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Cancel Culture and Respectful Disagreement

The pendulum goes back-and-forth. In 2021, a survey was published that showed people had never been more afraid to speak their minds (a shocking 9 out of 10 people have felt emotionally or physically unsafe to speak their mind more than once in the past 18 months. Unsurprisingly, the conversation topics that have generated the most fear include political or social issues (74%) and COVID-19 issues (70%). It was the peak of MeToo and George Floyd cancel culture. Fast forward to today, and thought leaders from Professor Scott Galloway to James Carville are pushing back. It's a lot to digest. That's why we invited Justin Jones-Fosu, founder and CEO of Work. Meaningful. to the show. Author of the upcoming book "Respectfully Disagree," Justin and the boys cover a wide array of topics that many are afraid to bridge, but shouldn't be. If you've ever found yourself keeping quiet, instead of engaging, this is a must-listen. And if you speak your mind on every occasion to do so, it might just be for you too.


PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION


Podcast Intro: Hide your kids. Lock the doors. You're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry right where it hurts. Complete with breaking news, brash opinion, and loads of snark. Buckle up, boys and girls, it's time for The Chad and Cheese Podcast.


[music]


Joel: Ooooooh, yeah. It's Caitlin Clark's favorite podcast, aka The Chad and Cheese Podcast. I'm your co-host, Joel Cheesman. Joined as always, the Lisa Leslie to my Ann Meyer, Chad Sowash is in the house.


Chad: Yes.


Joel: As we welcome Justin Jones-Fosu, Founder and CEO of Work. Meaningful. And I put the pause in there because the company is literally Work, period, Meaningful, period, which may be my first question. But, Justin, welcome to the podcast.


[laughter]


Justin: Thank you. I'm excited.


Joel: You look excited.


Chad: It doesn't quite work in a domain, does it? Work.meaningful.com?


[laughter]


Joel: That's right.


Chad: But it could work. It's horrible. It could work, you just get meaningful.com, and the subdomain is work, so, yeah.


Joel: Dot work, huh? Yeah.


Chad: It could be the other way though. It could be...


[overlapping conversation]


Justin: It does not work.


Chad: [0:01:11.9] ____ And not work. Oh.


Justin: It does not work, even when I speak, people do introductions, they're like, "Work, period, Meaningful, period." I'm like, "No, no, it's not." So we just cut out the periods in introductions. [laughter]


Joel: Okay. Fair enough. Fair enough. So Justin, a lot of our listeners don't know you and what you're doing. As I found out in the green room, you wore pants for this, which is a good start.


Justin: Yes.


Joel: But let our listeners know...


Chad: Thanks, yeah, appreciate that.


Joel: Who is Justin, what makes him tick, and a little bit about the organization?


Justin: Yeah. To the pants part, some of these times, and just to be free... Frank with you all.


Joel: And free.


Justin: I don't wear pants.


Joel: Free and frank.


Justin: Yeah. I wear underwear and a shirt, and then hopefully I don't have to get up. So just, it's just being real.


Joel: Are we... Okay. Let's dive in.


[laughter]


Joel: Are we talking briefs, boxer briefs, boxers? What are we talking...


Justin: I'm a boxer briefs. I don't know how people do boxers, 'cause you're just flapping around. And I don't know how people just do briefs, it's just too tight, so the boxer briefs are a nice merger for me.


Joel: Okay.


Chad: Yeah. And when they came up with the boxer brief, that was the blessed day.


Joel: Very recent. Yeah.


Justin: Yes.


Chad: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.


Justin: That was gold. That's the foray into Justin. And so I am... Now, I actually just, I got married the last week, and so I'm really, really excited.


Chad: What?


Justin: Yeah. Yeah...


Chad: Congratulations.


Justin: Just got married and came back. Thank you. Just came back from my honeymoon and so...


Chad: Where'd you go?


Justin: I went to Asheville, one of my favorite cities in the States...


Chad: Oh. Asheville is sweet. Yeah.


Justin: Love the mountains. And so we had a great time, Omni Grove Park Inn, and all that good stuff. So married now, I have four kids now, I had two before, now I have joined with two, and so we have 7, 8, 12, and 12.


Chad: Wow.


Justin: I always wanted a big family, didn't know it was gonna happen that way.


Chad: Oops. Winning.


Justin: Yes, very much so. And I'm the Founder, CEO of Work. Meaningful, where we research the intersection of employee experience and inclusion. And so I've written three books. And I just have a really good time. I just love being a dad, that's one of the best things I've ever done, is just being a dad and trying to show up imperfectly for my kids.


Chad: How does that help you in the work? That's the big key.


Justin: Oh. Big time. I use so many examples of how I fail at being a dad.


[laughter]


Chad: Oh, yeah.


Justin: That... [laughter]


Chad: And that's like a daily basis, right? Yeah.


Justin: Yes.


Chad: Oh, I know. I feel you. Oh, I know. Yeah.


Justin: So many leadership examples. And they've taught me a lot about, even, when we talk about a respectful disagreement, I've disrespectfully disagreed quite a bit with my kids.


Chad: Oh, yeah.


Justin: And it's taught me a lot about how to apologize, how to say sorry, and how to come back.


Chad: Patience, man, being married... My wife makes me more patient, there's no question. But nothing makes me more patient than my kids.


Joel: So do I. He may not admit it, but I bring out his patience gene. That's...


[laughter]


Chad: Ooh. Yeah. That's just another level of patience.


Joel: I know. I know.


Chad: I'm still working on it, I'm still working, I'm getting better. Joel, I'm getting better, so don't leave me.


Joel: God bless you, Chad.


Chad: Don't leave me. [laughter] So that being said, adding two more kids, there's more patience, there's more... And that I would assume also helps you not just with stories, but just with you and your whole personal journey. So talk about that. How did you get to where you are today? Not just the kids, not just the family, but getting to where you are from a professional standpoint, having your own company, writing books. How did you get here?


Justin: Man, I think the catalyst and seeds for me were my mom. The song's like, "I get it from my mama." And literally, single mom, two rambunctious little boys, my mom just shows such great perseverance, and resilience. We were initially on welfare, we had a stint of being unhoused. My parents divorced at four, our lives completely changed, and I went to live with my mom. But even through our economic challenges, I remember my mom would take us to go to events that we didn't know a lot about. And so we volunteered 'cause we didn't have any money. And not only did she do that, but she would take us to stuff we disagreed with. And I'm like, I'm just sitting... I'm sitting there like, "Wow, why are we here? We didn't even agree with that." And...


[laughter]


Justin: But what she was doing, and I later asked her for my last book, I was like, "Mama, where did you get this whole mindset from?" And I realized, she shared... She was one of the first Black female air traffic controllers in the Air Force. And there were some times where she'd be stationed in Japan for two years, and there were some soldiers who never left base during that same two-year timeframe. And she was like, Justin, I don't want you and your brother to be like that, to never leave your home base to experience the beauty of people and cultures around you." And so, that was the underpinning foundation of who I became. And then through a lot of different things from bullying to zits and other things I had to learn how to be comfortable with who I am and not care as much of what people thought of me, and that moved me into going into business, getting my MBA, working for three Fortune 500 companies, and then realizing I hated corporate politics.


[chuckle]


Justin: And I was like, "Wait a minute, I saw... These people came in from the outside, I could do that." And so, 17 years ago I started the company, and we've just grown to learn, and now we do consulting, speaking, e-learning, books. And so for me it's just been a heart desire just to help people. And I know it sounds cheesy and corny, which I am both, but not the Chad kind. But I'm just very cheesy in the sense of, I really do love helping people. When I was upperclassman in college, I was putting on free workshops to help underclassmen get internships, and it just really became a passion for me just to help people and that aha moment to come off. So, that's where it started.


Chad: Were you an Air Force brat? Was she in while... Or did she have you after?


Justin: Yeah, she had me after.


Chad: Okay. Okay.


Justin: I do remember we did have one stint of being in Alaska. The only reason I remember that is 'cause we had the good boat and bad boat, [chuckle] and that...


Chad: Ah.


Justin: But I was like under four, so yeah.


Chad: Okay. Yeah. The reason why I ask, I was in the military for an amount of time and the amount of diversity is almost shocking.


Justin: Yeah.


Chad: You were literally plucked out of your life and put into an uncomfortable situation every single day. And you learn that you progressed so much faster as a human being when you were surrounded by a bunch of people who weren't like you. And so, yeah, I could definitely see where mom...


Joel: The formation.


Chad: Could be incredibly helpful in pushing her kids to do the exact same thing. And that's one of the things that I always tell my kids is, "Frequently experience something that is uncomfortable, you are moving, you are learning, and that's really the only way to live."


Justin: Oh my gosh, you said it, hit the head on the nail. One of the things that we came up with, called the Circles of Grace challenge, to do just that, 'cause we want to help people to put this into practice. And so for me it became something, every six months I would go to events, experiences or engage with people either I didn't know a lot about, and/or that I disagree with. And so I've kind of put that as a system into my own life because I started noticing I was conforming to my circles of comfort. And I was not leaving home base. And so I put that in for myself, now we offer it to other people.


Joel: So Justin, you mentioned being cheesy, which I will say there's nothing wrong with...


Justin: Thank you. [laughter]


Joel: As the cheese portion of this podcast. So let's get to why we're here today. We're talking about disagreeing, doing it respectfully, cancel culture and whatnot, you can say it better than I can. But you reached out to us very eloquently about podcasts we had with Torin Ellis and had some thoughts around that, so why don't you set the table for us and then we'll get into the conversation?


Justin: Yeah. For me, I love the concept and you all really talk through driving on equality and progress in the workplace. And oftentimes I find it's been difficult around these conversations to disagree with people, especially when you are uncomfortable or unsure of what you're saying. And so one of those examples came from me several years ago on LinkedIn. And I remember, as one of my six months challenges, I challenged myself to be a better advocate for women in the workplace. And so I was reading books and Harvard Business Review and Women in the Workplace and all these kind of things. And so I put up a post on my LinkedIn, to really more so educate myself, but also the other men in my community about how we can be better advocates for women in the workplace.


Justin: And so I typed a post and I even put a link to LeanIn.Org, hashtag Sheryl Sandberg. And I was just like, "Hey, how can men be better advocates for women in the workplace?" And I got plethora of great suggestions from women about mentorship, meetings, how we give them space, all these kind of things. But there was one woman who posted on that, on my question to not ask women that question. And initially I was dumbfounded, I was like, "Wait a minute. Why can't we ask women that question?" And so, I was like, "Wait a minute, do you mean that we shouldn't ask women that question in a similar space to how some people say you shouldn't ask Black people how you can be better for them in the workplace?" And I was trying to connect with myself. Just in case y'all can't tell, I'm Black.


[laughter]


Justin: And I remembered...


[laughter]


Justin: I remembered in asking, I was just trying to get clarity, and she's like, "Yes, exactly. You shouldn't ask those who are oppressed. You shouldn't ask the oppressors." And so... And that's where I had a difference of opinion. And I remember, even before thinking about writing this book, I typed in LinkedIn and I have the screenshot of all, like, I respectfully disagree because one, I am open as a Black person to sharing, and I've been that person with my friends and other people that wanted to hear one example of a Black experience or what my thoughts were. And so I'm open to it. And there was many other women who were already open to it because they posted the comments. But what I learned from that interaction, because I was scared, y'all, I'm gonna be honest, I was like, "I don't wanna get canceled. I don't wanna feel like I'm mansplaining. I don't... "


[laughter]


Justin: All these things. So I literally, even before I replied to her post, I checked in with some of my female allies, I was like, "Hey, is this appropriate? How does this sound? How does this come off?" And I posted and shared and we had an interesting dialogue that still remains on my LinkedIn, where I was just sharing like, "Hey, I appreciate your comments. I understand that everybody is not required to respond." And that's where I think I could have added that, that little piece of, "Nobody has to respond if you don't want to, but for those who want to, feel free to." And that's one of those moments where I was leaning into the fears that many of my audience face, 'cause they don't wanna say the wrong thing, they don't wanna appear ignorant or stupid or... And so, instead they just won't say anything, and I had to be vulnerable and put myself out there. And so, I'm grateful 'cause it ended well. But they don't always end well.


Chad: Not... So, it's interesting because I don't mind looking stupid. Okay?


Joel: He's really good at it.


Chad: It's the only way that I can learn. And then you've got guys who are like, "Oh, I don't wanna get canceled." To me, that's an excuse. Okay? It's an excuse to not be uncomfortable. I don't mind being uncomfortable because I need to be able to understand what I don't know. And if I ask somebody something and they're like, "You shouldn't say that," well, that's one person's opinion. We say stuff on this show all the time, we get a ton of people that say that they enjoy it, and then maybe a few that say that they don't. That's okay. My big question to you is, it feels like there are a lot of, let's say men, and a lot of White men who you hear say, "Well, I don't wanna get canceled." How do you break through that and say, "Look, if you're coming to it with the right intent, it might sound dumb, you might sound ignorant, whatever, the only way that you're gonna get past that is to ask the question"? How do we get past that fear? How do we get past that, they feel like they're gonna get shamed? How do we get past that just so that we can have the conversation?


Justin: Yeah. That's a great question, Chad. And let me just kudos to you because you are far more advanced than a lot of people. And that's sad to say, in our society...


Chad: Say more. Say more.


Justin: Yeah.


[laughter]


Justin: You are far more advanced...


Joel: Don't encourage him.


Justin: In the whole aspect of you're not afraid to look stupid. I'm the same way. Our society doesn't condition that. Our society... I love Carol Dweck's work on mindset. And one of the things she talks about is that there's these two mindsets we generally operate by, growth and fixed. And fixed are the type of people that they don't wanna look bad especially compared to other people, they don't wanna come off as ignorant, they wanna be seen as all-knowing to some degree. And that's why you have people who will lie about stuff like seeing a movie that they've never seen, just because they don't wanna appear like they don't... They're in the outs of what people are talking about. But the growth mindset people talks about are, is that failure is just another data point of learning. And that ignorance is actually, just means you don't know something yet. And one of the things that, as we talk about the process, I encourage people to do are normally two things.


Justin: Number one, is to remember and think back a time where they were ignorant in something, didn't know it, and they leaned into it and how they've grown for it. So first, recognizing success, that's what motivational theory tells us all day long. Number two, is to engage in things that will help them to grow into the growth mindset. So there's two things that I do and that one is, I talked about earlier the Circles of Grace challenge, where I'm consistently putting myself in positions of learning, where I don't know, where I'm unsure, unfamiliar. And then number two, I do this thing called a birthday challenge. And a birthday challenge is every year I challenge myself to do one thing that I've never done before. And so I often talk about that. Like, I went skiing for the first time when I was 30 at this little place that you all haven't heard of called Vail. And I remember when I was there skiing...


[laughter]


Justin: I was so embarrassed because I'm in my 30s and I'm struggling up the magic carpet, and these little kids who are like four or five, like, woosh, woosh, and I'm just like, "Do I belong here?" I'm sitting here thinking I'm stupid. But I kept going back, not to Vail, 'cause that was really expensive. But I kept going back...


[laughter]


Justin: To North Carolina and I took my kids with me. And it's that consistency as I got better. So those are some of the things we think of from a process, that people have to get used to that feeling of uncomfortability and it's usually not in high-stake situations that the comfort starts. And then they start... Then we challenge people to start translating that to things that may be a little bit more uncomfortable, or could be compromising with their career, because that's really what some people are thinking about, there's some things in their careers that they're really scared of, like, "Am I gonna be able to provide for my family?" So, for some people it's a real true genuine fear.


Joel: Yeah. When was that conversation, Justin, with the fear of mansplaining? Was that a few years ago? Or was that recently?


Justin: Yeah. That was around 2022.


Joel: Okay.


Justin: Yeah, 2021, 2022. I know it was post-COVID.


Joel: Yeah. I think that might've been the height of sort of fear. There was a fairly famous survey in 2021 that found out that 74% of people were afraid to talk about social issues, and 70% around COVID and being anti-vax or, there was a real fear to do that. So I'm curious, what is your opinion on the current state of this issue? I feel like we've... The pendulum has swung all the way one way, and it's starting to come back the other way, but I'm curious about your opinion.


Justin: Yeah. I think to some degree it's rightsizing. There was a big fear of saying the wrong thing, feeling bad about things, a sense of shame. Even our approach to DEI is not shame-based. It's a learning-based approach, it's growth-based, it's things that we can consistently learn. But in the same token, I think people are now, because it was so far up here, people are now trying to swing it all the way back, "I can say anything I want to, and I don't care what anybody thinks. And I can... " And I think that's also not productive and healthy. And that's why for me, I don't mind conflict. I don't even mind disagreement because we're just going to disagree. Joel, you and I, you already disagree with Chad and I about hair. And so one of the things that...


[laughter]


Justin: That's important in this discussion is, how do I still respect people even in the midst of saying what's true to me? And there's a way that we really dug in deep to understand how I can still honor the humanity of people, even if I vehemently disagree with their ideology. And it's tough, it's not easy, but it is possible.


Chad: And the bedrock of this is communication, right, and being able to demonstrate that you care.


Justin: Yes.


Chad: It's well-intended, but there's something that you call the "Double Dutch Communication." Can you explain that? Because I think we all go through it in our lives and we have to fight it. So can you explain that a little bit?


Justin: Yeah. Double Dutch comes from jumping rope. And so for those who jumped rope when they were little or yesterday, because we're all still little, the single rope is one rope that's twirling, and then Double Dutch are two ropes that's twirling, and if somebody's waiting to jump in, like, "All right, let's go. Come on, let's go." And they're waiting to jump in, finding that right moment. And that's often how we communicate, is that we're often waiting to jump in. We're waiting to jump in and say what we believe, what our thoughts are, why we disagree with that, why we think that's stupid, "Where did you come up with that?" And instead of waiting to jump in, what if we waited and we listened and we ask more questions, and we filled in the gaps with curiosity instead of conclusions. Those are that moments where instead of jumping in, we take a step back to fully understand. And let's be very clear, oftentimes I think the best of people. I think the majority of people, they're not narcissists, they're not all about themselves or selfish. What I find often is that people are just simply trying to find connections with people.


Justin: So if I said, "Hey, Joel, I've been... I went to [0:18:21.3] ____, there's a favorite seafood restaurant," and Joel's like, "Yo, that's great." Now normally what we do, instead of saying, "Oh, what made the seafood restaurant great for you?" We say, "But have you been to this one?" [laughter] And it's that desire to form connections. We call it The Power of 3, a very practical way to do it, where you listen at least to the third level of the conversation. And it's especially true with people that we disagree with. And it works really well, even with kids, I practice on my own, where I'm like, Lydia's like... My daughter Lydia, she's like, "Well, at recess, Mary Beth threw the ball out the window." And I'll be honest with you, I don't really care that Mary Beth threw the ball out the window, but I do care about my daughter. And so I'm like, "Okay, so what happened after she threw the ball out the window?" And so now we're listening to the level, at least the level 3 where it gives us an opportunity to better understand someone rather than taking the exit on them with our own conclusions and our own biases.


Chad: Talk about taking the exit real quick. What does that mean?


Justin: Yeah, I'm glad you asked that question. Taking the exit is what our brains do. 'Cause I'm a big studier of how our brains work and all these things. And our brains are wired to conserve energy for things it thinks it doesn't know. And so when we get second, third-hand information, we start categorizing for future use. And so if you constantly saw a person wearing a red shirt that was doing something really bad or something like that, that you're... You see somebody with a red shirt, your brain goes back to, "Oh, remember those instances where you remember that person do," and that's what our brains do. It's the same way if you're driving Monday through Friday, you take an exit, and then one day you're supposed to go straight 'cause you have an appointment or something.


Chad: You still take the exit.


Justin: You take the exit, right?


[laughter]


Justin: And it's because your brain is like, it's on autopilot trying to conserve energy. And that's why intentionality is such an important aspect of driving towards some really dope humans. And so that's what taking the exit and not taking the exit means is, is to actually be intentional to go forward and learn about people, to hear their stories as we engage.


Joel: Were you surprised to see so many of these issues politicized as they were and continue to be? And thoughts on election year, are these issues gonna come to the forefront even more than they were a few years ago?


Justin: I wasn't surprised to see these be politicized. Let me put it this way. There are good politicians. [chuckle] I haven't met many of them. And...


[laughter]


Justin: There are... Oftentimes, it's just you're catering to your base. And so, I'd be in meetings with politicians, and they would say, "I actually agree with what this person just said, but I can't go before my base and say that." So they'll go and say, "Well, I disagree with that bill. I think it's the most stupid thing ever." And so once you've peeled behind the curtain, you realize really what's happening that it's more about a show for their supporters, their base. So I'm not surprised that it's been politicized because anything that can be politicized and give people a bump, people will take advantage of.


Joel: And it's a great way to get viewers as well if you're a...


Justin: 100%.


Joel: A media conglomerate that's politicized. I'm curious, it didn't surprise me, obviously, when the Right went full on against sort of the movement, the Hannity's, that didn't surprise me. What surprised me a little bit today is you're seeing more and more pundits from the Left speaking critically about this. Professor Galloway, which Chad and I both listen to Pivot, he's talking about DEI being not about color or sex, but about poverty, the haves and the have-nots. So, changing the narrative there. James Carville, a very popular Democratic pundit, worked for Clinton, recently said in an interview that he was concerned about there being too many preachy females that would scare off the electorate from voting for Biden. So curious about your thoughts on the Left speaking out on this movement as well, which personally surprises me, but I'd love to get your take on that.


Justin: I am so thankful. I don't mean I'd agree with everything that, what someone says, but this conversation is so nuanced. Literally for a decade, we've been speaking out against a lot of the things that have been happening in DEI. 'Cause for us, DEI just simply means difference. Diversity and inclusion is difference. All of us are a part of it. That's why I love when people say, "I don't like diversity," I'm like, "You don't like yourself? Because you're a part of diversity." 'Cause diversity simply means difference in race, gender, identity, socioeconomic status, geography, country of... All of these things. And so from the last decade, I've been cautioning members within the DEI community about how we've been approaching it. One, to move away from shame, because shame is gonna turn into resentment. And then two, to move away from a deficit approach of like, "Oh, it's 2024 and you still struggle with?"


Justin: 'Cause guess what, y'all? I still struggle with some stuff. There's still issues I have and biases I have, but more from an abundance approach of helping people to meet right where they are and then helping them grow. Because if you keep telling me, if you have a partner at home and your spouse or somebody says, every time you come home they tell you about all the stuff you didn't do, it's gonna get tiring coming home. But if they're encouraging and they say, "Hey, I wanna say I appreciate, I appreciate what you did last week," or you did a good [0:23:27.7] ____ PR, da, da, da. And they're building relational capital to then be able to ask, "Hey, what do you think about this?" That, I feel, is one of many approaches that just hasn't been executed well. And that's been our approach for the last decade.


Chad: Justin, you said in one of your talks, "Stand up for the needs of others even when it has absolutely nothing to do with yours." Right?


Justin: Yes.


Chad: So, here's the thing, that's counter to what we've been taught after the last 40 years of rugged individualism. We wanted to push away from socialism and that community effort, and that kind of thing where we have to focus on ourselves and our family. So, it's like we've been programmed in an entirely different way. But yet, when you say these types of things, it makes sense, but it goes against our programming. So, how do we get beyond that programming that we've had for decades, decades, decades?


Justin: Yeah.


Joel: Centuries.


Chad: And tomorrow, start to care about the person to our left and to our right. I know, now, it wasn't centuries, Joel, when we grew up, we were more community-focused...


Joel: Which was not centuries ago, by the way.


Chad: No. Yes, that's what I'm trying to say.


[laughter]


Justin: My hair reflects that, but yeah... [laughter]


Chad: Yeah. Don't say that. But today, it's had this compounding factor where it all sounds great and everybody shakes their head, but the words don't actually match the outcomes and/or the performance of your neighbors or the people that you work right next to. How do we get past that?


Justin: In order to get past it, we have to understand why it's occurring. And one of the things that's occurred is, there's this theory called "social isolation theory." And as we are isolated socially and confining ourselves to our circles of comfort, one of the things that ends up happening is, we've heard it, echo chamber, all the things, people around us. And so with cancel culture, it's easy for me to just cancel you out, to say, "Well, if you don't agree with me, I'll de-friend you, I'll take you off, I'll unlink you," all these kind of things. And so we're not getting or hearing from people who are different. And so, it sounds very simple, but it actually really, really is, but it's hard, is to be intentional with hearing the stories of people in our communities, people in our workplaces, and even our family members. I learned so much by sitting down and asking my mom and dad about their stories. That's how I found out about the whole Air Force thing, what my mom was intentionally doing. I'd never gotten those stories before.


Justin: And so, if you think about the programming that we have, we're so programmed to be about ourselves at times. And that's why one of the lines that's so important to us is that, seek to be more interested than interesting. So I challenge myself when I go to events where I encounter my neighbors and things, it can be so easy to start talking about, "Well, I do this and I do that, and yeah, yeah, yeah, I've been here, and I have this degree." But I wanna be more impressed by who they are rather than impress them by who I am. Now, that's taken work, that's taken a great therapist that I still have, and a lot of hard work in that area. But those are the things that began the catalyst of change. Me doing the Circles of Grace challenge, which used to be Six Months Challenge, has been so helpful as I went into experiences of people I disagreed with, and I didn't know a lot about. But you know what I did? It helped me to find the gray in the conversation. It helped me to see how I could separate two concepts from an individual and their ideology. And those are the things I think it takes moments to do.


Justin: Now, let me be very clear. In the work we do, it's not about a quick fix, and we're very intentional about it. It's not just, "Hey, do these five things and you'll be great." No, it doesn't work that way, that's not life, that's not real life. But it takes consistent effort, and over time, you start noticing progress and you start seeing improvement. And so that for me is a direct correlation to the challenges of our decades of choosing to be intentional to hear stories. And that's why the Circles of Grace challenge is very important. That's why The Power of 3 is very important. That's why I encourage people to go out and hear the stories of their neighbors and just like, "Hey, I walk... Glad you're in the community. I realize I never talk to you. I'd love just to hear more about you," and start learning that. And I tell people, "Blame the bald guy." You can blame me and say, "Hey, you got this challenge from this book or this talk to be able to do that." And the more we hear people's stories, the more we're able to learn. And what we're seeing is a greater sense of empathy it's created as we hear people's stories. And we start like, "Oh my gosh, he struggled with that. I can talk to him," or, "I had better understanding of why that came to play."


Joel: Yeah. I love that take, 'cause I think it's so ironic that, don't communicate for fear of getting canceled or disagreeing, but it's that same silence that divides us. Look, it's the married couple that doesn't talk that is on the road to divorce. It's communicating that breaks the ice on all this stuff and gets us to someplace of healing, not to get on my pedestal too much. I'm curious, pivoting from that, corporations and employees took very different stances in this period. Some companies were freewheeling with the political discourse, say what you want, you can, social media, do whatever, and then you had some companies go the opposite way and say, "Look, we're here to make money. We're not here to drive political change. We're here to appease shareholders and the bottom line." What's your take on corporate responsibility around this issue, whether it's communication or controlling cancel culture or fighting it? Do corporations have a responsibility in your mind?


Justin: Yeah, corporations definitely have a responsibility, but we have to ask who the responsibility is to. And so one of the things is, they definitely have a responsibility to their employees. [chuckle] And one of the things that's been very big for us is, as a former HR worker and professional, we used to tell people stuff like, "Leave work at work and home at home." But that doesn't work. People are bringing work with them to home and home to work. And so, why not create the best possible examples for people to learn? Now, first you have to assess where your organization is. If your organization hasn't been tackling issues, hasn't been diving into these things, and it's really new to it, you don't start off with, "We're gonna create a big statement." No, no, no, no. You start asking, "All right, what does that next level of change look like for us?" We call it the "Tortoise Principle." If you can see right above me, it's a big wooden tortoise. Because we realized that a lot of people are hares, even corporations in our society. Something happens and they immediately dart out and like, "I'm gonna change." But then there's no long-lasting sustainable change.


Justin: And we tell our clients and other people we work with, to take the tortoise approach. Now, we got the tortoise wrong, the tortoise wasn't slow, which we wrongly called the tortoise. The tortoise was strategic. We only called the tortoise slow compared to the hare, but we see how the race ended up, the tortoise ended up winning. And that's what we are encountering with organizations, is our responsibility, one, to prepare our employees. Great organizations I've seen do this well is that they've modeled this behavior with their leaders. They've shown how you have this kind of discourse at work and still be very respectful and hear different perspectives, and understand and honor other people and their viewpoints. And I've seen some that have stayed silent and then guess what? The conversations are still happening. And they're happening at the lunch table. They're happening during break. They're happening when people are going out for walks. And sometimes other people are hearing about it. So, I think that the first responsibility for corporations are to their employees.


Justin: Now, what you decide to do or what issues you lean into as companies, that's really gonna be a strategic decision. There's not a broad stripe of that you should care about this issue because there's so many different issues that we can care about. Even for me, when we talk about allyship, there's a difference between allyship and advocacy. Allyship means I agree and I'm standing with you. Advocacy means I stand for your right to be you. That's the way I define the two. I'm not gonna be an ally for something I don't agree with. But I can be an advocate for who you are and what you stand for. So anyway, I come back to this place of, that's the corporate responsibility, it's, one, to their employees, and two, that they have to strategically decide on what matters to them as an organization. And there's no right way to do it. There's no rule book to this.


Chad: So let's go to the harder portion of this. When you can get face-to-face with somebody, it's easier to find the gray because people aren't... When you start talking about keyboard warriors, which I'm gonna get into now, and trolls. And it's hard and it's tiring at times for somebody who doesn't want to look to the gray, they just want to stay in what they know and they're looking for every reason not to agree with you even though you're trying to find the gray with them. Many cases, unfollow, or block, or what have you, because it just seems like social media is so expansive and there are so many voices out there. What do you say, what should somebody do to be able to protect their own psyche during this whole process in looking for the gray, but yet looking for people who want to get into the gray with them as opposed to just start a fucking fight?


Justin: Yeah. First of all, online is really hard.


Chad: It is.


Justin: And there's a lot of research that shows just the communication online, people will read into it what they want to. Even text messages, you send your partner a text message, "You look great today." They're like, "What? I didn't look great yesterday?" So the... [laughter] So just even the inflection of our voices.


Joel: I love the Key and Peele skit, which I'm sure you've all seen, where they're texting each other...


Justin: Yes.


Chad: Yes. Yeah, yeah.


Joel: And one's like so...


[laughter]


Joel: Anyway. Sorry.


Chad: Oh, let's go. Oh, let's go.


Joel: If you haven't, Key and Peele YouTube disagreement text or whatever. That's...


Chad: Oh, that is awesome. That is good.


Justin: I love that. That's a classic one. But that's why I often tell people, online is the most difficult place to actually have respectful disagreement, because of how people will read into it. But I have to come to it with this understanding, who is the only person that you and I can control?


Chad: Me.


Justin: Our kids. And so what... And I am joking, I tried that and that doesn't work.


[laughter]


Chad: I was gonna say, I don't even know how you do that.


Justin: It didn't really work, I've tried it many years and I've still been a failure at that.


[laughter]


Justin: But one of the things I found is that I can only control myself, I can't control what other people do, how they respond. Trolls gonna be trolls. And so I give two different examples of that, one very personal, one a story that I heard and prepared for this book. Some people have trolled me on my diversity videos online. And I'm probably the most empathetic D&I person, or just how I approach it, I give people benefit of the doubt, and they were... And I can tell they didn't watch my video. [laughter] And they were like, "I don't think we need D&I," and they put it on YouTube. And I was like, "Thank you so much for your perspective. Why don't you think we need D&I?" And it was like, "Oh yeah, 'cause da da da." And I was like, "Wow. You're a great example of why diversity is important because you have a difference of opinion. And even if I disagree with you, I wanna say thank you for sharing your opinion." Crickets.


Chad: Yeah.


Justin: Right? And that's normally, when I get trolls that are going after that, I love them with kindness. I'm like, I'm trying to understand, I'm practicing the stuff I teach. But the second thing is the seed planting aspect of this. One of my former colleagues, he used to be a former skinhead, very misogynistic, racist views, all the things, I was really curious about his catalyst moment out of this... Out of the movement.


Chad: Oh yeah.


Justin: And he was like, "Justin," he was like, "Oh, I loved when people used to call me names." He's like, "That used to fuel me." He was like, "The thing that would... The catalyst of seeds of change were the very same people that I demeaned that still chose to show me respect." He's like, "They'll never know because those were chance encounters, but they took time to hear my story or how did I get here or... " And I'm like, oh my gosh, even in those moments where we might be face-to-face with somebody who could be a troll or who's not willing to engage in the gray, that we still have the power to choose how we show up and how we choose to respect them. It's our choice. Respect does not have to be earned, I hate that statement in society. Why do... Like forgiveness, it's the distant cousin. Respect is a choice that we can give. Now, to the point about boundaries, we have to be honest with ourselves. There are times where it's like, "Hey, I can't have that conversation ever." And there's sometimes, "I can't have that conversation right now." And there's many times when a big situation happen in society and my friends would reach out to me like, "Hey, Justin, how to respond."


Justin: I was like, "Hey, y'all give me a month 'cause I just can't... I'm gonna... Be honest, I'm gonna respond from a place of pain and not a place of help. And I need time to process." And so we... Boundary setting is not some clear-cut rule book about when's the right time to do it and when's not the right time, but you have to check in with yourself. And I ask myself these two questions. If I respond in this place or if I engage in this place, am I going to respond or engage out of a place of hurt and pain, or am I going to respond and engage out of a place of help and moving the conversation forward? If I'm honest with myself and it's hurt and pain 'cause I'm feeling it, I choose not to engage in that moment. And so that's... Boundary setting is very important to this work because we can't give ourselves fully to everybody, but I often, especially the trolls, I often ask to actually have a conversation with them. I really wanna get on, I wanna get, like, "Hey, are you willing to get on one of the face chat things where you don't have to have my number or anything like that, but just so that we can actually have a conversation?" And I never... Nobody ever picks me up on that offer.


Joel: Yeah. Yeah. Well, we appreciate this conversation. That is Justin Jones-Fosu, Founder and CEO at Work. Meaningful. Justin, for our listeners who wanna connect with you, maybe buy the book when it's coming out, where can they connect?


Justin: Yeah. They can connect on LinkedIn, Justin Jones-Fosu, or go to howtorespectfullydisagree.com where you have a lot more information, bonuses and all that kind of stuff there. Other than that, just connect with me online and if you try to troll me, I may ask you to get on a phone conversation.


[laughter]


Joel: Troll away, baby, troll away.


Chad: And he might not be wearing pants, by the way.


Justin: Right.


[laughter]


Joel: Or if it's like me...


Justin: Today is a good day.


Joel: There's no underwear at all. That's another one in the can, everybody. We out.


Chad: We out.


Podcast Outro: Thank you for listening to, what's it called? A podcast, with Chad and Cheese. Brilliant. They talk about recruiting, they talk about technology, but most of all, they talk about nothing, just a lot of shoutouts of people you don't even know. And yet, you're listening. It's incredible. And not one word about cheese. Not one, cheddar, blue, nacho, pepper jack, Swiss, so many cheeses and not one word. So weird. Anyhoo, be sure to subscribe today on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you listen to your podcasts, that way you won't miss an episode. And while you're at it, visit www.chadcheese.com. Just don't expect to find any recipes for grilled cheese. It's so weird. We out.

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