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WE: Inclusive Storytelling + Active Listening

Based in downtown LA, WE is a unique organization that facilitates workshops and experiences to help participants re-think their relationships — with themselves, with their immediate connections and colleagues, and with broader communities. WE is built on the idea that healthy, constructive relationships are the foundation from which individuals and organizations can achieve their highest personal and professional potential. Co-founders Brigit Richie and Court Roberts and their team have brought their research-based methodology, Relational Mindfulness®, to thousands of people and to top tech, media, and retail brands seeking to transform their teams and enhance their corporate culture.

While WE’s original mission was focused on empowering women-identifying people to find their voices and leverage their own stories to gain a seat at the table, it quickly became clear that Relational Mindfulness was more broadly applicable. The organization’s scope has expanded to guide people of all gender identifications in creating inclusive communities and relationships based on trust, empathy, and healthy conflict resolution. In celebration of Women’s History Month and all of the woman-identifying entrepreneurs and creators whose work contributes to an equitable culture, we asked WE’s cofounders to share how they began and how they evolved.

SQSP: How did WE first begin — what was the spark for the concept, and what were your first steps to getting it off the ground?

WE: WE began as a way to meet my (Brigit’s) own need to connect on a deeper level with other women. I was a young mother in a new city and it was a lonely season so I felt a real need to experience (and provide) a container where women could commit to their development and go deeper in relationships. I started with a simple model of listening circles and peer-to-peer mentoring practices to cultivate learning among the women and, over time, developed the existing Relational Mindfulness curriculum we use today for gender inclusive groups in both corporate and community cultures. Both Court and I have experienced the impact of improving our relationships in and out of work through these tools and can genuinely speak to how important this WE community has been to our growth. These life-changing experiences are what drives us to continue to make these practices available for so that everyone can have healthy and thriving relationships. 

SQSP: What was it like to shift WE’s scope — was there feedback that prompted you to expand your target audience and how did you approach that pivot?

WE: When we first entered the corporate landscape we thought that Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) would be most receptive to our work and sure enough, our first culture engagements were for Women@ groups at various tech companies. We still partner with ERGs and are supporting a major tech company’s International Women’s Day Summits around the world with Inclusive Storytelling workshops. However, we also realized that in order to see widespread cultural shifts take place we needed to expand our reach.

At the same time we began to receive requests for Relational Mindfulness experiences from team leaders and men, in particular, to support EQ development and create an organic (and fun) connection for their teams. As a result, a majority of our corporate programs are gender inclusive. This is really important as we see a greater need for gender inclusivity in the corporate space and we are thrilled to offer programming that anyone can engage with!

SQSP: What kinds of challenges and opportunities do you face with a mission that is constantly evolving?

WE: Like most businesses, WE faces plenty of challenges and opportunities! This is especially true when you are dealing with learning relational skills and inclusion. We work in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) space in companies. This is a relatively new space for companies to really commit to which is exciting, but it also means there are lots of opinions and perspectives about how to approach it. Inclusion is, naturally, a very personal and emotionally charged topic for many people. Our team has to come to this space with a commitment to listening and being lifelong learners. We regularly confront our privilege, acknowledge missteps, and stay open to adapting our views and methods.

WE is also committed to “experiential learning” which means as facilitators we adapt and assess what is happening real-time in the room to provide the best experience for attendees. We aren't standing at the front of the room talking at people and showing them data point after data point. We set up experiences for people to explore a topic and then let them share and lead. Because of our model we are in the process of training more Relational Mindfulness facilitators as well as offering Train the Trainer models inside of larger companies. This is so exciting and truly the only way we get these experiences to more people but scaling anything with integrity is challenging and we are certainly in the middle of that right now.

Finally, providing an ROI on experiential learning is a challenge, and I think a lot of people who work in spaces similar to us can relate. We do surveys and our research-based methodology helps, but qualitative data is infinitely easier than quantitative data in this space. Learning and development on the whole is becoming much more data focused, which is good for all of us, and we look forward to collaborating with the individuals and groups that specialize in data so we can continue using this to inform our curriculum.

SQSP: What does “active listening” mean in professional settings vs personal relationships?

WE: Active listening is a foundational communication skill we teach at WE that creates an experience of present and empathetic listening to help people connect (and avoid miscommunication!). We created a specific active listening framework for people that includes a feedback model of reflecting back and also expressing appreciation. So instead of giving someone “advice” after you listen to them you simply reflect back with “I heard you say…” and “I appreciate…” It sounds simple, and yet the reality is we’re not experiencing this in our day-to-day. Try it out and see how active listening creates safety and trust in your communication. 

In professional settings, this can be very helpful in clarifying what was said. You can save a lot of wasted time and productivity by simply reflecting back and having an environment that advocates for clarity. 

In personal relationships, active listening creates pause. With personal relationships we can eagerly talk over the other person or cut them off as we assume we know what they mean (sometimes because we know them so well!). Active listening can mean so much to your friend or partner because you are holding space for them, without judgement or critique, and often people really just want space to share and simply have their experience reflected back to them.

SQSP: Can you share a story about the positive impact active listening has made at a large company?

WE: We recently did a series of Growth Mindsets workshops for a very large media company that was going through a merger. “Change” felt like a four-letter word to everyone at the time, but through the workshops we were able to talk openly about abundance and scarcity mindsets. The attendees were able to explore which mindset they were activating in various situations. We received a lot of feedback as the merger continued and heard that people tapped into this tool to manage their stress and have productive conversations about their experience and path forward. The shared experience of being vulnerable about our relationship to change and having shared language to continue to process with other team members allowed for a safe and transparent space to prepare for this massive change and feel supported by their coworkers.

SQSP: How can entrepreneurs and leaders introduce the practice of active listening into their organizations and communities?

WE: As an entrepreneur and/or leader it’s crucial to develop the EQ skills of influence, persuasion, and connection — listening sets you up to develop these skills with precision. To start, try implementing the practices of pausing and slowing down communication, reflecting back what you heard, and sharing sincere and authentic appreciation for what others have shared with you. Try this in your next team meeting, in a conversation with a future client, and with someone in your family, and observe what shifts in your relational dynamics. Ultimately, listening helps us learn and create a space for others to feel valued. 

SQSP: Can you share any tips for readers interested in bringing more awareness to their relationships in their daily lives?

 WE: “Pause + Reflect” is a favorite WE activation that emphasizes the power of pausing for one minute of mindfulness before you have an important meeting or conversation. People tend to be surprised how slowing down for even 60 seconds can help them communicate better and feel more connected to what’s most important to share while helping you access emotions.

We obviously love listening and alongside using the phrase “I heard you say…” as a way to reflect back we also encourage asking questions over giving comments or advice. It promotes clarity and creates trust. Also, and this feels so obvious, but put the tech away when you are having a conversation. Your body language and what your body is doing (aka playing on your phone) speaks volumes. If you are taking the time to connect in person, then connect in person.

SQSP: What advice would you give to an aspiring mission-driven entrepreneur looking to get started?

WE: This is a juicy question because often what you think your entrepreneurial endeavor is going to look like and how it actually takes shape is very different. These are some of our key learnings to date:

  • Abundance mindset: There is enough to go around! Collaborate and support others without expecting anything in return. We have learned so much from being in relationship with other companies and individuals who also work in this space.

  • Limit freebies: We’ve found that when we have offered our services for free (especially in the beginning) the company is rarely interested in paying us the second time around. So be very intentional about what you give away for free and consider discounting as a way to meet in the middle. 

  • Essentials only: We’ve certainly evolved as a business — who we can serve and what we types of experiences we offer, but we always come back and make sure that the “how” aligns with the “what.” What we offer is Relational Mindfulness, how we do it will continue to evolve.

  • Raving fans: You don’t need a ton of fans but you need a few people who seriously love what you do and will advocate on your behalf to their team and company. Invest in those relationships, learn from them and support them. The 80/20 rule is very true in business and relationships - 80% of our work comes from 20% of our relationships. It is also fun having those relationships because you go deep with their company and get to see significant growth!

To learn more about WE’s work and upcoming experiences, visit their website welcometowe.com.

Are you ready to see how your entrepreneurial endeavor will take shape? Get started building your business website today.

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