Executive Vitality™: Listening Skills

Executive Vitality™: Listening SkillsMany leaders, particularly those who have engaged in executive coaching, have learned the value of building listening skills. When a leader improves his or her listening skills, that can save the organization. When you improve listening to your body, it can save your life.

If something feels “off,” pay attention to the messages your body is sending you. That doesn’t mean you should eat a banana split if you’re craving one. Rather, if your body is saying you are “tired,” try taking a nap. If you are feeling hungry, are you adequately hydrated? If you have blurred vision, get your eyesight checked. Simple things like that. As busy people, we tend to ignore minor symptoms until we are in trouble.

Take the example of “Cara” – a physician I once coached. She told me a stunning story about not listening to her body. In brief, even though she had a history of heart problems, she got so busy with her medical practice – having both a big caseload and administrative challenges, as medicine has these days – that she started ignoring cardiac symptoms, writing it off to stress or imagination.

Due to her history, she thought it wise to pursue some evaluation and finally squeezed in a test or two and went back to work. She was in the exam room with a patient when her cardiologist called and told her staff to put her on the phone pronto. A timid knock on the door and polite request from her staff to come talk to her own physician, yielded a, “Tell him I’ll call him back – I am with a patient” response. The cardiologist did not accept that response and told the staff person – who by now was feeling betwixt and between – to tell her to get to the phone. The staff person, knowing Cara’s patient-first orientation, merely said after the next knock on the door: “Doc – you are needed out here NOW.” That got a reaction. Cara got on the phone with her physician, now that she had been essentially yanked out of an exam room and, long story short, ended up on the cardiac care unit as a patient herself very shortly thereafter (hours, not days). Stress had interfered with her ability to listen to her body. The problem actually was a physiological situation that needed to be addressed. She is fine now, post-surgery.

What can we learn from Cara’s saga?

Being in touch with your body and the signals it sends can have a significant positive impact on your vitality, health, and professional performance. If you are in touch with your physical self, you are likely to also be more self-aware in other ways. Research shows that listening to one’s body builds resilience and helps us better handle adversity. To Better Cope With Stress, Listen to Your Body.

In Cara’s instance, the problem was not stress, but we all know stress can lead to debilitating physical symptoms. Those symptoms equally should not be ignored. See Jenna Wortham’s excellent New York Times article (August 27, 2016) on recognizing stress and addressing it.

Try practicing body awareness for 21 days. Take the opportunity to learn what rest, recovery, and rejuvenation mean for you. Write down what your body is telling you. See what the patterns tell you … and what practices make you be your best self.

If you took five minutes right now to listen to what your body is telling you – what is the message? Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired? Happy? What emotion or feeling do you have? What is the impact on your ability to do what you want/need to be doing?

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