9 Strategies for Managing Cynicism and Negativity in Your Work Team

Negativity and cynicism can develop in a team and become contagious leading to a toxic work environment.  Rollin McCraty, PhD, in his online Heart Science Course maintains that attitudes such as cynicism and negativity, along with challenging emotions like anger, resentment and anxiety, deplete energy – they drain energy and lead to loss of motivation and productivity. 

Rollin explains that neuroscience has demonstrated that these challenging emotions have a direct negative impact on people’s physiology – impacting heart rate, the nervous system, blood pressure and overall performance.  In contrast, research in relation to positive emotions such as appreciation, gratitude and compassion shows clear physiological and psychological benefits.

There can be many factors that contribute to the development of negativity or cynicism in a work team.  An individual who is constantly complaining can affect the attitudes of those around them, even sucking the manager into their negativity.  Individuals can express negativity because of adverse prior experiences in an organisation or because of a current personal problem that is pervading their thinking and perspective on life.  A team may become negative when they have experienced a series of unbroken promises on the part of a manager and be increasing cynical when they have been “over-sold” on the benefits of an organisational or system change.

It is worth noting, however, that some degree of scepticism can be good for a team – so that a team does not just accept what they are told without some evaluation or critique.  However, individuals who constantly play the “devil’s advocate”, are cynical or negative can drain the energy of the team and frustrate the manager.  People who complain endlessly or engage in passive aggressive behaviour whenever change is proposed can become a contagious negative force if their negativity and/or cynicism is left unaddressed.

Strategies to address negativity and cynicism in a team

Managers often feel powerless in the face of negativity and cynicism or when confronted with team members who are constantly pessimistic.  Doing nothing is not an option as these kinds of behaviours only become more pervasive and disruptive without proactive intervention by the manager.  However, there are strategies that can be employed to address the negative impacts of such behaviour.

1.Set expectations collaboratively

Managers can engage staff in the process of defining values and identifying the behaviours that give effect to the desired values.  This collaborative process builds a sense of agency and lays the foundation for a strong, positive culture.  A manager can include “positivity” as a desired value of a team and introduce “unwritten rules” or norms that give expression to this value.  

2.Call the behaviour

If an individual persists in behaving negatively and obstructively, it is critical to address their behaviour directly and privately in a one-on-one conversation.  This should be up-front, stating exactly what behaviours are inappropriate as well as their negative impact on the team. It should also be done at a time when the manager is calm and in control, not when they have developed a “head of steam” as a result of allowing their frustration to reach boiling point before they act.   Early intervention is important once the manager has laid out the team’s groundrules and explained behavioural expectations of team members.  During the feedback session, it is important for the manager to engage in empathetic listening once the inappropriate behaviour is addressed.

3.Avoid negativity or cynicism in your own words and actions

Managers need to monitor their own behaviour and avoid expressing negativity or cynicism in relation to what is going on in an organisation such as system or structural change, appointment of senior management or changes in policy or direction.  Staff continually observe a manager’s words and actions and take their cue from what the manager says and does.  A manager who continually expresses negativity or cynicism, will generate a negative environment and then have to deal with a toxic culture that undermines their efforts to develop a productive and mentally healthy workp0lace.

4.Monitor your language

It is so easy to fall into the habit of making statements like, “I wish it was Friday” or “I can’t wait till the weekend” – everybody does it.  However, these statements communicate dissatisfaction with the present moment and the immediate work environment.  They unconsciously give staff messages that the workplace is not enjoyable or that the manager resents being there.   They can contribute to a negative environment, rather than one that is positive and based on appreciation of what is good about being employed in the particular workplace.  Jake Bailey who was diagnosed with cancer in his final year of High School reminds us that we often overlook the potentiality of the present moment because we are focused on the future.  In his Senior Monitor’s speech at his school’s prize night, he commented, I was dying for weekends, I was dying for school holidays,. Before I knew it , I was dying.  His speech challenges you to ask the question, “Are you dying for tomorrow or living today?’

5.Be open to solutions

Managers often think that they are the one who has to have the solutions to all workplace problems.  Being open to suggestions by staff and being prepared to experiment with alternative ways of doing things, can develop positivity in a team.  It also contributes to staff’s sense of agency – their ability to influence their work environment and the way their work is done – all of which contributes to positive attitudes.

6.Provide positive feedback

Staff can become very negative if they feel they are taken for granted and their contribution is not valued.  Positive feedback is one of the best motivators of people because it involves recognition and appreciation.  If it is given in a way that is sincere, specific and timely, positive feedback can deepen relationships, build team cohesion and trust, and develop positive feelings.  It can also become pervasive and an integral part of team culture as staff observe a manager’s appreciative behaviour and model themselves on what they hear and see. 

7.Be congruent

Ensure that your actions line up with your words. This requires constant personal monitoring and reflection. If you say something is important (e.g. innovation), and don’t spend time, energy or resources on developing it, staff will become cynical and develop the attitude that you “do not mean what you say”.  Congruence builds trust, respect and a willingness to contribute.

8.Use de Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats

The six thinking hats (represented by six different colours) provide ways of viewing an issue or change from a variety of perspectives, some of which are optimistic and creative while others are more pessimistic and tempered by realism and critique.  A manager can use the thinking hats approach to enable staff to explore their reactions to an issue or change and move from a negative/cynical perspective to one that is positive and energising.  The manager can start with “black hat thinking” to surface and publicly record staff’s reservations, concerns and anxieties about an issue or change.  This can be followed by exploring feelings (red hat) and, then, exploring potential benefits (yellow hat) as well as creative possibilities (green hat).

9.Explore gratitude reflections

Often negativity, cynicism or resentment flows from a focus by individuals in a team on what they do not have which can also be a source of envy.  A manager can develop a ritual of appreciation and expression of gratitude as a group and/or individual process.  This has proven psychological benefits for individuals and teams and can lead to displacing negativity with positivity.

Reflection

Many factors both personal and organisational can impact individual and team attitudes and contribute to the development of negativity and cynicism in a team.  As a manager grows in mindfulness through reflection, self-monitoring and observation, they can increase their capacity to recognise the signs of negativity and proactively implement strategies to address this enervating orientation to help develop and maintain a positive and mentally healthy team culture.

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Image by Gerd Altmann 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.

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.

Reflective Practices to Facilitate Managerial Mindfulness

In the previous post I discussed managerial mindfulness as an outcome of the Confident People Management (CPM) Program.  This form of mindfulness translates into conscious awareness about the type of team culture the manager is developing through their words, actions, inactions, and time allocation.  The cultural framework developed for the CPM program provides the catalyst for reflective practices incorporated in the program.

The manager’s role in shaping team culture

At the outset of our process of consciousness-raising within the CPM program, we reinforce the view that the immediate manager is the most influential person in shaping the team culture.  We say to our participant managers, “What you say and how you say it; what you do and how you do it; what you omit to do; and what you spend your time on; is shaping your team culture hour by hour, day by day.”  We acknowledge to participants that it is a harsh reality that “they get the team culture they deserve” – that their team culture is a direct result of what they choose to say and do and what they spend their time on.

However, we also explain to the participant managers that they have a set of tools at their disposal which enable them to shape team culture – the tools include congruent behaviour, active listening, setting expectations, positive feedback, and corrective feedback.  We then work with the managers through a series of experiential exercises and reflective practices that enable them to progressively build their awareness of how they are currently shaping their team culture and how they might proceed differently to improve both the productivity of their team and the mental health of their team members.

The cultural framework as a catalyst for developing managerial mindfulness

The CPM program is conducted over four to six workshop days, with the first two workshop days being adjacent and the remaining workshops separated by a month to facilitate practice on-the-job of the acquired skills.  Participant managers also conduct a workplace project (individually or in a team) to implement their learning from the program and gain greater personal insight and self-awareness.  The presentation of the results of their project to co-participants and their managers occurs on the final day of the Program.

The CPM Program offers many opportunities to develop managerial mindfulness through the following reflective practices:

  • Reflection on past experience: Participant managers are asked to reflect individually and in small groups on their experience of being managed by other supervisors/managers.  They then share in the small groups and the plenary group not only about their manager’s behaviour but also the impact that their manager’s words, actions, inaction, and time allocation had on them – on their feelings and their motivation.  This typically leads to a discussion about how workplace culture is shaped by managers – increasing awareness of the impact on team culture of their own managerial behaviour.
  • Exploring intention: Being conscious of your intention in any endeavour is a key element of mindfulness.  The centrepiece of the team culture model is congruence – aligning words and actions.  Participants reflect individually in writing on what kind of culture they are intending to create and how congruent their words, actions, inaction, and time allocation are with this intention. 
  • Debriefing experiential exercises: During the workshops, participant managers undertake experiential exercises focused on the elements of the team culture model – setting expectations, active listening, positive feedback, and corrective feedback.  They then reflect on the exercise in their group and share insights with the plenary group. This process facilitates the development of reflection-on-action.
  • Reflection on workplace practice: At the end of each workshop, participant managers are asked to consciously practise several skills in their workplace with their intact team during the intervening period between workshops.  Each new workshop begins with a small group-based reflection exercise.  The results of their reflection-on-action is shared with the larger group.  This often stimulates vicarious learning amongst the broader group.
  • Presentation of action learning project:  Participants are asked during their presentations to share what they set out to do, what outcomes they achieved (intended and unintended) and what they learnt through the program and their project.  This reflective process helps individual participants to make explicit their implicit learning.

Reflection

My co-facilitator and I have observed that the frequent practice of reflection-on-action during the CPM Program tends to cultivate the capacity to reflect-in-action, a process that involves being fully present on purpose.  As participant managers undertake reflective practices within the Program, they progressively develop the insights and skills of managerial mindfulness, awareness of how they are shaping team culture in the moment through their words, actions, inaction, and time allocation.  As they grow in mindfulness, the managers are more in tune with their staff, better able to be present when interacting and more open to influence and the development of staff agency.  This, in turn, contributes to the development of a productive and mentally healthy culture.

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Image by Evgeni Tcherkasski 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.

Leading with Mindful Pauses

Janice Marturano, Founder of the Institute for Mindful Leadership, suggests that to be an excellent leader we need to develop the habit of adding purposeful pauses to our daily activity. Janice reminds us that we spend so much of our day on “autopilot” – unaware of our words and actions and their impact on others. We can be consumed by activity and become oblivious of our lack of congruence – the failure to align our words and actions with what creates meaning in our lives.

Benefits of mindful pauses

Mindful pauses enable us to free ourselves from the endless, captive busyness of work life. They provide the silence and stillness to free up our creativity and develop our expansiveness. In the process, we can increase our self-awareness, improve our self-regulation and begin to identify the negative impacts of our words and behaviour.

Janice argues that a key consequence of purposeful pauses is that we are better able to be fully present and this impacts very positively on others around us, particularly when we are in a leadership role. She suggests that being present “communicates respect, true collaboration and caring”. People readily notice when we are truly present or when we are absent-minded.

Ways to add mindful pauses to your daily work life

Janice suggests three steps to integrate purposeful pauses into your daily work life:

  1. Choose an activity that you do daily, e.g. walking to the photocopy machine, going to the coffee machine or accessing your email.
  2. Be fully present for the activity – be really aware of what you are doing and pay full attention to the task. You could employ mindful walking if that is relevant or just stop and pause and form a mindful intention before engaging in the task, e.g. before reading your email. The essential element is to focus on what you are doing, not being distracted by anything else.
  3. Bring your wandering mind back to your task non-judgmentally – it is only natural for your mind to wander and become absorbed in planning, evaluating or critiquing. Conscious re-focusing trains your mind to recognise how often your are not really present and builds your capacity, over time, to deepen your focus. If you adopt a non-judgmental attitude to your tendency to wander off task, you can also develop self-compassion which strengthens your capacity to be compassionate towards others.

Janice notes that by tying your mindful pauses to an already-established activity, you are not adding anything onerous to your working day. The ease of adopting this practice makes it more sustainable. In another article, Janice offers advice on five ways to find time to pause in your everyday life.

As we grow in mindfulness through mindful practices such as purposeful pauses at work, we heighten our self-awareness, strengthen our self-regulation and increase the positive impact of our presence as a leader.

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Image by Hans Braxmeier 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.

The Pillars of a Meaningful Life

n the previous post, I discussed how making meaning in our daily lives contributes to well-being. I also drew on what Dr. Paul Wong stated in terms of the need to align our lives with what we consider to be meaningful – in other words, to achieve congruence. Paul is the author of the book , The Human Quest for Meaning: Theories, Research, and Applications. Through his research, writings and presentations, he has developed the concept of the pillars of a meaningful life. He has identified seven of these pillars which I will discuss below.

The seven pillars of a meaningful life

  1. Believing that human life is inherently meaningful – this is foundational, because once you acknowledge that your life has meaning, you can pursue the realisation of meaning in your own life. You can begin to value your work, be grateful for the many things that you have and can do and explore meaningful relationships with people who are like-minded. This can lead to life-time friendships and collaboration. This fundamental belief also enables you to accept that suffering and pain are part of human existence and have a meaning in your life.
  2. A profound self-awareness – understanding at a deep level who you are and where you fit into the greater scheme of things. This understanding and acceptance provides the basis for recognising your potential for contributing positively to significant others in your life and those you interact with on an given day. This means avoiding delusion and being open to your potential.
  3. Exploring what is unique about your passion and mission – discovering your unique purpose. This involves capturing what inspires and energises you and becoming conscious of the challenges and responsibilities that flow from your personal pool of knowledge, skills and experiences.
  4. Pursuing your best self so that you realise your potential – overcoming the negative thoughts and barriers that block your potential. If you are not consciously trying to improve yourself, you can find that you are going backwards. Even small steps towards fulfilling your potential will bring you closer to your best self. This is a life-long journey but leads to a sense of well-being when you have achieved a real breakthrough. It is important to approach this self-realisation task non-judgmentally, avoiding “beating up on yourself” for not progressing as fast as you “should”.
  5. Self-transcendence – contributing to something that is bigger than yourself and that will outlast you. Viktor Frankl suggests that self-transcendence is central to your well-being as it is part of your “spiritual nature”. This involves moving beyond self-centredness and self-absorption to being altruistic and compassionate – ultimately being other-centred, whether the other person is a neighbour, friend or casual contact. Happiness and well-being lie at the heart of self-transcendence.
  6. Relating well to the people who are closest to you – your life partner, your children and closest friends. This “intimacy” is a rich source of happiness and well-being. If you are in constant conflict in this arena, you need to explore the dynamics of the situation and your contribution to the conflict. Relating well entails reflective listening, being thoughtful and aware of others’ needs, and “going out of your way” to help the other person when they are not coping, are ill or saddened by some occurrence in their life.
  7. Having a sense of personal fulfillment when your life is productive – in line with human connectedness. This means, in part, having a sense that you are using the surplus in your life to contribute to the well-being of others. It also means using your knowledge, skills and experience to be a productive and positive contributor to your work team and your organisation.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, reflection and small acts of gratitude, we can enjoy happiness and well-being, develop rich relationships and realise our potential through positive contributions to our work team and our community.

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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.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): A Specialised Mindfulness Approach

In this blog I have been discussing different approaches to mindfulness and mindfulness meditation that are self-initiated and self-directed in the main.  Some of the approaches to mindfulness discussed entailed the involvement of a teacher or mentor to guide the participant through various forms of meditation.

One such approach is provided by the Power of Awareness Mindfulness Training conducted online by Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach.  Even in this course, led by teachers and mentors, there is ample scope for participants to pick and choose what types of meditations and mindfulness practices they will focus on – the choices are not individually focused or directed.

What is different about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

ACT as the name suggests is an approach that provides therapists with a structured approach to mindfulness development for their clients.  This approach is therapist-led with a defined sequence of exercises designed to enable clients to move from the entrapment of destructive thinking to taking effective action guided by their values (committed action).  Colleagues vouch for the fact that ACT often achieves the desired results in therapeutic situations.

ACT aims to enable clients to experience a full, rich and meaningful life that is built on internal and external awareness.  The approach actively discourages ineffective avoidance strategies and encourages acceptance of pain as a natural part of a life that is lived fully.    Just as mindfulness trainers are exhorted to deepen their mindfulness practice, so too ACT therapists are encouraged to practise the ACT approach and exercises to be able to act more consciously and effectively in therapy sessions.

The ACT approach to mindfulness

Mindfulness in the context of ACT is defined by Russ Harris, author of ACT Made Simple, in terms of the quality of paying attention:

Mindfulness means paying attention with flexibility, openness and curiosity.

In this definition, mindfulness is explained in terms of three key elements – awareness through paying attention, an open attitude and flexible attention enabling a narrow or wider focus or a focus on the internal or the external.

ACT incorporates six core processes as part of its therapeutic approach:

  1. Being here now – consciously focusing on the here-and-now, including our inner and outer worlds.  Fundamentally, it is about being present in the moment, rather than lost in thought.
  2. Watch what you are thinking – this involves standing back from your thoughts and observing them in a detached way. It means not entertaining them and being caught up in them as if they are reality.  Mindfulness expert, Kabat-Zinn suggests that we view our thoughts as bubbles in boiling water floating to the surface and bursting.  He provides the liberating idea that “we are not our thoughts” nor should we be captured by the “narratives” in our head.   In ACT, the process of observing our thinking is called “cognitive defusion”.
  3. Accepting and being open to painfulness – Russ Harris describes this process as “making room for painful feelings, sensations, urges, and emotions”.  ACT provides exercises to develop this acceptance.  In our mindfulness discussions, we have offered mindfulness practices such as forgiveness meditation to address this pain and suffering.
  4. Observing yourself – ACT encourages awareness through getting in touch with the “observing self” rather than the “thinking self”.   Russ Harris describes the former as “the aspect of us that is aware of whatever we’re thinking, feeling, sensing or doing in any moment”.  Mindfulness practitioners encourage meditation practices like somatic meditation to develop this awareness.
  5. Knowing what matters – getting in touch with the way we want to be in the world (our values).  Values guide behaviour, give meaning to our lives and facilitate decision making.  Consciousness about our values can enable us to lead our lives with energy and vitality and provide mindful leadership for others.
  6. Doing what it takes – this involves doing what it takes, despite pain and discomfort, to live out our values in daily life (described as “committed action” in ACT).  It requires congruence between our words and actions and a readiness to commit to “valued living”.

ACT is a therapeutic approach that aims to help clients grow in mindfulness in order to lead a life that is richer and more meaningful, while reducing the impact of harmful thoughts and narratives and pain-avoidance.

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

Image source: courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

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.

Leading with Body Awareness

The early trait theories of leadership argued that to be an effective leader you needed to be male, charismatic and tall.  Clearly, this delineation can lead to discriminatory behaviour towards those who are female and short.

The earlier trait theories of leadership have been disproved and there is now a consensus that there is no universal list of traits that researchers can agree on as predictors of leadership ability.

Amanda Sinclair, author of Leading Mindfully,  points out that despite these emergent findings, myths still pervade about desirable traits that reinforce leadership viewed according to the male stereotype.  She suggests that women have been harshly judged against these unreal measures and have had to conform to standards of dress and behaviour that are more rigorous than those imposed on men.

Then again, as a female colleague of mine pointed out, some women dress provocatively in a work situation to draw attention to themselves.  As my colleague commented, this draws attention to their sexuality but detracts from perceptions of their competence.   So women are often confronted with a dilemma – conform to unfair standards or dress inappropriately.

Rather than accepting this dilemma, women and men can learn ways to present themselves bodily so that potential followers are not left experiencing discomfort or uncertainty about how to communicate with, or relate to, their leaders.

Increasingly, followers have been shown to prefer characteristics that are described as the soft skills – that is skills associated with emotional intelligence such as empathy, compassion, listening skills, communicating to inspire followers, congruence and creativity.

Through mindfulness, leaders can develop a presence (irrespective of physical height) that conveys a sense of balance and calm.  They can face problems with greater clarity and creativity.  Their very presence can communicate support and generate confidence in others who are faced with difficult situations.

Leaders need to be physically present to their staff so that their positive bodily influence can be experienced first-hand.  They also need to care for themselves bodily by looking after themselves so that they can withstand the stresses of their role but, at the same time, have real concern for the physical welfare of staff.

By building resilience through mindfulness practice, you can communicate non-verbally that they you are in control of yourself and the situation.  Even when you are not conscious of the impact of your demeanour, others take note and are influenced by how you present yourself – your bearing can communicate respect for others, personal confidence and self-awareness.

Somatic meditation is one way for a leader to get in touch with their bodies and their reality.  It enables them to be more conscious of how stress is stored in the body and emitted through physical actions and non-verbal activity.

Amanda also alludes to the research work of Norman Doidge and highlights the mind-body connection and the role of exercise such as yoga and walking in enhancing this connection and improving brain functioning.   In the light of this research and the foregoing discussion, Amanda exhorts leaders to be aware of the role of their bodies in the process of leadership:

Our bodies and physicality in leadership are gateways to important forms of intelligence, to wisdom and mindfulness.  They provide us with ways of noticing and revaluing the present, experiencing the full richness of the people and situations around us.  Physicality is not something to be ignored, suppressed or overcome in leadership, but a means of helping us live and lead more fully.  (p. 129)

As we grow in mindfulness, we become increasing aware of how we experience the world through our bodies and how others experience us as leaders through their perceptions of our bodily presence.

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

Image source: courtesy of rawpixel on Pixabay

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.

Lifelong Learning Through Mindfulness

In their book, Organizational Change by Choice, Dexter Dunphy and Bob Dick quote an anonymous author who provides a very simple, behavioural description of the way we learn:

To look is one thing

To see what you look at is another

To understand what you see is a third

To learn from what you understand is something else

But to act on what you learn is all that really matters. (p.120)

The wisdom of this way of looking at learning was brought home to me during one of Bob Dick’s MBA classes that I attended many years ago (32 years ago to be exact). Bob was introducing us to the art of facilitating groups and understanding group dynamics.  He formed us into groups and each person in a group was assigned an observation task to undertake while the group simultaneously discussed a controversial topic – in my group’s case, “Should people who drink and drive be jailed?”

We each had to look for and observe some aspect of the group’s behaviour, e.g. amount of eye contact, level of dissent in the group, non-verbal behaviour, the level of participation and how people built on other’s ideas.  As the discussion progressed, it became quite heated and one of our group was showing signs non-verbally that he was becoming distressed by the discussion.  However, the person who was supposed to look for non-verbal behaviour in the group was totally oblivious of this distress and kept on pushing his point that drink drivers should not be jailed.  The distressed person finally got up and left the group.  The person who was supposed to observe non-verbal behaviour, immediately asked the group, “What did he do that for?”  It turned out that a friend of the distressed person had been killed by a drunken driver.

This experience really brought home to me very starkly that you can look and not see if you stop paying attention and lose focus on what you intend to observe.  If you then do not see what is happening, you will be unable to understand another person’s behaviour.  If you don’t understand the interaction, you will not learn how to adjust your own behaviour.  In the final analysis, you will not act in a way that puts the desired learning into practice – in the case of my example, you will not be able to effectively facilitate group processes.

To look in a meaningful way requires focus, purposeful noticing and full attention.  It is only then that we see in a way that enables learning.  So while we may be looking at the same scene or object we will see different things.

Understanding what we see requires an uncluttered mind and the capacity to maintain focus.  It is only through sustained seeing that we come to understand what we are actually looking at – to realise the impact of something for our lives and that of other people.  Focused attention builds our understanding because we are better able to access our subconscious and realise the connections between things that we perceive now or have perceived in the past.

Learning from what you understand is another level of challenge in the quest for lifelong learning.  Having understood something impacting our lives, we have to be able to think through the behavioural implications – its meaning for how we should act towards our self and/or others.

In the final analysis, what really matters is taking action in line with our understanding and learning – translating our learning into practice.  As I discussed in a previous post, it is one thing to look for and read about mindfulness, it’s another to understand the benefits of mindfulness, but it is something else to learn from your understanding of mindfulness how you should behave and, all that matters, is engaging in mindful practice – taking action by being mindful in our everyday lives.

So, being mindful can help us to engage in lifelong learning – to look, see, understand, learn and act on our learning in our everyday lives.  As we grow in mindfulness, we are better able to focus, pay attention, gain insight and be conscious of what we are learning and what it means in our life.  Ultimately, we are better able to achieve congruence – to line up our actions with our thoughts and words.

Image source: Courtesy of Mojpe on Pixabay