Welcome to building better managers, the better manager podcast with Wendy Hanson, where we talk with top leadership professionals about strategies you can use today to create a happier, highly engaged and more productive workplace. Now, here's your host better manage your co founder Wendy Hanson.
Welcome everybody. We are going to dive into communication today. But it's not just our words. That's what we're going to learn today. It comes from the feeling you get from somebody. That's why it's so important that leaders take radical personal responsibility for managing their internal energetic state, so that their communication to their organization, funders, their vast network can feel their communication. And some of you out there that are listening that are coaches understand this in the coaching world, we call it level three. This is the key to transforming working relationships into harmonious, effective and responsive partnerships that will surpass business goals. So let me tell you about our guest today I am very, very excited. Susan Freeman MBA PCC is an executive coach, team coach, author, speaker and leadership consultant, who brings three decades of corporate entrepreneurial and nonprofit experience to her clients. Her groundbreaking approach to coaching creates leadership transformation, through the integration of Eastern wisdom, derived from more than 25 years of studying yoga and yogic philosophy. Her new book interswitch seven timeless principles to transform modern leadership launched in May 2023. She's a professional certified coach with the international coaching Federation, the largest coaching body in the world. Her message has been communicated as a corporate speaker keynote, she's been on television radio, as a leadership columnist. She has contributed to Entrepreneur Magazine, thrive global elephant journal authority magazine, Valley and CEO and other national platforms. Susan earned an MBA from Columbia University Graduate School of Business and a BA from Wellesley College. So welcome, Susan, it is delightful to have you on.
Susan Freeman 2:28
Thank you, Wendy, it's a pleasure to be with you.
Ah, well, you know, when you wrote the book interswitch? Where did it come from? Like, why did you write that book? Why did you think it was important? So interswitch
Susan Freeman 2:40
comes from a very deep place within my own journey as a human that had to do with healing my body after an injury. And I discovered, there was a connection between the experience I had in that healing journey of pain after an injury, and the activation of my parasympathetic nervous system. And I discovered that by leaning into the practice that I had of yoga, I was able to learn how to create a different relationship to the pain that I was having. In other words, I learned that the burning pain that I felt that was unsolvable, and quote, unhealable, by the many, many Western doctors that I had gone to, was actually, I was able to separate myself from the sensations of the pain and become the observer of the pain. So I had this experience on the yoga mat. It took me about seven years of continued efforting through this entire process. And at the end of it, what I discovered is that there was a deep connection between the capacity to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, and the experience that I was having as a human being in my own body. And that that started to create curiosity in me. I began wondering, as I was hearing my clients with all of their discomfort and pains, challenging conversations, conflicted relationships, difficult decisions, I began wondering, are any of the things that I am now learning and experiencing valid for other people? Or was it just for me? Yeah, so a little
clarifying question for anybody who's listening who doesn't know too much about the parasympathetic nervous system not to get into it in depth, but the general high level? Yeah, what are we talking about here?
Susan Freeman 4:51
So the nervous system, the autonomic nervous system that we have as humans consists of two components, the parasympathetic and the sympathetic. This sympathetic part of our nervous system is the part that's activated. When we are awake when we're at work when we're thinking and doing consciously acting and engaging in the world. And it's associated with beta brainwaves. The polarity or the balancing mechanism of this sympathetic nervous system is the parasympathetic, the parasympathetic is the part of our nervous system that is engaged, when we are relaxed. When we are feeling and be, when we are able to access our creativity or integrative thinking, our capacity to visualize our capacity to connect comes from a very deeply relaxed place in our brains and in our bodies. And so what In yoga we learn to do is balance those two states, in poses, so that we can experience the value of tension and relaxation. When I experienced those two things, I realized, oh, my gosh, we're living in this completely sympathetically hijacked world where we're only using our thinking and doing parts. And we're all running around with these activated, you know, sort of overactive nervous systems. But we don't know how to activate the relaxation part of our autonomic nervous system. And that makes great
sense because the thinking and the doing and then the being is very different. So I want to bring you to why is this important to a leader? Like there are leaders listening now and saying, I don't do yoga, you know, what is what is this all about? Why is this important to me? Yeah,
Susan Freeman 6:40
because the problem is, when we're thinking and doing only, what's what's happening is we are not accessing the important part of our brain and body connection, that allows us to be fully integrated as humans. And when we leave that on the table, what's happening is we tend to get stuck in reactive patterns, we tend to allow our bodies and brains to go into those triggered experiences that remind us of something from the past, or some conversation from the past, or some feeling that we had in the past, that someone else will bring up. So let's take a great example. We're sitting around in a team meeting, and everything seems to be going well, we're having productive meaningful engagement. And then someone will say something that feels like a, you know, a fairly benign remark, but someone in the room is now triggered, something has caused that person to have a outsized reaction to this remark, what just happened, the whole conversation and connection has been changed. Now, it's about managing the intense emotional experience from this reactivity between these two people, we're no longer able to engage in some kind of collaborative co creative conversation, we're having to manage through the discomfort. And so when we are leaving the capacity to be fully integrated, as leaders on the table, we are missing out on really where all the magic Juju is for engaging in deeply productive and meaningful conversations, even though they may be challenging. Yeah.
And oftentimes, we talk about this as being able to read a room right to be able to read those emotions. And I certainly have have coached and worked in person back in the day with many CEOs who were just like, spreadsheet CEOs. And you know, they didn't know how to read that room. And I get from your book, that the principles that you think leaders will really benefit from, is to understand that inner switch from unconscious reactor to conscious responder, you know, and that if a leader could do that, how much more powerful they will be?
Susan Freeman 9:01
Absolutely. And this is something that is available to every one of us. The real challenge we have is that I believe that many of us don't have good knowledge. We don't understand how the brain and the body are put together. So we can't prepare ourselves to become conscious responders. Because we keep getting these triggers and these hijacks, and then we say, well, that's just the way he is. That's just the way they are. That's just that's just how it is around here. We have choices. We have the ability to modulate these experiences into something that's far more enriching, and joyful. So we can take even difficult conversations and challenging situations with one other person or with a group of people. And we can navigate them differently when we come from this integrated perspective as a conscious responder that requires us to become very present within ourselves before we speak before We go out to the world to engage with others.
I love that. And I, and I think you do hear about so many leaders now who actually practice meditation every day, and mindfulness. And we always talk about how important it is to take time to just reflect, and stand back and just not do your to do list for the doing piece, but reflect on what you want to create. So, you know, there's clearly a lot of benefits to be able to try this style. But what's, you know, we always like to look at what what can people do? What can they be aware of? And, and I like you also talk about people that are visionaries. They sometimes don't always deal with the interpersonal management, they kind of leave that to other people. How would you respond to that? And how would you help them? What would some of your coaching be to say, here's a way to get into that a little better?
Susan Freeman 10:57
Yeah, so great question. You know, it's really important that anyone in a leadership position that has other people working with them, and for them, appreciate that everything happens within through people. And organizations are simply networks of conversations. And the degree to which things are happening or not happening in your organization is a reflection of the quality of the conversations you're having. If you're having conversations that are meaningful, and about what people care about, and they feel connected and seen and heard, then they are likely going to commit to actions that will produce results. And if they don't, they, they are not going to be taking consistent action to produce the results that are desired by the organization. So when I hear you know, a comment from a leader that would say, well, if my job isn't to worry about the people thing, I delegate that to others. I question, you know, the degree to which that organization is going to be able to be effective, unless that leader is to partner or pair with a colleague, who is very focused on that. So if there were to be to a co head, and one was going to be the visionary and the other was going to be the, you know, the the integrated human relations officer that might potentially work well. But I would encourage everyone to consider what are they leaving on the table? By having that belief structure? What are people not able to enjoy from them, if they believe that the engagement with others with their presence is not something for them? That wherever we go, Jon Kabat Zinn says, Wherever we go, there we are, where where you go, there you are, you're not a different person at work than you are at home.
Right. And we want that very much, we want to bring our authentic selves to work, right. And that model, the model of CO leadership, you know, is very, very interesting. But it hasn't really taken, you know, taken on strength in so many organizations. But I have seen people use that model and know that this is not my specialty, because we all want to come from our strengths. So I'm going to ask somebody who might be able to help interpret this for me. So that's what I hear that too. And can you share, Susan, some examples of business leaders who've used this approach? You know, that you're saying to get clear? And what are their results? You don't need to mention names or companies. But people as you know, we learned from stories. So story might be really helpful.
Susan Freeman 13:52
Yeah, why don't I just share, you know, one of the case histories from the book. There are many, many the book is is really peppered with case with case histories. And they're usually pretty short. But I think this could be illustrative of what are some of the things that people, you know, have gotten out of this. So this is a story about one of my clients, who was a founder and a CEO. And the problem was that this individual had tremendous vision, yet they were experienced a lot of conflicts in the workplace. Right? Visionary founder and CEO with a lot of conflicted relationships, primarily is was showing up and relinquishing control. So he wanted things done his way but he wanted other people to do them his way. And he was often critical of his staff and frustrated because they weren't stepping up enough. Sounds familiar? Probably some of your listeners can identify. So when we began our work, he wanted to become a higher level leader. And at the time, he was using a very highly directive leadership style and This is one that we often observe in leaders who haven't had any formal leadership development or any executive coaching. And this has been exacerbated by the fact that he grew up in a command and control home. And he had been expected to do things in a certain way. And so he had developed a habit of expressing intense judgment of other people at work, because this is what how things rolled when he was being. So we began exploring this idea of letting go, which is the third chapter in my book, and he was extremely uncomfortable at that time. But he was open to change, he had hired me, he wanted something to be different, he just didn't know how to get there. His habits and tendencies to control others really prevented him from having productive conversations with them. But he was really unaware of how these self critical judgments formed based on his reactions from the past. And they were creating dysfunction in his present relationships. So we began by helping him learn to become curious to explore the sensations in his body, using his breath, and helping him expand the awareness of his emotions, what he was experiencing in the present moment, when he had these conflicted conversations at work. He developed shortly thereafter, the ability to calm himself to become less reactive, when he felt this disappointment. And within about two months, he said, I'm redefining myself, it's like, I'm becoming me, I have compassion for myself. In these moments of calm and quiet, I'm aware of my mood and attitude, I set the tone, and then I have a curiosity towards others. I see that compassion starts with me. And then he went on to say, my subconscious is revealing itself to me, and it is magical. So in six months time, he said, I've learned that the power I bring to conversations goes far beyond the words they speak. One of the biggest blockages I see in communication between members of my team is how there is reactivity everywhere. For me, the reactivity comes from having answers, or wanting to skip ahead to answers. Instead of my posing questions. We are never trained as listeners. As CEOs, we are celebrated for our bravado, we are not reinforced for creating space, compassion, and energy. My personal goal is to turn compassion into an action verb. He went on to successfully lead his company to an acquisition, achieving a significant return on investment for himself and for the other owners.
That's Yes, that is wonderful. And three words that stand out to me, are the coaching piece, you know, like him understanding, like needing to be coaching, and then compassion, and curiosity, and really more. So the part of the coaching piece I meant is the listening piece, because people don't always know how to listen, you know, we're always in our own head thinking of the next question. And so if you're, if, if we have a leader out there who's listening, who says, Okay, this all sounds good, but how would I get myself ready to be in a place to have a conversation so that I have more awareness? What would be something tangible that they could do so that when we get off this podcast, and people are listening, they're gonna say, I'm going to try this? Now? What would you say Susan,
Susan Freeman 18:46
I say that, in addition to having good knowledge, which I will offer in the book, we will also need to develop good practices, because good knowledge without practice will not achieve the benefit that is desired. So by practice, I mean, the leader needs to develop a, an embodied ritual of learning how to become centered themselves, grounded in their own body, and becoming present to their own internal energetic state. So this is something that we as humans do not learn to do on our culture, and we really need to cultivate, and it's like any other practice, we go to the gym, we lift weights, we build strong muscles, we walk, we build strong legs, we dance, we build strong and body dancing movement. This is the same as any other practice. But I want to also indicate that it is different from mindfulness because mindfulness is all the rage right now, and I want your listeners to appreciate the distinction. In my book, chapter four, the fourth principle dropping in it is not the same as mindfulness because when you drop it you're mindful. But when you are mindful, you are not necessarily dropped in. What Mindfulness means is to have a heightened state of awareness. So you could mindfully put your attention on pouring a cup of coffee in the morning, you could be mindful pouring your coffee, but you are not necessarily dropped in while pouring that coffee. Because if you were dropped in, you might not pour that coffee. Well, it is also not the same thing as being in a meditative state of energetic attunement, when you're dropped in you are tuned to the frequency within your own soul, you are connected to the energy of the entire world around you, and to all the other humans. So when we are mindful, we are focused on a single thing, but we may or may not be energetically tuned. Dropping in is actually mindless, we empty the mind and we attune to our sensations in our body. This is why we need these embodied practices, to tune into the sensations without labeling them, we become fully absorbed in what we are experiencing, we are not necessarily focusing on anything at all, we're just fully absorbed in the experience and noticing our sensation. And we are seeing what is exactly as it is without any filters or labels coming from our mind. This is what we call choiceless awareness, where we are not thinking, thinking labeling or judging shall once we are fully dropped in through this practice, we have left the valley of the ego, and its distortions, and we have become an open field of neutrality. So the idea for our leaders is to learn and cultivate an embodied practice of becoming the neutral observer, where they are fully present in their own bodies first, so that when they are listening to others, they are listening to what is happening, and not to what their mind tells them ought to be happening, or they wished were happening or what's going to happen next, because that is not being dropped in and it is not being present. It is having an agenda. And that's what makes coaching so special. Because coaching, where you have great coaching, there is full presence, right?
Yes. And I'm trying to listen for people in the audience's saying, This sounds very woowoo, you know, very woowoo. And, and this is if it's if somebody does have a practice as a yoga practice, as another practice, they would get into this, but if it's another kind of leader, they might, you know, they always have to understand, in my experience, like the neuroscience behind it, this is how the brain works. And this will get you. So from a pragmatic standpoint, you know, I'm a leader, I get up in the morning, and I know I have some challenging meetings that day, you know, I have this big meeting that's coming up, what can I do? To be able to, without a whole big thing, get curious, get calm, and be able to really listen to the people I'm with? What What's your entry into that for somebody who this might be very new territory? Yeah.
Susan Freeman 23:26
Now, it's a great question. I think most of my clients don't have yoga practices and don't go on mat. So I know I you know, I've kind of seeded this with a lot of people who are not into yoga. What we do is we have people practice having these experiences, in chairs in their offices, so that they can feel that connection within themselves. And then we ask them to imagine a challenging conversation that's going to be happening.
Okay, so I'm going to underline some of what you're saying. So imagine a challenging conversation that you're about to have.
Susan Freeman 24:00
Yeah, once you are centered, right, so they've got to get themselves centered and grounded. And that is typically done through the breath, utilizing deep belly breathing with slow exhalations, because that is how we activate the parasympathetic nervous system. It does not get activated, except when we exhale
slowly. So and that's a practice that everybody can do. Everybody can do. Everybody can do that. I'm going into this. I'm feeling tense. I need to really be really present with this person. So I'm going to take a few minutes to do some breathing.
Susan Freeman 24:38
Yes. And I do it before I even enter the room. I do it at my desk. I do it in my car before I leave to go into the office in the morning. I had a CEO who said he did it in the driveway when he came home from work before he went into the house to greet his wife because he didn't want to bring all of his frustrations and problems from the day into the evening with her. So what we do is We clear our own energy by these practices. And we imagine, what is it that's going to be happening in the day? And what is it that we wish to create? Do we wish to create connection? Do we wish to create collaboration? Do we wish to co create? Do we wish to inspire creativity? How will we need to be, so that we create the space for others to do their best work, and it has nothing to do with what you're telling them. It has to do with how you show up in your being by being present. And then getting curious and being compassionate for what that other human being is sharing. And acknowledging what you're hearing, acknowledging what you're experiencing, and then giving them an opportunity through feedback of what it is that you know what you appreciate about that idea, and what offers or suggestions you may have. These are small, little things that don't require getting on a mat or having a deep understanding of yoga. But they're built on the understanding, as you said, the neuroscience and the physiology of how our brain body connections are wired. And because we don't know that and don't lean into that, we tend to become very caught up in trying to manage the drama and the conflict, rather than getting to the root of what keeps us creating that drama and conflict over and over again. And the system I've created is a way out of that once and for all. Yeah.
And so what I'm hearing and correct me, or add, yes. And for those of business leaders, everybody needs to know the improv. Yes. And yes, what I like about your idea is this. And here's another way, we might be able to also look at it. But I'm coming in, I have a I have a big meeting. And so I'm going to do some breathing to kind of calm my nervous system before I go in. And one of the things that I do that I that I'm assuming is part of this practice is you look at at the end of this meeting, what will I want to have happen? Like, what are the what can I visualize that we're going to come to a good agreement, and we're going to be able to understand each other, it's almost telling my brain, what's going to happen, so that my brain feels good about it and can pick up those. I know, that's an oversimplification. But what's your thought on that
Susan Freeman 27:30
totally spot on, you know, we get what we focus on. Yes, if we,
again, we get what we focus on, my focus is going to be a terrible meeting, I'm so worried, then it's going to come across whether you're in person on Zoom, you're going to people are going to feel that tenseness
Susan Freeman 27:49
and it will stop any potential that you have for connection. So the most important thing is to create that connection first within yourself, then you can go out and share from that with everyone with whom you meet. And that will bring others into their best place of contribution and connection. And I love the way you said it. I always begin with myself and my clients say what is it that we'd like to have at the end of this conversation? What would success feel like for you today? What would it look like for you. And when we visualize the other person across the table, having the outcome they desire and us having the outcome we desire, our brains and bodies are moving us toward that with each stage. And we can constantly recalibrate and ask ourselves, if I say this as it's gonna move me closer or farther apart, going to help us get where we want to go? Or is it going to make it harder for us to get where we want to go? So it's a way of self regulating and self pacing through the conversation that typically produces very, very positive outcomes, as you well know. Yeah.
And I think it's somewhat it reminds me, Susan of when we have we are coaching somebody, the last thing that you say is like, what are you taking away from this, you know, so that you both know, what are we taking away? How are you feeling now? So we're checking in, and we're making sure if there's something else that we need to do, and then the person leaves that you're talking to that in the beginning, you are so worried at this conversation. And Mike Robbins calls it sweaty palm conversations, you know, you'll feel a lot better if you're able to have a conversation and be able to be clear on the outcome, but the outcome being how is the person going to feel? So it's not always that's when we talk about communication. It's not always that we're saying the right articulate words. It's that we're really being centered and we're listening and we're curious, as you say, and we're compassionate.
Susan Freeman 29:58
Absolutely. That's that As the integration the inner switch is making the move from being focused purely on thinking and doing towards integration of feeling and being in all that we do as leaders. Yeah.
And one more very quick question, because I'm very curious about this because you talk about it in your book, people thinking, how can they do one more things? They're working 12 hours a day, and and they're wondering, how are they going to get anything else done? Oh, my goodness. And that that in itself feels very stressful. What is it? What what's around that for somebody? Like how do you get feel get you get control of yourself, so that you're able to know that there is enough time in this day?
Susan Freeman 30:49
Well, we don't really need to make more time, we have to just use the time we have in a different way, disorientation, like any moment of the day can be used to practice these techniques. And what I've discovered is that, you know, many of us do choose to be busy, not because we like to overwork, but we prefer to escape the feelings that we have, and we escape, we prefer to escape from our distress. So when you're ready, the time will expand to fit the commitment you have to practice. And it doesn't take a lot. Once you have the knowledge, and you have the intention to set up a short practice, even if it's just two or three minutes in the morning, a minute or two throughout the day, when I first began doing this work, I would basically need to center myself hour on the hour, I have clients who set timers, and they do 60 minutes every hour X 60 seconds every hour on the hour until they get a practice. So what happens is, once you've learned to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, you can do it in less than a minute. And then the impact of stress and external stressors on your brain and body will become diminished. And that payoff is so significant, that it just takes off from
there. I love that because it's a payoff not only for you as the leader or manager. And we know that HR directors and l&d leaders right now are have all kinds of stress with what's going on in this economy. But if we can calm ourselves, and then the people that we talk to feel like, ah, we all have this good, and we're all working on this together, it will just make it so much more easy than difficult that we've been, we're not pushing where we're somebody gave me the analogy of law of attraction being there's a mountain out there and you have a boat, I used to be a dragon boat racer, so you're, you're not going towards the mountain, you're pulling the mountain towards you. And it's a much better way to be able to look at that. So I hope that people have really, you know, take something from this about if it's only about the breathing and the compassion, and really listening and as you say, take that time through the day to stop and I loved your example of somebody who comes home and wants to kind of let go of things before they go in the house to be with their partner or their family. But that's really so worthwhile. So thank you, thank you, Susan, for sharing your knowledge on this. And it really I think is gonna it's the way we need to move into. There's, there's so many things like AI can do for us. And we need to know that the things that other machines and computers can never do is our, our human feeling. So we need to make sure that's going to be needed more than ever as we move
Susan Freeman 33:52
more than ever. And so much of the burnout that we're seeing in the workplace today is attributable to the stressors in our external world. And we can't control those external stressors. We're living in the VUCA. World, volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous, but we know that 42% of US workers say they feel burnout. And that mental health is impacting worker engagement. Over 50% of leaders surveyed in February in an NIMH study said that so we know that there are people needing to take time off of work that mental health distress and burnout are at all time highs, two thirds of workers experience of work induced mental health problems at work. So we we are in a problem period that is requiring radically different approaches. We cannot put band aids on this. We are going to lose our best resources which is the innovative creativity and desire of people to come up and make a difference in the world and they can't do that. If they're not able to to show up within themselves first. So these tools are going to give people a lot of freedom, a lot of ability to navigate through the complexities and the stressors that they're experiencing, and change. You know, change the paradigm. I'm hopeful. Yeah.
Well, this has been great. And you know, for everybody who's listening, Susan's book is interswitch, seven timeless principles to transform modern leadership. And what's the best way if people have questions for you or want to find out more about you, Susan, what's the best way for them to reach you?
Susan Freeman 35:36
Yeah, my website, www dot Susan s freeman.com. And my LinkedIn, Susan s. Freeman, on LinkedIn as well, those are the platforms where you can find me and reach out to me. And the book is available at all of your favorite major online retailers as well. And on my website with links directly to all of the different online retailers. Great, great.
And we will have this everyone in our show notes. So you'll be able to look some of these things up and see Susan's bio again. So I think it will be a great way for us to begin to practice this and know these, these are the skills or these are the feelings that we need to be successful in the years to come. So thank you all for being with us today. If you have any questions at all, please reach out to me Wendy at better manager.us Or go on our website, better manager.co And you can reach us through there. I would love to hear from you. And if you would rate this podcast and wherever you listen, that would be wonderful too. So thank you, Susan, for being with me today and sharing your wisdom.
Susan Freeman 36:45
Thank you. It's been an honor and delight Wendy.
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