Mindfulness and The Art of Conversation

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, in his presentation provided as part of the  Mindfulness & Meditation Summit, focused on the theme, Mindfulness and the Art of Conversation.  Sakyong is the author of a number of books, including, The Lost Art of Conversation: A Mindful Way to Connect with Others and Enrich Everyday Life.

Sakyong emphasised the need for meditation in these troubled times, both locally and globally.  He identified that there is a lot of fear and uncertainty around threats to world peace and environmental deterioration.  He stressed the importance of not only meditating but also engaging with others in conversation.

The one thing we can do in times of such uncertainty and anxiety is connecting with others through communication.  In Sakyong’s view, transformation at a personal and social level have come about when people connect with each other and share.

Communication is a basic need, it is available to us all at any time and is a natural activity of being human.   Sometimes, we experience difficulty in our conversations and at other times it seems so easy and rewarding.

Despite being connected technologically like never before, a lot of our connections are superficial, as are our “conversations”.   We have tended to lose real connection with people around us, who are with us on a daily basis.

Despite experiencing a great sense of warmth and happiness from our good conversations, we tend not to properly engage with people because of our busy lives.  Despite our development on a global basis, we seem to have lost the art of conversation – which can connect us at a time when so many things have the effect of keeping us apart from each other.

Even just acknowledging another person can be empowering for them, just as ignoring them can make them feel demeaned and disempowered.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can more readily connect with others, engage in active listening and communicate empathy – all of which values the other person and empowers them to be their real self.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of klimkin on Pixabay

Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence

In a recent discussion, Daniel Goleman spoke of the influence of mindfulness on emotional intelligence.  In this discussion, he relied heavily on rigorous research that he and his co-author, Richard Davidson, drew on to write their book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.

In an earlier book, Daniel had explained how emotional intelligence influenced decision-making, thinking processes and success in leadership and other roles.

In discussing the research behind his new book, Daniel focused on “altered traits” only – those characteristics that tended to be sustained over time, outside the meditative state.

His conclusions from the rigorous scientific studies focused on a number of aspects of emotional intelligence:

1. Self-awareness

The foundational element of emotional intelligence is self-awareness.  This is developed through mindfulness.  People who grow in mindfulness, through meditation practice, are better able to identify their own emotions and the impact that they themselves have on others – through their words and actions.

2. Self-management

The research strongly supports the contention that people who develop mindfulness can understand the triggers that set them off, can more readily gain control over impulse responses and are better able to stay calm even when under stress.  This self-management capacity is very important for people in leadership roles as others take their emotional cues from them.

Self-management, in turn, helps people to stay focused and positive in pursuit of goals, despite setbacks.  It helps us to ride out the waves that disturb the calmness in the ocean of life.

3. Social awareness

Mindfulness helps people recognise social cues and the feelings of others.  It contributes to empathy, particularly where people engage in kindness and compassion meditation.

4.Relationship management

The rigorous research is not strong in supporting the contention that mindfulness enables people to inspire others, coach/mentor people effectively and handle conflict.  However, anecdotal evidence and intuitive thinking suggests that self-awareness, awareness of others’ feelings and the capacity to self-manage, would all contribute to effective people management, but may not be the sole influence in the development of the requisite skill-set.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of Quangpraha on Pixabay

Post-Holiday Blues

If you have recently returned from a holiday away, the normal reaction is to focus on the loss resulting from your return home.  You might miss the break away from work and home responsibilities, the free time, the opportunity to see new things, meet new people and have time to yourself.

People often feel sad at the end of a holiday, wishing they had made better use of their break, visited some particular attraction or brought a particular item of clothing that they really liked.

So we can experience depression by focusing on our recent past holiday which invariably “seemed to go all too quickly”.

You might also not be looking forward to the responsibilities of work, the time pressures, the repetition that is present in any job, the pressure to produce, unfinished business from the time before you went away and the inevitable conflict with one or more colleagues, staff or clients/ customers.

This focus, in turn, can make us anxious as we look to the future and all the demands we expect to be placed on us.

Alternatively, we can avoid depression and anxiety by focusing on the present moment, appreciating what we do have – health, home, family, work and friends.

We could express gratitude for the time we did have away, all the individual activities that brought joy and happiness, the highlights that we really value and the. companionship we enjoyed.

We could focus on the precious moments when we were able to stop and be mindful in the presence of nature’s stunning variety and beauty, the ingenuity of men and women, the artistry of sculptors and artists of long ago or the magnificence of architecture we observed.

We might also express empathy and compassion for those who had real loss and grief during the holiday period – the loss of family members through accidents or illness or suicide, the break-up of an intimate relationship or a fracture of the relationship with a son or daughter or other family member.

Appreciating what we do have, being grateful for what we were able to experience on our holiday and/or thinking empathetically about others and their loss, can take us outside of our self-focus and enable us to experience the richness of the present moment in our lives.

As we grow in mindfulness, we are better able to savour the present moment and avoid depression resulting from a focus on the past or anxiety arising from a focus on the future.

We can learn a lot from Holly Butcher who died on 4 January 2018, at the age of 27, from a rare form of cancer and had written a powerful letter just before her death which her family published on her Facebook page the day she died.  Some of her comments are especially relevant for the topic of this blog post:

Those times you are whinging about ridiculous things (something I have noticed so much these past few months), just think about someone who is really facing a problem. Be grateful for your minor issue and get over it. It’s okay to acknowledge that something is annoying but try not to carry on about it and negatively effect other people’s days…

I hear people complaining about how terrible work is or about how hard it is to exercise – Be grateful you are physically able to. Work and exercise may seem like such trivial things … until your body doesn’t allow you to do either of them.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

 

You Will Have Fewer Regrets

Invariably, our regrets flow from times when we have not been mindful.  There are many situations in life where this can occur.  Our regrets typically have to do with things we should not have said, actions we should not have taken, or things that we omitted to say or do that we should have said or done.

Situation: The job interview

When going for a job interview, for example, you may have been so nervous and panicky, that you did not present yourself in the best light.  You may have been “not with it” or unfocused.  Without a clear mind, you would not have understood the interviewer’s questions or responded in an appropriate manner.  You probably had not worked out “where they were  coming from” or what they intended by their questions.

Nor would have you picked up any emotions behind the interviewer’s questions such as concern, anxiety or even fear.  You could have come away thinking, “I just blew it” and realising that you left important things unsaid and did not “put your best foot forward” in terms of demonstrating your expertise.  In failing to remain calm, you missed the opportunity to convince the interviewer that you could handle stress well.  Mindful practice, in contrast, enables you to display calmness and clarify of mind.

Situation: Interaction with your partner

You may have had a recent interaction with your partner where you came away thinking, “I did not handle that well”.  Your partner may have complained that you were not listening or that your mind was elsewhere.  You may have become defensive, interrupted their sentences and talked over them – leading to frustration and anger on their part. In short, you may have failed to engage in active listening.  Mindful practice helps you to be fully present to the other person and listen for understanding, rather than to mount a self-defence.

Situation: Coversation with a friend or colleague

Your friend could have engaged you in conversation only to find that you were just interested in talking about yourself and your accomplishments – in other words not being present to them.  Alternatively, a colleague or staff member may have started talking about an issue or concern they had, and you quickly diverted or terminated the conversation because of your unease with the emotional content of their information.  You were not able to listen empathetically to what they had to say, because you were so preoccupied with your own emotions.   Mindful practice enables us to be empathetic listeners and to show people and their emotions the respect they deserve.

Situation: Conflict with a colleague, partner or friend  

You may have “lost your cool” or over-reacted in a conflict situation when you encountered a negative trigger – something that was said or done (your pet hate) that set you off.   You may not have developed self-management through mindful practice or learned to employ the SBNRR approach discussed previously.  This approach enables you to stop, breathe, notice, reflect and respond – in that sequence.

As we grow in mindfulness, we are better able manage the stressors in different situations – to listen effectively and empathetically and to self-manage by keeping our emotions and reactions under control.  If we achieve this, we will have fewer regrets about our words, actions or omissions.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of quinntheislander on Pixabay

Mindfulness for Children: MindUP

Empathy is the gateway to compassion. As we grow in mindfulness we become more aware of others and their needs and of the pain and suffering that mirrors our own experiences.  We also gain the insight to understand our own potential and capacity to act to redress pain and suffering in others – our ability to show compassion in a way that is reflective of our life history  and unique skill set.

This was certainly true of Goldie Hawn who acknowledged that, as she grew in mindfulness through mindful practice, she developed a deeper empathy for the plight of children who were lacking in joy and suffering from stress and fear.  This deepened empathy led to the insight that she herself could do so much to redress the pain and suffering of school age children in a unique way – she could show compassion in a way that was built on her own life history and skill set.

This, in turn, led to the development of MindUP™ – mindfulness for teachers and children.  In establishing MindUP™ through her Hart Foundation, Goldie had some very clear goals in mind:

I created MindUP ™ with educators, for educators.  I wanted to help them improve student focus, engagement in learning academics and give them tools and strategies that would bring joy back into the classroom. It is my greatest hope that every teacher who uses MindUP™ will find it beneficial in their work and in their life.

Goldie realised that she had to work through teachers to develop a new curriculum based on mindfulness and to give the teachers experience of the benefit of mindfulness so that they were motivated to share this with their students. The program with its curriculum and framework  consists of 15 lessons for Pre-K-8th grade children.  It exposes the teachers and children to “neuroscience, positive psychology, mindful awareness and social learning”.

An experiential approach to mindfulness is embedded in the program through daily mindfulness practices.  Children are taught “activities around topics such as gratitude, mindfulness and perspective taking”.  Goldie was able to report that the science/evidence-based program, which has been evaluated over a ten year period, has impacted the lives of 500,000 teachers and children.

The outcomes of the MindUP™Program, identified in the ongoing evaluation, are reported as “drives positive behavior, improves learning and scholastic performance, and increases empathy, optimism and compassion”.

This program shows you what mindful leadership can lead to and what impact a single individual can have through their own growth in mindfulness.

Mindfulness for children is becoming critical because of the increasing loss of the capacity to focus and pay attention, the growth in depression and mental illness in school aged children, the disastrous impact of cyber bullying leading some to suicide and the underlying lack of skills and resilience to deal with life’s challenges.

Goldie Hawn, through her MindUP™ Program, takes action to redress these issues for children.  She shares how her own life is now filled with joy and happiness.  What she has effectively achieved in her own life through mindfulness practice, are the essential elements of happiness:

  • work or activity that utilises her core skills and experience
  • meaningful work/ activity
  • working towards something that is beyond herself.

Personal happiness can be an outcome of mindfulness but it also provides the foundation for the active pursuit of some goal that will bring happiness and fulfilment into the lives of others.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of Khamkhor on Pixabay

 

Mindful Leadership: Goldie Hawn

In sharing her life story in abbreviated form at a technology conference, Goldie Hawn manifested what we have described as mindful leadership.

Goldie was participating in the final day of the conference which was devoted to how mindfulness practices can develop a person’s potential.  She certainly epitomised what can happen when we grow in mindfulness.

At the age of 8, Goldie experienced a panic attack related to the fear of war with Russia.  She experienced another severe panic attack following the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York.  In between, Goldie had experienced the benefits of transcendental meditation to calm her body and mind.

It was through recalling the benefits of this mindful practice that she was able to regain her balance and display the resilience that was reflected in her life story.

Goldie set about understanding herself, her emotional reactions and her brain. She explored the most recent insights into brain functioning offered by neuroscience and came to understand herself better. She progressively grew in self-awareness and awareness of others.

Through increased self-awareness, she was able to learn self-management, both of which were enhanced by her mindful practices.

Through her own experience as a child and her growth in mindfulness, Goldie developed a very strong empathy for children suffering emotional stress, unhappiness and depression. She could strongly relate to how children were suffering through fear and anxiety and the pressures of modern life and study.

This empathy provided the motivation and a goal to work towards – world peace through developing mindfulness in children who will be future leaders.  She wanted to equip children with an understanding of the mind, how it works and how to use the resources of the mind and mindfulness to manage pain and stress and develop strong self-esteem, joy and competence.

Goldie did not stop at feeling empathetic and formulating a motivating goal, in true compassion for the mental health of children she decided to act and draw on her own experience, her knowledge of mindfulness and neuroscience, her financial position and her visibility as an actress, to  help children in schools.  This active intent led to the formation of the Hart Foundation and the development of the MindUP program.

Goldie’s presentation at the technology conference was clear evidence of her communicating with insight. Her communication would surely inspire followers who were moved by her story, her passion and her results.  They  could see clear evidence of how mindfulness has helped her grow into the wonderful human being that she is.

Goldie Hawn’s life journey is a story of growth in mindful leadership – an achievement that is open to all of us as we grow in mindfulness through mindful practice.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

 

Kindness Grows

Kindness is any act of thoughtfulness, service or generosity that is a response to the need of another person.  A positive aspect of kindness is that it is contagious – its positive influence grows of its own momentum.

Seth Godin alludes to this growth feature of kindness when he wrote in his blog:

Kindness ratchets up. It leads to more kindness.  It can create trust and openness and truth and enthusiasm and patience and possibility.

You might be able to recall when this happened for you. I can recall my own positive feelings yesterday when a waitress helped my wife and I to put on our heavy coats to protect against the cold as we left the restaurant to step out into what felt like 4 degrees.  We were visiting Ravenna in northern Italy for the day and this was our first visit.

The waitress, who was in the process of closing up after lunch on Boxing Day, went out of her way to ask where we were from. When we answered that we were from Australia, she shared her story of 9 months in Australia, including visiting our home town in Brisbane. She also disclosed that she was originally from Sweden.  This kindness of engaging us in conversation at the end of the meal served to cap off a wonderful meal and was one of a number of acts of kindness we experienced during our lunch at the restaurant.  She may not have realised that this was the first real conversation we had experienced in 4 weeks in Italy.  We could not speak Italian but the waitress spoke English fluently.

On Christmas night, we encountered another kind act by a group of about 10 young singers and a guitarist who were travelling the streets in 3 degrees temperature and singing to individual homeless people in the streets.  They sang the song, “We wish you a Merry Christmas” in a number of languages and left a gift for the homeless person.

I was pleased to learn that my son and his girlfriend, both in their twenties, spent time on Christmas Day helping a charity to serve meals to homeless people.

You can engage in kindness at any time and in any way – you can be really creative about how you show kindness to others. Kindness.org offers suggestions on how to be kind and shares stories of other peoples’ acts of kindness by way of inspiration.

In my discussion of empathy as part of emotional intelligence and mindful leadership, I highlighted the fact that kindness is one manifestation of empathetic behaviour.  People who are self-absorbed are unable to perceive the needs of others or respond to those needs in a kind way.  As you grow in mindfulness, your capacity for kindness grows and you are able to be more of a positive influence in the lives of others.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of skeeze on Pixabay

Mindful Leadership: Inspiring Followers

What do you think it would be like to follow a mindful leader, someone with advanced emotional intelligence skills?  As we have discussed, mindful leadership entails self-awareness, self-management, motivation, empathy and social skills (compassion and communicating with insight).  The mindful leader attracts and inspires  followers because of these characteristics.

They have a highly developed level of self-awareness, acknowledge their limitations, admit when they make a mistake and are tolerant of others’ mistakes.  When someone else makes a mistake they do not look for an individual to blame but undertake a system-based analysis to learn from what happened.

A mindful leader inspires confidence and trust – they are in control of their emotions.  They do not lose their temper when something happens that embarrasses them or their organisation/community.  Their high level of self-management enables them to stay calm in any situation they confront, even in what appears to be a crisis. This level of self-composure reassures followers that the situation is under control and models calmness and self-control.

Mindful leaders are highly motivated – they have a clear vision that is aligned to their values. In turn, they are able to effectively communicate their vision and reinforce their values by their congruence – aligning their actions with their words.  This alignment means that their communications are believable and inspiring.

The mindful leader understands others’ pain and suffering and genuinely feels with and for them.  They are empathetic listeners, able to reflect and clarify feelings as well as content.  They are not so self-absorbed that they are oblivious to others’ feelings – they are empathetic and inspire a willingness to be open about and deal with emotions. They themselves show vulnerability by being open about their own emotions – whether that means having felt anger, disappointment, distress, pride or any other emotion.

The mindful leader is compassionate – they not only notice others’ suffering and express empathy but also act to alleviate that suffering where possible.  Their compassion is an inspiration to others and gives followers permission to be compassionate to others in the organisation or the community. They talk about the organisation/ community in terms of a family – they do not employ the aggressiveness of the sport/war metaphor.

Mindful leaders communicate with insight gained through clarity of mind and a calm demeanour.  They see beyond appearances and have a depth of understanding that encourges and inspires followers.  Their communications are clear, meaningful and accessible – they inspire engagement.

They are fundamentally happy – they are doing something meaningful, engaging their core skills and contributing wholeheartedly to a vision that extends beyond themselves.

Chade-Meng Tan, author of Search Inside Yourself, is the epitomy of mindful leadership.  His effusiveness and happiness is contagious, his vision engaging and his clarity and acuity are inspiring. Meng, in his Google Talk, explains the foundations of the Search Inside Youself program, the benefits that accrue and why he chose to embed it in a prominent, global organisation such as Google.

Meng explains that his vision is to contribute to world peace by developing, on a global scale, leaders who are compassionate.  He sees that helping leaders to grow in mindfulness will achieve this goal.  The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute is a vehicle to bring his philosophy and training to the world through conduct of workshops, seminars and intensive training on a global basis.  In pursuit of this vision, Meng and his collaborators are developing trainers who can work globally.

Meng is one example of a mindful leader and his passion, humour, insight and humility are inspiring.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of  johnhain on Pixabay

Mindful Leadership: Social Skills – Compassion

Compassion is recognising a person’s pain and suffering and having an active desire to alleviate that pain and suffering.

Dr. James Doty, in his Ted Talk on The Science of Compassion, identifies three components of compassion:

  1. noticing another suffering (realise)
  2. showing empathetic concern (relate)
  3. taking some action to mitigate the pain (relieve)

Hence, compassion differs from empathy in that the emphasis is placed on taking action to redress suffering, not just feeling with and/or for another person.

James Doty suggests that many organisational leaders who seek power and control, lose their capacity to empathise and their willingness to be compassionate.

However, he points out the research in a book by Jane Dutton and Monica  Worline, Awakening Compassion at Work, where the authors show that compassion positively impacts the bottom line.  They contend that the benefits are two-dimensional.  Firstly, trust, cooperation and satisfaction increase; secondly, burnout, turnover and absence decrease.

Shari Storm, in her TED Talk, Building a Compassionate Workplace, maintains that one of the major impediments to developing compassionate organisational leaders and a compassionate workplace, is the metaphors we use to describe work – which become embedded in our language, influences our thinking and shapes our behaviour.  She identifies both the war and sports metaphors as problematic because they promote competition and winning over care and concern.  She suggests that the family as a metaphor for work would open up increased possibilities for nurturing in the workplace.  It would also enable women to flourish and thrive because women would be better able to relate to such a metaphor.

Unfortunately, the sports/ war metaphors tend to be male-centric and feed the desire of men to be seen as “macho”.   What is not easily recognised is that compassion requires courage as well as concern – particularly where you have to break out of the leader stereotypes encapsulated in the sports/war metaphors.

Mo Cheeks, head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, broke the stereotype at the start of the NBA playoff with Dallas Mavericks.  When 13 year old Natalie Gilbert, through nerves, forgot the words when singing the national anthem, Mo came to her aid, put his arm around her shoulder and gave her a helping hand by singing with her (despite not being a very good singer).  The crowd joined in and Mo has been universally praised for his courageous, compassionate action.  This event shows too that compassion is contagious – if only leaders would realise its power to transform organisations.

How can leaders show compassion?

There are multiple ways leaders can demonstrate compassion – what it takes is a compassionate mindset and the courage to act on it.  Here are just a few examples of compassion in action:

  • providing time off to people who experience trauma in the workplace
  • supporting middle level managers who have to lay off staff to deal with the anger and grief involved, as well as the rupture to the social fabric of the organisation
  • educating managers how to deal with mental health issues in the workplace, for the sake of the managers as well as for those staff experiencing mental illness
  • providing independent expert support to managers and staff who are experiencing difficulties
  • conducting rituals to express grief at the closure of an organisation or a major transition to a new structure
  • allowing staff time to deal with their negative emotions during major organisational change
  • publicly acknowledging the contribution of long- serving organisational members who are retiring – recognising that they will be experiencing mixed emotions including a sense of loss as well as excitement about their future.

As we grow in mindfulness, we are better able to notice when people are suffering, to show empathetic concern and act courageously to alleviate their suffering.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of WerbeFabrik on Pixabay

 

Mindful Leadership: Empathy

 

The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute draws on Evan Thompson’s (2001) explanation of the nature of empathy that identifies two key aspects:

(a) The ability to experience and understand what others feel

(b) while maintaining a clear discernment about your own and the other person’s feeling and perspectives.

(Empathy and Consciousness, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 8, 1-32)

So the first aspect of empathy is the capacity to experience what the other person is experiencing from their perspective.  It is like, metaphorically, standing in their place, realising and understanding what they are thinking and feeling.  It is not trying to provide a psychological solution or judging the emotion of the other person.  At the heart of empathy is understanding both intellectually and emotionally what is involved for the other person.

Secondly, it is the discernment ability to separate the other person’s emotion from your own.  It is not owning the other person’s feelings as if they were your own. This ability to differentiate yourself and your feelings from the other person and their feelings is critical.  An inability to do this means that you will eventually suffer from empathy overload, which can be harmful to you and reduces your capacity to help the other person.  Total identification with the other person is not the goal of a healthy approach to empathy.

There are a number of ways to enhance your empathy.  Here I will discuss three strategies:

1.Understanding and appreciating similarities

Foundational to empathy is self-awareness and the ability to recognise similarities between ourself and other people.  When we focus on differences, we are less able to empathise with others and are more inclined to make assumptions about others.  It is interesting, too, that we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions and judge others by their presumed motivation.  We all know that there can be a huge gap between intention and action.

2. Empathetic listening

Empathetic listening involves not only attending to what someone’s is saying (the words), but also the feelings (the emotions) behind the words. It includes the capacity to not only reflect back the content of the other person’s communication, but also the ability to reflect back the emotion and depth of emotion  involved.  This is often very difficult to do, given our busy lives and our tendency to run away from emotional encounters – either withdrawing physically or psychologically by tuning out.  As we grow in mindfulness, we are better able to stay present to the other person and listen empathetically.

3 Kindness

Simple acts of kindness, helping another in difficulty, builds empathy as it relies on awareness of another’s predicament and a willingness to take some action towards assisting that person.  If you are looking for inspiration for your own acts of kindness, here are some websites that may help:

Random Acts of Kindness

Kindness.org

103 Random Acts of Kindness

As you grow in mindfulness you develop your capacity to be empathetic, as empathy requires you to be present on purpose and non-judgementally.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of geralt on Pixabay