Opening the “Heart” in Workplace Relationships

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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.

Many clients I work with think 10-12 hours engagement with a job is average. They believe that’s the norm if you factor in the amount of time you are available for work related contact, if not actively doing other types of tasks. No amount of productivity seems enough.

Overlay these long work hours with all of the demands and pressures including constant technological changes and chronic uncertainty about the future of work  and you have a formula for intense stress, isolation, and disengagement.

In the process it’s easy to overlook the critical role of human interaction and interpersonal relationships in the workplace. Continue reading

5 Things Leaders Are Not Taught, Part 2

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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 has brought a deeper level of attention to understanding the connection between the mind and the body as one. This “reality” may be new to the business world but its already changing the way we redefine attention and a sense of presence that is absent in most workplaces. 

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

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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, 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.  A survey from 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

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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.  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

Unraveling Emotional Triggers

 

When talking about the connections between emotional intelligence and neuroscience in the workplace, someone inevitably asks, “how do I communicate with someone at work who triggers me emotionally?  Often people are looking for a quick-fix and a “logical” response to their experience.

So, first, let’s take a brief look at emotions through the lens of neuroscience. While it’s common to categorize emotions as positive or negative, I prefer to think of emotions as either having positive or negative consequences. Which is not the same thing as saying that we use our emotions to discern that something is positive or negative. A slight semantic difference perhaps, but a significant difference in how it can help us learn more about ourselves and expand our repertoire of choices in difficult situations.

Since we cannot separate our sense of self from our emotional life, every emotion we experience is a representation of a part of ourselves. There is, however, a tendency to avoid or deny emotions that we have identified as negative. In doing so, we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn more about ourselves. In other words, every emotion can have a positive function, because every emotion conveys information about our experience.

Using the language of neuroscience we  can create a new frame of reference to connect brain activity with behavioral change. And unlike the “baggage” that some may feel is too “therapeutic” or inappropriate for the workplace, sharing the language of neuroscience explains the dynamic process that is taking place in the brain.

According to neuroscientist Louis Cozolino, “Emotions are our conscious experiences and interpretations of our bodily states, involving many of the brain’s neural networks. Because our thoughts and emotions are so interconnected, it is difficult to know if they are distinct from one another or really different aspects of the same neural processes.”

When we are in the so-called “triggered emotional state,” our activated limbic system is already diverting “resources” from the part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) involved in logical, rational, evaluative and decision-making processes.  What we need in those moments is to do the cognitive and physiological work that can result in a calmer state and clearer mind. Continue reading