COVID, lockdown, climate change, economic downturn, unemployment… what have you talked about today?
Conversations have the power not just to report on what is happening – they help create what is happening. What we talk about focusses our attention. And what we focus our attention on and the way we focus our attention, really matters.
For example, I'm working. I'm on a group Zoom call. Before the meeting starts I start chatting with a colleague about how I’m annoyed with one of my stakeholders. That’s followed by a conversation about lockdown, the just announced recession, and lack of job security. I see the expression on the faces of my colleagues turn to worry.
For everyone who’s been part of this conversation it's very likely that their levels of anxiety have increased. They are in the fight-or-flight response. In the fight-or-flight response our ability to connect the dots when trying to solve a problem decreases, as does our levels of creativity. That is the mindset we take forward into our work day when we start in fight-or-flight.
Compare this to me starting a meeting by thanking a colleague for helping me yesterday, offering to send some useful information to a busy colleague, and, yes, talking about the coronavirus and the economic outlook, but staying centred in myself, open-hearted, as I empathise with others’ anxiety. My un-dramatic approach helps others be less anxious.
For everyone who’s been part of this second conversation it’s very likely they are in what is known as the calm-and-connect response. The calm-and-connect response is brought about through the more positive emotions. In the calm-and-connect response we are more creative, we see more possibilities, and overall we are more likely to see the big picture. We are also more resilient, and more able to come to a win-win outcome if we are in a negotiation. These are the abilities we will take forward into our workday if we begin with calm-and-connect.
Imagine the different outcomes of a workday, work-week, work-year spent in calm-and-connect as opposed to fight-or-flight.
(For more on how our body and mind respond to positive emotions, see the work of Barbara Fredrickson.)
What we talk about, how we talk about it, and more generally what we habitually give our attention to, really matters. It directly affects the attitudes and abilities of ourselves and others – for good or ill. By choosing conversations that bring ourselves and others into calm-and-connect through encouraging the more positive emotions and staying centred in ourselves (while not avoiding difficult topics), we can help create an environment where resilience and creativity thrive.
This is a very worthwhile contribution to a better future.