5 tips to take away with you on your holidays

As we are now approaching the holiday season and many of you are already or will soon be away, please remember the following when traveling to foreign countries and meeting people from foreign cultures:

  1. Even if locals speak the same language as you do, chances are high that they have a completely different worldview from yours, i.e. react and behave in a way that is unknown to you.
  2. Try to stay away from stereotypes you might have read or heard about. Preparing for a trip by reading books etc. in advance is certainly good but cannot give you the ‘right way to be’ when you are away.
  3. Be as open as you can, non-judging and observing. The more you try to put yourself into other people’s ‘shoes’, seeing what they see with their eyes, the more you will understand about how they ‘function’. A short trip will never be able to give you full insights though, but at least you will be able to grasp some of the differences surrounding you.
  4. If you encounter problems and difficulties, stay calm and always treat your counter part(s) with respect, whatever happens. Engaging in angry discussions will only put more fuel to the fire. You are certainly not the only one traveling during this time of the year, hence having a little bit more patience than usual will definitely help you on the way.
  5. And, of course: enjoy your time off, energize yourself and stay away from your mobile devices if you can. Give your brain and your whole body the time to rest and to be at ease. Just be, with no need to achieve anything… the more you are able to disconnect, the more your body and mind will rest! Enjoy your time off!


Breaking away from my prison of fear

Hilly Road

Today, while sitting on the train and reading: “The Mindful Leader” from Michael Carroll, some of his words really got to me. On page 50, he writes:

“Yet, somehow, for too many of us, our instinctive yearning for creative challenge gradually transformed to the point where we ended up preferring security rather than fresh uncertainty, assurances rather than adventure, a reliable and stable job rather than an inspiring mission”.

M. Carroll then goes on a little bit further asking:

“Can we trust that we are resourceful enough to explore life’s uncertainties with confidence, clarity and adventure? Can we reclaim our natural sense of enthusiasm and abandon the prison of our fears and our need for a stable, secure job? Can we permit ourselves to be fully human?”

I am currently completely overwhelmed by fresh uncertainty and working on an inspiring mission… it is not easy to let go; certainly not the stability and security. I don’t know what lies ahead of me and I need to deal with that ambiguity. But I am confident, and positive as well as optimistic. I abandoned my prison of fear and am re-learning to trust my inner gut-feeling. Although it is still early in the process, I can say that It feels good to rediscover who I am and what I stand for!

Let me finish with these words from Carroll on page 52:

“In the tradition of the mindful leader, rather than leading with will, power and ambition, we lead and inspire one another with openness, intelligence, and vulnerability”.




Finding and staying with the ‘flow’ – The Yerkes-Dodson Curve

Many of you will already have experienced this at some times in their lives: you are not really motivated to go to work or open your laptop. You feel not energized at all, everything seems to be taking longer than before. Whatever it is you are doing is demanding you so much less than you are capable of that you actually feel completely bored and useless. Sounds familiar? Well, let me tell you that persistent boredom is  also a form of stress which – as all forms of stress over longer periods of time – can make you sick in various ways.

Not being challenged enough is one extreme of the so-called “Yerkes-Dodson Curve” which looks like a reversed U.

Yerkes-Dodson Curve

Stress-Performance curve; source: Michael Chaskalson, The Mindful Workplace, 2011, page 59.

As we also know all too well, life nowadays is asking many of us a lot in terms of data overflow, multitasking, more and more global organizations, hence increased workload at demanding times, etc. When dealing with these sort of challenges but still being capable of handling everything, we move up the curve towards the peak. Pressure increases but so does our ability to cope with it in an effective manner.

Nevertheless, beyond a certain point, if the pressure continues to rise our performance will start to decrease. We feel less able to cope with the multitude of tasks we are to perform, details are lost in a sheer flood of information, we feel overwhelmed and unorganized. Our motivation drops and eventually, when this goes on for too long, we become sick. Obesity, burnout, depression, chronic pain, fatigue, cancer, heart disease are just a few key words to stress what an important impact stress can have on our wellbeing and our lives as a whole. Your body simply cannot cope with the permanent activation of the sympathetic nervous system… stress becomes distress.

At the peak however, when finding the right balance between personal resources and challenge, we excel. In this state you are creative and efficient and you feel very good about yourself. Usually this state is called ‘flow’.

You might be asking yourselves now: is there a way to prevent tripping over to the other side of the U? Well, yes there is! You have to find a “relaxation response”[1], that means a “(…)physical state of deep rest that counteracts the harmful effects of (your body’s) fight-or-flight response”. If you are able to do this, you might even discover a state of much higher performance than you ever would have imagined.

Mindfulness training, as a way of being present right here and now with your own thoughts, feelings and physical sensations, will certainly enable you to deal better with wherever you are on the Yerkes-Dodson Curve.

Don’t hesitate to contact me should you want to learn more about how mindfulness could help you! Jenny

Further reading:


[1] Chaskalson, page 63.

The power of mindful e-mailing

At SymbolPeople seem to be so happy to have e-mail nowadays… it truly is much easier to communicate using e-mail than actually having to see somebody face-to-face, especially when the subject of conversation is somewhat conflictual. As we have seen in one of my earlier posts about the components of communication, 55% of the non-verbal aspects contribute to the understanding of what your counterpart is saying and 38% of the paraverbal.

So where can these aspects be found in e-mail communication, where you cannot see your discussion partner? The non-verbal aspect would actually be equivalent to character fonts, drawings, diagrams, colours… all of which are usually standardised and not available when working in a bigger company. And even in smaller ones: I don’t know anybody, who would on purpose change the font and insert images when writing to different stakeholders, do you?

The paraverbal aspect on the other hand is linked to whether you write something in bold or in italics, or whether something is underlined as well as the paragraphs and the spaces that you are leaving in your message.

This doesn’t give you a lot of room to communicate emotions or feelings and very often leads  to disastrous results when the other person understands something completely different from what you wanted to express. It is true that without facial expressions, or tone of voice, posture, gestures, it becomes difficult to actually transmit a message. What then happens is that very often, as we don’t have sufficient information available, we make things up and interpret e-mails in a way which is bound to our own experiences and our own culture. We also subsequently believe that what we are interpreting is actually the truth as mostly, there is no evidence to prove the contrary. We then end up being frustrated or frightened or simply angry on/by something which was never intended to harm us or have such an effect…if, like most people (and I count myself in it as well, although I am trying very hard to change that bad habit) you then respond back immediately, following your own interpretation, things escalate and the spiral of messages doesn’t end anymore… until, well until somebody decides that maybe a quick call or face-to-face meeting would help resolve the issue.

What can we do to avoid that situation in our daily lives? Here are some steps that you could follow[1]:

  1. Don’t react immediately to mails that annoy you, take your time!
  2. Take a deep breath
  3. Calm down (mindful walking or even a short mindful meditation could be helpful here)
  4. Write your message/response
  5. Try and put yourself into the receivers’ shoes: what day did he/she have today? How does he/she feel? What culture is he/she from? How does this person normally communicate?
  6. Read your message again and change things. If you can:
  7. Wait a couple of hours and
  8. Read the message again. Maybe you then decide that it is not worth sending it anymore or maybe you decide to
  9. Send your message

Remember: once a message is sent, you cannot get it back, even though you might be tempted to click on ‘recall’….

[1] Compare also with “Mindful e-mailing”, p. 224-226. in “Search Inside Yourself” from Chade-Meng Tan.

About the power of WE: Leading with Compassion

Continuing on the path of one of my previous articles (About people skills and empathic leadership) where I wrote about people skills and that the ability to ‘think outside of the box’ and to create a climate of exchange, knowledge sharing and trust while leading is of major importance for providing direction and innovation to any company, I have to add the following: in fact leading with compassion and empathy is truly the most effective type of leadership. Why? Well let me take the time to explain this to you!

Compassion can be defined as the “deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.”[1] In his book Search Inside Yourself, Chade-Meng Tan gives a definition of compassion that has tree components, given by Tibetan Buddhist scholar Thupten Jinpa:

1. A cognitive component: “I understand you.”

2. An affective component: “I feel for you.”

3. A motivational component: “I want to help you.”[2]

This leads directly to asking a simple question, as the excellent blog post of Louisa and George Altman put it rightly: do you work in a WE or a ME centered workplace? Or as Bill George, former Medtronic CEO puts it[3]: going from ‘I’ to ‘We’, leaving selfish behavior behind and acknowledging the effort of the whole.

Actually establishing a sense of belonging and trust, a culture of openness and care for each other thus bringing compassion to a team or a group of people as a leader, can have amazing effects as I have discovered for myself. Of course, it might take longer as you don’t just do things without explaining, acting top-down, but you communicate in a transparent way, opening up a dialogue, letting people comment and listen to their concerns/ideas. But at the end of the day, it will make your team very strong as its members will have established a strong relationship of trust with you and the others. Trust on the other hand is the foundation of effectively working teams. Finally, bringing compassion and empathy to your team will also highly motivate its members and if you would ask them to walk the extra mile to achieve an extraordinary goal, they would do so without even asking.

Now, imagine if more teams in an organization would think and act in the above described way; it would create a corporate climate where employees would feel at ease, understood and valorized. At the same time, excellent results would be achieved. The dream for every CEO: from good to great and from I/ME to WE…

Now: in what kind of an environment do you work in?

[1] The Free Dictionary, ‘compassion’: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/compassion

[2] Page 199, Edition of 2012.

[3] http://www.billgeorge.org/page/true-north