Have “mindful conversations”

It might not matter what I say, since some American conversations resemble a succession of monologues. A 2014 study led by a psychologist at Yeshiva University found that when researchers crossed two unrelated instant-message conversations, as many as 42 percent of participants didn’t notice. –Pamela Druckerman

Like most of us, I sometimes find myself in “conversations” with people who are far more interested in what they have to say than what’s on my mind.

Likewise, I have participated in too many “conversations” that remain on the surface as they move quickly from topic to topic.

I have also participated in conversations that were deep, meaningful, and, in some cases, life changing for me and others.

Participants leave these conversations with a greater appreciation of and respect for one another, altered views regarding important subjects, and solutions found for what seemed like intractable problems.

In the conversations I prefer participants have an openness to being influenced as well as a desire to influence. Participants listen carefully and seek to better understand themselves as well as each other.

Such conversations are unpredictable because they are likely to take on lives of their own, which makes them the kind of conversations in which resilient people thrive.

Druckerman points to the primary underlying skill required in these conversations:

“A lot of us — myself included — could benefit from a basic rule of improvisational comedy: Instead of planning your next remark, just listen very hard to what the other person is saying. Call it ‘mindful conversation,’ if you like.”

What kind of conversations do you prefer, and how do you create them?

Habits of resilient people

The first step is learning how to do it. Finding and obtaining the insight and the tools and the techniques you need. Understanding how it works. But step two is easily overlooked. Step two is turning it into a habit. Committing to the practice. Showing up and doing it again and again until you’re good at it, and until it’s part of who you are and what you do. —Seth Godin

Learning about something is only the first step.

Understanding an idea or practice deeply requires more of us.

Learning to do something correctly is harder still.

Learning to do it consistently until it becomes a habit is even harder. Such learning is founded on discipline and practice.

Here are a few habits we are likely to see in resilient people:

• Seeking clarity in the midst of confusion regarding purposes, values, goals, and next actions.

• Acting with integrity, particularly in speaking their truth and keeping their promises.

• Accepting responsibility for their actions.

• Taking calculated risks that move them out of their comfort zones.

• Learning from their mistakes.

• Using their strengths.

• Having empathy for the experiences and perspective of others.

What would you add to this list?

Taking personal responsibility

We teach children to take responsibility for their actions.

And we expect the same from adults.

A hallmark of resilient people is their willingness to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

But what exactly does that mean?

A person I regard as wise once told me that he found it very useful to hold himself 100% responsible for whatever happened in his life.

Not that he didn’t believe that others had a share of the responsibility, nor that “fate” hadn’t played a role, but rather that when he assumed 100% of the responsibility he did a much more thorough job of searching for the things that were within his circle of influence.

When he did that, he told me, others were far more likely to own their appropriate share of responsibility for the problem.

I have found that advice helpful over the years in countless situations.

While not all problems benefit from that way of thinking, most do, at least in my experience.

So, for today, assume 100% of the responsibility for a problem.

Within your circle of influence, what specific actions will you take to prevent, minimize, or solve a problem that would otherwise be easy to blame on others?

Everyone has an important story to tell

Everyone has a story to tell, and, given an opportunity, we all want to tell the important stories of our lives, stories that explain who we are and where we came from, that prove we existed and mattered, that demonstrate our resilience, and that reveal the people and events that affected our lives.

And we can all learn important lessons from one another’s stories.

StoryCorps’ “National Day of Listening” provides an opportunity to evoke those stories.

On the day after Thanksgiving, StoryCorps asks everyone to take a few minutes to record an interview with a family member or friend.

You can use recording equipment that is readily available to you, such as a computer, smart phone, tablet, or other voice or video recorder.

StoryCorps provides a free Do It Yourself Instruction Guide.

The lesson that everyone has an important story to tell has been reinforced time and again for me as a hospice volunteer who has been privileged to record dozens of hospice patients discussing their lives in conversations with family members.

All that is required of us is to extend the invitation and to listen deeply without interruption to those stories.

Once the conversation begins, it’s likely to proceed almost effortlessly, at least in my experience.

Some possible questions include:

• What elders or events influenced the person you’ve become?

• How would you like to be remembered?

• What advice would you like to pass along to your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, or others in your life?

There’s no gift human beings can give one another that is more important and precious than our undivided attention and genuine interest in the stories we all have to tell.

When that attention promotes storytelling that is preserved with video or voice recordings, it is a gift that benefits future generations for decades to come.

Consider:

How have stories and storytelling shaped your life?

To whom would you like to reach out—an elder, a family member or friend, a veteran, a colleague, or a neighbor, for example—to invite his or her storytelling?

[This post is adapted from one first published at Thanksgiving 2012. I have updated the links.]

What is your story?

For many years I had the privilege of interviewing leading educators regarding their views on various aspects of professional learning for articles that were published in NSDC’s (now Learning Forward) JSD (now The Learning Professional).

They were educators whose ideas have proved resilient over the intervening decades (Michael Fullan and Peter Senge, for example), and the stories they shared, sometimes couched in technical terms, about how individuals learn and organizations change demonstrated the link between resilience, influence, and storytelling.

The stories these “influencers” told often revealed the people, experiences, and values that animated both their personal and professional lives.

Here is such a story from my life:

Early in my teaching career I attended an inspiring and practical 3-day workshop on what was then called “mastery teaching.” My big “take away” was that virtually all students could learn virtually everything I wanted them to know given sufficient time and “correctives,” and that their improved grades would reflect that learning.

Soon after I returned to my school, however, I realized that to implement what I had learned I had to overcome a significant barrier in the form of my principal who believed that good teachers should distribute grades more or less on a normal-distribution curve slightly skewed to the high side to show that we were making a positive difference.

His strongly-held belief posed a problem – how would I give grades that he would accept that would also reflect the higher-levels of learning I anticipated in my classroom?

We met, and he decided to allow an experiment with one of my classes if I brought all student work to him for review for the remainder of the school year. (The experiment concluded at the end of the school year when I moved on to another assignment.)

Over the years I told that story many times to illustrate:

• The power of beliefs to shape professional practice.

• That unless professional development addressed the existing beliefs of teachers and administrators the innovations would flounder and likely fail.

Stories can shape attitudes (often unconsciously), bond groups, teach important lessons, and provide guidance and motivation.

They can be used in:

• classrooms

• faculty meetings

• family gatherings

• with friends

What stories have you used or might you use to teach, guide, or motivate?

Seeing the world through the eyes of others

People act based on the way they see the world. Every single time. Understanding someone else’s story is hard, a job that’s never complete, but it’s worth the effort. —Seth Godin

There is pretty much universal agreement that empathy is a desirable human quality, and it’s an attribute often found in resilient people.

• Empathy is the basis of clear communication. Understanding the view points of others is essential to effective communication in families and work settings.

• Empathy enables us to have deeper and more satisfying relationships. Without it people cannot really understand one another.

• Empathy enriches our lives by opening our minds to the experiences and perspectives of others.

• Empathy decreases the likelihood of unnecessary conflict and even wars.

Given its importance, why is empathy so often difficult to achieve for so many of us?

• We may believe that demonstrating understanding of others’ points of view is the same as agreeing with them.

• We fear that our willingness to fully understand others’ points of view will signal weakness on our part.

• We are aware that empathy opens us to being influenced by others, which, in turn, may create cognitive dissonance that requires us to change our viewpoint and perhaps even our behavior. Put another way, we understand that empathy may be the first step on a slippery slope that will lead us to significant change.

“Tell me a story.”

In my experience the most effective way to see the world through the eyes of others is to invite them to tell us a story about an influential elder, a formative event in their lives, or anything else that seems appropriate.

Better yet, tell others a story from your own life related to the subject at hand and invite them to do the same.

Storytelling is a powerful way to:

• deepen understanding of others’ points of view,

• establish common ground for resolving conflicts and making decisions, and

• strengthen relationships with significant people in our lives.

What practices or tools enable you to create empathy with others?

How would you answer these questions?

“Farrington has distilled this voluminous mind-set research into four key beliefs that, when embraced by students, seem to contribute most significantly to their tendency to persevere in the classroom:

1. I belong in this academic community.

2. My ability and competence grow with my effort.

3. I can succeed at this.

4. This work has value for me.”

How Kids Learn Resilience

These four questions, I believe, are equally applicable for teachers and administrators.

In my experience, resilient educators: 

• feel a sense of connection to like-minded colleagues,

• believe that they can improve student learning by continuously improving the quality of their work,

• are optimistic that they can and will make a difference, and

• know that the work they do each day has significance because it is aligned with their most important purposes and values.

How would you answer these questions from the perspective of your professional community?


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