Recently, we had an opportunity to converse with our friends and partners, Susan (Solvang) Lubar and Izzy Solvang of Growing Minds. This Milwaukee-based organization helps build mindfulness practices to facilitate kinder communities and learning environments.
During our share, we discussed many overlapping areas of our two organizations and the way our missions align. One component that became evident was the essential nature of fostering emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills in organizations, especially those that serve others.
Here, we share some takeaways and insights from this stimulating and engaging conversation.
Growing Minds & Share Collaborative: A Conversation
Susan (Solvang) Lubar and Izzy Solvang of Growing Minds join Noor, Jojopah, and Shawn in this share on the importance of interpersonal skills in organizations. Because both organizations share an overlapping mission to strengthen “soft” or interpersonal skills for tangible outcomes that benefit larger organizations, the topic was highly relevant to us and many of the groups we serve.
After sharing our thoughts and time together with Growing Minds, we had some time to reflect on the experience. Noor shared, “It has come to me how important it is for leaders to connect with each other within and across organizations. It is healing to be intentional about spending time on a regular basis to decompress together, to express vulnerabilities and emotions about the challenges arising both professionally and personally. Coming together as a collective creates community and belonging in new ways. Ways that support us re-membering and co-creating culture and environments that heal our neglected and broken parts. When we let go of limiting ideas of a need to be competitive, we gain exponential growth in those “soft” collaborative skills and empathic energies that bring forth the peaceful, compassionate, loving and abundant world we all can thrive in. I’m grateful for embarking upon this journey of mutual rediscovery.”
In that spirit of sharing and mutual discovery, we wanted to share some highlights of our conversation about the importance of interpersonal skills in organizations.
What Do Interpersonal Skills in Organizations Have to Do with Success?
Noor: One of the things that come to my mind when I answer that question is how soft skills, or interpersonal and relationship skills, are really based on how I can connect with other people and help them feel comfortable. Because I’m someone who values relationships, I feel very attracted to strengthening those bonds. It’s those ties that help us authentically access each other, and out of that natural connection, we share our skills. I think it’s essential to be in touch with that side of ourselves in our organizations.
Jojopah: I was thinking of the contrast of soft skills in a masculine-dominated, paternalistic world. When we hear the word soft, many of us think it means weak. I believe it is important to attach softness to who we are as human beings—our humanity. Softness is our strength. Softness means slowing down, focusing on listening and building interpersonal skills, and raising our level of consciousness away from the external and toward the internal. There’s great strength in softness.
Right now, people are still in survival mode, especially coming off the last few years. They want to see things get done, they want to have a plan to get back to the familiar, but there’s no going back. We’re in the midst of a great shift. Our work isn’t about “let’s hold hands and be happy.” It’s about taking on some of the most courageous work that human beings can do—going inside and becoming personally sovereign for your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Susan: Soft skills are really nurturing skills. We need to learn how to nurture ourselves. When we feel that we have our own back, we’re in a better position to be there for others. I approach a lot of human services work from a background of science, but when we access that softer, emotional, and interpersonal side, we shift the focus in our brain. We start using the prefrontal cortex, tapping into our executive skills rather than our brain’s reactive, instinctive side.
When facing complex topics with our clientele, we need to be in an emotionally intelligent place. It’s when we tap into these interpersonal skills that we access curiosity, authenticity, and vulnerability. It takes courage to say, “I’ve gone through life believing this, but maybe it’s not right.” We need to learn to modify our beliefs and thoughts, and when we’re in a reactive or defensive mode, it’s not possible to get to that place. We need those soft interpersonal skills to deepen relationships with others.
Shawn: If I’m navigating my own storm, I can’t help someone else deal with their storm. We’re in two separate storms. Because of the pandemic, everyone has experienced a sense of powerlessness. Those feelings are the essence of trauma. If I have a way to get reconnected to the core of who I am, I can navigate out of those moments, connect with my resilience, and help others connect with their resilience too.
Soft Skills & Healthy Vulnerability Are Essential to Any Environment
Jojopah: If we want to know why soft skills and healthy vulnerability are so essential, let’s look back to things in the news that could have been avoided if we were all practicing this way of being with ourselves. Another name I give to this way of being is that we’re “becoming human.” We’re letting go of the conditioning that we need to be unemotional machines. This conditioning comes from years ago—clear back to the Industrial Revolution when people worked in factories. They were working themselves to the bone, believing that “it’s worth it to turn myself into a machine, just to get a little bit of comfort.” But we’re slowly growing out of that belief system as a society.
Look back at March 2011 at the Fukushima disaster and tsunami. It happened because people sat around in a meeting and decided to build a nuclear power plant in an earthquake zone because it would save them money at the time. They didn’t think of the human cost. Look at the building in Miami that just collapsed. Three years ago, people brought up structural integrity questions, but they were never addressed. Why? What is going on? What happened? In the world of industry, we lack emotional intelligence and, more importantly, spiritual intelligence—recognizing the inner spirit of each person.
Mr. Rogers said, “Deep and simple are far more essential than shallow and complex.” It’s a huge task to pull that apart. As a society, we’ve bought into the superficiality and complexity of what it takes to make the world go ’round. To me, the work that we’re doing at Share Collaborative and at Growing Minds is essential for the generations that are coming after us. We’re going to have to reclaim our humanity if we’re going to survive on this planet.
Noor: We’re in the midst of a cultural change. It didn’t used to be okay to talk about feelings and vulnerabilities unless it was in the context of a corporation. We’re learning now; we’re growing. There are parts of ourselves of greater value. We must tend to them, nurture them, and value them because we’ve experienced emotional atrophy in our culture.
Culturally we accept that anger comes out. Anger is okay, and we’ve created structures to take care of that. What’s not okay is expressing fear, grief, sadness, loneliness. But those are all parts of who we are—parts of being human. In this evolutionary process, we must first see the changes in ourselves. Then we can bring those changes into the organization.
Through Share and Growing Minds, our job is to support that evolutionary process and bring in that structure to the organizations we work with. Watching the process of discovery is exciting. People are uncertain—we’re all losing and gaining at the same time. Grief is a big part of that change, and we’ve disregarded that emotion and forgotten that we need space to process grief. It comes out in many ways throughout personal discovery.
Izzy: I want to express reverence for what we’re discussing because what comes out for these organizations we work with can be big and overwhelming. There’s a way to acknowledge and give space for the mission of an organization. Share and Growing Minds are specializing in making this massively overwhelming feeling okay. We’re fitting it in and creating a space for that. Many times, leaders aren’t sure how to make room for these conversations. They hear what we’re saying and say, “thank you, I haven’t known how to deal with that before.” It’s totally normal and okay. There’s space for being nurturing and courageous, vulnerable, and authentic. It’s about giving space to slow down.
What are the Inspiring Moments that Drive this Work?
Susan: Whenever I start teaching, whether online or in-person, I like to do what Noor described before. As everyone gathers, we do a soft landing—a practice to shift to a more emotionally and spiritually tuned-in space. I’m continually awed at the energy when people take a few minutes to check in with their bodies and notice things like, “What is my breathing like? What’s happening in my jaw? My eyes? My shoulders?” Then we often think of something kind towards ourselves. We think of something we’re grateful for, and we experience a collective settling. It’s so beautiful. When people experience it, they really love it.
Noor: When I’m in a room, I’m always looking for the one who gives me the signal that “I’m getting this. I’m connecting. We’ve got this.” So, I’m looking for signs. The individual eyes and faces will light up. When I see that spark happen, I always think, yeah, I’m ready to go. I want to take us deeper into the possibilities for learning and healing with each other. Those moments have never grown old in over 34 years of working with people. I love it when they light up and share their emotions.
Shawn: As a self-described integrationist, what comes up for me is how the different approaches grow together. At Growing Minds, you share mindfulness concepts that help people get back to themselves. At Share, we start to figure out what to do with that presence. How can we listen to other humans and get tuned into them? We often start with three minutes of mindfulness. We sit with ourselves for three minutes, and it creates a safe space where people can share.
They might share, “I feel tired,” or, “I feel discombobulated.” We allow people to decompress and get in touch with what they’re going through, so they can start to really dive into this work quickly, in a very deep way.
Jojopah: As a Shamanic healer, keeper of indigenous wisdom, and a Fire person, I don’t like the word “training” because it’s rooted in that industrial mindset we discussed earlier. We’re going to “train” somebody to feel—yeah, right! We already know how to feel.
I work in energetics. How can we help people raise their energetic understanding of who they are? At Growing Minds, they’re growing consciousness. At Share, we’re applying that to organizational work. My job as a Fire person is to disrupt. It’s important that a person gets disrupted by the energy that I bring in or something I say.
I’m loud, bodacious, and animated. For a lot of people, there’s something in them—the pain body, as Eckhart Tolle describes. To get to that, we need to bring the heat and bring in the fire. Healing doesn’t feel good. The process doesn’t always feel comfortable. I’ve learned to be a diplomatic fire, but it’s so delicious to me to see someone who bumps up against something within themselves or starts to work through that pain. It may come out in criticism, judgment, resistance, or frustration, but that’s energetic. They’ve bumped up against something, and now they can have a breakthrough.
Susan: I’m a Fire person too. I also love that moment—when someone’s reflecting or finished a practice, and there’s a paradigm shift. It only takes a fraction of a second, but what was an apple is now an orange. It looks different, and it will never go back to what it was before. There’s an awareness that didn’t exist before. That’s what it’s all about—helping folks gain a sense of awareness of themselves and each other. That’s why we do what we do.
For more information about the exciting organizational work at Share Collaborative or Growing Minds, please reach out. We look forward to sharing more of our conversations with these wonderful friends and partners again in the future.