How to Drive Self-Expression to Innovate

by Judith E. Glaser

I have yet to meet an executive, who joins a company to be ‘minimized,’ marginalized or to be intentionally held back from making a contribution.

We join a company to make a difference, to make a contribution, to be praised and rewarded. We join a company to bring our voice to the table, and ‘lean into conversations’ so our voices join in the spirit of partnering with others to shape, create and Co-create the future.self-expression at work

Neuroscience is teaching us that ‘self-expression’ might be one – if not the most important ways for people to connect, navigate and grow with each other.

Validate View and Voice
Why might this be so? This experience suggests that something important happens inside of us when our view of the world is validated publicly—when our voice is heard and acknowledged, when we see we are not alone in our inner thoughts.

Case in Point!
When my children were in elementary school, I created a school project called Children’s World. I proposed that we gather the students’ stories and pictures, and compile them into a book and publish it. When I shared this idea with the principal and teachers, they got behind it and offered to help. And when I shared this idea with some parents, I soon had 20 volunteers. When we shared this idea with the 550 students. Within a few weeks we had all of their contributions.

As we began to compile the books, we put on the floor all of the contributions—everything from stories and pictures from the 5th graders to poems and pictures from 1st graders—and looked for how we could best combine them. During the creative process, something amazing happened. It was as if each child was sensing things around them and with their best abilities they could usher up, they shared their stories and pictures with others.

At the end of our pattern-seeking process, all of the art and stories came together into chapters organized by themes that emerged as we sorted. We found children’s stories from 1st grade to map into illustrations from children at a higher grade. We found a local printer who printed enough for parents to buy for their children and others. The books sold out in the first two days, and we had to re-order them.

The teachers told us there was an upsurge of creativity during the years we published Children’s World. Other schools in our community heard about the project and began their own Children’s World project.

Later, we did a follow-up study, looking for possible connections that might show the impact of the projects on the children’s emotional, social and academic development. We found a positive impact from the few years we did the Children’s World projects—a direct correlation to the number of children who were accepted into top universities, measurably more than in the years before or after.

Self-Expression at Work
How to you drive self-expression in the workplace? How do you encourage speaking up? In what ways can people apply their talents to create the next generation products and services your company offers?

Conversational Intelligence (C-IQ) teaches us to see differently—to listen differently—and to process what we perceive differently. When we do that, we act in the moment in ways that create energy, activate energy, and help guide energy toward more productive and more powerful ends. C-IQ gives us tools for letting go of the past and transforming the future.

As you become transparent about your aspirations and intentions to co-create and also what threatens you—your fears and “stories” about what is going on—you feel a release inside. You gain the courage and a space to share your views without judgment. You could speak out and have a voice, and not be judged for how you are feeling. You have a chance to speak out and have your opinions valued.

You can reveal your inner thoughts and feelings to one another—to work on Transparency + Relationship together. You can talk about what is bothering you and what you aspire to create. You can move from a state of protection to partnering with others by being open to sharing and discovering their fears and aspirations.

Co-creating Conversations Bridge Realities
By stepping into one another’s shoes and listening without judgment, you trigger the prefrontal cortex (the executive brain) to access higher-level capacities, including how to handle gaps between reality and aspirations; how to access new thinking; and how to move into infinite thinking together and co-create new possibilities. Without this part of the brain activated, you tend to fall back into positional thinking and fight for your vested interests. You become more candid and caring and speak truth in trust, without triggering fear, creating the space for Shared success.

Breakthroughs occur, as you stay open to the possibility that you might discover ideas you have never thought of before. As you create a bonding experience (oxytocin rush), you start to open up new conversations about “what ifs.” You imagine new things that you might do together, fostering higher risk taking and openness. Co-creation opens the “infinite space” our minds need to be free to connect with others in new ways. Positioning, politicking, interpretation, drama, and negative storytelling give way to a sense of shared success and bonding that shapes new relationships.

Achieving greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of relationships, which depends on the quality of conversations. Everything happens through conversation. By grafting C-IQ rituals into your interaction dynamics, you will discover new doors opening up in your mind and in your reality.

Try These Experiments:

  • Think about how to craft an exercise like Children’s World in your organization, team, or school.
  • Start a meeting by asking people to share a personal story and a business story that just happened that they are excited about—see how the meeting shifts.
  • In team meetings, you might share “What I respect about you and what I need from you.” This exercise helps you understand others, recognize strengths in others and prime one another for partnering and co-creation as you create openness, bonding, connectivity, and empathy for one another.
  • Collect success stories in teams and publish them—watch how the team spirit changes.
  • Publish success stories on your intranet. Ask people to include tips, and practices that underlay the success—watch how the C-IQ grows in your organization

Judith E. GlaserJudith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc., Chairman of The Creating WE Institute, an Organizational Anthropologist, consultant to Fortune 500 Companies, and author of four best-selling business books, including Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion). Call 212-307-4386 or visit www.conversationalingelligence.com; www.creatingwe.com; email jeglaser@creatingwe.com.

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