A skill for understanding

In order to understand someone else we must practice holding space.

This is different to listening because it’s active, not passive and requires at least three steps.

We actively see the other person, by maintaining eye contact, observing their body language, and not being distracted. We actively hear someone through listening attentively to what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. Then, we reflect back to the other person what we have seen and heard, with curiosity .

“I heard you say ___, which made me think ___.”

“You mentioned ___, could you say more about that?”

“Thanks for sharing ___, how can I support?”

Holding space can be hard. It requires curiosity, emotional labour and patience.

Anyone who has ever seen a good therapist worked with a great coach, or been part of a team with a strong leader knows the feeling of having someone hold space for them.

It’s a generous skill anyone reading this post can also practice. So over to you, legend.

Relax your face

A massage therapist once said to me “relax your face” which caused two things to happen:

  1. I burst out laughing at such a surprising request and when I finally stopped, I noticed my face felt more relaxed.
  2. I realised how much tension I was inadvertently carrying in my face.

Naturally, this metaphor provides plenty to noodle on.

Where are you carrying tension right now? What would it look like to ease and relax that tension?

A question for your colleagues

What’s something you love to do in your spare time?

Because as well as being your colleagues, they’re also humans with a range of other skills, interests, dreams, goals and desires.

Besides, how will anyone know about your strong indoor plant game if you don’t open up a conversation to life outside of presentations, spreadsheets and emails?!

Recent reads (and listens) – April edition

A selection of recently read books and listened to podcasts to assist with your noodling:

One of the shortest and wisest books I’ve ever read:

The Manual – Epictetus

A punchy and brilliant guide for how to bring more humanity to work

HBR Emotional Intelligence Boxed Set (my favourite is the Empathy book).

For a great example of what it sounds like when two brilliant minds respectfully disagree:

Brené Brown’s recent appearance on Simon Sinek’s podcast.

PS. My initials.

PPS. If you enjoy these emails/blogs I’d love it if you spread the word by forwarding one to a friend or two.

The problem with back to back

Everyone is familiar with a day of “back to backs”. One meeting, after another, followed by another, then another, for hours on end.

The day turns into a blur, each meeting becoming indistinguishable from the next. One person’s white-boarding session blends into another person’s 1:1 which blends into a slide deck that you’re certain you’ve seen before.

Faced with the prospect of more meetings your mind begins to wonder:

Am I having déjà vu? Haven’t we had this meeting before? Oh well, what’s my next meeting about? Oh crap, it’s with finance. Will we finish here in time? We still have so much to get through. But I can’t reschedule finance again, they’re already annoyed at me for rescheduling last time. When am I going to eat lunch? I’m so hungry. Maybe finance will cancel? Sweet potato casserole I hope they cancel.

On and on it goes.

So what to do?

What if, instead, we intentionally built slack into our schedule? What if we made meetings 45min instead of 60min? 20min instead of 30min? How might that change our anxious internal chatter?

What if we had no meeting Mondays, or two meeting Tuesdays? Walking meeting Wednesdays or three meeting Thursdays?

What if we made meetings the exception rather than the norm? How would that change the way we show up?

Leading the witness

If you have ever watched a crime show involving a police interrogation you’ll be familiar with the idea of leading the witness.

The context might change but the scene is always the same. An interrogator is interviewing a suspected criminal in a dimly lit, windowless room trying to get them to fess up. For some reason there always seems to be a half eaten burger and large coke on the table and everyone looks tired.

The police pepper the suspect relentlessly, asking questions designed to lead the suspect to admit their guilt.

The suspect refuses to answer.

The police ask more questions, this time withholding information they know the answer to.

The suspect lies about it, is called out and the police dramatically throw a manila folder on the table in triumph and shout “A-HA!”

In these situations, the question askers are intentionally trying to lead the other person to an outcome, regardless of what it takes.

This might be an effective tactic for catching criminals but it’s no way to seek to connect and collaborate with your team, other leaders or prospective clients.  

Instead, acting with genuine curiosity and providing an opportunity to learn more and connect with the other person is the agenda. How to do this? By following your nose and asking genuine questions.

When leading with curiosity there is no hidden agenda or outcome. Instead, the process of asking questions and holding space is the outcome.