How Eileen Fisher learned to listen to her feelings

Sorry, I must confess I had no idea who Eileen Fisher was when I went to see her give a talk at Stanford University last week.

Of course, I now know she is a highly successful New York fashion entrepreneur selling elegant clothes to women who want to look good without necessarily making a big thing about what they wear.

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Stanford has a world-class business school but Eileen Fisher’s talk wasn’t there.

In fact it was hosted by the university’s centre for compassion and altruism research, an inspiring organisation that among other things puts on a regular programme of fascinating speakers (I saw Jon Kabat-Zinn last week).

Eileen Fisher’s talk was partly about the way her business has been built on kindness – kindness among the company’s people, and kindness to customers, for example.

An unusually good way to run a business, I thought.

The part of the evening that struck me most was the way she recognises that she’s struggled over the years to really feel what she’s feeling, and sometimes even to know what she’s feeling.

But she’s got better, she says, by learning about embodiment – focusing on what she’s feeling, and where in her body she feels it.

She told a nice story about being in meetings to interview candidates for a very senior position in her company, but recognised that she was “disengaged”.

She said she felt intimidated by the candidates.

I think they were pretty high-powered people and despite Eileen Fisher’s success, she comes across as being really down-to-earth and actually rather gentle.

What I found particularly interesting was that after recognising what she’d been feeling, she told her HR people that she’d like to re-meet these candidates.

The second time around she found herself incredibly drawn to one of them.

Without taking time to focus on her feelings, she said she would have missed out on a potentially great hire.

I’m not going to be interviewing high powered executives today, and perhaps you won’t either, but the idea of spending a little time properly noticing what you’re feeling could help a lot.

As for me, I’ve just noticed I’m feeling hungry.

In my stomach.

Time to eat.

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