Permission to Kick Ass

Kristen Donnelly: The Human Side of Business

Episode Summary

Who taught you how to human? If you ask my guest today, Dr. Kristen Donnelly, she’ll tell you no one — which is exactly why she is on a mission to make the world a better place through empathy education. You may think you know empathy but prepare to have your mind blown (and hey, if you want more ease with your biz, empathy might be the missing skill you need).

Episode Notes

There’s a school of thought that says emotion and business don’t belong in the same sentence. I  think that’s a load of BS. Passion and emotion are how we connect, person to person… and that’s why I love Kristen’s approach to empathy. She says it’s a skill, not an emotion… and as someone who’s learned how to be empathetic through A LOT of trial and error, I totally agree.  Our discussion is a fascinating look at the many different ways you can develop and use this vital skill in your business. Listen now to find out how to level up your biz AND your life. 

Can’t-Miss Moments From This Episode:

This one is jam-packed full of advice. Don’t miss out - listen now!

Kristen’s Bio:

Kristen Donnelly (MSW, M.Div, PhD) is a TEDx speaker, international empathy educator, and researcher with two decades of experience in helping people understand the beauty in difference, and the power in inclusivity. She is one of The Good Doctors of Abbey Research, COO of their parent company, and an unapologetic nerd for stories of change. Kristen lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband, where they are surrounded by piles of books and several video game consoles. 

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Episode Transcription

Angie Colee (00:01):

Welcome to Permission to Kick Ass. A podcast about leaving self-doubt in the dust, punching fear in the face and taking bold action toward your biggest dreams. I'm Angie Colee, and let's get to it. Hey and welcome back to Permission to Kick Ass. With me today is new my friend , Dr. Kristen Donnelly say hi.

Kristen Donnelly (00:26):

Hello everybody.

Angie Colee (00:28):

I love that. And it's so great too, because I'm looking at you with your great office setup. They don't ever get to see the video by the way, but you've got like this great Funko pop collection in the background. And, ah, it's so great. Anyway, please tell us a little bit about you in the line of work you do

Kristen Donnelly (00:44):

Well, I am primarily with most of my day an empathy educator, which means that I spend a lot of my time helping people understand themselves and the world around them better so that we can all engage in some next level humaning.

Angie Colee (00:58):


Kristen Donnelly (00:58):

And I do that as part of my family business of which I'm also the second generation co-owner we operate a network of family companies. Who's all tied together by a mission statement rather than a set of product lines. So our mission statement is to impact lives and create wealth. And one of the, a couple of the divisions do that through manufacturing. And then my division does that through empathy, education, and idea, generation and keynotes. And I've gotten to give a couple TEDx talks and things as such. And so we exist as a family to serve the world and make it better. So I get to do that from, uh, we are based in Philadelphia. I have a husband, we do not have kids pets or plants so that we can travel as much as possible. And, uh, we are just surrounded by video game consoles and piles of books that will kill me before I actually get around to read it.

Angie Colee (01:50):

I know it's so funny that you mentioned that because like, this is our first time really kind of talking face to face, but we have so much in common already. It's really interesting. My listeners already know that I'm a digital nomad and I move from place to place, but it's so funny. I'm traveling with my cat. So there's the one exception, but I do have actually like just offsite outta camera, a giant bag of books that I'm carrying around with me. I have not cracked a single one on this road trip, but I have to have them with me just in case I need something to read

Kristen Donnelly (02:19):

There is a, there is a word for the comfort of the physical written word, and I cannot remember what that is, but it's so true. Like, I have an iPad, a Kindle app, a Kindle that travel with me everywhere. And yet I usually have at least one paper back in my suitcase.

Angie Colee (02:33):

Oh yes. Oh yes. Same thing with the Kindle. The Kindle's what I read at night before I go to bed, but I still have that big bag of books that I carry with me everywhere. So funny. I love that you are focused on helping people be better humans. Be better at humaning was the way that you phrased it, which I thought was hilarious. First of all, I love to verb-ize nouns so like, yes, I'm here for it. Second. I think that that's just a fascinating thing. Being an empathy educator. Could you tell me a little bit more about that?

Kristen Donnelly (03:04):

I would love to and if you haven't heard of it, that's okay. Cuz we invented it.

Angie Colee (03:07):


Kristen Donnelly (03:07):

And so the, the idea is that we, we actually think that we have as a culture, as a people have kind of a shallow and misguided understanding of empathy. Yes. So we usually talk empathy entirely emotional and there's and people talk about being empaths and they can feel other people's emotions and we think that's not quite right. So there are people that can feel other people we think that has more to do with energy than emotions. And we are not. And when I say we it's me and my business partner and best friend, Dr. Erin Hinson, we are both PhDs in social science and we have spent years understanding how society works and how individuals work within social institutions and, and all those kind of relationships. So this is what we're chewing on right now and have been for the better part of a year is that every textbook, every dictionary in definition of empathy, includes the word, understand and understand is a huge part of our worldview. We deeply believe that understanding people is not agreeing with them or approving of them. It's just understanding. And that we can seek explanations and not excuses. And that that's a huge part of how we do humanity together. So as we were looking at that and thinking about that, and I was actually in the process of writing my first TEDx, when we really started getting, going on this, which I got to give at south Lake Tahoe in May of 2021 and really centered around the idea of moving of eliminating our understanding of tolerance and moving towards inclusivity instead. And so we were talking a lot about that. The key to that is understanding that once you choose to try to understand somebody you're no longer tolerating, cause tolerance is passive. So once you're choosing to understand them, what are you doing? And we're like, well, you're building your empathy. And like that kind of came out and as we were talking, we're like, yeah, that works. So it it's a, it's a muscle you can work on. It's a skill you can develop. And what you need to do with that is be both self aware, which is an ongoing process. And changes every day and also aware that how you are a human is not how everybody else is a human and accept that without value judgment.It's just truth. How you do human is not how everybody else does human, but our human experience is richer. We understand all of the options. And what this kind of looks like and how do we work with people? And so that's what an empathy educator is. So we do this through, we have a YouTube and a podcast and we also really try to talk about pop culture as an empathy exercise. So what can we learn about America through watching The Falcon and The Winter Soldier? And what can we learn about the importance of structured joy through Bridgeton and how can we learn about difference through Hallmark Christmas movies? Cuz it's there, believe it or not. And so how do we do that? And we also hold workshops on diversity and trauma and boundaries and exhaustion. We have a whole thing around understanding the roots of American culture being traced back to the Puritans. And what does that mean? So as we're understanding all of this, do we accept or do we change? Do we reject? Do we all those things? So what we try to do every is show up in someone's life and say, what if?

Angie Colee (06:21):

Interesting. I think, you know, that's a good question. I'm writing that down. Cause I wanna circle back to that. What if question, I think this is such an important discussion to have, because I know that one of the things that I am really known for in, in like the writing and marketing circles is not as necessarily being the devil's advocate, but I'm usually the one that's in freelance groups going, maybe that client isn't actually trying to screw you over. Hmm. Maybe if we think about this from a business owner perspective, we can suddenly understand why they're negotiating, why they're trying to, everybody wants the best deal. You want the best price. This is totally natural. It's it doesn't mean anybody thinks you suck. But like I'm usually that first person that jumps in and says, maybe this is not what you're thinking. Maybe there's another side to this. And interestingly enough, I would not say that that was a skill that I used to possess. It's exactly. Like you said, that I, at one point had the flip switched and decided I needed to work on that empathy and understanding people and it actually started-

Kristen Donnelly (07:22):

It's decision.

Angie Colee (07:23):

Yeah. It started with a book because, uh, one of my mentors recommended Mindset by Carol Dweck to me.

Kristen Donnelly (07:29):

Yes. That's a great one.

Angie Colee (07:30):

Oh, it is a great one. And suddenly I was, when I was reading it, I was like, oh fuck. I know why he recommended this to me cuz I am a fixed mindsets. And I recognize all of these thinking patterns in myself. So that was part of it. And I think the other part of it was just being uncomfortable sometimes recognizing how quick I was to judge people, how I was constantly like angry and tense and frustrated that people weren't peopling right. Why don't you guys know how to do these things? And so I found that once I worked on trying to understand where people might be coming from that life got a lot easier. My business grew a lot faster. My relationships got a lot more solid. It was like fricking magic wands for lack of a better term. And it was just,

Kristen Donnelly (08:14):

No, I think you, you moved through life with more ease because you're not defensive all the, the time about defending you that your ideas are correct. It's just that your ideas are one among many.

Angie Colee (08:26):


Kristen Donnelly (08:27):

And so you can just exist easier and relax more. And I think the lesson that, where we really learned this, I should say apologies for the verbal stumble is that Erin and I both did our PhD is in Northern Ireland. And Northern Ireland is a incredible place to learn that understanding is not condoning because there is in a, in a conflict that is frequently presented as two sides. And you'll hear that narrative everywhere at a, at a very moderate estimation. I would say there are probably around 15. And the motivations of the people that intersect that at different points, there's at least four governments involved. Much less sides. Um, and so we constantly were sitting with people, um, and this is actually not to keep dropping my Ted talks, but this is actually my second Ted talk is that, um, a lot of Northern Irish people as we lived there for the five years that we were, there are very desperate to talk about what happened in their conflict. But they're told they can't talk about it to each other. So with a sympathetic ear and the right accent shows up and you, and often I got really intensive stories and I wasn't the only American that has, that has dealt with this. And so as I learned to hold these things, I'm also married to a Northern Irishman and he's got his own set of truths and facts. So I'd go out for drinks with a friend and hear awful things about something that I know my husband deeply believes in. And I had to learn to hold those things and say, okay, there is so many truths here and some of them are lies and that's okay. Facts are never as important as truth because truth is an emotional entity. And so how do we, so I would just be very clear and be like, well, the facts of this situation are. Where do you disagree with those? Or where does that not resonate with you? Or things like that. And I just collected stories for five years. And some of them, I was incredibly honored to hold some of them. I, which I hadn't been given because they still, they, it was against my consent. Like we used the word trauma dump for a reason. Um, but there was at no point in time was anyone who talked to me, looking to be told they were wrong.

Angie Colee (10:44):

That is so true. You know, I th that's one of the things that I coach a lot of the freelancers that I work with on too, that, especially when they come to me, like, how can I convince my client? How can I show them that this is, and I'm you, you really can't. But what you can do is you can say, Hey, I hear you. That sounds like a good option. What we can do is we can test it. Or you could present a case and say, Hey, that does sound like a good idea. I know somebody else that tried this, and this is what's happened. I'll let you make the decision about whether you wanna pursue that route or not. And I'm behind either way win or lose. It was like, all you can do is present yourself as a colleague, as an ally, not somebody there, like they don't wanna pay you to stand there and tell 'em they're screwing their up their own business every day. They really don't

Kristen Donnelly (11:30):

And everybody, every, no one changes their minds through shaming, our statistics.

Angie Colee (11:35):


Kristen Donnelly (11:35):

They may change a temporary behavior, but they're not gonna change their mind. And so they change their mind through stories and relationships. So if you present, if you are in relationship with them and present them a story, the story may or may not resonate. But I think shaming them and convincing them is probably not gonna work.

Angie Colee (11:53):

Yeah. I mean, I have, I have a zero hitting average, like batting average with trying to convince someone through just facts and arguments and logic. Um, but I have had drastic shifts in my own personal understanding in my own narratives when people lovingly held that story, like you said, like the just heard me. And then they reflected back to me the logic gaps that they were seeing. So I've told, I've told this story once before. And I think this is probably the early seeds of me recognizing that I, I had an empathy gap that needed challenging and re and working on, but I was 19. I was away at college for the first time. I am from south Texas. This is relevant, rural south Texas, not a whole lot of racial diversity. So I, and a whole lot of very Texan pride, we can succeed and be our own country if we want to damnit.

Kristen Donnelly (12:50):

I lived in central Texas for five years. I'm intimately familiar with the state culture.

Angie Colee (12:55):

Yeah. So this is, this is how I grew up. So I'm sitting at a table with someone who happens to be a Kosovo refugee. And I'm talking about I'm pontificating on how we solve all of our problems by turning the Middle East to glass. I know that this does not make me look great in my defense. It was almost 20 years ago, but still no excuse for that level of ignorance. It's, it's something that young and dumb have the luxury it's it sometimes seems just spouting off without thinking in that moment. And I recognize this in the years that passed, she had every right to get mad and get up and walk away and leave me at the table with my ignorance. Like you, she had every right. I said something that was pretty much unforgivable and horrible without thinking, thinking that I'm totally in the right. Instead she goes, so help me understand. My family and I should die so that you can feel safe. And I was like, well, that's no, no. I mean, you're amazing. And I adore you. That's not what I'm saying at all. She goes, okay. So you're gonna build a bomb that kills everybody else that I know and love, but saves me and my family. I'm interested in how that happens. And I was like, that's the, that doesn't even make any sense. And she's like, yeah, it doesn't really make sense. Does it? And it was just interesting all of these years later, how that one interaction, I said something dumb. I put my foot in it and she just turned it around on me so masterfully that it, it really, I credit her with changing my life in that moment. It's interesting how little moments and ideas at the right time can just change the whole trajectory of your life.

Kristen Donnelly (14:33):

Absolutely. I, we think about that a lot in my marriage, cuz I'm married to a Northern Irish citizen and he's now a naturalized alien here in the United States. He is not legally a full citizen cuz you really can't be that unless you were born here. So he is legally a naturalized alien. And when he had his green card, it was, we had just immigrated when, um, all of the immigration policy changes started happening under Trump. And he was um, very, very agitated and very scared, um, that if he got a, I mean, cuz literally the law was, if you got a traffic ticket, you could get deported. And the, they, that that was, or there was a, it was like almost a law. I can't remember. I can't remember exactly. I think it ended up getting struck down, but we were in conversation with a lot of people who told us to calm down. He'd be fine. He'd be saved by our marriage. And we're like, no, that's not how this works. Or, or something like that. And then when it finally got down to brass tax, that'd say, oh, but John, you are gonna be fine cuz you're white. And he would, and he would like, and they'd say it joking and laughing. And then he'd push back and be like, I want, I wanna know how that's supposed to make me feel better.

Angie Colee (15:43):

That's such a horrible thing to say.

Kristen Donnelly (15:46):

All the time. And he still gets it. When we talk about the fact he, it did not grow up white in America and white privilege looks different in different countries. And so he doesn't understand like he, but he gets dismissed a lot because he just looks like a middle aged white guy. Um, but he carries all of these stories in him and he has gotten just told, oh, but you're fine. Cuz you're white. So many times that it's we just, the way he responds now is to go. I want you to think about what you just said.

Angie Colee (16:17):

Yes. I want you want to think about it.

Kristen Donnelly (16:20):

Think about what you just said really. Um, and how that means the system is fundamentally broken and so we can't rely on a system. So therefore, I am never safe. And even now just as a PSA, like if he commits it, like if, if he gets falsely accused of a crime we may never be able to live in the same country again, like immigration is not straightforward anywhere. And what that kind of looks like. And so it's, it's something the amount of times that we are incredibly privelaged. Like dripping with it in so many ways. And we just try to take that opportunity to say, look at the world a little bit differently.

Angie Colee (17:00):

Yes. Yeah. Open your eyes to the fact that, you know, to tie into what you were saying at the beginning of the call, that my reality is not your reality and vice versa and how I see the world doesn't make it a truth. Like you were saying, there's a bunch of different versions of the truth out there. You know, I made a drawing once and tried to show somebody what I was talking about. And I just showed them what looked like an empty room. You know, just, just a head on drawing. And I said, how many people are in this room? And they were like, zero. I mean, obviously that's an empty room. And then I turned it to the next page, which showed the room from above and it was its T shape. And there were people standing on in the hallways on each side, but you just couldn't see 'em from this angle. And I was like, how many people are in the room? And they were like, oh shit. I'm like, that's exactly what is happening when you're talking about truth. Depends on what angle you can see it from.

Kristen Donnelly (17:48):

Yeah. And like the, I mean, I say all the time perception is reality. And so when I'm working with leaders or, you know, talking to people and I get this a lot with people who came of age in the eighties and corporate culture and they'll be like, no perception, isn't reality, like reality is reality. And I just like take a deep breath and I'm like, okay. So talk me through how you feel. I usually pick something really stupid. Like in terms of like low stakes, I should say, instead of stupid, but like how do you feel about getting cut off in traffic? And then, well, obviously the person there's, it's a George Carlin joke. I think like everybody's either stuck behind somebody slow or has somebody on their tail. And it, you know, that's, you are one of those people for everybody else.

Angie Colee (18:34):

I remember that. Yeah. It's everybody that drives slower than you is a moron. And everybody that drives faster than you is a maniac. You are somebody's moron and you are somebody's maniac.

Kristen Donnelly (18:44):

You are somebody's maniac. Even in my family, we joke like my dad is a, is drives much more slower. My brother and I are much faster, you know, things like that. My dad thinks we're speed demons. We think he's slow. Perception is absolutely reality. And so if we under, if we can help people understand that there's a lot of, yeah. I, that's why I love talking about empathy because everything can be an empathy exercise. Everything. You can turn a, every learning experience into a time where you're like, Hey, I can be a better human next time. Next time I can do better.

Angie Colee (19:18):

I mean, that just happened with a project that I was working on where I thought I was trying to be helpful by telling somebody that, so I just took over a, uh, a promotion, which is totally in my wheelhouse. Like I've got this down to a science. So I'm just bringing in systems that I've already used that I know work and trying to help guide the team in, in a unified direction. And like really all I'm coming in and doing is trying to simplify things, remove stuff from people's plates that we don't need to be focusing on right now. And so I made a mistake when I went to the group and I was saying, okay, so what are you working on? Do you really need to work on that right now? Can you make this as simple as possible? What can you cut out? And eventually one of the members of the team made me a video in private and said, I'm kind of insulted that you think I can't simplify this further and that I haven't already simplified this as much as I possibly can. And I was like, okay, that was a very, and it was a very powerful reaction. I just kind of like understated it. But she, she had a reaction and she was having some strong feelings to that. And so I, at first of course, I was tempted to be like, well, why in the hell are you pissed off at me for trying to make your job simpler? Like, what is wrong with you? And I'm getting all defensive. So I did this smart thing, which I think, you know, I, I highly recommend in a situation when you're feeling some kind of way, don't do anything. Don't make a video, don't respond to somebody. Don't write a letter. If you're gonna write a letter, definitely don't send it. I went to beach yoga and I'm like in downward dog going this fucking video and Nope, deep breath, deep breath. The moon is rising. This is nice. This is calming. Oh, that fucking video, like just going back and forth with myself. This, and this is a recent thing that happened to me too. And so after I, you know, several exercises of just redirecting my brain like you do in yoga, redirecting my thoughts, coming back to being exactly where I am afterwards. I was able to see that like, okay, I can understand where she's coming from. That there's a knowledge gap here between what I see her doing, what she sees herself doing and what's left to do. And so me trying to be helpful still came across in an offensive way. And there's a way that we could communicate better here. She can tell me about what she needs from me and I can tell her I'm not understanding, help me understand. And we can find a way to better work together. But it's interesting to me looking at that, how if I had just sunk into like, what's wrong with you, I'm trying to make your job easier. We're never gonna work. We're never gonna work well together.

Kristen Donnelly (21:53):

And one of those is it goes back to why we don't like talking about empathy as emotional because we actually don't even understand our own emotions. So how are we supposed to understand the emotions of others? And very rarely can we control our emotions and very rarely. And even if we can, that's like such a discipline and a lot of times we don't ever achieve it. So that's why we, like, we don't like to talk that empathy is, is an emotional thing. um, and that there is a difference, you know, between empathy, sympathy and compassion, and kind of where they all overlap. And as you were talking, what it reminded me of when I was in seminary, somebody asked one of the, the pastors who did like church studies in general, like how to, how to do the organization of being a pastor. Like what's his best piece of advice for young seminarians. And he said, it's never about the carpet color. And what he is referring to is that like churches will have knocked down, drag out fights about changing the carpet in the sanctuary. Or introducing drums into worship. And he's like, it's never about that. It's never about that. So figure out what it's about. It's about the emotions of change. It's about a fear of not being adequate. Everyone always reacts. Anger is the root of anger is fear. Yeah. It's always the root of anger. So what is someone afraid of and how can you mitigate that fear? And that's what that's, what leadership is, is understanding what people are afraid of. Politics is understanding what they're afraid of and exploiting it to get votes. Leadership is understanding what they're afraid of and solving the problem.

Angie Colee (23:26):

I'm so glad that you said that, because I think that there are a lot of people out there in, on entrepreneurship, especially that they haven't kind of done the personal work. They haven't looked at how to become a better leader. So they're under this mistaken impression that the leader is the best or the first. Or the one that just calls the shots and tells other people what to do. And, and like, that's not what a leader is at all. Like sometimes a leader takes the worst of it so that the team can fare better. You know?

Kristen Donnelly (23:54):

I mean, it's in terms of ownership, I'll say in terms of company ownership, our entire mindset is that our job is to make sure that our employees can serve our customers. That's our job. So we've never, um, and we also believe that if we ever do a financial layoff, it's our fault. So it's never happened in 30 years of business, we've never done a layoff. Um, and we never will. It's part of the core problem. That's a leader, that's a failure of leadership if we have to do that, we have certainly fired people, do nothing wrong.

Angie Colee (24:23):

You have to fire people sometimes.

Kristen Donnelly (24:25):

You have to fire people sometimes. And most of the time it's a kindness to them. Cause it's just not working anymore. But we firmly believe I say this all the time to my, my, you know, my team will be like, what do you need? And I'm like, no, no, no, that's not the question. It's what do you need? I know what's going on. I've got like all of these balls in the air that you guys don't need to worry about. I'm taking care of all of this. What do you need for me to do your job the best? Because you are the one talking to the customers every single day. And so you are also realizing what our customers need. So talk to me about what's going on. However, if the customer is furious and something went wrong, it is absolutely my fault.

Angie Colee (25:02):

Hmm. Interesting.

Kristen Donnelly (25:04):

Because they're, I, I'm not gonna sacrifice my folks on the altar of whatever. So it is a culture breakdown or I'm, you know, please, you know, it, we also have a, we do not let our customers or anybody, anybody speak it har in a bully manner to our employees. So that's, so if folks are terrible on the phone, we jump on immediately and we're like, hi, what can we do here? And we always tell our, we always tell our employees and have my whole life. My fathers owned this own, this company before us, that is above your pay grade. Getting yell at is above your pay grade. Yeah. Working after hours is above your pay grade. And we do that. The only people whose pay grade it is are the people whose name is on the building. That's it there rest of you. We want you to stay within very specific boundaries because we want to protect your, we wanna protect you.

Angie Colee (25:55):

I like that. I think that's something that's being talked about a lot more in business right now. This concept of psychological safety, cuz I consider that to be my role when I'm working with different teams too. Even now when I'm on a, you know, a temporary role with the friends, uh, I contract running teams for different people and stuff like that. And I often tell my staff, it's my job to run blocker for you. You tell me what you need. You tell me, what's not working for you. I'm gonna go to bat for you. And it actually happened with another project that I was working on where this one, you know, the client relationship was not working out. We just weren't seeing eye to eye. It was stressing everybody out client and us. And I wound up going to the company owner and saying, you know, I'm not a fan of walking away from a five figure deal, but I think we gotta give their money back because this is just not working. And like, if we don't give their money, I'm, I'm calculating, you know, I, it sounds kind of callous, but I'll, I'll unpack it in a second. I was like, I'm calculating the value loss. If we lose the, the person on staff that is struggling with this client and who is so frustrated, they're getting ready to quit.

Kristen Donnelly (26:57):

Yeah. I don't think that's callous. I think that's business. And I think that we, I think what would be callous is to not give the money back. And to keep going and lose that client because you have the mindset that all employees are replaceable and that's what I want. All of us as small business owners and entrepreneurs and humans to move away from while the role may be replaceable, the person is not.

Angie Colee (27:20):

They're absolutely not. And I could see where it was going. If we kept up where we were going, we were gonna lose the client and we were gonna lose the staff member. And then that leaves us in a double bind. So it's like, if we keep the staff member, at least I know we can find another client and they can help us nail the project for that. But if I lose both of them at the same time, then I gotta hire and I gotta find a client and it sucks.

Kristen Donnelly (27:44):

And part of the, the thing we're not taught in, especially so, so many entrepreneurs, I love entrepreneurs. I love us. We're nuts. Very few of us have any formal training in anything. We just have a dream and an idea. And so one of the things that that means is that we are not actually taught about economic value. So we're not taught that time is an economic value. Time is a non renewable resource.

Angie Colee (28:06):

I love that.

Kristen Donnelly (28:07):

If you are in the right calling, if you're in the right alignment, if you're, you can always make more money. If you're, if you're in what you are supposed to be doing, you can always make more money. You cannot make more time. The only person who has ever done it is Hermoine Grainger, and she's unfortunately fictional. So therefore you cannot make more time and, and potentially the Avengers, but then he screwed it up. So, um, feelings with capital F about Avengers Ends Game, but, um,

Angie Colee (28:35):

We'll find out how it all turns out in the Eternals apparently. So, you know,

Kristen Donnelly (28:39):

Sure. I trust, I trust Marvel exactly as far as I can throw them these days. And I say that as a Marvel fan girl extraordinairre. I say that as somebody who has been writing Marvel fan fiction for years, I trust Marvel as far as I can throw them.

Angie Colee (28:51):

Fair point.

Kristen Donnelly (28:53):

Uh, for people who can't see there's, uh, there's funkos of Sherry and Carol behind me on my shelf and I have Bucky and Tony above that as well. So all that to say, we have this, this need to save money or spend it inappropriately without the relationship of understanding the value of time. And so we'll actually waste money on things that cost us more time in the end and try to save money on things that cost us more time in the end, we need to be taught the economy of time.

Angie Colee (29:27):

That's a, you know, I work on that with a lot of my, uh, students as well. My coaching students, I was like, look, you're gonna spend on this either way. You have to decide whether the time costs you more or the money costs you more.

Kristen Donnelly (29:38):

Yeah. When we were doing culture consulting, which is one of the in incarnations a long time ago, it was like 10, 10 grand to bring us in to. Two social science PhDs to analyze your whole internal culture and tell you what was wrong. And people balked at it all the time. And they said, well, I can do what you're doing. Okay. I was like, cool. In, in my head, I'm like all evidence to the contrary or we wouldn't even be having this conversation. But, uh, I was just like, okay, cool. But I can save you a ton of time doing it. And also it's literally what I'm trained in. And there's also all the other things of like everybody discloses more to strangers than to your internal person and oh yes. Like all those kind of things, but it was so fascinating. Like I think that's a absolute bargain because what I'm telling you is that if the, if the lowest paid person in the Philadelphia area, in a white collar office, the lowest paid, person's probably in the $40,000 range so I'm gonna potentially save you at least. And then you do, you do 150% of replacement value. Right. So we're talking, I'm saving you around 200 grand potentially for $10,000 and six weeks of your time. And people didn't want it.

Angie Colee (30:50):

Yeah. Uh, that's my favorite thing. When clients come to me and they're like, I could do what you do. And I'm like, okay, cool. That's working for you.

Kristen Donnelly (30:57):

Mazel tov.

Angie Colee (30:57):

Is that, is that working for you? Because it seems like we're having this conversation for a reason though.

Kristen Donnelly (31:03):

Yeah. I mean, it's one of the reasons that we moved on to training and education, to be completely honest, because a huge, we asked ourselves during lockdown, like what is fun? What are we, what is fun? And so training and workshops and keynotes, and that is fun for us. The wrangling of cultural analysis wasn't as much fun. We really liked it when we were PhD students, but not as much now and we, we just, it just isn't as much fun as it was. And so we've dropped that. We've dropped the consulting piece of things and we're not coaches, we're not consultants, we're trainers and speakers, and that's what we are. And we, and we just have more fun doing that. And so now the conversation is who is the most value for money. Which is still like, which is still fascinating to me. And it's really interesting. My business partner doesn't have any training, formal training in entrepreneurship or business. And I don't have any formal training in business. I don't have an MBA. My two master's degrees are in people, not in numbers, but I've lived in a family business for 30 years. And there are just like some things I just know, and I'll have to look at Erin and be like, oh, that was my head. And you don't know how that connects. Okay. Let me explain how this is all gonna work together. And this makes total sense to me from an entrepreneurship perspective. And she's like, okay, I get it now. Okay. But it's a mindset. It's a, it's a, being an entrepreneur is not just deciding that you're an entrepreneur, it's training your brain to think agilely and creatively and understanding the value of resources at different times.

Angie Colee (32:27):

Oh yeah. You have, it's totally a different way of thinking. And I've, I've often told people like, look, if you're coming from an employee background, you can't beat yourself up for applying an employee filter to an entrepreneur problem. It's the only filter you have.

Kristen Donnelly (32:42):

Yeah. You're just gonna learn a new one. It's okay. Take a deep breath.

Angie Colee (32:44):

But I gotta challenge you because like now that you're the boss does the way you used to approach this problem still makes sense now. Maybe we can do it better.

Kristen Donnelly (32:54):

I don't know if you see this, but we see this with folks who come from corporate into like a small business or whatever that they don't ever think anything about requisitioning more supplies. Oh, cuz there's always, there's always money in corporate and I'm like, you can see the budget now though. Would you like to? Like this, this toilet plunger that you decided to buy, the $50 option of these $7 one was great. And that's $43 that doesn't go into the profit margin. They're like, oh, I don't even think like that. I was like, you need to start,

Angie Colee (33:25):

You do need to start like, first of all, read Profit First. We highly recommend Profit First. Um, I don't get anything for mentioning that. It just was such, you know, speaking of fit of changing the way that you think, right. Typical business that's this is why I love that book so much. Typical business is revenue minus expenses equals profit. Well, most of us that have been in business for a while, know how little profit you get when you operate that way. Cause there's always some sort of expense that comes up that eats away at everything that you earned that's extra this guy, Mike Michalwicz that wrote Profit First changed the formula. So now it's revenue minus profit. It take the profit out first equals expenses. And it's such a way to keep your expenses from ballooning, but also make sure that you get paid for the risk that you're taking on as an entrepreneur, which I love. You know, actually I'm, I'm looking at my notes too, and I, I wanna circle back. I'm gonna just do like abrupt segue here, cuz I'm good at those. I wrote down "What if?", When you asked that earlier and I wanna make sure that we answer that. So you mentioned that, what if was kind of your key to unlocking the empathy. Do you wanna go a little deeper into that?

Kristen Donnelly (34:32):

Yeah. I mean, I think you unpacked it a little bit where it's like the maybe question so if I'm in a conversation with somebody about their parents, for instance, and I'm in a I'm in my late thirties. And so a lot of my friends are, you know, par are taking care of aging parents and taking care of children at the same time and they're caught in that sandwich. And so I'm, I'm listening and holding pain for a lot of folks in that kind of area. And so they'll, they'll rant and rave about their parents and kind of just go off on one. And when it's appropriate, there's times that I just like, you know, yes, girl and pour more wine and, and that's my job. But then when it is appropriate and they've, they've brought me over for more, for more of a structured kind of moving forward. And that's what I know they want from me. Um, I am the social worker in all of my friend circles. I just kind say, well, what, what if that's how their parents taught them how to parent? What if you could do something different? Oh, what if you can make a different choice? What, if you can decide not to care about that? And they're just like, and immediately, oh, I can't. I can't. I can't, I didn't ask you for the answer right now. I just said, what if?

Angie Colee (35:45):

Yeah. Is it possible? Could it be possible?

Kristen Donnelly (35:48):

Could it be possible? The universe is infinite. We know this scientifically and most of us emotionally believe that The majority of human beings believe there is something after death, whether it is life or something else, they believe there is something. They believe that there is something higher than us. They believe there is something other than us. They don't believe that human life is limited to your time span on this planet. And that's it.

Angie Colee (36:13):

Oh yeah. If we're the smartest, this is the way I, I think of it. I don't know what is out there. I don't know if it's the flying spaghetti monster. I don't know if it's aliens. I don't know if it's God, I don't know what it is, but if we're the smartest species in the universe, then the universe is screwed.

Kristen Donnelly (36:26):

I just, it feels really boring and limited to me. Um, but so if we believe the universe is infinite, which when we really dig down, most of us do then we believe in infinite possibilities, then we take the societal structures that we're living in and say, okay, how does that limit those infinite possibilities? And then within that box, you say, what if? So I can't, I am never, I wanted to be deeply and desperately a Broadway star deeply and desperately. I cannot do that now. And let me tell you several reasons why I have not been in training for my voice for years. It's it could not handle an eight show week. I am also a size on a good day, 22. It's not really hanging out on broad people. People don't believe that people fall in love with people my size. So it's not really gonna gonna work. So I don't have any, I don't have an agent. I don't have, I could do all of that. It might work. And the infinite possibilities of the universe, I might make it on Broadway. But the limits of the social structure are gonna tell me no.So what if, instead of chasing that dream, I take the things that make me love that - the performing, the storytelling, the being in an audience of people and do other things that fulfill that. So what if I'm a TEDx speaker who goes to Broadway a lot?

Angie Colee (37:48):

Oh, I love how masterfully you just reframed that. Cause I think for a lot of people that are listening to this, like they, they, they might be feeling some sort of like lack of fulfillment or I'll never be to reach those dreams. But again, what if there's something adjacent to what you wanna do? That's that's exactly what happened to me because when I got my master's degree, which is in entertainment industry management, I thought I was gonna be Shonda Rhimes. So I was out on the west coast, studying script development, TV development. I thought I was gonna be the big fancy executive bringing shows to the networks. And then I got laid off. And then I remembered a book that someone talked to me about that introduced me to this world of copywriting, which is kind of sales writing. And that's what I've been doing for the last 10 years until I moved into coaching. I gotta tell you, copywriting brought to me all of the fulfillment with a hell of a lot less stress, cuz I didn't have to work 18 hour days and have somebody throw a stapler at my head. Like I would in LA you know?

Kristen Donnelly (38:43):

Or in New York from what I've heard of some of some other things yeah. So it's it's what if, um, it's also real. It's just really, I think it's a really healthy question all the time. What if this breakup was really healthy? What if the setback is actually the door that needs to open? What if I take my mental health day? What if I stay in bed all day? Um, what if I chase that dream? And ch and actually go through answer that question. Answer that question. So I was actually just speaking to a friend a little ago and we were talking about a particularly difficult situation with her mother and she was gonna have to set some very strong boundaries around a very specific thing. And it was gonna be real hard because her mother is not used to boundaries. So I said, okay, so what if your mother says no? What if your mother doesn't respect the boundary? And she just kind of looks at me and she goes, well, then I can't let my kid be a around my mother. I said, okay, what if your kid still wants to be around your mother? And she's like, I'm going to teach him about the importance of only being with people we're safe with. And I was like, okay, keep chasing that. What, what if, what if, what if, what if, and at the end of the day, you're gonna figure out that if it feels right, you're gonna be able to survive any of those what if answers. And if it's not right, you're not gonna be able to.

Angie Colee (40:01):

Yeah. I, you know, I think that's a productive use of what if too, because I know that there are some instances where asking what if is counterproductive, but I think that's when you're asking yourself questions that don't have answers, you know?

Kristen Donnelly (40:15):

Or you're spinning your wheels because you're scared of something else. And then we're back to emotions and fear. And you're, and, and so this is when I ask people from what, if it's from a logic perspective, it's from a, we joke all the time, like between the, by my best friend and I, she cries at a grocery store opening and I have a cold, dead heart. So we are very, we like, she just, we watch some very, very difficult movies. We cover, we actually just recorded a whole review of the documentary on Harvey Weinstein. She has very physical reaction. She gets nauseated. She has to cry. She does all those things. And I sit here like filing my nails. Like, it just doesn't, it doesn't physically affect my body or my emotions in the same way. And so I am usually the one in our partnership that asks the, what if questions? And then she needs to process them in a different way, because that's not how her body processes things. So I can come just in full non emotions. What if we do this? What if we do this? What if instead of this belief that I have held my life? What if it's wrong? What if Native Americans are actually people too? Wild concept to most Americans. What if this name of the Washington football team is actually harmful andwe should get rid of it? What if women are getting sexually assaulted on campuses than what we should do about it? So it just, it's very, it gives a freedom to explore in ways and a way, I always say it creates a fiction that you can live in for a few minutes. So one of the reasons we all learn best through fiction and we all learn best through storytelling is that the lessons don't feel as close to our own skin. We can live in someone else's skin for a little bit so create your own pleasant fiction that you can live in for a few minutes. What if, okay. What does that feel like? And then see if you can chase it or not.

Angie Colee (42:09):

Yeah. Oh my God. This is so amazing. I think, you know, I think we're gonna have to do a whole follow up, cuz we didn't even talk about like anything that we said we were gonna talk about before we got on the call, but it was such a great call regardless. And I think this is such an important conversation to have. Cause we can all stand to be better humans, even the best among us. We have bad days.

Kristen Donnelly (42:30):

A continual process. None of us know what we're doing. We did not come with an instruction manual. Like, we didn't even come with an Allen wrench and Ikea guide. Like we didn't come with anything.

Kristen Donnelly (42:39):

I know.

Kristen Donnelly (42:39):

So we're all just figuring it out as we go along, let's go together.

Angie Colee (42:42):

If only it was as simple as an Ikea guide and an Allen wrench. Geez man. How much simpler life would be, but it would be probably pretty boring too. So, um, fantastic. Tell us more about where to find you online.

Kristen Donnelly (42:54):

Really any social media that you have that is not TikTok. We are probably there and we are under Abbey Research and you spell Abby with an E. So A-B-B-E-Y research. We are everywhere. Uh, we're also on the most popular one. The one that you'll find us on the most is Instagram. We're also on a YouTube. We have a podcast called The Culture Cast and you can also head to our website, which is Abby A, B, B E Y hyphen And that is where we are all the time. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter. That's the best way to find out what's coming up. Lots of exciting things in 2022 that we would love to have you a part of.

Angie Colee (43:32):

Fantastic. That's awesome. I'm gonna make sure that they have clickable links in the show notes, Dr. Kristen Donnelly. Thank you so much for being on the show with me today. This was a blast and we're gonna have to do this again.

Kristen Donnelly (43:43):

Please. It was an utter privilege. Thank you so much, Angie.

Angie Colee (43:50):

So that is it. Another awesome episode of Permission to Kick Ass on the books. If you want to know more about the show or if you want to know more about me, Angie Colee and the mission I'm on to help entrepreneurs punch fear in the face and do big bold things, then head on over to That is all one word together, Make sure to sign up for my email list so that you know whenever there's a hot, fresh and ready podcast episode out for you. And also on Mondays, I like to send out a little newsletter called Kick Monday's Ass. I'm sure you're totally, totally surprised by that. So thank you for being here with me today. I'm Angie Colee. Make sure that you share this with a friend that needs to hear this message today. Like it, share it. Comment wherever you're listening to this today and let's go kick some ass.