Returning to Center: A Simple Practice to Stay Connected in Conversation

16 08 2011

Veering from center. So easy to do.

In my last blog, I invited you to imagine a one-on-one meeting with a very wealthy corporate prospect in which you make an ask for financial support. Let’s say that thus far this meeting is running smoothly. Using the practices of invitation, sharing, exploration, and affirmation (ISEA), the conversation has reached a natural and easy flow. Then your host asks you an unexpected question. It catches you off guard, anxiety sets in, and you momentarily go blank. You have veered off track or, as some declare, you go “off center.”

It can happen in so many ways: nasty comments, doodling, boring stories, long pauses, headlines, or tough questions. Me? I go off center by talking to much either out of nervousness or thinking that my story is so fascinating.

How do we return to center?

The first step is to be aware. Often we sense we are off center immediately. Your host’s tough question throw’s you for an immediate loop. Other times we are oblivious. The trick is to consistently practice your awareness. Become sensitive to your host’s reactions. Ask your friends and colleagues to provide gentle reminders. Become attuned to how your body sends its signals: short breathing, tight stomach, general discomfort.

Next, stop and take a breath or two and allow yourself return to center. I encourage my clients to reflect upon an image that captures the heart of their organization. It could be a child’s face, a wetland, a moving quote, or scripture. When that off center moment inevitably comes, ponder that image, take a breath, and move on. It is a quiet reminder and helpful tool.

Third step, ask yourself:  “Am I back to center?” “How do I feel?”

Final thought: Remember that your prospect (or friend, family member, or stranger) is your partner in maintaining the communication and flow of the meeting. Invite their participation. For example:

  • “Could you expand on that question?”  “I am not sure I caught what you meant.”
  • “This meeting is very big for me and frankly I’m a bit nervous.”
  • “Excuse me. I feel we are veering from our agenda. I would love to chat about this topic later.”

Your candor and commitment will likely impress your host. You’re then ready to return your shared center and the conversation you both want to be in.

There is a simplicity of process here, but a lifetime of practice. I welcome your comments, ideas, or questions.


Generous Space: Asking with Ease and Effectiveness

27 05 2011

In three hours you will be meeting a CEO of a huge corporation whose personal worth exceeds $200 million. You will represent your organization and the objective is to secure a future gift in the six figure range. This person is well-known in the community, conservative, and is no-nonsense.

At a board retreat, I asked the members to imagine themselves in this setting. What words come to mind?

“GET ME OUTTA HERE” was the first response.

Others replied: “Scared to death.” “Nervous.” “Dread.”

Why is there such negativity when we are confronted with the idea of meeting with someone and asking for support—especially for a cause we deeply believe in? Our answers vary:  “Asking for money is always hard!” “These are scary economic times.” “I hate being turned down.”

There is an alternative.

Entering your meeting, you instead bring an openness and a generosity. Assumptions are scrapped, fears are shelved, and attitudes are left at the door. You and your host are about to explore possibilities. And, by meeting’s end, you will reach a new level of understanding and association.

From beginning to end, you use a simple practice called “Generous Space.”  Throughout your time together, your provide a generosity of: invitation (I), sharing (S), exploration (E), and affirmation (A)—ISEA. 

Invitation provides your host choice. “May I invite you to visit our site?” “May we explore possible funding?” “Could you expand on that comment?”  

Sharing is your response to the host’s questions and/or interests. This is your gift, your opportunity to provide information about your cause or organization that is directly benefitting your community.

Exploration (quality questions). The meeting begins with an openness. You do not have our host profiled as “wealthy”, “intimidating”, or “famous”. Instead, you bring a curiosity and intent to discover your host’s interests and objectives. Related to your generosity of invitation, you explore with questions that help you open up new insights and understandings. 

Affirmation assures clarity. You review a comment or a question to affirm that you listened well. This tells your host that you are listening intently and want their confirmation that their message was heard. 

Your meeting will take on a quality of ease. Invitation… sharing… exploration… affirmation arise within space of generosity. It is a space that naturally helps transforms your relationship from host/guest to a partnership seeking common ground.

Participants are amazed and delighted with the simplicity and effectiveness of the way you have hosted this conversation. You have created a Generous Space. Whether asking for a six figure donation or selling a raffle ticket, the practice is the same always mindful of generosity. You are that gift!