It’s All about Relationships
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 valuable, developing executive, he needed to learn to influence his CEO without lapsing into angry outbursts when they disagreed.
Coaching Jane and Bob drew on my counseling expertise, as we identified the stress and anxiety that was driving their outbursts. As each leader’s self-awareness increased, so did the ability to recognize the presence of inner tension in their body. This allowed them to pause and come to a calm place. A few moments of slow, even breathing afforded them the thinking time to choose an effective response. Coaching helped them to learn and experiment with new communication tools. Jane and Bob were now able to build bridges instead of creating barriers.
Relationships at work and home succeed or fail based on practicing self-control and the ability to be mindful of how we express our emotions. Despite how rational we as 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, when we are in a harsh or disrespectful disagreement, we don’t feel safe. Hence, the visceral fight or flight reaction in boardroom meetings, even though the “saber-tooth tiger” is nowhere to be found.
How can we improve relationships? It all boils down to being mindful (or intentional). First, we need to be aware of our own emotional state. The body is the first part of to the brain to respond. The ability to detect when our own stress chemicals (the cortisol spike felt by the knotted stomach or rapid heartbeat) start to rise is the key. We must take the time to pause. Then, we can sense the emotion(s) (limbic brain) we are feeling. Lastly, the thinking brain (neocortex) comes online and we can self-manage. Only the ability to pause and become self-aware will 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 we know what they mean, take the time to ask for clarity, so we know for certain what they mean. This open-hearted listening makes it possible to find agreement and understanding amidst the conflict.
So yes, it’s all about relationships: first with oneself, then with others. All relationships rely on how mindfully we listen and communicate. This takes patience and compassion for us and others. Today, how and when could you take time to practice mindful awareness in your communication?