by Marjorie R. Johnson LCSW, PCC
Jane was a key contributor and leader in her company. She worked harder and longer than everyone else in her division. She was referred to executive coaching, to improve her people skills. Colleagues and senior team members found her brusque and irritable when stressed. At another company, Bob was referred to me for similar challenges. A valued, developing executive he needed to learn to influence his CEO without lapsing into angry
outburst when they disagreed.
Coaching with both Jane and Bob, drew on my counseling expertise as we identified the stress and anxiety that was driving their outbursts. Once each leader became more self -aware when they first began to feel inner tension in their body, they could pause and calm themselves down. A few moments of slow, even breathing gave them the thinking time to choose an effective response. Coaching helped them to experiment with new communication tools that built bridges instead of barriers – even in times of vigorous disagreement.
Relationships at work and at home succeed or fail based on how mindful and self-controlled our emotional expressions are. As rational as we humans strive to be, science demonstrates that we are emotional beings who need to feel a sense of belonging and connection to others. When we don’t feel that connection, or when we are in harsh or disrespectful disagreements, we don’t feel safe. Hence, the visceral fight or flight reaction in boardroom meetings even though the saber-tooth tiger really is nowhere to be found.
How can we improve relationships?
It all comes down to being mindful (or intentional).
- First, we need to be aware of our own emotional state. We need to be able to detect early on when our own stress chemicals start to rise (the cortisol spike felt by the knotted stomach or the rapid heartbeat). The body is the first part of the brain to respond. That’s the time to pause. Then, we can sense the emotion(s) we are feeling (this is the limbic brain). Lastly, the thinking brain (neocortex) comes into the picture and we can self-manage. Only the ability to pause and be self-aware allows us to choose how best to communicate in the moment.
- Second, we need to be more mindful of others. We need to really listen to them all: colleagues, spouses, employees and customers. Rather than thinking you know what they mean, take the time to ask for clarity and know for certain. This open-hearted listening makes it possible to find the agreements and understanding amidst the conflict.
So yes, it’s all about relationships: first with oneself, then with others. Both come down to how mindfully we listen and communicate. This takes patience and compassion for ourselves and others.
Today, how and when could you take time to practice mindful awareness in your communication?