Share a Cup of Wellness

Share a Cup of Wellness

Once when my youngest daughter was ill with some childhood malady, she called to my mother, asking for a cup of tea. Her grandmother was only too happy to oblige. My daughter thanked her but insisted through her tears that what she wanted was some cup-a-tea. My mother was confused. My little girl explained that she could hear all of us moving about the house while she lay in bed, feeling lonesome and neglected. “I just need some cup-a-tea,” she repeated between sobs.

It took a while before we all understood that what my three-year-old wanted…and needed…was some company.

Every time we awake, from slumber or daydreams, we have choices. We want to cling to the good feelings planted within our brains from our rest and flights of fancy. Or we need to clear the cobwebs from our thoughts or get started on that nagging list of things that must be done. We remind ourselves that it is time to get up and get things done. This is what humans do; our lives demand it. All the thoughtful platitudes scrolling across our social media pages reminding us to relax and simply be will not get dinner cooked, clean the litter box or pay our bills for us.

Human psychology states we affirm wellness when we seek balance in six areas of our being: bodies, emotions, intellect, spirituality, occupation and community. We achieve and maintain wellness when we reach our potential. We also recognize that same need exists in others—we connect to help each other find full potential in all six facets. Wellness is a wonderful state to be in and to produce in others through our actions.

We can resolve then to make more conscious choices, ones that bring us into a desired state of wellness in all six areas. Whether we call our persistent thoughts habits or unconscious patterns, we know some of them are beneficial, healthy even. Others are less so, and there is every shade of gray between the two ranges. To strive for wellness then, we need to determine which are worth keeping and which need changing or casting off? How is wellness enhanced when we connect with others?

The calendar is filled with special months, weeks, and days that raise awareness for a variety of important issues. As humans, we love advocating, supporting and working together for worthwhile causes. We share conversation, food, feelings, thoughts and ideas because we are, at heart, social creatures. Reaching out to touch others, we find connections. Our shared humanness helps us to recognize that we all must do certain things to sustain health. The twin states of being and doing make us feel alive and well. We can also find this when we seek to bring wellness to others.

No matter where we are on the calendar, wellness is always a worthwhile cause. It is both journey and destination. A cup of tea is as good a place as any to start. Shared in the company of friends, it is even better.

Submitted to April 2017


Everybody’s talking…

What are the benefits of effective communication in the workplace?

If you’re an employer or organizational leader reading this, you have to be asking yourself how is spending money on more training going to translate into a real return on your investment?

That is a valid concern, so let’s talk specifics. Research confirms that there is more than one type of communication network that exists in any workplace. Among those most commonly identified, we find:

  • Downward communication or Management to Staff 
  • Upward communication of Staff to Management 
  • Horizontal communication or Employee to Employee 
  • External Communication or Customer to Employee 
  • Informal Communication Network, a pattern of networks based on friendships, shared personal or career interests and proximity

While each of these networks benefit from more effective communication, let’s examine that last one in particular, the Informal Communication Network.  Any organization can show you its organizational chart; developing that and keeping it updated demonstrates the authoritative communication ideal to your management and staff. However, does that chart tell you how things really get done in your workplace?  The question invariably comes up when you hand the chart to new employees. They’re thinking: “Sure, this chart helps me to know who runs the show in each department, but how do I get to really know the ropes?

For that, you have to visualize a map depicting the network of a corresponding informal structure. Sure, it is invisible, but it is always at work nonetheless. Think about what occurs when a formal meeting ends at your workplace.  The men often retreat to the “porcelain office,” where they talk among themselves.  You might overhear things like “the boss is serious this time about curtailing travel expenses. Jim heard her on the phone discussing it with the corporate suits yesterday.”

The women may head out to lunch, breaking into cliques. Over salads, they may discuss whether “informal dress” for the company party really means informal. “Should I show up with sandals or is this dressy casual?”  Or they’re talking about whether that accounting department’s memo concerning the budget deadline is really firm or not. “I play tennis with Mark in accounting. He said that deadline was set just to get everyone back on task.”

Everyone mills in and out of the break room throughout the workday, discussing whether those vacancies in the other divisions are a sign of belt-tightening. “Was it fair that the boss’s son was able to get a summer internship when so many other worthy students had applied and were overlooked?”

Many smart managers recognize that this is a very real network and put it to work for them.  For example, Hewlett-Packard adopted an approach to problem-solving called MBWA, Management by Walking Around. Some observers of workplace communication even consider this the most important type of communication network, the primary means of communication. Think about two of its outstanding benefits – it is faster and more dependable. Therefore, doesn’t it make sense to do everything possible to promote constructive interactions among employees?

Suggestion boxes or empty pads of paper on which to record anonymous ideas are possibilities. Putting workers from various divisions or offices together to mingle and share ideas is another way to foster this informal network.  Don’t just limit your thinking to ways to make it happen though.  Talking comes naturally – it happens organically without management having to do a thing.  When it does, do YOU know how are your employees communicating?   That’s a more critical question. 

  • Are they sensitive to cultural and personal differences among themselves and your clients?
  • Are they seeking mentors in the office for the tasks to which they’ve been assigned?
  • Are they willing to help another co-worker with advice?
  • Are they treating each other with respect, articulating ideas, soliciting and giving quality feedback?
  • Do they avoid sharing ideas in formal meetings because they feel their knowledge is inadequate or they are unable to articulate well?
  • Can they interact with your clients or customers with composure and confidence?

Listen Hear offers customized training that helps employees go beyond sociability to communicating in a dimension that is much more strategic. Think about it. How significantly would it affect your bottom line if your employees were communicating to solicit advice, ideas or leads? What if training helped your employees to understand that everyone’s insight can be useful?

Your facilities and maintenance people get around the building and gather interesting information from observation and conversations.  Your “gatekeepers” speak to gatekeepers in other companies.  Imagine the referrals you get already from secondary sources. Do they have the potential to increase your business?  You bet they do! Think “six degrees of separation” or the small-world phenomenon.  The average number of links is really about a half-dozen according to research.  Furthermore, if training in effective communication skills includes conversations about being respectful of others, as well as being ethical communicators, isn’t that the smart way to conduct your business?

Communication occupies more of our working day than any other activity. Without effective communication, there is no success. What would you do to confirm, expand, enhance, expedite, contradict, circumvent or supplement the information received from the formal networks in your workplace? I think you know the answer: you want to ensure that effective communication is taking place, cultivating the informal networks.




Analytical Listeners

Analytical listeners can be the best at suspending judgment, because to suspend, one has to avoid the temptation of always being certain. It takes a special kind of discipline to corral the thought that one can “fix” everything.  Analytical listeners have the discipline to listen, and similar to the critical listener they break down what needs to be done systematically.  The difference is they want to get things started right away.  Get the problems solved, the mission accomplished or the issues cleared, all in a timely manner!  Because they are often time-oriented, this type of listener uses strategies to “rein in” those who wander away into free-ranging conversations and discussions. Their non-verbal cues signal their impatience with wordiness; they glance at the clock, sigh or let the other speaker “see” the impatience written all over their facial expressions.

Analytical listeners have to struggle to resist their impulses to control not only time, but other time-killing factors, therefore creativity can be limited because they put pressure on those who indulge too much in it. Creativity, free-thinking and those that want to “leave the reservation” metaphorically speaking simply exhaust the analytical listeners among us. These time-consuming factors affect their ability to focus. This is very helpful when other speakers tend to drone on and on, oblivious to the time they waste or the frustration they produce in those who have to listen to them.  A slow delivery or a lengthy explanation exasperates the analytical listener, but consider this: what might get sacrificed when feelings get ignored or people are rushed?

Worrying about time and other time-consuming details too much while another is speaking, can cause us to lose sight of what David Bohm refers to as the “order between” two extremes.  What richness might be found between the “this and that” in a conversation?  Our western culture thrills to a good debate, and we preach punctuality as a virtue. However, when we are anxious to keep things moving, are we really hearing everything?  We might be ignoring the opportunity to search for the middle ground.  We may miss the subtle nuances that allow us to see themes, patterns and links that are beneath the surface of what is being said.

The takeaway on this type of listening style is

  • They are efficient managers of time, setting the pace for meetings and conversations
  • They can suspend judgment as they analyze a conversation
  • They resist the impulse to think out the box too much because they are more prone to efficiency
  • They will get to the bottom line quickly

Task-Oriented Listeners

Task- or content-oriented listeners, whether in personal or workplace contexts, are the efficiency experts of interpersonal conversations.  They get quite excited about the technical content in conversations; they possess a knack for considering all sides of any given issue. Like the critical listener, this listening type also engages in multi-tasking, but rather than merely evaluate message content, they spend time drilling down deeply for details.  If they perceive the speaker does not have expertise in his or her topic, they can lose interest quickly. Even more intimidating to the other speaker is their habit of posing challenging questions in an attempt to elicit more information.

This type of listener is greatly appreciated in businesses and organizations because they have a propensity for clarifying content, accomplishing many things proficiently and engendering support for ideas, not just their own.  This listening style is also the best at playing the devil’s advocate.  They are hard to argue with because they enter conversations armed with the facts and they are not afraid to be challenged.  This is the charts-and-graphs listener, the ones who quote credible experts to prove their points and challenges others to bring similar data into the discussion.

Given all of this, this style may become counter-productive when more careful deliberation is called for or concern for feelings needs to be acknowledged.  As their frustration rises, they risk alienating the other speaker with both verbal and non-verbal signals that minimizes non-essential details. This can result in their taking a long time to make decisions. This listening style can also be very tricky, culturally speaking.  If the other speaker comes from a culture where being brusque or blunt is considered impolite, they may be left with an impression that the listener did not intend to give. In individualistic cultures, like that of in the U.S., more leeway is given to those who are task-driven.  However, collectivistic cultures place a higher premium on emotions and feelings. When their importance is minimized in an effort to get things done quickly it may cause more problems than it solves.  Further, if the listener implies that there is only one right answer, theirs, they risk losing respect. Ignoring another’s perspectives, insights and their need to feel included will not make for a very cooperative relationship.

The takeaway on this type of listening style is

  • They are efficient and encourage others to be more organized
  • They tend to be attentive to the details or technical points in a conversation, not its emotional content
  • They can assist others in focusing and considering all sides of an issue
  • They ask questions for clarity and understanding

Critical Listeners

A critical or action-centered listener is constantly evaluating the content of a conversation more than the emotions involved or what appears to be the topic-at-hand. They are more concerned with how accurate and consistent the message is than with building relationships or analyzing it from a variety of perspectives. They can perceive that there is non-verbal communication going on, but they tend to disregard that because…well, frankly, they are too busy focusing on investigative problem-solving. Give them the facts as quickly as possible or risk having them interrupt to ask questions.

This listening type is seldom guilty of ambiguity – you will clearly know from their side of the conversation what they expect of you. They are thinking while you are talking, but not necessarily making up their response. In their minds, this kind of multi-tasking is not rudeness; it is just part of their style.  While the conversation is going on, they are, at the very least, mentally outlining the remarks into a well-organized to-do list. They often speak rapidly and jump ahead to the next item on that list. That is, after all, how problems get solved!

They don’t want to know how you feel.  They want to know what you want them to do. What is it the speaker expects of them? Are they asking for advice or assistance in breaking down something that they find too complex to deal with?  What action should be considered?  Action oriented listeners may come across as finicky or too particular, but this is because they have a need to know all of the necessary information.

Listening well can be time-consuming because it requires us to pay attention. Therefore, if this type of listener perceives a decision has to be made, they will also spend more time discarding and/or ignoring what they perceive as unnecessary content.  They may hear it, but it is not going to be retained. Listeners who use this style fancy themselves to be good problem-solvers.  When solutions are needed, they perceive they are being asked to investigate and act, so they readily accept the challenge.  They can help others focus on getting things done. They can also be a great source of encouragement and organization, pushing others to take action as well.  This makes them important contributors to both business and personal transactions.

However, if solutions, advice or assistance is not what the other person is seeking, critical listeners may come across as hypercriticalWhy do they need to know that, the other speaker wants to know.  They also have a tendency to jump to conclusions, make assumptions and, most annoying of all, finish the other speaker’s sentences.  All of these traits can harm or minimize relationships rather than enhance them. Not every conversation is a cry for help or a problem seeking a solution.

The takeaway on this type of listening style is:

  • They listen primarily for content and its quality
  • They are rational thinkers, often constructing a list of action items even as the other speaker is still speaking
  • They evaluate as they listen, with an ear for errors, contradictions and inconsistencies
  • Investigative problem-solving is the critical listener’s forte

Relational Listeners

The relational or people-centered listener primarily listens for emotional cues rather than just content in conversations.  This type of listener generally will stop whatever they are doing to give the speaker their undivided attention.  The speaker’s cues, both verbal and non-verbal, are carefully considered because people-centered listeners know that sometimes the message being conveyed goes beyond mere words.

Relational listeners tend to focus more on creating emotional closeness with the speaker than offering solutions.  While listening, they seldom speak about themselves, but they do think while listening, often wondering if the speaker is hoping they will pick up on their emotional state and respond to it. Does the speaker want compassion or an empathetic response? Is this person asking for understanding, but not my opinion necessarily? Are they expecting supportive responses rather than analysis, advice or solutions?

The good news about being a relational listener is that their natural tendency is be attentive, approachable and sincere.  At their best, relational listeners are empathetic and respectful of the other speaker, allowing them time, as well as a constructive climate in which to say what is on their mind. They will use verbal cues, such as uh-huh, to indicate affirmation, or agreement, rather than jumping in with too many disruptive comments.  Non-verbal cues, such as shaking their head or reaching out to touch another’s hands or shoulders are other signals that they are really engaged in the conversation.

This style of listening lends itself easily to empathetic responses because it allows the listener to identify with the speaker’s emotions. Again, it is not evaluative; it is not listening to seek clarification.  In empathy, one legitimizes a speaker’s right to their feelings even if they do not necessarily agree with them. It is very important to note that; empathy is not assent.  It merely implies that the other speaker has a right to their feelings.  When we empathize with another, we do not seek to minimize or make light of their dilemma or situation.  We also resist the temptation to reverse the focus onto ourselves. Empathetic responses communicate validation and worth; research indicates that the ability to respond this way can be learned.  Good news because it does not come naturally to everyone.

There is a downside to this listening style, however, in that the relational listener sometime finds themselves becoming too emotionally involved.  That emotional connection can keep them from being able to objectively assess the details within a conversation.  Further, for all of their good intentions, this listening style can often come across as being too intrusive if the other person tends to be introverted, private or a less expressive communicator.

The takeaway on this type of listening style is

  • They quickly pick up and seek to understand the feelings of the speaker
  • They listen for moods and emotional substance over message content
  • They seek to build relationships and connect by giving good verbal and non-verbal feedback
  • They generally tend to be non-judgmental