Power & Care

Power & Care

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Our European team and number of clients have spent the last days at the Mind & Life Conference in Brussels. It has been an enlightening and inspiring connection with a joyous community. We would like to share the highlights and strongly recommend Mind and Life Institute as a noble cause.

Mind and Life started in 1987 as a meeting between His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and a group of Buddhist monks with pathfinding scientists and philosophers such as Francisco Varela, Ritchie Davidson, Paul Ekman, Daniel Goleman and many others. This event was the 31st meeting of science, philosophy and spiritual leadership and was the first held by Mind & Life Europe under the name Power & Care.

As many of you know the Dalai Lama has always been a curious advocate for science and truth – a rarity in spiritual leadership. We have also seen a global shift toward contemplative traditions along with yoga, meditation and enlightenment. Over the past 20 years medicine, psychology and the brain sciences have engaged and furiously set about testing the measurable impact of these practices. It is an extraordinarily fertile endeavour.

In short, it is a marriage of first (I sense, feel and think…) and third (the evidence shows.. ) person perspectives. Mind & Life meetings now occur globally and attract a diverse community with extensive biological research, spiritual advocacy and political influence.

The Place: Brussels

Stunning late summer blue skies welcome us to Brussels. The picturesque hub of sclerotic Europe is wounded by recent violence. Young people tell me how it is changing – more violent, drunk and tense. Power & Care is held in the Bozar Fine Arts centre amongst the rich architecture of a stately Europe. Intense security is everywhere. We are welcomed by automatic weapons at the airport, army trucks patrolling the city, and intimate scanning each time we enter the venue. Yet, once inside we immersed in the buzz of goodwill, friendship, hope and curiosity.

The People: monks, scientists and activists

We take our seats surrounded by monks, politicians, business leaders, and Mind & Life community. Ritchie Davidson is chatting to Richard Gere next to me. Tania Singer and Matthieu Ricard converse in front of me. Our European team, Alexia, Laurent, Ann, Benoit and Katrien have invited 20 clients and colleagues to share in the experience. His Holiness bows, greats and laughs heartily as he reconnects with spiritual leaders, scientists and activists.

The Content: ecology, brains, religion, economics and personal responsibility

Session one demonstrates the foundations of power and care in our primate cousins, anthropology shows how we are wired for connection and The Stockholm Resilience centre defines the planetary boundaries we are crossing. In this anthropocene era, humans are taking our planet to a place where all life is at risk. His holiness is wiping his brow and fans frantically cool a sweaty audience. Psychology embarrasses by defaulting to a simplistic “power is evil” “care is good” position.

Session two explores the role of oxytocin as a marker of empathy showing why women have more empathy than men. When a female partner present with a man under testing circumstances has reduced distress compared to being alone. However when a male partner is present for a woman under testing circumstance, her levels of distress are massively increased as compared to when she is alone.

Tania Singer shows how we can train both emotional and cognitive empathy separately in the brain. When we truly feel someone’s emotions we train quite different circuits to when we cognitively seek to understand their perspectives. She demonstrates that starting with calm presence and progressing through emotional connection, through to perspective taking has real benefit to self and others. Some of us really struggle to make the emotional connection but with effort about a third break through to compassion. His Holiness reminds us that it is not so simple. Indeed.

The day concludes with workshops and we join one on non-violent communication. It is a wonderful articulation of how to construct better relationship with others and ourselves by using a variation of our performance supply chain.

Jet lag takes me down.

Day two and session three kick off with a meeting between leaders of Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity debating perspectives on power and care with His Holiness. One feels a deep resonance of love, friendship and tantalising optimism that, just perhaps, we may be learning to respect and love each other. Star shines in 26 year old Islam leader and Libyan women’s representative Alaa Murabit.

Session four throws the dismal science, economics, into the mix and it disappoints. But there is a clear signal that economics is looking for a case for altruism and a bunch of activists show that investing in women outperforms investing in men by 11 times.

The day finishes with Matthieu Ricard leading meditations to some lovely Bach music working from attention, to presence, to altruism, to compassion and finally rejoicing.

Conclusion: we can only care if we have well-developed power and power takes disciplined self-care. Good to see our work and the investment our clients are making in their communities being well supported. This is fertile territory for all of us and I am 100% with the Dalai Lama who advocates teaching this to children at school. (For our own view on Empathy and Power.)

Thanks Anne, Laurent, Alexia, Katrien and Benoit for making this possible.

The full session details and content can be downloaded at Power & Care.

Tilting the Axis of Good and Evil

Tilting the Axis of Good and Evil

Empathy, Candour, Altruism, Deceit and Trickery

Five words define the crucible of civilization and the battle between conflict and progress. This is true in our relationships, communities, businesses and nations.

Whether it is Brexit, the current US election, climate threat, rich getting richer, or data security, we decide based on our judgement of these five factors. British leadership tried with empathy and candour to secure the trust of the nation to vote “Bremain”. Voters suspected deceit and trickery. To everyone’s surprise, Britain is now exiting a process purposed to integrate Europe with empathy, candour and altruism.

The US election is ripping the world’s great democracy into vitriolic deceit, trickery, and self-interest. The consequence is a collapse of trust in government. The window to be good custodians of our planet is closing due to self-interest and a failure of trust.

Voters no longer trust governments, corporates and the rich. Whilst Mark Zuckerberg can wing his way to show empathy for earthquake victims in Italy and the super-wealthy can give away billions, the vast majority of us are hunkered down in survival mode – powerless and suspicious. We feel deceived and tricked.

On the other side, research including Google[1] and MIT[2], shows that empathy is the key competence (skill) to liberate performance in teams. The psychological safety (trust) experienced in a team, liberates constructive interaction and work. This trust is not some secret ingredient. It is actively constructed from specific behaviours. First, high performing teams communicate face-to-face (candour). Second, they communicate in concise bursts of straight feedback (candour). Third, they include all participants equally in the dialogue (altruism).

Empathy is the fulcrum of this crucible. Empathy allows us to read others and decide between deceit and candour (see: http://www.paulekman.com/blog/want-president-cant-wont-lie). Empathy with candour triggers altruism and the amazing collaboration witnessed in advanced social groupings. Empathy with deceit leads to a failure of trust, self-interest and further deceit, which we witness in modern politics, wars, gangs and prisons.

This tipping point between collaborative power and deceitful destruction is embedded in evolution and well validated in studies of corvids (crows and jays), dolphins, whales, elephants, and most primates[3]. The evolutionary source of the solution is clearly visible in chimps and bonobos where the role of leadership demands empathy and altruism to secure the survival of the group.

We might be wise to remember that deceit and trickery are equally well developed in the species above. Homo sapiens is only different in the degree to which we exploit and realise the extremes good and evil.

When we choose empathy, candour and altruism we are capable of exponential goodness. When we default to deceit and trickery we light the fuse of massive destruction.

Be a force for good

  1. Be crystal clear on your language
  • Empathy is the ability, deeply embedded in our species and wide open to learning, to accurately read and understand others. It is a passive competence requiring attention, non verbal cues, analysis and intuition
  • Candour is the intention to express yourself as honestly as possible. Candour requires self-awareness, courage and skill. It takes time to know yourself well and even longer to express yourself honestly with sensitivity and clarity. Candour is active and effortful.
  • Altruism is the intention to help others with skill. It is active. Altruism requires the combination of deep empathy (really understanding what action will help others rather than relieve your guilt or anxiety) and skilful means. At first, altruism presents as a cost and therefore risky. However, the practice of altruism leads to multi-party benefit – particularly your own[4].
  • Deceit can be an act of omission (hiding something) or commission (fabricating an untrue statement). It is the opposite of candour.
  • Trickery is exploiting trust. We attempt to appear as x whilst actually doing y. Here lies the failure of trust in many political systems and relationships.
  1. Define clearly your values and purpose

Being clear on what matters to you, builds a platform to tip the axis to good. Short term self interest or self-gratification leads to deceit and trickery. Our own research shows the critical role of developing a clear set of values and meaningful purpose. We must actively choose between self and others, now and later, candour or deceit and altruism versus trickery.

  1. Press for total candour

Accept that expressing candour skilfully takes time and practice. Be intentional about telling the whole truth. Ask yourself if you have left anything out. Give people an opportunity to ask questions. Help others be candid with you.

  1. Practice your empathy skills

Empathy requires practice. We have addressed this in many papers.

  1. Random acts of kindness

Be good by doing good should guide each day. Even for those on the wrong side of the axis, spending time helping others has an extraordinary benefit to self, others and the system in which you live. Be generous and skilful.

  1. Be gentle and forgiving

Tipping the axis takes time, demands experiment and failure. Reconciliation is built deep into our evolutionary roots. Be patient and kind to yourself and others. It will accelerate the journey to be a true force for good.

[1] Smarter, Faster, Better, Charles Duhigg, 2016

[2] Humans are Underrated, Geoff Colvin, 2015

[3] Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are, Frans de Waal, 2016

[4] Altruism, Matthieu Ricard, 2015

5 Tricks to Be Happier and More Productive

5 Tricks to Be Happier and More Productive

Dr Sven Hansen was recently interviewed by Sarah Stevenson for a feature called 5 Tricks to Be Happier and More Productive on Livestrong.com. The article explores five key resilience tactics.

  1. Focus Your Attention
  2. Set Clear and Tangible Goals
  3. Check in With Yourself
  4. Create Flow in Everyday Tasks
  5. Use Downtime for Creative Work

Make sure you check out the full article here.

Tough Love Talking

Tough Love Talking

Human interactions lie on a bell curve from acts of wanton violence to joyous collaboration. Every day we witness interactions from the full spectrum and live our lives in our own particular zone of competence. The pain of wanton destruction where people and societies degrade their interactions towards the left is clear to all.

Humans crave meaningful, creative collaboration with others. At all stages of life, we long for connection, shared activity and the celebration of achievement. When we mess up, we feel regret, anger and sadness. Repeated failure in conversations can lead to online addiction and alienation.

We explore six steps to connecting skilfully: physiology, emotion, mind, process and growth:

  1. Fix the blind spot – physiology

A school counsellor recently commented how “stressful” relationships were for schoolgirls. No question. Yet I am convinced from study and experience that many times it is a personal resilience failure that leads to relationship failure.

Many wrestle with the tigers of sleep disruption, anxiety, nutritional disruption, self-doubt, and empathy failure. In other words, at the moment in which a meaningful connection beckons, they are exhausted, hypoglycaemic, anxious and self absorbed.

Physiological compromise is at the heart of most broken partnerships, parenting failures, conflict and grievance. When sleep is disturbed, nutrition compromised and anxiety prevails we fail to concentrate, restrain impulse, empathise and collaborate. Those who give in to wanton violence are the most compromised and distressed. Those who operate on the connected side of the curve take care of themselves.

  1. The challenge of connection – emotion

Creative collaboration is the Holy Grail. The rarity of excellence defines the difficulty. An elite sport, performing art or business team in action is glorious. This is the creative edge of humanity. The foundation is powerful connection. Current research at Google and MIT independently show that empathy skill is THE significant factor in a high performing team. Empathy trumps intellect, technical skill, diversity, and communication styles in every study.

Empathy can be learned – starting at birth and extending through life – humans can awaken, improve and excel in empathy. Empathy is simple but the ability to exercise empathy requires strong foundations – emotional self-awareness, impulse control and attention. These take time and nurturing environments to mature. Introduce a little hunger, fatigue, anxiety or anger and they collapse bringing empathy and connection crashing down.

As we cultivate emotional intelligence and increase our capacity for empathy, meaningful connection, collaboration and creativity will follow. In every way we benefit, others benefit and we create a better world. But it is hard work. Seek out supportive and emotionally literate environments, study up on emotional intelligence, take care of yourself, and start early with your children.

  1. Purpose and courage – mind

Our own personal drives – food, sleep, sex, safety, power and money – scream loudly for attention. We must attend to these personal needs first, establishing what is actually required and what is demented addiction. Then we can raise our thinking to the higher-level purpose of connection and collaboration. We call this altruism. We have to exercise our capacity to embrace the world of others.

Purpose and courage hold the mind open to the immense potential for joy and flow in creative collaboration. It is always easier to default down to your own gratification. Purpose emerges when we have a clear vision of what is possible through connection. The clarity of that vision plus the courage to sustain the cycle of trial and failure keeps us open to learning and mastery.

Purpose and courage are essential to keep you on track through the important connections. Relationships go wrong. It is easier to back down on your truth. We feel we should make others happy. Be clear and stay the course.

  1. Planning – process

Every human interaction is important. While our impulse is to relax – to have a drink or to shoot the breeze, a case can be made for thinking through every interaction. Even a simple process to make the most of a connection will benefit all parties. Have a clear plan, prepare yourself, consider deeply those you are meeting, and review the experience for learning.

In particular, exercise your empathy muscles by anticipating how others might be in body, emotion and mind. What are their interests? What are their core concerns? The graphic below might be a useful template for more important conversations and team meetings.

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  1. Review, learn and recommit – growth

It is easy for things to go wrong when we try to solve problems together. Even the most skilled negotiators with excellent planning mess up. We have to keep learning and the best way to do that is quick, honest review. Even a simple: “It was really good to talk today. Thank you. How was it for you?”

Whether in a personal catch up, a team meeting, a difficult conversation or a tough negotiation it is always important to reflect, understand the different experiences of participants, and clarify the next steps.

To accelerate your development, you may like to consider a coach or a mentor to help your through these five steps.