In this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show, I spoke with clinical psychologist and author Dr. Roxy Manning about Nonviolent Communication and how it can be used in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging work and inclusive leadership.
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S?: 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 am Toby Mildon, and I'm really excited today to be joined by Roxy Manning, who is over in the States, and I'm in the UK, if you can't tell about my accent. So we are talking across the ocean. Roxy is a clinical psychologist and she is the author of How to Have Anti-Racist Conversations. So I thought it would be a really interesting discussion to have as a lot of my clients are talking about how they can become anti-racist businesses and employers, particularly after the murder of George Floyd over in America. A lot of senior leaders that I work with are particularly entrusted in how they can reduce racial inequality within their workplaces and how they can develop anti-racist in organisations that they lead. So Roxy, thanks ever so much for joining me today. It's lovely to see you.
Roxy Manning: Thank you, Toby. I'm glad to be here.
Toby Mildon: So, Roxy, could you just let us know a bit more about yourself, your background, what you do, what you love to do?
Roxy Manning: Hey, sure. So I'm a black Caribbean immigrant to the United States, and so part of my background was informed by being an immigrant, being black, having multiple identities here in the US. And I work as a clinical psychologist for San Francisco County, where I work with the homeless citizen franchise population, but I'm also a certified trainer for Nonviolent Communication. And I work with organisations and people who are trying to learn how to have more effective conversations about a host of things. But one of my specialties is how do we have these conversations about race and other forms of oppression.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant. So, I mean, let's dive straight in. You've already talked about your background and your experience in Nonviolent Communications. I suppose let's just start with the basic question is what do we actually mean by Nonviolent Communication?
Roxy Manning: Great question. Well, Nonviolent Communication is this modality approach that was developed in the '60s by a psychologist here in the US, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. And one of the things, a dear friend of mine says, it's a consciousness masquerading as a communication tool. So that's the part that brings in that nonviolent. It's a way to think about our relationships with each other, with other human beings, and with the entire earth, and helps us to find our common ground. What are the things that we share in common that we can use to help us identify sources of conflict and resolve them? That's the consciousness part that we all, every single human being in the world essentially has the same values and needs... And then the communication tool part of it is that there's actually this four step model that can guide us in having conversations that break down. What is it that we're observing, how do we feel about it? What's important to us? What do we value, and then what do we wanna do about it?
Toby Mildon: Yeah. Brilliant. I love what you were saying around how it's almost like a mindset thing or mindfulness. So when I do inclusive leadership with some of my clients, we've got a model that we teach them about the difference between being a mindful leader or being in survival mode. And it's almost so when you're being a mindful leader, you are being less judgmental. You are creating space to have meaningful conversations with people, connect with people on a deeper level. But if you're in the survival mode, it's like you can often become quite judgmental of yourself or other people. You're not really being conscious of how your behavior is impacting on others around you. So it's, yeah, I like the synergies there between the two.
Roxy Manning: Yeah. I love that you're saying this, mindful versus survival, because this is what happens a lot, right? Before I started learning Nonviolent Communication, it was really easy for us to run those old patterns. Something happens and I blame and judge the other person, or I blame and judge myself. And when we start thinking about things like oppression, we do the same thing. That person is evil and bad, and we judge them and essentially want to cancel them. But instead, if we can get out of this survival mode into thinking, okay, human beings are fundamentally rational, so why are we doing this thing that's not working for you or for me? And move from the judgment to being really reflective and intentional about what's going on for that person, we can start to find a path for connection.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant. So how can we use Nonviolent Communications to support the work that we do around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging?
Roxy Manning: I like to talk about it from a couple of perspectives. Usually when we're talking about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, there's often something that's happened, right? You're brought into organisations, something's happened, people are unhappy. And so I just wanna introduce a couple terms that I use, which is part of that intentionality, that consciousness of not being judgmental. I talk about the actor, who's the person who did the thing that was hard for someone, which is different than the perpetrator, right? The minute I say perpetrator, you wanna throw that person away? And I talk about the receiver, the person who that thing was done to versus the victim, which kind of takes away their agency. So one of the things we can use Nonviolent Communication for as the actor is to learn how to show up, to notice what's going on inside of myself, what's important to me, why did I even do this thing that I don't even want to do? And instead of judging myself, connect to my needs and use that to find a different strategy to get my needs met.
Roxy Manning: And as the receiver, I wanna be able to say, when you did that thing that I didn't like, it didn't work for me. And it doesn't make you a bad or evil person, but I can talk about it from a perspective of what were my needs? What was I wanting in that moment, that I wasn't able to access because of this thing that you did. So it helps to reframe that conversation around values and needs rather than good or bad evil and someone who can be saved.
Toby Mildon: It reminds me of this communications triangle that I read in a book called Loving What Is. I don't know if you've come across that book before. It was written by a lady called Byron Katie, and I went along to one of her workshops in London. She's American. She says that there's kind of communication to somebody else. There's communication from them to us, but then there's communication back on ourselves. So the example that she gave in the workshop was that she was saying that somebody might feel really frustrated or annoyed that their colleague ignores them. And she was saying... She said, "Okay, right, give me five examples of when your colleague ignored you." So then you have to list those five reasons. And she said, right... Now write down five times you've ignored your colleague. And I thought, oh this is interesting 'cause suddenly it's getting you to think, well actually I'm being ignored but maybe I ignore others. So that was interesting. And then she said, now write down five times you've ignored yourself. And I thought oh this is getting even more interesting, 'cause it's kind of like that introspection on ourselves really...
Roxy Manning: I love this kind of this awareness 'cause this is one of the things humans do, right? So we have like this fundamental attribution era... Where when I think about my actions, I can come up with all of the wonderful reasons why I did the thing that I did. And I can still feel sad that I made that choice, but I get it. I know why I made that choice. But when I look at your behavior I can't think of those reasons. And so we just judge you and once we start to slow down and do exactly what you described, think, well, what are some of the reasons I might have done that we might then be better able to understand why that person might have taken that same action. And so make a request for different behavior, especially when we're talking about equity, it's not about saying that just 'cause you did this thing and I understand your reasons, it's okay, but I'm taking away the judgment that prevents us from making that connection so that I can make that request for a different action.
Toby Mildon: Absolutely. So how could we use Nonviolent Communications more effectively to challenge say something like microaggressions, which comes up a lot when we talk about communication or conflict within teams?
Roxy Manning: So there are a couple of things that I think are really important. I mentioned earlier that there are these four steps of Nonviolent Communication on the communication model side. So the first step that's really helpful with microaggressions is that observations, what actually happened. And that's one of the things that's really challenging about microaggressions. Somebody says to me, like I mentioned, I'm a black Caribbean person. If someone says, oh my gosh, you're so articulate, right? That's the thing that they said that's observation. But that has a really loaded meaning if they say it to me versus if they say like I used to do trainings with a white man here in the US and he never got that comment, I always got that comment and there's a different meaning underneath. So I start to look at both the observation, but I also look at the historical context.
Roxy Manning: I include that in my observation. This person is saying this to me. There could be a lot of reasons why. And there's also this context where black folks in the US who achieve a certain level of education and stature can often hear that with a surprise tone of voice. So I start to notice and be able to name, here's what I'm seeing. That's the first step. And then, and especially in the workplace, this one is a little bit challenging. I wanna check in how did that make me feel? Right? And I'm using what you named earlier about paying attention to what's happening inside of me. Was I frustrated? Was I angry? And I've been angry when people have said that to me in the past. And so then the question is the next Nonviolent Communication step.
Roxy Manning: Okay, so what am I needing? What's important to me in that situation? And I realised that what was important to me was I wanted to be trusted when I walked into the room to teach that I had something to offer. And every time I heard that statement with a tone of surprise, I would start to tell myself, does this person think I wouldn't have anything to offer 'cause I'm a black person? And so then I would make a request, I'd check in with the person when you just said to me that I'm so articulate, but you didn't say to my colleague, were you feeling surprised that I'm a black person and I speak the way that I do? That's a hard thing to say to someone, right?
Toby Mildon: Yeah. That's... I can imagine a lot of people would have difficulty calling that kind of thing out with a colleague or a client.
Roxy Manning: Right. And so one of the things I often suggest to folks is if that step is too hard to do right now, you can then focus on just the internal part. So I could also say to the person, when you said that to me, what came up for me was how often black folks aren't trusted for their intelligence or seen for like all of their capacities. And I'm not sure if you meant that, but I want you to know that this is what gets stimulated for me as a black person in America.
Toby Mildon: Definitely.
Roxy Manning: And I'm wondering if you could find a different way to let me know what it is that you were excited about when you heard me speak. What prompted you to say that? So in some ways I'm telling them, move away from the judgment, you're so articulate to what's the specific thing I did that you loved. That helps us to reduce microaggressions.
Toby Mildon: That's really cool. And you were saying that for somebody who might struggle to raise this with a colleague or a coworker or a client that they should focus on the internal, what's going on for them internally. Do you think that something like journaling helps where you can kind of write down your thoughts or feelings?
Roxy Manning: Yes, absolutely. 'cause this is one of the things that people tell me a lot. It's like, it just happened and I feel frozen, I don't know what to say. And we have this culture of urgency where it's like we tell ourselves I've gotta respond right away, otherwise my opportunity is lost. And I tell people, no go journal. Get some empathy from someone. Connect to what's important to you. And then you can go back to that conversation even a month later and say, remember when this thing happened? I've been thinking about it and I'd love to tell what came up for me. So take that time journal, do whatever you need to do to be able to self connect before jumping into the conversation.
Toby Mildon: Absolutely. So obviously we've talked about what it's like when we're on the receiving end of these micro behaviors because ultimately when we talk about microaggression or a micro incivility, they're kind of just small disrespectful behaviors. It's something that we all do. I'm really conscious of it right now actually because I'm trying to focus on what you're saying. But also I keep looking away at my second screen 'cause I've got the questions that I want to ask you and the structure of today's interview. And I'm thinking that could be perceived as a microaggression where I'm not paying attention to you, I'm not maintaining eye contact. Obviously this is a podcast, but you and I can see each other for the recording of this. But the person listening to us right now doesn't get the visual element. They just get the auditory output. So I mean I've done microaggressions lots of times. I've been in a meeting with colleagues where I've been looking at my phone rather than paying them attention for example. I'm probably even guilty of micro incivility when it comes to somebody's characteristic. Whether that's their ethnicity or their gender. Maybe a little remark that I made that might be a bit perceived as being insensitive. So what should we be doing if we are guilty of making these microaggressions? How can we show up? How can we take responsibility and what can we learn from our actions so that we can help the other person?
Roxy Manning: Yeah. Toby, you said something that I wanna like really bring into highlight 'cause I think it was important when you described, like you said, maybe right in this moment my looking away at my second screen might be perceived as a microaggression. I think that's one of the challenges of microaggressions, especially from that actor, the person who's doing the behavior that you've got a really great logical reason for doing what you're doing. But I don't know what that reason is and I might perceive it as a microaggression. And I just love to name for your listeners that that is one of the first hallmarks about microaggressions. That as the actor, it's really easy to say, but that's not my intention. That wasn't what I meant. Right? [chuckle]
Roxy Manning: And instead I always tell folks that microaggression is about the perception of the receiver. You might have a wonderful intention, you might have a really good reason for what you're doing, but it's really about how it's landing for the receiver. And I use this very like silly example, I'll share it with you to help people really take that in. Right? 'Cause a lot of times people talk about, it's about the impact, not about the intention, but we don't internalise this. So here's my silly watermelon story. Okay. I've got kids and all stereotypes aside, we love watermelon and it's hot summertime. Just imagine that I'm making this beautiful watermelon salad for my kids and I'm chopping the watermelon with a big knife. And as I'm chopping this watermelon, one of the kid reaches in to grab a piece 'cause it looks so juicy and I cut them. What would I do? [chuckle] What would you do in this situation?
Toby Mildon: I think I'd run straight to the emergency room if it was a serious cut. [laughter]
Roxy Manning: Exactly right. We'd immediately be like, what do I need to do to take care of this cut? Go to the emergency room, put a Band-Aid on them, we'd take care of the kid. What we wouldn't do is say, "oh my daughter, dear child, you're cut. And I'm feeling so sad 'cause this watermelon was so juicy and you would've loved it and I really wanted you to have this watermelon and I'm just so devastated that you don't see how beautiful this watermelon is." We wouldn't do that. And that's what we do with microaggressions. Instead of focusing on the person had impact and they need support, we focus on our intentions. I want you to see this beautiful thing I was trying to do. I was trying to compliment you and tell you how wonderful you were and, your impact doesn't matter. So I always tell people, put the Band-Aid on first. If you're the actor, empathize with the person. Understand why they're having the impact that they did 'cause it's usually not about you.
Toby Mildon: Could there also be an element of defensiveness as well? 'Cause you were saying, well that wasn't my intention. I suppose maybe that is defensiveness in a way 'cause it's like you're saying, well that wasn't my intention. So I guess that's a defensive response, but it's something I do see quite often.
Roxy Manning: Yes. When I notice that I'm feeling defensive, my recommendation as the actor is to stop, don't stay in that conversation if you're feeling defensive because it's really frustrating for the receiver. I'm gonna be trying to tell you about the impact that I had and you are not receiving me, you're being defensive. So just tell the person, I need a moment because I notice a lot of shame or guilt or whatever it is coming up and I wanna take care of that, so I can be fully present with how this was for you. Go get some support, journal, and then go back to the receiver. But make sure you go back and say, "Okay, I'm really ready to hear now how you were impacted by what I did."
Toby Mildon: Which takes us back to being a mindful leader rather than being in survival mode, which is what we talked about earlier.
Toby Mildon: 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 talents 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: Given your experience in psychology and your expertise around non-violent communications and obviously you've written a book around anti-racist organisations, what are some of the approaches that senior leaders in business should be employing to create a more inclusive environment where everybody can thrive?
Roxy Manning: So one of the challenges I think, is that a lot of organisations approach diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in this almost crisis mode. Something happens like in the US the murder of George Floyd, and all of a sudden everyone's like, "We need to create spaces where people can talk about these things", but it's this one time thing. Or maybe they do it for two or three months and then they drop it again. So the first thing that senior leaders need to recognize is that this is an ongoing, nonstop committed practice. It's not a one and done kind of activity. It's not bringing a trainer, and then I've done it for the year. So think about what is my long-term plan for addressing diversity and equity in my organisation? And that plan, kind of bringing in Nonviolent Communication needs to include, "How am I understanding the experiences of people with different identities in my organisation?"
Roxy Manning: Where are the spaces where I'm getting that information, making it safe enough for people to tell me that information [chuckle] without them having to worry that they're gonna be punished? And then what are the actions that I'm taking to follow up on what I'm learning?" So your plan really needs to be continuous assessment, understanding what's happening, what's working, and then interventions that are guided by the folks who are impacted. A lot of times people are thinking, "Well, this is what I would want if I were in that situation", but if I'm a senior leader, I have a certain level of rank and power, which means I probably am approaching the situation a bit differently than someone without that level of security. So really think about what would actually support the folks who are impacted from their perspective, not just from your perspective.
Toby Mildon: I love that. I'd like to just do a little bit of a deep dive on your book and what we mean by anti-racism, because I think it's not a new term in the UK. I think it's just that people are talking about anti-racism more nowadays than maybe they did in the past. But I do think there's a little bit of confusion amongst business leaders about what anti-racism actually means. What does it mean to be an anti-racist? 'Cause often people are like, "Well, there's racism". And I think people immediately think of using racial slurs, for example, you would expect that racist behavior. So for example, a couple of years ago with the Euro final football here in the UK, the England team got to the finals and there was a penalty shootout and there were two black England football players who were lined up to kick the ball.
Toby Mildon: By the way, I'm not a massive football fan, so I'm gonna get the terminology wrong here. But anyway, what happened was they missed [laughter] and immediately there was loads of racist remarks being made on Twitter directed at these players. And... If it was say a white player doing that, they would not have received those kind of remarks about them and their race and their football skills or abilities. And I do remember I was talking to a colleague of mine the following day, a black woman who said to me, she was actually really fearful of sending her children to school the following day and she didn't allow them to go into school because she thought that they would probably receive racist abuse on the way to school.
Toby Mildon: And I honestly... My heart sank, I felt so terrible because I just thought, I've never been in that position before. I've never been on the receiving end of racism because I'm a white bloke. So I'm rambling here. Because I just wanted to set the scene, but could you just maybe clear up for us what we mean by being an anti-racist and wanting to create an anti-racist organisation?
Roxy Manning: Absolutely. So the scene that you described is the kind of racism that a lot of people talk about and think about. And for many people, clearly not all, 'cause people were posting those messages on Twitter, but many people are like, "That's not me. I don't do that." And they think that's where it stops. And when we talk about being anti-racist, we're talking about something a wee bit different. And I love how Dr. Ibram Kendi defines it. So I think about racism more broadly as something that leads to differential outcomes for groups, reliably because of race. So if I'm in an organisation, old things like an organisation will say, "Oh we're gonna only hire people from the best colleges", right? Top colleges, which seems like a great idea in practice, but if I wanna be an equitable organisation, it's ignoring the fact that many black and brown folks have been kept out of these colleges. That the whole pipeline is set up to make sure that they don't get into a lot of these colleges. And so hiring folks only from these colleges means I'm restricting my pool, which leads to a racist outcome. I'm gonna have a disproportionate number of folks who are not black and brown because of that. So that's one of the ways that we can have a racist action without even thinking about it.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Roxy Manning: So anti-racist actions means I'm taking steps or policies or procedures that are not having a differential outcome because of race. I'm seeking to remove those barriers. So it's looking for things that are really supporting, making it more equitable and making the outcomes supportive across different groups, equal across different groups.
Toby Mildon: That's brilliant. Thanks for explaining it. It makes perfect sense to me. And I've had so many conversations with people about broadening the universities and the colleges and the schools that they attract graduates from, and it's really good to hear actually how... I suppose the why behind that and how there's... The systemic racism going on that leads to the racist outcomes.
Roxy Manning: Right.
Toby Mildon: So the penultimate question I ask everybody when they sit down and come on this podcast with me, is, what does inclusive growth mean to you?
Roxy Manning: So for me, inclusive growth means that... And I'm thinking about it from an organisational standpoint, is that I'm working to support my businesses thriving in ways that also create opportunities for everybody in the organisation and everyone that we impact to benefit. And that that benefit is equal, it's equitable across fields. I'm gonna pause a moment and I'm glad that I said equal, because it's not about equality, right? It's really about equity. And so we're currently in a phase, because there have been so many inequitable outcomes that equity means actually may be giving more resources or tending more to the needs of those whose needs have not been met and who continue to be unmet.
Roxy Manning: So when I think about inclusive growth, I might be thinking like, from a hiring perspective, how can I help make sure that I'm hiring the people into my organisation who have not yet been represented, even if it looks unequal in the moment, it's equitable because I'm restoring balance in equity.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant.
Roxy Manning: And it's also really, I love when I talk about organisations, I also want to make sure that I'm not just thinking about my bottom line, but I'm also thinking about like, what are we... How are we impacting the world? How are we impacting our communities? What are we doing to really, like you mentioned, a pipeline support of different outcomes so that five years, 10 years from now, my organisation is positioned to really support equity in anti-racist world.
Toby Mildon: Excellent. Thank you. So what is a particular action that you would love the person listening to us right now to take away with them and start to think about for their own organisation?
Roxy Manning: Sure. So one very specific action that I think folks can take is to start to ask yourself, what have I only been seeing from my perspective, from my worldview? What are the almost blinders or the limitations that I'm experiencing? Because I just don't understand what it's like to be a person who's black, a person, with a disability, a person from a different gender than mine, right? How am I perceiving the world in a way that's very constrained? And go and talk to people who have identities that are different from yours, not from this kind of extractive, I wanna take all of your knowledge and then we'll never interact again, but really start to build those relationships so that people feel comfortable sharing and understanding, like this is a place where we can work together to create change.
Roxy Manning: And then I've gotta add this, of course, the other action folks can take is to go buy my books. They're available for pre-order now. "How to Have Anti-Racist Conversations." And the book that will help you support that internal work that you talked about is the Anti-Racist Heart, which is a handbook that goes with the first book.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant. And where's the best place to get these books?
Roxy Manning: You can order them online at any of the major resellers.
Toby Mildon: Excellent. Well, Roxy, thanks ever so much for making time in your busy schedule to have a chat with me. I've really enjoyed our conversation and I've learned loads. So the person listening to us right now has probably learned a lot from your wisdom as well. So thank you very much.
Roxy Manning: Thanks for having me, Toby.
Toby Mildon: Cool. And thank you for tuning into this episode of the Inclusive Growth Podcast with myself and my guest Roxy today. Hopefully you've learned a lot about what Nonviolent Communication is and how it can be used in any diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging work that you are doing, and how you can actually use some of those strategies for your own personal development, but at how you can also apply it to something like microaggressions within the workplace. And Roxy gave some really great advice on how you can be an inclusive leader and how you can act as an inclusive leader to enable your organisation to thrive. So thanks ever so much for tuning in today. There will be another episode of the Inclusive Growth Podcast, which will be coming up very soon. So just keep your ears out for that.
Toby Mildon: If there's anything that my team and I can do to help you on your diversity and inclusion journey, we are only a click away. So go to our website, www.mildon.co.uk and we would love to have a conversation with you on how we can support you on your journey. Until then, take very good care of yourself. Bye for now.
S?: 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.