talking about a client relationship, say, you know, I really, really bonded with this client. So it's, we can express certain things in our own way. But it's important to learn from people who are or appear to be pretty comfortable with skills that we don't have. Fairness is a huge trigger to you know, and I hear this all the time, you know, only women get promoted round, your only men get promoted around here only, you know, people of color get promoted around here, only white people get promoted around here, oh, they're promoting young people, only old people get promoted, you know, just goes on and on. It's not fair. It's not fair. They're not, they're not paying enough attention to my group to my people. That's a fairness is another big trigger. And we often attribute it to demographic factors, when often it has to do with specific skills that we're being looked for, etc. or that person had been very, very good at forging certain connections that we had declined or avoided forging. So it's not so much that it's not fair. Although it's possible, it may be very unfair. But it's, it may not be so much that it's unfair. And even if it is unfair, that's the reality. So how are you going to deal with it? How are you going to not get stuck in this? You know, self serving narrative of, well, I guess I'm the kind of person who's not appreciated around here, blah, blah, blah. avoid that. Don't revert to your own tribal group. Well, we're not getting noticed. That's the worst thing you can do. You need a path from moving forward and getting stuck with a trigger does not really provide that.

Wendy 19:28

Yeah. I love that, you know, don't have a pity party about this. You know, we can only control what we can control. And, and it's like, part of me is getting triggered. And I love how you point out that you can think about okay, what can I do about that? What can I learn from that? And why is it really taken a toll on me? When I can, I can really understand and there are some times you know this better than anybody. It's not fair in business. It just isn't it can't be In many ways, but we need to say, what can I do to make a difference if this and I'm not going to be just like you like, I can't be Sally Helgason. But what can I learn when I listen to Sally speak, that will really help me as I go along. And young people really wanting to make a difference out there. There's, you know, they, there's a, there's a different mentality, you know, of that collaboration and working together, as you mentioned, they do that more in university. So they get skilled at that. And we need to make sure that we are learning from each generation to that, then that's part of that diversity so that the wise people can still be wise. And the young people can bring things to the table. And we all say, Ah, there's great pieces here for everybody. If we collaborate and learn from each other, and you talked about rewriting the script for one of the triggers? Can you give us an example of that? And, and walk us through it? Because that would really help people, I think as they go forward?

Sally 21:05

Yeah. So what do you feel you're being triggered? What are you going to do with it? How are you going to avoid getting stuck with it, and it works for every trigger? It's not just one trigger anything that triggers you? It can be helpful to rewrite a script, you know, oh, it's not fair. I should have got that promotion. I think, you know, he's part of the old boys network, they, you know, privilege their own, they didn't privilege me. It's not fair. You know, you can tell yourself a different, slightly different story, you tell yourself a story of, you know, he seemed to have more of what they were looking for. I'm not quite sure if that's right. But he seemed to be very focused on a lot of the managerial stuff that, frankly, I find a little bit boring. And maybe that's why he got chosen. You can do it on small things. You know, one of our, you know, recurring situations that I've dealt with, throughout my career has been the situation where a woman says, you know, Well, hi. You know, sometimes when I'm in a meeting, I'll say something. And I think it's a good idea. And nobody notices that. And then five minutes later, a guy in the room says basically the same thing. I don't know, if he's poaching my idea, or, you know, if he just didn't hear me, he says the same thing. And, and everybody says, Oh, what a great idea. And and then, you know, what do I do? How do I respond in the moment? I mean, there are ways you can respond, you can always say, you know, Oh, I'm so glad you agree with my idea. But sometimes it's hard to think of that on the spot. So when you go away from that situation, if you're feeling bad, you're feeling like, oh, boy, I can't get a break around here. People aren't listening to me, people don't hear me. When I speak. That was my idea. Now, it's suddenly his idea. And, you know, this is really unpleasant for me. You know, so what do you do, you can rewrite that script a little bit, you can say, and then what's great about rewriting script is, you don't even have to completely believe that it's true. It just is a way of giving yourself a path forward. So you can rewrite the script like, well, maybe what happened was he was sort of summarizing my idea, and presenting it and amplifying it. So I'm gonna go up to him afterwards, or send him an email or give them a call, whatever it is, text and say, you know, I'm so happy to hear that you agreed with the idea that I had raised earlier. In that meeting, would you like to get together and talk about a way we might be able to move this forward? So then you are setting up the possibility doesn't mean it's going to happen. But you're setting up the possibility for a collaborative engagement with this individual, rather than looking at him as someone who stole your idea. So you're taking a pariah, right? You're moving things forward. And once again, even if you do think, you know, I got a feeling he was really trying to rip off my idea because it was a pretty good one. And this thing has happened now he's gonna, you know, you're going to, he's going to get credit for it. Why don't you get co credit by trying to move it forward or saying what you could do? You can also say to Me Who's somebody you both report to? You know, it's really interesting that Jack also echoed the idea that I had raised earlier in the meeting. I don't know if you heard when I had suggested acts, and he had the same thoughts. So maybe this is something we should discuss and move forward. So you can do it that way, not just go to him directly, but go to go to whoever you might both report to. So the lots of ways you can do it. So I call it giving others the benefit of our good will. And it is a very powerful way of being in the world. Because even if that person knows very well, what they were trying to do that they were trying to sort of claim ownership of an idea that you raised that they felt was a good one, when we extend that goodwill to them, that softens and opens the situation up and does give us a path to move forward. And that's my primary concern. How do we take these situations, because triggers are common in the workplace, they're particularly common in workplaces where that are highly diverse, because there are lots of reasons we can get triggered cultural things we don't know things we don't understand, you know, perceptions of bias in one way or the other. And we need to give ourselves a way to move forward without getting stuck. And I have watched people get stuck around some of these triggers, triggers of communications triggers, in terms of how we network. Oh, it's an old boys network. Well, what can we learn from how the old boys network duck does things? Oh, the old boys network, they're always promoting one another? Well, can our group get better and promoting one another? Is this a skill we can learn from them, instead of just, you know, telling ourselves this story, this sort of depressing, but ultimately self serving story about why it's happening. So it's taking that responsibility recognizing that trigger, need to deal with this one, I don't want this to turn into something that's keeping me stuck. And it's very tactical, it's very practical way of addressing a lot of the kinds of situations that arise, often undermining relationships with people who have otherwise very good intentions.

Wendy 27:38

Yeah, I love that you point out, you know, they, there could be a good intention behind this, that we don't see you don't look that somebody is always evil, like this person at the meeting, may have been in his own head doing something else and didn't even hear that idea. You know, so if you look at it in a way that it will help you to respond in a more positive way. And I'd love all your examples on how to create a win win. Yeah, can I collaborate on this, the funny thing you have mentioned the word collaborate all through this podcast. So it is a very important thing to be able to know how to collaborate, and bring out the best in others as you're collaborating. And I think that's one of the big messages that I got from your book, you know, and, and, but we need to know how to step in that ring. So I love like this example, because you don't want to be able to make everybody wrong and just get like, ah, you know, they're just, they're just, they just don't care, or they're just egocentric, or they're just this. So yeah.

Sally 28:42

Oh, they're just I'm this, you know, it's not not not helpful.

Wendy 28:46

No, no. Oh, well, as always, Sally, this has been fantastic to have you share your knowledge here. I think I totally recommend the book for people to if you want to know how to rise together and that collaborative way, and really have people working together on your team. We know that diversity helps us. So we want to make sure that everybody is focusing on this and getting on your bandwagon and your mission to be able to make this a global experience that we're all working on this. So a wonderful thing. So if you want to know more about Sally, you can go to her LinkedIn page, Sally Helgason. Website. What's it what's other ways that you want people to reach out to you Sally?

Sally 29:32

Yeah, the website, which I'm going to have my new website will be up I believe, by mid next week, but it's always been Sally helgason.com. It has a contact button on it. Also, I have a substack newsletter that's every week. It's been in suspension for the last month while I had COVID But that's the first time in two and a half years. So I get a lot of communication through the substack People write me they email me. So I'm pretty easy to get in touch with and also on Twitter. 

Wendy 30:08

Great, great. Well, we'll also have all this contact information in our show notes, so that you can all find that and I thank you, Sally. And please keep recovering from COVID. You know, it's a good lesson for everybody. COVID is not gone yet. You know, be careful out there. And when you're someone like Sally that travels all around the world all the time, and with her mission, you know, we, we wish you the best. And thank you for taking the time with me today.

Sally 30:36

Thank you so much, Wendy.

Wendy 30:37

Thank you, everybody. Yes, I always enjoy will be on this again. Yes, we'll figure out other things to do together. Thank you all for joining Sally AI today. Have a wonderful day. Take care.

For more information, show notes and any downloads for today's podcast. Please visit us at better manager.us/podcast Be sure to join us again and help us continue to build better managers with another insightful interview.

Outro 30:53

For more information, show notes and any downloads for today's podcast. Please visit us at better manager.us/podcast Be sure to join us again and help us continue to build better managers with another insightful interview.

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