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How to Be a Better Listener with Dr. Jenny Christner

George Grombacher May 24, 2022

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How to Be a Better Listener with Dr. Jenny Christner

LifeBlood: We talked about how to become a better listener, the value and lessons we can take from improv comedy, how and why to pay close attention to our thoughts, and the power of “Yes, and,” with Dr. Jenny Christner, CEO of Christner Strategies and Senior Dean of the Baylor School of Medicine.  

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Our Guests

George Grombacher


Dr. Jenny Christner

Episode Transcript

eorge grombacher 0:00
Come on let’s go. This is George G. And the time is right. welcome today’s guest strong and powerful. Jenny Krisna. Jenny, are you ready to do this?

Jenny Christner 0:18
I am awesome.

george grombacher 0:20
Let’s go. Jenny is an MD. She is the CEO of Christmas strategies. She is the Senior dean of the Baylor School of Medicine School of Health Professions, and certified life coach for healthcare professionals and executives. Jenny excited to have you on. Tell us a little about your personal life some more about your work and why you do what you do.

Jenny Christner 0:41
Sure thing? Well, I am in Houston been here seven years, and we love it. I’m married with three kids and three pets. So I guess there’s something about threes, that I like, I always have to eat three Oreos, you know, that kind of thing? So I don’t know. But and then and then what I do. So, you know, I actually it’s kind of interesting how I fell into this line of work that I do. I’m a pediatrician, I did adolescent medicine, I really loved teaching. So I went into academic medicine. And through that, I think, two things that happened that kind of led to what I do now in Krister strategies. And that is one thing is that you continually mentor people. So you’re always or mentoring students or residents even as you go up the ladder, junior faculty. And another thing that you are always doing is speaking, right. So I’m I’m leading meetings, I’m speaking in groups, I speak at conferences, and I enjoy really loved both of those things. And the other little thing about me is that when I grew up, I was in theater a lot. And so I did you know, I did lots of community theater, I was always you know, the lead in the plays at school. And I just loved it. And it gave me joy. And it gave me energy and then medical school have happened and basically did nothing of any of that, that gives me joy, or creativity or you’re anything like that. So I I finally decided as I was nearing a big milestone birthday, that it was time to do some of those things that I had really liked a lot. And that’s how I kind of fell into improv. And I took a improv class, and I loved it. And I completed like all they have their five levels. And I completed all five levels. And I said, you know, there is there’s absolutely a way to kind of use this in what I do every day. So that’s kind of how it all began.

george grombacher 2:37
Awesome. So are Is it common for for physicians to be creatives to be expressives?

Unknown Speaker 2:47
You know, I don’t know how common it is. But But yes, so So I think as you know, there are there are a lot of really creative people in medicine. If you look, there’s lots of people who actually have their own podcast who write to do creative writing, there’s actually a small little part of us that actually do improv that I actually found out when I explored this. And I was actually like, oh, my gosh, so there are I think, I think you have to struggle, though a little bit at the beginning to find that because really, in the beginning, your training is so intense that if you’re not careful, it can release kind of squash everything. And then some people are really good at keeping it keeping a little line intact, where other people have to have it emerge again. And I was one of those that had to have it kind of emerge again. So

george grombacher 3:33
yeah, I appreciate that. It strikes me that. That it’s probably not going to just emerge again on its own. I imagine the rigors of medicine, if it’s actually helping patients or if it’s on the administrative side of the teaching side. Both are very, very demanding on your time and your attention and energy. And so without intention, you’re probably not going to take an improv class or devote the time that it takes to do it.

Unknown Speaker 4:01
Yes, I think I think you’re right. Yes. Right. Yeah. Right for sure. So and I think I had just reached that point where I just needed I was probably getting close to burned out I wasn’t there yet. But I knew and and I wanted to do something too, so that I would still really love my job. But that also brought me joy in my personal life and then really found something that could bridge both worlds, which was even more amazing. So

george grombacher 4:26
right, yeah. And I you know, I again, I just have to imagine that that your story is or rather the way that you were feeling is not uncommon that getting close to burnout. Not uncommon, but that you did take the action to do it. I feel like people just need nudges.

Unknown Speaker 4:44
Yes, 100% No, I really believe that and I think that I think the other really thing and this is you know a little bit different from what I do is part I guess more of the coaching and improv but I think people are waiting one day for just like happiness to drop down upon them like I’ll be you know, when This happens, I’ll be happy when you know, when I get this job, I’ll be happy when this when my partner does this, I’ll be happy. And really, at least for me, what I found, it’s not those big things, those big circumstances that make you happy, but it’s just like little moments, you know that in life that make you really, really happy. And so it’s really just kind of dwelling or thinking about those all those little moments and those little choices that you make that bring you to more and more of those little moments in life that create that joy. So

george grombacher 5:32
I don’t know why it is that we think about life, or goals or happiness in that way. But we do. And I, it seems like we’re all afflicted with that of once I get x, then I will be y.

Unknown Speaker 5:50
Right? Yeah. And it’s just, it’s just not true. And we sadly see evidence of that, right? We see, you know, movie stars, you know, I mean, they’re some of the most prominent sports stars, right? Who you would say have everything, quote, unquote, right? They have it all, but they engage in very destructive behaviors. And so that’s a very just blatant way to demonstrate that, that having all those things that you think will bring you happiness don’t necessarily don’t often bring you happiness. And I think the, the practice of your writing your gratitude, so that I wake up every morning, and the first thing I do is write down my gratitudes. And they’re very small things, right? It’s not like, you know, that world peace or eat or anything like that. It’s like, some days, it’s like, I really liked the color of my nail polish that I’m wearing today. That is that’s, that’s making me happy today. That’s what I got. You know, but it’s just those little things that are really, really important. Increase. Yeah, happiness.

george grombacher 6:51
For sure. That’s, yeah, it’s wild, that people that to your point, if it’s a famous person, an athlete or whatever, somebody who’s rich, or thick, maybe another great example is somebody that is pouring in wins the lottery. And, you know, self destructs and is absolutely broke again, within just a couple of years.

Unknown Speaker 7:14
Yes, right. Exactly. Yeah. So, so yeah.

george grombacher 7:19
What is what is? I mean, so what is the work that needs to get done? Because I appreciate the practice of gratitude and, and self care and tactics, but what what do I need to do internally?

Unknown Speaker 7:36
Yeah, so So I think a couple of things. So I think one is that you have to recognize that your, your thoughts about something is, is what creates your feelings, and then and then drives your actions from that. And so So, so it’s really about reframing your thoughts about things, that’s what’s really important. And, you know, a lot of people will, will say, Well, what do you mean, you know, something horrible happened, do you expect me to be happy about that? And, and just change my feelings? And my thoughts about that. So know that, you know, when something really terrible or tragic happens, it’s not an expectation that you say, Oh, well, it’s okay. But for that specific thing, then it’s okay to kind of like, let feel those feelings rather than what we often do what we, you know, avoid them or Buffer them eat too much drink too much, you know, engage in some other, you know, behavior, that’s not helpful. So instead of doing that, you really feel that like, like, get into it, feel it, and in deal with those emotions, but that’s for something really bad that happens, you know, and that’s truly tragic. On on the day to day life, right? Where we have thoughts, you know, I have my boss, you know, like, wow, you know, my spouse did lie, you know, that it just, you know, it’s just those daily little things you can you can really work on changing your thought about that, by asking yourself, you can coach yourself asking yourself a lot of questions about that. And then really thinking, is that how everybody would perceive this? Or is the fact that, you know, my spouse didn’t fill up my car with gas, but yet, he brought me flowers, he brings me flowers every day, and he takes care of the children like so really? Is this one thing worth it? You know, and you can see, so you kind of coach yourself around those thoughts in that’s really important to do that. And then thinking about your actions from those thoughts. And what what’s really interesting is that when you have a certain thought about something, sometimes it’s about the actions that you take, so it’s about the, again, the eating or the drinking or the bad behaviors, but sometimes it’s really about all the things you don’t do when you have that thought, right. So when you’re having a thought that is, you know, kind of a negative side, you end up avoid, right? You might end up avoiding that person. You end up not doing loving things towards that person, you end up behaving in a different way. And all that does is reinforce that thought right? So, so you wrote, people really need to pay attention to all the things that they don’t do, in addition to what they do do when they’re going through things like that.

george grombacher 10:10
Yeah, like that. That’s really interesting. That’s something that I don’t spend enough time probably thinking about that that part of it of what I don’t do. I try to be mindful of, of, of thinking about what I’m thinking, right. And then why how am I responding to that? But then I realized that I don’t know where I picked that up. I’m sure I was taught that. But why would I know that? Unless somebody told me, hey, you need to be actually thinking about your thoughts, and then what patterns that you are either beneficially stuck in or negatively stuck in.

Unknown Speaker 10:46
Right, right. Right, right. Yeah, for sure. And I know I, one of the things I did, I did want to talk a little bit about the improv, you know, and so I went down this path, so I’m gonna tie them together. Just, it’ll, it’ll be a tiny stretch. No, but so I think that one of the things also, I think one of the things that really resonated me with about doing improv is that it actually is related to a lot of this, because when you are thinking about your thoughts, and when you’re thinking about other people and your feelings, you have to like you have to really listen, and listen in a very objective way. So not not what your brain is making out of something, but like what somebody actually said, right? Like, the actual words and take them as fact. And, and what in what I do in lots of people in their work, they, they work in teams, they have to work with other people, right? And so so you have to be really cognizant of what your team’s is saying what’s factual and what you’re making it be, you know, besides that you have about that. And one of the key tenants of improv, either there’s, there’s there’s several, but that some of the top ones is number one is that you have to listen intently to what your partner says. Because you haven’t because you have no idea. You don’t have a script. So you have to be listening intently to every single word. And then the big one, everybody kind of knows if you know anything about improv is you Yes. And it right. And, and that’s really key in relationships. Because if you say something to me, and like if we’d started this podcast, and I was just like, No, I don’t know anything about it. And no, I don’t know what to do. And I’m not trying to talk to you. Well, how would that have gone? Right? That would not be so great, right? That’s how it kind of ruined everything. And so think thinking about that both in your, in your communication with your teams, and then in your communication in your personal life, to really listen to the other person, make them feel heard. And even if you don’t necessarily agree with everything. People think that you know, sometimes when you think about this in a business sense that if you’re yes anding, then you’re giving in. And you’re that’s not what it’s about. It’s the yeses, acknowledging what you heard, doesn’t mean you’re agreeing with what you heard. But the yeses, yes, I acknowledge what you just said, I’m validating what you just said. And I’m going to add to that, right. And and and in improv, we always add it in a very supportive way. Right. So we support what our fellow actor just said, in life, we may not always support it, but by saying yes, and what about Would you consider this right, is a much more effective way to communicate, then you saying something to me? And I just shut it down? Right? Yes, I see your point. And I’m wondering if you could pass if we could think about it this way. Right. And so it’s just just these very just practical tenants about communication and listening and getting along in the world. And that’s why I found it. So fun on the one side, and then so meaningful to actually apply the principles in a work type situation.

george grombacher 13:54
Yes, super practical. That’s really, really powerful. Yes. And what about Would you consider is this is this something that that that requires a self assured, confident person? Because he talked about I don’t want to feel like I’m giving in? All right, well, this is not a zero sum game. And we can admit when we’re wrong, even though it seems like a lot of people in the world are incapable of doing that.

Unknown Speaker 14:26
Yeah, I think I think you have to be self assured. Yes, yes. And no, that’s a really good question. I think all communication goes better if you are more confident and self assured and really about comfortable just being in who you are in your own person, right? Communication is always going to go better that way. But if at the very base if you’re not ready for that, if you truly can just listen, because so many times the classic thing is when we’re having a conversation, we are not listening, right? There’s lots of actually literature that we’re getting we already have like our comeback we don’t even know What we’re coming back to, right because we haven’t even listened. But we’ve got to come back ready. We’ve got them well, blah, blah, blah, blah, this and it’s so ineffective. So even just being ready to like, just to listen is a massive step massive. Yeah.

george grombacher 15:16
Yeah. Like actually listen to the words, not when I’m assuming that you’re going to say not trying to look into the future and actually just taking what you said at face value and not trying to interpret what it is that you’re trying to get at, from my perspective, or whatever else. Right, actually just listen to listen to what you’re saying to me.

Unknown Speaker 15:39
Yep. It’s so simple. Right. But I mean, that’s the thing. The simplest things in life are sometimes like the hardest things. Yeah, and,

george grombacher 15:48
and, and, and absolutely the truest. So I, I’ve never tried to improv I, I think I would, I think I would enjoy it. And I really think that what we’re doing in a lot of the ways, it’s what we’re doing in life, right? And unless unless we’re performing an actual play, you know, or when I’m in a movie where there’s a script that’s written out. So what you’re talking about is so valuable, because that’s what we’re doing is we’re all improv in all the time.

Unknown Speaker 16:24
100% That’s absolutely right. That’s exactly right. Yeah. That’s why it’s just so valuable. Yeah.

george grombacher 16:31
And my life, it’s important. But in medicine, it’s also really important because you’re dealing with life and death type stuff.

Unknown Speaker 16:39
Yes, absolutely. And it’s very weird. I think it also appealed to me, because when people see improv, they don’t they don’t there’s Oh, it’s funny. And yeah, you know, but there’s actually like a science to it, there’s actually like, there’s actually a way to approach it, you know, and so I think it appealed to the nerd inside of me as well, that there’s actually some rules that you follow. So that was just, it’s just great.

george grombacher 17:02
Yeah, I think without that, it would probably be. I think that there’s always an awful lot of the time, there’s always an art and a science behind things. And you and I, as as an amateur, I have no idea what I’m doing, we could probably have a pretty fun improv session. But if and if if I actually knew and was practiced, then then it would be much, much, much obviously better. Yes. Agree. Yeah. And that’s probably true. When I’m when I’m in the operating room dealing with the other medical professionals. And obviously, when I’m in a consultation with a client, or what rather a patient that I should probably just be listening to what they’re telling me also.

Unknown Speaker 17:44
Absolutely right, that there’s a whole thing in medicine about just if you listen to the history, which is the story, right? Is that the examination or anything that that like 90% of the time gives you the answer, right. But we just we’re in a hurry, right. And we think that we’ve heard that story before, you know, and, but but really listening and asking the right questions will often be the trick. Yeah.

george grombacher 18:09
For sure. That’s, that’s fascinating, right? Just so many constraints on on physicians today with obviously money and time and I’ve got this much time to spend with the patient and I need to get through and I’m hungry, and I’m tired or whatever. Yeah, super valuable. I like it. Well, Jenny, people are ready for the difference baking tip, what do you have for them?

Unknown Speaker 18:40
All right, so um, so I actually have a quote. So I love quotes again, I just I love quotes for you, I have I have like a vision board where I have quotes from different people. So I’m gonna I’m gonna tell you it’s not original, but is a quote and I just love it. And it’s actually from Henry Ford, if you can believe it. And I’m like, I got my vision board is actually coming, coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success. And I love that because it’s just kind of all these all these principles, right? You’ve got to come together, you’ve got to listen to each other. To stay together is work and again, in any relationship, whether it’s personal relationship, or whether it’s a business relationship, to stay together that you know, that takes a lot of work and then you’re working together. It’s really the success and I just I just love I love those words. So I think that

george grombacher 19:32
that is I think that that is great stuff that definitely gets Come on. Right those those words are absolutely true. We all just getting together or we’re maybe onto something staying together if it’s relationships or business partners that is that is work and it can be hard and actually working together and creating something great together is that’s that’s success. So I love it. Absolutely, yeah. Well Jay, thank you so much for coming on where can people learn more about you? How can they engage with you?

Unknown Speaker 20:06
Absolutely. So you can best place to find me is that my website which is Christopher CHR, is T N E R, hyphen stret. S T R A

george grombacher 20:18
Perfect. Well, if you enjoyed this as much as I did show genuine appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas go to Chris snur ch, RI S T n er, hyphen strat, STR a Check out all the great all the great things that Jenni is working on list that the notes the show, obviously. Thanks good, Jenny. All right. Thank you. And until next time, keep fighting the good fight as we’re all in this together.

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