I have always been fascinated by the nuances of interaction. The deeper I get into leadership, the more I am delighted to see that self-awareness and self-reflection are key practices to becoming a transformative coach, educator, and leader. I identify as an empath, which means I’m highly attuned to other’s feelings and energy, and often times I pick up on things without fully understanding where it comes from. As one of three children in a house characterized by fairly chaotic energy, being able to read between the lines and listen for feeling in addition to content served me well.
Nowadays, the raucous family dinners have been replaced with faculty meetings or classrooms filled with students. Some days, I’d leave feeling empowered! Energized! Inspired! And others, I’d leave feeling cranky, defensive, and worked up. It was hard to pinpoint exactly what differentiated these days. They just felt different. In the grand scheme of things, it’s hard to effect any sort of change based on feelings. They’re fleeting and mercurial, and feelings are rarely able to offer up evidence as to their origin. It doesn’t make feelings invalid: feeling and energy alert you to real stimuli. The trick is learning to identify the stimuli. Understanding and naming your emotions is a crucial part of developing emotional intelligence. Figuring out your triggers is the next step.
I’ve been reading The Art of Coaching Teams by Elena Aguilar, and in her chapter on communication, she outlines different patterns of verbal discourse. Here are some of my key take-aways:
Did this blow your mind, too? Once I learned to look for patterns in communication, I was able to identify what exactly was making a meeting feel challenging or supportive. When my defensiveness started to flare, I examined the interaction. Was I feeling a sense of one-upsmanship? I’m terribly competitive and spent many a night around my dinner table as a child competing with my sister for attention and accolade. It’s a huge trigger for me! Did I feel like my points were constantly being rebutted? Another trigger for me that makes me feel like my ideas aren’t valid.
As I started observing the process in my meetings at work, I realized that building conversation takes a lot of intentional work. And, much of the conversation skills, in addition to the observation process rely on being aware of listening patterns. Remember, you get to choose how you engage and how to spend your energy. I’ve made it a goal this week to really examine the discourse at my work to see how I could help shape it into a more positive experience overall.