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085 – When the Military Listens: A Researchers Pipeline to Leading Change

In this episode, Adam Salgat visits Jenn Rudolph of the Michigan Air National Guard, who completed her Master’s Research Thesis for her course in the Military Arts and Sciences about listening with empathy in the military. Specifically those that have completed the Our Community Listens course.

What challenges did Rudolph face when implementing empathy in their communication practices? What were those indicators that prompted her to view how people in the military communicated? How did she confirm all of this? Tune in to discover how she made this impactful change and her quest to publish her research and findings.

Rudolph has been in the military for 13 years and has attended the three-day Our Community Listens and the marriage course with her husband Jose Tovar. To learn more about their story, listen to episode 063 – Communicating with your partner and military deployment.

AI-generated dictation of the podcast audio

Please note that this transcription was completed using AI software.  Occasionally, unanticipated grammatical, syntax, homophones, and other interpretive errors are inadvertently transcribed by the software. Please excuse any errors that have escaped final proofreading.

Adam Salgat 0:03
Do you remember the day you found the passion that fuels your life? Or maybe the first date you had with your partner? Or how about the day your child graduated college, there was love, joy and hopefulness of change. Over the years, many alumni have expressed that the our community listens course is life changing in a similar way. And we know it has been infectious for many something we know you can’t just keep to yourself. So take a chance to share that experience with those in your circle by telling them about upcoming classes. Even if they live outside of a regional learning hub, we now offer a virtual OCL course. When we all learn to listen, empathetically, we can be part of a caring community. Visit our website at Chapman or follow the link in the description of this podcast.

Introduction 1:04
Welcome to the listen first podcast brought to you by the Chapman foundation for caring communities. Our vision and mission is to strengthen relationships and build stronger communities through listening leadership, care and service to create a truly human connection. Learn and partner with us as we imagine a society in which people care about each other. And listen first.

Adam Salgat 1:34
Hello, and welcome to the listen first podcast. My name is Adam Salgat. And with me today is my special guest Jen Rudolph. Jen worked for the Michigan Air National Guard as the executive officer for the 1/10 Wing Commander. That is a little bit of a mouthful, but I am very thankful that Jen is here today. She is not a stranger to our podcast, she was actually a guest with her husband in Episode 63, where they touched on their experience going through the couple’s class and utilizing the skills as a couple. Today, Jen is going to talk about some work that she is doing for the Michigan Air National Guard. Jen, welcome to the podcast.

Speaker 3 2:15
Thanks, Adam. I’m so grateful to be invited back. It means that the first one wasn’t terrible. So that’s a nice, a nice, comforting reminder that there’s a great podcasts out there and that they will invite people back again. That’s wonderful.

Adam Salgat 2:29
Yes, absolutely. And when someone is doing good work around the Communications course our community listens. We are thankful. And we want to highlight that kind of work. So, Jen, you’ve been in the military 13 years, if I remember, right, it’s been about three years since you’ve been through your first our communications course with our community lessons.

Speaker 3 2:51
Yep, three years ago and 2019, I first took the course, as a partnership course hosted by the Michigan National Guard.

Adam Salgat 2:59
Yep. And like I mentioned, you and your husband went through one of the couple’s classes as well. So you’ve been through the material a few times. And judging from the work that you’re now doing, after being in the military for 13 years, that you took a lot of it to heart. So tell me about your master’s research thesis that you’ve been working on. Tell me about this professional military education that led to it and kind of set the scene and fill us in on that.

Speaker 3 3:28
Absolutely. So I’m so grateful for the opportunity to talk about the research. And it’s important for listeners to know upfront that what we talked about in terms of the research today isn’t any official endorsement or any official representation from the United States government from the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense, the Michigan National Guard, but it is research that I was given a very fortunate opportunity to pursue in the military. In our careers, we have a couple of opportunities to take courses, we call them as Adam said, professional military education. And at my mid career force, which was a year long, I had the chance to enter into a master’s program with a research thesis. And even though I hadn’t initially intended to go that route, the more I heard people talk about this is your opportunity to really do some quality research on an area that matters a lot to you. I felt this desire to really think about how could I make this not only benefit other people in the military, but really bring a research project home to the Michigan National Guard and do research around empathetic communication in the experience that our members have after going through our community listens.

Adam Salgat 4:47
So that was your focus area free research paper doing looking at the empathetic communication happening inside the military. Is that right?

Speaker 3 4:56
Yep. So for the the research towns out there that might be listening It was a qualitative study. So looking at the experience and meaning through interviews of the population of the Michigan Air National Guard that has attended the course so far.

Adam Salgat 5:11
So tell me about some of your first steps and the scope of that research. It sounds like you’ve you’ve got a, you got a study of people that you’re going to be looking at, tell me about some of the early steps and getting started,

Speaker 3 5:23
definitely is important in that kind of research to really narrow down your question. And for me, we, for my research, I use the end of course surveys. So don’t think nobody looks at those, by the way, listeners out, someone might need that information. But we use that that data to sort of launch off I use that data to launch off with when our members took the course they hands down thought that listening and the listening modules reflective listening was one of the most important aspects of the course. And it was one of the items that the majority of participants wanted to wanted to pick as their action plan item afterwards, the one thing they wanted to work on, to make small commitments to change on was reflective listening. So I narrowed the scope of my interviews to what their experience was in the class with reflective listening and their experience after the class in reflective listening.

Adam Salgat 6:18
Tell me a little bit about first why you think that is? Why do you think reflective listening was something that really stood out to those in the military that had taken that over community listens course?

Speaker 3 6:28
Well, I think that, as most people who attend the class might agree that being heard is a uniquely powerful experience. And you can’t force someone to listen real hard to you. But what you can do is see the benefits of giving someone that that gift of being heard. And I think through the practice and the homework in class, and in the evening between class days, and the experimentation that people do with their reflective listening skills, after class continues to reaffirm that there is no gift, like letting someone be heard, and then setting that creating that environment that makes someone want to listen to you to

Adam Salgat 7:12
what did the research tell you about reflective listening in the military.

Speaker 3 7:16
So like most places, I think people found that it felt unnatural at first because many people have been to communications or leadership courses throughout their military career. But the uniqueness of our community listens is that it’s not a communication speaking course. It’s a communication listening course, which is very different. And that was one of the participants categorize it that way. And it made a lot of sense, we had another add another participant that said, it was like an athletic conditioning mindset towards communicating and listening something that you practice. So there were some interesting connections between how we have taught and experienced these sorts of classes in the past. And some of the frameworks we already have in mind. As you can imagine, fitness is a practice within the military. But there are lots of other different concepts and features of military service that we should also consider like practice. So I think that was kind of a unique part of their experiences, what we definitely what I definitely saw was these, this opportunity of self awareness, which is important opportunity to self regulate behavior, after that making that choice, that golden arc of choice on doing something differently in order to communicate better with someone, and then seeing this turn into a more longer term self improvement or self development, behavioral change. And that really got members thinking about being other oriented in their behavior. If we if we accept that all behavior is an expression of a need, being able to accept that someone else is communicating in a way that’s trying to answer their need, we can get a lot further with our communication.

Adam Salgat 9:00
Were there any other areas of the communications course that stood out to those that had been through it? And I asked that question, because in a recent episode of the podcast, I did an interview with Ryan and Melanie Homerville, from Michigan Air National Guard. And I remember Ryan telling me that he had really begun using the FBI statements in in the way of not just a potential conflict, but also praise, finding ways to really recognize someone. So I’m curious if anything like that stood out to some or you know, I guess stood out in the research that you did.

Speaker 3 9:40
So my research really focused on reflective listening, it was really narrowed down so we could really, really understand what exactly their experience was with reflective listening during the course and after the course so they didn’t. While a lot of people talked about or might have mentioned some of the other aspects of the course. I was really Looking for the reflective listening experience. But I think that would be a great follow on research question later on.

Adam Salgat 10:06
At some point, yeah, I can imagine if you are able to spend the time to expand this a little bit and kind of see what other specific areas. So when thinking about just reflective listening, then let’s talk about the challenges of reflective listening in the military, or really, almost any work environment, you said that earlier than any work environment. And that’s the truth, you could have a rough work environment no matter where it is. But tell me about the challenges of increasing empathy and communication in the military.

Speaker 3 10:33
Yeah, so you know, in the common experience, outside and inside of the military, thank you, when you first start practicing, you feel unnatural, you feel like you’re doing something different or weird. And other people recognize that you’re doing something different. And maybe they’re interpreting that as weird or strange or different from your normal. So that unnaturalness, which I also, that was also my personal experiences that people are expecting us to talk more often. And so when you change your behavior, when you take that golden arc of choice to listen, or practice listening behavior, that can throw people off. And so that first experience of unnaturalness was definitely common amongst the participants in this study. I also think that their comfort level with trying something that would was unnatural, was also alleviated. That was helped by the fact that they got to practice during class, in a safe space with a lot of other people who are practicing it. I know, I was incredibly awkward during those role plays that we did towards the end, because I didn’t know how to get it into my own words yet. So I think that that experimentation was definitely a common part of their experience, that it was super important to have that feedback to reduce the awkwardness. So they felt comfortable taking that leap of doing an awkward thing in the people that are in their span of care. I think there were a couple of areas that are unique to the military, too. And those really revolve around vulnerability, and about around mandatory reporting. You know, I’ll kind of explain both of those. I think one is, you know, it’s not just a military concept, but the idea of how vulnerable should you be with the people you’re with this situation, it really kind of comes down to maybe a supervisor and a supervisory relationship. And that vulnerability requires you to be open and honest about, you know, your authentic experience. And it also takes wisdom and discernment, right to figure out that balance between how much do you share? How many details do you share where it might become an inappropriate relationship in the military. And that’s a very important concept for us to maintain morale and good discipline is that we maintain respectful boundaries between those supervisors and supervisees. So that’s kind of one area that was common among participants is like there’s this vulnerability, Pisa, it’s a good follow on continuous learning discussion to have, so that we can help people continue to discern and navigate what where’s the line for them and those conversations about either being listened to, and someone learning something about them, that’s maybe something they need to be more judicious on sharing or information that they learned from someone else as the listener that really does feed into the second part, which is mandatory reporting. And what that means is that there are certain things that if you are in the chain of command, if you are in command of a person, you have an obligation to report and, you know, probably very common to law enforcement or social workers, that those those other career fields. But if someone comes to me and reports a sexual assault, I’m obligated if I’m in their chain of command to report that. So there are opportunities for understanding your role and how you how you employ your reflective listening skills, to make sure the person feels heard to make sure that they feel like there’s a genuine authentic connection without oversharing. And while still maintaining your legal obligations, and your moral and ethical obligations to do that reporting in those certain categories. And those seem like good spaces for us to mold our continuous learning to help explore and address and to provide the space to figure out the solutions in those areas.

Adam Salgat 14:26
So it sounds like in your research, that you had lots of opportunity to look at all the different angles to kind of see how that’s going to apply inside the military. Like you just talked about, you know, there’s certain boundaries that might be a little bit like the lines might be a little bit stronger than in other other professions or in other fields. And so that’s something that obviously you needed to consider, as you’re looking at, you know, how do you continue to potentially implement these communication skills? Correct?

Speaker 3 14:56
Absolutely. And I think that’s the great part is that we You can kind of see where those nuances are and tailor the content for us. And in our in our follow on discussions to meet the needs that are now there, after we’ve explored using this reflective listening skill.

Adam Salgat 15:12
Tell me about any hunches or you know, anything that you might have assumed, stepping into this research. And then was any of it confirmed.

Speaker 3 15:22
So some of the hunches I had were the people would find this course unique and valuable and different, that they would transfer these skills out of the classroom into their military environment and into their home life, I had a hunch, we would hear some ways that we could continue to deliver the course as an organization even more effectively. But I didn’t necessarily know that the the nuances of the also the vulnerability in the mandatory reporting concept that we just talked about, was was wasn’t a hunch that I had. But that was definitely an interesting finding that I hadn’t expected. So it’s good to see the things that you didn’t know or think about, or maybe, because of my tendencies, I don’t see them as challenging as someone with different tendencies, tendencies, for example. But that’s the experience of how what our members felt going through the course was what they talked about, in their interviews, it was a unique course that was different than anything else they had done. It was something that allowed them to practice in a safe place, it was something that they transferred to their workplaces, their civilian, workplaces, their families. And when we talk about in the Michigan National Guard, we talk a lot about in the Michigan National Guard. So that includes the Army National Guard, we talk a lot about being a member for life, and how do we how do we support and provide for the member for life, and if we can continue to bring resources and courses that benefit not only you as a service member in your, in your military workplace, but your civilian workplace and your family life? I think we’re getting at the intent for our our the adjutant general who’s in charge, that we want to be providing number for life opportunities. That’s how we really take care of our airmen and soldiers in the Michigan National Guard.

Adam Salgat 17:14
That sounds that sounds spectacular, really, truly, I mean, in the idea of giving, giving people more than what they bargained for, I guess you could say like, because they’re stepping into, in my mind, many, in many ways, a service that they’re they’re giving themselves to the service. And for Michigan Air National Guard or National Guard in general to think about, well, what are we providing back to them to help them in their civilian work, or in their, you know, personal life? I think that’s pretty awesome. And it’s something that, to be honest, as a general, just Joe Schmo who follows military pretty loosely, it’s good to know that there’s a lot more being done than just simply preparing, preparing for war or preparing for defense, I guess you could say,

Speaker 3 18:03
right, and, and, you know, there, what did come out of the research was, there are some ways we can even improve the delivery of from us as an organization that we can improve that delivery experience. A lot of participants wanted to see the opportunity for small teams to go through the course so that they could have people that they work with every day, that have the shared common experience shared language that they can then practice the skills on. They want to have continuous learning opportunities, because it is it is a lot of information, and it is three days, and then you get your reference card and your continuous learning booklet. And those opportunities help to reinforce all of that information. So there are ways that we can continue to deliver, you know, a really great not only a single moment experience, but a continuous experience that builds on that foundation for us in the military.

Adam Salgat 19:01
Tell me a little bit more about what you hope comes out of the research and the findings. I know, you’re looking to get your information published. So tell me about that, what that process looks like. And then what’s the next step after that?

Speaker 3 19:13
from a local perspective, I think it will help inform how we, at the 1/10 one, consider our professional development, how we will provide continuous learning opportunities and as we’ve kind of touched on a couple of times how we tailor that continuous learning content to reflect what what people actually think about how to have the best experience available after learning and going through the course. So I think there’s kind of a local component. I hope that helps us deliver better I think that’s if I could say at the local side, I hope we can deliver better when we get into a larger context. You know, it would be great to see more opportunities like the way it Lucile includes the adult learning more audible in more of our formal educational opportunities, the Air Force has just published something called the blueprint, our chief master sergeant in the Air Force Chief bass published this roadmap on what the Air Force is, how do we get there? How do we develop ourselves and develop the force? And a class like our community listens, fits perfectly into our Air Force foundational competencies of developing the self and developing others? And how do we take that this kind of a program and the mental foundation for our members so that they can then do the other foundational competencies, like developing organizations and developing ideas, and this, this is kind of a holistic look at how we can build foundations that allow us to be good, and moral and effective leaders as we continue from the day to day operations to something, you know, like combat or war where we need to have, we really need to have ethical and moral leaders there, and how do we continue to build that foundation and ensure to the to the American people that that’s the kind of military leader, they’re going to have

Adam Salgat 21:11
told me about what it means to get your paper published there to get your research published?

Speaker 3 21:16
Well, I’ve never done it before. So it feels scary. It feels exciting, as well, I’ve got a version of the research tailored for you know, a military audience out at peer review. And I am so excited to hear all of the feedback. And so really tried to put my listening skills in full power mode to hear what they’re trying to say and, and understand what the peer feedback is, so that I can produce the research in the best way possible. And I’m excited to kind of see how we can take the ability to do empathetic communication and build, you know, like we’ve talked about build that foundation that makes us good stewards of this military profession. And I think if we were in the military, we talk about tactical, operational and strategic levels of warfare. In my head, this, this course and the way people experienced, it sets up this tactical level. So this lowest level of what we do day to day within our units, maybe along a base just within the Air Force as a service. But it creates that foundation so that we can work with other services with the army with the Navy with the Coast Guard, the Marines, Space Force, which is newly coming online, how we work with our other services, how we work with our other partners, because majority of what we do is a multinational business, and I mean business in the missions that we conduct, and we need our partners, and we want to be a good partner. And this will get us in that operational level. And then strategically, how do we take the foundation with a good partnership, and then we execute the way we conduct the mission that we’ve been charged with to the best of our ability. Building on this foundation, not only is that good for the organization, but it’s good for what you as the American people, we, as American people feel like our military should be trusted and trained to do. Do you have any

Adam Salgat 23:14
personal stories, anything that you’d like to share about how you’ve seen listening, be effective in your role in the military.

Speaker 3 23:23
It is an everyday occurrence where I have to put my listening skills into play, I’ve just newly coming into a role. And I’m trying to listen to all the feedback, I’m trying to really listen hard to the challenges that people have had, you know, we’re also just coming out of two years of COVID and refiguring out what it all looks like for us. You know, one that comes to mind is like everyone has probably experienced that deals with funding an organization, the budget is always a tricky subject that comes up. And just today I was sitting down and kind of understanding the challenges with the current budget, how we think about next year’s budget, because we work on a fiscal year that starts in October. So we are starting to think about next year. And it would have been really easy for me to jump in and assume what I needed to do or what needs to be done and how it should be done. And once more I was reminded that the more I listen, the better information I get, and the more I can actually see how I can contribute and help because my role in this job is really about helping to make the wings function. How do I how do I help people get the resources they need or for the the attention that a project is going on whatever whatever that is, how do I help do my part to encourage the wing to be able to fulfill its incredibly important state and federal missions? And so for me, listening in on that budget conversation reminded me one how much I don’t know and that I can always listen for First, but also that it helps me build rapport with these, this new set of colleagues, because I’ve only just been in the position for a few weeks at this point, I, it helps me build rapport so that I can, they can feel like they’re heard, and that I’m not jumping in and trying to change something for the sake of changing something. And, and I’m learning so much more that way. And I’m learning better information than maybe I would have had previously.

Adam Salgat 25:24
It’s very interesting hearing you talk about this and put myself in your situation and the idea, okay, you’re new in a position, you’ve got new people that you’re communicating with. So yeah, you’re, you’re gonna want to connect with them on a truly human level. And one of the best ways to do that is to listen. So we, you’ve definitely got the skills to do it. As we wrap up today. My first question is, is there anything else you’d like to add about your research project that maybe we didn’t touch on?

Speaker 3 25:55
I think it was, it has been so interesting to deep dive into my own organization that the organization that I’m in so that we have something to go off of. And you know, the end, of course, surveys are one data point. But getting into some detail with interviews, and being able to say not only is this the experience that research would have expected us to have, but this is the ways that it turned out that the ways that our members actually experienced the class, and these are the things that we can do to continue to make good, effective, professional and personal development, programming has really been beneficial. So if you’re in an organization, and you get an opportunity like that, it’s a lot of work. But man, was it super valuable and very meaningful to put that time back into the organization that has had that offered me the opportunity to go to the course,

Adam Salgat 26:50
as always like to ask our guests for a key takeaway. So in thinking about your research projects, and what you want the listeners to kind of know about it, or want them to maybe think about post listening to the podcast, what would your key takeaway be for them?

Speaker 3 27:06
I think, for me, the key takeaway was that we know we don’t get more time, time is that one resource that we can’t add. And so thinking really hard about not only what kind of training we we provide, but the way that the delivery of the training is conducted really matters. And so I would offer to listeners that if they can think really hard about how the training is delivered, does it follow, you know, researched, studied best practices for adults in particular, you know, think about how you deliver training and not just why and what because I think that can really make the difference. Where we we are not only effective with are in good stewards of the money, and in our case of the taxpayers money, but also that we’re good stewards of their time, because that’s something that we can never give back to people.

Adam Salgat 27:56
It is a great reminder, really, really love that concept of time is something that we don’t really get to add, right? We so make best use of it. Jen, I didn’t take the opportunity, this time to really talk about the the personal side, I know you’re probably still using the skills at home, or at least I really hope so between you and Jose. Hopefully, we’ll have you back on another podcast because I’d love to hear a little bit more about that. In short, how are things going at the house, and is everything good?

Speaker 3 28:24
It’s good. It’s just like getting time when you get a new job. In this, I have about an hour commute right now. And we’re looking to maybe move closer to shorten that. So you can imagine that it involves finances and involves moving and involves commuting and involves making again most efficient use of the time when Jose and I communicate so that we can not not travel into the land of misunderstandings and hurt feelings. And we have probably in the past three weeks use listening skills more than anything else. And most we’re eternally grateful.

Adam Salgat 28:59
Well, maybe when you have a little more time, and that transition is already taking place. We can recap it, we can talk about it, and it’ll be a good reminder for our listeners have in those times of change and distress. How do we stay out of this? How do we stay out of judgment? Or how do we stay in or stay out of I think you call the land of hurt feelings of not? Is that what you’re doing? Yeah, I think that’s a good little nickname to Jen, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. And thank you for the work that you’re doing to continue to help get people connected on the truly human level.

Speaker 3 29:31
Adam, it was such a joy to be able to talk about the research and I’m very grateful to have been invited back