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108: How to Survive the Darkest Jobs, with Dimple Dhabalia

Dimple shares her insights on using storytelling to heal individual and organisational trauma, particularly focusing on her work with refugees and the humanitarian sector.

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Warning: This episodes contains themes that some listeners may find challenging, including adverse mental health, sexual abuse and suicide. We have provided a list of support services below.

Welcome to another episode of Truth, Lies & Work.

In this episode, Al and Leanne dive into a thought-provoking conversation with Dimple Dhabalia, founder of Roots in the Clouds.

Dimple is a writer, podcaster, coach, and facilitator with over 20 years of public service experience.

She shares her insights on using storytelling to heal individual and organisational trauma, particularly focusing on her work with refugees and the humanitarian sector.

Key Talking Points:

  • Introduction to Dimple and Her Work:
  • Understanding Organisational Trauma and Moral Injury:
  • Exploring Vicarious Trauma and Self-Care:
  • The Hotel Room Breakdown:
  • Shame and Martyrdom in Humanitarian Work:
  • Implementing Mindfulness and Positive Psychology:
  • Practical Steps for Leaders:


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The Transcript

⚠️ NOTE: This is an automated transcript, so it might not always be 100% accurate!

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Leanne Elliott: Hello, and welcome to Truth, the Lies and Work, the award winning psychology podcast brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network, the audio destination for business professionals. My name is Leigh Anne, I’m a business psychologist.

Al Elliott: My name is Al, I’m a business owner. We

Leanne Elliott: are here to help you simplify the science of work.

Al Elliott: Welcome to another Thursday edition. Thursdays, we have the interviews. Tuesdays, we have the world famous weekly workplace surgery. We have the news roundup and the brand new book club. If you’re not listening to Tuesdays, I’ve just got a cup of tea and a biscuit. Sit down, have a little listen to, although biscuit means a different thing in the U S doesn’t it?

A cookie. A cookie. There you go. We have an amazing guest for you today. Dimple Dabalia is the founder of Roots in the Clouds, a consulting firm that specializes in using storytelling to heal individual and organizational trauma. Don’t worry. We will go into those terms in just a second. She’s a writer, a podcaster, a coach, and a facilitator with over 20 years of public service experience.

She’s got a book and it’s called Tell Me My Story. Challenging the narrative of service before self. Now Leanne interviewed Dimple a few weeks ago after reading a book and you got into some pretty deep topics, didn’t you Leanne?

Leanne Elliott: Yeah, we did. We talked about Dimple’s time working for the attorney general’s office in Colorado, then to New Delhi, where she was a field office director of the immigration office.

Her work. Is tough. Her work was really tough. She was exposed to a lot of traumatic and heartbreaking experiences. And at the time Dimple looked like she was in control and handling it well. But there was one night in a hotel room, just after working with refugees in Zambia, where she broke down and realized things needed to change.

In fact, her doctor told her if she didn’t go home right away, she might never make it. Obviously, this episode comes with numerous trigger warnings. We touch on devastating humanitarian crises, child abuse, domestic violence, and horrific situations like the one in Africa with Idi Amin. Dimple was able to turn 20 years of experience of dealing with vicarious trauma into a phenomenal book that not only helps anyone working in tough environments or managing teams who work in environments like that, but also provide a framework to prioritize your own mental health.

Al Elliott: So some of this might sound like it’s going to be tough to listen to, and some of it might be tough to listen to, but it’s Dimple’s extraordinary self awareness that we want you to hear about today. And you don’t need to be working in war zones or refugee camps for this to be applicable. The lessons, as we said before, are just as important for anyone who leads teams where work can be highly stressful.

So before we join the interviews, a couple of terms that Dimple uses I think we need to define. Firstly, Leah, what does organizational trauma and moral impact mean? Injury mean?

Leanne Elliott: Well, organizational trauma, first of all, refers to a psychological phenomenon where an organization experiences a significant, um, disruption or a distressing event, and that deeply affects its functioning and its stability.

So it’s about the organization. The trauma can stem from internal factors like major layoffs, leadership scandals, or significant restructuring. Or from external factors, such as economic downturns, natural disasters, or an attack on the workforce. COVID 19 was an organizational trauma. The impact of organizational trauma can manifest in various ways, including a decline in employee morale, increased turnover, a breakdown in communication and trust within the organization, and a significant drop in overall performance.

It may also lead to a lingering atmosphere. Um, feelings of fear, uncertainty, stress among employees in fighting. And of course it will affect individual wellbeing and productivity as well. Moral injury. This is when people go through extremely stressful or traumatic situations. They might do something, fail to do something or see something that clashes with their core moral beliefs.

If someone acts in a way that contradicts their beliefs, It’s called an act of commission. If they don’t act according to their beliefs, it’s called an act of omission. People can also feel betrayed by leaders or peers who behave in this way, a way that contradicts their, uh, their beliefs. So moral injury refers to the emotional and psychological stress that happens After these events, these events that go against our own moral code.

For a moral injury to happen, the person must believe that a moral line has been crossed either by themselves or others. So common feelings associated with moral injury include guilt, shame, disgust, anger, And research suggests that moral injury is widespread, particularly amongst members in the military and is linked very closely to anxiety, depression, PTSD, and of course a risk of suicide.

Health workers are also more vulnerable to moral injury. And if we think again back to the pandemic, many doctors and nurses had to make life or death decisions when they were pressed for time and resources. And these difficult conditions have led to to many, um, in the healthcare system, feeling moral injury.

Al Elliott: If you remember our episode back with the, uh, chief medical officer from the BBC, we talked a little bit about this as well. I think there’s one other term, which is compassion fatigue. Can you just talk us quickly through that?

Leanne Elliott: Yeah. So again, the pandemic provides a really good example of this. So do you remember the clap for carers?

Al Elliott: Yeah.

Leanne Elliott: Yeah. So in the UK, if you’re not, if you’re not heard of it, Every Thursday evening at eight o’clock, people would come to their doorsteps and clap for a minute or two and support the frontline workers that were sacrificing so much to keep us safe. Um, lockdown regulations, so a really nice initiative, but lockdown regulations lasted for 18 months in the UK.

Clap for carers lasted for two months. And why it’s because we’re all suffering from compassion fatigue. The frequency of this social movement in support of people who were suffering became too much and we became indifferent, desensitized to it. So compassion fatigue is the cost of caring for others or their emotional pain.

Over time, we just get used to it and. I’ve become fatigued.

Al Elliott: Yeah, all makes sense. You’re going to hear Dimple use the term vicarious trauma. Don’t worry. We do ask her to, or Leanne asks her to explain that in a second. Okay. So we’re going to join the interview and then every so often we’ll come back and we’ll explain something that might need a bit of context and also perhaps ask Leanne some questions about it too.

But for now, let’s go back to the interview where Dimple finds out why she wrote the book.

Dimple Dhabalia: So my name is Dimple Divalia. I am the founder of Roots in the Clouds, a boutique consulting firm using, that focuses on using the power of story to heal organizational trauma and moral injury in the workplace. Um, I spent 20 years in the U.

S. government, uh, working on asylum and refugee operations. Yeah. As a result of that work, I had some experiences with things like vicarious trauma, moral injury, compassion fatigue, and ultimately some burnout, um, and realized that I was working in a space that wasn’t really resourced to support me. So I left my job to start an organization to try to help people, uh, kind of navigate through those things themselves.

Um, and most recently I just published a book called, Tell Me My Story. Challenging the narrative of service before self, which goes into a lot of this.

Leanne Elliott: It was, it was really your, um, seeing your book that made me think we need to get you on the show. But it was so beautifully written and so engaging and so important in the information and message that it’s sharing.

So I’d love to dive more into the themes of the book today. Um, I mean, in terms of Before We Do, what inspired you to, to write the book?

Dimple Dhabalia: We, I think, exist in a culture, kind of globally, that kind of puts forward this idea that when we work in service of others, that we are somehow agreeing to sacrifice pieces of ourselves and pieces of our lives in order to do this work.

Uh, and so we’re kind of conditioned to believe that. And it’s. Really damaging. I was about six years into my work with asylum seekers and refugees, and I was actually posted in Zambia, uh, on assignment. And as it was the first time in my career that I was struggling with, um, actually regulating my emotions in real time.

And so up until then, I’d always created what I called a wall of professionalism. And I think a lot of people in these lines of work are familiar with that because. And we do that as a protection mechanism so we can keep showing up to do the work. But it was the first time that for me that wall started to come down.

And I would be sitting in interviews with people and crying as they’re telling me their stories. Um, you know, I, I felt very uneasy when we’d leave work, you know, I would head straight to the bar at the hotel. Um, I really wasn’t sleeping. And if I did sleep, I had really horrific nightmares where I was reliving some of the stories that I had heard either earlier in the day or earlier in the week.

And so all of these things together, I realized, you know what, something is just not right. And I was fortunate because. When I started my career out, um, right out of law school, I was at the attorney general’s office in Colorado. And in that job, I was one of several attorneys who worked on, uh, sorry, on, uh, child abuse and neglect issues.

And we were fortunate because we had a boss who recognized that this kind of work takes a toll on people, especially when you’re doing it over a long period of time. And so he used to make us go through an annual vicarious trauma training. And I remember as a new attorney, not understanding why we needed this and thinking, I don’t need this, you know, I, I, I’m fine, but it planted a seed.

And it was almost a full decade later when I was actually in Zambia after that job, that, that kind of came to fruition. And so I realized, Hey, you know what? There’s, there’s definitely an issue here. Um, and I started thinking about and wondering, you know, maybe that what I’m experiencing is vicarious trauma.

And so I started researching it and looking it up and realized that, yeah, in fact, that’s what it is, but there was so much shame around what I was experiencing because when I looked around. It looked like everyone around me was doing fine and that I was the only one dealing with this.

Leanne Elliott: Anyone who’s listening and perhaps working in, in a professional environment and they’re hearing that term for the first time, but they’re, it’s something that’s resonating with them.

Do you mind just telling us a bit about the definition of vicarious trauma, how you experienced it, and your first steps that you took to, to manage that?

Dimple Dhabalia: Yeah, so vicarious trauma is basically where you experience trauma system. trauma, uh, symptoms, um, even though you yourself didn’t experience the trauma.

So you’re exposed to other people’s trauma, um, or stories of traumatic events, and you start to experience the trauma as though you had lived through that experience. It’s interesting because not everyone experiences vicarious trauma, right? Um, and so I think a lot of this has to do with, again, What we were exposed to in our childhood.

I think that if we experience some kind of major trauma as children, then we are more susceptible to experiencing things like vicarious trauma or secondary traumatic stress. Um, or post traumatic stress as we get older.

Al Elliott: We are going to go back to this idea of how childhood can influence your work choices in just a second.

But as we mentioned the beginning, there was a specific moment where Dimple knew she needed to make a change. Let’s go back to the interview where Leanne gets Dimple to open up about that night in the hotel room.

Leanne Elliott: The story that you, you shared there and the way you share it in your book of your being your hotel room in Zambia is really powerful.

I could feel my heart racing as I was there. I was reading it and I, I’m wondering and, and, you know, you, you described then that you felt something was different, something was wrong. When did you first realize that you might be experiencing burnout and what steps did you take, especially when you were, you were in the field to manage that?

Dimple Dhabalia: Yeah. So I, I’m really a stickler about terms, right? So in Zambia, I was not experiencing burnout. I was experiencing vicarious trauma. So at the time, my actual home base was in Greece. That’s where I was working. Um, I was at the embassy, uh, in Athens, Greece. So when I got back to Greece, I started to, uh, do some research and look at my, you compare my symptoms to, uh, Uh, you know, what vicarious trauma looks like and the re, again, the reason for that was because I had learned about this a decade earlier, so I had a little bit of an inkling.

So all this happened, I, I recognized the, the signs and symptoms of the vicarious trauma, I started talking about it, I started advocating for it, um, we started offering trainings in our organizations around it. Our organization around it, um, but I was not taking my own advice. So then, you know, it was a few years later that I then got selected to move to New Delhi, uh, to be the field office director of our immigration office out there.

And it was the height of the refugee crisis. There was so much work to do. Um, I was running the largest overseas office that we have, but I was expected to travel. Uh, two to three weeks out of the month, which meant that when I came back, I had pile of things on my desk that I had to deal with. Um, and I was working all the time and I wasn’t exercising.

I wasn’t eating well. I wasn’t, you know, I didn’t have any social connection because nobody really knew who I was because the moment that I arrived there, I was traveling. And so all of these things together, um, really impacted me and I started, uh, you know, I, I got really sick while I was there within months of getting there and I kept going to the med unit in between trips and they’d be like, well, maybe it’s this or maybe it’s this and nothing was working.

And, uh, about 10, 11 months in, I came home for the holidays and have a really amazing doctor out here, uh, functional medicine doctor. And I went to see him, he took one look at me and, and realized, Hey, you know what, this is, this is stress. Like this is your body shutting down and attacking itself to try to protect you, uh, because of stress.

He, he was very, you know, he said, you, you need to come home. And, you know, again, because of the kind of cultures that we are conditioned to be in, I really struggled with that. I, you know, I, I just moved out there. I hadn’t even been there a full year. Um, And there was this sense of like, you know, I, I can’t let people down that was, that was really eyeopening because then he, he basically looked at me and said, okay, well, you can either come home now or maybe you don’t come home at all.

And so it should have been a no brainer. Uh, it, it took me about four days to finally talk to my leadership about it and they were very supportive. Um, and I did end up coming home, but again, it created so much shame for me.

Leanne Elliott: And I’m just curious, as you’ve been talking, there’s a, there’s an emotion that you’ve, you’ve used a couple of times, which is shame, which is a very powerful emotion.

I just wonder why That was the overwhelming feeling you were experiencing whilst you were also experiencing this perhaps realization of putting service before self.

Dimple Dhabalia: Well, again, you know, I think these cultures we’ve, these are cultures we’ve inherited for generations, right? And the shame comes because We don’t talk about any of this in the workplace, right?

We don’t, especially with mental health, we don’t talk about it. And so, and when it comes to like our own health and wellbeing, there’s just this, like, there’s often been this belief that that doesn’t belong in the workplace. That’s your thing on your time. You’re here to work. But again, as whole human beings, all of that goes together.

And so when we expect people to just keep showing up, Um, and, and doing this work without acknowledging all these other things, uh, we’re creating cultures of shame because what ends up happening is people, you know, most people want to do their best. So they’re going to come, they’re going to come in, they’re going to show up, they’re going to do the best that they can every day.

And as a result, you know, they, as they look around, they see other people doing that too. So now it looks like, oh, everybody’s fine. And internally, I’m struggling. I’m, I’m like, yeah, you know, I don’t feel so good about all this. I don’t, I’m, I’m having, you know, trouble managing my stress or I’m exhausted or, um, you know, I’m just not focusing.

But look, everybody around me is doing so good. So there’s something wrong with me. And because nobody has talked about this to say, Hey, you know what? There’s nothing wrong with you. This is just a, it’s part of being human. And I always say being human is messy and serving humanity is messier because, you know, like we, it’s, it’s hard and, but nobody’s talking about that.

So now, you know, we just, we walk around thinking I’m the only one, I, there’s something wrong with me. And it just creates this hole that we climb into and it gets harder and harder to climb out of, um, until we talk about it as collective to say, yeah, you know, this is, this is hard. And. Hey, are you struggling?

Because I’m struggling. And as soon as we start talking about it and we give voice to it, it’s like that, that starts to erase the shame. So like with me, with, um, you know, we had mental health issues in my family. We had domestic violence issues in my family. Um, all those kinds of traumas, uh, I carried those within me and they became the lens through which I then experienced the world around me and, um, how I showed up and why I thought I had to be a certain way.

Um, you know, so in the book I, I have that story about, um, a bigoted neighbor in my neighborhood and the impact that that had on me in terms of being, you know, a woman of color. Yeah. Uh, I spent a good chunk of my life trying to, uh, get rid of this identity and take on an identity that was more white, because I thought that that would help me fit in more, it would make me belong, right?

And so that’s like an added dimension that people that are bringing into the workplace that we don’t often even recognize that that’s kind of. Um, directly impacting our relationships with people at work, um, you know, and how we interact with others, how we show up to do our work. All these kinds of things.

And so there’s so many of these kinds of, um, dynamics at play that often aren’t taken into consideration. And so this is where, you know, the more that we start talking about these things, the more that we create space for people to acknowledge, uh, the realities of their lives and the work. Um, the more that we can start to take that shame out of the workplace.

Leanne Elliott: With in mind then, Dimple, do you think that some people are somehow predisposed to want to go into humanitarian work or human service work, either because of their, You know, their, their family history, their biology, or their lived experiences as they’re growing up.

Dimple Dhabalia: The generational piece of this, um, and it doesn’t even have to be trauma necessarily, but I do think, you know, in the book I talk a lot about our shaping stories.

So these are the stories that, again, are created, uh, through our experiences, through what we are told, um, and they become the lens through which we experience the world. And so, You know, I think a lot of people that I have met over the course of my career that go into these kinds of professions, um, of serving others, have either had an experience where they were on the receiving end of being taken care of, Or they witnessed other people doing this kind of work and it influenced their decision to, um, you know, to walk the same path.

And so, so I think there is a tie in there. And especially if you, you know, uh, if you yourself have experienced something, um, with my family, you know, I didn’t know for a long time. I knew that my mom’s side of the family had left Uganda, um, during the Idi Amin regime. And, uh, my family’s Indian, and he had expelled all the Indians, and my mom and most of her siblings and my grandparents got out before that happened, but a couple of my uncles, um, ended up leaving as refugees, and so for many years, like, we knew that they had left Uganda and all that kind of, but I didn’t know the refugee piece until much later, but there was something within me that kept drawing me back to wanting to serve.

Um, in this position or in this way, uh, working with, um, asylum seekers and refugees. And so I think, you know, I think that there is, um, something there that kind of shows up in ways that you, you may not, you know, it’s like more than meets the eye kind of that you don’t necessarily realize, like why you’re being drawn to read this particular thing or to, you know, explore this particular, um, job path, you know, but yeah, I do think that they’re related.

Al Elliott: This idea of shame is such a huge motivator. Leah, I always felt it was something more that men experience, but I feel like I might actually being a little bit sexist here?

Leanne Elliott: No, I don’t think you’re being sexist. I mean, there are a lot of things we still don’t really know about emotions, including how different genders experience them.

There was actually a recent meta analysis on this. Meta analysis, you remember this from last Tuesday, right? What’s a meta analysis, Al?

Al Elliott: It is, uh, the analysis of multiple reports brought up into one big mega report. Is that right?

Leanne Elliott: Yeah, it is. It’s a, it’s a super analysis. Um, but yes, it’s a study that analyzes lots of data from lots of different studies, in this case, over 236, 000 individual ratings of what are called self conscious emotions, which include shame.

Uh, the findings actually showed that women report slightly more shame than men, but the differences are very, very small. And interestingly, the only area where men showed slightly more of an emotion was in hubristic pride, which involves arrogance or an exaggerated sense of Sense of self importance.

Well, the differences did come in was in how men and women experience these emotions and this difference is rooted in societal norms. There’s a research professor at the university of Houston called Brene Brown. She’s studied shame for years and have found that typically women feel shame when they fail to live up to societal expectations of things around appearance, femininity, and gender.

And motherhood, I’m sure that sounds familiar to a lot of women listening. In contrast, shame for men equates to failure, a feeling of not being good enough, and this extends to home, work and general life, and as a result, men avoid intimate relationships, they avoid being known because, well, if you really know me, I’m You’ll know I’m not good enough, smart enough, lovable enough.

It’s this isolation that impacts mental health, which alongside feeling adequate and not meeting society’s expectations of what it means to be a man, very much in the bunny ears. Um, it can lead to very visceral reactions to shame for men, powerful physical responses that can happen automatically and without conscious control.

Including sadly, suicide attempts. Emotions are a universal human experience. We all experience emotions, but how we react can differ. And that is often based on our environment and society we live in. And that is why many experts, psychologists, activists are against this hyper masculinity of emotions.

bullshit that Andrew Tate and at times Jordan Peterson can throw around because it reinforces an unreasonable societal norm that men may feel pressured to live by. And the outcome, well, at best, burnout as a badge of honor. And at worst, well, you know, we see that in the disproportionate number of men that die by suicide each year.

Al Elliott: Yeah, this badge of honor. Well, Dimple talks quite openly about This and she calls it the martyr culture that can be present in some humanitarian organizations. However, it’s not just organizations at the coalface where this can come up. Let’s rejoin the interview where Leanne’s going to ask her to explain more about hero and martyr cultures and what impact it can have on workplace culture.

Leanne Elliott: Before we, we move on to those, those changes that, that you made, I want to ask you about, about the culture in humanitarian organizations. I think many people be familiar with hustle culture and, and burnout being, you know, a badge of honor in, in that business world, that very corporate world. Some people listening might be surprised to hear that this also applies to humanitarian organizations.

I think you use the term hero culture. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Dimple Dhabalia: Part of the problem with the Industrial Revolution is that it made us lose our humanity in the workforce, right? Because all of a sudden, we’re looking at the people, like, they’ve taken this model that’s meant to be applied to kind of factory settings and applied it across the board and, like, across industries.

And this model does not work when you’re in an industry where you are expected to work with other human beings. So in these cultures, then, you know, where we don’t have that sense of humanity, but we’re supposed to show up and be human with other people, um, there is this added degree of, uh, responsibility sometimes that, you know, you feel like, oh, if I don’t finish this case, then that’s impacting someone’s life, or if I don’t You know, get this one, you know, piece of paperwork done, then that means that this person’s going to have to wait longer for whatever, you know, in the medical profession, you think about, like, it’s very high stakes, right?

We never, uh, forget or are allowed to forget that we are, are working in service of other humans that are, you know, uh, vulnerable, they’re vulnerable populations, they’re people who need help. And so these things always end up going together where you just feel like, Oh my gosh, you know, I, if I don’t do my part, then, then I’m impacting somebody else in a way that I don’t want to do.

And so that’s what I think ends up creating like these, like martyr feelings of martyrdom in many of us as we’re walking, uh, walking around doing the work. But like, it’s not, and it’s not that I would recognize that I’m, uh, you know, I, I probably would never, never have said, yeah, you know, I’m a martyr. I’m doing this thing, but it, it, that’s kind of what seeps into the culture.

And so we end up creating this culture of a lot of people walking around like, Oh, we’ll just do this one extra thing. We’ll just do this one extra thing. And then, uh, as it moves up the organization, that just becomes the norm and the expectation so that when you have people who are doing just, just what their job requires.

Now we start looking at that like, Oh, that’s not enough. And then we hear terms like, Oh, that’s quiet quitting, which is a terrible term because people aren’t quitting. They’re just doing their actual job and not doing so much extra work. Um, and so it’s, uh, it’s so, yeah, so with martyrdom culture, it’s just this feeling of, uh, you know, we’ll just keep going because we, we have to, you know, other people’s lives are so much worse.

And so let me. Just take care of doing this thing so that I’m helping in some way to make it better, you know, through that process. I created a leadership program. It was one of the first leadership programs based in mindfulness and positive psychology within the U. S. government. And, um, we had incredible data coming out of that, uh, initial pilot program.

And what we found. Was that at the end of a year, because we were doing, um, these 360 reviews along the way, um, and what we found was that the, the people on the teams that were led by leaders who went through our program. The, the way that they came out of that first year of COVID as a tight unit was very different from the experiences of other people in the organization.

But what happened was that when we actually presented these findings, we were met with comments like, I can’t believe we’re still doing this. Allocating resources towards programs, though, don’t contribute to meeting the mission. And so that was kind of the tipping point for me, where I felt like if you can’t understand how having a healthy, mentally healthy and physically healthy workforce contributes to meeting the mission, that I can’t really help you at this point.

And so that was kind of the tipping point for me to actually leave and start my own company. Uh, to be able to do this kind of work. And it was really that what led me to actually write the book, because I realized that so many organizations out there have these incredible missions and these ethos of care for the people that they’re serving.

And yet that is not what the people within the organizations are often experiencing. And so I really wanted to highlight that number one, this is, this is what happens in this kind of work and. What do leaders and organizations need to do to really support their people so that they can keep doing this work?

Al Elliott: Just want to quickly interrupt. This is a great point to emphasize Dimple’s question. But we’ll come back to that in just a second after the break. Just a second ago, Dimple asked the great question. She said, what do leaders need to do to It turns out there are some simple steps that Dimple’s research uncovered.

And if you still feel that self care and mindfulness is a bit fluffy, then firstly, Leanne will hunt you down and kick your ass. But secondly, Dimple points out that if you can work for someone who hears horrific stories every day at work, then it’s a hundred percent going to work for you and your team.

Here’s Dimple outlining what she discovered.

Dimple Dhabalia: A lot of the kind of resources out there were all based in mindfulness, mindful awareness. guys. So, I will say this, number one, if you think that you’re experiencing something like this, um, it’s always good to talk with a professional, um, so, I, I also definitely did talk to a therapist, I think therapy is incredibly important, um, but, it’s not the only thing, and so, the thing I love about mindful awareness is the more that we start to cultivate awareness of our, our thoughts, our emotions, The corresponding body sensations because our body sends us messages all day long, even before the brain has a chance to realize and form a thought around it.

So the more that we can start to notice these things, um, the more that we can actually address root issues. Uh, that we’re experiencing. And the other piece of that is with mindful awareness, um, it’s really important to practice self compassion. And I say this because once we start creating awareness of what’s happening, we start noticing everything.

And so there’s a desire to just want to change what’s happening. But we’ve, you know, because these are conditioned reactions, they’re things that we’ve experienced for many, many years. We have very, very deeply etched neural pathways already, um, in place, and this is why we often default to certain reactions and, um, you know, ways of, uh, dealing with situations.

And so, to create new neural pathways, we actually have to start, uh, making new choices, and we have to do that over and over and over again for a while before we start creating new, uh, new ways of doing things. And so, These new neural pathways, you know, even though they’re starting to be formed, it’s very easy to backslide or, um, you know, go back to an old way of doing something.

And when that happens, we often, the kind of inner critic in our head, we will really berate ourselves and get down on ourselves. And so, when I talk about self care, in the book I talk about redefining self care. Because Historically, self care has been marketed as an indulgence, right? So we think about, when we hear self care, we think about things like bubble baths, and we think about, you know, sitting on the sofa with a magazine and a cup of tea, and these are all valid forms of self care.

Um, but when I think about self care, I’m thinking about, Uh, how do we reset our nervous system in real time? Because the, when we go into, um, you know, experiencing stress or we experience some kind of trauma, um, we’re activating our sympathetic nervous system. And that sympathetic nervous system is that kind of what we hear about the fight or flight response, right?

There’s actually in the book, I talk about five responses. So there’s fight, flight, freeze, fix, and fake. Um, and so all of these responses are important, like, when we’re genuinely in, in harm’s way or, you know, where, where we could be in danger. Um, the problem is that our brain cannot tell the difference between actual harm or, um, perceived harm.

And it can’t tell the difference between harm to our, our bodies versus harms to harm to like our ego. Um, or identity. It looks at all of that the same. It’s all the same threat level. So we have to start to, um, recognize when, Oh, you know what? This is just, I’m, I’m scared or I’m nervous or, you know, because, Uh, my boss sent me an email, uh, that’s kind of vague.

So this is like, I’m, I’m nervous in this moment, but I’m not in any danger per se. And this is important because when our sympathetic nervous system is activated, there’s all kinds of stress hormones moving through the body. And because this system was only designed to be on for short periods of time, and so using that self awareness, using that self compassion, we can start to notice what area is actually feeling depleted.

And so in the book, I talk about kind of six areas, and all of these areas, um, correspond. to human flourishing. And so the idea is that when these six areas of our life are activated as humans, we are in a space of flourishing. And so if we can start to notice what, you know, so if it’s our mental bucket, if it’s our emotional bucket, if it’s our physical bucket, our relational bucket, I have one there for practical.

And so practical is stuff like. You know, I am really stressing about money, so in that moment, an act of self care might be sitting down to create a budget for myself, you know, so, so the more that we can start to notice where our stress is coming from and, and what, um, specific kind of bucket is, uh, feeling depleted or in need of care, then we can start using targeted, um, Um, acts of self care to address that, and that’s really, to me, like, what can kind of help us move through some of these, um, and not necessarily even move through, but at least it helps us, um, create a wider window of stress tolerance on the front end.

So this is what helps us stay, like, more resilient is the word that a lot of people use, right? So the more that we can start to practice these things on the front end before we get to the point of trauma or burnout or post traumatic stress or any of that thing, the more that we do this on the front end, the, the less likely it becomes that we’ll actually get all the way to the, the other end of that.

Leanne Elliott: I love that advice and I love that approach so much. I think it sounds almost like a person can individualize their self care based on their views and perceptions of the world. It is. You know, some people out there that find this all, as you say, a bit indulgent, a bit, a bit fluffy, a bit, you know, I don’t, I shouldn’t have the time for that.

So I think that those practical steps that you mentioned could be a really good entry point for people who might be more looked into engaging. I mean, you also use mindfulness and positive psychology, um, at an organizational level when you mentioned the management training that you developed, what were the main pillars of that and what, what skills within leaders were you targeting to, to level up?

Dimple Dhabalia: Yeah. So it’s, um, it’s still, you know, it’s similar to what I was just talking about. So what was interesting about that particular, uh, training was that it was very self focused. And so, you know, There’s a lot of misconceptions around the, the term self, right? We always associate it with being selfish. Um, and selfish has a very negative connotation, but the reality is that you can’t lead others effectively if you can’t lead yourself and if you don’t understand your own, you know, why you’re reacting a certain way or how you show up, um, it’s really tough to then be able to do that for other people.

So. We focused a lot again on these three kind of principles of self awareness, self compassion, self regulation. And so the training itself, um, really, uh, had leaders spending time learning about themselves. So a lot of practices around how do we cultivate greater self awareness? Why is this important? And then, you know, how do we cultivate the self compassion?

Uh, what does that actually mean? Uh, because I think for a lot of Leaders and high achievers, self compassion feels like, Oh, it’s very soft. It’s, you know, it’s, it’s not going to motivate me. Um, but the reality is self compassion. So there’s a ton of research out there about self compassion and self compassion has been shown to be far more effective at getting us to do the things that we need to do than the self criticism and the being really harsh with ourselves.

But in terms of. You know, in the book, when I talk about things that leaders and organizations can do, I’m really talking about creating, um, a holistic human centered duty of care for staff. And part of this is that, uh, you know, most organizations, when you talk about duty of care, They’re talking about, like, your safety in the workplace.

That’s what they consider their duty of care. But I think that, again, because we’re whole human beings, we have to look at the needs of the whole human beings that are, are serving in our organizations. And so that has four, um, distinct pillars. And so the pillars that I talk about that, I believe can help us create more of that in the workplace are, first of all, uh, normalizing and addressing occupational mental health challenges and trauma.

Uh, uh, number two is evolving from metrics driven cultures into human centered ones. Uh, number three is supporting rest and recovery. And number four is fostering shared purpose and commitment. And so the idea is that all four of these, like, this is what organizations owe to their staff. And here’s why it’s important, and I talk about this a lot, but, um, especially around the metrics issue, right?

Uh, metrics are important in workplaces. They are what help us understand if we’re on target, if we’re meeting, You know, the goals that we’re setting and we, we go to work to work, right? So that’s understandable. But the problem is that in most organizations, metrics are the sole driving force behind policies.

Um, and the sole like consideration for, for policies within the workplace. And that’s where the problem is. And so we want to bring in these aspects of workforce well being and incorporate them into, um, how we’re creating metrics in our organization. But all of this stuff, you know, the more that we invest in our people in this way, it makes a difference because when you think about how much organizations pay to train staff, especially new staff, and if you aren’t retaining staff for several years, You’re not getting a return on investment.

And I hate talking in those terms because these are people. Um, but this is often what organizations need to hear. Right. And the other piece of that is when it’s not just that, you know, people are walking out and there’s a real shift as we see more millennials and Gen Z, uh, members of Gen Z coming into the workforce because they, you know, they Don’t work the way that Gen X and, you know, baby boomers worked.

It’s, it’s a different mindset and they’re really looking for, again, like a whole life experience, which includes their own health and wellbeing, um, as it should. And so there used to be this thing, you know, this thinking that, Oh, well, if you don’t want this job, it’s fine. Because especially in mission driven spaces, you know, where they have an incredible mission, there was always this idea like, Oh, well, if you don’t want it, it’s okay.

There’s. You know, 10 people in line behind you who would take your job in a minute, but that bench is not deep anymore, and it is not that easy to, and especially post COVID, like people really started to re evaluate what was important, and so it’s not that easy anymore, and the other thing that you end up losing as an organization is, so if you, you know, obviously if you’re losing people, you’re, you know, You know, spending a lot of money to train people and then not getting that return on the investment, um, but the institutional knowledge and that one is like, it’s, it, you can’t really put, um, a price on it per se, but if you think about it in a lot of these types of work, there’s a level of confidence that needs to have to be there for people to make these kinds of decisions or interact in the way that we need them to act.

And when you’re first in the job, you don’t have it, you know, and it takes time to build that up. But if you don’t have people staying long enough to build that up, you’re not creating any institutional knowledge. And so now, you know, tasks that should take a certain amount of time are going to take longer.

Or maybe decisions aren’t getting made because people don’t feel comfortable making decisions. And so all these things then have an add on effect, which ultimately does impact the bottom line of an organization. So This is why I say that I think that all of these things together actually. in the long run really, um, benefit the organization as much as it benefits the people.

Al Elliott: If there is one book you need to read this summer, it should be Tell Me My Story.

Leanne Elliott: It really is such a good book. I mean, it might not sound like the book you’d take on holiday, but it is an incredibly engaging read. There’s half memoir, half manifesto, and it does offer some really practical strategies and calls to action.

If you are a leader and you care about your people, then this is an absolute must read. That said, there are some themes that may be challenging depending on your own mental health right now and your own window of tolerance. You’re the best judge of that. And when you are ready, this book will be waiting for you.

Of course, we will leave a link in the show notes.

Al Elliott: Next week is a psychology special edition on Thursday. We’ve got a panel of amazing people who Leanne’s put together. Leanne, do you remember what we’re gonna be talking about?

Leanne Elliott: Yes. In a nutshell, we’re going to talk about how to pick an expert. We talk a lot about getting support from experts, but are they psychologists?

Are they management consultants? Are they something else? What’s the difference? Why does it matter? And how can you tell which one you need? Well, we will answer all of that for you. Very practical episode next week, we’ll be joined by some incredible, incredible psychologists to give you all the answers.

All of, uh, all of the information on that. And if you do follow the British Psychological Society and their, um, recent, shall we say questionable action around some of the qualifications, including occupational psychology, educational psychology, and counseling psychology, then we do have some reactions to that too.

It’s not a scandal. It’s not a sensation like, Oh, shock, but it is some pretty honest BPS behavior. So tune in for that. Before we go, here is where to find out more about Dimple and also a little bit more about her podcast.

Dimple Dhabalia: You can head to my website, which is rootsintheclouds. com. That’s all plural. Um, you can also find me at Dimstory, D I M P story.

Um, across all social media platforms. And I also have, um, something called Dear Humanitarian on Substack. Um, and I have a couple of podcasts, which might be fun for people. Um, well, one is fun. It’s called What Would Ted Lasso Do? And that one does explore, um, lessons in leadership and, um, or explores each episode through the lens of leadership and positive psychology.

And then I have another one called, um, Service Without Sacrifice, um, Conversations on Hope and Healing. And so, Uh, that one is more, uh, along with the book. So yeah, please check all of that out and definitely reach out.

Al Elliott: I hope today’s episode has made you think a little bit. Um, if you’ve got any questions, any thoughts, anything you want to ask, go on LinkedIn.

If you want to ask Leanne something privately, then by all means, look in the show notes, you can email her. She answers, she looks at and answers every single email that listeners send. So if there’s something that’s happened, uh, or there’s an issue that’s been brought up by today’s today’s episode, then feel free to email Leanne.

Leanne Elliott: Yes, we do also leave a few resources in the show notes as well. The Mind website has lots of great resources and signposting points. And of course there is the numbered email address for the Samaritans. If any of the themes in today’s episode have been challenging for you, do please consider using those resources.

Al Elliott: So we’ll see you on Tuesday for our World Famous Weekly Workplace Surgery episode. And then next Thursday where we’ll talk about experts and we’ll teach you who you need to bring in. Anything else to add, my love?

Leanne Elliott: I don’t think so. I’m getting a bit warm now.

Al Elliott: We’ll see you soon. Bye. Bye. Bye

Leanne Elliott: is what can lead to very, then

Al Elliott: we think humanitarian, human. I nearly had that.

Leanne Elliott: Oh, sorry. I need to do the bit tonight. Um,

Al Elliott: if your biggest challenge is missing a deadline, then you put the wrong emphasis on the word.

Leanne Elliott: We should send our outtakes to the, did you see that with the um,

Al Elliott: I want to go

Leanne Elliott: and find it.

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