When approaching communications, we generally bring our hidden values, assumptions and intentions to bear. These covert elements influence our behaviors and lead to personality and cultural clashes before we’re aware what’s happening. As a result, we miss golden opportunities for collective learning and shared understanding.
Dialogue is a powerful tool for understanding our thoughts, actions and interactions. By building bridges, instead of chasms, dialogue enhances our awareness of the world as we strive to make sense of our relationships, organizations, communities and our lives.
The word dialogue derives from two Greek roots: dia logos, which means “through meaning.” Dialogue is about creating meaning that connects us all at the core level of humanity through mutual respect, shared destiny, constructive action and goodwill.
Unlike discussion and debate, dialogue is non-confrontational and emphasizes deep listening to promote understanding. Our usual communication processes emphasize individualism and winning, whereas dialogue emphasizes learning and connectedness. Dialogue encourages discovery and mutual understanding by inviting us to share our personal stories, express our interests and perspectives, and clarify our viewpoints. Having insight into another’s fears, challenges, limitations and successes creates a deeper sense of common ground and belonging than our usual interactions will allow.
The art of dialogue teaches us what it means to create together and enhances relational bonds. It is a fundamentally deeper form of communication that builds mutual trust and respect. Through dialogue, we can surface underlying assumptions that hinder our progress. Without mutual knowledge, there is no mutual understanding.
The Process of Dialogue
Dialogue is not just about communication, but action. Being able to make clear distinctions between what we say and do is the basis of true solution-based dialogue. While most conversations integrate both discussion and dialogue, you want to be clear about the context and intended outcomes before engaging either form. For example, if your goal is to immediately solve a problem, it will likely require discussion to examine the various sides of that problem before taking action. However, if your goal is to understand the nature of that problem, you would engage in dialogue to amass diverse perspectives and broaden your perceptions. When the latter is deemed appropriate, here are some ways to create a dramatic shift in communications through the gift of dialogue:
1. Create space. Clearly establish your purpose and objectives for the dialogue session. Define the problem or issue that you want to explore. Create a welcoming space and safe environment and communicate to everyone what it means to participate. To expand awareness, create community and reach shared understanding, participants should maintain a spirit of openness, integrity, curiosity and empathy. Participation is shared, so there is no leader, but a facilitator. Maintain a flexible agenda by being responsive to emerging needs. Define key questions. Do not rush to action, but “sit” with the process to allow hidden conflicts to surface, as well as any creative alternatives that may not be readily apparent. Two things to keep in mind: (1) dialogue requires group introspection, which can be exhausting, so know when it’s time to bring closure; and (2) every situation is different, so your process for dialogue should be adapted accordingly.
2. Listen actively. Trust is built when we take the time to listen to others. As we become more skillful listeners, we are better able to understand how we perceive our environment. To listen actively is to listen with all of your senses — not just your ears — for deeper meaning and understanding. Active listening means intentionally focusing on the speaker by empathizing and giving them space to express their views; setting aside your opinions and prejudices and suspending judgment to gain a different perspective; being aware of non-verbal and verbal messages; and checking for understanding by restating, summarizing and asking questions about what you think you heard.
3. Communicate your assumptions. Our beliefs influence the selected data that we pay attention to. Therefore, it’s important to share with others our internal frames of reference, so they know what we envision as truth or reality. Take ownership for your thoughts, beliefs and assumptions by letting others know what you think and feel and how you arrived at certain conclusions. Sharing your mental models and reasoning process not only enhances self-awareness, but promotes accountability, authenticity and mutual understanding.
4. Appreciate diverse perspectives. None of us holds the whole truth. We all hold a piece of the collective puzzle we are trying to solve. Dialogue assumes that there is not one but many right answers, so it frees us from our own social conditioning and exposes us to new experiences. Embrace and leverage multiple perspectives to expand your access to a wider variety of experiences and improve your ability to gain diverse insights, reach consensus and achieve more extraordinary results.
5. Be curious. There is transformative power in questions. Asking the right questions at the right time can change the direction of our lives. So engage in collective inquiry to surface new information and new realities. Ask a series of questions such as, What do we want to do, have, be or get that is different? What would it mean for us to create change on this issue? What is stopping us from obtaining what we want? What can we do together to achieve a different outcome? When faced with problems or issues, asking questions helps us to compare points of view, uncover relevant themes and patterns and gain deeper insights. Questioning also helps us to identify more creative strategies for addressing those problems or issues.
Dialogue expands our capacity to learn from and with one another. While the process takes time, its powerful effects can lead to personal and social transformation. In its deepest sense, dialogue inspires hope and confidence by restoring us back to our shared humanity. Commit to a higher level of growth and evolution by harnessing collective intelligence to chart new direction, uncover new opportunities and surface new meaning and understanding.
Until Next Time,
The path to reconciliation is never straightforward, as human relationships are complex and ever-changing. Creative engagement generates positive change, learning and growth. The next time you find yourself embroiled in conflict, recall these principles to help defuse the situation and facilitate your connectedness with others.
1. Give up blame. Blaming others exacerbates, rather than solves problems. Recognize and appreciate at all times that you alone are responsible for your interpretations and reactions to external situations.
2. Embrace choice. The truth is messy, raw and uncomfortable, but you always have a choice regarding your reactions to any situation. Alternatives are before you, so choose wisely.
3. Try a different approach. If your coping strategies prove ineffective, don’t be afraid to try different approaches. Then take a step back, and note their impact.
4. Seek to understand. Ask probing questions, and in addition to your five senses, listen with your heart. Slow down and be fully present to promote deeper understanding. You do not have to agree with another’s perspective, but it is important that you understand it.
5. Change yourself. You can’t change other people, but you can change yourself. Look inward and modify your own beliefs, attitudes and behaviors.
Relationship and interdependence lie at the heart of successfully bridging conflict. Your reactions can mean the difference between perpetuating strife or constructing more peaceful outcomes.
Until Next Time,
In my profession as an Industrial and Organizational Psychologist, people generally don’t call on me unless they’re either headed for — or in — a full-blown crisis. After receiving such a call from a potential client this week, it got me thinking about the deeper meaning of life’s challenges and how we can navigate them.
Are you experiencing a state of brokenness that has sent you into a downward spiral?
- Being fired from a job
- Long-term unemployment
- A severed relationship
- A debilitating illness
- A life-changing accident
- The death of a loved one
- A business start-up that never took off
- An opportunity that fell flat
- A broken promise
- A failing grade
- Fill in the _______
Sometimes, we may feel that life has thrown us into the deepest end of the ocean, expecting us to swim back to the shores of safety without a life preserver. This may result in feelings of bitterness, resentment, anxiety, frustration, depression, and/or isolation. However, life’s challenges are inevitable and create opportunities for learning and growth… if we are willing to focus on the value, rather than the venom.
If you are in need of a little (or a lot of) inspiration, here are some ways to help shake off despair and climb out of your well-worn rut.
Break the cycle of negativity. Reacting to adversity in a dysfunctional manner such as denial, addiction, distortion, repression, or other numbing behavior only magnifies the situation, which can make matters worse. Negativity feeds a continuous cycle of destruction that keeps you stuck, so find ways to enhance your quality of life. Whether it’s meditating, changing your daily routine, learning something new, spending time with family or friends, or getting outside to enjoy nature, do something that will create a shift in your thoughts and actions.
Find the lesson. With every challenge comes a lesson to be learned. The sooner you accept the lesson and learn from it, the sooner you can graduate to the next phase of your life. To find the lesson, ask yourself “What is this situation here to teach me? Then listen for the answer.
Surround yourself with support. During challenging times, we all need the comfort and wisdom of a strong social support system. This is anyone that you can trust for sound advice, counsel and emotional support. Having a confidant who understands what you’re going through without sitting in judgment can help alleviate raw emotion, so that you’re better able to deal with the situation.
Give thanks. While life may not be the way you want it at this moment, you are still here. Know that the Universe has a larger plan for you, and what you’re going through is a part of that plan to help you reach higher ground.
Be realistic. There’s an old song entitled, Trouble Don’t Last Always. Just as the seasons change, so do the cycles of life. Use the wisdom of nature to persevere and grow through life’s inevitable highs and lows.
Brokenness is the starting point for rebuilding. For many, it’s the only way to experience healing, restoration and the deeper meaning of life. Without brokenness, we’re likely to remain in a state of self-sufficiency, living on the periphery of life never acknowledging a power greater than ourselves.
In closing, I echo the words of M. Scott Peck, M.D., author of the timeless classic The Road Less Traveled: “The truth is that our finest moments are likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”
Until Next Time,
As I adjourn an emerging leaders forum for high potential employees, I’m reminded that the traditional notion of leadership as top-down is no longer valid. The 21st century is calling for a new brand of leadership, one that is holistic in nature and summons from within. The call is for a deeper level of self-awareness and self-discovery than traditional leadership concepts enabled. This type of leadership is a bottom-up shared approach that emphasizes internal qualities rather than external status. It’s what I refer to as inner leadership.
Inner leadership is a learned set of capabilities born out of strong commitment and passion to an idea or cause. It capitalizes on the whole person by integrating authentic leadership qualities into all aspects of life. The assumption of inner leadership is that we all have talents and contributions that are needed to foster organizational success. Since we all share in the responsibility of creating a better society, leading others begins with leading oneself. While you may not be able to influence change from the top of your organization, you do have the innate ability to identify creative ways to drive change from behind or from the middle, which can be especially effective during times of transition and transformation.
Be-Attitudes of Inner Leadership
Regardless of your current professional status, you can become a strong and impactful leader and initiate powerful change in your organization and community by creating an environment where you are fully utilized. The following be-attitudes can help you take the initiative to lead from within.
Be passionate. Passion provides an internal spark to get you moving and an internal flame to keep you going. It engages mind, body and spirit in pursuing possibilities by having the innate belief that people want to work together to create the best future imaginable.
Be authentic. Grounding yourself in truth means knowing who and why you are. You understand and can articulate your purpose, gifts, talents, vision, values and beliefs. You also recognize your strengths and shortcomings, and are not afraid to admit either.
Be adaptable. Our natural preferences are to maintain the status quo, but today’s complex issues require the ability to readily adapt to changing conditions. Sharpen your adaptability skills by: (1) engaging curiosity; (2) inviting and accepting diverse perspectives; (3) anticipating change; and (4) creating value-added solutions.
Be credible. Credibility is the cornerstone of effective leadership. When you are credible you demonstrate personal integrity by being honest and consistent in thought, speech and action and following through on your commitments.
Be ethical. Selfish ambition disconnects us from others. Ethical behavior enhances the well-being of everyone because it stems from positive motives and emotions such as love, compassion, and generosity. Setting the standard as an effective leader means keeping your actions above reproach.
Be an expert. Knowledge is a leader’s greatest resource. Become an expert in your field by immersing yourself in the chosen subject matter through reading, thought-provoking dialogue and conference/workshop attendance.
Be open. Actively listen to and understand others’ point of view, even if it conflicts with your own. While you may have great ideas, other perspectives do exist; so don’t hesitate to leverage diverse points of view to achieve more extraordinary results.
Be facilitative. The art of leadership hinges on the ability to enable others to succeed. In helping others we help ourselves. Rather than hoarding your knowledge and skills, seek ways to create win/win situations by turning competition into collaboration.
Be big-picture focused. Focus on the overall job to be done, rather than your individual role in completing tasks. Create a vision for yourself and think strategically about concepts and ideas that you can use to enhance your job and performance. This way, you’re better prepared to anticipate and capitalize on change.
Be a prudent risk-taker. Risk taking involves a willingness to advocate unconventional positions, take a new approach, or tackle challenging problems without obvious solutions. Taking calculated risks is a great way to stimulate creativity and innovation. It also obligates you to take full responsibility for failures and successes.
Be positive. Harness the power of optimism by making a positive commitment to yourself to: (1) stay focused on what really matters; (2) view change as an opportunity for personal and professional growth; (3) assume that others have the best intentions; (4) look for the value in every situation; and (5) modify your self-talk, because you are what you think.
Inner leadership is a critical skill to be developed, but it allows you to tap into your internal sources of freedom and power to move boulders, create change and enjoy long-term success. In the words of John Quincy Adams, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
Until Next Time,
When clients ask me how they can differentiate themselves from the competition and add increased value, I like to use the “birds of a feather” axiom. If you want to make a fresh start and revolutionize your future, read on.
As you consider ways to differentiate yourself, consider the differences between the chicken and the eagle. Chickens cluster in flocks at ground level, and among their population a pecking order exists. This pecking order seldom changes because weaker chickens lack the courage to confront stronger ones. While chickens have sophisticated social skills, they’re fearful of the unfamiliar, so play it safe and stick with what they know. Chickens produce for a few years, then they either become unproductive, or die.
Eagles, on the other hand, are spectacular birds that represent power and success. Their eyes are keen and always alert for opportunities. Unlike chickens, eagles build their nests on high. They continue to build year after year until their nests are as much as nine feet high. From this vantage point, they’re able to see the big picture. Eagles soar on the currents of the wind, reaching great heights above the earth in peaceful solitude.
The chicken and the eagle are both birds, but they approach life differently. Like the majestic eagle, you must rise above ground level to sharpen your vision, so you’re not influenced by negativity and impossibility. So what are you going to do… hang with the chickens, or soar with the eagles?
Until Next Time,
In the midst of difficult times, it’s easy to become disenchanted or overcome by fear to the point of stagnation. Maybe you’re wondering if you will have a job tomorrow. Maybe you’re feeling uninspired and unmotivated after being in the same rut for a long time. Maybe you’re standing at a crossroads pondering what to do with the rest of your life. Whatever your circumstances, it’s important to understand that during uncertain economic times you are compensated for the value that you bring to the organization. To deliver that value, you must create the conditions that will evoke greater possibilities.
Repositioning for Greater Success
If you do not have a measurable response to the question, “Why should we hire you, or keep you employed?” perhaps it’s time to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack by increasing your market value. Here are five ways to strategically position yourself for greater success:
1. Reassess your value proposition. Your value proposition describes what you produce in terms of tangible business results. A value proposition grows out of need. So think of yourself as a provider of solutions that satisfy or address unmet needs, key inefficiencies or significant performance gaps. Make the competition irrelevant by identifying innovative ways to cut costs, enhance revenue, improve performance and efficiency or increase quality. This establishes a clear distinction between you and others in a way that draws interest and support and expands opportunities.
2. Take action over the things which you can control. Dwelling on things you cannot control breeds anger, resentment, anxiety, frustration and depression. These feelings, in turn, lead to manipulative behaviors. Stop squandering your health, integrity and productivity and shift your attention to those things that are within your control. You can control your thoughts, attitudes, choices, actions and contributions. Train your mind to self-correct by asking yourself, “What aspect(s) of this situation can I control?” Then develop a viable plan of action.
3. Rebuild your capabilities. Rather than defining yourself by your title or job, emphasize your capabilities and transferable skills. If you’re unemployed, your job is under siege or you’re preparing for your next job, turn crisis into opportunity by rebuilding your capabilities for long-term growth: disassemble your sphere of comfort; design a strategy to propel you to the next level; apply enough pressure to stretch the outer limits of your thinking; align your strengths to address critical and challenging needs; cut yourself some slack because progress takes time; install an entrepreneurial mindset to create continuous opportunity; calibrate your internal compass to keep you on track; grind any distractions, unreasonable goals and expectations; prime your passion to withstand any doubts; supply sufficient effort to exceed specifications; and test your complete system. Now you’re ready to launch yourself towards new endeavors!
4. Manage your expectations. While it’s important to maintain a vision of the future, managing your expectations is a key part of framing your success. This does not mean lowering your expectations, having realistic guidelines. Our expectations are usually based on what we want to happen, which may not be the best course of action. Expectations can alter your sense of reality, so take an honest look at your situation before exploring options. Be open to new ways of thinking and learning and take proactive steps to achieve your desired outcomes.
5. Maintain an attitude of gratitude. Energy flows where attention goes and whatever you consistently think about expands. Focusing on what you don’t want or have creates a downward spiral of negativity and despair. Gratitude keeps you centered, turns chaos into clarity and unlocks the fullness of life. Acknowledge the people and things in your life that bring about joy and empowerment. Reflect on the ways that you’ve achieved success (by your own definition). Stay focused on what really matters and view change as an opportunity for personal and professional transformation. Seek the hidden value in every situation… and stop sweating the small stuff!
Onward and Upward
Life is full of choices and opportunities, if we have the courage to seek them. Starting today, consider yourself a brand. Seize each moment by expanding your focus and taking responsibility for your challenges and successes, one building block at a time.
Until Next Time,
Technological advances have limited our attention span to the point where we believe we must achieve as much as possible in less time, or we’re doomed for failure. But don’t be deceived, multitasking is a myth that creates a false sense of accomplishment as we rush from project to project, without doing any one thing well.
Continuously dividing your attention between multiple tasks causes you to lose focus, minimizing any deep fulfillment that you ever hope to experience. To be truly effective, you must emphasize quality over quantity, so here are nine ways to boost productivity by taking a more intentional approach to goal achievement:
1. Be clear about your priorities. Know exactly what you need to get done and by when, and schedule your time accordingly.
2. Scrap the To-Do List. It’s nothing more than an annoying reminder of how much you haven’t gotten done. Add tasks as an appointment on your calendar and dedicate that time for getting them done.
3. Delegate responsibly. Delegation frees up time for more opportunities; but simply off-loading tasks that you don’t want to do can come back to bite you. Before delegating, quickly decide if it makes sense. If so, determine to whom you should delegate the task by considering individual skills, abilities and workload.
4. Focus on the moment. Eliminate distractions and focus your attention and energy on the task at hand. Urgent tasks will arise from time to time, so it’s important to recognize the difference between what’s urgent and what appears to be urgent.
5. Handle correspondence once. Whenever correspondence comes across your desk, handle it only once. If the message requires more thought or action add it to your calendar. If it’s FYI, print it or store it in an electronic reference file. If it’s junk mail, trash it.
6. Minimize interruptions. Interruptions break concentration, and it takes about 10-15 minutes to regain focus. Cut idle chatter short and schedule a mutual time to connect with colleagues. Turn off e-mail notification and schedule periodic e-mail checks. Instead of answering every phone call, allow callers to leave a message and set aside a specific time to return calls.
7. Build in time for creativity. Rather than reacting to everything that comes your way, carve out time each week to focus on creativity so that you can make more valuable contributions to your organization.
8. Know your body. Know when your energy level is highest by monitoring your productivity. Use this time to tackle your most important tasks first.
9. Take time for self-renewal. Keeping your nose to the grindstone leads to burnout, resentment and physical ailments. Take small breaks between tasks to re-energize and re-focus. Dedicate time each week to self-renewal by doing something that brings you joy.
Losing a few minutes here and there may seem insignificant, but when translating those minutes into hours, multitasking has far-reaching consequences. The next time you find yourself getting sucked into this productivity-busting phenomenon, consider the overall costs to yourself, your staff and your organization.
Until Next Time,