Hanging Out in the Unknown

Every year at the winter solstice, the rising sun illuminates the interior of Newgrange, the prehistoric monument in County Meath on the northeast coast of Ireland. I can just about hear the sighs of relief of those who gathered on this windy, cold hill nearly 5,000 years ago as they saw the sign that longer, lighter days were returning. So great is the human need to know, to be certain, that prehistoric people in the … Read more…

Requirements for “Bridging Social Capital”

Cultural Diversity Graphic

Last Wednesday in “Dealing with Difference” I describe “bonding social capital” and “bridging social capital.” I enumerate the serious consequences of too much of the former and make a case for more of the latter. Bridging social capital means developing social networks, norms of reciprocity, mutual assistance, and trustworthiness with people who differ from us. Bridging social capital is harder to build than bonding social capital because this tends to evolve naturally among people with common … Read more…

Dealing With Difference

Our survival in the past depended on being part of a family or tribe. Now it depends on relating effectively with those we perceive as being outside our tribe or group. To solve the complex issues we face at work and in our communities, we need to work with people with different backgrounds, experience, areas of expertise, and points of views. In other words we need to build social capital—social networks, norms of reciprocity, mutual … Read more…

The Power of Unexamined Beliefs

When we get stuck in “solution wars” in meetings, unbeknownst to us, we are often arguing about our beliefs or mental models about the world. Mental models, according to Peter Senge define “deeply engrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.” These mental models are double-edged swords. On the one hand they provide a framework that helps us order and interpret the world; … Read more…

Opening to Change

We are witnessing the logical result of people embracing absolutes in their minds and in their actions in Mali, Nigeria, Paris, Beirut, and the plane crash in the Sinai. These are acutely painful reminders of the travesties that are possible when human beings close themselves off to change and mindlessly cling to beliefs about the way the world is “supposed to be.” My rigidity and reactions to the beliefs of others is not in the … Read more…

Are Your Intentions “Enlightened”?

Daj Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, thought the UN “should have one room dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense.” Because of this he personally planned and supervised the creation of the Meditation Room before he died in a plane crash in 1961 while on a peace mission in the Congo. As you enter this dimly lit, triangular room you face a 9X6.5 foot abstract fresco … Read more…

What’s Compassion Got To Do With It?

Tina Turner’s 1984 Grammy Song of the Year asks “What’s love got to do with it?” It turns out that compassion—an element of love—has everything to do with how we talk with one another. Is it a “second-hand” emotion as the song suggests? Compassion might sound like a surprising, even unnecessary, element in meetings. However, to solve complex issues, we need to converse and build relationships with people who have different life experiences and points … Read more…

“Go-To” Skill #2: Asking Questions of Genuine Curiosity

Listening (“Go-To” Skill #1) and asking questions of genuine curiosity (“Go-To” Skill # 2) are the keys to the kingdom of understanding and working well with others to solve tough issues. Without these two, we are stuck in the movie Groundhog Day, recreating the same conversation over and over again until we get it right. In “Change Your Questions Change Your Life” Marilee Adams makes a distinction between “learner questions” and “judger questions.” Questions of genuine … Read more…

“Go-To” Skill #1: Listening

Listening is the most underutilized and essential element there is for meaningful conversation. It is good for whatever ails any meeting. Although it does not cure a common cold, it does prevent misunderstandings, strengthen relationships, and help people clarify their thinking. So, why don’t we listen more deeply and more often? Among many possible reasons, three stand out: tit for tat behavior, fear, and lack of skill. “Tit for tat” or “you aren’t listening to … Read more…

Do “Meditation” and “Mindfulness” Matter?

Uh-oh. Maybe mainstreaming and secularizing meditation and mindfulness practice has gone too far? “I AM being stalked by meditation evangelists,” complains Adam Grant in a recent Op-Ed piece for the New York Times. “They approach with the fervor of a football fan attacking a keg at a tailgate party,” he claims. Meditation has exploded in popularity. And, the notion of “mindfulness” is ubiquitous in press pieces and book titles. A quick scan of my shelves … Read more…