Guest-blog: Colin Smith discusses the importance of listening and ‘Why Listen’

In today’s high-tech, high-speed, high-stress world, communication is more important than ever, yet we seem to devote less and less time to really listening to one another. We are more connected than ever through technology and at the same time the disconnect with ourselves, others and our environment is growing. We need meaningful conversations to help us reconnect, going beyond our egos and our fears to build strong relationships, communities, networks and organisations, so that through collaboration we can begin to co-create a more sustainable future.

Genuine listening has become a rare gift—the gift of time. It helps build relationships, solve problems, ensure understanding, resolve conflicts, and improve accuracy. At work, effective listening means fewer errors and less wasted time. At home, it helps develop resourceful, self-reliant children who can solve their own problems. Listening builds friendships and careers. It saves money and marriages.

When you’re told, “Listen!” by someone, most often you think, “I need to hear this.” Listen to your CEO’s instructions; listen to your wife or husband’s rules; listen to the information your friend is sharing.

But listening is so much more than hearing. It’s what happens when we not only open our ears, but also open our minds and sometimes our hearts to another person.

“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”

Larry King – American television and radio host

But who do we turn to in times of listening needs, how can we learn to be better listeners, how can we perfect effective listening to help improve our lives and the lives of others?

Today I have the distinct pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, Colin Smith, who is aka ‘The Listener’, an executive coach and confidant, facilitator and speaker.

He is passionate about transforming the way we listen. His calm, attentive and patient way of being, enables you to feel seen, heard and understood. It awakens your thinking and inspires you to empathically listen to yourself and others.

His approach is not about fixing, offering advice (unless asked), or rescuing you. He creates a safe, compassionate place for you to slow down, settle, and be yourself. In this space, you are able to listen to your innermost thoughts and feelings, out of which your true story and answers will emerge.

Colin is going to talk to us the importance of listening and ‘Why Listen’

Why Listen?

Or, what’s the point, everyone is talking?

We grow up and live in a society where speaking is revered. Where he who talks most and loudest wins. We have courses galore on speaking and presenting yet little on listening.

If we look at the four mediums of communication, Writing, Reading, Speaking and Listening, research highlights the following:

• The least used medium of writing is used 9% of the time and attracts 12 years of formal training.
• The most used medium of listening is used 45% of the time attracts very little formal training.

“Hang on a minute, I think my ears do me a good service thank you, without the need for any formal training”.

Listening or Hearing, they are different, aren’t they?

I often ask groups a couple of questions.

“Hands up, if you believe you are better than average at listening?”

As you would expect, most of them put their hands up.

“Okay. Now, keep them up if anyone has said to you, “Thank you for listening”, during the last two weeks?”

Most people put their hands down.

Apart from the obvious point that we can’t all be better than average at anything, what is going on here?

The answer is that we can all hear unless audibly impaired, yet only around 10% of us are good listeners.

In the silence that I leave, usually, one person will ask, “But isn’t hearing and listening the same thing?”

We hear from – Hearing is passive, we don’t need to do anything. Its primary function is to alert us and to keep us safe. Hearing interrupts us.

For example, we will hear our name being called out across a noisy restaurant, we hear all sorts of noises when we sleep in a different bed, such as the central heating or planes passing overhead, until we get used to them.

We listen to – Listening is active, we have to intend to listen. Listening enables us to connect more deeply with the person speaking, understand what else is going on for them at that moment and where they are coming from.

The speaker becomes aware that we are listening to them, so they feel heard, feel that they matter and feel validated. This means that they relax more deeply and interestingly, the quality of their thinking improves.

During one exercise, where I play a piece of music one of the participants shared that she could feel the sadness in his voice, not just the words.

Listening changes lives

After a workshop on listening, a young man came up and thanked me. He explained that during the ‘not listening’ exercise, he had seen himself.
He had seen that all the traits of not listening being demonstrated by the person ‘listening’, were just like him.
Such as, supposedly listening with his mobile in his hand, not looking at the person speaking, interrupting and not acknowledging what the person had just said. He was listening to speak, not listening to understand.

He went on, “The experience had also caused me to question my behaviour at work with my team. So I have decided to change three things. Whenever I go into a conversation I will make the point of turning my mobile to silent and putting it out of sight. I will give them my undivided attention and keep my eyes on their eyes throughout the conversation”.

He followed up with me via email and said that on reflection his not listening behaviour was impacting his personal life as well. He said that he had sat down with his wife that evening and apologised for not listening to her and their six-year-old son. He promised that from now on he would listen more actively”.

I have no idea of the outcome, but I do know his future looks brighter, both at work and at home. If he can listen more actively, each of them will feel heard and valued by the other.

Arriving at the checkout to pay for my food, I was greeted by the usual, “Hi, how are you?”
I replied, “I am fine thank you”, and looking her in the eyes asked, “How are you?”
She replied, “Fine, thank you”, and scanned my first item.
Then looking back at me, she said, “Not really”.

Keeping my gaze, I say, “Oh” and left it hanging in the air.

“No, my boyfriend is being very difficult. We broke up a week ago and since then he has been bad mouthing me and putting up pictures on social media.”

I continued to hold contact with her eyes, she went on, “It has got so bad I had to talk to my teacher, and now we have the Police involved. My parents return from holiday in three days, so I think I am going to be okay”.

That was it, a brief moment in time. I said nothing, just deeply listened, and it enabled her to share something to a stranger. I have no idea of the outcome but know that it took some pressure out of what was building up inside, and maybe helped her to breathe a little easier and make it through the next few days.

So what?

In “Lost Connections”, Johann Hari’s recent book, he refers to the connection between loneliness, and anxiety and depression. And how loneliness can be the trigger.
As we all know too well, we can feel lonely in a crowd, be that an office, a party, or even a social gathering. Loneliness, among many factors, can be a symptom of not feeling heard, not fitting in, not being good enough, or not feeling valued.

We try and hide it through our addictions, alcohol, work, drugs, sex, and social media. But we can never get enough, we can never fill the hole we have inside.

Each ‘fix’ numbs things out for a while until the feeling returns. Then we have to take more of the ‘fix’ to numb things out.

What we are missing, and what we are yearning for? I believe it is for more deep and meaningful conversations. Conversations, which are not about the weather, celebrity gossip, or what is on the television tonight.

Rather, conversations about our feelings, our challenges, our hopes and fears, and what matters to you. Sometimes these turn out to be conversations that you have never had before.

There is an exercise that you can complete together, as a couple. It consists of 36 questions plus a 4-minute eye gazing exercise at the end, which if done correctly predicts that you would fall in love with each other.

In looking at the questions, where you both answer the questions, each person taking their turn to speak first, I can begin to see why. Each question enables you to learn something meaningful about the other, for example, “What is your most treasured memory?” and, “When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?”

Whether or not you do end up falling in love is another matter, what I like about this idea is that it causes us to be vulnerable, to open up and share, to feel heard, to be validated, to understand another human being. And all of which is for what we are deeply longing.

Could we ask similarly deep questions in the workplace, could we have more meaningful conversation? Could we ask questions that would evoke vulnerability, empathy, sharing, connection collaboration and relationship?

“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”
David Augsburger, Author of Caring Enough to Hear

What is the impact of not listening on the business?

There is growing evidence that companies don’t care for their people. In the US it is reported that 7 out of 8 US workers feel they work for a company that does not care about them. Globally, Gallup reports that 70% of workers say they feel disengaged.

This can lead to
• Disparate teams.
• Duplication of effort.
• Missed information.
• An unsafe working environment.
• Avoidable mistakes.

With the impact across the business of
• Less connection.
• Just doing my hours and that’s it!
• Less discretionary effort and thinking for the company.
• More bad-mouthing, dishonesty, isn’t it awful.
• Less trust and a growing toxic culture.
• Individuals becoming less focused on the business.
• Feeling stressed, values not aligned, disillusioned.
• A knowing that fear is keeping me here.

Personal issues
There are also deep issues happening at a personal level.
• Feelings of isolation, uncertainty, less confidence.
• No one to talk to or to confide in about how I am feeling or what is happening in my life.
• Potential for being on long term sick.

With the personal impact
• Rising levels of mental health, stress, suicide, depression, and loneliness.
• A continued increase in divorce and erosion of the family unit.
• A growing feeling of disconnection from society, people, life and sadly nature and the planet.

What to do?

Listen first. Listen to each other. Listen more.

Take the opportunity to complete a simple eleven-minute listening exercise.

You can use a timer to keep this exercise focused. This could be with your work colleague, your partner or friend, or even your child.

1. Begin with one minute of silence, with your eyes closed, as this forces you inward.
2. Face each other and look at the other in silence for about a minute or longer if it feels right. Maintain eye contact throughout, become aware of your breath as you look at them, and allow any thoughts to arise and to pass.
3. Agree who will go first. The listener asks the speaker by name, “X, what would like to talk about?” As there are no rules, the speaker can share as much or as little as they want.
4. They will have the opportunity to talk uninterrupted for three minutes. If they stop talking before the three minutes are up, allow them to sit in the silence. You will be surprised how often they will talk some more. If they think they have finished, and they look at you, gently ask, “What else?”
5. The listener says nothing throughout but will give the other their undivided attention and actively listen. Maintain eye contact (even when the speaker looks away so that when they return to you they will find you still looking at them), no interrupting, and avoid thinking about what you may say when it is your turn.
6. When the three minutes are up, swap around.
7. In the final minute, look at the other, take a deep breath in and breathe out, then each of you shares one thing that you appreciate about the other. Make this appreciation about who they are, not what they do.

NB. At first, the idea of talking for three minutes can seem daunting, afterwards, you will realise it went quickly and it did not seem like three minutes. It will also feel unusual, yet supportive, to have been able to speak freely without interruption.

“We are dying to be heard, literally and figuratively”.

So, Why Listen?

Because feeling heard matters and makes a huge difference.

Who will you have a meaningful conversation with today?

You can contact Colin Smith via LinkedIn or by email:
colin dot smith AT dexteritysolutions dot co dot uk (removing all the spaces)

https://dexteritysolutions.co.uk/

 

Are we too busy to connect to real people?

I recently had a meeting in the City of London with a group of executives – the interesting fact was when I left the boardroom, there was this picture on the wall with the words:

‘Do more things that make you forget to check your phone’

– which prompted me to write this blog.

The facts, do we actually have time for our most precious relationships, do we give the time to build lasting relationships around trust and values or do we constantly feel we can always do better with the latest api or technology app?

Let’s face it: Technology is everywhere, but the more we depend on it, and the more we use it when we don’t really need it, the harder it becomes to create meaningful relationships — and sometimes, it actually makes things more difficult.

Is it really best to brainstorm an upcoming project with your co-worker over email, or would it make more sense to walk over to that person’s desk and have a face to face discussion? Can you actually go a whole dinner without checking your smartphone? Is it necessary to charge your phone right by your head at night?

In February, 2017 I wrote a very interesting blog ‘Has Technology Killed Love and Romance?’. The attributes that have now come to define us and the overexposure that the 21st century human is subjected to leaves no dearth of psychological problems. More and more people each year are diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety problems. This becomes a detriment when it comes to business and personal survival with relationships. With dissatisfying home, office or academic environments the relationship in many cases becomes the dumping ground for emotional baggage.

I challenge you to try going without technology when possible you will be surprised how great it feels (and how little really happens when you’re out of touch). While some business people avoid e-mail and mobiles during their time off, others find it tough to remain out of contact.

According to the study conducted by a group of international researchers, anyone who devotes more than four hours daily on screen-based entertainment such as TV, video games or surfing the web, ups their risk of heart attack and stroke by 113 percent and the risk of death by any cause by nearly 50 percent compared to those who spend less than two hours daily in screen play – and this is regardless of whether or not they also work out.

A very interesting TEDx video by Leslie Perlow – Thriving in an overconnected world, Leslie Pernow argues that the always “on” mentality can have a long-term detrimental effect on many organizations. In her sociological experiments at BCG and other organizations, Pernow found that if the team – rather than just individuals – collectively rallies around a goal or personal value, it unleashes a process that creates better work and better lives.

A very good friend of mine, Moran Lerner, is a behavioural and experimental psychologist with expertise in the fields of Cognitive Behavioural Innovation, computational intelligence and human-machine interaction. Moran has founded/co-founded over 20 market-leading global companies with 14 successful exits in Computational Intelligence, Biomimetics, Interactive Gaming and Behavioural and Bio Engineering over the past 20 years.

We often explore new and creative ways of listening, engaging, working together, learning, building community and being in conversation with the other. We are more connected than ever through technology and at the same time the disconnect with ourselves, others and our environment is growing.
We need ‘Meaningful Conversations’ to help us reconnect, going beyond our egos and our fears to build strong relationships, communities, networks and organisations, so that through collaboration.

Anyone who has sat on a Caribbean beach this summer will be familiar with the thrill of mobiles producing an instant response among supposedly off-duty executives. Mobile phones, BlackBerries, iPads, WiFi and sub-miniature laptops make it all too possible to pack the office along with your luggage. But how in touch or out of touch should businesspeople be?

So, what happens if you run your own firm?

You might have the big salary that comes with the top job, but little time to enjoy it.

Can CEOs ever release their grip and truly take a break?

The biggest obstacle to disconnecting is not technology: it is your own level of commitment or compulsion when it comes to work. If you work 80 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, you may find it pretty hard to get your head out of the office – and even harder to break the association between hearing the ping of an incoming email and immediately shifting into work brain.

If you told somebody 50 years ago that the most world-changing invention of the near future was telephones you could carry around in your pocket, they’d probably look at you like you were insane. But it’s true — mobile phones (and the data networks that have grown with them) have drastically reshaped the way we live in thousands of different ways.

Remember when horror movies had people menaced by slashers with no way to call for help? Remember unfolding confusing paper maps, trying to find where you were on the road? Remember racking your brain to think of that actor who played a robot on that one show? All of those things are gone thanks to Google and the incredibly powerful networked computers we carry in our pockets.

With great power comes great responsibility, however, and scientists are starting to learn that spending so much time staring at our phones is actually doing some damage to our physical, social and intellectual lives.

Here a few reasons why you should balance you time on your device:
It damages your eyes – Experts advise that prolonged screen usage can be seriously detrimental to eye health

It makes people perceive you negatively – Studies from Takashi Nakamura – Professor in computers in human behaviour reveal that frequent peeks at your device might damage your friendships as much as your eyes.

They carry bacteria – A study conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine determined that one out of every six cell phones in England is contaminated with fecal matter, and 16 percent of them carry the E. Coli bacteria.

It’s bad for your neck – “Text Neck” has been springing up more and more in the last few years. The human head is a heavy object, and our neck and spine are designed to keep it up at a certain angle.

It makes driving dangerous – Recently released results from a new Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) naturalistic driving study continue to show that distracted driving is a tangible threat. The study showed that a staggering 213,000 accidents involved cell phone usage.

It makes walking dangerous – Phones can distract you on the street just as much as behind the wheel. In fact, an increase in pedestrian deaths last year was partially due to distractions caused by smartphones – some countries including the Netherlands – the Dutch town of Bodegraven has come up with a clever new way of keeping phone-obsessed pedestrians safe as they cross the road, a strip LED traffic signals installed in the pavement that glow red or green, allowing pedestrians to see if it is safe to cross, even if their eyes are glued to their phone screens.

It can damage your hands – We have all heard about “cell phone elbow” and “Blackberry thumb.” We’ve heard that looking down at a smartphone puts pressure on the spine and may damage your eyes. We are now experiencing “text claw,” a soreness and cramping in the wrists, forearms and fingers resulting from overusing our phones. But now we’re learning that such overuse might lead to temporary pain or even a deformity of your pinky finger.

It’s bad for sleep – Many people have a hard time putting down their cell phones before bed — when your Twitter interactions are going crazy, that temptation to take just one more look is hard to resist. Unfortunately, a number of studies have revealed that using LCD screens — especially close to your face — can upset your natural sleep cycle.

It makes you stressed – A study at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden attempted to measure the effects of cell phone usage on people in their 20s over the course of a year, the study connected mobile phone use and stress, sleep disturbances, and symptoms of depression among young adults.

It can make you hallucinate – even when you’re not looking at your phone, it can still mess with your mind. A professor at Indiana University-Purdue University conducted a study on “phantom pocket vibration syndrome” — i.e. people thinking that their cell phone was vibrating to alert them even when it wasn’t. In her survey, 89 percent of undergraduates reported thinking that their mobile was vibrating even when it wasn’t. The fact that our brains are being rewired to constantly expect this stimuli can also lead to stress, with another study observing significantly elevated anxiety levels in subjects separated from their phones for an hour.

It is altering your brain – this last one isn’t a definite negative — scientists still don’t understand exactly what is happening — but it’s troubling nonetheless. A study from the National Institutes of Health hooked up 47 people to PET scanners and observed their brain activity while a cellular phone was kept close to their head. The scientists observed a visible increase of about 7 percent, but as of yet don’t know its cause or what kind of long-term effects it will have. What we do know, however, is that the radiation is up to something in there, and are you really willing to take that risk?

“Most people check their phone every 15 minutes or less, even if they have no alerts or notifications,” Larry Rosen, psychology professor and author of The Distracted Mind . “We’ve built up this layer of anxiety surrounding our use of technology, that if we don’t check in as often as we think we should, we’re missing out.”

Rosen’s research has shown that besides increasing anxiousness, the compulsion to check notifications and feeds interferes with people’s ability to focus.

Besides the wasted time, there’s also the psychological grind that comes from spending too much time on your phone. Several studies have shown social media can be bad for your mental health, and Facebook admitted last year that passive use of its social network can leave people in negative moods. Researchers are still trying to figure out what long-term effects channelling so much time and energy into our devices will cause.

Some large investors are even pressing Apple to develop new tools to help users curb their phone addictions, saying that a feeling of dependency is bad for the company’s long-term health.
Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for Apple – you can simply become more deliberate about how you use your phone.

One group of business people at The Boston Group, a consulting firm, discovered just that when they participated in an experiment run by Leslie Perlow, who is the Konsuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership at the Harvard Business School and author of the book, “Sleeping With Your Smartphone”.

As described in her book. the group found that taking regular “predictable time off” (PTO) from their smartphones resulted in increased efficiency and collaboration, heightened job satisfaction, and better work-life balance.

Four years after her initial experiment, Leslie Perlow reports, 86% of the consulting staff in the firm’s Northeast offices including Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. were on teams engaged in similar PTO experiments.

Final thought….. If you use your phone less, you’ll end up with more free time. Much of this will be in small chunks, such as when you are in the elevator, waiting in line of on the train. These can be great opportunities to take a deep breath and just do nothing (which can be a surprisingly relaxing and restorative experience).

You’re also likely to find yourself with longer periods of time to fill. In order to keep yourself from reverting to your phone to entertain you, it’s essential that you decide on several activities you would like to use this time for and then set up your environment to make it more likely that you will stick to these intentions.

For example, if you say you want to read more, put a book on your coffee table, so when you flop down on the couch at the end of a long day, your book will be within eyesight and reach. If you want to practice playing music, take your instrument out of its case and prop it up in the hall, where it will be easy to grab when you have a few spare moments. If you want to spend more time in mindfulness take the time to schedule time for meditation and practice it daily. If you want to spend more time with your family or a particular friend, make plans to do so and put your phone in your pocket or bag for the duration of your time together. Smartphones are habit-forming, so think about the habits you want to form.

As American author Regina Brett once said:

“Sometimes you have to disconnect to stay connected. Remember the old days when you had eye contact during a conversation? When everyone wasn’t looking down at a device in their hands? We’ve become so focused on that tiny screen that we forget the big picture, the people right in front of us.”

Do we live as One, Whole and in Truth….?

I was recently having some very deep conversations with friends around life, the subject matter was ‘Do we live a life of One, Whole and in Truth?’, the general concensus of this conversation was that ‘life’ is incredibly complex, there are lots of things going on in our environments and in our lives and at all times, and in order to hold onto our experience, we need to make meaning out of it.

There is only one person to research depth on the subject and I found a quote from the great Albert Einstein that states: ‘A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation, and a foundation for inner security’
Like everything in life, it is entirely possible to be happy with just one person for your whole life, my belief is that this is based on two factors;
1. How much your motivations and purpose is for that person?
2. Is it a union of one, whole and are you being truthful to that person and yourself?

As humans, we are conscious of our own sensations, thoughts and feelings. We each have the sense of being a self-contained individual. What makes each of us unique? Our name? Our genes? Our environment? Or the person we have become as we inwardly determine every moment of our lives?

All people whatever their race, education and background are united because there is an infinite creative force for all that is humane in the world. This is the underlying divinity of love which integrates together all who receive this inspiration.

Do we live in truth?

We live in a post-truth world. The problem is in the technological world of information and importantly the way we humans communicate via online and collaboration tools and apps, do we communicate the truth?

It takes courage to be the person you really are. There really is no magic pill or solution to make this happen, especially in a world that constantly sends you messages about who you should be. All of this talk takes you away from being true to yourself. It leads you to live the life you think others want you to have.

This way of living takes you away from authenticity and truth. You ignore your desires and retort to what’s not even a best second on what you truly want to do or the person you really want to be.

Thinking you can fulfill your obligations first, then pursue your dreams, is an illusion. It may seem to be the best option sometimes, but this way of viewing the world diminishes your value and power over the long run.

A scary source of factual information now reveals one in seven adults in a long-term relationship, is with someone who isn’t the love of their life:
• 73% ‘make do’ with partner as ‘true love’ slipped through fingers
• A quarter of adults have been in love with two people at the same time
• 17% have met love of life since getting together with long-term partner
• Men are more loyal to partners
• 60% believe it takes 10 weeks to know if someone is right for them

The results showed it can be hard to find “the one” and although the general perception is that women tend to fall in love more often than men, it was intriguing to see that in reality both men and women fall in love on average two times in their life. What is alarming is that so many people claim to be in long term relationships or even married to someone who isn’t the true love of their life.

And if there are people out there who are genuinely in love with two people at the same time, they must face a huge dilemma.

Are you ready to live a life of truth and self-acceptance? Live your truth right here, right now. What does this mean exactly?

It means to live your most truthful self. Inside you are a person waiting to jump out and live in truth and openness. Most of us spend our days living up to expectations and definitions. In this way you, me, all of us are living to be someone different than who we truly are. This is a lie. It is time to live your truth and own it.

Mindfulness is one way of focusing on your inner self, what are my dreams, fears, what will it take for me to have unconditional love and what are my real needs for longstanding fulfillment? It is about taking time out to pay attention to the present moment, without judgement.

In a world where the amount of stress one heaps on oneself can be seen as a badge of honour, we need to recognise the ways of reducing the potential negative impact of exhaustion and mindfulness is a great place to start. It allows us to take a step back and refresh our perspective on the world, to decide on a better response to the challenges we face, and to really focus. Neuroscientists have proven that no matter how good we are, our brains are simply not capable of operating effectively on more than one complex task at a time.

The fact that we are all intrinsically connected is not some fluffy principle someone made up, it is something which you can experience right now in your daily life. But the way we usually live our lives in this heavily technological environment our awareness and individual senses are hovering right below the signs so to speak. So, we rarely, if ever, see it.

Once you begin practicing mindfulness you can begin to see the natural rhythm of life and how we all depend on so many different things just to come to be as we are in the present and to continue on living each day.

And this is not limited to people either. This includes all other living and non-living things- on land, in the ocean, and in the sky. This can be seen in very concrete ways – in the way we depend on the coral reefs or on the delivery of our local food and water supply for instance – but also in a much deeper way. In a very real way, we exist in the clouds, in the rain, and in the mountains. And they are within us.

This single realisation can change the way we live our entire life’s. From the way you treat others, to what you devote your time to, to the products you consume, and the causes you support.

Finally, having understanding and interests, we can join together in a common purpose. This idea is similar to the way different components of the human body fit together to form a whole healthy body. Each part depends on the others as long as they are not diseased, for the whole to function properly.

The million-dollar question is do we want to be One, Whole and live in Truth……

A great quote by Menachem Begin:

“Peace is the beauty of life. It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man, the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth.”

Do we marry just people or real connections?

Some of you will remember a blog that I wrote in July 2015 called ‘Can Love Last Forever’ – this was written just before another interesting blog ‘Can Love Conquer All or is Love a Myth?’. I have often written on the subject of love and relationships and recently reminisced on the subject ‘Do we marry just people in our life, or do we marry real connections?’

Or as William Shakesphere once said in his play is ‘The World Just a Stage?

The meaning of this phrase is that this world is like a stage and all human beings are merely actors – Oscar Wilde has put his spin on this phrase, declaring that, “The world is a stage, and the play is badly cast.” Allan Moore in his novel, V for Vendetta, has taken it to a completely new level by saying that, “All the world’s a stage, and everything else is vaudeville.” Now notice how people love to quote this phrase, because it sounds very clever, and they believe that this line has something that still resonates today.

With the world stage aside the facts are instead of strong, meaningful conversations and relationships, we struggle through long series of bad dates and so called hook-ups. Instead of meeting people in real life, we are constantly swiping and messaging somebody new. Instead of telling people how we feel, we do not text back. We no longer have people cancel, we get flaked on, and then we flake on other people. We no longer date or commit, we “see” and “hang out” with each other. We are complicit in a dating culture that systematically prevents intimacy. I believe and evidence certainly supports this, that we have become a generation afraid of being in love.

One could say “We are complicit in a dating culture that systematically prevents intimacy”.

I read a recent article from UCLA called ‘What does being committed to your marriage really mean?’ UCLA psychologists answered this question in a new study based on their analysis of 172 married couples over the first 11 years of marriage.

“When people say, ‘I’m committed to my relationship,’ they can mean two things,” said study co-author Benjamin Karney, a professor of psychology and co-director of the Relationship Institute at UCLA. “One thing they can mean is, ‘I really like this relationship and want it to continue.’ However, commitment is more than just that.”

The psychologists’ report demonstrated that a deeper level of commitment, is a much better predictor of lower divorce rates and fewer problems in marriage.

Of the 172 married couples in the study, 78.5 percent were still married after 11 years, and 21.5 percent were divorced. The couples in which both people were willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the marriage were significantly more likely to have lasting and happy marriages, according to Bradbury, Karney and lead study author Dominik Schoebi, a former UCLA postdoctoral scholar who is currently at Switzerland’s University of Fribourg.

So, do we marry a ‘soul mate’ or a ‘life partner’?

Soul Mate:
Someone who is aligned with your soul and is sent to challenge, awaken and stir different parts of you in order for your soul to transcend to a higher level of consciousness and awareness. Once the lesson has been learnt, physical separation usually occurs.

Life Partner:
A companion, a friend, a stable and secure individual who you can lean on, trust and depend on to help you through life. There is a mutual feeling of love and respect and you are both in sync with each others needs and wants.

At different times of our lives we will need and want different types of relationships. Neither is better or worse than the other, it is all a personal decision and one that you will feel guided to as long as you are following your heart.

In summary, our childhoods taught us to value love; but our institutions, cities, and technology have taught us to fear commitment and put choice first. We are trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle of emotional distance with each other. Most of us really want love at some point, but our actions are at war with this desire. We maintain emotional distance because we fear commitment and rejection, not because that is our true self. We replace the feeling of true intimacy with short term flings, long term noncommittal hook-ups, and sex. We comfort ourselves knowing at least we’re not feeling the stinging pain of a broken heart, at least we don’t have to deal with real emotions. My belief is that we have trapped ourselves in a cycle that we are all complicit within.

This cycle is detrimental to us all. Happiness means different things to different people. For some, it is marriage and kids, for others it is traveling the world, and for others it is a rainy day with a good book. One thing that we all share, however, is that having strong, positive relationships in our life is one of the keys to happiness and fulfillment. Even anecdotally, we know this to be true.

When we keep emotional distance because of the fear of rejection, we lose out on one of the most important aspects of being human. Deep inside, we know we are unfulfilled but we do not know how to fix ourselves. So, we play the game where there are no winners. We must break free from this culture that damages us all and learn to love again.

For most of us, improving our relationships is one of the best things we can do in our lives. For me, with this realisation and my committed effort to being more open, honest, and straightforward, I have been able to not only improve how I treat other people, but also the quality of my relationships with my circle of wonderful friends.

Maybe, this is the answer to a happier and more fulfilling life, maybe it will just make me a better person, and maybe it has lead me to finding love, my true love and soul mate. I just know I do not want to be complicit in modern dating culture anymore. I am happy when building real emotional connections in business and in life, and I guess, that is what we all want in the end,  to be happy and in love with real connections, real people, real life – not a world stage.

One of my favourite quotes by Oscar Wilde:

“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.”

Social Media, H2H relationships and the smartphone

I recently had a very intriguing conversation with my social media and blog agency – we have those conversations normally at 11pm London time, every Sunday night. Jacques will ask me: “How are you my friend? Your blog for Monday is all set.” I will respond with: “I am Social Media worked out, so tired”, to which Jacques responds: “So just come off Social Media and concentrate on your writing, I still want to see your next book!”
At this point I laugh loudly, but the facts are, when Jacques said this to me it was a precious moment of introspection and reflection – some people call this a light bulb moment, the result is he is so right, and this is a subject I have written extensively about: ‘Is Human 2 Human Communication Dying’, ‘In the praise of speed or not, as the case may be’, ‘Has technology killed love and romance’, ‘Why are our H2H relationships so disconnected from life?’ – just to name a few.

One month after truly quitting Twitter (we even removed the Twitter-share buttons from the site), I feel much better: no incessant alerts anymore, no more sending only (without feedback). And, I actually found a true quality-alternative: interaction, feedback and participation – you can find me here: Geoff on beBee.

If you are emotionally attached to your smartphone and rely on it every waking minute, it may be harming your relationships – I find most accidents happen with people texting when they walk, not to mention what happens when you are in their line of the street. The new education for humans is how to avoid being knocked over by the person texting on their smartphone.

So how does social media affect interaction in our society? Will face-to-face communication ultimately diminish because of these new social technologies? These questions are ones that many researchers have found extremely intriguing since the advent and popularisation of social media in the last decade. Within this topic, social competency is an important ideal that most people strive towards, but there is evidence to support the claims that social media is actually harming people’s ability to interact competently in an offline setting.

Psychologists claim that increasing numbers of people in long-term partnerships are having to compete with their partner’s smartphone for attention, making it the ‘third wheel’ in their relationship.

A survey found that almost three quarters of women in committed relationships feel that smartphones are interfering with their love life and are reducing the amount of time they spend with their partner.

Scientists found that what they describe as this ‘technoference’ – even if infrequent – sets off a chain of negative events: more conflict about technology, lower relationship quality, lower life satisfaction and higher risk of depression.
• 62 per cent of women in long-term relationships who were surveyed said technology interferes with their free time together
• 35 per cent claim their partner will pull out his phone mid-conversation if they receive a notification
• 25 per cent said their partner actively texts other people during the couple’s face-to-face conversations
• 75 per cent said their smartphone is affecting their relationship.
The poll, which was conducted by Brandon McDaniel of The Pennsylvania State University and Sarah Coyne of Brigman Young University in Utah, surveyed 143 women.

Further studies on the social competency of youths who spend much of their time on social media networks are sometimes very conflicting. For example, a study executed by the National Institute of Health found that youths with strong, positive face-to-face relationships may be those most frequently using social media as an additional venue to interact with their peers. As a pretty outgoing person myself, I find myself using social media as an extra outlet to obtain real-time news feeds, research and interact with people who are interested in my book. Although I personally agree with this study’s findings, I also believe that social media can be an excellent avenue for introverted people to find a comfortable setting to interact and from the opposite it can drive a highly-motivated individual to isolation, loneliness and to mental health disorder.

I definitely believe that face-to-face interaction must continue to be our main source of communication. According to Forbes magazine, only 7% of communication is based on the verbal word. That means that over 90% of communication is based on nonverbal cues such as body language, eye contact, and tone of voice.

Scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that the brain chemicals of people who habitually used the Internet and were perhaps addicted to it had abnormal connections between the nerve fibers in their brain. These changes are similar to other sorts of addicts, including alcoholics.

Take “ghosting,” which has been discussed regularly in the media lately. The name refers to someone simply vanishing from another person’s life, usually after the two have gone on several dates. It’s a frustrating, confusing and, certainly, impolite way to end a relationship, but it’s not new.

The connected world’s larger behavioral impact is more on how we interact with each other on a daily basis. A 2014 study: “The iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interactions in the Presence of Mobile Devices” looked at the effects that phones have when people talk face-to-face. Observing 100 friendly couples having a 10-minute conversation while their phone was present, researchers noticed that the individuals still continued to fiddle with their phones. When those same couples conversed without a phone present, their conversations resulted in greater empathy.

A very interesting white paper named “Information in the Study of Human Interaction” by Keith Devlin and Duska Rosenberg states that in today’s world, most of us think of information as a commodity that is largely independent of how it is embodied. It can be bought, sold, stolen, exchanged, shared, stored, sent along wires and through the ether, and so forth. It can also be processed, using information technologies, both concepts that would have sounded alien (and probably nonsensical) to anyone living in the nineteenth century, and even the first half of the twentieth.

Little by little, Internet and mobile technology seems to be subtly destroying the meaningfulness of interactions we have with others, disconnecting us from the world around us, and leading to an imminent sense of isolation in today’s society. Instead of spending time in person with friends, we just call, text or instant message them. It may seem simpler and easier, but we ultimately end up seeing our friends face to face a lot less. Ten texts can’t even begin to equal an hour spent chatting with a friend over coffee, lunch or dinner. And a smiley-face emoticon is cute, but it could never replace the ear-splitting grin and smiling eyes of one of your best friends. Face time is important, people. We need to see each other.

This doesn’t just apply to our friends; it applies to the world around us. It should come as no surprise that face-to-face interaction is proven by studies to comfort us and provide us with some important sense of well-being.

There’s something intangibly real and valuable about talking with someone face to face. This is significant for friends, partners, potential employers, and other recurring people that make up your everyday world. That person becomes an important existing human connection, not just someone whose disembodied text voice pops up on your cell phone, iPad or computer screen.

While technology has allowed us some means of social connection that would have never been possible before, and has allowed us to maintain long-distance friendships that would have otherwise probably fallen by the wayside, the fact remains that it is causing us to spread ourselves too thin, as well as slowly ruining the quality of social interaction that we all need as human beings.

As Anthony Carmona once said:

“Social media websites are no longer performing an envisaged function of creating a positive communication link among friends, family and professionals. It is a veritable battleground, where insults fly from the human quiver, damaging lives, destroying self-esteem and a person’s sense of self-worth.”

Guest blogger Mark Herbert discusses Building Relationships

handshake isolated on business background
This weeks blog is a guest blog:

I would like to introduce my business partner in the US, Mark Herbert (LinkedIn). Mark has over 30 years of combined corporate management and consulting experience in industries, ranging from high technology and financial services to healthcare and eco-tourism. His most recent corporate role was as Chief Operating/Relationship Officer for one of Oregon’s largest credit unions.

Mark is a Principal for New Paradigms LLC (www.newparadigmsllc.com), a management consultancy specializing in helping organisations effectively and successfully embrace change and engages their workforces.

Mark and I often discuss many subjects around leadership, trust and this week, Mark discusses building relationships.

I don’t know about you, but I have found that one of the longest journeys I have ever taken is that journey of introspection when I have faced significant milestones in my career and life and had to determine which path to take as I approached the crossroad.
As a child who was often ill I got the opportunity to spend a lot of time in my own company, much of it in hospitals and a good deal of the time away from pediatric wards. For much of my adolescence the effects of my health conditions followed me. I didn’t get the opportunity to enjoy some of the normal activities that kids do like little league, pee wee football, etc until much later. Even then I wasn’t terribly athletically gifted or inclined.
I did become very good at observing people. When you are a child late at night in a hospital you become part of the surrounding infrastructure. People carry on conversations and interactions as if you weren’t there. They aren’t being rude; they just kind of forget you are there.
I loved the Mary Stewart trilogy about Merlin and Arthur as child as well. I could especially relate to Merlin. As the bastard son of an unknown father Merlin became an observer. He was not destined to be a warrior like his cousins and though later it was determined that he had a legitimate claim on the throne he recognized that it was his destiny to advise kings rather than occupy the throne personally.
That is a persona that I have co-opted for myself. I advise kings and princes, but I have little interest in occupying the throne myself.

Mark Herbert - Paradigm LLC

The dark side of that observational ability is you see people hurt and flinch where others miss it.
This week I got to see that play out several times. I don’t manage to see it purely as an observer; unfortunately for me I feel their hurt as well.
In one case it played in my own family. We are an interesting group. To a large extent my father had an enormous gift of self confidence. He never seemed to doubt himself or his opinions. In an interesting paradox he was very sensitive to his own feelings, but almost oblivious to the feelings of others. He wasn’t intentionally cold or unkind, he just didn’t relate to being wounded by a word or action.
That kind of set the tone in my family. In many ways we are quite gifted. We have all enjoyed great success professionally. We also find ourselves enormously competitive and to an extent guarded. In my family you rarely if ever reveal your feelings, especially if you feel slighted or hurt – that reveals weakness.
My choice of profession and how I practice it still remains an enigma to my immediate family. To create space for myself, I moved away for several decades, so to my nieces and nephews I think I represent a bit of a stranger. My family is proud of my professional accomplishments; they just don’t entirely get me.
Even though I am kind of an outsider when one of them hurts the other, I feel it vicariously, as if I was the recipient.

In another situation I have a colleague who is a true philanthropist, not by profession, but by vocation. He works in an organization where his role as chief philanthropical officer is taking on increased importance to the sponsoring organization. He and I have spent the last many months trying to create a new philanthropic vision for the organization, defining philanthropy not as a transaction or simply a charitable contribution, but rather an investment in critical societal infrastructure.
It is a bold vision and creating a model where there is room for the grateful donor, the philanthropist, and the philanthropical investor is an interesting challenge.
As a gifted development professional he also lives in the world of relationships rather than transactions. This can be difficult when the sponsoring organization feels the tyranny of the urgent. They want dollars, cash dollars and optimally the sooner the better. Building the bridge between donor and recipient can be a time consuming process. Sometimes your initiatives don’t resonate with the donor base. Sometimes the focus of the donor doesn’t fit into the strategy of the organization. Trying to bring the parties together is not easy or simple.

In the third situation I have a dear friend who is on her own journey. She is a wife and a mother, but she also has goals and dreams about creating her own business that she has put on hold for a number of years. She is at the point now where she would like to be able to balance the investment of her passion and energy into her goals as well as her commitments.

Like in most relationships this changes the status quo. The other parties in our lives often don’t see anything as broken. They assume that those ideas and notions we had when we are young will just go away, especially if they were not the ones who had to subordinate their goals.

The common thread to me in all this is the importance and power of relationships.
I believe that the ability to build and sustain relationships is the key attribute that ultimately defines individual and organizational success and is the most important dimension of effective leadership.

As a former human resources professional and now a management consultant I speak and write on this topic frequently, maybe even obsessively.
This week I watched the stock market plunge because Congress and the President could forge a meaningful compromise without a deadline looming down on them.

Employee dissatisfaction with their jobs is at historical highs, and nine out of ten Americans in a recent survey expressed distrust for the senior management of the organization they work for – nine out of ten!

If you ask: does that matter, I would submit it does.

• Studies show that 40% of new or newly assigned managers and executives fail within the first 18 months of their assignment with the key reason not being ‘technical competency’, but rather the ‘inability to build effective relationships’.
• The Department of Labor estimates that employee turnover costs the U.S. economy close to $3 trillion annually.
• Presenteeism, the phenomenon where people show up to work, but fail to engage represents another $200 billion of leakage.
• U.S. organizations spend an estimated $100 billion on training annually. Studies indicate that the knowledge transfer after 24 months is less than 10%.
• Health care delivery costs us 12% of our GDP in 2010 with a substantial portion (approaching 20%) directly or indirectly related to depression, stress, substance abuse, accidents and injuries and other factors that deal with environmental factors like job dissatisfaction and anxiety about economic and emotional security.
• In 2010 the average compensation of the C suite went up 32% while the average compensation for regular workers went up 2%. Unemployment remains over 9%.

Outsourcing, lean systems, and trickle-down economics are not going to solve this problem.
There is no such thing as human capital: there are only people and relationships. Perhaps the sooner we recognize that and start our journey to build relationships based on mutual trust, respect and personal competency, the sooner we can arrive at a much better place….