Dialling down internal chatter and reining in windchimes

On internal chatter . . .

How many times have you left a meeting and hours later you are still turning over in your mind what you had wanted to say but hadn’t or find yourself ruminating over having not been at your most impressive? This is not purposeful review, or part of positive self-talk, but the nagging habit of second-guessing ourselves and finding ourselves wanting. Did I do the right thing? Why didn’t I say that? Was I good enough? Gee, they must be thinking this about me!

The origins of our chatter are manifold, different in detail between each person, but often off the same riff: our desire to be good, to be perfect, in the pursuit of others' approval.

If your chatter is about wanting to be liked or approved of, then this will get in the way of how you turn up to lead: maybe by being liked by your project team or subordinates instead of staying in role and being respected; of not wanting to disappoint people, and being unable to say "no" for fear of whatever relational catastrophe it’s imagined might arise from your refusal. If your chatter is about having your competence on show for all to see, then it will get in the way of how you turn up to lead because you will take up too much space, always having to be visibly in charge, unable to be quiet or silent for fear that this will be misunderstood as ignorance or lack of ability. If your chatter is about needing to be in control . . . . And so it goes.

We all have some degree of second-guessing chatter. What is yours about? Is it dialled high, medium or low when you're at work? How frequent and how regular is it? What makes it worse?

Getting your chatter under control is essential to turning up cleanly to lead. You get it under control by noticing the time and energy it consumes; by noting the retrograde impact it has on your sense of confidence or your actual performance; by discerning the kinds of triggers or environments that tend to inflame the chatter; by forming hypotheses about where the chatter has come from in the past thus making clear that it is an echo from the past; and, finally, by keeping a bullet-point journal of all these elements and describing what you did in the moment to drive your chatter down. Over time – and for some, quite quickly – the chatter can be dialled down dramatically, and with practise silenced at will.

. . . and wind chimes

Wind chimes sit on the side of (usually domestic) buildings and depending upon the wind's direction and strength and on the structure of the wind chime itself will play pleasing or discordant sequences of notes.

Internal wind chimes are, of course, a metaphor. But run with the idea, if you will, that we each have a set of internal wind chimes. Think of the central weight of your wind chime, the piece that holds the set from blowing away altogether in the wind, as your core values. Think of the smaller and varied pieces of the wind chime that dangle around the core and make noise by hitting it as the wind steps up, as being your unique growing up experiences. Think of the wind as the endless social buffeting of interaction in groups.

If we see or hear something in the groups that we lead that question, challenge or trash our deeply-held values then you can bet our windchimes will start to rattle furiously. When something happens to rattle our wind chimes discordantly we become unable to be fully present to the data in front of us that we need in order to inform our next steps or intervention. Instead we run the risk of being consumed by our emotional reactions to our wind chimes gathering apace.

Acknowledging when your wind chimes are rattling about and that your consequent emotional state is yours and yours to deal with, is essential to turning up cleanly to lead.

This also goes some way to explaining why some events that occur in groups tend to rattle some people immensely and barely touch others. We might share similar values but our different growing up experiences and our unique psychological topographies ensure different responses to the same pressing stimuli.

What connects chatter and wind chimes is the unhelpful playout that each can have when we are leading groups. At the same time, most everyone in groups of which we are part has their own little piece of chatter in play simultaneously, and the odd wind chime can come rattling in unexpectedly from almost anywhere. The antidote lies in increasing our mindfulness of ourselves, paying as much attention to the “in here” as we do to the “out there” of leading.

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