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Peak Mind Pro: The Power of Active Listening

Think back to a situation at work that did not go well. Perhaps it was an interaction with a colleague, a poor decision, or a costly mistake. What factors contributed to that situation? 

Have you considered listening as a factor? If everyone involved had truly been listening – to each other, to the information being conveyed, to the company’s goals or needs – would the outcome have been any different? 

Why We Don’t Listen

Listening is, arguably, the most important communication skill and is a cornerstone of most business activities, regardless of industry. Unfortunately, most people aren’t naturally great at listening. We get caught up in multitasking, so our attention is divided, all but ensuring we miss out on some critical aspects of the message. Or we jump to conclusions or interpretations that might be inaccurate, then react on the basis of misinformation. Alternatively, we might focus on our response, how to convey our points or press our agenda forward, bypassing the fundamental step of understanding. Ultimately, we want to speak, to be heard, and we often gloss over this crucial first step of effective communication: listening. 

That’s too bad because being an effective listener gives you a competitive edge, regardless of your organizational role.

Active Listening

So what does it mean to be a great listener?  It isn’t necessarily an innate talent. Rather, being a great listener means that you have mastered the skill of active listening, which essentially includes 3 main active listening techniques:

1. Pay attention. 

Multitasking or splitting attention is a myth. Trying to do so will result in you missing out on a significant chunk of information being conveyed verbally or non-verbally. 

2. Convey that you are listening.

Demonstrate that you are fully engaged by using body language, nodding, making small verbalizations (e.g., “Uh, huh,” “I see”), responsive facial expressions, or asking open-ended questions for elaboration.

3. Focus on comprehending the message as intended.

Listen with the intent to understand, not respond. This also means suspending judgments initially. Clarify your understanding to ensure accuracy before you move on to responding. 

The Benefits of Effective & Active Listening

The benefits of active listening are multifaceted. At a minimum, being a good listener means that you will capture and retain more of the crucial information, which can increase productivity and facilitate better performance on projects. It also means that you will have more accurate and robust information to consider when making decisions, potentially improving the quality and outcomes of those decisions. Thus ultimately making your conversation partner feel heard and building trust with them. 

In addition, active listening skills strengthen relationships. By paying full attention to another person and ensuring that you are understanding their message as intended, you are communicating several key messages such as “I value you and what you have to say” and that “you can trust me to understand and cooperate with you.” Practicing active listening helps with problem solving. In contrast, consider times when you’ve tried to talk to someone who was distracted by their phone or email or something else, nodded mindlessly, or cut in to respond without actually understanding what you were saying. You likely felt frustrated, dismissed, or devalued in some way. 

Effective and active listening can help cut down on miscommunication and the conflict or subpar performance that can follow. Furthermore, it enhances your influence and ability to persuade or negotiate. The most persuasive people and successful negotiators start by truly seeing the other’s perspective, then guiding them to a new one. Understanding that perspective starts with listening.

Taken all together, active listening is a soft skill that can have a substantial impact on your performance across the board.

Tips to Try

Active listening is a skill that needs to be practiced in order to master it. Implement these helpful strategies and notice what impact doing so has on you, your teams, and your organization.

Pay Full Attention:

  • Make eye contact.
  • Put down your phone.
  • If you must use a device to take notes, tell the other person. Say something like, “I want to be sure I capture the important points, so I’m going to take some notes.” Spelling it out directly lets them know that you are still fully engaged, not somewhere else mentally. 

Fact Check:

  • Before you respond with your opinion, ideas, or retorts, make sure you have an accurate understanding. 
  • Paraphrase their take home points. Rather than verbatim stating what they just said, rephrase it in your own words. Start with a phrase like, “Let me make sure I’m understanding correctly. Are you saying…?” or “What I’m hearing you say is…”
  • If you notice that you start to get upset by something you are hearing, this is a powerful signal that you need to fact check. It is quite possible that there is a bit of miscommunication happening, and strong emotions cloud our ability to think logically, process new information, and make effective decisions. 
“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.”
– Roy T. Bennett
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Peak Mind Pro: Enhancing Relationships

Strong relationships are a key aspect of well-being, for individuals as well as workplaces. While lots of attention gets paid to critical relationship skills like conflict resolution and boundary setting, we see surprisingly few conversations about the other end of the spectrum. Developing skills that actively enhance relationships is equally as important. 

It turns out that how you acknowledge and celebrate victories matters. In fact, it’s more predictive of strong relationships than how you handle conflict (according to research from UC Santa Barbara). While some people seem to naturally bask in others’ glory, this doesn’t always come easily, especially in the workplace. Fortunately, these are skills that can be learned. 

When it comes to responding to good news, positive psychology research tells us to consider two dimensions: active v. passive and constructive v. destructive. 

Active v. Passive

This factor relates to your degree of involvement in your response. Active responses are more engaged and robust, including animated facial expressions and detailed verbal content. Passive responses, on the other hand, are more, well, passive. They are characterized by neutrality, distraction, and disinterest. You might assume that an active response is preferable because it strengthens your relationship more, and you’d be correct, with a big caveat.

Constructive v. Destructive

That caveat lies with our second dimension, which captures whether the response adds to or detracts from the relationship health. Constructive responses add to – think of them as positive. In contrast, destructive responses tear down the relationship; they are negative.

Putting It Together

Taken together, the way you respond when coworkers, bosses, subordinates, partners, friends, family, or your kids share good news can fall into one of four categories:

Active Constructive – You are fully engaged and interested. You acknowledge the victory and expand by asking questions. This is what we’re shooting for. Active constructive responses are like making deposits in the relationship bank account, building strength, and promoting goodwill and collaboration.

Passive Constructive – While you acknowledge the victory, you do so in a generic way, typically in a neutral tone or while distracted. This is better than the alternatives below but leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to strengthening the relationship. 

Active Destructive – You give an active, involved response…that is negative, finding some way, perhaps inadvertently, to tarnish the victory. This response is damaging to the relationship.

Passive Destructive – You pretty much ignore the good news altogether. This response is also quite damaging.

Tips to Try

Consider times in the recent past when someone at work and someone in your personal life shared their good news. How did you respond? If your response didn’t fall into the active constructive category, see if you can revise your response. Can you reframe how you thought about or looked at the victory? What might you have said or done differently to enhance the relationship? What can you do to improve your relationship? 

Reflecting on your interactions after the fact and taking the time to revise your initial responses to be more active and constructive can help you cement this skill. 

Helpful Hints

  • Make eye contact.
  • Put down your phone.
  • Be specific. A generic “good job” is nowhere near as powerful as a specific “You did a really great job navigating the demands of this project.”
  • If praise feels inauthentic for you, try appreciation instead. “I like how you formatted that report” or “Thank you for your attention to detail. That really made a difference in the outcome here.”
  • Ask a follow-up question. Questions convey curiosity and interest. This can also open up pathways to bond over the long term. 

Communication Styles

Celebrating victories is one important aspect of building healthy relationship skills, but there is so much more to learn! In our next Quarterly Psych Strength Workshop Series installment (April 2022), we’ll be focusing on communication styles and how to use that information to level up your interactions and enhance your relationships further. If you’re interested in learning more about how your team can participate in this powerful learning experience, email us at info@peakmindpsychology.com.


Peak Mind is proud to be a featured speaker at the first Humanity At Work conference hosted by A Deeper Way. This 3 day event will be held in Minneapolis in May, 2022, and virtual tickets are available as well. 

“Celebrate the success of others. High tide floats all ships.”
– Susan Elizabeth Phillips
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Peak Mind Pro: Finding Flow at Work

By now, you’ve probably heard abysmal statistics about employee engagement (only 1/3 of employees are fully engaged in work) and presenteeism (physically present at work but mentally checked out), which brings with it staggering costs in real dollars. Fortunately, we can turn to psychology for solutions. A robust body of research on something called flow is particularly relevant for helping employees find engagement and satisfaction at work, in turn, boosting productivity and bottom lines. 

Flow is a state of mind in optimal experience, a perfect melding of being your best and doing your best. Some people refer to it as “being in the zone” while others might call it peak performance or flow theory. Research shows that being able to frequently and intentionally put yourself into a state of flow is important for wellbeing and life satisfaction, and the workplace, despite grumbles about not wanting to be there, provides ample flow opportunities. 

What is flow? 

Flow is a mental state characterized by intense concentration and enjoyment. When we’re in a state of flow, or in the zone, we lose our sense of time and self. Time simultaneously speeds up and slows down, and we lose track of it. 

We are so fully immersed in the activity at hand that we stop being self-conscious and stop being distracted by worries, doubts, and that pesky mental to-do list. Interestingly, when we’re in a state of flow, our productivity goes way up. 

Positive changes occur in our brain, and we’re just generally better off all around. In fact, we gain more confidence in our abilities and ourselves after being in flow. 

Flow activities share a few common characteristics.

  • They are intrinsically rewarding. 
  • They have clear and meaningful goals.
  • Feedback is immediate. We know right away whether we’re on track or not.
  • We feel a sense of control.
  • We have intense concentration and no distractions.
  • We are completely present. 
  • The activity is challenging, and we believe we have the skill to meet the challenge. 

This last piece is especially important when it comes to identifying activities likely to achieve a state of flow. When the challenge exceeds our skills, we may feel anxious. In contrast, if our skills exceed the challenge, we feel bored. The goal is to meet in the middle, where the level of skill matches the challenge, thus creating a flow experience and increasing intrinsic motivation. 

Tips to Try

Finding ways to increase flow at work is important for employee wellbeing as well as for the health of your organization. Focusing on their skill set and your needs positively impacts you both. Just as chess players know their move three steps ahead, we as leaders must gauge this as well. This month, we’re offering tips for both individual workers as well as for leaders.

For Individual Employees

1. Minimize distractions. Flow requires your entire focus, so limit anything that pulls your attention away.

2. Similarly, get off autopilot. We spend a lot of time on autopilot, barely paying attention to what we’re doing, particularly with tasks we do repeatedly. Instead, make an intentional effort to fully concentrate on what you’re doing.

3. Connect with your why. Regardless of the task at hand, even the monotonous ones you do daily, can you set a goal that challenges yourself? Can you find a way to make the task meaningful and important?

For Leaders

Curate an environment that encourages flow states.

1. Offer opportunities for agency and control. Allow team members to make decisions about how, when, and/or where they do their work. Find ways to give your employees choice and control whenever possible. 

2. Set clear goals tied to meaningful causes. When employees understand not only what is expected of them but why it is important, they are more likely to engage. 

3. Provide clear and immediate feedback. Offer praise and recognition.

4. Challenge your employees but provide adequate support. Remember, flow requires a balance of challenge and skill. 

5. Promote competence by providing opportunities for growth. Are there ways team members can mentor others? Develop their skills further? 

Additional Resources

Our quarterly workshop series is designed to provide powerful and interesting information and skills to help you and your team(s) build psychological strength. Delivered virtually, live, or on-demand, these workshops are an excellent way to help support your team’s wellbeing and resilience. If you’re interested in learning more, we would love to talk with you about how partnering with Peak Mind can help. Email us at info@peakmindpsychology.com or contact us here.


Peak Mind is partnering with Heart Mind Institute to host the 2022 Best Year of Your Life online summit. This 10-day virtual event is jam-packed with sessions from some of the most influential psychologists, teachers, and visionaries, and it’s FREE!

Join a world-class lineup and get a jump start on your year. 

“It is how we choose what we do, and how we approach it, that will determine whether the sum of our days adds up to a formless blur or to something resembling a work of art.”
-Mihály Csíkszentmihályi
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Peak Mind Pro: Design Your Work Experience

Many people spend 40 – 50 hours per week at work. That’s 80 – 100 THOUSAND hours over a career. If you’re not engaged or functioning at your peak, or if you’re on the brink of exhaustion and burn out, you’re having a suboptimal life experience. 

The answer isn’t necessarily to make a drastic change like quitting your job. It may just be as simple as designing your work experience.

Contrary to New Year’s resolution conventions, broad, sweeping changes aren’t actually effective for most humans. That’s because big changes shock our system, which is stressful. And we tend to revert to the mean, or fall back on old habits, pretty quickly when we’re under stress. Fortunately, there’s a more effective, albeit often counterintuitive, way to make meaningful lasting changes: experimentation.

Through the lens of life design, which is a special blend of psychology and design thinking applied to your life, experimentation means identifying a friction point (a challenging situation, habit, or interpersonal pattern) and designing small changes to test out. As you implement each small experiment, you gain valuable data in the form of experience, and you use that information to iterate – to revise, revamp, and move forward with the next small step. 

You are the architect of your life experience. You are either living by design or by default. You have more control over your daily experience than you might think, regardless of who you report to or your job responsibilities. While you realistically may not be able to change or impact some of your friction points, there are almost certainly some things you can experiment with. Design your workspace with your needs in mind.

Tips to Try 

Your day-to-day experience is significantly impacted by your physical space and the rhythms and habits of your day. Are yours working for you or against you? Your work area should feel as good as home. So much time is spent in work environments that your office design should feel as familiar and comfortable as your living room. 

Choose some of these strategies to test out for a few weeks. Be sure to gather some data over time to see what kind of impact your experiments have.

Design your workspace

*This is especially important if you work from home.

  • Have a designated spot for work. Eat or take breaks in a different place. 
  • Get natural light if possible.
  • Remove distractions. Don’t rely on willpower. Put distractions away. Out of sight is out of mind. 

Create boundaries in your day

*This is especially important to avoid work bleeding into home/family/leisure time.

  • Set a firm beginning and end time for work.
  • Set an auto-responder outside of those times and don’t check email. You’ll have more success if you can’t see notifications on your phone; they’re hard to ignore.
  • Perform a ‘transition activity’ (something that takes the place of a commute & tells your mind you’re done for the day). If you have a commute, use it as a time to transition by singing along with your favorite music or listening to a podcast, not ruminating about work.
  • Keep a good planner like The Self Journal.

Combat Zoom fatigue 

  • Hide your own face from the meeting (here’s how). Doing so will cut down on distraction and self-criticism.
  • Set expectations with your team about when they can turn video off.
  • No matter at the office or at home, design your workspace to work in accordance to your schedule.
  • Change meetings to 45 minutes to leave time to get up and move in between.

Make time for self-care

*The quality of your work and your relationships will improve if you’re taking care of yourself. Think of it like this, high performance cars need regular servicing and maintenance to run optimally. So do you!

  • Schedule your basic needs (lunch, movement, rest) and breaks into your calendar and treat them like appointments.
  • Block time in your calendar for active work so that you can have uninterrupted time to focus on important tasks. This will keep others from scheduling your time away from you.
  • Have a big bottle of water near you. You’ll drink more if you don’t have to exert effort to get a glass of water, and your brain will work better if you’re well-hydrated.
  • Build brief movement breaks into your day. Even 5 minutes of yoga (example), dancing to 1 song, or pacing while you’re on phone calls can help.
“How you spend your days is how you spend your life. You’re never stuck.”
– Bill Burnett & Dave Evans

Design Your Work Life

Why design your workspace without designing your work life? The strategies above are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to designing your work experience. On January 18, 2022 during our live Quarterly Psych Strength Building workshop, we’ll be diving deeper into both psychology and life design to help you find more fulfillment at and outside of work without having to change your actual job responsibilities.

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Peak Mind Pro: Thriving Through Uncertainty

In order to be your best self, you must be able to handle uncertainty. To describe these situations we use the acronym “VUCA”: 

  • Volatile
  • Uncertain
  • Complex
  • Ambiguous

Situations and experiences that can be explained by one or more of these characteristics are particularly tough for us to handle. And if you think about it, is there a better word to describe the experience we’ve all been living through the last 18 months? (Seriously, if you can think of one, hit reply and tell us!) There’s simply a lot of uncertainty facing us at every turn.

VUCA situations are particularly tough for us because of our mind’s natural tendency to seek out predictability, familiarity, certainty, and stability. Our mind’s natural survival instinct sees a predictable, unchanging environment as one that is safe. It’s known. It’s one where we can let our guard down. We feel calm, confident, and at ease in predictable, familiar situations.

Let’s unpack that for a second. Our mind’s natural tendency is to feel at ease in predictable, unchanging circumstances. This is our comfort zone. So naturally, when things tip in the “VUCA direction,” we feel it, and it doesn’t feel good. It’s hard to be your best self when your mind doesn’t feel at ease. A lack of certainty compounds this.

So, is it really surprising that anxiety and depression have risen exponentially since the beginning of the pandemic?

We’ve heard from countless organizations over the last couple of months, and there is one common theme: people are feeling the stress and pressure of the ongoing VUCA situation we’ve all been living in. 

But, people still have jobs to do and goals to achieve. Our businesses and organizations still depend on our teams in order to move forward, even during challenging times.

So, what can you do to support your team so they can show up as their best, even in the face of adversity?

Monthly Tip

This month’s tip is to take a page out of the book of a true high performer. Michael Phelps is the most decorated olympian in history. He won 28 medals (23 gold), and has been lauded as the “greatest of all time.”

What contributed to that level of performance?

Sure, you can point to his natural physical ability to account for some of it, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

When you dig into Phelps’ training regimen, you see a series of rituals, like his race-day ritual above. These rituals are carefully crafted to put Phelps in a state of mind that allows him to show up and perform at his best. 

He primes his best self, and your employees can do the same. By priming our best self, we put ourselves in the mindset that allows us to handle more uncertainty. The repetitiveness and familiarity of a ritual like a race-day routine helps calm our mind during VUCA times.

Ask your employees to answer the following questions:

  1. When was a time that I was at my best? (Describe it in detail)
  2. How did I feel? (Be specific! Were you confident, calm, assertive, engaged, etc)
  3. What activities tend to elicit or detract from those feelings?

 For example:

  1. I was at my best when I reached my set goals while working on a big initiative last quarter.
  2. I felt in control and in a state of flow.
  3. My work was planned out – I knew when to do what. I had uninterrupted time.

Your employees can use the answers to these questions to craft their own “race-day routine” to prime themselves to show up closer to their best self each day. Not only does this further personal development, but it can trickle into other areas of your life. In this example, this employee could spend some time each week to plan out their work. They could consider blocking work time on their calendar to ensure adequate time to focus. 

By priming our best selves, we put ourselves in the best possible position to weather the inevitable challenges that a VUCA situation can throw at us.

Ready to help your team build psychological strength?

Ready to support your team to help them manage stress and uncertainty and perform at their peak? Fill out a quick form, and we’ll be in touch about how your organization can begin building psychological strength.

“The goal is not to be better than the other person, but your previous self.”
– Dalai Lama
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Peak Mind Pro: Increasing Employee Engagement

You’ve probably seen the statistics. In August, 2021 alone, 4.3 million people quit their jobs. There are a lot of driving factors behind these numbers, but one big factor is disengagement and dissatisfaction.

The pandemic caused people to reevaluate all areas of their lives, but in particular, we hear the desire to experience greater impact and meaning.

As we dive into these important topics, we’ll start where we typically like to begin…with an analogy.

Your Support System

Think about the people who make up your personal support system. Who are those people, and what role do they play? For example, here’s mine:

  • My husband – great at problem solving.  Not great at empathetically holding space when I just need to talk.
  • My best friend – very empathetic & great at holding space.
  • My brother – so good at helping me sort through complex thoughts & feelings.

Now answer this question: how satisfied would you be with your relationship with any one of those people if you expected them to fulfill ALL of your needs?

Think about it. How satisfied would I be with my husband if I expected him to help me solve problems, provide empathy, listen and hold space, and sort through my thoughts and feelings? I probably wouldn’t be very satisfied! No one person can fulfill ALL of our needs. It’s impossible.

Your Professional Needs

The Stanford Life Design Lab points to 3 different needs that must be fulfilled for people to feel whole and engaged:

  1. Financial security – am I making enough money to fund my lifestyle?
  2. Impact – am I making a broader impact in a way that matters to me?
  3. Expression – do I have the flexibility and freedom to be creative?

Here’s the problem: While it’s necessary to have all of these needs fulfilled, it is not necessary for them all to be fulfilled by one activity. 

We run into problems when we solely focus on our jobs to be the one and only activity to fill all 3 of these cups. Psychologists call this role engulfment.

Have a LIFE, not Just a JOB

For this reason, it’s increasingly important for your employees to have a LIFE, not just a JOB. It’s important as leaders to encourage your employees and team members to engage in their entire lives, rather than basing their entire identity around their job. Engaging employees is a difficult yet important task.  

Intentionally focusing on a variety of activities in our lives as ways to fulfill our needs of financial security, impact, and expression can raise our level of satisfaction and engagement across all aspects of our lives, including our jobs and careers.

Monthly Tip

This month, we encourage you and your team to think like Life Designers. To take an intentional look at your life through the lens of the 3 needs we’ve been discussing.

Imagine you have 3 cups, one cup for each of the 3 needs. Answer the following questions in an honest and authentic way for you (everyone’s responses will be different):

  • How large would each cup be? Which needs are more or less important to you?
  • How much does your job fill each cup?
  • What other activities in your life fill up each cup?

Now consider designing. Ask yourself: How might I incorporate other activities to ensure all 3 cups are full?

Additional Resources

Our next quarterly workshop will dive deep into the topic of designing your work life. This fast-paced, engaging, and hands-on virtual experience will help you and your team(s) learn Life Design skills and build psychological strength to create meaningful shifts at work and in life.

Interested in signing your team up for the Quarterly Workshop Series? Fill out this quick form or email us at info@peakmindpsychology.com, and we’ll be in touch with the details.