Justin Jones-Fosu explains how to respectfully disagree at work.


How to Respectfully Disagree at Work

Find out why Justin Jones-Fosu says modeling behavior and discovering the power of your voice are essential to respectfully disagreeing in the workplace.

Publish Date: April 2, 2024

Episode Length: 54 minutes

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In this Episode

Justin Jones-Fosu says modeling behavior and discovering the power of your own voice are essential to respectfully disagreeing in the workplace. Find out how and what it means to access the "Power of Three."


Beth Almes:

Hi, leaders, and welcome back to the Leadership 480 podcast. I'm your host, Beth Almes, and today, things are going to get a little uncomfortable, but I promise not too much because our topic today is about how leaders can encourage people to respectfully disagree in the workplace. My guest is Justin Jones-Fosu, who, in one of my favorite bios that I've ever seen, by the way, is a full-time dad and also happens to be a highly sought-after speaker, social entrepreneur, and researcher on meaningful work. And I hear rumors he's also an avid mountain climber who recently conquered one of the seven summits.

So, we clearly need to address that at some point. But Justin is also the founder and CEO of Work Meaningful, and he's the author of several books, including a very new just about to be published one called I Respectfully Disagree: How to Have Difficult Conversations in a Divided World. He's also known for his TED talk, Don't Take the Exit on People. Justin, we are thrilled to have you. Welcome to the Leadership 480 podcast.

Justin Jones-Fosu:

I am so elated to be here with y'all. We're gonna have such a good time.

Beth Almes:

I hope so. So, let's just get started. Tell me a little bit about yourself. I've seen your work over the years, and I've seen how you speak about inclusion, engagement, and finding meaning in your work. But what brought your attention and focus to this topic of how to respectfully disagree?

Justin Jones-Fosu:

Yeah. So, it's actually a long I was going to start off with, like, long walks on the beast, but I didn't think I would talk to your leaders. But one of the things that was a catalyst moment for me that I didn't realize was my mom. And, you know, just understanding the journey with my mom. My mom was a single mom, two rambunctious little boys, and my mom would take us to events, one that we didn't know a lot about, but also events that we disagreed with.

And I remember sitting in my chair, like, why in the world are we here, mom? Like, we disagree with you, know? But when my mom, I later found out, was she was trying to plant some seeds of humanity in us, that no matter what we believed or thought, or our ideology was that there were still humans to engage. And so, my mom was that catalyst, and I learned a little bit more about her story as I grew up.

My mom was one of the first black female air traffic controllers in the Air Force. And she shares a story where she, you know, had the opportunity to leave the base. And she would go out when she'd be stationed in Japan for two years, and there were some soldiers who never left base. And so, she was saying, Justin, I want you to go out and leave home base to experience the beauty of people and cultures around you. And, yes, you're not always gonna agree, but at least you get to experience it.

So fast forward to that, and I'm doing this work with an inclusive mindset. I'm trying to move away from the shame-based approach to, or you're 2024 and you still struggle with a more inspiring approach of meeting people right where they are and helping us to grow. And I would make the statement in my sessions. I was like, you know, I believe that we can vehemently disagree with someone's ideology and yet still passionately pursue their humanity. And I would always notice this kind of audible, oh, ah, you know.

And then people come up to me afterward, and they'd be like, I really loved when you said about, you know, disagreement, but how do we do that? Or I get the other part of, like, but that's really hard. And they would give me examples of, like, what if they said this? Right? And I realized that, not only for leaders but for the everyday person, I wanted to answer that question.

So, while we're doing modules on respectful disagreement, I want to dive deep into the research to help leaders and people engage at work and at home, in our communities, in ways of true respectful disagreement. What we found was truly fascinating.

Beth Almes:

So, I wanna dive into one thing you just said about a shame-based approach to inclusion in many ways. And one of the things that's an interesting way to phrase it because when we think about respectful disagreement in the workplace, sometimes there is part of it is you always think, oh, I'm afraid of what someone else is going to say.

But there's also the piece of I'm afraid of what I'm going to say. What if I say something upsetting or, you know, I'm wrong for thinking this? And sometimes, that holds us back from actually saying what we are thinking. While I wouldn't suggest that you should just say absolutely anything on your mind, we have a filter for a reason; I'm really curious about what you mean about the shame-based approach and how you start to remove that to have better conversations.

Justin Jones-Fosu:

Yeah. So, I view this in two different ways. One is from the, like, glass half full, half empty thing. And we've, you know, as leaders, we've all heard that. We've been at conferences with a person who says, glass half full, half empty.

Now, what I found is that we often approach diversity, equity, and inclusion from a deficit approach. It's all the things you're doing wrong or right that create this sense of shame. Imagine you went home to your partner, your spouse, your dog, or your cat to be inclusive. And you were like, hey.

If you never do the dishes, you never do this, you never do like, you're going to be demoralized. It's not going to motivate you. What motivational theory shows is that we should show people right where they are and how they've done it already.

Let's look at how they can how they've done it and been successful already and maybe in other areas, but how they can continue to grow from there. So rather than a deficit, it's more of an abundance approach. Now, why does that matter to this conversation? It matters because when we think about respectful disagreement, and we're in the workplace, and we don't want to say the wrong thing, I often hear that over and over again, and I don't want to as well. But let me say this to you.

I make mistakes. I've been doing this work for over 20 years. I still think wrong thoughts. I still say the wrong things. I still operate in false ideologies.

But I'm growing. I'm learning. And so, like, you know, I know you can't see, but behind me, I have this big wooden tortoise because our approach is what we call the tortoise approach. It's that instead of shame, it's about progress. And so, when I can focus on not only where I've been, but how do I make a tortoise approach move?

Now, where's the tortoise? Tortoise and the hare. Now, we call the tortoise, I think, wrongly growing up, slow. The tortoise wasn't slow. The tortoise was strategic.

The person that immediately jumps out and says, oh, we need to do this, or we change the mission statement, we do this, and it's not long-lasting, achievable, sustainable growth in that area. So, as leaders, we're challenged to find out: how do we strategically grow? Now, how does that happen with respectful disagreement? Well, the first place that happens is looking at oneself to identify: how do I disagree with others? “Am I respectful, or am I disrespectful?” At home and in our workplaces because these are the ways that we move forward from a progress focus rather than shame.

So, it's really about looking at where we are and where we can go rather than where we should be.

Beth Almes:

And I think one of the hardest parts about that is controlling our own emotions around it. So, as you're talking about, you know, how do you respectfully disagree? Fully you react really emotionally. You know, someone says something, you're like, “Oh, my gosh. That is wrong.”

Or I disagree or, or you get really defensive. Right? Maybe they said something about you, and you feel like you have to fight for something. So for the leader in particular, it's really important how you react in those situations. Right?

Like, you've gotta even be a little bit better. So how do you advise leaders to check their own emotions, and then with that, bring down the emotional temperature in the room when you have those disagreements?

Justin Jones-Fosu: 

Yeah. That's really powerful question. So, one is I had to realize this, and the first thing that I asked myself is, Justin, who's the only person I can control? And the first answer to that was my kids, and I realized that wasn't true. And then I realized it really was myself.

And in realizing I was the only person I can control, one of the tips that we give for leaders is that it is up to us to model the behavior. So, modeling behavior, what respectful disagreement looks like. Now, when you're challenged with an emotional response or a heightened elevated, all the things that are happening in your brain and all the things, there may be opportunities for you to take a pause, for you to say, hey. Can we come back to this? To not engage in that conversation in that moment.

Let me give you a great example. I was talking to one of my buddies. We're getting ready to plan a trip to hike Patagonia. One of the things he brought to my attention as I'm leading the trip was, “Hey, Justin, who's going?” And I was like, well, this person's going.

And it was a dynamic, I think it was five women and three men. And he said, Justin, I don't feel comfortable going. And I'm like, why? He's like, well, Justin, because, you know, there's more women going than men, and I don't want to create a wrong perception for my wife. Now I started with the wrong response.

I say, I think that's stupid, right? I'm just being honest. Like, that's you. Because you know, then I started wondering, well, is he judging me because of my own thoughts? Because I'm okay with going? And so, I started creating and filling in the gaps with a whole bunch of conclusions rather than curiosity.

After we got off the phone, I called back and apologized because I realized that I had disrespectfully disagreed with him. I didn't have the language at that time to talk about it that way, but I was like, hey, man. I'm so sorry. What I did and what I said was uncalled for.

And I was like, I'd love to hear more about why you feel that this is wrong. And as he shared his story, as he shared, you know, him and his wife's journey and different things, I better understood. Now, I still disagreed, but I did it in a more respectful way. So, as a leader, the first thing is being able to be self-aware of your own emotional intelligence. If it's heightened for you, it may be a moment just to get off the phone, to say to press pause in the meeting.

If you're not able to press pause, state, you know, one of the things we hear a lot from leaders is, hey. Let's come back to that. Let's come back to that next meeting so that you don't have to operate fully in that emotion. If you are required to, one of the self-regulating behaviors, a lot of really good things in terms of deep breaths and all the stuff that's out there. But our bigger focus on this is our first pillar.

And what our first pillar is to challenge your perspective. We find that there are heightened more heightened emotions when people aren't constantly in positions or in experiences that challenge their perspective in the first place. So, if you as a leader aren't consistently before disagreements happen, putting yourselves like my mom took us to events. We call this the circles of grace challenge, where we go out every 6 months to go and experiences people and or events to hear and experience people different. I'm not going to prove them wrong.

I'm going to hear about things I don't know a lot about and things I disagree with because it actually prepares me better in those meetings, in those times in the community. When people share differing views, I'm more readily able to hear that because I've practiced that before. Carol Dweck talks about the growth mindset. These are areas that we can consistently grow in. So, that's one of the things as leaders is to preempt and proactively engage in things that challenge your perspective in the first place.

Beth Almes: 

So, I have lots of follow-up questions for you, but let's start with this one. One of the things you shared in this story is you realize you had, disagreed disrespectfully versus respectfully, and I'm curious if you have a definition you use of what respectful disagreement looks like. And I'll share the caveat, too, that different people are comfortable at different levels of conflict. You know? I think of, I know some people who shut down immediately as soon as there's disagreement in the room, versus there are others.

Or I would say, like, you know, I people who grew up with more siblings and things like that, you get more comfortable maybe arguing, or some people are really comfortable with not only arguing but flat out yelling at each other. And they're good still good at the end of the day where someone else is, like, traumatized. So how do you level set about what's an appropriate level of respectful disagreement versus when you need to pull the plug?

Justin Jones-Fosu: 

I love this question. So first, I want to take a step back to moving from disrespectful disagreement to respectful disagreement. We realized in our research that there's a whole other category. Because normally, we just thought of, like, oh, the person who's aggressive and calling names and yelling at people and all this kind of stuff, and how do we help them? But we realized there's a whole other category called disrespectful agreement.

And what we found is that happens a lot in the workplaces, even in our homes. I mean, story after story, and let me tell it to you in two different ways. So disrespectful, agreement is where I can say, you know what? Beth, I think that's a really good idea. But then to Robin, I'm like, I don't think that was a good idea at all.

I think that was a stupid idea. Like, what was the best thinking? Right? Yeah. And it's because of what the younger generation calls gaslighting, or I'm just playing the politics to it, so I'm disrespectfully agreeing.

Or, on the other side, it's the person who hasn't learned the power of their voice yet. That doesn't feel right because leaders haven't created the space for people to feel comfortable in friction that they can actually share their true thoughts if asking hey. Hey, I'd love to get your views about it, but the culture hasn't been shaped in a way that people feel like their disagreement is actually rewarded rather than penalized. Yeah. It's that those people tend to disrespectfully agree, and they'll stay quiet just to keep it polite and to keep, you know, things to be a little bit conflict averse.

And what we found is that we also want to help those people to get to respect this respectful disagreement. Now we had to step even further back and say, what is respect? Because, you know, I can't you can't help somebody get to this place of respectful disagreement and not define what respect is, and we realize there's a lot of misperceptions about respect. So, before I answer that question about respect for disagreement, there's we created what we call the ten characteristics of golden respect. we're not going to go through all of those, but there are three that really stand out, especially for leaders. One societal misperception is that you must earn respect.

Why? Where do we get to this place where respect must be earned? That versus golden respect for us is that everyone should be given respect, value, and dignity because they're simply a human being. Now that's the thing. We call to respect the distant cousin of forgiveness.

We finally have figured out that forgiveness is not about the other person, but it's rather about myself. And that's the same thing. We can choose to give respect. I love one of my favorite books is Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, who is a Holocaust survivor. He talked about the atrocities and things that he faced, and he still had the power to choose.

So that's number one from respect perspective, perspective. Number two is that respect means being in awe of a person. We sometimes conflate these ideas around respect, which means honoring them. No. You don't have to honor them, but respect is providing a sense of value and dignity that there's a worth to a person, period, because they are in existence.

And so that's what respect is. And last but not least, a person's title grants them respect. Right? Just because I'm a leader, just because I have vice president, just because I'm CEO, even just because I'm the parent. And I face this as a dad, and I've often at times disrespectfully disagreed with my kids because I know more and I have more experience.

And so, when I come to this place of respectful disagreement at a macro level, it's engaging with that person with a sense of worth of that person, of the value of that person, and leaving that person with a sense of dignity. Now I can't control them. I can't control how they receive it, but I have to operate from that lens. And one practical way to lean into that is what we call our 3FA framework. And that's there are three ways to fully acknowledge someone, whether they 100% agree, 100% disagree, or partially agree.

And that could be something from Xian Zhao, a Stanford researcher who talks about thank you because. So, if we're talking and somebody says something that I fully disagree with, I can ask more questions and hear their story. Even if I fully disagree, I know you thank you. Thank you, Beth. I've never heard that perspective before. Or thank you because when you said about number two, I really related to that, and I'd love to explore that more.

But when we leave someone fully acknowledged, that is a way to practically show that we respect them. Another practical way to show that we respect them, and it's many, but I'll end with this one, is by simply deeply listening. It's our ability to hear the stories, the perspectives. We call it the power of three where we listen to the third level of the conversation. And even if we don't know what to say, to share, tell me more.

And this is one of the things we found often is hard for leaders, is because we're used to being the people, especially if we were the top contributor and now we're put into a leadership role. We're used to being the people who are providing the advice, providing the guidance rather than stepping back and listening and hearing and becoming the orchestrator of the ideas. And so that's one of the things for leaders that we can do in our team meetings as we're talking on one on ones or to our direct reports is by taking a step bac and asking, am I deeply listening to that person? Am I listening to the third level? Am I saying things like tell me more or diving deeper?

Beth Almes: 

Those are ways that we can actually respectfully engage whether we agree or disagree. I love that there really is so much more under that definition, and that it has to come from a really good place of thinking very thoughtfully about how you just approach another person in general before you ever start that meeting.

How are you approaching the person? I'm curious too. There are times when you might be sitting there as the leader, and there are two other people in the room or two or more other people who are disagreeing with one another. And, you know, to your point of I can only control myself, and I can't control either of these people, and they're having a disagreement. Are there pieces that you can start to foster between them?

And when is it time to say, you know, this has become too much? Like, we've gotta put a pause on this because we've crossed the line, or we're starting to get to a line that's making it challenging for us.

Justin Jones-Fosu: 

Yeah, that's a really good question. To answer the first part of that, again, I'm a big person. As my mom would tell me all the time, she would talk to Justin and prevent things—be more preventative and proactive than reactive.

So, one of the things that we've encouraged and talked to leaders about, and I am included in this with my team, is that we actually reward disagreement. And what I mean by rewarding disagreement is in our meetings that we're promoting different voices, we're asking, you know, I asked my team to debunk what I just shared. I'm asking my team to share a different perspective of ways that what I said may not work. Now, that may seem very simple, but what is communicating to our team is that it's okay to disagree. And I openly say that friction actually helps us to get better.

Because if it's just my idea, then we're not thinking big enough. There are all these other pieces. And so proactively rewarding disagreement creates that place where people can feel like they can actually disagree with someone and be able to fully engage. Another thing is, what are these learning moments? Like, are we doing, you know, we had a team we worked with for a family foundation, and we worked through the Circles of Grace challenge with them.

And so, then they, as leaders, began to create a learning culture where people were actually challenging their own perspectives and hearing about the perspectives of others. Those are all proactive things that you can do so that it creates that place where people feel like it's okay to not know, and it's okay to learn, and it's okay to disagree. Now in the heat of the moment, we as leaders can step in and say, hey. I really am thankful for you all sharing your pat your perspective. It appears to be very passionate, and I can tell you both deeply care about, you know, these views or this project.

I'd love to take a pause because I want to make sure that we're actually getting the most out of this conversation in a way that's going to help us solve C. Now, what did I just say? I affirm them. I share their possible intent that they really care about the project so that as they received it, they received it as a way of affirming that I fully acknowledge them in this.

But I also pointed them to this place of sea. Now, during my MBA, I had one of those really cool professors that was like the “Dead Poets Society,” like he had us do one of these read one of the most amazing books that I love. It's called Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together. And so, as leaders, when we come into, we're trying to solve for a situation or a solution, or we have these two different departments that are coming and trying to figure out from a budget what we're gonna do. The question I'm always asking is how do we get to C?

 Because often one group is arguing A, and another group is arguing B. And our goal as leaders is to create C together. Now C is not 50/50; it could be 90/10, 30/60, whatever that may be, but it's where we're able to actually create something together. And that's the goal of the leader: to orchestrate that dialogue. Now, I'm not gonna go into who this was because it could be slightly divisive.

But there are there have been some politicians who, were known in their early days to bring people of two opposing views in a room and have them really passionately share their perspective. Now, passion doesn't mean disagreement to some. And in that moment, that person would take their views and find a way to create and craft a new unique view that came from those two passionate people. So, as leaders, if we're able to create that learning culture, to consistently have people challenge their perspectives, but to press pause in moments where it may be getting heated, but affirming people and encouraging people to get to that place of C or helping to orchestrate that C. Those are some small practical ways that I think we can lead better and help create that culture of respectful disagreement in our teams.

Beth Almes: 

It's so powerful, but you know, and I kind of have to acknowledge here that what you're referencing seems simple, but it's really a lot of work.

Justin Jones-Fosu: 

It's hard. You know?

Beth Almes: 

It's hard. And, you know, often when we talk about bias, and I've heard you talk about this, one of the reasons we have it is our brains are hardwired for it because it conserves energy. You know? It's just it helps us, you know, from an animal perspective, make quick decisions.

This is danger to me. This is not danger. But so, we're used to doing this. And I've heard you reference, I think you referenced the dotted line dilemma of, you know, we often don't know so much more, but we're just wired to do this because, quite frankly, there's a reality that we are tired. There's probably a lot on our plate as leaders.

So, what tips do you offer to help people find the energy to do this work and draw out opposing views rather than shutting them down because there's just so much effort that's actually involved in that?

Justin Jones-Fosu: 

Yeah. Oh, man. I know. You are. You are brilliant, Beth.

So, there are a lot of ways to process. I'll try to give three. Number one, I'm a big believer, and this—people may disagree with me, but just do it respectfully—I'm a big believer in therapy. I came from my therapist today at a counseling session earlier today. And I go to therapy not because it always says something's going wrong but to keep things going right.

Right? In the professional sense, for some, that could be a professional coach, but I really want to help and engage with someone who helps me think through my situational awareness, develop my emotional intelligence, and consistently grow. So, number one is therapy as a way to have a sounding board and a person who can address our own issues or blind spots. So, I would encourage you to consider therapy. Right?

It could be great and maybe even time. Your spouse or partner may tell you, “Hey, we need to go to therapy,” and it may be really good to do that. It's number one. Number two, the practical aspects of this, the energy behind it is, you know, fitness, health, how we eat, how we sleep.

I know that I'm a little less tired. Right? And as a dad, when I come home, because I'm exercising every day. Alright? And I'm doing I'm taking these breaks.

I'm taking little walks. I'm taking a nap if I have an opportunity. Not everybody has that, create energy for the things that matter the most. And I'm not just talking about the team or work; I'm also talking about home. That's one of the really big things that we're focused on, even home is meaningful. It would be irresponsible for us to just tell you how to be great leaders at work and not to help you to be great leaders at home. And, you know, I'd look at myself in the mirror once, and where I was like, I'm killing it in business, but I'm sucking at home. And so, one of the things that's been helpful in that journey has been making sure I'm working out, exercising, getting those things that are part of my self-care.

And last but not least is realizing, you know, this is a journey. A lot of people, when we deal with conflict resolution, it's often approached from a very right now perspective. I'm dealing with a conflict. How do I deal with it right now? Our approach is vastly different.

It's not about always what you do right now. It's about cultivating the habit and growing in respectful disagreement on your journey. I'm a person who wrote I respectfully disagree, enduring my writing session. I disrespectfully disagreed with someone. Right?

And we're not gonna be perfect. But guess what I did? I realized that I was getting better because I more I quickly apologized and went back through the pillars to better understand and to really deeply listen, and I ended off, even in a disagreement, I ended off still affirming the person and fully acknowledging them. So, what I'm not saying is that you're gonna be perfect at this. I'm still not. Right? And I never will be. I'm on the journey. I'm on the tortoise approach.

Number two, it's something that we have to practice and that we grow in, but our teams are gonna be better because we're helping conflict. Conflict is not bad, by the way. Unhealthy or disrespectful conflict is the things that hurt our teams. So, if I can have friction that helps us to rise to better levels, that's better. And then last but not least, a part of that is it creates a place where people can be more creative and innovative.

And when we spend so much time at work, I don't wanna feel like I have to walk on eggshells around people when my leader can create a culture that takes time to build. It's not an overnight thing. Just do these three steps, and you have an amazing culture. But when we model that behavior for our team, and we consistently keep learning it, I encourage the book Adkar, a powerful change management tool, to help to create those long-lasting rhythms of respectful disagreement in our teams, and in our workplaces.

Beth Almes: 

I love that answer and how much it's the prioritization of making sure you take care of yourself so that you have the energy and the focus for others to break. Because of this, I feel like this personal energy that is so important to bring to some of this, to be thoughtful, to ask the right questions, is more than it seems. It's really more than it seems.

 One of the questions you triggered for me here, too, was when you were talking about the conflict you had and the disrespectful disagreement you had, you were talking about how in your head, you kind of made this whole when someone said something about what they believed, you made this whole story outline about kind of what they must be thinking then about you for what you were thinking and all these assumptions of here's what must also be going on in their heads of all these other things. And this is something that, you know, assuming we know what others are thinking or what their motivations are going to be.

And I think about this a lot, especially when with people you've worked with for a long time. So, a lot of times we think of disagreement with people you don't know well or you're in a different department or something like that, but this happens even more when you've worked with someone. And I fully admit that I've done this, and others have done it to me, because they'll say, oh, you know, I know what you're going to say to this, and I know you're going to have a problem with this or whatever. And it's fine to anticipate someone's needs, but every time someone does it to me, I think, no.

That's not what I was going to say, or that's not how I feel. You don't really that's not at all what I was thinking, and it makes me a little bit upset. And it's so common, and it's really hard to circumvent. Everybody does this, and it's especially dangerous for leaders because we start to pigeonhole people. We say I know what you're going to think. I know what you're gonna say. I know the thing.

So, how do you help people break that particular cycle in their minds, especially with people that they know well?

Justin Jones-Fosu: 

It comes back to what you shared around when you brought up the dotted line dilemma. Right? It's that we end up filling in the gaps with conclusions rather than curiosity. And it's so much easier for us to do that, outside of the brain work that we are, you already eloquently shared. It's so much easier for us to do that with people we know because we have past experiences.

We have things that they've done this way before, so I think I know how they're going to do it again. And just to reemphasize your point of the brain conserving that energy for things it thinks it doesn't know, let me be very clear: It's not your fault, right?

For you and me and all the other leaders who do this, it's our brains, and that's why it requires great intentionality. Now here's one of the practical things that we do and that we encourage other people to do. And it's when you're cultivating your curiosity and challenging ourselves to not take the exit on people; what we end up doing is we can deeply listen to others. Right? And so, I want to really engage in that power of three to explain it more than just kind of talking about it.

So, in the power of three, we found that most people only listen to the power of one or power of two. They do level one or level two listening. So how does that go? I could say, hey, Beth, how's your day today? And you're like, my day is good.

I'm like, my day is good too, Beth. That's power of one, right? I've only dug to level one with you.

Say, Beth, how's your day today? Oh, my day is good. What made your day good? Oh, well, I heard this interesting bald head speaker. I remember that bald head guy.

That's power of two. Right? Versus power of three, it was like, Beth, how's your day today? Oh, it's good. What made it good?

Oh, I heard this interest. What made it interesting? Oh, we talked about that aligned dilemma, the illusion of asymmetric insight. Wow. Is there anything else I should learn?

But oftentimes, what we do is that we jump back in because we think we know what they're going to say; we think they are going to share something that they've shared in times past. And so, we're trying to jump in. I find myself doing this with my kids, and my kids are doing this now with me. I'm like, Lydia, what was I gonna say? What we often do is now when we challenge ourselves to do the power of three, and I encourage you to practice it, practice it with your team, practice it at home.

They're gonna wonder what podcast you listened to because you've never listened to me like this. In those moments, we realize it's not because we're bad people, but I oftentimes find people who are simply trying to find informed connections. They're trying to connect. If you said, hey, I went to a really great seafood restaurant. Instead of me asking you what made it great about it, I ask you, Beth, but have you been to this one?

Because I'm trying to connect. The power of three allows us to create those spaces to dive in deeper and to break that dotted line dilemma that fills in the gaps with conclusions. The other piece about this I think is really fascinating is these terms, research that they've done called the illusion of asymmetric insight. An illusion of asymmetric insight is simply this: I think I'm very complex in that you really can't understand me, But I also think that I really get you. Right.

Right. It's very obvious to see. And the over and over, the research shows that people operate from that place of that, I'm complex, you really can't get me and really can't understand me, but I can really understand you and I'm very clear. When we all can come to this conclusion, and I say this myself, we're all complex. That's why I love the book, on what happened to you.

I don't know if you had a chance to read it by Oprah and one of the doctors. And they're changing the conversation from what's wrong with you to what happened to you, realizing that there are situations, traumas, things that have informed who we've become. It allows it to be a much more fascinating conversation. So, the power of three is one way that we can step in to challenge the dotted line dilemma of filling in those gaps with conclusions. Last but not least, I would say, is I want you to think personally.

This is an exercise we do. To a time for you when someone did that to you, where they automatically assumed what you were gonna say or because you said or labeled yourself as X, right, or this political party or this faith and what it did to you and how it made you feel. Our goal in that moment is the feelings of that to hopefully cultivate a sense of empathy to challenge ourselves to do that less and less to other people. So, power of three and also personalizing it to how did I feel when someone did that to me? And it was wildly off.

Beth Almes: 

So that we as leaders can actually engage people with a sense of dignity and value. I think that's such an important answer, and I love that you touched a little bit there, on things like politics and religion and things that are typically taboo topics in the workplace in many in many places. And, we've been getting a lot of questions around this, especially this year because, there's a lot of really controversial things going on in the US. It's an election year globally. In other places, we're seeing so many conflicts that really trigger deep, deep feelings in people.

And there is a challenge here because, you know, we can't expect people to park who they are and what has happened to them. Just park that at the door when you come in. Right. And at the same time, we're trying to balance that we want to create a safe workplace where people feel comfortable. And we know there are certain issues that, really, really upset people and make them and all of a sudden, you know, one thing they say, you make all these assumptions about another person.

You know? If you think this, then you must also think this, this, this, and this. And I’m like, now I can't talk to you. And I've seen workplaces handle this very differently. It runs the gamut from, like, don't mention any of these topics here to all the way to, it's open or all the way to I've there are workplaces that really do actually pressure people to say, we really think that you should believe this.

So, you know, for leaders who are working really hard to navigate the right balance between, I recognize that you're a whole person who has all these other things, and this has to be a safe space. This is hard. This is really hard. So how do you help them to navigate that balance of the right level of respectful disagreement?

Justin Jones-Fosu: 

Yeah. It really is organization by organization. And what I mean by that is I'm not gonna also shame you into this is where you should be. Right? Rather than knowing where you realistically are, if you've been that organization that, or you've had your team that you're very conflict-averse and you aren't able to bring up challenging issues, it may not be great to say, alright.

Let's have a great conversation about these challenging issues because that's not where you are as an organization. That first step might be to create that space on your team to first just welcome disagreement, conflict, and sharing. And, actually, this is the small it seems so small, Beth, but it's so powerful. When somebody disagrees, affirming that disagreement.

Thank you so much for disagreeing with me. Because people are listening and they're watching, and they're just trying to figure out, oh, disagreement is that's actually valued. Oh, okay. So, I actually can share, and that might be the first step towards creating the type of environment where you can talk about the harder and challenging things. So, one, you have to identify where you actually are as an organization.

If you all have already been doing that, and it's been open, and you're not like, oh, leave that at home. By the way, that thing is very irresponsible, at times, because we will hope to espouse to get to the type of organization because people don't leave part of themselves at home. Right? People bring their full selves, and if they feel like they have to, then people are actually not operating in their truly effective roles. It's then saying if you're that type of organization that's already doing that, it may be, how can we do this in a more healthy way?

So I've seen some organizations that have done these types of dialogues in front of the whole workplace or team, or they've had people that talk about a Republican and a Democrat and an Independent, and talk about the issues and model the behavior in very respectful ways so that they can actually see their leaders and or people to be able to share this information. The other piece I've seen at times is just allowing people to share their stories. Right? When I'm a person that you know and love and work with and you had no idea that this this is my story? Like, wow.

I never knew that, right? When I tell people I'm a Christian, which I am, people automatically create a lot of different things. You know, you're a Christian doing diversity? How does that work?

And it's interesting because they make a lot of assumptions about what I think, what I believe, where I stand, all these things, versus having a simple conversation with me. And we can have the conversation. I'm a big believer in this whole concept of being open-minded. I agree that we should be open-minded at times, but there are things that you and I are close-minded about, right?

We all have things we are close-minded about, but we should always be open-hearted. And identifying that distinction is so important to leaders. So, from a cultural perspective, you know, whether it's thinking through from change management of how do we get to more healthy conflict or a more healthy disagreement, it can be starting in our teams, could be starting for organization-wide. And the last practical tip oh, it seems so simple, but we don't do this enough, Beth. We're challenging over and over again to get rid of the open-door policy.

We've created open-door policies, and the intent was good: I'm always here if you need me. Now my door is open. We've even done virtual, the remote world, right?

I'm on Teams or on Zoom from 3 to 5, open door, right?

We're challenging leaders to move from what we call an open-door policy to an out-the-door policy. An open-door policy implies that I'm here if you need me. It's a very passive approach. An out-the-door policy is a proactive approach. We're going and hearing the stories of our team members.

We're having one-on-ones that are beyond just the normal how someone is doing. But hearing their stories, what brought you to our company, what brought you to our community, is one practical way that, you know, the only math we'll do on this podcast, called "One MC Over W,"which simply stands for one meaningful connection per week. And where you intentionally build into your calendar 15 to 20 minutes, and maybe a Friday, Monday, Tuesday, whatever you do to go and hear the stories of others, to go and engage in meaningful have a meaningful connection.

And if that's too much, if you're like, Justin, that's too much on my plate, that's 52.14 times a year with a leap year, then flip the W upside down and make it one meaningful connection per month. When you go out, you know, it could be a lunch. It could be after work, and you go and hear the stories. One of the best things as leaders, and people don't realize this over and over again, is that by modeling the behavior and engaging with people and hearing people's stories, it plants seeds that show people what leadership looks like.

So, guess what those people might do as you're listening and engaging and hearing people's stories? They may go and do the same. And those are some of the practical things that we can do as leaders. Yes, it's hard, but again, our book is not about a quick fix to, you know, handling conflict. It's about cultivating the heart of this work that we consistently get better and better so that leaders are able to show up for people and create these cultures where people feel they can disagree.

They can talk about religion and hear somebody else's faith part. Like, I've gone to a mosque to hear a chronic scholar speak about issues of this day. I'm a guy who's been to seminary, right? I have my MBA.

I've been to seminary, right? And I went, and there were a lot of things. As I walked into the mosque, I had preconceived notions. I had my own biases and things.

And, man, I was challenged. There were a lot of things as I listened. I was like, wow, like, I was really wrong on that. And there were some things I was like, yeah.

I still disagree with that, but it allowed me to engage with people firsthand and see their humanity. So as leaders, I can’t come back to this enough. When we practice this in our everyday lives, we're able to hear the stories, take the circle of grace challenge, hear from groups, engage in groups, and share what we've learned. And last but not least, we're able to be vulnerable.

Thank you. Hashtag Brené Brown. Because when I'm able to tell my team or share in a presentation, I'm working with the Fortune 50 company or whatever, and share where I've gotten it wrong, how I still am getting it wrong, and what I'm doing to begin to address it. It allows people to come to the table and realize, like, I can do this too. If my leader can do this, I can do this.

And so those are ways that we see, but it truly is a journey. There is no magic fix. There's a gray in that, and you have to first assess where your culture is, where your company is, where your team is, and then be able to ask what is that one extra step, what's that plus one that can get us closer to more healthy, respectful disagreement?

Beth Almes: 

Oh, Justin, it's the way you put it is so beautiful. I want to, like, bring you to all of my meetings now just to like facilitate all of this and do this on my behalf. But and I could talk to you all day about it, but I'll wrap up with two shorter questions, I promise. So, the one is that I don't feel like I can let you go without asking which of the seven summits you climbed and, and what you learned from that experience.

Justin Jones-Fosu: 

Wow. I learned a lot. So, I climbed Kilimanjaro. That was important for me. I am a dual citizen of Ghana and the United States.

And so, Kilimanjaro, the highest peak, high standing peak on the continent of Africa, was really significant. And three things I quickly learned, number one, I realized I was more selfish than I thought. I was so focused on my own journey and getting up the mountain that I discounted the team I went with. And I'm thankful for that because as I journaled during the days, I realized I was just so flustered. Right?

Think about his leadership. Right? We get so flustered. We're going our own pace and people can't keep up. And we have to slow down for others, and if you've been a top individual contributor, you may know that as a leader.

You're, like, just get it, right? Why don't you just get it? And realizing that other people have different journeys. And I realized I was more selfish.

Now I was able to fix that. I did Machu Picchu the following year, which is not a seven summit, but really still amazing to go. And I went with one of my friends, and the first day, I began with that same selfishness. This is my own journey, my own pace, and I remembered what I learned at Kilimanjaro. And I was like, you know what?

I'm going to stop and really enjoy this, and I'm gonna be a great supporter for my friend because this is his first major hike. And so, I told myself, Justin, this is not about how fast you can do it, challenging yourself, all this stuff. My challenge is to make sure I'm a great support for him. And that was a great learning moment, and that's as leaders, that's a great moment for us when we can go and say, how can we be a support for others? Number two, I had a dream that I died on the mountain, and I've never had a dream where I've died.

I've always had dreams where I've got close to dying. Right now, I wake up, but this was the dream where I died. And, I can get emotional talk about, for the entire time I was on the mountain, it was, like, day two, we were on there for eight days. I wondered if I was really gonna die.

So, I didn't tell anybody. I didn't reference it. I didn't do any of that. When I got off, I told my friends, and she was, like, you know you know, well, sometimes those types of dreams are mean just rebirth. And at the time, I was just going through it, just gotten a divorce, and, really filled with a lot of shame based on, you know, my religious community and all those other kinds of things that are built into it as a person.

I probably shared my family in my presentations, and I realized that there was a rebirth that was happening in me. I'm glad to say I'm getting married this Sunday. I told your team.

Beth Almes: 

You are alive, which is great. Like, I know you made it. You made it through them. I'm very glad to see that.

Justin Jones-Fosu: 

So, that's I'll stick to those two, but just how selfish I was and what I want to do to address that so that I can be more supportive of others. And that shame is a tool to help us, if we harness it well, to help us to move out of a deficit to where we can grow. And so, I looked at all the things that were shameful for me and what I wanted to create in future marriage and becoming that person, never stopping going to counseling, never stopping the couples counseling. I told my partner, Tanya, I was like, "Hey, like, we can't be together if you can't go to couples counseling consistently. And, you know, we may change the frequency of it, but we'll always keep going.

So, yeah, those are the two things that I'll say that were really, really helpful for me in climbing Kilimanjaro.

Beth Almes: 

That was an amazing story. So, thank you for sharing that. And I almost hesitate to ask you this last question just because you have shared so many phenomenal stories with us today. But I do ask everyone who comes on the show about a moment of leadership that really changed your life.

So, whether it was something that was a good moment of leadership where you said, I want to do that just like that leader or a moment of bad leadership where you're like, I saw that. Never again. I'm gonna do something different than that. So just a moment of leadership that really changed your life.

Justin Jones-Fosu: 

Yeah. It's a powerful question. I'm, you know, I'm Justin, so I have to be authentic to me. I shared some work examples. I have to share a personal one and leadership.

For me, it was in forgiving my dad. You know, my dad growing up, my dad wasn't in my life. I think my parents divorced when I was four, and initially, I was gonna see my dad every other weekend, and then it became my one week in a month. And then it's like 2 to 3 years at times where I didn't see or hear from my dad. And there's a lot that goes into that between my mom and dad, so it's not just so clear cut and dry.

But I was okay with it quote unquote when I was younger because I was like, yay, I don't have to go and, you know, go two and a half hours away. I lived in Grand Rapids, and you and my dad live in Detroit. And, as I got older, my young thirties, there's sometimes I just pull off on the side of the road and just break down crying. And I started realizing I felt like I missed something. And what I'm not implying is just because people had both parents in their lives meant that they had a perfect life.

I'm not implying that at all, but I know I've heard those stories that they didn't. I felt like I missed something. And so, in 2019, I was going to go to Ghana. I had been there before, but I was taking my kids for the first time, and I was going to confront my dad.

I was going to do the Will Smith. I'm not talking about Chris Rock's line. I'm talking about, you know, you saw “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” where he picked up his life and left. And he's like, oh, you know, I don't need him.

Beth Almes:

I remember that scene, the Uncle Phil scene. Uncle Phil's there. I know the scene.

Justin Jones-Fosu:

You know the scene. And you know, it wasn't scripted, right? Then, see why he loved me wasn't scripted. And so, I felt that way.

I was going to ask, like, why don't you love me? Like, why don't you fight for me? And so, I had a great therapist and a great leadership Charlotte cohort, which was powerful, and they challenged me instead of going to confront my dad to go and hear his story. As I went to hear his story, I still disagreed with the outcome, but I learned better how he got there. What did that teach me about leadership?

One is that sometimes there's a power of forgiveness that can actually help us to be better leaders. Because I didn't realize I was holding back all of that Ghanaian heritage because of what he represented. And that washed over me and has helped me to start a foundation. Now I have a team in Ghana. Now we're doing business and things in Ghana that I never would have done.

I don't believe if I had not forgiven my dad. Two, I also learned what not to do. You know, my dad is a leading economic voice in developing countries. And at times, I felt like you're the workaholic. And I was challenged to ask the question of how I could better be there for my kids even through this divorce. And so, I've been super intentional about taking them on spring break, taking them on my trips, you know, having them every other week.

So, you know, having the conversations, taking them on fine dining with daddies where I take them to fine dining restaurants, and I ask them, how am I doing as a dad? What's one way I can improve? And those have been the things that I've been able to apply in my everyday leadership. Because guess what I do now with my team? I also seek their feedback.

I asked them, how can I improve? I asked, how can I be better? Right? I talk about the power of forgiveness. I'm vulnerable with them about issues and things that I'm, you know, going through.

I've realized that leadership is not just at work. Leadership is also at home. So, I think that forgiving my dad has elevated my leadership, not only at home but also in my businesses and the work that I do in everyday communities.

Beth Almes:

That's such a wonderful story, and I thank you for sharing it. That and all of the stories you shared today, I think they are such a wonderful guide for all the leaders who are listening, who are, you know, we're doing our best at work, but we're humans, you know, with all of these other things that we're bringing to the table. So, we could go on, I think, for hours, but I don't know if they would all stick with us through the whole life. So, thank you so much for taking your time and being, with me here today on the Leadership 480 podcast.

Justin Jones-Fosu:

Thank you. Thank you so much, Beth.

Beth Almes: 

And thank you to our listeners who took part of their day, their 480 minutes, to be with us today, and we ask that you remember to make every moment of leadership count.

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