Welcome to HEN - Transforming Conflict for our Health, Environment, Negotiation
HEN is published each month by Julia Menard:
Helping the Workplace Engage - One Tough Conversation at a Time! juliamenard.com
HEN arrives at the full moon -
because light transforms darkness.
Full Moon: May 3, 2015 - Year 13, Issue 5
Table of Contents:
1. HEALTH - Centering Tool
As some of you know, Judy Zehr and I have been working on an e-book together which we are calling “Hold On To Yourself – Through Difficult Conversations.” Each month, I have been including one excerpt per chapter – moving sequentially through the book. This month’s excerpt is from Chapter 4. We love hearing your feedback! Enjoy!
Fundamentally, like all mammals, our minds are assessing for us: do I move toward something (attraction or approach) or away from something (aversion or avoidance). This is what our “default neural circuits” are up to—a constant stream of past, present, self, others, approach, avoidance. It is happening unconsciously or semi-consciously, and research suggests that the more we fall into a trance of believing these default circuits, following their ups and downs, the more easily we will move into stress states. We will be wired, tired, stressed and confused.
This is where mindful awareness comes in. By practicing mindful awareness, you are less vulnerable to stumbling into stress, you are less vulnerable to being triggered and caught off guard, falling into habitual reactions or bottom up processing.
As Daniel Siegel, M.D.: clinical professor of psychiatry and author, UCLA says:
“Mindfulness is defined as paying attention, in the present moment, on purpose, without grasping onto judgments. Mindful awareness has the quality of receptivity to whatever arises within the mind’s eye, moment to moment. Recent studies of mindful awareness reveal that it can result in profound improvements in a range of physiological, mental, and interpersonal domains of our lives. Cardiac, endocrine, and immune functions are improved with mindful practices. Empathy, compassion, and interpersonal sensitivity seem to be improved. People who come to develop the capacity to pay attention in the present moment without grasping on to their inevitable judgments also develop a deeper sense of well-being and what can be considered a form of mental coherence.”
Practicing mindfulness will provide you with a solid foundation of self-awareness. You will be able to prevent or ease the pain of disconnection and misunderstanding that happens when you go out of balance in important conversations.
Mindfulness sets the stage for greater resilience during tough times. It is our foundation. Being human, we will all still get triggered, and have particularly challenging people, situations and topics that will send us into the stress response. Having a strong foundation helps us face those winds of change and stress more adaptively.
One tool we recommend is the Centering Mindfulness Tool. We suggest you practice this tool throughout your day, several times a day if possible. If it’s challenging to practice all the components, no problem, just choose one or two that are easy for you and doable. The point is the practice, not perfection. Whatever, however, you practice is always good enough. It’s the intention that matters most of all. Remember, it takes less than a minute to practice. The more you practice it, the more you can also call on it in times of shifting states.
Staying connected to yourself means staying in your body, awake to the present moment and noticing what you are feeling, what your body sensations are telling you, and slowing down your “knee jerk” reactions or automatic thoughts and behaviors.
Here are the steps in the Centering Tool:
Practice these four steps on their own, in combination or all together. In any combination, these steps create a pause to bring yourself back to a balanced state.
- Dignified Posture: Notice your posture. See if you can make any slight adjustments so you are in what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls the “dignified posture”. Shoulders back, straighter spine, a slight smile. Give
your brain the message that “all is well”. You are using proprioception, helping the body communicate well-being and balance to the brain. A hunched or powerless posture won’t help you activate your inner strength and balance.
- Deep Breaths: Breathe into your belly, relaxing more with each exhale. This is the most important single practice you can do for your stress biology. Take as many belly breaths as you need to begin to feel a bit more present, a bit more relaxed. If you have a hard time belly breathing, clasp your hands behind your lower back and straighten your arms. This inhibits your chest muscles, making your diaphragm expand with your breath. This ensures belly breathing, and activates your parasympathetic nervous system, the antidote to the stress response. You can also practice elongating your exhale, which stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system. Breath in to the count of three, breathe out to the count of five.
- Observe without Judgment: See if you can begin to observe yourself without judgment. Be curious about your feelings, sensations and thoughts. Warmly observe yourself in the present moment just as you are. Release any judgments or evaluations. Look at yourself as a loving parent might look upon a child. Or like a spiritual figure, a person or being that represents unconditional acceptance and love, might gaze upon you. Accepting, allowing, forgiving. Lovingly observe, or at least observe yourself without judgment.
- Bring Up a Feeling of Compassion or Kindness Toward Yourself: Take a moment to tune into your heart. See if you can practice feeling compassion or kindness toward yourself. You can use your inner voice. Say something kind or understanding to yourself in a tone of voice that is supportive and warm. Say words that help you feel better in this moment--words of empathy, appreciation and support or words connecting you with your strength and courage and power. Some people prefer to say a word that helps them feel balanced, whole and connected. Words like peace, love, om, shalom, God, thank you, are all examples of commonly used words to help center and balance oneself.
Cultivating a mindful awareness practice is the foundation for being able to stay present in difficult conversations.
“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”
… Lao Tzu
2. ENVIRONMENT - Earthing
I finally got out to the garden this afternoon. My raised beds have been neglected these last few years, seeing only the periodic lettuce, kale or oregano flourish. Today, when I went out, the beds were covered in weeds. I spent about 20 minutes pulling weeds and chatting with my neighbor.
When I went in, I noticed I felt noticeably different. Lighter somehow. I felt good. It made me think of the many people I’ve met who love to garden.
I think there is something more going on than a simple hobby. There was something primal about putting my hands in soil. It felt “familiar” in a way that is beyond my present life. It’s a generational memory – in my DNA. The soil is in all of our DNA, because one way or the other, our ancestors needed to be connected to the land to live. We all have a history to the earth.
This notion led me to the phenomena of “grounding” or “earthing.” This is a term coined by authors Ober, Sinatra and Zucker in their book Earthing. Their research is based on the premise that our bodies emit electricity (which is what EEGs and ECG’s pick up) and that the earth acts as a kind of static remover – the way metal does for static clothes. As the authors say:
“The moment your foot touches the Earth, or you connect to the Earth…your physiology changes. An immediate normalization begins. And an anti-inflammatory switch is turned on. People stay inflamed because they never connect with the Earth, the source of free electrons which can neutralize the free radicals in the body that cause disease and cellular destruction.”
It appears connecting to the earth (bare skin to the earth) may transfer negatively-charged electrons from the surface of the Earth into the body, which neutralizes free radicals.
That takes the idea of our relationship to the earth to a new level! We appear to be in symbiotic relationship with the earth – wherever we are. Just like oxygen is emitted by plants to our enhancement, it appears that the earth’s surface also emits a healing force.
So garden, walk bare foot in the forest, lie down on your lawn. Be grounded. Truly grounded.
“The old people came literally to love the soil, and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the earth and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth. Their teepees were built upon the earth and their altars were made of earth. That is why the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of propping himself up and away from its life giving forces. For him, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly. He can see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him.”
… Luther Standing Bear
3. NEGOTIATION - The Neurochemistry of Positive Conversations
One of the services I deliver is mediation. Mediation, like counseling or coaching, is as much about the person delivering the service, as it is about the service itself. Like many of my colleagues, I use a standard “interest-based” model – with four steps to each mediation: an opening, framing of issues, exploring those issues for “interests” (values, basic human needs) and once new understandings have been reached: solutions.
However, I tend to also bring in my own experiences. One such example is what I know from research from John and Julie Gottman, Appreciative Inquiry, HeartMath, Gary Chapman, Barbara Fredrickson and others. All these research sources, and more, point to the benefit in increasing the ratio of positive comments to negative ones. Gottman found that marriages fall into the danger zone for divorce when the ratio of positive to negative interactions falls below five to one.
In some of my mediations, we talk about the “5 to 1” ratio. I may even put it up on a flip chart – as a visual reminder. Sometimes I may invite participants to acknowledge something positive in the other. And, all my mediations start with a focus on what each person’s best intention is in participating in such a gathering. Speaking to the best in oneself, another or the situation brings out the positive and sets a collaborative tone to the conversation.
So it was with pleasure that I read this recent Harvard Business Review article extolling the benefits of positive conversations.
The article highlights how critical comments produce cortisol, a hormone that shuts down our thinking centers of the brain and brings on protective and reactive behaviors from our conversational partners. Positive comments however produce a feel-good hormone: oxytocin, which increases our ability to communicate, collaborate and trust others.
The authors of the article also conducted some research asking managers how often they might be expressing positive comments vs negative ones. The researchers described five positive behaviours and five negative ones and then asked the managers to rate how frequently they engaged in each.
Here is the list. How would you do with those around you – on a scale from 1 – 5 (1 = never, 5 = always).
Positive (Oxytocin producting) Behaviours:
- Concern for others
- Truthful about what's on mind
- Stimulate discussion/curiosity
- Paint picture of mutual success
- Open to difficult conversations
Negative (Cortisol producing) Behaviours:
- Don’t trust others’ intentions
- Focused on convincing others
- Others are not understanding
- Pretend to be listening (not listening to connect)
- Emotions detract from listening
“People who suffer from anxiety, depression, or even loneliness or low self-esteem perceive threats far more often than circumstances warrant. Sadly, this overalert state thwarts both positivity and positivity resonance. Feeling unsafe, then, is the first obstacle to love.”
How did you do?
… Barbara Fredrickson
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Julia Menard, B.A., Cert. Con. Res., P.C.C.
Leadership & Conflict Coaching, Mediating, & Training