All posts by mollietreverton

Conversational traps

We want to connect but somehow it goes wrong …

Trap one

I intend our conversation to be a sharing of information, a series of transactions to get things done and develop a shared point of view. The trap I fall into goes:  “I want you to know what I know, so I’m going to spend time just telling you how much I know”. The questions I ask you will be close-ended and designed to confirm and protect what I believe is true. This makes you to move into your ‘protect’ behaviour. The major blindspot here is the ‘Tell-Sell-Yell’ Syndrome. First I Tell you what I know. Then if I don’t think you’ve ‘got it’ sufficiently I start to Sell what I know to you. Finally I ramp up into Yell. And if I don’t Yell at you, I tend to Yell at somone else. Trust is very low.

The antidote is to develop the ability to ask open-ended questions and foster ‘give and take’.

Trap two

I set out to persuade and influence you, aiming to find a win-win solution. The trap I fall into is my need to win at all costs. The major blindspot is my addiction to being right. Every time I ‘win’, because my idea is validated as right, I get a pleasurable ‘hit’ of dopamine. If we don’t get the hit we feel something is wrong. The more we get trained in being right the more we want it. Dopamine got spewed into our brain every time we answered a question correctly at school, and then this continued at work. When we perform at work and are acknowledged for that, we are right again. When there is a group of people in a room and all of them are like this, everyone tries to outdo each other in being right. Any trust created is highly conditional.

The antidote is to develop the ability to share the conversational space with others, to expand the power to others rather than seeking to keep it for myself

Trap three

I set out to discover what I don’t know. I listen to connect with you, I ask questions I don’t have answers to, I’m empathic and curious about your views. I seek to co-create solutions with you. Trust is high. The trap I fall into is the tendency for too much talk and no action.

The antidote is to the ability stay connected while keeping the focus on co-creating mutual success.

Connection opens the space for growth and shifts the other person’s state. The trust created liberates the Executive Brain to enable our best thinking.

The conversational cocktail every leader needs to know how to mix. Part two

“To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of the relationships, which depends on the quality of conversations” Judith E. Glaser

The three conversational ingredients and how we use them

Transactional talking

We use this to Confirm what we already know. We tell others and ask them the sort of questions that check they have understood, or will comply. We use it to exchange information, for updating or keeping people in the loop, for directing them. Confirm helps us develop our point of view.

Positional talking

We use this to Defend what we know. We seek to influence others, by advocating on behalf of our point of view, and enquiring about theirs. However, our questions tend to be ones we already know the answers to. We Defend because we don’t live in the same world as the other person and have our own perspectives about how to navigate successfully in our world.

Many companies never get beyond Transactional and Positional conversations. We also know that 90% of conversations miss their mark

Transformational talking

We use this to Discover what we don’t know we don’t know. We Share and Discover together, opening up broader insights and wisdom than either of us now has. We ask questions to which we have no answers to explore and develop insights. Our stance is one of curiosity and openness. The spirit of Discovery leads to a chemical shift in our brain and opens our ability to engage with others at a deeper level. It is the cornerstone of trust.

The conversational cocktail every leader needs to know how to mix. Part one

The heart brain in action

We now know that the heart has its own ‘brain’. This brain comprises nodes in the heart that give us access to what’s going on in the chemistry of our body. You could say the Heart Brain acts like a car that has the ability to read its oil, petrol and water levels with great sensitivity, accuracy and speed. For us, rather than oil and petrol, the Heart Brain is especially sensitive to the chemistry of cortisol – the stress hormone, and oxytocin – the bonding hormone. Oxytocin reduces anxiety, increases our social confidence and feels like we are in resonance with others.

How does this apply to leaders?

The Heart Brain is our indicator of the internal chemical balance between what opens and what closes our brain, and therefore what determines the quality of our thinking. As the brain translates the chemical messages coming from the heart it either opens or closes in response. When it opens we can access our Executive Brain and the enourmous power of connection with others. This is where our most advanced and developed thinking is generated. When the brain closes we are set up to defend and attack. We get ‘addicted to being right’ – an addiction that shuts down intelligent conversation instantly.

Conversationally intelligent leaders know how to craft conversations that make themselves and their people smarter. When we feel people listen to us and respect us without judgement, each of us becomes smarter. Feel-good oxytocin is generated which opens the brain. This opening ignites the connection between the Heart and Executive Brains. However, when we’re fearful that we’re being judged, our lower brain owns us. It spews out cortisol and closes down access to our most effective thinking.

Mixing the cocktail

Our mindset is the foundation for our conversations, it’s the glass we serve the cocktail in. Because what is in my brain is different from what’s in yours, we all see the world differently – we have reality gaps. Reality gaps create our ‘default’ mindset which is to defend our point of view, causing uncertainty in others. And uncertainty destabilises the brain. If we don’t shift this mindset it’s like serving our cocktail in a dirty glass. This matters because we can create or shift the other person’s state by our words and how we use them. Leaders can learn to consciously add feel-good, opening and trusting ‘mixers’ into their conversation, and reap the benefits of doing so. That’s the cocktail all leaders need to know how to serve. And it’s the drink of choice for all transformational change.

Zen Coaching for Transformation

Why Zen?

Clients can often be in a hurry to get their situation fixed. However, in the Zen approach change happens more as a by-product of greater self-understanding than as a result of deliberate effort. Ultimately the approach leads to a state where insights and understandings are integrated into an individual’s body and mind through their own self-regulation, without the need for active help from a coach.

The original purpose of Zen in my interpretation here is to help an individual make a direct experience of their true nature. I use the term Zen Coaching to emphasise the connection for clients between gaining more self-understanding and finding more clarity in their life and work.

Zen Coaching uses the best of Eastern tradition and Western psychology

A typical approach in Western coaching models is to ‘fix’ an individual. The goal is to create our secure sense of self, our ego. We seek an ego that projects its strength out into creative action in the world. This sense of self protects against outside threats, so the stronger it is the better.

In Eastern traditions the confused mind of the ego is seen as something of a ‘garbage collector’. A conscious that is so full of accumulated materials it doesn’t know its own reality. The self holds heaps of undigested, unassimilated psychological material. It is our preoccupation with this ‘internal landfill’ keeps us from realising our true, clear nature. From this perspective the solution is to dissociate from the personal self, to recover awareness that is separate from the personal self.

Zen coaching goes beyond the limitations of both the Eastern and Western approaches, and utilises the beauty of each. In this work clients release into the feeling states that operate behind our ego positions. When this happens clients realise the ego is their defence system. A defence system that fights tooth and claw to protect us, even from our own intrusions. This fight is where people easily get stuck in a fruitless struggle against themselves, making their own ego into the enemy to somehow be defeated.

From the Eastern traditions we understand that the ego is not a fixed, hard thing. It is not a solid entity, rather it is activity. It is the motion of our mind working on itself. This relentless high speed activity gives the ego the appeareance of a substantial object, but it’s actually an illusion. As we come to see we are not the identity created by our ego, we can learn to let go of the effort to be ‘better’. We can stop the ongoing struggle of trying to improve ourselves. And when we do this we open the door to discover the beauty and precision of what we already are, our inner nature.

The transformation

Then the shift happens, being authentic and real becomes more important than being perfect, or feeling the need to perform. In living this reality we find a deep satisfaction in daily life and a previously untapped depth of resource to address the opportunities and challenges that face us.

What does riding a bike have in common with the way we protect ourselves?

What do I mean by this and why does it matter?

Leaders are people who take responsibility, they worry about their work. Their worries include things like whether they are making their numbers, how to get more than 4 hours sleep a night, wanting to get along better with their boss, whether they have the right people on their team and how to bring change in more quickly.

Therefore it makes sense for leaders to have reliable access to their clearest, most resourced and creative abilities to be successful. The key to accessing these abilities is self-awareness. Yet our self-awareness is not developed or supported as we grow up. The saying, ‘what got you here won’t get you where you want to go’ underlines the need to truly understand our internal emotional landscape and how to navigate it. And what keeps us from this understanding is the self-protection system each of us has carefully created to help us meet the challenges of growing up. The prize of self-awareness is to be free to respond in the moment, without emotions that hinder leadership from flourishing.

Continue reading What does riding a bike have in common with the way we protect ourselves?

Working at the edge

For those ready to go beyond what is familiar, working at the edge creates a step-change for those interested in bringing more self-awareness to how they lead themselves, and therefore how they lead others and how they lead in society.

The techniques I use in this work are a blend of Western coaching psychological approaches to the mind, and Eastern meditation qualities – such as relaxation, presence and being in a ‘here and now’ state. This blend is tailored so each leader experiences both approaches working effectively together for their individual benefit.


Continue reading Working at the edge

Leaders making a transition

transition help

As a corporate professional I have had a unique opportunity to work with many people across many different professions, industries and cultures. I have learned that the pervasiveness of the inner judge and critic, the ‘masks’ we tend to wear, and our ways of blocking ourselves, is remarkably constant.

Through this I have gained a number of fundamental understandings that have proved invaluable because they support individuals to get to the underlying patterns, assumptions and beliefs informing their behaviour. And whilst I am meeting individuals in a professional context, where people want to grow and develop their careers, invariably this touches all areas of their lives.

Continue reading Leaders making a transition