Are You Judging or Discerning?

It is our nature to judge ourselves and others. We each have an inner voice that accompanies us and tells us when things are not “right”. When we are contracted or closed, we can be harsh in judging ourselves, others and situations. Sometimes we call this judge our “inner critic” or saboteur.  If you are like me, you may have many forms of this inner critic.  

We can recognize our judge when we hear that we or someone or something “should” be different. We sense in our bodies that we are “right” and others “should” agree.  In addition to the berating inner voice, we usually have a predominant physical sensation that can be stronger depending on the issue.  For example, I notice tension in my back, as if someone is pushing me or a tightness in my stomach and a feeling of pressure.  

We can use these signals to alert us that we are closed or judging.  If we can shift to a more open stance we can be less harsh and more curious or discerning.  

For example, say you feel you did not do well on a presentation you gave. You could notice your judging part saying things like, “You are a failure! You are not a good speaker; you never have been and never will be. Others are so much better.”  You may notice your signal and contraction. Your amygdala part of the brain is activated.  If you can shift to a more open stance, you could more calmly assess the situation, learn from it, and determine your next steps. From an open state, you could see that you would have benefitted by allowing more time for preparation, practicing and getting support with the technology.  You could learn from this experience and you may even choose to hire a coach or take a course to improve your skills. 

Discerning comes from an open and growth mindset. You recognize that we all can learn and develop. You are more centered, open and compassionate.  A discerning parent helps a child learn and recognizes that developing knowledge and skills takes time and ongoing improvement.  There is empathy and support appreciating the intrinsic goodness of the child. 

We can practice shifting into an open stance so we can be more discerning, support  development and value our intrinsic nature and that of others. We can learn to build the muscle of shifting to enjoy an open stance and continual growth.

 

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.

There are Many Ways

Recently I was searching for an exercise routine for strength training.  As I reviewed different videos and books, I found that there were many options and not just one “right” routine. This may seem obvious but we often have a predilection for identifying a “right” way, as I was when I began my search. Truthfully, we are each unique and need to find the best routine for ourselves.

In a similar way, research by Jeffry Martin on fundamental wellbeing concludes that there are many routes to personal wellbeing. In fact, his studies show that it is useful to try many forms of meditation, positive psychology exercises and other activities.  Over time, we may find new routines are needed as we grow and develop.

It would be great if we could remember that there are many ways to live and be and that each person will experiment with options that work best for them. It does not mean that our way is “wrong” or “right”– just different. We spend too much energy making ourselves and others wrong. Polarization is rampant. 

Try adapting an experimental mindset and try new ideas and ways of being. Allow others to also explore and grow. We are in a new time in our world and adapting an open mindset will serve us well.

Where is Your Blind Spot?

A leader in my OASIS Conversation Course assumed that a member of his team was not a team player and was lazy. He was not updating his boss on the status of projects. The frustrated leader talked about letting his staff member go. However, he was able to notice his judgment and worked to stop his reaction and engage in a conversation with his team member. After the conversation, he reported to our class that his view of this team member totally changed.

In fact, the team member had been actively helping the other team members and was successfully completing his projects. In the conversation, the leader learned that the team member did not realize that he was expected to be sharing his progress. He felt confident and did not want to bother his manager. This leader was glad that he noticed his judgment and blind spot and was able to cool down and engage in a positive and productive conversation. The leader was able to see that he had not clarified his expectations and he realized that he had unfairly written off a productive staff member. He was grateful that he learned the skills for such a conversation and that he approached the team member with an open mind. This conversation supported the whole team.

Our brains are overloaded with millions of pieces of information and we can only process a small number at a time. We are always using our past experiences to make short cut decisions. Without awareness, we are making choices about people and situations. We are constantly making assumptions about whom we can trust and who belongs. Blind spots are a part of being human.

We naturally have stereotypes that impact our interactions. In addition, we experience confirmation bias where we ignore, avoid and devalue information that contradicts our beliefs. One study showed that people spend over 36% more time reading articles that confirm their beliefs. This can impact innovation.

While we can make quick decisions, our assumptions and blinds spots can create challenges in our interactions. Conductors added 20% more women musicians when they started conducting interviews where they could not see the candidates. Most of us don’t intend to be biased and we think we are open-minded. However, we naturally have blind spots.

We need to commit to being open and challenge ourselves to stop and consider other explanations—especially when we sense we are “right”. It is important to not let one interaction or experience color your point of view. Separate observable data from assumptions.

Notice and slow down your reactions and be thoughtful in your responses to differences and judgments. Pay particular attention to when you “know” you are “right.” Be curious and seek other perspectives.

Where is Your Blind Spot?

A leader in my OASIS Conversation Course assumed that a member of his team was not a team player and was lazy. He was not updating his boss on the status of projects.  The frustrated leader talked about letting his staff member go. However, he was able to notice his judgment and worked to stop his reaction and engage in a conversation with his team member. After the conversation, he reported to our class that his view of this team member totally changed.

In fact, the team member had been actively helping the other team members and was successfully completing his projects. In the conversation, the leader learned that the team member did not realize that he was expected to be sharing his progress. He felt confident and did not want to bother his manager. This leader was glad that he noticed his judgment and blind spot and was able to cool down and engage in a positive and productive conversation.  The leader was able to see that he had not clarified his expectations and he realized that he had unfairly written off a productive staff member. He was grateful that he learned the skills for such a conversation and that he approached the team member with an open mind. This conversation supported the whole team.

Our brains are overloaded with millions of pieces of information and we can only process a small number at a time. We are always using our past experiences to make short cut decisions. Without awareness, we are making choices about people and situations. We are constantly making assumptions about whom we can trust and who belongs.  Blind spots are a part of being human.

We naturally have stereotypes that impact our interactions. In addition, we experience confirmation bias where we ignore, avoid and devalue information that contradicts our beliefs.  One study showed that people spend over 36% more time reading articles that confirm their beliefs.  This can impact innovation.

While we can make quick decisions, our assumptions and blinds spots can create challenges in our interactions. Conductors added 20% more women musicians when they started conducting interviews where they could not see the candidates. Most of us don’t intend to be biased and we think we are open-minded. However, we naturally have blind spots.

We need to commit to being open and challenge ourselves to stop and consider other explanations—especially when we sense we are “right”.   It is important to not let one interaction or experience color your point of view. Separate observable data from assumptions.

Notice and slow down your reactions and be thoughtful in your responses to differences and judgments. Pay particular attention to when you “know” you are “right.”  Be curious and seek other perspectives.

“I completely understand, it’s okay.” How Are You Showing Respect Amidst Uncertainty?

We all have different levels of comfort these days. Will you be going back to the office soon? This is a time of uncertainty and there are not easy decisions.

Recently a colleague asked me to join her for lunch. She noted that she had been visiting many restaurants and other services and was not sure the coronavirus was that big a deal. She did not know of anyone who had been affected. It was just when things started opening up and I had not ventured out in a while. I agreed to meet. However, when I mentioned it to my family I was surprised at their reaction and hesitation. I felt a bit nervous, but called my colleague to postpone the in-person meeting. I was grateful that she said, “I completely understand, it’s okay.” 

This may be a good response to remember. Even though I knew that she had a different level of risk tolerance she did not shame me or make me feel uncomfortable. In fact, I appreciated her response and it enhanced our connection.

Unfortunately, quite a few people have called me to share similar worries. For example, a manager shared that he considers himself an A player and is already feeling concerned with pressure to return to his office. While he does not feel comfortable going into the office, he does not want to say no to his boss who believes people should return. A school teacher is stressed about going back and doesn’t feel she has a real choice. Another person said she is feeling pressured to participate in a local meeting in person and does not know how to respond to the shaming. She doesn’t want to let her colleague down and is upset that the person is telling her there is no potential for harm when a large group will be assembled in a small space.

Some of my clients are choosing not to reopen their offices for some time and as many as 70% of employees in some companies have said they prefer to work from home now that they have experienced the benefits. This is a time for leaders to show they care about the wellbeing of their staff and to create dialogue for open conversations about needs and concerns.

This is a time to remember that each person is having a different experience, has a unique level of risk tolerance and may have health issues themselves or those they live with may be vulnerable. The most important thing is to notice your judgment and remember to stop, step back, cool down and shift to being open and understanding. Be careful not to shame others and to appreciate their honesty. Each person needs to evaluate the situation and make their choices.

Remember to respect differences and appreciate that each of us needs to make our own decisions and we need to be flexible and supportive of one another. “I completely understand, it’s okay.”

Are You Being Emotionally Intelligent During This Time of Uncertainty?

You may notice that you are experiencing a range of emotions these days. After a news report you may feel worried about contracting coronavirus and be angry at a family member for taking the risk of meeting a friend or colleague. You may notice that you are feeling tired with all of the decisions you need to make for your business and family. You may be worried about the future of your job and the current state of the world. Many of these emotions are uncomfortable. We each have different strategies for managing what we may consider as painful or negative emotions. Most of us retreat to our heads and do a lot of thinking and worrying. We also may tend to judge ourselves and recount our inadequacies or we can blame others and highlight their faults. We can also distract ourselves with things like more work, more television, news and other addictions. Essentially, we tend to suppress, repress or express our emotions.

Another option is to befriend our emotions and recognize that they are giving us a message. Most of us ideally choose to be attentive parents and seek to understand the needs of a child with compassion. For example, the cry of a young child could mean the child is hungry, lonely or desires to play. As parents we take responsibility for listening to our child’s pain and learning about their needs. We can do the same thing for ourselves. We can make the intention to be open to learning from our emotions.

Our concern about the dangers of coronavirus can support us in following the social distancing and mask wearing guidelines. Our sense of being tired may call for planning a break. We can listen to what our emotions are implying and then we can assess how true the underlying belief may be. For example, if we are worried because we are trying to be a perfectionist. It may be that the report we are working on is good enough.

This is where self-awareness comes in. We all have conditioned beliefs that may have once served us but may not do so now. It may have helped you to strive to be a perfectionist in your family or school where you received praise for such attention to detail. However, your report is not being graded and you will be better off not editing it for the tenth time.

Part of being emotionally intelligent and successful during this time of uncertainty is being open to becoming aware of your emotions and assessing how true or realistic the underlying beliefs are for you at this time. This process takes some practice and is quite useful during this journey.

Try an experiment of noticing and listening to your emotions and related beliefs. Then choose kind actions to support yourself.