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Karen Tibbals of Ethical Frames: “People will give you lots of advice and feedback”

People will give you lots of advice and feedback, so you need to use your internal compass to decide what is right for you. If you did everything people suggested, you could end up scattered with no real focus and never accomplish anything. Meditation is a great way to get in touch with your internal […]

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People will give you lots of advice and feedback, so you need to use your internal compass to decide what is right for you. If you did everything people suggested, you could end up scattered with no real focus and never accomplish anything. Meditation is a great way to get in touch with your internal compass. I have had mentors from SCORE (Service Corp of Retired Executives) for several years who have helped me and provided me with lots of feedback, but I don’t do everything they say, they are just advisors. Even though I don’t do everything they recommend, they tell me that I listen more than most of their advisees. That because I learned the next lesson.


As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karen Tibbals, an author and public speaker whose mission is to help other people bridge the cultural and political divide. She developed an expertise is human behavior during her long-time career in marketing. Karen left that career to go to seminary, intending to start an organization to support businesspeople in her faith community. After she discovered that wasn’t a good fit for her, she decided to help people in a different way — by taking her understanding of human motivation to a broader audience. Her most recent book, Persuade, Don’t Preach: Restoring Civility Across the Political Divide, teaches people how to apply the latest social science research in their own lives so that they can understand each other better and talk to the other side more productively.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was a shy, self-conscious child, the oldest of three girls. My dad loved all kids but especially loved his girls, and encouraged us to stretch. He pushed me to talk to people even though I was shy. Even though he was born early in the 20th century, he still supported the idea that women could do great things. My youngest sister and I were the first women in our family to go to college.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

I loved Nancy Drew and detective stories. I even read the Hardy Boys. I loved how they solved puzzles of what was going on. In a way, that is what I am doing — not about crimes but about why people do what they do.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

In one of my assignments, I was working with a colleague who consistently behaved badly towards a colleague from another company. It started to create problems for the alliance between the two companies. I knew I needed to do something, but, because I don’t like confrontation, I dithered for a long time. I spent a lot of time asking people’s advice. I wanted someone else to solve the problem for me. I asked both my boss and her boss to talk to the person who had created the problem, but they all told me I had to do it. Finally, I made an appointment with her, told her what I had observed and the problems it was causing. It was like magic! She said she didn’t realize the problem and said she would apologize! The lessons I learned were don’t put off confronting conflict, it doesn’t get any easier, and don’t expect others to solve your problems for you. This is a crucial lesson because the problems in our society aren’t going to go away if we don’t confront them. We each need to take a part, one conversation at a time.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

Our political polarization is caused by a deeper societal divide — we literally don’t understand each other. I hope that my book (and the newsletter) will help to provide the insight so that people can understand people on the other side much more clearly. Even more so, I hope that by giving people new tools they won’t run away from potentially difficult conversations (like I did in my work setting) and instead be able to resolve our differences. Then if they can talk to each other in such a way that we can be heard, perhaps we can learn to work together to solve the pressing issues of the day and not just fight amongst ourselves.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

I had a disagreement with my last remaining elderly aunt that led to my never seeing her again before she died. On a visit to her, she went into a rant against immigrants, even though her immigrant caregiver was sitting in the same room with us. I told her that I thought she was being rude and walked out. I never spoke to her again. I didn’t call her and she didn’t call me. I wish I had had the tools in my book, because then I would have been able to talk to her in a such a way that she might have been able to listen to me differently. And at the very least, I wouldn’t have broken off the relationships. I wish I had had that last year with my Aunt Dot.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

After I graduated from seminary, I thought I had a mission to start a non-profit organization to support business people in my faith community. But after one-weekend conference that I helped to organize, I realized that wasn’t really for me. I could do it, but it didn’t really fit with what I was good at. Instead, my gifts are taking a large amount of information, synthesizing it and making it useful for people. The other “aha” moment was when I was listening to a podcast about some of the same ideas that I was thinking about, but the podcast hosts didn’t know what to do with it. Unlike them, I had clear vision of how the information could be used, which I knew could be helpful. That’s because my other gifts are that I can see things that other people can’t and make them practical.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

A pastor that I went to seminary with is using the book with her congregation in Ohio. She credits the tools with helping to save families. I just did a presentation on these concepts to another congregation in Ohio who had been wondering what they could do to help solve the divide they have with their neighbors. They were excited at having the tools. In my presentations, I am also able to answer questions people have about why people are doing what they are doing, which people are grateful for.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Learn to listen in new way and find things to agree with. Then of course, use what is important to the other person/group to talk to them, instead of just using what is important to you.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

A leader does and says what is right for his organization and for his followers, not what is right for him. I’ve known several leaders who have recommended actions that stripped themselves of power or influence because they believed it was the right thing to do. But leaders also need to pay attention to the needs of their followers. The really difficult situations where true leadership is needed are when there is a conflict between the organization’s needs and the followers’ needs. In that case, leaders need to do what they can for all parties. However, if they can’t do what is best for their followers, at the very least, the leader needs to take their needs into account and talk to their followers in a way that takes into account their concerns and their values.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Figure out when to stay in your comfort zone and when to stretch. For example, I stayed in my comfort zone by staying with my gifts of being able to synthesize information and make it practical for people, but I went outside of my comfort zone in becoming very public.
  2. Your success will depend on dealing with your fears. I was able to stretch about becoming public once I realized that it came out of fears I had. I had to find a way to work through those fears.
  3. Try lots of stuff and go with where the energy come backs at you. My first book was applying these same ideas to my old field, marketing. Although I got some positive feedback, sales were slow and I wasn’t getting the consulting work I wanted. But I got some feedback from friends who read my first book even though they weren’t in marketing but then had questions about how to apply those ideas in their personal life. That’s where the energy was, where I wasn’t fighting an uphill battle. Sales of my second book are much better and reactions to my speeches are very positive.
  4. People will give you lots of advice and feedback, so you need to use your internal compass to decide what is right for you. If you did everything people suggested, you could end up scattered with no real focus and never accomplish anything. Meditation is a great way to get in touch with your internal compass. I have had mentors from SCORE (Service Corp of Retired Executives) for several years who have helped me and provided me with lots of feedback, but I don’t do everything they say, they are just advisors. Even though I don’t do everything they recommend, they tell me that I listen more than most of their advisees. That because I learned the next lesson.
  5. Listen to what is underneath what people say. Even if you disagree with what they are saying, there may be message there that you need to pay attention to. I used to get defensive when people criticized what I was doing, but I’ve learned to not react but instead listen for the lesson in what they are saying. There isn’t always a lesson but there is one there at least some of the time.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” From Helen Keller. I have a tendency to hide and be very private. Becoming public feels risky to me because I hate conflict and I know people are going to disagree with me. This quote is one of the tool I used to get over the fears, to remind myself that unless I take the risk I won’t be able to achieve my goal. My life has certainly gotten a lot more interesting since I started on this path.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Melinda Gates. I love the work the Gates Foundation is doing but I think they could garner a lot more support or that work if they learned more about how to talk across the cultural divide. One example is the COVID-19 vaccines. People in the US on the right are less likely to be concerned about the disease and less likely to get the vaccine. But if you applied the techniques in my book and my newsletter, I think you could convince some of the vaccine resistors.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My website www.persuadedontpreach.com, my newsletter: https://fracturedrelationships.substack.com/ and you can follow me on Linked in or Twitter or the Facebook group, Persuade, Don’t Preach.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


About The Interviewer: Growing up in Canada, Edward Sylvan was an unlikely candidate to make a mark on the high-powered film industry based in Hollywood. But as CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc, (SEGI) Sylvan is among a select group of less than ten Black executives who have founded, own and control a publicly traded company. Now, deeply involved in the movie business, he is providing opportunities for people of color.

In 2020, he was appointed president of the Monaco International Film Festival, and was encouraged to take the festival in a new digital direction.

Raised in Toronto, he attended York University where he studied Economics and Political Science, then went to work in finance on Bay Street, (the city’s equivalent of Wall Street). After years of handling equities trading, film tax credits, options trading and mergers and acquisitions for the film, mining and technology industries, in 2008 he decided to reorient his career fully towards the entertainment business.

With the aim of helping Los Angeles filmmakers of color who were struggling to understand how to raise capital, Sylvan wanted to provide them with ways to finance their creative endeavors.

At Sycamore Entertainment he specializes in print and advertising financing, marketing, acquisition and worldwide distribution of quality feature-length motion pictures, and is concerned with acquiring, producing and promoting films about equality, diversity and other thought provoking subject matter which will also include nonviolent storytelling.

Also in 2020, Sylvan launched SEGI TV, a free OTT streaming network built on the pillars of equality, sustainability and community which is scheduled to reach 100 million U.S household televisions and 200 million mobile devices across Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Samsung Smart TV and others.

As Executive Producer he currently has several projects in production including The Trials of Eroy Brown, a story about the prison system and how it operated in Texas, based on the best-selling book, as well as a documentary called The Making of Roll Bounce, about the 2005 coming of age film which starred rapper Bow Wow and portrays roller skating culture in 1970’s Chicago.

He sits on the Board of Directors of Uplay Canada, (United Public Leadership Academy for Youth), which prepares youth to be citizen leaders and provides opportunities for Canadian high school basketball players to advance to Division 1 schools as well as the NBA.

A former competitive go kart racer with Checkered Flag Racing Ltd, he also enjoys traveling to exotic locales. Sylvan resides in Vancouver and has two adult daughters.

Sylvan has been featured in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and has been seen on Fox Business News, CBS and NBC. Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc is headquartered in Seattle, with offices in Los Angeles and Vancouver.

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