Tag Archives: conversation

Talk to the Whole Person

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared in Mindful Mag]


There’s a lot of talk about making workplaces more mindful, but what does that really mean? Mindfulness is more than meditation. It’s just as much about how we communicate with those around us as it is about finding stillness within ourselves.

In the workplace, so much of what we accomplish, particularly as leaders, comes in the form of conversations. And when those conversations can be more mindful, we can develop a kinder, more compassionate culture, while still maintaining high standards of excellence. We can all think of a conversation or two (or five or 10) that we wouldn’t describe as mindful. But what really makes a conversation mindful?

Karen Starns, Senior Vice President of Global Marketing at Pearson, has had a 20-year career in technology, an industry where, after long hours under tight deadlines, anyone’s mindfulness could go right out the window. For Starns, a mindful conversation is an opportunity to open people up to a broader view and take them to an unexpected place. “Having a mindful conversation means considering the whole person you’re engaging with—not just the project they’re leading, or the deliverable they owe you.” Signaling that you’re aware of how the work gets done (not just that it gets done) and how the person is doing helps you make a more positive connection. Taking the time to “acknowledge an important personal milestone or to offer to juggle workload during a tough time can have an amplifying effect far beyond the situation at hand,” she says.

In other companies mindful communication is ingrained in the culture. At Vera Whole Health in 2008, Chief Visionary Officer Valerie Burlingame set out to build a company that embodies being “present and authentic.” At Vera, they try to help their employees with “particularly challenging conversations, when there may be some resistance or conflict.” They teach them to search within themselves and identify their own “stories, feelings, and wants so that we can be responsible and aware of what we are bringing into interactions.” She goes on to say that this practice has helped the company be more effective at resolving conflict, and helped to foster an atmosphere of trust in external and internal relationships.

For those in leadership roles, a little bit of attention paid to mindful speaking can go a long way. Lisa Hufford, CEO of Simplicity Consulting, has conversations with nearly 100 consultants and clients each month. Her intention for each conversation is to, “Be aware of my own emotions and potential triggers so that I do not let them lead me.” She also encourages her team to, “Visualize what success looks like for the conversation you want to have before you have it.”

She feels that this approach not only helps to create a positive culture, it also directly affects the bottom line, because, “Mindful communication allows my team to cut through the clutter and the noise that can permeate organizations. Being clear about intentions helps us get to the heart of the issues quickly and unifies the group.”

Regardless of what industry you’re in, what your company values are, or what type of job you have, every one of us can have more mindful conversations at work. For starters, you need to be clear about your intent at the outset, consider how you want to express it, choose the right time, and pay attention to what’s going on with the person on the other side of the conversation.

Sounds obvious and easy, right? But when we’re swimming in a sea of busyness, finding time to be intentional about how we enter into conversations can become a low priority. If we’re not careful, we’re practically barking.

Try an experiment this month: Make just one work conversation each day a bit more mindful. Set the intention to be present with the person (or people), get clear on your purpose, and remain engaged throughout the whole exchange. It’s possible to build mindfulness at work, one conversation at a time.


Setting Expectations That Support Team Balance

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared on Huffington Post]

0728_ExpectationsExpectations are everywhere in our life – at home, at work, in our relationships with others and self. They can be about anything we want or hope to have happen. Sometimes they are grounded in reality and other times not, and many times – especially at work – they are unclear.

When it comes to the topic of work-life balance – many times the expectations are unclear because creating a two-way opportunity between managers and their team to openly share, set, and communicate expectations is not commonly done, especially around this topic. When it comes to expectations at work, there are three ways to consider them, those for and of your team, those between you and your manager, and those you have of yourself.

Team Expectations
Let’s be honest: Employees LOVE to blame their managers for their imbalance, level of stress, workload, or lack of context. Not because your team members are ill meaning, but because it is much easier to blame you or maybe your manager than to take accountability for the choices they are making or ways they are working that might be the actual reason for the pain points they are experiencing.

It is not up to you to manage your employees’ balance, workload, goals or commitments. It is up to you to teach them they have a choice in how they manage these things for themselves and to have ongoing conversations with them to provide guidance. That’s about it. Your job is to understand the expectations your team members have on you and you on them, and to encourage conversations for clarity when needed and as often as needed.

Conversations that typically are avoided between a manager and his or her team include, expectations around what “on call” really means, weekend and evening work hours, e-mail response time, requests for help and meeting behaviors. Pick one to start with to begin to develop the habit of openly talking about expectations and providing clarity around common issues people feel uncertain and uncomfortable bringing up with their managers.

Your Manager’s Expectations of You
You have expectations of your team, and your manager has expectations of you. Having conversations around expectations for balance and team stability is rather new, so your manager might not be proactively having these conversations with you. The good news is that you can start the conversation with your manager just as easily as you can start the conversation with your team.

Have an intentional conversation with your manager that addresses their expectations regarding you being reachable at all times and on weekends, email response time, their perspective on company policies and how they are willing to help you push back as needed for unreasonable or out-of-scope work requests. Your willingness to begin this conversation with your manager, not only can bring you clarity but can role model a new type of conversation with them that they might be willing to have with their other reports.

Expectations on Yourself
Finally, there are the expectations you have for yourself as a manager and the ideas you have around how you want to be perceived as a manager. Many managers want to be liked by their team, which is only natural as all humans yearn for acceptance. However, there is a difference between a leader who pleases and a leader who inspires.

For you to address the impact of imbalance, it is essential that you become clear on what you expect for yourself when it comes to work-life balance. Consider what work-life balance means to you, and what you need to support creating that type of balance. Examine how you want to be perceived by your team when it comes to work-life balance and in what ways you are (or are not) leading by example.

An open conversation about your expectations with your team allows you to provide clarity around purpose, needs and outcomes. An open conversation with your manager allows for you to receive the same clarity you set with your team. An internal dialog with yourself can help validate alignment for the path you have chosen.

When expectations are shared, everyone is on the same page. It doesn’t mean everyone will agree, but it does mean everyone has the same understanding and clarity about what is expected to move forward.



Risk-Resiliency: How To Talk About ‘It’

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared in Huffington Post]

How many riskRisk-Resiliencys do you take each week? If you are like most people you take a lot of risk just by being human. Driving in traffic you could get in an accident, in relationships in and outside of work you could be rejected, seen as not good enough or not loveable. You might mess up a presentation at work or school, and the list goes on. The thing is there is risk in the world – you are not going to change that – what you can do is alter your relationship with risk by building risk-resiliency.

Risk is interaction with uncertainty, and there is a lot of uncertainty in the world. Resiliency is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty. Risk-resiliency is the capacity to intentionally interact with and recover from the difficulties related to living with uncertainty. Developing this skill involves two key factors – the ability to have awareness around risk you are facing, followed by the ability to have conversations about it – with yourself and others.

Most of us are pretty good at seeing the risk – where the common struggle lies is in having the conversation. People tend to avoid “risk conversations” not because they don’t want to talk about the risk being faced, but mostly because they don’t know how to begin the conversation or what actually needs to be said.

Many times it’s our fear of not being good enough or the idea we might fail at what we want to do that paralyzes us from starting these conversations. If we demystify and remove the drama, we can see the risk for what it is and break the conversation into 5 stages or series of smaller conversations.

Start at the beginning and develop awareness around the circumstance for yourself. This stage is to have a conversation with our self to create awareness around what is occurring, “This is the risk I am facing and this is how I feel about it.”

Now that you are clear for yourself on the risk you are facing, the second stage is to have the conversation (even if it’s uncomfortable) with others that need to be in the know. It’s likely talking about risk won’t ever feel totally comfortable, but with practice it can feel more normal to say, “Here is the risk I am / we are taking by doing xyz.”

In the third stage, the conversation purpose is to set expectations with the necessary people who will be impacted by the risk you are taking. “Here is what might happen if xyz does not come together in the way we expect.” This is where talking about risk gets real – as most times we want to avoid talking about or even acknowledging the possibility that what we are working on might fail. It is when we don’t talk about it that we stay in fear and the risk begins to “own” us. (This might be a few different conversations with different people depending on the type of risk and the type of stakes involved.)

Now in the fourth stage, it’s time to ask for support. What do you need from your key stakeholders to support you in taking this risk? “Here is what I need from you in order to move forward with this risk.” It’s common to struggle at this phase as many times we are not clear on the support we need because we get stuck in the fear associated with risk. By talking about the fear in setting expectations, it becomes easier to understand the support we need to move forward. Many times the support we need is just someone to listen to us or be patient with us while we learn something new.

This is where most people think risk-resiliency ends – we named it, we talked about it, set expectations and asked for support. But there is one more stage – close the loop. One of the most important parts of building risk-resiliency is to close the cycle and call out when the risk is over and debrief on the experience. Complete and acknowledge the cycle – especially when the stakes were high, it becomes really important to share in the success or understand what can be improved. All too often this step is missed and we are already on the next set of risks. The conversation here is “This is the risk I (we) took, and here is what happened as a result and this is the impact and here is where we go next.”

For some risks you face you may be able to cover all the stages in one conversation with a single person or just with yourself. For other higher stake risks, like the ones we face in workplaces, this cycle may be months long and involve many stakeholders at different levels. Regardless of the number of people involved, the stages of how to talk about risk are the same. The path to building risk-resiliency is one conversation at a time.


Is “Office” a State of Mind?

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared in Mindful Magazine]

It used to beDefining office_0615 when someone talked about being at the office they meant they were at an actual physical space. With the rise of workplace flexibility, global work teams, and technology to support a slew of telework options, “office” has become an elusive concept.

The number of “mobile workers” in the US will reach 105 million by 2020, estimates market intelligence firm IDC. That means almost three-quarters of our work force will find themselves with flexible office situations. It’s no wonder, then, that many Fortune 500 companies are committed to attracting and retaining employees by offering flexible work environments and promoting diverse work styles.

Depending on what you do for a living and how you like to work, you will have your own unique definition of “office”. For some, office still means a physical space – like a desk or a cubical (or, for the free-spirited, their favorite café). For others, office means a device, like a tablet or phone. For these people, they’re “at the office” whenever their device is on and in their vicinity.

For others still, office is a state of mind – it’s whenever you have work thoughts, which for many people is a lot of the time. It’s easy to see how nontraditional work situations can take on a life of their own, and lead to more stress rather than more flexibility. That’s why it’s important to define what “flexible work” means to you.

A recent study in the American Sociological Review found that workers with well-designed flexible work situations are less stressed, experience less burnout, and have increased job satisfaction compared to their peers in a typical workday situation.

Simply giving employees more control over their schedules and shifting emphasis to results rather than hours logged allows employees to be effective and happy. Go figure.

What’s imperative is that managers and employees work together to establish what is acceptable within the company or team culture. This is a huge opportunity to build trust and prevent confusion by discussing upfront what “office” means from the employer’s perspective. Then everyone can work together to construct what a workday at the office ideally looks like.

In order to have a balanced, mindful approach to flexible work situations, consider the following.

  1. Your Physical Space

If your office is an actual space, notice what you need in that space. If you work from home, is there a well-defined space in your house where “office” takes place, or do you “office” a little bit everywhere? If “office” means a device, ask yourself when do you engage and disengage with the “office” (your device): Is it a set time, like 7 p.m., or is it when you reach a specific physical destination?

  1. Your Mindset

If your office is a mindset, think about how you can intentionally tap into and let go of work thoughts. Perhaps you can establish a “stop work thoughts” mantra that helps you bookmark the thought, for example, “Thank you, I will come back to this later.” Or you could intentionally take a few deep breaths to redirect your energy, or try to set a concrete time when work thoughts are just not welcome.

  1. Your Time

When does “office” begin and end for you? Flexibility is about choice, and if the choice is to be always on, the power of flexibility is diminished. Embrace and enjoy the flexibility to work wherever and whenever by being intentional about how, where, and when you “office”.

Tips for how to work anywhere

  • Make sure some of your “office” hours overlap with a standard workday
  • Find time for face-to-face meetings and schedule them regularly
  • Avoid working on sensitive documents over public Wi-Fi
  • Block out brainstorming time in your calendar – “think” time is part of your job

Hold Me Able

By Chelsea Elkins, Simple Intentions Marketing Manager

traveling vanThis past summer was one of great learning for me. One of the teachings that really resonated is the concept that speaks to authenticity: holding each other able.

There are two parts to this. First, I hold the people in my life capable of or “able” to voice their needs. And second, I, in turn, have committed to being honest and authentic about what I need and want in the world. Essentially, I say what I mean, and I trust that the people around me are doing the same.

Simple, right? Just be your word.

Applying this philosophy over the past five months has been almost laughably difficult. I have long struggled with expressing what I want, a block that comes from an ingrained desire to take care of others before myself, even when it is completely unnecessary. I also sometimes find I have already decided that the recipient of my request would not want do a, b or c for x, y and z reasons. In these instances I don’t even bother to ask, making the decision for them and potentially depriving them of something they would have enjoyed.

When I am able to work up the nerve to ask for what I want, I sometimes doubt that I am getting honest answers in response. I am one who has the constant desire to check in: “Are you having fun?” “Are you sure you want to do this with me?” “Do you really mean that?” It must be maddening (and I’m putting that gently) to my more resolute friends and family members.

This stems from past instances when I agreed to do something I didn’t really want to do. With this in mind, I tend to give my friends and family members numerous ways out of a plan or agreement, lest the same thing happen to them. The consequence of this is I effectively ignore both parts of the holding each other able promise, and the cycle not only continues for myself but is forced upon those around me.

Simply put, holding each other able is a hard concept to live into.

Holding ourselves and each other able requires both courage and vulnerability, which, as most of us can attest, are challenging to summon. Articulating exactly what we mean, even if it’s not what others want to hear, and trusting that those around us will do the same, does not come naturally at first.

However, if we are able to successfully hold each other able, the benefits would be stunning. It would inevitably lead to lower stress, better communication, and all the other benefits that come when you live authentically. It would eliminate the need for constant check-ins and needless caregiving, which can be detrimental. It gives the responsibility back to each of us to honestly say what we need. This would allow us to live life with more confidence, joy and simplicity. If there’s one thing I hope to master this year, it’s this:

Hold me able, and I’ll do the same.


How to Improve Public Health? Be Your Word

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder

[Note: This post originally appeared on Huffington Post.]

Be Your Word

In 2008, I founded Simple Intentions with the intention of helping people have conversations about topics that are difficult to talk about at work. Topics like balance, values and the choices we make that support or sabotage our desired outcomes.

That intention has evolved as a result of our team’s commitment to stop and reflect on what we learn from our customers and from our own journeys practicing what we teach. It was during one of these reflections that we developed a theory about how to improve public health around the world. That theory is: Be your word.

Our team belief is that if people are willing to say what they mean, then the collective impact could transform workplaces, communities, families, and the health of individuals everywhere.  We believe that a lot of modern-day stress stems from a lack of communication. Too often, we are not having conversations about our values and the boundaries we set (or don’t set) around how we live, honor or uphold our values. Sometimes these conversations are with friends, family and colleagues. Sometimes we avoid having these conversation with ourselves.

Or we might have the conversation, but it’s only half the conversation we need to have. Each day we encounter situations when we half-way express our needs and desires. We complain that we don’t feel heard. But how can others hear us if we’re not saying what we really mean?

In many cases, we half-way share because we fear being judged for what we think, feel or believe. We edit our expressions because we feel guilt or shame about a topic. Sometimes it’s just easier to not say what we really mean because then we don’t have to deal with the fall-out of disappointing or displeasing another person. So we half-way share.

The impact is many of us are experiencing a half-way existence with our colleagues at work, our friends and family at home. This way of living has become so common that full expression now feels radical and dramatic.

And what happens to the half of the conversation we withhold? It has to go somewhere, but where? We can’t help but believe it lives on in our bodies, contributing to stress, anxiety and depression.

The great news is that every single conversation you have with others offers you a choice to be your word, to say what you mean and embrace full expression. Even better is you have the same choice with the conversations in your head. What would it look like to have a full conversation with yourself?


A Case for Reclaiming Conversation at Work

By Kim Lowe, Simple Intentions Managing Editor

conversationConversation is a persistent theme in every program we teach at Simple Intentions. Particularly, we strive to raise awareness of the conversations we are not having at work – with our colleagues, but also with ourselves.

These are conversations around values, boundaries, needs, and wants. We teach that having awareness of our behaviors and their impact on everyone around us allows us to have more authentic conversations – conversations that create shared understanding and empathy – which ultimately lead to more sustainable success. When we avoid these conversations, we risk creating imbalance and disengagement from our work and colleagues.

As strong proponents of authentic conversation, then, we’re energized by the attention being paid to the new book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, by Sherry Turkle, a clinical psychologist and professor at MIT, who also wrote, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

In this new volume, Turkle explores the impact of technology on communication and relationships. Specifically, she warns that so much texting, tweeting, emailing, and other forms of “flat” digital communication are preempting opportunities for meaningful, face-to-face engagement. She cites a statistic showing a steep decline in measurements of empathy among college students over the past 20 years, mostly over the past 10 years.

Turkle also laments technology’s role in decreasing our capacity for being alone without being lonely. Boredom is beneficial, she claims, a chance to tap into our imaginations and get to know ourselves. In an interview Turkle says, “it is only when you can go within and know who you are that you can then be in a conversation and hear someone else…really hear who they are” rather than project onto that person what you need them to say or who you need them to be.

In the workplace, too often we see conversations interrupted or omitted altogether by a continuous flow of email, instant messages, likes, and follows. Increasingly, the imbalance and stress we hear about stems from over-engagement with devices. Still, like Turkle, we aren’t anti-technology; on the contrary, we love our devices and having the option to text, email and work from anywhere.

But we also promote more mindful and intentional usage of our devices – in the appropriate settings and for the right reasons. Above all, we are pro-conversation – the dimensional, face-to-face exchanges that spark connectedness and creativity. Technology has its place, but it shouldn’t take that of real conversation.