Monthly Archives: September 2016

Talk to the Whole Person

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared in Mindful Mag]

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There’s a lot of talk about making workplaces more mindful, but what does that really mean? Mindfulness is more than meditation. It’s just as much about how we communicate with those around us as it is about finding stillness within ourselves.

In the workplace, so much of what we accomplish, particularly as leaders, comes in the form of conversations. And when those conversations can be more mindful, we can develop a kinder, more compassionate culture, while still maintaining high standards of excellence. We can all think of a conversation or two (or five or 10) that we wouldn’t describe as mindful. But what really makes a conversation mindful?

Karen Starns, Senior Vice President of Global Marketing at Pearson, has had a 20-year career in technology, an industry where, after long hours under tight deadlines, anyone’s mindfulness could go right out the window. For Starns, a mindful conversation is an opportunity to open people up to a broader view and take them to an unexpected place. “Having a mindful conversation means considering the whole person you’re engaging with—not just the project they’re leading, or the deliverable they owe you.” Signaling that you’re aware of how the work gets done (not just that it gets done) and how the person is doing helps you make a more positive connection. Taking the time to “acknowledge an important personal milestone or to offer to juggle workload during a tough time can have an amplifying effect far beyond the situation at hand,” she says.

In other companies mindful communication is ingrained in the culture. At Vera Whole Health in 2008, Chief Visionary Officer Valerie Burlingame set out to build a company that embodies being “present and authentic.” At Vera, they try to help their employees with “particularly challenging conversations, when there may be some resistance or conflict.” They teach them to search within themselves and identify their own “stories, feelings, and wants so that we can be responsible and aware of what we are bringing into interactions.” She goes on to say that this practice has helped the company be more effective at resolving conflict, and helped to foster an atmosphere of trust in external and internal relationships.

For those in leadership roles, a little bit of attention paid to mindful speaking can go a long way. Lisa Hufford, CEO of Simplicity Consulting, has conversations with nearly 100 consultants and clients each month. Her intention for each conversation is to, “Be aware of my own emotions and potential triggers so that I do not let them lead me.” She also encourages her team to, “Visualize what success looks like for the conversation you want to have before you have it.”

She feels that this approach not only helps to create a positive culture, it also directly affects the bottom line, because, “Mindful communication allows my team to cut through the clutter and the noise that can permeate organizations. Being clear about intentions helps us get to the heart of the issues quickly and unifies the group.”

Regardless of what industry you’re in, what your company values are, or what type of job you have, every one of us can have more mindful conversations at work. For starters, you need to be clear about your intent at the outset, consider how you want to express it, choose the right time, and pay attention to what’s going on with the person on the other side of the conversation.

Sounds obvious and easy, right? But when we’re swimming in a sea of busyness, finding time to be intentional about how we enter into conversations can become a low priority. If we’re not careful, we’re practically barking.

Try an experiment this month: Make just one work conversation each day a bit more mindful. Set the intention to be present with the person (or people), get clear on your purpose, and remain engaged throughout the whole exchange. It’s possible to build mindfulness at work, one conversation at a time.

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Celebrating Disappointment

By Christopher Littlefield, Founder of Acknowledgment Works & Friend of Simple Intentions

A photo by Teddy Kelley. unsplash.com/photos/okavjRLgnjo

A few years ago, in the space of a week’s time, my wife found out that she did not get TWO jobs she was a finalist for. Wanting to support her, I bought flowers, made a make shift sign reading “Happy you did not get the job day!” and greeted her with cheering at the door when she arrived home. Yes, my intention was to be supportive and mitigate the potential after shock of the news, but the incident sparked a real question for me: Why don’t we celebrate when things don’t work out?

The immediate answer is obvious; it’s disappointing. Disappointment makes people feel like crap, so why would you celebrate it? But bear with me for a second as we explore the idea. If you think about it, many of the amazing experiences, lessons, and loves we currently cherish in our lives would not have been possible if everything had worked out as we planned. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate my ex’s (well, some of them), but I am VERY thankful those relationships did not work out. If they had, I would not have met the love of my life; my wife, Maria.

For many of us it was the disappointment of not getting accepted to a school or program, losing a job, bombing a presentation, getting dumped, or being passed over for a promotion that was responsible for igniting our passion to pick up arms and fight for what we really wanted in life. It is those disappointments that often become the catalyst for the better things that happen in our lives.

So the next time something doesn’t work out the way you want it to, take a few minutes to stomp your feet, cry a little, shake your fist at the sky, but then find a friend and go celebrate because the door just opened for another amazing experience to be born.

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The Power of “No”

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared in Mindful Magazine]

Have you ever said yes to a request at work when you knew deep down you had no intention of doing it? Maybe you said you’d meet a colleague for coffee, take someone to lunch, or participate on a committee, but you really didn’t have the time or desire to follow through. That’s okay. We’ve all said yes to things we knew weren’t really going to happen. In fact, this happens a lot, all over the world, in both personal and professional life. Why do we do this, and how can we shift our responses so they reflect our true intention and capacity?

The behavior of saying yes to things we know we either don’t want to or are unable to do is called “hedging.” It consists of using phrases like “I don’t know,” “maybe,” and “we’ll see,” when really your answer is, unequivocally, no.

When we hedge, our intentions (most times) are good. At work, we hedge to avoid disappointing others—like our customers, our managers, and our coworkers. It’s easy to feel that if you say no to a request at work you’ll be perceived as selfish or rude, or that it might impact your performance review. It’s natural to want to be liked and accepted, and to be considered a team player. That said, hedging can have many negative impacts.

For instance, when we commit to too many projects, assignments, and “five-minute favors” and we know we will be unable to complete them, we wind up creating false expectations, and can become the bottleneck in the system—which is the exact opposite of what most people intend when they say yes. Hedging also tends to create more work (that may or may not be part of your role), causing stress, resentment, and frustration. At the team level, hedging erodes trust, damages reputations, and can cause widespread role confusion.

Break the Hedging Cycle

Start by paying attention to when you hedge and get clear on what you really can, and cannot, do. “No” doesn’t have to be dismissive. A strategic no can, in fact, be a powerful productivity tool and a way to set clear priorities. It can mark the beginning of a thoughtful, intentional conversation about workload, role definition, and office dynamics. When you give a mindful no, you contribute even more to your team by being clear about what is realistic, which allows the organization to better understand needs, plan for resources, and set priorities. This is especially important for companies operating with limited resources.

Say It Right

It’s not all about just saying no—the way you say no is also important. Use a respectful tone and provide as much context as possible to the person making the request. Explaining why you’re unable to oblige a coworker’s request can go a long way—not just in increasing efficiency, but also in building trust. A phrase to experiment with is “that’s not going to work for me, because….”

If you know you can get to the request, but just not right now, set expectations up front on timeframe. “That’s not going to work for me right now, can we talk again in three weeks?” Another option is to offer help in whatever way you can: “I know this is important to you, but right now the core priorities for my job are x, y, and z, and I’m not able to support this request. Can I help you find someone else who might be able to help?”

Most times, when people feel respected, they are willing to work together to find a solution that is realistic and supports the team and organization—even if the conversation begins with “no.”

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