Editors’ Note: The following is an excerpt from “Street Smart Awareness and Inquiry-In-Action” (Amara Collaboration, 2018).
Mindfulness is an essential and foundational piece of conscious leadership. But it’s not worth much if it isn’t taken into action in the messy world of diversity, conflict, and power relationships. What’s even better is Mindfulness Plus — the capacity to be mindful and aware in the moment and then take powerful action steps in the world.
We call this “inquiry in action” and “street-smart awareness.” It’s about developing the ability to notice what’s happening within ourselves while being consciously aware of others we are in relationships with — and at the same time tuning into a wider circle in our environment. The stretch is to be aware of all three at the same time and to act based on these multiple perspectives.
Our recent book, “Street Smart Awareness and Inquiry-in-Action,” compiles a number of tested methods from 18 contributors in eight countries that all encourage and develop the muscles needed to inquire in the midst of action. Here are three of those practices that you can try by yourself, with your team, and within your company to develop more street-smart awareness and bring mindfulness into the real world.
Practice 1: Three-Two-One, from Jason Harrison
This practice helps us become less reactive to difficult people and situations and frees us from the limited perspective we adopt under stress. Start by using it to make sense of a recent situation you’ve experienced. Eventually, you can start doing it in real-time.
Step 1: Run over the objective facts of the scene from the third-person point of view — a fact-based description of what is happening. Imagine you are watching video footage of your encounter and include exactly what happened in sequence. Try to get to the pure facts of an interaction, free of any emotion.
Step 2: Take a second-person perspective, from the point of view of the other person or people involved, even if you don’t know the accuracy of your take on it. It’s a leap of imagination. Think about what they might have been feeling and thinking during the event. This helps remind you that there is another story that is distinct from the factual one.
It may be hard to empathize with the other person if you have your own strong emotions, but it’s worth doing, even if you don’t interpret their point of view accurately, because it helps you shift out of your own self-focused stance.
Step 3: Give an honest exploration of your own truth and the story you’re telling yourself about what’s happening. It may be a story you’ve been spinning for ages.
Step 4: Once you have looked at all three stances, step away for five minutes. Then, try telling the story again from a more balanced viewpoint. Ask yourself:
- What are the facts?
- What more do I need to know?
- What would I like to ask the other person about this situation?
- Is the story I tell myself one I tell often? Do I want to change it?
- What is the story I would like to tell?
Now, determine what actions and inquiries you want to make following this practice, and write them down.
Practice 2: Listening In, from Jane Allen
Introducing moments of silence as a practice during your day allows you to become aware of what is on your mind, how you feel, and the judgements and assumptions you make. If you become aware of this, you have a chance to let some things go and become alert to what’s happening in the moment — inside and outside of you. In a short while, the practice of silence becomes a valuable new habit that quickly clears the space for serious, high-quality work.
You can use this anywhere, with any number of people from one to hundreds, as a nod of respect for whatever joint endeavor in which you’re engaged. All you need is the confidence to introduce the practice after you have tried it in a smaller way first.
Step 1: Start in a situation that feels relatively safe — a small group, a one-to-one with a colleague, or a team meeting. Ask everyone to leave everything else aside for a moment (including their skepticism), mute their devices, and prepare to listen to both what’s going on inside of them and what the external ambiance is saying.
Step 2: Explain your intention for introducing the practice. Here are a few examples:
- “A few moments of silence can help us become more aware in the moment and focus our attention in this room and on the importance of this topic.”
- “Silence can help us find ourselves during a busy day.”
- “This practice can help us learn together in a different way and build trust.”
Step 3: Use a timer so that everyone, including you, can fully participate. Start with two minutes. Later, when everyone is used to doing this, you can agree on how many minutes to set aside for the practice.
Step 4: At the end, choose whether to move on to the task at hand, ask your colleagues what it was like for them during the silence, or check in with each other. If you are in a group of 10 or more, you might suggest that people check in with their neighbor for a minute.
Practice 3: The Four Parts of Speech, from Heidi Gutekunst
Meetings often take too long and don’t result in clarity. A disciplined framework can help. This practice is particularly useful with a clear task you want to tackle efficiently but without being rushed. Whether you’re running a meeting, writing a report, or making a presentation, prepare your material under the following four headings to make your case strong, clear, and convincing.
Step 1 — Frame: Clearly frame the meeting or conversation with the purpose of the discussions and the boundaries for it. It’s like drawing lines in the sand and saying, “This is where we’ll play.” In other words, what are we here to do? Introducing a frame gives focus and clarity, which leads to improved effectiveness. Even when the point of a meeting is simply to let ideas emerge, you can state and frame that purpose.
Step 2— Advocate: Advocating means stating your own stance and being clear and transparent about your intentions and opinions. Say what you want to say openly and cleanly. For some of us it’s easy to advocate, and for some it’s difficult.
Step 3 — Illustrate: When you’ve stated why you’re meeting and what you’re advocating, illustrate with examples, detail, or stories. This opens the topic in a more colorful, concrete, and understandable way and puts more flesh on the bones of the issue.
Step 4 — Inquire: Many conversations leave out inquiry and miss out on valuable thoughts, ideas, and solutions that apply to the issue at hand. Ending with inquiry goes beyond just asking a question; rather, it means opening the floor to curiosity, collective insight, and exploration. It creates a space where there is invitation and encouragement for everyone present to express any thoughts, ideas, or important concerns.
For more tips on brining mindfulness to life, check out “Street Smart Awareness and Inquiry-In-Action,” now available on Amazon Kindle and in paperback.
Jane Allen, co-founder and chair of Amara Collaboration, has over 20 years of experience in transformational leadership as a coach and confidante.
Heidi Gutekunst, co-founder and CEO of Amara Collaboration, is a transformational catalyst for individuals, teams and organizations. She has a track record of leading positive transformations as a senior executive in creative agencies.