The most important variable—and the least recognized variable regarding importance in a business setting—is the state of mind of people within the workplace. It’s critical.
Welcome to our interview with Dicken Bettinger. Dicken is the founder of Three Principles Mentoring, which exists to guide individuals, groups, and organizations in deepening their understanding of the Three Principles. He spent 16 years of his career developing and leading corporate leadership training, team development, and executive coaching. He is the co-author of Coming Home: Uncovering the Foundations of Psychological Well-being.
Welcome Dicken, and thank you for contributing to the questions that are at the heart of Container13.
Q1: How can we create workplaces where every voice matters, everyone thrives & finds meaning, and change & innovation happen naturally?
The first point I think that’s relevant here is that everybody already has built into them everything they need to thrive. A lot of people think they lack the qualities that are necessary to thrive, so they work hard to try to develop those qualities. It’s a different starting assumption when a group of people already has what they need to thrive, be creative, productive, inspired, and motivated. It’s built-in to all of us. It’s built-in to human beings to have that capacity. There are things that people can learn that help bring out those innate capacities and abilities.
The next point I think that’s important to talk about is state of mind. I worked for 16 years doing executive leadership, staff development, and cultural change programs. Repeatedly, we began to see the most important variable—and the least recognized variable regarding importance in a business setting—is the state of mind of people within the workplace. It’s critical. It’s the biggest determinant of how productive people are, how well they listen, how well they communicate, the quality of the decisions they make, the ease with which a group can make decisions, and their ability to solve problems in a collaborative fashion. All these qualities are determined by state of mind.
When I worked in companies, the first thing I would do is help people become more aware of state of mind and why it is so critical. And furthermore, why that variable is necessary to be addressed for people to suddenly access this innate capacity for thriving, being productive and collaboration—all the things people are looking for in the workplace. For example, if you have two work groups working on the same task, and one is burdened with stress and the other is stress-free, it’s pretty evident which group would be able to do better with a certain task, especially in the long run.
A person’s understanding of state of mind determines how resilient they’ll be, which means there’s no problem with experiencing stress in the workplace. But if you live in stress for longer periods of time, it begins to affect all the key variables. Helping and teaching people what they need to learn, so that they can become more resilient and accountable for their own state of mind, is an incredible way to leverage any person or any group in the business setting.
This all becomes possible when people discover their potential for new thinking. Without new thinking, things don’t move forward in a business context. Things don’t evolve. Problems don’t get solved easily. The only things in the way of new thinking are the habits and patterns of thinking that people get caught up in without being aware that their own thinking is the problem. Most people have not learned that the stress they feel is being created from their own thinking. Most people have erroneously been taught that stress is created by circumstance.
We’re finding out by all kinds of scientific studies that circumstances can’t determine a person’s state of mind. If you took a very stressful situation and put 100 people in it, some people would experience great stress, but a lot of people would be extremely calm. At the same time, a lot of people would be thriving, inspired and productive despite this circumstance.
However, there’s also another variable that people have been missing, and that’s the role that thought plays in creating an experience. In my business trainings, it would be the most important key factor to teach people. Each one of us is always thinking and whatever we think we will experience. That’s where our experience comes from; it’s created from the power of thought. It’s not created by circumstance.
It’s very interesting, you go into a company, and you find people who are not being productive, who are feeling stressed, and who are in unproductive states of mind. Then you ask them, why do you think you’re feeling stressed? Why are you unproductive? Why are you having difficulty communicating, and why are you so preoccupied that you don’t listen? They will always point to something in their circumstance that they think causes them to be the way they are. And that’s the misunderstanding. That’s the human misunderstanding that’s gone on for centuries that creates so much stress and unhappiness in people anywhere in the world. It’s a misunderstanding, and there are now new discoveries about the actual way in which experience is being created. Now we can account for the state of mind and why we go in and out of different states of mind. And why sometimes we get stuck in states of mind that are not very helpful or productive. We now understand that very scientifically, so we can teach people about the importance of the state of mind and that state of mind is determined 100% from thought—as opposed to circumstance.
You’d be surprised, that one missing link – the role the power of thought plays in creating experience – that one piece people are not very aware of, makes all the difference. It can help people wake up to the fact that they’re a thinker. How they think about things creates how they feel about things. People begin to realize that thinking is the source of their tension, stress, reactivity, and dissatisfaction. When people begin to realize that those are feelings created from thought as opposed to circumstances, they will back off from the thinking that’s perpetuating that stress or upset. As soon as they do, their head clears of that thinking fairly soon. Their head clears of that thinking without any effort, without any technique. And with greater clarity people always do better. Out of greater clarity people automatically begin to get new thinking, which is uplifting and helpful. The key factor in business is state of mind, and the key determinant of a state of mind is a person’s understanding of the role of thought.
Q2: What does it take to get an employee’s full attention and best performance?
There are two main approaches. One is you try to get their attention externally, which is a constant effort where the responsibility for getting someone’s attention is on the leader.
The other approach, which is the one I obviously subscribe to, is that the leader helps the person gain an understanding that leads them naturally to states of mind that are more productive, more attentive, and more present-centered. That work is extremely rewarding because when people begin to take responsibility for their state of mind, it’s very different than if people try to create that from the outside. It is much, much more effective to help people access their capacity for being fully present and engaged.
Q3: What do people really lack and long for at work?
There is a research study that was done with 600 business executives where they really pressed them on what they most want. The highest answer was peace of mind, because when people are at peace internally, they function the best.
A leader is often described as someone who has learned how to bring out the best in themselves and others, which is a calm, clear, peaceful, and creatively responsive state of mind. Leaders can help other people access their own clear and creatively responsive state of mind, and then collectively together they can solve anything—literally anything.
One of the leadership staffs I worked with would get repeatedly stumped with problems and end up in disagreements and arguments. Their meetings were positional and oppositional. They learned the role of thought, and over time they began to collaborate at such a high level they would beg the company to give them a hard problem! They would lock themselves in a room and have pizza sent in. Then they would stay there and work collaboratively to creatively generate new ideas and thoughts. They would build on each others’ contributions, with zero conflict, zero arguments, and zero positioning.
I’m reminded of what they say at the negotiation project developed at Harvard University. They say the hardest thing in any negotiation when people have differences is to get them off their positions, so that something new can happen. When people are wedded to their opinions and ideas, it’s the end of new thinking. It’s a stalemate, and nothing moves forward.
Q4: What is the most important question that management should be asking employees?
I think everybody—if they have an opportunity to participate and to reflect—has a sense of what would make things better, but often they’re not asked. I’ve heard that repeatedly over the years. No one ever asks me what I think we should do. No one ever asks me what I think would make a big difference. Now that’s not always true, and there are certainly very healthy teams and companies, but often people are just not asked, “What makes sense to you? I’m interested in your common sense. I’m interested in what your wisdom says would be helpful. “
Q5: What is the most important question employees should be asking management?
They can ask management how they can help management? When I worked for someone else, I asked my boss that question all the time. How can I help you? And he’d stop and reflect. It would be a show-stopper. How can I help you be of more service? What would be most helpful for you? How can I take things off your plate, so that you have more time for reflection?
The higher up you are in the company, the more important it is to have time to be reflective. Many leaders have so much on their plates they never stop and pause. They don’t have time to reflect on what’s most important and helpful.
It’s been my experience in unhealthy companies that the attention all gets focused on what people are dissatisfied with within the company, rather than continually focusing on how do we be more of service to the customer. When the flow of attention goes toward the conflicts in the company, as opposed to toward the customer, you know there are going to be difficulties.
Q6: What’s the most important question we can ask ourselves?
Do I know where my feelings are coming from? Where does my new thinking come from? And what state of mind is most conducive to new thinking?
Q7: What’s a good starting point for people to learn more about the power of thought in business?
There are lots of resources for people in business. There’s a book written by colleagues of mine called Invisible Power. If people are interested in the relationship between state of mind and business results as well as learning more about the power of thought, this is a good book. It’s my favorite book for sharing the importance of the power of thought in creating experience in the business context. It’s filled with very practical examples. Learning about the role of thought is the most practical thing I think a person can learn if they want to enjoy life more, have greater job satisfaction, be more creatively responsive, feel more empowered, and be less burdened by their own thinking.
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