Beyond Leaning In with Melanie Ho

Melanie Ho, Ron Macklin & Michelle Mosolgo

"Beyond Leaning In," with Melanie Ho

Episode 16: "Beyond Leaning In" with Melanie Ho

Michelle asks Melanie: What does “the story in your head” trigger for you?

Melanie says she loves the title of the podcast because we all have so many stories in our heads -- some that are helpful and some that are not, some that we are aware of and some that we are not aware of.

Melanie shares that the pandemic has brought some of that to the forefront. Before, she was always on the go and didn’t have time to think about them, but the pandemic has brought some stillness to her life.

Melanie says that she sees herself as an early adopter of the “Great Resignation,” and she didn’t have time to think about what she wanted out of her career and her life. But being an extrovert and living alone during the early days of the pandemic, she had to work harder to connect with people. And she also had to think about what the pandemic was calling her to do and be. One of the things she ended up doing was finishing her book.

Ron asks Melanie about her strategy for connecting with people. Melanie says she believes in serendipity; her favorite pre-pandemic conversations were those with Uber drivers or random people in line at the coffee shop. They can end up being very meaningful. As a result of the pandemic and lockdown, Melanie was looking to balance connecting with new and old friends as well as looking for moments of serendipity.

Michelle asks: What are you looking for in those meaningful conversations?

Melanie says that it’s something that shifts your perception in some way. It doesn’t have to be a dramatic shift. She shares a story about a daily quarantine chat she was doing, where you’ll get a phone call from someone else in the world and you get an icebreaker prompt. You just have a conversation with a stranger. While sometimes the conversations were only 15 minutes, sometimes they were 90 minutes or two hours long, and she was able to find meaning in these conversations.

Ron shares a story about one of his previous positions and the cartoons that workers would make. Even if he didn’t remember all the details about certain conversations, he always remembered the cartoons.

Melanie feels that these types of things stand out to us because people remember stories. That’s one of the reasons that her book, Beyond Leaning In: Gender Equity and What Organizations are Up Against, is told as a novel because it aims to engage more deeply with people than other types of books about similar topics might be able to.

Melanie shares an example of one of her cartoons. It’s about two colleagues who get promoted: in a company memo, one is recognized for his work and the other is recognized for her baking skills. It quickly illustrates how unconscious biases can be formed. Ron says that these stories show up as our filters. Even if you didn’t set out to create that story, they still show up in our lives.

Michelle asks Melanie: When you have these stories, how do you go about changing them?

Melanie says the first step is awareness and taking stock of those biases. She says that people can be triggered by the word “unconscious bias” so she thinks of it as “mental auto-completes.” She says it’s like having faulty programming within ourselves, and the sooner we can see that, the sooner we can stop it in its tracks. Part of that is exposing ourselves to other stories.

In one of Melanie’s previous positions, they would review potentially biased perspectives by simply raising their hands and saying “perspective check,” which wasn’t about calling out or blaming.

Ron shares that, in Macklin courses, they explain that communication is the end result of what you say -- not what you mean. Are you throwing a rock at someone, tossing a line, or floating a feather? How does that show up for Melanie?

Melanie says she likes the metaphor of the elephant and the writer. The writer is our rational brain, and it’s sitting on top of an elephant, which is our emotions. Even though the writer might know where they want to go, the elephant is bigger and can easily overpower it. When she talks to others, she likes to think: what is their elephant? What is stopping them?

If she knows someone, it can be easy to talk to someone and find out what it is. But for those she doesn’t know as well, she has to ask other questions to find out.

Michelle asks Melanie: How do you build trust with people to be able to get the elephant either smaller or more visible?

Melanie says a lot goes into getting people into a space of psychological safety. People need to feel able to be vulnerable and like the truth isn’t going to come back to bite them. She hopes that workplaces can get to the point where people feel they can be vulnerable with themselves before they can be vulnerable with others.

Ron asks: Does it have to be in that order? Melanie says it’s interesting, and she thinks it can probably go either way, but more often she thinks people have to find vulnerability with themselves first.

Michelle asks Melanie how she overcame her fears and made the leap from her successful career to doing something else -- something she wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out.

Melanie says a good therapist helps, and she’ll always recommend that to others. Part of what she was feeling was unworthy, like “Who am I to think I can be creative, and write a book?” She had to think about how much she defined herself by external validation vs. how much she wanted to define herself based on her self worth and what she can contribute to the world.

The main story she had to change for herself was what success looked like. Before, her story said that success was tied to planning, certainty, and quarterly goals. Even after quitting her job, she realized she was still setting her goals based on quarters and had to ask herself why that mattered.

Ron agrees that corporate habits can really stick with us.

Ron talks a bit about the Great Resignation and how more people are looking to quit their jobs. He says he was a bit ahead of the curve, but one thing that stood out for him was thinking “If I don’t do this now, I’ll regret it in 10 years.” But sometimes people don’t feel they have the space to actually do it. How can we help others see that they can do it?

Melanie says there’s knowing that there are other people who have done it and there are examples. And you also have to get into touch with who you want to be, even if you suppressed it earlier on feeling that it was unrealistic.

Melanie asks Ron how he found his passion. Ron says that there was a skill he was lacking in order to live a good life, and once he acquired it, other people started asking him to teach them how to do it. Ron started to ask himself what it would be like if he did this full time.

Melanie shares a story about a retreat she attended where they talked about how, in Native American tradition, a lot of different things are considered “medicine,” such as food, being in nature, and we can even be medicines to each other. And our purpose in life can be finding out what kind of medicine we can be to others.

Michelle asks Melanie: What’s your medicine? Melanie says that someone at the retreat told her that her medicine is finding creative ways to help people shift their perspective. At the time, she just wrote it down, but years later after the pandemic she looked at it and it has a new meaning.

Wrapping up, Melanie says that she is especially passionate about the use of imaginative arts to get people to think differently about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion because people have really big “elephants” when it comes to these topics. Any DEI training we attend, we’re going to feel a range of emotions like defensiveness, shame, anger, and more. But her goal with her books, comics, and workshops is to help people work through these emotions while still learning.

Join us to hear how understanding the idea of “self talk” — and what you can do about it — could change your relationships and life for the better.

Episode Summary

Beyond Leaning In with Melanie Ho

Ron and Michelle, along with Beyond Leaning In author Melanie Ho, discuss meaningful conversations, storytelling, and finding the space to follow your passions in this episode of “The Story in Your Head.”