What Stops Us From Acting Empathetically?

quotes-helping-others-kathryn-schulz-600x411A recent conversation about empathy surfaced in a group I was working with.

One of the group members  described  an experience he had the previous night.  While eating dinner with his friends, a homeless person specifically approached him and asked for some money.

He shared that he did not give the person money at that time, because he was not  sure how it would be spent. But, he said, “if the homeless person had asked for food he would have given him food immediately.”

His story generated interest and a fruitful conversation that eventually led to the question, “ Does empathy have to lead to action?”

This question got me thinking about what prevents people from acting empathetically – especially since there is strong evidence indicating that we’re neurally wired for empathy. Continue reading

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The Deeper Meaning of Change

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What do you believe about the nature of change?

We know from neuroscience that one of the brain’s primary functions  is to see events and conditions in the world as either threat or reward.  This neural imperative raises an important question; if the brain is organized around this unifying dynamic, what is its nature?

While reading Buddhist teacher Pema’s Chadron book, Living Beautifully (with Uncertainty and Change) it struck me how powerful the role of impermanence is in  shaping our  lives and its drive in determining what we perceive as threat or reward.   This  force is constantly compelling the choices and decisions we make and manifesting as our daily behaviors.

Most of us don’t walk around consciously thinking we live in a universe where things are constantly changing and in flux.  Most people don’t wake up each morning and plan their day as if it may be their last. However, when you link this idea with the proposition that under the veneer of our lives is the struggle with our immortality, you see how it can contribute to the forms our lives take. The conflict between living in a world where things are constantly changing – impermanent –  and our striving to feel grounded, is reflected in our thoughts, emotional states and actions – our “self-identity.” Continue reading

To Change Behavior, Change Your Focus

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Recently, one of our clients, the president and CEO of a mid-size company, sent me an email after participating in a development group with his senior leadership team that was focused  on collaboration and emotional intelligence.

His message went something like this, “ A situation came up at work where I had the opportunity to put into practice some of the information we discussed and realized how hard it is to change and break old habits.  He also asked a question that many clients ask –  how do I remember to remember these things that we’re talking about?”   Essentially the question becomes –  how do I become more  conscious of my intentions and my behavior?

It got me thinking about how easy it is to become captive to our internal narratives and reflexive in our behavior.  The question compelled  me to go deeper into what it is I do as a  coach to support  people to break through habituated, unproductive behavior

Two  important influences on behavior are the areas of language and attention – how we describe our experience is indicative of the focus of our attention.  As a coach one of my goals is to share my thoughts in a language that help clients focus their attention and makes connections with new ways of thinking that align with their desired outcomes.

Being able to hold on to new information and learning requires attention and consistency. Having a “container” for new information is essential. One of the most promising “tools” for increasing our capacity to strengthen habits of attention and consistency is mindfulness.  Insights from neuroscience also have the potential to expand the container, while at the same time, bridging psychological explanations for human behavior with a scientific basis. According to Daniel Goleman, author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, “Strengthening attention helps you let go of stressful circumstances because the brain economizes our circuits. Being compelled to pay attention to your emotions is the opposite of being able to choose where you put your attention.”  Continue reading

Think Differently, See Differently

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If you always do, what you’ve always done, you’ll always get, what you always gotten.” I don’t know who said this, but I heard it for the first time when I was studying  NLP  (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) . I’d like to change it slightly to, If you always think, what you’ve always thought, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”

The original statement relates to the law of requisite variety, which states, “a system only has requisite variety if its repertoire of responses is at least as big as the number of different stimuli it may encounter in its environment.” In other words, the less restrictive and more expansive our thinking processes are, the more choices and options we have. Also, the more resilient we are and the more control we have over our lives. Continue reading

Humanizing Workplace Relationships~People Aren’t Tasks

 

Kind thanks to my business and life partner, Louise Altman, who kindly lent me this excellent article to reblog  from her archives. It’s one of my favorites from the Intentional Workplace and one that her readers consistently rank in her top ten. 

To me, this article speaks to a central issue that I believe is at the heart of so much difficulty in today’s workplace – our inability to regularly connect at the human to human level.  To be sure, the structure of the “modern” organization creates serious roadblocks and even undermines empathy, trust and genuine collaboration between co-workers.   The article points to the decaying legacy of hierarchical control models that were never designed to optimize human dynamics.  The article raises important points that I believe are part of a critical conversation that organizational leaders and their employees need to have if we are to restore trust and authentic engagement. 

“For me, my role is about unleashing what people already have inside them that are maybe suppressed in most work environment.”                Tony Hseih, Zappos CEO

Is the “modern” workplace designed for people?

Are the systems created for work designed to maximize productivity and profit or human well-being?

Who factors in the real cost of human labor when analyzing productivity and profits?

What do most managers believe they are managing?  

I have far more questions than I have answers on this topic. In fact, I think we’re now on new terrain when it comes to redefining the meaning of work in a global “supply chain” world.  While it may seem absurd that in one part of the world children are still working in coal mines; while in another, companies like Google have installed, Chief Culture Officers, this is the new “normal.” Continue reading