Generosity turns out to be its own reward. According to neuroscientist Richie Davidson, “There are now a plethora of data showing that when we individuals engage in generous and altruistic behaviors, they actually activate circuits in the brain that are key to fostering well-being.”
Generosity means being magnanimous, charitable, big-hearted and forgiving. Just as with the other elements of well-being, we can develop a sense of generosity in ourselves in meetings.
Here are four ways.
First, listen intently. This creates a sense of connection and safety that in turn enables people to think more clearly and share more adeptly what they think and how they feel.
Second, look for and appreciate what others bring to the table. Don’t say something like “I appreciate what you are saying.” Describe exactly what it is you are appreciating. For instance, “I appreciate that you added a different twist on the cause of this issue that I hadn’t thought of before.”
Appreciating someone can be extremely challenging when he or she says something that is different from the way I see things. I have to pause, take a breath, and remind myself that this person is just like me: wants to belong, be heard, make a contribution, and has a unique life experience. I also need to remember that creating change or moving forward does not occur by ignoring or pushing on people. It occurs when we listen to one another and work to find common ground or, when necessary, find acceptable compromise.
Third, ask questions of genuine curiosity to increase your understanding of the viewpoints of others. This is not asking people to justify their perspectives but an honest inquiry into how they came to see things as they do. Your natural curiosity is a great resource for this.
Fourth, extend yourself to make sure everyone feels welcome and safe. You can do this as a meeting participant or leader by making sure that everyone has what they need to participate effectively. This includes an agenda with desired outcomes, topics to be addressed, process steps and time frames to address each topic; a place to sit where people can see one another; and an agreed-upon set of ground rules.
These actions might seem like routine to you. They take on a different tone and level of importance when you see them as acts of generosity through which you are trying to engender a sense of well-being in the meeting.
Each of the four elements of well-being—including generosity—is rooted in neural circuits. This means that, because of the plasticity of our brains, when we practice generosity we develop it into a normal state of being.
Davidson is the founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at University of Wisconsin-Madison where he and his colleagues are identifying the biological and behavioral underpinnings of well-being. The tag line for Davidson’s center is “Change Your Mind, Change the World.” This blog adds an instrumental middle step: change your mind, change your conversations, change the world.