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IOIC Live 2016 (part 2)

August 8, 2016

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I remember the question I asked myself. “How can having a mindfulness practice help someone to function as a ‘Stand-up Chameleon’? ”
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Again, ‘events’ have meant that my response is later than first planned. Pleasant events – in that our local Dartford arts group finally got the green light to install an outdoor public art exhibition. This had been some 20 months in the planning, creating, funding and negotiating… so when the call came we had to move quickly and decisively. A lot of the work was literally hands-on, along a 75m stretch of building site hoardings. Meanwhile I suppose I was reminded of one of the answers to my question. PATIENCE! Particularly in the sense of allowing things to emerge in their own time, when there is time.
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My answer to the question has had time to meld a little too, but the main points are those which fell quickly into place when I first asked the question.
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How can having a mindfulness practice help someone function as a ‘Stand-up Chameleon?’
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1. The same way is it can help anyone. Mindfulness practice, and the application of mindfulness insights, will help anyone with their job and with their life as a whole – not to mention the balance or integration between these. Mindfulness supplies emotional resilience and self-awareness which better equips us to deal with home life (both the mundane and the exceptional) and with the situations created by work. In this respect I’m not setting up IC professionals as superheroes, although I have outlined what I consider to be highly distinctive about their current role. This mindfulness foundation is something we can all benefit from.
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2. Switching and Transition. I think these are key to so much of what I perceived in the role of today’s IC professional. They happen on many levels. On the action level, this is about the fact that you are managing so many different strands, on different timelines, including new and urgent things that can crop up RIGHT NOW! Mindfulness is a great skill for allowing you to focus fully on one thing at a time, and to commit to this. That doesn’t mean forgetting all those other important tasks, it means you can hold them in your awareness without being distracted, pulled around or fatigued by your reaction to them. ‘Transition’ is the way I look at the planned and managed movement from one mode or situation to another. You may be going from an urgent phone call, to a more strategic meeting, then to a creative session, then a 1-1 with someone you manage or who manages you. You may be starting your working day, taking a meaningful break, or ending that day. IC professionals seem, to me, to have to make a lot of transitions. You can manage these not only with a mindful approach but with an actual brief mindfulness practice or technique. This could literally be on the walk to a meeting, or whilst waiting for others to arrive. What this achieves is letting go of the last thing you did, parking the thoughts and reactions, so that you can be fully present for what you are about to do now – particularly if it calls for a different skill or approach.
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3. Openness… This comes closest to the ‘Stand up Chameleon’ thought which prompted all this. On the one hand your role requires you to be open to many points of view and to the circumstances of many different people. Mindfulness is great for helping us to recognise habits – habits of thought and assumptions as well as behaviour. Awareness then leads to choice. We can hold on to those habits and opinions, quite strongly, when we consciously appreciate their value and relevance. But mindfulness also slackens the bonds between those habits or assumptions and our sense of identity or self-worth. This makes it much more practical to suspend them for a while. Regular mindfulness practitioners often describe themselves, or are described by others, as ‘more open’. A good quality for a Chameleon.
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4. … with Authenticity. But what about the ‘Stand Up’ bit? This dimension arose from several references at this year’s ‘IOIC Live’ conference to the requirement to “Speak truth unto Power”. It seemed to apply irrespective of where your IC role placed you in the hierarchy of the organisation. If you are truly a connection for two-way communication, or even more accurately a ‘node’ in a complicated network, then you will have very valuable messages and insights to share with those at the top of the organisation. In addition, the interpretation or prioritisation of some of these messages will involve your own perspectives and values. You are not simply a conduit – though you might sometimes consciously choose to work that way. Particularly in a situation where you need to deliver challenging messages to the leaders of an organisation you will need to know what you yourself really think! That might sound obvious – of course you know what you think. But:
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a) I’ve just described a world in which you are making rapid transitions between different modes and speeds of operation. There may sometimes be little time or space to sift out what you ‘think’ from all the other noise. If you are under time pressure there is a far greater chance that habits and assumptions will cut in… possibly without your even being aware it is happening.
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b) I’ve just described a world in which you have to be open to a wide range of perspectives and opinions, sometimes trying these on for yourself, in order to understand and be understood. What happens when you need to shed these for a while and get back to what you actually ‘think’ or, indeed, believe?
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What we actually rely on here is sense. We maybe idealise a process of assimilating all the facts and arguments but so often this can be augmented, or overridden, by our sense of incongruity, inconsistency or incompleteness. This can go two ways. If we aren’t aware of the impact of our felt sense, we may be being hijacked by habits, assumptions and prejudices. But if we are aware of it, and can learn how to let it run, then we have direct access to our accumulated experience and insight. This can often operate more quickly and comprehensively than analysis – it’s why we talk about “having a sense that”, or “something not feeling right” and this is what is in play when we sense a sports match beginning to turn or when a sailor senses a shift in the wind and tide before the instruments confirm this. Above all access to this sense, to how we literally feel about what we are thinking and saying, tells us whether there is a gap, whether we are being authentic.
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If you have decided it is important to deliver a challenging message to someone, then the odds are that you have a strong belief in both the message and the necessity of sharing it. But being able to affirm this, to reach down and feel the foundations beneath it, will confer authenticity on your delivery. This counts every bit as much as the evidence. When we need to deliver a challenging message to someone, the fact that we really believe it and know for ourselves that we really believe it, has a very powerful effect on the recipients. Much that has been written about “charisma” in recent years repeats the theme that the most charismatic quality of a person is authenticity – that person’s ability to be themselves and to be comfortable with who they are and what they believe. This can be very powerful and, again, it’s something that others seem to ‘sense’ innately. [I’m not talking about performers and demagogues here, using all manner of techniques to fake it, but even there we have all experienced how this can be trumped (sic) by a very simple and sincere delivery].
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One outcome of mindfulness training is an increased awareness of this ‘felt sense’ of our bodies and the interplay between this and our thoughts and emotions. By becoming aware of it we can be on our guard against being carried away by habitual responses and judgements. But then by tapping into it we can get a stronger sense of our own conviction and commitment, particularly when we are working with experience and intuition. This authenticity, in turn, lends authority to our delivery.
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On a much simpler level mindfulness lends a calm confidence which can be useful in any difficult situation. By recognising and accepting this ‘felt sense’ we can remain flexible and respond with simplicity and even creativity, rather than just digging in behind the same old habits and arguments.
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That’s my pitch, then, for mindfulness in the world of Internal Communications professionals – not least when characterised as ‘Stand-up Chameleons’.
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Mindfulness helps with:
* resilience, focus and balance
* the management of transitions between different tasks and different timescales
* openness to the experiences and perspectives of others and to new sources of information
* authenticity and ‘really knowing your own mind’, particularly when it comes to big decisions
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All I would add to this is that I have approached it from the standpoint of you as an individual. In reality you will often be seeking to achieve these things as part of a group or team. Here, for all the same reasons, mindfulness enhances people’s ability to work collaboratively.
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So – give mindfulness a try. Wherever you might get it from – books, apps, online resources, face to face or online courses, or as part of a coaching programme – I hope that you find mindfulness useful. In fact, given a little persistence, I know you will. If you have tried mindfulness before, or dabbled, or done a workshop… but then let it lapse or didn’t see it as a core skill for the long term, maybe I can persuade you to go back and try it again in a new light.
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