What’s Your Story?

We are always making assumptions about others, ourselves and our situations. We naturally create stories based on our past experiences as a way of ensuring our safety. 

David, a manager, shared with me that team members did not support his ideas and were out to make him look bad. He felt frustrated. With this story, he worked harder to demonstrate his expertise and how he was correct in his proposals. However, the harder he worked to demonstrate he was right, the less he seemed able to inspire people to listen and align around a strategy. 

When we “know” we are right and feel such frustration and contraction, we need to stop and take a look at the story we are telling ourselves. We could say to ourselves or a coach or friend, “The story I am telling myself is . . . that my colleagues are not interested in what I have to say and that they are even against me.”  Then we can assess what is a true fact or observation and what is our assumption or judgment. It is true that team members questioned the findings. They asked, “How did you arrive at that conclusion?”  Is it true that they are against you? This is more likely your story and your self-fulfilling prophecy. 

The more David believed his colleagues were against him, the more he pushed for his ideas with the leader and others and the less he involved his colleagues in his process. It was his internal story that they were against him that ironically influenced his moves that alienated him.  We can only control ourselves and not others. (And managing ourselves is not easy.)

When David became aware of his role in the tangle, he was able to take the first moves to listen and include colleagues in his thinking process during development and to show that he was a team player. He reflected on what he appreciated about team members and became more caring toward them. He was able to forge a more positive and healthy dynamic. 

By questioning our stories and separating facts from assumptions, we are better positioned to create more positive and productive relationships and unparalleled results.

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.

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.

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.

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.

What’s Your Narrative?

Narrative

“With awareness, we can make conscious choices, instead of letting our habitual thoughts and patterns run the show.”—Tamara Levitt

I often feel like I have a bird on my shoulder commenting on how things are progressing.  Do you also? Most of us have that inner voice speaking to us all day. It is noting what is wrong and what may go wrong and even what is working—sometimes.  Often, we think that voice is us. I know that I experience suffering when I repeatedly hear things like, “You are not getting enough done.” Or “Things are not going the way they should.”

While we tend to identify with these voices, they are actually habitual patterns that we have learned though our life experiences and conditioning. I find with executive coaching clients and myself that we can become so used to these voices that we think they are the truth and we don’t see or even look for other perspectives. However, when we step back, we can begin to notice patterns that may not be serving us. It did serve me to tell myself that I am not getting enough done when I was a student with a heavy load. The voice served me and kept me focused. In fact, most of our habitual patterns did serve us at some point and may not be as valuable at this point.  

By being kind to ourselves and self-compassionate, we can notice and explore the value of our habitual patterns. We can begin to experiment with new narratives.

Rather than feel like a victim and complain, one client noticed her pattern and began to trust that her teen was learning and growing in a challenging situation and expected him to succeed.   This shift in narrative helped her to refrain from constant yelling and did indeed give her son space to thrive.

A client noted his worry about a colleague’s productivity. His instinct was to see what is wrong first. This was a learned habit that has helped him to pay attention to details and require others to do so too. However, his habitual pattern of expecting the worse did not endear him to his colleague.

He worked to change his internal narrative. He practiced noticing when he was being negative and to then look for what the person was doing well. This simple shift of noticing and looking for what he appreciates changed his relationship with his colleague and himself.  

Like any habit, it is simple but not easy to make such shifts. However, with intention and practice, my client changed his narrative and changed the way he internally felt. In addition, his relationship with his team benefited since emotions are contagious.  

Notice a predominant narrative and reflect on how the habitual pattern may be serving you. If it is not, begin to shift your internal conversation and experiment with a new narrative.

Contact us at any time.

What kind of explorer are you?

pablo

“The more that you learn, the more places you will go.”—Dr. Seuss

“I am still learning.”—Michelangelo at age 87


Many leaders and organizations are experiencing great uncertainty. The rules seem to be dramatically changing and people often report that it feels like the ground is shaking.

With the rapid introduction of technology, globalization and innovation, we each are called to be resilient and to continually reinvent ourselves. You are no doubt hearing reports that many jobs are changing with the emergence of artificial intelligence and other world changes. Futurists are predicting that we are approaching significantly more marked changes in the next decade.  A colleague suggested the analogy of being on a plane to a dramatically different land. We need to ask if we are prepared for what we will experience after landing. Rather than being jolted and alarmed, we need to be open and curious like an avid explorer and learner.

I have traveled a lot and seen travelers who are alarmed when faced with different ways and keep wanting things to be “right” as they are back home. Others enjoy experimenting with new ways and work to understand different perspectives and grow from the experience. 

We need to embrace the unknown and to commit to continuous learning and to be open to disruption. We also need to be kind to ourselves and to each other. Adapting is not a linear process and not easy either. Just like an avid traveler, we also need connection and support more than ever and at the same time we seem to be more isolated. In a more stable time the paradigm for change was to experience unfreezing and then refreezing and stability. Now, we need a different mindset. We need to be open for what we will find as we disembark from a plane ride to a distant land. We need to stay open, curious and embrace our love of learning without hoping for stability.

We also need to ensure that employees and students are continually learning. A report by the National Research Council suggests that a combination of cognitive, intrapersonal and interpersonal skills—flexibility, creativity, initiative, innovation, intellectual openness, collaboration, leadership, and conflict resolution—are essential for keeping up in the 21st century. More than preparing people for a specific role or career, people need to know how to learn, embrace change and be open-minded with strong conversational skills to work in complex global environments with diverse perspectives.  We each need to be flexible to learn new skills and continually change roles.

Ed Gordon, author of Future Jobs and of the Gordon Report (www.Imperialcorp.com) posits that just as adjustments were required as we shifted from the Industrial Age to the Computer Age, we are experiencing a similar disruption as we enter the Cyber-Mental Age with a focus on innovation and intelligent machines. The U.S. labor market suffers from a lack of workers with the education and career skills needed in the tech-driven advanced economy. At the same time, workers are looking for jobs. Organizations are realizing the need to provide training and workers are recognizing the need to learn new skills. Some communities are bringing together various stakeholders including businesses, community members and schools to provide training and learning opportunities in Regional Talent Innovation Networks.  Many organizations are feeling the pain of job vacancies and the lack of qualified workers and are expanding their training programs in order to have the talent they need. A challenge is that not all have mastered the critical skill of “learning to learn.”  With this skill, people will have the confidence that they can explore and adapt to work in new and different ways. We each will be called to be flexible and resilient as marketplace conditions change. It will be easier with the confidence of being able to learn and with an explorer mindset. As leaders, we need to help others to embrace “learning to learn” and being an open and curious explorer in unknown lands.

As we shift in significant ways, we will benefit from working together rather than perpetuating polarization across differences. We need to learn with and from each other. I believe that adopting an open mindset and having the skills to effectively converse with people across disciplines, roles, locations and perspectives is one of the best ways to thrive in our current and evolving environment.

What are you doing as a leader to adapt an open-mindset embracing the uncertainty and continuous learning? What kind of connections and communities are supporting you as you explore new lands?

You are welcome to listen to an interview I had with Ed Gordon about the changing workforce conditions, the job-skills gap and the need to “learn to learn”  at https://soundcloud.com/ann-van-eron/interview-with-ed-gordon

What kind of an explorer and learner are you?

Are you Jumping to Solutions?

pablo

“It often happens that things are other than what they seem, and you can get yourself into trouble by jumping to conclusions.”—Paul Auster

I was talking with a colleague about a work situation. In the middle of the conversation, he asked me if a storefront near my place that had been vacant was occupied yet. I was a bit put off. Here I was, talking about something important to me and my colleague completely shifted the conversation. My first reaction was to feel hurt and disappointed that my friend was not interested in my challenge.  I began to close down and thought I would shift topics or leave, recognizing that he may not be capable of being a real listener or a real friend.

Instead of shutting down or making assumptions and judgments, I remembered what I teach. I suggest catching ourselves when we are making judgments and work to stay open and curious. I was able to cool down and ask with curiosity, ”What makes you ask about the open storefront?”  My friend thought it was obvious.  He said, “I was thinking that you could open a coffee shop and would not be faced with such complex challenges.”  He had jumped to a solution.  He quickly confessed that opening a small shop is his dream and his own fantasy solution.

A few things occurred in this short interaction. A common one is that when I brought up a challenge, my colleague jumped to a solution. This is a familiar reaction. When someone has an issue we want to solve it. It is often easy to see a solution when it is a situation that someone else is experiencing and we are not emotionally involved.  In addition, when there is an issue or problem, we want to get it resolved or off our plate.  It is useful to recognize our tendency to jump to solutions and work to refrain from immediately solving and focus on listening more intently to ensure understanding. If we listen with openness and curiosity and give empathy, often people solve their own issues or feel satisfied with just being heard. I was delighted to learn coaching skills and see the power of listening and giving space to another to reflect. When people are heard they develop their own solutions and are more committed to following through.

I jumped to a judgment about my colleague and moved to an habitual pattern of withdrawing and believing he was not interested. We all have habitual patterns that color how we see things and it is useful to learn ours and work to try new responses. In this case, I was fortunate to notice my assumptions and work to shift to being open and curious.  This takes some practice and I don’t know of too many more valuable skills to develop than being open.  When I caught myself and shifted to a more openor what I call an OASIS stateI was able to inquire about his question about the storefront.  I realized that my friend did care and had just jumped to what he thought was a good solution. Of course, I would have benefitted from more empathy and understanding.

I was glad that I asked him the question. We continued our conversation and he did listen more and I felt closer to him by engaging in an open-minded conversation than I would not have had if I had withdrawn or was negative toward him. What else could he have done? He could have shared his intention when he asked about the storefront. For example, he could have said, “I wish things were easier for you, I wonder if you would consider other career options such as opening a coffee shop?” Hearing his positive intentions would have gone a long way. I would have also had the opportunity to confirm my love of coaching and consulting.

While I just shared one small interaction, I often see the same pattern of jumping to solutions and people fighting or withdrawing in response to others not listening.  When assumptions are made and not tested there are continual misunderstandings. I have seen people be angry with colleagues and family members because of assumptions, judgments and jumping to conclusions too quickly all across the globe. It is natural for us to make assumptions and judgments and to jump to solutions. Yet with a few moves (catching ourselves, being open and curious and engaging in conversations) we can have more positive and productive interactions with greater results too.

We will all benefit from catching ourselves and shifting to being open to others (and ourselves).  Notice your tendency to jump to solutions.  Begin to notice your patterns and build new conversation habits. Kindly share what you are noticing.

Contact us anytime.

Leading with Aliveness

Leading with Aliveness

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who come alive.” —Howard Thurman

What supports you in experiencing aliveness?

So many of my executive clients, colleagues in organizations and others I meet report feeling stressed and disconnected these days. It is not surprising. Most organizations are experiencing disruption and change is a constant. Often companies are cutting resources yet more and more is required. There is a sense of unease and polarization both in organizations and everywhere.  Our daily news is filled with challenges and conflict.

People want to shift from feelings of scarcity and stress and to create more connection and possibility. Yet most don’t know how to do so. We are all influenced by our environments. How do we change cultures to allow more connection and innovation?

Leaders need to start with themselves. They need to make it their intention to create positive and productive environmentseven one interaction at a time.

It is worth the investment in paying attention to your experience and then recalling your commitment to create an innovative and inclusive environment. Yes, this does mean slowing down a bit to become aware and to really see your colleagues and to listen. It means catching yourself when you feel competitive and want to win over someone.  By being self-aware and making small shifts in our interactions, people start to feel heard and seen and more alive, and then they relax a bit too and are more apt to bring forth new and creative ideas.

Leaders can ask themselves, “Am I open to possibilities and experiencing aliveness?”  It is useful to develop a small practice or habit to keep focused on your intention. Perhaps you appreciate your situation and colleagues as you travel to work. You may take a walk, enjoy nature or a hobby, breathe deeply or listen to an inspiring podcast. You can share your goal to listen and create an open-minded atmosphere with a friend or a coach and reflect on your progress.

As we make the intention to be alive and open and engage in meaningful conversations the climate begins to change. Changing the culture involves supporting others in also being more open and addressing the systems and norms of the organization to be supportive and aligned.

Renew your intention of creating a positive and productive environment and start with noticing and nurturing aliveness in yourself.

Contact us anytime.