Category Archives: Conversation

The Real Problem With E-mail

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

062017_EmailDespite what you may think, the real problem with e-mail has nothing to do with e-mail. The problem is not the volume of e-mail you receive. Nor is it that messages are poorly crafted, often lacking details and specific requests. The issue isn’t that subject lines are misleading and your peers don’t understand the difference between CC, BCC and TO fields. These are all annoying and unproductive aspects related to e-mail. However, “fixing”, even eliminating, these aspects won’t solve the main, mostly unspoken issue with e-mail.

The real problem with e-mail is we have forgotten there is a human being on the other side of the message. A human being seeking connection, making a request, asking for help or in some cases offering help. In our hurry to slam through our inbox and knock it off our “to do” list, the bid for human connection has become a casualty of the exchange.

E-mail has evolved into a powerful tactical and transactional tool, yet at the same time, it’s also the primary business communication tool. Which is why it makes sense that e-mail has become such a pain point — as the speed at which most people “attack” their inbox leaves plenty of missed opportunity to understand what is a transactional message and what is a bid for relationship building.

Hence the disconnect — we keep trying to solve our e-mail problems with productivity tips; when instead of color-coding, flagging or filing in folders a slew of half-way communicated messages, we could choose instead to craft a few carefully, intentionally worded communications with the purpose to connect and be of service to those on the receiving end. Sure, your inbox may be at zero, but was the information you wanted to share complete and more so, how did your message make the person/people on the other end feel?

When listening to people talk about their relationship with e-mail, many people hold a belief that e-mail isn’t part of “work”. How can it not be part of work? E-mail isn’t just something you do — it’s a chance each day, with each e-mail you write, to be the person you want to be. Each communication you craft is an opportunity to reflect what you really want to say and how you really want to show up and who you are.

What if instead of focusing on the next ten e-mails you have to “pound through”, you became fully present on the one in front of you? What if you imagined the face of the person or people on the other end of the communication looking to you for a response, guidance or acknowledgement? What if you slowed down your inbox time and really read the message and looked for the request for understanding, approval or connection?

With each e-mail you send, you have the power to make someone feel important, acknowledged, respected or heard. You also have the same power to make someone feel dismissed, disrespected or unimportant. The choice is yours for how to be in relationship with your e-mail, and with each message you send you get to make that choice again and again.

 

[Note: This post originally appeared in Thrive Global]

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How Far Are You Willing To Go?

By Melisa Portela, Simple Intentions Lead Consultant: LATAM Region

061517_LimitsWe live in a society that tells us: there are no limits, you can always go for more, you can always achieve more, you can always produce more, you can get more “likes” on social media, you can lose more weight, you can have a better job, you can have a more loving partner, and the list goes on and on… And this is what I want to reflect on today: How far are you willing to go?

Sometimes we find ourselves stretching far beyond our limits and well-being, reaching a point where our relationships and health start to deteriorate. We begin to lose some quality in our lives the moment we start to race to the end of our limits – And there are many consequences along the way, our health often being one of them.

Sometimes we push ourselves beyond our limits because we might feel there is a sense of freedom associated with breaking out of the box. However, when we ignore our limits, too often we end up completely exhausted and suffering from burnout. And, by the time we realize the cost, it is sometimes already too late to prevent a significant impact.

This is why it is so important to set limits in our lives. When we don’t set appropriate boundaries for ourselves, it often may feel that others are (unintentionally) disrespecting us. When we do not know when and how to say “ENOUGH”, we feel at the mercy of others or even things (like material possessions, jobs, unhealthy routines, etc.). A lack of boundaries means we are often unable to take accountability for the events that happen in our lives. We might try to find an external cause or justification for our suffering, which sometimes leads us to resignation (ultimately, reinforcing our lack of boundaries and creating a vicious circle).

Before we can communicate boundaries to those closest to us (such as friends, family, partner/spouse, boss, coworkers, etc.), it is important to figure out for ourselves what they are. Most of us do not pay conscious attention to how, why and what boundaries we must set in order to lead the life we wish. Once you are clear on what your boundaries are, then it is time that you clearly communicate them with the people you share your life with. Remember that if those around you do not know what your needs and limits are, it gets harder for them to support you in what you seek by respecting those limits.

A boundary is like an instructional manual that you can give to yourself and to others that clearly informs what your limits are. Once you’ve done that, it becomes easy to say how far you’re willing to go – in any situation.

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Reclaim Your Power in Toxic Situations

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

[NOTE: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn]

Few things seem to have the ability to drain our energy more than dealing with toxic people. In the workplace, we may have to frequently interact with a co-worker, manager, or direct report who seems to constantly be releasing negative or “toxic” energy. I’ve created five simple steps to help us take responsibility, create accountability, and reclaim our power in any unpleasant situation with a “toxic” colleague.

The first step is to stop associating the colleague with toxicity. How we talk, speak, and think about an individual or a situation dictates how we relate and react to it. If I believe someone is “toxic”, even a simple invitation from them to lunch starts to appear suspicious and malicious. Shift the associations and you’ll start to shift your experience of how you view this person.

Second, ask yourself, “What have I decided is true about this person?” Often, we may write someone off the first time they do something we do not agree with. The disagreement could have happened months ago, but since then we have been gathering evidence that they are a jerk. Acknowledge to yourself when and what YOU decided was true about them. They were not born toxic, it was a label that was given to them.

The third step is to try listening to the person from a different angle. In the book, The Art of Facilitation, Dale Hunter suggests listening for the motivation or “hidden commitment” behind an unpleasant interaction. As an example, after an important meeting your boss says, “I can’t believe you said that it front of our client, that was so stupid!”

Possible hidden commitments that may have caused your boss to use “toxic” rhetoric include:

  • They may be committed to the outcome of the project.
  • They may be committed to your growth.
  • They may be committed to doing what they feel is perfect work.
  • They may be committed to the client.
  • They may be committed to a promotion to help support their family.
  • They may be committed to not making a mistake.

The fourth step is to simply remember that this person, consciously or unconsciously, is doing what they think is best. Assuming positive intent can make all the difference in diffusing a toxic situation.

Finally, the last step to overcoming toxicity is to write your colleague’s name on a piece of paper and take 5 minutes to write a list of things you appreciate, admire, and have learned about/from them.

When we shift our relationships to “toxic” co-workers, we gain the power to understand the deeper meaning beyond difficult communication, stay present, and shift the atmosphere of the situation to calmer waters. When we are in alignment, we are able to set the boundaries of what kind of communication is acceptable in the future.

I find that even in the most difficult situations, once we show a colleague that we can see through their fire to what fuels them (their commitments), we are able to gain their respect and gain their partnership.

Now go reclaim your power.

 

Christopher Littlefield is the founder of AcknowledgmentWorks. He trains leaders around the world in the Art of Acknowledgment and Engagement. His work revolves around the understanding that at the heart of all of our relationships is the experience of feeling valued. Watch Chris as he shares his research at TEDx Beirut.

 

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Straight Talk

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[NOTE: This post originally appeared in the April 2017 print issue of Mindful Magazine]

Rear view of man gesturing with hand while standing against defocused group of people sitting at the chairs in front of him

I’ve developed a theory that the biggest driver of mindlessness at work comes from lack of communication. Most times, this is connected to the conversations we’re not having about our values, or about the boundaries we set (or don’t set) around how we live, honor, or uphold these values at work. You know the type of conversation I am talking about: the really uncomfortable one, where you know what you need to say is going to be awkward and might displease or disappoint another person.

Each day we encounter situations where we halfway communicate what we want to express, request, or need. In many cases, we do this because we fear being judged. Think about it: Have you ever edited a response because you felt uncomfortable revealing yourself and your thoughts concerning a certain topic?

  • Not sharing that you don’t agree that the redesign plan is the best choice.
  • Going along with the excitement around a new initiative even though you have serious doubts about its visibility.
  • Keeping silent about how uncomfortable it makes you that your boss brings her dog to the office every day — and it ends up in your space most of the time even though you really don’t like dogs.

So we halfway share, putting off the conversation we know is coming at some point. And, of course, the longer we avoid having it, the more uncomfortable the conversation can become.
The collective impact from having uncomfortable conversations can be truly transformational. Its effect goes beyond communication in the workplace; it can transform communication in every situation.

The path to navigating this territory with ease starts with awareness. Begin to notice when you are withholding, closing down, or not speaking up. Write about it in a private journal if that’s helpful. Then, with that awareness, begin to experiment with expressing your thoughts, needs, and desires one conversation at a time using the following tips to push through the discomfort.

Offer Context
It isn’t just about assigning blame. It is about creating dialogue around toxic and disruptive issues, so all involved can feel heard and choose to create a different reality. Offer context as to what the issue is, in a nonjudgmental way, this kind of sharing builds compassion and allows everyone to get on the same page. It’s when we don’t offer context that the discomfort grows.

Invite Options
If someone is making a request that isn’t possible, say so and invite a conversation about what is possible. It’s important to ask how that might work for the person making the request. Explaining, offering another solution, and inviting dialogue increases the sense of sharing and collaboration.

Be Sincere
Say what you mean with grace, respect, and as much authenticity as possible. When you speak from the heart, even if others don’t like or agree with the message, the energy behind the intention comes through. Odds are strong that your honesty will help things to shift.

With this in mind, what is one uncomfortable conversation you are willing to have today?

 

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4 Ways to Mindfully Prevent Office Burnout

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

030817_4mindfulwaystoburnIn 2007 I collapsed from exhaustion at an event that I was producing. It was the culmination of far too many hours working, the lifestyle choices I was making (and not making), and the always-present stress of trying to be “perfect” at my job.

My doctor said my body was in adrenal fatigue and that my career was killing me. His advice? Get a new job. I knew that wasn’t the “right” conversation — yet I didn’t know what was. I chose to stay on, but went deeper into my own mindfulness practice to try to understand what had happened.

Over the next year, I discovered that the right conversation sits in the knowledge there is a choice regarding the type of relationship you want to create with your work.

For those of you flirting with burnout, you are not alone. According to the American Institute of Stress, 80% of people feel stress at work. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 75% of all doctors’ visits are stress-related.

There is hope, however. And it comes down to being present to what’s happening in your life, and acting with mindful intention to make some changes.

Burnout is not so much about the specifics of your job. It’s mostly about the choices you make (and don’t make) about how you want to live. Being aware of these choices, and approaching the inherent stressors in any job with mindfulness and clear purpose can transform our relationship with stress — and put work in its place. To start, here are some actions you can take in this moment to start to redefine your relationship with work.

1) Define the core issues

Can you pinpoint what causes the overwhelm? Is it a capacity issue? Do you have more work than hours to complete? Is it a skill issue? Is there a gap in the skills you have versus what is required? Is it a communication issue? Are you able to share what’s causing stress? This is your first step: Collect all the relevant data so you know where to focus solutions.

2) One step at a time

You didn’t arrive at burnout overnight, and the process to undo some of the habits you created will take time. Pick one behavior right now that you can consciously begin to shift. For example, create clear start and end times for work each day. The flexibility that technology and remote working offer can be overwhelming and contribute to burnout if boundaries between work and non-work time are not well-established.

3) Befriend your body

How do you hold stress? Maybe you grind your teeth at night, experience a knot of tension in your neck, or have trouble staying asleep. Now think about what helps you to unwind. Taking a lunchtime walk outside, going for a post-work run, or getting a weekly massage, as examples. Regularly tune into your body so that you can recognize the earliest signs that stress is present, and take the preventive actions you’ve identified to work through it before it overwhelms.

4) Share what you need

Professional stress can be extremely isolating; we often withdraw in order to “deal with” work issues on our own. But letting the people in your life know what you need to feel supported is essential for putting things in perspective and managing stress. None of us can do it all alone. Your colleagues and loved ones won’t know how to help if you don’t tell them.

 

[NOTE: This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Mindful Magazine.]

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An Uncomfortable Conversation About Stress

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

WARNING: This content may be uncomfortable.

Just like balance, stress means different things to different people and stress impacts each person differently. What is stressful to you might not be stressful to your manager, coworkers, friends, or spouse. It is important to remember that when it comes to defining stress, everybody has their own idea of what is acceptable, tolerable, and comfortable. Before we talk about resolving stress when we experience it, it’s important to understand WHY we experience stress.

At its most basic, the answer is survival. Fight or flight. We want the ability to experience stress — it is what has kept us alive as a species. When we face danger, such as being chased by a wild animal, the body secretes into the bloodstream stress hormones (called adrenaline and made up of cortisol and a few other hormones), this initiates the body’s “fight or flight” response. This hormone cocktail causes a quick gust of energy, a burst of increased immunity, tunnel vision and tunnel hearing to help you move away from danger, and lower sensitivity to pain as not to distract you if you get hurt as you flee from the source of danger. After experiencing this flood of cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream, it’s important that the body and brain move to a relaxation response after the perceived threat has gone away so hormone levels can return to baseline. Research says it takes 40 to 60 minutes for this to happen.

If the body and brain don’t have the chance to relax then the body stays in a stress state because it perceives that danger is still near. When we were cave people, it was much easier to tell if a threat had moved away — the tiger was gone. In our modern world, many times the threat or cause of stress does not move away as quickly or in some cases at all, and our bodies and brains stay in a state of mild, persistent stress.

When the body doesn’t reach a rest state after a prolonged period of time, the result is a chronic stress state. Chronic stress can disrupt the immune system, sleep patterns, digestion, growth, and even reproduction. When the body feels perceived danger, it will prioritize its survival systems. Things like digesting lunch go to the bottom of the to-do list when the body thinks a tiger is going to attack.

As you are well aware, lots of things can cause modern day stress. The most common big stress triggers in life include moving, switching jobs, divorce, and death. Common situations that can lead to chronic stress states include unhealthy relationships, over-committing oneself, dysfunctional work teams, and unrealistic expectations of self and others.

Just as many people don’t know what balance means to them, the same is true for stress — many people are not clear on what causes them to feel stress in their daily lives. In my research, I’ve come to believe that most modern-day stress is linked to communication, or rather lack of it. And the topics we avoid talking about most often relate to our values. A lot of stress comes from the conversations we don’t have about our values with others as well as the conversations we avoid having with our selves. A great way to better understand what is driving your stress is to consider what conversations you are not having right now.

What stresses you out? Remember most modern day stress is linked to communication, specifically when we are hedging, when we’re not aware of how our complaints and criticisms are intermingled, and when we might be withholding to avoid feeling discomfort.

How do these situations make your body and mind feel? What symptoms let you know you are heading into the stress zone? For example, do you get stomach aches, skin rashes or headaches? Do you crave certain foods? We all have a stress “tell” — something our body does that sends a message to us to slow down and pay better attention.

What do you do to take care of yourself when you are feeling stressed? This is a big one as many people I work with haven’t considered how to intentionally care for themselves when they experience stress. We will all experience stress throughout our lives. But how do we want to manage it? Being active, time with friends and family, meditation, engaging in a hobby, being in nature — there is no wrong way to move yourself out of a stress state. Just know what ways feel right to you. The most important thing is to KNOW what is causing your stress, or what is likely to cause stress in the future so you can then nourish yourself when you encounter it. Know your answers and follow through.

As you reflect on your answers, begin to become aware of where your behaviors are supporting you and where they are sabotaging you. Notice the choices you make, notice when you feel in balance, notice when you feel out of balance. Then make the necessary shift.

[Note: This post originally appeared on Thrive Global]

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The Benefits of Comfort

By Chelsea Elkins, Simple Intentions Marketing & Program Manager

comfortzone_012617Neale Donald Walsch says that “life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. It is true that the things that make us uncomfortable or afraid can also create an unexpected joy or sense of fulfillment. Moving abroad, taking a risk on a relationship, pursuing a new certification or degree, even taking a literal leap and cliff jumping, all may naturally be outside our comfort zones. Pushing beyond the “shoulds” that society creates for us (or more often that we create for ourselves) can allow us to expand our horizons and accomplish things previously considered unachievable.

Though life cannot fully be embraced if we solely stay in “the known”, we must also respect the boundaries we each have put in place to protect our most precious values. Often when we are uncomfortable, it is because our values are being threatened – and it would therefore be harmful and draining to remain in that state.  There lies the complication: determining when going beyond our comfort zone challenges and benefits us, and when crossing that border is actually a result of someone or something violating a deeply rooted value. So how do we tell which is which? And what do we do if it’s the latter?

Determine the What

So what is it about “Co-Worker Todd” that makes us uncomfortable? The answer may be simple or surprisingly complex – and so may the solution. Reflect on what makes you set your teeth on edge when talking to “Todd”. Delve deep into the specifics. Does he stand too close to you when he talks? Do you find his tone irritating since his recent promotion?

Examine the Why

When you uncover the specifics of what action or statement has made you uncomfortable, examine the why. Which of your values feels threatened? If Todd is standing too close, he may be violating your value of personal space. If you’ve found his tone insufferable since he beat you out on a promotion last month, your value of respect may feel threatened. Alternatively or in addition to that, it could be that his presence is triggering feelings of unworthiness, as you again wonder why you were rejected for said promotion. Whatever the why is, acknowledge it without judgement. Understanding the reason behind an uncomfortable situation is the first step to alleviate it.

Communicate Your Boundaries

Often when we feel uncomfortable, the situation can be improved with a conversation on boundaries – either with the offender, a loved one, or ourselves. Todd may simply be unaware of his too-close-for-comfort proximity (as obvious as it may appear to us). Or if his actions are indeed intentional, speaking up may make him rethink that choice in the future. If the thing that’s making us uncomfortable is further away from our day to day – say a politician’s latest statement or an undesirable policy being passed – our communication may take the form of a letter or phone call.

Just the act of sharing our feeling of discomfort with a friend or loved one can also help disperse the unpleasantness in a situation. Lastly, correcting negative self-talk and addressing internal criticism can also be a way to guide us back to our comfort zone. After all, a positive affirmation or two can go a long way.

Go Beyond

Sometimes communication is not enough to create change and additional action may be needed. If Todd continues to breach your personal bubble, consult with a trusted mentor or your manager. If you are unhappy with local politics, sit in on a City Council meeting or attend a protest. If a new policy is threatening a value you deem as a global human right, volunteer at an organization fighting for something you hold dear. If you feel you are being attacked online by a stranger, determine if some small part of you believes those words to be true. Then pursue whatever action would lessen that belief – it could be meditation, education (whether individual or institutional), therapy, or a more heightened and informed awareness of yourself and the world. Whatever your next action is, ensure it is authentic to you and your values.

Repeat

The beautiful thing about our brains is that they change. A statement that made us uncomfortable 6 months ago may not have the same effect now. Todd may still set our teeth on edge but the reason why may be different. This means we must be persistent with our detective work, as our what’s and why’s are constantly changing.

All that we have control over is our own actions (and reactions). Next time you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, get to the bottom of the what and the why and take the needed steps to move forward. Let go of the idea of external control, determine what can be done to protect your values, and then, like a resolute cliff diver, take the leap back into your comfort zone.

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