Stress is not an uncommon feeling today. Pressures from work, home and life leave us feeling overwhelmed and uneasy from time to time. How do we overcome these feelings and maintain a positive outlook? Stress and Communication Expert, Dr. Kathy Gruver, chats about mindset, communication and the importance of play in the workplace. Learning to not put added pressure on yourself + give yourself permission to have fun goes a long way to reduce stress.
- 0:17 – An empowering mindset
- 1:58 – How simple conversations can spark growth & development
- 3:27 – The mind, body medicine
- 6:43 – #PlayWhereYouWork
- 9:24 – Breaking the ‘achievement mode’ culture
- 11:59 – Giving yourself permission to play
- 14:50 – The pros of open communication & mutual respect
- 24:09 – Choosing the reality we show
- 25:23 – Getting to know the person underneath the persona
Full Episode Transcription:
All right. So Kathy, so happy to have you here and dive into a little bit of your story. And I always like to start with why you do what you do, what is it that has drawn you to your career and your profession and what puts that big smile on your face that you have right now when we’re talking?
Yeah. Thanks. I’m so happy to be here and meet you guys. This is very exciting. You know, I have always had this parallel path of performer and healer. I was an actor since I was about five and I started doing massage when I was a little kid. It was just this very natural thing that I was drawn to. And so when I moved to Hollywood from Pittsburgh to pursue those award winning film roles, I thought that the massage would be a good sideline and the award winning film roles never came and the massage stuck with me. And so I just developed that over the years and ended up studying more and more everything from Reiki and homeopathics to mind, body medicine and stress reduction and coaching and corporate work. And so I sort of now combine those two things. And now I get on stages in front of well, anywhere from 5 to 1500 people and teach them what I know. So it’s really about empowering those people and whether I’m seeing one-on-one in my office or an audience of thousands, that’s really what fuels me is I want to impart the knowledge that I know to give people those options, to give them choices so that they know that they can make the changes that are going to make them grow and evolve and, and be the best people they can be. I mean, it sounds kind of cliche, but I mean, it really is. That’s, what’s, that’s, what’s, that’s what fuels me, is helping those people.
It sounds great that we all resonate with that, Kathy, in terms of that mission and purpose. I think that’s why we’re actually all here talking, so, yeah.
And how, what sort of an impact, because, you know, you’re in California, you’re in Santa Barbara and then you’ve got this background in massage and Reiki sounds very spiritual and and a little woo woo. Right. But that, what sort of a direct impact does that have on a, on a corporate team, on the culture, on their ability to communicate and grow together?
Yeah. Well, and what’s really interesting is I, as I was a theater major, which has also kind of, woo woo, I was a psychology minor, and I’ve been studying psychology and human behavior, my entire life. One of the first books I picked up off the shelf when I was a little kid to read from my parents’ basement, was their college psychology textbook. I just always been obsessed with that. And so over the, over the 30 years of, of me doing massage how many people have I talked to? And I realized that what I was discussing with them on the table, if they were up for that of course, was about their own growth. And it ended up being a coaching session as much as a massage session. So now I’ve been able to take all of that info as well as things like massage and neuro linguistic programming improv and things like that, and turn it into a way to help corporations grow and help that communication build to something that works better. So all of those one on one interactions have really have really informed what I do now. So it’s been, it’s been a fascinating process. I didn’t think I’d get here from where I started, but I just follow the breadcrumbs and this is where I ended up. So
I love that. That’s so cool. And obviously you can tell it radiates from you that, you know, your passion for this and your experience with that, and I can genuinely feel you love helping people. So that’s really amazing. So within the companies that you’re supporting, I mean, how have you kind of taken the, the physical modality of healing into the emotional and connectedness modality of, of helping cultures and companies heal from the inside out?
Yeah, I think we forget that it’s all connected. I mean, we look at health as this absence of disease and in reality, it’s living your optimal life and whether that’s at work or at home, and I’ve talked to individuals and corporations about everything from their desk set up to what they’re snacking on to why that afternoon slump happens to how stress affects communication. And I think that’s been one of the big things is that mind body medicine, which is I’ve written a couple books on that, that’s what my dissertation was on. When I got my PhD was about mind body medicine and those modalities like meditation and mindfulness and how that affects your everyday functioning and communication is a huge thing that completely falls apart. If you’re in a stressed state, we can’t communicate well or have good leadership if we’re in that stress, that fight or flight response.
So I talked to them about that and I am a total medical nerd. I, as much as Western medicine sometimes drives me crazy. I’m absolutely obsessed with it. So I know a lot about diseases, disorders, dysfunctions, and though I’m not an MD people come to me with those kinds of questions too. So if you’re having those types of issues in the corporate world, you’re still, you’re not gonna function your best. And so I can guide people towards the right modalities to that towards the right practitioners for that. So I don’t, I’m kind of a Jack of all trades. When I walk into a company, I mold myself to whatever they need me to do at that time.
That’s really exciting. So one of things you talked about in a few different themes, there was just the intersection of life and work and those types of things. And I think that’s something that we’ve talked a lot and something that Scrimmage talks about. If you ever look at our content about learn, when you play and play, where you work, like this whole concept of playing and fun intersecting with work and how you learn and all these different things, right? This organism if you will of being a human being and that context, like how would you see that kind of just showing up within the cultures that you’re working with and the company you’re supporting and doing it well.
Oh, you want them to do it well, too. Okay. That’s, that’s tougher. You know, I, I love that you talked about play. And one of the things that that I do is I teach improv skills. And to me, I, you know, turn, if I’ve got 10 minutes in between clients and I want to just relax for a second, because I think as much as we concentrate, we also have to decentrate. And I think we forget to do that. We forget to put the work aside for a second. I’m very type A, East coaster go, go, go driven person. So I have to tell them, I have to remind myself to play. I turn it on whose line is anyway, you know, to me that is the most fun and it’s great communication skills. It’s that? Yes. And it’s building it’s that reincorporation.
So I’ve taught people in corporations how to work better in the corporate culture with that kind of play. And I think we forget we’re allowed to have fun at work. I have fun every day at work. I have a different kind of job than most people. But no, I love that you brought that up because I think that’s important. And we so often think of work as this very serious thing. And we forget that it doesn’t have to be that weighty. We forget that we can lighten up a little bit at the office and, and just relax into what we’re doing. So I try to encourage that as well.
Yeah. How do you remind those people at those companies to have fun? Like how do we create that, that habit.
Remind them, or from scratch? Maybe it’s a company that has done well and has grown, but you can tell things are tense and maybe will crumble if they don’t introduce a little bit of fun and playfulness.
Yeah. Well, and I think it’s about pausing for a second and taking it that breath because in that pause, there’s this power because we have the ability to decide what we’re going to do next. And we have that ability to decide whether we’re going to respond to something or react to something. And those reactions tend to be pretty serious. They tend to be not well thought out. And in that response, we have that ability to lighten up a little bit and actually make that different choice to do something a little more fun, a little more play. Maybe it is an improv game. Maybe we do some sort of icebreaker with groups that haven’t really met them each other a lot. You know, everyone’s working so virtually these days that you’ve got, you know, Bob and Kansas and Mary in New York and Joe and Florida, and it’s like, they never meet each other.
So how can you develop those relationships over the computer like this? And I think it’s about that coming together and then getting to know each other. And I love when corporations organize retreats, where all the teams can come together or at least once a week do this sort of thing so that they put a face with that. It becomes more personal. And I think that’s one of the things that’s missing is that, that personal connection of, you know, I can certainly send out us a text, but I want to look you in the eye or that I, and I want to see your body language. I mean, you know what, 90% of our communication is nonverbal, right? So if I send a text with a funny emoji and I go, I don’t know, I don’t know what that means. You know, it’s like, we’re losing that ability to read faces and to read body language. And in that personal connection comes that lightness and that play. It’s harder to do that over text. It’s so often missed. How often have we got in trouble for saying something on tax that we meant to be sarcastic at times. It’s like, well, I’m glad you’re keeping track. Good. Yeah. So I mean it’s, and we’ve got to laugh. We have to laugh. More kids laugh like 200 times a day and adults like for it’s really sad. It’s really, sad.
Where is that chain? I’m glad you raised that. That’s actually, cause that goes back to the time this whole thing started was the play concept of being, you know, and scrimmage being fun and a game oriented. It’s about play. About being fun. Where do you think as adults we lose, like where does it fall off track? Where does the laughter factor from 200 go down to 4? And how do we proactively, you know, continue to create an environment that, that, that, that grows. So we look at it, I back to the healing concept, we see where we are. Now, if we’re going to have children taught us children and you have children, I assume, right. We’re going to think through. Or you don’t okay. So we all have children in this tense, your companies is your children’s, right?
Yeah. Well, every one of my clients is my children.
Exactly. Metaphorically we all have children. Right. So the idea is we’re going to care for people. We want to, we want to nurture a better society. You want to create that culture? How do we do we do that? Right? Like how do we, where do we, where do we bridge that gap?
Yeah. You know, and I think you guys have a huge advantage in having children. Because if I want to sit down on the floor and play with Barbie dolls, people think I’m crazy. Cause I don’t have a child I’m on the floor with matchbox cars, la la la, you know, I’m an only child I can play with. You know, I, everything to me is an improv game. But you guys have the excuse as an adult to go out and run around and to get on the floor and play with your kids. I think we lose that. And I think part of that is school. You know? I mean, I have a client who was so set on getting her kid in the right fricking preschool that this kid studied all summer and they didn’t let her hike and they didn’t let her go on a bike ride.
I’m thinking she’s five. Like, let her be, Oh my God, let her be a kid. Why are you, why are you putting so much pressure? But I think that’s, what’s happening in this culture is we’re in this achievement mode, which I get, I shot out of the womb. That way I did not play well as a kid. I didn’t understand it. And now as an adult, I am so sorely missing that, that lightness and that play. So I make myself, I make sure I do that every day. You should see the things that sit on my desk. They make me like a little robot, the dances. And then it’s like, I surround myself now with things that remind me to woo it’s not that important, take a breath and play. And I do flying trapeze and I do dance class and I have scheduled in play. And I think through the schooling and through, we have to be an adult and we have to take this seriously. And this is important. I think we forget to laugh. You know, I tell jokes at least five times a day. I love that. I love doing that. If I’m not making people laugh, I’m not doing my job.
And where do you think that comes from though? Is it the, is it the parents? Is it the teachers? Is it, is it like where, like, I mean, obviously it’s both of those things more than those things, but I guess going back to it, I mean, I think we’re all achievement oriented people on some degree. Right. But I think there’s even, I think that it’s all about development and mastery of skills and personal growth and that in of itself is amazing. And I think that we all agree that on some level competition does breed that to it, to an extent. But I think most successful people would acknowledge that you hit a ceiling when you’re competing and that the next level, it comes back to collaboration or co-elevation, whatever you want to call it, like when people are working together to kind of push through that next level. Right. So it’s like, and that, that requires a level. You know, we had other conversational requires, a little bit more vulnerability. It requires a sharing of skills of strengths of weaknesses of viewpoints. I mean like where do we, how do we shift that? I mean like that, I mean that both metaphor like conceptually and in your perspective.
Sure. You know, and I think that’s, I think you’re right. We get that. I mean, we can argue nurture versus nature forever. I mean, I shot out of the womb going, okay, now what done done with a birthing, let’s move on to the next thing. And I was raised by a dad who wanted a boy and I was an only child. So he was the one running around, outside with us, throw, you know, tell him, teaching me how to throw a football, teaching me to kick any boys butt. But his motto was, if I can’t win, I don’t want to play very, very competitive man. Very and my mother was very school oriented. So I was getting that from both sides. So it was playful as my dad was, there was also this sense of competition. And at some point in my life, I’m the one that went, wait a minute.
Why am I busting my butt in dance class to be better than everybody in this class? I’m having fun. This is not, I’m not on dance moms. This is not a competition. I don’t have to do this with anybody other than me. Why am I acting like this? And it was myself that had to put the brakes on that and remind myself to play. And I had another point which completely went, I don’t know what I was going to say, but it is. We have to remind ourselves of that and, and just let that happen. And I think it’s about giving ourselves permission to do that because other, people, other people look at play as, Oh, you’re wasting time. What are you getting done today? And I think we have to let that judgment and that input from other people go and just, just be, you just do what you need to do to take care of yourself.
And I realized that I was so serious, I had to play more. And so I had to give myself permission to do that and let the, Oh, I know I was gonna say, we also have to look at what our values are and if you’ve not sat down and done the values exercise, and one of my values, my top three values is fun and adventure. I value that. So that now makes my decisions easier because if I say to myself, is that going to lead to my values? Is that in alignment with my values? I kind of don’t say yes to things that aren’t fun anymore.
Yeah. Yeah. I get it.
We have to know that we have to know what our values are.
So back to the corporate cultures for a second, with this concept, how do we, you know, obviously if you look at the historical structure of companies and organizations, you’ve got, you’ve got leadership and you’ve got the team, right. That just brought you, then obviously there’s many layers in historically and we’re getting more and more consolidated and flat, right. But there’s this level of you need the crowd of capabilities and ideas, and you’ve got people that kind of set that tone and that and create that values, culture that we’re talking about. How are you enabling that for leaders? And then how are you enabling that for the teams and how are you allowing that to commingle in a way that is allowing the culture to be empowered, but also allowing it to thrive because we do need some degree of structure in order for things to, you know, to get to where they need to go. Right. So how do you balance that? How have you seen it work? Well,
Yeah know, I think in that structure, there has to be completely open communication. And one of the things where I see this breakdown is the very higher up goes, Oh, the staff isn’t happy give em a ping pong table. Right? Okay. Ping pong tables, not corporate culture it’s fun. Bring your dogs. Okay. That’s great. But if you’re still not thanking me for the hard work that I did or you’re taking my idea, or you’re making these blanket decisions where the staff goes, wait, why is he doing that? And it was funny cause I was at an event the other night and somehow this guy got on the subject and he said, kids ask why adults ask how. And I said, probably, but that’s screwed up. I said, why are we not asking why I want to know why? And I think one of the things that, and I was that kid that would always, always ask why, well, why can’t I, well, why can’t why this, why that spread drove my parents crazy.
But now even as an adult, if I’m in a corporation and the boss makes this blanket decision, I want to know why, because if I understand the reasoning behind it, I’m going to be more willing to be on board with that thing. Hey, I made this decision because this is what it’s going to lead to. This is how it’s going to help us. Or this is what got screwed up. And this is now the fallout of that. We’re going to be more apt to get on board if we know the reasoning behind it. And I think that is so often not shared with people in the company and the organization. I think that’s a huge mistake. You can’t give them a ping pong table and expect them to be completely obedient to you because they can. Now there’s an ice cream machine in the kitchen. You have to have that open communication and that mutual respect. And I think that goes out the window too. And my God just thank people for a job well done. They don’t need their picture up in the break room. They don’t need a gift card to Starbucks. They want to be acknowledged and respected and supported through what they’re doing. And that’s, I think where the disconnect happens.
Yeah. I mean, there’s so many layers to unpack there, you know, from that standpoint around culture, because it goes back to like, again, it’s like, you need to have, like we talked about the idea of obedience vs disobedience. Like if you want to have open culture, you have to do allow for some degree of, of, you know, coloring outside the lines. Right. That’s truly what happens. I mean, that’s at the same time most companies have been successful because they’ve built structure and processes that allow people to move in. That’s what, that’s, what made, that’s how our companies have gotten where we are now. And it just, I feel like we’re in this really interesting time. In terms of leadership in terms of companies in terms of just, we talked about this before, it’s every aspect of life, right? Just how the structures of, you know, the rules, if you will, are shifting and how as individuals we find our path in that, and also help to create that path in a way that it’s mutually supportive, because you want to be seen giving kids, or for example, they want the freedom to, to create and thrive and have the independence, but yet science or studies also show they desire the routine discipline because it actually gives them safety.
Right. And so it’s just a combination of how do you give safety and, and also provide the, to create, to be inspired and go do and to think outside the box. And that’s a really tough balance to find, you know, even on a personal level, let alone within a company.
Oh no, go ahead.
Well, and I was going to say, it’s one of the things that I always valued was I want to be surrounded by people who know more than me. Yeah. I don’t do my own taxes. I don’t know how to do that. I don’t change my own oil. I don’t know how to do that. So I surround myself with people who know more, if I’m going to play tennis, I want to play with someone slightly better than me, so that I learn from them. And the movie that just came out about queen, where Freddie mercury went off on his own and they gave him this band and he went back to his regular guys and said, it sucked. They did everything. I told them to, he wasn’t challenged in that, like everyone was just like, yes, yes, yes. If you don’t have somebody saying, what if we, how about, or that’s dumb? Why did you do it that way? I mean, we have to have people that support us and challenge us at the same time. And that’s a tough battle. It’s a tough balance. That’s, that’s a, that’s a personality thing that, you know, some of the worst relationships I’ve had have taught me the most about myself, about how I function as a woman, as a human being, as a practitioner, we have to value that too. We can’t surround ourselves by people that just say yes.
Right. And we spoke about that earlier with productive conflict. Like how do you, how do you encourage and foster an environment where productive conflict is, is present, present? Because it is helpful. Like if everyone just did everything you said without any pushback or challenging of ideas or ideas on how to improve them, you, why do you even need any of these, a bunch of robots.
Right. Exactly. Yeah. Well, and it’s that dialogue. And I don’t think we talk about things enough or discuss things. And I’m, I’m a, I love sitting down with people and brainstorming that to me is one of the most awesome things. And I host a podcast as well, where I have a cohost and he, I love that. I love the dynamic because we come from two different backgrounds, but we have that. I hate the word synergy, but we have that synergy of we work really well together. And our podcasts are fun. It’s so much better to me to have those two voices and those two brains. And to have one of just me talking to somebody, you know, as far as hosting the pot. So yeah, I love having that collaboration.
Totally agree. That’s why we love doing these scars. You guys know to the point, I want to come back to a second. You talked about, you know, that the hardships of life, the challenges of life, the adversity, or struggles of life, giving you the biggest lessons. Right. I think that’s, I think that’s generally true for most people that that’s where you learn the most. That’s where your characters form, that’s where you’re challenged. And we all know that challenge is a key aspect to how you learn, take the cheap out of it. Chat people are the idea of work, the idea of, of, of how you grow driven by challenge. That’s how people get better. So they get, it’s how they grow. How do you see that kind of being fostered within, you know, companies or how, how could, how could it be fostered differently to optimize for this kind of future that we’re talking about?
Yeah, that’s a good question because we all, we all look differently at that. I mean, we all come from such different places and I think it’s just about being, I think it’s about being authentic to who you are and bringing those lessons that you’ve learned in those challenges that you faced into that company. Now there’s a fine line too, because you don’t want to be that constantly bringing, dragging all that negative home crap with you when you want to leave home at home and work at work, but let’s face it. I mean, we all have a very different story and those stories build on us to what leads us to the next. I mean, I have very vastly different experiences probably than you guys do. And I have a different background, a different culture, just ethnically, culturally of how I was raised. I mean, you guys have kids, I don’t, I’m an only child.
I was raised back East. I, you know, so it’s like just bringing all that into it. And I think we have to let the individual shine through and bring their strengths and bring those challenges and listen to one another and say, Oh my gosh, you know, I had a really similar situation and this is how I learned through that. It’s also really tough to look at. You’re holding that mirror up sucks. And I’m in the process of going through a divorce and my ex and I are we’re we’re friends today. It changes daily depending on what kind of mood he’s in. But one of the cool things about still being in in life with him is nobody on this planet knows me better than him. Right. And there have been times where he has held up a mirror to me and I’ve gone, Oh God, it sucks.
And it hurts. It’s vulnerable. And it’s scary to look at that and go that re I feel like crap, but if no, one’s holding up that mirror to me, that I’m just like, yeah, I don’t know. I have food on my face. You know, unless someone tells me or holds up a mirror and goes a little something right there. And we don’t want to look at that food, but we have to that’s what makes us a better person. And I think it was the Dalai Lama that said pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. That stuff’s going to happen. It’s up to you. What you do with that, the suffering is all on you. That’s all in your head. That’s all that thought process pain is going to happen. Do you grow from it? Or do you sit at home with your sleeves over your hands and not function?
So, so I think first of all, thank you for sharing that. I think that’s really, it’s very real. I love you to share that. And I think that’s part of the aspect too, going back to, you know, corporate, right. We focus so much on performance. We focus on the metrics. We need to that’s business, but like, sure. How do we create the compassion that’s needed for people? You know, the whole person, right? That’s where we’re getting, I think we’re getting more of this. People just, you just see more about people now you can see on social media that the details about what people are doing well, and also what they’re struggling. That’s, that’s the reality. And every single person , I mean , you look at former presidents, how much we know about their, their lives, you know, and outside of that, right. And other leaders in the world that before they were put up on pedestal, and now we recognize and see that they’re human beings just like we are right. And then you take another level and you have your entire team within your company is just like that. So how do we create? And I’m asking both personally, and as a concept, how do we create cultures that allow that individual to be supportive compassionately on a personal level, and also still allows the business to thrive in a way that, that it can to it’s potential. It’s a really fine line, right?
Ooh, that’s a really good question. I think it’s about building relationships and I think that goes back to the, as much as we know about each other, I can read somebody’s Facebook profile. That is what they choose to let me see. Right. And it’s, you know, I literally sat in a restaurant with a friend the other night and for about 20 minutes watched the girl going. I mean, she must have taken 500 pictures to get the perfect one with the perfect duck lips, with the perfect lighting, with the perfect beverage with it. You know, it’s not real anymore. We are choosing what reality we show and everything is, it’s so manufactured in that way. Who is the real person under that? You know what I mean? I can show all these amazing trips that I go on and I can show that I’m on yet another podcast and I’m writing another book and they don’t know that I sat at home and cried for three hours last night because my father passed away or whatever. I mean, it’s like, we get to choose what aspect of us we show to the world. And I think in one way, that’s kind of fun. And another way I think that’s really dangerous because we don’t know who anybody is anymore.
Everything looks picture perfect, then compared to you at home crying because you had something horrible happen. And you’re like, why is everyone else so perfect. And so lucky and I’m feeling,
Oh yeah. Oh, it’s the talk about FOMO? My God, the fear of missing out, because you know, I literally had somebody email me one day and say, so I want your life, okay, please don’t ever want anybody else’s life because you have no idea what’s going on under the, under the radar of that. But I think we have this misconception that either everything is perfect or Bob on Facebook is always miserable. What the hell is wrong with him? You know? I mean, he just complains. He it’s all his poor me thing. What are we showing other people? And I think we have to get to know the person underneath that persona. I think that’s, that’s what it comes down to is who are you really?
And we don’t listen to each other anymore. Everybody is. So it’s such a me me me time. And I’m not just talking about millennials. I’m talking about all of us. We are so self obsessed now, who is anybody else? And I sat last night at the, at the club afterwards, dance class with a girlfriend of mine. And I was talking, talking, talking, talking, talking, talking. And I finally said, so what’s happening with you and your husband? He left her four months ago. She never told anybody. And I felt so horrible because I’m talking about this date I went on and how cute the boy was. I met this guy I met on this dive trip and you know, and I finally went, Oh my God, I am so sorry that I didn’t know that. And she said, okay, I didn’t tell anybody. She said, I’m more interested.
She said, I would rather distract from my life to hear about the cute boy. You met then to sit here for the next hour and talk about my divorce. But I felt horrible because I didn’t know that was happening in her life. And I want to be there to support her. But what I didn’t know is me chattering on about the cute guy actually supported her in a way I never would have dreamt of, you know, so it’s this weird dance of what are we sharing and who are we? What do we need from people? What do we need? What do we need? And then telling people what we need.
So, Kathy, I just thank you again for so much wisdom and honesty and openness that you shared today. It’s been a really enlightening and fun conversation, and I just have such appreciation for you even though we just met. I just really, really appreciate you and your story and everything you’re doing in your life. So thank you for that. And how can, how can our listeners and viewers find you and find out more about you and, and outside of what you shared today?
Yeah, absolutely. The best way is my website, which is Kathygruver.com. And I’m all over social media. I’m on LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and whatever comes in the future. I’ll probably be on there too, but yeah, the best way is Kathy Gruver. You can get my books there and, and find out about my speaking and some trapeze videos and my TEDx and all that good stuff. So, yeah, that’s the best way.
Amazing. Well, thank you again.
Thank you Kathy.
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.