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Learning to listen to yourself in a very noisy world

Sometimes it seems that there's so much noise, it’s hard to actually hear our own voice, our truth and our inner GPS nudging us in the right direction. If you’re leading change or figuring out complex organizational challenges, it’s important to be able to find the still point and tune into your inner voice.

Woman listening to headphones with eyes closed.

An abundance of information

Every day, our senses are assaulted by a constant stream of stimuli. No more so than at work, where we attend to different stakeholders, colleagues, meetings, messages, notifications, tickets, webinars, reports … and the beat goes on 🎵.

And if we don’t know something, the world’s entire knowledge base is available to us at the click of a button.

In theory, this abundance of information should be helpful, and it may well be, but I’m pretty sure that our brains aren’t designed to process it all! As recently as a few generations ago, our ancestors only knew the small cluster of people in their family, local area, school or workplace. They possibly had access to a radio or knowledge in printed form. There was vastly less information to process. Simpler times.

Signals and shortcuts

Our beliefs help us make sense of all this abundant information.

Beliefs allow us to take shortcuts, helping us to evaluate and sort information, so that we can arrive at a conclusion. They generally attempt to fit new information into frameworks that exist in our mind. Recently, my physio wanted me to do squats and she told me to imagine sitting down into a chair. It was a really helpful prompt and I immediately knew what to do (and no, I didn't fall over 😉). While that’s a simple example, it illustrates how our beliefs help us leapfrog over some of the figuring out and analysis.

The trouble with our beliefs is that sometimes the things we hold to be true, are simply untrue. And this is where the signal can get scrambled.

Person using screwdriver to adjust wiring on a circuit board.

The scrambled signal

Here’s a personal example of a signal getting scrambled.

After facilitating a workshop session, I received feedback from one participant that they found the pace a little slower than they liked, although they still rated the session as “very satisfactory". Nonetheless, I over-indexed on that word “slow” and I held this person’s view as an objective fact.

In the subsequent session, I increased the pace, yet I had two separate instances where the participants requested a pause for understanding.

So what happened there?

My knee-jerk reaction was to people-please. I always want to address something if people aren’t happy with it.

In this case, that was a sub-optimal move.

If I had really tuned into my inner voice, that voice might have said, slow down and think. Didn’t you deliberately design this experience to pace with the group? If the group seems bored or under-challenged, then we move faster. If the group is overwhelmed or grasping, then we go slow. So if one individual finds it slow, how can I help them to feel engaged while still keeping pace with others? Reflecting on those questions, the right next step emerged for me.

I have countless examples like this from leading programs of change in the corporate setting. Trying to second guess a stakeholder. Using a cultural meme about the organization to take a certain course of action. Feeling like I have limited options, when in fact, there are many more if I can let go of some misguided assumptions.

How to turn up the dial on your inner voice

I contend that in most situations we can actually figure out the best course of action by spending some time looking inward and tapping into our inner sense maker. Here's a few techniques that I find helpful.

Walk with the question: Go for a walk, ideally out in nature, and hold the tension or question you have lightly. Don’t try to answer it, just walk and get curious. See what comes up for you. Can you see the problem or opportunity area with new eyes? Did you gain some degree of clarity?

Self coach: Get out a sheet of paper or a white board and answer some questions to get to a resolution:

  1. What is the tension I’m experiencing? What’s the niggle, the doubt, the inner debate that I need to clear up?

  2. What is getting in the way of me moving forward?

  3. What do I care about in relation to this tension?

  4. What do I believe others care about?

  5. Where is my inner voice guiding me?

And breathe! If you’re in a hurry, set your timer for 3 minutes and just breathe. A microdose of mindful breathing can help us gain the clarity and calmness necessary to hear our inner voice.

Your inner voice matters

In a world of information abundance, it’s really easy to believe that we don’t know enough, to keep looking for the answers externally.

But I invite you to consider that maybe you have all the knowledge, experience and resourcefulness that you need for the task at hand, and your capacity to tune into your inner voice will help you course-correct your way to a great outcome!


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