Note: Abraham Carrillo is the Director of Operations for the Crow Museum of Asian Art at the University of Texas at Dallas. He’s also a long-time client of Dorrier Underwood, who has advanced in his leadership considerably in the four+ years we’ve known him. We’re grateful for his generosity in sharing the impact our writing practice continues to have on leadership at the museum.  

There’s a kind of writing we teach our clients that offers an antidote to unexamined thoughts that can be destructive. We begin with a prompt from poetry or a novel, then ask people to write for three, or four, or five minutes, non-stop, sometimes with a particular intention, sometimes simply to clear their heads. Our clients know the drill: keep writing, don’t pick up your pen, even if it means writing this is stupid how much time is left, I can’t believe she didn’t tell me they scrapped my design… 

When we put the constant editor on hold, things that we’ve been trying to ignore or talk ourselves out of come to the forefront. We begin to listen to ourselves and become more authentic in our interactions. 

At the Crow Museum of Asian Art, writing has become central to staff interactions. “In our meetings, there’s a mood check and also writing. Staff are used to it. They know there’s no way they’re not going to have to write,” Abe Carrillo, Director of Operations, said. 

“More than anything else, it’s self-compassion. When I approach big actions, or if I’m upset about something, or if I was being mean, I’ll write. Writing helps me deal with the feelings I don’t like having.”

Although the Crow staff sometimes use the practice to prepare for formal presentations (for example, Abe used it to write a wedding ceremony for a friend), one of its primary benefits is how it deepens understanding and relationships on teams.

“When I tell a story about work,” Abe reflected, “people say I wouldn’t have been able to react that way. Writing makes that possible. It’s training yourself to notice and listen. I can hear something and not get hot about it. This year I actually used writing in a performance review to see how we were doing with each other. It’s very different to interact with someone around something they said they’d do. It gives people a chance to true themselves up to something they want,” he said.

Abe says that the practice is especially helpful when someone is on edge, for example, coming into a performance conversation, because of the way writing trains you to notice and listen. “I was in one of those conversations when a staff person said something about getting upset with one of his peers and then his voice trailed off,” Abe said. “So I repeated it back to him: You get angry and keep it inside and it boils over. Let’s talk about that. He was kind of shocked I was paying attention. Everybody knows what they need to work on, you just have to get them to say it.”