An Open Heart is Integral to an Open Stance

During these times of disruption it is critical to adopt an Open Stance. Being open is the path to resilience, well-being, and thriving. Being open is more than a mindset or just related to being available and present to our thoughts. We also need to have a felt sense of opening our hearts of compassion to our emotions and that of others. This open-hearted compassion is essential during times of uncertainty. Naturally, we react to what we perceive as potential danger. Our emotions are signals that we need to pay attention. Then we need to discern if, in fact, we are in danger at that moment and if action is called for. For example, Sherrie’s position was eliminated in her corporation. Her first emotions were distress and worry, and also anger. All of these emotions are real and need attention. She knew intellectually that she would be okay since she had saved money and was marketable. Rather than ignoring her feelings or being swallowed up in them, she became open and aware of her emotions and named them.  She experienced warmth toward her mix of emotions. This supported her in being more responsive in her actions rather than just reacting.  

As an ideal parent listens to a child when she has an upsetting experience, we can be open to our emotions and be compassionate. We simply need to listen and be attentive and open to our range of emotions. This self-compassion allows us to connect with the parts of ourselves that are experiencing emotion. We become better prepared to extend our compassion to others. We can appreciate that we are each responding to uncertain circumstances based on our conditioning and habitual patterns. It is natural to react, and we can practice turning an open heart to ourselves and others. We can learn and adopt new behaviors that will serve us in these times. To be an effective leader or human being, we need both an open mind and an open heart. 

Our brain has different components or neural networks. Our rational brain is associated with our thinking mind. In contrast, our emotional or limbic brain is associated with our feeling heart. It is valuable to learn to recognize what is going on in our hearts and how we feel. Our emotional brain needs to work in tandem with our thinking brain. Fortunately, in recent years research on emotional intelligence has helped leaders, organizations, and some schools to promote the critical importance of understanding and valuing emotions.

Every organ in the human body generates an electric current and an electromagnetic field. The heart’s electric current is sixty times more powerful than other organs in the body and produces an electromagnetic field with a radius of 6-10 feet. This energy affects  those around us.  When we are at ease and in higher frequency emotions such as compassion, joy and peace we tend to impact those around us more positively and create a sense of connection and coherence.  When we are in a state of anxiety or distress others will sense our incoherence and our negative emotions are contagious. According to Heartmath, coherence allows others to feel connected and at ease and incoherence creates disruption and anxiety. Our intention to be open to ourselves and others in a non-judgmental way will create a sense of connection and coherence. This may be experienced at a conscious or non-awere level. It is valuable to practice connecting with our hearts and having the intention of being open-hearted. We can simply move our attention from our heads and thoughts to our hearts and imagine being open to ourselves, others and what is.  

An open-hearted person shows humility and continues to be open to new ideas and others no matter their level in an organization or hierarchy. They generally are confident in who they are and do not see others and their opinions as threats. They are not defensive but open to learning. This creates a positive environment at home or in the workplace. 

An open heart is about being compassionate, sincere, and acknowledging the value of emotions. An open-hearted person is typically warm, kind, and welcoming to others and creates real connections. An open mind supports thinking differently (i.e., opening to new thoughts and ideas). An open heart supports feeling differently (i.e., allowing feelings of compassion and empathy for others). Both are interrelated and needed for effective and positive outcomes. 

[More to come in the forthcoming book Open Stance: Thriving Amidst Uncertainty.]

Are You a Lifelong Learner?

My daughter was worried about how to take all the courses she is interested in during college. I felt the same way when I double majored. There was so much to learn and so much I wanted to know about. 

I subsequently realized that I will always be studying and learning. I have made it part of my life to read, listen to podcasts and to engage in dialogue with colleagues.  

A historian shared that an Ivy degree is not what differentiates successful presidents. Those who made lifelong learning and listening attentively their goal are considered most successful.

We are fortunate that there are many ways for continuous learning these days. There are an abundance of online classes, podcasts, audiobooks, e-books and more. The challenge is making studying a habit. I have combined listening to audio while exercising or walking and reading at the beginning and end of the day or during lunch. I have also joined with colleagues to talk about ideas on a regular basis. This has helped me to prepare and engage in dialogue on areas I want to learn more. I also routinely take classes. 

Find a time and a process that works for you to continuously learn and reflect. I hope it will bring you meaning and joy.

Where Do You Find Hope?

My niece had an assignment for school and asked me and others to answer the question, “Where do you find hope?”  It is a provocative question with many possible answers. I encourage you to reflect on it and find your answers.

One way I stay hopeful is to look for learning and opportunity in situations.  I recall how I have grown through past disruptions. In a sense I choose to trust life and believe in people.  Albert Einstein once said, “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.”  Granted, this view has not always been easy to have during this year that has been full of challenges. However, I believe that being aware and open to what is unfolding is a useful strategy. Hope keeps us motivated and inspires us to explore new avenues and proceed with energy and confidence. 

We can also look for signs of hope. Seeing the young care about the planet and peace and taking action gives me hope. Seeing so many recognizing the need for equity and that many people are finding ways to do their part to support others is inspiring. While we tend to focus on the negative and the challenges, with a positive vision for the future we can overcome obstacles and be grateful for all that we have and what is possible.

I encourage you to find hope and share it with others. Together we can make our families, workplaces and communities work for all.

Build Social Trust—Be Neighborly

We are facing many challenges these days. An underlying issue is a decrease in social trust. Studies show that there has been a decrease in trust of government, media, religious and major social institutions in America and elsewhere. While most see a decline in people being reliable and able to fulfill their obligations, according to Pew Research Center, 8 out of 10 Americans think that social trust can be repaired.

Where do we begin? We can each choose to take an open stance and take action to make life better for others. We can commit to being a friendly neighbor and a supportive community member.  What could happen if we each used our skills, talents and passion to consciously make a difference for our colleagues, community and others? Simply acknowledging and listening to others, even when they have different views could create a more positive environment.  When we show that we care and desire peace, doors will open. 

We are polarized with divergent political views and different areas of focus. However, we can come together as neighbors and work collectively on projects such as supporting youth or cleaning a park of litter and planting flowers. We can experience our common ground of wanting safe and life-enhancing communities—even when we have different world views.

David Brooks joined with the Aspen Institute to initiate the Weaver movement to repair the country’s social fabric, which is frayed by distrust, division and exclusion.

“People are quietly working across America to end loneliness and isolation and weave inclusive communities.” The organization collects inspiring stories of success. Brooks encourages people to join in “shifting our culture from hyper-individualism that is all about personal success, to relationalism that puts relationships at the center of our lives.” This is the kind of effort that I envision people choosing an open stance to take.

There are many stresses we are facing and we naturally become fatigued. Many are isolated and feel alone. Whether you start a global community development program or visit an elderly neighbor, we can each do our part to build positive and productive relationships and make life better for all.  When you reach out you will most likely receive more than you give. It is rewarding to experience community connection. It will take all of us to contribute.

What can you do to build trust and be neighborly and a supportive community member today?

See No Stranger

We have seen a lot of name calling and division these days. Family members, co-workers and neighbors are not speaking with one another based on diverse political views and other perspectives. It is often hard to understand how someone can see things so differently from us. We believe we are seeing so clearly and others must have blinders on. 

We are receiving different information on our social media feeds and we are watching different news sources and most often conferring with like-minded people who concur with us. 

Unconscious implicit bias affects all of us. We are primed to see “us” and “them.” We discern in an instant whether someone is one of us or one of them. This happens before conscious thought. Our body releases hormones that prime us to trust and listen to those who are a part of us. It’s easier to feel compassion for one of us. We experience fundamental attribution error where we attribute negative motives to others’ behavior while we tend to be positive toward ourselves when exhibiting the same behavior. We think of us as multidimensional and complex and we think of them as one-dimensional. 

Where do we go from here? Ideally, we begin to look for common ground, treat each other with respect, engage in dialogue and create systems and a future that works for all of us. Rather than be closed, we need to shift to taking an open stance. We need to adopt an open mindset and open heart where we commit to being curious, engaging in wonder as well as being compassionate and kind.  

Valeri Kaur, author of See No Stranger, suggests that as you see people who are different, say to yourself, “Sister,” “Brother,” “Aunt” or “Uncle.” Recognize that each person is facing challenges and desires similar things. Essentially, we can train our minds to emphasize kindness and expand our inner circles. Not only do we support more connection with others, this practice supports our wellbeing. 

We can each take actions to make life better for all and we can begin with expanding our own awareness and commitment to being open rather than closed.

Can We Find Unity?

No doubt, we are experiencing polarization in our families, workplaces and communities. Family members and co-workers are not speaking to one another because of perceived differing points of view. We feel disrespected when others cannot see the value of us or our views. Our natural reaction is to fight back or shut down. 

We need to manage our instincts and seek to engage in more conversations where we are sharing what we are observing and how we are experiencing things. We need to listen to one another, give empathy and engage in dialogue to find what we can agree on and to co-create shared solutions. This is not easy in the heat of an election and amidst the myriad of uncertainties we face with changes in workplaces and the impact of a pandemic, economic challenges and racial inequities. 

However, seeking to genuinely understand other perspectives and finding common ground is essential to create a civil environment that will work for all of us.

We can begin by educating ourselves. There are many resources and we can challenge ourselves to study diverse sources. I recently saw the documentary Social Dilemma on Netflix. It clearly shows that we are each seeing different posts on social media that reinforce different perspectives than other sources. We can easily become more entrenched in our views. We are watching news on different channels and talking to people who reinforce our view. We need to remain curious and open to learning.

We need to look for what we can appreciate in others with different views and listen even when we don’t agree. This is a learned skill. It is doable. We can find unity. It will take each of us.

The Power of Respect

As an executive and team coach and organization development consultant, I have continually found a core challenge is that people don’t feel respected and don’t have the skills to effectively talk with each other about their concerns. As a third party, I can see where each person’s view makes sense to them. It is so easy to interpret actions as disrespectful and a cascade of reactions creates a negative and untrustworthy environment. The tension takes energy away from productivity and meaningful impact.

A study found that disrespect made people feel less motivated. 68% cut back on their work efforts; 80% lost time worrying about the behavior and 12% left their job. (Porath, 2016, Mastering Civility).  Other studies showed that those who witness disrespect also have significant decreases in performance (Porath & Erez, 2009). Another study found that those who are seen as respectful were twice as likely to be viewed as leaders and performed significantly better.

Emotions are contagious. Disrespect spreads quickly through a team, family, or community. Everyone wants to feel respected and it can spread too if we each do our part to intentionally create an open, positive and welcoming environment.

It is useful to recognize our natural implicit bias. We are primed to see us and them.  Our body releases hormones that lead us to trust those who are more like us. We easily attribute negative motives to those who appear to be different. We can intentionally widen our circles to include a broader group. We can set our intention to be open to others including those with different views, styles and appearance.

We know that we can build neural pathways that support us in being kind and respectful. I set the intention to take an open stance each day. A simple action is to develop your curiosity muscle. I encourage workshop participants to practice saying, “I am curious… tell me more about….  With a genuine open mindset and interest in others, they report amazing results. This simple intention allows people to be heard and valued—something we all need to feel respected.

Another practice suggested by Valerie Kaur is to begin to see people as “no stranger”. As you see people you don’t know, allow yourself to be curious and open to them. She internally calls them brother, sister, aunt, and uncle as she sees people. We can bring people into our inner circle. With this habit we can rewire our brains to see no stranger.

When we are open, we recognize that everyone is facing life’s challenges and we are in this together.

I encourage leaders and teams I work with to reflect on what helps them to feel respected and what they are doing to uplift others. It is often simple things that make a difference in helping people to feel valued, appreciated and heard. Consider thanking people, sharing credit, acknowledging others, showing interest, giving empathy, and greeting others in a friendly tone.

It is easier to connect with others when we find commonalities. Consider looking for at least three areas that you have in common with others. It could be areas of interest, the kinds of things you do for fun, the shows you enjoy or that you are dealing with aging parents or trying to garden, that you studied at the same school, etc. Enjoy learning more about each other.

How could our workplaces, homes and communities change if we each made the commitment to be open to others and to show respect?  Consider the following actions:

  • Reflect and share what actions help you to feel respected and the actions you are taking to lift others up by being respectful.
  • Identify areas of commonality with others to support connection.
  • Envision expanding your circle of us.

Take an Open Stance in the Face of Polarization

No doubt, you are experiencing the challenges of polarization. Family members, coworkers, and community participants are dumbfounded by people with different views.  People are severing relationships with those on different sides of views on mask-wearing, climate policy, structural injustice, health care and economic strategies.

We truly wonder how people can be seeing things so differently. We see no common ground.  We are getting different facts from different news sources and the algorithms of social media usher in views that help to solidify our perspectives.  Confirmation bias strengthens our neural pathways and we believe we are right. Others in our circle further strengthen our view and enhance the polarization.

The last thing we want to do is engage in open-minded conversations. Yet, this is what is needed more than ever. I encourage leaders I coach and those in my workshops to consciously work to expand their experiences and knowledge. We each naturally have blind spots and we see the world through our background conditioning. If you only listen to one brand of media, you will continue to confirm your view. Sure, that is comforting. However, we need leaders who will take an open stance and listen and work to understand where others are coming from and what they are seeing.  In my experience, when we engage in conversations with the intent to give, empathy and understanding solutions often readily emerge.

How do we take an open stance? First, we need to make the intention to be open. Then when we are surprised or angered by a different point of view, we need to recognize our judgment signal and stop, step back and cool down.  If you look closely you will find a somatic signal such as a tightening in your stomach or chest. You can cool down by simply taking a few deep breaths, taking a walk, engaging in something that relaxes you, etc. The key is to know how to shift into an open curious state. There are many ways to do this. One that I prefer is to recall a time when I was open such as when being in nature or with a loved one. With this simple move your body shifts to being open. You will feel more receptive and so will your previous opponent.

Emotions are contagious. When others sense that you are actually open to understanding, you are likely to engage in an interesting and meaningful conversation. I share more about how to have positive and productive conversations in my book, blog and course called OASIS Conversations. Ideally, we shift from the arid desert of polarization to the aliveness and possibility of an oasis.

Commit to an open stance and engage in conversations to create shared solutions.

How Will You Make a Difference?

It is certainly a challenging time in the world with the pandemic, economic crisis, social and racial inequities, climate change disruption and polarization. People understandably report feeling tired and overwhelmed. There are many individual needs, people suffering isolation, job loss and other challenges.

This is a pivotal moment in time where there is an opening for profound change in our institutions, organizations and our lives.  This is a time where we each can focus on making a difference in our sphere of influence. If we each take action to make the world better for all, we can collectively make a difference.

Each of us has the power to impact others. I am inspired by clients making life better for those they can influence. A leader is using his platform to shed light on inequities and is working with his organization to make systemic changes. Another client changed how her agency is processing requests and is ensuring equity and fairness. For example, those in less advantaged neighborhoods are receiving the same high level of service as other neighborhoods.

I have been reflecting on how I can best use my skills and expertise to contribute. It has always been my intention to support potential and to assist people in taking an open stance and engaging in open conversations to create shared solutions. I am committed to sharing skills and facilitating conversations.  If possible, it is worthwhile to use your influence to make positive systemic changes. It is also valuable to support others in many ways.

I am continually inspired when facilitating groups where people identify projects and receive advice and support from peers. It is amazing what we can do together. This is the time where we can support each other in creating an environment of opportunity for everyone.  

I and colleagues are facilitating Open Culture Project Circles in organizations where people identify projects to foster open, inclusive and engaged environments. When people take action and support each other so much can be achieved. People report more meaning and satisfaction when they are focused on a positive purpose.

We introduced such project circles in a professional association and created an engaged and cohesive environment and individuals expressed success with their individual endeavors while building aligned relationships.

I encourage you to identify at least one way you can make a difference in your sphere.  Ideally, you will join with like-minded people to support one another in making the world a bit better.

How Are You Being Perceived?

Recently, several of my executive coaching and OASIS Conversations workshop clients have complained that they are being unfairly perceived.  In each of the cases, their boss said something like “we need to clear up the Jake and Jerry problem” where Jake was the name of the person who felt wrongly accused. How could his boss and others not see that he is the one who was “right” and did not deserve to be included in the negative perception. However, the more he complained about being accused and blamed the other person the more the negative perception stuck.

For one of the situations, I was quite surprised, like my client. He is collaborative and it did appear that the other person was not up for the job. Still, his boss held him accountable and expected him to take care of the problem. The negative perceptions hurt and sucked a lot of energy and time.

 What did I advise?  First, it is useful to normalize this experience. I have coached many effective leaders who have been caught in such a conflict even when they did not seek it.  Second, it is useful to consider your part in such a tangle. How have you tried to reach out to the other person? Have you had a conversation with the other person and talked about how the conflict and negative perceptions are hurting both of you? Have you sought out a third party to support such a conversation?  Be sure to first get empathy and be in an open place when you begin the conversation. Be sure to give empathy and work to understand the other person’s perspective as well as share your view. Look for where there is common ground and shared purpose. Make sure you identify a solid agreement and how you will follow up. After a conversation or several, be sure to check-in to ensure you stay on track.

One of my clients had such a conversation with a colleague that she had avoided for quite a long time and did not like. She was quite upset when their mutual boss, the head of the organization, insisted they come to a truce rather than continue to complain and blame each other.  With preparation and some anxiety, she had the conversation. She discovered that her colleague was angry that she failed to include him in what he thought was pertinent information in order to be successful. She avoided him and had failed to see the impact of her behavior.  In turn, she was able to ask him to stop saying negative things about her staff. They agreed to hold regular meetings to share information. They both were relieved when their boss agreed that things were running more smoothly. Years later they continue to be close colleagues and the organization is much more effective and their lives are filled with less stress and anxiety.

Be aware of how you are being perceived in your interactions. Engage in conversations to create agreements.