Desperately Seeking Balance

Desperately Seeking Balance

In this fast moving and disruptive age, life is much more than a balancing act. It is a complex dance with an ever-evolving set of challenges streaming at us at an unprecedented rate.

As with all things in the universe, we seek balance. Balance between work and home; balance between the food we eat and the amount we move; balance in our finances, and our family lives; balance in the contributions and the deductions we make to this world we live in. Balance in all things.

So how do we achieve some semblance of balance in our lives when the rate of change and complexity of our world is constantly escalating?

One way is to take a breath: literally and figuratively.

In today’s tumultuous world, we exist in an almost perpetual “sympathetic nervous system state” (state of preparedness for fight or flight). Our bodies are running on adrenaline, often supplemented heavily with caffeine, which exacerbates this heightened state. Rarely do we pause to “take a breath” and shift gears back to a “parasympathetic state,” where our muscles get to relax and our heart rate decreases.

One of the biggest contributors to this stressful state is that we are often attempting to operate in three worlds at once.

We are constantly referencing, reflecting and roiling in the past; at the same time we’re prognosticating, predicting and stressing over the future; and simultaneously we’re trying to balance the reality we exist in, the present.

If we can stop long enough to take a breath and reflect, we’ll realize how much of our time and energy is wasted stressing about things that we can’t influence. We can’t change the past; we also can’t predict the future; at best we can be engaged in shaping our future by being present.

Eckhart Tolle has clearly illustrated the “Power of Now” in his many works, and throughout the ages, spiritually enlightened teachers have espoused the many benefits of bringing our attention into the present. Even if we accept the many benefits, given all the distractions and competition for our attention, it is little wonder we struggle to bring our reality into focus and strike a greater balance.

So here are five simple thoughts on being more present and bringing some rhythm into our daily lives.

5 Simple Thoughts On Being More Present and Bringing Some Balance Into Our Daily Lives:

1. Establish Screen Blackouts

Do you ever find yourself asking people to repeat themselves, because you were distracted by your phone? Or realize you’ve missed a chunk of a conversation or meeting because you’ve been trying to process two streams of language or word processing?

When we’re immersed in our screen, whether for work or for pleasure, we’re devoting our prefrontal cortex to that task and by default becoming disconnected from the person or people in front of us. Regardless of how ‘real time’ that post you’re reading feels, or how pressing that email seems to be, you’re not present when you’re out in the ether.

Establishing ‘blackouts’ where you stay off the screen (especially when in the company of others, or in meetings), blocking time for email (and not being available 24/7), and creating limits around screen exposure, can all help promote a healthy balance of connectedness.

Many of us place screen limits on our kids, so placing healthy screen time limits on ourselves seems reasonable? Doesn’t it?

2. Become Present While Performing Mundane Tasks

Have you ever driven a well-travelled route and wondered how you actually got to your destination? Ever done a routine task and realized that you weren’t consciously performing that activity? When we do a routine task we often let our brain focus on more cerebral issues while our body goes through practiced motor skills.

Eating is a good example, because it doesn’t create a lot of overlap with more cerebral demands. Having said that, you can miss the joy of bringing your focus onto an otherwise routine task. For example, the opportunity to truly savor the food you’re putting into your body.

When we bring our attention to our food, to the energy sources we’re fueling our body with, we become more mindful about what we’re eating and that can have some huge health benefits. Mindful eating has been shown to nourish our bodies more, as we ingest the food consciously and with gratitude. Furthermore, eating mindfully makes us realize that what we put in our mouth really matters and we are more inclined to make healthier food choices.

Becoming present during mundane tasks is a practice of really focusing in and enjoying the elegance of execution: truly seeing, feeling, and enjoying that task and not letting other thoughts get in the way.

Just try it, even just for a minute or two, and feel your body’s reaction. You might be surprised at just how good it feels to be where you are.

3. Regularly Check In With Your Body

Speaking of feeling your body’s reaction, when was the last time you truly listened to your body? I mean really tuned in? Usually we draw no attention to our body unless something is hurting, or we have a basic physiological need at that time.

Try taking a break every so often and just ‘check in’ with yourself.

Your body is an amazing machine and will run, and run, and run without much intervention. But when you check in routinely on this complex, well-oiled machine, you’ll have some amazing revelations. Not only will you be present in that moment, you’ll learn some things about preventative care and develop increased respect for this amazing vehicle we have been gifted with.

This simple mindfulness practice of checking in with our bodies has the added benefit of taking our nervous system out of the overactive “sympathetic” fight or flight danger mode, and putting it into the “parasympathetic” calm mode.

4. Pause and Become Consciously Present On a Regular Basis

Do you ever run a scene from the past over, and over, in your head? Suffer from nagging doubts about prior events? Harbor grudges, and pain, from events long ago? Contemplate the irony of fate? These are all very human things to do, however getting trapped in the past can be debilitating, especially when we’re carrying forward negative emotions.

Reliving the pain of loss or regret can be as debilitating as the original pain itself. The plain truth is you can’t change what was, you can’t even necessarily change what will be, you can only influence the present.

When you find yourself roiling in past events try and bring your consciousness back into the present moment, back into your physical body, and focus on the people around you and the wonder of being alive.

Anxiety and stress cannot exist in the present moment, which is why meditation (the practice of keeping your mind at ease and focused on the present moment) is a great tool for dissipating anxiety. Next time you feel anxious, try pausing and spending just 60 seconds focusing your mind on your breath. Meditation has a cumulative effect, so the more you do it, the more powerful it becomes. That’s why it’s called a “meditation practice.” Even a few  consecutive “conscious breaths” count as mediatation.

5. Practice

Being present does require practice. Much like Mindful Meditation, the practice of being present requires refocusing when you drift off. Just that very ability to refocus, in and of itself, is a great tool that will help in all arenas of your life, including improving your physical health.

A few practices that lend themselves to this focus on the now include yoga, Mindful Meditation and Mindful Breathing Techniques.

Mindful Breathing is an activity you can engage in at a moment’s notice. Simply bring your attention to your breath and create rhythm by counting your breaths in, and breaths out. Try longer breaths out, and hold your breath for a few seconds after your inhale and exhale. The simple act of bringing your attention to your breath is sufficient to shift your state quickly and seamlessly and bring your nervous system into the parasympathetic mode.

Focusing our attention on the now can have monumental benefits in bringing balance back into our lives, as we divest ourselves of the additional weight of worry about reruns and pilots in our episodic lives. It is enough to contend with the barrage of information and demands the brings present without adding to the clutter of past and future.

So take a breath, adjust your focus, bring yourself into the present, and bring some much needed balance back into your busy life.

Get In Touch

Send an email via the form below or call to set up a free consultation.

Charlottesville, Virginia

434.996.5510

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Three Foundations & the First Step Toward Mindful Leadership

Three Foundations & the First Step Toward Mindful Leadership

Grant Gamble Business Consulting | Blog | Mindful Leadership Practice InfographicBeing a Mindful Leader is not about having a yoga or meditation practice. Truly mindful leaders imbibe intentionality, awareness and an abiding presence. Exhibiting these characteristics, consistently, is incredibly hard amidst the cacophony of competing interests for your time and focus.

Being present requires discipline, which is a central thread in building mindful leadership practices.

The essential elements of your mindfulness practice can vary. Like many things, what suits one person may not suit another. I use the example of exercise: When you find an exercise activity that works for you, and that you enjoy, exercising becomes less of a chore and more of a joy. The same is true for establishing and preserving a mindful leadership practice.

Additionally, your practice needs to be built on strong fundamentals. Quality sleep, good nutrition and exercise are just three foundational elements that help accelerate a mindful leadership practice. I want to at least begin with an overview of those foundational elements.

THREE FOUNDATIONS FOR MINDFUL LEADERSHIP

 

Grant Gamble Business Consulting | Blog | Mindful Leadership Practice | SleepSleep

Sleep touches every facet of out lives, but is critical to mindfulness.

Researchers at UC Berkeley have recently shown that sleep deprivation negatively impacts the regions of the brain that help you understand people’s underlying motivations and intentions.

As one of my mentors taught me many years ago, understanding a person’s motivation and intentions provides important reference points when seeking to understand someone’s actions. These reference points can give you insights and perspective, and importantly promote empathy. Empathy is critical for the mindful leader.

So what does good sleep look like?

As the science of sleep has evolved, researchers have determined that a cumulative total of 49 to 56 hours a week is optimal. In other words 7-8 hours of sleep a night, on average, and if you miss some sleep try and supplement with a little extra when you can.

Short naps of 15 to 20 minutes can help ‘top up the tank’, but longer naps can create a ‘sleep hangover’ you don’t want.

Other fundamentals like avoiding caffeine later in the day, and watching screens (especially falling asleep to a screen) can inhibit falling sleep and achieving good quality ‘deep sleep’.

And the basics of a great mattress, quality pillow, the ability to create a dark and cool sleeping environment are obviously essential. I go deeper into these factors in a separate article, “Improve Your Life by 1/3 Today”.

Grant Gamble Business Consulting | Blog | Mindful Leadership Practice | NutritionGood Nutrition

Science and anecdotal evidence exist to support many different diets and nutritional philosophies. I have known people who have pursued a vegan diet and their health and vitality have deteriorated. I have similarly known people who have gone vegan and flourished. Much like exercise, what works for one person may not work for another.

Amidst all the cacophony around diet and nutrition, I believe there are a few basic tenets.

The first tenet of healthy eating is to try and eat the least processed food possible. The more food is processed, and refined; the more additives and ingredients it has; the more of those ingredients you don’t recognize, or can’t pronounce; the less value that food typically has for you.

In other words, an apple is better than apple sauce, apple sauce is better than apple juice, apple juice with fiber is better than apple juice without fiber, and so on. What other ingredients get added to that apple sauce or juice also significantly impact the overall value. That can include sugar, preservatives, emulsifiers and much more.

The second tenet is eating as cleanly as possible. This includes trying to eat organic, non-GMO food where possible. Given the amount of food we do not prepare ourselves this can be difficult to control, but if you have the option to eat cleaner, try and make this positive choice where possible.

This leads to the third tenet, and that is preparing more of your own meals. Not only do you control what goes in to that meal, but you control how it’s prepared.

Not to mention that cooking can be great quality time with your partner or other family members. And what a joy to make and enjoy good food with and for your family or friends.

The third tenet of good nutrition is mindful eating. This means eating consciously (ideally not while watching TV or being on your phone), taking your time to truly chew and appreciate your food and paying attention to when you eat.

Just the act of slowing down and being conscious in your eating will lead to you eating less food and becoming more aware of what you’re eating.

The other aspects of mindful eating are when and where you eat. Your body has natural rhythms and eating within its active cycles makes sense. Eating late at night when your body is slowing down and looking to focus on rejuvenation, and not digestion, makes good sense and is supported by substantial science. With respect to where to eat, eating in front of the TV is obviously not as conducive to conversation and mindful eating as eating at the dinner table.

I am barely scratching the surface here. In a series of articles called “The Food Dilemma”, I attempt to address some of the conflicting nutritional advice we are besieged with on a daily basis, and make some sense of the multitude of strategies out there to help you get the most out of your food.

Exercise

The scientific and medical communities generally align on the benefits of regular exercise. This alignment is based on the insurmountable body of evidence supporting the case for moving your body regularly, with some degree of intensity. So if you’re a regular exerciser and feel you are gleaning the many benefits of an established fitness regime, you may want to skip this part. For those of you that struggle, or consider regular exercise elusive, here are a few of my thoughts.

Regardless of the undeniable benefits of exercise, they don’t make it any easier to subscribe to exercise if you haven’t found a form of exercise you enjoy or can sustain.

Having spent much of my career in the fitness and wellness industry, I have gained some insights from many successes and failures I have both championed and witnessed.

The best advice I can give anyone trying to begin an exercise routine is to keep it simple. The foundation of a sustainable exercise routine is finding activities you enjoy, or at least don’t hate; activities that are conveniently located and fit into your schedule.

For example, regardless of the touted benefits of running if you truly despise running, don’t run. Get creative and explore activities that you think might be fun, or that you could do with a friend. To me, walking is one of the simplest and most accessible forms of exercise, but doing it with a friend (or ‘man’s best friend’) will likely make it more fun and help you keep it up. Our daughter is not an ‘exerciser’, but she loves taking our dogs for a walk up our laneway and gets a great workout (they’re not particularly well behaved) in the process.

Again, I go deeper into exercise in a set of articles entitled “Baby Steps”.

The First Step Toward Mindful Leadership

These three foundational elements can help energize your mindfulness practice, set a great example for your team, and influence the way you lead. Caring and connecting with your team members also magnifies your ability to impact the growth and performance of your company as a mindful leader.

Creating that sense of caring and connection fundamentally requires you to be truly present in your interactions with your team and stakeholders.

Your presence in a conversation, meeting, or exchange, is palpable.

When you’re truly present in the interaction, connected visually and listening intently, you are far more capable of seeing the nuance, interpret the body language, and pick up on the subtle cues being projected.

Also people appreciate your true presence. They intrinsically, and cognitively, appreciate that you are listening, hearing and being present for them.

Often times I find myself getting distracted in an interaction with a team member and just like in meditation I need to bring my focus back. What has popped up on your screen, or that nagging thought about an outstanding task, pulls your attention away from the interaction. Like many driven leaders, I had selfishly convinced myself that I can split my attention between competing activities, but science would counter that notion.

Obviously, we are capable of doing two tasks at once; one of my favorite examples is ‘walking meetings’. But this involves two very different cognitive resources. When we are trying to simultaneously process words, for example in a conversation and on a screen, a bottleneck occurs and either or both areas of focus suffer.

Maintaining focus, or presence, is much like a muscle. You need to exercise it to make it stronger.

This is why Mindful Meditation is a foundational element of the mindful leader’s toolbox. Mindful Meditation involves having your thoughts focused on the present moment.

You can place your attention on your breath, or an object of thought. The critical thing to acknowledge is that you will lose focus, but when you drift off you need to bring your focus back to your breath, or the object of your attention, and build your ability to maintain this focus. Mindful Meditation is very different from Transcendental Meditation, which involves being aware, without an object of thought.

Cultivating this ability to focus will benefit you in your role as a leader and in your relationships with friends and family. As I have developed my meditation practice

I have found many benefits beyond the increased ability to focus. Meditation can also help you reduce stress and anxiety, improve your quality of sleep, improve memory, increase the regulation of emotion, and improve the ability to get perspective1.

Personally it has taken me a long time to fully appreciate the many benefits of a Mindful Meditation. With all the competing forces for our time, creating the discipline to establish a practice is tough. I have found the key is taking baby steps.

Grant Gamble Business Consulting | Blog | Mindful Leadership Practice | MeditationFind a time, first thing in the morning, or after the kids have gone to bed, or even on your lunch break, where you can take just a few minutes to shift your focus inward. You can build on those smaller increments of time and ideally increase your practice to ten, fifteen, or more minutes daily as your mindful muscle builds.

When developing your practice, you need a space where you won’t be interrupted and that’s free of distractions. Get comfortable, ideally sitting up, and focus initially on your posture. Good posture is fundamental to a solid practice. Imagine a force drawing your body up into its fullest height. Your shoulders are relaxed and eyes are soft, or closed.

I started my practice focusing on my breathing. It was an easy thing I could bring my attention to and I found that it helped dissolve stress when I breathed consciously and rhythmically. I have played with various lengths of breath in and out, for example a steady breath in for four slow counts, then a steady breath out for four slow counts. I have also tried breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth and varying the breath length.

There is no perfect formula, but I have benefited most from using Ujjayi Breath, which is used in Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga practices. Ujjayi means “to conquer” or “to be victorious”.

I certainly feel it helps me conquer my restless mind. Ujjayi Breath is where you breathe through your nose and contract your throat to create resistance to the breath. Ujjayi Breath is often called “Ocean Breath” and when I feel I am doing it well it sounds like the rise and retreat of waves on a beach.

I believe starting with a Mindful Meditation practice is a great way to move towards more Mindful Leadership, while simultaneously improving your health and performance in many aspects of your life.

Mindful Leadership doesn’t necessarily start with Mindful Meditation, but this is one common denominator I have come to see as a foundation stone of the Mindful Leader.

Note: Read more on the journey toward Mindful Leadership in Grant’s eBook, “Next Steps Toward Mindful Leadership.”

1 “Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density.” Britta K. Hölzel: Psychiatry Res. 2011 Jan 30; 191(1): 36–43

Get In Touch

Send an email via the form below or call to set up a free consultation.

Charlottesville, Virginia

434.996.5510

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Next Steps Toward Mindful Leadership: 1. Setting the Stage for Meaningful Interactions and Effective Communication

Next Steps Toward Mindful Leadership: 1. Setting the Stage for Meaningful Interactions and Effective Communication

1. SETTING THE STAGE FOR MEANINGFUL INTERACTIONS AND EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION

Setting the stage for a meaningful interaction is critical. Here are some examples:

In-Office MeetingGrant Gamble Business Consulting | Blog | Mindful Leadership | Setting the Stage for Meaningful Interactions and Effective Communication | In Person Meeting Image

  • If you’re in your office and someone comes in to talk with you, I suggest getting up from your desk and walking around to greet them. This does several things: it truly acknowledges the person, it takes you away from your screen and it removes the barrier of your desk and screen/s from between you. It levels the playing field and creates a sense of your immediate attentiveness.

Phone Call

Grant Gamble Business Consulting | Blog | Mindful Leadership | Setting the Stage for Meaningful Interactions and Effective Communication | In Phone Call Meeting Image

  • Similarly, if you get a phone call it helps to distance yourself from your screen or other distractions. If you’re on a cell call it’s easy to get up and take the call away from your desk, if it’s a landline you can still stand up and disconnect from whatever you were doing before the call.

 

 

 

Tip:

There’s another benefit when you take these conscious actions to focus your attention. You’re getting up and moving. As standing desks get more and more popular, the benefits of standing and shifting your posture is being highlighted. Getting up regularly gets your blood flowing and can help to clear your head.

 Group MeetingsGrant Gamble Business Consulting | Blog | Mindful Leadership | Setting the Stage for Meaningful Interactions and Effective Communication | Group Meeting Image

  • Another example of setting the stage is in group meetings. Often times we bring our laptops, or tablets, to meetings to take notes. And we have our cell phones face up in front of us. All too often an email pops up, or we’re reminded of something we needed to do, and we get distracted from the meeting in which we’re supposed to participating. If you want to optimize the meeting potential I would recommend setting a standard to not bring a device and to turn your cell phone face down.

Tip:

If you need to take notes, try using a digital pen. Several pens and digital pads are available and allow you to take notes and the relevant app translates your notes. LiveScribe was one of the early examples and Moleskine also has a digital pen and some nice notepads. This innovation is really mobile, allows you to take notes without distractions, but also allows you to search those notes at a later time through an app, removing a need for a computer.

Virtual MeetingsGrant Gamble Business Consulting | Blog | Mindful Leadership | Setting the Stage for Meaningful Interactions and Effective Communication | Virtual Meeting Image

  • Many meetings happen virtually these days and one thing I like about videoconferencing calls is you can see the participants. When I took an executive position with a large national company, I inherited a tradition of a large videoconferencing call with a group of General Managers. Conceptually, this was a wonderful opportunity for these managers to connect in spite of geographic distances between them. However, it was the norm for some participants to turn off their camera. Others weren’t quite so courteous, leaving their camera on while they they kept banging away at emails and stepping away from their desk to do something in the middle of the meeting! This was a practice I discouraged from the outset. If the meeting was at all valuable, people needed to be present, and not routinely distracted.

Tip:

There’s a great book by Cameron Herold, called “Meetings Suck: Turning One of the Most Loathed Elements of Business into One of the Most Valuable.” As Cameron elucidates in his book, most managers have never been trained or coached on how to run an awesome meeting. He details actionable steps to make meetings more effective, and he also provides a set of metrics for what a successful meeting should look like. Partly we need to reevaluate how we perceive meetings, particularly keeping focus on what they’re meant to accomplish.

In the scenario where I had distracted managers on a video conference call, I asked them what they thought the most valuable elements of the meetings were, and what parts they didn’t like. Funnily enough, the participants raised the elements that concerned me most. They pointed out that they felt it was rude when people turned off their camera or didn’t focus their attention on the speaker. They also felt a lot of what was being discussed was not relevant to the group, as a whole. We went about tuning up and tightening the agenda and cut the meeting time by over half. With the managers asked to be present and engaged, with an assurance of keeping the meeting short and on point, these weekly videoconference calls became invaluable.

Visit the other 2 chapters of “Next Steps Toward Mindful Leadership”:

1. Setting the Stage for Meaningful Interactions and Effective Communication

2. A Great Hack for Introducing Meaningful Communication and Teamwork – The Daily Standup

3. The Heart & Soul of Communication – Visual and Auditory Connection

Get In Touch

Send an email via the form below or call to set up a free consultation.

Charlottesville, Virginia

434.996.5510

Find Grant on LinkedIn:

Next Steps to Mindful Leadership: 2. A Great Hack for Introducing Meaningful Communication and Teamwork: The Daily StandUp

Next Steps to Mindful Leadership: 2. A Great Hack for Introducing Meaningful Communication and Teamwork: The Daily StandUp

2. A GREAT HACK FOR INTRODUCING MEANINGFUL COMMUNICATION AND TEAMWORK: THE DAILY STANDUP MEETING

 

Grant Gamble Business Consulting | Blog | A Great Hack for Introducing Meaningful Communication and Teamwork - The Daily Standup Meeting | ImageAnother example of getting participants present in meetings comes from Verne Harnish. I had been introduced to the concept of a stand-up meeting in a talk I attended about the Ritz Carlton’s famous service model. Verne further refined this concept for me with a three-step process, and I used it to great effect in a beleaguered organization I was asked to come and work with and reform:

This company’s flagship facility was struggling on every metric. There was a team of talented managers and department heads, but they were operating in silos. Within the first week of arriving, I decided to institute a daily stand-up. Normally, I would have started conducting these types of meetings weekly, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Now in the stand-up, we stood (hard to be on your phone when you’re standing in a circle facing each other), and each person briefly (ideally sixty seconds or less – this takes practice) reflected on the following:

Three Questions for a Daily Stand-Up Meeting of Managers or Department Heads:

  1. What things of note have transpired for you and your department since the last meeting?
  1. What do you plan to achieve before the next scheduled meeting?
  1. Please share the rocks in your shoes. What challenges are you facing and what issues are getting in your way or holding you back?

Grant Gamble Business Consulting | Blog | A Great Hack for Introducing Meaningful Communication and Teamwork - The Daily Standup Meeting | Teamwork and Communication ImageWhen we started, these managers were none too happy to be meeting on a daily basis, recounting their woes and what they planned to do about them. There was nowhere to hide, and as the posturing and objections subsided these meetings began to make them focus their thinking on what was really going on in their department and what they were doing about it.

Most importantly, it gave them a valuable insight into each other’s department and over time teamwork grew out of improved communications which drove empathy and understanding. In short order, this flagship facility shifted course and began performing as it had in its heyday, many years before. Rocks became pebbles and pebbles became grains of sand.

This is a pointed example of getting leaders to be present. And for me, it reinforced the incredible value of short, sharp, focused meetings with a simple agenda.

There are many ways in which you set the stage for yourself, and others, to be truly present in your communications. Minimizing distractions, removing barriers, having ground rules and focus, will all assist in your efforts to consciously connect in all your communications.

Visit the other 2 chapters of “Next Steps Toward Mindful Leadership”:

1. Setting the Stage for Meaningful Interactions and Effective Communication

2. A Great Hack for Introducing Meaningful Communication and Teamwork – The Daily Standup

3. The Heart & Soul of Communication – Visual and Auditory Connection

Get In Touch

Send an email via the form below or call to set up a free consultation.

Charlottesville, Virginia

434.996.5510

Find Grant on LinkedIn:

The Next Steps to Mindful Leadership: 3. The Heart & Soul of Communication: Visual & Auditory Connection

The Next Steps to Mindful Leadership: 3. The Heart & Soul of Communication: Visual & Auditory Connection

3. THE HEART & SOUL OF COMMUNICATION: VISUAL & AUDITORY CONNECTION

 

Visual Connection

Visual information that we take in and process enables us to interpret meaning from what we see. This interpretation plays a critical role in our day-to-day interactions. In seeking to understand someone, his or her motivations and intentions, the visual cues we receive (aka body language), can significantly impact your interpretation of the conversation.

Grant Gamble Business Consulting | Blog | The Heart and Soul of Communication: Visual and Auditory Connection | Eye Contact ImageAre you connecting visually when you meet someone, or when you are in a conversation or meeting?

A great place to practice this art is when you first meet someone. My wife and I have coached our kids to look someone in the eye when they first meet them. To connect visually with that person, shake their hand, or acknowledge them as the circumstances may demand. This is tough for a teenager. Not only because they may lack confidence around adults, but also because adults typically don’t pay a lot of heed to kids (a big mistake in my mind).

What our kids have found when they do look the adult in the eye and confidently connect with them, is that the adult’s response changes. The interaction has meaning. There’s a basis of respect established. It amplifies them in the eyes of the person with whom they’re interacting.

Grant Gamble Business Consulting | Blog | The Heart and Soul of Communication: Visual and Auditory Connection | Eye Contact Cheers ImageAnother example of making that visual connection relates to my wife. She is Czech, and as a result I have been exposed to a lot of toasts (the Czechs are the #1 beer drinking nation, per capita, in the world). The Czech toast is “Na zdraví!” which means “to your health.” Upon announcing “Na zdraví!”, each person clinks glasses with the other people in the toast. Making eye contact with each person individually is critical though, and you would be considered rude if you didn’t connect visually with the other people in the toast.

This experience completely changed my perspective on this exchange of good will. Being Australian, I am very familiar with toasting, but I realized when I met our Czech relatives, that most of us are missing an incredibly important ingredient when we say “cheers.” We’re missing the opportunity of conscious visual connection with the person to whom we were wishing “good health”.

This might seem like a funny anecdote, but it was much more than that for me. It showed me how routinely we didn’t connect, eye-to-eye, with those we meet and interact. It demonstrated to me the significant difference between saying the words that usually carry little meaning or context, and truly connecting with that individual.

If we can extend this concept into conversations and meetings and constantly seek to connect visually with the speaker, or with those we’re speaking to, the quality of the exchange goes up exponentially. When we turn our body to the speaker and look the speaker in the eye we establish a connection words cannot hope to achieve in isolation.

Added bonus, the person who is speaking will become more connected with you, too. If you make a point of looking into the eyes of the person who is speaking to you, or the group, you’ll find their attention drawn to you.

 

Auditory Focus

If you have a visual connection, listening to the person’s words just got a lot easier.

Grant Gamble Business Consulting | Blog | The Heart and Soul of Communication: Visual and Auditory Connection | Listening ImageWhen you’re bringing in visual and auditory information from one focal point you’re doing what you’re innately wired to do. You’re connecting all the words and visual cues to form a more cohesive and complete picture of what the speaker is trying to impart.

Another example of getting participants present in meetings comes from Verne Harnish. I had been introduced to the concept of a stand-up meeting in a talk I attended about the Ritz Carlton’s famous service model. Verne further refined this concept for me with a three-step process, and I used it to great effect in a beleaguered organization I was asked to come and work with and reform:

This company’s flagship facility was struggling on every metric. There was a team of talented managers and department heads, but they were operating in silos. Within the first week of arriving, I decided to institute a daily stand-up. Normally, I would have started conducting these types of meetings weekly, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Now in the stand-up, we stood (hard to be on your phone when you’re standing in a circle facing each other), and each person briefly (ideally sixty seconds or less – this takes practice) reflected on the following:

The 6 Fundamentals of Active Listening Include:

  • Refocus when you recognize that your mind has wandered.
    • Even if you’re not distracted by devices or other people, your mind will wander. It’s inevitable. When you are distracted, or wandering off, what’s important is to Zoom back in on the speaker and their words, every time you find yourself drifting.
  • Create a mental picture of key words or phrases to describe in your mind’s eye what you’re hearing.
    • When you’re in a conversation, or a meeting, try and create a mental picture of key words or phrases to describe in your mind’s eye what you’re hearing. This skill forces you to focus on the meaning of what is being said and not just the words.

  • Stay away from formulating your response and just listen.
    • If you’re in an interactive communication, it’s quite normal to be forming your thoughts and responses and tuning out what is being said. Even though this is natural, it also disconnects you from the speaker’s words. If you find yourself formulating a response and not truly listening, bring your attention back to the key words and phrases. This discipline improves your listening skills enormously and makes you a good listener.

  • Pace yourself with the speaker to give them time to process.
    • The last point brings up another important listening skill, and that is to pace yourself with the speaker. Meaning: give people processing time. In turn, hopefully the person you’re communicating with will reciprocate by giving you the time and space to gather your thoughts, after you’ve listened intently to them.

  • Successful communication is a two-way street. Ask for attention if necessary.
    • Then there’s the gift of reciprocation. Communicating successfully is a two-way street. Obviously, we hope that the person on the other side of the conversation is working as hard as you are to be a good and active listener. If they’re not, it is incumbent on you to ask for their attention. That can be hard, and sometimes intimidating, but if you’re devoting your time and attention to a communication, it is not unreasonable to ask that person or people involved, to reciprocate appropriately.

  • Ask questions and seek to understand and interject at appropriate junctures.

    • Lastly, good listening often involves asking questions; seeking to further understand; interjecting at appropriate junctures to ensure you’re interpreting the message accurately. This is part of the art of listening involves staying focused on the speaker’s words, framing them in your mind, and in turn paraphrasing them at appropriate junctures.

As I discussed in my original piece, “Three Foundations and The First Step Toward Mindful Leadership,

The ability to be truly present in a conversation or meeting is a pillar of great leadership and underwrites great communications. 

If you are investing time in mindful practices, your ability to lead will be enhanced greatly by leveraging your focus in all your communications.

Re-Visit the other 2 chapters of “Next Steps Toward Mindful Leadership”:

1. Setting the Stage for Meaningful Interactions and Effective Communication

2. A Great Hack for Introducing Meaningful Communication and Teamwork – The Daily Standup

3. The Heart & Soul of Communication – Visual and Auditory Connection

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