Sign up for my newsletter and receive your guide to 4 Key Actions for Managing a New Team!

Respect your boundary: Devan Kronisch

Michael Hunter


Welcome to Uncommon Leadership. I’m Michael Hunter with Uncommon Teams.

Today I’m talking with Dr. Devan Kronisch.

Devan has worked in nonprofits, academia, and the tech sector focusing on learning and development, coaching, and DEI (diversity, equality, and inclusion). With a doctorate in psychology and an international background, they have a knack for solving communication challenges as well as bringing in both the outside perspective and the big picture view.

Welcome, Devan.

Devan Kronisch 0:33

So glad to be here. Thanks for having me, Michael.

Michael 0:37

I’m glad to have you here.

In your journey to seeing people as people and learning to leverage the unique gifts to best accomplish your goals, when did you first recognize this might be a valuable approach?

Devan 0:53

I love that question, especially because it’s so big.

Trying to find one specific point is really challenging because I believe that, in some ways, I’ve been there from very, very young.

I do have an asylum-seeker background, so I had a little bit of a turbulent childhood.

I’ve been at the boundaries from very young.

Looking from the outside in, no matter where exactly I was, really already as a child helped me look at people and go, “We’re all mosaics. There’s so many different things that go into us.”

It’s impossible to only look at one thing, especially if we posit it as “us versus them” and go anywhere.

That brought me to jump into psychology, which really very much is the point of looking at one individual at a time as a whole being.

I believe that flows into everything I do, everybody that I work with.

Having a very instinctual set of, “No, wait a moment. I’m focusing on only one aspect of the person I know better,” and pull myself back.

Michael 2:10

Is there a particular situation you can think of recently where you noticed yourself doing that?

Devan 2:22

A good recent example might be, I’ve worked quite a bit with engineers. That tends to come with a little bit of a stereotype-view of, “they’re an engineer, a subtype of human.”

When you especially in coaching go in there, and you’ve maybe just had 20 other coaching sessions with other engineers, you go in with a pattern.

It’s so hard to, from the start, to not go, “Okay, I know what’s coming. I’ll just go down my list.”

And then it smacks you in the face when you have somebody who totally doesn’t fit the pattern.

It’s such a beautiful reminder of, “Wait a moment.”

Some engineers are super extraverted, and might have an entire session about, “Hey, I want to connect more.”

I really like seeing that, “Oh, wait a second. Just because they’re in with this group does not mean that every individual in the group is the same way.”

Michael 3:19

When you’re in a coaching session, and you notice yourself smacking yourself, how do you present that in the session?

Devan 3:32

That depends very much on how much it has come out externally.

A huge part of coaching to me is having this split mindset where I’m not in the session to guide them. They have the answers. They are the expert in their own life.

Any thoughts and comments I have, they stay with me.

The only insights, when I notice that I might have been asking questions that have been based on my own thoughts, I don’t necessarily have to actually point that out.

They might not have noticed that point.

I can bring myself back to just be in the session, just be present with the person, and go on from there without necessarily acknowledging it.

Now, I do have quite a few sessions where people explicitly ask me to take my coach hat off and my psychologist hat on. In those, It makes quite a bit of sense to bring it up. Because then I can go, “Hey, I’m a psychologist, which still means I’m a human. Here is something that’s just happened in my brain,” as an example of what might be going on with them as well.

Michael 4:52

How do people typically react when you do that?

Devan 4:56

I get a lot of positive feedback around people learning psychology, people learning what’s going on, and getting a sense of, “This is just human to do, it’s not me, it’s not wrong. It’s just how we’re wired. And it takes effort and constant mindfulness to change it.”

To a lot of people, it feels like, “It’s okay to not be perfect.”

Michael 5:25

Be appreciating your process.

Devan 5:28

The process and the vulnerability I believe is a big factor. And I would say vulnerability goes into every kind of human-to-human service, no matter if it’s coaching or consulting-slash-psychologist session or leadership.

Michael 5:48

When you’re working with someone who is not so comfortable bringing that vulnerability, how do you encourage that?

Devan 5:56

I would say very much with what I just talked about: bring your own vulnerability first.

Especially if they come into a session and feel like I’m holding the power in it.

Which very often doesn’t feel like that to me.

I see myself as the support person for them.

They have all the choice and power in it.

But, especially for somebody who has doctor-title role, talking to people from some cultural backgrounds, that’s a huge barrier to them that can feel very much on the, “This is an ivory tower person who probably knows everything better than I, so I can’t possibly show anything.“

So I need to bring myself down essentially on, “Hey, I’m just as human as you. I make mistakes. Here are some examples of where I screwed up. Here are some things I’ve talked to other people in very similar situations to you.”

It tends to open them up very slowly.

But it also depends on how much time we have together.

I was an embedded coach for at least two companies at this point.

I’m saying “at least” because I’ve been kind of freelance and whatnot. So, there’s always there’s this bit I forget something in the last decade.

I’m gonna highlight my Latino folks here, because their trust pattern is so different from what we expect in North America.

Trust isn’t built by work relations.

You can be the most reliable, good-at-your-task person that always keeps their word.

It doesn’t go through.

Trust is built by knowing you as a person.

I really love that about Latino cultures.

I’m Romanian, so I sort of fall in here too.

So yes, it sometimes takes two, three sessions until we really get down to the underlying problem.

We might have worked on time management, we might have worked on some OKRs (objective key results), this specific task isn’t going so well, can we set up an action plan?

Then, the third meeting.

Now they suddenly come in with the emotional stuff.

“Hey, I have thrown out here something at home isn’t going.”

That’s completely okay.

I want to get to this level.

I want to see that vulnerability.

But I’m never going to push it.

Michael 8:13

Wherever people are in that journey of expressing their vulnerability, are there certain phrases or emotions that they open that up with?

Devan 8:41

The one I’ve heard the most often was, “I’m not sure if that’s the right thing to bring up in a work coaching session.”

Okay. Now we’re getting into the real interesting stuff.

There’s the sense of, “What’s work is work and my life, my soul, however we want to call, it that’s not work, I can’t bring this in here.”

That is where I can really start looking at the, “Hey, you’re a whole human being. There’s no way you can actually compartmentalize your brain so hard that you don’t bring things from home to work. That’s actually psychologically unhealthy. We know that this can often be a semi-maladaptive coping mechanism for trauma, so we don’t want to encourage the compartmentalization.”

Michael 9:35

I find the same. When I start working with people, within teams, I explicitly say, “I’m here outside of your reporting structure, organization, and all of that. So, we can talk about work stuff, we can talk about personal stuff, we can talk about how angry you are that your team lost the game last night, whatever is top of mind for you is fair game here. There’s no judgment and no goals for where we go and what we accomplish.” And, as you say, people are so amazed that someone would tell them this.

Devan 10:13


I have a standard sentence when I do my little spiel about what actually is coaching that I put in here to get people to kind of be a little bit sharp, be a little bit laughing in around it, and I find it really helps.

Because I say all the things that you did, and I tend to say, “Hey, I’ve talked about absolutely anything and everything. Wherever you need me is where I’m going to meet you. I’ve talked to people about how to get better at time management, and I’ve talked to people about the problem with them not being able to focus at work because they really are currently interested in getting their wife pregnant. So that’s what we talked about.”

If people just stare at me, “You talked about what?”

“Yes. That was the topic that was top of mind for this person.”

So yes, we can go there.

Michael 11:04

The one that has most amazed the people I’ve worked with is telling them, “If where you’re feeling is you’re wanting to go find a new job, then I’ll help you do that.”

“Are you kidding me? My boss is going to kill me f I tell him that I’m looking for a new job.”

Well, if they’re a bad boss, they might.

If they’re a good boss, and they’re really stressed or have other things going on, they still might react that way.

But since your manager has engaged me to come in and help you and them work together better, I suspect that they really want the best for you.

So, maybe part of what you’re wondering is, how can you talk with your boss about what you’re lacking in your current experience?

Maybe you don’t actually even really want to leave, or you can find what you’re looking for here.

At the very least we’ll know if the answer’s, “No.” You can go with a clear conscience or whatever else might be holding you back.

Devan 12:09

Love it.

Bringing it down to the needs level is where I often try to go when things like that come up.

And yes, I lead with the, “Hey, I’m here for what you really want. What do you really need? Not the company. If you’re not happy here, then my goal is to help you become happy here or somewhere else.”

Michael 12:33

How do you do that, in a way that is safe for not just you but for other people that you’re affecting by showing up in this more, however you want to be, more of way?

Devan 12:54

I don’t have much concern for my safety. You’re right there.

I’m if I’m being hired in as a coach, which in the definition of it is very much you’re there for the individual person, you might have been hired by a company, but you don’t have this tied to company needs as such.

Especially because one of the main clauses that you always sign, and if it’s not in there, we’ll put it in there, is confidentiality.

What they tell me stays with me.

So to me, the safety that I have to hold into my own ethics as a coach, essentially, if we want to put it badly, I’m not gonna snitch them out to the manager.

Michael 13:44

The person we’re coaching, bringing that safety and helping them bring their more whatever-self into their team environment in a way that’s safe for them and for their team, I find is often not immediately clear to the person I’m working with.

Devan 14:17

Definitely isn’t.

It often takes time.

I also tend to see a shift after some sessions.

I will always state at the beginning that there are two times when I’m not going to break confidentiality but I might skirt it: if I hear a pattern across people in a team, I will bring that to the manager; basically, “Here’s an issue that you need to work on. Let’s work together on that.” Or when I see acute signs of potential self-harm and suicide, that’s normally when I pull the plug on, “I need to reach out to whoever your emergency person is.”

But after a few sessions, they will start bringing in things.

“Hey, can you talk to my boss about this thing?”

They really see me more as a support person than as a safety issue.

Once they’ve realized that, “I can talk about anything here and it’s not going to go there. Maybe I want it to go somewhere. But I don’t dare quite yet myself.”

Of course, the end goal is that they feel safe enough to bring it up themselves.

But in the meantime, at least as an embedded coach, I find it’s a very valuable proposition for them to hear, “There is a top connector. There is a person specialized on relations and communication who could bring something up.”

Michael 15:38

When you’re working as an embedded coach versus an independent coach, how does the way you work with someone change?

Devan 15:51

I would argue it’s not pure coaching when it’s not embedded.

It has pros and cons.

When I am embedded, people want such a mix of being a coach, being a people partner, being a consultant, being a psychologist, because they very much feel like there’s also power that they can tap into for their own needs.

“Bring it to Devan. Devan can bring it to the people team. Devan can work on the people team to solve this thing.”

I can’t do that when I’m not an embedded coach.

I have to be much purer on the coaching side on, “I have no power whatsoever in this situation. Let’s focus on what is under your control.”

For some people, that’s exactly the empowerment cycle they want.

For some people, it breaks what they feel is useful to them. They’re not ready to have that pure coaching.

At that point, it’s better for both sides to say, “Hey, this isn’t the right thing for you. Let’s not waste your time with me.”

Michael 17:01

How does it go when you have that conversation and what they want is different from what you feel is best?

Devan 17:11

I found it can go one of two ways.

There is either, “No, no, no, no, no. I want to keep at this. I’m sorry that I always ask for advice.”

They shouldn’t, in the first place, feel sorry about it, but it always comes up. Then we go a different route because there’s much more of a realisation of “Okay, I need to work on this alone. I can’t be saved by them.”

Not my job in the first place. But a lot of people see it that way.

Or it can be a sense of relief, “I was starting to worry, and showing up because I thought I have to show up, but I’m not getting as much out of it anymore. It’s really okay to say ‘no’ to you.”

Yes, I’ve been stating that over and over.

“No,” is always a viable answer.

But people are so afraid of that.

Michael 17:59

Yes, they’re afraid of hurting your feelings. They’re afraid of losing the support that they want to get, whether they’re getting it or not. And they often are just afraid of that conversation. They don’t want to have that for many different experiences they may have had.

Devan 18:22

Conflict avoidance is a huge thing.

I love the multicultural work since you can so clearly see the cultural differences there.

It’s so hard to have this conversation with people from North America.

Especially from, “I don’t want to be impolite,” on the Canadian side, and “I don’t want to be unpleasant,” on the American side. A lot of the Slavic folks will just tell you to your face, “I’m not getting anything out of this. We should break it off.”




Clear, concise, perfect.

“Let’s handle the logistics, and it was nice knowing you. Bye.”

Just imagine a North American being smacked in the face with that statement.

Michael 19:10

Where else do you find cultural differences, whether that’s ethnic background or economic background or any of the other facets, show up in the work that you do?

Devan 19:27

There is no aspect where it doesn’t show up.

You cannot, and you should not coach, women of color, coming from a low socio-economic background, the same way as you would coach your, quote unquote, standard cis (their gender corresponds to their sex assigned at birth) het (heterosexual) white guy from a high social economic, for example.

They might face the, superficially, same problem.

But because of the background, of shadow, of the history as I sometimes like to dramatically call it, the way it’s experienced is completely different.

This is where I very strongly pull the DEI side in.

The same experience is not the same experience on the inside to those folks who cannot go into it with, “I don’t see color or I don’t see gender,” or whatever it is.

You pull out so much information, you invalidate the experience of this person.

So, I try to be very background informed, so to say, in all my consulting, coaching, whatever you want to call it, whatever kind of session it is, and let them speak.

Sometimes, also bring in the statistics that I can when I, from my DEI background, “Hey, I’m hearing something that could be specific to this aspect of who you are.” I bring in statistics about LGBTQ people facing some specific issues. People of color who is seeing others.

There’s often such a sense of relief that, “Oh, Devan gets it. They’re not gonna judge me for what ‘shouldn’t be’ a big problem.”

I know that it is a big problem because of all the little things or big things that came before.

Michael 2128

Throwing away all those pieces of information is like trying to code a program not having any idea what you’re trying to build, who you’re building it for. At that point, you’re just playing, Bring Me A Rock. Code me a code. Coach me. Give me a coach.

Devan 21:54

That’s a general one without any info. Yeah, that does not work.

Michael 22:03

I imagine you’ve had experiences where someone up or down the management chain has brought you in to work with the team as a coach, and then someone higher than that realizes that they’re being affected by this work “that crazy Devan person” is doing. “I don’t like the way that I’m being affected. I’m going to shut things down.”

Devan 22:42

Interestingly enough, it has not happened as such on an internal level.

I tend to be the person that I build relationships broadly.

I never want to be in a position where it’s one leader alone who has the decision-making power there.

So normally, when one person is unhappy, there are two, three, other people saying, “Yes, this is uncomfortable. Sitting with discomfort is the entire point of this thing we’re going through to grow as a company, as the entire team.”

So, there’s always another blocker normally there.

Also, the people team is your friend.

Short version as a coach, if you’re an external coach, your allies are sitting right in HR (human resources), People Team, whatever it is called there, because they are working on so many related things.

They tend to be the ones that do the coaching when there isn’t a coach in there.

And they were, I’ve heard it specifically, “Well, I have no coach background. I don’t know what I’m doing. I need help.”

So, they’re very strong on that. “We called a coach in to get this change.”

Once you reframe it into, “This is change management,” even for the leader who’s uncomfortable with the whole process, there’s a general understanding of, “Change is hard. That’s probably what I’m feeling.”

Michael 24:05

I like that reframe. It eases it away from, “I don’t like this thing,” to, “This is what everybody’s going through. My experience is maybe different from theirs. Maybe I’d like to talk to the coach about what’s going on. It seems to be helping everyone else.”

Devan 24:27

I see that sometimes.

I’ve also seen it that, “I don’t want to talk to the coach, but I’m gonna talk to the people that the coach has worked with, because maybe they can make it work sideways.”

Michael 24:42

This has been a fantastic conversation today, Devan. What else should I ask you?

Devan 24:50

What else would you ask me?

Where we are right now? We talked change management, we talked DEI…

Maybe you should ask me, since I suspect it might be useful for your listeners, how they should evaluate if they want an embedded coach or if they want an external coach.

Michael 25:15

Sounds great. How do we decide? Do we want an embedded coach, an external coach, some sort of mix? How do we find what’s going to work best for us?

Devan 25:27

I believe it comes down to, what level of change they want in a company.

They are going to by far and wide get the biggest impact from an embedded coach.

It changes the entire dynamic.

Especially with leaders, I find they want the extra support that needs context.

An external coach brings in the advantage of, they don’t have the context.

So, if it is only, quote unquote, a communication issue, two people are bad at working together, with each other, that’s a spot coaching situation that an external coach can absolutely take on.

An embedded coach can go in there and check the system.

They can really see all the different parts of the puzzle.

It will take a few months.

They need to constantly be talking with leadership, constantly be talking to the people team, taking a look at, how is the culture, the context of understanding the culture, and reinforcing the culture.

Managing the culture across the team is really where an embedded coach will shine.

They’re going to take that middle-point position between coaching the person and being a people partner with the role.

Michael 26:55

If I start out feeling embedded is the way to go, and as I get some experience, I realize, actually what’s best for me is external, or vice versa, how do we navigate that conversation and transition?

Devan 27:17

It will depend on the person you’ve hired in.

Some people, like me, for example, I much prefer being embedded.

If I’m in a situation where I was embedded, and the company decides that, ”Actually we only want specifically the coaching sessions, you don’t need to have the context,” I will have to tell them, “This is only going to be for a limited amount of time, because I am going to look for another embedded position.”

So essentially at that point, they have two options. Either, “Okay, we’ll keep you on embedded,” or, “We’ll find another external coach.”

Ask me if I know somebody, because I still have the context, I can still give input. “What are your needs here? What exactly of the things I did do you want to keep?” and then hand that over.

If the person was external first and became embedded and goes back to external, not a big problem.

I am going to warn people, though, that they underestimate the cost difference. You will get a whole lot more bang for your buck with an embedded coach rather than paying per session with an external coach. The per-hour wage goes up substantially.

Michael 28:34

You have a lovely healthier work resource for our audience.

I read through this and I especially love the constructive daydreaming exercise you have. That was great. I’m gonna do that a lot.

Devan 28:57

You will get a whole lot out of it.

I always put my resources very science-heavy.

I shared the one around better sleep, better breaks, better home setup, because so often as a coach, we get pulled in to get productivity up. People expect us to go in there as a consultant and check in on time management, check up on are people working hard enough.

And I personally will check up first on, “When was the last time you had a vacation? How are you sleeping?”

Our rest is the biggest thing we can do to keep productive, to sustainably be there.

The rest, also is the small things, like constructive daydreaming.

Just for one moment pulling back, allowing your brain to really pull all your information together rather than focusing on it.

Our brain isn’t made to constantly focus.

So, by giving people exercises for, “How do I get into that unfocused?” that’s the only way some people get there because we aren’t ever taught.

Michael 30:07

If people feel they don’t have enough time to do all the things, where do you suggest they start?

Devan 30:18

Micro breaks.

Start with the smallest one you can.

Micro breaks is something like five to fifteen seconds in between tasks, in between sentences even.

Just taking a moment looking away from your screen, probably out the window so your pupils can unfocus, another psych trick right there.

That already will make an impact and it’s such a small time commitment.

Everybody has five seconds.

Do it a few times every hour.

We’ll start seeing the results.

Then go to the next bigger one.

Take your five minutes break.

Take a 10-minute walk.

Take a 90-minute nap before your creative endeavor.

It will show.

Michael 31:10

I like how even the tiniest break can make a big difference.

That echoes, I oftentimes tell someone, as they’re trying to make a change, “This isn’t an all or nothing. You can’t fall off the wagon with this. Every time you succeed at doing what you’re meaning to do, you do it a little more, a little more regularly, a little more consistently, a little more whatever you’re going for. Whether you do it or not, it’s always a success. That’s always reinforcing the habit you’re trying to build.”

Devan 31:58

It all comes down to habit building if we’re very strict with it.

Michael 32:05

If people would like to learn more about habit building, dig in more to the resources you provide, learn more about coaching, how it might work for them, what working with you might entail, what’s the best way for them to contact you?

Devan 32:25

The best way to find me is directly on LinkedIn.

I have it set up so anybody can message me, so you don’t need to run the gamut of “Who do I know who knows me so that I can get that?”

Just send me a message.

I’m always happy to answer.

I also am not a person who feels, “This is a coaching question, you need to hire me.”

If it’s a quick thing, more than happy to help.

I’m also not just doing coaching. I do public speaking, I do resource building.

I’m very much a curious person.

If whatever you bring in gets my attention, expect to get a walking Wikipedia on you.

Michael 33:05

Great. I’ll have those links in the show notes.

What would you like to leave our audience with today?

Devan 33:19

I’m going to try to pull a lot of the strings we talked about together.

Whatever you’re struggling with at the moment, you’re not the only person.

If people tell you that, “This is just a small thing,” remember that their lived experience is different from yours.

It’s absolutely okay to break at what others would call a micro thing.

This is your boundary.

Your boundary is the one that matters the most for you.

If you need somebody to talk to, a coach might be exactly the right person, because they will look at going forward into the future, rather than a neuro therapist who will look into the past to help you in the present. Those two work really well together.

Michael 34:16

Thank you so much, Devan, for being here today, and a stimulating conversation.

Audience, please let us know: what did you enjoy? What do you agree with? What did you not enjoy and maybe disagree with? How can we help you move forward? Please let us know.

Thanks so much.

Have a great day.

Devan 34:41

Thank you. Bye.


Thanks for joining us on Uncommon Leadership today.

If you found these stories interesting, inspiring, and illuminating, sign up for my newsletter.

Use the form at the top of this page.

You’ll be the first to know about every new episode of Uncommon Leadership.

You’ll also discover how you can build uncommon teams.

Thanks so much!

Sign up for my newsletter and receive your guide to 4 Key Actions for Managing a New Team!