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How Feelings Can Help Connect with Jo-Ann Kevela

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

We had such a great time talking to Jo-Ann Kevela about the range of ways we’ve worked together over the years.

In this conversation, we focused on our professional work together, and the power of curiosity and vulnerability in a team. Jo-Ann shares her experience with realizing that shutting down her feelings and vulnerability at work caused her to lose sight of the passion she had for the work.

She also shares how her team was able to better come together, communicate, and really hit their objectives because they came together as their whole selves.

Listen to our conversation with Jo-Ann, and then let us know your takeaways.

As a special bonus, we also talked with Jo-Ann and her husband Rob this summer, which we mention in this interview. You can listen to that episode as well. It’s another really powerful conversation.

What we want you to see though, is how much overlap there is with the tools Jo-Ann (and Rob) are using. In both conversations, we talk about the importance of breathing and checking out stories.

Listen on Apple Podcast | Stitcher | Spotify

Learn More:

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The Beauty of Conflict for Couples

Full Transcript:

CrisMarie: Welcome to the show Jo-Ann. We're so happy you're here. Thanks so much for being with us.

Jo-Ann: Oh, thanks for having me.

CrisMarie: Yeah.

Susan: Yeah.

CrisMarie: Now our background goes many years in the distance. We've worked with you and your different companies that you've been at, why don't you tell us a little bit about your background and the work you were doing at the couple of companies that we've worked with you at?

Jo-Ann: Yeah, I mean I think I first met you guys when you were doing some work at the Haven and that's what had brought to mind. I was working in the corporate world then for a large global software company, and our team was struggling and so I had experienced some of the work you guys had done at the Haven and thought perhaps it would be helpful to bring someone in to do some team building there. And we were struggling as a team, we weren't communicating particularly well, and there was a lot of unspoken conflict in the organization and people's willingness to step forward and resolve that on their own just wasn't happening.

CrisMarie: And your role on the team, you headed the marketing arm right?

Jo-Ann: Yeah, I was head of marketing for the North American team.

CrisMarie: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And when we came in to work with your executive team, can you describe a little bit about how that was for you? What worked, what shifted? What did you take away from that experience?

Jo-Ann: Well I think originally when we brought you in, we wanted to have a strategic planning session and so I think people's idea of what we needed, it was quite different from what was actually getting in our way. I believe, I remember we did a team assessment, which was done before we went into the retreat. And what really became clear I think as individuals as we were doing the assessment and then as a team that we weren't really functioning well as a team. We were going along trying to get things done, but there was a lot of different agendas and a lot of unspoken conflict going on.

There was real lack of trust within the team for sure.

CrisMarie: Yeah. It's interesting because so often we in the business arena get brought in specifically, well we want to do a strategy session and when we're working with teams we always say, we're happy we're going to get to this strategy, which we do, but we want to do the smart and the healthy aspects of things. Not just looking at the end in our vernacular too. It's not just looking at the business, but really taking a step back and actually looking at yourself, looking at the relationships and team dynamics going on.

And then, amazingly enough, the business gets done pretty fast. So, that sounds familiar. And we do use that assessment that does give you some indicators on the health, not just the smart side of your business.

Jo-Ann: So we went into that and then as we started to really get to know each other more, there was a lot of vulnerability came up within the week and I think there was a deeper appreciation of our unique differences and I think some of the strongest things that we all took away from it was the ability to share both positives and negatives with each other. I think there was a lot of gossip and behind the scenes, stuff going on when people had conflict, and not dealing very directly. And some of our leaders as well, just the style of dealing with people individually rather than bringing forth what was going on as a team.

And as we started to put those issues on the table and started to have people actually talking to each other, there was quite a shift in our focus. And I think for the first time we started to come together much more as a team because we were willing to actually look at some of the actual issues that were going on and getting in our way. I think one group had an agenda, so we were both going off doing our own agendas and working in silos and good work happening, but not necessarily the focus we needed to get things moving in the same direction.

CrisMarie: Yeah, I mean it's interesting because I think it is so hard. I mean when you have a team and really good people who are smart and passionate, you think, "Okay, if we each do what we do best, we're going to make things happen. It's going to be amazing." And what often ends up happening is, people when they don't know how to work well together or don't know how to deal with the conflict, go into their silos and their area of expertise and though they might be doing good work, it's not necessarily utilizing that creative option where you have to get into the mess.

People want to collaborate, but it so often involves being willing to be vulnerable, being willing to get into the conflict. And I think that is often the hardest piece, especially for really smart people like yourself and other leaders.

Susan: Yeah.

Jo-Ann: I think it was probably for some of the people on the team, it was the first time they really appreciated the differences, I think we went through ... I remember going through a Myers-Briggs exercise where we just got to start to look at each of our personality styles, and recognizing that that diversity could be a real strength if we brought it together, but also appreciate the different aspects we all brought as individuals. So I mean I think that was for me, very powerful. I had done some of that work before and had guesses at what our team was. And I think putting that on the table and learning how to actually communicate in a way that met each other's needs, was really powerful.

And I think having some tools to actually check things out with each other, learning how to communicate in a constructive way, even if it was something where we were distancing or had negatives with the person. That I think was a skill that we took all from that retreat and started to use, and I think the way we communicated as a team, was pretty dramatically shifted and the willingness to actually go in and check out negative perceptions with each other and sit down and listen, was something that I think we all took away from that and it helped our team really grow.

CrisMarie: That's powerful. I think that's so true. When people get together they assume, we all assume, "Everybody thinks like me." So they want to be communicated like me. We just have that ... Really, it's a bit of a narcissistic viewpoint of the rest of the world until we realize, and then we take everybody when they don't behave the way we want them to, take it really personally.

And so it's so powerful to get to know, "Oh no wonder you look at things completely different. It's not from my point of view." And then there's more respect that's developed versus people thinking you're disrespecting me. And that's where divisions happen in silos and people gossip, "And can you believe he did that?"

Susan: Those had to come. I just think even between CrisMarie and I, she's really good at details and giving directions and helping support that. And I personally find it like, "Oh my goodness, really, it is so" ... We don't need to break it down anymore. And that is totally a Myers-Brigg style piece.

And when I started to realize I should always listen to her, when she tells me to break it down, it became much better because nine times out of 10 I thought I was good at that, but I was not doing it nearly enough. So.

Jo-Ann: I left that company I'm about four or five years ago and I now work as a consultant as well as I'm a facilitator of the Haven and it quite often I'm brought in by clients to work with them on team building and stuff and one particular client I remember saying, "Oh this is way out of my depth. I need you guys." Because there was just a whole lot of personalities. It was a owner-run business where there was not a lot of separation between the owner and the way they ran their business. And you guys just did a phenomenal job of coming into what was ... somewhere between a family and a company, and helping sort out roles and responsibilities and a commitment on focus.

Susan: Yeah.

CrisMarie: It's so important to actually be able to clear things up and get clear on roles and responsibilities because otherwise, people are stepping on each other's toes, which then leads to, again, people backdoor politics and not working together.

Susan: I'm curious, Jo-Ann, what would you say, for you when you're in conflict or what you've learned over the years because you've obviously had to work with this in a lot of different ways. What's been the number one thing that has helped you be able to hang in for conflict? Because I think you get the value of it, but I'm sure there's ... It didn't come naturally just like it usually doesn't for any of us.

Jo-Ann: I mean in some of the coaching work that I did with you guys was around recognizing my patterns of defensiveness. I think earlier in my career, not even really recognizing when I was in reaction, and some of the clues that were there for me when those defense patterns were showing up.

And I think the biggest thing was, when my lack of curiosity is not there, and I focus on being right, good things don't generally happen. I think the concept of developing a discipline of curiosity with people, when my defenses are rising and being able to use some of the communication tools that I've learned to get more curious and be interested in other points of view, and letting my own agenda perhaps sit to the side while I get more information and data.

So that's probably the strongest thing that I've taken away from that. And also recognizing that, being able to bring my feelings self into the workplace, I always saw as a weakness.

CrisMarie: Yes.

Jo-Ann: And so a lot of my career ... early part of my career, I spent time trying to squash that down and it didn't lead to a particularly satisfying or that sense of being A ... Somehow I'm hiding this part of myself that is weak. And also recognizing that that's also where my passion for work is.

CrisMarie: I think that is so powerful, Jo-Ann, that you recognize that, so many people and especially women tend to think, "Well I can't be my full self at work. I've got to fit into this male corporate environment." Which means no feelings, no vulnerability yet, that's actually what helps us connect to other people and helps us bring up our energy when we are able to be all of ourselves at work. So I love that you recognized your passion comes through allowing your feeling self, your vulnerable self to come forward because the fact that you were talking about curiosity and vulnerability, we think those are two magic ingredients that can transform conflict and relationships in a heartbeat when somebody shows up with those two magic traits.

Jo-Ann: Yeah. And I found like for me it was inverse to what I believed. I thought, "Oh, if I start bringing this feeling self to work, I'm going to be seen as weak or not respected." I worked in a global environment and primarily an all male executive team, but what I started to find was, as I became more comfortable bringing my own self and some of my more of my vulnerability to my work, magic things started to happen within the team. Other people were starting to show up more in their full selves and that contributed to a lot more passion, a lot more commitment to projects, and a lot lower willingness of people to step forward when they had a disagreement or perhaps didn't see things.

We started to have really successful projects because, people were willing to step up and actually collaborate in and sometimes that meant conflict but in a healthy way. And so, we started to get recognized globally as this power team and people were trying to figure out what are they doing that's different.

CrisMarie: I love that. We were being vulnerable and real with each other.

Jo-Ann: Yeah.

CrisMarie: That's so funny because so many people are afraid to be vulnerable thinking, you know somebody's going to think I'm unprofessional. Yet when somebody is vulnerable, honest and real, it's so refreshing.

CrisMarie: And it usually makes you admire and feel more connected to that person more, not less.

Susan: Yeah.

CrisMarie: I love you guys, your team turning into a power team because of vulnerability.

Susan: We are with you on that.

Jo-Ann: It wasn't all that comfortable the first time I burst into tears because I was so passionate about something. But I learned that that is my passion. When I actually really care, there's a lot of feeling that goes with that. And so by understanding that and being able to have some compassion for myself and explain what was going on for me that I was okay with my tears, and that I was really passionate about this and it was important to me, I think people became more comfortable and understood that people want to get behind leaders that actually have that commitment.

Susan: Yeah. That show up as real.

CrisMarie: I love it. And even you saying you burst down in tears, like people might be going, "Oh my goodness, I'd hate for that to happen." But that you were okay with it. So nobody had to take care of you. And it was really because you so cared about this idea that you wanted to bring forward, it sounds like, tell me where I'm wrong.

Jo-Ann: Yeah. And I used to spend so much time trying to stomp that down and I would head off to the bathroom or out to my car and so I would cut myself off from, because somehow that wasn't okay. And actually the more it got comfortable, it happened less because I was staying in my feelings but also able to communicate more clearly what was going on for me or why I disagreed or why I was so passionate about an outcome or something.

Susan: I love that.

CrisMarie: Clients often tells us the things I've learned about workplace conflict, I've been able to apply those same approaches at home and vice versa. Has that happened for you?

Jo-Ann: Oh yeah, for sure. This is my third marriage and I think both of my first marriages were very nice. There was not a lot of conflict, not a lot of willingness to step forward and share what I disagreed, and my current relationship we've been together 12 years and there's a lot of passion and there's also a lot of conflict. We do not see the world the same way. And I've learned that that can actually be pretty exciting. If I can stay in my curiosity. So we've learned a lot of tools. I mean we've also done a lot of work together on being able to stand in conflict together and it's certainly made people ... I don't know if it's a nicer relation, it's definitely a richer relationship.

Susan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CrisMarie: More passionate. I mean, do you have an example of where that comes up with between you and your husband?

Jo-Ann: Oh yeah. Like I think we both had strong opinions. I mean, probably one of the funny ones that I think of is when we first met and I was wanting to go dancing and he had a really strong aversion to what dancing was going to be about. And in the past, I would've just probably not done it or not move forward and instead of just ... And resented it and thought, "Oh, you're being controlling or you're not letting me be me." And I probably would've not done it and been leaked out in a passive-aggressive or way. Instead, I got curious about like, "What is dancing to you?" Here's what it is for me. For me, I go out with my girlfriends and have a great time and it's about getting some exercise, enjoying music.

And for him, he was in the military, it was about going out and meeting someone and taking them home. And I'm like, "Oh, okay." Well, that's your story.

CrisMarie: Wow, very different.

Susan: Very different.

Jo-Ann: And then in actually staying in in the curiosity and being able to voice what my version of that was in his version, we were able to laugh at it. It became a non-issue for us.

And we see a lot of the world quite differently. So that's a common occurrence for us to have a reaction about something either of us wants to do and then delve into a deeper curiosity about why that's important or what it means.

Rather than just react. So it's almost amusing because we rarely see things the same way.

Susan: Wow.

CrisMarie: We actually are going to be releasing a book about couples and we would love, because we've actually worked with you and I think at Biocybernaut you were both a part of that team.

Susan: You were in business as well as your relationships. So maybe we'll get a chance to interview you together sometime about the topic.

Now, most people really don't like conflict and we often hear people say things like, "I hate conflict." Or "Oh, this whole situation is so exhausting. I just want it to go away." Now, why do you think most people dislike conflicts so much? What's that all about?

Jo-Ann: Well, I think it's often because in that conflict becomes distance or people move away from each other in conflict. And certainly I know with the tools that we've learned as a couple, and I think we've built some faith that there's actually some richness and a deeper understanding and knowing of each other in exploring that conflict. Certainly in our relationship that's led to a much richer relationship.

CrisMarie: I was thinking about what you said. I think sometimes, and couples probably in and on teams when people don't think they're close and they experience distance, they think that's a problem. But a lot of times, if you're willing to be curious and interested in the distance, you are still very connected to each other and there's a possibility.

And it's actually not the distance, it's the problem. It's the unwillingness to connect in that distance that I think that creates the real separation versus, "Oh." Distance might be ... If I'm telling you why I'm distant from you, I'm actually revealing myself, I'm being vulnerable. I'm talking about it. And very different than if I just said no, this is a cause for me to separate completely.

Jo-Ann: Yeah. And I think that's our experience. Staying in that distance, in a curious way has really helped us feel closer. Yeah, I totally agree. There are times where we're completely distant with each other, but I still feel very close.

CrisMarie: Imagine someone out there is listening to this episode and if they're dealing with a really tricky conflict at work or at home, Jo-Ann, what's one thing you would encourage that person to do or your number one piece of advice for dealing with conflict?

Jo-Ann: Well, I think for me, I can speak for myself as starting with that, some breath, and sitting down and checking out what is going on in that moment. Conflict for me, I would just be going completely from my head in the past and so, learning to breathe slow down and check out what is actually happening so that I can have some awareness around what's actually going on for me has been very powerful. So that's probably the number one is, are you breathing?

CrisMarie: Right. I know because when people get in conflict, there's a whole physiological reaction that happens with your heartbeat accelerating, your vision narrows, your body releases cortisol and adrenaline and puts you in a state where you're really in a fight, flight or freeze.

And if you're not aware of that, you're going to try to problem-solve or deal with the other person from that place, which you don't have access to very many resources at all. There are actually studies that your IQ drops 10 to 15 points when you get activated that way. So have you experienced that in as you become more aware of your reaction to conflict?

Jo-Ann: Yeah, sometimes just even being able to slow down and breathe in those ... For me, it's been recognizing those cues. It's like what's going on? Like often, if I have zero curiosity and I'm wanting to be right, a couple of breaths will help me sync back into recognizing that I do have an intention and desire. I think learning the communication model in terms of being able to break down my communication and really explore what's going on with me, what's my intention with this person? If I really do want to have a relationship or in the moment, am I recognizing that I want to blame them or I want to be right and owning that has been a game-changer for me in relationship.

CrisMarie: Yeah, I really appreciate that. We talk about, okay there's, you can be relational or you can be right. Which one are you wanting to be right now?

Jo-Ann: Yeah.

Susan: Just even being able to acknowledge it. Like you were talking earlier about how defensive patterns get in the way and so often, even if I just say I'm feeling quite defensive right now, that starts something changing.

CrisMarie: Because it's a vulnerable statement to say.

Susan: It's a ... Yeah.

Jo-Ann: Yeah. The personal responsibility piece, like being able to own my own feelings and that sense of nobody can really make me feel anything. So, being able to say to someone, "I'm pissing myself off with what you're doing." It's a lot different than "You're doing the wrong thing."

CrisMarie: Yes.

Susan: Yeah.

Jo-Ann: Like bringing it back to what's the effect going on for me as I'm distancing or I'm pulling away from you. And also being able to share intention. It's like my intention is I really want to be closer with you and I'm recognizing that I'm feeling distant right now, is a much better conversation than, I think previously I would've gone in with, "You are."

CrisMarie: You are the problem.

Susan: Yes. I know.

CrisMarie: I can still do that with Susan.

Susan: Yeah.

Jo-Ann: And using the communication model to clean up the times when I'm not.

Susan: Yes. Sometimes that's what happens. It's like the difference between making this statement, "We're both getting defensive here." Versus, "I'm getting defensive." I'm not going to tell you what you're doing. I really want to.

Jo-Ann: Very different.

Susan: Yeah.

CrisMarie: Yes. Oh, this has been great Jo-Ann, are there any other final thoughts that you'd like to leave our listeners with as we close out this interview?

Jo-Ann: No. I just really appreciated. I mean, I look at you guys as a team, as a really great team of resources. I think it's been really valuable for me, whether it's been coaching or bringing you into the companies that I work with or attending a couple's courses with my partner. I think you bring a wealth of background and experience. So I really appreciate it. I appreciate it and happy to be here with you today. So thank you.

CrisMarie: Yes

Susan: Yes.

CrisMarie: Oh we've loved it, and it's amazing because we have spans so many.

Susan: Yeah.

CrisMarie: Having you in a couple of courses coaching you and I really love that. That

we've had so many different interactions with you so I appreciate it.

Jo-Ann: You guys are on my number one referral list.

CrisMarie: Love it. Thank you.

Susan: All right.

CrisMarie: Oh it was so much fun talking to Jo-Ann.

Susan: I know.

CrisMarie: We have interacted with her in so many different contexts and I just really feel flattered that we're her number one referral.

Susan: I love that. And I think I had forgotten actually the range of that. So that was great. And a couple of things that really stuck out to me was when she talked about ... because it's so common, women in the business arena have been led to believe that their emotional side or who they are ... their fullness of who they are isn't going to be welcomed.

CrisMarie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Susan: And when she started to show up with her emotions, not only was it welcomed and people were willing to be there and beat her in that, she also became the power team. So everybody-

CrisMarie: I know. It started happening that people could show up and be real, which is really I think what people want at work. Not to have to pretend or say things just right, but to be able to be their full cells. So yeah, that it had an inverse relationship. Like it really catapulted them to business success when people were real and honest. I thought that was powerful.

Susan: I also loved her willingness and vulnerability to acknowledge that yes, her biggest thing was she gets defensive, she wants to be right and the fact that she can own that and talk about it is so huge and is creating a potential fore shift.

CrisMarie: Yeah. And even in that moment when she is in her reaction, her willingness to breathe ... slow down and breathe and notice her reactions when she is not curious and wanting to be right, it's a red flag for her to go, "Wait a minute, what's happening for me?" Because she is caught in that fight, flight or freeze response, and she can intervene on her own behalf.

Susan: Yes. And I love that she could tie it back to his situations at home and recognizing that this relationship she has now is really way more passionate and alive. It may not always be comfortable, and it sure sounds like they have created something that's special. So I do look forward to being able to interview and talk to them as well.

CrisMarie: Yes, exactly. Yes.

Susan: It was a great interview. I'm very glad we did it.

CrisMarie: All right. And we'll probably put a few things like maybe the breathing. This would be a good one to add some of our what to do in an Oh-shit moment.

Susan: That's what we call it in the book.

CrisMarie: Yeah, and we'll make reference to that in the post notes so you can-

Susan: And we ween have some tools to how to ... It's called How To Settle Yourself In The Midst of Conflict. So we'll also put some links to those.

CrisMarie: Yes, okay.

Susan: Number one thing is to breathe.

CrisMarie: Yeah.

Susan: Okay. Thank you for joining us. Take care.

CrisMarie: Take take care.

CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn.

Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It!

Order their new book The Beauty of Conflict for Couples: Igniting Passion, Intimacy, and Connection in Your Relationship.

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