For this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show, I was joined by Natalie Boudou, executive coach, trainer consultant and author of a great book called ‘Human Force’ that suggests practical ways leaders can create positive emotional cultures in the workplace.
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Speaker 1: Welcome to, The Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.
Toby Mildon: Hey there, thank you ever so much for tuning into this episode of the Inclusive Growth podcast. I'm Toby Mildon and today I'm joined by Natalie Boudou who is the author of a really great book called Human Force. Natalie, welcome to the show. Lovely to see you.
Natalie Boudou: Hi, thank you. I'm delighted to be here, Toby.
Toby Mildon: So Natalie, before we get into the main questions of the interview and what your book covers, could you just introduce yourself? Let us know a bit about who you are, what you do and what led you to writing your book.
Natalie Boudou: Yes, so I am an executive coach, a trainer and also a consultant and of course a newly a new author as well. As you know, my book just came out and I work with organizations to help them to leverage the power of human beings, what I call the human force and to build cultures of belonging, to build cultures of care and to build cultures of recognition as well. So that's my mission and I love my work. I'm very passionate about it and I have previously worked in private sector, I've worked for the United Nations, I've held senior management positions, so I'm very familiar with how workplaces function and run. And of course, as you know, last year I wrote this book which has just come out and that is really a culmination of the experiences that I've had both in my personal and in my professional life and also it contains lots of details about lots of research about the workplace today and contributions also from some of the leaders that I work with as well.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant and I'm really excited to dive into the book with you. We've got some key questions prepared to share with our listener today, what you cover. So first of all, in your book, you discuss the cost of ignoring emotions in the workplace. Can you give us some examples of how ignoring emotions can negatively impact both employees and the organisations that they work for?
Natalie Boudou: Yes, I'll try to do that. So I think the important thing to remember is that very often we do sometimes tend to ignore our emotions. We tend to ignore the ones that are a bit painful or unpleasant such as, you know, emotions such as fear or anger or sadness because we don't like the feelings that these emotions sometimes make us feel. We don't like the unpleasantness. What's clear and I use this metaphor in the book is that if you think about emotions a bit like emails coming into you, they're there, they have a message for you, they're like emails that come into your inbox. If you do ignore them, you can be sure that you're going to be spammed at some time, they're going to come back, they're not going to disappear, they're going to be there, they're going to persist and that you probably know. I mean if you've ever you've had trouble falling asleep at night or maybe you wake up in the morning or maybe you've had a lingering headache for some time, that's often a sign that there is some emotion that hasn't been dealt with properly or hasn't been digested. And so the cost of ignoring those emotions, well first and foremost, they will impact our health.
Natalie Boudou: So as I said maybe they'll impact our sleep, maybe they'll impact how we feel, we'll get physical problems such as headaches or backaches or other types of things physically. They will also impact our behavior, you know, when we are very emotional and we're not actually dealing with it, well maybe we'll be more aggressive, maybe we'll be more hostile. People who tend to avoid their emotions often go into two, go down two routes, I don't know if you're familiar with this Toby, but we often call it the bottling or the brooding. So maybe you're gonna bottle and you know you'll keep those emotions in, but my word, when you do explode at some point it's often not very appropriate. Or perhaps you'll be a brooder, maybe you'll just be brooding, ruminating, turning things over in your head and that's not healthy either. So they'll have an impact on you and they'll also have an impact on the people who are closest to you as well, whether it's your colleagues or whether it's the people you live with at home. They will also feel the impact of the fact that you are not, you know, you are avoiding the emotions. And of course for organizations themselves, organizations cannot avoid emotions in my opinion. We come to work as human beings, we cannot leave our emotions at home, so our emotions are part of us.
Natalie Boudou: So they are factored into everything we do at work. And here's a good thing, is that they can also be extremely powerful in many things that we do at work. So you know, a lot of things that we have to do at work, whether it's things like performance management, having important conversations, making decisions, or creating a new product.
Toby Mildon: So Natalie, you talk about emotions at work in the post-pandemic world, how do you think the pandemic has changed the way that we view and handle emotions in the workplace and how can we adapt to these changes?
Natalie Boudou: Well, there's a lot of bad things that came from the pandemic, but I think one of the good things that came from the pandemic is that at last emotions are being talked about with regards to the workplace. I mean, I myself during the pandemic supported a lot of teams and a lot of managers who were desperately trying to work with the emotions of their team members. Of course they were struggling to handle the implications of the pandemic and what it meant, but a lot of them suddenly were faced with this emotional side. It was really in their face and I think that since then, I as a coach and trainer and consultant, I can bring this topic more easily to the workplace. People are not sort of like so surprised when we talk about that. And I think the other thing about, since the pandemic also is that we have moved into a hybrid, well most of us have moved into hybrid ways of working or remote working more than before. And that means that we are looking into people's homes. When we talk to them on the camera on Zoom meetings, in Team meetings, we see into people's home, we see their personal lives much more. We talk about our personal lives much more, whether it's with regards to flexible policies, flexible work arrangements or coming into work or working from home, we are far more involved in people's personal lives than before.
Natalie Boudou: And that's emotional and that requires a whole new skill set as well. So I think those are the main areas of change I would say.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, one thing I've discussed with my clients is that, that intrusion into your personal space isn't very inclusive for introverts in the team, because you're suddenly peering into their personal space where they go to recharge their batteries. And actually, when we talk about diversity and inclusion, we often think about the obvious characteristics like gender and ethnicity and visible disabilities and stuff like that and I get my clients to think about the less obvious or the invisible traits as well. So introversion and extroversion where you might be an introvert working in a very extroverted team and your way of getting to the top is by putting yourself out there but as an introvert that might be difficult to do. So yeah, for leaders to think about how they can accommodate both introverts and extroverts.
Natalie Boudou: Absolutely, I totally agree with that Toby. You're having to think a lot more about the profiles in your team and how they're handling both this new sort of like looking into personal life or talking more about personal life but also how they're handling working from home, working remotely. For some people it works, for some people it doesn't work so easily and you need to take that into account. So, there's a whole new layer of emotional skills that are required to manage this hybrid working model. So yes, things have changed quite a lot I would say, yes.
Toby Mildon: So in your chapter, Leading With Emotion, you emphasise the importance of emotional intelligence and leaders. Could you just explain how a high emotional intelligence can improve a leader's effectiveness and overall team performance?
Natalie Boudou: So, when we're just talking about emotional intelligence I think that today more than ever people are recognising that leadership is tricky and it's not just about managing projects or delivering results, it's also about leading people and that's really where emotional intelligence comes in. You know we just talked about the changes that have happened since the pandemic. Changes are constant whether it's hybrid, whether it's technology, it's changes and people are gonna be anxious about those changes. Your team members will be anxious about those changes and leaders will need to support their teams through that. So it's extremely important that they develop these skills. Interestingly enough some people call them soft skills. I really don't think that's a very good term because I think these skills are actually quite hard and I prefer to call them people skills. And so, what's the value, why is it important? Well what we know from research and also from lots of surveys that have been carried out over the last few years is that leaders who have high emotional intelligence they are able to manage in a more authentic way.
Natalie Boudou: So, what that means is that they use their emotional intelligence to connect with people, they're more genuine, they're able to bring across who they are and when that happens that builds trust. So we talk a lot about the need to build trust with your team members. When you are able to work with your emotions and be self-aware, you can also be authentic about that and so that builds trust. I think another area where emotional intelligence is important is around innovation and creativity. There's so much pressure now on companies to step up, to innovate, to be ahead of the curve and emotionally intelligent leaders are able to provide safe environments. Environments where people feel safe to try, safe to take a risk and safe to fail and that's really crucial when you're working towards innovation. So I think there's a whole area around innovation. And then of course I think there's a whole really new element around health and well-being as well because we talked about that earlier on, we alluded to it, but you know when you have emotionally intelligent leaders they are able to put themselves in the shoes of other people, they're able to have caring conversations with people, they're able to spot the signs that people are perhaps having too much stress or need some support and in some ways prevent situations from going too far.
Natalie Boudou: So again their health and well-being is another area where emotionally intelligent leaders can have a huge impact. And of course last but not least what we just discussed Toby, this hybrid model which is requiring leaders to work on a new level really and to really monitor and understand the needs of their teams in this new changing model I would say.
Toby Mildon: It's all really great advice and something I talk about with my clients is the need to create that trust and that psychological safety, because that really is the foundation for everything else, because if people don't feel safe contributing their ideas, if they don't feel safe speaking up, if they don't see something going right then that's not gonna help you on the next rung of the ladder, which is having conflict or having healthy conflict in the team and kind of working your way up. So yeah, you've also got a chapter that you've dedicated on, Leading With Empathy, can you just share with us the value of empathy in leadership and also provide some practical tips for leaders on how they could enhance their empathetic skills and maintain that accountability?
Natalie Boudou: I will try, I could talk to you about this all day of course, [laughter] but I will try to give you as much as I can. I think the important thing to know about empathy and this is sometimes when I'm teaching this and training leaders around this area, I think people sometimes think that they confuse it with sympathy or pity and it isn't. It means that you understand where somebody is coming from and perhaps you go as far as feeling how they feel but it doesn't mean necessarily that you agree with them so you're really looking for that understanding about what's going on with the other person which will enable you to deal with whatever situation in a better way. And of course we talked about what's been changing since the pandemic but this whole topic of empathy was being talked about long before the pandemic and today more than ever empathy is really something that companies need to think about. In particular and I talk about this in the book, the younger generations, millennials and now of course Gen Z, they will look for companies that offer empathetic leaders. They will want their organizations to be empathetic and they will vote with their feet, I.e they will not stay if they don't find that in companies. So in terms of attracting and retaining talent it's a very important, important subject.
Natalie Boudou: In my book I talk about a lot of surveys, which actually show that empathy, well organizations where there are empathetic leaders, they do so much better than other organizations. They have higher levels of creativity and they have higher levels of engagement as well. Lots and lots of statistics about that as well. So this is an area that's been heavily researched as well. So, what about the strategies? Gosh there are so many strategies Toby, trying to pick just some of the the best ones. I think it all, for me it all starts with listening and I think that listening for me is one of the things that's really done quite badly by most people. Perhaps we would like to think that we listen well but actually when we start to explore it we realize that we don't and it's about giving the time to listen to people. I think empathy is very difficult to do when you're rushing around. You have to carve out moments in the day when you are prepared to be with people. Sit down, listen to what they're saying. I give lots of tips about how to listen and one of the things of course is that you need to be present. So you know as I said not rushing meetings or conversations, not squeezing these conversations in between you know sets of meetings but really giving the time to listen to what people are saying and make them feel like they are heard.
Natalie Boudou: We all want to be heard but it doesn't happen that often. So that would be one of my first things is really explore that area of how you listen and how you can be in the right zone to do that. I think another important element that is crucial really is what I call curiosity. So do we actually care about what people are feeling and do we show that we care? Do we ask enough questions? So often it's so easy to make assumptions and to think that just because we know somebody well perhaps that we know how they're feeling or we know how they're operating it's really important to get curious and to ask questions. So, again this really reinforces the listening when you ask these powerful questions where you're digging deep and you're wanting to understand what's happening, that will be really a great way to to reinforce empathy. And then perhaps a last tip which I think is really valuable not always but sometimes it's the ability to show vulnerability. Because, when somebody is suffering or having a difficulty or an issue if you are not vulnerable if you are always perfect or if you always seems to have the answer or you have the solution it will be hard for you to come across as empathetic in a conversation sometimes.
Natalie Boudou: So, sharing something that's difficult for you, sharing one of your failures for example, doing it at the right time in the appropriate manner can really open up that empathy as well.
Speaker 4: If your company has a great diversity and inclusion strategy if your organisation has an amazing work culture where productivity is peaking. If the best talent in your industry are working for you, if all your employees are happy and feel included then feel free to skip this message for about 30 seconds and continue listening to the podcast interview with Toby. But if you feel that your company is lacking in any one of these areas your employer reputation is taking a hit. Toby Mildon is one of the UK's leading diversity and inclusion experts who has helped top companies like Deloitte, the BBC, Sony Pictures and Centrica as well as numerous scale-up businesses who want an outstanding inclusive culture. To go further in your diversity and inclusion journey, log on to Toby's webinar at www.mildon.co.uk/free-webinar to accelerate your company's diversity and inclusion strategy in 40 minutes. Thanks for listening and now back to the podcast interview with Toby.
Toby Mildon: I'm a big fan of Brene Brown and all of her research and work into vulnerability and I like what you were saying about the need to listen. I remember when I worked at Deloitte we had a leadership charter and it was really simple but on the charter one of the things said, we make time for people and I just... So when I first read it, I thought it may be a bit too simple to be true, but I then really quickly realized that it was the simple things that actually had to be... We had to remember, so just giving people your full attention, not being distracted by your laptop or your phone going off for... And actually properly listening to people.
Natalie Boudou: Yeah. Yeah, it's incredibly difficult because we're all so extremely busy and we're all juggling all this technology all the time, emails, WhatsApp messages, everything. It's very hard to listen and you have to make a real effort to do so, I think.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, I mean, I've trained as an executive coach myself, and we did lots of training about listening properly, and active listening. And it is really tiring when you sit down and you do a coaching session for an hour and you have to give somebody your undivided attention and listen properly. My coaching instructor said, "We all do hearing very well, but we don't do listening particularly well." [chuckle]
Natalie Boudou: Yeah, this is absolutely true.
Toby Mildon: It is a skill that you have to develop. You're... In the book, you mentioned the importance of holding delicate and difficult conversations in the workplace, I'm interested in this because I think there's a lot of fear about talking about diversity and inclusion at times, people don't want to put their foot in it, they don't want to say the wrong thing. They don't know how to talk about difficult subjects like racism in the workplace or ableism. Or there's some topics that are taboo, people don't want to talk about things like the menopause, for example, or mental health. So the world of diversity and inclusion is rife with these awkward conversations, so what are some of the key strategies that you teach for approaching and navigating these conversations in order to achieve positive outcomes?
Natalie Boudou: Yes, you're absolutely right. The workplace is absolutely rife. It's... All the time, we as leaders, you will need to have conversations, and it can be in any of those areas that you mentioned, Toby. It can also be in performance management, somebody's underperforming, or there could be a conflictual situation at work. There are so many different areas, and the problem is, and we know this as well from lots of researches that managers often avoid these conversations, for lots of reasons, maybe they've had bad experiences before, maybe they don't feel equipped to deal with it. But more than often, more than often, it's because unpleasant emotions will be involved and it's not wanting to go there, that makes them avoid these conversations.
Natalie Boudou: So how to handle that? Well, I think one of the things that's often overlooked about difficult conversations, for me, it's all in the preparation as well, how you prepare yourself to go into a conversation which might be a little delicate, which could run the risk of raising emotions or increasing that uncomfortable feeling. The way that you prepare yourself will be key. So, obviously when you prepare yourself for conversation, from a cognitive point of view, you might be thinking about, what is the objective of this conversation? What are the things that I need to talk about, or the points that I wanna raise? But that's very cognitive and that's fine, but more importantly, I think, is to think about how you are feeling about this conversation. And that's really doing a little bit of self-awareness in which I talk about throughout the book, how self-awareness is key.
Natalie Boudou: How am I feeling about this conversation? Do I need to vent some of that emotion if I'm feeling a bit angry about something before I go into the conversation should I get rid of that emotion by talking to somebody and getting it out of my system? And what about the person that I am gonna speak to? Can I put myself in their shoes? Again, a bit of empathy, where are they coming from, what are they likely to be feeling? And lastly, in the preparation phase is also around the mindset, how am I approaching this conversation? If I approach this conversation from the point of, it's going to be hard, it's going to be difficult, I'm going into... You can always be going into it as if you're going into a battle, preparing for battle, and then that's not gonna be healthy or likely to do you any good. So the mindset that you have, perhaps this is a conversation that needs to happen, it's an important conversation, that's a more positive way of approaching it. So, that's really the preparation, Toby. I can see you're nodding there, obviously that's striking a key with you.
Natalie Boudou: Definitely, I was just mulling that through as you were going through, and I think those are really practical steps that a leader can take to prepare. So, it may be a bit of homework for the person listening to us right now, is to rewind a few seconds and just write that down because I think that's a really useful checklist for you to work through if you are approaching a difficult conversation with somebody.
Natalie Boudou: Exactly, exactly. And of course, you've got the actual, during. So, you've got the preparation and then you've got the during, so how is it... How do you actually then navigate that conversation? And we've kind of already touched upon this, when we've talked about not rushing. So find the time the right time, don't do it the wrong time of day, don't squeeze this conversation in between two meetings. Think about the time, think about the venue, maybe you don't wanna have it in a room in the office with no windows. Maybe it's nice to go outside and I don't know, there are... The environment also counts for how successful a conversation will be. And then of course, I think one of the most important things that scares people about these conversations is how are they gonna react emotionally. So what happens if you are leading this conversation and you feel that your emotions are rising and they getting to the better of you, well, that's the time to put in place some sales management techniques, which are at the beginning of the book. But it's essentially around being able to pause, how... If you might need to take a break, maybe you need to have a sip of water, whatever it is, just to take the tension down and to give the chance for people to feel better and for the conversation to then go on afterwards.
Natalie Boudou: So pausing, I think is really important. And there are other techniques, of course, that you can do, such as anchoring, when you touch the table or you unfold your legs, for example, that's all... They're all skills to bring you back into the present. So you're not gonna be led too much by your emotions. So, yeah there are so many, but I think basically working with your emotions during the conversation is key, being able to handle that. And not being afraid of it either. It's natural, if it happens, it's natural, you just might need a pause just to re-collect and calm things down a little bit.
Toby Mildon: That's brilliant. So building a positive, emotional culture, is a significant theme throughout your book. So what are some of the practical steps that today's listener could take away to create a culture of belonging, care, recognition, and appreciation?
Natalie Boudou: So again, a very big subject, but I think the most important thing is that people need to feel safe. We touched upon this psychological safety earlier on, and people need to feel safe when they feel safe, when they feel listened to, then they have that sense of belonging, they have that solidarity feeling, and when they don't... When they come to work and they don't feel like they have to mask maybe or cover up who they are or what they feel, that really does increase a sense of belonging. So, one of the things, I think you just need to work on today is how we maintain meaningful, meaningful connections, particularly as I said, in a hybrid world, where we need to be perhaps more deliberate about maintaining those connections. So, how we use technology, for example, is key. When do we want to have a Zoom meeting or a Team meeting, and when is it perhaps more appropriate, for example, to just pick up the phone? Something we don't do anymore. But maintaining a very human touch. When is it important to work from home and when is it more important to be in the office? Maybe there are certain scenarios, delicate conversations, for example, where we might want to do it in person. And again, maintaining open lines of communication where we can talk to each other freely, even if we're working remotely.
Natalie Boudou: Onboarding, for example, welcoming new team members, make sure that you put them in touch with people straight away, you introduce them to people, maybe you give them a buddy with whom they can learn the ropes, but at least they have some sort of connection. Because when you're onboarding remotely it's quite difficult to feel that connection. And in terms of caring for people, it's really embracing kindness, showing that you care for people, maybe it's acts of kindness, like bringing somebody a cup of coffee if they're looking a bit tired or offering to share some of their work, if you've got that space. And again, really paying attention to the stress and to the signs of stress in your workplace when people might be feeling a bit overwhelmed and reaching out and having caring conversations, making time for people. These are all things that require time and not necessarily huge amounts of time, but time nevertheless. And when you give that time, you've saved so much time at the other end, I think that's a very important thing just to mention that we all feel that we're stretched at work, we're running around, but actually giving that time to sit down, to ask how people are feeling, to listen to what they say and then to act upon it in some way is key to creating those emotional cultures, I think.
Toby Mildon: Absolutely. So, Natalie, thanks ever so much for joining me on today's podcast. If the person listening to us right now wants to learn more about what you do and they want to get a copy of your book, what should they do?
Natalie Boudou: Well, they should go to, www.human-force.ch, and there they will find the book page and they can download a free chapter of the book or indeed find a link to buy it on Amazon.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Well, Natalie, thanks ever so much for joining me today. It's been a really insightful conversation because I think what you've talked about is really the importance of improving our leadership skills and abilities in order to be more inclusive. So we've talked about the cost of ignoring emotions in the workplace, we've talked about the impact that the pandemic has had on our emotions within the workplace and how you can lead with emotion and how you can lead with empathy. And some really practical tips on how you can navigate awkward and difficult conversations, as well as some really practical things on what you can do to create a positive emotional culture within the organization. So, Natalie, thank you ever so much for joining me, and thank you for tuning into this episode of, The Inclusive Growth Podcast. Hopefully, you found my conversation with Natalie today really interesting. And if you would like to learn more about the work that Natalie does, if you want to reach out to her, ask her for her support in your organization or to get a copy of her book, please do go over to her website. Until the next time, thank you for tuning in and I look forward to seeing you on the next episode, which will be coming up very soon. Take care.
Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to The Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at Mildon.co.uk.