What do “a beginner’s mind” and bottle nose dolphins have in common?

In August I took advantage of a calm day to go fishing in a small punt with my family.   As we chugged out towards the Atlantic beyond the Sovereign Rocks, we cut the engine, watched the gannets, and pulled energetically on our fishing lines hoping for a bite.  It was not to be.  Regretfully pulling in our lines, we started to head for home when eagle-eye husband shouted and pointed:  A school of Bottle Nosed Dolphins cruising towards us.

Several quickly found our bow wave, diving under and across the bow of the boat, enjoying having our hull to play around.   My son and I were entranced, they move with such grace and speed, without haste.   We found character and clues to past encounters – there’s a young one, staying close to its mother.  This tawny bellied one is a scarred adventurer, likes to skim the hull as he dives across our bow.  There’s speedy Gonzales, seen and gone in a flash, and those two are clearly teens, nonchalantly passing us and emptying their blowholes onto my son’s rosy cheeks.

So what?  How is this relevant to conflict, coaching & business change?  You’re very busy, and want to learn something useful, not read amateur David Attenborough efforts!   Ok, let’s consider our dolphin experience from a meta-skill perspective.   Remember that Amy Mindel defines Meta skills as the attitudes and feeling tone underlying our skills.  And here’s the important part, these attitudes and feeling tone are actually what we and our business stakeholders respond to.

Metaskills include playfulness, compassion, living in the moment, curiosity, to name but a few that I witnessed or experienced as we enjoyed the dolphins.  Let’s focus on one: A beginner’s mind.    It was the first time my son had seen dolphins – he was excited, looked and listened intently, observed, asked questions, explored, wondered aloud, was open to explanations of behaviour, and deeply appreciated his temporary companions.  Just think what a different atmosphere we introduce when we bring “A Beginners Mind” to our meetings!   We implicitly give permission for a deeper connection and an extraordinary interaction.

And yes, I believe this deeper connection and extraordinary interaction impacts the bottom line.  A beginner’s mind seeks creative solutions by exploring ideas and thoughts and diving below the surface, following thought processes rather than shutting them down.   Conversely, ignoring the attitudes and tone underlying skills and behaviours frequently results in misunderstanding, friction, resistance – all time consuming, emotionally draining, and, of course, expensive.

There you have it, my reflections on our dolphin experience, and how it brought home to me the importance of meta-skills.  I invite you to experiment today – imagine you’ve never met your colleagues before, be authentic, take time to deeply appreciate them, be curious about how they think, notice the way they speak, move, and explore underlying attitudes and feelings.   You may be surprised at the result!



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