169: Transforming the Workplace with Love with Gayle Van Gils

By June 19, 2017Podcasts

 

 

Gayle Van Gils talks about ways to transform your interactions and work culture from a place of fear to one of love, kindness, and humanity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The effects of a toxic workplace and how to counteract them with love
  2. Core practices to deepen your capacity for kindness
  3. A handy ritual to stop negative reactions

About Gayle

Gayle Van Gils is an author, leadership consultant and life coach, who opens the minds and hearts of her clients.  As a senior mindfulness teacher, with an MBA from UCLA, Gayle combines her extensive meditation practice with her business background to help clients integrate mindfulness and compassion into their work environment.

Gayle is the author of Happier at Work: The Power of Love to Transform the Workplace, a practical guide for developing the powers of attention, stress reduction, communication and collaboration  – for enhanced performance in work and life.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Gayle Van Gils Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Gayle, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Gayle Van Gils
It’s totally my pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think you’ve got so much fun stuff to share. Could you open us up by telling a little bit of the backstory? There’s a fun fact about you, you mentioned, that you did some traveling with some star musicians, including Joni Mitchell and George Harrison, even living in their homes for a little bit. What’s the story here?

Gayle Van Gils
Yes, so really interesting. I was in charge of the concerts at my college Duke University so I met all the rock stars, and I guess you’d say I was kind of a groupie-ish kind of person so I ended up marrying the guitar player who was traveling with Joni Mitchell at the time, and he was Robben Ford. So we were married for seven years and during that time we went on the road a few times with Joni and we actually lived in her house because we were traveling so much we didn’t have a house. So she just invited us to live with her.

And at that time she and I became pretty close friends. She was almost a decade older than me but, still, we had a good relationship. And then, following that, George Harrison invited Robben to be his guitar player with the Ravi Shankar tour so we went on both of those. We had private jet type situations. And when we got back from that tour, once again we had no place to live so we lived in George’s house. So that’s the story. It was pretty amazing. Really pretty amazing. I met everybody. I met everybody.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s so intriguing. And so here you are now talking about the power of love, transforming the workplace.

Gayle Van Gils
Yes, kind of harkens back to George, right?

Pete Mockaitis
So, maybe first of all, could you share with us, I think that might make some people uncomfortable right off the bat – love, workplace, touchy feely? Tell me, when you work with folks does that make them uncomfortable and how should we get oriented in all this?

Gayle Van Gils
Well, I think that’s really interesting because at first I did get pushback from publishers and people who were trying to figure out what’s going to sell, like, “Oh, you really shouldn’t use the word love.” But I wanted to use it for that very reason, that it’s provocative. And obviously I’m not talking about love affairs. I’m talking about the power of love which I’m seeing as the opposite energy to fear.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Gayle Van Gils
So fear closes us down. Love, compassion, interest, curiosity, all of those things that go along with love open us up. And what we need to transform the workplace is to get away from being so closed down.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. So that puts things into a handy context. And so can you maybe assess a little bit of the problem here? Do you say that often the workplaces have become toxic in terms of our mental, emotional, physical health? Is there some compelling data you might share along those lines?

Gayle Van Gils
Yeah, there’s actually a lot of data, and the person who keeps putting it out week after week is the Gallup organization. And they’re talking about it a lot in terms of employee disengagement. And disengagement is extremely high. I think it’s in the 70s, so it varies from 68 to 71, or whatever. About fewer than 30% of people report themselves as engaged with their work.

And the reasons that people are disengaged, have arranged, and they have to do with being overworked, being ignored, being stressed, being bored, being in the wrong job, all sorts of reasons but basically disengagement is extremely high. And also the statistics are very strong coming out of neuroscience research that when people are stressed that they’re less healthy.

So it physically actually shuts down your immune system to be stressed, so people are having a toxic emotional and physical reaction to the environments where the workplace is fear-based and tight and making them be super controlled.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so there it is from the Gallup Engagement Work. And it’s interesting, when you talk about love and engagement I’m also thinking now about, I saw a Boston consulting group study which surveyed or, boy, I believe it was about 200,000 workers across the world, and maybe you saw this one as well. The number one thing that was driving the experience of job satisfaction was appreciation.

Gayle Van Gils
Yeah, people just want to know that you care about them, that you’re noticing what they’re doing and that their efforts are recognized. It’s so easy to turn around this disengagement but it’s a different mindset. It’s a mindset of looking outward and actually caring about others rather than yourself. So, once again, it’s this power of love. Love is looking outward and extending to another person.

And people who are fearful, and particularly managers who manage by fear, are generally thinking about their own needs, their own bottom line, their own need to succeed, and they actually aren’t looking outwards to see, “How could I make others succeed which would make me succeed?” Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear you. Well, Gayle, it’s funny. This is connecting for me on sort of some spiritual Christian Catholic dimensions in terms of love, love, love, in terms love God above all things, love your neighbor as yourself, and then be not afraid. Fear bad, love good is kind of huge themes running through that whole Bible there.

And so it’s cool that you’re talking about this in a workplace context. So then maybe can you lay it out a little bit in terms of the how? How might we, if we’re experiencing some fear or some self-centeredness, to begin to pull out of that a little bit more and to do some more of the love and good stuff?

Gayle Van Gils
Yeah, so there’s really pretty much a path to do so. So the first thing I would recommend for anybody is to spend some time in introspection or contemplation or taking surveys or whatever it is to become more aware of what you’re actually feeling. So any kind of shift is going to begin with some kind of self-awareness, “Why am I feeling so cut off? What is it I need? What do I love to do? Is there something that I could do to shift my experience at work? If I become aware of what really motivates me, what I value and what I need, then I can share that information with someone else.” So that’s a beginning, is to become self-aware.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, Gayle, I’m intrigued here, and maybe you could have some cautionary distinctions to offer. I guess I’m thinking about others, awareness and being curious and appreciate them but you’re saying it starts with our own self-awareness so that’s not a form of nasal-gazing… navel-gazing, or selfishness. It’s actually a key step on our way to loving others.

Gayle Van Gils
In fact, that’s exactly true. You see, I remember when I first started practicing meditation years ago, my mom asked the same question, “Isn’t that a selfish thing for you to do?” But, of course, it isn’t because really the way that we feel about ourselves is so intimately connected to how we treat others. So if we are sternly judging ourselves then we often come across as a judge-ful person. Or if we are never satisfied with anything that we get then we’re a jealous person of other people. So it really starts with seeing what are you thinking and feeling inside, and if you can identify that then you have a chance not to be caught by those habits. So that’s really very generous.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m with you. Thank you. And so then let’s maybe dig into one particular, I guess, sub-optimal might be the word, self-relationship component. I’ve heard a number of listeners say that even though they don’t like it about themselves they sort of have a fair bit of their value and self-image wrapped up in, “How am I doing at work? What kind of results am I producing? What kind of delight am I delivering to my managers, my collaborators, my customers, clients, et cetera?”

And so in a way that sounds like a form of judgment, it’s like, “My value is contingent upon my utility, what I am producing in terms of performance and results for others.” So if you happen to find that in the midst of your meditation, introspection, self-awareness exercises, where do we go from there?

Gayle Van Gils
Okay. So a great question really. As you look inside, as you really get to know yourself better, you can tap into a confidence that is just about you being a good human being. If you really identify who you are you’ll feel that place. It’s a place that motivates you to do most of what you do. And if you’re coming from that place then generally there is no problem. We’re doing a good job and pleasing others and getting the feedback on it because it’s resonant with how you feel about yourself.

I think the problem comes when you feel like you’re being a fraud because you’re acting a certain way externally to get feedback but it isn’t how you feel about yourself. So if you can discover your own goodness, if you can discover how to love yourself then you will perform to your best and you’ll probably get a good feedback as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright. And so once again this connects. I’m thinking about sort of my own spiritual life there in terms of, you know, we’d say that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God and thus they have intrinsic dignity. And it seems like you’re sharing kind of a similar kind of core theme there in terms of you operate from a foundational place of, I guess, security that you are a good person. And so I’m wondering, well, hey, if we’re getting deep here, what if they don’t feel like a good person, like, “I’m rotten,” and they don’t have the kind of foundational self-love going on, geez, what then?

Gayle Van Gils
Well, that’s the whole trajectory that I have in the book is how to go from a place of maybe not being so kind to yourself to be more generous, to actually how to activate a connection to your fundamental goodness. I actually do that in the book and this is for the workplace. Believe it or not.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Gayle Van Gils
It goes along with little practices that help you at work not just in your life. But, of course, you can’t separate your life and your work, and that’s the issue here, that we’re talking about the whole human being not just from 9:00 to 5:00.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Gayle, man, we are getting deep into the core of the human experience. Activating that notion of self-love, I think for many, is kind of a lifelong journey, and you’ve got the book, you’ve got the answers or the pathway. That sounds pretty impressive. Can you maybe share with us what would be some of the most foundational steps that will provide a real big bang for your buck in terms of if you’re looking to invest some time, some energy and some courage and humility and this reflection and this work? How should you apply that to start to come to some of these positive foundational realizations of who you are fundamentally?

Gayle Van Gils
Right. Great question. So there are so many practices in the book. I’m trying to think of a few core ones to talk about. Here’s a really not so deep but simple step on that path. So if you’re overwhelmed by a reactive feeling or by anger or by chaos, and you just feel like you’re not going to act kindly, you can step away for a moment if you notice it. If you have spent the time to know the feeling as it’s arising in you, you can take a few moments to be alone. Take a few breaths and regain your sense of balance. That’s a really simple one.

Or you can come back to the present from your train of thought by connecting to your senses. And, again, grounding yourself and breathing and feeling your humanity. Now if you really want to develop this capacity for kindness, sometimes, as you say, it’s hard to send love or kindness to yourself first because we’re so hard on ourselves. So you can pick someone at work that you have a hard time with and find something nice about them and focus on that and send them some love or kindness and let your heart soften and open just a little bit, and then realize, “Well, if they’re basically good then I’m basically good.” So lots and lots of little ways that I talk about how you can do this, and ultimately I have some practices you can do to deepen this.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say send them some love, in practice what does look like? Is that just a compliment or what’s happening?

Gayle Van Gils
Oh, okay. So what I’m saying is, first of all, you can think about it, like you can actually think kindly of this person that you usually think is a jerk, okay? So you can start shifting your mental patterns. So a lot of this is proven by neuroscience that we actually get into these stuck patterns. So if you’re used to judging yourself and others, if you’re used to being stressed and angry, if you’re used to thinking, “Joe is a jerk,” that’s the first thing that’s going to come up for you when you see Joe.

So if you’re trying to shift your patterns you can actually practice looking at and thinking about something nice about Joe before you even do anything. So you actually, rather than being disingenuous and going up and giving Joe a compliment when you think he’s a jerk, you first develop some kind of capacity for seeing something good about Joe and then maybe you go up and you say, “Hey, Joe, would you like to go get a cup of coffee? I’m taking a break,” or whatever. But you don’t do it first. First you actually see something good about Joe by thinking about it, “Of course there’s something good about him.” Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I like that. Thank you. And so I’d love it if you could maybe provide just a couple reframes for us in terms of the things that irritate us about co-workers? And so one that comes to mind for me is I’m thinking of a person who is quite critical, and it seems like nothing is ever good enough. When mistakes occur there’s all sorts of what can seem like unkind reactions to those mistakes but I guess you could reframe that to say, “My goodness, this person has a very high standard of excellence and they are pursuing greatness in terms of what we are producing here as a team.”

So I guess that would be a means of reframing a particular experience of, “I don’t like this person. They are a jerk,” into what appears to be a jerk manifestation may, in fact, be an expression of something good at the core.

Gayle Van Gils
It could be, and also it might be an opportunity. The other aspect of that it might be an opportunity to have compassion for this person, “Boy, they must be hard on themselves if they’re being this hard on me. I wonder what it’s like to be inside of that person. I’m glad I’m not that hard on myself. I can give myself a break. If I make a mistake, I can do it again.” The only way to learn is through mistakes. And cultures at work that don’t allow for mistakes don’t grow. They don’t innovate. Nothing creative can happen if you can’t make mistakes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. So, well, then, we talked a little bit about the confidence coming from a core belief in terms of you and your goodness and fundamental intrinsic value as well as mistakes showing up. Do you have some additional perspectives or approaches to grow in that sense of confidence day after day and work?

Gayle Van Gils
Well, I think it’s a quality of knowing that you’re doing your best. Again, you’re the judge of that. So if you’re actually reaching for excellence, and you’re asking for guidance, and you’re willing to listen outside of your fixed ideas to possibilities then you’re doing your best. But that’s where you have to have the self-awareness, “Am I rejecting advice? Am I asking for help? Am I part of the team or am I acting as a solo agent?” So you need to really assess. That’s why I say that always the self-awareness comes as the first step because you have to know where you can grow, and that’s how you keep growing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then that’s just there about having some quiet time, having some breathing, having some time with Q&A to yourself with a journal or such?

Gayle Van Gils
Yeah. Well, I also offer a values assessment that there’s a link to in the book and other exercises. There’s tons of exercises in the book about what are you thinking about, what is your inner critic is doing to yourself, what you do at work that you could let go of that’s holding you back, and what you can do more of, and how to take action on the information you got. I just go on and on and on. It’s just all sorts of steps are right there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, talk about the inner critic point. I’d love to get your take. Do you have sort of a prescription when you’re in the heat of it, the inner critic just fired off, “That was so stupid,” or whatever it sounds like? Do you have like a stop, drop and roll or what do you do in the moment?

Gayle Van Gils
Yeah, actually I do have a practice called STOP.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright.

Gayle Van Gils
So when you’re being critical or you got angry or you’re about to push send on the email that’s wrong, whatever it is that you’re having a reactive response to which is what being a critic of one’s self is, just stop what you’re doing. And so you could even say the word out loud, like to yourself, “Stop! Just stop!” Right? So you wait for a minute. Then the T is take a deep breath, and deep breathing actually increases the flow of oxygen to the brain and it activates the parasympathetic nervous system which promotes a sense of calm.

So now you’ve stopped, have a little bit more calm and you observe what you’re thinking or feeling. And by observing it now you’ve taken a step back and this reduces your reactive response. So the critic in us which is so powerful and so on autopilot, we’re now taking a step back and observing ourselves doing it, and then we can proceed mindfully, to respond to the situation or to what we’re thinking in a different way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, excellent. Thank you. Well, looking through what I prepared here, it feels like we covered a lot of it, so you tell me maybe what we’ve missed to mop up a little bit. In addition to some of these approaches, what would be some of your other favorite quick and easy tactics or means of enjoying more happiness day after day at work?

Gayle Van Gils
Well, I think I’d like to talk a little bit more about curiosity and even a sense of trusting your intuition because both of those capacities again are opening you to messages or information from your work environment that you may not be listening to. And if you’re stuck inside your head, you’re stuck inside an echo chamber. So having curiosity about what’s going on in the workplace, what’s going on in other people’s jobs and fields, what you could do to be of help to others, that’s really a great way to get engaged and break that cycle of disengagement and be happier.

Also there are environments where the managers and other people actually build in fun activities, so you can make sure that you have some period of break for you and your team if you’re in charge where you can do some actual activities that bring some joy, like throwing around a Nerf ball or something once every three hours. There’s lots of ways to de-stress the environment. I give examples of companies that do things like this.

They actually sometimes have days, like there’s a bank that has dress-up days. People just announce, “Tomorrow is a dress-up day. Come as your favorite cartoon character,” and so every teller is a cartoon character in that bank. It’s just a bank but they’re trying to mix it up and let people bring their creativity in. So you really can let your mind go on this.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And so any other quick thoughts when it comes to stress, happiness, overwhelm in terms of just make it for a better experience?

Gayle Van Gils
Well, basically you have to feel that you’re the one who can make a difference. So if you’re always looking to others to make your experience better then you’re staying in a dependent role. So I think that the important thing to realize is that you can make your day at work happier, and by doing so you can affect others.

So I have a story about one of my clients who worked in a very oppressive situation. It was a loan or mortgage company, and so they had to work at a pace that was ridiculous because the margin of what they actually made on each loan that they process was very small because they were just a processing arm in this. They weren’t actually the bank.

So they had to do enormous volumes, and there was a huge lid from the top, like just work, work, work, no breaks, no 20-minute lunches, I mean, just terrible, terrible environment and people were incredibly stressed and literally getting sick. And my client decided to do things differently. She was a manager of a particular group, and without telling her superiors, she gave them an hour for lunch and she often went out with them, she had team meetings, she gave them lots of feedback and praise.

And one day her superiors came to her and said, “Hey, your division is producing more than anybody else. What are you doing?” And she told them and they were shocked.

Pete Mockaitis
“Breaking all your rules.”

Gayle Van Gils
Exactly. And I know another CEO who writes a thank you note, not a thank you note, a happy birthday note to every single employee in a huge company. So that means every single day she’s writing a letter because there’s thousands of people in this company. But it’s this personal connection from the very top to the lowest person. So whether you’re at the bottom or whether you’re at the top you can make a difference by doing something kind for someone.

Pete Mockaitis
Fantastic. Thanks, Gayle. Well, tell me, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we talk about some of your favorite things?

Gayle Van Gils
I do think you’ve covered a lot. Well, I could say something about happiness, fear and change because we live in times that are changing very rapidly, and a lot of those changes are what are causing the stress and fear in workplaces whether it’s the management’s response to change or an individual’s inability to change.

And so fear can come up when you’re moved to another department, or your company merges with another company, or there’s new policies, or if you have a new job and you fear the performance, so there’s all these opportunities to close down. And so I just want to offer the possibility that change is completely natural and normal and we could embrace it, and that we could see it always as a fresh moment that change gives us the opportunity to excel, change gives us the opportunity to do something new. So a lot of it is really changing our mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, so now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Gayle Van Gils
The one that I keep on my desk, you may think this is pretty obscure, but I’m going to say it and then if you want me to tell you what it means to me I will. But I keep this on my desk every day. It’s, “Since everything is but an apparition, perfect in being what it is, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, you might as well burst out laughing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. No, that makes sense. Sure, might as well. Thank you.

Gayle Van Gils
Okay. You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Gayle Van Gils
Well, I love the study that was done and talked about in the book Blink that was about… it highlighted the power of intuition and decision-making. So what they did, it was a study I think at, oh, I do forget the university. But, anyway, it was a study done at a university, done with four decks of cards. Two decks of cards were red and two decks of cards were blue. And before the card experiment started they wired the palms of the participants to lie detectors which were basically measuring perspiration that when you got nervous you would start to perspire.

And the goal was you could win money by turning over cards that had a positive value, and you would lose money, it would subtracted of cards that had a negative value. And I don’t know what was actually written on the cards but as you turned the cards over you would see what the value was. And the experiment was rigged. It was the red cards, I believe, that were more positive and the blue that were more negative, or one or the other.

And so what happened was, as they did the experiment, nobody said anything until about the 50th card, and then by the 80th card they would say, “Oh, I know what’s going on. This is rigged. The red deck is better than the blue deck.” But actually what was happening was after card number 10, their palms began sweating, their bodies knew that something was going on, and they started picking fewer cards from the bad decks.

So their body was giving them information, they were slightly acting on that information, but that information in the body was processed before it got to the prefrontal cortex in the brain where the brain said, “Oh, I see what’s going on.” So the lesson to take from that is that if you can tune more into your body it’s an advantage in business and making decisions and you can trust your gut. So I love that experiment.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, excellent. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Gayle Van Gils
I love fantastical realism, and one of my favorite authors is Salman Rushdie. Are you familiar with him?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, a little bit.

Gayle Van Gils
Yeah. So right now I just started a new one called The Ground Beneath Her Feet, but I love Midnight’s Children and Haroun and the Sea of Stories and The Moor’s Last Sigh. Anyway, I love Salman Rushdie, so.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite tool?

Gayle Van Gils
I think I probably do use that stopping and taking a breath and seeing what I’m feeling all the time. I really do, because I’m a very energetic and passionate person so I could just jump and say something that I might be sorry for. So I think I use the tool of just, “Hmm, let me think about that for a moment before I jump.”

Pete Mockaitis
Alright. Thank you. And how about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours you find helpful?

Gayle Van Gils
Well, I love to work out and I find that really helpful in terms of feeling my best.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great, yes.
And is there a particular nugget, something that you share that tends to particularly resonate with folks, they nod their heads, they take notes and say, “Yes, Gayle, that’s so right on”?

Gayle Van Gils
Well, honestly, I’m going to say that the message of being happier at work and the message of kindness is resonating tremendously. So, for instance, the other day I was quite surprised. I was at a meeting, somebody was giving a talk, and I sat next to the CEO of a fairly large financial organization, and I had my book with me because I was going to give it to the speaker that someone who had asked for my book.

So I had it on the table and he said, “Oh my God, we need that in our industry. We need to be happier at work.” And we already have an appointment to get together and talk, and I’m pleasantly shocked by how universal this need is.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. And tell me, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Gayle Van Gils
Well, I do have a website, and the name of my company is Transform Your Culture. So you can go to TransformYourCulture.com, or you could actually go to HappierAtWork.com, or my name GayleVanGils.com and they’ll all get you to the same website. And when you go there I would suggest taking the personal values assessment which is on the book page because that’s free. It comes with a free consultation with me, and it gives you a lot of insight into some of the areas that we were talking about in terms of getting some self-awareness.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And would you leave listeners with a final challenge or call to action if they’re looking to be more awesome at their jobs?

Gayle Van Gils
Oh, I would say take an interest in someone else tomorrow and see what you can do for them and see what happens.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Thank you. Well, Gayle, this has been really, really good, deep stuff kind of thought-provoking in a big way, so thanks so much for sharing this and good luck with the book and all you’re up to.

Gayle Van Gils
Okay. Thank you. And thank you so much for inviting me to be on your show.

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