Listen to Understand

How often are you listening to react to your colleague, family member or friend? It is so easy to assume we know what they are saying and want to share our point of view.  We begin rehearsing in our head what we will say and often blurt it out before they even finish. 

We’ve all done this and been on the receiving end of someone not really listening. How does it feel? I know that it does not make me feel more connected to the other person.  

Rather than focusing on sharing my perspective or giving a solution, I have found being genuinely curious and giving empathy builds relationships and results. 

When I relax a bit and allow myself to be authentically curious, I  often learn that my assumptions are off and I find new worlds of possibility and connection open up.  

It helps me to wonder, “What is important to the other person or group?” I also reflect on what is important to me in the interaction and our shared interests or common ground.  It helps to give the other and myself empathy. Empathy is naming the emotion the other is experiencing. Doing so does not mean I necessarily agree with their point of view. 

There are so many opportunities to really listen to others in our life. Experiment with genuinely being curious and giving empathy. What do you notice? 

How One Word Can Change Things

For most of my life I have recited an internal mantra, “I have to write a report.  I have to  help my neighbor. I have to take my child to school. I have to respond to emails. I have to make dinner. I have to call a client.  I have to write a book…”

I wonder about all the hours I have spent talking and thinking about all the things I had to do. While I have done a lot of things, I can’t say I have always enjoyed the journey.

James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits, shared that his college strength and conditioning coach, Mark Watts,  taught him an invaluable life lesson. Rather than saying, “I have to…”, we can switch one word and say, “I get to…”

“I get to write a report.  I get to help my neighbor. I get to take my child to school. I get to make dinner. I get to respond to emails.  I get to write a book.”

Can you experience the difference?  Rather than feeling stressed when I feel I “have to”, I  feel excited about the opportunities that I “get to.”  I feel thankful to be alive and to embrace the experiences.

I am continually reminded of my fortune and opportunity when I interact with people who are not capable of taking care of themselves. I appreciate that I have a wide range of choices and opportunities. We need to be aware of our inner narrative and the stories we tell ourselves. We are often unaware of the power of our inner dialogue and our related mindset.

Having an Open Mindset is about being open to opportunities. With an Open Stance I appreciate all that I chose and what I “get” to do.

Notice your mindset and experiment with changing one word. 

Are You Curious?

In my OASIS Conversations Course, I ask participants to experience being curious with a partner. I instruct them to be genuinely curious about their partner and begin each sentence with, “I’m curious….For example, they could say, “I’m curious about your experience with your cat that I see on Zoom.” or “I’m curious about how you plan to spend the holiday.”  or “I’m curious about your role and how you are applying what we are learning.” When a person is genuinely curious, their partner seems to come to life. The partner shares freely and both partners are energized and experience connection.  In fact, the energy of the whole class is elevated with this simple exercise. 

Recall a topic or area that you are curious about. For example, I am genuinely curious about what motivates people and how to create positive and productive relationships and environments. I studied Organization Psychology and am always learning and  experimenting. I feel excited to develop new models and understandings. Notice where you sense the curiosity in your body. I notice that my chest is open and I feel lighter. 

When we are genuinely open-minded and curious, we create an open environment for connection and learning. 

When we are not genuinely curious there is a lack of connection. We are not curious when we feel we must find an answer and feel a pressure to solve something. 

Pay attention to your experience of curiosity today. Experiment with being curious in your interactions. Notice where you experience curiosity in your body and the impact of curiosity.

Am I Being the Open Person I Want to Be?

No doubt, you’ve heard about the many benefits of being mindful. When we are present, we experience more possibilities and more aliveness. We listen more attentively and have more influence. 

Marshall Goldsmith, the famous author and executive coach,  shared that after reviewing over 400 books on Buddhism and mindfulness that one of the best ways to be mindful is to ask ourselves a simple question that he heard from Carol Kauffman, founder of the Institute of Coaching at Harvard Medical School.  She suggested the question,  “Am I being the person I want to be right now?”

This is a great question to call us back to the present moment.  I would add one more word, “Am I being the open person I want to be?”  When we take an Open Stance we are open-minded/curious, open-hearted/compassionate, open-centered/courageous and open-handed/taking kind action. When we are open we are grounded and appreciate what is, we are optimistic about what is unfolding, we are grateful and open to inspiration. When we are open, we are connected to what is meaningful, connected with others and the greater environment.  Taking an Open Stance is being truly mindful and living fully. 

Are you being the open person you want to be?

How to Manage a Difficult COVID Dilemma Conversation

When I talked with Ken about the death of his elderly father, he shared that his siblings and family were angry at him for live-streaming the funeral rather than engaging in the traditional Irish wake and funeral. They did not seem to understand that he was honoring the wishes of his mother to keep the gathering small and keep the grandchildren safe, since most were not vaccinated. Ken wondered if he would be able to reunite the family.  Sally was facing a similar dilemma.  Her son is getting married and the bride’s family does not support vaccinations. Young family members are expected to be in the wedding ceremony without masks. 

I was invited to speak to a group that was meeting in a restaurant. The convener mentioned how important in person meetings are to him. Others chose not to attend the meetings since COVID-19 cases were rising in our town. 

I hear about such challenging dilemmas people are facing often.  Many have chosen not to talk with friends, family members and colleagues. Others have cut off relationships completely. These are difficult conversations.  

First, it is important to become aware of your own emotions and to be kind to yourself. These are challenging times and we are each required to assess risk and determine our comfort levels without full certainty. I used to say that most things we face with our colleagues and family members are not life and death issues. However, more things raise our fears now and may  feel like life and death issues.  Notice intense feelings and give yourself empathy and ask for real empathy from a friend in order to cool down and have some space in order to to shift to being more open and curious. Sometimes this may take some time.  

When you are ready for a conversation, be respectful of the other person. In fact, you can say something like, “My intention is to be respectful and open. I want to hear your perspective.”  It is easy for each of us to feel that those with other views don’t value or respect us.  Work to be genuinely curious and open to learn. 

From this stance, fully listen and give empathy to the other person’s view. Perhaps they feel that worrying about safety does not make sense. You can appreciate their point of view. Empathy does not mean you agree. You can even say that you value your relationship and can respectfully agree to disagree. We each have different backgrounds and have different reasons for our positions. You want to understand what is below the position and understand what is most important. Ideally, you and your family member or colleague will want to maintain your connection. 

Ideally, you will then be able to agree on an action that will meet both of your needs.  For example, Ken and his siblings agreed to have a family Zoom gathering where the grandchildren and all the family members could freely say goodbye to their father and grandfather.   Sally and her son agreed that the young family members would wear festive masks in the wedding ceremony.  The group I spoke with had an additional video meeting for those who chose not to meet in person. I spoke twice. 

Most importantly,  each of those involved in these cases felt respected and felt that the relationships were valued and even grew as they worked through the potential conflicts. 

These are challenging times where we each need to take an Open Stance and assess how to manage our risks and how to foster our relationships. It requires being self-aware and respectful as well as empathetic as we engage in conversations. 

Find Joy in What is Possible

It is so easy to be disheartened by the many challenges our planet and world are facing these days. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and wonder what we can do.  Many people throw up their arms in despair. The news and social media reinforce the problems.

However, we can take an Open Stance, appreciate what is, and consciously choose to be optimistic about what is possible and take action to make a difference. In fact, we are at a unique time when so much change is possible. Many systems are broken, and collectively we can create new opportunities.

I was fortunate to listen to the Great Leadership Reset Summit sponsored by Barrett-Koehler Publishers and Case Western University’s Fowler Center for Business as an  Agent of World Benefit. Many leaders in organizations shared what they are doing to address climate change and social inequities. Some companies are looking at their supply chains and finding ways to reduce waste. Others are reducing their carbon footprint and even becoming positive in creating energy that can be used by others. Others are developing products such as lights that allow people to have a significantly better quality of life. They make an inspiring case that business can be a force for positive change.

Many of the leaders shared their joy in envisioning a better world for all and the impact they are seeing. Each of us can take action–even small actions –to inspire others about what we can collectively do to make life better. We can choose our disposition and our corresponding focus of energy. We can each be a leader, no matter what our position, in inspiring others.

Where will you find joy in supporting change during this unique time? Start where you are and share your enthusiasm and hope. Together we can make a difference. 

Where Do You Draw the Line?

It is so easy to see us vs. them. There seem to be so many issues that divide us.  We often are putting ourselves into one camp vs. another.  Those for vaccines vs. those against, managers vs. staff, extroverts vs. introverts, those working on climate change vs. those who do not embrace it, etc. It is easy to lack trust in one another and to see some as the victims and others as perpetrators.

This demarcation comes from our survival brain and conditioning that caused us to recognize who was in our tribe and to be aware of those who were not. 

When we recognize that we are judging and we notice our lack of trust and fear we can catch ourselves. We can Stop, Step Back and Cool Down and Shift to be Open.  We can recognize our humanity and our natural tendency for bias and judgment.  We can draw a larger circle to include others and see ourselves as interdependent.  We cannot solve the challenges we are collectively facing when we are focused on fighting each other. 

I have worked with many leadership teams where people are focused on fighting one another.  When they draw a new line, where they are aligned and see themselves as a team,  they are better positioned to achieve collective goals.  Such transformation is beautiful to behold. We can see each other as family and engage in collective conversations to solve challenges we cannot on our own.

Notice the lines you are drawing to demarcate yourself from others. Consider drawing a wider circle, embracing others and expanding the possibilities. 


Practice Kindness and Being Open

Daily I hear stories from family members, colleagues, and clients about misunderstandings, miscommunications, and the challenges of working and living with others. It is so easy to feel wronged by others and to make judgments. In fact, we naturally judge others as a way to protect our self-identities. 

I recently gave a talk and a member of the audience challenged what I was saying in a judgmental tone.  My immediate internal reaction was to be defensive and close to the person.  Rather than argue or be defensive, I was able to notice my closing and stop, step back and cool down with a breath, and I was able to shift to curiosity. I became open to listening. I trusted that I would learn something and reminded myself to not be defensive. It helps to recall that each person is coming from a different background with a different understanding of words and with different needs. 

By being open, I learned that some of my definitions could be made clearer, and I trust my next talk will be better for the interaction. 

When the person began arguing with my premise, her view and energy became contagious and others started questioning things. When I became open and curious the atmosphere changed, and we had a real and meaningful conversation. 

At the end of the meeting, a participant remarked that they noticed that I had demonstrated being open by not being defensive. Ironically, my talk was on the power of being open. My demonstration was more important than my definition. The atmosphere shifted, and the whole group acknowledged that the conversation was rich and rewarding for them. 

We can each make it a practice of catching ourselves when we naturally close and after cooling down a bit, shift to being open. Notice the impact on yourself and others. 

Empathize for Connection

So many people are continuing to have conflicts with family members, coworkers and neighbors about being vaccinated or wearing a mask. It’s not easy to navigate.  Using the OASIS Conversation skills has saved relationships. For example, Jeri faced a big family dilemma. Her brother Jim, who chose not to be vaccinated, was feeling isolated and not supported by his family as he prepared for his upcoming wedding. Jeri and several of her siblings did not feel comfortable having Jim and his fiancé visit them and their children. They debated if they would attend the wedding.  The tension grew among the family members with people taking different positions.  After Jeri and her siblings avoided Jim they worried about losing the relationship altogether. On a family group text Jim wrote, “It would be nice to have some support as I plan my wedding” and signed it as “unsupported”. The whole family was suffering amid the turmoil.

While it is our instinct to tell someone with a different view why they are wrong or to not engage, Jeri had the courage to listen. She was able to receive empathy herself from colleagues as she shared her frustration and worry. With this understanding, she was able to shift from being judgmental to curious.

She called her brother and instead of berating him as she felt like doing, she was able to shift from being closed to open. At first her brother was quite defensive and expected her to tell him and his fiancé they were wrong for not being vaccinated. Instead, she said she genuinely was interested in hearing his point of view. While at first surprised and hesitant, he began to share his concerns. Jeri continued to listen and give empathy. For example, she paraphrased and said, “I recognize how sincerely you have thought this through and how it is difficult for you to go against the family and that you feel isolated and not supported.”  She continued to listen. “It must be difficult for you since your fiancé’s family does not feel comfortable with being vaccinated.”  Jeri noticed that Jim relaxed when he felt heard. Jeri felt excited to reconnect with her brother and this ultimately supported the family’s unity.

While they remained with different perspectives, Jim closed by asking Jeri more about her view and said that he could understand her perspective and that he would be open to considering his choice. Jeri was surprised and welcomed his openness. She offered to help with the wedding planning from a distance. 

It is natural to hold our position on an issue when we feel defensive and do not believe others are interested in our point of view. Research supports that when we can be calm and open and really listen with empathy, we are more likely to find common ground and enhance relationships.  With genuine listening and empathy, we can clarify what is most important. Jeri and Jim learned that they both value their family connection.

Practice taking an Open Stance and shift from being closed to open and listen for understanding and connection. Explore the OASIS Conversations process for positive and productive relationships.

Can We Be Joyful During this Time?

I have wondered, can I dare to be joyful when faced with so many world challenges–conflicts, climate changes, systemic racism, health crises and geopolitical tensions? 

Much of my life I believed that I should not experience joy when others around me were suffering. I don’t think it served me and others to be worried and stressed.

It is the human condition that we face challenges. We grow as we work through the obstacles. Rather than strive to be right, we need to become comfortable with the uncertainty and not knowing.

I have come to believe that we need to lead with joy and openness. Emotions are contagious. If we are stressed, judgmental and contracted, we literally are limited in the opportunities we see. However, when we model being joyful and open, we see possibilities and inspire others to be open to possibilities and creativity. 

My colleague and I are defining JOYBeing as the state of being that allows us to experience the moment and supports us in the moment to move forward. It is a feeling of wellbeing and aliveness–a felt sense or sensation in the body. We feel connected with ourselves and resources and enabled to take purposeful action. JOYBeing is experienced when we are at peace with who we are and we allow our authentic self to guide our actions.

JOYBeing is not an outcome;  it is a way of being. If it becomes an outcome for us, we always run after it and we lose the moment.  We are in choice all the time and we can choose how we respond to the moment.  When we intentionally choose openness and joy we experience more fulfillment and aliveness. We are then open to explore options for the challenges and together co-create solutions. We need joy now more than ever. Of course, this does not mean we are uncaring or disrespectful to the many needs. When we are experiencing JOYBeing, we have more energy to give to others and tackle the challenging issues before us. 

A first step to cultivate JOYBeing is to begin to notice the small moments of joy in your day. For example, you may enjoy a walk in nature, a greeting from a friend and a cup of tea. Notice how you approach life and others from this joyful and open state.