One Engaging Question

Excerpted with permission from Chapter 5 of “The Power of Conscious Connection” by Talia Fox

Pam was snarling. Again.

I was teaching a class on interpersonal skills and asked participants to pair up for a communication exercise. They rose from their seats and scanned the room for their perfect partner. Pam crossed her arms across her chest and, with a scowl that rearranged her entire face, spat out a question we’d all heard from her before: “Why?”

A woman across the room rolled her eyes. Shaking their heads, two more made eye contact across the room. “Surrender to the process and just do it,” I said, expecting and embracing resistance.

The class had been going on like this for several days. Pam always had something to say, whether it was a snarky little comment or a rude, dismissive question. The rest of the participants learned to see it coming. Completely disengaged, she kept her distance from everyone else in the class. She seemed to prefer it that way.

Even without talking to her, I knew something else was going on. I first suspected she’d picked up her mannerisms from someone in her family. Maybe her mother tended to criticize her. Maybe her grandmother always made that signature snarl. Like the rest of the class, I believed her behavior was part of her personality. Or did she just have poor engagement habits?

So, I pulled her aside during a break. After all, nobody else was going to. As we chatted over chips and salsa, I realized I’d never seen her up close. Her face looked drawn and tired. It was clear that her life wore heavy on her shoulders.

“So, Pam,” I started, after taking a sip of my water. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” she replied, her face devoid of her typical scowl.

“What’s important to you?”

That one simple question unlocked her spirit, opening up her authentic self. As her story poured out, I learned she had a son with special needs and an aging parent who needed around-the-clock care. She juggled her work and family responsibilities the best she could. Then an upcoming merger forced her to be reassigned to a different position in her company; now she had a much longer commute. She was overwhelmed with the changes that came along with her new position. The cost of caregiving had already carved a deep hole in her retirement fund. And, amid everything else in her life, she had to make time to attend this training.

As she spoke, her voice grew warmer. Her eyes, although tired, sparkled when she told me about how much she cherished the time with her mother. With a gesture of enthusiasm, she told me about her son’s speech therapy progress. Her body came alive, and I finally saw her. Not her snarl or her scowl. Not her snarky comments. Not her disengaged behavior. Her.

That’s the power of quality engagement. When we are conscious about the complexity of our shared human experiences, always remembering that everyone has a back story, we create space for real connection.

Questions give us a perfect opportunity to engage. If we really listen to the answers and observe mannerisms, we get clues about the other person’s values. From a single question—What’s important to you?—I learned a lot. While I enjoyed hearing about her family and her life outside the class, that wasn’t what made the biggest impression on me. The most important thing I learned that day was that Pam was utterly, unapologetically, shockingly fake. She came across as a harsh and rude person when her acts of kindness were beyond count.

Engage to Reveal Your Authentic Self

Most people wouldn’t describe Pam as fake. Usually, people use that term to mean someone who is over-the-top friendly—someone who laughs and shallowly asks about your family. While she did none of those things, she shared one thing in common with people like that: her behaviors didn’t reflect her authentic self.

Pam was one of the most loving, kind people I’ve ever met. As we talked, she told me about her family and things she was concerned about. Thanking me for inviting her to lunch, she told me, “People always think I’m mean and standoffish.” She flashed a sheepish grin, slid out of the booth, and hoisted her purse over her shoulder. “I have no idea why.”

She had no idea why.

Reader, I mean it when I tell you that it could not have been more obvious if it were written in black marker across her forehead. From how she communicated to how she scrunched up her face—the choices of words she used and how she used those words—every behavior I saw in that class was off-putting.

“I guess it’s just how I am,” she said with a shrug.

“Would you like to learn some strategies to change that?” I said, careful not to offend her. “You’re so kind, giving, and compassionate—and I wonder if I could share some things to help you align yourself with who you really are. What do you think?”

A couple of weeks later, we met again and went through her communication choices. We started with body language. Then we moved to her habit of cutting people off and speaking over them.

“You have such a giving nature,” I told her. “And none of those behaviors reflect that.”

She became more open to the experience and decided to change what she could. After a few weeks of listening, observing, and considering her values, we put her on a feedback diet. She would spend 90 days asking questions of the people she interacted with most. By asking, “How do I come across?” or “What are some things you’ve observed about how I communicate?,” she was arming herself with enough information to truly evaluate her barriers to engagement and connection.

When I saw her next, she was a different person. She was bright and cheery—always smiling. She had an entirely different way about her. “It’s weird,” she said. “I didn’t understand what you meant when you talked about feeling more authentic. But I really do! I’m so much happier. I’m so much more … me!”

Through that process, Pam learned something important: Engaging questions are the shortcut to authentic living. We become the most authentic versions of ourselves by zeroing in on our values and recognizing how those values align or don’t align with our interactions with others. Most of us simply slide by on the types of interpersonal interactions we were raised with. We imitate our parents, friends, aunts, and uncles. And then we call that behavior our “personality” or our “authentic selves.”

How often do you question the thoughts you hold about yourself? Just because you think it does not mean it is true. And just because you behave in familiar ways does not always mean that you are being your best self.

Consider how you behave and interact with others. Do you have relationships that work? Are you being true to your values and ideals? Communication or engagement habits, like the ones Pam displayed at a workplace training, were not a part of her personality. Instead, these habits were likely related to how she responded to her anxiety of life.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), more than 40 million adults in the United States alone deal with anxiety—that’s 18 percent of the population.1 Chronic anxiety is a big problem that requires strong support. If you feel anxious, you are not alone.

There are things you can do to manage anxiety more effectively. Taking an existential approach might be a helpful option to pair with your daily practice of LOVE. This approach urges you to see anxiety, or even anguish, over the past or present circumstances as an opportunity for more authentic living. In other words, embrace the opportunity to “get real” and engage in honest self-reflection and conversations with others. You will gain insight into your values and beliefs and learn to use signals of anxiety as a reminder to live in alignment with your principles and values. With help, Pam was not only able to recognize how she was dealing with her anxiety about life and work, but she was also able to accept her freedom to make choices.

Ultimately, going on a feedback diet and getting coaching enabled Pam to be mindful of the connection between her actions, relationships with others, and building a happy and meaningful life.

Essentially, when we have no playbook on how to move forward in life or we feel completely unsure of how things will turn out, we get anxious. At the same time, most of us understand that we have control over our behavior, and we are clear that different choices will indeed lead to different outcomes. It just feels like a lot of pressure! Pam wasn’t completely oblivious about her behavior. After all, she was mandated to attend an interpersonal effectiveness training. Yet she needed to make more conscious connections by engaging differently and owning her freedom to choose. “We are capable of actively influencing our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Until we accept our capacity for freedom, we will not change.”

Engage in a journey of self-discovery to become more truthful, widen your perspectives, and explore what gives meaning to your life. Pam needed a path forward. Our LOVE system uncovers connections between what we are experiencing in the world and how the world is experiencing us. We do not run from anxiety and pain; we face it with confidence knowing that every connection is an opportunity for growth and expansion. Until we learn to implement the LOVE system, we’re all doomed to living out our lives, engaging in hollow choices that do not fulfill us, honor our values, or integrate us into our communities. What a lonely existence that must be. And, on top of that, you feel anxious and fake.

We do not run from anxiety and pain; we face it with confidence knowing that every connection is an opportunity for growth and expansion.

Click HERE to purchase your “The Power of Conscious Connection” book today!

Talia Fox

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Talia Fox has become an inspirational leader in every sense of the word, often referred to as the Jedi of Inspiration by her clients. With over two decades of experience in transforming thousands of executives from all sectors, Talia has become a visionary for leadership and legacy building. Her extensive background in psychology and education has given her the tools she needs to assist leaders in developing successful strategies for complex missions, ranging from defense systems to healthcare initiatives. Holding an M.Ed in psychology and being a Harvard University Fellow, she is a well-respected name in the industry.  As CEO of KUSI Global, Inc., Talia uses her knowledge and expertise to make a difference in our world today – turning ideas into actionable plans that have real-world results. With her passion and dedication, she is revolutionizing the way we view leadership. She helps leaders harness the power to revolutionize the human spirit

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