Seven Silence Strategies

Tomorrow at 9am Eastern, ULab participants are joining in a collective moment of stillness. The intention is to reconnect to the global community many of us are experiencing in during the course.

Stillness is radical.

Our world and habits teach us to fill the space of each moment, meeting, and meal. The chatter in our minds reflects the noise of the outer world. Practicing silence and stillness is counter-culture and can feel intimidating. There’s good news. You don’t have to develop a 30 minute a day meditation practice to experience more stillness and silence.

In honor of the global moment of silence tomorrow,  here are seven  simple silence strategies to try during your day.

Silence Strategy 1: Take a private moment of silence for yourself early in the day.

This can be as quick as taking 5 intentional breaths before you get out of bed or as long as a half hour meditation session, or anything in between. You can be silent with your cup of coffee, breathing in that roasted goodness. Experiment until you find something small that works for you.  This is also an excellent practice to use before a meeting or presentation (see #4).

Silence Strategy 2: Notice nature.

This is one of my favorite ways to find silence and solace.  Even the most buttoned up corporate headquarters has a plant somewhere. Find it. Pretend to tie your shoe and spend a few seconds filling your field of vision with living green.  Even better, find a window or go outside and find a tree, shrub, flower, ant or bird to watch for a minute or two. I’ve done this during conferences when I cannot stand one more minute inside.  A few deep breaths outside does wonders. Any water source bigger than a water fountain brings  peace.


Silence Strategy 3:  Seek silence in public.

We can’t always be alone when we need to center ourselves and find a pocket of peace. No problem. You can be silent right in front of everyone and no one will notice. Half the people will be on their phones and not paying attention anyway.  Those who look your way will take whatever visual cues you provide and assume you are doing that activity. Hold whatever prop you have- your phone, tablet, notebook, laptop, magazine- in your hands. Set your  gaze so that you’re looking over the object and down in front of you rather than focusing on your prop. This is my favorite way to meditate when I can’t be alone.  No one has ever been the wiser.

Silence Strategy 4: Build silence into meetings.

Some workplaces have incorporated contemplative practices into their corporate culture. The rest of us have to be more creative in bringing stillness to work.  After giving yourself some silence before a meeting, share it in subtle ways with others.  Before the meeting starts, look around the room and offer a smile (or nod, or whatever other acknowledgement feels most natural), to the other people in the room. Do this with the intention to really SEE them.  You’ll be surprised what you notice.  Take a deep breath and use what you notice to begin the meeting. Between agenda items, provide 30 seconds to 2 minutes for people to reflect and write down any notes or ideas they have. Tell them you’ll save time at the end for these items.  See if you can extend the silence after people stop writing.

Silence Strategy 5: Take a deep breath (or two) before speaking.

This one can be HARD  and works in any conversation- even online ones.  So often we’re deciding what we want to say before we finish listing to what is being said. Pausing before speaking takes practice and you’ll be amazed at the results. The first few times I tried this in my work was when I was supposed to be “running” a meeting.  By pausing before I spoke I hardly said a thing after the introduction.  The meeting went along beautifully without my intervention, we accomplished everything we needed to, and I was able to listen deeply to the conversation. Added bonus, I freed myself from the burden of coming up with something smart to say all the time.   Ahhhh.

Silence Strategy 6:  Practice silence between tasks.

Some days I can be chugging trough my list of things to do and not even notice how much time has passed.  To be more present, I take a minute or two to relax between tasks.  Sometimes I recognize the next item on my list is not the most important task do or I’ll remember an idea I’d neglected to write down. Sitting with a sense of accomplishment for the small things is motivating during the times when it feels like nothing big gets done.

Silence Strategy 7: Have technology remind you to be mindful.

If you’re not up for self-propelled stillness, the editors of Mindful magazine have a solution. You can sign up for “Mindful Interrupters” delivered to your inbox or Twitter feed. Interrupters change frequently and are a playful way to bring you back to the present moment, which is really the whole point of stillness and silence. You can also find the interrupters on their web site.

Join me in 5 minutes of silence tomorrow at 9am Eastern. Those in the Pacific time zone can use the 5 minutes to try out Silence Strategy #1.

How do you build little moments of silence into your day? What do you learn from stillness?

One Year, One Thing

Image from page 410 of "St. Nicholas [serial]" (1873)Internet Archive Book Images.

Image from page 410 of “St. Nicholas [serial]” (1873)Internet Archive Book Images.

Today Facebook provided  me with my year in review, saving me the trouble of reflecting on the year myself.  (Ha!, nice try, Facebook!)

Facebook’s look back at my year bears little resemblance to how I experienced it.  Facebook missed many high points and all of the low ones. Tis the season for looking back over the year and thinking about the next one. Despite it’s flaws, Facebook’s version of my year had me smiling. It had me sighing, too.

We smile for all we accomplished and sigh for the times we fell short.

We smile for the joys and sigh at the sorrows.

We smile and sigh out of relief, too.

This sighing and smiling is important.  We ought to reflect more often. Better, we ought to put what we learn from reflection into action.

Resolutions are not reflection in action. Resolutions are culturally encouraged self-flagellation, lists of the many ways we fall short as professionals, parents, people.

Skip resolutions. Skip the harshness.

The only resolution worth keeping is to no longer make resolutions.

For 2014,  I decided to do ONE THING  I believed would improve my life. I committed to developing a meditation habit again.

In January  I set a target number of meditation minutes I wanted to achieve each month.  (Yes, that’s my evaluator side showing.) To support my practice I completed a series of weekend meditation retreats.  The first one instructed us in the importance of gentleness. Obsessive tracking is anything but gentle.  I stopped  collecting data. Instead, I decided I wanted to sit every day, even for only  5 minutes.  It didn’t always happen, but I didn’t give myself a hard time about it.  I also didn’t pat myself on the back too much about consistency.  I meditated more days than not in 2014.

I haven’t participated in a research study to conclusively document the benefits of my practice,  or measure whether my telomeres are in better shape, but I have seen them and felt them.   Part of meditation is noticing and being gentle about when the mind goes off on one of its tangents.  This is what minds do.  Though I hadn’t anticipated it, being gentle with myself on the cushion allowed me to give myself a break off the cushion.

Gentleness is not permission to be a slacker- it’s simply permission to be a human being with all the glory and grit that comes with it.

My unsolicited advice for 2015 is to pick one thing, ONE THING, that you believe will have a positive impact in your work or personal life and do it.   It could be anything- ANYTHING.  It could be cooking vegetarian food one night a week, or taking a walk around the block, or coloring in a coloring book, or re-learning the language you took in high school,  or taking photographs, or writing 500 words a day, or trying ballet, or mastering a computer language, or keeping a gratitude journal.

Your ONE THING  doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else. All that matters is it matters to you.

Do that one thing consistently and with gentleness and see what happens.

I haven’t decided my ONE THING for 2015. Have you?


P.S. Yes, I realize the image at the top is crooked.  That’s how it downloaded and I embrace the imperfection of it.  Gentleness, remember?

Six ways to be more intentional and have more fun at a conference

Have you ever come home from a conference exhausted and wondering what the heck just happened?

This happens to me, especially at large conferences like the American Society of Association Executives annual meeting and expo.  ASAE is large (5,000 people here, I think) and has more going on than one simple person like me can follow. I am a dust bunny and it’s Spring Cleaning.  The glitz factor alone fills me with awe. The meeting in Los Angeles  was book ended by private concerts with Melissa Etheridge and Cyndy Lauper.    Country music is not my thing, so I can’t be as enthusiastic about the big name musicians here this year.  My country loving colleague says they’re amazing.  The speakers are top-notch too.  We’re hearing from Adam Grant, professor at Penn’s Wharton School about his book, “Give and Take” for the opening session. I’m chuffed!  ( I picked up a few of British expressions living in Canada.  I love this word and will not give it up.)

ASAE 2014 Annual Meeting

ASAE 2014 Annual Meeting

There is a certain echelon for whom all this would not be entirely unusual. To me, it is another universe. I prefer to sparkle quietly, and in a small group.   These are the strategies I’ve developed  for giving my best and having a great time at this big, bold, bodacious meeting.

1. Take time for silence and be mindful.

My meditation and mindfulness practices help keep me grounded and bring me back when I get swept away. Every meeting has spaces  away from the swirling energy of the crowd. Find them and use them during breaks, even if it’s only 5 minutes.  You can also practice mindfulness by simply noticing what you eat, how it tastes, and how it smells.  It’s a good way to avoid overeating and proves especially useful when trying to find the appetizer line in a crowded hallway like we had last night.

2. Use what comes naturally to help engage with others.

My intentions for this conference are to deepen my connection to my colleagues, to collect and share useful nuggets of information, and to have more meaningful conversations, even if it means having fewer of them.  My evaluator question-asking skills can help here.   “Where do you work?” can beecome “What’s the most rewarding part of your work?” Job titles reveal nothing.  Stories get to what matters.

3. Reflect on what you see and hear.

Too often conference wisdom stays in our notebooks. This year I’m writing an abstract about each session and sharing it with my colleagues. I’ll post the best stuff here and tell you why I think it matters.

4. Take fewer pictures and use the ones you take.

Snapping pictures takes me out of the moment and I usually do nothing with the photos. This year, if I’m taking pictures I intend to use them. Here’s a picture of the delicious Goo Goo Cluster the fine folks from Nashville had waiting for us at the airport.  Chewy, chocolate perfection!

Nashville treat, the Goo Goo cluster.  Yum yum!

Nashville treat, the Goo Goo cluster. Yum yum!

5. Do mini-missions.

What’s a mini-mission?  It’s a small, fun, self-imposed activity that you think will improve the conference experience for you or someone else.  This year I’m stretching  how I use social media.  Not just tweeting and snapping pictures but trying to add value.   I’m also on the lookout for  expressions of authenticity to balance the high production factor of the meeting.  Last, I’m hunting for pithy phrases and quotes.

6. Do a few things for no other reason than you know they will make you happy.

I’m going to visit Canada  in Nashville!  Why? Because Canada and Canadians make me happy, like heart filled with joy, can I please come home with you happy.  Business Events Canada is in booth 1517. Visit them. They’ll make you happy too. If my recommendation is not enough, they have a beer garden.

How do you bring your best to conferences?

A new look

Based on the frequency of posting here it might look as if I’ve decided against this whole blogging thing.

I haven’t.  Actually, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what I want to put out there in the world, on and off the internet.  There’s even a handful of posts waiting for me to click “publish”.   I’ve been blogging without blogging and rather focused on the professional and personal facets of evaluating.

Ever notice how you begin with one vision, get into doing and then your vision changes?  That’s what happened with this blog.  Not long after I started it I realized the look didn’t fit my vision.  This version feels more like home.  It surprised me how difficult it was to make the small, yet public, admission that I’d picked the “wrong” theme, find a new one and publish it.  Such a small and unimportant change. No wonder there are such issues with evaluation, improvement and monitoring, eh?  We so want to cling to what we know, even when we’re sure it isn’t quite right or as good as it could be.

It’s easy to get caught up in a professional,  personal, (and also programmatic or organizational) identity and wear those labels and accomplishments as if they were tattoos. My psychology of assessment professor once advised that if you’ have to apply labels to people, better to make them small and removable.  He was talking about psychologically diagnostic labels and the assertion holds for other types of labeling too.  No person, program, or organization is one single, unchanging characteristic.  It’s not healthy to be so totally identified with one aspect of life that there is no room for anything else.  It’s limiting and it can be harmful.


Removable labels  Source:Morguefile


A couple of months ago in a meditation retreat I was posed the question,

“Who are you if you’re not who you think you are?”

Wait a minute, I’m an evaluator!  I’m the one who is supposed to ask people the hard questions!  It’s  a darn good question- one that has personal and professional uses.  Answering this question means coming up with a response to another darn good question:

“Who do you think you are?”

Those of us involved in organizational change and program improvement activities have gentler ways of asking these questions.   Much of the resistance we encounter (in life and in work) is a reflection of who we believe we are and what it is we believe we do (and how well we do it).  Shifting the tone from accusation to curiosity fundamentally changes the way we consider difficult, important questions.  Curiosity is gentler, more expansive.  Notice I didn’t say easier? We need more gentle expansiveness in the world.

An interesting phenomena occurs when one spends many hours in meditation.  The fixed sense we carry around about who we are and what we do gets flexible. We begin to realize that there is no constant, no one thing.  We’re always shifting, changing, and adapting – so is everything and everyone around us.  Programs are the same way…and that sure can be uncomfortable.  The path we thought was clear gets tricky.

Can you tell which board is wobbly? We couldn't either, until took that step.

Can you tell which board is wobbly? We couldn’t either, until we took a step.

We think, “Gee, this isn’t going the way I thought it would.  Looks like we could get dirty.  I’ll be so embarrassed if I slip.  And my boots will be covered in muck.  Someone could get hurt.”

Don’t get me wrong, finding a wobbly board on the path is unsettling.  Evaluation is infused with unsettling.

The thing is, we have to keep going.  Going back is still going.  Going another way entirely is still going.  Staying put for a while and then going is still going.   And it’s all totally workable.

On the actual trip with the real wobbly boards above, we all made it across.  One person held the wobbliest board in place so the others could cross.  We worked together. No one got covered in muck.  I won’t say no one ever fell.  Each of us did and it was fine.

The pay off from trekking through the wobbly parts of evaluation, work, life and all things is enormous.  My path never feels as sure and true as the path I observe others taking.  The path above wound up here:

Reflecting is worth the trip.

Reflecting is worth the trip.


So, I’ll keep walking this blogging path and see where it leads.