I've written about the willingness to ask a question and how being the person who is willing to ask a question can be powerful. Usually when I say this I'm talking about the willingness to do this in spite of a fear of looking or sounding stupid.

I recently had a different, but related, experience.

I was in a contentious meeting. People were not communicating and everyone was digging their heels in for a fight.

I asked a question.

It wasn't a great a question. It wasn't a terribly insightful question. It was a legitimate question - something that I really didn't understand because it wasn't clear to me what a certain part of the disagreement was about. I also didn't understand why no one was talking about it.

It was enough to open a door to a different discussion in this case. It was enough to expose that there were things that were unclear to people in the room, and it gave everyone a chance to take a breath and look at the disucussion from a different perspective.

It was enough to make the discussion a lot more productive, if not 100% friendly.

A question won't always resolve these situations. However, asking such a question is important if you are going to contribute to a discussion (and hopefully a resolution).

And it can help others look at their own assumptions and realize they may have questions of their own.

Words: Always Open Source

When you read something, all of it is right there on the page or screen. 100% of the art is present and can be evaluated, analyzed, and understood.

This is not true of most other things in this world, including other types of art. In other art forms the artifice can and often does conceal the structure, but with writing it never does.

Of course, even with writing, what you don't see is the process that was used to achieve the finished product: edits, deletions, false starts, things thrown away entirely, etc.

But the effect and the way that words were used to create that effect are all in front of you.

The thing with a writing process is that you need to develop one. How do you write? How do you start? How do you edit? Who helps you? What are your sources of inspiration?

Mindfulness and Privacy

Because Mindfulness and other types of Focused Attention Training derive from religious practices, many people may feel that they are private or non-public activities.

There is some merit in this line of thought. The practice, any that I've seen, is private in that you are focusing inward to improve attention and enhance awareness.

But why really does this seem private?

There is nothing really private or revealing about it. Your thoughts aren't different when meditating than at some other time. Nor are they required to be shared with others. Nor are they shared with others.

What differs, really, is posture. The eyes are closed. You're sitting there. It's prayer-like in that way, even if what you're doing isn't religious. You're just paying attention to the mind. This resembles sleeping or praying and those are considered to be private activities in the West.

I guess sleeping is private in every culture. And it is the closed eyes, probably more than anything, that make it seem private to us.

Mostly it's different. If you aren't with a group of people, you're on your own and that can feel uncomfortable. Better to do that thing you're a little unsure of in private.

But ask yourself these questions:

What seems more personal to you, reading a book or meditating? Which would you be more likely to do in public? Which is actually the more private activity? Why?

Mindfulness practices are maintenance and improvements for the machinery of the mind. If we think of them this way then there shouldn't be anything more personal or private about them than any other activity you engage in for self-improvement.

Does that mean you should go out an meditate in public? I guess that's a personal preference and probably relates to your goals and why you meditate. Some people do it.

For the rest of us, just something to consider.

Things That Don't Work #1

Twitter -> Profile -> Settings and Privacy -> Muted Words

Add -> http

So what does this tell us?

Well, I guess links aren't words, nor do they contain words as far as Twitter is concerned.

It wasn't terribly shocking to me that it didn't work, given all the things that Twitter does with links. We shouldn't be surprised that they do different things and are treated differently.

I wasn't planning to leave the mute on forever, but I did want to see what the sum total of my followed content looked like if you took the links out of it.

I'll have to find another way to do that.

Why does it matter? Well, there are days where I feel like Twitter is the writing assignment and I actually want to say something useful that isn't a link to something else.

I'm interested in seeing who else does that and what they say.

East vs. West - Know Thyself

The saying 'Know Thyself' comes to us in the West from Ancient Greece where it was one of the Delphic Maxims. There were originally 147 of these that we know about, though 'know thyself' is easily the most famous (and catchy).

Here are a few other Delphic Maxims: 'Do not make fun of the dead', 'Be (religiously) silent', and 'Make promises to no one'. You can see why the rest of them haven't achieved the popularity of 'know thyself'.

Part of the reason 'Know Thyself' has stayed with us is its truth. Self-knowledge is core knowledge. It's what we need to have any kind of adult life.

So, for those of us who are interested, we should all be asking: "How do you do it and how do you get better at it?"

'Know thyself' is great advice, but it isn't exactly an instruction manual.

The practice of mindfulness, or focused attention training as it is sometimes called, comes to us from the East. It derives from Buddhist meditation practices. Though, as it appears today in corporate and educational settings, it is devoid of outward religious ceremony or trappings.

This Eastern-based practice provides you with essential tools to pay attention to thoughts and to be aware of the interactions between mind and body. Mindfulness is paying attention to you mind. By paying attention to your mind and body - deliberately, intentionally, for at least a little while - you begin to develop a greater awareness of what's going on.

In this way it is a tool for real, intentional self-awareness and proactive living.

If we consider it in this way it can be seen as a great example of the melting pot of our modern global culture. East is meeting West (as it often does) and one is the mirror of the other. Mindfulness practice can become a tool to achieve that core Western goal of 'know thyself'.

The path is winding but the view is nice.

Mindfulness Quantified

Here is a great post from Andrew Wien on quantifying the impact of mindfulness training in a business setting:

How to Reduce Stress, Increase Focus, and Improve Communication at Your Company

Andrew is extremely knowledgeable and has been developing his mindfulness curriculum over the last few years.

His corporate mindfulness sessions emphasize focused attention training, awareness, managing negativity bias, and stress management. He really helps you get at the underpinnings of what mindfulness is, how it works in your brain, and how it can help you.

He is the founder of The Dynamic Leadership Center.

14 Ways to Beat Negativity Bias

How can you fight negativity bias in your organization?

Here is a short list:

  1. Build trust with employees, peers, and supervisors.
  2. Start some form of mindfulness group or bring in outside help to do so.
  3. Discuss negativity bias and share information about how it works and why it exists.
  4. Be as transparent as possible.
  5. Make your expectations clear and communicate what needs to be done.
  6. Have high expectations for people and delegate tasks, even challenging tasks. Give people a chance to grow.
  7. Assist people with hard conversations but don't do the have those conversations for them.
  8. Discuss Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
  9. Invest in employee training.
  10. Run a book group or other professional development discussion.
  11. Do not retain employees who generate negativity in the office.
  12. Seek clients and customers who align with your culture.
  13. Encourage self-awareness.
  14. Hold people accountable and tell them where they need improvement.

Leadership and Negativity Bias

As a leader you're trying to effect change in your organization.

So, what do you do when you run across this:

This change is wrong. Why are you doing this thing that damages our culture? Before you make any changes you should have consulted the whole organization.

Let me say first, if you actually get this question, consider yourself lucky. It means people trust you and you have made some progress already. You also may not hear it. But many will be thinking it as you try to make changes and improvements.

So what is this, exactly?

This is negativity bias.

You have change occurring in your company (who doesn't). This person is looking at it and their brain is processing the information. The first thing it is going to do is look for threats. Evolution has programmed us this way.

"Where is the bear?" this person's brain is saying, "If there's a bear around here. I don't want to get eaten."

Of course, there isn't a bear (hopefully) but our brain is going to look anyway. Specifically, this is being done by primitive parts of our brain that don't handle logical reasoning.

So, you can't reason with it. Not really.

Things you should do:

  1. Listen
  2. Respond with empathy
  3. Give people space to process.
  4. Encourage questions.

Things you shouldn't do:

  1. Don't tolerate overt negativity or poison attitudes in group settings. Take people out of rooms if they seem to be going overboard.
  2. Don't react strongly to concern or fear.
  3. Don't go into authoritarian "Do it because I said so." mode.

Depending on the stage you're in, questioning can mostly be encouraged. Questions can make a policy or change better.

People do come around to positive intent, but they need time and you need to encourage them to consider things from different angles.

Your focus as a leader should be answering questions, not reacting strongly to negative emotions, and listening to concerns.

Now, when a manager or another leader sees this and says, "Why can't so-and-so assume positive intent?" You now know the answer - we're programmed not to.

If you really want to tackle this head on, a mindfulness program can take you far. It gets at the root of the fundamental issue and helps people understand their brains better.

They'll still experience negativity bias. You can't stop that. But they can be better prepared to handle it.

You can also use something more traditional like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which tackles the same issue from a different angle.

As leaders it is up to us to understand both the source of these challenges and help people become their best selves, including managing their responses to challenging situations.

How To Act Like a Human - Supplemental

This is a good article on how to think about approaching the HR challenges, I've been writing about in the Mindful Firing series:

It comes from a little brighter place, in the sense that it is about approaching your culture from a non-firing perspective (at least it shouldn't be your first step) and making changes to corporate culture.

I very much agree with this.

This is good to read to keep you focused on problem solving and solutions. Those solutions are out there in many cases.

How to Act Like a Human - Mindful Firing Part 2

If you are a leader you're going to have a decision to make and the rules aren't necessarily going to help you.

What do I mean? I mean this: when you run up against a personnel problem that has escalated you start to think about having to let the person go.

There are laws and organizational rules for all of this, and you need to follow them, whatever they are for you.

But, whatever rules you must follow, there will be plenty left to your discretion in many organizations. AND this is where we come to it: If you are a leader you're going to have a decision to make and the rules aren't necessarily going to help you.

So what should you do? My advice is to act like a human, and I will give you my guidelines of what that means:

  1. Is anyone else doing anything? Sometimes complaining to you is all anyone's done. If that's the case you may (or you may not) owe it to the person in question to say or do something. Or you may want to make sure that others are saying something. You may need to sit in on a meeting with the employee to help.

  2. Think about what can be done about it. There are times where remediation can help with a challenging or failing employee. Some times strong messaging, encouragement, support, or an improvement plan can help. If it can help do it.

  3. Be aware of team impacts. When team members begin to struggle - through negative outlook, non-productive behaviors, incompetence, or material failure - you need to think about acting for the morale of your other employees. Leaving a negative or failing person in place creates drag on and possible resentment from those around the troubled person - they may not admit it all the time, but it does. Be aware of it. Don't wait to act until others have quit. This is something you have to weigh when thinking about number 2.

In my opinion, 3 outweighs all the others. But that doesn't mean you should overreact every time there is bump. But you must protect your best employees, and you certainly must protect your best employees from being impacted by those who are struggling.

How are you going to get the best from your best if you have someone around them with a negative attitude always slowing them down.