Opening the “Heart” in Workplace Relationships

heart at work

We seek self-expression through our work and for many people, work is meaningful and satisfying.  But let’s face it – most of us have to work to make money. And while meaning may be a moot point for the majority of working people – how we think about our work and how we relate to the people we work with has a great deal to do with how we go about achieving results.

An informal poll that I’ve conducted with managers representing a diverse range of companies and positions shows that the average amount of time spent at work  is between 10-12 hours. No amount of productivity seems enough.

Overlay these long work hours with existing economic conditions, rapid technological changes, people doing more with fewer resources, high levels of anxiety and uncertainty in the workplace and you have a formula for isolation, disengagement and uncivil behavior. However, at the same time I hear comments that reflect a yearning for something more in the workplace than just a paycheck.

It has something to do with a desire for human connection. Continue reading


What Business Should Know About The High Costs Of Uncivil Behavior


Last week, Mike Rice, Rutgers University men’s head basketball coach was fired after videotape of his verbal and physical abuse toward his players went viral. The video is a series of incidents showing Rice repeatedly yelling, cursing at his players and aggressively grabbing and pushing them, and throwing basketballs at them.

As if watching this display of outright bullying behavior wasn’t painful enough, later that week Sean Hannity from Fox news referred to the incident in laudatory terms;  in effect condoning the action and saying we need more of this kind of disciplinary behavior and character building.

His comments awakened me to the reality that, while Rice’s particular egregious display of bullying is more the exception than the rule in today’s workplace – abusive, disrespectful and uncivil behavior is occurring all the time and at higher rates in organizations of all different sizes and industries.

While dictionary definitions of civility refer to manners, tact and politeness as the essentials of civility, the root of the word stems from the idea of “good citizenship” and the “state of being civilized.”  Whether we call it respect or civility or etiquette, it’s really how people as citizens think about treating each other in a society.

A 2011 article by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) defines workplace incivility as “seemingly inconsequential, inconsiderate words and deeds that violate conventional workplace conduct.”

Trevor Cairney, writing for the Center for Apologetic Scholarship and Education, says that “civility refers to the behavior between members of society that create a social code and is a foundational principle of a civilized society.”

Jim Taylor, a psychologist at the University of San Francisco, writing in the Huffington Post, suggests “Civility is about something far more important than how people comport themselves with others. Rather, civility is an expression of a fundamental understanding and respect for the laws, rules, and norms (written and implicit) that guide its citizens in understanding what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. For a society to function, people must be willing to accept those structures. Though still in the distance, the loss of civility is a step toward anarchy, where anything goes; you can say or do anything, regardless of the consequences.”

The articles I read on leadership spend a lot of time and space on the traits, characteristics and methodologies of successful leaders. That’s important, but these articles are not  exposing the day-to-day nitty-gritty of office life – long, stressful hours filled with people who did not choose to work together – but in many cases must depend upon each other for work to be successful. Continue reading

5 Things Leaders Are Not Taught, Part 2


In Part 1 of 5 Things Leaders Are Not Taught, I wrote about how conscious leaders see the world. Their field of perception is broader.  They commit to a continuous process of learning and they resolve to see more deeply because they understand that they don’t have all the answers. There’s a moral courage that grows from this kind of experience – and a willingness to engage in constant introspection and self-correction.

With ancient roots, today’s brand of mindfulness is the new kid on the block. To be fair to most leaders, none of us were taught the skills of mindful awareness. These days it seems everybody’s writing or talking about it (I plead guilty). Google, Harvard Business School, the US government, even the military include mindfulness principles in leadership programs.

In her article, Mindfulness, Meditation, Wellness and their Connection to Corporate America’s Bottom Line, author Arianna Huffington writes, “Even a quick look at what’s happening in the American workplace shows it’s a seriously split-screen. On the one hand, there’s the stressful world of quarterly earnings reports, beating growth expectations, hard-charging CEO’s and focusing on the bottom line. On the other hand, there’s the world populated by the growing awareness of the costs of stress, not just in the health and well-being of business leaders and employees, but on the bottom line as well.” Continue reading

5 Things Leaders Are Not Taught Pt 1


Recently, a participant in one of my seminars excitedly exclaimed to one of his colleagues, This stuff is great…we should have learned this ten years ago!”

He was referring to our discussion on some fundamental communication processes that underlie all human transactions occurring in the workplace, or for that matter, in all aspects of our lives.

In Part 1, I’ll focus on the first three as steps to enlightened leadership.

  • Reflective Consciousness
  • Thinking
  • Responsive Listening
  • Mindfulness Practice
  • Assertiveness

If you’ve been to leadership seminars in the past, some of these topics may look familiar, but they’re rarely explored in the depth needed to engage the complexity of human behavior in today’s workplace.

  • Reflective Consciousness

Being conscious is more than just being awake and aware of yourself and your surroundings. It  involves a deeper level of knowing and is one of the foundations of emotional intelligence.  It’s the ability, or if you prefer, competency – to bear witness to your experience in the moment.

In my work with senior level leaders and managers the one skill that is often missing in their leadership “tool” box is reflective consciousness. – the ability to be tuned into their own thoughts, feelings and behaviors in the moment.

For many of these leaders their successes often comes at a high cost, usually in the form of chronic stress.  While they are typically highly proficient in their area of expertise, they often are less comfortable and familiar with their own internal processes.   Without a commitment to deepen self-knowledge, these leaders tend to rely on fixed behavioral strategies and often feel frustrated when confronted with resistance from others.

Because self-knowledge can never be “mastered,” enlightened leaders understand that the commitment to inner learning is continuous. They also realize that a crucial pathway in the learning process comes through engaged commitment to relationships.

Increasingly, self-awareness is being recognized as the key element necessary for effective leadership.  In a  survey of 75 members of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council rated self-awareness as the most important capability for leaders to develop. The authors of this study concluded that self-awareness is the inevitable starting point for managing one’s psychological preferences. Without it, executives will struggle to evolve or find coping strategies.  Continue reading

How Neuroscience Can Support the Challenge of Parenting


So, here’s how it went. After sitting in my car, waiting in the queue for twenty minutes, my nine-year-old grandson enters the car with a big smile on his face, happy to see me. How was school today, I ask? ‘Good,” he says, and then digs into his backpack to retrieve his school issued iPad. On our drive to get ice cream, answers to my questions about his day were mumbled or unanswered. The lure of the iPad was too great a competitor!  I felt frustrated in my desire to create a “quality” moment with Ethan.

I love Ethan very much and I know how much he loves me and thinks of me as being real cool and interesting.  I was okay with the silence. The experience, however, left me thinking about the many challenges of full-time parenting (after all, as a grandfather I have a lot of breathing room). It also got me thinking about the many moments parents have to convert frustration (or any other emotion that may be non-productive) into opportunities to help their children to grow into caring, empathetic, loving, responsible and capable adults.

I thought about Daniel Siegel’s description of mental health and well-being – that mental health is associated with the integration of the body with different regions of the brain and relationships. . And, how could that notion of mental health and neuroscience be applied to parenting and shaping the unfolding growth of children and maximizing their mental health. Continue reading