(Concluded from Part 1, above.)
Preeta: That is so brilliant. Let me just ask you – given the contentiousness of this year’s political cycle, what would be your advice to the incoming leaders about how to receive those Americans who are devoutly opposed to them?
Jeannie: Here’s a notion that I often think of. We must be inclusive. Always. It’s my relationship as an elected official to the people I’m representing. The first thing I would ask which would be very helpful, I think, is if people could focus on how they are learning from or being affected by everyone. Instead of worrying that other people like them, or find them likable enough.
And that puts me in a whole different world. I’m either in the receptive space or in the judgment space. And I think we fall into that trap very much. So there are ways that we are excluding people when we really don’t realize it. If you are a student in a class and the teacher kind of dismisses somebody’s question, then that actually affects me as a fellow classmate. I’m not going to ask a question then, because I might be treated just like that person. So what we don’t realize is, if I, as a political leader am communicating in a way that feels like I’m excluding even just one person, it’s affecting everybody adversely.
So ways that you can develop this on your cabinet is, when I speak with somebody, I don’t want them to tell me things that they agree with me on. I want to make sure I put on my advisory cabinet, people who are especially different from me, so they can help me see things that I couldn’t see without their help. And I know I felt good when Obama asked Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State. This was his former rival and he was inviting her to be on his cabinet. And I know they were from the same party and there were reasons for it. But I could also envision another scenario where I wouldn’t want to include somebody who I was so contentious with.
Preeta: To keep learning from everybody, do you have a set of practices that allows you to catch whatever people send and redirect it in the direction you want?
Jeannie: Here’s what I do, I have a bunch of mantras. And I offer them to people and some people offer them to me and I keep a little list. Here are some of the things on it:
Find Something to Like and Like It.
Find Something to Learn and Learn It.
Respect all Others. No Exceptions.
I define respect as my attempting to understand them. No exceptions. And when I’m in a very difficult situation and I think this person is not deserving of respect I say in my head — “It’s my rule. I already decided this. It’s a decision I already made to respect everyone. No exceptions.” And I hold myself to that. And then, once I’m there just for a couple of minutes, the magic happens and I shift, and my eyesight changes. I don’t ever want to leave the situation, until I like that person more. And that means I tell my feet to stay where you are. Find something else to learn, or like, or comment on, or offer. I tell my feet not to move. And that has worked for me so many times.
My goal is to hold myself to being in this space. That’s my ultimate goal, so when I teach people, I say, “I’m teaching it to you, so you can catch me and help me get back in this state when I fall off.” I was teaching this one semester, and then sitting on the airplane going to Lebanon, for the first time. Our plane had been delayed by a couple of hours and there was some turmoil going on, flights got rearranged, but I ended up sitting, next to the only non-Lebanese person on the flight. I thought how unlucky! My first time going to my country, where my roots are. So I looked at the guy and I said, “I have got to find out what to like and like it, or learn something about him.”
Turns out, I noticed my bias. And this is the real challenge — I am biased. Every organization has biases, if they have a human being in there, even just one, right? They are biased. There are biases I have, that I don’t even know I have and it distorts how I make sense of stuff. So I was asking this guy, who I didn’t like yet, what is he? He’s a singer. Opera? He says, “No, more like Frank Sinatra.” And I was judging him, “So he thinks he’s like Frank Sinatra.”
He did a concert last night. I said, “Oh, how many people did you have?” He said, “50,000.” And I heard 5,000 because I was harboring judgment eyes, and my judgment eyes distorts what I actually hear. So my perception is not clear, unless I am in this receiving space. So, I still don’t like him. Then I noticed all these kids are walking down the aisle, tall people, little people — all looking at him. And he says he’s a singer, and I said, “I just saw this show on Celine Dion and she has a couple of managers. You should get a couple of managers.” “Three of them are sitting in the back of the plane and the other two couldn’t get on the plane,” he says.
He didn’t look like he was Kazem Al-Saher, the most famous Middle Eastern singer! His trappings looked very different. And so we are so quick to judge — even after I just finished teaching a class on how to not be judgmental! But what I ended up doing was inserting my own protocols: Don’t stop until you find something to learn and learn it. And I could have left that plane, not even realizing he was sitting next to me. I asked him if we could take a picture and then when I went to my Lebanese friend’s family, I said, “Guess who I set next to! Kazem Al-Saher!” And they said, “You did not, you did not!” And I said, “Yes, look at this picture!” But see that’s kind of a nice story that I try to remind myself of. That I missed seeing there was gold in front of me, and my job is to see it…
Comments and questions from other participants on the call follow
Aryae: I’m curious about using this approach with young children, in schools. Have you had this experience, or trained teachers?
Jeannie: What a beautiful question, Aryae. That is the goal. I’ve developed a practice in helping little elementary school kids love their bullies. And I have this wonderful voice mail that I’ve saved from my niece who was second grade at the time, and a bully comes up to her and starts falsely accusing her and denying her trial — that’s how I think of bullying. And she looks at the bully and says, “Can I get back to you tomorrow because I’m going to talk to my Aunt Jeannie and she’s going to tell me how I can respond to you.”
And she called me to talk about the situation, which was basically as silly as these things are — he was telling her that she pronounced a word incorrectly. So she went back to him and said, “I actually like how you pronounce it, but I just happen to prefer pronouncing it differently.” That’s like a non-sequitur! Then the bully tells her, “Well, I kind of like the way you say it. In fact, I’m going to start saying it that way too!”
Aryae: Jeannie, what about the kind of bully who is maybe 4th or 5th grade, who actually might physically threaten kids on the playground? And there’s a situation where the child might be feeling frightened. Is there a way in your approach, that the child can deal with this?
Jeannie: I really believe that we often need to enlist and invite the help of other people. When I am most afraid, I go to a senior teacher or principal, and instead of saying that guy is doing something wrong, the child can say, “I am actually afraid to be around the person and this is why.” So instead of saying – the dessert was terrible, I would say, I would really like it if the dessert could be different, or this is how the dessert affects me. And substitute bully for dessert. The magic that takes place is that you will convert that principal into approaching extremely differently the situation and pulling out her own effective response to it.
Aryae: Good. This is a question from Jyoti, in Mountain View. And she writes, “Good to hear you, Jeannie. As always! Any practical suggestions on how to find the courage to be more open, to taking what feels like abuse. Maybe I’m judging, but it is also honoring my feelings.”
Jeannie: Jyoti is one of my old friends! I still remember my first meeting with you. You remember when I said that some of the most discriminating people on this planet Earth are smart women? Very often we are taught as women to do exactly what you were saying – retreat in. I can’t think my way out of this. I can’t convince my head of anything, because it’s already co-opted in this embedded social bias.
And what I need to do in that situation, I believe, is to go right up to the person, almost as though you’re having this out-of-body experience, and you’re observing your own self asking the question of the person who is not treating you respectfully, and say, “Can you help me understand why I feel this way? Can you help me understand why I think you’re dismissing this problem?” My curiosity will then create the courage to help me have this receptive conversation. But I’ve got to go first.
When I was teaching in business schools, I remember one of my students in this very arrogant setting initially said, “You know Jeannie, you have to get us to like you.” And I was trying to really employ these tenets that I had learned about receiving. So I looked at my MBA student and I said, “You know, it doesn’t really concern me if you like me. But I care an enormous amount that I like you. How can you help me?” And it’s almost like I became beloved in that instant. It was an instant shift. And I wasn’t asking them to change, I was being affected by what they said, reminding me of something that I truly wanted, and expressing that to them.
Aryae: So going back to Jyoti’s question: how do you find the courage to do that? When somebody is speaking disrespectfully to me, I want to strike at them and put them down. How do I find the courage to respond in a different way? What do you do inside yourself?
Jeannie: I basically adapt a mantra. When I was at Stanford, I had a mantra: “Respect everybody. No exceptions.” So I would have to apply it to that very person. I would have to respect them. So shift my inner focus. I still have these negative thoughts and beliefs about this person. I’m not saying get rid of those. Stop looking in that direction. And shift just a little bit over. And look for ways in which you could hear them. Kind of a rule of thumb is: if I want to be heard, then let me figure out how I can hear. Demonstrate hearing. If I want to be loved, let me figure out how I can love right now. So I’m using what I am lacking as a guide to say, “let me be exactly that.”
Aryae: That’s very helpful. Our next question is from Maya in Maryland and is “What are some effective techniques to relay to people that you are ready to receive?”
Jeannie: What a wonderful question. But inherent in your question is a little bit of a catch-22 situation. I’m not trying to convince them of anything, including my interest in being receptive, because it turns out — that very thought gets me out of being receptive. I know this is extremely subtle, but I must focus on techniques that make me want to love you more. In other words, I have to be what I call modifiable, instead of trying to prove I’m modifiable.
This happened in my business school. There’s a guy, a couple seats away from me who wasn’t very popular, I think, and at the time he was asked to speak. And everyone started talking over him, including the professor. And I just leaned forward, looked at him, called him by name, and said, “I would like to hear what you have to say. Will you please continue?”
And that fueled him. And he started talking in a commanding way. Everybody was silenced. I didn’t think anything of it, until ten years later; I met the same guy in an airplane. And he said, “Jeannie, I don’t even remember that class. I don’t remember the comment but I remember how you made me feel.” And he told me that the trajectory of his life was different because of that incident. So it is a small act of kindness, much like Mother Teresa would say — Do small acts with great love.
I often like to tell myself — love will not get me there, only great love will. Which means the only people I have to love, are those people that are not loving towards me. Everybody else can handle it, by themselves. It’s almost like I’m doing triage for the world. It’s the people who are the most unloving who are the most in need of my loving them.
Aryae: Beautiful. And speaking of Love, here is a note from Mish in New York. She says, “On the subject of receiving, so it comes down to faith. Faith that what you ask for or need in a situation, will happen or come to you. I aspire to be a giver, a giver of love, a giver of good vibes, and a giver of strength.”
Jeannie: Yeah. Beautiful! Thank you for that. And I would add it’s not just what I get; it changes what I want as well…
Aryae: So here’s the last question in the queue. This is from Anush. “What are some practices that help you become aware and focus on listening deeply. How do you do this in a business setting?”
Jeannie: One strategy I use in business settings is having a goal like this — I need to be able to write something down that I learned from this meeting, that I didn’t even know, I didn’t know.
Even if I don’t write anything down, it is going to change how I listen and how I talk. And unknowingly, unbeknownst to myself, I’m going to go first. I’m going to shift myself into this receptive state of being, not because I’m cognitively trying to prove it, but because I have another want. I have to learn something from you that I didn’t even know you were going to tell me. And that seems to be a sufficient initiating move. That is just one idea…
Preeta: Jeannie, this is been so rich and so beautiful. In ServiceSpace we talk a lot about inner transformation and your entire theory is about that. How can I change myself? How can I change the way in which I perceive the situation, to shift the energy? How has your work and research changed you, if at all?
Jeannie: I was rereading my dissertation when you had asked me for it, and I noticed the last of my acknowledgments; it said this research has changed me. I see with different eyes. And I give myself permission more to go first, because one of the things that I realized is that people are doing the best they can. It’s very easy for me to understand where I can’t know something. I can’t know what you want. The big aha moment for me was when I realized the other person is in the same predicament. And probably has similar needs for the interaction that I do. So I use my inner voice.
If I’m the boss, I can ask my subordinate, “I would like to know if you have any ideas?” Or if I were the subordinate, I could say, “Would it be okay, if I shared with you some of my thoughts?” So it doesn’t matter which side of the interaction you are on, if I am in the know, it’s on me to be invitational.
Aryae: Beautiful, thank you. So here’s the final question: How can we, as the ServiceSpace community, support you and your work?
Jeannie: What a beautiful offer. I feel as though that I am just one member of this team, this receiving team. I would be so honored if everyone who has an inkling of an interest in this could join this team of helping to shape this message. My goal is to have stories of people courageous enough to say, ”You know what. I have this version 1 that I am doing, and maybe I’ll just email Jeannie to see if I can approach it in a version 2 kind of way.” I am very interested in creating a platform where we can all encourage each other, by our own attempts to decide to be receptive. It is really an attempt. All I have to do is decide that I want to try it and that gets me there. I would be so honored if I could have a way of keeping in touch with those who are interested and engaging in an interaction and a discussion.
Aryae: What would be the best way? If anyone is interested, should they just email you?
Jeannie: I’m thinking that there might even be someone out there, who might be able to talk with me and others about even creating a space on the web, that we can have — a joint meeting space that we can actually enter into conversation about this, with examples and questions that I would be happy to answer, for the benefit of anybody else who is reading it. Email would be a great start. Please email me. I would be delighted to hear from you.
Aryae: Beautiful. You’ve put out what you want and opened yourself to the invitation.
Jeannie: Thank you. I’m so grateful for this conversation and this opportunity to meet you all virtually.
For more inspiration join the upcoming Awakin Call this Saturday with Doug Powers, a professor and former high school teacher whose lifework is dedicated to “Cultivating and Teaching Freedom”. RSVP info and more details here.