Rarely does someone ask, “Can I get messy?”

It was day two of our training and I was so focused on sustaining the group’s momentum that Melissa’s (not real name) honest request caught me by surprise. But there she was eager to share something personal, willing to get real. “Can I get messy?,” she blurted out. My response was immediate, “Please do!”

“I have to work with a challenging array of people,” Melissa said, getting right to it. People who speak with a really heavy accent, people with strong ethnic body odor, even some who are autistic. Sometimes it just feels so overwhelming trying to figure out how to engage them!”

The goal of my work with this organization was to create a stronger “sense of team” amongst the staff, and for staff to gain a greater understanding of team differences to better tap into each other’s diverse experiences, and the best of what each team member had to offer.

Melissa was willing to get real and personalize the work that day. She openly shared her frustrations and concerns. In expressing her pain and where she got stuck, Melissa gave the group exactly what we needed to dig into the real work.  

Today’s diverse multi-generational work teams get psyched about being able to bring their best to work, and about being part of initiatives that are collaborative in nature and ultimately more innovative and productive. But all too often in trainings and workshops, these same people want to jump – to the how-to. “Just give me the 5 to 7 bullet points I need to make this happen!”

People just don’t take enough time to think critically about their own social psychology, their “blind spots,” or about the social context of their work teams and work environment. This is an important step that all to often gets skipped over!

Clients come to me for help in figuring out how to get beyond what have become professional and organizational challenges and roadblocks. You know them – those situations or relationships in your work environment that repeatedly produce the same disappointing, frustrating results. When together we take the time to deconstruct these roadblocks and intentionally recognize the conscious and unconscious biases that influence people’s decisions and choices, we often find valuable information and build a path towards defining new solutions. (Principle #8 – Clearing the Way for Value-based Decision Making)!

Many leaders do not think enough, let alone talk enough about their biases, the biases of others and the influence of these biases on communication, team effectiveness and workplace culture. When we intentionally question biases we begin a process of building organizational and personal health.

Yes, even personal health. Where reconciling biases becomes literally cathartic. When working our way through some of the discomfort of getting real with ourselves empowers us with new thinking that can inform and change our practice for the better!

Just like Melissa began to do that day in our training.

Here’s to more of us, more often, intentionally choosing to get messy, and in the end, feeling really good about it!

2 thoughts on “Rarely does someone ask, “Can I get messy?”

  1. Hello Robert,

    Wonderful work that you are doing. I hope that these training sessions are with groups that are reflective of the demographics of the school/district/region in which you may be working. If, however, the setting does not really have a mix of ethnic/cultural groups, I know that your examples will reflect that.

    Sincere Wishes

    1. Lurline,
      Yes, in this case it was a team of college advisors and tutors of whom only about 20% were from diverse racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The training was focused on expanding their ability to work more effectively with the broader diversity that defines the student body. In one of the sessions we used a piece I think is great, called “What This Barber Can Teach You About Cultural Competency in the Classroom.” Check it out when you get a chance!

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