Sydney Clark
Features Editor

Millersville University students don’t hear enough about what MU alumni are up to and what they’ve accomplished since graduating. So, it’s nice to hear about the successes that are coming up in their lives. 

Alissa Carpenter, a former MU student, graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor of Science in speech communications while minoring in journalism. Last May Carpenter became a Millersville success story when Career Press published her book “How to Listen and How to Be Heard: Inclusive Conversations at Work.”

Carpenter’s book serves as a guide for anyone who wants to communicate better at work with people who think, learn, and interpret situations differently than they do. This book is meant to empower people at any level by starting difficult conversations with open dialogues, allowing these discussions to become more authentic. Seeing that others can bring a lot to the table through their differences allows stronger relationships, teams, and organizations to be built. 

Carpenter’s book consists of 16 chapters split into five parts. Each chapter features a different topic, ranging anywhere from how to work with people across different generations to working with toxic people. There are also chapters on turning down people and not ideas, how to have real conversations about diversity and inclusion, and being more present and accessible to the people around you. 

One reason Carpenter wanted to write this book was her experiences after college and graduate school, having strange jobs and interactions with people. During this time, actionable advice couldn’t be found for dealing with how to start these difficult conversations in varying situations. 

“There’s a lot of information about what you could do but not how to do it,” Carpenter says. “For me, the goal of the book was to create something tangible for people because of the experiences I’ve had, the conversations I’ve had, and seeing other people struggle with it as well.”

For this book, Carpenter interviewed people about their experiences in the workplace.

 “It was really fun,” she says. “One of my goals with the book is that it’s not just me telling my story. I think we all have different experiences and for me, if I have a platform, it’s also about being able to give people the opportunity to share their voice as well,” she says. 

Throughout the book, 41 stories can be found from the people Carpenter interviewed. Many of the interviews features “people who felt marginalized” or people who “stepped up” in the workplace. 

“I would come with things that I wanted to know and wanted to learn, but the conversation really went in the direction of the individual to really give them space to share,” Carpenter says. “I didn’t want to cloud what they were going to say with how I wanted them or thought they were going to say it.”

Carpenter explains that she never really knew where the conversations would take her at the time. She would ask certain questions thinking the conversation would go one way, and it would often go somewhere else. 

“So that was fun, you know, going through that and getting to meet new people that way,” she says.

Carpenter wanted to have lots of diversity in the book in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, job type, industry of the job, and location. Some of the people that she interviewed were friends, colleagues, or people she’s come in contact with through working. Others came from people she admired on social media or even people from her podcast, Humanize Your Workplace.

“I was trying to find people who were open to sharing different stories and experiences aside from what they’ve already shared before.” She would ask them for referrals for people who had certain types of experiences. “So, it was kind of doing broad based research a little bit, but a lot actually came from referrals from other people, social media, or people who I knew that then knew other people.”

Before writing the book, Carpenter had previous content and ideas that she knew she wanted to write about. Since she was working with a publisher, she only had six months from start to finish to get all of the interviews in and pull everything together. A few chapters had been previously written but none of the interviews had been conducted. On top of writing a book, during this time Carpenter gave a Tedx Talk and was traveling around for client work, as well as having two little kids running around the house. 

Photo courtesy of Alissa Carpenter. Beyond her book publication, Alissa Carpenter has also given a Tedx Talk on humanizing the workplace through conversations.

“‘Love Actually’ is one of my favorite movies and in it this writer goes to a lake and writes a book, and I just assume that’s how everybody writes a book,” Carpenter says. “They just go to a lake house, which I don’t even have access to, and just spend some time and write their book. It’s not really what happens; Your life doesn’t necessarily stop unless you’re cutting everything out.” 

Carpenter explains that she can’t force herself to be creative, so she would find windows of time to write different sections of the book. What made writing this book potentially easier versus some other genres of books is each of her chapters stands alone, so Carpenter could start writing about a particular topic and “get in that mindset and keep going.”

In car rides, Carpenter would dictate ideas outloud, put it in her phone, then have it transcribed. Carpenter would find her flow of writing during random moments, but it was usually after a speaking engagement or after talking with a client. Following these, she would block off some time and then go forward and write from there.

One of the most difficult chapters for Carpenter to write also happens to be her favorite. 

“The diversity, inclusion, and belonging chapter was so difficult because I’m huge on inclusion, that’s kind of that’s my background-communication and helping create inclusive workspaces. It really comes as no surprise that I didn’t want to leave anything out, and I didn’t want to leave anybody out,” she says.

Some of the topics covered, specifically the chapters dealing with different generations and how to be an ally to other people, are relatable outside of work and can be used in day to day life with friends and family members. 

“That was another one of my goals, being able to use these concepts outside of work,” Carpenter says. “At the end of the day, it’s really getting to know people, building those relationships, and asking questions like you would with your family…Being aware of how people interact with you, I always think is really important and could be used in the personal space as well.”

Although Carpenter had no idea about it when she was writing the chapter on connecting with a virtual workplace, this chapter can come into play with the way our world now looks with online learning and many Americans working from home due to the current pandemic. Carpenter says there aren’t quiet spaces anymore. Someone will always be mowing the lawn or a dog will be barking, but she’s come to enjoy this. 

Normally in a workplace you have your professional self separate from your personal self but “now your whole self is everywhere you go.” Carpenter says that now, you’ll see other people in the background of peoples’ screens and you’ll hear other conversations in the background of their homes. 

Photo courtesy of Alissa Carpenter. Carpenter explains that due to the current pandemic, there is a blurriness between the personal and professional versions of yourself, and we’re still navigating this.

“People are just more open, which I love,” she says. “I hope it continues to be that way, that people can really recognize and actually see that people have other things going on, besides this nine to five space.”

Another one of  Carpenter’s hopes was that different people can relate to the book in varying ways. She explains that what’s difficult about writing a book with a dialogue is she can say one thing to someone but what they say back and how they interpret or interact with that might be different from what she was originally thinking. It’s difficult to give explicit advice or a step-by-step of what to say during a situation, because the direction can change depending on the context.

“I am 100% a work in progress,” Carpenter says. “And even with writing this, I never want people to think that I think I know everything. Everything is constantly changing and evolving especially this year, like the whole world kind of shook up what virtual learning looks like and working virtually looks like. I think as long as we’re open to learning, we’ll get somewhere.”