I’ve avoided looking into EFT for years. It seemed so simplistic and facile to me. How could tapping on a series of points on the face and torso while uttering statements bring relief from intractable psychological pain? However, I tried it a couple of weekends ago and it worked wonders.
For the uninitiated, EFT stands for Emotional Freedom Technique. According to Gary Craig, the author of “The EFT Manual,” a clinical psychologist named Roger Callahan was working with a patient in the 1970’s who had a fear of water. Dr. Callahan had been unsuccessful at treating this patient’s phobia. Because he was interested in the energetic systems of the body, he decided to tap acupressure points under his patient’s eyes. To his amazement, she reported that her disturbing thoughts about water had completely vanished. Immediately they tested this out in the backyard swimming pool, and indeed she was free of her phobia. Dr. Callahan went on to develop a series of protocols for various psychological condition that required tapping on a specific series of points which he called algorithms.
Later, Gary Craig simplified tapping procedures so that one set of points could be applied to many conditions. And EFT was born.
In writing this post I consulted Wikipedia, which maintains that no research has ever proved tapping more effective than cognitive behavioral techniques or other methods. The Wikipedia article says tapping is no more effective than a placebo. Given that placebos are often amazingly effective with no side effects, I call that high praise.
Richard Bandler (co-developer of NLP) was so impressed with the placebo response he wanted to create a product simply called, “Placebo.” “Think of the vast array of experimentally proven results you could claim,” he said. He even planned to roll out a second product, Placebo Plus (with twice the number of inert ingredients). His idea turned out to be particularly prescient. A year ago I ran across research that said the placebo effect works even when people know they’re taking a placebo! But I digress.
What made my weekend encounter with EFT so successful was my devouring of Jack Canfield and Pamela Bruner’s new book, “Tapping into Ultimate Success.” The book contains a DVD with some masterful demonstrations of EFT, and it also leads readers through exercises that remove resistance to achieving their goals. By the end of the weekend, working on myself in the comfort of my own home, I felt light, clean, and clear. It was as though I’d attended the best seminar of my life – all for $17.84.
Whether my results were due to the placebo effect, I cannot say. But EFT seems to be a format for all manner of skillful therapeutic techniques. I recognized elements of NLP, psychodrama, gestalt, inner family systems, and more. If you are a skillful change agent, I believe you’ll be able to apply what you know to the EFT protocols and get amazing results. If you are a coach, it could be a remarkable resource.
I encourage you to explore EFT.
Here’s a link to Jack’s website and book. Click here.
This post is a departure from our usual Dragons at Work fare, because I want to encourage you to read Anat Baniel’s Kids Beyond Limits – here’s why…
Each year millions of children are diagnosed with autism, ADHD, Cerebral Palsy and other developmental disorders. Parents of these children want to know, “What is possible for my child?” Often the answers they get from physicians are devastating. I know of one child, whom I’ll call Jacob, who contracted meningitis at three months old and then developed encephalitis. His neurologist solemnly delivered the diagnosis and prognosis to the mother. “Your child has cerebral palsy. He will never walk or talk.”
I can only imagine how difficult it is to not only hear such a pronouncement, but to deliver it. The neurologist based his prognosis on scientific research. He did not believe it was pessimistic. Rather than give Jacob’s parents false hope, he thought it best to deliver the hard news straight.
By contrast, the waiting room at the Anat Baniel Center is a friendly and hopeful place. On a visit there I met a delightful six year old boy. By the graceful way he moved and his willingness to engage me in conversation, I assumed he was not a student of Anat’s. Perhaps he had a brother or sister who was being helped. Aside from the fact that he was especially alert and nearly luminously happy, he appeared completely normal.
Later I learned that this child was Jacob, the same child whose dismal prognosis so alarmed his mother. He walks and talks… fluently in three languages.
This extraordinary outcome was not a fluke. Not only can Anat Baniel reliably work these miracles, but practitioners trained by her achieve them as well. I find this remarkable. One can find rare practitioners of an art whose results defy explanation, but even more rare are the magicians who can not only articulate the principles by which they achieve results, they can transfer that mastery to others.
Through her new book, Kids Beyond Limits, Anat Baniel has extended her teaching to parents of children with special needs. Through reading this short volume, parents can develop the skills and the confidence to make a tremendous difference in the trajectory of their children’s path toward optimal functioning. It is also an invaluable and inspirational parenting manual for parents of normal children.
I mention Anat Baniel’s work in this blog for three reasons:
1. You may know (or be) a parent of a child with special needs. In that case, this book will change lives.
2. I recommend Anat’s work to my executive coaching clients. The same principles that work miracles with children produce astonishing results in high functioning adults. I believe leadership is a performing art, and possessing a body-mind brimming with vitality and mental acuity can make all the difference for an executive. Anat has produced excellent DVD’s which make home study easy. Using these DVDs has also enabled many people to eliminate chronic back, shoulder, and neck pain.
3. Anat Baniel’s work has done wonders for me. Not only has it improved my athletic performance, it has made me a better learner. I am more curious, more inventive, more acutely aware of my sensory experience, and more enthusiastic. Having studied her method for three years now, I understand why her work awakens such disparate and delightful qualities of experience.
One last point: the Anat Baniel Method appears deceptively simple. It looks a little like yoga or physical therapy, and because of that people may miss its unique power to change the brain. If Jacob’s mother had taken him to a physical therapist, the neurologist’s prognosis would have been confirmed. Instead, having found Anat Baniel, he will lead a normal life.
Last Saturday night Michal Merzenich spoke at a gathering celebrating the launch of Kids Beyond Limits. Dr. Merzenich is a preeminent authority on neuro-plasticity and brain functioning. He ended his talk with a fervent wish that the Anat Baniel Method will soon be the treatment of choice for children with special needs. The publication of Kids Beyond Limits is an important milestone in making that wish a reality.
I recommend you visit www.anatbanielmethod.com and see the results for yourself.
John Gray, Ph.D. is the leading relationship expert in the world and best-selling relationship author of all time. John helps men and women understand, respect and appreciate their differences in both personal and professional relationships. His many books, videos, workshops and seminars provide practical insights to effectively manage stress and improve relationships at all stages of life and love.
John’s latest book, Venus On Fire Mars On Ice, combines his 30 years as a relationship therapist with extensive new health research to explain the connection between your hormones and relationships. John shows you how the often frustrating differences between men and women can be appreciated and used to create a healthy relationship full of love, passion and lasting energy.
Stephen: John, welcome. We’re going to talk about Chapter 22 in Dragons at Work, where our hero, Dan, practices how to listen in an open, loving way with his wife, Janice. As an expert on relationships, I’m sure you’ve heard thousands of these conversations. So I’m interested to hear your take on what’s going on in this conversation between Dan and Janice..
John: Well, thank you. I’m impressed by this book and it’s a very heartfelt conversation that Dan and Janice have.
Stephen: Yes, it is. And I’m particularly interested in what you see in it that’s archetypal.
John: Well, it’s clearly archetypal. I’m sure almost everyone reading this has experienced moments like this. If suddenly a man decides, okay, now I’m going to listen, and his partner feels she can finally begin to say what’s on her mind, what’s going to come up is like a volcanic eruption of all the things that she’s held down. Because she feels ignored, like he’s not interested, feels like he won’t understand. At the same time, she doesn’t want to sound like she’s a complaining wife. She’s trying to be a loving wife, doing her very best, but holding it down, holding it down.
And when Dan says to Janice, “I want to hear what’s going on,” the first thing that comes out of her is not very nice. It’s a bit of sarcasm, a bit of resentment. “like you really want to hear what I have to say!” or, when he asks when would be a good time for us to talk, she says, “How about 12 years ago?” This is humorous, but it’s also an expression of her real feelings in the moment.
In practicing listening skills, Dan was prepared to stay calm, breathe and let her express what’s going on. If he had interrupted by criticizing her or making her wrong or getting upset with her or rolling his eyes…just rolling his eyes or taking a labored, heavy breath, as though listening is intolerable… those little messages would say to her he doesn’t understand.
We all know when we’re really with someone, then we can understand and be supportive of them. We don’t have to roll our eyes or make jokes. And Dan is practicing his listening assignment. And even though it’s an assignment and she’s making fun of it, it’s still working. He is trying. And that’s the whole key. I like to tell men: You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to defend what you’ve done, or explain why it’s all right.
Instead, try to validate where she’s coming from. Just for a few moments; it doesn’t take a long time. When she seems to be critical of you, take a moment, which is what Dan did, and just say, “I’m trying. I do want to hear. I want to understand what’s going on for you.” Dan says, “I’m trying.”
He makes a little slip when he says, “You’re not making it easy.” And Janice says, “Easy? You want me to make it easy for you?” At that point it’s become all about Dan, rather than her. But at the same time, you can’t expect perfection. I think he’s done a great job here as he continues to listen.
At a certain point, she opens up and expresses a lot of things. This actually helps her relax. This is what men have to understand. When you ask a women “What’s going on?” whether they are in a troubled situation or not, it’s time to just listen.
She might just burst into, “I spent the entire day doing hundreds of little stupid tasks…” as Janice does here. “Keeping the records straight, doing the taxes, making the beds, doing the laundry, it all doesn’t mean anything if I feel that you don’t love me or appreciate me.”
Janice is telling Dan what’s going on inside her. To be able to hear that without having it be about him allows her to reflect on what she just said and let it go. And she will let it go. Men tend to think that if there’s a problem, the problem will stay in her awareness until something is done to fix it. They feel compelled to immediately solve the problem.
The reality is, the man doesn’t have to do anything. Dan’s actually changed the situation by giving Janice room to talk about what she’s going through. After Janice expresses herself, Dan just looks at her. Then she says, “That last part was a little over the top, wasn’t it?” She has a little laugh. That’s because she is now starting to look back at what she was just said, and on her own, she self-corrects.
This is the key. If a man tries to correct his partner, she will defend herself and make the problem seem worse. If you don’t correct her on what she’s feeling, she’s able to look at her feelings. Then her feelings, which are real, are able to come into balance with the positive side of life.
And to offer men evidence of this reality, which they don’t understand instinctively, you can remind them: When a woman wants to correct your behavior, you’ll tend to resist that. But if she just adopts a neutral attitude towards your mistakes and you see that you made a mistake, then you’re happy to make a change, happy to correct your mistake. It’s when someone wants to change what you do, when someone tries to control what you do, you become most defensive.
Just as men don’t like their behavior criticized, women don’t want to be corrected on how they feel. If the man tries to change how a woman feels, the woman gets very defensive. Then she finds more evidence to validate how she feels, because he’s not validating her. All Dan has to do to is validate Janice’s feelings, and this is the secret for men. Don’t be upset with her, just try to be understanding and occasionally make comments like I am trying, I do want to understand, I am here.
Then Janice expresses more heartfelt feelings: “I feel like we’re sleepwalking, we’ve lost each other.” She also says, “We don’t make love anymore…” or “if the love’s there, I don’t feel it…” but it’s done in a way where there’s no frustration around it. There’s tenderness. When she’s feeling that tenderness, that’s when he can respond, which he does quite wonderfully when he says, “I miss our life together, too.”
Dan does a little bit of complaining, saying, “I’m on a forced march at work. I don’t have time for much else.” That isn’t the ideal thing to say, but it was his truth in the moment. (You don’t have to always be perfect in this situation). And she asks, “Are we helpless?” He responds with a great comeback statement, which is, “I do want to change it. I don’t know how, but I’m going to try.”
And that’s the key. You don’t always have to have the answers. To try means that you care, and the most important message that she needs to hear at that time is that you care, and you’re going try to do something.
At the moment in the conversation when they feel connected, then he is able to feel she is a jewel. Ultimately, the reason he could feel the connection to her was because he made it safe for her to connect with her feelings. It’s very hard for a man to connect with his partner. To feel connected to her, to see her, to feel his love to her, if he doesn’t support her in finding her true feelings.
Women can also talk with their friends, so they shouldn’t have to look to their husband for everything. But when there’s a feeling that she wants to share directly with him or when their connection is broken, her opening up and sharing what’s going on inside is the most powerful way for her to feel connected to him. And in that moment when he hears what’s going on inside of her, he connects with her.
And I really appreciate this portrayal tremendously, because it sheds light on the confusion that many people have about how men and women can connect with each other. Women often feel disconnected from their husbands and they want know what’s going on inside of him – what he’s feeling, what’s going on, what’s happening with his job.
The reality is that to feel most connected in a relationship, you start with the women. Women need to share what’s going on first. Then the man can connect with her by listening in a neutral, non-defensive way, which is what Dan does in this conversation. He’s not trying to fix it, not trying to change her. He listens to what’s going on, then he can connect with Janice and make loving statements that express the love in his heart. And that’s the key.
A big take-away here is to see the inner angst Dan has to go through to just sit and listen. He was able to do it. Because he had good coaching, good guidance, he could just stay present, maintain eye contact, and not make a lot of comments. He did his best to hear what was going on and hear more and hear more. And from that place, Janice was able to feel heard. And as she felt heard, she softened. Then he could express his sincere intent, which could then be heard by her. And they could reconnect.
Stephen: That’s a wonderful description of what was going on inside that conversation, John. Thank you. As the story continues to unfold readers will find out how this conversation affects Dan and Janice’s relationship and also how it impacts them as parents with their daughter, Maggie.
If you want more information about John Gray’s work and how to stay physically healthy as well as happy in relationships, go to: www.marsvenus.com.
Click here to start reading CHAPTER 1 of Dragons at Work now.
What is your experience with listening? Do you know someone who needs to read this article? Send in now.
Tara is nationally known for her skill in weaving western psychological wisdom with a range of meditative practices. Her approach emphasizes compassion for oneself and others, mindful presence and the direct realization and embodiment of natural awareness.
SJ: We’re looking at Chapter 16 which opens with Michele returning home from work to find her Taoist Grandfather watching The Sopranos on TV. Their conversation moves from the Sopranos to how to trap a monkey: Simply place a peanut in the hole of a tree. The monkey will reach into the tree to seize the peanut, but holding onto it, his hand is now too big to remove from the hole. Refusing to release the prize, he is trapped.
Tara, what drew your attention as you read this chapter?
TB: I was immediately captivated that Grandfather watched The Sopranos on TV because I really enjoyed The Sopranos myself, and it’s a juicy parallel to Dragons at Work. Tony Soprano was absolutely addicted to anger and to control. It’s his modus operandi to get what he wants in the world: through violence, lashing out and trying to control other people’s lives. In a less criminal and more corporate context, that’s what’s going on for Dan. He’s trying to manage his project by controlling, grasping and lashing out.
SJ: Yes. Dan is caught, trapped by his own limitations and behavior. What else are you drawn to?
TB: Well, clearly this is creating suffering for Dan. We know that he’s had a health scare, but it’s also creating suffering for the people who work for him, for his family and for himself. His life has gotten really small. Dan, like the rest of us, is trying, in some way, to be happy or find gratification or feel better in his life, but his strategy to control people isn’t working. And neither is his the way he’s running his project.
For me, one of the high points is when Michele gives Dan a taste of how to relax. If he can learn how to relax, he might be able to break the pattern by interrupting it. The word interrupt is a really important word. Every one of us gets caught in a chain of reaction that causes trouble for us. We have it with our thoughts, our feelings and our behavior. And if we learn to pause in the midst of it, if we can interrupt it, then we have a possibility of contacting inner resources and we can change the reaction.
In my work with people, I call this the “sacred art of pausing.” If we can stop in the midst of the reaction, if we can pause even for a short amount of time (and there can be different signals to stop) then it’s possible to interrupt and make a change.
I have a favorite line from Viktor Frankl. He said, “Between the stimulus and the response is space, and in that space is our power and our freedom.”
SJ: That’s wonderful.
TB: Yes. I remember hearing it at one of my meditation classes. We have a lot of people involved with 12-Step programs. One of them has sponsored so many people that he’s practically famous as an AA sponsor. He told me that he’d first heard me talk about the pause a few years earlier and then said, “Learning to pause for five seconds is as helpful as a year of meetings.”
SJ: Earlier you mentioned the ability to recognize when you need to pause; that there are signs that you’re going off track. What do you see with Dan?
TB: Michele is drawing Dan’s attention to certain flags that will help him recognize he’s in trouble. He’s in a chain of reactivity and there’s so much confusion. He needs a simple way to bring himself back to a resourceful state. I use a process with the acronym RAIN.
First, you Recognize. You simply recognize Okay, this is what’s going on. That pause allows whatever you’re feeling to be there. You’re just stopping. You’re not trying to change anything because the space you need is not there. If you immediately try to change things without pausing and allowing, you bring the same energy to what’s next. So, it’s recognize and allow.
And then you need time to investigate what’s happening. That’s the “I” of RAIN. And I’ll add that one has to investigate with kindness, because if there’s not some quality of gentleness, you again won’t be able to really see what’s going on. My sense is that’s the process Dan is going into.
When you pause, recognize, allow and investigate with kindness, that brings you to “N”, which is non-identification. That’s what I love so much about Grandfather – he actually names it. He notes that you’re moving away from being identified with all the cravings and the wants – I want this, and I need it that way, and you have to do it my way. If you’re not identified with all the wanting, you’re freer to come from a larger sense of your being.
SJ: In my experience, the more I enter that space, the more familiar it becomes and the easier to access. And that affects my sense of identity, as well.
TB: That’s exactly it. For me identity is the best word. You become more familiar with that space where you’re just present and aware and relating to what’s going on. It gives us more of a sense of our real being – that we’re much more than that self that was lashing out or hanging on.
I sometimes share a story that really touched me about a man in the Army who had a really bad temper.
A soldier was sent to a mindfulness-based course for anger management. In the mindfulness training he learned to notice the flags that let him know when he’s about to go off. And how to recognize the feeling and then allow whatever it is it to be there. Just pause, find that space, investigate, and so on.
One day he was off duty. He went to the supermarket, piled up a whole cart of stuff, and got into the check- out line. In front of him was a woman with just one item, and she had a child in her arms and she’s taking her time. She and the clerk are oohing and aahing over the child, and this guy’s temper flared. He’s thinking I’m a busy guy. I’ve got things to do. This woman has only one item, and she and the clerk are just oohing and aahing over this little baby. He started feeling really angry.
And then he recognized the flag and he remembered his training. He paused, and he went inside and began RAIN. He began to notice what was going on, recognizing that underneath was that familiar anger, that agitation. I’m not going to get where I need to go and get everything done. He felt his breath. He calmed down.
When he opened his eyes, he noticed the child was kind of cute. When it was finally his turn, and the woman and her child had left, he said to the clerk, “That child was really cute.” The clerk beamed and said, “Oh, that’s my child. My husband was killed in Iraq last year. My mom brings the baby every day so I have a little chance to be with him.” He realized how much he was missing what was happening for other people, and for himself, when he was lost in that chain reaction of anger. The story perfectly illustrates the power of pausing and deepening our attention and coming home to a truer sense of who we are.
SJ: How did your own meditative practice affect your ability to pause and connect with others?
TB: In this chapter Grandfather talks about the monkey trapped by refusing to let go of a peanut. In my own life, the peanut I was grasping was this need to prove myself worthy. I was racing around busily trying to convince everybody I was worthy and not finding, in that pause, that Hey, here we are together. The love is here.
In Chinese script, the word for “busy” is similar to the word for “heart killing.” I realized that in trying so hard to prove I was okay I was armoring over my heart. I now call that the “trance of unworthiness.” I’m not alone in this – so many people feel inadequate, and they spend so much time trying to prove themselves.
My process was sensing the flags of feeling the “not okayness,” or that something was wrong with me, or something was missing, and then letting that be a reminder to pause. Then I would use the mindfulness practice to just recognize and allow the feeling of “not good enough” however it arose, feeling the fear of failure, or whatever it was.
In this way, I deepened my connection with those feelings. I learned I could just be with the feelings in my body until I could hold those feelings compassionately. First I developed a sense of being present with the feelings. As I practiced more, that presence became very compassionate.
That way of attending became more familiar to me as a way of being – more real than the self that was trying to prove herself. And that is the end of RAIN. I was no longer identified with that unworthy self. I was resting more in a kind of presence. I went through thousands and thousands and thousands of rounds of that, of in some way catching the flags of “not okay” trying to prove whatever it was and pausing.
SJ: You write so eloquently about that in your books. What I love about your teaching is how you use your own experiences as examples. You’re willing to reveal yourself. Some teachers seem inaccessible because they seldom share anything about their own process of growth.
TB: Well, mine were so in my face, I couldn’t avoid them. I learned, and continue to learn from my own foibles. But I love this Lao Tzu piece you chose, Stephen. I find in the moments when we’re not so lost in the trance of “what do I need to do to be more successful?” or fear of failure… in those moments it becomes crystal clear that we’re in it together. We’re in this boat, and if there’s a leak on your side it’s the same boat so it’s my leaky boat, too. The less I’m focused on what’s wrong with me the clearer I am that we’re all connected. Then it becomes much more natural to spontaneously want to take care of us, not me.
I love this line: “one who recognizes all men to be members of his own body.” The world lives in our heart. There’s not really anything outside. It’s all part of us. So, for me, meditation has been very powerful in waking up that understanding.
SJ: Can you say a few words about your new book and how it’s a continuation or an elaboration of your first book, Radical Acceptance?
TB: Radical Acceptance primarily addresses what to me is one of the most pervasive kinds of suffering: that we’re often at war with ourselves. In my twenties it became clear to me that I wasn’t my own best friend. I was at war with myself a lot. Radical Acceptance is the inquiry of how do we befriend ourselves? How do we forgive ourselves and really embrace this life beyond our own small concerns?
Over the last few decades, along with almost everybody I know, I have faced huge changes. This body got older. I encountered sickness. I encountered the loss of beloved people. I’ve watched myself and other people lose our memories and deal with various major life losses.
The inquiry of my new book, True Refuge, is how, in the face of the greatest losses, we find a sense of peace and freedom and real happiness. That was my compelling inquiry when my health took a major nosedive. I lost a lot of my capacity to walk up hills and on sand and I couldn’t swim. I was very attached to being outside and moving easily, and I felt a huge amount of grief around that loss. I remember one particular day where that question arose. No matter how much loss there is, how do I find a sense of peace and happiness, no matter what?
That’s the inquiry of the book, and I use my own story and what I’ve discovered about true refuge. And I like the word “refuge,” because so often we take what we might call false refuge. We try to take care of ourselves in ways that in the short term might give us temporary relief, but don’t really give us a deep sense of peace. And so True Refuge looks at how we come home to the love and the awareness that can hold our lives.
SJ: Thank you, Tara. As always, it’s a pleasure to speak with you, and I look forward to reading your new book.
To find out more about Tara’s work, teaching, books, and CDs click here.
When have you been able to successfully pause and expand your compassionate awareness? Has this self-reflection helped you in your professional life? Tell us the story in the comment section.
James Flaherty, MCC, is the founder of New Ventures West, co-founder of Integral Leadership LLC, and the author of Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others, which is widely recognized as a seminal text in the field of coach education and is used internationally in universities and coach training institutions.
For over two decades, New Ventures West has been offering innovative, transformational, comprehensive coach training programs in the US and internationally. Pioneers of the Integral Coaching® methodology, they pride themselves on training truly masterful coaches, not coaches who can simply follow tips and techniques. They develop coaches who are deeply sensitive, present, and self-aware, who can bring their true selves to the coaching process in order to most fully serve their clients.
This interview focuses on the relevance of the practice of meditation and qigong for a coach and what James believes to be the essential nature of an excellent coach.
SJ: In this chapter of Dragons at Work we find Dan’s coach, Michele, practicing qigong and meditating in the early hours of the morning. These have been a daily part of her life for many years. Why don’t you tell us about your own practice of meditation and qigong, and how they’ve impacted and informed your life and work in coaching and training?
JF: I’ve had a meditation practice for a really long time. As I mentioned before, I’m a Zen practitioner. I’m part of a Zen community with a teacher. For me, it’s a deeper and wider way than the practice of meditation alone. And my qigong practice is relatively new but I’m a little over two years into it, so I can talk about the effects of it.
For me, qigong is about being more and more present, more and more in contact with life, inside and outside of me, in the moment. What’s wonderful about the qigong is it provides a clean, dynamic energy that keeps me in the present. I’m engaged from whenever I wake up in the morning, throughout the many meetings, work and conversations I have each day all the way until the night when I fall asleep.
It’s a sustaining and integrating kind of energy in which I feel in contact with all different parts of myself: the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual elements. Because of it, I have a much, much easier time connecting very quickly and in a deep way to people. The meditation settles me and has me be more present while the qigong I do opens me up even more, and energizes the whole system that I am.
When I work with people I find that this presence and energy makes me more adaptable in the middle of a conversation. I’m able to follow them wherever they go, wherever they feel like they want to go or where their habits of heart and mind take them. Staying centered the whole time (that’s a simple way of saying it) without being pulled into this or that, that they might bring up.
I have a long standing practice that whenever I start to work with someone I try to have the focus be more in the present. Can the person be here and contact what’s going on right now, instead of racing into the future? In your story, Dan is racing ahead. This is a common occurrence for many executives and other people that we work with. If they can’t pay attention right now, of course, they’re overriding their body to their great detriment. They’re overriding their relationships because they’re not really listening to anyone or caring or showing up in a way that expresses care.
Also, they’re not learning very much. If we’re not present, we can’t be impressed by what’s happening around us, so we make huge, huge mistakes. We just don’t notice, and we just go by our ideas. Some people are smart enough or experienced enough to have their ideas carry them for a while, which is okay. It’s helpful for them, but it’s limited. Situations change. If we’re not here and if we’re not present, we don’t notice the change. If we are present and sensitive, we can notice the first inklings of change.
SJ: Do you include meditation and qigong in your coach training?
JF: We do. We talk a lot about how, as a coach, we have to be present so that the client can arrive. When we are settled here, in the present, it makes it easier for the client to also be in the present.
Being present also allows us to truly see the individual person that’s sitting there. We can see them how they are, see what they’re like. We can also see beyond their explanation of themselves or their presenting issue or their topic to something much more centrally true about them. When we touch and see that essential part of another person, coaching works. That’s where the power lies and whatever unfolds comes from there as well.
And so we ask everybody in our coaching programs to take on the sitting practice. At our first session, we introduce some practices and central to those is a sitting practice of half an hour every day. For some people, it gets modified. We take into account each students needs. We might ask them to do a bit more or we may change the focus of the practice from a simple Zen Shikantaza practice of just sitting to doing loving kindness or some other more body-based practice.
We also have everybody engage in a physical exercise that does more than just build aerobic capacity, reduce stress, keep cholesterol down and so on. All of those, of course, are fabulous health benefits. But there are physical practices that help our body be more sensitive, present, resilient, flexible, steady or strong. There are many criteria that we have in our minds when we’re working with students to design what their physical practices will be.
There’s a lot that happens in the body and different bodies need different things. So we don’t have a generic idea of that. Some people are invited to be in yoga, tai chi or qigong. Some people we send to weightlifting, because they don’t experience any strength at all. They’re like a feather in a hurricane.
SJ: I don’t know if your program is unique in including that but I can’t think of another one that puts so much conscious and direct emphasis and value on it. So, congratulations. It’s wonderful that you take a stand on its importance and contribution to being an excellent coach.
JF: Yes. I think what happens otherwise is that people start to think of coaching as tools in a toolbox. This part of the person’s life is rattling. Oh, so let me get my socket wrench for that part. Oh, now I need my pliers. It so isn’t that. Coaching is a way of being open to the world, a way of living into the world, a way of understanding ourselves. Not an intellectual understanding, but a way of understanding how we move through the world and move in relationships in a different way. For the most part, our formal education never brings us to that place.
SJ: Yes. You’re talking about the coach as a human instrument who can be finely tuned, aware and sensitive to all aspects of life inside and outside themselves. From there they can truly guide and support others.
Michele embodies and demonstrates these qualities as she coaches Dan in the story. We see her in her first meeting with Dan stop him in mid-sentence, get him to notice how he feels in the moment and breathe. She calls his attention to how wound up he is and how this affects his mind and body. And we see her physical ease and grace when she bends low to catch his Blackberry and pluck it in mid-flight.
So thank you, James, for your wonderful perspective on how meditation and qigong inform and inspire your work and your life.
What do you do to tune yourself as an instrument? Please leave comments.
For thirty-five years Rick Brandon has been doing leadership training, specifically focused on the interpersonal dimension of influence and performance: listening, speaking, agreements, conflict management –– your classic people skills that drive a successful business.
When I asked Rick about how he got interested in Office Politics here’s what he said:
RB: About twelve years ago, I started having what I like to call a “midlife enlightenment” period. I realized that not everything in corporate success and leadership development is interpersonally focused. And it called into question what I was pouring my life into. It’s like that old adage: If you sell hammers and that’s what your expertise is, the whole world starts looking like a nail.
I began to see a hidden dimension of success in the areas of company politics and power dynamics. We were ignoring it along with many other professionals in the leadership development industry. There’s a more strategic dimension of influence that’s about power, politics, promoting yourself and your ideas, and how you’re perceived by others.
At the same time, ironically, a Fortune 50 client of mine (a huge bank) said, “We’ve got a bunch of midlevel managers who are making a career turn. They’re moving from the minors to the majors, and they don’t have political savvy. They actually used those terms “political” and “organizational savvy.” They lacked sophistication. They didn’t understand the unwritten rules of making this career turn. They asked, “What can you do that isn’t in the area of interpersonal skills that will help them make that leap?” Stephen, that was a real turning point because it was an aha-moment! Not everything is interpersonal skills.
During that time I’d also been talking with an old colleague of mine, Dr. Marty Seldman, who is an excellent executive coach. His expertise is in “derailment coaching”. You’re in trouble. You’re being thrown out of the company or you’ve hit a career plateau and Marty is your last-ditch effort.
My expertise has been more in leadership development through group-based courses. We started comparing notes. What were the success factors and the derailment factors of people who were in trouble in their careers? And what we realized is that of the 1,200 or so people he had coached over twenty-five years, it used to be that the people in career difficulty were the overly-political snakes: the people who lacked people skills and were abrasive. They climbed the ladder, but by climbing over everyone else. They were now so publicly visible that they couldn’t get away with that behavior anymore. A coach was brought in to turn them around.
But the fascinating thing we realized is that in the last five to twelve years, since we started doing our work on power dynamics and politics, just as many people were in career trouble by being under-political. They had people skills. They had ethics. They had integrity. They were company loyal. I’m talking about good, ethical, competent (if not technically brilliant people) who were up a creek without a paddle, because they underestimated the importance of organizational politics and its role in their success.
So I said to Marty, “Let’s funnel this information into a preventative leadership development course. Let’s not wait until it’s too late for the overly political or the under-political.” I took it back to the Fortune 50 bank. We installed it for these midlevel managers and it became the most popular leadership development program at that bank. Then we started doing it for lower level leaders because the middle managers were saying, “I should have had this twenty-five years ago.”
That’s the birth of our tiger by the tail. Then our clients started saying, “You’ve got to put this in a book.” So we wrote Survival of the Savvy and the rest is history.
SJ: That’s great. You’ve made a real contribution. Let’s turn now to Dragons at Work (Chapter 13) and look at our hero, Dan, who is naïve about company politics and also scorns it.
RB: He’s under-political…
SJ: Yes, and early on in the story, his coach, Michele, asks him about it and he says, “I really hate politics. I just do my work and let it speak for itself.” Then she says: “That would be OK if everyone played by those rules. Experience says otherwise…Ignoring politics is a classic derailer.”
RB: When he says that to her there’s juice, energy, and emotion to it, and that often is the difference between someone who’s merely less political and someone who’s dangerously under-political and in danger of being marginalized, vulnerable to missing influence; or worse, being victimized or sabotaged.
If I read between the lines, Dan is saying, “Darn it. I’m not going to play the game” with a stubborn stomping of the foot. He’s indignant, even resentful. And, as Michele observes, he’s sitting on the bench refusing to play the game that’s going on all around him. If we’re steadfastly refusing to play a game that we’re in fact in, whether we like it or not, we’re vulnerable.
SJ: So, we have a scene between Bob, the VP of Customer Service and George, the company CEO on the golf course where Bob is just the opposite of Dan – he’s overly political. Let’s go into that scene. Can you elaborate on how Bob plays George?
RB: So here’s Dan who doesn’t want to play the game, and here’s Bob, who’s playing two games – the game of golf with George, and also the political game, very skillfully, I might add.
As the story proceeds, we see more of it, but there are hints right here on the golf course that Bob and George’s relationship is a dangerous one for George. Bob is over- political. He’s not just more political. He’s overly political and as we see he’s playing George like a fiddle.
What makes Bob an interesting, snake-like fellow, is that unlike some overly political players, he’s not blatant. He’s not going after Dan in an obviously sabotaging way. He hides it under the guise of company concerns. He plants seeds, and he does it like Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. He sort of gets the fox to dance with him.
As they play golf, Bob gradually lets his thoughts leak out and he leads George to the conclusion that Bob wants him to have. He’s subtle and nuanced, and that is more insidious than a crude attack. So he sounds innocent, but he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This is often what overly political people are skilled at – they use their verbal mastery, their skills at impression management, and their skills at playing on someone’s vulnerabilities. Bob doesn’t come after Dan in a super-critical way. He damns him with faint praise. He says, “He might pull it off at the eleventh hour.” So he comes off as trying to give Dan the benefit of the doubt, but what’s really happening is Dan’s getting all the doubt and Bob’s getting all the benefit! And George falls for it.
SJ: And George is the kind of guy who likes to be decisive. As soon as he’s convinced that something needs to be done, he starts being proactive. George feels like it’s his idea for Bob to contact the consultants to come in over Dan.
RB: That’s true, and so Bob successfully planted that seed. He knows how to play George’s ego and all the manipulation was meant to plant that seed. And of course, he’s the puppet master, pulling George’s strings, which is ironic because George is supposedly the top dog.
He even knows how to play on George’s hubris, and take advantage of George’s “CEO disease.” Have you heard of CEO disease, Stephen?
SJ: No. Can you tell us more? It’s a bit surprising that a CEO would be that vulnerable to manipulation.
RB: Yes, it’s shocking and ironic that a CEO can be so vulnerable to deception. They don’t see the skill and guile of the players who tell them exactly what they want to hear. This is “CEO disease.” We would tell George, “George, you’re probably not as smart, good-looking or funny as you think you are. You’ve surrounded yourself with people who are telling you what you want to hear, and that one guy who disagrees with you, he’s really your best friend.”
Back to Bob, who’s no one’s best friend… Bob’s ticked off at Dan and wants to marginalize him. Dan didn’t cater to the customer service features that Bob wanted. Dan wouldn’t kiss up to Bob. There’s some foreshadowing here of what’s to come, but we’ll let the readers find out as the story unfolds.
SJ: It’s great to see this chapter through your expert eyes. It gives readers a deeper perspective on political intrigue.
RB: You use the word “expert” and I want to be a bit self-deprecating here and say that a lot of people see these political things going on. We tell people, “Use your sniffer.” Don’t automatically trust it, but if you get a whiff of something follow your instincts and check it out.
Most people can recognize these dynamics. The expertise and value add that Marty and I bring is that we’ve made looking at company politics more systematic and scientific. We’ve helped people to understand it and to see its specific behavioral manifestations. What are the behaviors of more political and less political leaders and managers? And most importantly, what are the behaviors of an overly political shark and an under-political, derailed ostrich with his head in the sand?
That’s the main contribution of our work in Survival of the Savvy and our workshops on organizational savvy. A lot of people say, “Okay, I get that politics are going on and that guy is more political; but it’s so fuzzy and nuanced. It’s like fog. How do I get my mind around something as nebulous as organizational politics?”
We look at thirteen skill sets of organizational savvy, many of which Bob has but overuses (which makes him overly political) and Dan, of course, doesn’t possess. He doesn’t schmooze and he doesn’t have a network, as Michele warns him in the 7 Powers Profile debrief. He doesn’t know how to align himself with George in ways that Bob does through his verbal mastery, impression management, and “weapons of mass distraction.” He doesn’t chart the winners and losers. Overly political people are really good at sensing whose political stock is up or down, and which projects’ political stock is up or down. They’ll position themselves to blame the losers and take credit for the winners. We see it happening here.
SJ: Rick, thank you so much for your insight into the political dynamics of this chapter. I have one last question: If you were coaching George, the top dog, what kind of things would you do to inoculate him against CEO disease?
RB: We address this in Survival of the Savvy. We tell leaders to “expect deception.” As a CEO, you don’t want to think you’re vulnerable because you have the power. It’s like the bank robber, Willie Sutton. They asked him “Why do you rob banks?” He said, “Well, that’s where the money is.” Well, CEO George, you’re where the money is. You’re where the power is. Bob and others want it. So we would coach him to expect deception. It doesn’t mean you’re paranoid or pessimistic. It just means you understand human nature, the best and the worst of human nature. That’s what a person with organizational savvy does.
We coach CEOs on ways to analyze what people are saying, and to look for distorted information. So George would be asking himself, “What might Bob have to gain by this plan? Does he have ulterior motives?” Also we would coach him to look for people who are in agreement with him on an issue. And then we would tell him, “Now, change your point of view, George, and see if Bob changes his to accommodate and agree with you.”
A lot of overly political people will kiss up and they will kick down. They’ll agree and be deferential to people with power or people they think are wired into power, and they’ll be dismissive of those who are not. We would help George to change his paradigm and not be overly trusting, not take things at face value. We’d advise him to look for hidden agendas, ulterior motives, and people being overly accommodating. And we’d advise him especially to not automatically trust someone because he’s too busy to check the details and facts he’s being given. Misplaced trust can do a lot of damage.
If someone is fixing blame on someone else, they often do it in an inferential way. They’ll say, “He’s an empire builder. He left a lot of money on the table. This one is really going to hurt you, George. It will make you look bad.” We’ll probe, prompting George to look further. Don’t just accept things at face value. Sometimes the political manipulator will backpedal and back off. Sometimes they’re not manipulators. Sometimes, they’re just using sloppy language, and then we can help them to be more precise. We’ll suggest they ask, “What specifically do you mean by this blame that you’re putting on Dan?” Sometimes this kind of question will uncover a manipulator like Bob.
SJ: Thanks, Rick. I can see why you’re in demand. There are so many under-political people like Dan who miss opportunities, or worse, are defenseless against the Bobs of the world. And there are plenty of over-political Bobs who need to dial it back. And of course, plenty of CEOs who need to raise their awareness to the complexities that come with their role. I’ll let people know how they can find out more about your work.
RB: It’s been a pleasure, Stephen. I loved Dragons at Work, and I know people have an exciting read ahead of them.
For Rick’s great website Office-Politics – The Game Everyone Plays click here.
For his training company, Brandon Partners click here.
Is your style balanced? Or do you tend to be over or under-political? Please go to the comments and give a brief story of how that’s impacted your work life.
I’m pleased to be interviewing Dr. Ivan Misner. Ivan is both a colleague and a friend. He’s often referred to as the “father of modern networking.”
IM: Stephen, I’m just glad they’re not calling me the grandfather of modern networking yet!
SJ: Yes, that’s a good thing! Ivan, you’re one of the world’s leading experts on business networking and referral marketing. You founded BNI (Business Networking International) in 1985. BNI now has more than 6,000 chapters on every continent. Last year alone, BNI generated 6.5 million referrals, resulting in $2.8 billion worth of business for its members. It’s great to be talking with you, Ivan.
IM: Thank you. Just so you know: $2.8 billion is the gross domestic product of the country of Liechtenstein.
IM: Okay, so it’s a small country, I admit, but when you think about a networking organization generating as much business as a country the size of Liechtenstein, that’s impressive. Although I’m looking for a bigger country next year, I think this is a good start.
SJ: It certainly speaks to the power of networking. Let’s turn to Chapter 12 of Dragons at Work where we find Peter, a direct report of our hero, Dan, suffering under Dan’s leadership. The first question I have for you is this: How would having a larger network make Peter a better employee?
IM: Building a powerful personal network is important, whether you’re running your own business or working for a large company, and it’s important for a number of reasons. When you’re connecting with other people, and helping and referring other people to projects or opportunities, you’re building your social capital. Building social capital involves making investments in relationships that you will keep over time. That makes it easy to take a withdrawal down the road. When you build enough social capital with people then when you ask for some assistance, they’re more than willing to provide it.
I’ll give you a good example: A friend of both of ours, Alex Mandossian, said to me, “Ivan, I have a favor to ask you.” I answered, “Yes, I’ll do it.” He responded, “Well, I haven’t told you what the favor is, yet.” I said, “Alex, we’ve built up enough social capital in our relationship that I can’t imagine you’re going to ask anything that I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing. And so the answer is yes, I’ll do it.” That’s social capital. You build a relationship with someone long enough, well enough, and strong enough that when you need help, assistance, advice, coaching or a referral of some kind, people are more than willing to do it. And of course, it takes time to build this kind of relationship.
SJ: Yes, it does. So for Peter, our character in Dragons at Work, it looks like he hasn’t taken that time. What would you tell someone like Peter? How would you advise him to start building his social network?
IM: There’s an old Chinese proverb that goes something like this: “What’s the best time to plant an oak tree? Twenty-five years ago. When is the second best time? Today.”
If you haven’t built a network, it’s not the end of the world, but don’t expect networking to be a magic bullet. It takes time. Everything I teach is based on one core foundational philosophy: the VCP Process of networking. And if you haven’t built your network (as Peter has not) you need to understand this in order to move forward. VCP stands for visibility, credibility and profitability.
First, you have to be visible. People have to know who you are. They have to recognize you (whether in a corporate environment or an entrepreneurial environment). Otherwise, they won’t refer to you, ask you for advice, or give you business.
From visibility you go to credibility. Now people know who you are, what you do, and what you’re good at. They know you’re good at it because they’ve worked on projects with you. Maybe you’ve done business with them or know people who have worked with them who speak highly of you. At some point, you get to credibility.
The third phase is profitability. And although I often use that in an entrepreneurial environment where profitability is about getting business, it can also apply to profitability in a relationship. In Dragons at Work we have a corporate environment, where the profitability comes from people being willing to help you, support you, support your project and support your position.
That profitability only comes after you’ve gone through the stages of visibility and credibility; yet people often try to take withdrawals before there’s any social capital. They start to ask for things before there’s a strong relationship. It takes months, if not years, to get through the VCP process, and Peter needs to start doing that now so that he’ll be in a position to utilize his network effectively in a few months.
SJ: And how would having a really strong network, at this point, make him more courageous with his contributions?
IM: Well, I think it starts with diversity. Diversity in a network is critical, and it would really help in Peter’s case.
Networks, by nature, tend to be clumpy or cluster-like. We hang out with people that are very much like ourselves. We hang out with people from a certain socioeconomic background or educational background. Our friends tend to be each other’s friends. The demographics of the people in our own personal network usually are not diverse.
This is a huge mistake if you want to build a powerful personal network. The more diverse your network, the more powerful it is. And the reason for that is the more diverse your network, the more likely you are to have connectors who connect you to more unique clusters of people.
You asked how, if Peter had a strong network he’d be more courageous. Well, diversity in your network enables you to go outside the box. If you have a powerful personal network that’s very diverse, you can call upon people who have different skill sets than you; who have more expertise than you in other areas. That enables you to be more courageous in either your workplace or as an entrepreneur. You have contacts who can help you, so you can be more courageous because you’ve built these relationships over time. Diversity is key to having a powerful personal network in so many ways.
SJ: From what you just said, it seems that having a diverse network would make him more innovative and therefore more valuable. And that would give him more confidence to speak up at work. That’s a great way to look at diversity.
IM: Yes, no question about it. And in our networks, we tend to pooh-pooh other professions or other businesses. It’s like I don’t need that contact. What can this person do for me? How could that individual possibly help me?
First of all, you never know who other people know. A few years ago I wrote about what I call the “butterfly effect of networking”. The butterfly effect is the idea that the flapping of the wings of a butterfly causes a minute change in the environment and leads to a cascade of changes that affects the weather.
Small changes in one place can lead to huge changes in another place. If we mostly spend time with people who are like us, the butterfly effect is less likely to happen. If, instead, we connect with people from richly diverse backgrounds, both social and professional, all of a sudden there is a ripple effect in your network that can lead to amazing outcomes.
As an example, a business coach from BNI asked me for a favor. That favor led to my doing a project, which led to a speaking engagement, which led to my meeting our friend Jack Canfield, and that led to my meeting somebody else which led to my being invited to Necker Island and meeting Richard Branson. I spent a week on Necker Island with Richard Branson and had the opportunity to meet a number of other amazing people.
SJ: That reminds me of another of your concepts I find particularly valuable. You believe that being generous in your social networks is what really makes them come alive, and makes them enjoyable as well.
IM: In BNI we have a philosophy that givers gain. If you want to get business, you have to be willing to give business. You have to be willing to help other people. It’s a part of social capital theory and it’s known as the Law of Reciprocity.
The Law of Reciprocity is a transformational law, not a transactional law. A good friend of mine, Dr. Wayne Baker, says, “You can’t use the Law of Reciprocity transactionally.” He calls that coin operated networking: I’m going to put the coin in because I want the candy or “It’s really nice to meet you, Stephen, and I need this from you right away.”
If you make networking transactional, it doesn’t work. It has to be transformational. It has to be truly an example where the sum of the whole becomes greater than the individual parts. When you get people working together, helping one another and building that social capital, the results become exponentially greater.
I believe that networking is about trying to help other people. For example, in my book Truth or Delusion, we pose a series of questions and then ask, “Is this truth or is this delusion?” One of the questions is “Can you network anywhere, anytime, anyplace, even at a funeral?”
Most people say, “Well, of course that’s delusion. You can’t network at a funeral.” And I believe it’s not a delusion. It’s truth. You can network anywhere, anytime or anyplace, but there are a couple of things that you have to know. One is you must always honor the event. Walking around at a funeral passing out your business card is not a good idea.
My co-authors, associates, and I, define networking as “helping other people to build their network so that they help you.” And by helping other people, I don’t mean, “Let me sell you this,” or “Do this for me.” So if networking is truly is about helping other people, then when is it inappropriate? If it truly is about helping other people, I think the answer is never.
SJ: Beautiful. I often get asked this question about networking: In this digital age, where’s the most important place to spend time? In online social networks or face-to-face interactions?
IM: That’s a great question, and I believe the answer to that is it’s not either/or. It’s both/and. BNI is a face-to-face network. We have 6,000 groups that meet every week all over the world. People will often say to me, “Hasn’t online networking really impacted your face-to-face program?” And my answer is always, “Yes, absolutely.” When did the Internet really get rolling? The mid-nineties?
IM: In the mid-nineties, we had about 500 groups. Eleven years later, we’ve opened 5,000 groups. So as you can see, the Internet has really impacted the face-to-face organization. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and. One does not cancel out the other.
I’ll give you a quick story. In Networking Like a Pro, I talk about being interviewed in Stockholm by a big newspaper. They sent this twenty-year-old kid to interview me about face-to-face networking. And he spent the first ten minutes of the interview berating me for running what he called the buggy-whip business of networking.
After he finished this tirade I said, “Okay, so why are you here?” And he looked at me and said, “What do you mean?” I said again, “Well, why are you here?” He said, “Because my boss said I had to do this interview.” I said, “But it took you an hour-and-a-half to drive here. Why did you drive an hour-and-a-half? It’s going to take you longer to get back in traffic. Why did you drive here rather than just pick up the phone and call me?”
He looked at me and without skipping a beat said, “Because doing an interview face-to-face is always better.” I just looked at him and shrugged my shoulders. All of a sudden he said, “Oh, wait a minute. I get it. There are elements of face-to-face that you just don’t get over the phone or over the Internet.” And I said, “You got it.”
So it’s not either/or; it’s both/and. I’m a believer in online networking. I’m active on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Ecademy. The power of social media is that it increases your touch points in networking. It allows you to stay in touch, today, in a way that we couldn’t do when I started BNI in 1985.
However, I’m a believer in face-to-face connection. There’s something about shaking somebody’s hand, looking them in the eyes and having a conversation. Online media is a good way to stay in touch with people over time. It’s also a great way to have people follow you if they’re interested in what you’re doing. So it’s not either/or. It’s both/and.
SJ: What do you think is the future of networking and BNI now?
IM: I think face-to-face networking is going to continue. In some ways the Gen-Xers and the Millennials are going to be desperate for face-to-face networking. It’s a skill set they haven’t learned and it doesn’t necessarily come naturally. Online social media is going to continue, but there’s going to be a gap in people skills and networking skills that organizations like BNI and other networking organizations will be able to fill.
SJ: I agree with you.
IM: You know, Stephen, we don’t teach this in colleges and universities. We have people with bachelor’s degrees in business that don’t have a clue how to network. Most professors teach what I call sterile marketing. They don’t understand the power of networks and how they work. They think it’s soft science and most of them have never run a business, so they don’t understand the value.
I just did a survey for my next book and we asked business people, “Has networking played a role in your success?” and 92 percent said yes. When have you ever seen 92 percent of any group of people say yes to anything?
SJ: That’s amazing.
IM: And yet we don’t teach it in colleges and universities.
SJ: Can you say something about how being well networked helps in career advancement and finding a job?
IM: Every survey I’ve seen in the last twenty years has indicated that an overwhelming majority of jobs are now being filled by referral not by advertising. I know USA Today did a survey a few years back, and it was an amazing number, like 75 or 80 percent. So that fits within intrapreneurial, internal networking.
SJ: I’ve seen 80 percent. Have you heard of the 1993 study called “Star Performers at Bell Labs”?
IM: It doesn’t ring a bell!
SJ: They wanted to find the qualities of star performers that produced the great discoveries and patents. They controlled for IQ, so it wasn’t a factor. The two things that made the biggest difference were being involved in networks and being proactive in work style, like just “get it done.” For example, what did someone do when they got stumped? They didn’t go to a library or do a study. They picked up the phone and in five minutes had a new direction. So they had diverse networks and a proactive response to challenges.
IM: Wayne Baker wrote in Achieving Success Through Social Capital that people with a powerful personal network are healthier. When I read it I thought, Really, Wayne. Please. That can’t be true. That’s crazy! Then I read the evidence. He looked at people who had a powerful personal network and what they did if they had a health challenge: they didn’t just rely on what their doctor told them. They started talking to their friends, associates, to people in their networks.
They rallied around the person and were an amazing resource for expertise (again, it’s that diversity) in areas that the individual alone didn’t have. This opened a world of options to help them with their health issues. It makes total sense, but I would never have thought that.
SJ: I’m not sure if this also came from Wayne Baker but there’s research that shows that a healthy social network builds your immune system, as well, because we’re social creatures, and we’re not meant to be isolated.
IM: Wayne also talked about a concept I love: the proximity effect. It turns out that proximity makes a big difference in one’s network. He quoted from a study at a university which polled close friends. They asked them, “Okay, so you’re very close friends. Why?”
They said, “Oh, because we have similar interests. We both like basketball. We both like playing games.”
“How did you meet?”
“Oh, well, we’re roommates.” Or, “We take two or three classes together, so I see him three or four times a week.”
What’s interesting is that it’s the proximity that actually leads to the overlapping areas of interest.
SJ: Yes, and it also creates diversity, because a roommate or somebody living down the hall might be someone you would otherwise never meet.
IM: That’s true, but people’s natural tendency is to hang out with people that are like them. An example is race. It’s very important to strive hard to break those boundaries and to include people from other races and educational backgrounds in your network. I see it often with highly educated people who don’t want to hang around people who are not highly educated. Conversely, the uneducated hate hanging around with people who are highly educated because they think they’re snobs.
SJ: Well, it also happens with people’s political or religious beliefs, as well. People get siloed. You only seek information that reifies your beliefs.
IM: Very true. You see so many people who are very religious and they never want anyone around them who don’t agree with their version of spirituality. Again, we have to strive to open our networks to a diverse group.
SJ: Thanks, Ivan. You’ve made a great contribution. I hope that the people reading this interview will get excited about BNI, go to your website and see all the resources that are available for them. That’s at BNI.com.
IM: My pleasure. Glad to help. People can also go to my blog. I have a lot of free content up there every week, including videos and articles on networking. You’ll find articles on what we talked about here, today: VCP Process, the butterfly effect and diversity.
In what ways, big or small, have you added value to your networks? Please leave your story in the comment section.
Bill Joiner, MBA, EdD is a seasoned leadership expert and organizational change consultant, with 32 years experience completing successful leadership development, team development, and organizational change projects for companies in a wide variety of industries. He and Stephen Josephs co-authored the award-winning book Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change. Bill speaks about leadership agility, partners with senior leaders in developing high performing teams, creating breakthrough strategies, leading organizational change, and redesigning business processes.
SJ: Bill, why don’t you tell us about what you’re interested in currently. What’s got your attention these days?
Bill: I’m doing a range of things all drawing on the leadership agility framework, from speaking at events around the world to working with companies on changing their leadership culture. I’m working with teams to help them become more agile. I’m doing one-on-one coaching interventions and also putting together groups who do leadership agility coaching.
SJ: What got you to write about leadership agility in the first place?
Bill: Well, as you know, Stephen, it was meeting you and discovering the commonality of our personal and professional interests that got me interested in writing this book with you.
SJ: Yes, and before we met you had studied the relationship between stage development psychology and effective leadership for twenty-five years. What is it about this topic that made it so compelling for you for that many years?
Bill: Initially, my interest in stages of adult development, which is the core framework behind leadership agility, came from meeting Bill Torbert when I was twenty-one and at a time when I was trying to figure out where I was going in my life. I had already been through several years of intense personal growth. At that point, I had read a number of things that helped me understand what personal growth was all about, mainly in the field of humanistic psychology. But what really intrigued me was the stage development approach, because it had the potential of synthesizing a variety of psychological perspectives into one holistic framework.
My interest started out as personal and gradually grew to What is this good for in the world? And the immediate connection was around leadership. I continued to read about it for several decades while I worked as an organizational development consultant; using it implicitly. I picked OD methodologies to use with clients – methods that I felt were essentially designed to help them develop to the next level, whether it was an individual, group or organizational methodology.
Then it was meeting you and feeling your infectious energy around this framework that led me to make a commitment to working on the book that I’d always thought I would write but never had.
SJ: For my part, talking to you about stages of development filled in a missing piece for me, which was: Why was it that some of the leaders I coached would latch onto the more transformational methods (or more advanced ways of thinking about leadership) when others were only interested in whatever they had to do to tactically hit the next milestone?
Learning about adult stage development opened up a whole way of understanding where somebody’s consciousness was on the continuum. And that allowed me to, in a much more precise way, stay right with them. That’s the beauty of it, and that’s why our collaboration was so important for me.
Bill: One thing that I really liked about what we did with the book and what you did with this chapter (10), is to clearly identify the mental and emotional capacities that are characteristic of these different stages and how that translates into leadership behavior.
In Dragons at Work, you’ve written about it so that the reader not only sees Dan’s behavior, but when Michele is talking with Dan after the team meeting, they get insight into what is driving that behavior. In coaching, or other kinds of leadership development, it’s extremely useful to understand both dimensions, the inner and the outer, for each stage.
SJ: What’s the first thing that struck you along those lines in this chapter?
Bill: The first thing that struck me was how Dan introduces his coach, Michele, to the team. Basically, he tells them “she’s here to observe how we work together”. If we put ourselves in the team’s place at this point and think for a minute about what concerns and questions they might have about Michele’s presence, I can easily imagine them thinking things like “Well, okay. And then are they going to sit together afterwards and critique everybody? Decide who are the stars and who aren’t; who needs to be promoted and who needs to be fired? Is that why she’s here?” Because he tells them that she’s his executive coach, but he doesn’t say this is all about “my” development. He just leaves it vague.
What I imagine is behind this is that – and we see this later in the chapter, too -he doesn’t have a well developed sense of empathy yet, and his ability to put himself in other people’s shoes is not well tuned. If he had more empathy I think he likely would have introduced her differently.
SJ: So then Dan starts the meeting and goes ahead with business as usual, and when he finds a flaw in Peter’s presentation he jumps on Peter “with a barrage of questions”. So what does that tell you?
Bill: What I see in Dan are a lot of the characteristics of the Expert orientation of development. The Expert tends to be very judgmental and perfectionistic toward others and toward themselves (in this case, toward others). We also see the lack of empathy that we just mentioned.
And, Dan isn’t questioning Peter in depth. He’s not trying to find out anything beyond what’s right on the surface – he has an issue with Peter’s reasoning about data on a slide he’s presenting. But if there’s a larger problem underlying that or there’s something about the project that’s actually off because of it, Dan doesn’t express any curiosity about it. He doesn’t expand or deepen the conversation.
SJ: Yes, and it’s interesting when people say, “What were you thinking?” because they’re not really asking a question.
Bill: They’re making a judgmental statement.
SJ: Right. If Dan were operating at a later stage, for instance the Catalyst, he might actually be interested in the answer to “What were you thinking?”.
Bill: Yes. And he would ask the question with a tone that invites an exploration instead of beating somebody over the head.
Also, Dan’s tone and behavior are bound to create defensiveness in Peter or any other direct report. Even if Dan wasn’t their boss, it’s going to create defensiveness, but here he’s in a senior position of power, so it’s even more likely.
In previous chapters we’ve seen Dan behaving in similar ways in other areas of his life. Often, this leads people to withdraw a sense of ownership or commitment to a shared endeavor. In the context of Dan’s team, the members hunker down and are in survival mode. That’s going to bounce back to Dan and increase his burden to figure out everything himself, because the team isn’t engaged.
It reminds me of Chapter 2 in Leadership Agility. “The Five Eds” illustrates how the same person would deal with the same leadership challenge, but from five different levels of agility. In that chapter, the “Expert” Ed feels like he has to pull teeth to get his team to really engage, and he doesn’t see (just as Dan doesn’t see) how his own behavior shapes the behavior of his team members.
One thing I’d like to add: I don’t want people to get the impression that all Experts act just like this, because what we’re seeing in Dan here is a mix of the Expert level and what we call in Leadership Agility the assertive “power style”; an assertive way of dealing with differences as opposed to a more accommodative approach where the manager would deal with differences by asking questions and being more inclusive.
For example, I’ve worked with some Experts who are really good at listening and in making their departments feel like “one big family”. What they’re not good at is confronting the tough issues. So they’re the opposite Dan in their style. In Experts with a more accommodative style, there is the same kind of judgmental, perfectionistic, surface level, problem solving orientation, but it’s not expressed assertively. So you can get either of these two opposite modes at the Expert level, and sometimes managers at the Expert level flip back and forth between the two.
SJ: Yes, and even when an Expert creates a “big family” atmosphere in their department you still can have the same “hub-and-spoke” approach to leading the team… it just feels nicer.
What else got your attention in this chapter?
Bill: Michele does a skillful job when she and Dan debrief the team meeting. She asks Dan what outcomes he was going for and how well he achieved them. That’s more of an Achiever level question, which is the next stage or level of agility from where he is (Expert). It puts the question of how the meeting went into a larger context of the outcomes he’s trying to achieve; not just looking at specific things he did in isolation. Dan’s response is more of an Expert level answer, because that’s his current state. When a skillful coach senses need and readiness to begin shifting to the next level, he or she can ask questions that start broadening the context of the conversation into the next stage of leadership development.
SJ: Yes, and Michele’s question also presupposes that meetings, to be effective, have outcomes to think about and plan for. And even if he’s never thought about that before, the question itself begins to influence him to adopt an outcome oriented approach.
Bill: And in Dan’s answer we get a clear window into his thought process. He talks about putting together all the puzzle pieces that he’s managing in his head, and Michele acknowledges that this is a great ability. But he implicitly assumes that he has the sole responsibility for doing this, and therefore he doesn’t need to develop the group into a team that can do some of this on their own, or who can share in what he currently sees as solely his responsibility.
Another nice thing about Michele’s question is that it leads Dan to speak out loud a thought process that’s driving much of the way he operates with his team, and so it becomes visible to him. He gets some distance on it, and he can see it more objectively. That’s another important step in expanding his awareness – the ability to step back and look at it.
SJ: And what do you want to comment on next?
Bill: A little further along in the debrief Michele invites him to think about what both he and the team contribute. Because he has the perfectionist attitude that we often see at the Expert level, Dan probably doesn’t spend a lot of time appreciating his strengths or those of his team. He’s always running on to fix the next problem. Michele doesn’t overdo the acknowledgement of his contributions. She does just enough that it can slip in. It’s another skillful coaching moment that’s worth noting.
SJ: When people are used to brushing off the positive feedback because they don’t think it’s useful, it’s good to keep the subject alive. Even though they have a repellent film against it, eventually, the message seeps through.
Bill: Right. And she’s not saying to herself Oh, gee, I should say something positive here. Let me see. What in the world could I say? She’s being very genuine. And I’m sure that emotionally Dan gets it. They’re in the process of building trust at the beginning of a coaching relationship, and this helps create the trust.
SJ: Yes. And next she challenges him when she says, “…and there’s a more efficient way of fixing things that better leverages what you know and enlists more of your teams intelligence. Right now, even though you’ve pushed them hard, you’re not getting enough out of them, and they’re certainly not getting enough out of you.” From the Expert’s point of view, how would that be a challenging statement?
Bill: She’s using the language of the Expert as she talks about efficiency, fixing things and getting enough out of people. But there’s an ironic twist to it, because she’s clearly not talking about, as Dan says, “pushing them harder…” To paraphrase Einstein, she’s inviting him to consider the idea that, “You can’t solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it.” That is, you need to look at the team from another level in order to change and improve it, while at the same time she’s connecting with him by using Expert level language.
SJ: And then Dan says, “How would I get more? I don’t think I can push them any harder.” And instead of answering the question, Michele keeps exploring the team meeting so that Dan has the opportunity to look at it in new ways.
Bill: Yes. She describes what happened in a way that brings a conceptual framework to it. She takes what he said about his thought process and the hub-and-spoke style of the meeting and uses this metaphor to describe how he’s running his organization. Then they discuss the consequences and clear limitations of this way of operating. She’s hinting that to get more out of people, you need to examine whether this hub-and-spoke approach is really the way to go.
SJ: And she asks Dan, “While Peter was presenting his status update, what was everyone else doing?”
Bill: We’ve all seen this in meetings, right?
SJ: Yes, definitely. So he’s given them all permission to not pay attention to each other’s reports and to be separate spokes. And in this case, to not listen to or think about what Peter is working on and how it fits into the whole.
Bill: Yes, she’s challenging him there, too.
SJ: Then Michele says, “…it discourages the spokes from trying or even wanting to apprehend the whole system, and it almost guarantees you’ll have no able candidates to succeed you.” Because he doesn’t have multiple outcomes for meetings (like using his meetings to help develop his team), he ends up with no one who seems to be very capable.
Bill: Yes. And most likely he’s beginning this coaching relationship with the assumption that, to the extent that the performance of his people is disappointing; it’s all because of them. She’s pointing out that it may be partly them, but it’s also partly Dan, the guy who happens to be the most powerful person in the room organizationally. So, she’s connecting some dots for him, giving him some feedback, and in a sense making a prediction as to what would happen if he kept doing it the way he’s been doing it.
SJ: It’s a coaching technique that helps people to see and come to terms with the fact that they’re creating the very dilemma they complain about.
SJ: And then Michele moves into a discussion about stages of adult development. She begins by asking Dan, “How old is your daughter? Remember what it was like when she was two…” So this is the stuff that both of us are interested in and that led us to write Leadership Agility. Michele says to Dan that in the book “The authors Joiner and Josephs explore five progressive stages of leadership and how being at one or another affects a leader’s capacity to lead.”
Then she gives a little lecturette on the first level, the Expert.
Bill: Yes, just a snippet.
SJ: If readers want to explore this material in more depth they can read Leadership Agility. The first two chapters, along with the charts, present a good overview.
Bill: In the book we not only identify the characteristics of an Expert leader when they’re leading a team; but also when they are having tough face-to-face conversations, and you see both of those in Dragons at Work.
The other area that we identify is the way that Experts go about trying to change or improve their organization. Experts have a real passion not only for problem solving but also for improving things. The approach they take in leading change tends to be tactical and incremental rather than strategic.
Experts usually focus on improvements within the areas where they have authority, because there’s an implicit assumption that leadership is really about having authority and expertise. So they feel very confident and empowered there – it’s their domain. But if they are trying to do something cross-functional, like influencing people they don’t have authority over, that’s more of a challenge for the Expert.
The other thing I would add is that Experts don’t get how important it is to motivate their team or their stakeholders. So they’re not well tuned into the whole. They’re certainly aware of their stakeholders but it’s not that compelling to the Expert to engage with them or to build the support for their change efforts. The importance of motivating others becomes a huge focus at the next stage, the Achiever level.
SJ: Yes, and in Dragons at Work we see how that plays out. But let’s step back from the story for a minute. Could you say something about stage-development psychology?
Bill: Let’s see. In Leadership Agility we brought in many different kinds of research, but the backbone was this field called stage-development psychology. Some people may have heard of the work of Bob Kegan, Jane Loevinger, Bill Torbert or Susanne Cook-Greuter. They are some of the leading lights in the field, and they have each created fairly similar research-based frameworks about how people develop.
Stage-development psychology started early in the last century and focused on how children develop; how their thinking develops and how they develop socially and emotionally. In the last several decades there been a real explosion of research on stages of adult development, and that was part of what stimulated us to write our book.
I want to add here that when people hear about developmental stages, they often assume we’re talking about the stages of development that occur naturally because of age. The developmental stages we’re talking about here correlate fairly closely with age during childhood. However, as we become adults, a person’s developmental stage gets harder and harder to predict just from knowing their age. Our development may plateau during one period of our lives and then resume later; or we may just plateau, period; or we may keep going through the stages. It depends on what kinds of environments we’re in, and what our interests and motivations are.
SJ: Coaching has always been one of my favorite media for guiding adult development. And in this chapter we see how a coach’s questions can move a manager forward in this process.
So at the end of this chapter, when Dan and Michele are wrapping up, she asks him, “How could you run your meetings if you truly wanted your team to think like you …” which is one of his big criteria “… or better so that you could take a vacation…” which is a totally foreign but desired goal “…and return to a project that’s humming along nicely…” That’s a big challenge: could he go away and come back, and find the project running fine? In some sense, he wouldn’t like that. One part of him would love it, and another part of him would think Oh, gee, I’m not needed.
And Dan responds, “It’s an interesting question.” This is where their meeting ends and it’s the end of Chapter Ten. Do you want to add any thoughts at this point?
Bill: Here at the end, I think Michele is implicitly saying, “What if you had a different objective from the one you have now for your team?” She’s painting the possibility of the next step in his development as a team leader. To seriously contemplate moving to a new level of leadership agility is a big question. It’s a great place for them to end their meeting, because it’s understandable that he’d want to think about it. Even if he doesn’t have an introverted thinking style, he’s probably going to want to think about it.
It also reminds me of situations where leaders intuitively sense that they need to delegate more. They need to let go more. They need to create an environment where the people on the team are much more engaged and feel more responsible and empowered.
In this kind of situation, one part of them says Okay, yes, I need to do this and there’s another part that’s like Why would I want to do that, because it feels so empty when I imagine myself doing it.… What value am I going to be adding? What’s my life going to be like if that happens?
Those feelings can stall things out in terms of making that shift, so it’s really helpful to have (as I know Dan will have as his coaching continues) a clear picture of what that next level of leadership looks like, how fulfilling it can be and what a big job it is. It’s not just letting go of things; it’s taking on bigger things. That’s an important part of the developmental shift, because a lot of people get told, “Let go. Let go.” Well, what do you expect somebody to do when that’s all you’re telling them? They’re going to keep holding on.
SJ: Yes. It’s a great question to ask at the end of the session because he has to go deeply into it. There’s no quick answer.
Bill: Right. And it will be a dance between them in terms of Dan developing the curiosity and the interest, and Michele feeding him these snippets. That’s where I’m imagining it’s going to go. We’ll see. We’ll let it incubate.
SJ: We will. Another thing I’ve noticed in coaching Experts is that when, instead of always trying to drive things to happen (especially in the focused way that they do), they finally realize a lighter touch gets more to happen, they find out that they’re actually underutilized. At some point, they change from being a supervisor to a leader and that allows them to handle more complexity.
Bill: You might hear someone say, “And I just have no time, and I especially don’t have time to step back and think strategically about things.” The intervention here with Dan helps him connect the dots and see why that is, and it hints at a pot of gold that might be waiting at the end of the rainbow.
SJ: In closing, any comments in terms of what Michele did as Dan’s coach?
Bill: What strikes me about Michele is that she stays very present with him throughout the conversation. She frequently challenges him but in a way that keeps them connected. And the other thing that strikes me is that she has obviously internalized the Leadership Agility framework. Although she can be didactic with it in short snippets when it’s useful, she’s incorporated it in her repertoire of coaching skills, and she uses it like she’s playing an instrument.
SJ: Thanks, Bill. You’ve given us a great introduction into the Leadership Agility framework and the Expert stage with a peek into the Achiever.
To learn more about Bill Joiner and his work go to his website.
Readers: To download your free chapter (Chapter 2 – The Five Eds) from Leadership Agility click here.
Bill Ryan, co-director of Toward Harmony Tai Chi & Qigong in Northampton, Massachusetts, has been practicing, teaching and learning Chinese movement and healing arts for over thirty years. He specializes in the healing aspects of the arts. In addition to teaching, he has an active private practice seeing clients and using “qigong tuina bodywork” to help people regain their health. Tuina means push-pull, qigong means energy development.
SJ: In Chapter 7 of Dragons at Work, Michele teaches Dan about relaxation and ease. Bill, what are your thoughts about what Michele shows Dan?
BR: What’s most striking is that the coach (Michele) is actually giving Dan a method with which to relax. Too often we’re told, “Well, you should relax,” but the process of how we relax is not well understood, at least in our culture. In Chinese culture they’ve been studying the art of how to relax for many thousands of years and have developed those capacities to a very high degree.
SJ: How is she teaching Dan to relax?
BR: She’s primarily working with what we call “pulsing” the body. Pulsing is one of the most fundamental phenomena of life, right? Everything pulses, from the stars to amoebas, and we’re no different than everything else in nature. By directly influencing Dan’s hand to begin to stimulate and regain its natural pulsing capacities, that influences the whole body through the nervous system. The hands have a lot of nerves in them, so the signals or pulsing that you establish in the hands are translated back through the whole body through the nervous system, as well as through the fluids of the body. In qigong tuina the fluids of the body are considered to be key building blocks that influence our ability to relax and be healthy.
SJ: Could you say more about that?
BR: We often use young children as an example. We say, “Oh, if you learn to move in waves like a young child, you’ll move in a very relaxed way.” Or, “If you move fluidly like a natural athlete…” but most of us don’t have that experience. And we’ve forgotten what it was like to move like a child.
So Michele is giving her client (Dan) an opportunity to experience what fluid wave movement feels like in the body. Rather than a muscular contraction and holding it’s more of an effortless pulsation. The truth is, we knew this as children. We’re really reintroducing ease into the nervous system, and for that reason, it’s quite easy to assimilate. Given a choice, we adopt what feels natural and healthful.
SJ: How is that used in healing?
BR: Well, one of the things that happens to people, particularly in our culture where we sit a lot of the time or when we suffer from injuries, is that the body becomes stagnant or stiff and frozen in some way. The natural pulsations of the body are forgotten or diminished. So this practice gently stimulates the natural pulsing in the body. A central principle of Chinese medicine is: if you stimulate the body to regain its capacities to move naturally, both physically and energetically, then health follows. So Michele’s working with the joints of Dan’s fingers is a primary practice within our tradition of qigong tuina.
If you can get your hands and feet to pulse that way, and then join that with your breathing, all the body systems kick in. You’re then on your way towards health and relaxation again. The main focus, at this point, is getting him to relax, and she’s picked a wonderful place to start that process with him.
SJ: There are many breathing techniques and some of them are rather forceful. In my experience, the more forceful they are, the less they will help you relax. Michele wants Dan to use the experience of ease in his hand as a model of how it feels to take an effortless breath.
BR:Yes. One of the things the Chinese found is that if you want to relax, you move rhythmically, moderately, and continuously, so that you’re never holding the breath or anything else. Holding creates tension. As one my teacher’s teachers used to say, “You become what you practice.” For me, that says it all. If you practice tension, you’ll get tension. If you practice relaxation, you’ll get relaxation.
SJ: Another thing that she’s teaching him is not to go to extremes. He’s not inhaling or exhaling to his full capacity.
BR: Exactly. If you go all the way to the point of strain, you build tension into your system. Always stay within what we call the “70 percent” range of motion. This means that you’re fully engaged but never exerting past your point of comfort and ease. In this way, your capacity, your range of motion, naturally increases. It’s the opposite of “No pain, no gain,” and it brings home what we often hear in Chinese philosophy: “Less is more.”
SJ: The idea of pain in pursuit of gain is counter-productive for another reason. It’s inefficient.
BR: Exactly. If you go to that extreme position, you have to actually put in energy just to maintain it. Whereas, if you can create in a system a wave pattern that is in constant rhythmic motion, it just continues, efficiently and unimpeded. This natural pulsing capacity creates a soft and sustaining energy without strain. As we’ll see in a later chapter it can also generate tremendous power in the martial arts.
SJ: I’d like to talk about the work that you do with people. Once you’ve awakened this capacity in someone what else can you do with them that moves them to further heal or revitalize?
BR: Well, one of the things that you do with the pulsing… For example, where she started with just the hand, if you do that enough, then because of the way the fluids in the body are connected to each other, you’ll naturally start to cause the wrist to start to pulse; the elbow to start to pulse; to work back into the internal organs and gently massage and pulse them; to release places in the neck or shoulders or spine that have become bound because they just relax and start to let go.
So from the hand you can actually (if you’re a skilled practitioner) awaken every single other part of the body. And that’s something that from a health standpoint or healing standpoint can be extremely valuable in allowing you to gently wake up parts of the body that have become traumatized or just have stopped working because they’ve not been used enough.
SJ: I imagine that if someone has trouble in their shoulder or neck, that not going directly to the shoulder or neck is actually a better way to get that to release.
BR: It’s often the key, because this pulsing is also designed to stimulate what the Chinese call the “chi” of the body. The chi is just the energy that we wake up with everyday and say, “Oh, I have a lot of energy,” or “I don’t have much energy today.” But it’s this energy that gives the body the information on how to organize itself. And to be healthy your chi has to flow all the way through your whole system; all the way out through your hands, feet and head, and all the way back deep inside your organs, spine and brain.
So if you only work on the shoulder, but you don’t open up all the associated other areas and pathways of the body through a technique like pulsing (there are many other related techniques that you can use), then that spot will open for a while … but then it will close back down.
So this ability to get the whole body awakened and connected in order to allow one place to heal or to open is a very important principal in qigong exercise and qigong tuina. You go from the small to the big and the big to the small. You’re always going back and forth between the whole system and then the particular place.
SJ: I understand that you teach Dragon and Tiger qigong, and opening and closing is a part of that.
BR: In our tradition, Dragon & Tiger is our introductory qigong set that can help prepare one for learning pulsing and it’s a wonderful introduction to learning how to relax. In Dragon & Tiger we primarily teach a practice that we call bending and releasing. You can begin that process (anyone can) by just gently curling your fingers and then extending them a little bit, just curling and then extending. It stops shy of actually being able to get your mind’s feeling awareness inside your hand to directly open and close your finger joints but it’s a bit easier to start with.
A major practice within Dragon and Tiger qigong is to have the hands and the feet come alive. And that eventually enables you to open and close the joints yourself. In this chapter Michele works with Dan to get him started.
SJ: I understand it also moves energy along various energy lines or meridians in the body…
BR: Yes. As you bend and release your hands in this way (letting your hands flow in and out) you’re actually pulling energy in and out of your hands naturally. It’s happening all the time when you move that way. And as you do that you also move your hands in certain patterns across your body in your energetic field to stimulate the acupuncture meridians and other energy channels in the body. So through doing the seven movements of Dragon and Tiger, you can basically give yourself the equivalent of an acupuncture treatment in ten or fifteen minutes of exercise a day; or even as little as five minutes, if that’s all you have.
The nice thing about Dragon and Tiger as an introductory qigong set is that you learn all these important principles of movement and relaxation and continuity and rhythm; but you can learn it and do the movements really badly and still get great results. So you can be relaxed while you’re learning, because you don’t have to care about getting something really well from the start.
SJ: That’s great. Tai chi, in contrast, requires a lot of precision in getting the angles and the postures just right.
BR: Exactly. In tai chi there are a fair number of complex movements and if you don’t do them pretty well, you don’t get much of the benefit. My teacher is Bruce Frantzis and his company is called Energy Arts. After he learned this particular Dragon and Tiger set he said, “This is the best introductory qigong set I’ve ever found because it provides the largest immediate return on investment of time spent learning and practicing.”
SJ: You referred to “return on investment,” and Dan, the hero in our story, works in the business world. I know from your background that you also worked in that realm and that it was quite stressful. How can qigong help with the stress of the workplace?
BR: I initially worked as an environmental consultant to corporations and then after doing my graduate work at MIT I worked for a decade for environmental groups as a technical and legal expert. Throughout those years I was working seventy to eighty hours a week, just like many people do these days. I’d be dead, I think, today, if I hadn’t learned these practices.
When I first started taking classes to learn the practices, they used to call me the “man of steel.” And fellow students would beat on my shoulders to try to get me to let them go. At the beginning I wore shirts with 34-inch sleeves, but as I practiced and relaxed over the years (even while working those crazy hours) I got to the point where I had 38-inch sleeves…
BR: …My shoulders had relaxed and dropped so much that I had to have custom-made shirts to wear with my suits. So even with the stressful workload, I learned to not only be relaxed but also to transform my body from one of being extremely tight to one of being very flexible. I started when I was twenty-six. I’m fifty-six now and I’m much more flexible and have far greater capacities, even athletically, than I did when I was twenty-six. That’s a good thing to be able to say.
SJ: And you also used to be a swimmer, right?
BR: Swimmer, runner, and basketball player. I wasn’t a great athlete, but I was a good athlete. And when I got to be twenty-six, I found that I couldn’t improve at those sports. Then, when I found tai chi and eventually qigong, I discovered Oh, I can just keep getting better at this. And that’s continued throughout the thirty years. Every day when I get up and practice, I know that I can do it better than I did the day before. My body is more relaxed, more comfortable. It hasn’t allowed me to become an immortal. Something will get me eventually, but I’m in far better shape than I was all those years ago when I started.
SJ: That’s an amazing thing to be able to say; that thirty years later you actually have better range of motion and more fluidity in your body than you did when you were twenty-six.
BR: Oh, far more, far more. Like I said, I was very tight. But I’ve seen this happen with many people who practice these arts. Most of the people that I teach have come in injured in some way. And if they resonate with the arts, the practices of this particular approach to relaxation and health, you often see them transform themselves.
I have one client who had been partially paralyzed from a roofing accident. They told him he’d always be limited in what he could do, but somehow he got started in another qigong system and began to redevelop his capacities. Then he came to us and now you wouldn’t believe what he’s able to do. He looks like a totally functional human being and is in much better shape than most people who are fifty-five years old like he is now.
Of course, our system isn’t for everybody, but there are many tai chi and qigong systems out there. The key is you’ve got to find the system and the teachers that work really well for you.
SJ: So if people want to know more they can go to your website. Do you have Dragon and Tiger instructional material that people can use at home?
BR: From our website, TowardHarmony.com, you can link to my teacher, Bruce Frantzis’, website, EnergyArts.com. At EnergyArts.com Bruce sells a lot of home study materials. He has a good package on Dragon and Tiger qigong, as well as an excellent DVD on breathing. The Dragon & Tiger package includes the book, the DVD and a poster of the movements of Dragon and Tiger. It’s a great set of introductory materials to these practices.
SJ: Thanks, Bill. It’s great to get your insight from your many years of teaching people how to deeply relax and build their vitality.
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