What is a Trauma-Informed Workplace with Nathan Gerbrandt


In this transformative episode, we delve into the profound realization that workplaces can be arenas for emotional growth and healing. Nathan and I discuss the critical work of the Crisis and Trauma Resource Institute (CTRI), highlighting how understanding and addressing our own life difficulties can significantly improve workplace culture and leadership.

Nathan Gerbrandt

Nathan, the Managing Director of CTRI, specializes in trauma-informed practices to improve the lives of individuals, organizations, and communities. His expertise includes service coordination and rehabilitation for those with complex trauma and co-occurring disorders, particularly in the context of legal conflict. Holding a Master of Social Work degree and a Registered Social Worker status, Nathan co-authored “A Little Book About Trauma-Informed Workplaces” and edited numerous training materials for CTRI, focusing on creating impactful connections through training.


🔑 Key Themes & Takeaways:

  • The Importance of Trauma-Informed Workplaces: Learn how acknowledging and addressing our own trauma not only supports individual healing but also fosters a more compassionate and productive organizational culture. Discover the transformative power of trauma-informed principles in creating safer, more supportive environments for all employees. 💡

  • Leadership and Helping Professions: Explore the concept that leadership inherently involves helping others. Nathan emphasizes that leading effectively means being attuned to the needs of others, whether or not one is in a traditionally defined helping profession, thereby expanding the definition of what it means to be a helper. 🧠💖

  • The Five Principles of Trauma-Informed Workplaces: Dive into CTRI’s five foundational principles for creating trauma-informed environments: promoting awareness, shifting attitudes, fostering safety, highlighting and providing choice, and focusing on strengths. These principles guide organizations in nurturing resilience and empowerment among employees. 🛡️

  • The Role of Self-Awareness and Connection: Discover the importance of self-awareness and connecting with oneself and others. Nathan shares insights into his personal journey of self-discovery, emphasizing how understanding one’s backstory and triggers can lead to profound personal and professional growth. 🔄

  • Practical Tools and Strategies for Leaders: Gain actionable insights into creating a trauma-informed workplace, including initiating open conversations about mental well-being, investing in emotional intelligence and resilience-building programs, and implementing support structures that recognize the complexity of mental health. 🧘

We talk about:

  • 3:54 What is CTRI

  • 5:14 Definition of a helping professional

  • 7:13 The evolution of trauma informed leadership

  • 14:31 Difference between trauma aware and trauma informed

  • 18:14 The importance of safety

  • 22:18 Impact of COVID in workspaces

  • 25:12 How does a hybrid work environment impact choice and safety

  • 26:50 How do you help leaders who have a very compartmentalize thoughts on safety

  • 31:56 Taking time for ourselves as leaders to become aware of ourselves

  • 33:32 Wheel of power

  • 46:31 Rapid fire questions

🌈 Closing Thoughts:

This episode calls upon leaders to recognize and embrace their role in the emotional healing journey, not only for their personal growth but as a catalyst for change within their organizations. By fostering a culture of empathy, understanding, and resilience, we pave the way for workplaces where everyone is empowered to thrive, contributing to greater creativity, productivity, and unity.

💬 We invite your reflections and insights on creating more trauma-informed, empathetic workplaces. Share your experiences and questions with us, and together, let’s shape a future of conscious leadership and emotional intelligence.

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Carolyn: Today’s guest is someone I have wanted to have on the show since day one of this podcast. And so that’s over a year. Nathan Gerbrandt is the managing director of CTRI. CTRI is the Crisis and Trauma Resource Institute. And when I was researching for my book that was released last year, CTRI had a book called A Little Book About Trauma Informed Workplaces, and it was such a helpful resource for me.

And so bringing Nathan onto the show today, we are going to talk about the work that CTRI does, the philosophy behind their work, and five principles or five areas of focus. We’re going to talk also about This, um, this, these learnings that they have had at CTRI and how they can apply to those of us who might not be in helping professions.

But I would actually venture to say that if you are leading people, you are in a helping profession because you are helping people get results. But that might be a little bit of a stretch, but we’re going to talk about how their insights and their work at CTRI have now extended, um, to learnings that can be applicable to those of us in, um, in workplaces and to help us build our internal cultures to be care based and care focused.

So excited to have Nathan on the show. I hope you enjoy this as much as I know I’m going to enjoy it. We’ll see you soon.

Hello, Evolve listeners, Evolve community. You might be watching this too. Welcome, welcome to another episode of Evolve. And our guest this week, I’m so excited to talk to him. His name is Nathan Gerbrand. Nathan, welcome to the show.

Nathan: Thank you very much, Carolyn. It’s great to be here. I’ve had the privilege of listening to a few of your episodes, and it’s an honor to be part of this conversation where we bring together workplace culture, leadership, and appreciating sort of the impacts of trauma and mental health on all of us and In our workplaces too.

So yeah, thank you. Thank you for having me.

Carolyn: Well, and when I opened up the show, I shared with everyone, um, how you are a big part, the managing director and one of the owners of the crisis and trauma resource Institute, which we will refer to as CTRI from here on forward. Um, and. You have been, you, all of you at CTRI have always been, um, a resource for me.

And in fact, when I was writing my book and I started doing my research, CTRI was the first resource in Canada that came up when I started doing that. And so your workbook was a big source of inspiration. And also it was, um. Inspiration, but it was just a good reminder that I’m amongst people who really want to bring and see some evolution in our workplaces.

So, I just wanted to start off by letting you know that the work that CTI does, um, really helped me and, and I’d love to start off Nathan by having you share a little bit with us about what CTI is and, um, and your purpose and, and then we’ll get into achieve. which I know is sort of a subsection of CTRI.

Nathan: Yes. Thank you. And, and yeah, we’re always playing around subsection kind of partner marriage. It’s, it’s a, it’s a fun game as we have these two organizations that we’re, we’re bridging and bridging is a common theme, um, for me in my life and, and working here at CTRI, but I think really what. What inspires us, what kind of defines us is we are a values driven organization that has a vision and we’d like to think grand, we’d like to think big, we envision a world where everyone is trauma informed and that then permeates how we host our meetings, how we hire staff, how we create content, resources, Bring a voice to the world, offer, um, supports, give guidance, um, everything we do to how we walk through space, how we set up our offices here.

And, uh, and, and frankly, then how we think about the workplace and, you know, to mention achieve, uh, we have two divisions, one that is more topically focused on mental health, resources, trauma, counseling, resources, helping tools for helping professionals.

Carolyn: And, and helping professionals being, um, like, can you just define what a helping professional is?

Nathan: Absolutely. Uh, I mean, it’s people who are in kind of a, uh, I mean, it’s pretty broad, but a service capacity that can be also in, you know, as a teacher, you’re offering education curriculum to students so that you are bringing tools within your vocation to, um, educate, to consider classroom management. And so how do you think through the trauma realities within your classroom, classroom management, um, but also.

Uh, frontline staff that are working with vulnerable populations. Um, so that’s the, the wide swath of CTI. I mean, that also stretches. We also offer a lot of de escalation training. So anytime you’re, I mean, if you’re in retail and you’re serving customers and there’s interactions that don’t go smoothly and there’s trauma backstories there and there’s heightened emotions and how do we keep ourselves safe?

In those interactions. So how do we navigate those without judgment through curiosity to bring those strategies into our workplaces? And so that’s the CTI kind of community, if you will, how to get better at your role and your responsibilities within your role. But what I what I really feel is that it’s.

It’s sometimes it’s a little incomplete because we all have to then navigate ourselves with our colleagues and within our workplace culture when we’re not client serving in some capacity. And that’s where I think achieve comes in so well as as a bridge to that, which focuses on and the vision for achieve is.

Um, that everyone should be able to like where they work. And so how do we find workplace culture where people feel belonging, have connection, feel fulfillment in their role, and have leaders then that can create environments that do that. And so Achieve is a center for workplace, um, performance excellence and culture change.

Carolyn: And, and so did, so you started off directed and, and your resources being geared towards helping professionals. How did, I guess, what have you seen in terms of this evolution of trauma informed being a recognized concept in, in workplaces? I know. I mean, you’ve been around for. I mean, when did CTRI start?

When were their origins?

Nathan: years ago, what is it? Oh six.

Carolyn: Like, no one was talking about trauma informed leadership overtly. I mean, I don’t remember seeing anything about that in, in maybe in the education or maybe in the medical sector, but, but what have you seen and why is it starting to permeate into workplaces and how we interact together?

Nathan: Well, I think I, um, I’ll be honest, our, our discussions on trauma informed and, and the focus on that really is a later kind of applying language to I think what was happening already in many respects. Um, and, and frankly, we wrote our book during the pandemic and considered how, um, we envision a world where everyone is trauma informed and, and learnings actually were taken from.

public health policy. And so to think broad and actually to think that there are tangible ways that we can think through the spread of viral transmission of COVID and equating that to trauma in some ways that there is a natural transference that happens when people are traumatized and it lives in their bodies and it comes out in their behaviors and actions and then we react to that.

And anybody who spends You know, 15 minutes with a crying baby and I have three kids and I remember consoling them at night and the emotional impacts that you carry, you take on when you’re trying to console somebody that’s going through quality behavior. And so the emotions transfer, it goes in our central nervous systems and they transfer and that happens in our workplaces as well.

Um, and when we’re particularly, when we’re vulnerable, when we’ve worked that late night shift, when we’ve had that, that extra responsibility put on us, we’re working to do more with less. It impacts us greatly. And so through the, you see in a pandemic and how we try and prevent those most vulnerable from the impacts of COVID, natural, simple, practical steps, washing your hands, wearing masks, physical distancing, trying to get vaccines.

These are kind of tangible things that can be done to create a healthier environment, healthier environments. And so we brought that approach. To, uh, the principles of becoming trauma informed, which we thought could be very practical. That was our key, that we want these to be applicable, hands on, we do not need to create armchair psychologists, do not need to be a trauma specialist, we don’t, everybody doesn’t need to be a therapist, but within our workplaces, we can also Work to reduce the impacts of trauma and create healthier environments where trauma doesn’t live as actively and so that they we can then we created five principles of trauma informed workplaces that are that we can highlight and find tangible easy steps to operationalize those within your workplace and just simply those five principles are promoting awareness, shifting attitudes, shifting attitudes, fostering safety, highlighting and providing choice for employees and, and thinking about strength.

These are those things that have enabled us to survive to put one foot in front of the other. And so it’s through actually that period. And, um, how do we take this, what might be pie in the sky and make it applicable in our workplace settings. And that was kind of the journey then that, that enabled us to write that little book.

We call it a little book of trauma informed workplaces because it is quite small. It’s 30 pages, 60 pages. And it’s, it’s, you know, three five inches

Carolyn: I read, I read it. Um, that was, that was the, the resource that I found when I started working on my book. And it’s interesting to hear that it, it was co created during a pandemic because, um, one of my responses to the pandemic was this isn’t my first pandemic. I’m going to be fine and bunk and like hunker down now.

Why? Um, why did I use that word pandemic? Because I wasn’t around in the early 1900s when there was, you know, that pandemic. But the, the aha for me at that time was I didn’t know that the word trauma meant what it actually meant. And so that, that word wasn’t even in my vocabulary to say, this isn’t my first trauma.

This isn’t my first sort of, um, collective experience of pain and suffering. And, and so that was a big reason why I wanted to be more overt about talking about trauma informed leadership in our corporate spaces. Because I thought, wow, If I don’t understand what that word is, and I consider myself the average educated white person, imagine how many other people don’t truly understand how our trauma and let’s just be clear.

Trauma is, is I’ll use a really simple definition, but an emotional wound that we weren’t able to process and it gets stored in our body. And I did not realize until I started doing the research, your, you know, CTRI’s handbook to start with. Um, at how important that was to be able to talk about in our workplaces.

So, you know, thank you, thank you for bringing that work in and, you know, being a pioneer in this space.

Nathan: Well, and, and you know, further to that, that, that, that, I like the, the word wound. There’s a few words, wounds, uh, words, um, that really I think come to mind. And I like just simple entry into that. Like just simple words. We don’t have to go a big, uh, treaty or a treatise or something, but wound disconnection.

And it’s not the event, it’s not this experience of abuse, fire, loss of a loved one, it’s what you carry with you. And, and it disconnects us from those resources. And so then, like I talked about, it lives in our nervous systems and it kind of comes out in our emotions and some of our behaviours. And it contaminates our interactions.

It contaminates our interactions at work. That lower gaze, the missing of meetings, absenteeism. And so we can see it in Enacted in our workplaces. And so then bringing that kind of lens together and connecting kind of for for leaders for colleagues to have that awareness, I think, is so crucial. Um, and you don’t need again, as I said, Yeah, be be this expert in it.

Um, but just having a simple vocabulary, I think, to then, you know, acknowledge and find creative ways of responding when when confronted with these behaviors that are frankly challenging for the individual and then anybody who’s was experiencing around them.

Carolyn: And, and no longer is it. The right thing to do to just push it down and go to work, right? Like that, that’s, I think what, what I found in the pandemic is all of a sudden boom, like there was no, it just kind of blew the lid off of everything. And now we can’t put the lid back on nor should we.

Nathan: No, absolutely. And as, as leaders, if you are not considering this reality, you’re doing a disservice to your workplace, to culture, to your bottom line, employees that don’t feel safe, that are not, um, experiencing interactions that acknowledge or allow flexibility to the human condition are not going to be productive.

They’re going to be missing Deadlines, they’re not going to be closing the loop on communication threads, your workforce is going to suffer and you’re going to see absenteeism and people are going to leave, right? And so as a leader, there are so many, um, reasons why it’s important to consider this.

Carolyn: And so Nathan, what would be the difference between being trauma aware and understanding like, okay, stuff lives in my nervous system. I get it. Um, and, and being trauma informed and, and why is it important for us to, well, I’ll say it be trauma informed and not just trauma aware.

Nathan: It’s interesting to to enter into that kind of a discussion because I really think it’s a journey and and even trauma informed. I don’t think it’s the final stage in this. Um, so I think there’s a start of awareness. And my hope is that through awareness that can produce. Action. But it, but it doesn’t.

And my, my, actually my Master’s of Social Work thesis was all about attitudinal change and how actually to promote change, we need both awareness, we need action, behaviors need to do something, and we need relationship. So you need some kind of connection. And so trauma awareness is just the first step.

Trauma, I think, informed, and there’s a number of different definitions for it. It can get kind of complex. Our five principles, I feel, are the simple way into that, um, awareness, attitudes, considering safety, considering choice, and highlighting strengths, and, and I think they, they sound very simple, but it’s crucial that I think we, we include all of them, because Just being trauma informed, I think, does almost a bit of a disservice, if I might even go there, that we over focus on the trauma.

And no one wants to be known for their backstory. There’s an important element of appreciating and being curious, but then we’re also respecting that that’s your story. And you have your own voice and your own place and right and time to tell that. And so how do we look, and there’s new language coming on healing centered journey, and how do we look to post traumatic growth and highlighting the identity?

That people want to highlight for themselves, and so that’s where I would I would speak about this journey. And I think it’s important that we are open to them that and for people to define their culture, their identity in the way that makes sense for them. And as leaders, I think it’s our, our, our, our opportunity and our responsibility to then provide forums for that to happen.

For people to, to acknowledge those strengths as well, because people often don’t see those.

Carolyn: yeah. I know. I really appreciate what you’re saying. Uh, cause I know when I read over the, you know, those five things when I was reading your handbook, I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it. Like that was my first sort of reaction. I was like, wait a second, Carolyn, go back and look a little bit deeper.

There’s something deeper there. So I really appreciate you saying that, um, because you know, having been one of those leaders in a workplace, it’s like, yeah, okay, I get it. Like, that’s good. I got, I got things I’ve got to go do and you know, objectives to accomplish.

Nathan: I don’t have time to add this on top of my long list of priorities,

Carolyn: And, you know, when you see that, that one as well, but, you know, focus on strengths.

Yeah. Okay. I get that strength based leadership. Like I do that. I think, um, well, one, we don’t want to dismiss it because it’s the synergy of all of those things together. I think that’s really important. And the piece for me that I think we can continue to build our, our skills in is around the safety and choices piece.

Um, can you talk a little bit about those two in particular and how they’re related?

Nathan: Sure. Absolutely. Oh, and, um, I think those two in particular, if we cycle back to an adverse experience and the language of trauma, people say a trauma event or trauma experience, the, uh, the, the, uh, fire abuse. A pain of feeling overwhelmed by your, you know, some event, what happens there is there’s a threat to himself.

I don’t have choice. I’ve lost control. And so how do we in our workplaces provide ways to give that back choice and control? So that there’s sort of that root that comes from that initial experience and same with safety. I do not feel safe. So one of the most practical things that organizations can do is to provide emotional, physical, relational safety for people within the workplace.

And, um, this is one like. I think we all have, I have three children, we have our favorites, or we stay away from our favorites, but I have a favorite principle, if you’ll allow me, and that is safety. Because I think it’s so crucial, and I, and I speak a lot for my backstory about building bridges and finding connection.

And the way to achieve safety is through connection, because safety happens. In relationship, you can’t mandate say you can’t force it. You can’t just say there’s a policy. Send out a memo. You have to consider the people that are part of the scenario and listen within that. And so that’s where that choice piece.

And these principles are not silos. I’m glad you brought brought those two together. That’s that’s quite astute of you. That, that then they can have a voice within how we are co creating safety within our organization. We obviously need to think about the physical handrails, ramps, walk at night, uh, experiences, training to understand the interpersonal interactions to deescalate and all of that.

But then we also need to think about the individuals and their flow and emotions. And so, for my, um, research into this book, we did a Quite an involved lit review, and there’s three key elements to safety. And you’ve read the books, so you probably know where I’m going here. There’s three go to’s of safety that I think I love that are just so simple.

And safe organizations, trauma informed organizations, I consider safety have go to leaders. There’s a relational piece that I have somebody in a position of authority that has my back, that I get. They know about my life circumstances away from work. And if things go a little left or right, I can go to them outside of my work task and they’ll get it.

And it’s an easy flow. And so how do we as leaders make sure we’re, we’re fostering those, we’re asking, we’re learning about each other’s lives, we’re creating that. Go to leaders, go to spaces. So there’s physical spaces, spaces and time. I have the luxury of an office. I can close my door if I need to decompress after a particularly difficult interaction or stressful or what have you.

Not everybody has that. How do we find ways to get away to a lunchroom, a staff room, go for a walk? The time. So many of our healthcare Settings there is they’re moving from one crisis to another. How do we stop and actually get the support that we need decompress find that connection point to get back to a state of readiness and but you’re not you’re just going going going so places are spaces as well and their time as well and then go to peers.

How do we build that relationship of comfort that, again, someone has my back, that, that I have friends. And so we actually, when we’re hiring people, when we’re talking about it, we actually quite lean into the word. It’s okay to have friends at work. And then we as leaders that are acknowledging and allowing those conversations, those relationships to develop, that camaraderie will promote belonging and, and, and engagement and people want to be there as well.

So go to peers, go to leaders and go to safe spaces, produce safe work environments.

Carolyn: Yeah. And you, you can see how those three. Those three elements of safety were front and center during the pandemic because they weren’t necessarily available. And the other thing that comes to mind too, is the, the transition or the evolution in the workplaces in terms of space, how everything went to open.

A lot of organizations went to open spaces and, and there wasn’t, there aren’t places for people to go and sort of gather or contain their energy or, or just. take a breath and take a, you know, take a beat. I don’t really like that saying, but, um, and now we’re going back into the work where, gosh, we could talk about a whole, like this could go in a whole other, uh, interesting convert, like direction.

But you know, when you think about this hybrid and this return to work and then, and then the mandates that are coming out from some leaders, like you have to, I mean, that goes against everything to do with strengths, with choice, with safety, with awareness. It’s like, hello, you’re missing. Four out of the five.

And I, I know I missed the fifth one. Right.

Nathan: reflection on the pandemic around the mandated level, and even if the science is there, but the, the collaborative, um, consulting to include the voice of other people, that maybe it’s going to look a little different in this setting. There’s other contexts to bear.

Where mental health or other realities are actually maybe more prominent than, than Viral risk. And how do we? Yeah, there was just real misses in that area, too. And it wasn’t again. I don’t think it’s the science. It was the communication patterns and the process there. But you made an interesting, made an interesting comment about as we shift from, I mean, we went to 100 percent virtual with all of our staff and then have been slowly integrating back in different configurations and saying, well, actually, we do better work when we’re together.

Um, or our process of bringing on A staff was quite unique and stunted when it was during the pandemic, and I never saw some, some of my colleagues for months on end, which really interrupted our natural flow of including someone in our organization and hearing their voice in our workplace culture. So there’s, there’s an excellent activity that I love to do when I’m training on this.

It’s, it’s, it’s out there in public consciousness with client journey mapping or customer journey mapping where, but bringing it to this approach where we think through all the touch points. I’d say I knew. Staff member has with your organization when they’re reading your advertisement, when they’re coming in for an interview, when they come for that first job a day on the job, when they’re getting the orientation when they get that first bit of difficult feedback when they’re terminated and all those touch points.

And we did that. We did that with our organization and then any pain points that happen along all those touch points. What are the needs? What are the questions that emerge? And we created quite an assessment. I gotta say, I love getting data. Um, my instance, my lens on things, it’s all subjective, just like it is for all of us.

And so how do we get again, get the consulting piece and look to the data. And so by drawing. Different perspectives and to do a client journey map or a staff journey map through your organization, um, was just phenomenal for, for, for insight into everything there. But, but then the pandemic happened and it all changed and all those touch points were different.

They were through a 2d screen. And so that created opportunities, but it also meant, Oh, some of those gatherings at first staffing, when we all share and welcome that new person. Didn’t happen. And we didn’t go for that going out for drinks at the end of the day. Or we didn’t gather around for coffee. And so we had to overlay now this new reality on all those touch points.

And so I love that process now. It’s like, okay, now under the virtual reality, let’s do this again. And we totally revamped our customer or our staff journey map within our organization. It was quite an insightful and an assessment process for us to enhance those touch points where we can prioritize safety, prioritize choice for our new staff.

Carolyn: So yeah. And I hadn’t thought about it that way until you shared that. And I think that’s been, that’s a piece of the back to work, the hybrid conversation that I don’t hear talked about enough, which is how does choice and safety get impacted here? Um, yeah, yeah. Right.

Nathan: Yeah, anytime there are, you know, when you have to have that critical feedback conversation when you’re, you know, are those done through zoom medium? Do you find a way to then you lose out on some of the interpersonal interactions, the body, the voice, the tone? Um, and so, you know, we have prioritized that certain conversations, certain meetings need to happen in person.

Uh, and just and had done a bit of a review of how we meet and these ones are okay. Well, we need to prioritize this person who’s out of the province and so they will, that will always be virtual. This one has an emotional kind of reality. It needs to be in person or what it is a financial component. Um, And anything that has any kind of those realities, we want to prioritize, if at all possible.

There’s a bit of a check down, um, then that those are in person. Um,

Carolyn: Yeah. Wow. Um, so I, I know, um, again, I’m, I’m really kind of hanging on to this, uh, this notion of safety and choice and, and I want to dig in a little bit more to this word safety.

Nathan: Mm.

Carolyn: So if I put my, my former leadership hat on, I know you can be a leader every single day, but I mean, like when I had the official title, um, I didn’t.

I thought physical safety was one thing and I worked in an office. It’s like, okay, whatever. And I remember we would get emails and messages about proper posture. Um, don’t use your phone when you’re walking down the stairs. And at the time I was like, come on, whatever. We don’t need to know about that.

Like, again, I got things to do here. Um, what, what do you do in your programs or what have you found, uh, that helps leaders? People like me who have this sort of very, very, um, I’m doing this like a very, uh, compartmentalized thought about what safety is to make them understand that psych safety, um, cognitive safety, like there’s a whole bunch of different aspects of safety that I think it’s important for leaders to understand and how do you, how do you help people understand that?

Nathan: I’m going to start spinning that around in my head. There’s a couple of different ways I would go here. Because as I, as I said, this is my favorite one. And so I think it ties into so many of the other principles. Um. If you’ll allow me, then I think it’s, I mean, there’s also, I’ll often talk about the journey to become a trauma informed organization has a big and small.

There’s the big, the collective, as we think about policies, our responsibility as a, as a leader. I mean, I have been drawn to these roles because the impacts are so great. You can yeah. I was a social worker for years. I worked one on one with people and I wanted to have greater impact. I wanted to work on policy.

I wanted to work with systems that I think could, you know, improve many people’s lives. And then there’s the small, there’s that personal interaction that we have one on one, um, where I can. Make your day just a little bit better and making sure that I’m not actually being a thorn and and and being that problematic kind of piece on your journey.

And so it’s that beginning perspective that I think we as leaders or anybody can bring to that, that interaction that might be a little bit awkward or challenging. And so that. That those questions that I can guide our inner monologue that happened that we kind of, that’s, that’s our natural sort of knee jerk, knee jerk defensive like this person’s, you know, why aren’t they doing their job?

They’re making my day bad. Like, I asked this four times. Now they’re still not getting it. Like what’s going on? And we go to usually a more of a quicker directive approach. Um, we have efficiency. We got it. Like I came in for this conversation, I’ve got an agenda. Um, and now it’s, there’s problems there for whatever reason.

And so when that happens, how do we as leaders sort of take a beat again and pause? And, and so it’s the questions I really think through. I mean, that’s, that’s a. It’s a skill set that needs to be trained. And so our process is, what are the questions that you’re asking when that happens? And I think the knee jerker on it is, what’s wrong with you?

Like, why’d you do that? Like, you know, something’s better or like, that’s odd. Like there’s, you, you think about a deficit in the other person, which can be brought from a whole host of reasons. I think this really underpins, underpins our trauma informed approach that we try and shift then and become curious about it.

Because this could behavior could be brought on by Backstory of trauma could be brought on by experience of colonization experiences of marginalization. Maybe there’s a collective reality impacting this interaction, and it’s nothing to do with me or the task at hand. Um, and so shifting from what’s wrong with you to.

What might have happened to make this behavior make sense? And so I like, and that’s, that’s part of the steps on the journey. What might’ve happened to make this behavior make sense? And it’s this internal thing. And by thinking about it, I think we can slow down our response, become more creative, put down our agenda.

Um, and, and that is the strategy then it’s not, um, we teach on like de escalation training and strategies, as I said, for helping professionals. Here, the strategy is that pause, is that break between stimulus and response to wonder a little more about what’s going on. Um, and, and that is then I think then we allow the other training and, and creativity and our awareness of what might be going on with this person and, and allow that person to have a little more choice and voice into, into the interaction.

So that’s something for anybody and particularly for leaders that if we can kind of put down our agenda in some of those interactions. And then that will produce emotional safety.

Carolyn: Right. Right. And, and to be clear, when we, when we shift out of like, what is wrong with you to what happened to you, it’s a question that goes on in our mind. We don’t, we don’t say a lot. Oh, well, Nathan, what happened to you? Like, we don’t, yeah, just, I just meant

Nathan: that inner monologue. Yeah, that, that, that inner monologue. And I mean, Brene Brown, I think has a quote. Um, I mean, my, my counseling background kind of always comes in about, I want to help. I want to make something better. But what actually makes something better is connection.

Carolyn: Right.

Nathan: that. Just perfect phrase or thing to say, but it’s about connection. And if we can filter that in our responses, how do we offer some form of connection? And listening like, just be that,

Carolyn: Well, and, and I mean, I do, I do a lot of dare to lead work. I’m, I’m certified in, in Bernays, uh, dare to lead work. And, and so I’ve really learned over the five years that I’ve been doing it now, how much the unintentional disconnection. Where I, you know, and here’s a perfect example, you know, let’s say Nathan, you and I work together and you come and you ask me a question, just a question and I just tell you what to do instead.

Right? So you’re not going to feel seen or heard and, and in the same way as if I would have approached that with curiosity, right? If I’m giving you the answer, the judgment there, and again, I never thought of it this way, but the judgment is, well, what’s wrong with Nathan? He doesn’t know what the answer is.

I’ll just tell him.

Nathan: Exactly. Yeah, we want to be efficient as

Carolyn: Right.

Nathan: One thing to add into this too, that I think it’s, it’s essential as leaders that we also take time for ourselves to know who we are in these interactions. So it’s one thing to pause, one thing to listen, one thing to offer that safe space. But we are also, I’m a white male who’s six feet tall, who has, um, you know, I’m a, I’m a fourth generation immigrant, my story is one of privilege.

And so when I walk into rooms, when I, when I think through policy, think through a program and how it will best have success, I think about it through that lens. And so how do we as leaders become aware, locate ourselves in our journeys, which we can’t shed, I’m that regardless, but I, that’s, we’re coming back to that first level of awareness, and that we can then.

Dialogue about that with our colleagues, with our peers, we as leaders need peers so that we can hold ourselves accountable or say, Hey, what do you, you know, maybe there’s another way we can think about that. Maybe we need to invite someone in to give a fresh, you know, perspective that’s not included here based on we got four white guys in the room.

And so that’s, that’s a, that’s an underlying piece that I. When I think about moving this journey forward, um, to be trauma informed, uh, we also need to think about how do we, there’s a social justice, I think, component to that also enriches our organizations when we are more diverse, when we think of other opportunities to share power and privilege in these ways.

And we as leaders, it has to start with ourselves. It has to start by supporting each other, by thinking about where we come from and having some of those hard conversations.

Carolyn: Um, there’s a great resource on the Government of Canada website, and I might have said it before. So if you’re listening and you’re thinking, Carolyn, you’ve said that before. Um, but I’m just really proud of our government, um, in this case, that they have this wheel of power and privilege on their website.

And, and I know there’s different versions of it out there and I think it’s so important. So they have different sort of 10 different elements of identity on there and I bring it into all my work now, not to try and demean anybody or, or make them share something they don’t want to share. I never asked that, but I do it to help people recognize pieces of them and their story and they’re all important and it impacts our ability.

To have choice and safety. And I think that connection, you know, to bring now again, why those, you know, those five elements in your handbook are so important and so interrelated too many people haven’t had the awareness of what their identity or their story is. I, and I’ll be one of those people. I was like, no, you know, like, well, I just, just wasn’t aware of it and how that impacts choices and safety in an organization.

Nathan: Absolutely. And how do you as an organization set up spaces where staff can feel comfortable to bring their culture, their identity into that space? Um, I think a lot of our organizations focus on whether we’re producing something, we have a mission, and that, Overrides the identity of staff and so turning that cultural, you know, what I, what I believe is humility, um, into curiosity and that we have days to acknowledge we can highlight different dress and what is formal is our Western kind of style.

This is formal suits and whatnot. But let’s let’s celebrate all cultures matter. All cultures, um, all have things to offer. And so I love the, there’s some great work by, uh, an elder Albert Marshall, two eyed seeing. And so that’s a journey as well, too, that we look at the strengths of indigenous ways of viewing and learning and understand the world with Western ways, but taking that forward to all different cultural and perspectives to look to the strengths in the deep and the different cultures that are represented within your workplace and within your client groups.

Carolyn: Yeah. Oh, so good. Um, so, so Nathan, when, when you do this work, when organizations come to, uh, and, and, and let’s, when I say organizations, I’ll, I’ll talk more about the Achieve arm or the Achieve umbrella side of the business, because those would be organizations who are looking to focus on their internal culture versus the services, right?

Is that, yeah. I’ve got that

Nathan: That’s actually a pretty good, uh, quick nutshell, um, focusing on workplace culture, work

Carolyn: right.

Nathan: there’s a lot more consulting and organizational assessment that, that we do through that division, um, and, and developing policies on respectful workplace, um, policies and interactions and practices.


Carolyn: And so can you tell us a little bit, um, about, uh, a journey, um, that you’ve seen an organization make and you don’t need to name who they are unless you want to. Um, but like, what are some of the, the elements along this journey that they will take, right? If, if some leaders are listening now thinking, Oh gosh, we’ve got to go on this journey or maybe you already are on this journey, what are just some real life experiences that you could share?

Nathan: Well, we, um, I mean, I mentioned doing assessment work. Um, there was an organization that we worked with that brought us in to do an assessment of their services. I maybe I won’t say who they are. They’re a large, um, large, actually homeless serving organization that works with People with a soup kitchen and clothing, and they have a whole range of services.

They brought us in actually to do an assessment, um, uh, of their services and, and the protocol, and we, we started looking at their vision. We, I think it’s important that you look at what, what’s your purpose, you know, and then everything flows from that. Maybe there are services actually better contradictory or problematic.

And the, interestingly, their vision statement was. I’m going to get this right. Every person is unique and has a story to tell. And I love that actually. I thought that was a great vision statement that was so human centric. Um, every person is unique and has a story to tell. And then so we, we did some survey and we, we gathered, gathered data from clients and from staff around.

Are they living out this mission? How do they feel about it? What’s, you know, um, Yeah, and so forth. And we interviewed clients as well. People coming in for services who actually had very positive things to say. I mean, there are all these things that could be improved and better resource and capacity is always an issue.

Um, but the strongest voice that came through this story came through this, this collecting of data was that the staff didn’t feel their voice. What’s being heard. And so that was quite interesting that, that we were brought in to what we, they, you know, hypothesize that there, we look, need to look at funding streams are kind of changing some of the programs around, but as it turned out, it was the staff that said, well, we kind of feel marginalized our voices and heard and getting back to the safety.

They didn’t have opportunities to feel safe. Um, there were crisis after crisis. There weren’t opportunities to debrief after there’d been a critical incident. Um, super there, there was a lack of regular supervision meetings. And one of the things I’ve kind of learned through my years is one of the best ways to combat vicarious trauma, the impacts of the stories and the trauma stories of those that you’re serving on yourself, even if you’re not a direct impact is.

Is by having supervision, by having the tools that you need to then do your job well and the support. So then through this process, we learned that we, we, the data showed that it was, um, it was in that area of offering safety, offering voice, offering debriefing opportunities, supervision opportunities, um, for the employees within this organization to do their, their, To get outlets, to get time away, to recharge, uh, to get the support they need.

And that actually tied right back to their mission statement. So that was quite an interesting observational journey to be part of, to see it actually flowed right from the mission statement that they had as an organization. And that, that changed the work that we did in following up. And we did training around critical incident group debriefing.

And we looked at creating a, a site assessment of where’s a room, a physical space that staff can get away that actually needs to be used. You know, not within earsight or earshot and visible so that staff can really get that true emotional break from the stress level of what happens on the floor or outside the kitchen and whatnot.

So it’s less about service delivery and then just the reality of the staff experience. I thought that was quite interesting for our, for what we were initially told, this is what the, you know, everybody assesses, this is what our problem is. Um, but until you actually dig and get that outside voice. Um, You don’t, yeah, you know, you could be misguided there.

Carolyn: Well, and I think that that, I mean, I think that that’s probably the crux for several issues in organizations. I’m not going to say every issue. Um, You know, cause sometimes when I’m called into, uh, organizations as well, um, I’m told one thing and then when we get in there and we listen to all the different perspectives, we’re able to see a broader perspective.

And I really appreciate that story that you shared because nowhere in there was it. We brought in our five, our five elements. Um, and we brought in this checklist and we did this, this, and this. It was an act of listening, an act of connection and being heard. And I do believe we need these third parties, um, or people or agencies to help us, to help us listen differently and broaden our perspective.

Nathan: Yeah, Oh, absolutely. And I, it’s almost like, I think, I think we all would benefit from a bit of counseling on the side, just to kind of, you know, spin things in different ways, safe spaces where I can kind of get that other voice that’s sounding board. And I think as organizations, we, those, whether it’s consultancy, that counselor for an organization, um, and then you, and oftentimes, I mean, I.

This is one where I think it was, we had a different, the group had a different sense of where sort of the need area or the was, but oftentimes I think we do know, and it’s, it’s sort of being reassured or affirmed that actually my assessment is correct.

Carolyn: Hmm. Mm

Nathan: And I think that’s important to say, too. And so much of our work is also highlighting kind of the natural.

Abilities that I think so many service providers have many people within your organization. Your intuition is actually pretty good. Generally, um, it could be. It can be need to be recalibrated a little bit, but it’s often giving that confidence that the way you see things, the strengths, the decisions intuition that you are using to reaffirm those and then to build on that capacity.

Carolyn: Yeah. Well, and I was just going to ask you, because I know we’re, we’re heading into the back end of, of our recording here. I was going to ask you, like, what would be some insight that you could share with the listeners that could help them individually take a step. Into this space of, of being more aware, creating more safety, focusing on strength, um, you know, all of those five important elements.

And I think you just tapped into a really important one, which is this notion of understanding your instincts and, and learning to trust them a little bit more. What else could you offer to the listeners?

Nathan: I mean, I think the, the, yeah, there’s a whole bunch I’d like to say, um, one point that I think maybe if I think about my story and what’s been notable for me, and the thing that I think takes the most work is the most difficult, but also the most attainable is, I mean, it’s the most difficult. It’s all connected, is what I believe.

I love history. I’m passionate about our relationship that we have to space, to those who’ve come before us, to land, to the water we drink, um, to the difficulties within our backstories, within our history. Um, and my, the phrase that was really Prominent when I was growing up was remember who you are. My grandfather told my dad and my dad told it to me and remember who you are.

It’s, I mean, it needs to be unpacked, but it’s like, we are tied to those people that come before us. We draw from the culture, from the strengths that is there. So again, we need to learn that we need to take those moments to recognize, but then locate ourself on that journey, but then also the privileges that come with that.

And so our intuition. Is also based on that. And so there may be times where our intuition actually might be wrong, where it’s built on privilege, where it’s built on, um, my unique view or my experience as a male. Um, and there are traps that, that we can fall into within this that disconnect us. We get into, I think.

What happened to the pandemic is that I think we focus more on ourself versus looking up and looking at my story in the broader context. And I don’t see how it’s all connected. I think there’s traps of isolation that can happen as well, too. And then that unfairly, I think, focuses on maintaining the status quo.

And it doesn’t allow us to then, um, challenge and make connection across bridges across, um. You know, cultures and whatnot. And so I think we need to find a balance then that that starts with looking at yourself starts with looking at your story, but then looks up. And I think when we do that and we see and we connect what our story means and wrestle with some of the difficulties within that.

Then we can also, um, be confident in the strengths that we have and then we can see those in others. And I think that’s what we, allows us to then see beauty. When we acknowledge that I have that thing that’s important to me, that has given me ability to, you know, get over imposter syndrome or, um, maintain my family dynamics when it’s difficult and come through a trauma in my backstory there.

I see that in others when they found that post traumatic growth and resilience. Um, and then we see gratitude. And then we become appreciative. And I think we need to find hope. And I, my, this has been part of my journey is it’s through that awareness and recognition of the important elements of my culture.

But also that it’s not perfect, and that then impacts how I see the world, how I navigate difficult interactions, um, and then look at life as a gift. And look at, look at those strengths around me that I see within my colleagues, my fellow leaders, the clients we work with. Um, and don’t perseverate on those problematic little pieces that come up, but find the strengths within those interactions.

And so that, yeah, that’s, that’s been part of my journey, and it’s about remembering who you are. And I’m not perfect. But there’s some good things that are coming out there. And I want to make sure I, I know a bit of what the difference between those two.

Carolyn: Oh, Nathan, this has been such a, uh, a deep, uh, wonderful conversation and, uh, it’s been really fabulous having you on the show, but I’m not going to cut you loose yet. Is that okay?

Nathan: That’s okay.

Carolyn: I forgot to tell you this when we were in the, the, the proverbial green room before, but I ask, um, all guests who come on three questions.

So, um, Is it okay if we still go there? There, there are three, there are three questions about, um, my, I, I’ve got this little sort of formula in my book evolve about self awareness, self regulation and co regulation. Those are three sort of foundational pieces that I think would help leaders become more trauma informed.

And so I like to ask all my guests sort of one question in each of those areas. So if it’s okay with you and Hey, please say pass. No, if, if, if that feels better for you, um, But if it’s okay with you, can I ask you three of those questions?

Nathan: Bring them on.

Carolyn: All right. Well, the first question is, um, is about self awareness and if there is an anecdote or a lesson that you’ve learned, um, or an experience, just a short sort of perspective around a time where your self awareness really moved to another level, kind of one of those moments where it was like, Oh, wow.


Nathan: I mentioned a few times resilience or post traumatic growth. And I, my, if I’m going to get personal here for a moment, I went through a difficult divorce way back when, um, that stayed with me. I, I. I had that trauma, the depression, for a little bit after, and it wasn’t clinical, um, but it was, it impacted me, it hit me hard.

I’m a social person. I love being around people, I love connecting, and I became very lonely. And now all of a sudden being alone in a house, and what do you do? And this was I was in my late 20s. Um, and so that was difficult and I didn’t know what to do. So, but I’m also an active person. So I just rather than explode in my house.

I just went out and I walked and I ran and I moved around the neighborhood and I listened to music and I spent. Time with myself

Carolyn: Hmm.

Nathan: I went through this day in, day out and my loneliness be shifted, and I think through listening to music, through thinking about my thoughts, um, reflecting, getting into, I, I love music.

I, I I saw before that you have a couple questions about, or a question about music, music.

Carolyn: That’s coming up.

Nathan: my life. And what I, I enjoyed music and I love going to bands and concerts and I was like, I can enjoy this by myself. And I’ve developed my relationship with myself, myself changed. And I actually looked forward to these times and my loneliness and I’ll speak about this summer, my loneliness, I think shifted to solid and I’m like, Oh yeah, I kind of like myself.

This is cool. I enjoy these. Walk this got my headphones in and I just got out there and and it was, it was powerful and I, and I, that, you know, difficulty that I had my life circumstances actually didn’t change, but my perspective on them did. And so, yeah, like I said, loneliness went to solid and, and, um, that was pretty powerful for how I relate to myself.

And because we all have those moments, we’re by ourself and you’re like, what do you do? And for a social extrovert like me, I’m like, oh, well, that’s bad. I don’t want that. I want to be with people. And that was a real, you know, paradigm shift in my life.

Carolyn: That’s amazing. And, and just the, you know, what I hear there is this relationship with self, which I think is at the core of, of our life journey is when we can truly get to know who we are. There’s a lot of things that get in the way of that. Oh, thank you for sharing that, Nathan.

Nathan: And it’s ongoing. I mean, it’s, that’s,

Carolyn: it’s a journey,

Nathan: of it.

Carolyn: no destination.

Nathan: and you’ve got to change. Like it’s, I mean, I don’t mean to get into duality, but you’ve got to change your relationship with self. Over your lifespan, um, as you are in different roles and have different responsibilities, have other external relationships, right?

So it’s a complex beast.

Carolyn: it is. It is. Well, um, we are going to get to the music question. That’s the third one. But the second one is, um, a practice or ritual that you have that helps, um, that helps you stay connected to self or, you know, other people use the word regulated or calm.

Nathan: Well, as I, as I shared, getting out and moving, I’m an active person. I actually. Struggle with sitting still and so running running is my heaven getting and frankly getting my it’s my system moving It’s me physically moving sweating like there’s there’s perspiration. My internal Metabolism is functioning at its max because i’m pushing myself.

My heart is racing Um, I find it kind of just shake off. I sweat out the toxins of stress and anxiousness and it’s quite energy producing for me Um, and then As I’ve, you know, I’ve developed a relationship with, with the physicality of that and I’ve learned now whether I’m running in an urban setting or anytime I can now heighten that, maximize that by getting out to woods, getting out to nature and then I’m, I’m, I don’t have headphones in now, I’ll, I’ll walk, I’ll run in, in forest, I’ll see trees, I’ll see the sun and I just, there’s a real like intentional, like, ah, you kind of thing that happens when I get out and I do that.

And it’s through movement. It’s through getting, that’s, you know, getting in touch with how my system feels at its best.

Carolyn: Well, and I heard perspiration in there too. So I’m going to say movement plus perspiration. I’m in. I’m in.

Nathan: Absolutely. Absolutely. And an odd little, little switcher. One of the new, new things in my life is I got a sauna. So now I’ve got a lazy way of perspiring.

Carolyn: so it’s, it’s actually, yeah, they’re both separate. That’s funny. Um, now the last question, um, and this one can be a tricky one for folks, cause I’m going to ask you to share a song or genre of music. If you can’t narrow it down to one song, um, a song or genre of music that makes you feel connected to something bigger than yourself.

Nathan: When I think back, I mean, there, there isn’t, I don’t have a specific. I do have a grouping of artists and music. And so my playlist, it’s very nostalgic and I don’t mind listening to the same thing again. And again, again, it’d be interesting. I could look at the metrics or how many times I’ve listened to my favorite 20 songs.

Um, but when I look at that group, It’s all from a period in my life, and it’s my early 20s. My folks actually had graduated from high school, my folks left the country, and I was alone, and I had to kind of wrestle with that. And I developed a friendship group then, and I went out to Weeping Tile, and the Weaker Thens, I’m from Winnipeg, big groups here, Sarah Harmer, Hawksley Workman came through.

So I mean, it was the rock, um, urban grunge crowd that we were going out to hear these groups getting, you know, at the infancy of their, their careers, but I just, Develop a passion and it was about connection with this community. And so all the, when I listened to this music now, what, 30 years later, 20, 30 years later, it takes me back.

And so the emotions, the feelings that I had of going out to, to celebrate, to be carefree, I didn’t have kids. I didn’t have a partner. Um, so it’s that self exploration, being carefree, enjoying the newness of being an adult and the independence that that comes with. Um, and so the music sort of transports me.

Through to that kind of the feelings that come with that. So that’s, that’s, I think when I look at, listen to music, that’s, I, it’s transports me to a different era and a different feeling. I think those are the most powerful. Experiences I have with music.

Carolyn: And you put in some, uh, Canadian artists

Nathan: Yes. Yeah. A little shout

Carolyn: to rep Canada.

Nathan: yeah, you bet. You bet

Carolyn: that’s fantastic. Well, thank you so much for sharing those, uh, those pieces of yourself, Nathan. Um, before we close off our conversation, where could listeners find out more about CTRI and Achieve and all of this great work and maybe where can they find that little handbook?

Nathan: you. I mean, probably the simplest is just to Google CTRI or crisis and trauma Resource Institute. Um, our algorithms should make that number one in your browser. Uh, and, uh. Yeah, there’s a host of free resources as well there. I think it’s important that, um, we’re always trying to build relationship and partnership with with organizations.

And we offer a lot of cost assessment and consulting and programs. But there’s sometimes it’s not always possible. And sometimes we just need something. So we have webinars there. One hour short form versions of our workshops. Um, a lot is focused for that helper and realizing where they’re at In their journey.

So some of that’s on their self care and how do we dig deeper into that journey for ourselves? So, um, there’s a lot on there. There’s a free assessment as well, a trauma informed workplace assessment that you can do. It takes, you know, two to five minutes and you get an eight page report. Um, so we like to offer a lot of things that can be very tangible and accessible that just aren’t a few clicks away.

But yeah, it’s, uh, under ctri, I think, dot com.

Carolyn: Yep. And we’ll make sure that that is in the show notes. Uh, Nathan, thank you so much for coming on the show. I hope this is not the last time that we speak and it’s been a real pleasure having you.

Nathan: Absolutely. It’s been wonderful being here with you, Carolyn.

Carolyn: So Nathan and I continued a bit of a conversation after we stopped recording the episode and I shared with him how much it meant to me to be able to interview him and hear about the work at CTRI because it had a big influence on my work and, and really gave me a sense of community realizing that as I was writing my book and getting into this space of trauma informed leadership, that there was a community there.

And I wanted them to actually be my very first guest on the podcast. And what I just shared with Nathan is, is that I’m glad that they weren’t the first guest, uh, on my podcast, because I have learned so much over the past year, interviewing so many different people that I think it helped me, um, be able to frame my conversation with Nathan and all of the rich resources that they have at CTRI a little bit differently.

So I hope you got, I trust that you got some great insight out of that conversation. And two things I just wanted to highlight. Um, there was a bit of an error in, uh, articulating the ins, the website for CTRI. So the correct website to find, uh, the, the organization that Nathan is from CTRI is CTR institute.com.

So just to repeat, it’s not ct i.com or.ca. It is ctr institute.com. And then the other thing is I just wanted to remind everybody that you can buy the little book about trauma-informed workplaces. It was one of the first resources I purchased when I wrote my book, and it’s little, but it’s full of really practical insight.

Um, most of which I talked about with Nathan on the show, and I know for sure you can get it at those big, um, those big online book retailers. Uh, so you can have a look there at whatever platform you choose to buy them on. It’s a great little resource. Thank you again for tuning in. Uh, really, really appreciate all of you who listened to this podcast.

And my goal this year is to expand our reach. We’re getting more amazing guests. This work is becoming more recognized and more accepted to help leaders and help organizations. Be places where people, all people, regardless of identity can be seen, heard, valued, and feel like they belong. So please, if you can leave a review about the podcast, uh, leave a rating, like, subscribe, share it with your friends.

And Hey, if you want to be a guest on the show, please reach out to me and we’ll see if that can happen. You can find me at carolynswara. com and until next week, we’ll see you later.

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