How can you counter unconscious bias? By storytelling. Elizabeth Bachman introduces Åsa Rydhard, the CEO of Rydhard.com. Åsa talks with Elizabeth about how sharing your stories inspires others to share theirs. When you start listening to other people’s stories, you begin to see the world in a new way. It can be a challenging process, but as long as you don’t give up, you won’t fail. If you want to know more about countering unconscious bias, listen to this episode. Tune in!
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How To Use Storytelling To Eliminate Unconscious Bias With Åsa Rydhard
We’re doing a slightly different format because I will be interviewing a wonderful Swedish Presentation Skills Trainer named Åsa Rydhard. She has fled the Swedish winter and is working in Portugal, working off the battery of her computer. The interesting thing about Åsa is that she started designing computer systems and then became a pastor in the church. From there, she is a presentation skills trainer, speaker trainer, branding expert, and someone who helps you ace your message.
We had a long conversation about bias and unconscious bias and what it’s like to be a Swede. Everybody thinks that the Swedes are perfect so there are invisible biases there. We also talked about telling stories, how you can do that best, and how you solve complex problems. It was a very interesting conversation that went in a different direction but I loved it. You’ll enjoy it too. Here is the interview with Åsa Rydhard.
I have my wonderful guest, Åsa Rydhard here. This is a show where we interview experts from around the world on such subjects as presentation skills, leadership, visibility and communication challenges. One of the delights about this is that I get to ask people like Åsa from around the world about their expertise. Åsa, can you tell us how you describe yourself when people say, “What do you do?”
It depends on who asks me.
Let’s say it’s your great Aunt Clara.
If my Grandaunt Clara asked me, I would say, “Clara, I help experts communicate and talk so people can understand.” That is what I would tell Aunt Clara.To sell an idea with your message, you need to know your audience and touch their hearts. Click To Tweet
I have a whole bunch of questions for you. I love talking to people who also work with presentation skills. Before we dive into that, if you were to have a dream interview or if you were to interview someone who is no longer with us, who would it be? What would you ask them and who should be listening?
My brain is telling me only one thing. I would go with some big names. I would love to interview Mary Magdalen and her female friends in the New Testament era because I would love to hear the true uncensored story about being a woman at that time.
Following around a rabbi named Jesus.
First I said, “I would like to interview Jesus,” but everyone says that. I would say Mary Magdalene, Agrippa or one of the other strong, rich women who supported Christianity at that time, which the men of the church have been hiding away ever since.
The first question I wanted to ask you is you’ve had such an interesting career. You were a computer specialist and developed computer systems. You went off and you were a pastor in the church for many years. You got a degree in Applied Cultural Analytics. Now you’re a presentation skills trainer, branding and storytelling expert. What is the common thread that brings you through all of that?
When I switched from being the IT consultant that I was, going into theology and being the head pastor of a congregation, I figured out that my special skills are solving complex problems within complex networks. That is our ability to ask why several times. If someone tells you, “This is a problem,” my job is always to look several levels further down and figure out the real problem and need here. It’s going from working with complex IT systems, which is very much about understanding people’s needs because they are humans who use computers who need help to solve their everyday problems.
My role is to dive into the net to see what is going on there. Going into the church, a congregation is a network of humans and it’s filled with complex problems. My role as a head of that church is to dive deep and figure out what is happening here. What is the real problem? How can we address it? I moved forward to the Master in Applied Cultural Analysis.
That is going deep into understanding human’s needs and what drives you forth. What is going on here? On the surface, most of the things we do as humans can seem uncomplicated every day, but if you start to scratch on that surface, the reality is much more complex than you could ever imagine. Everything is connected. I’m a problem solver in complex networks every time.
You’re solving problems by helping people tell stories.
The reason why I said, “Who is going to hear my message,” is because the essence of what I do is I help them pitch and present. It’s selling an idea with your message. To do that properly, you need to know your audience and how to touch the audience’s heart.
It’s obvious that as a pastor, you would have to be good at storytelling and at selling an idea even if the idea is to try to be a better person, not just on Sunday morning. You can draw from the great tradition of literature in the Christian church, which is all about stories and parables. In terms of selling an idea, one of the things that I’m often saying is that any time you’re doing your presentation where you want to move someone to take action, that’s a sales speech. Sales have gotten a bad reputation because many people abuse the principles of making sales. I like to think of it as an enrollment. Enroll them into going along with your idea.
I had clients who are coming to me saying, “I need your help to present my ideas and catch the interest of my audience.” It’s not like I’m going to do a presentation. It’s not at all like I’m doing the speech deck at the board meetings. People stopped scrolling their phones once I opened my mouth. I said, “You’re doing a sales pitch but you don’t know it so we need to start there.”Think twice about what you're thinking. Click To Tweet
Speaking about board meetings and so forth, we’ve had several conversations so I’m delighted to connect with you. You said that you have a lot of personal experiences in being blocked as a woman, whereas a woman could only get so far. Frankly, I thought that Sweden had solved the gender equity problem and things were better in Scandinavia than in America. Is that not the case?
I have stories. I meet women from Germany who moved to Sweden because they find Sweden a better place to be and that’s true. It’s also not the better place to be because everybody else who looks at Sweden thinks that we are so good. It’s like it’s not okay to talk about the problems we have and it’s invisible, the problems we have.
I once met a businesswoman from India who had a hilarious story about her career within a chain of hotels going up, and how she was upfront confronted by men who wanted to hold her back. In her face, they told her that they didn’t want her. They did not do as she said. Her boss stepped in and address the problem or tell them off. I told her afterward that is such a relief because the resistance we meet in a country like Sweden is invisible. It’s so hard to address. It’s still there, maybe not as much as in India but it’s harder to address since it’s invisible because you can’t put a finger on it. People say, “I didn’t mean that. That is not at all what you have experienced. You’re wrong.”
As an American, I’ve found the assumptions people make. They think that they’ll never go to America. I’ve had people say, “I will never go to America because I’m going to walk off the plane and someone will shoot me.” I said, “It’s not quite that bad. It depends on where you go.” I’ve also had people who grew up watching the American TV series where everybody is rich. Back to the old days of Dallas and Dynasty and even the other things where everybody is rich, thin and beautiful. They cannot believe that there are parts of America that don’t look that way. That’s a fantasy.
The thing with fantasies and archetypes is an interesting question. This wasn’t quite where I was heading to go. This would be a good place to explore how we can use archetypes, images, stories, maybe where people think they already know and you need to say, “That’s not quite the way it goes.” Let’s explore that a little bit. How do you talk to people about the invisible reality of prejudice? Sweden has absorbed a lot of immigrants over the last 30 to 40 years. Do you deal with those issues? Do you think of every single Swede as perfect, tolerant and equality-based? Is that just a fantasy? Is it something you can aspire to?
That is also hard to speak about because if I talk to a boss, I could hear them say, “We are free of the prejudice here. We address everyone the same.” If I hear that, I know that they are full of prejudice. They have biased assumptions about people but they don’t even see it because they think they are so perfect. How we see ourselves, the perfect Swedish people hinders us from taking a deeper look at how we behave or think. The same is when we meet others. Before they enter the room, we have a perception of who they should be or probably are. That hinders us from seeing the true person that we meet.
That’s a real problem. In Sweden, we have lots of examples of how people with the wrong name, for instance, interviewing for a job. They need to change their names, perhaps. Hopefully, once they show up at an interview, the name change will at least make it easier for them to make a good impression. You have the looks, so it might not be the ultimate solution. The same as if you are a woman who is not always seen as the most efficient and professional person in the world compared to a man in a tie.
I do a lot of work in Silicon Valley. One thing I noticed in terms of pitching and it tends to be how you are pitching a tech startup, although any sales presentation is a pitch even if you’re trying to sell an idea. Women have to prove themselves twice as much even when the venture capitalists are female. There is no such thing as a human being who is free from bias. We have unconscious biases. Do you have any thoughts about how we can recognize our biases and then choose not to act on them?
We need to practice at that. I know this because I have had those presumptions about people before I meet them. It’s so hard to hear your own thoughts and reflect, and think twice about what you’re thinking. Not everyone is able to do that, but if we share stories in between about what happened to us, it will be easier because stories are a great tool. If you hear some stories, normally, you come to think about your stories.
Also, how can we help to recognize our own biases or maybe through stories, understand what it’s like to be in the other person’s shoes?
There are two things. The first thing is to share our stories. By sharing our stories, we will open doors and make other people share their stories. That will make us start to see the world in another way because we all think the sky is blue because everyone tells us the sky is blue. It’s true. It might not be blue. We say the ocean is blue but it’s actually gray. Many times it’s still blue for us and the proper ocean should be blue. Our world is predesigned or pretold to us, “This is a proper world and how it looks. This is the reality.” That is a power game when other people decide how your reality should be told or apprehended for you. By sharing stories bravely and open-heartedly, we can start picturing a true or an alternative story of how the world is organized, how we experience the world, and how we can move around in this world.
When you hear someone else’s story, you begin to have a better idea of what it is like to be that person and what shapes that person.As long as you don't give up, you have not failed. Click To Tweet
There are several aspects of this. Throughout my years, I met entrepreneurs and many women in leading positions, but not only women. They have so many strange things about what it is to be successful and how to succeed. For instance, “As long as you don’t give up, you have not failed.” We’ve heard that. That comes together with, “As long as you believe, whatever you can think, you can achieve.” They tell me that I am not allowed to talk about things that will hold me back and those other people might hinder me. If I believe that, then I will not succeed. The only way to succeed is not to believe that something could hinder me. I think that if we make the systematic blocks or obstacles visible, it will be easier to handle them and move forward.
Many women think that any mistake is a disaster. Little boys are taught, “If you fall, get up and do it again.” Little girls are taught, “If you fall, you’ve done something wrong.” A friend of mine says that boys are taught to be courageous and girls are taught to be safe. It’s learning that failure is not the end of the world. I remember back in my opera days when I was working with young singers and rising singers, especially the young men on a career, their career was taking off, they had done everything perfectly, and they haven’t failed yet.
They often wouldn’t listen to me, even though my job was to tell them what to do. Many of them were often so busy talking they had no time to listen. I would look at some older singers and say, “He hasn’t failed yet.” You’d meet them a couple of years later and they would’ve done a show where that was a disaster that didn’t work well. They’ve learned that they could fail and still live. You can still survive. This is wonderful.
There is one thing about women in business that I learned from research in Sweden. When women are hired, they are hired based on what they have already achieved, so there is no room for them to be a failure. When men are hired, they are hired on what they can potentially make in the future. If society is filled with these presumptions, it is disastrous for a woman to fail.
The other thing is that women are measured by the visible measurements that we’ve been taught are measuring the skills that men tend to have. One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot these days is how do you measure the value of things not going wrong? Many of my clients come to me and they say, “I’m ignored at the office. I’m a senior director and my department runs very well. Nobody pays attention to me. They take me for granted.” I’ve been working a lot on how to talk about things not going wrong. It’s been a very interesting thing to explore. Also with the men who are good at the details but they don’t brag about it. They are happy hiding behind a computer waiting to be recognized.
Sometimes you need to teach people how to brag properly.
It’s marketing. You have to market yourself.
That’s where storytelling beautifully comes into play. I realized that the hatred you have about bragging about yourself. Throughout my years, from the start, what I hated with my job is the necessity of bragging about yourself and lobbying in between what you want. I was there to do a job. I thought that is enough. You need to know how to market yourself, talk yourself up and do proper bragging. One helpful thing is to think that it’s not about bragging. It’s about letting them know who is doing the job and you are worth having credit for doing the job.
That is a whole body of work around that. It’s a huge part of what I do.
If you don’t do that, they will hire or use some wannabe that is an intern.
Someone else who has been louder, flashier and talking about themselves. How can somebody start being a good storyteller about themselves?
A good place to start is to tell the true stories about how others appreciated you because this is easiest. That is telling someone else about what someone has told about you. That’s an easy brag.
If the words come from someone else, it’s better than you talking about yourself.You need to know how to market yourself to let others know what you do. Click To Tweet
A lot of keynote speakers do that all the time. The drop stories about how someone has appreciated what they did. It has a special term that I forgot.
That’s third-party verification.
That’s a good story because you can do it in so many different ways when it comes to telling stories about yourself. If you’re going to tell something by yourself through your words, third-party verification is a good place to start, and share stories about what you are doing. You can also throw in a few catastrophe stories where you were the hero of the day.
Åsa Rydhard, thank you so much for being a guest on the show. It’s a delight to know you and to hear your insights and ideas. I appreciate it. Thank you so much for being with us.
That was the conversation with Åsa Rydhard. Thank you so much for joining us. If you’re curious about how your presentation skills are doing, you can take our free four-minute assessment at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where you are strong with your presentation skills and where perhaps a little bit of support could help you get the results you need and the recognition you deserve. If you enjoyed it, please go to whatever app you’re on and give us a good review. You can also find us on YouTube and my website. I’ll see you on the next one.
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About Åsa Rydhard