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Knowing What You Really Want

July 25, 2014

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In my last post, Self-Compassion is Just the Beginning, I asked what I consider to be a core question, Have I loved my life enough? Another way of asking this is – Have I loved myself enough?

Either question takes you down the same path.

All of life is driven by needs. Needs energize our life, generate motivation and shape the meaning of our experiences.

Too often we’re on paths without understanding why. How did I get here? When and why did I make the choice to be here? Did I make the choice or did I just drift in this direction – perhaps through my not knowing what I really wanted?

In my coaching and consulting work, it’s common for people to struggle with understanding what it is they really want. Often the process begins with identifying what they don’t want.

Understandably, identifying the first layer of what we want often has a common theme, I want to be financially secure, I want to have a family, I want to be healthy, I want to do satisfying work. All of these universal desires represent the ways (think of these as “strategies” to get what we want) we try to satisfy our core needs.

In her blog, the Fearless Heart, Miki Kashtan, co-founder of the Bay Area Nonviolent Communication Center, writes, “The tragedy of life is that while our needs are so all-important, most of us go through life without cultivating the awareness of our needs nor the capacity to distinguish between our needs and our strategies.”

This is, as Kashtan points out, often the case in recurring conflicts. In years of supporting people to work through conflict issues, I repeatedly found that the inability to distinguish between what we want and why we want it is often at the heart of the emotional knot. I want this behavior to stop, I want this piece of land, I want this policy changed – all represent wants in search of meeting needs.

As we see in our personal and global conflicts, most conflicts stay mired in place because personal and collective needs are insufficiently recognized or even explored. Read more…

Self-Compassion is Just the Beginning

July 18, 2014

love after love

“The moment you see how important it is to love yourself, you will stop making others suffer.”

Buddha, Samyutta Kikaya

 

Every so often something I read goes right to the heart of what I need.

So it was when I discovered this post by author Katrina Kenison titled, Bucket List  (not a term I use or gravitate towards normally) that contained some wonderful gems and a very important question that resonated with me deeply,

“Have I loved my life enough?”

Suddenly it struck me that this might be the most central organizing question of my life now. Have I loved my life enough – have I loved myself enough?

This is the time to reflect on every precious moment of my life without evaluation, judgment and more demands.  This was the time to “greet myself arriving at my own door,” words beautifully crafted by the poet Derek Walcott in his beloved work, Love After Love.

This is the time to hone my skills to be gentler on myself than ever before. This is the time to love myself completely.

In the Era of Selfies, some of you are wincing at the thought of promoting more narcissism in the culture. But loving one’s self – flaws, imperfections, failures, weaknesses, poor choices, mistakes and all – is I believe, indicative of deep personal growth. Read more…

Mindfulness is a Whole Body Experience ~Reprise

July 3, 2014

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“Emotions like grief, fear and despair are as much a part of the human condition as love, awe and joy. Each of these emotions is purposeful and useful-if we know how to listen to them.”     Miriam Greenspan  

Intellectually, I know that emotions live in the body. The research demonstrating the mind-body relationship becomes more definitive each year.  But, primarily I know this because when I stay still long enough to deeply feel my body, I am humbled by the feeling of feelings. Practicing body mindfulness gives me countless opportunities to listen to my feelings without judgment, analysis or resistance. Mindfulness is not simply an activity of the mind, impacting the brain.

Being mindful of the body gives us a glimpse of the profound truth of the experience of our bodies. Is the anger I felt yesterday still present somewhere in my body? Is the chronic impatience I experience the headache I wake up with or the low-back pain I feel intermittently? Is the pain in the neck I feel the irritation and frustration I often feel with a co-worker or recalcitrant teenager?

In Descartes’ Error, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio writes about the embodied mind.  In the book he presents the “somatic markers hypothesis,” which posits that it isn’t only the mind that thinks.  Damasio stresses the crucial role of feeling in every personal decision, “the intuitive signals that guide us in these moments literally come in the form of limbic-derived surges from the viscera.” Damasio refers to these as “somatic markers.” Without awareness of this “whole brain/body” data we operate, in essence, cut off from stored and spontaneous information that is vital not only to our decision-making, but to our overall well-being.

Recent studies from Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Arizona, Boston University, the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies and Emory University found that meditation may influence the way the brain processes emotions – even when you are not practicing it.  According to researcher Gaelle  Desbordes, “This is the first time that meditation training has been shown to affect emotional processing in the brain outside of a meditative state.”  Read more…

Rethinking the Workplace Relationship of the Future

June 26, 2014

Diego Rivera The Worker
Diego Rivera’s The Worker

Isn’t it time to change the dominant stories we’ve been taught about workplace relationships?

They’re old, exhausted and defeating.

They’re based on models of thinking about human motivation and dynamics that have been discredited by modern science. These old stories are steeped in mistrust. They’re hierarchical and parental in nature and based on a belief that the sole motivation for work is monetary.

It’s a story that’s getting harder to sell in an era of dizzying technological speed, complexity and social interconnection. On the critical primacy of social connectivity in the new workplace author Harold Jarche writes, “Creativity will be needed on a large-scale. The key to creativity is diversity – of opinion and options. Connected people can socially create knowledge and most importantly, coordinate action together. This is the incredible potential of the “people” aspect of the Internet of Everything- human connections that scale.”

Today’s mainstream workplace story has little to do with the visionary prognostications that Jarche offers. It’s a story that’s still pervasive and based on ideas about people who are stuck in early 20th century models of the worker as job performer. The old story is kept in place by behemoth organizational processes that keep the artifices of old power arrangements intact, despite overwhelming evidence of their inevitable decline. Read more…

Collaboration: The Essential Emotions~Reprise

June 19, 2014

 

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Successful collaboration is built on a high level of emotional literacy.

Without the capacity to generate and sustain certain feelings, our ability to collaborate authentically with others isn’t possible.

By the time most of us reach adulthood, our emotional repertoire has become habituated.   Emotional habits are then fueled by our thinking process which is also fixed into patterns.  Beliefs are the engine below stoking emotions that are triggered by outside events and social interactions. By the time we reach the workplace, these patterns are typically the set of emotional skills we have to work with – unless we consciously work toward reshaping our mindsets.

Increasingly, today’s workplace “models” are trending towards collaboration.  In many organizations, collaboration is still just a buzzword – the distance between language and practice miles apart.

But there are many companies that are committed to shaping their culture towards more collaboration.  Beyond philosophy, these organizations understand that without collaboration, real engagement is not possible.  Demographic and generational forces and the power of social media and sharing are also driving the trend towards collaboration. Read more…

12 STEPS TO MORE INNER PEACE

June 12, 2014

 

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 Peace, it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”   Unknown

 

 

Lately peace has become a priority for me.

When it moved to the top of my list, I can’t say.  In the spirit of questioning priorities, (something we’d all benefit from) I’ve been asking myself some basic questions about the often elusive state I call peace.

Since, like many of you, I am not practiced in peace as a way of being in the world, I plan to jot down what comes to mind when I think of peace.  I want to understand when and how these moments of feeling calm, centered and grounded come over me.  

I want to learn how to invite more of this sense of total comfort in to my life. This deeply personal state of being is different for each of us, so it’s important for you to think about how these harmonious feelings happen in your life.  Read more…

Mindfulness is Not a Quick-Fix

June 5, 2014

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Now that we’re in the era of praise, hyperbole and misconception about what mindfulness (meditation) is all about – let’s step back and take a look at what we know.

While I’ve often written about mindfulness and personally and professionally endorse its benefits, I’m concerned that the essence of the practice is being co-opted.

Business media coverage of a practice as potentially disruptive to the status quo of stress-filled workplaces is welcome. But too often the discussion is focused on using the tool of mindfulness to do more, make more and get more.

In a curiously convoluted Fast Company article, What Our Recent Obsession with Mindfulness Really Means, author Samantha Cole voices her concern that the corporate world’s recent interest in mindfulness is so pervasive that “there are whole companies that encourage their employees to be more mindful. They drop into yoga poses during mindfulness-drills, and attend expensive seminars on the subject.” According to Ms. Cole, “no activity is safe from mindfulness.”

As a consultant who works with diverse businesses, I must admit, I have yet to find any company where mindfulness “drills” are being held or see department managers dropping into yoga stances.

As for “expensive” seminars, as an advocate and teacher of mindfulness, while I’m pleased to find more people in the corporate world aware of and interested in mindfulness, many are not. It continues to be an uphill sell despite the frustration, frenzy and pressures most employees report as their primary experience. And many of those who are interested still see mindfulness as an adjunct to their work – not a way of doing it.  Read more…

Curiosity~the Go-To Emotion (Reprise)

May 29, 2014

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“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.  Dorothy Parker

I was a really curious kid. How about you?

They say all kids (and apparently cats) are curious.

Of course that’s true (I mean about the kids, I don’t know enough about cats to make that claim) but I was a very curious kid. I always wanted to know WHY. Why is it raining here but not there? Why can’t I eat dessert before dinner? Why is the man down the street so grumpy? Is he sick? Will I get sick?  As we all know the questions get more and more complicated.

The kind of answers we got as children probably had a lot to do with the habits we formed about asking questions.  At some point, most children lose interest in asking why.  Even the most dedicated parents tire of responding to a barrage of questions and artfully (and not so) find ways to deflect their little ones’ inquiries.

Many people believe the nature of the average formal education can have the effect of shutting down imagination in favor of standardized learning. Albert Einstein famously said, “It’s a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”

I’m a product of the generation that often had a handy proverb ready for inquisitive kids like me, “Louise, curiosity killed the cat.” I really never knew what that meant.

This proverb has influenced thinking about curiosity for a long time.  Although the origin of the modern version only appears in print in a Handbook of English, Irish, Scottish and American Proverbs around 1873, the older version dates back to the 1500’s even showing up in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing , What, courage man! What though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care.”

The modern version seems to warn us of the dangers of too much unnecessary investigation or experimentation.  We’re warned of the perils of being too pushy and nosy for our own good.  Fast forward to the 21st century and it turns out that this nosy kid’s insatiable curiosity is now considered a highly valued core strength. Science is discovering that curiosity turns on the brain and leads to creativity and innovation.  The brain likes curiosity. It likes stimulation, variety and the new.

What the elders of my childhood didn’t know was just how much brains love to learn. Brains are constantly seeking new information and making predictions based on that knowledge. In the process, neuroplasticity is strengthening neural networks and using the information to make even better predictions.

Turns out curiosity feeds the cat!  Read more…

Renewing Our Belief in the Power of People

May 22, 2014

every life

 

I feel the capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance.”

Pablo Casals

 

The more I see others from my heart and not my judgment, the more compassion I have for my fellow human beings.  Admittedly, this is a work in progress.

There’s something poignant about pilots reporting their final passenger count as having a number of souls on board. Maybe we should do that in the workplace – report how many souls work here or how many souls are in this meeting?  Regardless of your beliefs, using the term feels inclusive – like we’re all in this together. We’re not talent, direct reports, admins, vendors, temps, C-Suiters, or new hires – but souls on a journey – separate and together.

Too many people talk about their colleagues with a mixture of frustration and cynicism.  Too many well-meaning books and articles label people as difficult, unreasonable, dysfunctional – even toxic.

It’s true that difficult, unreasonable, dysfunctional and even toxic conditions within many organizations and institutions produce all sorts of unhealthy actions.  These behaviors are often triggered by unresolved emotions and exacerbated by systems insensitive to human needs.   I’ve been exposed to my share of it – at both ends – as an employee and as a consultant.  I understand the growing pressures that most workers are up against these days.   I get why so many people feel discouraged and cynical.

How can we expect workers to act with respect, kindness and compassion in workplaces that are cauldrons of anxiety?  How can we expect people to thrive in organizations with life-sucking systems and practices that reinforce fear and discourage honesty?

Researchers have found that one relative causal  factor that enables compassion is the degree of safety someone feels.  The biological “switch” that turns empathy and compassion on, works when the “survival” threat systems (fear, anxiety, distress) are turned off. Read more…

No Pain No Gain? Rethinking Success

May 8, 2014

 

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We’re living in an age of liminality.  Some of us are aware of it, already feeling its weight and disorientation. The signs are everywhere – if you look.  Liminality is that period of being in-between – the old stories we told ourselves about the future – especially about success – are being challenged, some fading into irrelevancy.

The fugue-like state we’re living is often messy and discomforting.  The old habits and beliefs we learned are in question – our sense of personal identity feels threatened.

If you’ve grown up in Western influenced cultures, your head’s been filled with dictums about the meaning (and methods) of success.  The prolific Benjamin Franklin warns, “Lose no time. Be always employ’d in something useful, cut off unnecessary actions.”  Industrialist and early time-management proponent Henry Ford evoked the American all-or-nothing ethos when he claimed, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”  

Some of the most well-known motivational speakers have channeled the early American pioneer can-do spirit.   Dale Carnegie, an embodiment of the rags-to-riches story was a poor farmer’s son who single-handedly invented the self-improvement business.

Carnegie, who created the famous Dale Carnegie Training Course, claimed,  “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” 

 And American sports icon, Vince Lombardi’s prototypical 1950’s maxim, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” shaped two generations of thinking about competition and success.

While these men have inspired millions to set their sights higher and stay the course, they’ve also contributed to a legacy of confusion about the nature of work/life and access to equal opportunity. Read more…

Let Nature Heal You

April 22, 2014

get lost in nature

 

It’s Earth Day – a perfect time to reconsider and renew your relationship with the natural world. Think about your connection to nature – how often do you spend time outdoors? Not commuting or running errands, but with the deliberate intent to be with nature.

Even though studies show that even 30 minutes outdoors can boost vitality levels and curb depression, most adults are spending less time outside. And only 6% of our children, aged 9-13, are playing outdoors in a typical week.

We all need to be part of the natural world because we are part of the natural world. Our growing estrangement from nature is unhealthy for body and mind; the gulf between us fraying our bond.

Regular, direct contact with the natural world can soothe, heal and uplift us. This Earth Day, let these great words and visuals inspire you to allow nature to do its work on you.

  Read more…

Acceptance ~ Enabling Peace

April 10, 2014

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Acceptance has a bad rap.

In cultures where progress and improvement are a constant quest, accepting  what is  seems passive. Those of us who grew up in fix-it, more-is-better cultures still bristle at the idea of  “letting go.”

For a long time I justified “arguing with reality” because I told myself I was a passionate, strong-willed person who was driven to make changes for the better. I still am a strong-willed person with many passions, but one who is practicing loosening my grip. The more I work on the art of acceptance, the more pockets of peace I find opening within.

When we think about acceptance, we’re often thinking about the circumstances in our lives. What we “accept” and what we don’t is usually based on the stories we tell ourselves,especially about who we are and why we are the way we are. These stories can sometimes be excuses for behaviors that may not serve our needs or ultimate outcomes.

Our non-acceptance can be as simple as whining about bad weather on a vacation, griping about a co-worker’s habits or to the inevitable personal challenges everyone must face at some point in life.  We can usually tell when we’re resisting what is  by the way we feel. Irritation, annoyance, anger, resentment, regret and, of course, anxiety. Because so much of our behavior is reactive and not intentional, it is easy to resist what is.  Read more…

Optimism ~ Radical Act or Magical Thinking?

April 3, 2014

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Recently I discovered a quote that grabbed my attention.

According to Alex Steffens, co-founder of WorldChanging.com, who was described in the New York Times as a “designing optimist,”  “Optimism is a political act.”

If you’re spending time online these days, you may be caught between headlines like the upbeat promise to Break Free of Your Struggles in 2 Steps and the dire IPCC report, Climate Change a Threat to Food, Security & Mankind.

The inner conflict between world views brings me back to exploring some basic questions about the nature of optimism, pessimism and the actions they propel. I’ve written before about cynicism and positive thinking but unrelentingly grim news compels me to revisit this territory. 

Steffens’ bold statement raises interesting questions. Don’t get sidetracked by the term political – this is not about partisan politics. Steffens, I believe, is talking about the status quo – whatever it is. Our institutions and systems are badly broken and the paralysis of pessimism isn’t going to fix or transform them.

Steffens is arguing that the very nature of  the conversation about optimism is driven by status quo thinking.  We either believe that we can solve the world’s most pressing problems (and everything in-between) or we can’t.

Steffens believes that “entrenched interests use despair, confusion and apathy to prevent change. They encourage modes of thinking which lead us to believe that problems are insolvable, that nothing we can do matters, that issues are too complex to present even the opportunity for change.  It is a long-standing political art to sow the seeds of mistrust between those you would rule over; as Machiavelli said, tyrants do not care if they are hated, so long as those under them do not love one another. Cynicism is often seen as a rebellious attitude in Western popular culture, but, in reality, cynicism in average people is the attitude exactly most likely to conform to the desires of the powerful – cynicism is obedience.”

In Steffen’s model, the status quo benefits from confusion. “I’m more and more convinced that the instrumentalism in the absence of committed vision always serves the politics of impossibility.” Given the power of institutional culture, how is our thinking about what’s possible being shaped? What are business, government and big data telling us about change and what is possible? Read more…

Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?  

March 27, 2014

 

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Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver’s haunting question should become a mantra for life in the 21st century.

Seemingly inured to stress, too many of us speed through each day without taking the time to stop and ask – what have I traded a day of my life for today? Jumping on the mindfulness bandwagon dozens of articles still ask, “Can you afford ten minutes to devote to the practice?”

Collectively we know that stress is a slow killer but it’s not changing our behavior. How much information do we need before we start shifting destructive behaviors that pose real threats to our personal and social well-being?

Lack of sleep (which new data shows leads to brain cell loss) is endemic. There is no single behavior that is more basic to human performance than sleep. Yet, in cultures like the U.S. where many people believe that sleeping less adds to productivity, the average sleep duration is now around 6 hours.  It’s a vicious cycle – less sleep exacerbates stress which leads to less sleep.

Suicide rates are escalating at an alarming rate surpassing deaths from auto accidents in the U.S. Recently, an inexplicable series of suicides among men, especially younger workers, has shaken the financial sector.   Last August, the finance chief at Zürich Insurance Group committed suicide and left a note blaming the company’s chairman for creating unbearable work environment.

Read more…

5 Practices for Mindful Communication ~ Revisited

March 20, 2014

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It’s getting difficult not to bump into the word mindfulness these days. While mindfulness is mostly associated with meditation, I like to think of it as a way of being in the world.

Mindfulness meditation “practice” is valuable – and it will likely have multiple ripple effects in every corner of your life.  A new study at The University of Utah has confirmed its benefits and shown that mindfulness affects stress responses throughout the day. According to researcher Holly Rau, “People who reported higher levels of mindfulness described better control over their emotions and behaviors during the day.”

Magic?  No.  Methodical practice of retraining the brain to respond to stimulus differently builds cognitive flexibility in ways we are just beginning to understand.

In an age of looking outside of ourselves for solutions, mindfulness practice turn out to be the ultimate insider “strategy.” The magic of mindfulness is that it rearranges neural networks in powerful ways. And the great news is that we are the “tool” that makes it possible.  Apps can remind us when to breathe, sit and slow down, but only we can make it happen.    Read more…

BeFriending Anger – The Emotions Series Reprise

March 13, 2014

anger is the outward

“Anger can be a wonderful wake up call to help you to understand what you need and what you value. Thich Nhat Hahn

For seven years I regularly facilitated seminars on conflict resolution.  Most of the group participants wanted answers to problems they saw as the source of their conflict. Usually this had to do with fixing the behavior of another person.

Imagine the surprise when I asked them to reflect on a set of questions that focused almost exclusively on their own anger.

What do you believe about anger?

What is its purpose?

How do you express your anger?

How do you want others to express their anger to you?

How do you repress your anger?

Do you do anything to shut down the anger of others?

If your anger could talk, what would it say? Read more…

5 Things We Need to Tip the Balance for Women’s Equality

March 8, 2014

 taking notes

 

It’s International Woman’s Day again.  How shall we mark it?

Are we making progress? Yes, of course we are. Do we have a long way to go? You bet we do. But before we start taking stock of the state of women in 2014, let’s get our context clear.

We’re not going to talk much about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer or Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (author of the controversial book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead) two icons for a segment of working “professional” women.

Sandberg’s “social movement” Lean In has generated a (healthy) but often contentious debate among women who have greater access to economic and social resources than the average working woman whose median salary in the U.S. was  $37,791 in 2012. (Compared to men’s $49,398)

Dissecting the Lean In ethos in her excellent article in Dissent, author Kate Losse writes, “Life is a race, Sandberg is telling us, and the way to win is through the perpetual acceleration of one’s own labor: moving forward, faster. The real antagonist identified by Lean In then is not institutionalized discrimination against women, but women’s reluctance to accept career demands.”

In her entertaining “rebuttal” article, Recline!, Georgetown law professor and foreign policy analyst Rosa Brooks writes, Ladies, if we want to rule the world, or even just gain an equitable share of leadership positions – we need to stop leaning in. It’s killing us. We need to fight for our right to lean back and put our feet up.” 

As Brooks rightly points out, most women, especially those with children are still expected to work the “second shift” at home, since women still do far more childcare and housework than men.

The problem with much of the analysis on women’s empowerment or “equalization” is that most is focused on a narrow demographic of wealthier, well-educated women whose daily livelihood, rights and safety are often taken for granted.  Mainstream discussions about work are mostly defined by opinion-making elites with emphasis on “glass ceilings” and male dominated boardrooms. There is little recognition that the majority of female jobs: domestic, home care, retail services and other “contingent” work are “undervalued, virtually unregulated and precarious.” 

As Laurie Penny of the New Statesman writes, “While we all worry about the glass ceiling there are millions of women standing in the basement – and the basement is flooding”

Read more…

Living with Permanent Uncertainty

February 27, 2014

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Here’s what I have noticed lately ~ more and more people are talking about living in “uncertain” times.  It’s now called, “the new normal.”

The anxiety over our predicament of uncertainty appears to be a new discovery.

The economic earthquake of 2008/09 rearranged our thinking – and long-held assumptions about the future. We haven’t been the same since; our collective consciousness has shifted and the majority now believe we are living in an era of uncertainty.

Along with the popular acknowledgement that uncertainty is now permanent, comes the recognition that “chaos” is part the new world order.  Writing about his work to help the U.S. military “embrace” a future of uncertainty, Ori Brafman, author of The Chao Imperative: How Chance and Disruption Increase Innovation, Effectiveness and Success,  explains ,  “The military, one of the most structured organizations that has ever existed on earth, has realized that in order to be adaptive it needs to embrace elements of chaos.”

While we don’t know what this means for military priorities and practices, it’s a high-profile signal of a mindset shake-up in the establishment status-quo.

In his excellent blog, Unfolding Leadership, Dan Oestriech offers another example of the changing nature of our reality. In Leading Change in a VUCA World,” Dan points out that to lead change in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) leaders must be able to adapt and stimulate continuous organizational change.  He points out that earlier models of change management are outmoded top-down strategies designed to maintain control and overcome resistance

Awareness is progress, right? We’re seeing mindsets shift as a society – business, medicine, education – every sphere of organizational life feels the difference and the pressure for change.  We’re not going back to the old world – and more of us know it but aren’t sure what’s next. While organizations and institutional systems will either spend the next years attempting to shore up power and control (fail) or flex and flow experimenting with new models, what will our personal response to a VUCA world be?

Cultures change when people do.  So how do we handle our new collective awareness that living is a state of permanent uncertainty?  Organizational instability is one pill to swallow, personal volatility – quite another. Read more…

5 Reasons Why Business Can’t Afford to Ignore Psychology for Another 100 Years ~Reprise

February 20, 2014

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“The problem with business is that it is afraid of dealing with the business of people.”

  W. Edwards Deming

Honestly, I  don’t get it.

Why is so much of business still in the dark about the basics of human dynamics?

Appyling awareness of human psychology to work is moving at a glacial pace while technology flies by it at the speed of light.

What’s taking so long?

Well, part of the story starts back in 1911 when Frederick Taylor – the “father” of professional management as we know it, propelled his ideas for advancing worker “efficiency.” The Taylor method prescribed a clockwork world of tasks timed to the hundredth of a minute, of standardized factories, machines and people. Naturally, ordinary workers resented having to work faster than they thought was healthy or fair.

Little was known or considered at the time about the “human dynamics” of workers and modern psychology was still in its infancy. In fact, it seems that the “human side” of worker’s needs was viewed as rather inconvenient by some of the industrial leaders of the time.  Surely, the inner workings of the human being were a nuisance at best to people like Henry Ford who complained, “Why is it when I need a pair of hands I have to get the whole man?”

Sorry Henry – that’s just how we work – we fussy messy human beings. We need things like meaning, security, purpose, pleasure, novelty and rest to “perform” at our best.

Sadly, the machine metaphors of Messrs Taylor and Ford still guide many of the underlying processes of the modern workplace. The command and control thinking and practices implemented during that time still drive many management behaviors today.

It’s still not uncommon for business leaders to ask questions like: Read more…

What Have We Learned from 20 Years of Emotional Intelligence ~ Pt.2

February 12, 2014

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Continuing the conversation started in Part 1 – several key questions keep surfacing.

One is the often unspoken tension between EI (Emotional Intelligence) and what is typically thought of as “therapy.” For anyone who has been involved in a therapeutic process, it’s immediately clear that learning and applying EI principles is very different from being “in therapy.”

Resistance to EI in work settings often comes from those who believe that any discussion of “feelings” is akin to the therapeutic relationship.  Organizational aversion to emotions reflects the larger cultural aversion to feelings.  Addressing collective cultural fears, Miriam Greenspan, author of Healing through the Dark Emotions, says, “We’ve mastered the internal regulation processes of emotion-phobia. Ours is a dissociative culture-a culture that separates body from mind, body from spirit, and feeling from thinking. This kind of dissociation is a special requirement of masculinity in patriarchy.”

Ms. Greenspan’s comments surface another interesting layer of the resistance to bringing EI learning into many organizations – men are often the decision-makers at more senior levels.  Many EI practitioners would agree that receptivity is greater among women.  Greenspan points out, “Both men and women are impaired in different ways, by our culture’s disability in relation to emotion and emotional communication. Emotional vitality and authenticity, a mature sense of emotional wholeness and freedom-these human capacities are hard to come by in a culture that doesn’t honor the body and the heart.” Read more…

What Have We Learned from 20 Years of Emotional Intelligence? Reprise

February 6, 2014

Technology and Industry

In 1995, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ by Daniel Goleman was published. The introduction of Emotional Intelligence (EI) generated excitement and hope. Nearly twenty years later, it’s time to look at the progress and future of this work.

As a student of psychology and social systems, EI (Emotional Intelligence) had immediate resonance with my experience and offered some of what I believed was essential for personal and whole systems change.  At the time, there were no statistics to “prove” the efficacy of EI, no “ROI” (return on investment) data to sell skeptics on the value of people understanding their own emotional make-up and acting from that knowledge.

As I quickly began to integrate the concepts into my work, I could see the powerful impact this material had on the people I was working with. Turns out – a surprising amount of people in the workplace wanted to talk about feelings. They needed a framework and a sense of safety to give voice to what they were carrying around in their bodies.

The early days of working with EI were not easy, but gratifying. There were no “tools” or standardized tests to fall back on – just concepts and a willingness to deeply listen to emotionally hungry voices in the workplace. Aside from reassuring some people that  EI wasn’t “therapy,” I found mostly receptive audiences who wanted more. There was little in the way of “how to” in the early days of EI – and quite frankly, there still isn’t.

Clients from tech, the law and the sciences often pushed back. I improved my skills in the art of non-resistance. I found myself gently making the case that there was a place for emotions in the workplace. In fact, the workplace was filled with emotions, though often not the ones that inspired, motivated and supported people.  The “rational mind is everything” meme embedded in so many people challenged the idea that body/mind, thoughts/feelings were a unified system.

In 1998, Daniel Goleman released his landmark article in the Harvard Business Review, What Makes a Leader? The article established the “model” that most EI practitioners would use and offered research results from application of the principles in business settings.

This article and the release of his next book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, lent legitimacy to earlier assertions that EI trumped IQ as predictive of professional success. In his work Goleman was challenging the enduring belief that intellect and rationality alone were the keys to professional advancement. “They do matter,” Goleman stated in the article, “but mainly as “threshold capabilities, that is, they are the entry-level requirements for executives.”   Read more…

Why Neuroscience Should Change the Way We Work~Pt.2 Reprise

January 30, 2014

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Since I published Part 1 in April 2011 the article has consistently been in the blog’s top  10.  I’m grateful for the response and I’ve been inspired to write more about the fascinating, emergent world of neuroscience.

While I am a very informal student of the science, what I’ve learned has reshaped the way I approach my work.  As I wrote in Part 1, given this impressive new knowledge, I expect that slowly, but surely, organizational leaders will come to realize that too many of the beliefs, philosophies, methods, practices and strategies that govern their thinking about human dynamics and work are still stuck in post-Industrial Era mindsets.

While there are critics of neuroscience and its interpretations who worry about the “culture’s obsession with the brain and how we have elevated the vital organ into cultish status, mythologizing its functions and romanticizing the promise of its scientific study,” we’ve already realized great benefits from the science that is clearly here to stay.

What we now know about human development and optimal whole body-brain functioning should not only change the way we manage people at work – but how we raise and teach our children, provide health care, conduct our legal system and structure government policies and institutions.

In Part 1, I focused on the concepts governing management practices that can benefit from developing an understanding of neuroscience.  In Part 2, I want to broaden the applicability of neuroscience to more of organizational life. – specifically, culture. Read more…

How Good is Your Word?

January 23, 2014

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“What I’ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable. I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge.” (New Jersey Governor Christie in his 1st public statement on the “bridgegate” scandal)

“We do not market food to kids.” (McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson in response to a protest by food advocates at the 2013 annual shareholders meeting)

“This position is going to another candidate who has more experience, but as soon as another comes available, I will contact you.”  (A recruiter unwilling to tell an anxious job-seeker the truth)

“I’ll get back to you after the meeting on Wednesday.” (It’s Friday and I am still waiting)

“Great to see you, things are crazy now but let’s get together after the holidays.(Neighbors, who haven’t socialized in years, running into each other at a local restaurant before the holidays)

From the unethical to the prosaic, most of us fallible humans exaggerate or even lie. We make promises and commitments we don’t keep. The gap between intentions and action is growing.  It seems like more of us are willing to stretch the truth these days and that “good old-fashioned” virtues like honesty and responsibility are imperiled.

Many of us still believe that the moral high ground is being trampled on out there – while we keep up the illusion of our own rock-solid personal integrity.  The forces of self-deception are powerful and our inability to come clean about our own moral fault lines is understandable. Read more…

10 Quotes to Inspire Your Work in 2014

January 16, 2014

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The naysayers are already declaring that resolutions for the New Year have failed or inevitably will.  But from what we now know about habits and the brain we understand that unless we motivate ourselves – regularly – our intentions for change are likely to go unfulfilled.

It’s easy to become cynical in these times – even about our own aspirations and possibilities. It’s more important than ever to understand what we believe and how our actions are aligned with our behavior.

Here are ten quotes that can open the fields of possibility in 2014 – and beyond.

  1. “Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.”–James Thurber

I recently rediscovered this quote and found such solid wisdom in its practical advice.  Regret and lack of forgiveness often mire us in the past and sap the energies we need to carry us forward.  I’ve often written about fear – the most corrosive and debilitating emotion. Don’t let it dominate you this year.  Thurber rightly reminds us that instead of becoming caught in ruminations of yesterday and the anxieties of tomorrow – to look around in awareness – right now – in the moment at what is.  The present is a potent place to be – let’s dwell in it more in 2014. Read more…

We All Need More Wonder & Awe ~ The Emotions Series

January 9, 2014

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Writing about his choices for the top films of 2013, New York Times movie critic Stephen Holden began his piece with an unusual explanatory note, “Generalized anxiety.” That is by far the most common complaint voiced by the clients of a prominent New York psychiatrist whom I recently asked to identify the malaise of the moment.”

In nooks and crannies and in big noisy headlines, tension and uncertainty are becoming commonplace memes in these times.  There are no easy or fast solutions.  There is no Rx. This is life as we have constructed as a society so far; conscious choices or not.

We’re in need of many things and technology can’t solve all of our problems.  In fact, it’s created many new ones – estrangement from genuine social contact, endless distractions, even addictions from device overload and perhaps worst of all – a growing detachment from the wonders of human existence.

Dare we still dream? Is it illusory and irresponsible to yearn for the luxuries of wonder – that feeling caused by seeing something that is surprising, beautiful and amazing?  Read more…

THE Diet for a New Year ~ the 7 Day Mental Cleanse

January 2, 2014

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Sometimes someone else captures the essence of what is on your mind –  this time it’s from Dr. Ken Druck’s New Year’s post

 With all due respect to the procrastination-ending promises, spirited goals, deeply-held commitments and news-making fresh starts, I’ve decided the opt out of this annual ritual and treat Jan. 1st as just another (precious, irretrievable) day. On January 1st, the sun will rise and fall for me in the absence of anything resembling a resolution. So what are my un-resolutions? What exactly am I going to step aside and allow to go unresolved? And why have I decided to do this?

Let’s start with the “why.” Well, for one thing, I’m tired of making agreements I might not keep, pressuring myself to be better, smarter, thinner, healthier, richer, happier or more at peace with life. No more trying, stressing and/or straining to willfully plan or control the future, putting myself on deadline to write the next book — and no more deflating false starts in 2014. I am giving myself time off from having to change anything. And devoting myself to a year of accepting things just the way they are. Accepting myself just as I am.”

Now that may sound unambitious to some –  but it makes perfect sense to me as I ponder the transition from one year to another.  If I have any “resolution” this year, it is to be gentler on myself in all things. This doesn’t mean I don’t have things I want to accomplish or improvements I’d like to make. It does not diminish my passion or enthusiasm for the new or for change. In fact, I’m more appreciative than ever of the small, steady changes I am making that are replacing old behaviors with new ones.  I expect that great, new things (ideas, people, experiences) will not only unfold, but are constantly unfolding. Often I feel I get in the way of those possibilities by the pressure I place on myself and trying to shape outcomes that are largely out of my control. 

The one thing I do know is that most of what I am in control of is my thinking. Everything flows from it. So I’m reprising this  article from 2012 – I hope it’s a helpful way to think about the New Year. How you approach the mental cleanse is important. In the spirit of lightening up and being easier on yourself, think of the mental cleanse as a vehicle to release persistent unhelpful thoughts especially those that tend towards self-judgment and comparison with others. A little goes a long way…. Read more…

Silence is a Great Peacemaker

December 26, 2013

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“Silence is a great peacemaker” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

For the ancients winter and the passing of the old year signaled a time to slow down, a time for quiet reflection.  Those days are clearly over. In fact, the reality of modern life is that this time of the year represents for many, the busiest of the year.  The list of year-end to-dos seems to get larger every year.

Another “casualty” of modern life is quiet.

Amidst the cacophony of traffic, city noise, giant screen TVs, digital devices and the increasing noise pollution in our workplaces, quiet is becoming a precious commodity in the 21st century.

So rare is real silence that many people cannot even tolerate it. The void of silence must be filled with sound to keep ourselves from ourselves. Read more…

The Joy of Giving Back ~ 2013

December 19, 2013

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Welcome to the annual (just made that official) Joy of Giving Back post.  It’s a labor of love that gets a great reception. As I wrote last year, there isn’t enough space to highlight the many wonderful organizations that do extraordinary work in service of others around the world. Every time you feel the cynicism creeping in – remember – somewhere right at this moment, thousands of people are doing selfless work that benefits those in need. So I hope you’ll help these efforts by opening your heart and your wallet to give what you can to these worthy causes.   Read more…

Communicating Intentionally ~ the Basics

December 12, 2013

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Four years ago this week I started this blog. Nearly everything about it has been a positive experience. I began with a simple message that is even more relevant for me today – and I hope for my readers – everything comes down to how we communicate.  All the things that we want and need start with a thought process that is communicated to others.  Most of us do it on auto-pilot. Often that limits or derails the results we want to get.  It can also leave hard feelings and unclear signals about who we are, what we want and how we really feel.

There’s a great quote by Stephen Covey that captures the feeling content of most communication, “We judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions.”  That’s often true but it usually happens at the back-end of communication. What’s more common is that we find ourselves in the midst of a communication and have no awareness of what our intentions are. 

Distractions, lack of focus, acting from a lack of emotional awareness (of self and others) and emotional self-protection, the quest for clean, clear, honest communication eludes even those most dedicated to it.  While I have tried to keep the focus of this blog on the workplace, I also champion life beyond work in an era where working has become synonymous with identity and life. In my work, I find a short line between how we communicate in our professional and personal lives. Developing more intentionality in how we communicate with others is a 24/7 committment. 

As I begin year 5, I want to again thank everyone who takes the time to read these (mostly too-long articles) and shares them with others. I’ve been so honored to have received so many wonderful compliments and have been deeply touched when something I write has resonance in another person’s life.  

Here’s the first post ~  Read more…

Empathy Killers

December 5, 2013

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I didn’t plan on writing about empathy this week. I got “hooked” while reading Nicholas Kristof’s compelling New York Times article, Where is the Love, over  “Thanksgiving” weekend and knew I needed to revisit the topic.

In the article Kristof writes about the pushback he’s received from many readers in his recent pieces on food stamp recipients, prison inmates and the uninsured.  Writing about hungry children, Kristof shares a comment from a reader who protested, “If kids are going hungry, it is because of the parents not upholding their responsibilities.”

While non-American readers of this blog may not relate to the public “debate” over government policies that produce such human misery and conflict here in the States – most of us can recognize the stunning lack of empathy some of Kristof’s readers display. Where is the love? Where is the empathy, indeed?  Since empathy is often a precursor to love – we begin there.

If you look behind every strong anti-empathy feeling – fear, anger, rage, frustration, resentment, disappointment, hurt, and hostility – you’ll find beliefs. Beliefs are the activators of feelings – and they drive all of our behaviors and decision-making.

Some beliefs are empathy-killers Read more…

Creating a Culture of Gratitude in the Workplace – Reprise

November 21, 2013

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As we approach the holiday season, lots of heart-felt stories about kindness and giving start to appear.  Tis’ the season, so to speak.   It’s a time when even the busiest and most cynical among us pause (even if only for a short time) and reflect.   But too often, the feelings of gratitude that the holiday spirit may generate are focused only on family and friends.  Gratitude, after all, is not an emotion most of us associate with the workplace.

But what if gratitude were commonplace in the workplace?

What do you think the impact of a culture of gratitude would be on well-being, relationships, cooperation, stress, creativity, performance and productivity?

Gratitude is a powerful emotion.  A growing body of research within the past decade has demonstrated the significant physiological benefits to those experiencing gratitude.  Studies at the University of California (Davis) and the University of Miami showed that experiencing gratitude balanced hormonal levels and led to the release of DHEA, “the anti-aging hormone.”  Gratitude also boosts the immune system by increasing the LgA antibody.  These studies found that engaging in daily “gratitude exercises” can raise the level of positive feelings.

When we activate and experience emotions like gratitude and appreciation, they can become more like our “default” emotions because neural networks are reinforced through repeated experience.

The mounting evidence shows that “gratitude represents the quintessential positive personality trait, being an indicator of a worldview oriented towards noticing and appreciating the positive in life.” (Journal of Personality and Individual Difference)

According to research at the Institute for Heart Math“true feelings of gratitude, appreciation and other positive emotions can synchronize brain and heart rhythms, creating a body wide shift to a scientifically measurable state called coherence. In this optimal state, the body’s systems function more efficiently, generating a greater balance of emotions and increased mental clarity and brain function.”

There’s no question that cultivating more gratitude and appreciation has a positive effect on the person experiencing it – but what about its effect on others? And does infusing a workplace culture with gratitude result in more positive outcomes? Read more…

I Me Mine ~ Don’t Get Stuck in Your Story

November 14, 2013

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Every person grows up carrying a narrative about who they are.  Most of that story is formed early in childhood with new chapters added to include adolescence and experiences as adults.

The childhood stories are mostly formed by our parents and significant care-givers’ narratives about who they think we are.

Mom says, “Tom’s a dreamer and very creative.”

Dad says, “Tom’s smart but lacks academic discipline and focus.”

These are often the stories parents needed to tell themselves to explain you to them.  They had dreams and expectations – even if unarticulated – and you stepped into them. Unless they were consciously aware, you were part of their unexamined narrative.

Our stories are also shaped by perceptions of who our parents were: “My father was unable to understand me and I never got the recognition I needed. The only support I got was from my mother.”

Then  teachers, family members, neighbors and peers add-on to the story “With your grades, Tom, I’d aim for a less competitive school if you want to get accepted.”

While some of those perceptions may contain truths, other peoples’ stories about us are often a product of their projections.

Eventually themes emerge from these stories. We patch them together, mix them with our own experiences and create the stories we tell about ourselves. Read more…

It’s Not Business, It’s Beauty

November 7, 2013

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“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, from The Miracle of Mindfulness

Every week another article announces the decline of the liberal arts education.

In last weeks’ New York Times article, As Interests Fades in the Humanities, Colleges Worry, author Tamar Lewin reports that the future of Stanford University’s liberal arts programs appear to be in jeopardy.  Lewin reports that although 45% of the undergraduate division is clustered in the humanities, it has only 15% of the students.  Computer science is now the university’s most popular major.

This seems to be the increasing fate of more and more universities. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) programs eclipse the humanities and draw ever-growing numbers of students hungry for job credentials.  The recession, states Lewin, has helped turn college into largely a tool for job preparation – and administrators are concerned.

I am too.   My undergraduate liberal arts education was one of the important experiences of my life.  Chekov. Dickens.  Darwin. Marx. Architecture. Urban Studies. Modern Art.  Worlds within worlds. Wonderful revelations. Rich conversations. New directions.  Deep connections.

I’m envisioning a society devoid of writers, painters, poets and historians and it scares me.  But mostly I’m worried about truth and beauty. Where will we find it – and most important, will we care?

According to Nathaniel Whittemore, a principal at Learn Capital,  the notion of liberal arts began in ancient Greek and Roman societies and emerged from the idea that there were certain fields of knowledge that every free person should have command of.

For thousands of years, enlightened societies have agreed with this premise and organized their educational pursuits around this principle.  The idea was not simply about knowing things, but about cultivating certain attributes of the mind necessary to engage the world. Read more…

The 3 R’s of Leadership ~ Reflection, Relationships & Resiliency

October 31, 2013

 

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“We need to disavow ourselves of the notion that leadership is power over other people.”  Ed Batista 

I’ve often written about the slow death of the authoritarian leader – envisioning the demise of command and control thinking as the prevailing force in organizational life. It is slow going – isn’t it?  At least it feels that way to me – even as an “observer” in my role as a consultant.

The power issue hangs over us.  Although there is a more enlightened language of leadership evolving – we have few examples of leaders and organizations that are truly charting a new course in the ways they manage their power.  While it is necessary to distinguish power derived from formal authority from the many informal means of power within a system, most organizations are still structured to empower few people at the top.

But there is another more subtle and insidious form of power that keeps people in line and emotions frozen in time – and that is the nature of relationships between formal “power holders” and their “direct reports.”   I’m referring here to not only the power to act and achieve goals, but the power to express and feel what naturally arises for employees in the course of their work.

In a world characterized by extremes and polarities in language and feeling, it’s always important to clarify that I’m not advocating an emotional free for all at work – rather the honest expression of emotion.  This is a form of power that is rarely spoken about inside or outside of the workplace.

As my “manager” you may empower me to make certain decisions and execute them within established parameters – but that usually doesn’t mean that I can openly disagree with your choice or that of the organization for fear that my frankness will be interpreted as a sign of not being a “team player,” or worse.

From my organizational view, fear still dominates the emotional undercurrent in most workplace interactions. This is most evident when we confront traditional power. Sometimes the fear is subtle but it stills shapes the nature of the communication and contribution.

In a recent article in Fast Company,  10 Ways to Lose Your Best Employees, Andrew Benett author of the Talent Mandate wrote, I spoke with a prominent business school professor who told me that no corporate function lags behind today so dramatically as talent. He sees improvement and innovations in every area except in the vital matter of managing people. That’s astonishing – and its lunacy at a time when people costs tend to be upwards of 50 percent of a company’s expenses”

While I appreciate Mr. Benett’s pragmatic concerns for the corporate bottom line I’m more concerned about the frustration, anxiety and general unhappiness of so many employees as they try to do their best work under the ever increasing stressful circumstances common in today’s workplaces.

In his prescription for on-going employee disempowerment, Benett advises organizations to place jerks in management and reward the old-fashioned, autocratic style that stifles unorthodox creative thinking and feels threatened by youth and dynamism.”  I’d add continue to hire managers that have little or no ability or interest in people skills. In fact, many managers are still debating whether it makes a difference.  Or they don’t have time for it.  Or they don’t believe in it. This, by the way, is not confined to any one generational mindset. While Millennials are more predisposed to social contact and its value, their ability to communicate effectively is not guaranteed by their age.

Most leaders are doers. They are about getting things done. Concrete, tangible actions that move the ball forward – to use a hackneyed, but common U.S. football — business metaphor.  The 3 R’s of leadership I recommend don’t typically come to mind in the world of doing. They are about being – a way of being as a leader that requires great thoughtfulness, discipline and grace.

Living and acting from the 3 R’s requires a leader’s ability to shift attention from the ubiquitous bottom-line and redirect towards these three priorities: Read more…

We’re Up Against our Mindsets

October 24, 2013

 

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Mindsets aren’t a new concept to me. I’ve been working with my own for a long time. I’m now conscious that I’ve constructed walls and obstacles that are buried deep within my thinking patterns.  I’ve also had the good fortune to understand that many of these blocks in my thinking aren’t even my own. I inherited them or was taught them by the powers that be around me as a child, adolescent and less so – as an adult.  As I wrote in Blind Spots, thinking about my past I’m still amazed at what I could not see.  When these blind spots are revealed, I feel myself a little freer – a little more like me.

We don’t teach our children about their mindsets.  By mindsets, I mean that constellation of thoughts, beliefs (assumptions, expectations) that give rise to feelings and result in behaviors.  The closest most mainstream  pedagogy gets to that language is critical thinking.  As a culture we don’t value helping children become students of their own minds.  We still rely on group conformity while praising individual talents.

Unfortunately, formal education has become more about competing and winning with little emphasis on deep analytical learning.  While in the past a liberal arts college education often afforded the rare opportunity to learn the tools and value of self-inquiry, schools today are moving to curriculum and culture geared to the job market.

Victor Ferrall, president emeritus of Beloit College and author of Liberal Arts at the Brink, has said, “The problem is not that some place  that call themselves “liberal arts colleges” really aren’t anymore, but rather the number of Americans who see the great value a liberal arts education provides is dwindling. In today’s job market how is anyone going to get a job as an anthropologist or historian, let alone a philosopher or expert in 19th century literature?”

Not only should we question whether the future will be filled with nothing but technologists, engineers, bankers and attorneys – but will it be barren of historians, librarians, poets and artists?

Will it make a difference to future employers that we can now prove that good literature is good for your brain?  Turns out neuroscience research is demonstrating that when we read Shakespeare and the poets we get a much bigger brain boost than self-help and easy reads. According to Liverpool University professor Phillip Davis,Poetry is not just a matter of style. It is a matter of deep version of experience that adds the emotional and biographical to the cognitive.” Read more…

Forgiveness at Work – Cleaning our Emotional House ~Reprise

October 10, 2013

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Forgiveness is a lovely idea until you have someone to forgive.”  C.S. Lewis

I’ve thought a lot about forgiveness lately. Often when we face life’s major passages, a flood of old thoughts and feelings suddenly reappear. But I must admit that I am not at the place where I started when I began to think about the concept of forgiveness for this post. My longer than usual research took me to deeper places than I had imagined. I realized how complex, fragile and essential the role of forgiveness is to every human being and every culture.

While most of us engage in small acts of simple forgiveness every day – for many there are chasms of wounds that lay untouched, waiting for the resolution and reconciliation that may never be. For thousands of years, the concept of forgiveness has mainly been the province of religious and philosophical teachings.  The legacies of those theological and moral influences formed imperatives to forgive and repent.  Not until the post-WWII era of collective psychology did the idea flourish that forgiveness had value and purpose in everyday life.

The motivation to forgive was no longer simply atonement in preparation for eternal life, but greater freedom to living a fuller life in the present. The why and how of forgiveness has since occupied therapeutic relationships, 12 step programs, popular fiction and self-help books and most recently – entire countries and cultures as they seek to resolve their pasts and begin anew. In the past two decades, neuroscience has contributed to our understanding of the impact of forgiveness in interpersonal relations and personal well-being.   Scientists are now able to find areas of neural activity and link those to experiences of forgiveness. This advance is providing major insights into the nature of forgiveness and a range of other related emotions. Read more…

Everything Old is New Again

October 3, 2013

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Most bloggers track the statistics on their reader’s preferences.  While the motivation for writing a particular article can vary. most writers will admit to an “attachment” to certain pieces and a tinge of disappointment when those articles just don’t generate the buzz you’d hoped for. This week I’ve gone back into the archives and revisited some of the articles I like that didn’t ignite with my readers.  I hope they will find a new audience.  Read more…

Blind Spots ~ Getting Past Our Fixed Mindsets

September 26, 2013

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When I consider my past, I’m amazed at what I just did not see.  I wonder – what was I thinking at the time?

Experience is not only a great teacher in the moment, but it gives us a context that changes our perception going forward.  Once you know what you know – about your own behavior, a job, a friend, a leader; you simply do not see things in the same way.  While we may attempt to suppress what we knowonce we know, denial becomes a much harder emotional challenge.

But what about now?

What can’t we see – and why can’t we see it?

How can we expand our perspective – and consequently our behavioral choices if we don’t know what we don’t know?

And what do we know about – not knowing? Read more…

The Emotions Series – Befriending Anger

September 19, 2013

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“Anger can be a wonderful wake up call to help you to understand what you need and what you value.” Thich Nhat Hah

For seven years I regularly facilitated seminars on conflict resolution.  Most of the group participants wanted answers to problems they saw as the source of their conflict. Usually this had to do with fixing the behavior of another person.

Imagine the surprise when I asked them to reflect on a set of questions that focused almost exclusively on their own anger.

What do you believe about anger?

What is its purpose?

How do you express your anger?

How do you want others to express their anger to you?

How do you repress your anger?

Do you do anything to shut down the anger of others?

If your anger could talk, what would it say?

These were often intense and exciting conversations.  From the boisterous to the contrite, one thread ran through the hundreds of groups I listened to – the majority had never taken a deep look at the nature of their own anger.  A specialist in understanding anger, Dr. Steven Stosny, founder of Compassion Power, writes, “Most people with real anger problems think that something outside of them controls what they think and feel.”  This belief isn’t confined to those with “anger problems,” most of the people I met in these groups were trying to solve problems that were outside of their control.  This indeed is a recipe for more anger. Read more…

Work Isn’t Life ~ Reprise

September 12, 2013

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The historian and author, Studs Terkel, famously wrote, “Most of us have jobs that are too small for  our spirits.” 

 A few of you might be reacting to the title of this article thinking, Hey, my work is my life,” or My job is the most fulfilling thing in my life.

But that’s not what this article is about. Because life isn’t work. Yes, it can be a Big part of life, but it isn’t life.  In fact, in the recent popular news of a palliative nurses’ summary of the regrets of those who are dying, the only mention of work was, “I wish I had not worked so hard,” especially from men.

While it is thought that Freud said  Work and love are the cornerstones of our humanness, it is true that work is the primary activity in most people’s lives.   Work and love (however we define it) still are the primary forces that drive most of our actions.

For many, the role of work has changed dramatically in modern life.  The way we work is being redefined. The meaning of work is in the process of global redefinition. Yet, in many ways work’s deeper meanings still form the underlying basis for how work motivates us.

David Whyte, the inspiring author of “The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship, writes, All of us living at this time are descended from a long line of survivors who lived through the difficulties of history and prehistory: most of whom had to do a great deal of work to keep the wolf, the cold and the neighboring tribe from the door. Work was necessity: work meant food, shelter, survival and a sense of power over circumstances. Work was, and still is, endless.”

While the need for “food, shelter and survival” remains, the meaning of how we define work – and the context of work as part of life is changing.  And an important part of that equation is our constantly evolving sense of our “power over circumstances.” How that power is defined and who determines it is a critical aspect of the meaning of work – and life. Read more…

Mindfulness Goes Mainstream

September 5, 2013

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The topic of mindfulness is popping up everywhere. While these somewhat militant monks seem the antithesis of the quiet, calm imagery associated with all things mindful, the message speaks to a larger wish for more awareness and sanity in a culture that often feels chaotic and confusing.

From the pioneering program started by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979 to the corporate tech giant Google’s “Search Inside Yourself” program, mindfulness is as they say – trending.

Is it a fad? Well it could be, but I am hopeful that once discovered – and practiced – the benefits of mindfulness will create converts.  For those, like me, who have regularly practiced mindfulness for years, it is a place that offers so much comfort and renewal that it becomes one of life’s great pleasures.

Corporations may sign on simply to improve their bottom-line and while that’s fine, more mindful employees will make more mindful decisions that may shake the status-quo mindset. Exhausted employees looking for new coping strategies and ways to “get-ahead, “ will hopefully discover that being and acting more mindfully can be life-altering. Mindfulness has a way of opening the” doors of perception” and your original intention for practicing may be eclipsed by deeper awareness. Read more…

Release Your Inner Giver

August 29, 2013

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I refuse to buy into the belief that there are more takers in the world than givers.

Naïve?

The media is filled with stories about the greedy, the callous and the downright meanness of some people today.  Greed’s gotten so bad that we’re now applying scientific study (a good thing) to understand it better. While we recoiled when Gordon Gekko proclaimed  “Greed is Good.” in 1987, we accept the “reality” of inequality with alarming resignation in 2013.

Despite an endless stream of articles extolling the virtues and value of collaboration in the workplace, surveys show that 70% of respondents preferred to deal with others – indirectly – using technology and not in-person contact to communicate. While there’s nothing wrong with expedient communication in the workplace, there is no substitute for human “warmth.” It’s estimated that one in seven employees are bullied in the workplace. Rather than recognizing these statistics as a warning statement about our cultural debilitation – we consult the how-to section for help.

We’re busy. Some of us are Very Busy. We’re crazy busy and our actions are shaping how we work and how we connect with other human beings.

We’re distracted.  The average time adults spend in front of digital screens is 8 hours. Most people still believe that multi-tasking works (or they are so habituated that it becomes difficult to stop) despite studies that show that the brain cannot fully focus on one task while doing the other. The word multi-task has now made its way into the common lexicon. Because the brain processes different types of information from different channels, the switching required to multi-task is simply inefficient.

We’re stressed – much of the time.  Giving requires engendering kindness, empathy and compassion. These, emotions, rather than rules of etiquette, obligation and civility are the fertile ground from which genuine giving flows.  Research into the “altruistic” emotions, particularly compassion is showing that the safer we feel, the more we enable our biological system to promote compassion.  According to researcher Emiliana Simon-Thomas,In the face of another person’s suffering, the biological mechanisms that drive our nurturing and care giving can only come online when our more habitual “self-preservation” and “vigilance-to-threat” systems (e.g. fear, distress, anxiety and hostility are not monopolizing the spotlight.”

In other words, enabling compassion (kindness, caring, consideration, empathy, gratitude) requires turning off our defenses..

Enlightened Self-Interest

Even if we’re only motivated by the great news that giving is good for us, there’s ample reason to routinely practice kindness. The evidence is mounting – acts of giving make us happier and healthier.  In her Time magazine article, Maia Szalavitz reports on a study published in Psychological Science that shows how social support translates into health benefits like lower blood pressure and healthier hearts.

Implicated in these pro-social acts is our vagus nerve, which connects social contact to the positive emotions that can flow from these interactions. Szalavitz says that “The vagus regulates how efficiently heart rate changes with breathing, and in general, the greater its tone, the higher the heart-rate variability and the lower the risk for cardiovascular disease and other major killers. It may also play a role in regulating glucose levels and immune responses.”

Acts of kindness are also correlated with higher levels of the “touch” hormone oxytocin, which release nitric oxide causing dilation of the blood vessels.  On a biochemical level, the so-called “helpers high” is thought to be due to increased levels of dopamine in the brain.  Read more…

The Power of Your Presence

August 22, 2013

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May you be present in what you do.”

John O’Donohue

In my last article, Is it Me? I wrote about the challenges of coping with indirect communication, which has become so common today. No matter how we try, this form of communication rarely leaves us feeling deeply satisfied. Sadly, too many of us have lowered our expectations.

We long for connection.  Very few of us are content with superficial human contact. In many ways, technology and the transactional world of business communication has reshaped how we communicate – and how we expect to connect with others.  When we experience the feeling of someone’s authentic (full) presence, we’re often amazed at the nature of the interaction. It can seem too intimate, uncomfortable – unreal. We’ve forgotten what it’s like to be in the presence – to be fully “real” in communication with another.

What do I mean by presence? It’s hard to describe this unmistakable feeling state. You know it when you experience it. For me, it is the sense of connecting (even briefly) with someone’s real being – their essence. It’s unquestionably a transmission of energy.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) the study of bioenergy is receiving increasing scientific attention. This research studies the effect of electromagnetic (EM) heart fields that result in levels of heart-rate synchronization.  It’s already been established that mothers synchronize with their baby’s heart rate, even in utero.

The Institute of HeartMath’s (IHM) research demonstrates that the heart, like the brain, generates a powerful electromagnetic field.  Director of Research Rollin McCraty reports that “The heart generates the largest electromagnetic field in the body. The electrical field as measured in an electrocardiogram (ECG) is about 60 times greater in amplitude than the brainwaves recorded in an electroencephalogram (EEG).”

The heart’s electromagnetic field contains certain information or coding, which researchers are trying to understand, that’s transmitted throughout and outside of the body. One of the most significant findings of IHM’s research is that intentionally generated positive emotions can change this information/coding. Read more…

Is it me? Coping with Indirect Communication

August 15, 2013

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“Human relationships are rich and they’re messy and they’re demanding. And we clean them up with technology. Texting, email, posting, all of these things let us present the self as we want to be. We get to edit, and that means we get to delete, and that means we get to retouch, the face, the voice, the flesh, the body – not too little, not too much, just right.”

Sherry Turkle, author, Alone Together.

I’ve been on a tech (+vacation) break for the past two weeks – no social media, blog’s been on hiatus and my email activity has been limited. Frankly, it’s been a pleasure – a welcome distancing from being tethered to a screen.  In the process I’ve been thinking a lot about technology – and humanness.

Because I’m self-employed, I can control my email inbox flow without any repercussions. I don’t have to use out- of -the -office reminders or respond to hundreds of “urgent” messages.   One of the perks of the “feast or famine” lifestyle of a freelancer is having the freedom to control the flow of information in your life.

So it’s easier for me to take an e-mail sabbatical than most of my clients who average hundreds of emails a day.  Actually, I can’t imagine it.  And I appreciate how challenging it is for so many people, especially those working in organizations, to keep up with correspondence under constant pressure.

My inbox falls into the following categories:

  • Personal
  • Business & related communication
  • Things I want to read, buy, keep informed about, etc.
  • Things I may have been interested in at one point and am iffy about deleting or unsubscribing

It’s clearly the last two categories that weigh down my inbox and I need to exercise a lot more control over the amount of information I receive.   With the first two categories, I try to be as prompt and thorough in my responses as I can be – even when I am very busy. Busy is a relative term, I know.

That’s why I am too often disappointed by the responses I get (or don’t) when I communicate via email. Read more…

~Taking a Break~

August 1, 2013

It’s time for a break.

Time for some new places ~ 

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Time to Catch Up on Reading ~

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Time to Do Some Writing ~ 

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Time to ~ 

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See you sometime in August 

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, subscribe, share, like and tweet this blog.  It’s appreciated.

Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants

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Mindfulness is a Whole Body Experience

July 25, 2013

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“Emotions like grief, fear and despair are as much a part of the human condition as love, awe and joy. Each of these emotions is purposeful and useful-if we know how to listen to them.”     Miriam Greenspan  

Intellectually, I know that emotions live in the body. The research demonstrating the mind-body relationship becomes more definitive each year.  But, primarily I know this because when I stay still long enough to deeply feel my body, I am humbled by the feeling of feelings.

Practicing body mindfulness gives me countless opportunities to listen to my feelings without judgment, analysis or resistance.

Mindfulness is not simply an activity of the mind, impacting the brain. Being mindful of the body gives us a glimpse of the profound truth of the experience of our bodies.  Is the anger I felt yesterday still present somewhere in my body? Is the chronic impatience I experience the headache I wake up with or the low-back pain I feel intermittently?  Is the pain in the neck I feel the irritation and frustration I often feel with a co-worker or recalcitrant teenager?

In Descartes’ Error, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio writes about the embodied mind.  In the book he presents the “somatic markers hypothesis,” which posits that it isn’t only the mind that thinks. Damasio stresses the crucial role of feeling in every personal decision, “the intuitive signals that guide us in these moments literally come in the form of limbic-derived surges from the viscera.” Damasio refers to these as “somatic markers.”

Without awareness of this “whole brain/body” data we operate, in essence, cut off from stored and spontaneous information that is vital not only to our decision-making, but to our overall well-being.

Recent studies from Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Arizona, Boston University, the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies and Emory University found that meditation may influence the way the brain processes emotions – even when you are not practicing it.  According to researcher Gaelle  Desbordes, “This is the first time that meditation training has been shown to affect emotional processing in the brain outside of a meditative state.”  Read more…

Lie to Me ~ revisited

July 18, 2013

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Three years ago, I wrote a post inspired by a popular television series at the time – Lie to Me.  The premise was based on the expertise of a scientist, whose exceptional talent to solve crimes through facial deception detection, caught the “liar” every week.   Easy Hollywood math – clever, gifted sleuth outwits crafty criminals and justice is served – in less than sixty minutes.

In the three years that have passed, trust levels in all institutions continue their steady decline, massive government secrecy is in the headlines and privacy is rapidly disappearing.  Deciphering lies is clearly getting more complex.

Although we like to think of ourselves as rational beings, living and working in reputable societies, today’s news and polling data reflect deeply divided and disaffected cultures where honesty’s definition is increasingly ambiguous. Read more…

The Voice in Your Head ~ What’s Your Work Narrative? – Reprise

July 5, 2013

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You have a mental dialogue going on in your head that never stops. It just keeps going and going. Have you ever wondered why it talks in there? How does it decide what to say and when to say it? How much of it turns out to be true?                  

What’s your workplace narrative – you know your storyline about your job, your boss, co-workers and the company you work for?

Actually, your narrative goes beyond that – it’s the accumulation of all your experience and thinking about everything that goes into your work.  Your narrative is a product of everything you believe or have experienced that has anything to do with work.

When you tell yourself something like, “There is never enough time to get everything done,” you are not simply reacting to the task at hand. More likely, you are voicing many accumulated frustrations and the prospect of more to come.  This is not to suggest that many people are not overburdened, overworked and overextended. They are.  While there are many reasons for this – and forces to “blame,” the Voice in your head is the one thing within your private domain to control.

The Narrative Matters. It can Inspire – It can Deplete

In this blog, we’ve talked about the inner critic that incessantly stalks and drives many of us.  We’ve discussed how beliefs trigger our feelings and shape our actions.  Both of these dynamics create powerful themes that influence the stories we tell ourselves about work, relationships, health, family, what’s possible and what isn’t.

Because work is such a time-consuming and identity-shaping theme in most people’s lives, the narratives we form, over time, are deeply important to understanding our feelings, values and motivations.

Our narratives are usually very resilient. They survive despite experiences that challenge them.  What’s important to remember is that every narrative generates multiple feelings and behaviors. Most of us don’t act outside of our narratives. Our actions reflect a particular narrative we have about people, places, things and events. Behavior follows.

Notice your emotional reactions as you are reading some sample narratives below. Some may be familiar, some not. Some may be yours.  The amount of resistance you have to a particular narrative should be a clue to investigate it further.

  • Unless I work very hard, I won’t succeed.
  • You can’t really trust anyone in the workplace.
  • Mine is a thankless job.
  • I’m just doing this job to pay my bills.
  • Nice (guys) finish last.
  • There’s no fairness in the workplace.
  • It’s all bullshit – everyone lies.
  • Only people who play the game get promoted.
  • My co-workers are incompetent, lazy, etc.
  • My boss is incompetent (a jerk, a liar, etc)
  • My company doesn’t care about its employees.
  • I’ll never get ahead in this job.

I’m not suggesting that some of these items can’t be “true,” but if you are constantly running these narratives in your mind, you can’t expect to feel good or perform well in the process! Read more…

Emotional Intelligence ~ 20 Years On ~ Part 2

June 27, 2013

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Continuing the conversation started in Part 1 of this article – several key questions keep surfacing.  One is the often unspoken tension between EI (Emotional Intelligence) and what is typically thought of as “therapy.” For anyone who has been involved in a therapeutic process, it’s immediately clear that learning and applying EI principles is very different from being “in therapy.”

Resistance to EI practice in work settings often comes from those who erroneously assume that any discussion of “feelings” is akin to the therapeutic relationship. As any practitioner of EI will attest, there are limits and boundaries for “safe discussions” about feelings in the workplace. Sometimes it’s a slippery slope. It takes a skilled practitioner preparation and close care to stay within guidelines for what is respectful, comfortable and acceptable within workplace settings.

Having a sense of safety is a deeply personal and universal need that often makes talking about feelings within the workplace, especially with colleagues and supervisors, challenging. I’ve discovered that without enough trust within a workplace or group, EI “training” can raise unresolved, even buried feelings and disagreements. While it is possible to create a safe context for even difficult feelings to be aired, many organizations are wary to do so.  Every EI learning experience should be preceded by a thorough discussion of goals, expectations and future steps to allow the development process to evolve.

Organizational aversion to emotions reflects the larger cultural aversion to feelings.  Addressing collective cultural fears, Miriam Greenspan, author of Healing through the Dark Emotions, says, We’ve mastered the internal regulation processes of emotion-phobia. Ours is a dissociative culture-a culture that separates body from mind, body from spirit, and feeling from thinking. This kind of dissociation is a special requirement of masculinity in patriarchy.” Read more…

Emotional Intelligence ~ 20 Years On

June 13, 2013

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In 1995, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ by Daniel Goleman was published. The introduction of Emotional Intelligence (EI) generated a great deal of excitement and hope. Nearly twenty years later, it’s time to look at the progress and future of this work.

As a student of psychology and social systems, EI (Emotional Intelligence) concepts had immediate resonance with my experience and offered some of what I believed was essential for personal and whole systems change.  At the time, there were no statistics to “prove” the efficacy of EI, no “ROI” (return on investment) data to sell skeptics on the value of people understanding their own emotional make-up and acting from that knowledge.

As I quickly began to integrate the concepts into my work, I could see the powerful impact this material had on the people I was working with. Turns out – a surprising amount of people in the workplace wanted to talk about feelings. They needed a framework and a sense of safety to give voice to what they were carrying around in their bodies.

The early days of working with EI were not easy, but gratifying. There were no “tools” or standardized tests to fall back on – just concepts and a willingness to deeply listen to emotionally hungry voices in the workplace. Aside from reassuring some people that  EI wasn’t “therapy,” I found mostly receptive audiences who wanted more. There was little in the way of “how to” in the early days of EI – and quite frankly, there still isn’t.

Clients from tech, the law and the sciences often pushed back. I improved my skills in the art of non-resistance. I found myself gently making the case that there was a place for emotions in the workplace. In fact, the workplace was filled with emotions, though often not the ones that inspired, motivated and supported people.  The “rational mind is everything” meme embedded in so many people challenged the idea that body/mind, thoughts/feelings were a unified system.

In 1998, Daniel Goleman released his landmark article in the Harvard Business Review, What Makes a Leader? The article established the “model” that most EI practitioners would use and offered research results from application of the principles in business settings.

This article and the release of his next book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, lent legitimacy to earlier assertions that EI trumped IQ as predictive of professional success. In his work Goleman was challenging the enduring belief that intellect and rationality alone were the keys to professional advancement. “They do matter,” Goleman stated in the article, “but mainly as “threshold capabilities, that is, they are the entry-level requirements for executives. ”   Read more…

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