Most of us are interested in ways to decrease stress, improve sleep, and stimulate brain growth and memory. And yet, research shows that silence does all of this and more. In a world where we carry our favorite music in our back pocket; engage in long-distance conversations anywhere, anytime; and listen to podcasts, audio books or funny Youtube videos on demand, silence is often elusive.
A recent study indicates that not only is silence difficult to find, but we actively avoid it. In an experiment where individuals were given the choice of sitting in silence with their thoughts, or inflicting an electrical shock upon themselves, the results were surprising. Even though participants had previously stated that they would pay money to avoid being shocked, 67% of the men and 25% of women chose to inflict it on themselves rather than sit quietly and think for 15 minutes.
As we head into the busy holiday season, it is important to prioritize making some time for silence and rest. While it can be difficult to carve out or choose time for solitude and reflection, there are a few key reasons for us as leaders to do so:
1. Healthy Relationships
Relationships are critical to our health and wellbeing. In today’s busy, digitally-driven world, our longing for deep relationships is greater than ever. Often we substitute noise and a sense of connectedness for true relationships. Writer Johnathan Franzen describes that “our infatuation with technology provides an easy alternative to love.” Ironically, it is often silence and solitude that allow us the understanding and peace to engage in deep, caring, healthy relationships more regularly. Thomas Merton, in No Man Is an Island, explains: “The man who fears to be alone will never be anything but lonely, no matter how much he may surround himself with people. But the man who learns, in solitude and recollection, to be at peace with his own loneliness, and to prefer its reality to the illusion of merely natural companionship, comes to know the invisible companionship of God. Such a one is alone with God in all places, and he alone truly enjoys the companionship of other men, because he loves them in God.”
2. Effective Leadership
Leaders today are confronting increasingly complex problems in ever-changing environments. More than ever, we need time and space to clear the clutter from our minds and focus on the challenges we confront. Author and speaker, Sarah Ban Breathnach, explains, “Usually, when the distractions of daily life deplete our energy, the first thing we eliminate is the thing we need the most: quiet, reflective time. Time to dream, time to contemplate what's working and what's not, so that we can make changes for the better.” Kate Murphy, in her article, No Time to Think says, “You can’t solve or let go of problems if you don’t allow yourself time to think about them. It’s an imperative ignored by our culture, which values doing more than thinking and believes answers are in the palm of your hand rather than in your own head.” I would add that sometimes the answers are whispered in our heart. When we fail to listen, in silence and solitude, we may miss the best answers to issues we are facing.
3. Identity and Purpose
In a study by anthropologist Emily Martin, an eleven-year-old girl from a broken home, who bounces between three households, explains that in each of these households the rules are different and so is she. Her identity, like that of many of us today, is defined by an external context. This translates easily into the virtual world, where our identities can be fluid and adaptable. Unfortunately, this also makes us vulnerable to confusion, depression, and a lack of confidence. Silence and reflection is the space where we can listen to our own heart and identify our identity and purpose. Carl Sandburg describes this beautifully when he says the following: “A man must find time for himself. Time is what we spend our lives with. If we are not careful we find others spending it for us. . . It is necessary now and then to go away and experience loneliness; to sit on a rock in the forest and to ask, 'Who am I, and where have I been, and where am I going?' If one is not careful, one allows diversions to take up one's time—the stuff of life.”
As leaders, may we prioritize silence and reflection, benefiting from the rest and understanding that come from these disciplines. More importantly, may we model these critical practices for those younger than us who are in danger of living lives full of noise and distraction, without understanding the beauty and healing of silence and solitude.
The following is a guest contribution written by Gen Zer, Ariana Chaparro:
I have seen so many conversations and debates over text message turn into ugly arguments because of miscommunication. Texting has become one of the most prominent forms of communication, especially amongst the younger generations, but with that comes many good and bad things.
One of the best qualities of text messaging is how easy it is to reach out to people. Instead of writing letters or waiting to use a house phone to make a call, we can just send instant messages whenever we like. That can make relationships (whether work-related or personal) much easier to form and manage. However, one of the negatives is how easy it can be for those relationships to be damaged by a misunderstanding through a text conversation.
I'm in a group chat with a couple of friends. We like to have conversations and debates about different topics like politics, pop culture, and religion. While many of these tend to be lighthearted discussions about our perspectives, they can get intense. Sometimes we misread a message, or the punctuation and emojis make it hard to understand the tone of someone's comment. Maybe one of us accidentally skips over the part of a text that would have changed the whole conversation. These can lead to confusion, frustration, and sometimes anger, especially if we feel like something was said as an attack towards us when that's not what the other person meant. Things can get very messy, very fast.
When we meet up in person or get on a phone call, things get cleared up so quickly. We can explain our meaning without reading between the lines or trying to figure out the tone the other person is using. Arguments that might have gone on forever over text can be solved in minutes over the phone or in person because it's so much more effective to express ourselves without the screen as a barrier.
In some cases, we can use our screens as a barrier on purpose. We're afraid of showing emotions through our voice and face, so we hide them through texting. We feel as though we have more control over the situation when we can take our time replying and rereading everything that was said. I'll admit, I am guilty of this. It can be so much easier to speak your mind online than having to face another person in real life. We feel almost protected by the virtual wall that is between us and others. Being comfortable hiding behind this wall isn't healthy. It can cause tension and resentment towards others because we are not expressing how we feel correctly.
While it's usually more convenient, texting is not the best solution to handling disagreements and conflicts with others. Yes, it can be easier. Yes, it can be more comfortable than facing another person. But shouldn’t we be okay with being uncomfortable for a short amount of time rather than losing friendships? Or risk hurting others and ourselves? Or being in a place of frustration and resentment because we cannot bear to lose this feeling of control we have?
Next time you are talking to someone online or through text messages, and you get into a disagreement, pause for a second. If this is important to you, take the time to call that person or reach out to meet face-to-face. It might be uncomfortable, but it's better to solve these problems in a healthy way, rather than in an easy and possibly harmful way.
The following is an excerpt from my book, Daniel Generation. For special promotions on the English edition, Spanish edition, or audiobook, visit our website.
One significant key to healthy relationships is emotional intelligence (EQ). This consists of understanding our own emotions and those of others. Developing emotional intelligence and soft skills—those people skills that help you succeed in today’s work environment—often requires more intentional effort than it did in the past. Due to the increasingly virtual nature of our interactions at home, school and work, we experience significantly fewer face-to-face interactions than did previous generations. While Millennials and Generation Z individuals are especially adept at communicating online, valuable intimacy gets lost in virtual communications. Quantified Impressions reported that the average adult today makes eye contact between 30 and 60 percent of the time in conversation. Emotional connection is built when eye contact is made during 60 to 70 percent of the conversation. When there is less eye contact, fewer connections are made. Virtual connections, while valuable, cannot replace the emotional connection and sense of wellbeing that occurs with eye contact, touch and physical presence. So, what can we do to grow ourselves and help others grow in their EQ?
Self-awareness is the first element of good emotional intelligence. This involves incredible honesty, authenticity and humility. Without self-awareness, however, relationships usually stagnate. Here are a few tips to consider for pursuing healthy self-awareness:
“Sharenting” is a term that describes sharing about kids or young people online. “Sharenthood: Why We Should Think Before We Talk About Our Kids Online,” is a new book by Leah Plunkett. Plunkett argued that “sharenting” happens any time an adult in charge of a child’s well-being, such as a parent, grandparent, teacher or coach, transmits private details about a child via digital channels such as social media. Some of these activities clearly involve a public share, such as posting pictures of your child on Instagram, or blogging about your kids. Others seem to happen in private, but often end up turning your child into a set of data points, via fertility apps or Amazon wish lists, the use of a Nest cam, or photos stored on a cloud server. Though these platforms and devices aren’t necessarily exploitative, Plunkett argues that they involve adult decisions that accelerate a child’s entry into “digital life.”
A struggle for many of us is that we want to share about our kids for family and friends; cute kids are a positive feature on social media as compared to some other types of posts; they get likes and comments which make us feel good; and social media is now part of the world we live in. So, is concern over too much “sharenting” warranted?
Tim Elmore shares a story on his blog that illustrates one of the potential dangers of too much “sharenting:”
It all started when April, Christine’s youngest daughter, was five years old. Christine knew April would be their family’s last baby and wanted to document each milestone and comical moment of her childhood. By the time she was ten, April was avoiding photo ops; shying away from the camera. By 13, when she had a phone of her own, April witnessed on social media just how much mom had posted on both Facebook and Instagram. She felt violated.
Eventually, as a teen, April requested her mom stop sharing photos of her. It was embarrassing and drew sarcasm from her friends.
In my relationship with my own kids, I have seen the shyness or embarrassment on occasion that result when they realize I have shared something about them. It has made me realize that no number of likes are worth hurting my relationship with my kids. While kids may not need full agency to dictate what can be shared about them at a young age, we don’t want to violate their trust. It can be difficult finding the balance between honoring and celebrating or sharing, and jeopardizing trust.
Another real factor is privacy and security. The BBC reported on a study by Barclays bank estimating that by 2030 nearly two-thirds of identity-fraud cases affecting today’s children will have resulted from sharenting. The bank warned that parents might be "lulled into a false sense of security" and fail to understand that they are making their children "fraud targets" in the future, by publishing so much personal information which will remain online forever.
Tim Elmore shares some practical guidelines to consider as we share about our kids, grandkids, or other young people online:
The following is a guest article, written by Ariana Chaparro. Ariana is a recent high school graduate and is now taking a gap year before college to explore different career paths and interests.
A few years ago, a friend of mine was going through a challenging situation. I knew about some of her struggles and wanted to share my thoughts and advice, but I was worried she wouldn't listen or would think I was judging her and turn me away. I truly cared about her and needed to find a way for her to see that. I knew she would only listen to me if she knew I was genuinely listening to her.
Sometimes we're too quick to give our opinion, share our advice, or shut others down because we think they're wrong. Yes, sometimes the other person is wrong, or they do need our guidance, but there's a time and place for that. There are situations where we need to say something immediately, but other times we just need to listen, empathize, and try to understand where the other person is coming from.
As time went on, my friend started to open up to me, and for a while I just listened. There were definitely moments I wanted to cut in and share my thoughts, but I waited. I learned that she did not need me to tell her the same advice that everyone was already giving her and opinions that others were already throwing at her. She needed someone to listen and honestly care about how she was feeling. She needed somebody to encourage her when no one else would. Eventually, she opened the door for my thoughts and advice, and she listened! She considered what I had to say because she knew I had the whole picture in mind, not just an outside view.
Maybe you know someone going through a tough situation. Perhaps you have a friend who is living a lifestyle you think is wrong. Maybe you have a child who doesn't listen to what you say or fights back when you try to help.
Take a step back. Look at the bigger picture. If you can’t see the whole situation or understand their point of view, ask them to show you. We cannot expect to reach someone when we don't really know where they are. It may take a while. It might be hard for others to open up because of things we've said before or past experiences with broken trust. There's a time and place for everything. Sometimes it's not the time or the place for us to speak, but to just listen.
In a 2014 Ted Talk, David Brooks discussed two sets of values that we can pursue in our lives: resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are those accomplishments and capacities we can represent on a resume. Eulogy virtues are those characteristics and attitudes that are discussed in our eulogies. While most of us would agree that eulogy virtues are more important, we live in a culture that consistently affirms resume virtues. If we are not careful, as mentors, leaders, and parents, we too can affirm resume virtues over eulogy virtues in the lives of young people around us.
Brooks described how the two sets of values, or sides of our nature, work by different logics. The external logic that drives resume virtues is economic; the internal logic that drives eulogy virtues is moral. Tim Elmore and Andrew McPeak, in their book Generation Z Unfiltered, summarize the attitudes of these two sets of values or selves. The resume virtues tend to be worldly, ambitious, innovative, curious about how things work, and focused on accomplishment and success. The eulogy virtues tend to be humble, good, strong, curious about why we are here, and focused on honoring others, love and redemption.
In a world of standardized tests, social media posts, and a competitive global economy, it is easy to overemphasize those virtues that help get good grades, social media likes, and competitive job. As adults, we may unintentionally emphasize these virtues for Gen Z as we celebrate their resume virtues via our social media posts, and challenge or coach them regularly on school or work skills and accomplishments. Resume virtues are important, however, if they are overemphasized while eulogy virtues are underemphasized, we may find ourselves leading young people who lack internal motivation, a sense of moral direction, and empathy for others.
Gen Z needs encouragement to think beyond resume virtues and consider eulogy virtues. As an individualistic generation, they need to be reflective and determine their personal values, something that does not often happen in our busy, noisy world. Elmore and McPeak offer several suggestions to consider as we encourage young people. First, have them write their own eulogy, identifying key values. Consider also writing yours and sharing it with the young person you are mentoring. Second, ask the young person to identify actions that reflect those values they have identified. Third, ask them to put the actions that have been identified into practice. Last, provide support and encouragement.
What are ways that you currently encourage and affirm resume values in the lives of young people? Eulogy values? What are additional ways you could encourage the development of eulogy values?
Self-awareness is critical for effective multigenerational teams and leadership. Without self-awareness, we may fail to understand how members of other generations are perceiving or relating to our words and actions.
Researcher Dr. Tasha Eurich discusses two types of self-awareness. The first is internal self-awareness. This relates to how we see our “own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions (including thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses), and impact on others.” Dr. Eurich and her team discovered that internal self-awareness is “associated with higher job and relationship satisfaction, personal and social control, and happiness; it is negatively related to anxiety, stress, and depression.”
The second type of self-awareness identified by Dr. Eurich and her team is external self-awareness. This relates to understanding how other people view us, in terms of our values, passions, reactions and environment. Their research shows that people who know how others see them are more skilled at showing empathy and taking others’ perspectives.
Bradberry and Greaves, in their book Emotional Intelligence 2.0, define self-awareness as the “ability to accurately perceive your own emotions in the moment and understand your tendencies across situations.”
There are several ways to increase our self-awareness. The first is to reflect more. Take time to think about your words, actions, and decisions. Consider how others respond, or where you could have be more effective. While reflection is likely to reveal some areas where we need to change and grow, self-awareness is also about understanding how we are wired, what motivates and affects us. When we know these things, we can make decisions and choose opportunities that minimize our potential to respond poorly and maximize the positive impact of our strengths, gifts, and interests.
A second step to increasing self-awareness is to take the time to understand ourselves better. Assessments, coaching, or journaling are a few tools that can help us with this.
A third strategy to increasing self-awareness is actively requesting feedback and receiving it with gratitude and not defensiveness. There are many formal and informal ways to solicit feedback. One of my favorite growth strategies is to have reverse mentors who are older and younger than me. By requesting and graciously receiving their honest feedback on my behaviors, attitudes, and interactions, I can gain a deeper understanding of myself and how others perceive me.
Bradberry and Greaves tell us that “self-awareness is a foundation skill; when you have it, self-awareness makes the other EQ skills much easier to use. As self-awareness increases, people’s satisfaction with life…skyrockets. Self-awareness is so important for job performance that 83 percent of people high in self-awareness are top performers.”
Consider your own level of internal and external self-awareness. Where do you have the need to grow in your understanding of yourself and others? How can you engage someone older or younger than you as you seek to grow in your self-awareness?
James Emery White, in his book Meet Generation Z stated, “As the first truly post-Christian generation, and numerically the largest, Generation Z will be the most influential religious force in the West.” Author Jonathan Morrow explained that Gen Z is growing up in a world that rejects a Christian worldview, but desires the world that has the characteristics that biblical principles allow to exist. In addition, young believers often lack the education and discipleship that allow them to understand how faith applies in real life.
As America becomes increasingly post-Christian, church attendance and biblical literacy are on the decline. Data from the General Social Survey and the Pew Research Center corroborated a downward trend in church attendance in the U.S. “In the most recent GSS studies, 43% of respondents say they attend religious services at least monthly, down from 47% in the early 2000s and 50% in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, the share of U.S. adults who say they “never” attend religious services now stands at 27%, up from 18% in the early 2000s and roughly double the share who said this in the early 1990s (14%).” A LifeWay Research study found that only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church actually read the Bible more than once a week and almost one in five churchgoers say they never read the Bible. Barna reported, “Since 2009, Bible reading has become less widespread, especially among the youngest adults. Today, only one-third of all American adults report reading the Bible once a week or more. The percentage is highest among Elders (49%) and lowest among Millennials (24%).” As we seek to encourage young people in their faith, we must recognize that they may not possess a basic understanding of healthy spiritual growth. As a result, they need intentional training, encouragement, and mentoring.
Even young believers with a strong faith, who desire to grow spiritually, often confront opposition to their faith that did not exist in our culture a couple of decades ago. David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock, in their book Faith for Exiles, contended that “today’s society is especially and insidiously faith repellent.” They reported that it is hard to grow resilient faith in this generation of young people growing up in a post-Christian culture. It is possible, however. Here are a few of the strategies we can employ as we seek to encourage spiritual growth in the lives of young people around us:
Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, are impacting many young people today. ACEs are potentially traumatic situations that occur before a child reaches the age of 18. They can include abuse (physical, emotional or sexual), neglect (physical or emotional), or household dysfunction (mental health, divorce, substance or physical abuse, or relative incarceration). Research indicates that around 30 percent of all children have experienced at least one ACE, that is roughly one out of every three Gen Z youth. Almost half of those have experienced more than one ACE. ACEs can have profound long-term effects on the mental and physical health of those impacted.
It is important for leaders, mentors, parents and teachers to be aware of negative situations affecting the young people around them and to provide support for those who have had adverse childhood experiences. Here are a few strategies to consider as we support Gen Z.
There is an African Proverb that states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Healthy, productive teams, however, require time, energy, and intentional leadership. This is especially true of multigenerational teams. I appreciate the perspective of former basketball coach, Pat Summitt who once said, “To me, teamwork is a lot like being part of a family. It comes with obligations, entanglements, headaches, and quarrels. But the rewards are worth the cost.”
The level of complexity and change in our world is increasing the need for self-directed and empowered teams. In his book, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, General Stanley McChrystal, explains, “Much of what a leader must be, and do, has fundamentally changed. The heroic “hands-on” leader whose personal competence and force of will dominated battlefields and boardrooms for generations has been overwhelmed by accelerating speed, swelling complexity, and interdependence.” McChrystal and his co-authors describe the need for team leaders to begin viewing themselves more as gardeners, and less as chess masters. The new environment in which leaders today must operate requires less of the “move-by-move control” of a chess master, the approach more common in traditional team leadership. Instead, team leaders today can be more effective when they operate as gardeners, “nurturing the organization—its structure, processes, and culture” to allow team members to function with confidence, resources, understanding, and support that enable maximum motivation, collaboration, and innovation.
Tony Dungy, in his book, The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People & Teams that Win Consistently, echoes the importance of the leader’s role in creating an environment where teams can thrive. He explains that leaders must “engage, educate, equip, encourage, empower, energize, and elevate. Those are the methods for maximizing the potential of any individual, team, organization, or institution for ultimate success and significance. Those are the methods of a mentor leader.” Tony Dungy encourages leaders to walk alongside their teams. He explains, “If you want to make a difference in the lives of the people you lead, you must be willing to walk alongside them, to lift and encourage them, to share moments of understanding with them, and to spend time with them, not just shout down at them from on high.”
A lack of support from the leader is a key reason young people struggle on teams. Multigenerational teams thrive most when they have a leader who nurtures like a gardener, caring for the individuals on the team as a gardener cares and provides for the plants in a garden.
Reflect on teams where you lead or have influence. What about the culture or environment is healthy and empowering? What is unhealthy? Do you lead and influence like a gardener, who nurtures and supports the individuals and team? How could you do this more intentionally?
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!