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?

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.

Contagion: What are You Spreading?

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.

Elevate Trust

An immense amount of energy is spent when we don’t trust a coworker or family member. When we can’t count on someone to follow through on their promises we experience higher levels of cortisol which limits our openness and relationships with others. We are less creative or open to new ideas.  On the other hand, when we are interacting with someone we trust, there are high levels of the neurotransmitter oxytocin which creates more of a sense of bonding and openness.

It is valuable to pay attention to how we are trusting others. Do we have an habitual pattern of expecting the worst and mistrusting people immediately? It is useful to notice our level of trust and to work to create positive trusting environments.  We can experiment with being more vulnerable and sharing more about ourselves. We can be explicit about expected norms or terms of engagement that we can reflect on from time to time and modify as necessary. We can ask for what we need and follow up.

Pay attention to your level of trust and take actions to elevate the environment of trust with those in your workplace and elsewhere.

Are You Creating an Environment of Respect?

A senior leadership team was surprised to see negative scores on an employee engagement survey. I conducted focus groups and confidential interviews to learn more. Like many organizations, the company had gone through significant changes and restructurings and this caused uncertainty.  However, the thing that seemed to be at the core of the negative scores was the experience of a lack of inclusion or respect. People did not feel that their managers cared about them or listened and valued them. A climate of distrust had been created where people did not openly speak with one another.

The cost is high when people don’t feel valued. Usually they believe it is because of the way they look or their function or role. When people feel there will be retribution for speaking up even more energy is required to create an open and inclusive environment where people feel engaged.

Just as in any relationship, we need to take stalk of the climate we are creating. Are we respecting others and seeing them as individuals with hopes and needs?  How you can create an open and inclusive environment? Begin by genuinely engaging in conversations to demonstrate interest and respect.

Openness is Contagious

Years ago, I provided team coaching to an executive team of a manufacturing company based in Wisconsin.  Our meetings were early mornings. I could predict the energy and openness of the team based on the score of the Green Bay Packer game the day before. If the team was winning, as it mostly did at the time, the leadership team members were more positive about creating new solutions and working together. If the team lost, we had to spend more time creating an open environment for the leadership team dialogue.

We all have experienced this phenomenon. A colleague shared that people seemed to have a skip in their walk and a friendly smile for one another in Charlottesville after UVA won the 2019 NCAA basketball championship.  It seemed like the whole town shared this positive optimism. Not only is it Virginia’s first championship but the victory is particularly sweet after their close loss last year. The coach and players claim that the loss brought them closer together to achieve this win.

We not only need to check in to ensure that we are open and that those we interact with feel safe and open but it is important to ensure that we work to support a positive and open environment. After the UVA win, colleagues in workplaces seemed more open and forgiving of one another when they were fighting about an issue the day before. Again, a very different experience in the workplace than when there was tension during a previous rally in the city.

An abundance of research emphasizes the importance of creating an environment of openness, safety and trust.

Ask, how open is the environment? What can I do to support openness?  Pay attention to the environment or context as much as the content or your words.

Listen to Connect Not Correct

Drawing by Ann Van Eron

What is he thinking? What a terrible idea! Does he see how he is going to hurt the staff and the company?” This is what Trish told me she was thinking as her boss shared a new idea that he thought would save money and address a big problem.

Trish had immediately told her boss why the idea would not work. She was surprised that he could not see the foolishness of his solution.  Unfortunately, Trish was not successful in influencing her boss to consider other options and in addition, their relationship soured.

What happened? Trish immediately identified what she believed was wrong with her manager’s idea and began arguing her point of view. She did what we all do often. We focus on correcting or rejecting an idea before we ensure that we are listening fully and connecting with the person speaking. We need to manage ourselves and make sure we understand that the other person is saying and also identify how they are feeling by providing empathy. For example, Trish could have said, “You are concerned about the problem and believe this solution will address the challenge and address the budget deficit too.”  Her boss would have felt heard and been more open to a conversation. Because he felt judged he became closed to a genuine conversation of exploring options and also became closed to Trish.

Notice your response when you hear ideas you don’t agree with (give yourself empathy) and stop and shift to being curious and open. Focus on listening more intently, share what you have heard, give empathy and be open to learning more.

Take a Time Out

You are having a conversation with a colleague and while you have intended to remain open you feel yourself becoming agitated. You know that you are not fully listening and note your judgement.  What can you do?

You can notice your judgement and recognize that you are not open or in your oasis. You can share, “I realize I am feeling a bit agitated or stressed. You and this conversation are too important to me, and I want to be fully hearing you. Let’s take a short break and reconnect in 15 or 30 minutes.”  Ideally, the other person will appreciate your concern for the relationship.

Research by John Gottman, a leading relationship expert, found that when couples were engaged in conflict and their cortisol levels became elevated that their conversations were not productive. He began to say that there were problems with the video equipment that was being used in the experiment. He found that after approximately a 15 minute break, the couple could resume in a positive state and were better equipped to address differences.

Notice when you are triggered and are in judgement with elevated cortisol levels. Take a break and cool down and become open. Notice the impact on your interactions.

Are You Really Listening?

It is easy to ask questions of people without waiting for a response. I know I have done this when I am in a hurry. “Hi. How are you? How is your ill mother? Are you traveling this holiday?”  Sometimes we are asking questions just as a way of saying hello as we are passing by without really looking for a response. However, we need to be aware of our impact and provide space for a response.

Mary told me that a client “sucks the energy out of the room.”  When I inquired further, it became clear that her client asked many questions without pausing to really listen. Mary feels that the client does not really care about her and she braces herself when interacting with the client.  I suspect that her client is not aware of the lack of real connection. Perhaps she is genuinely interested but feels rushed inside and has not learned to slow down and give Mary full attention.

Notice your pattern. Do you pepper people with questions without leaving space for a response or are you genuinely interested and give people attention to hear their response?