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Courageous Conversations with Candy Barone

So much of being a feminist in business, or even just a feminist is a willingness to have difficult conversations. 

Today I’m speaking with Candy Barone about how we can have more courageous conversations that focus on who we really want to be, how we want to show up for ourselves, and how to use these conversations to create change. 

Ready? Let’s get started.

In this episode:

  • How to identify what feedback should be received and what feedback should be released
  • Shifting your mindset towards challenging situations
  • How to push past fear to take courageous action

Listen to the podcast here:

Courageous Conversations with Candy Barone

I’m super excited to have you here today to chat about courageous conversations. I was talking with someone a few months ago about the power of conversations in general. And then it really got me thinking about how there’s a certain level of courage that we need in order to have difficult conversations. 

Then sort of magically, from the power of the universe, I was introduced to you. This is one of your favorite topics to talk about, if I’m not mistaken. But before we get into all of that, tell us who you are and what you do on the internet.

My name is candy Barone and first off, I want to say thank you. It’s such an honor to be in this conversation with you. Courageous conversations are absolutely one of my favorite topics and that stems from being in a lot of environments where real conversations weren’t happening. 

For me, one of the things I noticed is that we do a lot of complaining and commiserating. We don’t do a lot of connecting and communicating. I spent 20 years in fortune 100 companies in different leadership roles and it was amazing to me how much people fear conflict. 

When they talk about managing conflict, it’s all about getting conflict out of the conversation, when in reality, there is no communication without conflict. We all have a different perspective, we all have different points of view and it’s only when you create spaces that you can facilitate and invite that to the table. That you’re really going to get to something meaningful. 

And so for me, there was a journey and a process that eventually led me to realize if I was going to have the influence in this conversation, then I had to leave and do my own thing. So now, I do a lot right now of training and consulting around how to have courageous, connected conversation. Because I think it’s not just about the courage, it’s about knowing how to bridge that connection as well. How do we do that in a meaningful way personally, in business, in our communities, and especially with everything that’s been going on right now?

Do you work as a coach to help people learn? It sounds like you’re not necessarily facilitating the conversations but you’re teaching people how to have them so they can learn the skill to do it over and over again.

I actually do both. I do executive level coaching for what I call the three E’s: entrepreneurs, executives, and emerging leaders. They have influence over more than just themselves so it’s kind of a one to many model. They have influence over teams, organizations, communities, their environment, and they want to create more meaningful dialogue and conversations in that space. 

So I do both. I am a facilitator, I am a trainer. Depending on how and where that’s needed, I have a couple of different hats I wear. 

How would you define courageous conversation? What does courageous conversation mean to you?

First, I would say that there’s actually six kinds of courage that play into what we’re talking about. Starting from the place where Brené Brown says courage is the space of taking action. Taking risk. Doing something when you have no control over the risk, the outcome, or the emotional exposure. 

So that courage says, I’m willing to step up knowing that those things are on the table. When we look at the kinds of courage that oftentimes people think of courage as either Oh, I’m going to take that daring risk, that’s a physical courage. That means there could be bodily harm. Or they think it’s emotional courage because they’re going to make theirself vulnerable. 

But I think they forget that there’s some other aspects of courage that play into the scope of being courageous. You have the physical aspect, which is that space of potential health risks or bodily harm. There is emotional courage, which is vulnerability. It’s that space of someone’s gonna judge me or criticize me for what I have to say. 

Brené Brown says courage is the space of taking action. Taking risk. Doing something when you have no control over the risk, the outcome, or the emotional exposure. Click To Tweet

But then we get to other aspects of courage such as social courage. Am I stepping forward and having a voice on social media or in conversations that allow me to be visible? Am I getting into something that’s pushing the needle a little bit? Am I creating some of that discomfort? 

There’s the intellectual side of courage, which is something like, am I willing to push the status quo? With teams that I work with, oftentimes people get stuck in the mindset of ‘this is how we’ve always done things.’ Are you willing to challenge that this is the way things have always been done?

There’s also an intellectual courage that’s required to push against that status quo. There’s a moral courage that says, am I willing to stand up for what I believe no matter? What am I willing to stand on the sword for?  We have core values. We have a moral compass and it also requires our courage to say, I’m going to piss some people off but I have to stand because it’s my truth. 

Finally, there’s what’s known as spiritual courage. Am I willing to look into a bigger aspect of who I am? Am I willing to test my faith in what I believe in? Depending on who I’m working with, we may look at all six of those aspects of courage. Or we may look at one to start with in order to open up a conversation that’s going to be meaningful.

I love that because physical and emotional courage kind of hog the spotlight a lot from the other four types of courage, social, intellectual, moral, and spiritual. A lot of people are afraid to put themselves out there because they’re either afraid to break with their family group or their friend group. Or they’re afraid to be uncomfortable and I think on some level, especially if you’re in the feminist or social justice space, you really have to be willing to shove yourself all the way out there and not know how you’re going to find your way through or who you’re going to encounter.  

Absolutely. I think the more you’re put in a box, the more we feel this “should-ing” pressure. It’s that space of how much are you holding yourself back and playing small because that’s what you ‘should’ do. A courageous connected conversation says I know that I’m putting myself at risk for emotional exposure or for vulnerability for unknown things that can happen. And I know that I still need to do this anyway. 

I love the way Brené Brown says it. You being afraid of the uncomfortable conversation, you being afraid of not leaning in, you choosing comfort over courage is not an option. It’s actually the very definition of entitlement. Oftentimes the right thing is the hard thing to do. Comfort and courage don’t often live in the same space. In fact, they don’t live in the same space at all. You can’t be comfortable and have courage. It doesn’t work that way. And for many of us, we’ve been conditioned. We’ve played small because it’s easier than stepping out and putting ourselves at risk for all of those things that might happen.

I love Brené Brown. I own almost all of her books. She’s incredible. And I love the phrasing of choosing comfort over courage is entitlement. I think that’s the absolute perfect way to define privilege. You’re choosing to stay comfortable and ignore everything that’s going on around you so that you can stay comfortable. That is an amazing definition of privilege.

Is identifying when something makes you feel uncomfortable the best indicator of needing to have courage in the situation? 

I’d say that’s a good place to start. Our body registers fear and excitement the same way. We get that initial uncomfortable or sick feeling. You know it in your gut and there’s something that’s pulling you. What happens is most people say nope, there’s too much risk. Nope, not gonna do it instead of saying, here’s my opportunity. 

That moment where it gets uncomfortable. We can feel our face flush or you get the sweats. You get that feeling of nausea and the pit in your stomach. It’s a matter of whether or not you have the courage to step up in that call. 

The other thing that Brené Brown talks about is we have these stories that we run. And oftentimes, instead of leaning into the discomfort, we start to create the story and we start to play the what if game that just spirals out of control. I always tell people one of the opportunities in the courageous, connected conversation, is to change the “What if” story. People start thinking what if they hate me? What if they yell at me? What if they criticize me? I tell my client to immediately shift into an ‘Imagine if’ instead. ‘What if’ oftentimes can be very heavy, very negative, very debilitating. ‘Imagine if’ allows your imagination to play in a space of curiosity and creativity.

‘What if’ oftentimes can be very heavy, very negative, very debilitating. ‘Imagine if’ allows your imagination to play in a space of curiosity and creativity. Click To Tweet

In order to step into a courageous, connected conversation, we need to allow ourselves to lead ourselves to a place of curiosity and wonder and to imagine if having this conversation could lead us somewhere else. Imagine if this could be the moment that I could really connect with this person and do something that’s meaningful. Imagine if we could stop bs-ing each other about whatever’s going on and get honest and really see each other to deepen our relationship. Imagine if this conversation could lead to real sustainable change or imagine if we could create a solution we never thought about because we were willing to go there. So I tell people that instead of getting sucked into that ‘what if’ spiral, say imagine if I came at this from a place of curiosity, what’s the best possible outcome? 

When I talk to people about leadership, I really emphasize it’s not something that was born or made. Leadership is everyone’s opportunity. The way I define leadership is leadership is a choice. It is a function of how you choose to show up. It’s a function of how you choose to serve others. And it’s a function of how you choose to take personal responsibility inside that space. That moment that you’re uncomfortable is a choice and you can choose to be a coward or you can choose to be a leader. The two cannot be in the same space at any time. They don’t coexist together. 

Yeah, I love the flipping because choosing ‘imagine if’ really flips the script. ‘What if’ is a very negative foreboding. It instills a lot of terror and fear in people. But ‘imagine if’ creates that sense of wonder that you were talking about. I used to work with a coach who asked, what if we flipped that? Every time I thought something negative like, what if something bad was gonna happen? Instead to flip that and say something positive was going to happen instead. The flip automatically pushes it into a very positive space and I think that’s such a powerful language tweak.

It’s a call to your imagination to explore the infinite possibilities. There’s infinite possibilities and I say that all the time. There’s infinite possibilities and the power of Yes. You choose to be empowered. When you make the call to your imagination to say how can I be more childlike? How can I be curious? How can I play with this? There’s this endless array of possibilities that starts to present. 

I used to have a roommate in college and we would play, imagine if you had a million dollars? It immediately is a call to action for your imagination to play. It’s this whole different energy. In training, I always make them do five rounds of imagine if because the first two are super easy. It starts as, what if I fail? Followed by, imagine if I succeed. Then the next one is imagine if I succeed so much that xyz happens. Then by the third round, they start to play and by the fifth one, they’re very childlike and open. 

I tell people all the time that I’m a lazy, high performer. Lazy, lazy, high performer. Give me the fastest and most effective way to do things. When you do the ‘what if’, you actually have to make a BS story to go with it. Because most of the time, it’s never ever been something that’s ever happened to you. So you have to create and give all your energy to making up the story versus the ‘imagine if’ which is something that’s been inside you already. So you actually have to give it less energy.

Yeah, our brains certainly do a lot of work. To imagine the worst case scenario in order to try to keep us alive. It’s like, we’re not running from saber-toothed tigers anymore. So please calm down. 

When I’m in that space of discomfort, I know that I’m moving in the right direction. So when people are in that space where they’re feeling that gut check, what is the next step beyond that in order to get to a place where you can consciously choose courage instead of choosing numbing? This tends to be the default for people. Your brain wants to keep you comfortable and safe and courage rarely keeps you comfortable and safe. So what would you say is the next step beyond once you realize how that presents in your body?

I love that. There’s three T’s of courage. The first T is take action. What is the first thing you can do? What is the cause? It’s usually the first step that kills us. Do something that disrupts that pattern and do it quickly. If you feel paralyzed, then get up and move your body. Do something to disrupt the fact that you’re about to go through that rabbit hole

The second T is to trust. Trust yourself, trust the other person. Going back to Brené, she talks about this generous assumption to say that I trust people are coming from the best place they can with the best of what they have. It might be that I have to say that I don’t know how to have this conversation but I know that something’s not right and I feel like I respect you enough that we have to start. 

It’s also letting go of control and letting go of what you need someone else to do. It’s not about what they choose to respond to, it’s about trusting in your own intention of who you are. There’s a big difference. We cannot and are not responsible to control what other people do. So trust and let go. 

We cannot and are not responsible to control what other people do. So trust and let go. Click To Tweet

The third T is tell courage. Are you willing to speak your truth and have an independent trail of thought that says, Why do I need to speak up right now? Why do I need to take action? Why does this feel uncomfortable? I’ve had many conversations, especially lately, where I don’t know how to do this conversation. I’m going to be on a panel next week all around social injustice and diversity. I freaked out last week thinking I could get clobbered in this conversation. Here I am the white girl going to have this conversation and gonna get asked a lot of questions about allyship and what that means to me and what it’s meant to my business.

 But I trust because the person that’s facilitating this is a black woman and I trust her implicitly. We’ve talked about the fact that we need to actually address that with the audience that this is a courageous moment for both of us to engage in this very courageous connected conversation. It’s not going to be perfect. It’s not going to be right. But it’s going to be whatever it needs to be because I’m going to show up and trust in who I am and speak my truth and do it from a place of my best intention with the best that I have and trust that that other person is going to do the same. So there’s take action, there’s trust, and there’s speak your truth. One of those things is usually very evident.

An example of this just happened to me yesterday. It’s that moment of courage where I was interacting in a conversation on social media. At first I was blinded by my cis privilege and then as the conversation continued and I I really had to sit with not getting defensive. To continue to put myself out there and receive feedback, which is kind of the hardest part of conversations sometimes. 

There was a moment where I knew it was courageous because I’m sitting here doing something that’s uncomfortable for a prolonged period of time. I’m saying what is true to me and then I’m also absorbing what’s true to someone else and assimilating that as feedback and sitting with that, too. 

Something that I didn’t really realize until a few years ago is that you can’t control what other people think. I always thought that you could control other people’s reactions or their thoughts if you say the perfect thing at the perfect time and in the perfect tone. I’m a consummate people pleaser. You could react to five different people the exact same way and they would all have a different reaction back to you. There’s just such a need for incorporating those Ts, like taking actions and speaking your truth.

People need to remember the only thing that they can control is what you believe, what you expect, what you think, what you say, and what you do as a result. The common denominator is the only thing you can control is you. If you have kids or pets, you know this is true.

Feedback is absolutely required and necessary for mastery. So we do need feedback from people if we want to keep growing and developing ourselves as leaders on that level. But also be mindful of who and what you’re taking feedback from. Do you know, like, trust and respect this person? If yes, then we need to allow ourselves to be fully open to receiving all the feedback. Taking it with no judgment and then what we get to do is decide which aspects of the feedback are meaningful for us. Take that leave the rest on the table, because what happens is we get into a space where we internalize too much of other people’s nonsense and noise. We don’t give ourselves permission to discern. 

But also be mindful of who and what you're taking feedback from. Do you know, like, trust and respect this person? Click To Tweet

Most people’s feedback is coming from a projection of their own insecurity, their own stuff, so you have to be able to discern through that to say, that actually is triggering me a little bit so that piece is mine. And other times, I’m just going to leave that on the table and let it go. So you get to decide which aspects of it are meaningful for you and which are not. 

Sometimes I encourage people to just listen because sometimes that in and of itself is courage to receive feedback and then have the courage to discern what we choose to do with that. That’s the space of leadership that says I’m taking personal responsibility for what’s mine, and I’m allowing the rest of it to be someone else’s. 

People are going to judge you anyway. I had a coach that told me this once because I used to worry about offending people and she told me, you can offend anyone that didn’t choose to be offended, subconsciously or consciously. Second of all, every single person is judging you and you judge every single person. Because it’s all about you and you’re judging something in them based on something you’ve either already accomplished or something that you’re struggling with or something that’s opening up for you. 

So the thing is that people are judging you and it’s not about you most of the time. It’s all about them. I’ve gotten to a point that I can either live my life trying to be perfect for everyone, which is going to exhaust me and kill me and almost did it at one point in my life. Or I can think that if they’re going to judge me anyway, then at least it’s going to be a fun ride. And I’m gonna do it my way. 

Betty White is one of my favorite people. I love that woman and one of her favorite sayings is that someone’s opinion of you is none of your damn business. Amen. Preach it, sister. You either like me or you don’t. Either way, it’s none of my business. I’m just going to be true to me. And you do you. It’s been so freeing. It took courage to let go of all that expectation.

Yeah, absolutely. I think that whole thing comes from deciding to be open to feedback and then deciding what feedback is important to you. Thanks to patriarchy and toxic masculinity, women especially get feedback all the fucking time and 99% of the time, we don’t need it. But we are socialized to assimilate that feedback and take it to heart. I really love the distinction that somebody can come up to you and say, you’re really ugly when you don’t smile. And you can say hey, that’s nice, whatever. I don’t care. I’m just going to continue going on with my face. 

It removes the emotionally charged aspect of receiving feedback when you realize that you can take in feedback and then you get to lay the feedback out in front of you and choose what to assimilate. I chose for my conversation yesterday to assimilate that I was being harmful and perpetuating a stereotype versus you need to smile all the time. I don’t care about that feedback.

Thanks to patriarchy and toxic masculinity, women especially get feedback all the fucking time and 99% of the time, we don't need it. Click To Tweet

Don’t forget the first question. Do I know, like, trust or respect this person? I’ll give you a really clear example. When I was in corporate, I was the only female in a lot of my leadership meetings. I was working for GE Healthcare at the time and it was a toxic, good old boys club when I was there many moons ago. 

There was one guy in the group that really got under my skin because he was this arrogant, pompous ass in there. I didn’t think he knew who I was to be honest and afterwards he said he needed to give me some feedback. And I wanted to call him a few things and walk away. But he’s a big guy and I’m five foot two. 

Trust me, there was no know, like, trust, or respect with this person. So he physically backs me up against the wall and he said, I just need you to know that I think you’re aggressive. When people tell me I’m intimidating or aggressive, it makes me laugh because I’m a five foot two. So I looked at him and said thank you. And when he said that it wasn’t a compliment, I said I probably define it differently.

Then I did what I tell people to do and especially what I teach women to do. I dropped into my power. I actually allowed myself to get softer. I sat back on my knees and I allowed myself to be in my body. I looked at him and I got very sincere because I have no idea what’s going on with this dude, he might really be trying to give me feedback. Make the best assumption. So I said, I didn’t even know you knew my name, let alone that you felt so strongly about helping me grow. Thank you so much for thinking enough of me to actually feel you needed to give me this feedback. I really hope your day gets lighter. It feels like this has been weighing on you really heavy and I’m going to say a prayer, because I’d hate to think that this was still on your shoulders. 

He backed away, I walked away, and he never talked to me again. 

He’s never going to have a conversation with this woman again.

If you’re still holding on to it that’s on you. If you get the ugly Christmas sweater that grandma gave you. say thank you for the gift. You receive the gift, then you get to give it to a homeless person or take it to Goodwill for someone that actually wants to wear that hideous thing. Or you bring it out and just wear it when grandma comes over for Christmas. It’s not that serious, but we get so caught up in receiving what we’re given. They gave you a pile of shit. You don’t need it. Put it over there and move on.

I love that. That’s so funny. I’ve never actually worked in corporate. I was a teacher before I started my business and teaching was a very female-dominated profession so I don’t have a lot of great stories like that.

To wrap up, I would love to know, what would you pinpoint as the most important aspect of facilitating courageous conversations with people?

In order to step into a courageous, connected conversation, we need to allow ourselves to lead ourselves to a place of curiosity and wonder and to imagine if having this conversation could lead us somewhere else. Click To Tweet

First and foremost, I think that’s a brilliant question. Because it comes back to ownership for yourself. It comes back to a couple of questions. One, do I know who I am? And what I represent? Do I know what’s important to me? How do I choose to show up and serve? Do I know what that looks like? If not, then you probably need to spend some time asking yourself, who am I and who do I choose to be? That is a powerful space. I think a lot of people miss that opportunity. They don’t know their core values. They don’t know what they stand for. You need to know those things about yourself if you’re ever going to want to step into a more courageous space to have those connected conversations. 

The other thing is to ask what’s the worst case scenario? And then what’s the best thing that could happen? Wow, this could be a game changer and we can move something forward. No one ever died from an uncomfortable conversation. It’s getting people to realize the ridiculousness of the stories we tell ourselves as the worst case scenario. 

We get caught up and people think they can’t have that conversation because they think the other person isn’t going to react well.  And nine times out of 10, you have the conversation and it’s a lot easier than expected. Why did I put it off for two weeks?

That happens to my clients so often when we’re hiring. They’re afraid to fire anyone because they think the other person will be a psycho. Does that happen sometimes? Yes. But is that normal? No.

It’s less than 1% of the time and that’s the thing they hold on to. When you go in there expecting the worst, you are attracting it instead.

There’s a great YouTube video with Bob Newhart where he plays a psychiatrist and people come in to see him. He says this is going to be $1 a minute and it won’t be more than five minutes to fix your problem. Someone comes in and they start laboring on and he’s like, stop it. Stop it. And it gets to a point where he says, stop it, stop it, stop it.

So I always tell my clients, you pay me a lot of money to basically tell you in every language but English to stop it. Stop the behavior. It’s that ‘imagine if’ space. What’s the best possible outcome? Because that can never happen unless you step forward. 

Might you get a little bruised up? Yes, but you’re resilient. You will be fine. Suck it up, buttercup. You’re not this fragile thing that people have told you about. Channel your inner Wonder Woman, your badass Ruth Bader Ginsburg, your Kamala Harris, whoever it is. What would one of my heroes do? They damn well wouldn’t sit here and think I can’t use my voice right now because I’ve got to be soft and demure. Soft and demure needs to stop.

What's the best possible outcome? Because that can never happen unless you step forward. Click To Tweet

Yeah, we left that in the 80s.

Now’s the time to use your voice. Stand up and use your voice. And guess what? If they don’t like it, that’s not about you. Let them deal with their stuff instead of you taking it on yourself. It’s not your responsibility to carry everybody else’s insecurity about women that know how to use their voice and stand in their power.

First of all, I really like the advice to know yourself. Figure out who you are, figure out what you want to stand for. Because if you’re taking a stand on a bunch of shit you think you should be taking a stand on and not because you’re actually connected to it, you’re not going to get very far. You’re not going to stick with it for very long because you don’t even care about any of this stuff. 

In America or Western culture, we’re all operating under the same societal conditioning. And all that means is that the first set of thoughts or reactions that pops into your head and then beyond that, what you choose to do next is who you choose to be. So don’t beat yourself up because this thing popped into your head and you’re like, Oh, I should play small because of your societal conditioning. You can tell that thought to go kick rocks or you can get into it and listen to it. So you get to make that choice. 

I love that. I love talking to you. And I love that you drop f bombs the way I do. I just love it. 

And by the way, if you haven’t watched The History of Swear Words, you have to watch it. It’s the most hilarious thing ever. You’re not going to die by throwing out an F bomb and saying fuck this. It’s fine. You’re fine. Do it.

By the way, there’s actually power in it. You’re saying something very explicit and direct and not mincing words and doing this little tap dance. If I had any hope for the future, I just want more and more people to step forward and stop. Stop playing. Just be real. 

Absolutely. I think that’s the perfect way to end this episode. Just be who you are. Be real. Stop trying to be something that you’re not.

Thank you so much for being here today. I really enjoyed this conversation.

Thank you.

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About Candy Barone

Courageous Conversations with Candy BaroneCandy Barone is CEO & Founder of You Empowered Strong. A catalyst at helping you learn how to truly say YES to yourself, destroy the NOISE getting in the way AND play full out to access much more in your life!

As an accountability powerhouse, leadership development expert, and executive coach, Candy “pulls no punches” in teaching people how to lead from love, with love. She brings 20 years of corporate experience to the table and is a master at building exceptional, high-performing teams, maximizing and leveraging ROI, growing emerging leaders, and catapulting individuals to achieve explosive growth.

Candy has been showcased in publications such as, U.S. News & World Report, The Austin Statesman, Austin Business Journal, The Chicago Tribune, ciLiving TV, and served as a panel facilitator for Fast Company at SXSW.


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