Charles Starrett


Blog, links, and…

Culture consultant and social tech teacher/facilitator at SoulCo and Northeastern University. He/Him. Also: dad, Harvard and New England Conservatory graduate, 한국어 enthusiast, visual thinker, dabbler in ukulele and electronic music, and TTRPG spectator.

Latest Posts

Feel more to know more

Often when we get into a conflict, we can be tempted to react right away. The problem is, in the heat of the moment, we rarely understand completely what happened. We don’t have all the information we need to respond wisely.

Part of the problem is that there are often facts that we don’t want to admit to ourselves. Things about the conflict which trigger anger or fear and which we don’t want to look at directly. And thus we ignore this key information.

Taking the time to feel something fully is taking the time to get to know the situation more — including the parts that are uncomfortable to look at.

Taking the time to feel what we don’t want to feel can help us to get more of the facts before we act.

22 May 2022

The wrong thing or the wrong people

If you discover that you are caring more than the people you serve, then either you’re caring about the wrong thing or serving the wrong people.

You’re caring about the wrong thing, because what you are caring about is not what the people you serve are caring about.

Or, if you don’t want to change what you care about, then you need to find new people to serve — people who care about what you care about.

Either way, caring more than the people who you serve is is not serving anyone.

21 May 2022

You're right. And so are they.

Each of us is right in our own head. That’s why so many arguments don’t go anywhere.

I’m right. And so are you.

What if instead of arguing about this, we started by agreeing that we’re both right. And then compared notes.

How am I right? (What do I see?) How are you right? (What do you see?)

Listening with curiosity and empathy to what each of us sees, can we build a shared understanding? A shared map of the world we both live in? Can we see together something that neither of us could see alone?

And then from that shared understanding, sense what shared action we also see.

When we “agree to disagree,” it’s a cop-out. A way to avoid really listening to each other.

But when we agree to listen to each other without trying to change each other, real possibilities for collaboration can emerge.

20 May 2022

People buy things

People are behind every decision to buy. Even if you do business-to-business sales, and even if a company is paying for your product, the decision to buy was made by people. Human beings with human needs, wants, fears, and aspirations.

Of course you want to sell something you can be proud of. A product you can stand behind.

But it’s not all about the specifications and the value you see in your product.

It’s about the person who is deciding to buy it, or not.

What are their needs, wants, fears, and aspiration? What do they believe? (It’s very likely not the same as what you believe.)

To make a sale is to make a connection — human to human. And to do that you need to know as much about the person you are selling to, as you do about what you are selling.

19 May 2022

You won't succeed if you don't try

You won’t succeed if you don’t try. Yes, it’s a truism, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Equally true is that you can’t avoid failure if you want to succeed.

When doing anything new, anything worth doing, you will inevitably fail along the way. Probably many times. Or in the words of Jason Mraz, you’ll “win some and learn some.”

The only way to avoid failure is not to try. And if you don’t try, you’ll never succeed.

It’s not “success or failure,” but “success and failure.” It’s a package deal.

18 May 2022

Show, don't tell

If you’re a human, then I’m willing to bet that at least part of your business involves people. And, because you’re in a people business, you may find it difficult to explain what makes the human part of your business special.

How is working with you different from working with other people? What do your clients and customers feel when they work with you?

No matter how many testimonials we have, it’s difficult to communicate the experience of working with us when all we have are words on a page. Maybe it would be better if we didn’t try.

Instead, find ways to show a potential customer what it might feel like to work with you. Create invitations for them to experience you in a webinar, through a video, or a podcast. Let them hear your voice, sense your personality, and feel for themselves if they would enjoy working together.

We really can’t tell someone whether we’re a good match. The best we can do is show who we are, and let them decide for themselves.

17 May 2022

It's not over 'till it's over

“It’s not over ‘till it’s over.”

This may be a tautology, but most of us humans forget this in the heat of the moment.

In the moment of the big failure, we feel like our career, business, or lives are over, even though we have no idea of where this failure might lead us. We have no idea what will happen next in our lives.

In the moment of the big success, we may think that we finally made it, even though we have no idea where this success might lead us, and what will happen next.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t feel disappointed with failure, or feel happy about success. It’s important to feel what we feel, but beware the thoughts that come, telling us where this failure or success will lead.

Because the hard truth is, we have no idea what the future holds.

The best we can do is to do what we can with what we have, right in this moment.

16 May 2022

Leadership is not a thing

If we want to learn to ride a bike, it takes more than reading books, watching videos, or going to workshops. It’s a skill. And to learn, we need the courage to get on a bike to ride, fall, and ride again.

It takes practice, commitment, and just as importantly, a bike and enough space to ride in.

The same is true of leadership. Just like riding a bike, leadership is a skill. And it takes more than reading books, watching videos, or going to workshops to become better at leading. We need the courage to practice together with other people in a safe enough space where we can lead, fail, and get back up.

Leadership is not a thing we can have, but a skill we can develop, if we have the courage and commitment to practice.

15 May 2022

Attentive versus rote

Rituals require attention. When we brush our teeth, we need to pay attention to the teeth we’re brushing, the force we’re using and how long we’re brushing to make sure we do a careful, through job.

This is something we do multiple times a day for our entire lives, and it can be easy to fall into “rote,” or just going through the motions. But then we won’t get our intended result: clean teeth.

It’s the same with interpersonal rituals. Things like greeting each other in the hallway, reading out the agenda at a meeting, or saying goodbye at the end of a phone call. If we say the correct words but do it in a perfunctory way, without really paying attention to the other person or the relationship, people feel it.

If anything, speaking by rote has the opposite effect. It sends the message that we don’t care about the person, the relationship, or the work that we’re doing together.

As an experiment, try to notice whether someone’s speech is rote or attentive. And notice how it makes you feel.

Then ask yourself, how do you want to make people feel?

14 May 2022

Who will see it with you?

When we don’t know what to do, we often make a critical mistake.

We think the problem is that we don’t know which choice is best, or maybe we even think that all the choices are equally bad.

But when we feel stuck it’s often because we’re not seeing the whole picture. We’re not seeing all the possibilities. We only see a few.

The best way to see more possibilities is to get help. If I ask a trusted partner or three to sit together and sense into the challenge I’m facing, it gives me the chance to to borrow their senses and to widen my perception.

The trick is to ask that they not give advice, or try to fix the problem. Their job is to be my extra eyes and ears so we all see, feel, and sense more together, than I could alone.

Once I get a broader, higher-resolution picture of the situation, I’ll often know what to do.

If I know what’s possible, then I know what the best choice is for me to take. But that’s a big if. What I often lack is the awareness of all the choices that are available to me. That’s where I need help — to see, feel, and sense the whole. Together.

13 May 2022

The courage to listen

Every one of us is a world. We each walk around with a unique version of the world in our heads.

So when we really listen to another person with an open mind and an open heart, we risk being changed. We risk that what we hear will shift something in us so that we never see, think, or feel quite the same way again.

This means we may learn that what we thought we knew is wrong. Or that we are not showing up as the person we thought we were.

So it takes courage to really listen to another person.

Because before you can really listen, you have to be willing to be changed by what you hear.

12 May 2022

Daring to let people down

It’s easy to shut down a project or business, or to end a relationship when everyone agrees that things aren’t going well. When it’s draining everyone’s resources without enough benefit.

It’s more difficult when some people are benefitting, but you aren’t.

Maybe it’s taking up too much time or emotional labor. Maybe you’ve learned everything you can and now you’re just going through the motions. Or maybe something new is knocking at your door and the only way to let something new come in to your work and life is to let go of the old.

But when you know that your letting go is going to let people down, it can feel like you’re stealing, or even causing harm. This is a very uncomfortable feeling, and we need to have the courage to feel it so we can let go of things that no longer serve us, even when they appear to be still serving other people.

The alternative is to deny ourselves and refuse new possibilities. This path leads to the same end as letting go of the project, the business, or the relationship, but it will take much longer and be much more painful in the long run.

So the question is: do you have the courage to endure the discomfort of letting people down now with gratitude for the past and excitement for a possible future, or will you hang on through a long, slow decline into resentment and apathy?

11 May 2022

Human mirrors

The person who is the hardest for us to see objectively is ourselves.

We know too much of our own history, and we will tend to underestimate or overestimate ourselves more than anyone else. That’s why we need each other.

If I can see you clearly, and you can see me clearly, then we can help each other.

And the more mirrors the better. Each person brings a lens, a perspective, a way of seeing which is different from others.

So the more we can gather together and reflect back to each other, the more clearly we will be able see the truth about ourselves.

And from that clearer awareness comes better decisions and action.

10 May 2022

New culture, new skills

Culture is the way of being of an organization. The action and words of each member of an organization come out of that way of being and express the culture.

So changing the culture of an organization requires more than working groups and wordsmithing. It requires building new skills and capacity for this new way of being.

And building new skills and capacity takes time, attention, and practice.

All of this means that changing culture is not for the faint of heart. It’s a commitment to becoming a better organization which makes better things.

It’s worth it, but only if you’re in it for the long haul.

9 May 2022

Will or skills

Sometimes willpower is what we need to succeed, like when training for a marathon or studying for an exam.

But when we’re in uncharted waters, especially when doing inner leadership work in yourself or your team, then powering through with your will is a bad idea.

What you need is new skills, and to grow the capacity to use those skills.

What you need is patience and compassion to fail, learn, and fail again as you develop new competencies.

So it’s important to ask yourself, does this challenge need me to bring more will, or more skills.

8 May 2022

Three steps to getting better

My piano teacher once told me there were three steps to becoming a better musician:

  1. Practice
  2. Practice
  3. Practice

This is true for anything we want to get better at. Want to be a better speaker? Practice. Want to be a better listener? Practice. Want to become better at noticing your emotions before they get out of hand? Practice.

It takes commitment and consistent practice to get better at any skill. Which means creating lots of time and opportunities to practice, either on your own, or with others. Preferably when the stakes are low so you can push your edges, and learn from your mistakes without much consequence.

So the next time you’re tempted to spend time looking for new techniques, tips, or tricks, stop and use the time to practice the ones you know already instead.

You can thank me later.

7 May 2022

Listening to intention and impact

When we act, we are more aware of our intention — what we want the outcome of our action to be — rather than the impact — how the action is felt by others.

We focus on our intention, whereas people on the receiving end focus on our impact. Likewise, we focus on the impact other people’s actions have on us, and can only guess at what their true intentions were.

Because of these mismatched perspectives, when someone gets hurt by another person, there can be an assumption that the hurt was intentional. Or that the person who feels hurt should be understanding of good intentions.

The truth is that repairing a hurt relationship takes a little more work than that.

The first step to close the intention and impact gap is to trade experiences. To have an honest conversation, listening with an open mind of curiosity to share intention and impact with each other and see together what happened from each person’s perspective.

Then comes the hard work of apologies and forgiveness. This requires an open heart of compassion for ourselves, and for the other person. To take responsibility for actions that hurt, even if that was not our intention. And to forgive the person who hurt us, knowing that this happens in relationships.

The only thing which is guaranteed to make things worse, is pretending everything’s okay. If the relationship matters, then it’s worth going through the effort of listening to each other with an open mind and open heart to mend and move forward.

The bonus is that relationships which go through genuine and heartfelt hurt-heal cycles tend to grow stronger each time.

6 May 2022

Fear of speaking up

When we notice something isn’t right, but don’t say anything, nine times out of ten it’s because of fear.

This is human, natural, and irresponsible.

Along with the awareness that something isn’t right, comes the responsibility to call it out. To shine a light on it. To make those involved aware of what we see, so that you can see it together and act together to make it right.

So what can we do when we fail to speak up? Look inside.

Investigate the fear, starting with self-compassion (because this fear is human and natural). Get to know the fear. Not the story of the fear, but the feeling of the fear.

Because just like breaking in a pair of shoes, the more we allow ourselves to experience the fear in a grounded way — walking with it — the more comfortable we become with it. Until we find that when it’s time to speak up, and we feel the fear, we can speak up anyway.

5 May 2022

Rituals Strengthen Relationships

It can be easy to assume someone knows how you feel about them. We may think that everyone at the meeting understands the purpose of the work we do together. It might seem like enough to have a list of company values prominently posted in the break room and on the website.

Until someone does something that violates the norms of the company, or team cohesion starts to break down, or psychological safety is lost.

Relationships require care and feeding, and one way to do that is through ritual.

It could be saying hello and goodbye to those in offices near yours. Or beginning each meeting with a reminder of why the meeting was called. Or reading a set of guiding principles at the beginning of each company gathering.

Little things that don’t take much time, but might feel repetitive or redundant. These little rituals are threads that knit a team and an organization tighter and tighter – one conversation and one meeting at a time.

What rituals might you create or stick to more closely in your organization to remind each other of why you are there, why your work matters, and that you belong together?

4 May 2022

We are all living in our own world

Every person is a world. We each walk around with our own version of reality. What I see and hear is not the same as what you see and hear. We each have a perspective that is shaped by genetics, personality, and how we were raised. And there is no way for me to see and hear what is in your head, unless you tell me.

And yet, it’s almost impossible to get any work done unless we can agree on reality. We need to know where we’re starting from, if we’re going to be able to get anywhere together.

This is one reason that honest conversation, and listening with curiosity, compassion, and courage is so essential to teamwork. It’s such kind conversation that allows us to start aligning the worlds in our heads, until we are standing in the same place, looking at the same goal, and ready to take that first step in the right direction, together.

3 May 2022

Willpower and willingness

There’s a difference between willpower and willingness.

Willpower is the power to will yourself to do something even if you don’t want to.

Willingness is the opening of the will to do the work that matters to you.

When we struggle with procrastination, we may think that we lack willpower. The question is, are we really willing to do what we need to do to get what we think we want. Are we being honest with ourselves about how we feel. About what we really want.

When we’re aware of our true wants and needs, our decisions and actions will naturally move us in the direction of those wants and needs. But if we’re unclear about what we want, or fooling ourselves about what we want, then we may find that we can’t push ourselves through the difficult challenges of doing the work.

That’s a big reason for why we procrastinate: we’re not being honest with ourselves about what we truly want.

It’s not the strength of our will, or willpower, that we need. It’s the openness of our will — our willingness to see, feel, and act on what we truly want — that carries us through.

2 May 2022

Listening creates trust

When we listen, we have the opportunity to create trust.

Trust that we care enough to spend time on strengthening this relationship. To put aside our ego, opinions, and biases and see things from another perspective. To allow ourselves be changed by a conversation.

But listening is more than not talking. To build trust, we need to give our full, open attention to the other person. This is a skill.

And every conversation we have is an opportunity to practice that skill, and to create trust, if we choose to.

1 May 2022

Learning to disappoint

There are many forces that keep us stuck in our old ways of living and working, even when we know we want to change.

One of these forces is the people around us who expect us to keep acting the same way we always have. Some will be pleasantly surprised when we start to act more true to ourselves, but others won’t want us to change.

They may feel surprised, frustrated, confused, betrayed, and even angry if we break out of our old patterns, and start acting more true to who we really are.

Sometimes we need to make the hard decision to disappoint someone else, so that we can stop disappointing ourselves. That’s easier said than done, but we have to do it if we’re serious about our own growth.

And when the fear of disappointing others threatens to stop us from doing the right thing, we can keep going by remembering the wise words of Dr. Seuss: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

30 April 2022

Curiosity is fear's Kryptonite

Fear can expand to control our thoughts, our feelings, and our actions. It has the ability to block everything else out of our awareness.

And resistance is futile. It will counter any argument we bring and laugh at any attempt to put a silver lining on it. We can’t fight it head on.

We need another tool that can get past fear’s defenses.

Curiosity is fear’s Kryptonite. Curiosity and fear cannot co-exist. Fear is the force that layers us in armor and locks the doors to keep us safe. Curiosity is what pulls us outside and opens our eyes and hearts wide to see and feel what is there.

If we can find a way to be even a little bit curious when we feel afraid, it makes a crack through which we can find our courage again.

29 April 2022