Episode 32: Leading in the New Normal – How the Five Stages of Grief Affect the Workplace with Marilyn Sherman, Founder of Front Row Leadership

On today’s episode of The Leadership Habit podcast, Jenn DeWall interviews Marilyn Sherman, the founder of Front Row Leadership, a hall of fame speaker and author. All over the world, we are all going through a tremendous amount of change.  Join Jenn DeWall and Marilyn Sherman as they discuss how leaders can support our organization through these changes by understanding the five stages of grief.

Full Transcript Below: 

Meet Marilyn Sherman, Founder of Front Row Leadership

Jenn DeWall:  Hi everyone! It’s Jenn DeWall here, with The Leadership Habit, and I am so excited to be back in the office, sitting here interviewing Marilyn Sherman. Now you might recognize Marilyn Sherman, and she’s been on our podcast before talking about how you can create your seat for success. But today we’re going to be talking about something a little bit different than that. Maybe not even as light and fluffy, but, Marilyn, let’s just go ahead, and let’s start off. Please give our audience a brief introduction.

Marilyn Sherman:  Hi Jenn, good to see you again! I have spent the last 25 years— hopefully, my intention was—  to inspire people with hope and inspiration to get them out of their comfort zone and into their front row, however they define it for themselves. So that’s who I am. I live in Las Vegas because when I moved there, it was the convention capital of the world, and I traveled so much for my business to speak at conventions up until March 9th of 2020 when Vegas shut down soon after. So so that’s what I do. That’s who I am.

Jenn DeWall:  You know, and for those of you that didn’t listen to [our podcast episode about] the S.E.A.T of Success, though, I would definitely recommend that you download it now. You talk about the concept of “front row,” or to be a front row leader. What does that mean?

Marilyn Sherman:  “Front row” is where you are at the top of your game. You feel great about who you are and what you do. You’ve created a collaborative environment around you, where people love to work with you and support you. And so front row leadership is really people defining what it is to be at the top of their game, because for you, it’s, it’s different than what it is for me. I like to say that, you know, my front row is being in front of an audience, and there are people that would rather have a root canal than get up in front of an audience and speak. So everybody’s front row is different, so I help them define what does it mean to live their life, where they’re happy, and they’re contributing to society. And there are very common obstacles that prevent people from getting to their front row seat. And I helped them overcome those obstacles.

Jenn DeWall:  Yes, we need it right now. And there are more obstacles. I would say that we’re still, still probably popping up some resolved as a result of the pandemic. And obviously, we also are seeing unrest in the form of a protest and a Civil rights movement here in the U S. I love the topic that you’re going to come in and talk about today because I think that it’s amazing to talk about our front row. And it’s amazing to talk about creating your seat for success, but sometimes we’ve got to go there. We’ve got to talk about emotions and how they exist, how they show up, what that looks like as being leaders, and holding space for people.

Back to the New Future

Marilyn Sherman:  Absolutely. Because this is a different day and age. Do you remember that movie with Michael J. Fox called Back to the Future? Remember that movie? Well, now I called this time that you and I are living in is back to the new future because I’m hearing a lot of people as they reopen their doors, they re-engage with their customers. They go back to work. They’re calling this their back to you know, we have a “new normal,” well, guess what? It’s not. There’s nothing normal about this. We have never been through something like this ever before. I mean, even flying here to Denver today, after getting out of the airport, I see parking lots filled with rental cars that are stalled. They’re done. They’re just sitting idle because no one’s renting cars today. It’s so there’s, there’s nothing normal about what we’re going through. Our society is going through whole new ignited conversations. There, we’re going through a time that you and I have never seen before. So it’s not going back to any kind of normal, it’s going back to a new future, and I want to help pave that way to your new future. With some thoughts around looking at the people side of dealing with change,

Jenn DeWall:  Because change is the one thing that we all are experiencing right now, it’s changing maybe our employment status or someone in our family or the change of what our role looks like, or even how we have to show up to actually enter the office.

Marilyn Sherman:  There are new protocols. That’s the word of the day we have new protocols in place.

Jenn DeWall:  Yes. But I like that you talk about back to the, to the new future. And I love that we’re going to talk about the people side, because I think while many people are eager and want to be able for things to go back to the way that they were like, we’re not going back. And we also need to understand the psychological component that is impacting your workforce right now,  as a result of both the pandemic and what we see with the protests here in the U.S., so we’re going to talk about the five stages of loss.

The Five Stages of Grief

Marilyn Sherman:  Let me describe why we’re talking about that.

Jenn DeWall:  Why the heck should they care about that?

Marilyn Sherman:  Why should they care? Well, way back in the day, I saw Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross speak in Seattle, where I grew up, and I was just mesmerized because she talked about from her work the five stages of loss and grief in her book called On Death and Dying. And I was really interested in this because I was a psych major or a sociology major with a psych minor. But while I was in high school, I was already into it. So I went to see her when I was in high school, and I was fascinated by her and those five stages of what people go through when they’re dealing with a loss in their life, a loss of a spouse or a loss of a child, there’s a tremendous amount of grief. And although she has a broad spectrum of work, this work around loss and on death and dying was huge. And it’s now having a resurgence because there’s a new book on the five stages of grief. I think with one of her partners that she wrote with before she died. So what I’m doing is taking those five stages that she wrote about, and I’m just bringing them forward as an adaptation of what we’re going through as leaders and what we’re going through as we go to this new normal.

So those five stages are denial, denial that you know, this really is happening. There’s anger where people are really angry. I mean, just the fact that they have to wear masks. People are really reacting. I mean, their buttons are being pushed, and they are angry. And you look at these protests that we’re seeing and people want to have a peaceful protest. And all of a sudden, there’s a group of angry people, infiltrating those protests, and it’s turning into something so much worse than what the original intention was of a peaceful protest. There’s also bargaining. Bargaining is a stage where you try to figure out the un-figure-out-able. Well, if only we did this, we would have that. If only we knew about the Coronavirus in December, we wouldn’t have had a pandemic in the U.S. If only we would have just listened to our leaders, we wouldn’t be in the position that we’re in.

You know, it’s like, it’s like when you’re in this bargaining stage, you’re trying to sort of make sense of it when it doesn’t make sense. And you’re trying to figure it out. And there’s always an if/then kind of a conversation that you have. Another stage is depression, and that’s where it starts to sink in. It’s like, okay, we have a loss of routine that we’re used to. We’re grieving. The loss of the way things used to be is not going to be the way that things are going to be moving forward. So there’s this depression. Like, Oh my gosh, really? You mean, we can’t do that anymore. Ah, and there’s like this heaviness, and it’s, it’s literally like a, a depression that you go through. And then, the final stage is acceptance, and the acceptance is okay.

We have new protocols in place. We followed all the guidelines. We have a communication that’s out there for our customers, for our employees. We have safety protocols in place. We have given our statement about how wrong it is to discriminate against anybody. So we’re accepting the fact that we have to do this. We have to. And the acceptance stage is where we get to say, okay, what is the best way to move forward? We have protocols in place. What’s the best way to let people know about it. We have protocols in place. What’s the best way for us to go out and market our services, even though they look a little bit different, we have new office hours. We have a limited amount of people that we can take at a time. We have middle seats that you cannot sit in on an airplane. You know, those types of things— you become solution-oriented once you hit the acceptance stage.

Now here’s the big people side of this for leaders to really, really, really understand. We don’t go through these stages in a linear fashion. We don’t start automatically, we’re in denial. And then we automatically go to anger and then we automatically go to bargaining. And then we have to go through that in order to get to depression before we hit acceptance. No, one day, you wake up with such a dark cloud over your head. You can’t even get out of bed. That would be the depression stage. And then one day you’re like, Nope, Nope. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to hear it. I’m done. I don’t want to hear it. You know, if you have to have conversations with people who are different from you, and you’re tired of that conversation, you all of a sudden, you find yourself in denial that you, you may have participated in being part of the problem. And so because you don’t go in this linear fashion, when you’re talking to someone that you’re leading, it’s a real good idea to check-in, to see where they are.

Jenn DeWall:  Yeah. That’s interesting. That’s the foundation. Yes. You need to think. Especially before you’re going to maybe even post something on social media, have a conversation about a sensitive topic. You want to gauge the way that it’s going. You want to go check where they’re at in terms of processing the five stages of grief.

Be Aware of What Stage of Grief Your Team is In

Marilyn Sherman:  Gauge is a really good word. We need to gauge where people are at because you’re going to lead them differently, depending on where they are. And you can encourage them to let them know you are not alone. You are not alone. In fact, there are five stages that people go through when they’re dealing with a loss, and all of us collectively are dealing with the loss of how things used to be.

So it’s, it’s no surprise that you may be feeling some frustration right now, or you may be feeling like you’re, you’ve got all these questions that can’t be answered right now. It’s very, very common. And in fact, if more people understood that what these five stages are and what they mean and how they look, they’ll be able to communicate that. Even if they just start with that, they can open up a dialogue so that when you check in with someone to gauge how they’re doing, you can say, well, so how are you feeling today, what’s going on? And you can sincerely talk about, well, if they’re, if you’re aware of the five stages like today, where would you be? I mean, it could be a good conversation to have as you bring people back, even with bringing people back in a zoom call or some sort of a video conference call, you can check in with people, how are you doing?

And allow them to vent, allow them to get it off their chest, and allow them to do so in a safe environment. Because I think people don’t open up and tell someone else where they are. Because let’s say they’re really, really angry right now. They’re so angry and they’re snapping at people. They have a fuse that’s much shorter than before. And they may not know it, because they’re not really an angry person typically. So if they know that this is a stage that they’re going through, the last thing you want to do is say, Hey, calm down. You don’t need to be angry because now what do they do with that? You want to create a safe space to talk about. Well, tell me more about that. Tell me more about why you’re so angry. And if you create a safe space, you can help them work through that anger so that eventually they can get to a place of acceptance.

Jenn DeWall:  A place that they, you know, because we can’t, we can’t live in anger. I know that it’s helpful. It can do a lot for us in terms of giving us those, that spirit of energy, you know, to take action, but then.

Marilyn Sherman:  Just like conflict. Conflict is common, and conflict is a good place to go to if you’ve got the skills to work through that conflict, but it’s definitely not a good place to live. It’s a good place to visit temporarily, but you don’t want to live there- do not pitch a tent.

Jenn DeWall:  You know, why do you think it’s important to be talking about this? I know you touched, obviously, we’re going through, you know, at a global level, everyone’s impacted by the pandemic to some extent. So we all have an experience of loss, but why, why now? Why do you think it’s making this resurgence now where people are finally willing to talk about this as it relates to work?

Marilyn Sherman:  What, why are they willing to talk about it now? I think because they have to. They have to talk about it because people, I mean, we are having such a major shift in our society. And in our world today, you can no longer sit back and coast because your business is going under, right? Relationships are challenged. People are dying. And there’s a certain portion of our society there that are in denial about all of that. And so you can’t talk about resolution and solution to the problems of society if people are in denial that we even have a problem. So if you’ve got people who aren’t even on the same page with what’s going on globally, then how can you possibly know how to inspire them to do their job or to lead them in a new direction? Because there is a new direction.

Jenn DeWall:  Yeah. Communicate in the way that they’re actually going to hear it. Right? So let’s, let’s take a deep dive into each of these five stages. So, stage one is denial. It’s not happening. This is absolutely, you know, I don’t care how much evidence there is.

Marilyn Sherman:  Exactly. “It’s the flu? Why did they shut down the country? It’s just the flu. Well, your people are overreacting. I don’t need to wear a mask.” I mean, there are people in such denial. I’m using that as an example- that they become angry because no one is listening to them. And so, so if people are in denial, it’s very difficult to take that conversation to acceptance.

Is Your Team in Denial? Change Management is Crucial.

Jenn DeWall:  What might that bring about, if you have a workforce that’s in denial, what does that look like?

Marilyn Sherman:  Well, it looks like the conversation needs to take place around what they can control, what they can’t control. So if you’ve got someone in denial, it’s like, really? Do we really have to have this in place? You have to be transparent and say, actually, by law, we cannot have the old ways of doing business. We have to, by law, number one, keep you safe. I care about you as a workforce. I care about you as a team. It’s my responsibility to keep you safe. And then very close to that is that I have to keep our customers safe. So we have to have these protocols in place. So that is out of our control. I have absolutely nothing to do with that. My job as a leader is to make sure that you and our customers are aware that these protocols are in place in order to keep us all safe.

So we have to have the conversations because you can’t go back to work the way you used to go to work. I mean, I live in Las Vegas, you, they just opened up the casinos and reopened them. And so there are new protocols in place about social distancing and dealers have to wear masks. It’s optional for the customers, but there is a thermal temperature check that when you walk in your body is checked for temperatures, you know, that’s, that’s the reality. So you can be in denial that it’s just the flu, but whatever you want to call it, people are dying from it. So we have to be safe,

Jenn DeWall:  Right? We have to look out for each other.

Marilyn Sherman: We have to look out for each other.

Jenn DeWall:  And you know, sure. Let’s put it. If people are maybe just, they don’t necessarily want to talk about COVID. You talked about change. So maybe if it’s just in the sense of, I’m trying to think of what an example would be in denial and change, maybe resisting a process. I don’t want to do this process.

Marilyn Sherman:  And here’s the deal with change. I’ve been speaking about change for— gosh since I left my corporate job and back in the nineties. When you go through a change, and it could be a new product launch, that’s new. You have a new program. That’s a change. You have a new member of your team. That’s a change. You have new leadership, that’s a change. You have new working hours. That’s a change. I mean, there are so many different things that are happening that have nothing to do with the pandemic or social unrest that’s happening in our world. Just any kind of doing something different.

And here’s the deal- when you don’t tell people why the change is taking place, they either make up stuff because their brain needs to have a reason why we’re doing this the way we’re doing it now. They’ll make something up, which is obviously not going to be accurate if they’re just basing it on, okay, I have to fill in the blanks, right? So if you’re not transparent, they make stuff up. Or number two, they do what you want them to do temporarily. And then they go back to the old way of doing things.

Jenn DeWall:  Meaning they’ll, they’ll comply for a short period of time.

Marilyn Sherman:  And then we’ll go back to the way things that used to be. So it’s imperative that we help people get through denial by letting them know facts, figures, outcomes. Just be as transparent as possible. And to say, in order for us to keep our doors open, we need to make this much money in order to make this much money.

We have to have this many customers; however, we need to keep you and me safe. So we have to, by law, have these protocols in place. So this is why we have to have patients check-in and then go sit in their car. And then we text them and say, okay, your appointment is ready. You can come in. This is why we have to wear masks when we have more than five people in a room. And this is why we have to have social distancing of six feet apart. I mean, whatever the protocols are, whatever they are, let them know why. This is why we have to do what we do.

Explain Why New Protocols are Needed

Jenn DeWall:  It starts with the why.

Marilyn Sherman:  Yes, yes. And that helps to get people on the same page. And it helps people. Well, I, my thought is good managers. Talk about the why, and then have them collaborate on, okay, what can we do to get there? Right? To get the buy-in of people, instead of just saying well, cause I went, I worked for a finance company, and we were purchased twice. During the time that I worked with this organization, and they wouldn’t tell us anything, they wouldn’t tell us anything.

So then the rumor mill was like, Oh, we’re being bought. Who’s going to buy us? And because of the rumor mill, our productivity went down, and management would just say, well, we don’t know anything. We don’t know anything. We don’t know anything. And then we found out later, okay. We did know, but we couldn’t tell you because it was a public offering. Right? Well, we, the people that were not in charge of the change, would say, you know what? It would have helped us to know that there were only certain things that you could tell us, but by law, you could not tell us the who, the, what the, where, the when. But at least if you’re transparent up to the point that you can’t be transparent, then we would be more on board with it. We would understand. And you just do the best you can. Do the best you can as a leader. So what you want to avoid is stopping it at well, that’s just the way we do things around here. Well, that doesn’t really answer. Okay. Well, why do we have to do that?

Jenn DeWall:  And especially right now, I think as people are, you know, being more, a little bit more curious, what’s the, what is my company going to look like in a year? Will I have a job in a year? And knowing that we naturally do have these different thoughts that we may not have had six months ago. And if you want them to be productive, it’s addressing that. They might be wondering, should I start looking for another job? And what if the answer truly is no, and you don’t want them to do that, but yet they’re left to make their own conclusions. And they jumped ship because they’re just looking at the signs and coming up with their own conclusion.

Marilyn Sherman:  Right. I have a friend of mine who she, one of her top producers, she noticed there was a little bit of a shift with him, and she would check in with him and say, are you doing okay? And he’s like, yeah, it’s all good. And he just was sort of with withdrawing. And then the owner of the company was having lunch in his car, for some strange reason. I don’t know why he was having lunch in his car. But this employee went outside to take a phone call and didn’t know the owner was in the car, and he was doing a phone interview for a new job. And so that opened up a whole dialogue of, okay, we know you’re looking for another job. He’s like, yeah, I’m busted. And he goes, well, this is why I’m looking for another job. And it actually opened up the dialogue because they didn’t know, management didn’t know, the ownership didn’t know that their top producer was not happy. So they actually had a conversation about what was going on, and he ended up staying. So I don’t know why I went off on that one. But it has to do with transparency. It has to do with checking in and gauging people. Like, how are, how are you doing? What’s going on? What can we do to make it better and conversations that are probably happening around D&I, you know, diversity and inclusion? There is going to be probably a proportion of our society that would say, well, why do we have to have D&I here? Well, guess what? Because we have not been as diverse as we need to be. I mean, we, if we are blind to our hiring practices and our promotion practices, we are denying our company for the best talent out there because we’re making assumptions based on race.

Jenn DeWall:  Right. We need to start to have the conversation.

Diversity and Inclusion

Marilyn Sherman:  We need to start to have those conversations. So let’s say you’re a manager or a leader and you, you are, you bring up the topic of D&I and all of a sudden you see some resistance. Well, guess what? There are going to be those people who don’t understand, so they’re in denial, or then they start to push back, and they get angry, and they say things like, Oh great, we have affirmative action. And they say it with a negative, like, that’s not fair. That’s reverse discrimination. And it’s like, Oh my gosh, okay, let’s have a conversation about this. So there’s, well, if we only did this, then we wouldn’t have that, right. So they’re in that bargaining stage. And so the conversations need to happen because people are so raw right now. It’s triggering people in the conversations into opinions, into being– I’m seeing, I don’t know if you see this, but I see just a divisive state out there. And some people are jumping in with both feet into the conversation and offering solutions, and other people are just being silent. And now people are getting upset that they remained silent for so long and they’re having backlash on being silent. So we just collectively need to take a deep breath and open up conversations.

Jenn DeWall:  We need to start, right? Like the topic this month is all about, you know, we’re covering on our podcast is all about resilience. And like one of the ways that we create a more resilient workforce is by having a dialogue, you can’t pretend that people don’t have lives outside of work or feelings outside of work that doesn’t come in with them. And we also need to understand, you know, some people are listening and maybe perceiving this as more political, it’s not, it’s about signaling to your team that they have a safe place to work, right? Like, and that’s, we all need that. We need to know that when we’re walking into the office every single day that we feel psychologically safe, heard and that we’re free not to be discriminated against.

Marilyn Sherman:  And psychologically safe means that I have a right to speak up. I have a right to be heard. I have a right to know that I’m not going to be judged for having a feeling. But it also means you need to contribute as an individual. You need to contribute to that safe environment. Like you need to make it safe for other people psychologically. Right. So that doesn’t mean you can scream and yell because you’re so angry about having to do something new.

So, you know, when we talk about resilience and bouncing back, it takes a lot of perseverance. It takes a lot of thinking about, okay, where am I what do I need to do to move forward? Here’s the thing- when we are, I was on a Zoom call, recently, two days ago, let’s be clear. It was very recently with my association, my speaker association, to talk about what’s going on with race and what we can do to be more inclusive. And, and it was very eye-opening because we talked about, well, what can we do? Because there has been a disparity in what white people make onstage versus non-white people making onstage. And if you look at a panel of experts and they’re all white men, there’s a problem. So we just had a dialogue about what, what our black brothers and sisters in the industry have gone through that we as non-black or other, we weren’t aware of.

So we talked about what we can do to be more supportive and inclusive and to invite some of these highly experienced, intelligent, smart, and talented black speakers to join our podcast, to join our team, to come to speak on this panel. And, and just because we were unaware of their expertise and unaware of what they even speak on. It would be hard to- because it typically in my industry, in the speaking industry, we refer our friends. And if our friends are predominantly one color, then we’re missing out on putting the right speaker on the right stage, in front of the right people to make it a fit to make it make sense. But if we’re not aware of what people that aren’t like us and are outside of our immediate circle of friends, there’s a problem. So we talked about solutions.

And one of the solutions that I thought of that I contributed to is you can’t be curious and defensive at the same time. So if we are having conversations, like, I don’t know your culture, that’s not my culture. I am curious why fill in the blank. And that could go with any culture, any anybody other than who you are like, help me, help me understand. I mean, I have one of my best friends she’s Mormon, and I’ve never been to a Mormon temple before. And when I said that to her, she later came back and said she was offended because it sounded like, well, I never been in a Mormon church before, like I was judging it. And so I need to be more curious without judgment. And if I’m curious to get to know you to get to know your culture, to get to know your experience, to get to know your expertise.

I can’t sit back, sit back and judge. I can’t be defensive. It’s like, well, that’s not right. It’s like, well, then that, you’re not really big curious, you’re being judgy. So the solution, because I really want to make sure that as leaders, we move the conversation towards a solution, the solution is to start with being curious,

Jenn DeWall:  Have the conversation, and be curious. You know, we know that people are going through a variety of emotions in the five stages of loss. And we know that there’s going to be a lot of changes that need to happen in organizations to make sure they’re creating a safe space, can find those solutions forward. Let’s, let’s dive into number two. Because we, so the first step or first stage of loss,

Marilyn Sherman:  Well, we covered a lot,

Dealing with Anger at Work

Jenn DeWall:  I mean, I guess even thinking about anger, like how maybe we won’t go through them in a succinct order, but knowing that anger is the second one, what do you think is the solution to help people release the anger and maybe shift into solutions? Anger absolutely has validity, but yet how do we, how do we as leaders help people? I know we have to start the conversation, but give me some tips and techniques of how to, how to either be with someone that might be in anger, how to help them move out of anger if it’s something that’s causing them harm.

Marilyn Sherman:  Well, let’s start at the top. And that would be the person that you see when you look in the mirror. To recognize that anger is okay. To recognize behavior that is often attached to anger may not be okay. So here’s what a tip that I like to use when I’m really angry. I call it out. I don’t suppress it and say, I’m fine, I’m fine. I’m fine. You know? Because that just makes it worse. And then you go home, and you kick the dog. So so look at the mirror and acknowledge that anger is okay. And to admit I’m really angry, but then take it one step further. And I love this tip. Give yourself a time limit. I’m going to be so angry for the next 15 minutes, and I’m going to sit in it. I’m going to stew in it, and I’m going to complain about it. I’m going to whine about it to myself in a safe space. And maybe even vent to someone like having an anger buddy and having an anger buddy is another very valid technique. And I’ll explain what that is in a second. But here’s what happens psychologically. When you put a time limit on your anger, you are reminded that you are in control of your anger. You may not feel like it because you’re so angry that you’re shaking and your voice is quivering and your, your eyes are watering, and you just want to scream, or you want to hit something, or you want to throw something.

Well, guess what? Your anger is a result of your thoughts, and your thoughts are in your own control. So if you know that there are certain things I can control in this world and there are certain things I cannot control, then I’m going to not invest a lot of my time and energy on those things I cannot control. That’s just like the  E – Energy for the S.E.A.T.  of success. That E stands for energy. You have a limited amount of energy. Do not waste it on that, which you cannot control. So if you say out loud to yourself, I’m going to be so angry for the next 15 minutes. Well, great. Then you don’t take calls. You don’t take visitors; you lock your door, do we have to do. And then you realize, wow, it’s, it’s already been 10 minutes, and I’m not even feeling angry any more because you named it. You claimed it, and you reminded yourself that you’re in control over it. So that’s the first tip. The second tip-

Jenn DeWall:  Name it to Claim It.

Marilyn Sherman:  Name it, claim it, and then you can let it go because you’re in control. And don’t ever say, you make me so mad. You make me so angry because, well, just in that language, you’re giving away your control and your power to someone else.

Jenn DeWall:  You know, just to add on that. I think we both want to be sensitive, but I feel like I have to say it out loud. Like, hey, different challenges, obstacles issues will require different amounts of a certain energy. But I think what’s what you’re saying is it’s most important for you to be intentional. You know, is this anger serving me? If it’s not, give it a time limit. Is this doing that? Because what you’re not saying is to just run through something,  I know you’re not, but I just want to be clear on that. Like, you’re not saying to run through it and just quickly put a 15 minute, but you are saying to be aware,

Marilyn Sherman:  Be aware of it because there are society is very angry right now, right? So you want to create a safe space for them to talk about that anger and to vent that anger. So that you can, I mean, have you ever done that? Have you ever yelled and screamed and just like, you know, or worked out really, really hard when you were angry. And then all of a sudden you’re like, man, it felt good to get that off my chest. We need to create a safe space for people to get stuff off their chest, to get that anger out without judgment, without retaliation, without fighting.

We just need to allow them an understanding of where that anger is coming from. And you can get to an understanding of where their anger is coming from if you are sincerely curious as to why they’re so angry, and you can’t be curious and defensive at the same time. So you can’t interrupt them, and you can’t say, well, you shouldn’t be angry. Or it’s like, Oh no, that happened years and years ago. Why are you talking about it now? It’s like, okay. You’re not really curious then. So the other thing I mentioned— and I’m not saying to anger is only in the last 15 minutes— I’m just saying, check yourself. So that when you go into these conversations with empathy for other people who are going through the stage of anger, you’re not going to be set off. So the more calm you are, the easier it is for you to say to someone, wow, I hear you. I see you. I see you’re super angry right now. What what’s going on? Where’s this coming from? Well, how’d you come to that conclusion? Where did that come from? And allow them to talk, allow them to vent. And if they say, I feel like screaming right now, you say, okay, let me shut the door, go and scream and know that it’s, they’re just venting. Now you want to move them towards a solution. You want to move them once they’ve vented because you can’t be solution-driven when they’re in the height of their anger. Because they’re not going to hear it. So they need to vent in order for you to say, okay, what’s the best-case scenario? What what’s our part in that? What can we do to fix this? I hear you. I see you. What can we do in our part where we have fallen short, what can we do to fix it? What are your suggestions? What are your thoughts? What do you think about how we would implement that? Let’s have a discussion. Who else can we get on board to support this idea? The second thing I mentioned was having an “anger buddy.”

Get an “Anger Buddy”

Jenn DeWall:  Yeah. I want to know about this one. I want an anger buddy. Because I absolutely lived in anger last week, that was the stage I was in.

Marilyn Sherman:  People have been taught basic communication skills, but they’ve never been taught how to communicate when you’re really angry.

Jenn DeWall:  Yeah. I feel like we’ve been taught that. I guess what I was taught is I was supposed to suppress my emotions. I’m supposed to not be angry.

Marilyn Sherman:  Why are you angry? Calm Down! You’re scary. You know? Because that’s what I learned on the call the other night is that the men were saying, I don’t want to, you know, I’ve been taught to suppress my anger because I don’t want to be seen as the “angry black man” or the woman would say I’ve been taught to go along with the flow because I don’t want to be seen as an “angry black woman” because people react differently when they, Oh, here comes an angry black woman or angry black man.

When in fact, anger is okay, it’s okay, how you express it. It’s not okay if there’s a peaceful protest and you take your car, and you run down the middle of a crowd, that’s not okay to express your anger in that way. You see a box of rocks, even though they were intentionally put there by people who infiltrated the passive, you know, the peaceful protest. It’s not okay for you to join in on that instigation and pick up rocks and start throwing them. That’s not okay. So an anger buddy is someone who knows the rules. When you are in a place where you need to vent, you call your anger buddy on the phone; you text them, you bring them in your office, you meet them outside, you do something to have a one-on-one. I need my anger buddy.

And as long as they know the rules, then it’s great. And here are the rules. They need- an anger buddy is someone that you trust- because when you’re angry, you say really stupid things sometimes. Right? Have you said something really stupid in anger?

Jenn DeWall:  Absolutely.

Marilyn Sherman:  Because you suppressed it for so long, all of a sudden it’s like, and another thing, which is so not appropriate, but if you’re doing it in a safe environment with an anger buddy, you know that it’s okay that you can say whatever you want because you’re just venting. So the anger buddy doesn’t judge, and they’re not going to record it. They’re not going to judge you in any way. In fact, the rule is you have the right to vent, and then all the anger buddy has to do- you don’t even have to say anything just once in a while ago, “No!” And then the person would be like, yes, yes. And then this happened, and this happened. “Oh, No!” And then I really wanted to…” Oh, No!!” See what you’re doing is you’re allowing them to just vent. Because if you tell someone if you cut someone off and say, “Oh no, stop, stop, stop, stop. Oh my gosh, calm down.” You’re denying that person of having the feeling that’s been pent up inside of them.

Jenn DeWall:  Gosh, I feel like that’s also the conversation that I have with my husband. Like when I’m frustrated, he loves to solution because he doesn’t want to see me upset. I’m like, I don’t want the solution right now. Like I’m frustrated. I want to vent. I want to get it off my chest. I want to feel all the feelings. Please don’t solution this because I’m not ready for that yet.

Marilyn Sherman:  Okay. So picture this picture. You have a glass that’s empty, right? It’s completely empty. This is you when you’re calm; everything’s going great. And everything’s just fine. Everything’s in check. But then something happens in your day and let’s say you have a bottle of water. This represents the water in this bottle, represents all the little things that annoy you that eventually make you really angry. So someone cuts you off in traffic that goes into this glass. Its glass is not empty anymore. And then you get to work, and then you find out you have to instigate a brand new protocol that you weren’t planning on, and you have to do it. And then you’re really angry because no one told you you had to do it. So that goes into this, this glass of water, which is filling up now. And then someone got credit for a project that it was 99% of your doing and someone else swooped in at the end and got all the credit for it. And you’re so mad, but you have no one to talk to about it because you’re afraid you don’t want to be an angry person. So that goes into your, so picture this, this water bottle is filling up this glass that used to be empty. It’s now full of water. It’s full of all that anger, frustration, anxiety, and stress, and overwhelm.

And then you go home to your loving husband, right? And for our listeners, it’s to your partner or to a roommate or to your spouse. And they say, how was your day? And they can look at you and see that you are fuming and you say, Oh my gosh, it all started first thing this morning, can you believe it? And the people that love you and your life, they want to jump to solution and resolution. They want to jump to the acceptance stage, right? And talk about solution resolution. So they take their bottle of different water, which their bottle is filled with solution resolution. And they poured into your glass. That’s full of water of anxiety and stress and frustration, anger. So, where are all those solutions going? So picture pouring a bottle of water over a glass. That’s already filled with water. They’re not going in.

You’re like, what are you talking about? It’s like, honey, you don’t need to be upset about that. And it just gets worse. Right. And then you’re like, you know, listen to me. So an anger buddy could be your spouse. So here’s what you do you say to them? I need my anger buddy version of my spouse right now. I’m like, okay, cool. And so I got cut off. I went to work; I had to do this. My plate is full, and I just want to yell at my boss. And I just want to scream at the top of my lungs in front of my customers.

And because they didn’t have judgment and they didn’t interrupt you, and they didn’t give you solutions, you were able to just get it all out. So you were pouring all that out. So now you’re back to that actually feel pretty good. Now you have this empty vessel. And then the second rule of anger buddy, is you have to ask before you act. You have to ask, okay, are you open to solutions? And the reason why they have to ask you if you’re open to their solutions is because the answer may be what?

Jenn DeWall:  Absolutely not. I do not want to hear that. I know what I’m supposed to be, but that’s not where I’m at.

Marilyn Sherman:  Yes. High Five on that! Because guess what they want to be. They want to be the— I like to say my husband likes to be the knight in shining armor. He loves to have a solution. He loves it. He’s so removed from it. And so logical, he can just give a solution. Hello. Do you not know that I’ve already thought about that? I know the solutions, but I needed to vent. And so I’m always telling my husband timing and tone, babe, timing and tone. Because if I’m in the middle of being really angry and you interrupt that and just give me a solution, your timing is way off. And your tone is not one of being a listener and an empathetic empathic person, listening to me and understanding that I’ve had a day, then your tone is off. So get an anger buddy. It could be your spouse could be your best friend could be a coworker. Doesn’t matter. Just tell them what the rules are. There’s no judgment. This is safe. No recording, no interrupting, and no offering me solutions. I just need someone to sit there. And just every once in a while, just look at me and say, “oh no!”

Jenn DeWall:  Oh yeah, I love that. I love having an anger buddy. Like the only thing that I think I’ve ever done is probably, you know, knowing that my background is within coaching and let’s say a girlfriend calls and she’s like, I’ve had a day and here’s, what’s going on. I’ll ask, like, do you want a coach response? Or do you want a friend response? Which one do you want? Or do you want no response? So, you know, just asking people what is going to be the preferred thing because it looks a lot different when you start solutioning stuff that you’re not ready to solution.

Marilyn Sherman:  Because not only are they not ready to hear solutions, but now they’re you’re adding more to their glass because now they’ve got resentment and anger for you for not listening to them in the first place. So you’re actually more of a problem than you are the solution.

Have the Uncomfortable Conversations

Jenn DeWall:  Good point. And you know, I just want to wrap it up because I know that we’re coming close to our end of time, but we talked about the five stages of loss just to really help you understand that you can no longer as a leader, ignore the emotions that are happening. You have to talk about it. You have to talk about the stuff that might even make you a little bit uncomfortable because maybe you don’t have that experience and navigating that conversation. But now is the time where you need to alleviate fears or anxiety or things like that.

Marilyn Sherman:  There are, these are awkward conversations, and it’s okay to say, this is an awkward conversation. I am feeling awkward right now, but from my heart, I need to talk about this. It’s okay to say you’re feeling awkward. It’s okay to call the elephant in the room, the elephant in the room. Guess what folks we got, we got an issue. We got a problem.

Jenn DeWall:  We’re all thinking about it anyways. It’s just that, you know, I think we’re so reluctant and I, whether this is a cultural or organizational specific I think it is interesting how we’ve and I would say for myself, we’ve developed kind of a knack for not wanting to feel like you’re ruffling feathers or making waves, but there are some points where we really got to do that. Maybe we’ve got to reframe what that even is. It’s not necessarily making waves so much as it’s making it safe or making someone hurt.

Marilyn Sherman:  Yeah. And just to sort of put a tie on the other ones that we didn’t get a chance to go on a deeper dive, like with bargaining people are really just trying to make sense of stuff. And sometimes things just don’t make sense. So if we start saying, well, if we only knew about Coronavirus in January, then we wouldn’t be in this position. You just have some understanding that they’re just trying to figure things out. Like, why are we in the position that we’re in? Why do we have to do the things that we’re doing and just answer what you can and then just say, you know what? That ultimately there’s nothing we can do about when we knew what we knew and how we responded to it. There’s nothing we can do about it. All you can do is focus on moving forward so that, so you acknowledge, you understand you let them talk, you let them ask the questions you have, let them ask the unanswerable questions, and then eventually say, you know what? I can’t even answer that question.

Jenn DeWall:  I love that. Owning that. Saying, Hey, I can’t, I can’t answer everything instead of just skirting it and saying, I wish I had the answer or I have enough information, you know, there are so many ways you can answer it.

Marilyn Sherman:  And I don’t want to leave this podcast without saying that depression is a real, real thing. And so if people are depressed to the point where a conversation with a boss or a friend or an anger buddy, and you’re still feeling it, and it could very well be a definite chemical imbalance within that person’s brain or body, right? So please get professional help. I am not a professional counselor. I’ve just been studying leadership and motivation, inspiration, but I am not. And I used to be a suicide prevention counselor. So this is near and dear to my heart. But please, if you have any kind of thoughts of hurting oneself or someone else get professional help and do it sooner rather than later,

Jenn DeWall:  And understand that it’s totally normal for someone to be showing up depressed right now, there’s a lot of mourning going on. Gosh, I miss, you know, a lot of the things that.

Marilyn Sherman:  They’re mourning the loss of their routine; they’re mourning the loss of their coworkers. They’re mourning the loss of being in an office. They’re mourning the loss of a morning commute. I mean, when I went to the airport this morning, my husband’s like, Oh my gosh, I’ve never been so happy to see traffic. It’s like, how did that come out of your mouth? Like, you know, because it means that we’re getting to a new future, right? We’re coming back to work. So, depression is a real, real thing. So get help. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to get help. And even helpers need help. Because they’re very, you know, levelheaded people who are not normally depressed and they’re going through anxiety that they’ve never had before. And it looks like depression, and they can’t get up, and they don’t have the energy ask for help, get help, talk about what you’re going through.

Jenn DeWall:  And if you can’t, I feel like there are many providers that offer employee assistance programs. That people can connect with a therapist or a counselor or just someone to talk to. So you know, that depression doesn’t take them down a different course or, you know, they can just get help, and everyone needs help. I feel like everyone needs a coach, or they need a therapist. Like we all need to talk about our stuff.

Marilyn Sherman:  And you talk about new protocols in place for safety. Don’t forget the protocols in place for emotional safety. And people feel safe at work to talk about being down or talk about being angry. This is a safe space for them to do that.

Jenn DeWall:  Yes. I’ve loved our conversation. I think it’s good to go there. I think this is probably one of our few podcasts where we might have ruffled some feathers, right? We might have talked about some things that people don’t necessarily talk about in leadership. And I don’t think it’s for lack of awareness that it exists. I think it’s because of the awkwardness of the conversation or not knowing where to start or, you know, a lot of other variables, but it’s obviously a very, very important conversation.

You Can’t be Curious and Defensive at the Same Time

Marilyn Sherman:  And don’t forget people. They have one persona when they show up for work; you don’t know what they’re going through with their family. You know you go, I mean, just think of a Thanksgiving dinner where all of a sudden you haven’t seen your uncle Joe in a while. And he’s got very, very definitive opinions about things. People come from families that aren’t safe to talk about stuff, and they have very differing opinions. And so they’ve never been taught that to be curious of someone who doesn’t look like you and to have a conversation. Wow. Tell me more about that. Tell me what it was like growing up like that. Tell me what it was like working in an environment where you were the only one that looked like you. I have no idea what that feels like or what that looks like. So I’m curious, how did that feel, and how did you react, and what was the response? And remember, you can’t be curious and defensive at the same time.

Jenn DeWall:  I think that’s a great ending point. Marilyn, thank you so much for joining us and our listeners. I hope you enjoy and stay tuned in the, in the closing to hear how you can connect with Marilyn.

Marilyn Sherman:  Thanks, Jenn.

Jenn DeWall:   Thank you so much for listening to today’s episode of the leadership habit podcast, featuring Marilyn Sherman. I know that we’re all going through a tremendous amount of change, and I hope that through Marilyn’s insight, you’ve gained some valuable tools or perspectives on how you can approach change in your organization. If you like today’s episode of The Leadership Habit podcast, please share it with your friends or go to your podcast streaming platform and leave us a review. Stay tuned for next week when we discuss how to be a more resilient leader.