Work is one of the places that relational fuckery is not only prevalent, but it is one of the preferred ways of relating, precisely because it keeps us from connecting. Too much connection, too much actual relating as humans would be weird at work, right?
So we engage in as much fuckery as possible. - Episode 13
James-Olivia Chu Hillman is a relational, life, and leadership coach, a mediator, facilitator, and enthusiastic advocate of necessary, uncomfortable, and life-changing conversations. They work with people who want more joyful connection and less suffering in their relationships with themselves, the people they love and lead, and the world.
James-Olivia has a passion for asking questions that make us squirm a bit and point us back to who the fuck we are and what we care about most.
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Liz Wiltsie: Welcome to What's Leadership? I'm Liz Wiltsie. The more I learn about leadership, the more I'm convinced there's not a one-size-fits-all solution. So I am on my own learning journey and I invite you to join me. EbonyJanice reminds me that being open about my journey is important. Each episode features someone I admire with actionable insight to share. So please, join me as I ask What's leadership?
Today, I get to welcome a friend of mine, James-Olivia, and I am so, so excited that they're here with me, on the podcast today.
So I'm going to tell you a little bit about them and then we're going to dive right in. So James-Olivia Chu Hillman is a relational, life, and leadership coach, a mediator, facilitator, and enthusiastic advocate of necessary, uncomfortable, and life-changing conversations. They work with people who want more joyful connection and less suffering in their relationships with themselves, the people they love and lead, and the world.
James-Olivia has a passion for asking questions that make us squirm a bit and point us back to who the fuck we are and what we care about most. Thank you for being here with me.
James-Olivia Chu Hillman: Thank you, I'm so excited. I know we've been talking for like an hour already, so this is hilarious.
Liz Wiltsie: But we're going to pretend. So, James-Olivia, one of the things that I love about your work is just, talking about relational fuckery and the things that, that really keep us from connecting with other people. And one of the things that's always struck me is how often we're in those situations in the workplace. So I would love for you to talk about the concept of relational fuckery and how it sort of shows up for us in professional situations.
James-Olivia Chu Hillman: Okay. Sorry. Typewriter dam already in my head because you, putting together, relational fuckery and work situations, it just occurred to me that work is one of the places that relational fuckery is not only prevalent, but it is one of the preferred ways of relating, precisely because it keeps us from connecting. Too much connection, too much actual relating as humans would be weird at work, right? So we engage in as much fuckery as possible. but I think, did you just ask me what it is? Do I need to define that real quick first?
Liz Wiltsie: Oh, if you would like to go ahead. Sure.
James-Olivia Chu Hillman: I don't remember, because I got really excited.
Liz Wiltsie: I didn't, because I was like, Oh, this is kind of self-explanatory, right? But, but please, by all means.
James-Olivia Chu Hillman: Okay. So one of the ways I define it, in many ways, depending on which Instagram day you hit me on. But one of the common ways that I define it, as the, the strategies that we use when we're trying to win our relationships, instead of cultivate them. So basically when we are trying to be right or we're trying to avoid responsibility or avoid feeling things because, Oh, God forbid we feel things at work, that would be horrifying and embarrassing and unproductive, instead of connect joyfully and actually get to know what it's like to be human with each other.
Liz Wiltsie: Yeah. I'm glad you defined that. Thank you.
James-Olivia Chu Hillman: Thanks for letting me.
Liz Wiltsie: Of course.
James-Olivia Chu Hillman: And I forgot if you asked something else cause now I'm just like all tickled with us.
Liz Wiltsie: So, I just asked how it shows up at work and you answered it to an extent, which is, that it is actually the preferred way of being at work and the way that we're really taught to be. Can you say more about that?
James-Olivia Chu Hillman: So I don't know what everybody else's experience is. Like I spent over a decade in, okay, I'm going to say, in "deep corporate" and so much of the, the relating to one another was about being as respectable, appropriate, I'm going to throw in words like perfectionism, like, not making anyone too uncomfortable unless it was your job to make people uncomfortable. There's, there's something deeply uncomfortable about being vulnerable and awkward and human together in, well, we're both in the States, but, and I'm going to say in corporate culture, like God forbid we be human together.
And human is messy and there are feelings and there are accusations and there are, I'm going to say this word, needs, like we'd have needs. There's, there's all this stuff that comes with being, being a person and at work, if what we've got going on is that we're not supposed to be a person we're supposed to be a productive member of a team or whatever role, like we're not supposed to be a person, we're supposed to be a role. We're supposed to be really, really effective, and what was this movie Ben and I just watched, it was like a Tom Cruise one, was it, Oblivion? I think it is, where the, the, they're being sort of, I don't want to say controlled, but managed by this hilarious lady AI who keeps asking, Are you an effective team?
Not like, Are you like a happy person? Are you fulfilled? Are you getting what you need to get your job done? Are you, like, what's important to you? Is this meaningful? Are you an effective team? And so being effective, being productive, being a bunch of things that, you know, capitalism and patriarchy and white supremacy and like all these systems want us to be so that they go smoothly and none of this is interrupted. So that the status quo can stay the status quo and what we can do instead of get messy is just keep growing bigger. It's an affront to capitalism to throw a wrench in it with emotions and needs and desires.
Liz Wiltsie: Yeah. Yeah. So if...
James-Olivia Chu Hillman: We laugh cuz it hurts.
Liz Wiltsie: We laugh cause it hurts, because it's so true. If you were gonna like say to folks, here's one thing to sort of just kick against that idea, of, not kick against being effective, but like being only defined as being effective team and to be more human, and more human in relationship, what would you, what would you point to?
James-Olivia Chu Hillman: Well, I would say I'd start with, did you say just one thing?
Liz Wiltsie: Just to start, . We're just talking, you know, where to start. There's lots of things and there's never just one.
James-Olivia Chu Hillman: So the first thing is, in service to what we're actually trying to do, like effective, for what? Effective, to what end? In service to what? When we ask people to show up as full, magnificent human beings in service to that greater what. When they/we care about it, we are more effective as full people than we are as cogs in a wheel. When we can bring our passion and our creativity and our desire for connection and like, all of these chemical needs that we have, like for dopamine and serotonin and oxytocin and all these, like all, all the good drugs that we get from connection actually drive our productivity and our effectiveness way more than disconnection could ever.
Liz Wiltsie: Yeah. Yeah. And I tend to think about how, I worked really hard not to be talking about like, how do, how do we make ourselves more productive? How do we do what have you? And people will often say to me. Yeah. But if you are happy, you are more productive. Right? Which is true.
James-Olivia Chu Hillman: Sometimes. I mean, or, or, you can refine your team. If we're talking about, you know, an effective team, it's like, why do you want unhappy people on your team? Why do you? That doesn't make sense to me. Granted, I'm not, you know, managing a big corporate team, so I'm sure that there are reasons there must be, because it keeps happening.
Liz Wiltsie: Yeah. I mean, I argue that I think it keeps happening because people imagine there isn't another way.
James-Olivia Chu Hillman: Lies. It's lies. There are so many other ways. They're not all good ways, but some of them are.
Liz Wiltsie: But a lot of them are better, whether they're good on the scale of whatever they're better. So the other question I like to ask is what are you grappling with?
James-Olivia Chu Hillman: I grapple with a lot of things. One of the things that I'm grappling with is I talk a lot about right relationship, not just relational fuckery, but because there's more than just not doing the relational fuckery. There's also the, Okay, well what do we do instead? And what does right relationship mean?
And a lot of my grappling with right relationship is, I spend a lot of time, thinking about my relationships with my self and my work and other people, the closest people to me and people with whom I work and the people in the world and what I want to see happen in the world. And then there are other relationships that tend to fall by the wayside for me, that I don't give as much attention to, like my relationship with my, my meat suit, my body, like, um, my relationship with the actual earth, like the soil and the things that grow from it.
It's, a lot of what I grapple with is I think my, my relationship with the physical world, like in my body and my body's relationship with the, the other physical objects and bodies around it. So, somebody recently called me a "Right Relationship Expert" and I was like, "Oh God, we're all going to be disappointed." Cause I grapple a lot with right relationship all the time.
Liz Wiltsie: Well, and I would say you're a right relationship, striver.
James-Olivia Chu Hillman: I like that.
Liz Wiltsie: You know what I mean? Like, like you've done a lot of that work and a lot of, but from the space of saying, how do we do this? How do we get, how do we get messy and how do we keep being messy and in right relationship and repair and what have you?" So, yeah, the word I'm going to say right now is "striver".
James-Olivia Chu Hillman: That's so much better than what I was like, spelunker, are you gonna say spelunker?
Liz Wiltsie: We'll get out our Thesaurus and see what we can find. But I think the idea of expert is always, in some ways I find "expert" paternalistic, where it allows me to cede my responsibility to you to say, you must know better than I do about this.
James-Olivia Chu Hillman: Right. Right.
Liz Wiltsie: So whatever you say has to be right. And then I turn off my own capacity to be in conversation about it.
James-Olivia Chu Hillman: Yeah. And then of course, the first time you try and live by my advice, the betrayal will be so obvious. Like, "Wait a minute, that worked for you, but not for me."
Liz Wiltsie: Yeah. I think that's one of the things that I just love, and there will be links to James-Olivia everywhere that they exist on the internet, do not worry. But your Instagram in particular is always just sort of asking those questions to say, Okay, how do we, how do we do this in this way?
Well, that is our interview for today because we could talk for hours and hours, which we have in our lives. So thank you for being with me.
James-Olivia Chu Hillman: Thank you for inviting me. I had such a good time. I wish that everybody else could have been eavesdropping on the pre-conversation because it was super fun.
Liz Wiltsie: Thank you.
If you'd like to dive deeper with James-Olivia. You have lots of options, you can find them all. And the full transcript of this interview at 4needs.work/podcast. But just to get you started, I would recommend that you follow James-Olivia on Instagram. If that is something that you do.
Their handle is inquisitive _human and they put out regular prompts to really make you think about the depth of your relationship. So there are lots of other opportunities as well, including a holiday edition of Tension Holds Possibility, which is a three Saturday workshop that is co-presented with Nic Strack. And I will be there as well. So I hope you can join me in that.