Creating Boundaries and Having Courageous Conversations: A Q&A with Ohlay

April 7, 2021 | Creating Boundaries and Having Courageous Conversations: A Q&A with Ohlay |

The past year has been filled with long hours, difficult conversations, and tough decisions for the Main Street America Network. The converging impacts of COVID-19 and the national and local reckoning related to racial justice and equity have challenged Main Streets in new ways. In light of these challenges, we wanted to highlight two live workshops at the Main Street Now Conference that aim to help attendees take care of themselves and their communities, advance equity, and have courage in the face of tough conversations. 

These sessions will be led by Alex Oh and Nikolay Borisov from Ohlay, a culture design studio that aims to help people create more meaningful connections. Be sure to reserve your spot in Boundaries for Greater Personal Development and Care on Tuesday, April 13 from 1:15 PM - 2:30 PM EDT and Courageous Conversations on Wednesday, April 14 from 2:15 PM - 3:45 PM EDT. Haven’t registered for the conference yet? It’s not too late! Register here.

Keep reading for a Q&A with Alex and Nikolay, where they discuss burnout, having courageous conversations, and what attendees can expect to gain from their sessions. This conversation has been edited for length.

Why do you think these sessions are helpful for a Main Street audience in particular? 

Alex Oh:
People are at the core of everything we do. If you’re working at an organization with 500 employees or five, human relationships are at the core of that. What we facilitate and teach is how we can we all be on same page. How can I listen to others, listen to myself, and then use that as a jumping off point to work toward common goals? We want Main Street participants to take this framework back to their communities and build a sustainable process to invite everyone in the community into the conversation. 

Nikolay Borisov: We live in a place of what we should be doing, but we forget about ourselves and what our strengths are. We want to build from a space of prioritizing the self, as much as building relationships with others. If you can’t see yourself in relation to the work, it’s going to lead to burnout.

What advice would you give Main Streeters who are struggling with burnout, and how can they set boundaries to take care of themselves?

The biggest thing individuals need is rest, and communities need that rest too. I’d encourage people to see how they can listen to their own needs and create spaces for their own communities to find rest and healing. Directors are leaders in their communities. Is there a way to facilitate a conversation about the self and what each person needs? Could you ask each board member what they need? It’s important to remember that when you’re saying yes to the demands of others, you’re saying no to yourself. So, where are your yeses and no’s going?

Going back to your power source is important, too. You’re in that position for that reason. Taking a moment to look at why you’re there and why you’re doing the work is important. There’s a personal conviction you have that led you there. Take a moment to connect back to why you’re doing the work. You have something unique to contribute, and that is your gift. If you’re tired or need rest, you can’t give that gift and show that passion. 

What are some common misconceptions about burnout?

Alex: There isn’t a one size fits all solution to burnout. Each person has their own definition, and burnout is going to look different for everyone, including what they need to do to get out of burnout. One of the things we’ve seen is that organizations roll out wellness programs that address the symptoms of burnout but not the root cause. Leaders can recognize that something isn’t working systemically if the majority of the community is experiencing burnout. Can we make the make space to examine what isn’t working and what is exacerbating burnout? Maybe it’s the processes we have, or the way we do things, or our hours. How can we help individuals connect deeper with the self to create things that are energizing instead of depleting?

Main Street staff regularly need to engage in tough conversations, whether they’re trying to build consensus among stakeholders with opposing views or talking with their community about diversity, equity, and inclusion. What tips would you give them on having these conversations?

You need to examine what courage looks like for you. How do you define courage and how do you define courageous conversations? This ties back into the connection you have with yourself. 

Nikolay: The actual conversation is just the tip of the iceberg. People really focus on saying the right thing, but everything else below the water will have an impact, too. Things like, what are some of those limiting beliefs that we have? What dialogue are we having with ourselves, and what is our inner critic saying? Having a positive courageous conversation with a good outcome starts internally with the self, and that allows you to have an exchange with someone else.

Having conversations around equity can be especially challenging. What advice would you give to people who struggle to have those dialogues?

You need to reflect on why that discomfort exists and have a tough conversation with yourself. What is the fear here? Is the fear that I’m going to be wrong? Having tough conversations with yourself to really see what’s going on is such an important starting point. Sometimes people view it as happening elsewhere, but this is a community problem. And just tell yourself, “because I am part of the broader community, I have a place and have a perspective on this.” 

What framework will you use to help attendees at your conference sessions learn these skills?

We use a framework for connection: “me, we, and us.” One of the things we’ll go through during the sessions will be to structure the different stakeholders in our lives. We’ll examine the relationship with the self, relationship with others, whether that’s board, partners, or customers, and the relationship with the collective and the community. 
We’ll evaluate the strengths of the relationships that are there. You’ll take a moment to get clear on the different demands in these relationships, ways we show up, and ways to make sense of world around us. We’ll look at what relationships need more attention. You might find that you’re ignoring yourself because you’re focused on the ‘we,’ or that you’re ignoring different levels of Main Street—state vs. local vs. national. 

What else can people expect from the sessions?

We use social journaling to help us do the work of practicing and examining different subjects. We’ll devise a prompt or question for the group around boundaries or courage, and each member will have 5-10 minutes to explore and reflect on the question on their own in a journal. From there, they’ll share their reflection in a breakout group, and then they’ll come into the larger room and people will share and contribute in the larger room.

Alex: These sessions will be highly interactive, so get ready for group learning. We’ll encourage people to try flex a new boundary and explore a definition of courage and see how it feels.

A big thank you to Alex and Nikolay for talking with us! Be sure to reserve your spot in their conference sessions below:
Boundaries for Greater Personal Development and Care | Tuesday, April 13 from 1:15 PM - 2:30 PM EDT
Courageous Conversations | Wednesday, April 14 from 2:15 PM - 3:45 PM EDT

Haven’t registered for the conference yet? It’s not too late! Register here.