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Okay. I have a confession to make. I was that person. Years ago, I was in a market research session when I worked my corporate job. And as I chatted with our super cool market research vendor, our moderator, I asked her, where are you from? To which she responded, originally, I’m from Texas. Then I went into the totally uncool thing of trying to understand her Asian heritage and asked her where her family was from and just being confused every time she said someplace in the US.

It was totally cringeworthy, and I wish I could find her and go back and apologize for my ignorance and the microaggressions I hurled against her that day with my questioning. Thankfully, a while later, I had a friend and colleague who was of Korean descent who lovingly educated me on why my comments were inappropriate because I truly did not understand.

Now I do, thankfully. There’s even a whole comedy skit that plays out the scenario I just described because, unfortunately, it happens all too often. I’ll link it up in the show notes for you in case you haven’t seen it.

So I share this story with you today to highlight this phenomenon where it seems like a lot of us bumble all over ourselves when it comes time to interact with people who are different from us.

I’ve done it, and I’m sure you’ve done it, and we all know people who’ve done it. But there is hope for all of us, and that’s really what this episode is all about.

As we’re working to build inclusive brands that attract and retain a bigger, more diverse, and fiercely loyal customer base, we’re going to have to interact with people who are different from us to get there.

And it will be pretty difficult to share the results we desire if we’re offending people right and left because we don’t know how to effectively engage with people who we perceive to be different.

So I brought in reinforcements to help with this. A true gem, Topsy Vanden Bosch, is an emotional intelligence and mindset coach and licensed therapist.

After this short break, you’re gonna hear my very important and transformational chat with Topsy. Buckle up. This is a good one.

Sonia: Topsy, Topsy, Topsy. I’m so excited you’re here. Thank you so much for joining me.

Topsie VandenBosch: Thank you so much for having me. I am so pumped to be here, Sonia. Thank you, for inviting me to be on your podcast. I’m excited to jam out on this topic.

Sonia: That we are gonna do. Alright. So I know you. I adore you. But we the people don’t yet. Right? So who are you, and what do you do?

Topsie VandenBosch: Hello, everybody. I am Topsy Vanenbosch. I am an emotionally intelligent and emotional intelligence and psychological safety consultant and a licensed psychotherapist. I partner with companies to transform their workplace culture.

My expertise lies in training and coaching corporate leaders and their teams and identifying and using EQ skills to foster strong team relationships, retain talent, and create a culture of well-being.

Sonia: Okay. So we’re already off track because I was just talking to a friend who works at a big Fortune 500 company.

And one of the things that he told me was that his company has now made a list of words that cannot be said, and one of those things was psychological safety.

Topsie VandenBosch: Oh, this is intriguing.

Sonia: Yeah. So you just said it, and it just popped up back into my mind. So I wanted to find out, like, can you just for the people who don’t know what psychological safety is, can you just say what is it? And, like, you know, just your initial response to that.

Topsie VandenBosch: Yeah. I am. I’m disgusted. But anyway, so psychological safety is the culture that you create when you allow people to feel safe to ask questions, feel safe to contribute and feel like they belong.

And it’s through cultivating this environment where people are allowed to be curious and they’re allowed to, you know, say things that maybe go against the norm, and you create that environment of understanding, welcoming, and just allowing for people to just be human and, creating a safe space for them to do it.

So it’s basically creating a safe space, creating a safe space for people to be able to ask questions, to be able to contribute, to be able to disagree. And you cultivate an environment like that, which a lot of environments inherently are not that way.So you have to work at it.

Sonia: So that we are on track. Right? Like, because I’m finding a way to bring it back. I imagine that it takes a lot of emotional intelligence to acknowledge that you don’t have a culture that is filled with psychological safety.

Or so maybe people are like, we don’t wanna say this word because that means that we’re acknowledging that it might not exist here.

Topsie VandenBosch: Yes. I think I think that that’s accurate because that’s the only reason why I could imagine that a corporate environment would be against that word.

And maybe and I do think that sometimes there’s ignorance attached to that. Sometimes there’s this culture of, you know, it’s the big bad word.

And if you say it, everyone else is going to start talking about how they don’t feel safe. And so they wanna avoid that groupthink. And so they think that

By avoiding that groupthink, they can, just basically say these words are not allowed here, when really that’s the opposite of psychological safety.

Right? People don’t feel safe when they aren’t safe to express. So they’re actually proving the point.

Sonia: Right. Right. Right. They’re actually proving that they’re not a psychologically safe environment. Space.

Topsie VandenBosch: Right? And I think that the same can be said for environments where you can’t say the word, DEI. What freaking world are we living in where that is actually on so before we get completely off track, I pitched this Chamber of Commerce to speak, and they’re hiring me to speak.

Sonia: Nice.

Topsie VandenBosch: The one thing that she said was the theme of the event she wanted to hire me for was inclusivity. And I said, oh, well, that’s amazing. Typically, I hear about inclusivity in associations and organizations through the lens of DEI. So is that kind of, like, where that’s coming from? Like, the desire to include, like, all voices, all people, and all backgrounds.

She said yes. And we have gotten so much pushback when we had to change our mission to be more about inclusivity because, yes, it’s already starting. After all, donors and people were, like, you know, sending angry emails about the word DEI. So they, you know, they expressed feeling very, you know, not really agreeing with that.

But, you know, they work they work for the organization, so what are they supposed to do? You know, so that was really that was really sad. And they felt like, you know, that word is very, it’s a touchy word right now.

Sonia: Yeah. So Yeah. Which is why we’re having this conversation, which is why we’re sitting here today. Right? And we continue to do the work even though sometimes it may feel like we’re going backward. I think that just means it’s a sign of the progress that we’re making.

Topsie VandenBosch: 100. Right?

Sonia: Alright. So can you just explain more in detail, so we’re on the same page, about what emotional intelligence is and your take on why it’s important to have when we’re interacting with others, particularly from a business standpoint?

Topsie VandenBosch: Yeah. So, emotional intelligence is a set of skills, research-backed, science-backed, evidence-based skills that help us better perceive, understand, and manage the emotions in ourselves and from others.

And so when we understand how to effectively respond to the emotions of the people around us, this is when we know that we are cultivating a psychologically safe space. And so I believe EQ is one of the vehicles to us being able to have that type of environment in our work, in the corporate world, and just in business.

When people understand how to interact and respond to what people are saying to them and how they’re, you know, reacting to things. You can kind of filter that through the lens of EQ, and it makes it, honestly, a lot less personal. Even if it feels personal, it feels digestible. Like, oh, I understand why they responded that way because of the way I phrased that sentence or the way I phrased that question, etcetera.

Sonia: Yeah. What does having emotional intelligence look like from a brand and a marketing perspective? Because we’re still dealing with people at the end of the day. Right?

Topsie VandenBosch: Yeah. Absolutely. So what I think from a brand and a marketing perspective, it means that you connect with consumers on a deeper level beyond just the functional benefits of whatever it is that you’re selling. So it means that you understand their underlying emotional needs, their pain, and their desires. Right? And showing how you empathize as a company.

How you fundamentally empathize with what your consumers need, want, feel, and desire. And so this translates to marketing that aims to be emotionally resonant, over just stating that this is the benefit that this product will have for you. So in that way, you’re personalizing it, and you’re making them feel seen heard, and cared for.

And so I think, as an example, an emotionally intelligent brand, or one that’s demonstrating, sorry, the emotional intelligence that they have, they might focus on, perhaps an ad showing, like, meaningful moments in a person’s life using the product instead of just showcasing the specifics and all of the ways in which, you know, it helps.

Or they might ensure that the brand messaging reflects shared values that they have with the target consumers instead of just defaulting to a hard sell. And so from the end consumer standpoint, an emotionally intelligent brand feels like a company that genuinely cares about playing a positive role in the customer’s life, and the interactions feel based on listening rather than just, you know, robotic transactions. And so Yeah. The brand thinks of its customers as being, humans with emotions versus just data points and a means to an end.

Sonia: Yeah. No. I love that. I love that. One of the reasons why I wanted to sit down with you for the show is that I keep finding that it seems like whenever we’re interacting with people who are different from us, whether that is people that we encounter, that we meet socially, whether it’s with our coworkers and more and more as we’re engaging different consumers, I’m finding that it seems like whenever we’re talking to people different, it’s like we lose a sense of how to engage and interact with people.

I give this example a lot when I’m giving my talks where I call this guy, I like your weave guy. And it’s whenever I was in a tango class with someone that I had never met, and he says to me, like, as I rotated to him for a dance partner, he’s like, oh, I like your weave. And I was just like, oh, that for me, that felt like a very emotionally unintelligent, culturally unaware way of interacting.

But I found myself even doing that. Like, let’s say I came across someone who spoke Spanish, like, they were Latino, and I felt the need to suddenly make it known that I spoke Spanish too. Right? Like and I was just like, what is it that I just feel like whenever you’re talking to someone sometimes from a different culture Yeah. It’s like you lose all sense of

Topsie VandenBosch: Yes.

Sonia: Of, like, this is how you act versus don’t. Right? Like, it just becomes like this bit of Yeah. So I wanted to come at say and chat with you because I feel like maybe all of us have been guilty of this in some way, shape, or form when talking to someone different from us.

Topsie VandenBosch: Oh, a 100%. There’s a word for it, and I can’t think of it. But I was this is just quick, but I think it goes along with your point. I love to watch, like, comedy. I think that life would just need to have joy.

And I love to as much as, I like to radiate joy, so that means I have to absorb a lot of things that bring me joy. And there was this skit about this guy that every time he talks to a person of a different culture, he feels the need. Not to not in, like, a condescending way, but, like, copy their accent.

So, like I can’t see this. So there’s some I can’t remember what that’s called. There’s a word for it. But it’s almost like you feel like they understand you better if you say it

Sonia: Yeah.

Topsie VandenBosch: In the way that they’re accustomed to saying it. And so that just reminded me of that. But what I think as a therapist, this is what I think. As a coach and a consultant, here’s what I think. I think because we want to relate to people we want them to see that we respect them, that we understand them, and that we’re familiar with them.

So it becomes this really weird way of being familiar and showing, like, hey. Right? For instance, this isn’t okay, but the guy that said nice weave, in his mind, that was his only, like, relational point to you. It was like, oh, a lot of black women wear weave, so she must be wearing a weave.

And so she must like her weave to be, you know, complimented on, not realizing that that could be very offensive and presumptive and not every black woman will weave. Right? And so I think the same can be said of, you know, speaking to people where we know that we’re maybe not fluent in the language, but that’s our only source of real connection.

Like, oh, I do speak Spanish sometimes, or I speak enough to get by, or I lived in another country where Spanish was the main. And so we feel like that’s our connection point. And so I think that that kind of can make us use that as the bridge to a conversation and relatability when we get to relate on being human.

Sonia: Yeah. Yeah.

Topsie VandenBosch: And I think we forget that in those situations. Like, oh, let me go to the first thing that I know that this person can relate to me. And it’s like, well, there’s they can relate to being a human and having emotions. You know? And so I think that that’s kind of organically what happens.

Sonia: Yeah. So it’s kinda like whenever we’re trying to find something about the relate to people, I think that sometimes the default is if I understand correctly, what you’re saying, is the default is we go directly to the thing that makes us different, that we feel like is an obvious thing versus completely overlooking the things about us that might be the same.

Topsie VandenBosch: Yes. Yes. Okay. That’s what I think. That’s why I think I think that sometimes it’s inherently not malicious. You know? I think that there are times when maybe it is. Right? But I think large and in part, It’s just this, this ignorance that occurs when we’re put in situations where we’re uncomfortable.

And the first thing we do is to default back to what we believe makes us, you know, the same as them. When that’s not accurate.

So I think it’s interesting. I think that when we look at it from that perspective, like, oh, we feel like this is what’s gonna make them respect me more. This is what’s gonna make them feel like they have something in common with me. Hey. Look. I’m cool. I’m safe.

I respect your culture. Do you get what I’m saying? But it’s like we go back to our basic primal desires of being belonged and belonging and acceptance.

Sonia: Right. But we’re doing it and having the opposite impact because we’re doing it in a very culture culturally, probably unintelligent and emotional, and unintelligent way.

Topsie VandenBosch: Well, I think we go back to our primal instinct.  I don’t wanna look stupid.  I don’t wanna look ignorant.

Sonia: Yeah. Okay. So how can we think of a way to not look stupid or ignorant and to authentically relate to people? Emotional intelligence is a big part of that. So how do we get to a point? Like, how do you increase your degree of emotional intelligence? Can you?

Topsie VandenBosch: Yeah. You can. You can. The beautiful thing about EQ this is why I don’t use language like high EQ, or low EQ. Not because, you know, I don’t it’s well, I guess, like, the way that by the way that my training is with it, that’s not the language to use because it can be developed. And so, and pretty much anybody can develop it. It depends on, obviously, like, your culture, your level of, you know, ability to understand and perceive things, whatever.

But everybody can develop EQ. To what degree does That vary? But everybody can develop it. So what I would say is number 1, self-reflection gets to be your best friend, not rumination. Right? Yeah. Because I think I created some content around how unhelpful rumination can be because it makes you second-guess everything that you do. Right? Yeah. And so I think there’s this balance of self-reflection.

 If somebody were to have said that to me, how would I feel? How would I respond? And then think of, okay, what does that ideal situation look like of what you can do next time? And then boom, move on to something else. Don’t give it so much real estate in your brain that now you start to lose complete confidence in speaking to people, acknowledge, you know, where you might fall short, acknowledge where you need more practice.

Do you need more practice in being around cultures different than your own on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis? How can you increase that competence and increase your level of comfort with whatever social group, whatever ethnic group, right, whatever language? How can you increase your level of comfort with that so that your default isn’t to draw attention to how you’re the same as them?

Your default is to engage with them the same way you would engage with anyone else. And so I think self-reflection gets to be it gets to be your best friend. And being able to observe your emotions and your interactions without putting a judgment on it, is gonna be huge. So saying, I was so stupid. I was so dumb. I was so uneducated. I was so ignorant. Labeling yourself isn’t the best way to get you to learn. Right? So what if you say, although that interaction may not have reflected best on who I am as a person, that’s not the subtotal of who I am?

Sonia: Yeah.

Topsie VandenBosch: Thatdoesn’t get to dictate who you are. Right? So I think that self-reflection is huge and doing it without judgment is a way to do it, in a way that helps you increase your EQ, really reflecting on what situations you need to put yourself more in that can help you flex that ability to feel uncomfortable in situations that you’re not accustomed to being, the one that’s maybe different than the dominant culture cultural group or, you know, ethnic group inside of that situation.

And ask more questions. I think that we ask open-ended questions to expand your understanding even if you don’t agree. So I think that that is something that we’re losing, In my opinion, these days is the ability to ask questions and expand your understanding of what someone’s perspective might be, even if you don’t agree with their perception on a topic. And I think a good way to do that is to talk about topics that you might tend to avoid. With people.

Because I think that that’s where tolerance comes in. Even if you don’t agree with them, even if you know you’ll never want to be in the same room with them again. It’s a beautiful thing to just hear what their worldview is and what shaped it. And what about you? Like, what do you get to improve about because we all have our stuff? And so I think that that’s powerful. And then I think of role-playing scenarios, either in your head or with someone close to you, with your partner, if you have 1, with a close friend, of what you wanna do differently next time.

It might seem so stupid, and it might feel silly, but it’s not. Right? Like, okay. I’m so for instance, we do it with anything else. Like, I might role-play how I’m going to deliver my speech. You know, to my husband. I did that for my last keynote. For 45 minutes, that man sat and listened to me, delivering it the way that I did.

Sonia: Yeah.

Topsie VandenBosch: Because I needed to see myself in action. And so having that person that you trust that can help you role-play these uncomfortable situations, helps you grow. And it helps you become quicker at thinking on your feet. Like, okay, what are the default things that I can say at that moment that can help me, you know, feel more comfortable? But also, it kind of becomes your safety blanket. Like, okay. I can ask these questions, and these questions feel really good for me to ask.

And here’s how I can make that situation not so uncomfortable. You know? What if I decided to say, how was your day? You know? You know, what’s what what are you what are you eating for dinner? You know? What are your favorite foods? Instead of defaulting to believing that you already know the answers that they’re gonna give, which is what happens when we assume that that person is going to appreciate how we’re trying to interact with them.

Sonia: We can just

Topsie VandenBosch: default more to curiosity. Yeah. Such practical.

Sonia: What is such a practical question? Such practical Yeah. Advice.

Topsie VandenBosch: Yeah.

Sonia: I love it. Okay. I wanna play a little game here and see what your thoughts are. Let’s do true or false.

Topsie VandenBosch: Okay.

Sonia: There’s no right answer here. Right? Like, true or false. I just want to hear your perspective. Cultural intelligence increases emotional intelligence.

Topsie VandenBosch: True. Yep. True.

Sonia: Why do you say that?

Topsie VandenBosch: I think that when you’re exposed to cultures different than your own you, understand their norms. You understand their belief systems. It makes you more tolerant, I think, and it also makes you more understanding and empathetic. And when you have empathy and when you understand, naturally, your EQ skills are going to be even more enhanced because you have a deeper level layer of understanding than what a lot of people

Sonia: Okay.

Topsie VandenBosch: Might have. So I think that cultural intelligence increases it.

Sonia: Okay. Alright. This one is kind of related but slightly different. True or false? Proximity increases emotional intelligence.

Topsie VandenBosch: Yes. Yes. True.

Sonia: Okay.

Topsie VandenBosch: I think that when you are in a relationship with people and the more interaction that you have with that’s, you know, that, those people, whether they are of a different background than you, culture than you, they speak a different language than you, they have a different job than you.

That’s a big one. That’s a huge one. Right? I think that when you even think about it in terms of people who do sex work if you are not exposed to people who have had to do that Or who currently do that, You know? And if you’re only exposed to them in a certain context that isn’t necessarily, in your mind, positive, then you’re going to have a negative perception of the people who stereotypically do sex work.

So I think I just brought it up as an example because I think even being an online business owner, it’s been so cool to be in relationship with people from all different walks of life, like educated people who choose to do sex work and they see that as their way of feeling empowered and feeling and I get to respect them as human beings who are autonomous and who are doing this because they want to, not because they’re being made to do it if that makes sense. And so I think that your proximity does shape your ability to demonstrate EQ.

Sonia: Yeah. So overall, we need to do a better job of spending time with people who are different from us and will be less prone to all these mistakes that we were talking about earlier because our perspectives are specific shifts. Love it. Okay. Can you tell me about a time when a brand made you feel like you belonged?

Topsie VandenBosch: Oh, yeah. I have felt that way with a lot of the West African West African clothing brands that have been coming out. I’m Nigerian, and it’s just so beautiful to see the marketing that they do. All of the models that they choose are West African.

They’re so gorgeous. They’re beautiful. The colors they choose, and the, you know, the fabrics that they choose, they’re just so reflective of the motherland.

And so, I feel like the marketing that a lot of these Nigerian, West African, but American based brands, you know, people like me who are Nigerian or Nigerian American and who wanna create clothing that celebrates our culture, I think that that makes me feel like I belong and that I’m a part of a bigger community.

And so I would say that that’s a really good example. And it makes me wanna buy from them and encourage everyone to buy from them, not just my African friends, but everyone. Like, you love color, you love patterns. Like, this is a really good website for you to purchase from.

Sonia: Yeah. I think it does a lot for representation as well because it kinda changes your thoughts even around what brands look like, what successful brands look like, where you buy it, how you buy it, and who you buy it from.

So it just changes a lot.

Topsie VandenBosch: A 100%. It does. It does. And it makes me smile. And, you know, I think I remember 10 years ago wanting to see more brands like that, and that had really good fabrics and, you know, who cared about where they sourced their materials. And so it’s been cool to see the resurgence of that and that being more readily available to the general public. It’s a beautiful thing, so it wasn’t always that way.

Sonia: Love it. Love it. Tati, this has been so much fun. Where can people find you if they wanna learn more about you and your work and, like, just soak in all that you have to share with us because I think we’re probably making mistakes every day all day? Right?

Topsie VandenBosch: So Oh, yeah. We make mistakes every day all day, and it’s not about our mistakes. It’s how we learn from them, and it’s about how we allow ourselves to be fully human. So you can follow me on LinkedIn at Topsie Vanden Bosch, t o p s I e. I think the link will be in the show notes. I’ll send the link to my LinkedIn too. And then you can go to if you’re interested in that. I’m also a coach for business owners.

And so my website is it’s fun. It’s happy. It’s joyful. It’s colorful. It’s super me. And you follow me on Instagram at and join my email list, if you’re a business owner, and you’ll hear from me. I’m gonna I’m getting ready to launch some workshops on EQ, EQ skills, and psychological safety skills. So I’m excited.

So, yeah, you get to follow along in all those different channels, and Yeah. Connect with you there.

Sonia: Yeah. One of the things I love about your content is it’s not like anybody else’s. Like, it is it is it is fun.

Topsie VandenBosch: Right? Like, it is you.

Sonia: It is fun. And you take topics that some people might feel are, like, heavy or clinical or whatever. Like, in They Are a Hoot and a Riot, and I think you have a gift in choosing gifts.

Topsie VandenBosch: Thank you. I appreciate that, and I received that. I received that. Thank you so much. I appreciate that so much.

Sonia: Yes. Yes. Yes. Alright. Any parting words of wisdom for marketers and business leaders who want to be more emotionally intelligent in their lives, period, But in a way that will also help translate into their what they’re doing at work?

Topsie VandenBosch: Yeah. Don’t take yourself so seriously. You’re gonna make mistakes. And I think embracing your perfection, that’s a part of what makes you human. That’s what makes us human. And so I think releasing the need to be perfect, you’re gonna get it wrong. And it gets to be okay. You’re gonna survive.

You’re gonna be fine. You know, 5 years from now, a week from now, people won’t remember.

Sonia: Yeah.

Topsie VandenBosch: Right? They’ll remember how you made them feel, but even that will fade. And so you get to reinvent yourself every single day.

Sonia: Yeah.

Topsie VandenBosch: So that’s what I would say about EQ. We’re not gonna always get it right. We’ll probably get it wrong more than we get it right. But the work is in continuing to get up and choose to do it every single day. And that counts.

Sonia: Thank you. Thank you so much, Topsy, for getting us together today. Yay. We appreciate it.

Topsie VandenBosch: Thank you so much for having me.

Sonia: My pleasure.

Topsy had so many cool things to share. And if you let it, the wisdom she shared can transform the way you think, perceive, and interact with others, which will ultimately enable us to build stronger and more authentic relationships. But we all need this to be better at our work, especially in the world of inclusive marketing.

So I’m curious. What was your key takeaway from this chat? Do let me know. Let’s talk about it on social or drop me an email. I’d love to continue the conversation with you about this.

If you like this show, please do share it with a friend’s colleague in your network and leave a rating and review for it in your podcast player of choice.

It does go a long way toward helping more people discover the show, which I like to think helps us all build a more inclusive world. Also, are you getting the inclusion in marketing newsletter? Each week, I send stories, news, tips, and other insights to help you grow by building an inclusive brand. Go to inclusion in to get signed up. I’ll drop a link to it in the show notes for you so you can access it easily.

Until next time, remember, everyone deserves to have a place where they belong. Let’s use our individual and collective power to ensure more people feel like they do.

Thanks so much for listening. Talk to you soon.