choice Magazine

Beyond the Page ~ DeBorah "Sunni" Smith

March 08, 2022 Garry Schleifer
choice Magazine
Beyond the Page ~ DeBorah "Sunni" Smith
Show Notes Transcript

DeBorah "Sunni" Smith provides transformational executive coaching and consulting around organizational imperatives like leadership development, change management, Conversational Intelligence®, conflict resolution, workplace harassment, cultural competency and "DEI and B" principles.  She functions as an adjunct coach and consultant with the Center of Creative Leadership (CCL) and enjoys her work conduction individual and group coaching supervision.

In this episode, I talk with Sunni about her article published in our December 2021 issue titled “What "Wants" May Bring ~ Needs vs. wants in the journey toward self-determination and healing.”  We will be continuing the discussion of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion from a coaching perspective. 

Find the full article here:  https://bit.ly/MTA-SunniSmith

Cassava Coaching:  https://www.cassavacoaching.com/

Grab your free issue of choice Magazine here - https://choice-online.com/

Speaker 1:

I'm Gary Schleifer . And this is beyond the page, brought to you by choice the magazine of professional coaching, the ultimate resource for professional coaches in this wonderful arena of professional coaching. We're more than just a magazine choice is, a community for people who use coaching in their work or personal lives. We've been building our strong passion following in the coaching industry for more than 20 years. It's hard to believe in today's episode. I talk with speaker trainer, coach, and author Debora "Sunni" Smith author of the recent choice magazine Kaleidoscope column, What wants may bring needs versus wants in the journey towards self-determination and healing? Sunny is an MS. A JD and L LM and a PCC. She provides transformational executive coaching and consulting around organiz nation, organizational imperatives, like leadership development, change management, conversational intelligence, conflict resolution, workplace harassment, cultural competency, and DEI , and B principles. She function functions as an adjunct coach and consultant with the center of creative leadership and enjoys her work conducting individual and group coaching supervision, which she mentions in the article. Welcome sunny . Thank you so much for joining me today.

Speaker 2:

Thank You, Gary. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 1:

Oh my gosh. I, well, first of all, I wanna a little bit about our kaleidoscope column for , uh , people that are not familiar it's it's choice way of keeping the conversation about diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging alive. So we've had issues , uh, themed about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and I just felt, and editorial or collaboratively felt that this would be our , uh, voice in the community if you will, or , or sorry, our channel for a voice like yours to continue that conversation and bring up the different , um , perspectives and , uh , things that we're just not seeing while speak of . Not seeing when I read your article, I, it was, it was, it just blew me away when you got so in depth with , uh , with needs versus wants for white versus bipo community. I was like, it's, it's these things. This is why we invite you to write for us and is these are the things that we don't even know we're going on. And we don't have that knowledge that we are . I know for myself as a , as a white man of privilege, I crave this information so that I can understand influence and be a channel for support like I do with choice magazine. So thank you again for, for writing that article. And, and I have to ask what, what made you write it? What,

Speaker 2:

Well, several different things, Gary, and I appreciate what you're saying because , um, and I look at this from a professional standpoint too, as a coach, I think it's, it's an imperative that we as coaches keep learning and discovering and looking at things from different perspectives. And when you talk about this diversity issue, which I'm beginning to call a difference issue rather than just diversity, cuz it difference covers diversity in so much more. But , um, it was a , I think coming together of things as , as I stated in the article when George Floyd was , um , murdered, I was working on a contract with , uh , the county of Los Angeles and someone came to me and asked me about doing a needs assessment in of color , um , in south central LA and some other areas east LA. And I was, as I said, the articles taken back and I have done some conflict resolution work. And one of the things that I learned in conflict resolution was there is a real difference between what people in what they want. And that's what led me to this look at what needs assessment was really all about and whether it was really applicable, whether it was really relevant to communities of color. So those two things came together at the same time and it sort of percolated. Um, I brought the, who asked me, asked me to write a brief description of what I was talking about because he had never really heard that concept either. So that's where it began. And I did a small thought paper . And then when I saw your , um, quest for submissions with this topic, I said, gee, I , I wonder whether I can help this fit, you know, and , and bring this to a place where people can really appreciate it, especially coaches of course, because I thought it was very relevant.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And truly again, perspectives, relevancy , um , brilliant in your article, it it's clear. And to go back to this, you question tradit approaches to determining needs, like you said, needs assessment for those from marginalized communities. Can you explain how or why a wants assessment would be more instrumental?

Speaker 2:

Well, as I talk about in the article, I think the basic , uh , processes of doing a needs assessment , um , forming descriptions of the community , um , looking at conditions there, the gaps between, I think that , um, often majority , uh, individuals who are interested, even people of color who are interested in doing a needs assessment, don't really consider that they have certain filters and biases going into it. I mean, even we look at AI today and it's been proven that people who are designing , uh , artificial intelligence, bring their biases with them. And that's so true. Even doing these kinds of assessments, why not look at and include, we talk about inclusiveness and bring in the actual perceptions of the people who live in those communities who thrive in those communities. They understand what it is that they are living with, the conditions that they're living with and can express and describe them in a way that I think other people outside of those communities cannot necessarily. So if you look at the difference between needs and wants, traditionally from a psychological perspective, people who need something often can't articulate or tell you what it is they need, but they can tell you what they want. And when I was taking this conflict resolution course , um , the instructor actually gave us an example of a parent who had an orange and had two kids who wanted the orange. So the tradition thing for a parent to do would be to cut the orange at half and give, you know, two halfs , one half to each child. And he explained that in , in exploring what each child wanted, wanted to do with the orange, the first child wanted it because they were hungry. They wanted teach . So a half orange wasn't necessarily gonna satisfy him or her. And the other child said, well, I need the orange because I want the entire peel for my science project. So after exploring the needs and the wants, well , really the wants you get to the need and the need totally different. So the parent was able to peel the orange, give it to the child who was hungry, got the whole orange and the peel to the child who wanted to use the peel for , um, his, for her science project. And that's really simplified. But if you look at it, when people say, I want something, it's not necess means the need, they need something. And as coaches, we have to explore and go deeper, often we start out coaching sessions and saying, well, what , what is it that you would like to achieve or get out of this particular coaching session? And often people will tell you what they want. And during that process, you , you know, during the reflective process, you get to really what the need is. And we have to be mindful of that, that we don't always know what the individual wants, and we don't know what a community wants , um , or needs until we explore, excuse me, the wants deeper. And you get to what the real needs are. I hope I,

Speaker 1:

You did. And , and , and for those that are , uh , watching and listening, you, you that's almost paraphrase that quite well from your article. What I would add to that, you is just the pre I think a prelude to that, what you wrote about in saying that the needs of marginalized communities have been, how did you say it? They've learned to live with less , even though they, their needs are the same.

Speaker 2:

Exactly. I think, you know, I , what I, I think I referred to was mass loves hierarchy of needs, which everybody is pretty familiar with. Um, and this comes out of slavery, I think in many, many ways and out of poverty also, when you look at the social circumstances, groups of individuals, unfortunately in our country and other places in the world are dealing constantly with more of the basic needs, housing food. You can see, you know, right now here in where I live in Los Angeles and in other cities across the us , you know, basic needs are really at the top of their, you know, priority list, staying in their homes, feeding their children, getting basic education. They're nowhere near, unfortunately this , um, H upper hierarchy of self actualization. Um, that's really a stretch for a lot of people. And it's unfortunate that others don't realize that. So they're dealing with basic wants all the time, and don't really consider things like self actualization. I mean, it's just a little bit , uh, they don't have the room or the time for it when you're in poverty and you're in , uh , stress and , uh , you've, you're dealing with all kinds of emotional problems, even when you achieve or you get in to realm, let's say I do executive coaching and I work with a lot of executives. Some of them of color and their issues are very, very different often than the issues of the executives that I work with that are majority and are white .

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Wow . A again, you're you say these things in your article, it's just, was I , uh , um , a , a revelation for me and I hope our readers , uh , see that too. And , um, and you know, it's , you're right for someone like myself, it's hard to understand that that's why I keep seeing articles and, and reading articles such as your own and having this like really. And , and then, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Like, so thank you again, just, you know, I hope you, you tell us more , uh , either today or after

Speaker 2:

The , what I mentioned in the article in the beginning, one of the things that was really poignant is when George Floyd died and the majority community white community was like shock. They were in shock. Um, whereas people of color kind of went like, well, you know, that's been going on, unfortunately for a long time. Maybe you don't know that you haven't experienced it, but we experience it on a day to day basis on some level. So that's the difference. It's not that, you know , um, people of color are more sensitive than anyone else, or they focus on things that are really different. It's just that they're exp uh , in their trauma, intergenerational trauma day to day , trauma is a lot different and they must carry a lot of that in their perspective is very different. So it's helpful. Yeah . For all of us to start to communicate in a different way and learn to sort of be more comfortable with being on uncomfortable in our conversations, especially coaches.

Speaker 1:

Okay . You must have been listening in on our conversations. So , um, I am , uh , well, okay. So I'm on a member of, and I'm on the board of the gay coaches Alliance and as a result of my work through choice and, and not because of George Floyd's murder, but also before that, I was in an Acto conference , where was , um , and we , there was , uh , there were , um, it was all about diversity equity inclusion, but fair uncom being comfortable with being uncomfortable. Would've been putting it lightly, cuz I was extremely uncomfortable because it was all coming at me really fast. Right . So I was telling my group, we met just before this call that , um, and it came up about being comfortable with being uncomfortable because I said something that offended another white person in the group. And I didn't even realize it , it was at expense, but I didn't, you know, it wasn't intentional. Sure. And then owning that and being aware of it and bringing it back. So your, your name and your article came up already in , not in a , in a coach's community, but mostly white. But that , that, just to say that, that , um, thank you. Thank you. That being comfort being uncomfortable. I have another, oh, sorry, go ahead.

Speaker 2:

No, no. I was gonna say to you , that's where I was explaining in the beginning. That difference is really even more a descriptive of this challenge than diversity, right ? Because again, you know, being from or involved in the gay community and it happened on both sides , Gary , the people who are marginalized and the people who are majority, but we have to learn to communicate together, cuz there's discomfort on both sides. And you know, from a neuroscience perspective, as soon as this comes up, you know, you, you go into a , an Amy amygdala , hijack your body, your , your somatic responses tell you, stop, go away, avoid , um, you know, all of these things because it's threatening just psychologically. And we have to learn to kind of take a breath and move into it. Not away from it.

Speaker 1:

I think my Amy deal is really tiny because I move into it more often than I back away from it. But , or the response happens too quickly. And I think at the risk of making mistakes of again, being uncom comfortable with being uncomfortable, that I have the confidence of the people I'm speaking with will coach me, guide me, point things out to me and I'm open to the feedback. And I think that's a big factor too, is being open to the feedback. Absolutely. And uncomfortable conversations.

Speaker 2:

Wow, exactly. And I think I I'm getting ready to do a presentation in the spring with the American supervision network. Um, and my topic is around something which will find a little interesting. It's called compassionate forensics.

Speaker 1:

Wow.

Speaker 2:

What a dynamic, huh ?

Speaker 1:

Yeah.

Speaker 2:

Don't put those two things together very often, but it's changed pretty interesting. Um , wow . We do have to learn to be compassionate with ourselves, with others and to also look at things from a very basic factual standpoint and not, and sort of not extract, but separate out our emotion often before we go into it. I won't go into that today,

Speaker 1:

But great teaser. Thank you. I hope you're doing a , a trailer on that one on what's coming. And perhaps you might write about that for choice. Just a saying just well,

Speaker 2:

Think about it. Yes. I certainly would consider that.

Speaker 1:

I do have one, one question not well kind of out of what you said earlier. Um, why do you think it is that that George Floyd murder is so pivotal an eyeopener? Um , I don't know if pivotal is right, but such an eyeopener for white people. Why that versus all the other years and centuries of abuse and

Speaker 2:

Well, I think again, it goes back to what I was talking about in terms of your experience. Um, and I think unless yous submerge or emerge , you know, yourself in understanding the actual cultural impacts of what happens to people of color in this country and around the world. And it is so huge, it is systemic. It is individual, it is relational. It, it covers so much. And most of the time , the majority world and white world does a check the box. We had a diversity day, we had a diversity month or we had a class on diversity, but that's not, it's not, it begins to chip at the iceberg of this issue because people of color deal with micro aggressions and little things, even other people who have disabilities, I'm working with a whole group of , uh , executives now who are involved with , um , nonprofits that focus on autism and other disabilities. That's a difference. They deal with this on a daily minute to minute it's their lives. And if you are not , um, if you're not accustomed to that, if you don't understand what that means, it's again, as I said, even intergenerational someone said at a conference will, well, you know, I, I coach people who are geologists and I'm not a geologist. Why do I have to be a person of color to be able to coach someone of color? And I said, it's not that you cannot do it, but the preparation and the understanding of what you're dealing with is so complex. And it has to do with intergenerational trauma. That's transferred over time and over generations. So if you're interested in understanding that you have to be one of those people like yourself, Gary, who's willing to confront and move through that discomfort to really understand even the parallels, you know, and the empathy that needs to be there to really, really understand it. The George Floyd murder was captured on, you know, video. It was right in your face. You really could not dismiss or ignore it or minimize it. And that's, I think was the difference. I mean, and so I give technology the credit, it, they are to a certain extent, again, this was something that people in the black community, people of color have been dealing with forever and ever. And so it wasn't a surprise. It was a surprise to see other people's reaction to it. But this was something that they had seen that we have seen that we've gone I'm through for , for centuries. I mean, from lynchings to now I'm reading a book right now called my grandmother's hands and it's profound , uh , in terms of addressing, you know, these issues from a somatic standpoint, intellectual and emotional standpoint.

Speaker 1:

Yeah . Wow. I've heard of, I've heard of that one as well.

Speaker 2:

Very good.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Uh , deep breath on all of this. Thank you.

Speaker 2:

Well, this is the forum, right?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, exactly. Exactly. So , and, and ongoingly, we're committed to having this column, so please let others, and if you hear yourself , uh , in this as a possibility, as a listener, please contact me. I'm easy to find, easy to reach, and I have plenty of time for this conversation. Um, I want , uh, to , so , uh , swing back over, speaking of uncomfortable , um , towards the end of your article, you ask coaches about how prepared they are to enter this realm of discomfort. Can you explain a little bit more about what that means and how it relates to the dichotomy we spoke about between needs was ?

Speaker 2:

Well, again, some of this is , um, has to do with you probably heard the , uh , quote , who you are is how you coach, and I think we need as coaches to do ongoing introspection, ongoing reflection , uh , about our presence in the coaching process and who we are, how much we know, what we know, how much we know that we don't know , uh , how much we want to continue to learn and inform ourselves. I had a similar question from a group from a , um, coaching school and Canada recently. Um, I did a presentation with that group and we start out with talking about identity. Who are you? What contributes to who you are, your perspectives, your fears, your discomforts, are you willing to really examine and reflect on those to be more prepared, to help others examine theirs? We're sort of the , um, frontier of , uh, of discovery and growth in learning. I think coaches are even for other professions, if we really want to take that on and assume that mantle and really work at it, that's what I was referring to. Do you really know who you are with respect to others with respect to other communities? Um, I think some of this was in bread in me because , um, when I was in college I would ask myself and I even asked my friends other questions. Like we would go to parties and dances and I would say, would you dance with someone in a wheelchair? And at that time, you know, the American disability act wasn't even considered. And they sort of looked at me and I've actually been to a , a club and danced with someone in a wheelchair. I had a great time, but can you push yourself through right understanding being in a situation that you normally would not be in? I did another workshop , um , with an organization here in Los Angeles. And I asked people to assess, you know, who they would extend themselves to if they were invited to a really important dinner, where they were, you know, going to hobnob with the most important people in their industry. And they made a list and then I had them do a grid. And I asked them to describe in the grid, you know, the people themselves, and then the people that they would invite, invariably, all the, the nine people, they had 10 tickets to this event. The nine people were very much like them. They were the same race, the same age group, the same cetera . Wow . You can understand why they , and what I said to them, if you are here in the center and your spirit of influence is here and other people out here, if those people don't get in the center, nothing's gonna change. We've got to learn to mix it up a lot more, to become more comfortable in that outer circle and bringing those individuals in. So we don't stay siloed

Speaker 1:

Big time. I , I was speaking with someone on their article about confirmation bias and to your point about the grid and inviting things like Facebook, you know, that section that says people who you might know or like to connect with all of a sudden after that article, I'm like, all these people are white. So now I play this game that I only invite non-white people that I wouldn't like . Like I go further, like there are non-white people in the group, so now I'm playing this game, but you know what, I've kind of given about Facebook anyway, I'm I go on once a week maybe. And I'm just like, it's just,

Speaker 2:

You mean Netta ? Is that what you're talking about?

Speaker 1:

Yeah . Oh, is that ? Yeah, they're calling it something different now. Yeah. Whatever. Yeah. Not even go there. Not even go there. Talk

Speaker 2:

About identity.

Speaker 1:

Um ,

Speaker 2:

That's

Speaker 1:

Changing. Yeah, no kidding. Big time. Um , I have a question for you about me. So you've spoken with me , me now for half an hour. Did I do or say anything that would've, that I'm not aware of? Would've been , um , I wouldn't say offensive, but maybe, or microaggression or anything like that as I learn

Speaker 2:

As far as I can remember or recall. No, of course my antenna is up, but not necessarily the , and , and catch everything I will share with you though. I was with a group, someone that I really liked, and it was a white male who was describing, you know , um, the ability to stay within the bounds of what we were doing and stick to the program. And his expression was don't go off the reservation.

Speaker 1:

And then my antenna went up on that one,

Speaker 2:

Some people wouldn't and it was for him, a very , uh , innocuous yeah . Uh , description of what he meant. But afterwards I, I shared with him, you know, the hairs went up on the back of my neck and why, and it was really interesting because I wasn't doing it to shame him. I wasn't doing it to, you know, educate him necessarily, but I wanted to share my, my somatic and emotional reaction to it. We began talking and I learned things about him that I didn't know. And see, that's what I'm talking about. Just being brave enough to open this discussion is a point of discovery for both coaches or coaches, for supervisors, for all of us, for everyday P it's time that we stop being afraid and resisting and move into it because there are rewards on the other side and the more you do it, the easier it becomes

Speaker 1:

Really . Cause I'm still uncomfortable, comfortable being uncomfortable. Let me tell you so, well,

Speaker 2:

Let me ask you the question. How uncomfortable will you talking with me today?

Speaker 1:

Not at all. See , I, I,

Speaker 2:

So maybe what we have to do is get more people to have our perspective, Gary.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Yeah . And the

Speaker 2:

Experience will start to shift

Speaker 1:

And I , our, this conversation, your article and our ongoing work, and hopefully we get to talk again. I'd love to have some more from you. It was awesome. Uh , one final question, and I always ask this, what else would you like our audience to take from your article and this conversation?

Speaker 2:

Um, I think the, the greatest , uh , emphasis is again, communication. Um , I, I took a , a course and I have a certification in conversational intelligence and I learned how important it is for us to know who we are not be to learn and to grow and to communicate. Um, that's the key to everything. And sometimes the communication is even in silence. Sometimes it's in tears, sometimes it's in laughter but move into it because it is a rich sea of information and growth.

Speaker 1:

Wow. Thank you. I , it's funny. I, as soon as you say communication and I'm like, oh, like, no kidding. It's, it's super easy to do most of the time too. Like if you're gonna be late, let me know no problem. You know, that it's so easy and yet it's so hard, but anyway, we could, I think we could talk forever and absolutely I wanna say , uh , thank you so much for , uh , joining us and being a part of choice through the article and this beyond the page episode , uh , what , speaking of communication , what's the best way for people to reach you ?

Speaker 2:

Well , um , my website is fairly simple. Uh, it's just www.casavacasaacoaching.comkaabacoaching.com And Kaaba actually is a metaphor for , um, a plant that is very special to me and was special to my father , uh , the casava plant and my family's Caribbean. So that's one of the reasons where that came from, but it represents utility and ongoing utility and usage. Um, the ability to form different things from things you don't expect.

Speaker 1:

Wow. Lot . I love when people give such great and , uh , thought to what they name their business and have, have a story. I always love the stories about it. And as soon as you to say Kaaba , I'm like, I think that's a plant . So now everybody's gonna remember that. Right. Kaaba com . Yes ,

Speaker 2:

Absolutely.

Speaker 1:

Thanks again. So that's it for this episode of , uh , beyond the page , um, uh, please go to our website to find , uh , choice online.com to find pre previous episodes or subscribe via your favorite podcast app. So you don't miss any of our other informative episodes. If you're interested in getting a free digital issue of choice magazine, head over to choice online.com and click the signup now , button I'm, Gary Schleifer and joy , the journey to mastery.