The Underrated Art of Listening

I’m one of six kids. In the pecking order, I’m number four. Technically I’m a middle child. Yet, not only am I sandwiched between four brothers, I even had to share the middle position with one of them!

Growing up was chaotic to say the least and those who shouted loudest or fought the hardest usually won. The prize…well, the first piece of pizza, the most chips, the front seat of the car…the usual stuff kids bicker and banter about.

In this environment, what I learnt was to speak up and speak out. To stand up for myself. To argue my point of view or justify my position. Holding my own against four brothers was no mean feat and I regularly joke that I had the princess well and truly knocked out of me by the time I stepped into the big bad world.

And I got very good at holding my own, asserting my view and articulating my arguments.

In an environment where there were so many of us, vying for whatever we needed in that moment – be that airtime, attention, treats or sweets – what we focused on was being heard, arguing, forcing our point of view and talking over the top of each other.

What I was absolutely woeful at, however, was listening. We all were. In such a noisy space, there was never a pause or a moment of silence. Just lots and lots of noise.

This realisation dawned on me when I was about twenty. I was participating in a tutorial at university. I was so caught up formulating what I wanted to say, that I completely missed what was actually being said by someone else in the class. I wasn’t listening at all.

And this is a dangerous inner world to indulge because it very quickly degenerates into a one-sided conversation – with myself! Not only was I formulating a very one-sided, and potentially very limited, view of the world, I was cutting my nose to spite my face. Without having fully heard and understood what the other person shared, how could I effectively participate in a full and dynamic conversation? What value would my response have, if it did not fully appreciate, encapsulate, and respond to the other persons ideas or point of view?

This was a vividly formative moment in my life. It was the moment that I first recognised that I was an absolutely terrible listener. Second, it was the moment I decided that I was going to learn to listen.

Ever since then, I have put in a concerted effort to really listen. To be fully present and give the person my full and undivided attention. To try to receive whatever it is that they share without judgment and without being busy inside my head formulating what I want to say in response.

It’s been challenging, because if you’re used to talking, being quiet isn’t such a comfortable place. Moreover, just because I wanted to become a better listener, didn’t mean I was good at it or always got it right. And I still need to put in a concerted effort to listen.

When I met my partner, I showed him the DISC model of Behaviour Styles and we shared some insights from a simple assessment. He ticked an item that went something like “I like to listen”. He was shocked and surprised to see that I had not ticked the same item. I had to explain, that while I really do like to listen to people, the way I’m built and the way I was raised, does not naturally predispose me to listen first and speak after. Rather I’m more inclined to shoot from the hip and just keep talking.

What emerges here is the classic difference between introverts and extroverts. Individuals with extroverted tendencies show an inclination to talk through, or verbalise, their thinking. Those with introverted traits on the other hand, may prefer to fully think things through before sharing their ideas or opinions.

These different modes of thinking and working create the fast chatter that comes from one side, often with people talking over one another, and the silence of the pause on the other side. Those who prefer to talk, find that silent pause excruciatingly uncomfortable and can’t help but fill the space with, well yes, more chatter.

Those inclined to introversion tend to be more naturally reflective. They fundamentally like to listen first, to observe and absorb what it being said or shared around them. Then they like to sit with that for a moment while they process and formulate their thinking. When they do finally decide to speak, they tend only to speak up if they truly believe what they have to say has legs and is worthwhile sharing.

These are admirable qualities that form the backbone of great listening. And the people I have observed most closely through the course of my career, and sought to emulate, are the more introverted individuals who do exactly this.

I find the dynamics of introversion and extroversion fascinating and fundamentally believe that we have tipped the scales in our working world too far towards the extroverted scale – valuing primarily those who speak first, dominate the conversation, or assert their views most powerfully and forcefully. This leaves little or no space for the more measured thinkers and listeners in the room. It also means, if we indulge, and ultimately reward, these behaviours too much, we may be missing some of the best ideas in the room, ending up with a very one-side and potentially limited, view of the world.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic!

With Gratitude,

The M.A.D. Team.

Its Stress Down Day!

Try this recorded exercise for more details on how to master this breathing technique.

Let us know how you go. And of course, we’d love to hear what you do to stress down too, so do share your ideas.

With gratitude, from all of us at M.A.D. Mindworks.

Happy International Yoga day!

Why not try this simple practice? We’d love to hear how you go. Use this simple breathing to start with https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rS5RvOyk2E&feature=youtu.be

Three reflection questions to articulate and position your value

Two types of cheese with corn on toast – what makes you feel appreciated?

My daughter was terribly excited about making me breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day. It was all her idea and she was very decided about it. When the day finally came I let her loose in the kitchen under the supervision of my partner.

With an enormous smile of pride on her face she served me two types of cheese with corn on toast.

Perhaps it’s the makings of a new craze in breakfast. It might even dethrone the famed avocado and feta smash. Or not.

It doesn’t really matter. What mattered was she made a genuine effort to show me that she loved and appreciated me.

Science shows that feelings like gratitude and appreciation set off a cascade of feel-good neurotransmitters in our brain. It feels good to do good. It also feels good to tell others that what they did made you feel good. And it feels good to hear that what you did made someone feel good.

It’s an all-round win:win really. Whether you’re showing appreciation or feeling appreciated.

The problem is that sometimes we don’t always, or easily, recognise when someone is trying to show us they appreciate us. That’s because we all have different ways of showing we care – be that words, gestures, actions, gifts, quality time etc (Gary Chapman, 1995). And if the way we show appreciation doesn’t line up with the other person, things can easily go awry.

What might start out as a genuine effort to do good or be kind could be completely misconstrued.

If I was judging breakfast in terms of the avocado-and-feta-smash-trend, then my daughters innovative and novel take on breakfast might seem completely outlandish and something café society isn’t quite ready for. But looking at breakfast as the results of some incredibly creative thinking on the part of a little girl working with a poorly stocked fridge and her sheer determination to make mum breakfast in bed – well, this leads one to an entirely different conclusion.

What’s useful here is stepping outside of our own world view when it comes to what we define as “good” and simply stepping back to observe the intention behind someone’s words and actions.

Then recognise and value that for what it is.

If we all did this just a little more often at work, we might even have better working relationships with those around us.

Think about someone you work with.

What opportunity do you have to tell or show them you really appreciate them?

 

For more information refer to:

The Neuroscience of Gratitude

https://www.whartonhealthcare.org/the_neuroscience_of_gratitude

 Giving Thanks can make you feel happier

https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier

 The Five Languages of Love, Gary Chapman 1995

Switch on your right brain

Everyone has different things they do to help switch from work mode and wind down. My partner gave me this 6000-piece puzzle for my birthday last year and I absolutely love it! I often find myself sitting in the evening sorting pieces, matching colours and slowing working on one part or another. It sounds a little strange, but it really grounds me and the sense of satisfaction I get when I place a piece is positively extraordinary. My partner and I can spend hours working on it together too. I know, I know, some people head off to swanky restaurants to hang out, but we prefer the quieter time the puzzle affords us together. Quietly working away until one or the other fits a piece, then we share this lovely moment of excitement as we acknowledge we now have “one piece less to go!” The awesome thing about doing something like this is that it helps you switch on your right brain, the side of the brain responsible for seeing the whole picture, for immediate sensory experience and creative problem solving. And you can feel it too, as you start to completely immerse and absorb yourself in the exercise and “see” how things fit together.

What do you do to switch mindset or relax on your own or with your loved ones? We’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions.

 

 

Strengthen Your Core to Support Your Spine

Many of us sit slumped in chairs for long periods of time. This gradually starts to weaken the core. When this happens, we also lose essential support to help the spine stay upright and in a healthy position.

This video demonstrates a simple technique you can engage periodically through the day to re-build your core strength and start to support your spine again.

We teach loads of simple practical techniques like this as part of our Wellbeing & Mindfulness Sessions. If you’re interested to know more, we’d love to hear from you.

Moving Through – The Secret to Resilience

Moving through

I’ve had an utterly disastrous week. No one major thing, just a confluence of small setbacks which, as they piled one on top of the other, have tested my resilience.

It started on Sunday night with an acerbic email from my ex which left me awake most of the night worrying about lawyers, settlements and finances. So, I started the week somewhat stressed and seriously sleep deprived.

By Tuesday I had dropped my phone in the toilet. Yes. In the toilet. And no. Don’t ask. I have no idea how. No amount of drying, waving, patting or hoping was going to bring that baby back from its shitty demise.

Needless to say, my Wednesday was consumed by the painful process of getting re-connected with the modern world.

Thursday, I got locked out of the house with no handbag, no wallet, no phone. Grrrr.

Then my date for the evening cancelled on me. Mmm. Disappointing.

By Friday I thought surely its done. What else could happen right? But no. Those little frustrations just kept rolling on in.

When I went to drop the keys back to the agent. The office was closed.

When I went to drop my shoes to get repaired. “Sorry back in 15 minutes” read the sign.

When I tried accessing my invoicing system. It was offline. Aaaaah.

By Friday night when I really did think it was all done. I poured myself a glass of wine ready to deflate and chillax. No no no. Even that was too much to ask. The glass of wine slipped through my fingers shattering into what seemed like thousands of tiny shards across the kitchen and through the hallway.

Seriously!

When things like this happen, most of the time, we deal with it and move on. It’s when lots of them come flying at us that we start to feel stretched, pushed and tested. And this week certainly has tested me –physically, mentally and emotionally.

Yet what I found, was that in each moment, when something difficult transpires, we have a choice.

When I heard my phone plonk in the toilet bowl I could have yelled and cursed the gods. Or, I could take a breath in and a breath out and calmly fish it out, quietly dry it off and go to bed hoping it will work in the morning. When it didn’t, I simply rescheduled some meetings and got it sorted out.

When my friend pulled out of Thursday night at the last minute I could have got pissy and flustered. Or I could simply course correct and zip to the markets to buy some food, drop into a yoga class and come home to make myself a lovely meal and enjoy some peace and quietude.

When the glass shattered – yes I did say F*******k! Then I took a breath in and out and quietly got down on my hands and knees and cleaned the floor.

As I did I managed to smile to myself as I recalled a conversation I’d had with a student earlier in the week. She’d been away on holidays and come home to her fridge turned off and a ton of rotten food. She was going home after our class to clear it out.

“We can approach the crappy tasks in life with a sense of annoyance and frustration or we can choose to do them with sense joy and gratitude. Go home, crank the music and clean the fridge with joy” I said.

Kneeling on the kitchen floor at a point where I could laugh or cry, it was the moment to swallow a dose of my own medicine.

So, on my hands and knees at 9pm on Friday I cleaned the kitchen floor and chose to think of all the nice things that happened throughout the week.

On Wednesday, Amy the sales assistant at Vodafone had been positively extraordinary. She went over and above to get me a phone, to set it up and even helped me with my wifi too. I walked out fully functional and completely reconnected.

On Thursday when my friend cancelled, it created an opportunity to go to a yoga class instead. I focused my practice that night entirely on my mind set. On each inhalation, a positive affirmation. Each exhalation, a deliberate letting go of the negative self-talk.

Then on Friday morning I got an unexpected phone call. Suava and I had recently been on a training program together. She called to share some good news. When she finished her story she turned around and asked me to brag about something awesome I’d done this week.

I sighed deeply. “Oh Suava, it’s been a hell of a week. I don’t think I can answer that.” Then I paused. I took a breath in and a breath out and said “Actually despite the fact it’s been such an awful week I’ve done my best to work through it. So, I’m going to pat myself on the back for remembering to breathe. For staying calm. And moving through.”

We often mistake resilience for strength. Feeling a need to stand rigid and strong in the face of the storm. Weathering it like a cliff face naked against the thrust of the ocean.

We grit our teeth and tough it out.

This is not resilience.

Over time the cliff erodes, changes shape and gets worn down. Rocks crumble and crash to the ocean floor. As mere humans, we do the same thing. Eventually we too crumble and crash.

Resilience is the ability to more readily come back to equilibrium when we feel stretched and stressed.

Rather than standing in rigid confrontation with the eye of the storm, we effortlessly bend and adapt. Move fluidly through the experience a little more like bamboo. Accepting each experience and emotion. In each moment mindfully choosing how we wish to respond.

The best tool we have available to help us do this is our breath.

Each time you stop and take a purposeful breath in and a deliberate breath out you are finding your moment of choice.

To scream and yell and fight it. To swim against the tide.

Or.

You can choose a different response.

To move through it. To swim with the tide. Accept what has happened with a calm quietude. Mindfully choosing how you will respond now. And now. And now. And now.

Knowing this too shall change.

So, when the tide flows against you, breathe in and out. Fully posses your power to make a choice and move more fluidly through the rough patches.

If you’re interested to know more, let us know. The M.A.D. team would love to help.

With love and gratitude from all of us at M.A.D. Mindworks.

Happy International Yoga Day!

The Possibilities of Yoga are Infinite

International Yoga Day is a lovely reminder of the beautiful unifying force of this ancient and enduring practice. While I am unable to participate in some of the larger celebrations today, I will be celebrating yoga in my own small ways throughout the day.

Perhaps you can find a little yoga in your day too?

MOVE & BREATHE: My day has started with a simple flowing movement practice focussed simply on breathing and moving. It’s left my heart feeling full and my gratitude flowing freely – this is the discipline of yoga, the intentional practice we engage in on a regular basis.

It doesn’t have to take long or look like some frightening pretzel-like shape. It can be as simple as standing and breathing purposefully for a few moments before you step into your morning shower.

CONNECT: As I move into my day I’ll be running a workshop with a team focussed on tapping into the power of positivity. We’ll be examining how this can help us strengthen and deepen our connections with each other, as well as our resilience – this too is yoga. While it might not look like a regular yoga class, this purposeful focus on fostering balance and cultivating certain qualities to connect with oneself and the world around us is, in many ways what yoga is all about.

FEEL: By later this afternoon I will be attending my daughter’s school assembly to see her receive a special award, heart beaming with the pride of a mother. This too is yoga. Traditionally known as Bhakti yoga, it is the conscious practice of love, service and devotion. The role of parent naturally predisposes us to those practices where we honour and nurture a love for something much bigger than ourselves and we can tap into this in all spheres of our lives.

A little yoga while scooting. Why not?

 

OBSERVE: When I sit down to dinner with my daughter and some friends tonight, we will go around the table and share something that happened during our day for which we are grateful. This too is yoga. The deliberate, mindful cultivation of conscious feeling and observation.

So next time you say something like ‘oh I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible enough’, I encourage you to think more broadly and deeply about what this ancient practice really can be.

You might just find you’re already a yogi.

You just didn’t know it.

Happy International Yoga Day.

With Love and Gratitude from the team at M.A.D. Mindworks.