Skip to content

Listen to the episode

On this episode of Dare to Lead

We’re back! It’s 2022, and we’re all talking about “returning to the office” at some point. There are a lot of unknowns, and it’s going to be awkward. In this episode, Barrett and I discuss how our organization is going to gather again, as well as what we are seeing in companies across the country. We talk through a few of the toughest questions, debunk some “remote working” myths, and discuss what we’ve learned over the past two years. We’re calling the return to the workplace the Great Awkward — it’s going to be weird and, at times, full-on cringey.

About the guests

Brené Brown

Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston, where she holds the Huffington Foundation Endowed Chair at the Graduate College of Social Work. She also holds the position of visiting professor in management at the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business.

Brené has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She is the author of six #1 New York Times bestsellers and is the host of two award-winning podcasts, Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead.

Brené’s books have been translated into more than 30 languages, and her titles include Atlas of the HeartDare to Lead, Braving the Wilderness, Rising Strong, Daring Greatly, and The Gifts of Imperfection. With Tarana Burke, she co-edited the bestselling anthology You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience.

Brené’s TED talk on the Power of Vulnerability is one of the top five most-viewed TED talks in the world, with over 60 million views. Brené is the first researcher to have a filmed lecture on Netflix, and in March 2022, she launched a new show on HBO Max that focuses on her latest book, Atlas of the Heart.

Brené spends most of her time working in organizations around the world, helping develop braver leaders and more courageous cultures.

She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, Steve. They have two children, Ellen and Charlie, and a weird Bichon named Lucy.

Barrett Guillen headshot

Barrett Guillen

Barrett Guillen is Chief of Staff for Brené Brown Education and Research Group. With her team, Barrett supports both Brené and the organization by helping to prioritize competing demands, managing relationships, and building connective tissue and strategy across all business initiatives. Barrett holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Kinesiology from the University of Houston. After more than a decade in education in the Texas Panhandle, Barrett and her family made the move back to the Houston area to join the BBEARG team in making the world a braver place. Having the opportunity to work with her sisters every day has been one of the great joys of her life. Outside the office, you can find Barrett spending time with her family (immediate and extended), enjoying her daughter’s games, eating her husband’s famous burgers, floating in the water (any water!), or on the pickle ball court.

Show notes

Brené on FFTs podcast episode of Unlocking Us

“The End of a Return-to-Office Date,” by Emma Goldberg, The New York Times

“COVID-19 Grief Is Different: What Managers Should Know,”  by Kathleen Doheny, Society for Human Resource Management

Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience, by Brené Brown

“The Atlantic Daily: The Return-to-Office Existential Crisis,” by Isabel Fattal, The Atlantic


Brené Brown: Hi everyone, I’m Brené Brown, and this is Dare to Lead. Welcome back y’all. Welcome back, Barrett.

Barrett Guillen: Yay, welcome back. Happy to be here.

BB: All right. Brace yourself. I’ve been off for four weeks. This is the first time, literally, in my life…

BG: And by off, like totally unreachable.

BB: Yeah. No, off…

BG: Yeah.

BB: I even felt weird when I was doing the out of office like, “I’ll be out for the next dot, dot, dot ” I actually put, “… Wait for it… Four weeks.” Yeah, it’s actually the first time in my life, I got a job and a license… I did, at 14. I drove a 1970 Ford F-150, three on the tree baby! Yeah, I got a job. I wanted some Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. Our mom and dad were like, “Here are your Lee jeans.”

BG: Yeah. You can’t get those at TJ Maxx, you out.

BB: Yeah, well, age difference. There was no TJ Maxx back then. Yeah. And so I think this is the first time, literally in my life that I’ve been off of work for four weeks.

BG: Well deserved.

BB: Thanks. It was good. I was coming out of my skin for the first couple of days, and then I was coming out of my skin coming back. Everything in the middle was… It was hard. We had to shuffle just like everybody in the world, it seems like, so it was tough.  But we’re back and we’re here with Dare to Lead, and I want to talk about what I am calling… What we’re calling the Great Awkward.

BG: [laughter] Yes.

BB: The return, ooh, not so soon. But now, go, go. No, not now, not now. The Great Awkward, which is the return, don’t return to work. So stay with us. It’s going to be fun, and I’m going to talk about some things I’ve learned. And talk about some things I think we need to be really thoughtful about. We’re glad you’re here.


BB: Okay, so one of the reasons that this is going to be such a fun podcast is we’re going to go back to the very beginning. Do you remember what the first Unlocking Us podcast was?

BG: Yes.

BB: What?


BB: Fucking first times.

BG: Yep.

BB: Yeah. We’re going to go back to that a little bit because… Because we need that reminder, I think. And then I want to talk about some observations that I’ve had, not only leading this company, our company, but also in doing a lot of work over the past two years with organizations, especially doing work with leadership teams and sometimes 10,000 employees at one time, around going back, not going back, virtual versus in person. I was going to share some thoughts, and I think this is one of those podcasts that could be helpful to listen to with a team…

BG: Yeah.

BB: Just a team. Just to have a discussion. I have no plans to give any right or wrongs. I just want to lay out some tough-as-shit questions that I think we’re all grappling with. So we’ve had… Three comeback dates?

BG: Yeah, three.

BB: Yeah, and shifted… There was a New York Times headline that I think said,”We’ll get back to you.” That’s basically what we’ve said. We have a real kind of transparent communication style with people here, so we just said, you’ll know when we know, and it’s not that we know and we’re not telling you, we have no idea.

BG: Yeah.

BB: We have the same data you have access to. We were pretty upfront about, here are the things that we’re going to be looking for. We’re going to be looking at kind of CDC, the WHO, OSHA, and then punting.


BG: Yep.

BB: One of the things I’ve learned is, where are the effing grown-ups? Who is in charge here?

BG: And where are the experts?

BB: Who’s in charge?

BG: I don’t know. It’s a really good question.

BB: It’s a shit show. Who’s in charge?

BG: Not me.

BB: Okay. Yeah. I am so disappointed in the current state of adulting, myself included…


BG: Me too.

BB: Come on! You know what Mom used to tell me? She used to say that she realized… We all have things that make us realize like, “Oh shit, I’m the grown up here.” You know what Mom’s was? Did she ever talk to you about this?

BG: I don’t know. Tell me and I’ll tell you.

BB: When she would open the refrigerator door and she would have all the stuff in the door of the refrigerator like ketchups and mustards and Dijon mustards and soy sauce, and she’s like, “Oh my God, you have to accumulate that stuff over many different meals,” like this is an adult’s refrigerator. I don’t know, sometimes there’ll be a really hard decision around mask-wearing or can our kids do something and I’d sit down and Steve would sit down, and I’m like, “You shut up. You’re a 17-year-old lifeguard,” and he’s like, “No, you shut up. You’re a lifeguard and here’s your mixtape.”

BG: Oh my God.

BB: Where are the grown-ups? But anyway, I don’t know. We are them. And…

BG: And we still don’t know what we’re doing.

BB: We don’t know what we’re doing. I think we’re putting one foot in front of the other, but here are some things I’ve heard that I want to challenge and here are some things I think we should think about. I have seen so many articles and read so many things, most people that are saying this worked remotely, prior to COVID, said, “Working remotely wins. Businesses that were not doing it are still standing.” Still standing is not my metric for success. I’m still standing, right? But I crawled to get here.

BG: Yeah.

BB: Yeah. And no, still standing. Yeah, a lot of us pulled it out, but a lot of us didn’t.

BG: Yeah.

BB: And there’s no real way to understand the cost because in order to do a proper evaluation, you have to be able to hold a lot of variables constant to see if what changed is actually what you’re measuring, and you can’t really measure that because the world has changed, so I just want to say to everyone that’s saying, “Hey, working remotely won, because many businesses have survived,” we don’t know the cost, and I will tell you this, I’ve said this before on the podcast, the hardest season of my marriage…

BG: Same.

BB: Hands down.

BG: Same.

BB: I’ve got a remarkable number of friends getting divorced. Do you?

BG: Yes.

BB: And so, your business is still standing. So the fuck what? I mean, like, I mean, really?

BG: Yeah.

BB: And there’s a mental health crisis for everybody.

BG: Nobody is okay right now.

BB: Nobody. We’re not okay. Our kids are falling apart. So, I just want to challenge the myth that COVID was a great working remote success story, because I just don’t think we’ve got the data to say that, and just like we don’t have the data to say it worked, we don’t have the data to say that all the problems, the partnerships, the marriages, the kids, the mental health struggle were due to remote work. There’s a lot of other things going on.

BG: Sure. Yeah.

BB: So, all I’m saying is I’m not going to say that, you don’t say the first one, right.

BG: Would it be fair to say that it was for many people a success in learning how to show up for each other in a different way? I’m thinking about at work, like, how do we check in on people remotely, you don’t see them. I feel like we did a lot of that work.

BB: Yeah. I think we learned a lot. I think we learned a lot, how to scramble and how to check on each other, how to give hard feedback. I don’t know what the cost of that has been.

BG: Yeah.

BB: And I don’t know how well it would have gone the other way. What I can say is this, there has been a great demonstration of adaptability and resilience.

BG: Yes.

BB: But I will say… And we’ve done a podcast on this on Unlocking Us, our surge capacity, that capacity to get through a crisis, has been depleted for much longer than what COVID has gone on, and so I don’t know… It’s one thing to hunker down for a hurricane. You and I both know how to do that…

BG: Yeah.

BB: Because we live in Houston, right? It’s another thing for two years.

BG: Yeah.

BB: I do think we’re resilient, and I do think we’re adaptable, and I do think maybe there’s been some perspective shifts that have been helpful, but to say remote works…

BG: Yeah.

BB: I challenge that, 100%. I will say, here are some things that I’ve learned from remote working, and one of them was a piece of feedback that was really tough for me. I have made it a really high priority for me to make sure that everyone that works at BBEARG, it’s our company Brené Brown Education and Research Group, feels included and feels a sense of belonging, and we work a lot on belonging and inclusivity, but I learned when we did a poll and we thought we were going to come back before Delta, we did a poll asking, what would you like coming back to look like? If you could have your pie in the sky work scenario moving forward, knowing that it can be a pilot and we can check in again in six months, what would it look like for you? And we collected that data across what, 30 employees? And we got a lot of different answers, but the one thing that was really consistent across people who were remote before, they didn’t live in Houston, because our office is in Houston, is they said, “In some ways, it was a great equalizer around belonging.”

BG: Yes.

BB: That it wasn’t 15 people, or 16 or 20 people in an office with 10 people on a Zoom, and we’re all snuggled each, not snuggled, but practically.

BG: Yeah.

BB: If I’m sitting next to you or Ashley, probably.

BG: Yeah.

BB: We’re all on couches and chairs and laughing and eating the same food, that you can tell we ordered something. And then we’ve got 10 people who live across the country. And so one of the things that we learned from that was that we are not going to do our big important all-hands meeting anymore, except remote when everyone’s working remote, so that that feels more equitable for people and it forces us to be more creative, to your point, around the check-ins and funny things and using rooms and coming back out and challenges, and…

BG: I feel we’ve done such a great job at… The two-word check-in, which we were doing before the pandemic, it has been, with the pandemic, I can’t tell you how many times I have circled back with someone, even good and bad, like you’re excited, and I just wanted to know why, because at the office I’d know why, so I just wanted to say why?

BB: You know it’s so funny that we’ll do these Dare to Lead intensives, so this courage building program is a 24-hour program, so now that we’re remote, we don’t ever do three eight-hour days anymore, but we’ll do, I don’t know, eight three-hour days or different ways. And we go through this really intensive program, and at the end of it, people will say, “Has there been anything that you’ve learned, any skills building that you’ve done that’s been transformative?” and so many people are like, “The two-word check-in.”

BG: Yes.

BB: And then we had to circle back and say, “Why was that transformative?” And then they’ll say, “Because I learned how to spot people in struggle, and now I know how to circle back,” and so, I think it’s more than the two-word check-in, I think it’s the skills to not be afraid as an oil trader or a payload engineer at NASA or an accountant, or a librarian, or a teacher to say, “Oh God, I saw them in struggle, but I’m not going to circle back because I’m not a therapist and I don’t want to open the door because we got shit to do.”

BG: Yeah.

BB: But now people know just to say, “Hey, I saw your check-in was overwhelmed and anxious, and I want to check in on you,”

BG: And it’s 50-50 whether that “I’m overwhelmed” has to do with work or home.

BB: Yeah, because we’re working remotely, and I’ve got a toddler climbing up my back.

BG: Yeah, but just the fact that you checked in means so much.

BB: I see your humanity.

BG: Yes.

BB: Yeah. So I think learning that, before COVID, we had a headquarters and everybody else.

BG: Yeah.

BB: Do you agree?

BG: I do.

BB: I think we did, and I think it was invisible.

BG: Yeah.

BB: And this made something visible and…

BG: I would have never known.

BB: I would have never known either, and I’m not sure they would have known.

BG: Yeah.

BB: Because I’ve never heard that feedback and we elicit feedback pretty often in safe enough ways that the people tell us the hard things…

BG: Yeah.

BB: A lot.

BG: Yeah.

BB: So, I think maybe it was more noticeable when everyone was at home and they thought, “Ah, I’m not… I don’t feel different.”

BG: But there’s three or four of us in the office usually now, every day, it is so funny because we’ll just Zoom, one upstairs and one downstairs.


BG: We don’t even go in the… We’re just like, “Oh, we’re meeting? What’s the Zoom link?”

BB: I’m not sure if that’s good or if that’s like me saying, “I will never text my teenagers from in the house.”

BG: Oh yeah.

BB: Yeah. I’m like, “Come down. Dinner is ready. Move your laundry.”

BG: Yeah.

BB: Yeah, but I do think we have normalized some of that…


BB: Okay. Next thing I want to talk about is… I haven’t seen data on this, so if there’s research, I would love to find it, and I haven’t done a really thorough review on it, but I haven’t seen anything or heard anyone talking about it. I think for recent college graduates, people that came into the workforce, or not even college graduates, just recent workers, I just happened to know because I’ve talked to a lot of young people who graduated the same time my daughter did from college in the middle of the pandemic… Tough. Tough. It’s one thing to understand culture and organizational history and how we do things around here, and then have to add a layer of remote working to that, but it’s something all together… We literally have people who work here that I’ve never met, and that’s true across organizations, I hear, I’m hearing that from every organization that we work with.

BG: Totally.

BB: And so, I think that it is very hard when you’re in an office with someone who’s new, you can see struggle, especially if you’ve been a leader, if you’re… And again, we define a leader, anyone who holds themselves responsible for finding the potential in people and processes and who has the courage to develop that potential. I don’t care what your title is or what your office looks like, or your salary… I’ve been in C-suites and never found a leader, and I’ve been on factory floors and been surrounded by them. So, I’m just saying that it is easier for people to look and say, “I see you struggling, let me help. I see confusion on you, I see… ” We’re presenting our best selves on Zoom or Teams or whatever we’re using, and so, I think for new and young workers, it’s tough.

BG: Yeah.

BB: What do you think?

BG: Yeah, I think so, too. I’ve done onboarding with people, and we had a group come in during the pandemic. There were… I don’t know, I think eight. And we did a big two-day onboarding on video conference, and I have not met them either, but I know so much about them because we’ve done values exercises together and we’ve done that, and it’s just like… I think we have a unique situation because we just have an amazing culture that somehow has made it to the virtual world, but I do see people who just feel isolated almost, because they’re not here.

BB: Yeah.

BG: And, you know, when you’re new, it’s almost the unspoken rules that you need to figure out the fastest, and so it’s like usually when I do onboarding, I’m like, “So, you find someone and that’s your person and the unspoken rule is just go walk over and ask them any time. Any one of us will help.” And it’s different virtually because you don’t know what to ask yet.

BB: Right. No, I think that’s right. And I want to hop onto something you said, that you said we somehow translated our culture to online. We worked our asses off…

BG: We sure did. You’re right. We sure did.

BB: And the only reason I know that is we made a ton of mistakes and got some really tough feedback around not doing it well.

BG: You’re right. I think I blocked it.


BB: And so, I think we also have… Ashley works here, our other sister, and she’s a therapist, and she runs our internship program, where we have second year Master’s in Social Work interns from the University of Houston who are doing placements on our curricula in a sober high school and at The Women’s Home. And she runs that program, and she also runs our Daring Way facilitator community, and it’s been really hard for her because they weren’t doing in-person therapy, and there’s all kinds of rules and regulations about tele-work at groups and watching people to make sure people are okay, but I remember she had this great check-in, like this is how… One of the things I was so proud of, her check-in. We assigned people the job of doing fun check-outs and check-in for our all-hands, and hers was… If we weren’t in a formal meeting, but we were all standing around the kitchen bar at work, what fun thing would you share with us that you probably wouldn’t share in a Zoom meeting?

BG: Yeah.

BB: And God, just…

BG: Oh it’s so fun… People bought new houses, new cars, got puppies, but the puppies actually we knew from Zoom because we could hear them. But yeah, it was so fun. It was really fun, and we have taken that and really, a lot of our questions since that have been kind of around, like, if we were standing all around together, and I think Ashley suggesting that we all congregate to lunch at the same time, so Ashley was like, “Well, we’re just going to have a lunch where we just all are on Zoom or whatever with our lunch. And we don’t have any agenda items. It’s just like checking in.”

BB: We could all do it together and make fun of Tati for ordering Thai food at a level four spicy…

BG: Yeah, the spiciest.

BB: That people can’t even stand next to… That’s the kind of stuff you miss.

BG: Yeah, totally. And now, that we’re doing a few things back together and our leadership team was together last week, we all tested and we were safe, but there is an energy about that that can’t be replicated.

BB: So, that’s my next one on here.

BG: Wow.

BB: Yeah, and you didn’t know.

BG: Nope.

BB: I will tell you, we’re coming back.

BG: Yeah.

BB: And I’ll tell you why. We are first and foremost a creative content organization. We take research and we make it accessible, and then we partner with world class partners, Random House, HBO, Spotify for the podcast, to get the content out. And, as a creative, there is a tension that you cannot get… We’ve tried… How many freaking Post-it… Post-it notes, software, and creative online software… We’ve done it all, but there’s something about the creative tension of the processes that we go into that cannot be replicated. And so, say what you will, we’re neuro-biologically hard-wired to be in physical connection with each other.

BG: Yeah.

BB: And I think that really comes up around strategy and around creating. Any kind of innovation requires some of that. First of all, let me just tell you this, when the team met and we went into a strategic decision making for 2022, we met for eight hours. I don’t last more than 90 minutes on a Zoom.

BG: Oh yeah.

BB: I can’t.

BG: That’s hard.

BB: Yeah, it doesn’t give back. And so, that’s something else I think we should think about. The next one is a really hard one. I saw in a pediatric academic journal that something like 60,000 kids, K through 12 are going back to school having buried a parent during the pandemic…

BG: Oh my gosh.

BB: So, we know today… I was seeing Dr. Hotez, Peter Hotez from Houston, said that we are reaching documented 850,000 deaths today. The chance of us having someone in our direct report lines, on our team, in our organization, in our unit, in our teaching pod, whatever you are, and whatever you do, it is not in fairly acute grief is low.

BG: Yeah.

BB: Is really low. And it’s not always death, I know that you and I… We’ve talked about this on the podcast, I feel comfortable talking about it now. Our mom had a really significant health trauma in November of 2019, ended up in the hospital for seven weeks and in rehab and couldn’t go home because of the rehab and had to go into an assisted living just to do some healing, and she gets in there and two days after she gets in there, she’s separated from us and we can’t see her again.

BG: Yeah.

BB: And so, of course, we broke her out, literally, one of those Marvel Universe, the doors coming down, and I’m rolling underneath it.

BG: I think we literally had two hours to get in… Yeah, that was crazy.

BB: Yeah. But actually took her away from probably the help she needed, because we weren’t sure when we’d be able to get back to her, and as it turns out, we would not have been able to get back to her for months, and the grief that people are in right now… Sitting here with Ashley, was it last week when Ashley just looked at us and said, “People are not okay.”

BG: Yeah.

BB: Look how people are not okay, I’m not okay. I’m as fragile and as tender as I’ve ever been.

BG: Yeah.

BB: Yeah. Difficult marriage season, difficult parenting season, really difficult leadership season… People are worn out, and I think it’s the responsibility of organizations to keep an eye on that. It’s hard to see on Zoom, sometimes.

BG: Yeah. Yeah, and I was reading, I don’t even know where or how I saw it, but I was reading that a lot of companies are offering time off to try to combat this fatigue, but that’s actually not what it is.

BB: No, yeah. Yeah, yeah. And really hard for people who, in that situation, will drift into social isolation because work is a connective, a big piece of connective tissue for them. And man, finding a therapist right now…

BG: Hard.

BB: Yeah, they’re not okay.

BG: Yeah.

BB: They’re…

BG: They’re going through the same things we are.

BB: Yeah, and then holding a lot of space for other people, and so, I think as we start to figure out… We’re still on TBD. We have a date in our head that we think, provided there’s not another variant falling… I guess at some point, we’ll move officially from pandemic to endemic… Get your vaccines and your boosters. No, we got to just shout it like, come on. I think… God, and you know what, and we were just talking about this like healthcare is not an organization we’re in all the time.

BG: Yeah.

BB: We work in healthcare all the time. You’re talking about not okay, and done.

BG: God.

BB: Yeah.

BG: The same with teachers… Ashley and I both taught, the stories we’re hearing from friends who still teach, it’s like the circumstances that they’re put in, it’s just not okay.

BB: Yeah. So, I guess all this is to say, if you’re not sure when you’re going to come back, and if you’re not sure how you’re going to come back, and you’ve got some anxiety about when you do come back, what it’s going to be like… Yes. Welcome to the Great Awkward. Just like there was the Great Resignation, now we’re going into the Great Awkward. And in order to handle the Great Awkward, we need to go back to the very first podcast I ever did on Unlocking Us around FFTs, fucking first times. And we have been in the pandemic for a while, but coming back, whether it’s to a hybrid model… And if you’re doing a hybrid model, hopefully it’s with intention. We’re doing it because that’s what our employees ask for…

BG: Yeah.

BB: Yeah, they asked for a couple of days back, specific days, and we agreed to pilot it for six months, collect feedback at three months, and then six months again and revisit. This is their organization, not mine, you know, and they are the greatest part of it, and so if they’re not getting what they need, then nothing works. So, we need to go back to FFTs and we need to look at the three strategies for first times in the Great Awkward, which is first, normalize it. I want to work for an organization that says, “Hey, we’re excited, we’re coming back here, unless something changes and then we’re not. And I know that’s really hard, but we don’t have a crystal ball either, and you will literally be the first to know. This is the tentative plan, we hope to let you know by then.”

BG: Yeah.

BB: We don’t have the answers. And that’s hard for leaders who are used to the command and control kind of like, “We’ll be back on this date,” so normalize it, and then when people get, when people get back… I have to tell you, I’ve been in person one time professionally, since most, I’ve done everything else remotely. I’ve been back one time professionally, it was awkward AF. Yeah.

BG: Yeah.

BB: Yeah. And I went to New York for the Atlas of the Heart launch.

BG: Yeah.

BB: Thanks for supporting that, y’all, it’s been so fun. Good book for this time…

BG: It is.

BB: For sure. But when I went to do the media tour for that, they wouldn’t let you come in. I had to have a mask on, there’s no hair and make-up, but it’s 4D, so you better look like this and then you’re on, and people are pulling masks off and people haven’t seen people at CBS or The Today Show for a while, but no hugs. And then one person said, “Come here, bring it in.” And I’m like, “I can’t bring it in. I don’t go in, I’m not going in. I can give you a fist bump, but then I’m going to sanitize right in front of you.” We have to normalize it just with FFTs, normalize the awkward. Normalize the awkward.

BB: Number two, put it in perspective. Perspective is a function of experience. None of us have been back before, there has been no great migration back after a pandemic that anybody here has lived through, and we’ve got to normal… We got to give it perspective. There’s going to be… “Well, have you been sick? Have you been vaxxed?” We have to say to folks, “We don’t know how to do this, but we do know that we’re going to lean into hard conversations, so we’re going to be respectful,” and I would be very explicit. Here are three things you can’t ask people, and here are three things you can do to protect your safety if you are worried. Get explicit, you know… And then that takes perspective, this is not going to last forever. It’s just going to last for a shit longer than what we thought, you know? And the last one is the reality check, like no one is going to do this gracefully.

BG: No.

BB: No one is going to do this gracefully. Four of us are back out of 30, right?

BG: Yeah.

BB: How many times has it been awkward and uncomfortable, in the three weeks the four of us have been kind of back?

BG: Yeah. Almost every day there’s something that’s weird or how do you do this? How do we navigate this?

BB: Yeah, I need you to have a mask on here…

BG: Yeah.

BB: You were exposed, I need you to test.

BG: Yeah.

BB: Can you stay home and work? Really, really awkward. And I think we have to keep collecting feedback from people about what their experiences are, and then I think we have to reality check our expectation around this looking pretty.

BG: Yeah.

BB: And so if I worked for an organization that said, “Hey, the Great Awkward. We’re coming back, unless something else comes, this is the date. We think it’s going to be weird and bumpy, and we think people are going to throw elbows when they mean to shake hands and don’t bring it in for a hug,” and I love the color-coded rubber bands, I talked about the color-coded bracelets with Priya Parker and I did one on coming back, and we were going to come back before, but look, I can’t look at your bracelet fast enough, like if you got the green bracelet on and you don’t see my bracelet because it’s under my jacket and you come in for a hug, I’m going to be like, ducking like Muhammad Ali, there’s no way. And so we have to normalize the awkwardness, put it in perspective. We’re all just people trying to be together again in a new way and we don’t know how, and then reality-check it. This is going to be weird, and here’s the weirdo guidelines for the return. You can ask these questions, don’t ask these questions, start with a fist bump and slide into an elbow…


BG: Yeah.

BB: That’s what we have to do. And name it.

BG: And those are the exact unspoken rules that people are going to be just craving, like they’re going to be like, “How do we come back? Because we want to come back.”

BB: Yeah.

BG: “So give us some guard rails.”I think it’s great.

BB: Well, welcome back to Dare to Lead 2022, baby.

BG: Yeah, I’m excited. It was funny because when you talk about that New York trip, where even the one event that you did in person, we were like, “Shit, how do you do these in-person briefs again?” because we’ve been doing all virtual.

BB: Yeah, I mean, yeah, it’s just…

BG: It’s, “Oh my God, we have to call the airlines?” I think I told her on the podcast, I was like, I called to get a hotel reservation, I was like, “I’d like to stay there.” I didn’t even have the words anymore to say I need to make a reservation.


BB: “I’ll be staying with you.” Yeah, and then the other thing is… Who was I in front of? It was on that New York trip where I had taken a swig of coffee from a Starbucks cup, and I was like, it went down the wrong pipe. And I was like, “Oh.” And I was like, “Not COVID! Not COVID!” I was in the hotel lobby and the guy was like, “No, I understand.” And stepped back like six feet and readjusts his mask.

BG: That’s going to be me y’all. Everybody that’s coming back, that’s going to be me.

BB: Yeah. Yeah, just say, look, if you cough, it’d be so fun to do something when we come back, like a check in. Like three things you need to know about where I am.

BG: Yeah, I’ll be like, “Y’all know Tarzan the elephant. Is that water sanitary? Looks questionable to me.”

BB: Yeah.

BG: That’s me.

BB: That’s me. Yeah. Yeah.

BG: Yeah, I’m going to, like, if you cough, I’m going to step back and re-adjust my mask. I don’t want to hug anybody, but I love you. We need to humanize it. It’s our only way back, and I tell you what, talking about a massive disappointment, the status of adulting, like the brawls on planes…

BG: Oh my God.

BB: The fist fights at school board meetings. That is… That is people unhinged, and it’s going to happen in big organizations. It may not happen with us or in a small business, because we all know each other, but you’ll be able to mitigate some of that fear-driven behavior by just… Here’s how we’re going to be awkward together, here’s what’s okay, here’s what’s not okay, and here’s a organization-wide, grade A-approved tap out for any type of contact.

BG: Yes, we just need to walk around with an easy button.

BB: Yeah. That’s it. We’re people who want to be seen and known and heard and germ-free.

BG: Yeah, and people are going to be living their lives differently outside of work, and I keep telling everybody, “Well, I’ve had control over everything or the people that were around, based on who’s vaccinated and who is not” and so you lose a little bit of that.

BB: Yeah.

BG: And so, even just talking about that and how you’re comfortable and what freaks you out a little bit, I think will be really helpful.

BB: I saw that article in The Atlantic, it was like, the vaccines have been divisive, because the non-vaxxers and the people who are vaxxed and boosted, but now within vaxxed and boosted, there’s vaxxed and boosted, “Woo-hoo, I’m out. I’m done.” And then there’s vaxxed and boosted cautious, and then there’s vaxxed and boosted still locked down. And even within our family.

BG: Yeah, clearly.

BB: The calculus is changing for us differently. Yeah, and so there’s going to be a lot of that. I mean, look, by default, we’re not our best selves in fear and anxiety in the unknown. So. If you want people to choose courage, normalize the fear and normalize the awkward.

BG: Yeah.

BB: Because it will be the Great Awkward.

BG: It sure will.

BB: Y’all stay awkward, brave and kind and we will see you again, right here on Dare to Lead. The Dare to Lead podcast is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown, produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden, and Tristan McNeil, and by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Tristan McNeil and the music is by The Suffers.


© 2022 Brené Brown Education and Research Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Brown, B. (Host). (2022, January 24). Brené and Barrett on the Great Awkward. [Audio podcast episode]. In Dare to Lead with Brené Brown. Parcast Network.

Back to Top