06 May 2022

Get Out of Your Head to Improve Collaboration

By Kim Ellet, Certified Professional Coach

The last newsletter discussed Crucial Conversations for Collaboration in the Workplace, I shared some steps to build connection and cooperation within organizations and communities. It’s also important to evaluate the conversations we have with ourselves. Our thoughts are constantly running in the background and often go unnoticed by our conscious brains.

Recently I met with a colleague who talked about how his internal thought stream frequently tells him that he sounds ignorant when he is speaking in front of others and giving a live presentation. It was hard for him to focus on the audience and be fully present. A variation of this “imposter syndrome” thinking is believing that “people will see through me and know that I don’t know what I am talking about.”  Other thoughts keep us from being present, such as, “I can’t wait for this presentation to be over.” 

It’s easy to see how an internal monologue can be disruptive to individual confidence and productivity, but it’s also important to see the effect on connection and collaboration.

One of the biggest problems that an overactive internal chatterbox creates is in not being present with others in the moment. If you’re stuck in a loop of your own thoughts, you will likely miss the audience cues or be unable to react thoughtfully to unexpected feedback.  Whether in front of a room of people or in an individual conversation, a leader who is not present loses credibility and trust. 

Being absorbed by internal thoughts interferes with listening, empathy, and collaboration. It’s difficult to hear another point of view or try something new when the same familiar thoughts are filling the space. Some of the fear, doubt, and worry may be about what others are thinking about you. Yet the irony is that the other person is likely absorbed in their own thoughts as well.  This is how assumptions are made. Real dialogue and connection between people are hindered by this overrun of internal talking.

How can we do better?

Notice when your inner conversationalist is running rampant. Overthinking is a common trait for leaders who really care. Take a second to breathe and evaluate whether the thoughts are true or helpful. In that second, you can choose to be present with what’s happening around you rather than staying caught up in your own head. It takes practice to step into the outside observer mindset rather than letting the thinking run you.

Shift the conversation. It’s unrealistic to think that we will completely eliminate our internal dialogue, but it is possible to be intentional with the language.  Rather than letting the usual doubt, self-judgment, or judgment of others take over, change your thinking to something productive.  Use affirmations; reinforce desired behaviors.  

Another colleague shared that when she began her professional speaking career she was often stymied by the little voice of fear. She shifted to the mantra, “I love to speak” in order to take control of her thoughts and step into her desired headspace. Notice over-generalizations when observing others. Things we say about others can become a habit too that may not be based on the reality of the specific situation.

Quiet the mind – Mindfulness teachers emphasize the difference that a regular practice gives to individual productivity and peace of mind. Choose one or two tools that work for you such as a regular breath or yoga practice or taking a break to notice what’s around you when walking or running. Calling out to yourself what you are observing (i.e., the new potted flowers on the neighbor’s walkway, the birds singing in the nearby tree, the crack in the sidewalk) is practice for staying in the present moment rather than being absorbed in your thoughts or thinking about to-do’s. And one more idea is to take 10 minutes to write out a gratitude list.  The key is consistency, so these become habits, and being present and peaceful becomes second nature.

Try something new and challenge your status quo.  It takes courage and commitment to do something different or to seek a new perspective.  It’s much easier to continue with what is comfortable or what is familiar.  The habits of self judgment, getting caught up in an inner loop of to-dos or ruminating on earlier events wreak havoc on communication and collaboration with others.  Take a risk by asking for clarification or for more information instead of assuming you understand what you think you heard. 

Communication can be difficult.  Collaboration and cooperation are more successful when both parties are “present” – listening with open minds and hearts. Avoid assumptions, and ask for clarification or more information for understanding. 

This is important. So many of us want to take action, to make things better, to control an outcome, for example.  The truth is we must start with ourselves – to adjust our mindsets to be present and ready for collaboration and cooperation. 

My dream and my work are for improved cohesion, collaboration, and connection within companies, organizations, and communities. Reach out to me for more information on bringing your team together for effective communication and facilitated safe conversations.  KEllet@thegrowthcoach.com

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