5 Heartfelt Steps learned from Fashion’s Innovator and Designer Eileen Fisher
This post wasn’t an easy one to write. This post was born in light of our current reality and recent events surrounding the death of George Floyd.
Calling all curious Fashionistas, looking for tactical ways to have easier conversations on important topics with friends? Voile! Here are 5 heartfelt steps learned from Fashion Designer Eileen Fisher and the New York Times Best Selling Book Crucial Conversations!
There’s been a lot of conversation in the news lately about rebranding the fashion industry to be more environmentally conscious and socially inclusive. This conversation is happening for many reasons but the basis is for us to feel comfortable about shopping during our current global crisis. It’s totally understandable. So I’m shifting focus to the person that started this challenging conversation about environmental consciousness and social equity among women over 30 years ago, Fashion Designer Eileen Fisher.
Today, her fashion brand remains a privately held company worth over 1/2 billion dollars and employs over 1200 people. She’s an example of how we can successfully start a challenging conversation and thrive as a result of it. And it only takes one person.
Also, for reference, these 5 steps mentioned in this post are taken from the first chapter of the NYTBS Crucial Conversations book.
Step 1 – Start with Your Heart
Honestly, this may be the hardest one to do. And to explain the saying, the book mentions the “first step to achieving results we really want is to fix the problem of believing others are the source of all that’s wrong with us”. And the best way to do this is to look within ourselves first.
In Eileen’s 2013 intimate interview with the New Yorker, we learn that throughout the years Eileen has done a lot of introspection within herself. Through this she learns that she’s not as good at communicating her thoughts to others as well as most people are. So she enlists the help of two of her associates during the interview.
This is such a pivotal moment because Eileen knows she, as a person and human being, stands for what the core values of the company represent. She says to Janet, the journalist, “I assume the reason you are interested in interviewing me goes beyond me”.
And remember the core values of her company and fashion brand include an inclusive work environment, pay equity for factory workers and the use of sustainable materials. There’s probably more, but the understanding is that Eileen represents all the core values of the company to customers, business owners and the fashion community alike.
So her two associates present during the interview are there to assist her in communicating her thoughts so she doesn’t offend or hurt anyone. Eileen’s choosing to start the conversation with 💖.
Step 2 – Avoid the Common Pitfalls
During your conversation, try not to fall into these three common pitfalls.
As the interview progresses, we learn that Eileen practices a collaborative communication style. Her meetings are like a round table with chairs scenario where everyone has an opportunity to voice their opinion equally. This helps eliminate the typical hierarchical corporate structure of being called on or having to speak over another person during the meeting.
Eileen mentions she learned this method from a book called the Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair.
I think we all know how difficult some conversations can be.😩 And even though this is a business setting, this same method can be used in our personal conversations too. It’s probably best not to have a debate in our conversation as if we’re trying to win at it because it may not help us get to our desired result. The same goes for punishing the other person or trying to make them feel small by putting them down. And the last pitfall of playing the conversation safe because of an uncomfortable feeling that may arise may not help us get our desired result at the end of the day. 🤔
Step 3 – Focus on What You want
Stay focused on what you really want out of the conversation. But remember it starts with heart. If you what you want doesn’t have a shared impact and it may harm others in the process, number 1 may not have been completed.
Using Eileen’s Circle Way method as an example, in a corporate setting the meeting and conversations that happen at the meeting are still focused on the shared goal while everyone’s talking. And I notice this is a corporate setting where you’re pretty much forced to play nice with people of differing opinions lol but the same can be applied to our personal conversations again.
Believe me, you may start to sound like a robot while you’re concentrating on what you really want in the conversation. Lol I’ve tried this out in conversations with my Other Half and I felt as if I were repeating the same words. My thinking slowed down to process what he was saying and I kept reminding myself not to fall into the common pitfalls when it was my turn to respond.
Once you get the hang of it you’ll be less robot-like. 😉
Step 4 – Focus on the Other Person
Focus on what you really want for the other person in the conversation. I mean if you’re doing steps 1 through 3, we know you genuinely care about this person. Right?! We want the other person to have space to voice their opinion too. 🙂
Resist the urge..I repeat resist the urge..if your friend happens to fall into the 3 common pitfalls, think about what you really want from the conversation and what you want for the other person before you react.
At one point in the interview, Janet, the journalist, talks with Chris Costan the Senior Color Designer of Eileen Fisher, the brand. Janet goes into great detail to describe Chris’s outfit, one that’s quirky and colorful and made by Chris herself, not Eileen. Jane goes on to describe Chris’s outfit as the opposite of what the Eileen Fisher brand aesthetic is. When asked, Chris describes herself as a “rebellious force” in the company.
This is such an important thing to note! The overall company culture respects and encourages everyone’s unique personalities! Thereby giving the other person space to express themselves in the conversation as well.
Step 5 – Focus on the Relationship
Focus on what you really want for the relationship out of the conversation. Clearly this isn’t a one and done conversation. You will have to see your friend again. I mean it’s your friend! So we followed the first 4 steps!
We started with heart. We made sure to stay clear of the common pitfalls. We focused on what we wanted for ourselves and what we wanted for the other person in the conversation and now we’re here…close to the finish line! Woohah!
Now we’re thinking about what we really want for the relationship itself. In this extremely intimate 2013 interview with Eileen Fisher, as the reader we begin to see a relationship develop between journalist Janet Malcolm and Eileen.
Eileen does more interviews after the first one is complete. She does them in different places with her associates present and without her associates present and as the reader we see a genuine relationship forming.
And yes throughout the interviews, we can see moments of friction occur between Janet and Eileen; like when Janet asks about Eileen’s cat who lives outdoors, or when Janet describes how Eileen’s style and brand aesthetic can’t be pulled off by everyone. That’s honesty and heart at it’s very finest.
And this is why I say to start and end with heart.