August 22, 2018

VIDEO: Candor and Courage in the Workplace

Goodwin’s Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity (CRED) recently hosted a day-long program centered on the topics of power and influence. Now in its 18th year, CRED is focused on supporting Goodwin lawyers of color and on developing and executing on innovative strategies to attract and retain highly talented lawyers of color through professional development, mentorship, sponsorship, advancing them to firm leadership positions, and creating a community at Goodwin that is culturally aware and appreciative of the diversity in its workforce.

In an hour-long discussion titled “Unprecedented Conversation: Candor Across Difference + The Roadmap to Communication,” Dr. Ella Bell Smith of Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and Goodwin partner Sabrina Rose-Smith explored various facets of approaching interpersonal differences with candor and courage both in and out of the workplace.

“We don't remind ourselves enough that we're equal,” said Dr. Bell Smith. “Believe that you belong. We all breathe the same air.”

Here are some brief highlights from their discussion:

What are the practical steps you can take to begin conversations with those higher up than you?

“I think you have to have a strategy, just like everything else,” Dr. Bell Smith said. “It doesn’t happen automatically, so set your expectation on slow.”

She suggested identifying the right people who are “educable” and open to having a conversation. She also said know ahead of time how you can best tell your story and to share that with people in one-on-one conversations. “Once you get one person on your side, then it’s easier because that person will help you get the next person and the next person,” she added.

What’s the best way to share information about yourself without feeling intimidated?

“If I want to cultivate a relationship,” Rose-Smith said. “You’re telling me I need to put myself out there and offer information about myself. That seems really scary.”

Dr. Bell Smith said when she began her academic career as a student from the Bronx she could hardly believe she made it into Yale. When she told her mother the news, her mother didn’t even know what Yale was. “I think we’ve got to be very clear, particularly when you come from a different background … that somehow we’re still equal.”

How do you go about getting candid feedback?

Rose-Smith said the challenge for many young associates is to receive regular, candid feedback.

“We have to get a little more comfortable,” Dr. Bell Smith said. “You have to ask the question, ‘What will make me good?’ That means you might give me a bad evaluation, but that’s the reality of it. Feedback should make a person better.”