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Communicating with compassion

Posted by Lindy Amos on
29 April 2019

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As you will most likely be aware, last year I completed my doctoral studies which focused on understanding how compassion and courage support leaders to become more effective. So, I would like to take the opportunity to share with you some of the things I discovered through my research that have application for all of us - whether we see ourselves as leaders or not. 

Warmly,

 

Communicating with more Compassion


When you use compassionate communication in your conversations, something quite surprising occurs: both your brain and the brain of the person you're talking to begin to align themselves with each other. This special bond is a phenomenon referred to as ‘neural resonance', and in this enhanced state of mutual attunement, relationships flourish and possibilities abound. Why? Because neural resonance eliminates the natural defensiveness that normally exists when people casually converse.

Here are 6 ways you can intentionally build neural resonance and become a more compassionate communicator.

Step 1: Stay Present

When you focus completely on something as simple as your breathing, you can more easily tune in to the subtle things that are immediately happening around you. When you bring this ‘present-ness’ into a conversation, you will notice and more clearly the nuances in the speaker's voice (their tone, their choice of words, what they are not saying) and this gives greater emotional currency to your conversation. 

Step 2: Cultivate Mindfulness

With practice, you can allow your inner thoughts to come and go without pulling you from the present moment. The more consciously you practice being mindful in the present, as a daily exercise, the more you will be able to manage your brain's spontaneous cascade (you know, those annoying voices/thoughts that cycle, that distract us from the here and now!). Mindfulness helps us give our full attention to what other people say. It also allows us to stay with our own emotional response to the other person, which is essential in compassionate communication.

Step 3: Access a Pleasant Memory

It's best to enter a conversation with an inviting expression that conveys kindness, compassion, and interest. You can't fake this, but you can cue yourself in by tapping into a pleasant memory, one that involves people you love or respect. This memory will actually soften the muscles around your eyes and evoke a gentle half smile on your face. Although it might sound a little weird, this facial expression stimulates a feeling of trust in the other person’s brain, and releases pleasure chemicals throughout your own body and brain, making for more compassionate communication.

Step 4: Observe Nonverbal Cues

It's essential to keep your eyes on the individual you are speaking with to detect the nonverbal messages that are being exchanged between you. I am continually amazed when I facilitate groups how often team members neglect this simple yet critical skill of communication. Maintaining good eye contact, however, does not mean that you should gaze unceasingly at the other person, that could feel creepy! Eye contact is important, however, as it stimulates the social-network circuits in your brain. It decreases the stress chemical cortisol, and it increases oxytocin, a neurochemical that enhances empathy, social cooperation, and positive communication.

Step 5: Speak Briefly

Our conscious minds can only retain a tiny bit of information and for thirty seconds or less. Then it's booted out of working memory as a new set of information is uploaded. Speak in a few sentences and then pause and take a small deep breath, to relax. If the other person remains silent, say another sentence or two, and then pause again. This allows the other person to join in whenever they feel the need to respond or to ask for clarification. If you must speak for a longer period of time, forewarn the listener. This will encourage them to pay closer attention to you and to ignore their own intrusive inner speech.

Step 6: Listen Deeply

To listen deeply and fully, you must train your mind to stay focused on the person who is speaking: their words, tone, gestures, facial cues--everything. It's a great gift to give to someone since to be fully listened to and understood by others is the most commonly cited deep relationship or communication value. When the other person pauses, you'll need to respond specifically to what they just said. If you shift the conversation to what you were previously saying, or to a different topic, it will interrupt the neurological ‘coherence’ between the two of you, and the flow of your dialogue will be broken.

Paying homage to Andrew Newberg, M.D, from Fast Company.
 

What does it mean to be a compassionate and courageous leader?

Leaders are experienced as compassionate and courageous when they bring their head, heart and gut intelligence 'on line' in service of those they are leading. Compassion and courage is mobilised when the leader actively fine tunes their ability to think, feel and act. My research uncovered 12 ways leaders enact compassionate courage and courageous compassion, including:

  • Practising Mindfulness: Grounding oneself in intense moments and remaining present and aware to reality (what is rather than what we wish it would be).
  • Developing Negative capabilityLeaning into uncertainty, being comfortable with discomfort and demonstrating the ability to remain open and curious, releasing attachment to opinions, ideas or expectations. 
  • Sitting in the fire: Managing our own anxiety and fear, as well as that of others. Staying with the emotional tension that comes with loss, uncertainty or grief and not collapsing into fight or flight. 

These abilities, foundational to leading compassionately and courageously, don't always come naturally. They can be cultivated and learnt. Common to all is the willingness and critical capacity to lean into discomfort. This means being comfortable with uncertainty and further, (and here's the sticking point for both leaders and followers), demonstrating a willingness to be vulnerable. Vulnerability, as it turns out, is not something most leaders are practiced at, nor is it given much air time between leaders and followers. In fact vulnerability is the antithesis of the superhuman leader. A myth that in spite of our best efforts is alive and well. 

In coming months I will continue to share insights about compassion, courage and the necessity and benefits of vulnerability for healthy organisational living and working.
 

Join Dr Ginger Lapid-Bogda this May for Enneagram programs in Melbourne


My colleague and teacher Ginger will be running two programs in Melbourne in May: 

Coaching with the Enneagram 1.0 | May 3-7, 2019
This ICF-accredited (40.5 ACSTH), intermediate 5-day program fully integrates the Enneagram with the best coaching theory and practices and is designed for coaches, managers, mentors, therapists and counselors. Over 800 people worldwide have already participated in this program!
Cost | $1400 USD
Click here to find out more

The 3D Enneagram | May 9-11, 2019
3D stands for Deep Dive Development, and in this brand new advanced 3-day program participants will examine their deepest yearnings, dive into their histories from an unusual perspective, and engage in transformation in beautiful and unexpected ways. You will advance your “unfinished” inner work, re-own your power and joy, and learn new tools for deep change.
Cost | $900 USD
Click here to find out more
 
"Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weaknesses." 
- Brene Brown