How to Have Attuned Conversations at Work

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI talk to a lot of people who don’t really feel seen or heard at work. I’ve been in meetings where I thought there was one conversation happening only to realize that people were talking about very different things in very different languages. If those meetings had been symphonies, they would sound horrible – none of the instruments would have been attuned to, or in harmony with, one another.

If you’ve ever had a conversation at work where you left feeling seen, heard, validated, and totally supported, then you know how powerful it is when someone is attuned to you. We’re sensitive beings, and we can tell the difference between when someone is really present with us and when someone’s there physically but not mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.

Having a conversation in which you are really attuned to the other person is powerful stuff.

It will transform the way you see that person and your relationship to them. Not only have I seen this work in my own life, but the field of Human Resources is catching on, too. In the latest issue of HR Magazine, there was an article written by Mark Feffer which focused on the importance of developing employees with strong “soft skills,” the most desired of which is the ability to effectively communicate.

It’s impossible to communicate effectively if you’re not able to be fully present with and attuned to the people around you.

If you feel ready to pump up your communication skills and bring others into harmony with one another, read on!

Dropping In

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantIn order to attune to someone during a conversation, you have to practice “dropping in.”

When I say “dropping in,” I mean unhooking yourself from your thinking mind. Sometimes I picture that there’s a thin string hanging on a hook at the base of my skull, and when I’m dropping in, I unhook that string and let my thoughts quiet so I can use all of my senses to pick up what’s going on around me. If this sounds kooky, it’s okay, but stick with me.

Many of us in the West think that the only way we can really know or understand something is by thinking about it. When we only access our intellect, we miss out on other ways of understanding – ways that may seem mysterious, but are natural and always available to you. When I “unhook” from my thinking mind, I make space for awareness from my heart, gut, and intuition.

Did you know that your heart and your stomach actually have their own sets of neurons and that they have systems for sending messages to the brain? This is real, folks. If you can access other ways of knowing, whether through your other intelligent organs, your intuition, or any other means that work for you, you’ll be able to have powerful, attuned conversations with others.

One easy exercise for dropping in, which is adapted from Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth, is to simply imagine feeling your hands from the inside out.

Take a few deep breaths and simply ask yourself, “How can I know my hands are there if I can’t see them?” Try to actually feel them from the inside out.

Once you have a sense of feeling your hands from within, bring this awareness up through your arms. Can you feel the inside of your arms? Continue to bring this awareness all the way to your heart, and see if you can feel your own heartbeat.

It may take some time to get this, and it takes practice. Most of us aren’t used to dropping into our bodies or unhooking from our thoughts, but this is a skill that’s absolutely available to you anytime, anywhere, and I’d encourage you to practice it whenever you get a chance.

So let’s say you’re in a meeting, having a conversation, and while someone else is talking or before people get there, you’ve taken a couple of deep breaths and silently “drop in.” Note: no one needs to know that you’re practicing this, and they won’t be able to tell just by looking at you.

Attuning to Your Surroundings

Now that you’ve dropped in, try to sense what’s going on around you.

How do you feel in your body? What emotions would you say are coming up in the conversation, inside of you and inside of others? Can you notice the emotions without placing judgment on it? For example, if your counterpart is visibly angry, can you just stay curious about that before launching into a “She is always angry and it’s so annoying” story in your mind?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantOther things you can play around with in order to stay attuned to what’s going on around you are to consider:

  • The colors you imagine surrounding the other people there with you
  • Whether or not the environment feels stuffy, heavy, airy, or light
  • Whether you feel drained or energized as the conversation goes on

I know this might sound impossible to do on top of actually following the conversation, but remember that 93% of communication is non-verbal.

If that’s true, why waste almost 100% of your energy on following along with the words when the real communication that you need to understand is occurring through someone’s body language, tone, and overall energy? With practice, you’ll be able to stay mentally engaged while also attuning to the people you’re speaking to.

Resist Mining for the Answers.

One part of this that can be tough, especially if you’re in a supervisory or managerial role, is the pressure you may feel to come up with answers. When we get nervous, feel like the person across from us needs something, or are just prone to solution-oriented working, we can bypass opportunities for understanding just for the sake of making something happen.

When you feel that pressure, remember this: the person across from you just wants to be seen and understood.

In conflict resolution, we talk a lot about positions and interests. People present with positions all the time: “I want a pay raise,” “I need a new project,” or “I can’t stand Kathy and want to move teams.” There may be something to these positions, but largely, people just want to feel heard, validated, and like they have agency over their own lives.

If you can drop into your own body-based and intuitive wisdom, be fully present, and give yourself the space to not know, the answers will come to you, I promise. Sometimes I’ll be with a career coaching client and have no idea what to say or ask. There’s a brief moment of panic, and then I drop in. I pause, trust that I’ll say what I need to say, and usually that’s when I get a spark of insight, ask just the right question, or shut up long enough for my client to say what she needs to say.

See What Happens

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThere’s a phenomenon known as “entrainment,” which Martha Beck explains in her book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World. She writes that when two people are emotionally connected, “the brain that has the most coherent wave patterns – patterns associated with calm, relaxation, and peace – seems to “pull” less coherent brains into synchrony with it.”

This means that if you can drop in, remain grounded, and stay calm, you can literally attune others to you. You can help them relax, see more clearly, and feel seen and understood. If you’ve ever been around someone who is fully present and noticed that you also felt less frenzied and more relaxed, then you know what this is like.

I hope you’ll practice dropping in and attuning to others in your next conversation. Too often, we’re focused on trying to get a word in edgewise, appear smart, or have all the answers that we talk over one another and leave conversations feeling misunderstood.

If you put the principles in this post to practice, not only will you walk away from conversations with more insight, but you’ll make those around you feel understood, and that’s good for them, for your career, and for the organization that you’re part of.

I hope you’ll try it, and if you do, I’d love to know how it goes!


Know someone who’s ready to practice attuned conversations? Send this along!

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