A conversation with Sarabeth Berk of More Than My Title

“Through my continued research, I realized there’s a way you can blend and merge identities. And actually, that’s your truest form of yourself when you’re in the intersections of multiple identities. And that’s the hybrid.” – Sarabeth Berk

Sarabeth Berk, Chief Creative Disruptor of More Than My Title, is a researcher and innovation strategist demystifying the human experience. She is known for her research on the hybrid professional – people with multiple professional identities who integrate talents together and bring unique value to employers and clients.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Sarabeth about the professional identity crisis that inspired her research on the hybrid professional, the increasing demand for hybrids in the job market, and how you can network to learn someone’s identity rather than their position. Listen in to find out if you might be a hybrid professional.

Show Highlights

[0:59] Sarabeth’s professional identity crisis
[6:25] Jobs of the future will always become commonplace
[16:17] Emerging hybrids vs established hybrids
[23:00] Identity work & being seen
[26:25] Gaining clarity of self through misunderstanding
[31:21] How to network with identity in mind

Sarabeth on LinkedIn
More Than My Title
Are You a Hybrid Professional? Sarabeth’s TEDx Talk

About the Guest

Sarabeth Berk is a creative disruptor and innovation strategist who demystifies the human experience. As a researcher, she is known for her research on the hybrid professional – people with multiple professional identities who integrate talents together and bring unique value to employers and clients. Sarabeth is currently the Chief Creative Disruptor of More Than My Title, a professional coaching agency in Denver, CO that helps clients discover their truest professional identity.

About Voltage Control

Voltage Control is a facilitation agency that helps teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual. Our master facilitators offer trusted guidance and custom coaching to companies who want to transform ineffective meetings, reignite stalled projects, and cut through assumptions. Based in Austin, Voltage Control designs and leads public and private workshops that range from small meetings to large conference-style gatherings. 

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Full Transcript

Intro: Welcome to the Control the Room Podcast, a series devoted to the exploration of meeting culture and uncovering cures for the common meeting. Some meetings have tight control, and others are loose. To control the room means achieving outcomes while striking a balance between imposing and removing structure, asserting and distributing power, leaning in and leaning out, all in the service of having a truly magical meeting.

Douglas: Today I’m with Dr. Sarabeth Berk. Dr. Sarabeth Berk is a hybrid professional, who also researches hybrid professional identity. She’s also the author of More Than My Title. Welcome to the show, Sarabeth. 

Sarabeth: I’m so glad to be here. Thanks, Douglas.

Douglas: So, tell us a little bit about how you got started in this work you do, this notion of hybrid professional identity. Where did that even come from?

Sarabeth: Yeah. It’s been a wild journey, and it really started with that age-old question: What do you do? And I was going through my own career-change transition and trying to figure out what my next move was. And when people asked me, “What do you do?” I just struggled. I didn’t know who I was. I wanted to be seen as more than my current job, and at that point, I was a teacher, and I was ready to break out. I wanted to transform systems and do more strategy and design and innovation work. And so essentially, I was having a professional-identity crisis. I didn’t know who I was. 

And that led me onto this big research journey and interviewing a lot of people and starting to understand, what is this notion of professional identity? We just don’t talk about it. And I looked at existing research. But what was fascinating to me the most was when I talked to other people, I thought they had it figured out and that I was the one that was confused, and this was a problem only I experienced. And that was so far from the truth. I quickly realized that people, many people, are more than their job title. That’s just this kind of generic way that we give ourselves a frame and a label. And everyone I spoke to was so much more. So it gave me a sense of ease and peace to realize, oh, my gosh. Okay, it’s not only me trying to figure out my identity. 

And then it started to open up a lot of new questions and thinking of, why don’t we talk about this, and why is it so hidden that people do many things. But beyond that—here was the real kick—I realized I have multiple professional identities. I was an artist and a teacher, and I was becoming a researcher, and I loved design. I probably had a handful of others. But I didn’t want to be just one identity at a time. When I took a job, I didn’t want to just be hired as the designer or the researcher. I loved using all of those identities together. 

So through my continued research, I realized there’s a way you can blend and merge identities. And actually that’s your truest form of yourself when you’re in the intersections of multiple identities. And that’s the hybrid. 

So that’s sort of my short story on how I happened upon it. But now that I’ve unlocked it and I’m sharing it with other people that are trying to figure out how do they get their next job or how do they really explain and articulate what their value is, this notion of the hybrid is just the game changer, and I’m so glad people are liking it.

Douglas: You know, I personally resonate with this a lot because my degree that I obtained in college was entitled multidisciplinary studies because I didn’t want to be in school and get four different majors, but I wanted to study a lot of different things. And in fact, I had spent a lot of time in computer-science-type stuff in high school but enjoyed it so much I was just, like, figured that stuff out. I want to go study other stuff. And so I think I personally carved out this journey where there wasn’t this one to one between my degree and my job. And I think a lot of folks, that’s the classic route. And I felt a little bit different early in that journey. But it seems like it’s more and more, we’re finding whether you’re a product manager or a facilitator or just this podcast is dedicated to, there are so many roles out there where you can’t just go and get a degree in that role. And in fact, it takes a very diverse and well-rounded background to make you excel in the role.

So I’m just kind of curious. How much do you think it has to do with these new types of roles that of themselves are not super well-defined. They’re kind of hybrid in nature.

Sarabeth: I love everything you just framed because the truth is you’re not alone. A lot of people are not the exact thing they went to school for or got a degree in, and they’ve changed jobs and accumulated so many talents over time that they are like, yeah, what am I now? And I just wrote a really popular blog post a couple weeks ago that looks at this issue of job descriptions and positions and the way that roles are being named. 

One that really stood out to me is a company called Jump, and they do a ton of design and design-thinking-type work. And they were hiring a person to be an innovation strategist, which is something that resonates with me. And what I loved in the job description is the first thing they wrote is, Are you a hybrid thinker? They call that out. And then below that, they described it as someone who’s one part a humanist, one part technologist, one part anthropologist and filmmaker, entrepreneur. They kind of listed these identity mashups that nailed it for me because companies are starting to realize they need someone that is multidisciplinary or multifaceted. And that’s actually the value when you can find a person with this crazy combined skill set and identity set.

Douglas: You know, as someone who’s hired a lot of people over the years, I hear that and part of me is reminded of this really, I would say, treacherous territory of carving out this unicorn that maybe doesn’t exist, and then you have these unrealistic expectations on finding the person. But I think as the job market or the pool gets more and more sophisticated and people have more and more experience, these unicorns do tend to, they’re out there. 

Sarabeth: Yeah.

Douglas: And so I’m just kind of curious of your thoughts on that.

Sarabeth: Yeah. It’s that notion that the jobs of the future will eventually become commonplace today. So an example of that would be a social-media manager. We never knew we needed that role 10 years ago. That was really outlandish and exotic. And now it’s so normal that multiple people have that in their job description underneath other duties. And I think now we see things like a DevOps manager. Well, that’s hybrid. You’re doing development and operations. Or even a data scientist. What is that? That’s a hybrid title that now is becoming more normalized because we’re like, yeah, of course, you have to look at data scientifically with other methods and insights behind that. 

So I think it’s that notion that when things are hybrid, I’ll use more of a product example for a second. When CamelBak created a backpack that had a water-bottle bladder inside of it, well, what the heck do you call that? That was a new product that combined two existing functions. And they named it CamelBak. 

And that suddenly caught on as the new way to call that object. Well, the same thing goes for people in roles. We don’t know what they are until we sort of adopt it and get used to it. So I believe the unicorns are out there. We just don’t have enough language to define them.

Douglas: Yeah. It’s interesting. It’s like, are we tapping into an emergent phenomenon or really just dreaming up something that some really crazy custom-fit jigsaw-puzzle piece that would just help our organization? Or are we tapping into some trends that are just starting to emerge?

Sarabeth: Probably all the above.

Douglas: Yeah. I think the risk is when we overfit that jigsaw puzzle, and it’s like, oh, here’s this thing that’s like—does that thing even exist? Maybe that’s two different people.

Sarabeth: Yeah. No, and that’s part of the art and the science of this, so thanks for putting that into perspective. We can’t say we need someone that is the jack of all trades and an expert in everything, because that’s not realistic. 

So my quick framework is that there’s three types of professionals: people that have really one type of expertise, I call that singularity. People that have multiple things they do for work, I call that multiplicity. And then the hybrid is somewhere in the middle, where you’re blending and combining multiple expertise as well as multiple areas of generalists. And so it’s sort of fuzzy.

And so people say if you’re a hybrid, then you’re not an expert. And actually, I disagree. I think you’re an expert in your own hybridity, because in that emergent space—I love that word you used—and you’re in the intersection of multiple identities simultaneously, that’s an expertise no one else can replicate. 

And to your point a moment ago of, is it too crazy to ask for someone to be all these things? Yeah. I think it is. So when I work with people one on one or in groups, I say you have to first have a ton of self-awareness and know what are your core professional identities, the two, three, four at the most, that are really the ones you’re best at. They light you up. You want the world to know you for. If you stop doing any of those tomorrow, you’d feel like part of you is missing. Once you land on those two, three, or four, that’s what makes your hybridity. That’s kind of the ingredients of a mixture. So, yes, you probably can do more than those three or four identities, but that’s not going to be the best use of who you are as a hybrid. Where I’m trying to go with this is that there is sort of—a hybrid needs to just be a certain set of components. It can’t be everything. Does that make sense?

Douglas: Absolutely. And I think that was the risk I was trying to point out to folks that wanted to tap into this phenomenon is temper your expectations. We can’t just sit there and just conjure up the most perfect combination of skills and experience, because the more things you layer on, the less the probability that someone in the world has accumulated those things and is available and is interested in working with you.

Sarabeth: Yeah, that’s true. And people are fluid and dynamic, and as the workforce is shifting, people are changing industries. And so once you start not just getting new jobs, but you’re going from finance into healthcare, into tech, now you have this whole different set of who you are and how do you articulate that value. And I think that’s what I’m trying to help people discern is you need to tell a story of the relationships between the different identities you have.

Douglas: I love that. Gosh, that brings up a lot of stuff for me. I was even thinking about internal family systems. But this notion of fluidity is really fantastic. And maybe the advice to hiring managers, and the thing I would probably internalize, is that if we’re hiring people that are hybrid or have that hybrid affinity, it means that we can benefit from that fluidity and adaptability because they realize that they have this growth mindset and they are accumulating new skills. And so even though they’re not this unicorn, maybe they’re missing a few pieces, then they’re going to grow into that, and they can adapt and they’re not just fixed into this identity of who they are and what they do.

Sarabeth: Absolutely. Identity is a really big spectrum, and we change depending on context and time of our lives. We are not the same individuals that we were 10 years ago, you and I. We have different tastes and interests and hobbies and probably even friends. So why would we ever think that our career stays stagnant too?

Douglas: Mm. Also, just kind of tying this back to meetings and facilitation and also your comment around people saying that hybrids aren’t experts, I would say that my interpretation of that would be hybrids are experts at gluing things together, because you may have—and in fact, a hybrid could be a deep expert in two things, and they’re gluing together a bunch of other things. But even if they’re not super-deep expertise in whatever is the topic at hand, their deep expertise might be somewhere else, even if they have the ability to span these different spectrums, it means they’re going to be able to glue together the deep knowledge that others on the team have, and that is super powerful. And I would argue that hybrids make great facilitators because our role is to glue together, it’s to understand enough to say, hey, what you’re saying is contradicting this other person, even though you seem to be agreeing. And that takes some hybridity. You have to understand enough of each of these things and have enough experience to be able to call on that knowledge and apply it in a way that everyone can kind of come to the table and understand it.

Sarabeth: Yeah. That’s really a great insight and observation. I agree that hybrids definitely have one foot in different worlds, and so they get to be these master translators, which isn’t the route of facilitation to make it easier. And so you’re the person transferring knowledge between disciplines or industries or sectors or departments or whatever to help them make it easier of, What are these languages and ideas and concepts we’re doing? How do they fit together?

Douglas: Yeah, one thing I also say is one of the superpowers of a facilitator is really quick synthesis, to be able to take a bunch of inputs in, synthesize them, make some meaning of it, and then kind of spit it back out for the group to react to. And so there’s a balance between totally mirroring what you’re hearing but also synthesizing some things to help spur and move things ahead. And I think a lot of, I would say, varied and diverse background and perspective can really make that synthesis easier, because it’s not about necessarily how fast your brain is processing stuff. I mean, sure, there’s an element of that. But if you have different models and contexts that you can draw on, it definitely reduces the need for your brain to have to go into hyperdrive.

Sarabeth: Yeah. I love what you’re saying. That was one of the findings I had in looking at hybrids, and where does hybridity show up? And hybrids are masters at pattern recognition and meeting making. And you just said that in your own words.

Douglas: That’s fantastic. You know, I’d written down complexity earlier, for a different reason. And I think you could kind of map this stuff onto a Cynefin framework even, based on a few things I’ve heard you speaking about today already. Early on, before hybrid, we have a very simple view of the world. It’s like I learn to do something, and I do it. And then as I learn more and more difficult things and get more and more specialized, moving into the complicated domain, that hybrids really thrive in this complex domain, where things are adapting and changing, and we have to respond to them. And we have that fluidity that we can lean on so that if something new comes at us, we don’t just get knocked off. We kind of just, we remain in balance.

Sarabeth: Yeah, definitely. I think hybrids are very adaptable, and they tinker and invent and hack, and they see the standard process, and they know how to kind of tweak it or make it better or change it completely.

Douglas: The other fascinating thing about the Cynefin model is that in between the domains, because a lot of people look at it and think it’s just a two by two. The lines between the domains is a domain in and of itself, so this disorder that you move through when you transition. And you were talking about these hybrids transitioning, and I think whenever we transition domains, there’s some disorder. We have to, you know, like, Clark Kent can’t just turn into Superman. He has to go into the phone booth and emerge as Superman. 

And I think that that in itself, I mean, there’s two things I think of that might be interesting to unpack from your work, which was, do you see that there is a transition, an uncomfortable transition, as people start to learn? As they’re moving from a simple, like, “I know this one thing. I’m starting to learn, build this other skill,” it’s like maybe there’s some identity crisis starting to happen.

Sarabeth: No. I was completely agreeing. I have a table I created in the book I wrote, More Than My Title, where I talk about emerging hybrids versus established hybrids, because there is sort of this developmental thing that’s happening as you’re feeling the push and pull and tension of having multiple identities, but not understanding the relationship between them, how they fit together, and how to build that as the way you’re working in the world. You’re sort of stuck in this awkward phase. And there’s a few different indicators I have of that. And one of it is this, I call it, crossover. It’s like sometimes you know how to tie your identities together and you’re in that zone of genius, and other times you don’t. It’s like you only are one or the other, and you haven’t found that natural cadence or just natural ability to let it be simultaneous. 

And one thing that just my kind of artsy head that inspired some of my research findings was I was looking at paintings by Rene Magritte, and he is one of the ultimate surrealists. And he had one painting where it’s a sandy beach, it’s the seashore, and there’s a doorway, just the frame of a door, and the door is open. And so you can walk through that doorway and get to the water or you can stay on the beach. It’s sort of that moment of this invisible gateway between the two worlds. And that’s my visual mental metaphor of us trying to figure out, How do we find these spaces of transition between the different parts of ourselves?

Douglas: It’s amazing. As you were sharing some of that I’m starting to formalize some of, like you were helping me articulate where my head was going previously, which is I think there’s two modes, maybe. One is as you’re first exploring the land of hybridity, it’s almost like going through puberty because it’s like, wait a second. This is a real awkward transition. 

Sarabeth: Yeah.

Douglas: And as you start to become more hybrid, so you’re developing different facets of yourself, when you’re in that zone, I would imagine early on that fluidity isn’t quite so fluid. Being able to shift between those modes may be more awkward. I’m actually taking this hat off, putting it on the table, and putting this other hat on, and it’s a little clunky. I have to maybe reboot a little bit. But then more and more you do it, the more skilled you are of just blending between the two to where it’s almost like a dance. Like, you don’t even notice that you’re shifting between these modes.

Sarabeth: Yeah. That’s exactly right. The other tool that I brought into my work is this idea of developing your consciousness. Hybrids don’t realize they’re even hybrids. They have to learn that construct and realize, oh, my gosh, this might apply to me. And even once you learn the term, you still might not understand how it looks for you and what makes you a hybrid. 

Oftentimes when I speak to people that they’re excited and this resonates, and they go, “Of course, I’m a hybrid. I do marketing and sales, and I’m a gardener on the side. And I love to do graphics and computer animation,” but they don’t understand how those things fit together or how they’re using synergies and a marriage of all that. Then there’s still that emerging phase. That’s more multiplicity, in my mind, when you are just putting one hat on, taking it off, putting the next hat on. And the hybrid is literally wearing all the hats at once and has tentacles of skills. 

Let me give a clear, concrete picture of my hybridity in action. So actually, when I’m facilitating a meeting and I start to do either some visual recording, graphic facilitation, or in the moment ask people to take on roleplaying, to play out different personas of stakeholders that we’re trying to imagine how would they experience this thing, those are moments when I notice big shifts in the room, and other people don’t run meetings that way. That’s me and my hybridity because the researcher is turning on, the designer’s turning on, the educator’s turning on, in that moment to get people to do things they don’t normally do to make sense of information we’re struggling with.

So that’s kind of how detailed I push people to see themselves in these moments of their hybridity, to reveal it to themselves.

Douglas: You know, that reminds me of one of the thoughts that I had when we first met and I was starting to wrap my head around your work, and it was that this is in a way, is a really practical, pragmatic approach to personal branding.

Sarabeth: Definitely. It has that connection, which I think is just one of the outcomes of doing the work. So I didn’t even really do my full hybrid introduction, but essentially I’ve designed my own title for my hybridity, and I call myself a creative disruptor because to me that encapsulates who I am in the intersections. And it’s a unique name. It’s not too out there or trendy, but it feels authentic and accurate, and it takes some practice and exploration to find that right combination of words. 

And what my “creative disruptor” title represents is that I’m comprised of being an artist, designer, educator, and researcher. Those are my four primary, or core, identities that mean the most and I have to use pretty frequently in the work I do. If I don’t, I get bored or I stop doing that job, or other things happen, more disengaged.

So that’s really kind of the building blocks of this work is having self-awareness of your identities, and then asking yourself, Who are you in those intersections, and what do you call yourself in that bullseye of your intersections? That’s your hybrid title, which then becomes a beautiful personal brand that all of your history and work experience connects to.

Douglas: Yeah. I love this notion of authenticity in its purest sense, right? 

Sarabeth: Mm-hmm.

Douglas: A lot of times we hear that word thrown around, be authentic, etc., but I truly believe that if we’re going to be great facilitators, we have to be authentic. And that means being true to ourselves and showing up in that way. And I love that your work is a tool for folks to do that self-reflection and think about, well, what are these elements that are critical? And I think in a way, it’s not all that dissimilar than thinking about values as well. But I think that values is such an overused and diluted term that a lot of times people, especially when you’re at the company and it’s the things that are just hanging on the walls, and no one really lives by them. So I love it as a framework that helps us get to that same need, but it’s not a bunch of handwaving stuff.

Sarabeth: Yeah. And one other thing I’ll add to that would be I think it’s about being seen, which ultimately is about belonging, right? And we know that’s one of the steps to have safety and strong teams and trust is you have to feel like you belong and people understand who you are. And when we just walk around and know each other on teams or companies as you’re the director of programs, you’re the head of A.I., you do sales, I don’t really know who you are, and I actually don’t really understand your job. And I understand that we need a hierarchy of formal job titles, so I’m not pushing against disrupting and changing all that. But what I am saying and what I’ve started doing with more teams during workshops and companies is let’s do some of this identity work to reveal your professional identity so your colleagues and peers see you the way that you want to be seen and know you for what you’re best at. And that’s more than just your StrengthsFinders or Myers-Briggs profile, which are other talents and skills. Your identity is something that just defines who you are and overarches your passion, your purpose, your skills, everything.

Douglas: I’m kind of getting into my nerd brain now on the facilitation, but I’m starting to visualize. It could be—we’ve been building a lot of MURAL templates for various activities and a lot of the things we would do in real life. And one of them—you mentioned StrengthsFinder—one of them is based on StrengthsFinders, and there was another one based on the books everyone’s reading right now. So how do we, coming together as a team, visually kind of exciting each other around possibility or around vision, around the makeup or composition of the team—I think it’d be really fascinating to do some of this exploration as a team. What you’re talking about is deeply introspective, and I’m sure you coach a lot of folks and help draw that stuff out—I can imagine teams helping each other draw it out because they see things in their teammates that their teammates might not see in themselves or aren’t recognizing. They’re a little blind to it because it’s things they do but don’t perceive or don’t say about themselves.

Sarabeth: I just have a huge smile on my face right now. You couldn’t have said it better. I think doing this work in collaboration with your teammates is one of the best ways because they mirror back to you how they see you and help you realize the truer parts of yourself that maybe you’ve never given a name to or wouldn’t have called out. Like you said, they perceive things and they can reflect it back. Yeah, I think that’s really powerful.

Douglas: I think one of the thoughts I was having, too, is one of my favorite ways to dispel a conflict is something I call roles and coffee, and as two people were kind of at loggerheads or whatever. And I don’t feel like—usually you can tell as a leader, is something bad going on here, or they just misunderstanding each other? Ninety percent of the time, it’s just some silly misunderstanding stuff. And so I’ll just tell them to schedule a coffee. And there are no rules besides one simple rule that they can’t talk about work or the task that they’re doing. They can’t discuss the project or anything. They can only discuss what they think each other does from a role standpoint. “I want you to sit down and tell me what your role is. I’m going tell you what your role is, and you’re going to tell me what my role is. And you have to sit and listen.” 

Sarabeth: Yeah.

Douglas: And it can be very eye-opening to hear how people misunderstand what you do and what you bring to the table.

Sarabeth: Completely. That is the beginning. I have a workbook that complements my book, and the first section is, What do other people say you do? Talk to your colleagues. How does your partner or family members describe what you do? How does a child, how does a neighbor? Trying these different scenarios to understand how people interpret and perceive you and what words they’re using. And if they’re totally vague or uncertain, that’s also evidence as well. And it’s not that everyone has to be super crystal clear, because it is really hard to define all the different things we do. But if people are that fuzzy and if you’re not telling a story that’s articulating the way you want to show up in the world, then other people won’t get it either. So that’s kind of why I think this is a really big deal of how you describe your hybrid identity and find language that you believe in will start to cascade to your boss, to clients, to everyone. 

And the more I’ve talked about being a hybrid, I’ve noticed people start to introduce me that way, or they’ve walked up—I had a boss one time say, “Hey, Sarabeth. Are you able to use enough of your identities in this job? How is that going for you?” And that blew me away because when would you ever expect a manager or a boss to say that and to make sure you’re feeling supported and seen? And I think the more we talk about this explicitly, the more we feel, wow, this is really what’s been missing from our lives.

Douglas: That’s amazing. You know, and it’s like I think that to me the fascinating piece is absolutely others are going to help you identify things that you may not realize that you might want to kind of craft into that narrative. They may actually also point out things that they’re perceiving that are incorrect or that maybe we’re presenting things in a way that it’s confusing or people are reading into it in ways that we don’t want. We can repair those things as well.

Sarabeth: Oh, definitely. Yeah. If people are reflecting back to you—like, I used to get called the design-thinking guru a lot, and it was kind of just a fun, easy way for people to reference me. But that kind of drove me crazy because that’s not who I saw myself as. Like, yes, I know design thinking, but that wasn’t the way I wanted to show up in a room or be introduced. So, yeah, that was good feedback where I needed to tailor and tweak how I introduced myself and how I talked about myself. And then it started to shift that introduction when other people said it.

Douglas: Absolutely. I had the same thing happen to me when I first started Voltage Control, because I was doing a little bit of fractional CTO work, as well as facilitating and running design sprints. And I would tell people that, right? I would tell them that hybrid nature of, like, I’m a fractional CTO, and I do design sprints. 

It is fascinating to me how people would always remember one or the other. And so I’d either get introduced as the CTO guy or the design-sprint guy. And as I was doing less and less CTO work, it was even more frustrating because people would still introduce me as this fractional CTO. And it’s like, “Well, I’m not really doing that as much anymore.” It’s a struggle, and it’s real.

Sarabeth: Yeah. And it just takes practice and experimentation. I tell people to keep iterating. It took me a while to even figure out my hybrid title. And if you don’t have one, if that’s daunting, because going into these intersections, I will say right now, is the hardest work. People get really lit up, and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, you just want me to draw this Venn diagram and look at my overlapping identities. I love it. That’s genius.” And then they start scratching their heads and go, “Oh, my god, I don’t know how to do that.” But if you just want a starting point, even just saying, “Hey, I’m a hybrid. I work at the intersections of, in my case, being an artist, designer, researcher, educator,” that is a nice gateway, and that’s a really simple way to start reinforcing this stuff. But I agree. It takes a while for people to actually, like, hold onto it and remember it.

Douglas: So, I want to come back to something you mentioned in passing earlier as this kind of a setup to kind of explaining this work. And it really struck me, it brought me back to a place that I haven’t been in a while, which is bumping into people in a networking environment or maybe at a party, and you just met them. You didn’t get a really good intro. And the easiest, the most mundane question is, So what do you do?

Sarabeth: Every time. Yep.

Douglas: Yeah. And so, you know, I always kind of feel awkward with that question, but it was the thing I always wanted to ask, but I felt like an idiot asking it. And so now that we’ve advanced, well, (a) it’s kind of difficult to even find ourselves in networking situations these days, but I guess in your work, have you found more interesting questions, better ways to probe into this hybridity and to learn more about people rather than, “So what do you do?”

Sarabeth: Oh, definitely. I mean, a quick one that’s not as much identity related is just, What do you love to do? Adding that love part shifts it more into hobbies and extracurricular activities. But if you’re trying to stay on a professional note and especially hybrid stuff, I’d say, “What do you call yourself?” You know, that right away, I ask people, “What is your identity?” or just “What are your different professional identities?,” which right away assumes people are more than one thing. Some of those might need a little bit more contextualization to help people not feel affronted or thrown too far off. You might say, “Hey, I realize we’re more than our job titles. Tell me about the different identities you use in your work.” And shifting to an identity conversation could be interesting. So those are maybe the top three that just came out of my mouth.

Douglas: Yeah. As you were kind of sharing some of those, it reminded me my friend has a great prompt that I’ve totally stolen. And it’s, What’s lighting you up these days?

Sarabeth: Yeah. I love that.

Douglas: I find that people always have some really fun answers to that question.

So speaking of questions, questions are kind of, I think, the facilitator’s Swiss Army knife. They get us out of a lot of trouble. They can kind of move us forward, etc.. So apart from just the breaking-the-ice, “I just met you” questions, what are some of the questions that you think are provocative or helpful when we’re in meetings or just helping people work better together?

Sarabeth: Yeah. One of the top things I notice when I’m working with groups and we’re problem solving is all the assumptions that they’re holding onto that they don’t hear and kind of those limited beliefs. So probably a few of my top questions I ask the most is, How do you know? You know, just asking them if they’re like, “Oh, we don’t need to research that. We already talked to those people and they said blank.” And it’s like, well, how do you know they really feel that way? Or what do you see that makes you say that? Getting really objective and moving away from their interpretations and subjective feelings so that they have to back it with actual fact and have a reality check and kind of question where did this story in their head start from? 

And probably the last one, it’s sort of a loose tool, and I adjust this in so many ways. I could use it for an interview script or facilitation and brainstorming. But these four words, I think, are my driving, just ideas when I’m doing facilitating. And they are needs, beliefs, pain points, and desires. I’m constantly returning back to those to understand, What does a user need? What are they believing? What are their pain points and desires? And I just found if we can answer those, we can reveal the next best set of insights to get us moving forward.

Douglas: I think that’s also true for the participants, too. Are we pointing that inward to what’s going on inside the hearts and minds of the folks in the room as well as who this room is focused on solutioning for. 

Sarabeth: Mm-hmm.

Douglas: So I love that, yeah.

Excellent. Well, Sarabeth, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you today. And I’m sure if everyone enjoyed this as much as I did, then they’re eager to find out where they can learn more and maybe also think about—I’d love to hear what you might be interested in leaving the audience with.

Sarabeth: Ah, so many good nuggets. Douglas, you and I just have the best synergy. We could have talked forever. Let’s see. So essentially the work I’m doing, go to my website, morethanmytitle.com. I just wrote a book with the same name called More Than My Title: The Power of Hybrid Professionals in a Workforce of Experts and Generalists, because essentially I think this is a movement of a hidden segment of the workforce, and I’m really trying to build awareness and give people practical tools to both help them with their own personal identity, but also to realize the workforce is made up of more than just experts and generalists. And then you can find my workbook, and I have online courses. So my goal is just to help people activate and learn about themselves and their identity. 

And my takeaway for your audience today is my favorite question, which is, Who are you in the intersections of your multiple professional identities? And when you can start to answer that question, you are going to see a whole new side and really just version of who you are in the world.

Douglas: Fantastic. Sarabeth, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you. And I’m really excited to see how the listeners take this work to heart and what they find as they start to explore new identities. So thanks so much for being on the show, and we’ll talk again soon.

Sarabeth: I hope so, Douglas. I’d love to come back anytime. Just keep me on your radar. You’re great. This is wonderful. Thank you.

Outro: Thanks for joining me for another episode of Control the Room. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive updates when new episodes are released. If you want more, head over to our blog, where I post weekly articles and resources about working better together, voltagecontrol.com.