The Power of Vulnerability:  A Dialogue with Julie Pham on How Being Authentic Can Strengthen Your Work Relationships

We welcomed over 70 women in The Shop on February 7th for Women’s Power Hour, an event that has remained on our minds ever since. The vibe was lively and joyful, the wine freely flowed, and the snacks were, as usual, their own main event. Amidst all of this, we were thrilled to host the multi-talented Julie Pham – a Vietnamese American CEO of CuriosityBased who received her Ph.D. in History from Cambridge University as a Gates Cambridge Scholar. Julie has written the highly acclaimed book “7 Forms of Respect” and is a leading voice in transforming communication and relationships at work.

This insightful dialogue was moderated by Porter’s co-founder Kathleen Selke. We were honored to hear many empowering pieces of advice from Julie. Here are a few words of wisdom that have stuck with us since that night.

Imposter syndrome is a common feeling among individuals who doubt their accomplishments and fear being exposed as a fraud in their field, despite evidence of their competence:

“At the heart of “Imposter syndrome” is the fear we’re not good enough. 

I experienced imposter syndrome when I considered starting my own company. I wasn’t sure if my Ph.D. in history was good enough. I was worried I needed to partner with a psychologist to have credibility.  Then a friend who was a former academic pointed out that if other people found value in my work and they were paying me for it, that means I have the credibility to do my work. I had to realize academia is constantly about making people prove that their work is good enough and that they are smart enough. I carry the scars from being in academia.

To fight imposter syndrome, I’ve had to be intentional about being clear about what “good enough” means to me, not what other people say is “good enough.” For example, with my book, I self-published it, so I got to set my own terms about what is “good enough.” I decided I didn’t need to prove I know how to do footnotes because I have written thousands of footnotes when I was an academic. 

I still feel a bit of imposter syndrome around my book. Whenever someone tells me they liked it, they appreciated it, I’m still surprised by that. And I have to remind myself, “yes, my book is good.” I think it’s important to share specific examples and stories of our fears and failures with others so that we realize we’re not alone in feeling this. 

Practicing curiosity as a daily habit can help you broaden your perspectives, explore your assumptions, and encourage continuous learning:

“I liken curiosity to practice, like meditation–it looks really easy, but it’s really hard to do. And there are going to be times when it’s difficult to practice curiosity–like when I just don’t feel open-minded and want to talk to someone I disagree with. I might even just be listening to try to persuade them to see my perspective. The practice of curiosity comes down to three elements: self-awareness, relationship-building, and clear communication. Appreciating that curiosity is a practice, not a trait, helps remind me to try my best and to also forgive myself when I don’t feel like practicing curiosity. I try not to be a perfectionist. 

I also remind myself that it’s okay for people not to agree with me. In fact, I want to have at least one person say they don’t agree with something I did at least once a month. If I’m not getting that, then I’m probably being too agreeable. When I think about it that way, then someone disagreeing with me or my ideas is a good thing, because it means I’m pushing boundaries. Get okay with people disagreeing and saying no to you. If they’re saying no, that means you’re asking. I had a very cringeworthy public speaking experience where someone openly challenged me and said they thought my work was a waste of their time. And I had to think, “Well, here is someone challenging me this month.”

Unlocking 7 Forms of Respect in daily lives: 

“7 Forms of Respect is a tool to help people practice curiosity and spark conversations. Respect is dynamic, relative, subjective, and contradictory, and what we say is not always what we do. Yet we talk about it as if it’s fixed and universal. People agree on what respect feels like but they don’t agree on what respect looks like, and they often have different definitions of it. The book is about helping people understand there are different forms of respect.”

“The framework helps individuals understand the different facets of respect and how they can be expressed in their daily lives. It provides a framework for sparking conversations and promoting alignment in communication and understanding. With respect being a complex and subjective concept, the 7 Forms of Respect sheds light on the various ways it can be expressed and practiced, including its role in both words and actions. This tool encourages individuals to practice curiosity by trying to understand which forms of respect matter to them and to learn what matters to others. .”

The Inspiration behind writing 7 Forms of Respect:

“My inspiration for writing “7 Forms of Respect” came from my personal journey and experiences in community building. I noticed that people often had different interpretations and expectations of what respect means, which caused miscommunications and conflicts. I wanted to create a tool that could help people understand the various forms of respect and encourage them to practice curiosity in their interactions with others. Through the process of writing the book, I aimed to spark important conversations and help people articulate what respect means to them..”

Incorporating cultural influence on people’s preference for respect:

“7 Forms of Respect is about understanding the dynamic nature of respect. There are three dimensions: hierarchy, give vs. get, and what matters to you.The power dynamics in a relationship can impact how we give and get respect. How we give respect can differ from how we want to get respect. For example, maybe you like to surprise people but you don’t like to be surprised.  It’s important to understand which forms of respect matter to you, not just the forms of respect that should matter to you, that you think you should give or should expect because you’ve been socialized to believe so. . Understanding different forms of respect can help us be “multi-lingual” in our conversations and adapt to different cultural norms and expectations in the workplace.”

“We belong to multiple cultures, communities, and identities at the same time. For example, someone may say, “I am Asian, thus I respect my elders.” However, the statement, “I defer to my elders because of my Asian upbringing,” allows for different aspects and shows the influence of culture on our understanding of respect. Punctuality, for instance, may be important to someone because of their cultural background. It’s important to understand and have conversations about why different forms of respect matter to us.”

Distinguish the difference between respect and disrespect:

“It’s important to understand that lack of respect and disrespect are different. Lack of respect can be due to misunderstandings or simply not knowing what the other person needs, while disrespect is a deliberate act of ignoring someone’s needs and boundaries. It’s important to differentiate between the two and approach each situation with empathy and curiosity, instead of jumping to conclusions and reacting negatively.”

When you’re feeling disrespected, it’s easy to think it’s intentional. You should pause and ask yourself if that person intentionally meant to disrespect you. 

“Finally, I learned that it’s important to give ourselves time to process and reflect, instead of feeling pressured to react immediately. In our fast-paced culture, it’s easy to get caught up in the expectation to react immediately, but taking the time to reflect and understand our own emotions and the situation can lead to more meaningful and respectful interactions.”

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