There’s not one car in the street. Not one person walking outside in our usually vibrant neighborhood. The air is eerily still and silent and heavy with loss.
We’ve lost predictability, order, economic security. We’ve lost jobs, money, school for our kids. We’ve lost a sense of routine, structure, normalcy. We’ve lost the chance to socialize with others other than via a tiny screen in our hands or on our desks. We’ve lost our ability to plan pretty much anything. We may have lost health or loved ones. And some of us have lost our sense of meaning.
Amidst all that's missing, I notice something else that has taken up residence: a dull gnawing in my gut. A cluster of emotions I recognize as grief.
Grief can shepherd us from great despair to deep peace. It can even
Grief always accompanies moments of loss. It’s a special cocktail of feelings that each of us experiences differently.
For me, it’s thick and murky. It’s a journey through sometimes brutally strong emotions. Occasionally, when I’m grieving, I get a glimpse of serenity – the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel – but mostly it feels like I’m trying to swim through mud.
That’s probably why my attempts to write about grief over the past several days have been so messy and fruitless. Thank goodness for the Harvard Business Review and this excellent interview with grief expert David Kessler.
Kessler offers us good news: Grief can shepherd us from great despair to deep peace. Grief can even bring us to a greater sense of meaning – some clarity and understanding that wasn’t available prior to the triggering event. But this can only occur if we name our grief, embrace it, and stay with it. The way forward is through.
We really, really need each other right now. In times of isolation, containment, quarantine and social distancing, our relationships are even more vital to our individual and collective resilience. We need each other to make sense of things, to chart that path toward understanding and meaning. And, staying connected, treating others with the extra empathy and tolerance we all require right now, is really only possible when we’re aware of our emotions and express them in constructive ways.
So, even if it isn’t as popular as the latest hand-washing song-and-dance craze, now is the time to be honest with ourselves about grief.
Honoring grief in this very confusing, stressful, unprecedented time is an act of self-awareness and self-love. It’s a powerful step toward deepening our connections with others. And it’s a move in the direction of finding meaning from this mess.
Just for a moment, why not stop cleaning, checking Instagram, and sending funny videos? Why not sit, for a moment, with your own raw truth and its attendant grief? It won’t last forever.
Kessler encourages us, “Let yourself feel the grief and keep going.”
Let’s be courageous, not only with our health, our economic situation and each other, but also with ourselves and our emotions. Let’s uncover our own unique expression of grief and perhaps a bit more meaning. And let’s do that together.
BE is the first principle of Authentic Communication, and it’s shorthand for the kind of self-awareness explored in this post. The second principle, LISTEN, is our most effective tool for connecting with others. And ACT, the third principle, represents the myriad ways we express ourselves with truth, clarity and authenticity.
During the latter years of my corporate career, I sat squarely in the midst of some of the most significant crisis issues our company ever faced. These were complex, high-profile problems that left the Fortune 500 multinational heavily exposed to financial and reputational risk. The issues seemed impossible to contain – every day they appeared to grow bigger and affect more and more people and aspects of the company.
Today, we’re all crisis managers. We’re navigating the extraordinary and constantly changing circumstances of living with a pandemic, crashing financial markets, strained health systems, increasing job insecurity, and countless other issues. Life today can seem incredibly stressful, exhausting, and overwhelming.
Here are a few lessons I learned as a Corporate Crisis Communicator that might help.
1. It’s All About You. In order to hang in there through a crisis – any crisis – you have to take care of yourself. That’s why the airlines always remind us, “Put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others.” For me, that meant daily meditation and journaling and yoga classes when I could. Even though my schedule was just insane, I always had time to do what every human can do: Breathe. The practice of breathing long and deep rewires the brain to move you from fight-or-flight mode into creative thinking. There is no crisis management without first calming your own nervous system. Deep breaths offer the quickest, easiest path to that state.
2. Know Your Facts. In order to be clear about what’s actually happening, it’s vital to hone your understanding of the difference between facts and opinions. Facts are grounded in data; they're provable. Opinions are judgments. Even if an opinion is stated forcefully, that will not make it a fact. It’s natural to feel fear in these uncertain times, but fear is also not a fact. (So, um, no, you probably don’t need all that toilet paper.)
3. Know That You Don’t Know – and That’s OK. There is so much information circulating right now, and this is a constantly developing situation. Stay curious, and stay humble. You don’t need to know everything. You only need to know what will allow you to make good decisions for you, your family, your team, your company. Trying to know everything will add to the overwhelm. Be disciplined and stay focused on what’s really important to you and the role you’re playing. As one of my colleagues used to say, Swim in your own lane. It will contribute to your peace of mind.
4. Go to the Source. Identify reliable sources for the information you need. Just as a reminder, reliable sources are not memes on social media. In a world of fake news and alternative facts, please do yourself the favor of getting your information from a source that you can name. If you receive unattributed information (i.e., there is no credible name attached to it), you would be wise to question its veracity. If you doubt whether the media or politicians will provide unvarnished facts, go to the original source. For example, if you want to know more about the pandemic, you can go to the World Health Organization. For more info on the vicissitudes of the stock market, you can call you broker. If you’re worried about food, you can write to your supermarket chain’s head office, or, as my Mom recently did, take a personal approach and ask to talk to the store manager.
5. Engage the Right Support. Have conversations about who can do what. In a crisis it can be very tempting to want to move quickly to action, which often means trying to do everything yourself. The action will be less stress-inducing and more effective if it accesses a broad talent base. That might mean getting a colleague to review your work-from-home plan, or it might mean asking your elder child to help the younger kid learn to wash her hands well. We’re all in this together, and making requests helps us stayed connected – which also builds resilience at a time when we need it most.
6. Don’t Lose Your Sense of Humor. I had wonderful corporate colleagues who, no matter what tempest was raging, managed to make me laugh. One of them had a Weimaraner, and he knew I loved those dogs. In the midst of a crisis, he would tell me a story about some crazy thing she had done or send me a picture of the dog, and it would leave me giggly and refreshed to get on with the gazillion tasks at hand. Laughter is remarkable medicine. Even in the midst of a crisis, there is always something to be grateful for and something to laugh at, and someone to laugh with.
Here’s a little joke to get you started: Knock, knock. Who’s there? Hatch. Hatch who? I sure hope you did that into your elbow!
7. Remember, It Won’t Always Be Like This. These wise words came to me from a dear friend when I was in the worst of the crisis mess. They calmed my heart and gave me space to recognize that I did have options – and that this, too, would pass.
The new coronavirus is a very real health threat. As it continues its march across the globe, stock markets are toppling, and basic systems like health, financial, industrial, education, and food risk collapse. This is global disruption the likes of which we haven’t seen at least since the global recession of 2008, and people everywhere are scared.
I am certainly not immune to the fear. But what really frightens me about this ever-changing situation is that it seems to foster isolation.
The coronavirus is highly contagious. To keep ourselves safe, instinct and, in some cases, governments, tell us we should stay away from other people – disconnect and take care of ourselves and our own.
But there’s an unspoken byproduct of distancing ourselves from others: Separation compromises our resilience, precisely when we need it the most.
Resilience is the tendency and ability to bounce back from any curve ball that life throws at us – whether that’s the loss of a job, moving to a new city, or finding ourselves in the midst of today’s global panic. And resilience is nurtured by, among other things, our connections with other human beings.
Every relationship flourishes or flounders depending on its quality of communication. In a time when our relationships are so vital to our resilience and overall wellbeing, they need special attention. They need to be fostered with conscious, authentic communication
Here are some thoughts on how you can use communication to nurture relationships and boost your resilience even in a time of crisis:
The new coronavirus and the multitude of related issues are real, and they are stoking fear in people all over the world. We need to boost the immune systems in our bodies, and we also need to boost our emotional immune systems. The most effective way to do this is to privilege relationships to enhance our resilience. Now is not the moment to turn away from each other, but to lean in. To foster our connections with other human beings is to create a shield against the vicissitudes of the world – no matter how dramatic.
For those of us in the United States, Thanksgiving is around the corner. And I have one word for you: Impeachment.
Large gatherings of family and friends are meant to be joyful times for connection and fun. But with a widening political divide here in the U.S. and in other parts of the world, you may find your turkey (or tofurkey) served with a side of discord, disagreement and discomfort.
I'd like to offer some ideas that can help you navigate even the most difficult holiday encounters and make this Thanksgiving a day for which you're truly grateful.
Check out my Facebook Live video about "Keeping the Peace." You'll find a bunch of communication tips that are based on my work in Authentic Communication, and you can put them into practice right away.
Click here for the video. I hope the ideas I share will help you experience more ease, connection, peace and true joy during this time with family and friends.
And I hope you'll share your stories with me. I'd love to learn how you put these tips to use and how they might support you.
Wishing you a truly Happy Thanksgiving.
What I know for sure is that teams, organizations and businesses are based on relationships, and relationships are nourished (or depleted) by communication.
I know for sure that when you improve your communication, your relationships – with colleagues, customers, partners, suppliers and others – will flourish, and business outcomes will follow suit.
For better communication that makes a tangible and lasting difference, broaden your view of what “communication” really means.
One way to do that is by exploring the three principles of Authentic Communication.
Apply those three principles and let me know how your team grows and changes.
(I recently participated in a panel discussion on “Team Dynamics and Growing Companies.” The final question was a riff on Oprah Winfrey’s, “What do you know for sure?” This is more or less how I responded.)
Leave it to the Rabbis to say more in three simple words than most of us can say in 3,000.
In this micro-sentence – "Words create worlds"* – they affirm as an ancient truth the notion that language is much more than a code whose primary purpose is to describe, transmit or coordinate. Language is, in fact, a force – an energy that generates reality and manifests possibilities.
And that makes communication a superpower – one that’s available to each and every one of us. One we can use to nourish our relationships, or deplete them. One we can use to sow peace or fuel the flame of fury. One we can use to build bridges or burn them.
If the Rabbis were right (and I do believe they were), and our words do create worlds, that means their message is even more than a mind-blowing theory about communication as a superpower. It also serves as an admonition to us all: Along with the tremendous possibility we have to generate reality through language comes a profound responsibility to choose our words well.
With communication that is wise, conscious and authentic, we can foster connection. We can reclaim our dignity, offer respect to others, and mend the fabric of the human family. We can move toward each other rather than away. We can find a way forward together to solve the immense issues that face our planet, our country, and our families – because, really, isn't the only way forward together?
Learning to wield the superpower of language is possible for anyone, but it requires dedication and attention. It means being honest enough to see where current behaviors aren’t working, humble enough to unlearn the old patterns, and patient enough to practice new ones. It means embracing communication as an act of Love.
Don’t we owe it to ourselves, our families, our communities, our businesses, our countries and our planet to engage in this process so we can use our superpower of communication for good?
With the ability to create worlds – worlds! – at the tips of our tongues and our fingertips, isn’t it right for us to pause and consider what kind of reality we want, and how our everyday communication – tweets and all – can contribute to achieving (or eroding) that future?
* This sentence is attributed to “The Rabbis” – a term used to refer to authoritative Jewish scholars over the centuries. It came to me via the wonderful “On Being with Krista Tippett” podcast in which Krista was interviewing the poet Gregory Orr.
2018 is in the home stretch. This is the time for looking back at the year that was and ahead at what we’d like for the year to come.
The three principles of Authentic Communication can guide your review of 2018 and your visioning for 2019. Here’s how:
The foundation for all clear, consistent and effective communication is self-awareness. It’s also key to running your team or business.
Follow the advice of the brilliant coach, Isabel Parlett: Take an inventory of your activities for the year. Go through your calendar, your email, your balance sheet. Spend a morning making a comprehensive list of everything you accomplished in 2018.
Celebrating your achievements helps cultivate a non-judgmental understanding of yourself and your business and will energize you for 2019.
Good communication requires good listening. And a year-end review needs it, too.
Pull together a list of people you trust from your various audiences: customers, suppliers, partners, industry colleagues, team members and managers. Throw your net wide, and choose people who will give you honest feedback. Then ask for it.
Send out an email requesting frank answers to these questions:
If that feels risky, it’s because it is. That’s why we start with getting solid in what went right.
Listening this way takes courage, and it’s worth it. It helps you identify the real gaps your 2019 business strategy needs to fill – the ones that affect the relationships your business is built on.
Grounded in self-awareness and insightful feedback, you’re ready to set your sights on 2019. It’s time for mindful action.
There are a variety of tools that can help with visioning for your business – like SMART Goals, OKRs and Golden Circle. One of my favorites is “Force Field Analysis.” It reveals the biggest barriers and strongest assets in the organization, and uncovers language that can pinpoint the specific actions needed for a year of success.
Choose a tool that works for you and fully engage your team in deploying it. Create a safe container to call forward your team’s most innovative thinking. Then make clear, effective agreements about who will do what in the coming year.
Apply the principles of Authentic Communication – BE, LISTEN, ACT – to celebrate 2018, listen for your greatest opportunities, and prepare for a stellar 2019.
Want to share your experience or get more information? Please contact me. I’d be delighted to exchange ideas with you.
[A version of this post first appeared on the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce website.]
The first time the poetry class met, Madame Inez passed around a small, velvet, drawstring bag and invited each student to reach in and blindly select one of the items inside.
With eyes closed we came to know our chosen objects by touch. She instructed us to slow our breath and make our movements very small in order to become present with the strange items that we held in our hands. We were a class of 20-somethings in a kind of meditative state adoring things from acorns to orange rinds.
Madame Inez had a huge collection of these techniques, and she spent the semester using them to send us into far-flung corners of our hearts and imaginations. With skill, patience and a little coaxing, she sought to draw out the variety, color and truth of our poetry.
My poetry wasn’t necessarily “good,” but that doesn’t seem to be what mattered. What was important was how the practices and assignments led me to parts of myself that were as-yet undiscovered, and then offered me a way to give voice to what I found there. I wrote poems about sexuality, drugs, and the 1991 version of gun violence. I wrote about Greek myths and road trips. I wrote with humility to honor Native American people and their pride.
Under the wise and loving guidance of Madame Inez, I discovered the voice that helped me stake my claim as a young woman finding her way in the world. I found my way into a more fully expressed version of myself.
And this is the thing about communication. Whether you’re writing poetry or press releases, the way you communicate has an impact on how you experience life. Communication is at the core of every relationship, and relationships are the connective tissue of life.
Your communication can never be separated from the totality of who you are – an emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual being. And when we drop into communicating with our fullness, our essence, our inner poetry and truth, this has a material impact on our relationships, our work and our lives.
So how, in a non-stop world where pressure rules and poetry is so little read (let alone written), how do you harness the power of communication as an expression of your best self?
You treat communication as an act of Love.
Are you still reading?
Did the “L” word make you bristle or cringe a bit?
Do you feel kind of uncomfortable or vulnerable with where I’m going?
I hope you’ll stay with me.
You already know that Love – present in every aspect of life – is the lifeblood all of our relationships – ALL our relationships – the ones we have at home, at work and at play. And, because relationships and communication are inextricably linked, when we talk about communication, we must talk about Love. There’s just no way around it.
When you start to embrace communication as an act of Love, you bring more integrity, power and cooperation to every aspect of your life. You start to shift the bedrock of how things happen. You start to see how tuning, improving and practicing Authentic Communication can make everything about work work better and life unfold with less effort and more clarity.
You create more transparency with productive, creative, thriving collaboration. You express your highest and best self in every environment. You get things done with ease and joy. You get real about your humanity – about being a person who has feelings and seeks ways to relate to other people who also have feelings. When you embrace communication as an act of Love, you launch yourself into a fuller and more authentic expression of yourself – clear and true.
On that first day of Madame Inez’s poetry class, the item I pulled from the bag was the shell of a moon snail –slate gray with a rainbow-colored spiral circling in on its eye. It was such a pretty thing that I asked if I could take it home. Today I keep it on my bedroom dresser – a daily reminder of the care of a beloved teacher and that my communication is most powerful, effective and even effortless when it comes from my heart – when it is an act of Love.
“Eking Out the Voice” is the name of the collection of poems that I wrote in Madame Colette Inez’s poetry class at Columbia University in 1991. I am humbly grateful for the profound influence she had on my life. Madame Inez died in early 2018.
A couple of years ago I went for a hike with two of my very dearest friends. I was looking forward to a day in the mountains with these people who I love and trust completely, enjoying some spectacular nature and stimulating conversation.
This was around the time that I was starting my new business as a communications consultant and coach. Authentic Communication, which had been a nascent idea for many years, was finally coming into being. It was an exciting and tender stage for me, and I looked forward to talking to my friends about what was happening with me and my work.
While the details of my new business were still coming into focus, I already had a lot of clarity around the vision and mission of my work. During our hike I shared that one of my financial goals was to dedicate a percentage of my income to charitable giving.
When my two friends heard my plan to systematically give away a chunk of my income, they began to ask questions about my rationale for this decision. The thing is that, this isn’t a rational decision. It’s a choice I make from my heart and a practice that I’ve engaged in for most of my life. It’s just part of how I operate.
They inquired with sincerity about my motive and intention. It seemed like my responses somehow weren’t satisfying. The questions kept coming. Despite my friends’ unquestionable love for me, I began to feel like I was being interrogated. And they found themselves repeating what they’d said because I didn’t seem to get it.
I started to feel overwhelmed, and I asked for the conversation to pause so we could walk in silence. What started as a fresh and beautiful day with closer than close friends had collapsed into disconnected despair.
So, what the heck happened?
We. Were. Not. Listening.
We all heard each other’s words, but, in that moment, and on that subject, we were unable to tune into their true meaning. Yes, we were trying to understand each other, but we were also trying to convince each other, to change each other’s minds so that we could come to some kind of agreement, when, actually, there was no agreement to be had.
All of us had become entrenched in our own points of view on this very personal topic. We were unable to receive each other’s messages without wanting to bring them into greater alignment with our own.
If listening can fall apart among really close friends on a leisurely hike in a spectacularly beautiful place, how much more likely is it that we fail to listen in the high-pressure environments in which we usually operate?
And the consequences of our listening deficiencies can be more serious than a disappointing afternoon in the woods. I even have to wonder if a chronic failure to listen contributes to the loneliness epidemic in the U.S.
In my career as a professional communicator, I learned the hard way that lack of listening skills could not only compromise my team’s efficiency, it could also jeopardize my role as a leader and even create reputational risk for my employer.
Without deep listening in my marriage, my husband and I can spiral into an intractable power struggle. I believe intentional listening helped rescue us from a critical time when our future as a couple was in question. We’ve learned that deeper listening releases tension and helps us experience more intimacy, peace and joy.
It’s also a tool that helps me navigate the political differences in my family. Despite our opposing points of view, through skilled listening, I can help ensure our time together doesn’t end in an argument.
In all areas of my life, when I make the effort to listen with empathy, openness and even humility, I reap the benefits of less friction, deeper connections and more ease.
Listening is simple, but it's not easy. We all think we do it, but do we, really?
The good news is that you can learn to be a better listener. There are specific listening skills that, when put into practice, open a world of possibility for how you communicate.
When you meet life with intentional listening, you unblock creativity, increase your efficiency, de-escalate conflict, release tension, and solve problems. You connect more deeply with others and yourself. You get even more out of your daily interactions and those precious days of adventure with people you love.
I hope you’ll join me for my next webinar to learn more. I’d love to listen to you.
I Can Hear You Now: Why Listening Really Matters and How to Do It Better
Tuesday, October 23 * 7-8 p.m. US ET
If you can’t join the webinar live, you’ll be able to access the replay to enjoy at your convenience.
Here you'll find some of my thoughts about communications, contemplation, yoga, life and various other topics. Thanks for giving them a read.