A little star with a curious eyeball
EMILY SMITH

Coaching for what's next

I help leaders who want to work on their empathy skills in order to bring about prosocial, next-stage organizations.

Check out my point of view and see if we'd be a good fit.ūüĎá
Clusters of interconnected nodes
Organizations are organisms. Ideally, they would function similar to an ecosystem with interdependent nodes where power is used as-needed, is mutually proffered, and has adaptive structural limitations. These Next Stage Organizations will help move us into the future.

For now, though, most organizations function in some form of a traditional hierarchy.

In this setup, individuals at the top have some form of power over everyone else by design.
Illustration of hierarchy
Illustration of rat pressing bar and getting pellet of food
Maintaining intrinsic motivation in a hierarchical environment is inherently difficult because motivation is directly linked to autonomy.

Much like operant conditioning or transactional parenting, leaders resort to a system of rewards and punishments to achieve short term outcomes (and once rewards stop, behaviors that have been reinforced happen less frequently than the baseline). This is not a human-centered model, but a band-aid to compensate for a structural limitation.
Undergirding motivation and even basic things like happiness is the critical need for psychological safety.

Only when we're feeling neurologically safe can we thrive in interdependence and contribution. We may not be able to upend our entire organizational structure, but learning about safety can help us give more spaciousness and meaning for everyone in the system.

We look for safety in three places: inside ourselves (am I feeling safe?), outside (is my environment safe?), and between each other (is this interaction safe?).
Illustration of meeples looking inside, outside, and between each other
Venn diagram of choice, connection, context wtih safety in the center
What are we looking for?
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Choice, connection, and context. These are the three elements that communicate "safety" to the nervous system. When those elements are in place, we can be in a generative place, with curiosity and social engagement.

In this state, the parasympathetic ventral vagal system is active and we are open to collaborate with others. This is something that cannot be manipulated; it has to be authentic.
A meeple with a nervous system exposed
It can't be gamed because it happens without our conscious awareness. Through the process of neuroception, we constantly scan the environment for evidence of these elements of safety.

The story we then tell ourselves is constructed according data our body sent to our brain (so, the story is permeable and impermanent).
Illustration of radar scanner
This permeable and impermanent story is the part that we talk about and show to each other. Below this story are human needs that we all share.

We are complex beings living in a complex system and we do not always have awareness of what our needs are or how to identify them. We can't access another's needs by digging or invasion, but we can learn to create safe environments where the needs can rise to the surface of their own accord.

The needs are there if we're listening.
Iceberg with story at the tip and needs submerged in the water
Illustration of brain with locks on it showing impacts of power and high SES
As it turns out, the act of listening isn't exactly straightforward. Not only is listening a learned skill, but things like power and socioeconomic status can affect our brain in ways that make both hearing others and seeing ourselves accurately more difficult. These changes may make certain actions (e.g. unilateral decision making) more efficient in the shortrun, but have real human consequences over time.
It's my belief that, until wider structural and sociopolitical power changes can occur, we can start laying groundwork for a more equitable future now. By practicing nonviolent communication skills and learning some basic ideas around psychological safety, people who find themselves with both power and a voice can inhabit their role responsibly and more effectively. It's not really complicated, but it is complex and it does take practice.

Interested in applying this to real life?

Great! Here's what we'd cover in our time together:
1
Explore your relationship to the concepts of empathy, perspective-taking, and nonviolent communication.
2
Identify the difference between internal and external self-awareness and explore your relationship to both.
3
Practice nonviolent communication with things that have, may, or are happening in your life.
4
Evaluate the ways in which you've made demands and explore alternate methods that hold space for others' autonomy.
5
Develop a working understanding of psychological safety and grasp the concepts of co-regulation in an embodied way
6
Practice self-empathy, identifying your own needs and feelings, and explore your relationship to self-compassion.

Let me know if we're a good fit

I have a background in business, psychology, and technology. Previous to my coaching work, I ran a consultancy helping businesses all over the world, including Gap inc. and MIT, create digital products and strategies that listened to and met the needs of the human lives their organizations touched.

I have received training in nonviolent communication and believe this work is critical to bringing about equitable workplaces and social change. My goal is to hold compassionate space for anyone exploring the deeply personal evolution required to bring about a more just world.

I am also mother to a neurodivergent child, who has been my greatest teacher and deepest joy, and I am partner of 20 years to my husband, Kevin. I believe in truly seeing the people in my life and advocating to be seen in return and it's something I practice every day with ever-varying degrees of success.

If you've made it this far and are still curious, send an email to emily at emilysmith dot cc and let's talk!
Emily's photo
References
Ashford, S.; Tsui, A. (1991) Self-regulation for managerial effectiveness: The role of active feedback seeking, Academy of Management Journal, 34(2), 251-280.
Byrne, J.; Symonds, W.; Silver, J. (1994) CEO Disease, The Training and Development Sourcebook, 263.
Barlas, Z; Obhi, Sukhvinder S. (2013) Freedom, choice, and the sense of agency, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7.
Farwaha, S; Sukhvinder, S. (2020) Socioeconomic status and self-other processing: socioeconomic status predicts interference in the automatic imitation task, Experimental Brain Research, 238(4).
Galinsky, A. D., Joe, C. Magee, M. Ena Inesi, and Deborah H. Gruenfeld. 2006. Power and perspectives not taken. Psychological Science, 17(12): 1068-1074.
LaLoux, Frederic (2014) Reinventing Organizations.
Ogden, J. (2015) Leadership: stress and hubris, Progress in Neurology and Psychiatry, 19(1).
Porges, S. W. (1995) Orienting in a defensive world: Mammalian modifications of our evolutionary heritage: A polyvagal theory. Psychophysiology, 32(4), 301-318.
Porges, S. W. (2004) Neuroception: A Subconscious System for Detecting Threats and Safety. Zero to three (J), 24(5), 19-24.
Porges, S. W. (2015) Making the world safe for our children: Down-regulating defence and up-regulating social engagement to 'optimise' the human experience. Children Australia, 40(02), 114-123.
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