Managing Conflict

Recently the First Person Plural: EI and Beyond podcast featured Professor George Hohlrieser (Lausanne, Switzerland) discussing, How Leaders Can Overcome Conflict.  The podcast series involving collaboration between Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence), his son Hanuman Goleman and Emotional Intelligence (EI) coach Elizabeth Solomon, is designed to raise listeners’ awareness through stories provided on interview by inspiring people.   The hope is that listeners can grow in mindfulness and resilience in living proactively within the systems that surround them – within their personal, social, natural and global systems.

George works with multiple Fortune 500 companies as a clinical and organisational consultant.  He recounts during the podcast the story of how he became an accidental hostage negotiator while working for the police.  He has continued working in hostage negotiation (sometimes at considerable personal risk), as well as working with people who are suicidal.  George is an internationally renowned speaker and best-selling author.  His widely acclaimed book, Hostage at the Table: How Leaders Can Overcome Conflict, Influence Others, and Raise Performance, is undergoing revision and updating and will be published on 30 November 2022.  In the book, he recounts compelling stories of real hostage situations and draws out the psychological principles that enable hostage negotiators to be successful.

Conflict management principles

During the podcast, George explained some of the principles that underpin his approach to conflict resolution and how they can apply to leaders who are attempting to influence others and develop high performance teams:

  • Don’t be a hostage: people can be a hostage to others – their children, parents, teachers, bosses, clients, suppliers or employees.  A hostage thinks they are powerless and the pandemic generated feelings of helplessness in a lot of people.  Not thinking like a hostage involves, among other things, thinking clearly about a desired outcome and establishing a positive mindset about that outcome.   It also involves establishing a secure personal base, not being hostage to your own emotions.
  • Become a secure base: manage your own fight/flight/freeze response so that you are not caught up in what Daniel Goleman describes as the “amygdala hijack”.  Develop calmness so that you “see opportunities not threats”.  George mentioned that in his leadership development programs he does not use the traditional Harvard case studies but tells participants that the case study is “you” – building self-awareness, developing insight and courage and tapping into personal intuition and creativity.  Being calm and secure builds trust – an essential element for conflict resolution and management.
  • Tell it like it is: George argues that you should not “sugar coat” the unsatisfactory situation, e.g. poor performance or inappropriate behaviour.  He gives the example of telling someone that “you are too aggressive with clients – that needs to change”.    
  • Address the conflict directly: George uses the analogy, “put the fish on the table” – drawing from his experience working with fishermen in Sicily who were scaling and cleaning fish on a table, removing the bloody, smelly bits and preparing the fish for the “great fish dinner a the end of the day”  The analogy means addressing the conflict not ignoring it (“not putting the fish under the table”), dealing up front with the messiness of the issues and looking forward to a positive resolution.
  • The person is not the problem: George maintains that you should not “write off” the person(s) involved, e.g. “they are just argumentative, nasty or thoughtless”.  He argues that there is a real problem underlying a conflict situation, e.g. the person may feel slighted or disrespected; they may feel taken for granted when passed over for a promotion or project; or they could be experiencing distress in a home situation.  He illustrated this principle by telling the story about a father involved in a hostage situation – it was not that he was a “naturally violent person” but that he had been prevented from seeing his child (locked out by unreasonable access rules).  The core problem in this situation was the inability of the father to see his child and the solution lay in finding a way for the father to gain access to his child.
  • Identify the “pain point”: George argued that you make little progress in managing conflict if you focus on “selling points” versus “pain points”.  This requires active listening, not trying to persuade.  The pain point is often related to a loss – past, present, future or anticipated.  He mentioned Warren Bennis’ idea of “hidden grief” – that leaders are often blind to their own underlying sense of grief and can be grieving over things that happened many years earlier.  George illustrated this point by recounting the stories of two CEO’s who committed suicide out of a sense of grief over some situation – economic or workplace related.
  • Be caring: listen for understanding and be willing to be empathetic.  Express the desire for their wellbeing and demonstrate a caring attitude.  George suggests that this creates a bond even with people you might consider your “enemy”.  Bonding helps to dissolve conflict.
  • Be daring: learning a new skill such as conflict management takes you outside your “comfort zone”. Be willing to dare yourself as any new talent you desire to develop requires daring on your part – facing the fear, acknowledging the challenge and preparing yourself.  Daring your employees by presenting them with challenging work or projects, develops and motivates them.
  • Ask questions: George suggests that asking questions empowers the other person, even in a situation where a person is suicidal.  Curiosity can communicate care and concern.  Questioning can help to explore the “pain point(s)” and to work towards a solution that they can accept.
  • Provide choice: avoid a “command and control” approach as this damages bonding and trust.  The command and control approach does not motivate – it disempowers and disables people.  It can lead to compliance, but not sustainable change. Provide choice wherever possible so that the person feels a sense of agency in relation to the underlying issue.

Reflection

George’s approach to conflict resolution has been developed through his experiences as a hostage negotiator and working with people who have suicidal intentions.  He has also refined his approach through working with organisational leaders around the world to help them implement the fundamental conflict management principles he has developed.  He emphasises that conflict management involves both caring and daring – it challenges us to move outside our comfort zone to achieve a resolution.   It requires us to avoid relying on positional power and instead employ the personal power associated with integrity, humility and compassion.

His approach requires us to grow in mindfulness so that we gain the necessary self-awareness and insight into our inner landscape to operate from a calm and secure place.  Mindfulness helps us to achieve the emotional regulation involved in dealing with conflictual situations and working to de-escalate the emotional tension involved.  Reflection on our own resentment(s) can assist us to achieve calm, caring and daring.

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

How to Build Team Resilience: The 10 C’s

After writing multiple posts about personal resilience over the past five years, I have turned my attention to the task of building team resilience.  This has always been a challenge for managers but the issues have been compounded by the challenging times we are experiencing at the moment (with the global pandemic, war in Ukraine and elsewhere, economic uncertainty and the differential impacts of climate change and associated global warming).  Managers and staff are increasingly facing discontinuities in the way work is done, in where they work and in the nature of internal and external environmental changes.

How then do we go about building team resilience as we are confronted with multiple assaults on many fronts – e.g., on physical and mental health, economic welfare, working conditions, supply and demand, and relationships?   More recent writing and research point to a number of factors that contribute to team resilience in these challenging times.  I have summarised these as the 10 C’s for ease of access and recollection.

The 10 C’s for building team resilience

Team resilience has been described as “the capacity of a group of people to respond to change and disruption in a flexible and innovative manner”.   Even if adverse conditions result in a temporary loss of productivity, the resilient team can restore its balance, take care of affected members and find new ways to work and achieve their goals.  They are able to revise their goals, too, where necessary.  The 10 C’s of a resilient team are described below:

  1. Congruence: This is the cornerstone of a productive, mentally healthy and resilient workplace culture.  Managers need to ensure that they share their values and align their actions with their words.  Congruent leadership inspires, motivates and engages others in the task of personal improvement and innovation.  Lack of congruence on the part of a manager adds to environmental uncertainty, derails personal resilience and undermines team cohesion.  Team members don’t know what to believe, question their own self-worth and lose confidence in the face of the ambiguity created by incongruent behaviour.  Managers need to develop managerial mindfulness so that they are constantly aware of the impact of their words, actions and omissions on the welfare and resilience of their staff.
  2. Connection: Dr. Erin Raab maintains that “resilience is rooted in relationships” which enable trust and flexibility to develop and grow.  Without trust in a team, there is no resilience – individuals withhold information, protect themselves and withdraw (both psychologically and physically).  Managers need to be proactive in building connection through established rituals – e.g., regular, productive and focused meetings; celebrations of birthdays and personally significant events such as cultural or religious days; on-boarding and “off-boarding” practices; and regular occasions of eating together (e.g., enjoying shared  lunches that reflect the multicultural nature of a team).  Foundational to trust and a sense of being valued for contributions to a team, is expression of appreciation given as positive feedback in a way that is sincere, specific, timely and personal.  This builds personal self-efficacy, reinforces team values and develops overall team competence and capability. 
  3. Clarity: Along with relationships, Dr. Erin places considerable emphasis on the role of clarity in building team resilience.  She maintains that clarity “facilitates communication, increases intrinsic motivation and engagement” and contributes to a team’s capacity to handle change adaptively.  At a fundamental level, this involves ensuring that each person understands the specific requirements of their job and are trained and resourced to achieve them.  For the purposes of this discussion, clarity includes not only roles and structures but also team values.  Lack of clarity around roles/structures can lead to role overlap, role conflict and role ambiguity – each of which can undermine alignment of individual effort with team goals.  Clarity about team values is critically important to team resilience.  If team values are developed collaboratively, along with the explicit behavioural expressions of those values, they provide agreed guideposts and enable individual and collective alignment with the ethos of the team, facilitating working together productively within an ever-changing environment.
  4. Collaboration: This includes being conscious of contributing to a team effort (rather than solely absorbed in one’s own tasks) and a willingness to work together and to help out where needed.   It also involves moving beyond competition to “committing to build each other’s competence” to enable other team members to be the best they can be.  In line with an action learning approach, this can entail providing “supportive challenge” to assumptions or negative self-talk that are holding an individual back and undermining their personal resilience and capacity to contribute to the team.   Managers can proactively build collaboration through cross-functional, action learning project teams, establish reverse mentoring (e.g. where new, young staff with specific technological skills mentor older staff in those skill areas) and/or engage in team-building activities such as collaborative problem solving using change tools (e.g., Force Field Analysis or Brainstorming).  These activities build overall team competence and capacity to effectively manage change as a team. They also develop a sense of agency amongst team members – the ability to influence their work environment and how their work is done.
  5. Competence: Conscious efforts to build individual and team competence are an essential element for moving a team beyond its current level of capability.  This not only involves providing externally facilitated individual and team training opportunities but also building competence through internal, prioritised knowledge sharing processes, multi-skilling activities and related learning-on-the job opportunities.  If people in a team are not developing their knowledge and skills, they are going backwards in terms of a changing environment and its concurrent demands for upskilling.  The wider the gap between the present level of team members’ knowledge and skills and that demanded by the internal and external environment, the less resilient the team will be.  In contrast, relevant competence building develops a team’s resourcefulness and the process of continuous learning builds a team’s resilience.  Having a debrief or reflection process after a mistake or setback, without trying to apportion blame, can provide team members with new insights, ideas, tools and increased capacity to avoid or manage such adverse situations in the future.`
  6. Candor: LHH and Ferrazzi Greenlight, through their research, identified candor as one of the four critical characteristics of a resilient team, along with compassion , resourcefulness and humility.  Candor can be understood as “tell it like it is”.  It entails honesty, openness and transparency on an individual as a well as a team level.  It is the manager’s role to keep the workplace “businesslike and professional” and a key element of this is providing corrective feedback to an individual where they fail to meet communicated performance and/or behavioural standards.  Honesty in this interaction is essential to develop the receiver’s self-awareness, create the opportunity for their skill development and reduce the possibility of disharmony in the team.  On a team level, the manager can openly share with the team where they are placed in relation to the team goals and elicit team members help in attaining the goals and/or setting new goals.
  7. Challenge: Keith Ferrazzi, Mary-Clare Race and Alex Vincent argue that helping team members to own, and share, their workplace challenges, builds trust and openness.   This is important on a team level as well as individually.  Managers can be open about the challenges facing the team as a whole.  I worked with a CEO some years ago who managed an aged care operation with 23 different residential facilities on the one site, each with a separate manager and providing services ranging from respite care to palliative care.  What the manager found is that the level of care required by residents was increasing in need,  complexity and cost, at the same time that Government funding was reducing dramatically.  The manager openly shared this financial situation with his team of facility managers and enlisted their aid in resolving the challenge.  The facility managers came up with a number of innovative solutions which enabled the installation to overcome substantial losses.   Managers, where possible, can share information about impending organisational changes to build change readiness in the team and to prevent team members from being blindsided by the changes when they occur.  In the absence of information, team members fear the worst and start to share rumours that undermine individual’s confidence and the team’s resilience.  Sharing information about forthcoming changes can enable a team to collaboratively develop strategies to effectively manage the changes, thus building resilience.
  8. Compassion: It is important that managers show that they care – not only expressing empathy for staff needs, but also taking compassionate action.  This may entail making reasonable adjustments for people experiencing mental or physical health issues.  It could involve developing mental health awareness programs that facilitate people effectively managing their own mental health.  Another approach involves offering workplace mindfulness training to enable staff to manage stress and build personal resilience in the face of multiple workplace stressors.  Mindful organisations develop compassion in all their interactions, including actively listening to each other in the workplace and helping each other through the challenges they experience.  Overall, it entails cultivating a care and concern culture where peoples’ welfare comes before task achievement – a culture that can be developed by regular, non-invasive check-ins by the manager as well as by workplace colleagues.  Involvement in the RUOK? movement can facilitate the development of this cultural orientation. 
  9. Communication: “Information is power”, so sharing information is sharing power – empowering others to achieve.  This involves moving from sharing information on a “need-to-know” basis (often arbitrarily determined by the manager) to a “need-to-enable” basis.  People need information to do their job, to understand the organisational context and to align with the organisation’s strategic direction.  Managers are interpreters of the organisation’s vision, values and goals and have a critical role in ensuring their staff know where the organisation is headed and why.  They can enhance their role in engaging the minds and hearts of staff by enabling collaborative development of a local statement of the team’s vision in line with the organisation’s direction.  What mangers say and how they say it can create a positive or negative culture and contribute to team resilience or undermine it.  Research has shown that a manager’s mood is contagious.  This emotional contagion impacts how a team responds to challenges and setbacks.  Managers are encouraged to be positive and avoid cynicism and negativity if they want to build team resilience.  They need to be conscious about the impact of their communication and monitor their own talk
  10. Celebration: Celebrating successes in terms of goal accomplishment or achievement of project milestones, deepens the memory of team members in terms of how they have overcome obstacles and setbacks and serves as a fall-back when future challenges or setbacks arise.  Mind Tools provides the research behind the value of savoring team success and offers multiple ways to celebrate team achievements.  Celebrations open up the opportunity to share success stories, build cohesion and reinforce positive emotions associated with belonging to the team – all of which adds to a sense of connectedness and team resilience.  Another way into savoring team achievement is to engage in an “appreciative inquiry” process with a team.  This strengths-based approach works from what is good about the present (revisiting achievements) to envisioning an even better future and innovating to realise this vision.

Reflection

The factors impacting team resilience – the 10 C’s mentioned above – are not discrete influences.  They overlap to some degree and reinforce each other.  The relationship between different factors is often bi-directional, e.g., connection inspires compassion and compassion, in turn, builds connection.  So, acting positively on any one of the factors identified, can strengthen other factors and enhance the impact on team cohesion and resilience.   The factors provide a focus for efforts to build team resilience.   If a manager wants to achieve a significant change in an organisational/team context, they need to have multiple points of intervention to shift from the status quo to a desired future. 

However, trying to focus on all the resilience factors at once can create overwhelm for a manager.  Shelly Tygielski, international mindfulness trainer and trauma counsellor, encourages “chunking” when faced with such a mammoth “to-do list” – that is, grouping tasks into like activities (chunks) and assigning relative priorities.  A manager, for example, could engage their staff in a Force Field Analysis (FFA) process to identify the helping and hindering forces impacting the goal of developing team resilience and then collaboratively assign a priority to each force to determine what factor(s) to focus on.  The 10C’s and their component elements could be used as a checklist during the FFA process.

When writing about personal resilience, Shelly Tygielski encourages “building resilience one step at a time”.   On a team resilience level, this involves beginning with a primary focus and progressively adding activities as one intervention is established and stabilised.  

As managers grow in managerial mindfulness, they will see opportunities for improving their own practices and develop creative ways to build team resilience.  Proactivity is required on the part of a manager if team resilience is to be developed and sustained.  Writers in this area often liken team resilience to a battery – needing continual recharging and reenergising. 

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Under the influence of Thich Nhat Hanh

In a prelude to a guided meditation podcast, Remembering Thich Nhat Hanh, Diana Winston spoke with reverence about the life of Thich Nhat Hanh and his global influence.  Nhat Hanh, who died aged ninety-five in Vietnam on January 22 2022, was a Zen Master, peace activist, poet and author of over 100 books focused mainly on mindfulness and peace.  He established multiple Buddhist communities around the world and is considered the “Father of Western mindfulness”.  He exerted a global influence throughout his teaching life conducting numerous retreats and speaking with influencers such as the World Bank, Google and the U.S. Congress.

During the Vietnam war Nhat Hanh introduced the concept of “Engaged Buddhism” and led Buddhist monks in actions designed to help people of Vietnam who were suffering from the drastic effects of the extended conflict and regular bombing.  He argued that mindfulness increases our capacity to “see” but that this insight needs to be translated into compassionate action.   Nhat Hanh established the Plum Village in France, the largest Buddhist community in the world and an international practice center for followers of his mindfulness approach.  The influence of Thich Nhat Hanh is so pervasive that it is not possible to do its credit in this short blog post.  However, his teachings and meditations are readily accessible via Plum Village videos on YouTube and his full life history on the Plum Village website.

Guided meditation

Diana Winston, at the outset of her podcast meditation, acknowledged the profound influence that Nhat Hanh had over her mindfulness practice and that of numerous other mindfulness teachers and practitioners around the world.  She stressed Nhat Hanh’s influence over the practice of bringing mindfulness into everyday life and emphasised the benefits of mindfulness meditation in terms of stress reduction, overcoming anxiety and depression, managing pain, improving mood and developing a positive mindset and emotions.

After suggesting a comfortable, focused posture, Diana begins the meditation with the encouragement to take a couple of deep breaths, recalling the words of Nhat Hanh “Breathing in, I calm the breath; breathing out, I smile”.  She reminds us to identify any points of tension in our body and to soften those points to release the tension.

Next Diana asks us to focus on our breath – the process of breathing, whether the awareness is through the movement of air through our nose or the undulations of our chest or abdomen.  This is a passive observation, not trying to control the breath, but following it as it happens naturally in our body. 

She then suggests that we focus on the sounds that surround us – again passively, allowing the sounds to reach us without attempting interpretation or evaluation (in terms of pleasant or unpleasant).  

Diana maintains that it is only natural for thoughts and feelings to intrude and distract us from our chosen focus.  However, she recommends that we use our breath or sounds as our anchor to bring us back to our focus.  An alternative is to focus on bodily sensations such as those of our feet on the ground or our fingers touching each other causing tingling, warmth or a sensation of flow.  I like to use fingers touching as my anchor and I find that when I am waiting for something (e.g. a traffic light) I can touch my fingers and immediately drop into a breath consciousness that is calming.  

Diana observes that there are times when strong feelings will emerge, depending on what is going on in our lives at the time.  She suggests that we face these feelings and allow them to manifest without staying absorbed in them.  I noted that at one point in the meditation, I experienced a profound sense of sadness precipitated by the distressing events in Ukraine. I was able to stay with the sadness for a time and then restore the focus on my anchor, the sensations in my joined fingers.   The period of ten minutes silence at the end of the meditation podcast enabled me to deepen my focus.

Reflection

In her meditation podcast, Diana recalls Thich Nhat Hanh’s comments about death and dying.  In his video podcast on the topic, Where do we go when we die?, Nhat Hanh reminds us that cells in our body are dying all the time and new cells are being born – so, death and birth are part of every moment of our life.  He maintains that the disintegration of our body at death does not mean we cease to exist.  In his view, our words and actions continue to influence others – so, after we die, we continue in all the people who have come under our influence (or will come under our influence in the future).  He indicated that when he died he would continue in the lives of many thousands of people through the books he has written, the videos he has created and the podcasts that live on after him.

Sounds True provides a video of Nhat Hanh, the artist, as he engages in calligraphy as a form of mindfulness, using the in-breath and out-breath.  In one calligraphy, he likens the continuation of our lives in different forms to a cloud that never dies.

Diana states that the global mindfulness movement represents in many ways the continuation of the life of Nhat Hanh.  She asks us, “How are you going to enable the continuation of Nhat Hanh’s life in your own life?”. As we grow in mindfulness, we are continuing the life and tradition of Nhat Hanh and gaining access to the benefits of mindfulness including calmness, emotion regulation, insight, resilience and the courage to take compassionate action.

Thich Nhat Hahn made a hugely significant contribution to the global mindfulness movement and world peace (he was nominated by Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize).  Nhat Hanh left us a huge store of resources to enable us to plumb the depths of his teachings and his indomitable spirit, and to continue his life’s work to create a “beloved community”.  In all his life, throughout  the challenges of suffering, grief and disappointment, he “practised a lot of breathing, coming back to himself”.  Mindful breathing provided his grounding during all phases of his life, especially in the face of violence against the Vietnamese people, his followers and social workers.

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Image by Karl Egger from Pixabay

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Developing Compassionate Leadership through Mindfulness


The concept of “Compassionate Leadership” has its foundations in the global mindfulness movement.  One example of this foundation is the book by Amanda Sinclair, Leading Mindfully.  She has a chapter on Bringing Love and Compassion into Leadership in this very readable and eminently practical book.  In this chapter she draws on the example of Paul Roos, who coached Sydney Swans to their first AFL premiership.   

The emergence of compassionate leadership

LinkedIn published an article in 2014 on the benefits of compassionate leadership and the traits of compassionate leaders.  In 2017, Forbes produced an article on Compassionate Leadership: A Mindful Call to Lead from Both the Head and the Heart which tracks why compassionate leadership has evolved to its prominence today.  The article recognises the seminal work of Google in developing mindful leadership through The Search Inside Yourself Program which is now available world-wide through the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute.  The program was initially conducted over seven weeks in Google and is now offered globally as a two-day mindful leadership course covering mindfulness, emotional intelligence, neuroscience, and compassion.

The currency of the compassionate leadership approach has been reinforced by Forbes.  In January 2020, Forbes published an article, How to be a more compassionate leader (and why it’s so important), which provides some practical steps to develop compassionate leadership including compassionate listening and helping to make other people’s lives better.   

Developing compassionate leadership through mindfulness

In October 2020, Forbes published another article which recommends mindfulness practice as a way to develop Compassionate Leadership.  The author, Laurel Donnellan, drew on the work of Darrell Jones, General Manager of Chill.  Darrell recommends three basic elements – focus on inner transformation, value quality of mindfulness practice (however brief) over quantity (and the related “shoulds”) and find refuge in your practice whatever form it takes (e.g. meditation, Tai Chi, mindful reading or prayer) in challenging times, especially in times of grief.  Darrell also suggests that we focus on “togethering” – putting our connectedness before our separateness.  One way to do this is to consciously practise “compassionate listening” to those who have a different perspective or cultural background, seeking to create conversations that are inclusive.

During the Radical Compassion Challenge, both Jon Kabat-Zinn and Tara Brach reinforced the need for mindful listening to personal stories as a stimulus to compassionate action and highlighted mindfulness practice as a way to remove the blockages (such as fear of failure or unrealistic assumptions) to taking kindness-inspired action.

Chade-Meng Tan, author of Search Inside Yourself and founder of the Google program of the same name, stressed the role of mindfulness in developing personal insight, compassionate action, and the capacity to inspire others.  His personal vision is to contribute to world peace through the development of compassionate leadership globally and he views mindfulness as the pathway to achieve this goal. 

Many mindfulness practitioners and researchers see self-compassion, developed through mindfulness, as a source of insight and motivation for compassionate leadership.  Tara Brach, for instance, argues that mindfulness can help us to overcome negative self-evaluation, sensitize us to the needs and hurt of others and free us up for compassionate action.  Pema Chödrön maintains that “compassionate abiding” in our own pain and suffering as a form of mindful self-compassion builds resilience and acts as a doorway to compassion for others.  Kristin Neff, author of The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook, maintains that self-compassion is not self-pity or self-indulgence but helps us to understand our connectedness to others through sharing the human condition of pain and suffering. 

Reflection

Mindfulness helps us overcome self-absorption, our sense of separateness, negative self-narratives and resentment and, in the process enables us to see more clearly our connectedness, identify our capacity to helps others and to find the courage and creativity to put our compassionate ideas into action.   As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, reflection, and mindfulness practices, we build our capacity for compassionate leadership that not only enables us to take compassionate action but also inspires others to do likewise.

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Image by Joshua Choate from Pixabay

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Developing Resilience for Uncertain and Challenging Times

Danielle LaPorte – blogger, author, entrepreneur, podcaster and inspirational speaker – was recently interviewed by Tami Simon on the topic, Resilience in Challenging Times.   When asked how she is coping in the current Coronavirus crisis, she explained that in the main she is “feeling resilient” but sometimes drops out from her centre and experiences intense feelings of pain and sorrow.  For her, resilience is “coming home” to your true centre and your life as it is.  Danielle reinforced the need to fully face our fear and anxiety, rather than deny the reality of what is happening for us.  She reminds us that acceptance – accepting what is – is core to mindfulness, mental health and happiness.

Scenario thinking as a way to manage the uncertainties of life and business

Danielle drew on her role as a “social visionary” to recommend using scenario thinking as a way to manage through the uncertainties that confront us on every dimension of our lives today.  For example, with the staff of her entrepreneurial business she explored potential scenarios as they move forward, including the “worst possible” scenario.  Facing up to the worst possible scenario and exploring how you could cope gives you a sense of control over fear and anxiety – you have faced up to the thoughts that generate your fears and anxiety and diffused them by identifying ways to cope (rather than letting them whirl around in your head and disorientate you by pulling you away from your centre).  Danielle indicated that she applied scenario thinking to her personal life as well, even facing up to the possibility of her own death through Coronavirus infection.

In line with her scenario thinking and her role as a social futurist, Danielle suggested that the Coronavirus will bring out the best and worst in people.  We have seen this already, on the one hand, in panic buying and profiteering by hoarding and selling scare resources at exorbitant prices; on the other hand, the growing prevalence of kindness, thoughtfulness, generous sharing and compassionate action.   Danielle drew on Barbara Marx Hubbard’s analogy of the “crisis of birth” to talk about the pain of establishing a new world order where there is increasing integration of the scientific, social, economic and spiritual capacities of the human race through a process of “conscious evolution”.

The growth of heart-centred leadership

Danielle maintained that the current crisis creates a situation where heart-centred leadership becomes the new norm.  Leaders and managers of people working remotely as a result of enforced physical isolation are confronted with the need to be empathetic to the adverse situations experienced by many of their staff – some with ill parents, school-aged children at home, inadequate space, lack of necessary technical resources or inexperience in operating within a working from home environment.  Heart-centred leadership requires the development of compassion, a perception of leadership as resonance and the capacity to build leadership agility.

Danielle herself demonstrated heart-centred leadership when she spoke of “bothness” – the capacity to not only see and face your own suffering but also to recognise that others are suffering too, often experiencing much worse conditions and life circumstances than you are.  For example, she explained that the experience of a short supply of a particular grocery item bears no comparison to someone else’s situation where they have no food or any likelihood of obtaining anything that is nourishing.  Danielle suggests that her own pain and suffering is connecting her with “someone else with more pain”.  In the mutual experience of crisis, lies the energy of connectedness.

Reflection

The current Coronavirus crisis precipitates the development of self-intimacy rather than self-denial, the promotion of compassionate action over self-absorption, the growth of heart-centred leadership over narcissistic leadership and the emergence of a greater sense of connectedness, rather than disconnection.   As we grow in mindfulness – deep awareness of our self and others – through mindfulness practices, reflection and scenario thinking, we can maintain a positive mindset and contribute, however painfully, to the growth of a new, integrated world order.

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Strategies for Managing Remotely

There are numerous suggestions available for managing remotely given that many people are working at home because of the social isolation associated with the Coronavirus.  In a previous post, I explored some of the challenges and opportunities involved in working from home that managers need to be aware of.  There are many common strategies employed by companies in relation to communication, support, information management, performance management, accountability and frequency and modes of interaction between managers and staff (and amongst staff themselves).  However, it is vitally important that the practices and processes of remote management reflect and reinforce organisation culture.

Reflect organisation values in remote management practices, processes and tools

While there are many suggestions regarding best practices for remote management (for example, on YouTube©), it is important not to just “copy and paste” them into your own company’s processes.  What is really needed is to build company-wide processes for remote management that reflect your company’s core values, e.g. friendliness, empowerment, accountability, transparency, consistency, inclusive.  Elizabeth Hall provides a comprehensive example of how Trello’s values are embedded in a wide range of remote management processes, systems and practices for their global organisation, e.g. virtual parties, chat system with multiple channels (work and personal), saying good morning (despite country of location) and mandatory overlap hours for working wherever in the world.

Communication practices and processes for remote management

One of the basic rules for managing remotely is to find ways to compensate for the lack of social interaction that people would normally have in a “bricks and mortar” environment.  From a management perspective, systems and processes for accountability are also important but need to be culturally compatible.  Communication strategies can be adapted to the nature of the work, location(s) of workers, time cycle of producing product and services and sensitivity/urgency of the core business.  Here are some communication strategies that companies employ to achieve these goals of social interaction, accountability and adaptability:

  • Mandatory online meetings – these can be daily or weekly and are mandatory often within a flexible working arrangement.  This ensures one form of interaction across the team and can build in accountability via a reporting mechanism (e.g. against KPIs, project milestones, or output measures). For teams that have a high level of interdependency, a daily “stand-up” meeting via video conferencing can be important to ensure that people are “in-synch” in relation to work-in-progress.  The sharing involved can take many forms, e.g. sharing “three things I did yesterday” and “three things I plan to do today”.  The manager then has the opportunity to check for coordination of effort and re-visit priorities in consultation with staff.  Some companies that have a mixed mode arrangement (work from home and work from company offices) ensure that all participants in the mandatory meetings are online (not a mix of face-to-face and virtual participation) – a practice designed to build in consistency and inclusiveness. 
  • Replicating the “water cooler” experience – finding ways to make up for the lack of social interaction of remote workers.  The processes employed are intended to build trust and understanding through mutual sharing, informal information exchange and storytelling.  Processes range from continuous online chat channels (both business and personal) to time-structured interactions for pairs or groups of four to enable them to share information about their personal life through online video conferencing (videos of the interaction can be shared more widely in the organisation with consent of the parties involved). 
  • Face-to-face interactions for the group – many companies institute an annual get together for a team (or linked teams) to create connections, build relationships, facilitate consistent communication of company information, share progress/strategies/intelligence and for forward planning.  These can take the form of retreats, conferences or workshops and incorporate games, partner interactions and/or social events.  It is important that the structure and processes of these scheduled face-to-face interactions reflect the characteristics of the company’s culture such as values, rituals and norms.
  • One-on-one interactions with the manager – ideally these entail visits by the manager to individual staff members.   However, regular and predictable one-on-one interactions are important to gauge how a staff member is coping with their work and environment and to provide a means of accountability.  It is increasingly important that managers find a balance between task and personal needs of staff when having these interactions.  In crisis times like the present, managers may need to change the balance by giving employees more slack and spending more time on personal matters to provide additional personal support.  This is necessary when working from home is enforced and not a matter of choice, when there are high levels of job insecurity and the broader environment is turbulent and uncertain.  Managers have a duty of care in relation to the mental health of their employees.  If they observe signs of mental illness, they can employ approaches such as the “R U Okay?” enquiry and access the relevant resources.

Processes and systems to support work achievement

It is important to put in place processes, systems, technology and policies to support effective remote management.  Clarity around expectations and system processes supports efficiency and effectiveness and reduces misunderstanding and conflict.  Developing protocols, practices and rituals provides some degree of certainty in a very uncertain world.  Strategies companies employ to support work achievement include:

  • Setting expectations: being clear with staff about performance and behavioural expectations is critical at the outset.  Included in this is establishing onboarding processes for new staff so that they understand what is expected of them as well as become familiar with the team’s processes and systems. It is common for different teams (e.g. system developers vs sales staff) to have different preferences about the means of communicating – e.g. email vs phone.  At the outset, the manager can support teams to develop groundrules about how they want to operate and collaborate.  For an established team, this could include exploration of the “unwritten rules” which create behavioural norms unconsciously.  Clear expectations provide the stimulus for personal motivation and contribution and the groundwork for performance management.  Some organisations employ 360-degree feedback to support performance management and identify development needs – the frequency of these feedback processes (e.g. quarterly, half-yearly or annually) will depend on the time cycle of the organisation and the need to highlight accountability.
  • Systems development: develop systems and procedures to support daily processing and achievement of team’s goals.  These should be documented and readily available to all staff.  In the absence of formal systems and procedures, information and intelligence can be lost and result in inconsistent treatment of staff and customers.  Systems should cover data storage, retrieval and editing. Cloud storage is often recommended for ease of access for remote workers. Visuals such as flow charts, diagrams and videos can be used to support communication about systems and procedures.
  • Support for workers in remote localities – often remotely located employees feel “left out” because their needs are not taken into account.  They suffer from inadequate infrastructure, the increased cost and limited availability of transportation and limited resources.  Ways to reduce the sense of isolation for remotely located workers include establishing a “buddy” system; visits by senior management; developing joint projects involving these staff and people in hub localities; and connecting them with local groups, organisations and government entities.  To help people in remote localities really feel as if they belong to the organisation, the manager can involve them in planning and review processes, ensure equitable access to training and be conscious of their timeframes (and time zones where relevant) and commitments when scheduling meetings.
  • Facilitate remote social interaction – this involves establishing a culturally appropriate way of providing fun and light relief so that staff can interact on a non-work basis.  Some groups have instituted virtual coffee breaks or lunches and others have introduced a virtual “happy hour”, while some groups with a light-hearted approach have enjoyed virtual games and parties.  Whatever form of remote social interaction you choose, it is important to encourage staff to take time out.

Reflection

Managing remotely adds considerable complexity to the role of a manager, especially in these uncertain times.  The demands for emotional agility and adaptability on the part of the manager are very high.  It is critical for remote managers to be able to manage themselves effectively in times of crisis.

With appropriate communication strategies and supportive systems and processes, a manager can help staff realise a work from home environment that is both enjoyable and productive.  As managers grow in mindfulness through reflection on experience, mindfulness practices and meditation, they will be better able to access their resourcefulness and resilience, heighten their compassion and build a sense of agency for themselves and their staff.

In his book, A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles writes about Count Alexander Rostov who was evicted from his usual plush suite in the Metropol Hotel and confined to an attic room in the hotel for an indefinite period by The Bolshevik.   During an early stage of describing the house arrest, Towles shares the Count’s reflection on his confinement and depleted situation (which incorporates a salutary lesson for dealing with changed circumstances):

Having acknowledged that a man must master his circumstances or otherwise be mastered by them, the Count thought it worth considering how one was most likely to achieve this aim when one had been sentenced to a life of confinement. (p. 38-39)

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Image by Anrita1705 from Pixabay

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Managing Remotely: Challenges and Opportunities

Managing remotely brings many challenges and these are compounded in the current uncertain times associated with the relentless march of the Coronavirus.  Managers like their staff can be ill-prepared for the sudden change in their work location and circumstances.  Managers who are used to seeing their staff daily and being able to observe what they are working on, lose that “line of sight” and can become anxious about their perceived loss of control.  Workers themselves can experience a sense of social isolation and can lack access to timely information and adequate technology.  These difficulties can be aggravated by distractions, particularly where there are young children at home and other children who need to maintain a school study program while being unable to attend school.  Managing remotely demands increased flexibility and adaptability on the part of managers, the willingness to “cut their staff some slack” and the emotional agility to manage themselves in times of crisis.

While the challenges of remote management are personally demanding for managers, particularly in times of uncertainty, there are also opportunities inherent in the remote circumstances.  These include the opportunity to develop stronger relationships with individual staff, to build effective teamwork and to promote creativity and capacity development.

The challenges of managing remotely

Staff working from home and/or in remote locations can lose their sense of belonging very quickly and become withdrawn and disengaged.  Managers on our Confident People Management (CPM) Program report that some of the other challenges that arise are:

  • Things can get out of hand quickly
  • Staff can become demotivated because they often do not know “what is going on” (compounded by the absence of the informal, “drink fountain” conversations that often entail sharing, “Did you know that…?”)
  • Misunderstandings and conflict can arise because of the lack of information and/or communication
  • Staff can feel a lack of support because the normal supports (presence of mentors, technical experts and resources) are not readily accessible
  • The working space and/or technology of staff working from home may not be ideal
  • The potential for negative cohesion and “groupthink” to arise in the absence of the physical presence of the manager
  • Staff can experience feeling isolated and this sense of disconnection from others can compound, or be the catalyst for, mental health issues such as loneliness and depression
  • Managing poor performance can be more difficult because of the loss of “line of sight”, the lack of face-to-face interaction and the extra demands of communicating and problem solving on a more regular or routinised basis.

People ideally suited to working remotely are those who are self-reliant, strong communicators, self-directed, resilient, trustworthy and outcomes/results focused.   Unfortunately, in these times of enforced working from home arrangements, managers do not get the opportunity to decide who is personally suited to working from home and whose work is adaptable to a working from home environment.  This situation of lack of control over a critical aspect of decision making can be particularly challenging for a manager and also make performance management even more difficult because some people will not be suited to these quickly implemented, new working arrangements.  The current need for social isolation and social distancing for both managers and staff can place an added burden on the manager and can make it difficult for them to maintain a positive mindset when faced with the added challenges of complexity, uncertainty and anxiety (their own and that of their staff).

The opportunities of managing remotely

Managers on our current CPM Program report that the remote management situation has surprisingly improved their communication with individual staff when they use video as apart of remote communications technology (such as Zoom© or Microsoft Teams©).  Both managers and staff are finding it easier to share openly and with some degree of vulnerability in this new context.  They put these relationship improvements down to the lack of workplace distractions, the absence of an open office environment where privacy is sacrificed in the misguided pursuit of efficiency and a mutual sense of vulnerability (occasioned by the Coronavirus).

With the right strategies for managing remotely, managers can create opportunities for staff to develop new skills, build resilience, improve teamwork and collaboration and gain more enjoyment and motivation in their work.  As the oft-quoted English-language proverb goes, Necessity is the mother of invention – the need to do something imperative about something that is significant to working effectively, generates creativity and innovation.  Both managers and staff are forced to find new ways of working and communicating to maintain their own sense of agency and to achieve the desired team outcomes.

Reflection

There is a tendency to see only the challenges inherent in remote management because of our natural negative bias when we feel threatened or forced to go outside our comfort zone.  However, there are very real opportunities involved in managing remotely, not the least of these being the catalyst to involve managers in accelerated self-development.  As managers grow in mindfulness through meditation, mindfulness practices and reflection they can build their personal resilience, enhance their capacity to make “adaptive change” in their behaviour and more readily access their creativity and innovation.  With every challenge there is an opportunity for personal growth if the manager has worked at creating fertile ground, through mindfulness, for their own flourishing.

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Image by Anrita1705 from Pixabay

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

What Absolutes Are Holding You Back?

In a penetrating video presentation, Lance Allred asks the questions, “What is Your Polygamy?”  Polygamy in the context of his talk is a metaphor for the “absolutes” that we carry in our head from childhood (absolutes that have been reinforced by our own self-stories and by the projections of others).   Lance was raised in a polygamous Mormon community established by his grandfather. The community’s beliefs were very “black and white” – no room for grey.  Polygamy was practised because of the belief that the more wives you had, the closer you were to God. 

Lance’s absolutes included the following:

  • He had to prove himself to God and man because he was born defective as a legally deaf child
  • Mormonism is the one true faith and you can only get to Heaven if you are faithful to Mormon beliefs.

Lance escaped from the Mormon community at the age of 13 years, but he maintains that it is taking him a lifetime to escape his “absolutes”.  He did become the first legally deaf NBA player, but this became another trap – he became captured by the lights and accolades to the point were his sense of self-worth was dependent on the views of others.  He won the praise of others but began to lose his integrity.  He was so caught up with defining himself as an elite basketball player that when he was cut from the NBA team, he was severely depressed and entertained suicidal thoughts.

What are your absolutes?

Our absolutes are “culturally indoctrinated” and embedded in our everyday language – they live underneath the “shoulds”, the “musts” and the “have to’s” that we tell ourselves daily and use as excuses when confronted by personal challenges or the requests of others (either explicit or implicit requests).

Lance contends that knowing our “absolutes” is a journey into “self-intimacy” and overcoming them is a lifetime challenge of moving outside our “comfort zone”.   He argues persuasively that “we were not born to be caged within our comfort zones” – places of comfort created by our absolutes that we mistakenly view as giving us certainty in an increasingly uncertain and ambivalent world.

Our absolutes hold us back from becoming what we are capable of being.  We fear failure because with new endeavours we will need to move beyond what we know and are comfortable with.  We are concerned about what people will think of us if we don’t succeed in our endeavour, particularly if we put ourselves “out there”.  Lance, however, maintains that “you are bulletproof if your worth is not tied to an outcome” – in his view, by being authentic and true to yourself, you can overcome fear and rest in the knowledge that your worth can never be challenged or questioned.  Growth comes through discomfort, and failure contributes to growth because it precipitates deep learning about our self, our perceptions and our absolutes.

Reg Revans, the father of action learning maintained a similar argument, when he said:

If you try to do something significant about something imperative, you will come up against how you view yourself and how you define your role. 

Don’t let others determine what you are capable of

Lance stated that others can reinforce the cage of your comfort zone by projecting onto you their own absolutes and/or fears.  He tells the story of his first game as an NBA player that he came to play because someone was injured, and a replacement was not readily available.  The coach told him not to try to do too much, just settle for one or two goals and lots of defence.  He was effectively communicating his belief that Lance could not accomplish more because of his deafness disability.  Lance went on to score 30 goals in his first game as well as 10 rebounds.  His message as a result – “don’t define yourself by your disability and don’t let others determine what you are capable of”. 

Often people associate deafness with both physical and intellectual disability.  As Lance stated, the greatest challenge he had to face with his disability was not the disability itself, but others’ perceptions of who he was and what he was capable of.

Lance had been profoundly deaf since birth and had difficulty talking in a way that people could understand.  He spent thousands of hours in speech therapy and has become an accomplished public speaker and author.  I discussed his latest book, The New Alpha Male, in a previous post.

Reflection

In another video presentation, Lance contends that moving beyond our absolutes and associated fears takes perseverance and grit, traits that he maintains define leadership.  I can relate to the need for perseverance and grit in moving beyond peoples’ expectations of what you are capable of when you experience a disability. 

In 1974, a disc in my back collapsed resulting in my inability to walk or even stand without extreme sciatic pain.  I was told that I would never play tennis again. However, over 18 months, I undertook every form of therapy I could lay my hands on – chiropractic treatment, remedial massage therapy, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, light gym work, physiotherapy and osteopathy.  When using the exercise bike in a gym (I hate gyms!), I would envisage playing tennis again.  My osteopath, Dr. Graham Lyttle, got me back on deck and I having been playing social tennis weekly for the last 40 plus years.

I can also relate to Lance’s concept of “absolutes”.  As I used to play tennis fixtures at an “A” Grade level, I have carried in my head the absolute that I should not make a mistake at tennis.  Managing my expectations around this personal absolute, has been a constant challenge.  I can take to heart Lance’s exhortation that if your self-worth is not tied to an outcome, you can overcome your absolutes and become what you are capable of being.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can become aware of our absolutes and how they play out in our lives and develop the self-regulation and courage required to move outside our comfort zone and realise our full potential.  We can move beyond our procrastination and undertake our meaningful work.

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

What it Means to be a Tough Male Today: Strength through Adversity and Vulnerability

In a recent interview podcast, Tami Simon spoke to former NBA star Lance Allred about his book which focuses on changes to what it means to be a “tough” male in times of adversity.  Lance is the author of The New Alpha Male: How to Win the Game When the Rules Are Changing.   As the first legally deaf player in the NBA, Lance missed hearing a number of plays but he brought to the game a keen sense of sight and intuition – he was able, for example, to develop heightened peripheral vision and the capacity to read body language through intuition rather than analysis.

Lance explains in his interview (as part of the Insights at the Edge podcast series) that he was raised as a child in America to become the classical Alpha Male – dominant, powerful and focused on the external signs of success that were associated with materialistic values (what you possess) and “superior conceit” (“better than” or “superior to”).  The catalyst for his change of perspective on what it means to be male was the sudden end to his NBA career (precipitated by the Global Economic Crisis) and nervous breakdown which resulted in thoughts of suicide.

Characteristics of males who successfully persevere despite adversity

In the interview, Lance describes the seven characteristics of what he terms the “New Alpha Male”.  The characteristics are strongly aligned to mindfulness and Lance describes them as the “seven principles of perseverance” when faced with today’s life challenges:

  1. Accountability: Lance argues that we need to own our feelings and avoid hiding them through “false bravado”.   He maintains that to be accountable we have to cast off those embedded self-stories that lead to envy and aggression and own our real feelings, instead of playing the victim or the child throwing a tantrum.
  2. Integrity: Speaking your “authentic truth” – not showing one side to a valued audience and another worse side to people viewed as lesser in importance. This entails working towards personal integration as a lifetime pursuit and being congruent as a leader.
  3. Compassion: Understanding that others are in pain and can often cause you hurt as a result of their pain (e.g. pain resulting from adverse childhood experiences).  It entails being willing to forgive others and show compassion towards them and their suffering.
  4. Intimacy: Being able to have the “intimate conversations” that express how you really feel but also being able to “own your side of the street” – what you have contributed to the conflict.  Lance talks about “self-intimacy” which is effectively a very deep level of self-awareness along with the courage to own up to what you are thinking and feeling.  The resultant vulnerability becomes a strength, not a weakness.
  5. Adaptability: Being able to deal with “extreme discomfort” including feeling alone because you are not conforming to other people’s expectations – people who do not see you for “who you truly are” and what you are capable of.
  6. Acceptance: This is the precursor to surrender.  Acceptance entails acknowledging mistakes but working to overcome them for your own benefit as well as that of others affected by your mistakes or inadequacies.  Surrender goes one step further in accepting “what is” after you have given your all to a particular pursuit or dream.  Lance explains that acceptance and surrender in turn involve both heartbreak and gratitude – willingness to learn through heartbreak and gratitude for what you have achieved.
  7. Choice: A fundamental principle underlying perseverance. This involves showing up in your life – choosing to start again after some “failure”, not being afraid of failure.  In the final analysis it means to “be a leader of your own life”.

Reflection

Lance puts forward the challenge of conscious choice and mindful action – being willing to overcome our self-stories, moving beyond our comfort zone, being truly accountable and authentic about our thoughts and feelings and being compassionate and forgiving towards others.  As we grow in mindfulness, we can develop the self-awareness and self-intimacy that underpins his principles of perseverance and progressively move towards personal integration.

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Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Creating a Positive Future in a Climate-Changed World

Diana Winston recently provided a meditation podcast entitled, Envisioning a Positive Future in Our World.  The podcast was timely given the devastating fires across Australia in the months preceding and following the presentation and the ongoing challenge of gaining control over fires that continue to rage.  Diana’s guided meditation was a part of the weekly podcasts offered by MARC, UCLA.  Diana emphasised the need to draw on mindfulness for strength and resilience, to envisage a better future and to collaborate to achieve a better world.

The immeasurable impact of the Australian bushfires

The devastating impact of the Australian bushfires and wildfires was brought into sharp relief by the ABC Four Corners© program, Black Summer, aired on 3rd February 2020.  The program incorporated video footage from various areas and stages of the fires along with discussions by people who had survived the fires and lost their homes and/or family members, firefighters who described what it was like to be in thick of the fires, evacuation centre volunteers and elected officials living in areas impacted by the fires. 

Michael Pengilly, Mayor of Kangaroo Island in South Australia, summed up the extent of the physical devastation when he said:

So far this bushfire season, almost 12 million hectares have burned.  At least a billion native animals have died.  More than 3,000 homes have been destroyed and 33 people have lost their lives.

He pointed out that there were still bushfires creating havoc across Australia at the time of the TV program. 

Firefighters and people who had lost their homes and loved ones spoke of the trauma resulting from the fires, the fear of losing their lives, the 48 hours of blackness and the suffocating smoke that burned into your throat and lungs.  Aaron Salway, who lost his father and brother in the bushfires, spoke of the immeasurable impact on themselves and children who have experienced and survived the fires:

This fire I’ll never forget.  I don’t think my kids will ever forget it. It’s something that’s going to be scarred into my brain.  I don’t ever want to see it again.

When you see pictures of 60 metre high flames; raging fires driven by gale force winds (in excess of 80 kph); exhausted firefighters who have just heard that two of their colleagues had died in a fire truck rollover caused by a fallen tree; and flying embers moving at high speed horizontal to the ground, you understand that the emotional scars are deep and very real. 

Some of the lessons from the Australian bushfires

The fires brought to the fore the courage and resilience of individuals and communities when confronted with a crisis of this scale.  One such inspiring example was that of members of a Muslim Community who travelled for five hours to cook for exhausted firefighters in East Gippsland in Victoria and arranged five truckloads of donated goods to be delivered to people in fire-affected communities.

The firefighters (many of whom were volunteers) who risked their lives, and in some cases lost their lives, showed incredible commitment to helping others to deal with the frightening challenge of the fires raging out of control.  

One of the key lessons of the fires was what people could achieve when they pulled together, pooled their resources, supported each other emotionally and concerned themselves with the safety of others.  The questions and answers during the video episode highlighted some other key lessons:

  • The climate-changed world is a “new normal”
  • Unless people of different political persuasions can pull together and collaborate, there is no way that the situation can be redressed and the prognosis for the future be improved
  • Leaders at every level need to move beyond petty differences and demonstrate true leadership – marshalling committed followers to work towards creating a positive future
  • Australia must find ways to tap into the indigenous knowledge of landscape management – learning about and respecting the environment and related ecosystems.

Tackling climate change as individuals

In introducing her podcast, Diana highlighted an article by Emma Morris in the New York Times on January 10, 2020.  In the article, titled  How to Stop Freaking Out and Tackle Climate Change, Emma provides a sound five-point plan that individuals can pursue to move beyond paralysis by fear to constructive engagement:

  1. Ditch the shame
  2. Focus on the systems, not yourself
  3. Join an effective group
  4. Define your role
  5. Know what you are fighting for, not just what you are fighting against.

The last point demands moving beyond blaming to collaborative endeavour.  Emma’s plan shows what individuals can do to create a positive future for their children and grandchildren.

Diana draws on this discussion to incorporate a visioning exercise in her guided meditation.  After an introductory period focused on becoming grounded, Diana suggests that people engaging in the meditation begin to envision what a renewed environment would look like in terms of flourishing trees, clean air, running water, clear skies, happy children, healthy and diverse wildlife, numerous birds and butterflies – a very different picture to one of darkened skies, dense and suffocating smoke, children distressed about their future environment, blackened trees and flora and burned/dead animals (many of them in danger of extinction).  Diana maintains that the future is ours to create.

Reflection

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection, we can build our resilience; better appreciate our connectedness to others and our natural world; develop our motivation to collaborate and take compassionate action; overcome our biases and assumptions; and develop our personal role in helping to shape a positive future in our climate-changed world.

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Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.