The Gift of Dialogue

Dear Friends,

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,

Mary

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5 Principles for Navigating Conflict

Dear Friends,

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,

Mary

Conflict Transformation: A Path to Inner and Outer Peace

Dear Friends,

How many times have you been involved in a conflict situation and said something that you later regretted? Or attempted to avoid the situation altogether, or adopted a passive-aggressive approach only to find yourself plagued by a lingering feeling of unfinished business? While we each deal with conflict in our own way, this highly charged word presents an opportunity for growth, development and social change.

Conflict is not inherently bad, but a natural outcome of multiple realities, diverse frames of reference and contrasting stories. We often assume that we share a single reality with others. When that doesn’t happen, we are suddenly suspended in confusion which prompts us to search for shared meaning and understanding.

At a surface level, conflict stems from a threat to our fundamental needs such as a sense of meaning, self-efficacy, safety, control and recognition. But at a microscopic level, we find conflict deeply rooted in the perception of limited power, recognition and resources whereby the aim is to neutralize or eliminate opposing forces.

The Transformative Approach to Conflict

Conflict transformation is a holistic process of engaging with conflict. It differs from conflict management and conflict resolution approaches in that its goal is to use the potential destructive energy of a disagreement (competitiveness, aggressiveness or violence) to transform it into a more constructive process. Rather than perceiving conflict as a threat to be resisted, the transformative approach views it as a natural part of the human experience to be embraced. Instead of focusing on the surface levels of disputes, conflict transformation encourages us to develop creative change processes through less visible aspects of volatile situations.

To transform conflict, you must reframe your perceptions and approaches to disharmony. This means choosing what the event means to you, actively deciding how you will be impacted by it and where you will focus your attention to see things in a more positive light.

Reframing Your Perceptions

The following strategies can help you reframe your thoughts about and approaches to conflict.

Address issues early. Confront issues before they spiral out of control. Avoiding an issue doesn’t make it disappear, but induces stress, increases miscommunication, reduces collaboration and problem solving capacity and leads to mistrust. Once you’ve sat with your feelings and determined what you want, assert yourself by expressing your sentiment. Perfection is not necessary, since your intention is not to manipulate, take down or even the score with the other party. Your goal is to share your needs and desires in a way that does not undermine the relationship or your self-respect.

Engage at a deeper level. Engaging with others is a first step in understanding diverse values, beliefs and perspectives. Deeply listening to other perspectives through thoughtful dialogue is a humbling experience in that it forces you out of your self-justifications with an openness to the possibility of discovery and reconciliation. Dialogue differs from discussion and debate which both involve — to some extent — advancing a position, making a point or striving to win.

Honest dialogue involves the heart, mind and body. The mind produces creative ideas that can be generated through thoughtful discourse; the heart contains emotional memories and deeply held attitudes and core values that need to be addressed; and the body stores unpleasant experiences in its cells. In order for reconciliation to be complete, there must be a positive effect resulting from engagement at each of these three levels.

Separate people from problems.  Making people the problem keeps you stuck and increases the risk of destroying relationships, which can lead to deeper problems. Focus your attention on the issue and not the person. Demonstrate curiosity by asking probing questions: “What are the reasons behind this person’s position?” “What are their real intentions?” “What might I learn from their position?” “How might we work together to produce more creative solutions to meet both our needs?” This deepens your understanding of what the conflict is really about, helps you gain perspective by focusing on interests (win/win) instead of positions (win/lose), and allows you to better discern the other party’s intentions. This strengthens relationships and facilitates forward movement.

Assume self-responsibility. While you may think you’re an ‘expert’ in uncovering the faults of others, blaming and judging is a double-edge sword. It puts others on the defensive and exacerbates the situation. Assuming full responsibility for self allows you to stop and acknowledge how your own feelings of fear and powerlessness may be contributing to the situation. Self-responsibility paves the way to grasp how you might be limiting your effectiveness by getting in your own way. It helps you face the realities about yourself and places you in an empowering position to make more thoughtful decisions and choose more constructive approaches.

Until Next Time,

Mary

 

Why the Butt-Naked Truth Pisses Us Off

Dear Friends,

According to a famous Buddhist quote, “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”  Yet, at some point in our lives we’ve all been in possession of some morsel of truth that we’ve chosen not to divulge because we were uncertain how it would be received, interpreted or used against us by others.

History has produced abundant maxims regarding truth.  For example, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius’ advice to his son Laertes is, “This above all: to thine own self be true… thou canst not then be false to any man.”  Former English Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill remarked, Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” Celebrated author Maxim Gorky argued, To speak the truth is the most difficult of all arts, for in its ‘pure’ form, not connected with the interests of individuals, groups, classes, or nations….”  English writer and poet Walter Savage Landor mused, “Truth, like the juice of the poppy, in small quantities, calms men; in larger, heats and irritates them, and is attended by fatal consequences in its excess.” And feminist Gloria Steinem is well-known for her pithy quip, “The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off” (which just so happens to be the inspiration for this article).  

What is Truth?

Scientifically, truth is based on evidence or reason. Nonetheless, one can argue that truth is a subjective term that is based on individual feelings, opinions and experiences.  Whether you view it from a scientific or subjective position, there is a fundamental truth that lies at the core of each human being that cannot be escaped or ignored in our attempt to reach higher ground.

While truth is considered by some a path to freedom, it is by no means a linear path. There are many confusing and conflicting hairpin turns along the way.  Because it can threaten our very sense of reality, it’s not surprising that many people would rather evade truth and cling to self-constructed illusions. 

Reasons We Bury the Truth

Telling the truth can produce tremendous discomfort, not to mention its inherent – real or perceived – consequences.  Here are three reasons why we prefer to bury the truth: 

1.  Inner Conflict.  Inner conflict is a psychological struggle.  When truth invites us to examine aspects of ourselves and challenge our beliefs, assumptions and ideologies, it creates an internal war that leaves us with difficult choices, wondering which path to take.  Oftentimes, we choose the path of least resistance.

2.  Escape.  Not having to face the truth means we can ignore – at least temporarily – our problems.  We can continue to operate within a false realm of reality to avoid dealing with unpleasant people, events and situations.

3.  Fear.  Facing the truth is a scary thing that has the potential of taking us places we’d rather not go.  Fundamentally, we all have insecurities about who we are, how we present to others, and what we are capable of achieving.  Yet, we have an idealized self and live our lives based on that idealization.  The revelations of truth can quickly deconstruct any false notions or appearances that we are trying to uphold.  To uncover the truth of our core being would unravel the defenses we have stitched together to protect our vulnerabilities.

Using Anger as a Mask

We have elaborate ways of hiding the truth.  Our reasons are varied and not always understood.  Yet, regardless of our chosen defenses, the emotion that we most openly and frequently express when confronted with truth is: anger.   This is because anger is considered a normal, human emotion that is easy to identify with.  It’s also a powerful emotion, ranging in intensity that keeps others at a distance when we’re feeling most vulnerable.

Evading the truth is emotionally, psychologically, and physically damaging.  While introspection can be a painful and uncomfortable process, there is no long-term escape from internal truth.  Facing your truth is the first step in self-accountability and self-improvement.  Whatever that truth is and once you own it, you will feel better about yourself, enjoy a more meaningful existence, and walk more confidently in your life’s purpose.

Until Next Time,

Mary

5 Reasons Why We Judge

Dear Friends,

How often have you passed judgment about someone or have had someone pass judgment about you?  Either way, a judgmental attitude says more about us than those that we judge. 

To judge is to form an opinion or draw a conclusion about another.  In theory, judgment comes after carefully weighing evidence and testing assumptions.  However, it’s easy to blind ourselves to our own evil, because when we judge others, it puts us in a position of pseudo power.  Yet, we can’t rely on our own judgment when our psyche is out of focus.  Why do we judge others?

Low Self-Esteem.  Self-esteem is an intimate experience that resides at the core of our being.  Low self-esteem is an emotional impairment in which we devalue our own worth.  This unfavorable impression reflects a lack of confidence in ourselves and a fundamental belief that others are better than we are.

Self-Righteousness.  Self-righteousness is a narrow-minded conviction of being morally superior to others.  Through feelings of self-righteousness, we believe that our own moral standards and behaviors are perfect.

Emotional Insecurity.  People who are emotionally insecure perceive the world as a hostile, unpredictable and dangerous place where others are always out to get them.  This perception triggers a general uneasiness, resulting in a breakdown in the individual’s overall emotional stability.

Jealousy and Envy.  While these terms are often used interchangeably, there is a difference.  Jealousy is being anxiously suspicious of having something taken away from us.  Envy is holding a grudge against someone because we want what they have.  Both are damaging to the soul.

Prejudice.  To be prejudice is to prejudge.  Prejudice stems from our preconceived unfavorable opinions and beliefs about people that are neither fact- nor experience-based.  Whether it’s racism, sexism, classism, ageism, nationalism, sectarianism or any other ‘ism,’ prejudice negatively affects our world view, attitudes and behaviors.

Overcoming a Critical Spirit

Finding fault with others is easy, because our expectations lead us to judgment.  However, instead of making us feel better about ourselves, judging others binds us to our own selfish interests and shortcomings.  

Overcoming a lifetime of conditioning takes time and hard work. Because we’re so close to ourselves, we often lose objectivity and fail to see the obvious.  Nonetheless, there is light inside our dark, closed off spaces.  To find that light, we must engage in deep self-reflection and begin recognizing and nurturing our own value, since it all begins with self.  How we see others is one thing, but how we see ourselves is everything.

Until Next Time,

Mary

 

Bouncing Back from Brokenness

Dear Friends,

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
  • Incarceration
  • 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,

Mary

The Anatomy of Leadership

Dear Friends,

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,

Mary