Many of us struggle to tap into instinctual and more “heart-focused” ways of thinking in the workplace. By yielding more to our emotional selves we may improve the quality of working relationships, writes Louise Rodgers.

Louise Rodgers crop 2

“What is your gut telling you?” – we may ask of somebody who is struggling to make a decision.

“What is your gut reaction?” is another question, when we are curious about how someone instinctively feels about a particular person or situation.

The gut is often called the body’s “second brain”. It can’t help us to design a building or solve an engineering problem, but it can alert the brain when something is not right.

We also talk about leading with our head and our heart and, although in business the idea of bringing emotions into the workplace has traditionally been frowned upon, connecting with your colleagues in a way that could be said to be more “heart-focused” can open-up richer relationships and make a positive contribution to company culture and cohesiveness.

Paying attention to what our gut is telling us and being empathetic enough to open our hearts a little and create space for honest human-to-human interaction, requires us to be able to “tune-in” to our felt, or somatic, self.

The good news is that these other data sources are always readily available

This can be difficult in a work situation, where we invariably live mostly in our heads. We are either focused on the task at hand or on meeting deadlines and targets, neither of which require much of the heart or the gut. But, if our “head brain” is the only one switched on, we may be losing out.

The good news is that these other data sources are always readily available. We know that sometimes we need to walk in nature or “take a breath”, or that the endorphins released during exercise will provide welcome relief from living too much in our heads, creating space for new perspectives to emerge. I know many keen cyclists in our industry who find this kind of release and inspiration when they are on two wheels.

We do these things when we need to quieten our cognitive selves and tune into the world around us, to our bodies and to our relationship to what’s outside of us. One of my favourite writers, Haruki Murukami, wrote a book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, an account of the doubts and insecurities that plagued him when he started out as a novelist. He attributes his subsequent success as a writer to his passion for running.

If we can’t go for a run or a cycle in the middle of the day, when we are most likely to be under “the tyranny of the mind”, we can usually find a few moments to tune into our physical, or somatic, selves by doing something as simple as putting both feet on the ground and taking a few “4-2-4” breathes (breath in for four, hold for two, breath out for four, hold for two – repeat). This calms our sympathetic nervous system and, regularly practiced, decreases anxiety and improves the functioning of other parts of the body, including the gut.

My own somatic self finds its best expression through yoga. As someone who has been a yogi for many years, I have become more in tune with the whole-body benefits of mindful practice. Whereas in the early days I was very much focused on “body conditioning” and being able to correctly hold poses for the required amount of time, my practice is now less rigid and in tune with something that happens internally, not just to my physical self on the mat.

So often we approach things, people, or tasks with rigidity, and see compromise as a kind of “giving in”

I was prompted to think of this on a recent yoga retreat, when my teacher encouraged us to be as focused on the transition from one asana, or pose, to the next, and used the word “yield” to refer to this. To yield into each breath, each transition, and move with this in a fluid, non-rigid, way, to find the flow.

Fellow yogis will know exactly what I mean by this, but I think “yielding” is a word that has much wider relevance to the way we work, and the way we are when we are engaged in work, so I will be taking it into my coaching practice.

So often we approach things, people, or tasks with rigidity, and see compromise as a kind of “giving in”. We struggle to listen to the voices that may be proposing alternative ways of doing something, convinced that our way is the only right way. Perhaps we even use control as a survival mechanism, fearing what will happen if we give a little of this up.

How different would things be if we intentionally practiced “yielding” a little? For me, yielding doesn’t need to mean surrendering, it is more of an invitation to connect with all our data sources; it is a process of losing our rigidity and finding a gentler flow in the way we do things, more in tune with other people and with the world around us. More holistically linked to our gut and to our heart.

I say intentionally because it takes time to build a new habit. Yielding is something we may need to do consciously at first, noting the different impact we have when we try this softer way of being. In time, when we realise the sky won’t fall in if we concede a little control, we form new connections in our brain which brings it more into tune with the rest of our physical selves.

So, as you go about the rest of your day, where can you yield, or soften, a little? What might benefit from this approach? How could your willingness to yield bring benefits to another person, a situation or even a project? Learning to yield may be another way of ensuring that we, quite literally, take our “whole self” to work.