Evolving Our Thinking: How Experiences Influence Engagement
July’s guest speaker for InCheck’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion speaker series, leadership consultant and strategist Alonzo Kelly, led an impactful discussion on how our experiences influence how we engage with others.
“The only thing I ask is that you don’t make your truth mine. We can both be right.”
Alonzo Kelly, President and Founder of Kelly Leadership Group
Our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiatives challenge us to evolve personally and professionally and discover a more intentional approach to our learning. To do this, we seek professional development opportunities that inspire us to think differently and act differently. In July, we welcomed Alonzo Kelly as our all-company guest speaker. Alonzo shared that his goal was to give us a headache rooted in love. And he did, in the most impactful and inspiring way.
Alonzo Kelly is insightful, impressive, and in demand. He is a strategic leadership partner, executive coach, three-time best-selling author, radio host, and sought-after national and international speaker. He is President and Founder of Kelly Leadership Group, an organization dedicated to evolving the journey of professionals to become stronger leaders. And, like our CEO, Andy Gallion, Alonzo is close with Al Hill, Senior Director of Diversity and Cultural Competence for Milwaukee Center for Independence. Through their mutual connection, InCheck was fortunate to hear Alonzo speak.
Here are our takeaways from Alonzo’s presentation.
What Is Your Understanding?
Alonzo began his presentation by asking us a question. But, there were ground rules; we couldn’t google our answer. Instead, he gave us “permission to think for ourselves.” He asked each of us, “ What is your understanding of what it means to have a disability?”
After a few moments, a team member shared his answer. Alonzo replied to the team member, “You’re right!” Then, another team member shared her answer, which differed from the first. Again, Alonzo replied to this team member, “You’re right!” This pattern continued with several more answers, each one different from the rest. With each answer, Alonzo replied, “You’re right,” eventually adding, “You’re all right!”
We Can Both Be Right
How could all of our answers be right? Because, as Alonzo explained, he asked each of us specifically, “What was our understanding?” He didn’t ask, “What is the definition of a disability?”
Alonzo continued to explain that when someone speaks from their understanding, it’s impossible to be wrong. A person’s understanding is based on their lived experiences. In every interaction, a person brings to the table an understanding based on their lived experiences. It is their truth and no one else’s. To this end, when someone is asked, “What is your understanding,” it is always right.
Alonzo encouraged us to be intentional in our language, phrasing our questions in a way that allows people to answer based on their lived experiences. He continued to push our thinking by asking us to consider, “What happens when you bring your understanding based on your lived experiences, and someone else brings their understanding based on their experiences? You are both right, but you’ve arrived at an intersection because your answers are in conflict. How do you move together?”
We Do Our Best When We Feel Safe
Alonzo suggested that we start by acknowledging that it’s not about right or wrong, good or bad, and it’s not about fighting. Rather, it’s about feeling psychologically safe and creating an environment that accepts and respects a person’s lived experiences to be their truth, without negative consequences. He described that safe feeling as “something in the air between us that allows me to feel like no matter what we talk about, you and I are still going to be good.”
Then, we discussed the concept of accountability, being in a position to explain a result or outcome, and how it plays a significant role in creating safety. Alonzo believes that today’s workplace has weaponized accountability. He asked, “How many times have we been held accountable for things we can’t explain?” And, if we can’t explain it, it is our fault. As soon as we start asking questions to someone about things they cannot be accountable for, where they can not explain the result, our environment becomes unsafe. Again, Alonzo urged us to be intentional in our language and hold people accountable only when they are in a position to explain a result or outcome.
Next, we addressed the importance of courage and humility in creating safe environments. An example would be the courage to come forward to share what we know based on our experiences, and humility in acknowledging that we have not experienced it all. He reinforced the grace in humility saying, “Intelligence, experience, and common sense are limited by the capacity of humility. Check yourself and carry on.”
Always Drink Upstream From the Herd
In his closing thoughts, Alonzo spoke on empowerment, urging us to think independently and take action thoughtfully and intentionally, reminding us that none of us are required to live off the information and experiences of family and friends. He encouraged us to read our own books, have our own experiences, and gain our own authentic understanding, and then bring our experiences and understanding back to the group to share in a psychologically safe environment. Then we truly will have evolved our thinking.
Learning With Intent
Alonzo was right. We did leave his dynamic presentation with a headache rooted in love. His presentation resonated with us on a deep level, both personally and professionally. Each all-company speaker further enriches our DE&I journey, and we are grateful for the reflection, introspection, and learning.