Category Archives: Conversation

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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Four Types of Complaining

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared on Thrive Global]

011117_ComplainingHumans love to complain. We keep ourselves off balance through the way we complain, or in some cases the way we withhold our complaints. The funny thing about complaining is, many people are not clear on what it is they are complaining about, and many people confuse complaining with criticizing. A little secret here, 99 percent of the time you’re complaining about something because you are feeling that a value of yours has been threatened or compromised in some way. (It always goes back to values.

Before we can talk about a new way to complain, we first must establish the difference between a complaint and a criticism. In general, a complaint is an expression of a feeling of displeasure. A criticism is rooted in judgment of the actions, values, or work of others. It is possible that sometimes you’re feeling of displeasure comes out as criticism, meaning that it’s easy to make the displeasure you are feeling someone else’s fault — for example, blaming your boss for you having to stay late or your partner for you not having the time to go to the gym. It is through taking accountability of your displeasure (your complaining) that you can create action. That said not all complaints create action as there are four different types of complaining.

Frivolous or Recreational Complaints
These types of complaints validate a person’s view of the world or can make fun of or belittle something. Many times you don’t even need someone to hear these types of complaints. For example, “I have to work late Friday night”, you could be alone at your desk when saying this.

Empathy Seeking Complaints
These types of complaints are expressed by people who just want to be heard. You only want someone to care, you don’t need the other person to fix it, just listen and care. (Or even pretending to listen works here too.) We might say, “I have to work late a second Friday night in a row”, so we can hear someone else say to us “that’s a bummer.”

(Psychology tells us these first two types of complaints are good for us — they are also called venting — and can be a helpful way to process our displeasure.)

Withholding Complaints
This is the most toxic way to complain. It’s when people say nothing at all and begin to harbor resentment and internalize anger. They might start to exhibit passive aggressive behavior — or even just plain aggressive behavior. For example, “I have to work late a third Friday night in a row — no problem at all — happy to be here.” When in fact the tone of voice and e-mails reveals something different.

Action Complaints
These types of complaints are expressed by people who want action or change to occur and are committed to not repeating the past. For example, “I have to work late a fourth Friday night in a row — what can we do different so we are not here next week?” The displeasure is expressed with a request to discuss a path for change or action.

It is easy to see the difference; the challenging part is being aware of who you are sharing what type of complaint with. For example, your manager probably doesn’t want to hear your recreational complaints, but he or she might be more interested in your action complaints. If you want to complain to be heard — just say so, “Can you listen to me right now? I don’t need you to solve this — just hear me out.” Or if you need help you can say, “I’m stuck and could use some feedback what do you think if we tried a different approach?”

If you happen to be on the receiving end of a complaint and are not sure what type of complaining it is, just ask, “Do you need me to do anything?” Many times that is enough for the person complaining to create a bit of awareness around what they need from you in the conversation.

The best practice is before you share your displeasure with others through complaining, understand what it is you are seeking in doing so. Now go forth and own your complaints!

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Talk to the Whole Person

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared in Mindful Mag]

0928_talk-to-the-whole

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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