The 7 Habits I proposed:
... What are yours?
Habit 1: Meditate
- To develop awareness of your thoughts and notice when your mind wanders
- To observe the thoughts (reactions, judgements, ideas) in your mind
- To concentrate on specific thoughts and to (re)focus your wandering mind
- To grow your ability to "mind the gap" - the moment between a stimulus and your response
- To generate insight, compassionate responses and wise action in the "gap"
When I mention meditation, people often say, "Oh, I can't do that. My mind goes everywhere." Several meditation teachers have offered the insight that there are many types of meditation; one purpose of meditation is to cultivate awareness of one's thoughts, which doesn't mean to have no thoughts, rather it means to be aware of the mind as it "goes everywhere." Simply watch the thoughts and come back to one's breath. With that in mind, the workshop began with two minutes of silence following a simple prompt: "Breathing in I am aware I am breathing in, breathing out I am aware I am breathing out. In, Out."
We ended with a quick debrief about the experience. One fellow reflected, "I had to catch my mind from wandering about 20 times." To which, I replied, "Bravo! Most people don't even notice their mind wandering. You noticed it 20 times- that's advanced!"
Here's a short, fun and practical video introduction on how to meditate for a moment- it even provides a chance to practice for 1 minute.
Did you catch your mind wandering during the minute of silence?
from Buddha Station
Habit 2: Listening to Oneself
- To develop awareness of your inner dialogue (judgments, feelings, needs, interests)
- To recognize your feelings and needs
- To acknowledge your feelings and to meet your needs
- To be prepared to listen to others without your feelings, needs, thoughts getting in the way
The first step is to distinguish between an observation and judgments. Our ability to interpret is infinite and often embedded. Slowing our responses down enough to simply address what is observed (seen/heard) unencumbered by the meaning we attribute to it is a skill that takes practice. Once we identify what triggered a reaction, we can uncode our response. We have to learn to strip away the judgments and interpretations to only the objective information, when I see "x" or when I hear "y."
The next two steps require developing the skills to recognize and unpack one's reaction to triggers. I didn't know that I had a limited feeling vocabulary until I attended an NVC workshop on race, class and gender. The instructor read "highly charged" statements aloud and we had to go to stand next to "feeling words" that were scattered around the room. Even with only the basics of mad, glad, sad, bad and scared, it was a challenging exercise. So began my journey in emotional language literacy; the feelings list included below under "Read More" helped immensely to grow my emotions vocabulary.
My initial reaction to the step of identifying one's needs was "pfff." In health professions though our work centers around helping/serving others in great need, the clinical culture often supports denial of one's own needs and often a distain/rejection of 'neediness' expressed by others, except one's patients, of course. What I hadn't realized until I learned to identify my needs and address them myself was how much I relied on and subconsciously imposed on others to meet my needs. [My apologies all!] Learning this step was empowering and liberating. See the needs list included below under "Read More."
The last step is a request. When this model is applied to oneself*, one asks how can I meet this need for myself. I share this NVC framework for self-care and as a tool to develop resilience and empowerment with the ability to acknowledge and meet one's own needs.
*I share the NVC model with the caveat that, there are cultural values embedded within it. Particularly with regard to the emphasis on "I" statements, which may not translate to cultures grounded in more communitarian concepts of self. As well, when the NVC model is unskillfully applied on others, it can be quite violent. Thus, I share this as a tool to be applied only with oneself.
Habit 3: Listening to Understand Layers
- To learn the 4 parts of listening to understand
- To know what layers to listen for
- To respond to and acknowledge each layer
A common element among different listening techniques (active listening, reflective listening, empathic listening) is emphasis that listening is an active verb. Listening is bi-directional; it requires engagement by both parties. Listening necessitates more than passively hearing the other person. It is completed by the listener reflecting back what is understood from what has been said.
When I listen, I am paying attention to layers. Just as an iceberg has the visible tip with 80% beneath, so I find it is also with language. People's stories- narrative, details, facts- reveal only about 20% of what is really going on. To listen effectively, one needs to develop the skills to hear the other 80%. When you are able to reflect 100% of the "message" back to a person, s/he will feel heard. Interestingly, often, it's less about the 20% that a person says and much more important to reflect the unspoken 80% for a person to feel truly heard.
So, let's give your ears some hooks to grab onto as the stream of words flow at you.
Listening for Layers
The feelings layer surfaces emotions, which may be expressed directly by feeling words; beware, people tend to use the expression "I feel" followed by words that are not emotions. (see feelings list below under "read more"). Often, feelings can be "heard" in other ways. Tone, pitch, pace may offer clues about someone's emotions. Body language, including if a person leans forward (engaged) or sits back stiffly with arms folded (closed), may reveal a person's feelings.
The needs/interests layer surfaces what is really going on. Here, I am listening for core needs/values. (see needs list below under read more) as well as unspoken concerns and underlying interests. The negotiation classic Getting to Yes introduced the concept to "focus on interests, not positions." People say they want X (position), but it's because they need Y (interest). There may be other ways to achieve Y, but all they may say is "we want X."
A classic example of this is Tim and Tory, two siblings, fighting over the last orange in the kitchen. One parent says, "Stop fighting, we'll split it and you each get half." Both kids start to cry. The other parent asks why Tim wants the orange? "I need the peel for a cake I'm baking." Then asks Tory why she wants the orange? "I just got back from soccer and I'm starving."
Finally, while it may not always come up, when it does, the identity layer is the deep part of the iceberg that could sink the ship, or conversation, in this case. Our identity is the essence of who we are and how we understand ourselves in the world. Addressing someone's identity that may be threatened in a conversation is critical for people to feel understood and safe. When a person's identity is threatened, they may respond with very strong emotions. Identity may surface as being a good person, a good friend (family: mother/father, daughter/son, brother/sister), a good worker (coworker, employee, boss), a good ____ (doctor, plumber, designer) ... Tip: Identity issues may be triggered around how people to relate to the topics addressed in Habit 5.
Tip for reflecting values/needs/interests: It may be helpful to frame it as a question, e.g. "It sounds like Y is really important to you?" or "I wonder if you need Y? " This extra space allows the other person to determine whether or not, you've heard what they are saying.
I paused, "That's a great question. But actually, from your participation, I think you have a good handle on the information so I'm skeptical that more knowledge is what you need, I suspect the most important thing you can do is practice. Let's start with an example. Suppose your mom comes home and finds that no one has emptied the dishwasher and explodes in a highly emotional way. You can't relate to that intensity of emotion; it's completely irrational and dialogue seems impossible. Is that a fair hypothetical?" "Sure."
"OK, so let's start with the tools we discussed when your mom reacts at you in a highly emotional way. Normally, you would judge it as irrational and dismiss her emotional response. But now, you've started to meditate and realize that you have a choice in your reaction. [Habit 1]
You pause your response long enough to listen to what's happening for you. [Habit 2] When you hear your mom speak with extreme emotional intensity and the words: "no one unloaded the dishwasher," how do you feel? ... You can study the feeling list to come up with words. Let's imagine that you feel scared, because her response seems out of calibration with the situation and your need for congruity and to understand are challenged by the dissonance she's expressed. Perhaps you feel mad at yourself because you value participating in the household and you want to support your Mom but you didn't notice the dishwasher needed to be emptied... In that moment, you could give yourself support-- as an adult, you know that you are OK even if someone is yelling at you and you know that you are a good son and you do contribute to the household even if you missed this opportunity to pitch in. Now that you listened to yourself and addressed your needs first, you realize that you are OK, and now you are ready to show up to fully listen to her."
"So, you stop and listen to her by acknowledging what she's saying, 'Mom, no one helped you by putting the dishes away, I can understand that would be really frustrating.' Incidentally, she might look at you in shock if you've never responded this way to her before. Then you might say, 'How was your day?' or 'How does that make you feel?'
Remember, you are listening to understand the layers of what is going on for her. The data that you have is that the dishwasher wasn't emptied, the intense emotional response indicates that this set off something deeper-- is it that she doesn't feel appreciated? Maybe that she doesn't feel supported? Maybe a stranger was rude to her and she's feeling the compounded effect of disrespect? Look at the needs list (under Read More) and listen to understand what she needs in that moment.
You want to learn what is the underlying interest behind the dishwasher getting emptied- what does it "signify" to her- chances are it isn't about the dishes. Then you want to acknowledge all the layers so that she feels heard and understood. 'Mom, I understand that you've had a tough day and coming home to find that no one pitched in to help put the dishes away was frustrating. I guess it might feel like no one supports you around the house, especially that no one noticed or thought to check the dishwasher.' Then you want to acknowledge whatever the deeper layers are for her that you've uncovered." [Habit 3]
Most of all, I suggest that you practice this with your colleagues. Practice the Empathy Poker exercise with people whenever you can. It's a muscle and you need to build it. It is best to practice in lower stakes situations so that you are ready in a high stakes encounter, such as family who are the best at triggering us. These habits are skills and being able to use them artfully is all about practice."
Practice: Empathy Poker
To make your own cards, see the Feelings/Needs Lists under Read More below.
2. Wherever you go, there you are, Jon Kabat Zinn
3. Non Violent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg
4. Empathic Listening (Introduced at Steve Rosenberg's Mediation Training)
5. Getting to Yes, Robert Fisher and William Ury.
6. Difficult Conversations, Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen.