Episode 33: Everyone's Experience Matters 
with Dr. Nancy Popp

Do the people around you know that their experience matters to you? Do they feel known, seen, and understood by you? This is the value of understand the developmental road map and learning how to identify where you and others are on the journey.  

While there is a great deal of commonality among all people, the way each person makes sense of our world is fundamentally different.  When we recognize that we are more effective in influencing others when we meet them where they are, and not trying to get them to meet us where we are, we can come alongside them and help them take their next step.  

About our guest

Nancy is a developmental psychologist, coach, consultant, educator, and writer. She is also an obsessed and passionate gardener. It is not surprising that gardening and developmental psychology are really all about the same process: supporting healthy growth through understanding and attending to the unique needs and requirements of the growing individual before you—whether rooted, winged, furry, or two- legged.

In the human realm, supporting healthy growth is about creating contexts that encourage deeper empathy toward oneself and others, broader perspective-taking, more productive engagement around conflict, a more civil and respectful discourse, and a more compassionate regard for those who are different.

The one important difference between supporting healthy growth in humans and supporting healthy growth in the garden is that in the garden the plants and animals and insects and birds do not strive to be anything other than what they are. The ferns do not strive to be roses, nor do the birds strive to be groundhogs (thank goodness!) This is a great struggle for many humans.

These are the things that fuel Nancy’s work—the small miracles of paying attention, and in that attention, together creating a space in which these wondrous individuals can and do grow and thrive and become even more wondrous.

Other, more academic things also fuel Nancy’s work. She is the foremost expert on the Subject-Object Interview (SOI), the developmental assessment tool developed by Robert Kegan and his colleagues at Harvard. In the early 80s, Nancy was a member of the first and only group to be trained and certified by Kegan, Lahey, and Souvaine in SOI assessment.

As she continued her doctoral work with both Kegan and Lahey, Nancy took the reins of training others in the SOI and she continues that work today. Many of the current thought leaders in the field were among the early training groups Nancy led: Suzanne Cook-Greuter, Otto Laske, Ellie Drago-Severson, Keith Eigel, Jennifer Garvey Berger, and others. Nancy has supported over 40 doctoral dissertations and has conducted and assessed upwards of a thousand SOIs. She has written numerous articles and chapters and a book on the developmental implications of many different topics from conflict to consciousness to ecological decision-making. She works with researchers, graduate students, and scholars to provide developmental assessments for their work.

In her coaching practice, Nancy uses the SOI and other tools such as Kegan and Lahey’s Immunity to Change (ITC) process, Bill Torbert’s Action Inquiry, Jung’s shadow work, and Donald Schön’s reflective practice. These tools help provide some excellent supports, scaffolds, and fertilizer for growing humans.

Nancy lives on the North Shore of Massachusetts with her husband, son, and lots of plants and wildlife.

Episode transcript

Sara: Welcome back to the Growing as Grown-Ups podcast, Dr. Nancy Popp. I believe you -- I don't believe, I know -- you are the first guest that we have had on two episodes, so we are excited to have you back to kind of extend what we talked about with you in the last episode. So, thank you for making more time for our listeners.  

Nancy: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

 Sara: Well, last time, you and Keith -- I gave him a hard time -- that you guys kind of geeked out on constructive developmental theory, adult development and vertical development, the subject-object-interview, all that stuff, which is really fun for those of our listeners who love kind of the academic side of things.  

Nancy: Right.  

Sara: But I always want to try to find the practical application of everything and so that's kind of what we're talking about today. And in constructive developmental theory, which is what all of this is based in, the model of adult development, these are all really complex theories. I mean, we were just talking about this; I've been working in this space for 10 years and I still have a hard time wrapping my head around it and, you know, it would be great if we could get everybody trained up in the subject-object-interview so that we could kind of know clearly where everybody that we interact with is on the journey, but that's a process.  

Nancy: Right, yeah.  

Sara: And so what I want to talk to you today about is, thinking about our listeners who are leaders who are out there in the midst of it, trying to have influence with people, trying to grow their selves, what applications can we make for them? So I just want to start out by asking you why do you think it's valuable for people to understand this model in general? What value comes from them knowing that there is this process of growth that we go through?  

Nancy: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, that's a great question and I think, this -- I sort of have two different answers. One is that, it goes way back, and I probably was talking about this with Keith when I was geeking out that the reason that I became so enthralled with this theory was in my very first class with Bob Kegan when he talked about how this is all about the importance of letting another person know that their experience matters and, you know, I still talk about this. It was...I hate to say how long ago it was, at least 35 years. It still brings tears to my eyes, and I remember sitting there and, you know, feeling the tears coming to my eyes and I thought, "This is what I can really get into," because it, you know, it matters and so that's kind of the foundation of why I think this is important because it is, at its heart, the theory and the measure, the SOI, are about understanding a person where they are now and how they see their own world and so, you know,  to understand like the roadmap or this theory is, you know, for both the practitioner who wants to understand a client or an employee or a colleague or to try to understand yourself, it's like we have, you know, if you have kids, we have these milestones for children's development, which are really helpful because then it helps you to say, "OK, my kid is doing all of these things and I know what's next." So it just, it's like, you know kind of what to expect within the larger, you know, kind of framework and so the same thing with this roadmap is that it really helps to kind of know, you know, what's -- where -- what's next along this trajectory or what's normal?    You know, I've had clients and students say after they learned this, they say, "Oh my God, now I understand why this is so hard for me, you know, because I have this three-ish part of me that doesn't like conflict." So just knowing that gives them a sense that, "OK, this is developmental. This is not, like, some flaw in my character or some, you know, because I'm, you know, stupid or because I'm not as good as somebody else about doing these things. It's because this is a developmental process. And here's the way to get better at it." So it gives you kind of a context, it also gives a language for people to understand what they're going through and also, it helps to give a language to what people are experiencing about other people that they find really troubling or frustrating or curious, it's like, "I don't understand why this person doesn't get what I'm saying." When they understand that this there's, you know, this developmental trajectory, it's like, "OK, that's, you know, they are here and I'm expecting them to be here and it's a mismatch of expectations and capacity." So, you know, I think it just gives this really wonderful context for saying there are people all along this continuum and you, to know -- to just have the possibility that there are all these different ways of making sense of things. It kind of gives you more space to look at a person and say, "OK, so how are they putting their world together?" It may not be the same as what I'm doing, and so if I can, just not even knowing how it is or what stage they're at, but if I just know that they are putting their world together in a different way for me, then it makes me more curious about how they are and where they are and then I can sort of say, "Oh, I was expecting them to do this, but this..." You know, so. So I think those are some of the reasons why I think that this theory is so helpful and important.  

Sara: I love it. I mean, for people that have been on the Growing as Grown-Ups podcast journey with us. Like, curiosity and empathy are two things that that the more I do work in the space, the more I realize, like, those things are so crucial.  

Nancy: Yes.  

Sara: And I love what you're saying about the idea of we need to recognize that everybody's experience matters, that we can't expect it to be the same as ours.  

Nancy: Right.  

Sara: And I think that it's easier when I think about it with my step-kids. I have two, now high-school, step-kids.  

Nancy: Oh.  

Sara: And -- right. I look at them --  

Nancy: It definitely helps with, like, teenagers.  

Sara: Right, and I get frustrated at times because I'm like, "You're not making sense, like, the things that you're doing don't make sense. This doesn't, you know, and my husband will try to appeal to their values and "let's do the right thing" and to be able to go, "OK, time out." He's still pretty level too.  

Nancy: Right.  

Sara: That's not what's going to motivate him or for the girl, you know, like, it's all about what her friends are thinking and so it helps with that, right, because I expect teenagers to be at different levels. I think it gets more complicated with adults.  

Nancy: Yes.

Sara: Who, I think, "You're about my age. You're about my experience level. You're about the same education level," and so when you're thinking about how to try to figure out where other adults are on the journey without doing subject-object-interviews, what are some of the things that we can be paying attention to in other people around us, or even in ourselves, to try to figure out where we are on that journey?  

Nancy: Yeah, yeah. I think that that's also a great question. I think that. You know, the big -- the first thing I think about is to -- when you're when you're finding yourself frustrated with somebody. To think about, "OK, so what am I expecting? What are my assumptions and expectations? Especially -- and what are they not doing? What am I expecting them to do that they're not doing?" So, you know, to get clear about that. So, you know, maybe I expect someone to be able to take their own perspective and not just, you know, say, "Well, this is what this guy says, so that's what it's -- that's the way it's got to be and then I think, "OK, so that's my expectation. They're not doing that, so maybe that's not something that they are able to do yet." So, you know, the first thing is to look at what your own expectations are.  

Sara: Do my own expectations give me insight to my level?

Nancy: Well, they can. I think it's really hard. Well, you know, with this theory, it's, you know, it's almost like the answer to every question is "it depends".  

Sara: Right.  

Nancy: You know, when I was learning this, you know, like a billion years ago. I just remember walking down the street and interviewing myself, you know, like, "What bothers you the most about this, Nancy? Why does that bother you the most?" Like, you know, Sara? You know, just like driving myself crazy. So, it kind of depends on the, you know, the capacity that you have to take a perspective on yourself.  

Sara: Which may be for people who are further on the journey, they can do that, but earlier stages that may be asking a lot.  

Nancy: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, you know, it's yeah. That depends.  

Sara: All right. I pulled you off track. So you were talking about how when we get frustrated, we look at our own expectations of what the other person is or isn't doing.  

Nancy: Yeah.  

Sara: Compare this to them. Ok. Keep going with that thought.  

Nancy: So that's yeah. So, you know, take my own son. When he was younger, he has this incredible analytical intellect and I would very often get so sort of caught up in that that I would make assumptions about the way that he could take a perspective on things, and so I would think that he's more kind of emotionally, you know, as advanced as his intellect. Well, no, and I would get caught up in that. It was like, "Wait a second," you know? So it really is about what am I expecting that they're not doing? And then the other thing is, you know, if it's an employee or a client or friend, you know, where are they hesitant? You know, what do they not want to do, because that will often tell you what, what, what feels -- You know, each level of development has a different set of vulnerabilities and, you know, for shorthand, we can look at the socializing and the self-authoring stage three and stage four, but there's so many nuances and, you know, the transitions in between but in general, as you were talking about your stepdaughter, the stage three is a lot about what people think of me. But we, you know, there are adults who were in their 50s, 60s who are making sense at that level.  

Sara: Sure.  

Nancy: So it may show up a little bit differently than it does in a high school kid. So where was I going with that?  

Sara: The -- what people, the hesitancies that people..  

Nancy: Right, right. Ok, so, yeah. So if someone is really hesitant to give critical feedback to, you know, their partner, their, you know, employee or, you know, whatever, that's something like, OK, so what's going on there? What's hard for you about giving critical feedback? And, you know, it may be about, "I don't want to hurt their feelings. I don't want them to be mad at me," so that could indicate more of a sort of a socializing mindset. You know, they could also say, "I don't want to hurt their feelings, but on the other hand, they really need to know this so they can be better." So that sort of tells you that, you know, maybe it's not just. The socializing mindset, but there's another, you know, there's some more -- there's another perspective going on.  

Sara: Yeah.  

Nancy: I mean, you can't always tell and you know, we'll talk more later about not being able to, you know, make generalized assumptions, but you can get ideas or, you know, sort of a generalized sense about, are they comfortable sort of challenging an authority or not? Are they comfortable, engaging in conflict or not? What do they do when they're in conflict? And, you know, so those are the kinds of things that you can start to see where they're their sticking point is and also your own, you know, like, conflict is a big issue, and I actually have -- we'll talk about this at the end, but I wrote a paper with a colleague called The Self in Conflict, looking at what conflict looks like at each one of these stages -- so you know, so that's something that really pulls on people's, you know, vulnerabilities and you can understand a lot about someone the ways that they look at conflict, whether it's yeah, it's really hard, but it's really necessary. It's the only way you really get to understand another person's perspective or, "I hate conflict, I avoid it at all costs," you know, and then there's everything in between. Or, you know, sort of at the more concrete level, it's -- a conflict is because you're doing it wrong, and I'm right, so. You know, it's as simple as that.  

Sara: Yeah. I mean, one thing that we talk about when we're teaching this model is the challenge that you can't take any one behavior.  

Nancy: Yes.  

Sara: And say, because they did this, you could do any behavior from any level.  

Nancy: Yes, exactly.  

Sara: It's what's going on in their head that makes it -- that determines and that's the hard thing and especially when you layer in values, you know, it's easy to think people with good social norm values are, like, level four or even higher stages of level three but then people with like selfish values who value power and wealth and success are lower levels, but it's like, you can -- we just were listening to a story about a level two person who had all the right values, but it's like, "Ooh," with enough time, that starts to unravel but it just makes it tricky and I think that's one of the things I find most complicated is behavior doesn't tell you anything and so that kind of leads into my next question that you started to get at is, are there questions? Because I find -- and you tell me if this is true or not -- that asking specific types of questions or targeted questions helps me get a better sense more than observing behavior and you already said a couple which was, you know, "What's hard about that for you?" or when asking yourself, "Why does that bother me?"  

Nancy: Right. Yeah.  

Sara: So what do you think about, like, questions and what kind of questions are helpful at kind of peeling back the behavior that somebody exhibits to understand what that behavior is meaning to them?  

Nancy: Right. Yeah, I mean. You know, there are the kind of SOI questions that you can ask, like, what did that mean to you and what was most important to you in that?  

Sara: And what are you listening for with those kinds of questions?  

Nancy: Well, what I'm listening for is what kind of perspective they can take on their own behavior and thinking. You know, and the very generalized way again, you know, if someone says, "Well, because those are the rules," and if they can't sort of explain any more than that, then that would tell me something that there's, you know, a pretty concrete, literal understanding of what they're supposed to do. So it really is about the kind of perspective that they can take, you know. How much responsibility do they take for their own behavior? Can they say, "Yeah, that probably wasn't such a good idea, but here's why I did it," or can they, you know, is it more, "I don't know why I did it"? I mean, there are so many things, but, you know, when it's just about behavior -- I mean, yeah, it's like, you know, what was your thinking behind that?  

Sara: Mm-hmm. And I can imagine conversations that leaders have with their employees all the time that could go beyond those, kind of the typical conversations that have and kind of get it that "why is that important to you?", "what's hard about that for you?", "what are you worried about?", any of those kind of sensemaking questions.  

Nancy: Yeah, yeah. Or, you know, I mean, a good SOI question is, "What are you most worried about?" because that makes some kind of dig into not just what they worry about, but what's most, you know, kind of helps get down more into the core of things. And, you know, kind of more general questions about, you know, how to try to understand where someone's coming from, I mean, you asked me earlier to think about, you know, if you're interviewing a potential -- like, a candidate for a position, you have to ask someone, "How comfortable or not are you giving critical feedback, and receiving critical feedback? How do you deal with conflict? What happens when something that you feel very strongly about, someone disagrees very strongly? How do you engage with that person around that disagreement? You know, those kinds of things that get at, you know, "How many perspectives can you take and hold at the same time?" I mean, I think that that really perspective-taking capacity is really kind of at the heart of what you're looking for.  

Sara: That's really good.  

Nancy: Yeah.  

Sara: So, all the examples you just gave are asking people to kind of put themselves in these tense situations, right? Conflict disagreement?  

Nancy: Yeah.  

Sara: Is -- does it work on the other side does to kind of unpack values or, you know, kind of the idea of what is success to you or what's your idea of leadership or those kinds of things? Can that give -- it seems like that might be easier for people to give kind of the textbook answer, but.  

Nancy: Yes. Yeah, yeah, it is. I mean, you know, that's one of the things that is hard. I mean, when you ask about a tense or a vulnerable situation, it gets at where people feel most vulnerable, and that's kind of where you get...I mean, yes, you can get it, but you also run the risk, as you said of getting the textbook, you know, "Leadership is blah blah blah," you know, and then you have to sort of say, "Well, how do you know that? You know, how do you know that this is the best way to do something?" It's...One of the things that I have come to understand is that we don't -- that conflict and these vulnerable tense situations are what make us grow.  

Sara: Yeah.  

Nancy: Because if everything is comfortable and nice, then there's no challenge, you know? I mean, you know, Kegan talks about that growth is about the optimal balance of challenge and support, that if there's no challenge, there's no impetus to do anything different and, on the other hand, if there's -- if it's over challenging and there's no support, then you get really very easily kind of overwhelmed and discouraged and you just tune out, so. So as much as we might not like those really, you know, difficult conversations and difficult moments, that's where, you know, you're kind of forced to stretch your meaning, making capacities to make it bigger so that you can fit this contradiction that right now is kind of ripping you apart. So that's getting way off track.  

Sara: No, but it's so good and, I mean, it supports so much of what we talk about with our clients and on this podcast is that the challenging opportunities we face in life are what give us the opportunity for growth because it does say, "The way I'm making sense of the world right now isn't working."  

Nancy: Exactly, yes. Yeah.  

Sara: And take advantage of that but I do want to ask you then on the support piece, if I'm a coach or if I'm a boss and I have an employee that I can see is in one of these vulnerable situations, something's being asked of them that is beyond their current kind of, as you said in the last podcast, their center of balance. We're kind of pushing them off. What can we do to support growth, and let's kind of focus it maybe in that three to four transition because that is where it seems like so many people, at least that that I work with and that the Lyceum works with --  

Nancy: Yeah.  

Sara: I have my favorite questions, but I'd love to learn from you what kind of support can we give that doesn't take away the challenge, but doesn't knock them completely over?  

Nancy: Right. Well, I like to start with what they feel strong and comfortable with. You know, like, you have -- you're great with people, you have a good sense of empathy and, you know, you really want to help them. So this is someone who's in that three to four transition. You know, and then sort of say, and that is also, you know, that's one of your greatest strengths, it's also kind of getting in your way of being able to provide feedback that might help that person, you know, go a step farther. So now I'm getting confused, did you ask the question about how I would help a client do that or how I would help...?  

Sara: What -- Yeah, like, what advice would you give to people that are coaching, which I'm assuming would be also in line with what you would do?  

Nancy: Yes. Yes. Yeah, I mean, you know, again, you want to, going back to that their experience matters, you want to let that person know that their experience matters, that you notice that they're struggling, and that their struggle tells you something important about them. It tells you what they're good at and it tells you what they're not very comfortable or confident in what they're good at. But if that thing that they're not comfortable with is something that is a necessary part of their position or their job, then, you know, we need to find a way to help you be able to do that and so, you know, we create scaffolds so you start with something that you're really good at that you feel like, "Yes, this is --this feels authentic to me. This feels where I can do my best work," and so how do you start with that kind of basis, and, you know, and then take the next step. And, you know, depending on where they are, the next step is going to look really different so can you say they have, you know, they're right in the middle of that transition? So there's some self-authoring running in there, some socializing running, then it's, like, so how can you use that -- your independent self-authoring voice to kind of help you be a little more, you know, direct in your communication? You know, so you really care about people, but you're maybe not communicating in the most direct way. So how can you kind of use those two things to kind of make your communication that much more effective?  

Sara: I like that, and I have never thought about that strategy in terms of somebody's vertical development and we teach that a lot in terms of personality, like how do you how do you leverage your personality, strengths and preferences to do the things that are naturally hard for you, but to use kind of their perspective taking ability also, I think is a good addition. Sounds like it's minimizing it a little bit, but.  

Nancy: Yeah, well, I think that what I have said a lot is that it feels good to grow, you know and people who are kind of paying attention and they're struggling. When they get a sort of a toehold on something that works better, it feels really good. You know, I mean, and we're not like kids who say, "Oh yay, look, I can reach the faucet now!" or something, you know?  

Sara: Yeah.  

Nancy: But there is a kind of sense in there -- and I probably said this with Keith, too -- there is a sense in there that, like, "Oh my god, this is great! You know, it just, like, opens up this whole new world, like, now I can, you know, engage in conflict without feeling like I'm going to implode!" So for someone who is struggling with that, to have a sense like there's a part of me that knows exactly how to do it, but I'm afraid to do it. But if I understand, going back to the first question you asked, if I understand this roadmap, then I see that that part of me that knows what to do is actually growing and I can leverage that or I can support myself in that and, you know, so there's a kind of innate motivation to keep going and I think that's, you know, when you when you understand where a person is and what their what their developmental struggle is, then they feel like, "Wow, I can take this and I can do something with it, you know? I sort of know, like, I know why this is really hard for me and I know that this is where I can go with it. So, you know, you can set up little practices, where you can help a person start to say "no" more instead of feeling like they're obligated to do something so it's, you know, it's kind of giving them permission to think about, you know, "What -- If I didn't worry about this other part, what would I do, and then how can I help myself?" You know, so you really start an internal conversation with the person about, "How I can set up my own scaffold?"  

Sara: Yeah. I mean that, it's part of the way that we work with our clients, with what we call the Growth Gap Tool and taking small steps, which is an adaptation of the four columns exercise.  

Nancy: Mm-hmm, right.  

Sara: But this idea of naming the assumptions, which are, for the most part, rooted in a fear of "I'm assuming if I do this, bad things could happen" and then testing it in a safe way and I love when I hear stories of people who come back and say, "Oh, that wasn't as scary as I thought it was going to be," right, but when fear just lives inside of us, it seems so powerful.  

Nancy: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, and, you know, just and all of these developmental levels have different kinds of fear, you know, so the fear that someone feels that in a full socializing mindset is very different from the fear that someone, you know, full self-authoring feels and you know, somebody full self-authors, they still feel plenty of fear, it's just a different kind. It takes a different shape, so.  

Sara: Yeah, yeah, and that's why I think it's so important for people to understand this and Bob talked about this a whole lot in his episode is the two parts of growth: the excitement of growth and the fear of -- the way he talked about it is the fear of dying.  

Nancy: Exactly.  

Sara: And it's what I always say. It's why New Years' resolutions don't work because we just think about the fun of the growth and we don't go, "But why have you been struggling with that for so long?" and the power that comes with naming both the fear and the growth vision that I have and how much more powerful that is, so.  

Nancy: Yeah, yeah.  

Sara: I think it's just -- or people have heard it, but I just don't think people can hear it enough because it's so much easier to just think about, "Oh, I want to get bolder. I want to be more confident in conflict. Cool." But those fears are still going to say "Run away, run away! Danger zone!"  

Nancy: "Don't do it! Danger!"  

Sara: Yeah. So, let me ask you this, right? What we do is so complicated, right, and all of your "it depends" -- I love it because it just shows that this is not easy work -- but part of what we want to do is empower people to know the model, to take steps, to use what they can, but there's a little risk of becoming an armchair expert, right? I've had clients who come back -- We teach our leader-level model, and then I hear reports that they're are sitting in the office going, "You're being so level two!" I'm like, "I don't think that's how we went." So, I know this is something that you have thoughts about too, but --  

Nancy: Yes.  

Sara: But we've talked about the advantages of understanding how adults grow, and this developmental model, and all of these things. What are the things that we need to be cautious of as we as -- we, even, and our listeners try to take this out and use it to help themselves and others grow?  

Nancy: Right. Yeah, I think, you know, that's a huge question and it's one of the things that I kind of rail against, like, every person I work with. It's, you know, because on one hand, it's a really -- it's a context that helps us understand and we like to understand things, you know, people in general like to be able to put a label on something because then you can sort of have a relationship to it. You can say, "OK, I know what you are, I know what that is." You know, that's why we have all this taxonomy, you know, because I want to know what kind of bird that is and I want to know what kind of tree that, you know, it's all of that stuff. So, you know, and that's a really good thing. Where I think the problem comes is that once we identify that we like to sort of say, "OK, that's the way it is." We like to solidify it so that, you know, it's like it gives me this sense of solidity and comfort in the world that I know how to categorize these things, but the problem is it doesn't allow for people to grow and it also, you know, like you're saying that people come back and say, "You're acting some level two," well, you know, it's also the same as, you know, "That person is just, like, totally a two." I mean, that drives me nuts because they are not a two, you know? It's not -- the number does not define the person. The number is a code to tell us about how this person is making sense. But once we say, "Oh, that person's a two," everything that we see and think and say about that person goes through that lens of "they're a two and this is what twos do," and then that person has lost all of their personhood and they become this projection of my own assumptions and biases and all kinds of stuff, so it --  

Sara: Becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

Nancy: Yeah, yeah, and as much as the theory is about helping people to understand or know -- letting people know that their experience matters, doing that kind of dehumanizes them and saying, "It doesn't matter because I figured you out and this is what you are to me," which is the opposite of that and, you know, with a hierarchical stage theory, that's a really easy thing to slip into.  

Sara: Yeah.  

Nancy: And so, you know, I see a lot of danger in that and I, you know, to a certain extent, there's nothing that you can do. People were going to take this theory in as they do and they're going to use it the way they do, but what I am passionate about and committed to is saying this is not about defining or prescribing people. This is about describing the way that they see the world, the way they make sense of things so that you can then work with them better, not judge them more and, you know, so the hierarchical thing gets -- it's a double-edged sword because, you know, everything in nature is hierarchical. Things that grow, it's a hierarchical process, it gets more complex as it grows. There's, you know, and there's nothing...You know, it's like an acorn turns into an oak tree. There's nothing more valuable about an oak tree than there is about an acorn, but you know, so it just -- people get into this thing like, "Oh, you're making judgments about people," but it's not that! It's about understanding -- yeah, again, I'm sort of geeking out again here, but it's really about how well is this person able to live and work within the context and the various social contexts that they are, and if they're not, then there's, you know, the balance -- the there's a mismatch which is not good for anybody and so this is, you know, intended to help people find a better balance and a better fit and, so...  

Sara: I mean, it goes -- to me, what I'm hearing you say is it goes back to empathy, but more than that, this idea of kind of checking your motives, right? "Am I wanting to understand where somebody is so that I can validate their experience more completely and help them figure out what the right next step for them is?" or "Am I trying to figure out where they are on the journey to put them in a box to label them?" and I can't even imagine that that could be done in a way that isn't some sort of self-benefiting process of --.  

Nancy: Right, yeah.  

Sara: If I'm labelling you level two, it's probably because I think I'm level four and I'm better than you, right? And so --  

Nancy: Mm-hmm, right. Right.  

Sara: You know, it goes back to is it about helping people, caring about their experience, really creating that connection, and I love that you have made that point so passionately that it's not really a "better-or-worse", it's just an understanding.  

Nancy: Yeah, yeah, and it also works at the other end where people who know this theory can understand it's the, you know, it's like, "Oh, I think I must be level five because I care about everybody in the world and I have this really inclusive worldview, so I must be there," and that's not any good, either, because then you're not -- It's like, you can't grow if you're not grounded where you are.  

Sara: Really good.  

Nancy: And so if you think that you're somewhere where you're not, then you're spending all of your time trying to prove to yourself and everybody else how evolved you are and, you know, it's kind of obvious that you're not.  

Sara: That sounds like you're probably level three, if that is what you're telling.  

Nancy: Well, who knows, you know, but -- So it's's a challenge to get away from that, the sort of judgmental-ness of, you know, "the higher is better" dilemma and, you know, if you want to be a world leader, it is better to be a more complex -- have a more complex mindset but that doesn't mean you're any more valuable a person.  

Sara: Mm. I love that and to me, it's growing. Growing is better, right? It's better to be a person who's at a lower stage who is growing, than a person at a higher stage who sat down and said, "I'm good, I don't need to go anymore. I'm level four. I'm great."  

Nancy: Right, yeah. "Yeah, I know how things work now."  

Sara: Yeah, "I figured out who I am."  

Nancy: Yeah, yeah.  

Sara: So, Nancy, as we kind of wrap up, what resources would you recommend for people who do want to continue to learn more and study this, and, you know, I guess as a subset of that, if there are people who -- and I've had a couple of people ask me over the years, like, how do they get trained in subject-object-interview -- How do they learn more about that, and then what resources for people who do want to understand, "How do I understand other people? How do I understand myself? How do I keep growing?" what are the things that you love for yourself and to share with the people that you're working with?  

Nancy: Yeah. Well, first of all, I'll give a little plug. I do teach people how to do the interview.  

Sara: Yeah, so we can send them straight to you and we gave them your contact information last time, so. Perfect.  

Nancy: Yeah, no, I have some colleagues and we have a -- it's a long program, but it really -- because, it's important, I mean, this is a -- it's a challenging, difficult theory to learn and it's even harder to do the assessments. It really is, and it's so worth it. It's very time-consuming, it's very work-intensive but, I mean, I just -- I think it's so important. I just love it, and so I get a lot of energy and happiness from training people. So yeah, so they can get in touch with me and, you know, the book that I still love the most is Bob Kegan's "The Evolving Self" and, you know, people say, "Oh my God, it's so hard to slog through that," and I agree, but the way he is so careful with language and words that if you just slow down and read it, it just...It's just beautiful, you know, and “In Over Our Heads” is also good because it kind of explains the whole expectation of society for people to be somewhere where they're not. So, you know, that's a really good book too, to kind of see how this looks in the bigger world.  

Sara: You referenced a paper that you wrote. Is that something that people can -- is that somewhere?  

Nancy: Oh, yeah. It's called "The Self in Conflict".  

Sara: If you can find it, just send me the link. We can link it to an online website.  

Nancy: Yeah, I could send you a link I could send you the -- I can actually send you a copy.  

Sara: Oh! Yeah, could we put that on our website for people to download?  

Nancy: Absolutely. Yeah, yeah.  

Sara: Yeah, perfect. We'll put that on the growinggrownups website.  

Nancy: Yeah, that would be great. I think, I mean, I'm really proud of that article because I think that, you know, there's the content that we make sense of, and then there's a structure that -- with how we make sense and conflict is, like I said earlier, it's a really, it's a juicy content, and I think this kind of -- it lays out how the same content is made sense of differently, so I think it gives people a kind of a real sense of how these stages actually look in real life.  

Sara: Mm-hmm. Well, I'm excited to read it, so. That'll be great.  

Nancy: Yeah, I'll send it to you.  

Sara: Well, Nancy, so fun. I appreciate it. Is there anything else as we wrap up that you think would -- you'd love to share with our listeners? Words of wisdom? Advice? Words of warning?  

Nancy: Well, I think I've given a lot of notes already. Well, one thing that I am excited about is that the -- those colleagues that I'm working, you know that we have the training session for the SOI, we're also putting together kind of a supervision course for coaches in terms of using the SOI as a tool in the coaching to help, you know, kind of help their clients grow. So, it's going to be a real hands-on, you bring in an interview from a client, and then we go through it and talk about how, you know, where are the places where you can really set up a scaffold here, and how -- where are the content areas that you can really help? So that's something that I love doing. I'm really, you know, in my own work, that's what really turns my lights on, so.  

Sara: Oh, I love it. That sounds amazing.  

Nancy: Yeah, we're still just, you know, putting it together but hopefully that's going to come together soon and, you know, I can let you guys know when it's --.  

Sara: Yeah.  

Nancy: When it's ready and people want to have a look.  

Sara: That'd be great. Hey, you may find me in your class, so -- you may get a hangout --  

Nancy: I love that! Yeah, no, it's so fun, Sara. Thank you so much. I just, as you can tell, I get so energized talking about this that it's really fun for me, so.  

Sara: Oh, awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time. You have been more than generous, and I hope that our people come and check out your work and maybe you'll get to train some of the Growing as Grown-Ups listeners. Make sure, listeners, if you guys are interested, tell Nancy you came from us, that'd be super fun.  

Nancy: Yes. Great. Thank you.  

Sara: All right. Have a great rest of your day, Nancy.  

Nancy: Thank you. You, too.