Getting caught out not listening

 

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” ― Ernest Hemingway

Ok. I’ll admit it. It was me.   

What on earth are you talking about Summerhayes? Have you finally lost the plot? Gone off the rails? Decided to enter the loony bin? Nope. I am admitting something, I’ve always kept hidden.

For year and years.

I didn’t listen and focus on the conversation.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it. However, for years, I have had this habit of appearing to listen whilst doing something else. For example, I often, read something one e:mail as I speak to someone face-2-face. At work, I will sit in meetings and whilst someone is talking, I will be checking emails, responding to queries and the like.

Hang on though. Everyone does it, don’t they?

You see many people doing the same thing. They will be reading something on their laptops, whilst at the same time, appearing to be in a conversation.

It has become a habit to many people. A habit that is both unhelpful to me, but worse, impacts those around me.

So how do you try to fix it?

I am striving to change the way I listen and interact with people. I have come up with an eight-point an eight-point Check out my ideas below:

Point 1: Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.
From that moment on, I have locked my laptop; put my mobile phone down and faced the speaker. How on earth do you think they feel if you are looking at everything but them?

Point 2: Be attentive, but relaxed.
Be present with the person and give attention to what they are saying. After all, it is important to them. I am mentally screening out distractions, like background activity and noise. It helps in my case that I wear glasses. I have even taken them off, so that I can “see” the person, rather than all the other distractions in the room. Don’t be distracted by your own thoughts, feelings, or biases and pay attention to them.

Point 3: Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying.
Allow your mind to create a mental model of the information being communicated. Whether a literal picture, or an arrangement of abstract concepts, your brain will do the necessary work if you stay focused, with senses fully alert. When listening for long stretches, concentrate on, and remember, key words and phrases.

Point 4: Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your “solutions” on them.
I can not count the number of times, I have interrupted someone and made a suggestion to solve a problem. It has been one of my “traits” for years and I have grown to hate doing it. We all think and speak at different rates – the average person utters anywhere from 125 to 175 words per minute. However, we can read upwards of 500 to 700 words per minute. Hence, a really clear reason why we end up “zoning out”. If you are a quick thinker and an agile talker, the burden is on you to relax your pace for the slower, more thoughtful communicator—or for the person who has trouble expressing himself.

When listening to someone talk about a problem, refrain from suggesting solutions. Most of us don’t want your advice anyway. If they do, they would ask for it. Most people prefer to figure out our their solutions to their problems.

Point 5: Wait for the speaker to pause to ask any clarifying questions.
When you don’t understand something, of course you should ask the person to explain it to you. But rather than interrupt, wait until the person pauses. Then say something like, “Hang on a moment, I didn’t quite understand what you just said about…”

Point 6: Ask questions to ensure understanding.
Be careful of asking questions that take people down “rat holes”. Our questions can lead people in directions that have nothing to do with where they thought they were going. Sometimes we work our way back to the original topic, but very often we don’t.

When you notice that your question has led the speaker astray, take responsibility for getting the conversation back on track by rephrasing the last part of their conversation. In effect, getting them to reset where they are in their thought processes.

Point 7: Empathy. Try to feel what the speaker is feeling.
If you feel sad when the person with whom you are talking expresses sadness, joyful when they express joy, fearful when they describe their fears—and convey those feelings through your facial expressions and words—then your effectiveness as a listener is assured. Empathy is the heart and soul of good listening.

finally and the most difficult point is, Point 8: Keep an open mind.
Listen without judging the other person or mentally criticizing the things they tell you. If what they say worries you, go ahead and feel worried, but don’t say to yourself, “Well, that was a stupid move.” As soon as you indulge in judgmental thoughts, you’ve compromised your effectiveness as a listener.

Listen without jumping to conclusions. Remember that the speaker is using language to represent the thoughts and feelings inside their brain. You don’t know what those thoughts and feelings are and the only way you’ll find out is by listening.

I have found that I need to keep my “feedback” to myself. I have learnt to pause, before responding and sometimes replay back to the speaker a summary of what they have said, both to show that I have listened, as well as to cross check my understanding.

 

Agree? Disagree? Please feel free to comment and share.

I leave you with the following quote.

“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.” ― Roy T. Bennett

Fears, Worries and anxieties?

Above all, we don’t know the future. It’s the other side of our dependence on chance. Things can get slightly better for reasons it’s hard to foresee. Just as pleasures fade and can seem meaningless in retrospect, so pains (at least sometimes) can pass or soften. The School of Life, on Feeling Depressed

Stress is an unavoidable part of modern life.

There are two main kinds of stress — acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress is the reaction to an immediate threat, commonly known as the “fight or flight” response.

Chronic stress — the kind most of us face day in, day out — is a killer.

However, what does not help is that we pile even more onto ourselves in terms of fears. worries and anxieties into the chronic stress mix.

I came across a really great phrase that seems to capture the idea of fears. worries and anxieties. The phrase came from Henry David Thoreau. He talked about “quiet desperation: a large, grey hinterland in which beneath an outward surface of endurance, we feel exhausted, close to tears, beyond the sympathetic understanding of others, easily irritated and daunted by the simplest task”. Perhaps we should call it “Thoreau stress”.

Many situations can trigger it. Work. Family. Friends. A social situation.

People try to hide their feelings. We can all put on a facade of fake happiness. I am sure we have all done it in the past. It is hard to maintain and since it is false, people quickly see through it. This makes it even harder as people around you know that there is something not right, but because you can not share, it places a double bind on the whole thing.

I have experienced it and I am sure those that are reading this have experienced it too. It is not something that comes upon you quickly and then fades as quickly. Rather it is something that builds over time. Normally based on a constant pressure that you are trying to cope with.

You might feel that it is all “your fault”. But it is not. I have come to realise that many times, it is self-talk and not stepping back from the situation that piles on the pressure. In addition, you can get caught up in your own emotions and feelings. As I call it “self-ruminating”, over the same situation or course of events.

Tasks and activities; even talking, can become hard. You might lose focus. You might feel that you can not move forward, sideways or even backwards. Stuck in a hinterland of fears, worries and anxiety.

For me, my continuing journey with Mindfulness helps. Is is the cure-all? No. Absolutely not.

I still get those feelings and can get caught up in those Thoreau moments. The first step on any journey is to recognise where you are and that is the case for me now. When those moments come, I know that they are happening. I can recognise the signs. With the mindfulness programmes I have done, I know I can do a breathing exercise; or a body scan; or even mindful walking. The last one is the one I find the best for me.

I have always loved getting out in the fresh air. Walking in the countryside. I combine this with a deliberate walking exercise. And it certainly helps. Does it fix everything? No. But as the quote at the start of the article says “Above all, we don’t know the future. It’s the other side of our dependence on chance. “ And that is what I believe in.

By the way. The photo I am using, was from a recent walk. Enjoy.

The article that inspired this blog can be found at:

http://www.thebookoflife.org/on-feeling-depressed/

I leave you with the following quote:

“If only we could see into the minds of strangers, friends and loved ones we would feel so much less alone and recognise we are all feeling similar things. Hopes. Dreams. Fears. Desires. Wanting to connect. “

 

 

Attitiude 7 – Letting Go

“If you want to forget something or someone, never hate it, or never hate him or her. Everything and everyone that you hate is engraved upon your heart; if you want to let go of something, if you want to forget, you cannot hate.” ― C. JoyBell C.

This is last of the seven attitudes that Jon-Kabat-Zinn believes are the basis for Mindfulness.

so what is Letting Go?

Definition: Letting our experience be what it is.

  • Letting go is a way of letting things be, of accepting things as they are rather than striving all the time to hold onto something
  • We let things go and we just watch…
  • If we find it particularly difficult to let go of something because it has such a strong hold on our mind, we can direct our attention to what ‘holding’ feels like. Holding on is the opposite of letting go. Being willing to look at the ways we hold on shows a lot about its opposite.
  • You already know how to let go… Every night when we go to sleep we let go.

This is the last and in some cases the most difficult of the attitudes of Mindfulness. It is the one that I have the biggest difficulty with. Relationships. Family. Work. Life itself. I find letting go so hard. I used to jump in and try to cling onto something when I thought I was loosing “control; a relationship; a work situation”. Almost anything. 

For me, nothing worked to help minimise the feeling of loss. Until that is, I came to Mindfulness. It has only been through both the daily formal and also the informal practice have I come to recognise where I try to cling and in so doing, get even more caught up in the situation.

Rather, in our meditation practice, I see my thoughts, body sensations, and feelings, come and go, over and over again. With time I have become better at intentionally letting them go. God, it is hard. Sometimes it is almost a conscious effort. Others, I just feel as if I am moving thorugh the moment. 

As I continue my practice and become more comfortable with it, I see that this is not unlike life. Everything in life changes, in the outer world and in our inner world; the more clearly I see this, the easier it is to let things go. See for yourself if it causes discomfort to hold on tightly to things. Keep in mind it is also very natural to cling to the things we love and want or believe are important to our well-being, so we don’t have to force ourselves to let go.

Using trust, acceptance, non-striving, patience, beginner’s mind and non-judging can lead us to the ability to let go.

The video where Jon describes the Letting Go attitude can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBCithP9JrM&list=PLkgahhWgJW97ADlyc2BYMwOD8wZjcBZ8D&index=7
I leave you with the following quote which really struck me.

“This life is what you make it. No matter what, you’re going to mess up sometimes, it’s a universal truth. But the good part is you get to decide how you’re going to mess it up. Girls will be your friends – they’ll act like it anyway. But just remember, some come, some go. The ones that stay with you through everything – they’re your true best friends. Don’t let go of them. Also remember sisters make the best friends in the world. As for lovers, well, they’ll come and go too. And baby, I hate to say it, most of them – actually pretty much all of them are going to break your heart, but you can’t give up because if you give up, you’ll never find your soulmate. You’ll never find that half who makes you whole and that goes for everything. Just because you fail once, doesn’t mean you’re gonna fail at everything. Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie? So keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most importantly, keep smiling, because life’s a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.” ― Marilyn Monroe

Change is the only constant

“Forgive the past. It is over. Learn from it and let go. People are constantly changing and growing. Do not cling to a limited, disconnected, negative image of a person in the past. See that person now. Your relationship is always alive and changing.” ― Brian L. Weiss, Messages from the Masters: Tapping Into the Power of Love

Spending time reading at the weekend, I have come to regard as a pleasure.

Getting up early and sitting with a book; reading on my kindle or on-line; I get lost in the words; the story; the journey. I have always read, ever since I can remember. I was known as the “bookworm” in my family. I can recall reading under the bed covers as a very young child; using a very old fashioned rectangular blue torch to shine the light onto the printed page as I devoured the story; gripped by the plot and the characters. Then would come the inevitable “Put that light out and go to sleep” from my mother.

Anyway, back to now. An article in a newspaper has prompted me to reflect on change why it is constant. Whilst reading the article “The secret of happiness? Live life in the slow lane”, I was struck by one small section:

“Things I liked when I was young but now couldn’t care less about: aeroplane journeys, all-you-can-eat buffets, horror movies, staying up all night. Things I enjoy now I am older: Mozart, brown rice, meditation, spending time alone, regular exercise. We change without realising it. We are in the midst of change now.”

I stopped what I was reading and realised that life has been a constant change. The words in bold are key to the next series of thoughts I had.

When I was young, I liked: Horror movies.Staying up late or even all night. Reading fiction and especially horror and fantasy. Getting out on my bike. Being with my mates down the park.

In my middle years, I liked: Science programmes. Reading about World War II. Going to the gym. Chasing girls. Listening to 1980’s pop music.

Now, I like: Listening to podcasts. Listening to classical music and modern classical composers like Ludovico Einaudi. Meditation. And I have rediscovered a need for exercise to try to be healthy.

Throughout all of my life, I have lived a life of constant change. Change that has been almost unnoticed. It was only by pausing and reflecting this morning, that I recognised, even for those things that we feel are constant, like our taste in music, or reading or films; change happens. So imagine, if you will, those major changes in your life? Relationships. Work. home. Places you have lived. Those are not changes. They are more like transformations.

For instance, we transform ourselves for others when we start relationships. I am reading (yes, I know, I’m repeating myself) a fascinating book by Alain de Botton on The Course of Love. You may disagree but think for a moment about a recent or even current relationship you are in. I can guarantee that you are not the same person who started that relationship. You have changed, and quite possibly, you will notice that the other person has changed as well. If you write down what attracted you to the person when you first met them and compare it to your feels now, there will be a difference.

We transform ourselves when we start a new job. Certainly, when you move companies. The company culture will be different. The people’s work practices will be different to what you might have experienced in a previous employer. Even if you are self-employed, you may find that you approach a new client in a different way to an old client.

Finally, homes. It is a given than when we move into a new home; whether rented or owned; we want to change it. Put our mark on it. Paint it. Decorate it. Furnish it with our stuff. Even when you are our looking at potential new places to live, I know you will make comments like “If we change that, or move that….” as part of the decision process.

So change is a constant. So is transformations. Life is a journey that we all go on. As it is Saturday, I will return to my reading. Whatever you are doing this day. Enjoy and I hope you have a pleasant weekend.

The article, I read is here, if you are interested.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4258372/The-secret-happiness-Live-life-slow-lane.html

I leave you with the following quote.

“Change is a funny thing. We never are quite sure what we are becoming or even why. Then one day we look at ourselves and wonder who we are and how we got that way. Only one thing about change remains constant…it is always painful”

Jodi Picoult, The Tenth Circle

Dealing with difficult discussions?

““Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.” ― Socrates

In the world of work having difficult conversations, whether it is with your boss, a co-worker or a customer, are an inevitable part of management. How should you prepare for this kind of discussion? How do you find the right words in the moment? And, how can you manage the exchange so that it goes as smoothly as possible?

What the Experts Say
“We’ve all had bad experiences with these kinds of conversations in the past,” says Holly Weeks, the author of Failure to Communicate. Perhaps your boss lashed out at you during a heated discussion, or your direct report started to cry during a performance review; maybe your client hung up the phone on you. As a result, we tend to avoid them. But that’s not the right answer. After all, tough conversations “are not black swans,” says Jean-Francois Manzoni, professor of human resources and organisational development at INSEAD. The key is to learn how to handle them in a way that produces “a better outcome: less pain for you, and less pain for the person you’re talking to,” he says. Here’s how to get what you need from these hard conversations — while also keeping your relationships intact.

Change your mindset
If you’re gearing up for a conversation you’ve labelled “difficult,” you’re more likely to feel nervous and upset about it beforehand. Instead, try “framing it in a positive, less binary” way, suggests Manzoni. For instance, you’re not giving negative performance feedback; you’re having a constructive conversation about development. You’re not telling your boss: no; you’re offering up an alternate solution. “A difficult conversation tends to go best when you think about it as a just a normal conversation,” says Weeks.

Breathe
“The more calm and centred you are, the better you are at handling difficult conversations,” says Manzoni. He recommends: “taking regular breaks” throughout the day to practice “mindful breathing.” This helps you “refocus” and “gives you the ability to absorb any blows” that come your way. This technique also works well in the moment. If, for example, a colleague comes to you with an issue that might lead to a hard conversation, excuse yourself —get a cup of coffee or take a brief stroll around the office — and collect your thoughts.

Plan but don’t script
It can help to plan what you want to say by jotting down notes and key points before your conversation. Drafting a script, however, is a waste of time. “It’s very unlikely that it will go according to your plan,” says Weeks. Your counterpart doesn’t know “his lines,” so when he “goes off script, you have no forward motion” and the exchange “becomes weirdly artificial.” Your strategy for the conversation should be “flexible” and contain “a repertoire of possible responses,” says Weeks. Your language should be “simple, clear, direct, and neutral,” she adds.

MY HELPFUL TIP: Rather, I use a technique I picked up as part of a retreat. It is called “Pause, Reflect, Act”.

When I find myself in a stressful situation or in a discussion at home or at work, there comes a point where you get caught up in the moment, diving into the words and not recognising the context and flow. That is when this technique comes into its own. I say the words in my head. You might have them written down on a piece of paper. You might even count the fingers on your hand. Whatever works for you.

That split second pause before you answer is just enough to give yourself a moment to reflect on “am I reacting to the way someone is saying something. AKA, I am feeling threatened / rejected / lost / alone / whatever” or what is it I want to communicate.

Do I remember to do this all the time? No. Does it help when I do? Absolutely. Is it something I have shared at work and at home? Yes. And it has helped.

This technique, along with regular mindfulness practice has certainly helped me to create a more integrated life. I know I still have many “life boxes that I manage”, but they are far fewer than I had before and I certainly feel that life is a road easier to travel.

I leave you with the following quote.
“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” [Address at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa, 23 November 2004]” ― Desmond Tutu

Do you manage boxes or live a life?

“We put labels on boxes.  All thoughts, all words are labels on boxes; therefore we feel we have to get everything boxed, and so we put ourselves in boxes. Everything is put in boxes,  but actually everything in nature doesn’t go that way.” Alan Watts

Someone challenged me the other day that I was living a life in a series of boxes. Now before you think to yourself, what on earth prompted that conversation, take a moment, as I did to reflect on the context.

Do you?  Manage relationships? Manage family situations? Manage to get your work done, or not at your place of employment? Manage your finances? Manage social interactions? For each of these and many more, we have a habit of constructing a mental box around yourself and that particular element of your life and then manage within the “mental box”.

For years, I separated my “work life” from my “personal life”. Reflecting now, I have no idea why, but I did. It is only in the past five years or so, that I have stopped worrying about any interaction between. In the past few years, I have come to accept many more of the “mental boxes” that I have are just that, “mental boxes”. Personal constructions of how I have created a life. I have come to realise that it is me that turns up for work every day. Just as it is me that goes home at night. And more importantly, how you carry your thoughts and feelings across your day.

As someone commented to me the other day “I don’t think I had any idea who you really were. You have changed so much from what I thought you were.  It reminds me to be aware that there’s always more to people than you know.”

For some people, living their lives in a series of boxes works for them. For others, like me, it does not. If you are in the second camp, there are many different ways to bring aspects of your divided life together. Some people have friendship groups that span work, family and friends. Some use counselling or other talking therapies to help. I happen to use mindfulness.

Not the sitting in silence, meditation version.

HELPFUL TIP: I use the present moment practice. This is a short, 3 minute practice that you can use throughout the day to bring yourself back to the present moment. I have no idea why this works to bring about a more unified perception. Perhaps it is because it is more about the present moment. If you would like to give the practice a go, the instructions are as follows:-

Step 1: Becoming aware

  • Deliberately adopt an erect and dignified posture, whether sitting or standing. If possible, close your eyes. Then, bring your awareness to your inner experience and acknowledge it, asking: what is my experience right now?
  • What thoughts are going through the mind? As best you can, acknowledge thoughts as mental events.Don’t judge them.
  • What feelings are here? Turn towards any sense of discomfort or unpleasant feelings, acknowledging them without trying to make them different from how you find them.
  • What body sensations are here right now? Perhaps quickly scan the body to pick up any sensations of tightness or bracing, acknowledging the sensations, but, once again, not trying to change them in any way.

Step 2: gathering and focusing attention

  • Now, redirect the attention to a narrow ‘spotlight’ on the physical sensations of the breath, move in close to the physical sensations of the breath in the abdomen . . . expanding as the breath comes in . . . and falling back as the breath goes out.
  • Follow the breath all the way in and all the way out. Use each breath as an opportunity to anchor yourself into the present. And if the mind wanders, gently escort the attention back to the breath.

Step 3: expanding attention

  • Now, expand the field of awareness around the breathing so that it includes a sense of the body as a whole, your posture and facial expression, as if the whole body was breathing.
  • Aware of the whole body, moment by moment.

And that is that. Go on give it a try and do let me know how you get on.

I leave you with the following quote.

“Often, it’s not about becoming a new person, but becoming the person you were meant to be, and already are, but don’t know how to be.” ― Heath L. Buckmaster,