A CEO recently asked her social media connections about when it’s appropriate to interrupt someone who’s speaking. I love her courageous inquiry into whether it’s ever OK to interrupt, and it prompted some thinking from me about listening.
I believe all good communication originates with the communicator. To be effective in our communication – and I think listening is the silver bullet in effective communication – we first have to take a look inward. It seems to me that’s just what my CEO friend is doing. Love that.
So, in the case of when and whether to interrupt someone, I’d back things up and ask myself two questions: What kind of listener am I? And, What’s my intention for this conversation? I’d also contemplate conscious timing.
First, we all have preferred listening styles. Becoming aware of my default approach to listening can help me tune into the dynamic I’m creating in the conversation. It also helps me see that I have other choices.
For example, I’m a task-oriented listener. I listen to find out what I have to do as a result of this conversation. I’m also content-oriented and can get judgmental and distracted if I perceive inaccuracy in what the other person is saying. It sounds like my CEO friend might be more of a time-oriented listener. She wants to get to the point.
Each of these listening types has an upside (a time-oriented listener can be very efficient) and a downside (a task-oriented listener can miss the big picture). We can learn to maximize the positives and work to reduce the less-positive consequences of our listener type by appreciating and even adopting some of the other listening approaches.
Once I have an awareness of my listening preference, I can more easily address the second question: What’s the intention for this conversation?
Sometimes conversations are about getting things done – they’re about planning, coordinating and taking action. Sometimes, though, they’re about exploring – about going into new territory together to poke around and making discoveries together. Sometimes they’re a little of both.
Before things get rolling, ask the other person what it is that she wants to talk about. Is she focused on accomplishing a task or a project? Does he want to talk about a workplace issue that might involve discussing various office relationships and personal emotions? Do they want to run a new idea by me?
Conversations for action often benefit from efficiency. If the topic is how to get something done, and I know I have a propensity for time-oriented listening, I can use it to my advantage. I can let the person know that I may jump in to help us stay focused on the task at hand so that she can get back to working on it.
The exploratory kind of conversation – a conversation for possibility – needs more time and space. These conversations may ask me to cultivate different listening styles that will better serve me and my team in this situation. We can all learn to listen in a way that allows others to express their genius most naturally.
For both types of conversation – for action and for possibility – I’m a fan of conscious timing. Time is a precious resource that we can never reclaim. When it’s gone, it’s gone. It’s our responsibility to use it wisely, and to know that when people give us their time, our highest and best action is to respect that.
One aspect of conscious timing is scheduling. If I recognize that I can’t listen with intention and focus when someone wants to talk to me, I might ask to postpone the conversation – even a few minutes – until I know I can be present.
The other side of conscious timing for conversations has to do with their duration. I like setting time limits on conversations and committing to being present for that time. And I let the other person know by saying something like, “I have about 15 minutes to talk about this. Does that work for you? Shall we give it a go and see what we can get done?”
If the conversation can’t be completed in the time allotted, I can always extend it or set another date to pick up the conversation. My husband and I have been having a certain conversation for possibility for well over ten years!
It’s not always easy, but better listening can be learned. Get to know your preferred listening type as well as what’s wonderful and not so wonderful about listening that way. Maybe you can explore another listening type to expand your range in this critical leadership tool. And learn to distinguish the types of conversations you’re having. Then you can set guidelines for yourself and others to make those conversations as productive and meaningful as possible.
The work I do in Authentic Communication rests on three principles: BE, LISTEN and ACT. We start with self-awareness (BE) before turning our attention to the other with focus, intention and curiosity (LISTEN), and then we take mindful action for effective, productive and authentic communication (ACT). LISTEN is the central principle of Authentic Communication because it is so vital for leadership and teamwork.
I’d be delighted to have a conversation with you about how to build listening skills for yourself, your team or your organization.
Image Credit :: Pawel Czerwinski via Unsplash
Just before the 2016 election I moved to a place where the majority of people hold a very different political view than mine. And some of those people are in my family of origin.
These past four years have taught me to live with people who are genuinely different from me. I have been learning not to be in perpetual judgment and opposition. To set and defend healthy boundaries. And it is has not been easy.
Of course I want to be heard. I even want to be right. But more than that, I want to live in a world where respect, truth, dignity and peace are the order of the day. And I’m convinced that realizing a measure of that ideal requires that I listen.
Psychotherapist Esther Perel talks about the Perception Gap, a study conducted by the non-partisan, non-profit More in Common. Perel explains that, when we are entrenched in our opposing views, as the United States is and has been for years, we become increasingly binary in our thinking. We perceive ourselves through one lens and the “others” through another.
We see ourselves as complex beings, nuanced individuals. We are sensitive to our own rainbow of emotions, motivations and behaviors. We see the “others” in black and white. We call them simplistic and narrow-minded tribes. And, the reverse is also true. The “others” see themselves in all their intricate individuality and see “us” as monochrome masses.
This gap manifests itself in the workplace as well as on the social and political stage. Just think of the last time the Marketing team had to justify an expensive campaign to Finance.
So how do we bridge this “perception gap?” I believe we start with ourselves, with an honest introspection. And then, in short order, we look for common ground and common language. From there, we can build a bridge toward each other.
I work with human values, and I think this might be a place to start.
Every single person on planet Earth – regardless of age, gender, race, creed, culture, language, economic situation, sexual orientation, education, job, or political affiliation – has values.
We might begin to close the Perception Gap with an examination of our own values and an appreciation that all other humans have values, too.
I invited a friend to read this piece before I posted it, and he highlighted the way an absence of “truth” in the United States has acted like a steel spreader to keep “us” from “them.” With every act of disinformation and prevarication, the spreader turns another rotation and widens the Perception Gap.
When we talk about values, we stand in an unwavering reality: Values are as essential to every human as a heartbeat. They are always true. And that applies to every single one of us. Values offer us common ground.\
Values also provide a universal vernacular for telling our stories to each other. Storytelling has brought humans together since language emerged. Starting from the common reference of our values helps us access stories that connect rather than divide.
But a story has to be heard. To make any progress on closing the Perception Gap, we have to take the time and make the effort to listen to stories, ideas and experiences that are different from our own.
Through listening, we can open to learning about the values and stories of others and begin to bring into focus the shades and subtlety of their human intricacies and fragility.
Getting grounded in my own values is vital work in self-awareness.
Aligning my life with my values is how I live with purpose.
Acknowledging that other people – even those I don’t like or don’t agree with – also have values points the way to mutual understanding.
Working with values gives me and you common language to share our stories.
And listening – listening with intention, curiosity and courage – listening to others as they speak from our common ground and share their own values and unique stories – listening begins to build a bridge across that Perception Gap.
I know that speaking to each other about our values will not bind all our wounds or tele-transport us to a place where “truth” and “facts” mean the same thing to everyone or even where Marketing and Finance will align. It will not magically eliminate the Perception Gap.
Still – it’s a way to “start close in,” as the poet David Whyte says, and goodness knows, we have to start.
I’m redoubling my efforts to listen. To honor human values so I can see past the “monochrome masses.” To cherish my own nuances and complexity, and those of my human neighbors. All of my human neighbors.
Will you join me? We are resilient and creative and up to this. Together we can restore respect, truth, dignity and peace for everyone.
Shall we give it a go?
[Do you need a hand getting started? Please get in touch. I have tools and resources and would be delighted to work with you, your team or your organization.]
I don't know.
You don't know.
We don't know.
And that's OK.
Maybe it's even a relief.
Maybe it's a kind of sacred surrender.
I've been lugging these bags and bushels of
anger and anxiety and blame and fear
for so many months
down so many thorny paths
dragging them through the sand, looking for that solid ground that I once thought was underfoot.
Now I'm putting them down in the not knowing.
And I'm taking a seat.
I'm waiting and I'm watching and I'm praying.
And I'm loving. I never stopped loving. I'm sure not stopping now.
Maybe that's the only thing I do know:
In the end, as in the beginning, it is always all about the love.
I can rest here.
Maybe you can join me.
And we can be delighted by this not-knowing kind of love.
Maybe we can let the future come to us,
enticed into our midst
by the riotous laughter of our unknowing.
I have a confession to make: I’ve been struggling with Authentic Communication in this pandemic political season.
The goals I've set for myself and my business and my clients – communication as an act of love, listening through difference, cultivating trust by speaking truth – can sometimes feel like very high and far-away ideals. One woman recently told me that truth has vanished from American society. Can that be right? It makes my whole being quake. So – like most people – I'm tolerating a lot of uncertainty and discomfort right now. A lot.
I’m finding that it helps to stay focused on what I do know and I can do. I can deliver workshops. I can be kind. I can love my family – even when their views are different than mine. I can find joy in being where I am. I can write. I don’t have to solve every problem, or even pretend that I have any answers at all. I can be messy and still claim my place as a communication consultant. I can release perfectionism – every day, release more and more. I can hold space. I can collaborate with other people – and together we can support each other – together we can stay with it, even when it’s uncomfortable and challenging.
Doing this is the seeding and watering. I don’t know how Authentic Communication will grow in the months ahead, but I will continue to show up, for myself, my business, and my amazing clients. And I will do my level best to keep doing that with acceptance, curiosity and humility. I will do this because – even though it's messy and hard – it's also worth it. Just like Love.
Yesterday I caught the Happy Virus from my beloved friend Francesca, who spoke to me through the fence. She left me flowers and a lovely lotion on the wall that stood between us. Not being able to touch her made my heart ache. And gazing into her shiny eyes, being in her radiant presence was a balm – lifted my heart and my spirits.
It’s so beautiful to think of the many and surprising ways I have been loved up in these past too-many weeks. The gorgeous green veggies that land in my kitchen every week from Can Carbo. The radiant Mariana raising our kundalini and our personal mastery every. single. day. Lyrical wisdom proffered so generously by wondrous Mirjam. Lemons, eggs, and sweet treats baked with love, from our dear next-door neighbors (not to mention the applause and shouts of "¡Ánimo!" from our balconies every day at 8 p.m.). Courageous conversations, idea exchanges and deep laughter that rises from tinny speakers and winds its way into my waiting heart.
I desperately miss the hugs, the touch, the simple ease of being together. But these gestures, these personal encounters – however they’re served up – keep infecting me with the Happy Virus.
I don’t always feel it, but I know I always have the Happy Virus. My beautiful and generous friends have it. The stars and night jasmine and spring flowers have it.
I hope you have it too. If you don’t, it would be my pleasure to give it to you.
IMAGE CREDIT: Brent MacKay
Today I take refuge in the clouds.
Cottony and low, backlit by the morning sun. Gray and wispy in the mid-sky. A front portending rain. All in one sweeping view.
Nature’s exquisite offerings – each one unique and full, effortlessly unfolding and rolling and welcoming. A simple and generous and ever-present embrace of me as me – with all my magnificence and messiness.
These morning clouds have something to teach me. I awaken today to learn.
I spotted these beauties and their shining yellow faces on my way to the market this week. Growing wild along the urban sidewalk, peeking through a chain-link fence, their joyful audacity caused a smile to blossom on my mask-clad face.
I thought I was being so subversive when I picked them and tossed them into my shopping bag. Then I saw the man patiently waiting for me to finish my sweet thievery. And he was wearing a smile, too. It’s good to remember that delight is contagious, too.
Deep bows to each and every act of quiet courage and simple joy that keeps our human family knitted together.
Since we’ve been “in containment,” some visits to public places have triggered my fear. One time, there was a lady coughing in the fruit market. I totally flipped out.
I don’t want it to be like that, so I’m trying to make other choices. Today when I prepared for my trip to the grocery store, I pocketed my mask, my gloves, my hand sanitizer, and a heart full of loving compassion.
Picking up the coffee and eggs and (yes!) toilet paper, I decided to see the other shoppers not as threats or enemies but as the human beings who they are. All of us – together – are navigating these strange and scary times. All of us are in need of more love, more connection and more tolerance than ever.
I encountered dozens of people walking up and down the store aisles. My attention strayed from my shopping list to each of them. Spontaneously I began to say silently to each person I encountered, “May you be healthy and well.” “May you be healthy and well.” “May you be healthy and well.”
Almost instantly, joy, peace and ease took their rightful places in my mind and heart. Love won the day, and fear was nowhere to be found. .
So simple. So powerful. So easy to forget. So mercifully beautiful to remember.
May you be healthy and well. May you be at ease. May you know peace.
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.
Here you'll find some of my thoughts about communication, contemplation, yoga, life and various other topics. Thanks for giving them a read.