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Presence: An Invitation to Courage

We speak lightly of Presence so often – in working with ourselves, in working with our clients. Yet, we don’t often think of it as the key to developing courage!

This morning as this quote came across my screen, I began to ponder it more deeply.
First the quote:

There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hand. ~Thoreau

When our strongest intuitions arise in technicolor, they come from dropping deeply into the moment. And what does “the moment” provide when entered into fully?

The Truth – yes with a capital “T”.

If we are able to be with the Truth of whatever is arising – no deflection, no avoidance, no belittling, no judging – no resistance of any kind something profound occurs. We begin to become more permeable, less stiff, less rigid, allowing more spaciousness. And in that space, courage blossoms as we notice that we’re actually okay!

A little known aspect of being Present – not planning or manipulating or dreaming or wistfully longing is that our Presence ultimately transcends our anxieties and fear. By entering into what is up for us – pleasant or unpleasant and exploring it fully, it begins to move, to breathe in and out… and with practice, staying tuned in rather than tuning out – we transcend our fears, our anxieties by noticing that we’re actually okay – the roof isn’t collapsing, the arresting officer isn’t at the door. We have clothes to wear, food to eat, shelter from the storm. More than most people on the planet can say!

And what is most amazing? When we are Present with this moment and the next and the one after that, our capacity to stay Present grows. And moreover, our Presence invites others to courageously move into Presence as well.

So not only we developing more courage to meet Life as it arrives, but we also invites others into this action. As we stay grounded in Presence, they too, find ground beneath their feet to be with Life – and their experience of it. As so much of wisdom, this is simple but not easy. Yet, what precious quality is easily developed? Most require commitment. As we commit ourselves, we begin to engage more fully with others, ourselves and Life unfolding.

So, let’s pause in the endless cycle of “Next,” and not sacrifice the bloom of the present moment!

Communication 101 for Leaders

Whether we’re dealing with under-performing employees, challenging direct reports, negotiating with difficult clients or discussing breakdowns on projects, difficult conversations arise. Few leaders understand the dynamics of difficult conversations. Most avoid them.

Great leaders skillfully decipher the structure of difficult conversations, interpret the significance of what was said, identify their own unspoken assumptions and manage strong emotions. They then try to discover the assumptions of the other person and navigate to resolutions that empower all parties.

Delivering a difficult message, no matter how much tact the speaker brings, is going to sting, maybe do real damage. There is a much better way however, than avoiding the issue or burying it in a larger issue or letting it “leak out” sideways.   Even when the difficulty is palpable, the conversation can be less stressful and more productive when some critical steps are taken.

What does it take to become masterful where it counts? First, separate impact from intention. If you focus only on impact, you will be unable to listen deeply to the other person who is acting from his specific intentions. The inability to separate keeps you in “blame” mode – unproductive at best and destructive to the relationship at worst.

Hold your view  of what is happening as a hypothesis. Remember, in science class you learned that a hypothesis is just as useful when it is proven wrong. Stay open to another interpretation of “the facts.” (And don’t pretend you don’t have a hypothesis.)

Listen past the accusations for the underlying feelings – yours and his. These need to be addressed as much as “the facts” if you hope to arrive at a resolution that dignifies all. Try assuming the other person’s role. How does it look from there? Regardless of the organizational culture, feelings cannot be dispensed with. Trying to eliminate feelings leads to broken agreements and destructive work place environments.

Use the language of feelings when talking about them. Say “I feel….” and beware the word “that” creeping into your expression. When you say, “I feel that…” you have left the arena of feelings and moved, almost imperceptibly, to judgment.  Stay aware! Feeling language includes such adjectives as disappointed, frustrated, overwhelmed, angry, depressed, exhilarated, enthusiastic, etc.  A great resource for the language of feelings and needs can be found on the Center for Non-Violent Communication web site. Giving voice to your feelings  models for the other party that emotion is  a legitimate part of your  conversation

Turn “my story” vs. “your story” into “our story” and give up blaming. Clearly each person in the situation has a point of view of what happened  that they will put forth. When these are woven together into a wider, third perspective, more of the “truth” of what happened is available.

We are complicated and so are our intentions. Move from judgment to investigating all the contributing factors  to the current situation – like avoiding, being unapproachable and role assumptions. This is a movement away from looking backward to instead,  looking ahead.

Expect imperfection. Allow yourself and the other person to be human, therefore to make mistakes. Failure is  only feedback!  If what is driving you is a an intention to have a productive, meaningful conversation that leads to either a solution to a current problem or a better relationship if future, the effort will be rewarded with improved communication skills.

And if there is more to resolve than one conversation can contain, agree to come back. Sometimes 2 or 3 passes are required to unknot a complex situation. Reflection time  between conversations can only be helpful, never harmful.

Finally, acknowledge yourself and the other  person for  your willingness to take part in a difficult conversation.

Working with Resistance: A More Perfect Teacher

Many coaches talk to me about the resistance they experience with their clients.  This is a fascinating topic because it opens a rich vein of inquiry. Working here leads into deep developmental work. Yet, coaches often view the resistance as negative – hence triggering their own resistance to “resistance” and rather than moving with it, deal by avoiding, diverting or bowing in the face of its force.

For a coach willing to work with her own resistance there are useful questions and actions to take. (These also assist the client to find out what underlies their “stuckness”.)

First, acknowledge the resistance.  This is important. Too often the stepping around the resistance leads to superficial work. Call it by its true name. Some measure of liberation occurs here.

Inquiry can include questions like:  What fears are coming up for me? (for example, “my coaching can’t be very good’ or “the client doesn’t really like me” or “I’m not good at enrollment”.  There thoughts and their variations we visit (and re-visit) often.  A way in is to ask, “what’s happening somatically as I explore?” (Checking in with our sensations isn’t only for our clients. It is our way to work with ourselves as we become more skillful with clients.) What emotions are arising? Once you discover your pattern, you’ll know where your edge is and you can begin to work with it.

Making the invisible visible creates space around the suffering – which resistance always signals. This space expands when we are willing to hang out in it. Staying there requires working with the breath and the body – grounding ourselves.

What in your environment supports the resistance? Notice the conversations you are in wondering if the support or challenge your current understanding. (Hint, if these are very comfortable, you might wonder what they keep you from exploring.)

What do you do to return to center? Use whatever method you employ. Depending on the extent of what surfaces, you may take this “hanging out in the suffering” in small doses., grounding, then returning to underlying experience that Resistance reveals, and grounding  again.  With clients watch their breathing, their shoulders, etc. carefully to modulate how much is enough for one sitting.

Once grounded yourself (breath work, qigong, conscious embodiment, etc.), allow the field, universe, God (rather than your body) to hold the resistance while you can explore like an archeologist (structures, environment) and an anthropologist (culture, language). You work with a client in much the same way.

If you can hold resistance as a teacher opening a door to deep understanding much becomes possible in your work.

Are you willing to step through the door?
(to be continued)