This week’s Happiness At Work #70 headline theme considers the power and importance of creativity and play to our happiness and success.
What does playing mean in a work context?
What new ideas can we get about how to ‘play to our strengths’?
What are the benefits – for ourselves, for our organisations, for the people we play with and the people we play to – of making more time to be creative, for fun, and for finding a space in the middle of the circle?
And, if we are convinced of the worth of any of this, how might we go about trying out and extending and mastering any of these practices?
To help answer these questions, here are some of our favourite articles from this week’s collection…
BY MEG CARTER
Rather than just fix what’s ailing you, positive psychology looks to actively improve individual and organizational well-being. Here’s how Havas Worldwide is working to build a happier, more resilient–and ultimately more creative–workforce.
Cultivating a more positive outlook is a better way of boosting creativity than indulging a tortured genius, according to consultant psychologist and professor Neil Frude who has begun working with ad organization Havas Worldwide London to provide “positive psychology” training to the agency’s staff.
It’s all about creating a virtuous circle.
“There is a strong relationship between employee happiness and a workforce that is productive, creative, and flourishing,” he says, pointing to lab studies designed to test creativity after participants have been made more and less happy, which shows creative levels improve when people are happier.
Furthermore, the positive effect of creative satisfaction produces, in turn, a further emotional uplift that feeds what’s known as “contagion of emotion,” which benefits a group of people as a whole–be that an organization or simply a collection of friends and acquaintances…
“‘Positive psychology’ is about playing to strengths–enhancing positive emotions, rather than the old approach of using psychology to fix problems,” Frude explains.
“How we are using it is to demonstrate skills that help boost an individual’s sense of well-being–for example, ways of building resilience, or becoming more positive, or better managing your emotions in a positive direction by understanding what boosts or rewards you can give yourself to generate a positive emotional uplift.”
Build happiness and well-being among staff and an organization will benefit from a more emotionally intelligent workforce: people who not only understand their own and other people’s emotions but can more effectively manage their own and other people’s emotions, too.
Which is what inspired Russ Lidstone, CEO of creative agency Havas Worldwide London–whose clients include Credit Suisse, Santander, and Durex–to bring in Frude and his company, The Happiness Consultancy, to help boost levels of happiness, well-being, and resilience in his agency’s 240-strong workforce…
“The notion that 40% of your brain can be trained to adapt is an interesting one. Another selling point for me is that a liberated mind in a more confident and secure individual is more likely to feel free to express itself in different, innovative, and ultimately more creative ways.”
What all this means in practice is that, between now and the end of the year, every member of the 240-member staff based at Havas Worldwide’s offices in London and Manchester will undertake a four-week course in positive psychology run by Frude…
“This isn’t about ‘fixing’ a specific problem but making the organization work even better,” Professor Frude insists.
“It’s about empowering individuals to get more out of their lives and enabling managers to recognize the potential positive (and negative) impact that can come from putting people with a particular outlook into a team. And it’s about providing those involved in communications with sharper tools to understand and engage through the positive messages they create.”..
“My hope is for a wave of little interventions across the agency over time that will lead, in turn, to both a healthier outlook and better output for us all–as a business and also at a personal level–by getting the best out of ourselves and each other.”
Or to put it another way, Frude adds: “Learning to manage your emotional well-being is like teaching a person to fish–a skill that will keep you going for a lifetime.”
One of the essential elements of positive psychology is Engagement – what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has termed ‘flow‘ to describe the ecstatic state of being completely at-one with and absorbed in what we are doing. It is when we are stretched enough to feel challenged and stimulated but not so far beyond our confidence that we become over-stressed and anxious.
It is worth knowing that Csikszentmihalyi began to develop his model from the question: “Where in ordinary people’s lives are they really happy?” He went and talked to a great many creative people and noticed how very happy they were when they talked about their work, and how ready they were to continue what they were doing for years and years despite having little hope of ever achieving any fame or fortune. Despite any hardships and difficulties their work brought them, these artists and scientists reported a very high level of happiness in the sense of meaning and purpose their work gave to their lives, and often described working as a kind of ‘ecstasy’. Ecstasy in the original Greek meant ‘to stand to the side of something’, but it has come to mean a ‘mental stepping into an alternative and heightened realty.’
Here is how one of the artists Csikszentmihalyi interviewed talked about his experience composing music:
“You are in an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don’t exist. I have experienced this time and time again. My hand seems devoid of myself, and I have nothing to do with what is happening. I just sit there watching it in a state of awe and wonderment. And [the music] just flows out of itself.”
Often, when in this state of complete flow, our emotions are in fact neutral and in it is only afterwards that we will remember back and feel we have just been having a wonderful time. This is because our concentration and consciousness merges with what we are doing, we have no self-consciousness, and we lose all sense of time.
Csikszentmihalyi goes on to explain that there are a range of different states we can find ourselves in, made up of the mix between our level of skill and the level of the challenge in what we trying to do:
- too little skill mixed with too high a challenge and we feel anxious
- too little challenge mixed with a surfeit of skill and we feel bored
- high challenge matched with high skill and we have the possibility of feeling in flow
There are two states that are most easy to lean ourselves into flow from:
- pushing ourselves over the edge of control and we can fall into flow. This is the optimum condition for leaning out beyond our comfort
and adding the ignition of discipline – a technique or structure or rule – can optimise our state of arousal into a flow state. This explains why absolute freedom – or only going with your instincts – are not sufficient to optimum engagement.
Applications and Examples of Flow
While flow experiences can happen as part of everyday life, there are also important practical applications in various areas including education, sports and the workplace.
Examples of Flow in Education: Csíkszentmihályi has suggested that overlearning a skill or concept can help people experience flow. Another critical concept in his theory is the idea of slightly extending oneself beyond one’s current ability level. This slight stretching of one’s current skills can help the individual experience flow.
Examples of Flow in Sports: Just like in educational settings, engaging in a challenging athletic activity that is doable but presents a slight stretching of one’s abilities is a good way to achieve flow. Sometimes described by being “in the zone,” reaching this state of flow allows an athlete to experience a loss of self-consciousness and a sense of complete mastery of the performance.
Examples of Flow in the Workplace: Flow can also occur when workers are engaged in tasks where they are able to focus entirely on the project at hand. For example, a writer might experience this while working on a novel or a graphic designer might achieve flow while working on a website illustration.
The Benefits of Flow
In addition to making activities more enjoyable, flow also has a number of other benefits.
Flow can lead to improved performance. Researchers have found that flow can enhance performance in a wide variety of areas including teaching, learning, athletics and artistic creativity.
Flow can also lead to further learning and skill development. Because the act of achieving flow indicates a strong mastery of a certain skill, the individual must continually seek new challenges and information in order to maintain this state.
My favourite illustration of flow is improvisation, whether they be jazz musicians or actors or dancers playing together. Improvisation is a set of disciplines and techniques that can be learned and mastered to deliberately deployed to generate and sustain a state of collaborative creative flow.
We are all creatures of habit, and one of the great benefits of improvisation is how it can call habits into question. We can make choices when we notice ourselves up against the automatic, the habitual or the scripted.
An improvised moment is one when we are asked for a new response. We are either facing something we’ve not experienced before or we are doing something different in the same old circumstance.
Many of the best improvisation activities create just such moments of choice. For example, the members of the group stand facing each other in a circle. The aim is to take the place of another person by calling their name and walking into their place in the circle. You can take their place only after they have moved away, but they cannot move away until a space is opening up for them. So there is a chain of name calling, which creates a strong – some might say irresistible – impulse to move before you are meant to.
The game puts your attention into that moment of choice: to move or to resist the urge. And by enjoying the game – in which mistakes have absolutely minimal consequences – we can build our skills of paying attention, interrupting habitual responses and making a mindful decision of when to take a first step.
There are clear overlaps here in the philosophy and practice of improvisation with the Alexander Technique and Mindfulness. So is it time for you to build some good new habits?
Improvisation is a skilled form of play and brings with it all the potential for abundant joy and delight that we get from play for both its players and its audience.
Play is something that most of us seem to unlearn as we get older, but there is a growing case for why this might be to our disadvantage…
Humans are designed for play and I think its important to incorporate elements of fun into your daily routine. First and foremost I think it allows others to get to know YOU as a real person and second I think it actually helps to improve productivity. You’ll need to help to shape and define what is appropriate in your environment and culture for your employees, but also help to provide some outlets for release and rejuvenation for your teams and employees.
In the past, whenever I heard “have fun at work,” my mind immediately went to “team building activities” — which often involve some kind of trust fall (which I always hate doing and then when I try to opt out I feel like not a being a team player) or some kind of “party” off-site. But let’s face it, off sites and trust falls take time and money which means that its not always feasible to do all the time. Even if you’re fortunate enough to do such an event once a quarter, I think it still “falls” a little short.
Those larger off site events are still important — if you’re doing them, don’t stop. However, I’d suggest finding some other smaller events and activities to help stave off the dullness… and it doesn’t have to cost an arm or a leg. The key is to be regular and consistent.
First get a good understanding of your team and what kind of activities they enjoy and how they like to be recognized and engaged. Consider taking a quick survey of ideas from your team’s “favorite things.” Keep them on file when you need ideas or as reminders about what individuals prefer. Another cool idea — and way to engage your team — start a “fun jar” where your team can put in ideas of things that they’d like to do as a group. You’ll just need to provide a jar and a short template of requirements (i.e. budget, length of time for the activity) for their suggestions and then some guidance on how and when to pull an idea from the jar…
Joe Robinson writes about the power of play for our creativity, engagement and happiness…
It’s a vision problem that no laser surgery can cure, a hyperopia that keeps us from seeing the central source of happiness right next to us. That problem is called adulthood. Those who are afflicted with this condition have trouble focusing on nearby objects of amusement and the realm that delivers the most enjoyment per square inch: play. Adults are oblivious to what they knew as kids — that play is where you live.
Grownups aren’t supposed to play. We have problems. We’re too busy. We have important things to do. It turns out, though, that there are few things more important to your happiness than frequent doses of play. As a study led by Princeton researcher Alan Krueger found, of all the things on the planet, we’re at our happiest when we’re involved in engaging leisure activities…
We live in a culture obsessed with wringing an external result from everything we do. Play doesn’t operate on that metric. It’s not about the end but the experience. This has made play one of the last remaining taboos, an irrational deviation from gainful obligation. What we don’t realize, though, is that it’s precisely the lack of a quantifiable result that allows play to tap a more meaningful place that satisfies core needs and reveals the authentic person behind the masks of job and society.
Anthropologist Gregory Bateson believed that the fixation on making everything productive and rational cuts us off from the world of the spontaneous that is home to real knowledge. Wisdom, Bateson believed, is to be found in the realms outside intentionality, in the inner reaches of art, expression and religion. “The whole culture is suffering from overconscious intentionality, overseriousness, overemphasis on productivity and work,” psychologist and cultural explorer Bradford Keeney told me. “We’ve forgotten that the whole picture requires a dance between leisure and work.”…
Studies show that play reflects more of who you are than your work. When you’re engaged in activities of “personal expressiveness,” ones that are self-chosen and that reflect intrinsic goals, you’re operating from the “true self,” says Alan Waterman of the College of New Jersey. This leads to optimal psychological functioning (i.e., happiness). We’re talking about something far from tangential to your existence. Play scholar John Neulinger called passionate play pursuits none other than the “central life interest.”
Play brings you back to life — your life. “Adults need to play because so much of our life is utilitarian, the University of South Alabama’s Catherine O’Keefe explained to me. “We need to reconnect with the things of our lives that ground us in who we really are and why we like our lives.”…
…the animating spark of play is the fast track to happiness. There is no quicker transport to the experiential realm and full engagement than through play, which brings together all the elements you want for the optimal moment.
- Play is 100-percent experience.
- It’s done for the intrinsic pleasure, for the participation.
- With no judgment or outcomes needed, play grounds you in the now.
Researchers say that the more absorbed we are in activities we like to do, the happier we are. Abraham Maslow and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi pinpointed the power of full involvement in the moment to produce optimal experiences. Maslow called optimal moments the time when we are most attuned, “more integrated and less split, more perfectly actualizing.” He argued that these instants of sublime activation had all the hallmarks of the religious or mystical but were triggered by intensely felt, secular experiences.
Contrary to stereotype, engaged play is the gateway not to time-wasting but to times that let you contact deeper realms. When you paint a canvas or play volleyball, you’re in a creative improvisation that calls on inner fortitude and commitment and that reflect your values through self-expression. Play satisfies core self-determination needs, such as autonomy and competence, as little else can, connecting you with your mandate to explore and challenge yourself. That’s the integration Maslow was talking about. You tap the true you, not the performance identity of the job or the presentation identity that we display to others. Play relieves you of the burden to be someone you’re not. There’s nothing on the line; it’s just play. Just you.
When it comes to beefing up your happiness, it’s hard to do better than engaged play. Not only does it align you with your deepest needs and deliver fun in the moment, but the social component of play is a huge predictor of increased daily well-being, the research shows. Participating in recreational activities has been connected to increased positive mood and experiencing pleasure. And play increases the odds that you’re going to have more fun in your life because it’s a huge stress buffer, reducing strain and burnout, boosting your immune system and pumping up vitality and energy.
When you’re stressed, the brain’s activated emotional hub, the amygdala, suppresses positive mood, fueling a self-perpetuating cycle of negativity. Play can break you out of that straitjacket. It also cut through stagnation at the office. Studies show that playfulness can increase performance on the job and stoke creativity by breaking up the mental set that keeps us stuck. It resets the brain.
This tonic we write off as trivial is a crucial engine of well-being. In its low-key, humble way, play yanks grownups out of their purposeful sleepwalk to reveal the animating spirit within. You are alive, and play will prove it to you.
This passion and belief in the power of play is shared by Stuart Brown in this TEDTalk:
“The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression…” Stuart Brown
I have been trying out the method surgeons use for washing their hands after seeing this – and the amount of germs we carry on our hands when we haven’t washed them thoroughly – on Dr Michael Mosley’s BBC Four programme: Pain, Pus and Poison: The Search for Modern Medicine. Apparently surgeons are taught to sing “Happy Birthday’ through twice to time a complete hand wash.
The surprising and quite unexpected result has been to find every time, in the very pleasurable relaxation of sinking in to the duration of the song twice through, is that all sorts of of creative ideas have fallen into my head at the same time.
And here is some of the science behind why this might be…
Wash your hands, wash your mind: recover optimism, feel less guilty, less doubtful and more…
Washing your hands doesn’t just keep you healthier; it has all sorts of subtle psychological effects as well.
Hand washing sends an unconscious metaphorical message to the mind: we don’t just cleanse ourselves of physical residues, we also cleanse ourselves of mental residues.
Here are six purely psychological effects of washing your hands…
1. Recover optimism
In a study by Kaspar (2012) participants who failed at a task, then washed their hands, felt more optimistic afterwards than those who didn’t.
Unfortunately washing their hands also seemed to reduce their motivation for trying the task again.
Still, hand washing can help boost optimism after a failure.
2. Feel less guilty
One study had participants think about some immoral behaviour from their past (Zhong & Liljenquist, 2006). One group were then told to use an antiseptic wipe, and another not.
Those who washed their hands after thinking about an immoral behaviour felt less guilty. The antiseptic wipe had literally wiped away their guilt.
3. Take the moral high ground
When people in one study washed their hands, they were more disgusted by the bad behaviour of others (Zhong, Strejcek & Sivanathan, 2010):
“…”clean” participants made harsher moral judgments on a wide range of issues, from abortion to drug use and masturbation. They also rated their own moral character more favorably in comparison with that of their fellow students.” (Lee & Schwarz, 2011)
So, when people feel clean themselves, they take the moral high ground and are harsher on the transgressive behaviour of others.
4. Remove doubt
Sometimes, after people make the wrong decision, they try to justify it by pretending it was the right decision.
It’s a result of cognitive dissonance, and it’s one way in which people lie to themselves.
However, hand washing may wipe away the need for self-justification in some circumstances, leaving you better able to evaluate your decision the way it really is (Lee & Schwarz, 2010).
5. Wash away bad luck
When participants in one study had some experimentally induced ‘bad luck’ while gambling, washing their hands seemed to mentally wash away their bad luck (Xu et al., 2012).
In comparison to those who didn’t wash their hands, hand washers carried on betting as if their bad luck was forgotten.
6. Guilt other people into washing their hands
A public health study flashed different messages onto the walls of public toilets as people entered, including “Water doesn’t kill germs, soap does,” and “Don’t be a dirty soap dodger.” (Judah et al., 2009)
The most effective overall message, though, was: “Is the person next to you washing with soap?”
So it seems when you wash your hands in a public toilet, you help guilt other people into washing theirs as well.
A clean slate
All these studies are demonstrating that when we wash our hands, we also wash our minds clean:
“…the notion of washing away one’s sins, entailed in the moral-purity metaphor, seems to have generalized to a broader conceptualization of wiping the slate clean, allowing people to metaphorically remove a potentially broad range of psychological residues.” (Lee & Schwarz, 2011)
Psychiatrist Carrie and orthopaedic surgeon Alton Baron, authors of The Creativity Cure, believe passionately in the power of using our hands to unleash our creativity and allow our happiness to flow.
In THE CREATIVITY CURE: A Do-It-Yourself Prescription for Happiness, husband-and-wife physicians Carrie and Alton Barron draw upon the latest psychological research, a combined forty years of medical practice, and personal experience to reveal that creative action is integral to easing depression and anxiety and to fueling long-term happiness and wellbeing. The need to create – to produce something using our minds and hands – is fundamental. It connects us to our inner selves and to our environment and offers the deep satisfaction of accomplishment. But too often, in our technology driven, fast-paced society, we neglect this need. The Barrons show that creative processes facilitate insight and healing, connect our mental and physical selves, supply satisfaction and meaning and thereby yield life changing results.
The five steps of THE CREATIVITY CURE—Insight, Movement, Mind Rest, Using Your Own Two Hands, and Mind Shift—lead the way to a more meaningful, fulfilling life by simultaneously developing self-understanding and self-expression. With the Barrons’ detailed tools and strategies for cultivating creative outlets, overcoming unconscious fears and barriers to happiness, and linking internal thought to external action, readers will build the mindset and habits for happiness and positive change…
We discovered David B. Goldstein this week and his ideas correlating the intelligence we can get from knowing our Myers-Briggs Personality Type and understanding the nature of our own individual creativity. This provides more detail about creativity we all have within us, and and the many different ways of being creative.
We tend to think that creativity is innate — you’ve either got it or you don’t. Our “creative type” friends are artsy, full of wonder and always wanting to dig into something deeper. The rest? They’re investment bankers.
Contrary to popular belief, no one is born without a creative bone in his or her body, and not all creative types are starving artists. In other words, we’ve all got it, but our personalities play a role in the kind of creative we are, and how we best feed into it.
“Our creative process is how we see the world and how we make decisions,” David B. Goldstein, artist, researcher, management consultant and the co-author of “Creative You: Using Your Personality Type to Thrive” told The Huffington Post.
While we might typify creativity, Goldstein says this is limiting. “There’s more than one way to be creative — everyone is creative and can be creative in their own way.”
In his book, Goldstein reveals 16 different paths in which people can unearth their creativity, all of which depend on their psychological preferences. The author connects the personalities dictated by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment, a test developed on the basis that we all have particular preferences in the way we translate our life experiences and values…
Goldstein also challenges Some of the myths we might hold about creativity:
Stepping “outside of your comfort zone” is the best way to elicit creativity.
“Creativity comes from finding our comfort zone and standing in it,” Goldstein says. “When we’re comfortable and acting in our preferences, we have the courage to take risks.” The artist explains that when you’re not comfortable, you’re less likely to take the risks that could lead to that bright idea.
Plus, some of our best ideas come in the most unexpected places – like in the car driving home — where we feel mighty comfortable. These physical locations aren’t new to us, but they give our minds the “OK” to wander…
Brainstorming sessions are the best ways to come up with brilliant ideas.
Some, namely extroverts, feel most alive when surrounded by a group of people. But this is not the case for all – especially the introverted types who experience a sense of draining when they’re around others for too long, Goldstein explains. The trick is to find what setting works best for you…
Being creative means being spontaneous.
Some of the most inspiring, creative works came with a set of plans. Painter Henri Matisse, for example, constructed all of his paintings before he began. He even wore a suit and tie while he created – not exactly the splattered, ragged overalls we associate with artsy folk…
Creative people must invent something new.
Only 30 percent of the population have the personality of the “intuitive types.” These are the Einsteins and the Edisons – big picture thinkers who create something out of nothing. (The lightbulb, for example, did not exist until Edison decided it should.) Goldstein says these kinds of thinkers are abstract and impractical – they contemplate the future and solve “future problems.”
And yet, the “sensers” – the majority of us – aren’t any less creative, just a different kind. Sensers create by combining existing ideas. Think of Henry Ford, who didn’t invent the car, but thought up many ways to improve it.
Of course, a person isn’t necessarily strictly a senser or an intuitive: “There’s an overlap,” Goldstein explains. “The intuitives can pay attention to detail and do think in the moments, and sensers can look into the future and see the bigger picture.”
Creativity means having a finished product.
You don’t need to create something worthy of display to be considered creative. Those with a “perceiver” personality type tend to never see things as entirely complete, because they’re always inspired to add more. “If you’re a perceiver, you prefer endlessly modifying, editing, repainting and revisiting since there is an unlimited and continuous flow of data to consider,” Goldstein writes in his book…
Cindy Krischer Goodman writes:
Do you wish you were more creative? Creative people get ahead in business. They’re always coming up with a new way of doing things. For some of us, creativity flows easily. For others, we have those days where we struggle with it and it zaps our time and energy. Guest blogger David Goldstein is co-author of Creative You: Using Your Personality Type to Thrive. which addresses how personality types influence our creative abilities and how we can get better at it. David is an artist, entrepreneur, and researcher with a science and business background. He also writes a popular blog Courageously Creative.
…today, creativity isn’t just for people doing art or advertising – it’s for all of us and it’s about inventing better ways to do our jobs. Whether we realize it or not, we’re all naturally creative and by acting more creatively at work, we can be more engaged and happier.
One simple way to do this is to know your creative style — and this can help you get unstuck when you get blocked. While there are so many different ways to be creative, there are just as many ways to feel blocked in expressing ourselves…
The first way to overcome a block is to relax and not let it get the better of you and realize that we can’t always be inspired. Next, knowing your personality type is like having jumper cables to give you the spark to get going again.
Knowing your personality type can help you find your own balance. It can also help you to unlock your creativity and lead to happiness at work — it’s just a matter of balancing the right amount of information we take in with the decisions we make.
‘[We] should not strive to eliminate [our] complexes but to get into accord with them: they are legitimately what directs [our] conduct in the world.’ -Sigmund Freud
…If we go a bit further back, we find that the terms introvert and extrovert (originally spelled extravert) were popularized by Carl Jung in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, their meanings got confused between then and now, and we started thinking that everyone belongs to one camp or the other. But actually, Carl’s point was that these are the very extremes of a scale. Which means that most of us fall somewhere in the middle.
There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum. – Carl G Jung
…introversion and extroversion actually relate to where we get our energy from.
Or in other words, how we recharge our brains.
Introverts (or those of us with introverted tendencies) tend to recharge by spending time alone. They lose energy from being around people for long periods of time, particularly large crowds.
Extroverts, on the other hand, gain energy from other people. Extroverts actually find their energy is sapped when they spend too much time alone. They recharge by being social.
Research has actually found that there is a difference in the brains of extroverted and introverted people in terms of how we process rewards and how our genetic makeup differs. For extroverts, their brains respond more strongly when a gamble pays off. Part of this is simply genetic, but it’s partly the difference of their dopamine systems as well…
The nucleus accumbens is part of the dopamine system, which affects how we learn, and is generally known for motivating us to search for rewards. The difference in the dopamine system in the extrovert’s brain tends to push them towards seeking out novelty, taking risks and enjoying unfamiliar or surprising situations more than others. The amygdala is responsible for processing emotional stimuli, which gives extroverts that rush of excitement when they try something highly stimulating which might overwhelm an introvert.
More research has actually shown that the difference comes from how introverts and extrovertsprocess stimuli. That is, the stimulation coming into our brains is processed differently depending on your personality. For extroverts, the pathway is much shorter. It runs through an area where taste, touch, visual and auditory sensory processing takes place. For introverts, stimuli runs through a long, complicated pathway in areas of the brain associated with remembering, planning and solving problems…
For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.
Introverted people are known for thinking things through before they speak, enjoying small, close groups of friends and one-on-one time, needing time alone to recharge and being upset by unexpected changes or last-minute surprises. Introverts are not necessarily shy, and may not even avoid social situations, but they will definitely need some time alone or just with close friends or family after spending time in a big crowd.
On the opposite side of the coin, extroverts are energized by people. They usually enjoy spending time with others, as this is how they recharge from time spent alone focusing or working hard.
Ambiverts exhibit both extroverted and introverted tendencies. This means that they generally enjoy being around people, but after a long time this will start to drain them. Similarly, they enjoy solitude and quiet, but not for too long. Ambiverts recharge their energy levels with a mixture of social interaction and alone time.
Though ambiverts seem to be the more boring personality type, being in the middle of everyone else, this balance can actually be a good thing.A study by Adam Grant, author of *Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success found that ambiverts perform better in sales than either introverts or extroverts. Ambiverts actually closed 24% more sales…
Most of us will be one or the other, but writing with your right hand doesn’t render your left hand inert. Similarly, an extroverted person can still do things that aren’t typically associated with extroversion. Meanwhile, introverts can learn to adapt to more extroverted scenarios, even if it might not come as naturally.
“The absolute worst thing you can do with either type is use a single word to define your approach.” Understanding the tendencies of ourselves and others is just the beginning. Effective communication means we need to take into account each person’s personality as well…
Jan Hills writes
You will have experienced the feeling of a person, maybe a leader, shop assistant or friend who is completely focused on you and your needs. Their level of connection is palatable. For me it is best summed up in the words of a West African greeting, ‘Sawa bona,’ which translates to ‘I see you.’
The traditional response is ‘I am here’.
This exchange denotes that until you are ‘seen’ you do not exist and when you are seen you are brought into existence. This is the skill of deeply connecting to another and giving them attention. Many believe this speaks to a basic human need to be seen or validated. For many of us it is the X factor in business; people who can be present also connect deeply with others. It is an invaluable skill whether you are an HR leader, business partner or in shared services.
Everyone is capable of this level of connection. When we achieve it we understand more of what is going on in the business, are more influential, and increase engagement and ultimately productivity within the team.
Presence is a feeling state and one of the characteristics is that the experience feels spontaneous. There is no power play, posturing or self-consciousness and past experience is not interfering with the interaction. There is also an element of energy.
Research by the Institute of HeartMath shows that the heart, like the brain, generates an electromagnetic field. Director of Research Rollin McCraty says that: “The electrical field as measured in an electrocardiogram is about 60 times greater in amplitude than the brainwaves recorded in an electroencephalogram.” One of their significant findings is if people intentionally generate positive emotions by changing their state the electromagnetic heart information also changes.
According to the US National Institutes of Health in the USA the study of bioenergy is receiving increasing scientific attention. This research looks at the effect of electromagnetic heart fields that result in levels of heart-rate synchronization. It has been established that mothers synchronize with their baby’s heart rate.
What stops presence
The ability to connect therefore should be a learnable skill. But what gets in the way of achieving presence? In our discussions with clients we find these are the main issues:
Distractions: This covers a fairly broad area including people checking their mobile phones.
Internal dialogue: There is a lot of noise in most peoples’ heads. This ranges from self-conscious worry to planning what to say next, through to wondering what the other person thinks of us.
Threat response: Being emotionally comfortable is important to staying present. You may start being engaged with the person but lose it when you feel “threatened.” The CORE model helps here both to manage and to diagnose triggers.
Judgment: This often separates us from others. It blocks our ability to listen, closes down curiosity and reduces empathy. We judge all the time. The issue is hanging onto judgements; letting them interrupt the connection and break the presence.
Habit: It’s my theory that we can get into the habit of not fully connecting, and only through practice will this habit be overcome.
Psychology has for many years emphasised the importance of not just the words but also the body language and tone of voice that goes with communication. People watch and make judgements on what is real, what is important and what is for show. This is intuitive but research from Sandy Pentland at MIT is able to verify and even put numbers on these factors. He has found that we act on and are influenced by the ‘honest signals’ people send. That is, the unconscious and non-verbal language including tone and energy. His team have developed a means of measuring these signals using an electronic badge.
Pentland says honest signals impact the success of individuals and teams and can account for as much as 50% of the performance of a group. …He found that a particular type of person is most effective in teams. He calls these people ‘charismatic connectors’ and they have many of the characteristics we associate with presence. They talk to everybody and drive the conversation around a team. They mainly work to connect people and information. The other interesting discovery Pentland made is that people can be trained to modify their honest signals to put in more energy or to communicate more effectively with their non-verbal signals. Making these changes improves the productivity and success of the team potentially by as much as an extra 8% in productivity improvements in call centre teams. You can see Pentland talking about his work here …
Presence requires practice
I believe these are the elements that create the ability to be present.
- Personal Awareness: Being aware of ‘What do I do, how do I do it and why do I do it?’ You can’t be present to others if you are not self-aware. Because presence depends on your emotional state at any given time, increasing your ability to change your emotional state is also critical. Mindfulness can help here and practice noticing your state and naming it.
- You speak through your body and as Pentland found people pick up on this and respond both consciously and unconsciously. Everyone needs the Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying,” somewhere close to hand. Like in our exercise, going into an interaction in the right state with the right degree of energy and relaxation in the body helps to achieve presence.
- Emotional control: Read my HRZone article on emotional control and success for more about this. Presence requires a willingness to be honest with yourself about what is going on in the moment. The most skilled are able to step outside the immediate interaction and sense that is working and what is not and make minute adjustments. Being curious is a great aid. It is nearly impossible to disconnect, judge or listen to your own internal dialogue if you are deeply curious about the other person. This is especially hard but crucial in conflict, which is when you need it most.
Further evidence that adopting the right attitude and body language works comes from research by Amy Cuddy. When people adopt new postures such as appearing more powerful or more interested in others, the brain also starts to change and the adopted approach can be integrated into everyday behaviour. This is useful evidence for any development programme suggesting that we can help people to change their style and their presence, not just what they do. You can watch her excellent video on her research here which investigates how people perceive and categorize others. Warmth and competence, she finds, are the two critical variables. They account for about 80% of our overall evaluations of people (i.e., Do you feel good or bad about this person?), and shape our emotions and behaviors toward them. Her warmth/competence analysis illuminates why we hire Kurt instead of Kyra, how students choose study partners, who gets targeted for sexual harassment etc.
My message is, presence takes practice and intention. Monitor your own impact; when you are present with someone versus when you are distracted. Note the difference in results on your influence and understanding. This will motivate you to identify the triggers, adapt and practice ‘seeing’ the other person..
One of our great voice expert heroes is Patsy Rodenberg, author of several great books including Presence: How To Use Positive Energy For Success In Every Situation. Presence for her lies in the middle of three circles:
In First Circle we are closed in on ourselves and failing to communicate out beyond our spheres. This is the withheld personna.
In Second Circle we are in a dynamic state of balance between enough sureness about ourselves and what we have to bring and a concentrated alert attention and responsive to the people around us, constantly and minutely adapting to connect with what we receive. This is presence.
In Third Circle we are pushing ourselves out into the world with such a force that have not attention or energy left over to receive anything back from from it. This is the overly presented personna.
Mark Tran writes in The Guardian
From actors to execs, Patsy Rodenburg’s mantra of psychology and Shakespeare helps them to master the power of speech
…After the lesson, she leads me to a tiny office. As she sits in a white rocking chair, it becomes clear that for her, training the voice is a complex business, involving not just breathing exercises, but a fair amount of psychology and lashings of Shakespeare.
“The voice encompasses so many things,” she says. “Everyone comes on to the planet with a fantastic voice, but people lose it. The voice is about communicating, engaging, how you show yourself, how you speak, how you listen.”
She gives a quick overview of her concept of “the three circles of energy”. The first is where a person withdraws into the self. The opposite is the third circle, the loud and boorish. The second circle is the ideal state, where a person’s energy is focused.
“It moves out towards the object of your attention, touches it then receives energy back from it,” she explains in her book, Presence. “You are living a two-way street – you reach out and touch an energy outside your own, then receive energy back.” …
She emphasises the importance of breathing from the lower abdomen, saying that a person’s voice should come from that part of the body: “The body houses the voice and the breath energises it.” …
If the most important thing about art is its newsworthiness, says Sarah Kent, how do we engage with it on any other level?
Art is often promoted as a leisure pursuit, something fun to see on a wet Sunday afternoon. And it is achingly fashionable. On the first Thursday of each month, galleries in east London stay open late – hundreds descend on Vyner Street in Bethnal Green, sparking a street party complete with food, beer and sound systems; the event is so cool that even school kids hang out there…
Nowadays, artists are caught between a rock and a hard place. Market domination stifles creativity by seducing artists into producing glitzy commodities that shriek: “Buy me! Buy me!”…
Since an important part of their remit is to attract large audiences, museums and galleries unwittingly create a trap of a different kind – encouraging artists to woo the public with accessible art. Often the result is bland mediocrity; mirrored maizes are my bête noire. Occasionally, though, an artist responds with something both playful and profound.
When Olafur Eliasson projected a yellow disc onto the far wall of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2003, hundreds came to bask in the light of the artificial sun. The Weather Project tapped into the collective psyche by encouraging people to dream, which is what good art can do – visitors wore swimsuits, brought picnics and lay on towels as if they were on a beach in midsummer. The work demonstrated the power of illusion and people’s willingness to play.
If you visit Derry-Londonderry over the next few months you can earn a couple of quid discussing the market economy with some locals. Not down the pub, but at the Turner Prize exhibition where Tino Sehgal is staging This is Exchange…
If Seghal wins the Turner Prize it won’t be because his performers argued well or told moving tales, but because he provokes questions about the nature and value of art and the institutions that house it. Audience participation may be crucial, but pleasing the crowd is not; you may enjoy it, but his work is not about having a good time.
Antony Gormley‘s invitation in 2010 for people to take their place on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square was similarly memorable not because someone struck a fine pose or told a good joke; it was not Britian’s Got Talent. Fundamentally it was a conceptual piece that held up a mirror to our lust for celebrity, our desire to be in the frame. And it highlighted the fact that no-one has the faintest idea any more what public monuments and public art are for. What or who is worth commemorating?
New thinking and ideas about the relationship and potential collaboration between artists and their audiences is part of this interview, too:
Interview by Matthew Caines
…it’s interesting to think for a moment about what we consider a “concert” to be. The notion of a concert is quite a formal construct that makes people (and not just young people) immediately think that it might not be for them. Orchestras talk about “concerts” because that’s what they mostly do.
We talk about activity and events and sometimes they take the form of a traditional concert, but more often than not, they don’t. For example, we are working with young people in Cumbria on an event that could well see an orchestra performing in the local cattle market!
Our starting point is always the audience. We see programming as a two-way process involving both promoters and orchestras. We work with a wide range of British symphony and chamber orchestras, from early music ensembles to contemporary music groups, and we gather a complete picture of their plans to discover programmes that suit our partners’ needs. This can cover the full spectrum, from a traditional concert setting right through to a community performance involving hundreds of participants….
There’s a perception that teenagers and orchestral music don’t mix or that when they do, it’s a bit like oil and water. Many in our business lament the fact that audiences for classical music are getting older and that young people appear not to be interested in attending concerts. However, the fact is that they are and they do, so long as you involve them by allowing them to choose what music is played, how it is presented and when and where it takes place.
We also recognise the research that tells us that exposure to music from an early age is key to lifelong engagement and for us, enabling very young children to experience live orchestral music remains a priority. For me, it comes down to the question of with, rather than by and for. I think there’s too much of the latter when it comes to British orchestras’ approach to work with young people…
An agitated mind leads to stress and a whole host of health problems, such as high blood pressure and heart disease. It even disrupts our relationships and sleep.
Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to this problem. No matter how fast your mind is racing, you can learn how to cultivate a calm and serene mind, and the good news is that it’s a lot easier than you might think…
There are four main sources of mental agitation: 1) Too many commitments, 2) background noise, 3) painful memories, and 4) worrying. There are short-term solutions for dealing with too many commitments and background noise. Painful memories and worrying will take more time to overcome, but they will resolve themselves through a regular meditation practice.
1. Too many commitments
…With many of our commitments, we have no choice in the short-run. We can’t quit our jobs or abandon our families, but we can consider more carefully what we truly need to survive and be happy. For example, do all our material possessions really make our family happier, or do they take us away from our loved ones? With mindfulness, we can determine the real sources of happiness and strive to incorporate them into our lives.
2. Background Noise
…There’s nothing inherently wrong with watching TV or listening to the radio. The problem arises when we simply use them as background noise. Of course, we should also use some discretion concerning what we watch or listen to. Remember, whichever seeds in your mind you water, those will be the ones that grow.
I would suggest turning off the radio or television (or any other entertainment device) when you’re doing something else. This will help you concentrate on what you’re doing. Try it for a week. I think you’ll be surprised at how much of a difference it makes…
3. The Calming Power of Mindful Breathing
Mindful breathing is a simple tool for keeping your mind from racing out of control. Practicing mindful breathing is very easy and doesn’t take long, and it will interrupt the acceleration of your mind. This will enable you to think with greater clarity, since you’ll have less mental agitation.
All you have to do is stop occasionally and take three to five mindful breaths. You don’t have to strain to concentrate on your breathing, but rather just pay attention to it…
4. Mindful Walking
Practicing mindful walking is also very easy. Most of us do a great deal of walking through our daily activities: at home, work, school, or when tending to our family’s needs. These are all wonderful opportunities to practice mindfulness, instead of allowing ourselves to get lost in our thoughts, many of which are either worrying or simply rehashing the same thoughts repeatedly.
When doing mindful walking, we generally walk more slowly than usual. Make your walking a smooth and continuous movement, while being mindful of each step. This can have a tremendous calming effect because it forces your mind to slow down.
As with mindful breathing, simply pay attention to your walking. With each mindful step, observe the sensation on your feet, the contraction of the muscles in your legs, or even the sensations of your clothes against your skin. Not only will this calm your mind, but it will also help you return to the present moment…
IN THE EARLY 1990s, scientist, writer, and world-renowned mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinnencountered Cherry Hamrick, a teacher in the small town of South Jordan, Utah, who wanted to bring mindfulness—the act of paying attention on purpose in the present moment—into her elementary school….
Cherry Hamrick taught mindfulness through techniques such as ringing a bell and having the students slowly raise their hands when they could no longer hear the sound of it; having them carefully eat a small portion of a candy bar and notice the way sugar sparked their taste buds; and setting aside time for “mindful walking,” in which they strolled around the school yard in silence and simply noticed each step. Gaining self-awareness through these types of exercises, Kabat-Zinn pointed out, is crucial to managing stress and finding success both inside and outside the classroom in a world where children are constantly bombarded with technological stimuli such as texts, e-mail, and Facebook.
“Self-distraction is at absolutely epidemic proportions—and it’s not the iPhone, it’s the thought of, ‘I wonder if anybody texted me,’” he said. “There’s always this digital domain—this virtual reality—and kids are even more challenged [to pay attention] than we were when we were young.”
The founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulnessin Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Kabat-Zinn has been a strong supporter of groups like Mindful Schools that use mindfulness to teach children how to focus, manage their emotions, handle their stress, and resolve conflicts. Instead of simply telling children to pay attention, for example, Kabat-Zinn said that adults should show children how to pay attention through direct experience, because that allows them to make wiser decisions in the heat of the moment, rather than only in retrospect. “Mindfulness is like a muscle, and without exercise it will lose its strength,” he said. “Our world is so much about doing that the being gets lost.”
With stress in children in the United States at high levels, incorporating mindfulness into school curriculums is imperative, he asserted, adding that students can tap into “their profound capacity” for awareness if they are taught to do so.
Although Kabat-Zinn pointed out that mindfulness is becoming more mainstream—displaying a chart that showed the number of publications and studies on the subject rising drastically in the last 10 years—he said he hopes it will gain even more steam and become a part of every school curriculum. “Many kids come to school and they haven’t had breakfast, or they’ve seen acts of violence, and [yet] they are expected to learn optimally,” he said. “If you are going to be in an environment like a classroom, why not help [students] actually get into an alignment, calmness, clarity, and emotional regulation where they can be open to what is available for them? Then you create a community of learning.”