One of the greatest reasons why employee turnover is high in an organization is the workplace environment. After all, who would want to stay in a place that is bringing more stress than fulfillment? In this episode, Amber Hawley sits down with Patti Perez to talk about how to create a drama-free culture in your business. Patti is the founder and CEO of PersuasionPoint Inc., a modern-day consulting firm dedicated to teaching leaders and teams on how to create and sustain healthy, inclusive, and profitable workplace cultures. With her book, The Drama-Free Workplace, she shares with us some of the tools and techniques on creating a nontoxic, anti-racist, and positive environment for ourselves and, most especially, our employees. She also provides some great insights from a legal aspect and lays the massive risks, disadvantages, and opportunities the kind of workplace culture causes to the entire organization. Tune into this important conversation to learn more about how you can create a safe space for your employees to thrive and feel the rewards of their job.
How To Create A Drama-Free Culture In The Workplace With Patti Perez
I have a very special guest. I have Patti Perez, who is an attorney and workplace culture expert, an epic dancer as well, like many other wonderful things. She does so many things. It’s hard to narrow it down. Welcome, Patti.
Thank you. No matter what the title, if you put an epic dancer, I’m happy with it.
I am too. That’s my biggest joy in life. If I could be dancing more and enjoying myself, there’s nothing better. Unfortunately, I’m not paid for that. Patti is the author of The Drama-Free Workplace. She is doing some amazing things and doing some webinars around anti-racist workplace culture. I’ve been wanting to have Patti on anyway to be talking about creating a drama-free culture in your business and all of that. With everything going on, this felt even more timely. I’m glad that you had time to come on and we’re going to talk all about workplace culture.
It’s my favorite subject. Let’s do it.
Why don’t you give a little bit better background on yourself and fill in so people know who you are?
I started as an employment attorney in California, which is known worldwide as the place with the most complicated employment laws. I was in the trenches as it relates to that. Anyone who works or employs people in California knows that. I loved employment law. I always liken it to, as a Latina watching a telenovela, it’s like watching the drama unfold before me without being involved. I hated litigation. I hated being an attorney. I felt like it was a bad use of my best talents and dissatisfying. I didn’t find it a great way to resolve the underlying issues that were occurring. Many twists and turns, I did international work in Mexico City. I was the head of HR and also in-house employment counsel at an international law firm in DC.
I opened a consulting company in San Diego when we got back, which is my hometown. I had a two-year-old. I couldn’t think of another thing to do other than open my own business because I didn’t think anyone else would be able to accommodate my desire to be a very participatory mom. That launched the second part of my career, combining the law, the HR, the business savvy, and started specializing. The pivot was going from the courtroom into becoming more of a crisis manager in the workplace. I did tons of training, lots of consulting, developed a couple of areas of expertise. The bulk of my work then was conducting workplace investigations. Prior to there being any type of a claim, if you, Amber, went to your HR department and said, “I’m being harassed, discriminated against, bullied or treated unfairly.” In many instances, they would call me.
I had a client dubbed me the Workplace Wolf ala Pulp Fiction because I was the one who came in and cleaned up messes. I did that over 1,200 of those investigations throughout my career. If you can name a type of workplace drama, it’s likely that I have read an email about it, listen to a voicemail about it, read a memo about it, or watched a horrendous video that I will never be able to erase from my memory about it. It was a great work, but emotionally taxing and heavy. I was making decisions that impacted people’s lives, livelihoods, and people’s marriages. I took my job very seriously. It was great fun and certainly very educational and what I wanted to do on my next pivot.
Along the way, I was also an executive at a technology company. I was also a shareholder at an international law firm where I continued to do that work. I’ve launched my company called PersuasionPoint to take the totality of that and make what I hope to be the last pivot in my career. From attorney to workplace crisis manager now to being a systemic change agent and taking the experience that I had Band-Aiding a lot of problems. Sometimes the problems that I was looking at required more than a Band-Aid. It required some gauze, some surgery, and some stitches, but they were one-off. I wasn’t seeing that there was a systemic change that was occurring, whether it was culture issues, diversity inclusion and equity issues, issues related to accommodating disabilities, and making sure that we were embracing people from all walks of life.
I started to see patterns. I started to see themes. It’s that that led me to write a book. I was lucky enough to be contacted by a major publisher who at the time because it was in the midst of #MeToo wanted me to write a book that was exclusively about sexual harassment. Thankfully, I was able to convince the publisher that while that is an incredibly important issue, that needs a lot of attention in the workplace. It’s not the only one. Issues of unconscious bias, issue of ethics, issues of diversity are also as important. We came up with The Drama-Free Workplace and I talk about all those issues in the book. Put all of those, both strategic and tactical solutions, that I propose in the book into practice.
I’m glad you did push for that because like you’re saying, it sounds like your whole path has led you to this place of understanding. I’ve got to get at the root cause because I want to create more change. I don’t want to have to, after the fact, put that Band-Aid on or have to deal with something. I want to try to be more proactive. It’s one of those things. I too have a business in California. I do understand all of the things, especially with California. I talked to a lot of entrepreneurs, employees, workplace culture, and dealing with the stress and the drama that comes with that. It’s the number one stressor especially once you’ve got your business going and you figure out how to get sales and all of that. If you want to grow or leverage that, you’re employing people.
It’s one of these things that we all end up dealing with. I see many people in such so much stress because of stuff that’s going on with their team and not having a place to address that always or how do I set that up from the get-go so that I can try to minimize it? There’s always going to be stuff and personalities. When we can set up the culture and I’ve known people who have done that, it makes such a difference in how rewarding and fulfilling the work can be when you are all on the same page with your team and there are a positive value system and culture going on.
I will say that the flip side of it, which was one of the most rewarding parts of my practice as an investigator and as a consultant made me understand why it was that being a traditional lawyer was not for me. One of the many ways in which I was not cut out to be a litigator is I’m not a good zealous advocate. I do not see the world in black and white, right and wrong, good and bad. I see nuances. I see gray areas. That’s a tough personality characteristic to have when you are supposed to be the zealous advocate and believe that your client is 100% right. The reason I bring that up is that the flip side of it is that I couldn’t agree with you more that leaders, owners, entrepreneurs, C-Suite, managers, any level that you’re at are all feeling that pain of when drama occurs the stress that’s inflicted on them.
What my investigation practice gave me a bird’s eye view into is the equal, if not greater amount of stress that the employees feel because of some of the behavior that unfortunately goes on in the workplace. I was so much better suited to be that neutral, that person who truly could empathize with both sides. It’s something that I joke around about, which I think you’ve heard me say is that I was born with a neon sign on my forehead that says, “Tell me everything.” It’s not necessarily the best quality to have when you’re sitting on an airplane, but it is a fabulous quality to have when you’re a workplace investigator because people told me everything. You and I have commiserated on the fact that my interviews ended up being more therapy sessions in many instances than interviews. I was able to see the root causes of drama from both perspectives, employees raising drama, but then, believe me, there were as many examples where I wanted to shake a manager or a leader and say, “What would possess you to do that or say that?” It was a hot mess. It kept me employed.
As you talked about that gray area, I was like, “That’s being a therapist.” I’m always qualifying things because I’m like, “No, you have to understand.” When you’re a neutral outside person, you do see it so much clearer. That’s where the value of having a consultant or somebody come in and giving that feedback. I see a lot of entrepreneurs that will talk about the stress of that. I’ve gone through that myself. When I think about the clients that come to me, many people talk about toxic workplaces. The real stress, trauma, and the fallout that happens from that. I’ve seen both sides of it. This show is geared towards women business owners, but understanding even the people we hire or the self-awareness of how are we contributing to that toxic work environment. This is where it can be so powerful because I agree. I see a lot more of that. It’s devastating.
The quality of life for everyone involved goes low when we’re in those places and there are way too many of them. On the flip side, I also get all these, not mom and pop, but family-owned businesses and then the employee who’s working or even part of the family members will come in. Because it’s so small, it’s like that family dynamic and it’s hard. It’s like both ends of the spectrum. I’m excited for you to talk about this. If people are reading and are, “What’s the first thing I can do? What do I look at first when I’m trying to figure out, am I creating a nontoxic anti-racist positive environment for my employees and myself?” Where would you say people should start?
This certainly connects directly to my background and the trajectory of my career, starting as an attorney and then going through the phases that I described. It’s interesting to me that in business, we talk about courage being bold, taking chances, taking risks as being central, to being a successful entrepreneur, a successful business. You have to open a magazine to any page and there’s study after study and experience after experience of people saying, “Part of the reason we are so successful is that we took these bold steps. We didn’t let the potential risks keep us from being fearful.” That does not exist when it comes to issues of workplace drama for some reason. I honestly think, and I can say this because I’m an employment attorney myself, that my fellow employment attorneys have convinced people, especially leaders and HR, that employees and issues of human relations are things to be feared.
Whereas in other arenas of business, we are bold, courageous, and are cautious enough. Don’t throw caution to the wind, but take chances of the issue of what I call workplace drama. Allegations of harassment, allegations of discrimination, or bias allegations of bullying, they are all dealt exclusively through a fear-based legal lens. I make this analogy in my book. I’m not going to do my fake Greek accent for you, but when I do, it’s funny. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is one of my favorite movies. I always say that if you change the name, Gus to Paco, Greece to El Salvador and Windex to Vix that movie is about my family, which explains to you why I am who I am.
In any event, I make this analogy to drive home this point that imagines if Maria Portokalos, Toula’s mother on the night before her big fat Greek wedding said to Toula, “Toula, the best way to make sure that you have a happy marriage is to save every email that Ian ever sends you to document all of your conversations because one day you’re going to get divorced. It’s going to be important that you have all that documentation so that you take him to the cleaners in that divorce.” When you hear it that way, you’re like, “That’s stupid.” That’s exactly the advice that is given to both leaders and employees, document everything.
Believe me, there are circumstances. I always say that the one that comes to mind is Harvey Weinstein’s situation. When there are situations that are that egregious and horrible, not only from an individual behavior perspective but from a corporate complicity perspective. I’m not talking about those situations, but I’m talking about 95% of the other situations that involve drama don’t involve that type of egregious conduct. When you start out with this assumption as an employee that you’re probably going to get screwed over by your organization and equally true leaders start out with this assumption that no good deed goes unpunished. Everything that you do for employees is going to end up biting you in the butt. It’s no wonder if we approach it in that way.
That’s exacerbated by the whole legal mentality behind it. We only teach employees to speak in legal language. We tell them to tell us if you think you’ve been harassed and you have been discriminated against. Instead of saying to them, “If you feel like you have been excluded, disrespected, belittled, felt like you are not a part of this organization then come to us. In English, tell us what it was that happened. Describe the behavior without the judgment of these legally charged terms. Describe to us what affect it had on you. Let’s talk about how we might be able to fix the situation.
The underlying issue is that we approach all of these from this fear-based lens. One of the primary theories that I talk about in my book is called Litigation Avoidance Paradox. It encompasses all of this. Both research and experience tell us that the reason that people sue companies is it does not happen nearly as often as people think. Statistically speaking, the chances of somebody being sued is infinitesimal. We are overestimating the risk and underestimating the opportunity in terms of having a good workplace culture. Aside from statistical, the truth of the matter is that people sue less because of what was done, more because of how it was done. It’s not that I object to being demoted. It’s how you did it. It’s the process that you used.
It’s not, “I wish I would’ve gotten that promotion. What I’m mad about is that you gave it to the boss’ son, who’s unqualified. I understand you had to lay me off, but could you have treated me like a human being instead of like a dog?” It’s those issues of perceptions of fairness that lead people to the courthouse. The litigation of ordinance paradox is the more we try to “avoid litigation” by engaging in this inhumane fear-based behavior paradoxically, the more we are inviting people to sue us.
Everyone’s walking on eggshells that they don’t have conversations that probably could on a person-to-person level address a lot of what’s going on for them. I love what you said in the sense that makes so much sense, this idea of, it’s almost like you’re in court and you have to justify yourself. It’s those things of like he said, she said, no one’s going to believe me anyway. They feel very powerless as opposed to, “What are you feeling? Let’s have a conversation,” which is a very different dynamic than saying like, “Have you been discriminated against?” That nuance of changing how we’re approaching things in the wording like you’re saying, you know more than I, but I think of it as, from the people who come to me and who talked to me about what’s going on, that would probably have gone a long way for people. When they go to HR, the idea is the HR is supposed to be there for you to help support you. It’s supposed to be human relations and then often what happens is more it’s like get that message of, “We’re going to give the line of the company and we’re protecting the company.” People don’t feel supported.
You’ll hear HR people say that “My job is to protect the company.” It’s a little bit of a tangent, but it gets us into current events. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about is all of the calls for redistributing the funding for police departments. Both because police departments are asked to do too much, but maybe more importantly, because police departments, as they stand are asked to do things that they are ill-equipped to handle. This redistribution of resources to put more money into mental health services so that they’re not having to answer mental health calls, put services into issues related to homelessness so that they’re not doing that work, housing, education, all of these things. I’ve been thinking about that a lot because of how analogous it is to the workplace.
That in many instances that’s one of the underlying reasons, one of the root causes of this distrust the employees have of HR. We are both asking too much of them. We’re asking them in some way cases to do things that they are ill-equipped to do or that are at odds with each other. Using investigations as an example, in most instances, you’ve got an HR department that is tasked on the one hand with receiving an allegation and a concern from an employee being neutral. Let’s say that at the end of the investigation, you indeed find that there was some level of misconduct. Now you have to decide on discipline. The next day you have to turn around and be business partners with that same person.
You have to go back and pretend that what happened during the investigation with that employee is never going to affect your perception of them. I haven’t quite formulated exactly how that gets redistributed, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot as an analogy to what’s going on in the larger world. There are lots of reasons and many of them entrenched in systemic as to why this lack of trust. The way that I’m trying to approach it, you and I’ve talked about this before and I talk about it in my book, I always advise people that in their communications whether they’re written or verbal, that they run things for what I call the P2 filter of precision and persuasion. What will make my message the most persuasive? How can I get what I’m trying to say and the result that I’m trying to accomplish?
How might I achieve that in a way that I cannot manipulate, but simply talk to someone in a way that resonates with them and in precise wording? This person said X as opposed to this person is a harasser. I certainly have formulated some solutions for organizations, but what is going on in the world right now? To your point, what we are seeing in the workplace and in the world now is that this fear-based. We cannot talk about things like race in the workplace because it’s too dangerous. It gets us to where we are now. We don’t know how to talk about it.
There’s this line in therapy where we talk about, you’re only as sick as your secrets. Many communications and subjects are pushed down and hidden or made taboo, which is the equivalent. Therefore, it breeds this sickness and all of this distrust in all of these problems because we aren’t comfortable talking about it at all. It’s like the shift. If you’re anybody who’s been following what’s going on in the Black Lives Matter movement and how people are talking about the problem with white supremacy is we’re saying like, “If you’re a white supremacist, you’re a bad person.” Nobody wants to see their white privilege or their piece of that pie because it’s like, “I’m not a bad person.” If we make the shift to this is something that you need to understand or be educated about and understand that we make mistakes. It’s about trying to do better going forward.
It made me think about what you said it’s similar to in HR where the person has to make the shift instead of looking at somebody as a bad person when something’s happened. You’re saying that difficulty of going back to work with them because now we’re on the same level, yet I know that you did this thing. I’m not talking about the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world, but understanding that the average person, or probably a lot of these things. It’s like somebody says something inappropriate or they do something and understanding like people make mistakes. Being able to straddle that, it’s a shift in how they have to look at things but they can’t be in that black and white space. What happens like you’re saying is they have to deny it or pretend it didn’t happen. That allows it to fester if it is a chronic problem. If it’s not this one-off mistake, in order to feel comfortable working alongside these people, they do that to make it bearable, but that allows all of that to breed.
The way that you phrase it makes me think of something that is also missing from the way that not HR people, but all leaders are looking at true conflict in the workplace. My shorthand way of saying it is drama. I say it on purpose because I’m not talking about opposition or having healthy discussions where you might disagree. One person wants to go in one direction from a business perspective. What I’m talking about is a serious conflict where somebody’s sense of self is truly affected. In the situations that I get involved in, the person who is the target of the behavior, their sense of self is affected because you have somehow minimized me or excluded me. By the same token, the person who is being charged with or accused of this behavior, their sense of self is also jeopardized because they feel like, “You’re calling me a sexist or a racist,” or some other ‘ist.’
Something that I am trying to sound the alarm on and hoping that the situation now is making people open to it is that a huge missing piece to the conflict, prevention, management, and true resolution that is missing is restoring that sense of self-worth for all parties involved. You and I have said it, but we both need to be very precise. I’m not talking about Harvey Weinstein. I’m talking about the much more difficult situation where someone said or did something boneheaded and ignorant, that they didn’t realize was going to be so damaging, or maybe even has some history of saying things, but has never been able to empathize enough to understand exactly how their words and actions have been taken.
The reason I’m talking about this, as you talked about the bad person. That’s how HR is viewing them. One of the things that I advocate when I guide companies to establishing truly human effective ways for that three-step process receiving allegations or concerns related to this type of behavior investigating or reviewing these things and then truly resolving them by getting to the root cause. I link each of these to a cultural value proposition. The receiving of complaints is about promoting a culture of truth-telling. You want people to feel comfortable and psychologically safe enough to say this is a problem when it’s occurring. Since that is not always possible to do at least in their ability to be able to report it. In terms of the investigation, reviewing any of the allegations, it matches up with a culture of curiosity that what’s missing. Most investigations are conducted as CYA endeavors to make sure that they are legally defensible, as opposed to, with a spirit of curiosity and problem-solving.
In the resolution part, I match it up with a culture of radical fairness. Whether it’s where we are in terms of race, where we were a couple of years ago in terms of #MeToo, there’s a direct and easy to predict line between companies that unfairly inconsistently, resolve conflict. Meaning, if you’re a certain person, you can get away with behavior, but if you’re someone else, you can’t. There’s a direct line between that. The pot boiling over because people are tired of seeing that level of unfairness. One of the things that I advocate and I’ve got these methodologies, especially for the resolution phase, to erase unconscious bias from the decision making when you are deciding what the consequences should be.
Looking at things from both a backward-looking perspective meaning if someone did something wrong, what is that consequence? Focusing on forward-looking accountability. Meaning, what did we learn from this? What systemically might we be able to do to make sure that this doesn’t recur? One of the aspects of that forward-looking that to my knowledge, no one does is the restoration of self-worth. It’s the restoration of going back to the person who was the target to say, “Here’s what we’ve done.” Going back to the person who was accused to say something along the lines of, “This doesn’t mean we think you’re a bad person, but your behavior was unacceptable and fell below our expected behavior, particularly if you’re a leader for these reasons. Here’s what we expect.” That’s never done.
Instead, it’s these slapped labels of good, bad, right, wrong. Unfortunately, what that’s done is perpetuated this horrible cycle because I can’t even count how many instances I talked to in a stereotypical situation of a man who’s been accused of sexual harassment and found to have engaged in some inappropriate behavior. That man tells me now, “I’m going to stop talking to women. I’m going to stop mentoring them.” It’s a ludicrous response. It’s also in part because they’re feeling like, “Everyone thinks I’m a bad guy anyway.” No one has bothered to come and say, “Here’s how we can move forward and make things better.” It’s all rooted in what I talked about, which is we’ve got to do things to check legal boxes, as opposed to, we’ve got to do things to focus on a healthy and inclusive culture.
All of what you said is powerful and I want people to take that in. Especially in this culture in America, we are so blame oriented in how we speak to each other. Doing couples work, I see this all the time. It’s a similar thing when we feel hopeless, then it’s like, “Forget it.” You throw your hands up and nothing can happen. We cannot move forward. There’s no progress. It’s not a healthy response, but I understand why people get there. We have to have more compassion. We do not make good decisions from a place of shame. We’re shaming people, blaming people and we’re keeping secrets because we don’t want to get the CYA thing.
Let us pretend that didn’t happen and then they never address it. I’ve seen this. I think about people that have come to me for therapy when something has happened, whether that be sexual harassment or racially motivated or whatever, they’ll talk about this. They might get money for their suffering or something, or sometimes the company will pay for therapy, but that’s it. Nothing changed about the policies and procedures or how things are handled. They feel hopeless. It’s one thing to say, “Here you go.” There’s no real acknowledgment of how detrimental, what the impact is on the person when nothing has changed.
I try to bring it via analogy and storytelling. Bring this point to the surface in ways that aren’t in the same spirit. I’m not scolding people. I’m not telling you you’re horrible for not having focused on culture, but I’m pointing out ways in which you aren’t even thinking about the effect that you’re having. I’ll do a shout-out to the person who introduced us because I’m so grateful but Carol Cox, who we both know. I participated in her Speaking Your Brand masterclass. When we’re putting together my signature talk, what we decided, and I’ll give you and your audience a preview of it is that the very first thing that I talk about and I work backward from there is the typical letter.
In some cases, it’s in writing. In some cases, it’s a meeting, but what HR says at the end of an investigation is, “Amber, thank you so much for coming to see me about that concern that you had. I know that you were concerned that your boss had it out for you because of your gender. I conducted a thorough investigation and your claims are unsubstantiated, but I appreciate that you came forward with this. There’s not much more I can discuss because it’s confidential and private, but thank you again for coming.” I’ve spoken to thousands of people who have been on the receiving end of that. What they have said to a person is, “All I heard was you’re a liar. I didn’t believe a word you said.” That’s all they hear.
I contrast that to language. It’s because we have instructed people that the less you say, the better. Invoke this confidentiality and I’m not saying open up people’s personnel files and disclose confidential information. I’m saying that there is a way that you can be precise, persuasive, and still be humane, helpful, and effective. In that same scenario, an alternative language that I offer is, “Amber, thanks so much for coming to me with these concerns. I admire your courage. I know this is very difficult to do. I conducted an investigation. At the root of this, what you were concerned about is that you thought the feedback that you got about your performance was untimely. You weren’t told about it. It seemed unfair to you. It seemed inaccurate to you. You had concerns that it maybe had something to do with your gender. I conducted a thorough investigation. I didn’t see anything that would lead me to believe that there was a link or there was a motive or an intention related to gender.”
That part of it, that piece of it, isn’t something that I saw any evidence against. Although certainly, it’s something that we’re going to be mindful of. What I found was I can see why you thought that because where we went wrong, where we fell is we haven’t trained our managers well enough to give feedback periodically rather than dropping it on you at the end of the year. We are going to not only increase our training, but I also realized that we probably need to be more of a resource to managers when they write this feedback. It was written in a difficult to understand manner. It wasn’t complete. I can see why in your mind you reasonably believe that there was something going on. I can tell you that my investigation didn’t find that it was linked to gender, but I appreciate that you’ve uncovered some issues that are going to make us a better workplace. I appreciate it.
It’s so different because it’s validating. This comes down to human-to-human interaction. This is where we say, “You need to validate people.” Validation, this is where so many people get tripped up, does not necessarily mean you agree with them. You can validate that somebody felt some way. In a way, that’s not condescending or disrespectful without agreeing with them. That’s the nuance that a lot of people don’t get in communication. It does go a long way. I’ve had a business for nine years and I’ve had some difficult conversations with people. At the core of it, I feel like I can take in their viewpoint and that piece of the conversation is like, “I don’t think you’re a bad person. I don’t think you’re a bad clinician. I don’t think you’re bad at this. This mistake happened. We can’t have this going forward.”
That’s the piece where sometimes it’s even hard to look at that. I’m not saying I’ve had every conversation perfect. There have been times where I have been exhausted, snappy, and not so perfect. There have been times where I avoided things. It ends up being that thing where, at the end of the year, all of a sudden you have this conversation. It’s like, “I don’t want to have this conversation. It’s so much.” I’m not trying to say I’m perfect. I always say we’re in the wrong species for perfection. There’s no way. What I have seen is when I have those conversations in that way, people feel good coming out of it and there’s no shame. That’s the goal. There are times where I can be in that space. It’s almost like I’m in my therapist hat and I can be that person. There are other times where I’m like, “Nothing serious.” It’s one of those things.
I wouldn’t necessarily say it as long-winded as I did the second time, but it’s got some humility where you’re saying, “We fell on the job when it came to this.” The manager fell on the job as well. We have instilled in them these things and didn’t do it, but we need to do a better job of making sure that they conform with that. It’s also this idea of what I mentioned, which is the forward-looking accountability. What are we going to learn from this? How are we going to make this better? I’m not saying that there aren’t remedies put into place. They’re just not discussed and they’re not always well-thought-out. In many instances, they are Band-Aids. What we’re going to do is write a new policy. That’s always my favorite part.
Write a new policy to fix this situation, even if it’s not necessarily going to address the root cause of the problem. It encompasses everything that we’ve been talking about, giving people grace, not shaming them, restoring the sense of self-worth looking in a forward-looking way, and seeing this Pollyanna as though it may sound as opportunities instead of burdens. A cliché that I use a lot is I have companies and company leaders who say to me, “We only get 25 allegations a year and we’re an employer of 1,000 people. That’s great.” My response is, “If the reason you’re only getting 25 is that there are 100 things occurring and studies show us that about a quarter of the people are saying something about it, then that’s awesome.”
If on the other hand, what unfortunately is usually more likely the reason you’re not hearing about it is that people don’t trust you to hear about it. All this stuff is going on, then that’s not a statistic to necessarily be proud of. That’s where the culture of truth-telling comes in. There’s this idea that if we don’t know about it. My mantra is ignoring that problem isn’t going to make it go away. It’s simply going to rob you of the opportunity to make it an opportunity to make things better. It’s a Pollyanna mind shift, but it is one that would go a long way towards people seeing these. Over time, if you approach them in this way, it does start to gain steam because as employees trust you more, as you educate them more on resolving low-level drama on their own, in ways that are respectful, appropriate, and effective, it starts becoming this well-oiled machine.
I feel like I’m going to have to go back and read this because there are a lot of little wonderful truth crumbs and nuggets that people could take them in. Looking at things as opportunities as opposed to burdens. That’s what I wrote down and you kept going with more beautiful stuff. It was so good. That’s the thing. When I think about the average entrepreneur, they’re so teetering, burnout, and exhausted. When you have these things come up, everything can feel like a burden. We don’t even have the energy for that. We might give a platitude or if somebody is like, “They did make a change or something happened like they did switch up how that particular manager is doing things now or what’s ever happened with them,” but they don’t tell the other person because it’s like the CYA, it may as well not have happened.
If you’re not going to communicate that you’ve made a change, then they have no idea. There’s no trust. There’s even less trust now. We assume people should know, “You can see the shift.” People don’t see that shift. They don’t see what’s happening unless they’re directly impacted by it. There’s so much in that. Getting to that place of if we could pat ourselves on the back because we are not hearing things. Most people are not going to say anything, especially when it involves their livelihood. This is a big deal. Especially in any climate, people have always been worried about their livelihood. When I have clients who are especially like, if they’re older or if they feel they’re in a particular group that might be discriminated against, or they’re feeling particular stress at home, maybe their partner or they’re single, isn’t working, whatever either scenario, there’s so much riding on that paycheck.
You’re asking them to risk a lot. If they don’t trust you, why would they do that? I had a conversation with somebody who said something to the effect of like, “I’m friends with black people at work. They reassure me that I’m such a colorblind good person.” I’m like, “You expect a black man to tell you a white woman in your workplace that he thinks you’re being racist or that what you’re saying is not okay.” I don’t know what world you live in, but that’s not going to happen. We can comfort ourselves with these things, but we’re not looking at the reality of it. That’s the problem. We can say like, “I feel comforted by this. I’m a good person.” It goes back to that. You can still be a good person and you have a blind spot. You can still be a good person and say things that are inappropriate and offensive to someone else. You don’t just see the impact.
You’ve brought up what I always say that if I had to describe my book in one word if there’s one overriding theme, its authenticity. If I put it negatively, the lack of authenticity is the number one driver of toxic workplaces and workplace drama. The reason it’s a beautiful segue is for two reasons. Number one, in your practice, you are dealing with it at the individual level. You’re dealing with people who are either being authentic or inauthentic. The example that you gave sounded like the latter. I’m dealing with it on more of a corporate systemic level. I don’t give individual therapy, even though people seem to think I should be. I’m looking at it from a more systemic perspective. I do work with leaders. I do conflict management coaching, and then other work like that.
It’s still always in terms of what will the organization do to make sure that this culture is created in this way that’s healthy and inclusive. The second is when it comes to authenticity. That’s been the soapbox that I’ve been on since all of the racial strife, everything related to our protests, and Black Lives Matter has come up. I’ve read a couple of articles on it that this idea of all of these companies is putting out. These sometimes beautifully worded external statements condemning racism and saying all these things that sound pretty except there are two problems.
Number one, they are usually vetted by PR and legal departments to make sure that they are externally palatable for your external clientele. Not whether they are palatable internally. I use the visual analogy that you hear on planes. You’ve got to put your oxygen mask first before you can help anyone else. It seems to me that we are approaching this backward. I’m not discouraging people from putting out statements. What I’m saying is you’ve put out a statement and now what? That’s the name of my webinar. You need to take care of your own house first. You need to put your oxygen mask on first because not only are you being inauthentic if you’re saying we love black and brown people except in our company in leadership positions, except when they alleged that there is some level of racist behavior going on.
Not only is it inauthentic but it also has, especially in this climate and almost guaranteed to be a backlash. That’s what we’re seeing now is all these people saying, “That’s nice that you did this. That’s nice that you donated to an external source, but have you looked inside to see what’s going on?” We’re seeing the authenticity either the presence of or the lack of and the dangers that it can cause if you’re lacking it come to life. For me, all of these things that I’ve been talking about for decades are now becoming clear to people. I’d had an audience prior to this, but it seems like the time is right for people to finally start approaching it with the advice that we’ve talked about.
Platitudes are not going to cut it anymore. It’s infuriating people. Whereas before many people were placated by it. I’m at the micro-level and you’re at the macro level. We need people who are helping us as entrepreneurs and businesses and people in society helping us look at it that bigger level. As you’re saying this systemic change because that is your expertise. I’m very excited to be on your webinar. You’re doing a webinar about anti-racist workplace culture. You said the name, can you say it again?
It’s You’ve Written A Corporate Statement, Now What?
Even well-meaning, well-intentioned people, it’s like, “I don’t know what to do.” Even myself included, there’s a lot of fear or doubt of, “I don’t know what to do next or what’s right or what should be my next step?” I’m excited about that webinar. I will give them your information. There was one more thing. You’ve said this line a few times as we’ve talked. I love it because it reminds me of the idea where we talk about people focus on the wedding and not the marriage. I’m on a personal level. You talk about diversity within the workplace. Do you know which line what I’m talking about? Can you share it because I don’t want to mangle it?
The way in which many practitioners are referring to the alphabet soup of issues related to diversity in the workplace, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, DEI. There’s bias. There’s the elimination of bias. There’s belonging. There are other aspects that DEI is what most of us are using now. What I say to people is that while on diversity, which I refer to as numbers in, it is vital in any organization. Making sure that you are diversified at all in all ranks, making sure that you’re eliminating bias from hiring, and interviewing and doing all the things that we’ve been focusing on. The saying that I’ve come up with is, but if you’re putting all of your DEI eggs in the D basket, then you’re ignoring what I have seen in my experience to be the real driver of either a diverse workplace or not.
That is the equity, the inclusion, the belonging. Again, that’s where my sweet spot is. I’ve seen it thousands of times. I don’t care who you bring in, whether it is a person from a diverse background, an ally of somebody from a diverse background, whoever it is that you bring in. This is especially true with the incoming Gen Z generation. I’m the mother of a Gen Z-er. I can tell you that this is unacceptable for them, but no matter how good a job you do at recruiting, which let’s face it, most companies do a poor job. Assuming that they do something, it will do you no good. If once those diverse employees get into the workplace, you treat them unfairly. You don’t give them a sense of belonging.
They find out that they’re not equitably paid. All of these perceptions of unfairness that are created. Men, you’ve got the crisis of people leaving. In some instances, being honest and telling you why in some instances, maybe not, but when you see a trend that every single woman of color in your company who’s left you, you can try and make all the excuses you want. There’s something going on with your culture that is unwelcoming to this group of people. I’m trying to amplify what I have been talking about for all of my careers that it’s not to poopoo the diversity component. I certainly do a lot of consulting, helping companies get people in the door. It is that once they’re in the door, that’s what we have to focus on.
People have to check out your webinar so they can learn more and check out your website. Where should people go to find out more information? There’s the framework, now how do we make that happen? You’re the woman to make it happen. Where should they go?
The easiest place is the website. The name of my company is PersuasionPoint. It is www.PersuasionPoint.com. My email address is easy, Patti@PersuasionPoint.com. One of the things that I’ve done to address something that you brought up, that’s what I keep hearing, what I have heard committed, authentic and genuine leaders say to me. They’ve been very humble in saying to me either, “We completely miss the mark on this. We did not prioritize diversity and inclusion when we should have, and we will now,” or “We prioritized it but we haven’t been doing a good job.” Whether it’s we want to start from scratch, we want to do something better. The follow-up, which I keep hearing is, “We don’t know what to do. We’re at a loss. We don’t want to say the wrong thing. We don’t want to offend anyone. Who am I to be in a position to be able to address this?” One of the things that I’ve put together because I’ve heard this request so often is I’m calling it equity, diversity, and inclusion acceleration package, where it’s like, “This will at least get you. It will be what will jumpstart your ability to be able to have an effect, either new program or jumpstart the one that’s already existing. Whether you get in touch with me via email or look at our website, you’ll see the totality of the way in which everything that I’ve talked about with you can be from a tactical perspective implemented into your organization.
They can go to Amazon or any other place, or is your book available on your website?
It’s available on my website, but it links you over to Amazon. It’s available through me if you’re doing bulk purchases. It’s also available in Barnes & Noble.
Any place you can get the book. As a last reminder, you are about to launch a podcast?
I am, and which is also going to be called The Drama-Free Workplace. I’m going to start the inaugural episodes which are modeled after somebody who I saw on Twitter, Emmanuel Acho, he’s a former NFL player. He started a series of conversations called Uncomfortable Conversations with A Black Man. I’m switching it around a little bit, talking to people of different backgrounds, different races, different ethnicities. One of the things that those of us who are in communities of color keep talking about is by and large talking about race isn’t uncomfortable for us because we’ve been doing it all of our lives. It is a daily reality for us. For me, it’s not uncomfortable conversations with a black man, black woman, white woman, or a Muslim man. It is, “I’ve never had any discomfort talking about these things. Let’s have some open conversations.” You’ll be hearing lots of juicy investigation stories. You’ll be hearing hopefully from you when you’re my guest someday. Tune in to The Drama-Free Workplace Podcast.
These are conversations that it feels like this is something I can learn about. I’m very excited to hear those. I cannot wait for it to launch. I want to thank you again for coming on. I hope people will head on over and do your webinar. Hopefully, you’ll do it again. Thank you for everything, Patti.
This was a true pleasure. I appreciate you having me on.
ABOUT PATTI PEREZ
Patti Perez is the founder and CEO of PersuasionPoint Inc., a modern-day consulting firm dedicated to teaching leaders and teams how to create and sustain healthy, inclusive, and profitable workplace cultures.
Patti is passionate about and committed to helping organizations realize the vision of a workplace where employees are inspired to innovate, where leaders make courageous decisions and create a sense a deep trust, and where colleagues are aligned and profoundly connected.
Patti is the best-selling, award-winning author of “The Drama-Free Workplace” (Wiley 2019) and uses the concepts from her book to lead interactive, action-oriented workshops, provide consulting services, and deliver keynote addresses.
Her nearly 30-year career includes working as a California employment attorney, a workplace sleuth (conducting in excess of 1200 workplace investigations), a Governor-appointed state regulator, an expert witness, an HR professional, a tech company executive, and an entrepreneur.