We are experiencing an epidemic of isolation in organizations and communities. People often tell me of their pain of feeling “on the outside” and not respected based on their real and perceived differences. We see a rising culture of fear, distrust and polarization. People don’t feel connected and understood. They sense that others are closed to them and they don’t feel open to others either.
Many sense an unraveling. Almost everyone I meet knows someone who has committed suicide or had a drug overdose; 47,000 Americans kill themselves each year and 72,000 die from drug addiction. Of course, this pain influences families and communities.
I wonder, what could happen if more of us embraced an open mindset and thought more about “we” than just “me”? Would we be more kind to our isolated neighbors in our workplaces and our communities?
These are people who are building community in their neighborhoods and workplaces doing such things as working with youth, visiting the sick or befriending the isolated. Brooks suggests that we are experiencing the excesses of hyperindividualism and a focus on self-interest and self-expression. Perhaps it is time for the pendulum to shift in the direction of relationships and a focus on community and building cultures where openness and well-being are valued.
We know that when we are open to others the openness is contagious. By each of us setting the intention to be open, supporting others and engaging in productive conversations we can create more positive work and community cultures. The benefits ripple.
Make it your intention to be open and to spread that openness to your colleagues and community. Notice your experience and impact. What small step can you take today?
Most of the leaders I coach are focused on how they can influence others. How do they ensure team members are committed to a shared vision and strategy? However, equally important is that leaders be open to being influenced.
People sense when a leader, a colleague or a parent has a fixed point of view. Often people say they see no use in trying to change the person’s view. Important conversations are not being had that will benefit all involved. Leaders need to check themselves and truly be open to learning more and be willing to be influenced and change views.
J did not believe her colleague was open to new ideas and therefore J did not try to influence him. She complained about him to others and disliked working with him. She complained that he was not open. In fact, through coaching she became aware that she was not open herself. When she became curious and engaged in an open conversation with her colleague, he felt more understood and was less insistent that his way was the only way to proceed. In fact, J’s curiosity and openness to being influenced herself allowed her colleague to himself be curious and thus, both were influenced by the other. They implemented a new process and productivity soared.
The key is catching ourselves when we believe others are not open and start by honestly becoming open to new ideas. It helps to give yourself empathy, along with your colleague. Experiment with becoming open to changing and notice what happens as you are open to influence.
Searching for the “right fit” college for my daughter was a long and challenging process. She wanted an academically strong institution that had a collaborative culture. We visited many colleges to find one that matched her ideal. Each place we went she carefully paid attention to how people interacted and the messages conveyed.
When we dropped her off recently, we were not disappointed. We heard students, faculty and administration provide a consistent and authentic message. They said things like, “Don’t doubt that you belong here. We selected you and we want you to succeed.” “You have a place here.” “We care about you and your family.” “We believe in working together.” “You are a part of our community now.”
When I shared with a few long-time staff members that my daughter selected the school because of the culture, they were genuinely interested in what she saw. This was just the way they were and they did not know what made them different. They genuinely cared about students and wanted to ensure they experienced belonging to the community.
Anytime I mention my daughter’s choice people tell me how happy they, a friend or a relative is who went there. “They loved the school.” Prospective partners and customers pay attention to culture.
How consistent is your organization’s culture? Do you tell people who join that they now belong and that you care and will provide resources reflecting your care?
A senior leader called me for executive coaching. She said she was not happy with her job and thought she should move on. She felt bored and felt she was falling behind in her career because she did not yet have the COO position. She felt held back and a bit hopeless. In particular she felt that one member of the executive team kept her out of big projects and would never let her in on the inner circle. In essence she felt like a victim. At the end of 5 sessions she had a completely different picture. She said that her entire view of the situation changed.
It was she who was closed and did not make it easy for people to bring her in on projects. She realized that senior leaders thought she was too busy and in fact, she had been the year before. She had not communicated that she had the desire or capacity to be involved in other corporate projects. Next, she realized that her negative view of her colleagues (assuming they were trying to keep her out of important things) in fact contributed to them not including her. She began to seek to understand their perspectives and learned to respect and appreciate them. In a short while, she had enhanced trust and she offered to help. They accepted her involvement and her role became much more interesting.
By shifting her perspective and managing her tendency to be closed and feel like a victim she opened up possibilities for herself and the organization.
Where do you feel like a victim and assume others have negative intentions? What could be another way of seeing the person and situation? Ask if you are being closed and how you can be more open. Consider asking others for support.
Love where you are as much as where you’re going so you never miss a moment of the journey.—Katrina Mayer
Recently some friends were talking about a colleague. They were saying how positive he is and that he is a great person. He shared that he has had an amazing life and if he died tonight he would say that he had a wonderful life and was grateful. True, he has been successful in his career, traveled around the world and had a positive relationship with his family and is happily married later in life. But what most impresses his colleagues is his positive attitude. He is able to see the bright side of things and to envision possibility.
We all face adversity and challenges in life. Hopefully, we learn and grow through these experiences. Ideally, we also are present for the positive experiences and allow ourselves to enjoy them too.
I am consciously focusing on being grateful for all that I have and allowing myself to enjoy my days. I regret that in the past I was so focused on the future and worrying about others that I did not allow myself to be fully present. I am experiencing a wonderful life by simply catching myself and being present to what is. I now look for the joy of the moment rather than thinking that someday things will be in order and then I will be able to enjoy.
The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness.–Jon Kabat Zinn
No doubt, you’ve heard of the power of being mindful. Given the uncertainty and stress of our times, more people are engaging in mindfulness practices. For many, this is taking a few moments of silence. Some people recite a mantra to themselves such as the word “one” or notice the pattern of their breath. One person I know catches herself in this way. She realizes she is thinking about what she needs to do, and she gently goes back to reciting her word or noticing her breath. There are many other forms of practice.
However, many of my clients say they don’t have the interest or time for this kind of meditation. In fact, you can enhance your mindfulness by simply paying attention more. Ellen Langer, Harvard researcher, says that “mindfulness is an effortless, simple process that consists of drawing novel distinctions, that is noticing new things.” We have formed many habits and find ourselves driving to work, attending meetings and doing the dishes without awareness. You’ve had the experience of somehow eating a whole bag of chips without recalling the experience — or of arriving at your destination without awareness of the ride.
You have also enjoyed the experience of being fully engaged in something such as an art project, game or a conversation. You are present to the experience and noticing new connections.
If we focus on being a bit more observant, present and curious rather than judgmental we are likely to experience more aliveness and creativity and less stress.
Be mindful by practicing paying attention and noticing new things.
Alice always sees what is going wrong or what can go wrong. While she is a bright and interesting person she feels alone. She has alienated people with her negative disposition. When I asked her to share a few things that are going well she said she would need time to reflect since she habitually saw the negative.
We all have habitual patterns that are so automatic that we don’t see or believe that we have a choice. At one point it had served Alice to see what could go wrong. She was able to anticipate and prepare. This served her greatly in her early childhood where she could ask for what she wanted and get the help she needed and also in her career—to a point. Her early bosses knew that she was reliable and she would produce impeccable reports. However, as she progressed in her career her negativity and pressure to have things a certain way caused her to turn people off. She failed to perceive that her negativity is what caused people to not want to work with her. Instead, she tended to think that it was the others who were not bright, capable or as hardworking.
I worked with Alice to build another path. Her well-worn neural pathway of negativity activated her amygdala and caused her to react with anxiety and employ fight and flight strategies. When she noticed her contraction she could use it as a signal to shift to another pathway and look for what was positive and what she appreciates in the moment. In addition, she reflected each day on what she was grateful for. This was not an easy new path to develop but after a short time she learned how to make the shift and activate the polyvagal nerve which released oxytocin. Literally, a different part of the brain is activated and she experienced more ease and relaxation.
Over time, Alice reported a better quality of life with more positivity and greater connection. We all have habitual patterns where we can learn new paths for greater well-being. And our well-being influences those around us.
Dr. Tererai Trent was an uneducated black woman born in 1965 into an oppressive colonial society in rural Zimbabwe. She tells about an impactful moment when a woman asked her what she dreamed for. At first she did not respond but the woman waited. She declared that she wanted to come to the United States and study for her masters and doctorate. This seemed like an impossible dream since she did not have a high school education, was poor and had a number of children. Her mother encouraged her to have an even larger dream that would benefit others. She identified what she calls her “sacred dream” to give back to her community and build schools in Zimbabwe.
She worked hard and it took her eight years to get her high school GED through a correspondence course. She eventually traveled to the United States with her children and struggled with three jobs and school to support them. It was not an easy path. She clearly had grit and determination. Today, she has successfully created impactful schools in Zimbabwe.
Most profoundly, she attributes her success with getting her doctorate and starting schools and fulfilling her dream to the inspiration others gave her. The woman who asked about her vision declared that it was possible. Her mother and other villagers believed in her dream. She shared that at some of the most difficult moments in her life she gained superhuman strength because others gave her opportunity and believed in her. She believes that “the secret to our success in this life is to allow others to stand on our shoulders.”
What if we each worked to inspire and support others? How can you make a difference today?
A client told me that she did not trust or desire to work with the management team of her company. This was a challenge since she desired to progress in her career and joining the leadership team would be her next step if she stayed with the organization. She had drawn a line of us versus them. I encouraged her to expand her sense of “us”.
Brain research using functional imaging is confirming our natural inclination to assess whether others are with us or against us. When shown pictures of “others” in an fMRI our amygdala naturally reacts to differences (of race, gender, age and other factors). Our amygdala or emotions quickly react (in a tenth of a second) before our prefrontal cortex or thoughts come on board and we can remind ourselves to be open to others.
Research also shows that we can shift our boundary to have a wider sense of us and them. We can include people in our team, division, organization, neighborhood, country etc. Under the same brain imaging scan, sports fans did not react to race, gender or other factors when their “us” were supporters of their team based on the emblem on their baseball cap.
Notice where you naturally create categories separating individuals. This awareness and the skill to shift to being open and becoming interested in others’ perspectives are critical skills needed today.
Make it your intention to draw a wider boundary beyond your team and even organization. By stretching our definitions of tribe we can tackle greater issues together.
We’ve heard about how measles are spreading at rapid speed significantly influencing communities. In a similar way emotions are contagious.
In a study a group of nurses were asked to keep a daily log of their mood, work challenges and the overall emotional climate of their team. After three weeks, the researchers could significantly predict the mood of the entire team based on the positive or negative mood of any one nurse. The emotional contagion occurred when the moods were influenced by those outside of work and when the nurses only spent a few hours a day together. Overtime, a mood can spread through an organization and greatly influence the culture.
Another study showed that just witnessing another person who is stressed can cause stress to a person. That’s kind of scary given how many people are stressed these days. However, another study suggests that worrying about being stressed may be a real killer. In a study with thirty thousand participants people who had a lot of stress but didn’t worry about being stressed lived longer. Those who had a lot of stress and believed it was hurting them were over 40% more likely to die after eight years. Other studies suggest that we need some stress to support growth and seeing it as positive may help people to live longer. People who retire and don’t engage are more likely to live less.
Given emotional contagion, how can we accept stress as a part of life and realize that it can even support focusing and longevity? How can we more consciously create a positive mood for ourselves and those around us? A simple step is to be aware of your mood and to reflect on what you are grateful for.
Recognize that your mood is influencing others and see how you can be more open and positive.