Strong communication lies at the heart of a high-performing organisation. In this edition of Performance, we ask a world expert in the field, Chris Parker, how to go from casual glance to insight.
In the last article I wrote about the dangers of a casual glance. Now, as promised, I’m going to focus on how to look – to see – with such clarity that we increase our chances of gaining insight. Because everything begins before it begins and ends after it ends, my own simple process for seeing with clarity is made up of the following three stages:
Before the interaction
ii) Preparation: state creation.
During the interaction
i) State management
ii) Application of physical technique(s)
After the interaction
Let’s take them one at a time.
Before the interaction
i) Presuming the time is available plan the interaction based on your understanding of its likely duration, the nature of the location and your desired end outcomes. In communication as in sport it is essential to know precisely what success will look like – without this, of course, you cannot plan to achieve it. In communication, though, unlike in sport, we sometimes don’t have time to plan ahead of the interaction. In these situations you have to be able to adopt the best seeing state instantly. And, even if there has been planning time, I recommend that you always access the state just before the interaction begins. To ensure this you need to have created a specific trigger that fires the state. But what is the best seeing state?
ii) In my experience it is based on forgetfulness, curiosity and motivation. In order to see with the clarity that creates insight, we need to forget all we think we know about the other person, our own world-view, and fear of consequence.
We cannot give skilled attention if we view someone else through the presuppositions and expectations created by past experience, or through the blinkers created by our own beliefs and values, or through the fog of fear created by thoughts of failure. Insight can only be achieved through a total commitment to the here and now of the interaction. The other person – or people – temporarily become the most important thing in your life; your overriding motivation is to see them with absolute clarity; your curiosity about them should be boundless. Your sense of self disappears into the background.
The second part of the state is achieved through the adoption of appropriate physicality. For me, this is based on a sense of lightness and stretch from the base of my spine to the top of my head. If I have time to prepare I spend a moment breathing deliberately and lightly in through my nose, ‘feeling’ the breath moving deep into my core before gently exhaling. I focus on the breath and use it to forget everything that I need to. If I don’t have time to prepare, I simply fire the trigger I have established and trust that my mind and body will respond automatically.
During the interaction
i) I want my eyes to operate with the speed and accuracy of a camera taking accurate photos in a fraction of a second. I maintain the desired state by maintaining my posture; if I ever feel that I am beginning to lose my focus I fire the trigger again.
ii) The actual technique I use is to look just beyond the shoulders of the person I am interacting with. Rather than be drawn in to specific detail – eye-to-eye contact for example – I employ a soft focus on the space just behind their upper body. In this way I can see every part of them, from feet to scalp. From this perspective subtle details and shifts – a fleeting change of expression for example – are magnified and the mental camera captures the image in an instant. I find this technique works equally well when studying physical movement.
I review every interaction twice. The first time is immediately afterwards and then I am really interested only in my emotional sense – my gut instinct – about how it went. A day or two later I review it again. This time I use three different perspectives: my own, the other person’s, and an imaginary independent observer watching the interaction from the sidelines.
There is a world of difference between simply looking at someone and giving them skilled attention that results in insight. I have provided a very brief outline of how I go about this. You might develop – or already have – your own version. Of course, when giving skilled attention listening is as important as looking and I will talk about that next time.
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Leaders Meet: Wellbeing
21 May 2019