top of page

154. How to Disagree Respectfully Even During an Election Year with Justin Jones-Fosu

In an election year, discussions can get heated. But how do we maintain respect?  In our new episode with Justin Jones-Fosu, explore strategies for engaging in difficult conversations without losing sight of humanity and respect. It's a timely listen for anyone looking to navigate challenging dialogues with grace.


About Justin:

Breene Murphy headshot

Justin is a full-time dad-e who also happens to be an international speaker, a social entrepreneur, a critically-acclaimed author, and mountain climber (he recently conquered one of the famed 7 Summits). His passion for elevation extends beyond trekking, it’s mirrored in the work he does as the CEO of Work. Meaningful. and in his writing. His latest book, I Respectfully Disagree (which released yesterday), challenges the reader to focus on building bridges with people rather than barriers from them.


While it's not perfect, we offer this transcription by Castmagic for those who prefer to read or who are hearing impaired.

Teri Schmidt [00:00:00]:

Hey. We're back. I'm so happy to be with you again after navigating some personal life changes. Thank you for your patience. We're here today with an episode that you're not gonna want to miss, unless, of course, you don't appreciate a high energy professional who motivates you and equips you to have the difficult conversations that you need to have in your workplace and in life. Someone who does it not through superficial motivational fluff, but instead with practical research based actions. If you don't like listening to people like that, then you might want to stop listening now. But for the rest of you, especially those of you who are wondering how to work through tense situations in the workplace, especially in this election year in the United States, I'm excited to introduce you to author and TEDx speaker, Justin Jones Poussou.

Teri Schmidt [00:00:57]:

Justin is a full time daddy who also happens to be an international speaker, a social entrepreneur, a critically acclaimed author, and a mountain climber. In fact, he recently conquered one of the famed 7 summits. His passion for elevation extends beyond tracking. It's mirrored in the work that he does as the CEO of Work Meaningful and in his writing. His latest book, I respectfully disagree, which was released yesterday, challenges the reader to focus on building bridges with people rather than barriers from them. It's definitely a book for our times, and I can't wait to share our conversation with you. So let's get to it. I'm Terry Schmidt, founder and leadership coach at Strong Leaders Serve, where we believe that leadership is courageously using your talents to make a way for others to courageously use theirs.

Teri Schmidt [00:01:56]:

And this is the strong leaders serve podcast.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:02:15]:

Justin, welcome to Strong Leader Serve. I am really, really looking forward to our conversation today.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:02:22]:

I'm so thankful to be on this, and I'm I'm trying to be strong. I worked out right before this so that I could be a strong leader, so I'm really grateful.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:02:29]:

You got it. You got it. We ask all of our guests to do that, so I appreciate you following that guideline.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:02:36]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:02:37]:

Oh, well, you know, it is really an exciting time for you. The the day that this podcast episode goes live, you will have just released a book yesterday. And then the day that we're recording, you're getting married tomorrow. So,

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:02:54]:

yeah. Well, 2 days. 2 days.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:02:55]:

Oh, 2 days.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:02:56]:

Speed up the the wedding, but 2 days. Yes. We're married on Sunday, so absolutely. Oh, absolutely. Really cool things happening.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:03:02]:

Yeah. Definitely. Definitely. And, you know, in your bio, I was kinda struck by you describe yourself as a full time daddy who also happens to be an international speaker, a social entrepreneur, a critically acclaimed author, and a mountain climber. So there's there's a lot to unpack there. We could probably just go, you know, the whole episode about your bio, but I would love to, you know, just touch on a little bit about your journey and kind of the pivotal moments that have led you to be the leader that you are today.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:03:33]:

Yeah. I I have to give it up. Like, I got it from my mama. And my mom, she was a single mom, 2 rambunctious little boys, and the perseverance that my mom showed and displayed was so powerful. I mean, we had the time to stints of being unhoused. Initially, we're on welfare. So my parents divorced at 4. Like, it's like my mom started all over.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:03:55]:

And so I just remember her resilience. I didn't know the terminology for that stuff then. Mhmm. But I just would see her strength through all of this. And I remember there was all these my mom would plant these seeds. So, like, even when our lights got cut off, my mom was like, alright. Where are the candles? Where are the flashlights? Because we still had to do our homework. So she was creating a space where there you had to find the solution.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:04:17]:

Right? You had to step up. And and then later on in life, I interviewed my mom. I realized I hadn't really heard my parents' story. And by the way, if any leaders listening and your parents are still alive and all those, like, ask to hear I mean, for real for real. Not the stories they tell us occasionally, but I on a long trip, I asked my mom. I was like, mom, I just wanna hear your story. And so we started from the beginning, and there was so much that I learned. And one of the things I learned is my mom was one of the first black female air traffic controllers in the air force.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:04:44]:

Oh my god. And she shared her journey with me, about why she trained my brother and I the way she did. And it was because that there were some times where she'd be stationed in Japan for 2 years, and she was like, Justin, there's some soldiers who'd never left base in that same 2 year time frame. And I just as I started thinking through, like, my mom would make us go to events that, we didn't know a lot about, even those that we disagreed with. And I I remember just sitting there like, why are we here? Like, we don't even we don't even agree with this. Yeah. But she was planting these seeds of humanity. And I and I believe I believe wholeheartedly to the essence of leadership is that the leadership is seeing humanity of people and asking the question, how can I give more to people than I take from people?

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:05:29]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:05:29]:

And so my mom was those critical moments for me growing up and planting those seeds that helped me to become a leader that I am. Not to mention, she made me read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People when I was, like, 11 years old, by the way. Gosh. And so I was had my Franklin planner going to school and all that stuff. So, yeah, my mom my mom was that pivotal moment.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:05:48]:

Oh, she sounds like an amazing woman. I, thank you for sharing that about her. And this book that's coming out titled, I respectfully disagree, how to have Difficult Conversations in Divided World. It's not your first book. Right?

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:06:04]:

No. No. It feels like it, but, it is my 3rd book. Well, I have to be vulnerable leadership. We're vulnerable.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:06:14]:

That's right.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:06:15]:

It is actually my 5th book. I just don't talk about the first two 2 because those were, like, really self published. And so those are out of print. We don't talk about those anymore. Like, we don't talk about Bruno. Yeah. We don't talk about those first two books. But the first one I talk about is your why matters now.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:06:30]:

I was studying purpose for a very long time, and I still study purpose, which is transformed into meaningful work for me. And so that was how do you connect this these aspects of purpose and passion. Right? The Mhmm. The why of what you do and the now because a lot of people, they knew their why and Simon Sinek had really made it popular, but they weren't doing anything with it. And so I I went on a mission to really help people to actualize their why, which is what we call the now. Then my second book that I talk about is the inclusive mindset, and it's because I've been doing kind of this diversity inclusion work for 2 decades. And I realized throughout that probably about 10 years in, I was doing it all wrong. And that there wasn't an approach for I didn't see this approach being done well.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:07:16]:

And what I mean by that is a couple of things could happen. Like, 1, I noticed it would be done from a very shame based approach. So people it was like it was like it's 2024. You still struggle with this, Terry? I was like, yeah. I do. Right? And and it was very demoralizing rather than it was more of a deficit. Mhmm. You're always asking what's missing rather than helping people to identify meeting them right where they are and then helping them to grow from there.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:07:40]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:07:41]:

And and also just and you see behind me the tortoise, right, we have a big wooden tortoises in the frame and it's because we we challenged myself and other people to apply the tortoise principle. Now I think we wrongly called the tortoise growing up slow. The tortoise wasn't slow. The tortoise was strategic. Right? We only call the tortoise slow compared to the hare. And we saw what happened with the hare. And in our society, especially around that conversation, there's a lot of hares. Mhmm.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:08:06]:

And I was after helping professionals, leaders, and organizations to apply the tortoise principle that built sustainable growth that was less about, what you should do and rather what you can do. Less about something extra outside of you, but more something that it just becomes who you are, which is why we call it the inclusive mindset. It just becomes an extension of what you do.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:08:27]:

That's so interesting. You know, I I think about those who, you know, we may think of as taking more of kind of the a hair approach and you know? Because there are some situations that need, what I would say, immediate change, you know, and I wonder how do you I guess, what kind of pushback do you get from people who may be more inclined to see a need or want to take more of a hare approach as opposed to a tortoise approach?

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:08:56]:

Yeah. For me, the hair approach so so, again, the tortoise isn't slow.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:08:59]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:09:00]:

The tortoise just makes sure they're strategically moving. I'll give you an example. When George Floyd happened, everybody changed their social media, created statements, all these kind of things, and we're years past that now. And is there a sustainable growth and development, right, in some of these things? There's actually been a a big backlash to some of the work. And I understand why. I was calling out then. I was like, oh, in a few years, it's gonna be a really, really big backlash because, 1, we started to see a lot of people flooding the area because they saw the dollars going there, and so they were doing a disservice to the conversation.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:09:29]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:09:30]:

But 2, I really believe when you do the tortoise approach, there's a way that you communicate. So I'll give you a great example. So when some of our clients were reaching out to us and saying, hey, Justin. We're what what should we do? We wanna put out a statement. We wanna I said, no. No. No. No.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:09:44]:

Now is not the time for a statement. Right? If if you put out anything, right, what we're gonna communicate is we realize something major in our society has happened. Instead of, formalizing a knee jerk reaction, what we really wanna do is we wanna take time to come back to think about this, to process what are our strategic actions or what our strategic actions are gonna be, and we will come back with how we are gonna move forward within the next 6 months. Months. That is from a leadership perspective. We're taking a place of strategy and what actions we're gonna take rather than we stand with this person and we we we and then we didn't see any long lasting sustainable change in growth. So for me, it may look good initially. Right? It's almost like that person you dated growing up.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:10:29]:

Right? You you know that person that you went out with them for those first couple of dates and they were like, oh, man. This person's a mate. Like, wow. And then the more and more you went out with them, you were like, did they give me all of the representative of the first two dates?

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:10:42]:

Mhmm. Mhmm.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:10:43]:

Versus that person that might not have shown you those amazing flashes, but they were consistently steady and they developed and they had a growth mindset. That's what we're after. And so more of what I ask our our leaders and for organizations to think through is what is the end result Mhmm. That you seek, and how can we strategically get there? We do the gap analysis. Right? Where are we now? Where do you wanna be? What are the barriers preventing you from getting there? And then how do you remove the barriers? There's no change. So my MBA is in leadership and change management. Okay. There is no change management model that happens like this.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:11:16]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:11:16]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:11:17]:

We're we're still figuring this thing out and so that's the interesting thing as we approach this work.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:11:21]:

Yeah. Yeah. And and you I like that. I mean, I love that in terms of the tortoise isn't slow. It's strategic. And I even got caught into that just, you know, a few minutes ago when I asked a question, thinking about it as slow as opposed to strategic. And, you know, you're speaking my language in terms of gap analysis, and that's kinda what Yeah. My background is.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:11:43]:

So thank you for giving me that and challenging me on that and for the work that you do with the organizations on that. You know, when you reached out to me, I was immediately struck by the title of your book in particular because here in the United States, you know, we're in an election year. And what we're talking about, you know, not taking the exit on people and, you know, respectfully disagreeing.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:12:08]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:12:08]:

I really wanted to dig into that a little bit more, about how as leaders, we, in this particular time, especially, cannot take the exit on people and can help our teams to respectfully disagree with each other. But I thought we might start by laying the groundwork a little bit, because I had the opportunity to read your book, and there's so many nuggets. Of course. There's so many nuggets in there that I I really hope that everyone goes out and gets it right away. We won't be able to dig into all of them, but I thought we might start with the groundwork of, you know, what does it mean to not take the exit on someone?

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:12:49]:

Yeah. That's a great question. And and and for me, I'm analogy person. I wanted to I want to dive in deeper. So I did further work in motivational theory in terms of grad school. And I was trying to really figure out what would motivate someone to engage in meaningful dialogue with people who are different Mhmm. To do these things. So it's not something they had to do, but it was something that was just built into the fabric of the art.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:13:12]:

And I started to understand what our brains do. Right? Because I was trying to figure out, like, what stops people. When you start figuring out or what motivates you, ask, well, what's what's the motivator? Mhmm. And so some of the demotivators are brains. Our brains are actually wired to, to to do this, to conserve energy for things it thinks it doesn't know. And I I love I love giving the analogy if you've ever been driving and then, like, Monday through Friday, you've been driving and you you take this exit every day. Monday through Friday, you take this exit. And then Saturday, you're there too for some strange reason.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:13:41]:

You take the exit. And then one day, Sunday, you're supposed to go straight. But what do you do?

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:13:45]:

You take the exit.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:13:46]:

You take the exit. Yeah. And we take the exit because our brains are conserving energy, and it's on, quote, unquote, autopilot. Mhmm. And and what happens is that we get the second and third hand information, right, from media, from social media, from friends and other things, and our brains categorize it for future use. And so we don't even realize oftentimes we're pulling from what we've gotten second and third hand information just to be able to engage. And so we encounter this person and it's like our brains, like, I I remember that and we take the exit. Mhmm.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:14:18]:

And so our call, our challenge, our encouragement is for people to engage in more intentionality to drive forward towards some really amazing humans. Mhmm. And one of the practical ways that we've seen it happen is, you know, come all about practicality. I'm not about, like, always you were just I'll take the exit. It's the thing we call the the circles of grace challenge. Now, initially, it was a 6 month challenge, because that's I just did it for myself.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:14:44]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:14:44]:

Because I realized I wasn't living up to my mom's ideals. I was I wasn't leaving my home base. Alright? I was I was canceling people or disagreed with me. I was deleting them, taking them off all the LinkedIn also. And I was like, that's not what my mom taught me. And so I started doing a 6 month challenge that became circles of grace challenge and it simply was this, every 6 months I would go to events, experiences, or engage with people and either which I didn't know a lot about and or that I disagreed with. And I would go asking really 2 things. 1, what did I learn about the event experiences and or these people? And or 2, what did I learn about myself as I experienced them?

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:15:22]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:15:23]:

And as I begin doing that, it started opening up this awesome portal of learning. And and I can't say, like, you know, there's times I went through this Circles of Grace Challenge and I walked away like, yep, still fully disagree. And there's all the times where I was like, well, I didn't realize that. That that was nuanced. That was the gray or I got that all wrong. Mhmm. But in those moments of learning, it created those moments where I was like, wow. Like, we can actually engage in a humanity which that's the statement came came to fruition from that we can vehemently disagree with someone's ideology and yet passionately pursue their humanity.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:16:01]:

And that for me became the the the the framework of this work. And I would say that in my presentations, and guess what, Terry? People would come up, you know, there's always like this audible, like, oh, oh, I'm not but then afterwards people come up, they're like, Justin, I love that statement. How do I do it?

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:16:15]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:16:17]:

Or, like and they would give examples, like, what about this thing? Right? Like, what if they come and say and we'd work through that. So that's that for me became the the the groundwork, the foundation of other our research of how can we vehemently disagree with someone's ideology and yet still passionately pursue their humanity.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:16:35]:

Yeah. That and I wanna dig into that with a with a specific example, though, they're relevant to leaders as well,

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:16:42]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:16:42]:

In just a minute because I that is such a great statement, and it is what we're all about at StrongLitterServe as well about, you know, seeing people's humanity. And I think it is so much ease well, maybe it's not. I would say it is easier these days to not leave our base.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:17:01]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:17:01]:

Because we're, you know, the great sort, I guess, you know, people starting to move to places where they know that they will agree with most of the people in the city that they're living in or, you you know, on social media, for example, with the algorithms. It just is easier because our bases can be bigger. Yes. And and we cannot

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:17:21]:

And we're we're comforted. We're affirmed. Exactly. Social isolation theory speaks to that. Right? Where when we've isolated ourselves and the pandemic did a lot of that for us at times, it's now we've this ecosystem of people that think like us, believe like us, operate like us because we're seeking some sense of affirmation, confirmation, because it justifies who I am. And that's why I love Carol Dweck's work. We were around the growth mindset and fixed mindset because, you know, her research just is is phenomenal. And our society conditions people to be fixed mindset people to not wanna be perceived as ignorant, to be better than others.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:17:58]:

Right? I know all the acronyms. And when we don't know something, we actually will lean out of it and or we'll defend ourselves in it versus moving into this place of learning. And so our our call for leaders is and that's what I love. It's like, we've had we've had teams that have taken a circle of grace challenge. We worked through this with the Ford Family Foundation, and they literally as as a whole foundation, they took the challenge. And it was so powerful because we followed up 6 months later, and we did a whole session. And they talked about, like, oh my gosh. Like, there's so much that I learned about our constituents and the people that we serve in our foundation that I didn't know before just because I chose to lean in.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:18:33]:

And so from a leadership perspective, like, we first have to lead by example, and it's one of our first tips to model the behavior. But 2, we can encourage our teams to operate in this place of learning. And I think the circle's a great challenge. Whatever rhythm 3, 6, 12 months you wanna do can make sense as a leader.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:18:50]:

Yeah. Definitely agree. You know, I think, in fact, the workplace might be one area where we are not able to isolate ourselves or to stay on base as easily because we don't choose everyone that we get to work with. We may not even choose everyone who's on our team because maybe we got promoted into an intact team or came into the organization. But before we dig into the specific example I have in mind, I'd I'd one more piece of groundwork. You mentioned naive realism, and I was struck by that. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and how that plays into it?

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:19:26]:

Yeah. So there's a interesting concept, like, let me let me first ask you a question about, yourself, right, because I think this is helpful. What do you feel is true about you and the values that you hold?

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:19:39]:

You know, I I do feel that, you know, they're they're true. They come from a play a good place, a well meaning place, and that they will do good in the world.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:19:50]:

Yeah. You know, we all like it and and this is I know I love doing this, you know, asking that question and we get to this point because we all generally think, like, I'm I'm thinking good. I'm doing good. Right? You know, I I mean, we've elevated to at least from a theoretical perspective, we can say, oh, I have bias, but we sometimes don't operate like we do. Right? And we're not open to that. We think that, you know, like, the way we operate and the way we function is generally good. And so what we find in naive realism is really 2 things, is that we believe that we see the world objectively without bias. That's one of the things.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:20:24]:

Right? And that's why I'll I I I wanna get into that because I think you have a specific example too. And that we expect that others will come to the same conclusions that we do as long as they get the same information that we have. Mhmm. So oftentimes, we find in these disagreements. We see people just try to give give information because if they just know what I know, they they believe what I believe. Right? And it's so untrue. Right? The research really debunks this whole concept of naive realism because we're all shaped by our experiences, our growing up algorithms, and the things we have. I love one of the books I really love, Oprah, I forgot the doctor's name, the book called, what happened to you? And they're changing the question from what's wrong with you to what happened to you.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:21:09]:

Right? And and they walk through the things in our lives that have shaped us. And there's none of us that have the same experiences, the same moments, the same learning, and that's why it's pivotal to be able to hear people's stories, to engage in people's stories. And that's why it's also important to be able to confront our own biases. And that's one of the things I went on a bias journey for my myself, and there's probably still many more biases I don't know about. But I started digging into, like, Justin, what are my own biases? Because I'm starting to think like, of course, I'm right. Yeah. I'm I'm a researcher. I I study stuff.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:21:41]:

I'm I'm well educated. Right? I've I've worked for fortune 500 companies and da da da. Mhmm. And I'm like, but I I I also have bias. I've been doing this work for 20 years. Right? I I speak on this stuff, and I still have bias. I still make mistakes. And that's one of the first things I tell people when I go into these sessions.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:21:56]:

I'm like, hey. 20 years in, and I still think wrong thoughts. I still have biases. I still and this is this is the issue. The issue that I have is that we've built this circle of shame based upon having the bias. Mhmm. The issue is not having the bias. The real issue is when we do nothing once we know we have the bias.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:22:21]:

That's the issue. There's many biases I still have that I challenge myself to go through psychological reframing and all these things, but I still have it. How I respond to it, that's the critical thing that we can do as leaders to be able to confront it. So when you are vulnerable in in these places, in your 1 on ones or in in team meetings and you're able to share, like, hey. I thought this and I'm working through it this how this way, It allows our team members, the people that we work with, it allows people in our organization to, 1, trust us more Mhmm. But then also, 2, to open up to their own biases because they're not pretending, and they're able to actually make real progress.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:22:59]:

Yeah. I loved what the story you were telling in your TEDx talk as well about the bias that you were struggling with and kind of the the psychological reframing you were talking about that you did around that.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:23:13]:

It's still there. Yeah. Yeah. We we could go into it. I I I don't have shame about it. I early on when I first started telling this story, I got really nervous because I was wondering, would people judge me? Would people call me this or that? And and I I I I realized I had to practice what I taught about vulnerability. And it's hard to be vulnerable when you're from 20 people or 2,000, but, the the central story is I I realized that one of my biases as I went on my bias journey was black women who are with white men. And, as I began to uncover that and unravel that, I was like, but Justin, I I have many friends and, you know, like, I went through the whole thing.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:23:54]:

Of course, I have friends that are black women who are white. And and I started wondering, like, how did that happen? Right? Where did I where did I come from? Again, what happened to me? Alright. Now what's wrong with me? And I realized growing up and certain members of my family and certain members of my community that taught me that that was wrong. And so I had I remember feeling that deep sense of shame. Like, wow. I mean, people can love who they wanna love and all these kind of things. Right? And then it clicked in. It's like, but wait a minute.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:24:21]:

What can I do toward it? What can I do to shape this, to reshape it? So, you know, of course, I went through all my training and all the stuff I've learned and tried to do psychological framing. So I created this fictitious story, you know, and I still do it to this day, where I create these unique stories when I see a black woman with a white man and that conditioned response kicks in. Oh, there's not enough good brothers for you. Right? And then I go into and and I I create this more romance story. Right? And where I could go deep into the romance story, but essentially, I see fireworks flash in and rose petals falling and all these things happening. And I I I start chuckling to myself. So I'm I'm trying to rewire what I'm experiencing. But what I realized, it wasn't good enough just to create and make believe fictitious stories that I needed to hear the real ones.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:25:07]:

And that began the journey to really start talking to and asking questions, and my business manager, director operations, Darrie, is a black woman who's married to Derek, a white male. And I realized, Dari, I had never even asked Dari how she and Derek met. That's part of my bias. Right? I'm normally always curious to know how people meet. Right? Yeah. Oh, how did you all come together? I had never asked her how they met. And as I sat down, I was like, Dory, I realized I never asked you on dear and and she told me the story. They met in Foot Locker.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:25:33]:

I guess all good things happen in Foot Locker. Of course. And I was just like, wow. It was a powerful story. I wish I could tell you. I did that one conversation, that one story, and now the bias is gone. No. I still see it.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:25:47]:

I still receive it. The difference is is how I respond to it has changed. And so as leaders, when we can be open and vulnerable with ourselves first and with our teams and helping them to walk through the journey, it actually allows people to to be free to operate in that growth mindset where they're not trying to protect their perceived intelligence, where they see failure just as another data point to learn, and ignorance just means I just don't know something yet. Those are the things that are are are really principled in the work that we do. And so, yeah, we all have bias, but let's not just stop that we all have bias. Let's actually dig into one of our biases and start being honest with people about that bias as we move to learn more about how we choose to respond to it.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:26:28]:

Yeah. Yeah. That's such a a concrete example, and, that's one of the things I loved about your book, just the practicality of it all. And I think it's a great time now to transition into that specific example. So let's let's say I'm a leader, and I had someone on my team, again, given that we're in the middle of an election year in the US Yeah. Who maybe I like one side and that this person is very vocal all the time about the other side. You talk about 5 pillars in your book about going through so that you can respectfully disagree and have these difficult conversations and not take the exit. I wonder if you might take that situation I just gave you and talk to us about what those 5 colors might look like in that situation.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:27:21]:

Yes. Oh, you just made me so happy, Derek. So I love the situational analysis. So what we realized in our 5 pillars now, originally, we had 4. And, as we dug deeper into the research, the last pillar we came up with actually became the first pillar. Interesting. And it's very and those challenge your perspective because we realized respectful disagreement largely happened before the disagreement even happens. It's the position of our heart.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:27:49]:

It's how we engage. It's the proactive nature and I'll and I'll let that's what we found as we dug into the books and lot of the the literature on this conflict resolutions that most of them addressed the actual conflict rather than dealing with the heart of the conflict before you even had it.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:28:03]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:28:04]:

And so challenging your perspective is simply engaging. If you notice this election year, it's engaging in hearing from others, going on TEDx's or podcasts and hearing from people who are educating. Not not the not always the extreme voices because those are the things that are often elevated in the media. But hearing people talk about the issues that are important to them on different sides. Right? Because there's many different sides, independent, republican, democrat, all those stuff. And you're just choosing to hear. Taking a 6 months challenge. If you're a a democrat and you take a 6 months challenge with the republicans and and ask some of your friends who are republicans and talk and hear just to hear.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:28:43]:

Right? Or if you're a democrat the other way or the independent, whatever that may be. So challenging our perspective, when we put ourselves in positions of learning, it allows us to actually flow, have after effect of that learning into those different conflicts that we might have, and I I have to give this caveat. The word conflict for me is not bad. It's unhealthy conflict or disrespectful conflict. I think conflict actually makes us better. I tell my team all the time, friction is better. Friction, it makes us better. I debunk what I'm saying.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:29:12]:

So the first is challenge your perspective. The second is be the student. So in that scenario, as you're engaging this person, is, you know, always sharing their things, instead of automatically going to, oh, I'm gonna debunk that or that's wrong or that's wrong, Move into a place of how can I be a learner rather than a lecturer? Most people go into these conflicts to trying to lecture people to tell them what's wrong, why would they say this off, rather than saying I'm gonna go in this with a position of learning.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:29:40]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:29:40]:

And going to first ask to hear people's story. Right? It'll give you a great example. So if you were engaging with this person and you went out to lunch, you chose to say I'd I'd love to go out to lunch if you really just hear your story. And, like, here, I hear you talking a lot about this issue or this candidate. I just I just love to hear your story about, like, how you got there. Like, where did these views and values come from? Right? I just I'm really curious and would love to learn. I would love to learn. You see what I'm saying? There's a difference between how did you get there? What's like, what versus, like, I'd love to learn.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:30:11]:

Mhmm. And the number one thing that most people love talking about normally are themselves. Yeah. Yeah. And so it creates that space where you can truly be the student. 2nd pillar.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:30:22]:

Real quick. I I was just thinking about that launch. And, again, from your TEDx talk, the, idea of double Dutch communication came in.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:30:32]:

Yes. It's like, which which is I'm I'm going to in in in, pillar 3, which which is cultivate your curiosity. Right?

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:30:38]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:30:38]:

And when we cultivate our curiosity, we fill in the gaps with curiosity, not conclusions.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:30:43]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:30:44]:

And that's listening deeply to others. We don't listen. Alright? I I as a parent, let me raise my hand. I sometimes often don't listen to my kids because I think I know what's best. My experience has shaped, and there are times where I'm right, but just doesn't mean I still can't listen. Mhmm. And so when we go in, we position ourselves as a learner to go and hear people's story. We cultivate our curiosity.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:31:08]:

And so say somebody says something, instead of jumping in to debunk what they said, we've given people a tool we call the power of 3. And with the power of 3, it allows us to dive into the 3rd level of the conversation. And what I mean by that, instead of them just saying, well, I think that, you know, all independents are horrible people. Instead of saying, how dare you say that? Right? I've just stopped at level 1. Level 2 will say, it's interesting. Tell me more about that. What led you to that conclusion? Right? That's level 2. Right? And then they may say, well, I did experience this, you know, I went to this rally and and I saw all these independence they were doing this.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:31:44]:

It's like, wow. Like, have you have you seen that happen in other situations? Like, I've just done level 3. I'm I'm able to get into this place where I'm I'm essentially able to share with them from a heart based process. Now I'm not trying to use mind tricks. Right? Because that's I've seen all those types of influence things. But from a true heart based when I'm a student, I'm now so curious that I really wanna understand how the person got there so that I can comprehend and share back to them. I can see how you got there. Alright? So that's pillar 3.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:32:17]:

Pillar 4 is seek the gray and and you and I both know there's 50 shades of it. And so one of the interesting things as we think through gray is, you know, gray I I loved. This this concept came from during my MBA. I had one of those really cool professors. I was like the dead poet society, like the carpet idea. We had to sit in the middle of the the room and do nothing for 10 minutes and then we had to share write a paper about it. I was like, why we do it? Really, we really had to do that.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:32:45]:

Oh my god.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:32:45]:

But he had us read this one book, really powerful book, one of the best books I've ever read about diversity inclusion that had nothing to do with diversity inclusion. There's a book called dialogue, the art of thinking together. And in this book, he talked about these differences of a and b And normally, I come into a meeting and I'm trying to convince you of a. You're coming to me and you're trying to convince me of b. We even get allies. Right? I'm like, alright. Alright. Terry, Sam, and Jessica, I need you I need your support when we go into this meeting.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:33:12]:

Right? And so we're we're treating it as war Right. Versus how can we create c together? So in seeking the gray, our challenge is is identifying where are the where is their commonality. I'm giving you a great great example. So say this are you know, somebody's talking about issue around gun rights or gun activism or all these kind of things and one place of gray is like it appears like we both really care about our families and our family Mhmm. That's a gray.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:33:35]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:33:35]:

Right? You found the gray. Right? Now it can be hard in some issues. Sometimes the gray is just that that person is a person. Right? Because there's nothing there. But oftentimes, there are those moments of gray, but we're we're often not taught to seek the gray. Right? And if you notice in my book, it's black and white. Most people don't see is a very thin line of gray separating the black and white. And it's very intentional because it's hard.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:34:00]:

It takes real intentionality to seek that gray of what is our commonality. Because if I can communicate our commonality, what research shows is that people are more willing to have conversations with people because I'm connecting with you Mhmm. Versus automatically disconnecting you with our conversation.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:34:18]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:34:18]:

And then the last pillar, pillar 5 is agree to respect, which is always our choice. So even if you have that conversation with that person that's always sharing their views and you believe differently than them, one of the things that we we talk about is fully acknowledging the person, leaving every disagreement with full acknowledgment. What I mean by that, whether they you a 100% agree or disagree or partially agree is, wow. I've never heard that before. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:34:45]:

Mhmm. Mhmm.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:34:46]:

That's full acknowledgment. That that didn't say I agree with you. Right? And so those are the 5 pillars and and through that, let me give you the last one because you have to come back to that. Another vulnerability moment. While I was writing, I respectfully disagree. On my writing retreat, I think week, I disrespectfully disagreed with someone while writing the book. Right? But what was different this time is I, found myself operating that place of pride that the superior self. And I came back and say, hey.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:35:22]:

I wanna apologize because I realized I didn't really even take time to hear your perspective. I just automatically went into conclusions. And then I went back and started at pillar 2, and I became the student. So even if you've gone off the rails, because that happens sometimes. We're we're not perfect. We're gonna make mistakes. I do it a lot. We can always come back to be the student and work through the different pillars, and I left it with a agree to agree to respect.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:35:47]:

I still disagreed with him, but I left with knowing more about how he got there, being able to affirm him as a person even if I didn't necessarily appreciate the ideology.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:35:57]:

Mhmm. Mhmm. Thank you for sharing that because I I know, you know, so many people, and I think you mentioned it too, talk about progress and not perfection. But we still aim for that perfection and and,

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:36:08]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:36:09]:

know, read all the books so that we can do things perfectly. But acknowledging that even if you don't get through all these 5 pillars perfectly, you can still cycle back. And you and I've had conversations with other offer authors that, you know, have said the same thing that you you may have moments where even if you are the author of a book on, like, you know, disagreeing respectfully, you're gonna not always do that.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:36:36]:

So Right.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:36:37]:

Thank you for calling that out. I do wanna ask one more question about the pillars, and that is pillar 5, you talk about agree to respect. How is that different than agreeing to disagree?

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:36:49]:

I'm glad you asked that question. Because that's normally when people hear the title of my book. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Agree to disagree. And I'm like, that's halfway there. Mhmm. Because what I realized in that statement, agree to disagree, is that a lot of people agree to can agree to disagree disrespectfully.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:37:07]:

And that's the unique aspect when I agree to respect. It's a choice. Mhmm. I we we break down in the book. We we call it the 10 characteristics of golden respect. I'm not gonna go through all 10, but I wanna go through 1 because it's been one that I keep hearing over and over again is you must earn my respect. Alright? And that's been a societal, definition around respect. You have to earn it.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:37:31]:

And my my retort back to that is why? Why did we where did this come from where we have to earn someone's respect or that they have to earn our respect? Why can't we freely choose to give it to them? We we talk about respect as what we call the distant cousin of forgiveness because we finally gotten to that place with forgiveness where we finally realized forgiveness is not about the other person. It's about me. Mhmm. Mhmm. And that's the same thing with respect. It's it's my free choice to give respect even for people who disrespect me. The powerful story that really shapes me in this is, one of my former colleagues was a former skinhead, very misogynistic, racist, views, all these kind of things. And I I was a student.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:38:13]:

I was like, wow. Tell me tell me your journey. How'd you get there? Like, what what was that process? And then what were those catalyst moments that got you out of it?

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:38:21]:

Mhmm. Mhmm.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:38:22]:

And and he was like, Justin, I loved when people used to call me names. Used to call me misogynist and this and and, piggy and all. He's like, that fueled me. He was like, the catalyst and seeds for change were the very same people I disrespected and demeaned still chose to show me respect. He's like, they'll never know, but I couldn't it like, it did not compute Mhmm. Because I was like, wait a minute. I'm disrespecting these people, but they're still wait a minute. And he and those were those those seeds planted in him that were of change.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:38:55]:

We have the power to choose. Another really great book that this been a part of just my mantra of living, small book, Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I love that book, Holocaust survivor, who talks about still the power to find meaning in the most horrific of situations in the the that that middle ground or that gap between stimulus and response that I have the power to be able to. So as leaders, we can choose to respect. And one last thing about this because I missed something in talking about this. Our original research, we initially planned on just helping people to go from disrespectful disagreement to respectful disagreement. But in somebody disagreeing with my topic in our qualitative research, what we found is there was a whole another category, Terry, called disrespectful agreement.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:39:46]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:39:47]:

And disrespectful agreement, we often see that in the workplace in 2 different ways. One, it's the people that are in the team meetings and are like, you know, like, Justin, I think that was a really good idea, but they come to Terry like, Terry, I don't know what Justin was thinking about that. That was a horrible idea. Right? And so we're disrespecting the other person. On the other side, it's a person who is disrespecting themselves because they they haven't learned to utilize the beauty of their voice. They haven't learned to be able to speak up and it's for myriad of different means. They could have been a child and gone through traumatic situations where a person who said, as a child, you should be seen and not heard. It could be an underrepresented groups that didn't feel like they had a voice.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:40:26]:

It could be power differentials, all these different things. But what I've realized is that when those people are operating from that inferior self that they often don't engage and share their actual disagreement.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:40:36]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:40:37]:

And so they're disrespectful agreeing, but yet there's still contention in their heart. There's still, I think this could be done differently. And, again, this is the right time and right place to do this. I'm not saying every situation you're like, I disagree with that. No. I'm not saying that. But those are the things that we wanted to equip leaders to help people to get to that place of respectful disagreement, not just from the passionate, aggressive name calling, but also the passive ones where people actually had a difference opinion. I think the project could go this way, but we don't cultivate that as leaders as often as we can.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:41:10]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:41:10]:

Why is it important for leaders to cultivate that? Because that that sounds like a lot of work.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:41:15]:

It is. And you hit the head on the nail. This is not a quick fix book. This is not, when you're in the moment, just use these 5 simple principles, and you'll be good. This is we're really after a heart based approach that this is part of our lifelong journey. So I wanna I wanna tell people, like, there's some really good quick books that's out there, and that can help in those moments, but that's not our approach. Leaders. The desire for leaders to do this work is when your people feel one that they can bring their full and best selves to work and they're not walking on eggshells around their fellow team members, It's been shown to increase innovation, creativity, collaboration, and overall work together.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:42:02]:

2, it spurs the best ideas. Right? Yeah. I I don't know if you ever remember. I felt like every conference or, like, team building, we always had to go through that the wilderness thing where you had to figure out what you did on your own. And then the everybody then came together and you work together to figure out. You most always came together unless you had, like, that one person. I was like, Eagle Scout. Oh, my honor.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:42:23]:

I would do my better. But we generally see when we're able to come together and create see together, to seek the gray, to create something new, it allows us to actually have something that's so powerful. And I I wanna demonstrate this in the illustration. I've been to some performances of drummers, and I love drummers. Right? There's a drum in my background. I I do a whole pretax call, work through different beats. I love drumming. But there's a different feel and experience I have when I'm a part of a drum circle.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:42:57]:

When I'm a part of the drumming and we're creating a beat that could not come from just one of us. That's what leaders are, where they are able to orchestrate that beat that we're creating a new rhythm of, ideation, new rhythms of how do we solve the problems, how do we provide great customer service and service excellence, new rhythms of how do I, give more to my team than take from them. Those are the things that we unleash our members, our team, our employees to be able to do really powerful significant things when they know that they're supported with us just simply keeping rhythm.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:43:37]:


Justin Jones-Fosu [00:43:37]:

That's the power of leadership.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:43:39]:

I love that. I have goosebumps right now, and and, really, you just took the last question out of my mouth because I was gonna ask you what strong leaders serve means to you given that it is the title of the podcast. And I I think and I'll allow you to add to it if you'd like, but I think what you just said is a perfect answer to that.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:44:00]:

Yeah. I I respectfully agree.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:44:05]:

Oh, we're down then.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:44:09]:

Yes. So I am I am so thankful for your brilliance, for your heart, and I and I love it's not just about strong leadership, and that's one of the things I really I'm very words are important to me. Strong leaders serve. Right? And that that's, I'm and then, again, I'm not perfect in this, but I'm always asking for myself, how do I give more to my people than I take? Right? That's what I'm always asking. What more value that can I give to my clients that I'm asking for them in return? Right? And so when we go into that process as leaders, I think it's really powerful. And I'll end with this study that I'm I'm I'm quite sure knowing your background you're familiar with. I think it'll be helpful for us as leaders. It's a 1968 study by Rosenthal and Jacobson, and they're looking at a group of teachers.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:44:55]:

And in this group of teachers, they gave this group of teachers a list of the most gifted students in the classroom. And at the end of the year, as you could tell, the most gifted students did the best, of course, but there's a twist. The people that chose, to give the list chose the the names of the students at random. They had no idea who was the most gifted. So what the teachers did when they received the list and if this person was on the gifted list, if they weren't performing, they would first challenge themselves. They say as a leader, the teacher, what am I doing wrong? What what do I need to do? How can I change? What can I do differently? Because this person's gifted. How do I get the most out of this person? What what what how do I need to reshape myself in order to provide the best service for this leader for this student? And the other two things is when the student wasn't performing, they charged it to their effort when they're on the gifted list. They said, you're better than this.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:45:54]:

You can do this, Justin. Right? You're you're good. Like, I know it. You're on the list.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:45:58]:

Right. Mhmm.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:45:59]:

But, unfortunately, subconsciously or consciously, for those who are not on the gifted list, they charged it to their ability. So deeper away from me and from the strong leaders serve is first about how you see your people. Will you choose to see your people and to go into the office or on Teams or Zoom or whatever you may go and say I have the best team ever? This person wants to give their best, and I'm going to serve them in a way to help them to do that. And when they're not performing, we're gonna talk about effort, not that they can't do it. That's how strong be to serve.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:46:36]:

Love it. Love it. And I I love it particularly. I'll just share a personal story of mine. My mom Yes. Was a elementary school teacher, and our definition of leadership is courageously using your talents to make a way for others to courageously use theirs. And it comes from

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:46:54]:

her. Why me? Oh, no. No. No. Say that again, please. You just sped through that. I I I wanna absorb that. Say that one more time for me.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:47:01]:

It's courageously using your talents to make a way for others to courageously use theirs.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:47:07]:

Thank you.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:47:08]:

You know, it comes from my mom, and I've shared this on other podcasts because she was that teacher who who saw the humanity and the ability in every student. And, you know, as happens in elementary schools, sometimes the grade level before you, teacher will give you some information about the students that are coming up. And if there was a student that, you know, that teacher said he's gonna be a problem, you know, watch out for him, that would be the student that my mom would befriend the 1st day of school and Yeah. By the end of the year, he was excelling. And, so I saw that happen over and over again, and that's really where my foundational belief and humanity and and the strengths within each individual came from. So I I appreciate you sharing that study and because it brought that up, for me as well.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:48:02]:

Can I ask can I ask you another question? Like, obviously, that was a great moment for you, but what was that catalyst moment that caused you to start this amazing podcast?

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:48:11]:

Oh, gosh. It it was really more of a journey than a catalyst moment. It it just is through my experiences being a leader myself and and seeing people who didn't believe that they could do what I thought they were capable of and then seeing that transformation when they realized for themselves that they could do way more than they thought they were capable of. And just seeing so many so many leaders like yourself around me that were going at all the from all different angles, but in the same spirit of helping people to be who they be fully who they could be and and doing it with some depth and not like we were talking about before we start recording, you know, in a superficial way, but more with some depth and research backed ways. And, it just I wanted to hear more from people like that and share more of the work that they were doing so that we could make our workplaces more compassionate and just.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:49:16]:

That is awesome. I I absolutely love that. And you've done amazing with this podcast What one of our big challenges to leaders is to do is to scrap what's called the open door policy. Right? We're, you know, we're waiting to hear. It's a password approach. We're challenging leaders to move to an out the door policy where we go and seek out the stories and perspective of others. And so thank you for doing that with this podcast.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:49:43]:

Yeah. Of course. Of course. Well, thank you for being part of it today. And, of course, we'll have all of your links in the show notes so people know where to get the book, know where to get your other books, and and watch your TEDx talk. But I wanted to know, is there a specific place if they wanna get in touch with you? Is there a specific way that you would suggest?

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:50:04]:

Yeah. How to respectfully, is the place that you find all the goodies, information, all the things about the book, the video, we we love. It's a really fun kind of a fun video. And then our deep work around the macro work where we do around the intersection of meaningful work and inclusion, is at work So those are the places. Connect with me on LinkedIn, Justin Jones Fosu. I love connecting with people and having dialogue and creating these spaces. Yes.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:50:34]:

Because you can also respectfully disagree online, which I talk about a little bit in the book. So

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:50:39]:

Maybe you'll have to come on, do another episode on that.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:50:42]:

Yeah. Thank you so much, Terry.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:50:46]:

Thank you, and congratulations again on both your upcoming marriage in a couple days as well as the release of the book. I I can't wait to see it impact so many people.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:50:58]:

Thank you. And can I ask you one thing? How can I best support you?

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:51:01]:

Yeah. Just, sharing more about the podcast so more people can hear all the great leaders that we're bringing on.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:51:08]:

Awesome. I will do that. I'll continue. Alright. Thank you.

Justin Jones-Fosu [00:51:12]:

Excellent. Thank you so much.

Teri Schmidt [00:51:18]:

I hope you enjoyed that conversation as much as I did. In 2 weeks, we'll dig into the role you have in conversations and in building connection in our workplace as a leader, especially in our remote and hybrid workplaces. Until then, leave with Justin's quote in mind: "We can vehemently disagree with someone's ideology, and yet passionately pursue their humanity."


bottom of page