Your Presence matters

Words are privileged in my work. They communicate and persuade. They speak to the reason within us, the cognitive rational part of us. Most importantly, as we utter words and then narratives of who we are and how we are, these stories become part of us, they begin to form a part of our identity.

Words can prompt actions in, and change how we perceive, the world we inhabit, whether professional or personal.

Yet true transformation comes from our experience of ourselves in relation with another. And “in relation with” is first about your presence with another.

When I am with you, are you present with me? Do you consider me important enough to be here with me? Am I worthy of your attention? 

Presence

  • is the state of receptivity to the present moment,
  • has a dynamic quality,
  • is being available – not merely physical, also mentally and emotionally,
  • involves the empathetic experience of other people and their vitality. 

Peter [a pseudonym, of course] consulted me as he could not see a way forward in his career. It seemed to him that every step he took in his professional life was fraught with challenges and less than satisfactory resolutions. He was wondering if he was indeed in the right career and whether to move on. Peter also adopted some maladaptive habits to bolster his sense of loss of control.

One aspect of Peter’s problem was a lack of confidence. His success was “just good luck”, his failures were his fault. 

Our initial conversations revolved around the rational, sensible steps to be taken in the face of challenges in his work – some of which resulted in his commitment to take certain steps – the notion of “feel the fear and do it anyway”. Peter would bring the outcomes back into our sessions, most of which were positive. Initially, he figuratively patted himself on the back, not entirely convinced it wasn’t just luck. Peter’s resistance to “stepping up” remains, the fear still takes hold at “crunch time”, as he called it, immobilising him.

Ironic though it may seem, that at times of real conflict, we choose to trust a (professional) stranger than close ones no matter how supportive they can be. A stranger has no preconception or expectations of us as individuals. This gives us a level of freedom to experiment with being “different” to our “usual” self. It allows us to see ourselves through fresh eyes. This was how I, as psychotherapist, stepped into a relationship of trust with Peter, and established a foundation of safety upon which he could explore his “stuff” without fear or favour.

So what to do with Peter’s continued hesitance? It was not the ‘do’ but rather the being in our connection that provided rich evidence of his capabilities. It was not my job to tell him what to do with his work; each time there was a challenge, he was the one with the courage to face it with varying degrees of success. 

So it was that my presence bore witness to his courage, his analytical and critical mind, his creativity and his tenacity. And gradually he began to experience a different version of himself, and eventually found himself worthy enough.  

While presence does not lend itself to concrete or objective definition, its existence is most certainly felt. You have felt it – in yourself and with another, have you not?

In this age of distraction, this post is a re-commitment to PRESENCE: attending to being present with another, noticing how my presence impacts another, and deepening my presence.

How will Presence contribute to your professional and personal lives?

 

© 2024 Transfigure Therapy

Indicators of unhappy workplaces?

On invitation from Lawyers Weekly, I provided my comments on “[t]he new trends combating ‘unfulfilling’ and ‘detrimental’ workplaces‘.

Do not underestimate or dismiss these trends – such as, ‘snail girl era’, ‘bare minimum Mondays’ and their predecessor ‘quiet quitting’ – they give us valuable insights on the important issues and how to improve the modern workplace (and not limited to the legal profession).

I have posted about finding fulfilment in our work. And in turn, workplaces must evolve – it is a 2-way street.

Workplaces must embrace its diverse people and the different ways in which they work; this means establishing inclusive practices and systems that promote psychological safety – in particular, trust and accountability – and are adaptable to the needs of its people”.

Relationally, in the workplace, we have to care, to demonstrate compassion for others and ourselves, to move away from a scarcity mentality – where more for you means less for me – to an abundance mindset – there is enough for everyone, and to maintain a win-win approach with each other and our work.”

~ FlorenceT

 

A professional in a video-conference

Through the camera lens, our eyes clock congruence, that is harmony or compatibility (in this context) of words, tone, facial expression, and any other non-verbal cues.

Recall the times you met a stranger in a certain place, and thought “something’s not quite right”? Or chancing upon a friend and sensing something’s off? This is because we pick up inconsistent cues from that person’s verbal and non-verbal presentation including body language.

The same when we are in a video-conference. In fact, we are working harder to pick up cues because we know we have less to work with. And incongruence distracts.

So what helps us to appear professional in a video-conference?

Appearance

What we wear and our personal grooming and style contribute to the professional appearance. What is appropriate will depend on the purpose of the video-conference, who the participants are, perhaps the industry/professional expectation, and the environment in which the video-conference is being held.  This is synonymous to wearing appropriate attire to an in-person meeting. Most importantly, be authentic.  There are different types of casual professional attire, select that which portrays who you are.

Environment 

Our appearance ought to be consistent with the environment, that is our surroundings when we are in a video-conference. Is it congruent to be wearing a dark suit if our background is a view of the bedroom (no matter how stylish it may be), or a Zoom background of a beach at sunset? It is likely we will sense a degree of awkwardness. If you wish to convey a relaxed atmosphere then lose the dark suit.

We bring our environment into a video-conference through the sights and sounds being transmitted from where we are physically located. Mute the microphone where required and minimise potential visual distraction to other participants in the video-conference. This is also a sign of respect.

Tech and equipment

A good webcam is necessary to capture clear visual and audio, which eases communication. This is a necessary investment (not a luxury) in the current professional space. Couple it with a good pair of headset or microphone and speakers. No matter how good we look, if we can’t be heard then the whole scene is sub-standard and interferes with the perception of professionalism. Imagine a documentary with beautifully shot visuals but you have difficulty hearing the narrator?

Placement of the camera is also important. A view up one’s nostrils is never pleasant, nor is a view of the top of one’s head. The camera should be placed directly at eye level or slightly above the eye-line. The illusion of us looking into the camera and thus meeting another’s eyes is inviting. Its absence can create a sense of disconnection and isolation.

Lighting is important. We are attuned to consider a face hidden in shadow as suspicious. No matter if we are thinking it or not, we will react less favorably to a partially hidden face, or when we are unable to see someone’s eyes or facial expression. This is particularly true in a culture which considers making eye contact as a sign of sincerity, honesty and good manners. Using a ring light to  illuminate our face solves this issue.  Ring light is usually placed behind the camera and directly facing our face. This allows flexibility of where we position ourselves for a video-conference, and removes the need to be facing a window for proper light or be concerned about back-lighting.

Preparation

Spend time considering what you need before each video-conference. Be prepared.

Do not turn on your video or unmute before you are ready. Shuffling paper, appearing distracted as you attempt to close down an application, fidgeting as you make yourself comfortable – all can appear less than professional.

Perhaps this means leaving yourself with ample time in between calls to gather yourself before you start the next video-conference.

Attitude

Professionalism is fundamentally about behaviour and  attitude. Our behaviour ought to be congruent with our attitude.

Any discomfort or resentment (a video-conference may not be everyone’s meeting mode of choice) will channel through as a result of inconsistency in verbal and visual expressions, say between your stiff smile, or the wariness in your eyes, or your agitated gestures, or your constant shrugs or nervous laugh.

A good way to familiarise yourself to being in front of a camera is to be in front of one. Practice, for example starting your webcam and leaving it on while you work, or take a recording of yourself. As with actors, you will soon “forget” about the camera, or be less self-conscious. You may even learn to use the camera to your advantage.

A moderate and calm demeanour assists with a professional presentation.  Exaggerated gestures or volume are magnified in a video-conference. Fidgeting and sudden movements will interrupt and distract. To find “just right” will depend on the context and how practised you are before a webcam.

When the camera is focused primarily on your face – any smirk, flinch, grimace, or eyes-rolling, are captured and transmitted. Being respectful is an important condition to being a professional. A respectful attitude is keenly felt even through the camera lens.

I hope this gives you food for thought and inspiration to act.

~ FlorenceT

How to connect

Building relationship is a “thing” now, a mantra within the networking, management and leadership circles. And rightly so. Seeking to build relationships honors our humanity, we are more than conduits engaging in mere exchange of insights and information, time and money and the cost-benefit analysis of these currencies.

We cannot build relationships unless we learn how to connect.

And the essence of real connection which we find so appealing, supportive, enriching and rewarding is intimacy. Intimacy is the glue that binds people. Without it, any connection is barren, void of the positive meaning.

But what is intimacy? It is a close, familiar and affectionate personal relationship with another and it arrives in different ways. We may have cognitive or intellectual intimacy with another with the sharing of ideas, visions, viewpoints, dreams and hopes. We may have experiential intimacy as we do work, however defined, together. We may also have emotional intimacy where feelings are shared between two or more people and our emotional needs are met or affirmed. And we have sexual intimacy which involves the sharing of sensual expression. This would include for example, the person whom we share our epicurean or creative interests.

There are many ways through which we develop intimacy in our professional life and connect.

And which comes first? Do we connect to enable intimacy to grow? Or is intimacy a prerequisite to connection? Instead of a linear cause-and-effect correlation, the relationship between intimacy and connection is reflexive.

Intimacy and connection are deliberate and conscious processes.

We must be willing to explore, to be interested in another’s life, to be present and available to them. Most importantly, we must be real. And we have to give it time to develop.

Hold new interactions lightly, watch it and see where it will grow. Let go of preconceived notions of how, what and why. Not every interaction becomes positive connection.

So how do we connect?

Be open and sociable. This does not mean be naive and gullible. It does however mean you do not approach every person you meet as a threat. Keep your head, open your heart.

Be authentic. Show who you really are. Stop being so guarded. It may feel vulnerable but my experience has been that most people are happy to receive the real you. Few people are out to harm.

Maintain your values. People with whom you connect will be those who share a certain ‘thing’ with you; this ‘thing’ which calls to you are underpinned by your values. Be yourself. Be honest.

In this endeavour of building relationships especially as a leader, let us be gentle, kind and respectful.

Which of us would refuse a genuine connection? On this premise, building relationship need not feel like an unsurpassable challenge.

~ FlorenceT

What it means to have a true conversation

Conversation… what’s it about?

I encounter many ‘conversations’, and in many different contexts.

There are the conversations I promised another but only when time permits, or the conversations I have to have with another which distilled much and created space for more imaginings. There are conversations which signaled change and endings and beginnings. These conversations are imbued with so much meaning, even as we schedule them as a matter of course as part of our daily life at work or in our personal life.

I hope these conversations have been true.

No matter the context, true conversations have a common thread. True conversations are arrived at with a willingness to listen, an openness to receive and embrace, and a genuine response and where required a loving rebuke.

True conversations happen with humility and love, supportive and encouraging growth.

We hold conversations through engaging with each other authentically. Maybe that’s why we don’t just have conversations but we hold conversations – the conversation as a space, a safe space held which allows each conversation-holder to be vulnerable and to express who we are to each other. Otherwise the interaction becomes inter-reaction.

Idealistic? Perhaps. Nevertheless, it ought not detract us from trying our utmost to being such a holder of conversation. After all, we have heard of the benefits of authentic listening. And “asking the beautiful question” that says “I have heard”, a beautiful question which touches another deeply, a beautiful question which invites a genuine answer.

How beautiful and uplifting our relationships can be when we hold true conversations.

A conversation is not the same as a friendly chat, a quick ‘how-are-you’ nor lengthy IMs. Nothing ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ about these – each serves a purpose at different moments.

It may not be possible to have true conversations all the time. It requires mindful intention and preparedness. True conversations are always filled with meaning, meaning-full.

When did you last have a true conversation? And with whom?

Live meaningfully, I say.

~ FlorenceT

Impact of digitised delivery of legal services

“The features of digitized legal providers are becoming well- defined– they are customer centric, tech and process enabled, agile, diverse, accessible to clients in real-time, intelligent, globally branded, scalable, multi-disciplinary, and enterprise focused.”

What does the impact of technology on legal services mean for the humans in that space?

Customer-entric, agile, diverse, accessible, intelligent and enterprise-focused apply to lawyers (and other professionals). What skills are required to respond to a changing workplace?

They include the ability to grow and manage relationships, an ability to process and consolidate large amount of information, and the psychological agility to remain calm and focused in times of transition and change.

For article in Forbes magazine, see here.

Emotional intelligence for lawyers & corporate executive leaders

(M)en decide far more problems by hate, or love, or lust, or rage, or sorrow, or joy, or hope, or fear, or illusion, or some other inward emotion, than by reality or authority or any legal standard, or judicial precedent, or statute.

If you are curious whose quote that is, it’s Cicero – the Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator, political theorist, consul, and constitutionalist. As it turns out, human nature hasn’t changed much in two thousand years.

We’re Emotional Beings

We’re still profoundly emotional beings. EI (emotional intelligence) has come a long way since Yale research (1990) and popular books by Goleman (1995). Like the study of “mindfulness”, EI has more mainstream recognition and a greater amount of professional “success” attributed to it than IQ and technical skills.

Mindfulness Training is Gaining Professional Recognition

Gone are the days where law firms and the corporate world recruits by academic achievements and IQ alone. So what in brief, is emotional intelligence good for in the professional workplace, business and law?

  • Better judgement
  • Higher productivity
  • More team cohesion and client relationships
  • Higher sales and conversion percentages
  • Great work satisfaction in teams, leading to higher retention rates.
  • Improved customer or client service (due to improved listening and empathy skills)
  • Better organizational communication
  • More effective leadership (leading to a competitive edge).

Specifically for law firms and the daily lives of lawyers, EI can have a significant impact. Historically, the legal profession has been heavily influenced by the Stoic/Puritan frame of reference and an emphasis on ‘reason’, this is changing towards a more holistic model of human behavior.

The “Nimble Heart” in the Workplace

How might emotional intelligence help those in the Legal Profession?

  1. The ability to correctly identify client values and motivations
  2. The ability to suppress emotions that might cloud objectivity
  3. Psycho-social identification & sensitivity, namely: active listening, empathy and compassion
  4. Reading body language, non-verbal cues and facial micro emotions
  5. Correctly matching persuasion strategies with the target audience
  6. Manage stress and self-regulate effectively in high-pressured environments and long work-weeks
  7. Conflict resolution, halting escalations and defusing negative emotions
  8. Establishing rapport, trust and warmth
  9. Facilitating easy exchanges of information
  10. Adapting not just to frames of reference, but to people more effectively
  11. Influencing the emotions of others through effective communication, feedback and motivational impact.

Clearly EI embodies a broad spectrum of rather holistic “soft skills” that are essential to all professional industry for leaders, managers, consultants and employees.

Can Emotional Intelligence be Taught?

In the “real world” of corporate hierarchies and law firm politics, given that candidates have comparable IQ, experience and technical skills, EQ then becomes the unique qualifying differentiator (UQD).

There’s a significant moment now for MBA programs among others, to actively integrate EI and soft skills training in their curriculum, sometimes called applied human science.

  • Graduate leadership programs continue to integrate EI training into their programs
  • Corporate training programs now specialize in EI training
  • Emotional intelligence has been correlated with leadership qualities

Professional efficacy is no longer solely correlated with IQ, so what then can it be attributed to?

A Most Vital Trait in a Top CEO

For CEOs and top executives, EI has a lot to offer in terms of global corporate identity.

EI underpins the ability to inspire discretionary effort—the extent to which employees and team members go above and beyond the call of duty.

This is an “intangible” of the charismatic CEO, who champions the corporate entity internally, much as some CEOs harness their personal brand for effective PR external to the organization and corporate brand.

To earn the respect and fidelity, and to motivate and mobilize talent, are what true visionaries do.

Many HR recruiters and analytics talk about a “skills gap”, EI could well be this “gap”. What we might be seeing as well is a “leadership shortage”.

Never in human history has Emotional Intelligence been at such a higher premium. Never has leadership been such a corporate differentiator in its ability to drive ROI.

[An earlier version of this article was published on LinkedIn.]

One thing you must do when resolving conflict

What is the singular most important thing we must do, without which communication breaks down?  Communication is the key to resolving conflict. In fact, it is also the key to preventing and minimising conflict whether in our personal or professional lives. Often the word “communication” brings imagery of speaking and gestures, making oneself understood.

However, authentic listening is imperative. William Ury, the author of seminal book on negotiation “Getting to Yes” emphasized this aspect of communication as fundamental, yet often overlooked, to any conflict resolution. Without authentic listening, we are merely waiting our turn to speak.

So how do we do authentic listening?

  1. Be empathic.

Empathy is the art of walking in another’s shoes, stranger or otherwise. It is to acknowledge and take in another’s experiences from their perspective, not from our own experience, views, ideas or values. It is seeking to understand. We may not agree, but we can understand.

Empathy is a component of the widely known skillset of emotional intelligence. It can be learned.

  1. Pay attention.

Listening requires attending to the speaker and the content. It is a matter of integrity to prepare ourselves mentally to meet the other. To orientate ourselves to acknowledge, to be open and to accept the other, without preconception. This is not to disregard our experiences, our ‘instinct’, our intelligence but rather to move them slightly aside to make space for other possibilities, constructive ones perhaps. This is the essence of not being closed-minded, and to maybe believe in surprise and a little magic. J

  1. Put your ego aside

Sometimes we hear things which are unpleasant… about ourselves. Sometimes we hear things that seems to be stranger than fiction and inaccurate. It’s confronting, and our first instinct is to deny, to return volley, to give as good as we got if not harder. Don’t.

It is not about whether we are right or wrong, or whether we look good or bad in the speaker’s eyes, nor the effect of what is being said to us. It’s not about us. It is how we take this opportunity to understand the speaker’s perspective, how he or she could have arrived at a certain conclusion, to see their truth.

It is about the speaker and the opportunity provided to express their experience, views, ideas or value. The listener’s job is to pay attention, to listen with empathy without judgment.

  1. Silence is necessary

When we hold space for more, more arrive. To do this, we keep silent. The speaker may be considering whether to add, to elaborate, to divulge… sometimes the speaker is expecting a return argument, a denial, a scoff… many things are happening in the speaker’s mind, what we cannot know for sure. But if we stay silent, just for a little bit longer, perhaps we would find out. It is not a competition as to who should speak faster or more. So give the speaker, and the conversation time.

  1. Demonstrate you have heard

To build a relationship, it is important over the course of the conversation to indicate to the speaker that we have listened and heard.

We do this when we ask discerning questions seeking clarification, when we acknowledge the emotional content of what’s been said, when we recount the facts told to us as the other sees them. We are able to convey this when we imbue the conversation with a generosity of spirit in receiving the speaker and giving the speaker the attention and empathy necessary in the situation.

Authentic listening, as with any skill, will require practice, practice and more practice. Enjoy!