I said the wrong thing

This week’s experience of what could be counted as ‘saying the wrong thing’ gained alot of interest in my weekly newsletter. Have a read and see what you think. And if you want to subscribe to get this kind of content each week, the link’s at the bottom.

In a world where you can be anything, be kind read more

When frustration arises

I’ve always said I could never home-school my kids and yet, like many other people right now, coronavirus is confronting me with my most strongly-held beliefs. We’re being shaken awake from the confusion of who we think we are and how we think life should be. Here’s what I noticed when frustration arose this past week…

Friday: school closes. The kids are tumbling in a whirlpool of excitement and fear. Confused by the strength and mix of emotions.

Weekend: standard. Just a bit more at home than usual. Quite nice not running around to sports clubs.

Monday: high hopes. School have set up their work online. I have my normal work schedule of clients and desk work (thankfully my work with clients had already moved online before all this!). We can all work happily, we each have a separate workspace, we can come together for breaks and lunch. We took up an idea we’d seen online to choose our snacks for the day to avoid too much grazing.  read more

#barefootwinterconf Reflections

Last week I attended the Barefoot Winter Conference at Prestwold Hall (beautiful location – and yes I’m slightly biased because it’s where I got married!).  This post is a collation of my thoughts and reflections from the day which I know will help me learn and absorb, and which I hope will have some nuggets of interest and insight for you.

On the practical conference front, it was a brilliantly run event with good amounts of time for each workshop – all of which were interactive, learning sessions – no sages on stages chalking & talking.  And a good long lunch for quality network time.  A definite focus on quality not quantity all day.

Keynote – Prof Roger Steare – on values-driven orgs, leadership and ethics

Since the 2008 crash stories have continued to emerge of unethical practice in organisations.  Read about Roger’s keynote in my Storify and how we helps organisations back to ethical decision-making.

Prestwold

Workshop 1 – Clean Language – Revealing Mental Models through Metaphor 

This session was with Sue Sharp and Tamsin Hartley from Clean Learning.

I chose this session for what might seem odd reasons.  I’d once been coached by someone who’d just done a Clean Language course and I really hated it.  So, because I believe it’s good to challenge our assumptions, I went along with the intent to learn more and open my mind to the possibilities of how I could use it in my practice.

What was great was that the session was involving and interactive from the start.  Lots of play with the approach, group discussion and conversation.

To give some context, the purpose of Clean Language is to find out how people work and think to raise their awareness to that and understand themselves (and others if a team thing) better.  Its purpose is also to remove assumptions from our own language which could (inadvertently) influence a client’s response.

A (made up) example of a clean language interaction could follow this flow –

  • For this meeting to go as you would like, it will be like what? > It will be fun and interactive and we’ll get through everything on the agenda.
  • And you will be like what? > I’ll need to keep an eye on the time while also checking everyone’s OK, and I’ll need plenty of energy.
  • What kind of [energy] is that [energy]? > It’s the kind of energy that bubbles away. It doesn’t spike up and drop down, it’s infectious and consistent.
  • Bubbles. Infectious. Consistent.  And is there anything else about that [energy]? > It’s natural.  It’s not forced.  It’s a natural result of wanting to be there in that conversation with those people.
  • Natural. Not forced. And where is that energy? > It’s in my heart and my head.  A sense of happiness and a buzz.
  • read more

    Restricted or Bountiful?

    We moved house on Monday!  We’ve been living with my mum for over 7 months – she’s definitely gone above and beyond the job description!  Now that we have our own place again I popped to a large wholesale store yesterday to stock up on exciting things like kitchen towel and loo roll.  This is the second big batch of kitchen towel I’ve bought in my life – 20 in a pack!!  #awesome  When I used to buy 2 or maybe 4 rolls at a time I would save it for real necessity, using it only when it really felt like the best thing to use.  Otherwise reaching for a cloth.  Since switching my shopping habits my attitude to kitchen-towel-use has changed*.  There’s something about knowing you have a bountiful supply of absorbent paper available that makes you free and easy with its use.  Split some milk there, no problem, let me wipe it with some kitchen towel.  Red wine on the carpet, no worries, kitchen towel will soak that right up.

    Kitchen Towel

    When something’s in plentiful supply we feel we can do anything!

    I experienced this effect with my perspective on time after my op-recovery when I went from things being hard work, kinda painful and taking a long time to suddenly being able to do lots, quickly and pain-free – this sense of maximising my time was also assisted by more exercise which boosted my resilience, thinking abilities and sleep quality.

    We all have a finite amount of time in a day, and a finite amount of money or resource to do things with.  So here we have a choice – we can choose to think we don’t have enough of either, or we can choose to think that we can invest what we have in a way that is most important to us.

    So, what is there in your life that you feel is in short supply?  What do you feel you’re most restricted by?  Find that and then do something with it.

    Oh, but there’s a thing there.  Choosing how we invest our time / money / resource needs us to know what’s important to us so it can act like an anchor for our decision-making.  What’s most important to you?  What are your big priorities or goals?

    How clear are you on this?  How clear are those around you?  Are you and your team aligned on what counts as important right now?  And if you’re working in a business where ‘important’ can be dictated from elsewhere, outside of you, it will change – sometimes frequently.  How will you know that it’s changed and adjust your sails accordingly?

    So there’s another thing, stuff changes – frequently – so to help our thinking on that I rather liked this image from Carl Richards (HT Brene Brown for sharing) because sometimes we can’t be absolutely, definitely sure that what we’re choosing to do is the most important right now.  At those times, embrace the uncertainty, choose to do something and do it.

    Carl Richards Embrace Uncertainty.png

    [Here’s Carl’s article if you’d like to read it]

    I’d love to hear about what restricts you and how you have, or are going to, choose BOTH what’s important to you AND embrace the uncertainty.

    * P.S. – I appreciate this attitude to kitchen towel probably isn’t best for the environment. Sorry about that.

    This is me……..www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk

    WFS Tree

    Expectations in a Box

    Think of yourself at work and how it feels right now.

    If you imagine you’re in a box at work, what would that box be like?

    Are you in a roomy box with space to spread yourself out and change position?

    Are you cramped in a box that you feel you could burst out of any minute?

    Do you remember once feeling like you could burst out and now you feel like you’ve shrunk to fit inside?

    What about your team?  What are their boxes like?

    “The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.”

    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    man-stuck-in-box-no-control

    Our brains are constantly scanning for danger, these days danger isn’t usually an animal that wants to eat us, it’s a threat to our self esteem, or our ego.  We’re raised in a world where being ‘right’ and ‘good’ are the things we’re meant to strive for*.  That’s what gets us praise, good school grades, a good job, a pay rise……stuff that boosts our self esteem and positively strokes our ego.  Interactions that make us feel like this are helpful to calm our fearful brain down which improves our thinking, helps us feel more abundant and generous towards ourselves and others, helps us become more creative by connecting dots.  This then leads to a growth in confidence and the desire to try more things, to push the boundaries, to come up with new ideas.  To coin the lyricist R Kelly, we believe we can fly! read more

    Some Guest Bloggage – including that mis-posted one!

    I’ve been really enjoying having some space to blog recently and I’ve written for a couple of people I guest blog for.

    This one for The HR Director magazine which is about how we can get stuck in our emotions and thoughts, and how we can move out of that place.

    And this one (the one I mis-posted a draft of the other week!) for Bray and Bray Solicitors about the challenging world of workplace relationships, and shifting those from the playground to an adult world.

    I hope you or someone you know finds them useful.

    This is me……….www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk

    WFS Tree

    Is the answer just equal pay?

    First, some context and disclaimer stuff: I’m a working mum, I’m definitely not an employment law expert so apologies to anyone reading this who is.  If you’re reading my blog for the first time, this isn’t my normal kind of content and you can read the other stuff I write here.  For the purposes of this post I’m sticking with the stereotypical perspective of women as the main carers of kids, and who want to work part time to fulfil both roles.

    Rainbow+Gold

    I was reading this from People Management the other day and it got me thinking.

    I’m always wary of sticky-plaster, ‘tell’, enforcement solutions to problems: expecting businesses to report their pay gap and shaming them to reduce the it feels like that to me.

    Of course I believe it’s a good thing to shine a light on the cultural inequality that exists and I also believe that if it was so simple and easy to fix then we’d be doing it by now.

    Definitely underlying this is the fact that women remain the primary carers of kids (although we are seeing some changes here), and this, mixed with some fundamental mindset challenges from employers, give us a gender pay gap.  Let me explain more about the mindset stuff –

    =&0=& I’ve been that part time employed mum, and 110% committed to my job. Of course there are part time people who aren’t committed. And there are full time people who aren’t committed too.

    =&1=&

    Ignore Poor Performance at your Peril!

    How often have you seen or heard this?

    They’re just no good at their job, I keep having to pick up the slack?  I haven’t got time to do my own work because they’re incapable of doing their’s.  If only they could sort it out we’d all be better off.  I don’t even know why they’re still here – they don’t contribute anything.

    Back in April and May it was #FeedbackCarnival time where the culmination of many brains showed just how challenging giving honest feedback can be and some ideas for how we can start to change that.  Ian Pettigrew built on this with a great model for where helpful feedback sits – the top right of this 3-by-2 – where what you’re saying to the person is true, and it’s said with a positive intent to help the individual, as well as and the team or organisation around them.

    Trouble is, that’s not generally what’s happening.  What I see is people pointing the finger at ‘those people over there’ – They’re the problem. If it wasn’t for them we’d all be ok.

    head-in-hand -kg

    This feels to us like the best (easiest) option because it avoids us having to look at ourselves as a potential contributor to the problem – and therefore a potential solution.  Looking at ourselves can be uncomfortable.  And, if we don’t feel safe and supported to do that, we’ll just avoid it.

    But not only are we pointing to those people over there and saying they’re the problem,  we’re even giving them financial rewards (or positive feedback) that they’re doing the job we need them to do.  You can read about it in here, a piece shared by a fellow colleague who also cares about great leadership, Kay Buckby.  My reaction to it was (a very eloquent) “Bonkers!”.

    So when people aren’t performing in their jobs.

    We point the finger of blame at them for all the ills of the world.

    And we reward them for it, to make sure we draw an even thicker veil over the whole unsightly problem.

    If doing the same things and expecting different results is a sign of madness then I’m not quite sure how to articulate this as anything other than Bonkers!!

    Not surprisingly, underlying all of this, a seam of frustration bubbles away within the team, within the manager – and most importantly – within the customers on the receiving end of the poor service.  The customers just won’t stick around.  They’ll vote with their feet.  The manager and team might eventually take evasive action from this person (if the person doesn’t leave first) but, to begin with, their stress responses will be triggered.

    This stress response narrows their perspective on the situation and drops their cognitive abilities, reducing the possible solutions they can see for solving it.  It reduces their feelings of emotional generosity towards ‘that person’.  It causes them to look for evidence to back up their belief that they’re useless.  And, given that our thoughts and feelings show up in how we behave, their stress and frustration will leak out through their body language, their words and their actions.

    One paradoxical result of this is that, despite their poor performance, the manager doesn’t feel they can do without this person – better the devil you know, what if we get someone else and they’re worse, how would we cope with a vacancy if we can’t find a replacement?

    All of these are fear-driven responses (and stress is triggered again).

    So, what’s the alternative?…….

    …….A world of high emotional intelligence*.

    I believe in a world where people are treated and behave like adults.  Adults who can make informed choices and who can take responsibility for their own situation.

    I also believe we all want to do a great job, but sometimes things get in the way of that which means our performance can dip.  And if those things have been in the way for a long time it can be hard for us to remember what it was like to come to work and feel good about it.  This means that, as adults, we still need support, guidance and feedback from others to keep us on-track.  And we still appreciate a reward (verbal acknowledgement is often enough) for when things are going well.

    In this world when a leader has someone in their team who’s under-performing, the first thing they do is ask what’s going on, then they listen and they ask questions. Partly to inform themselves of the situation, and also to let the person vent about what’s going on. They aren’t afraid of this venting. They know that emotions are the things that motivate us to make changes in life, and when they’re swirling inside us they can’t take us in any productive direction. The simple act of verbalising what’s going on straightens these emotions out and gives us a clearer sense of which way to go.

    From this listening and asking, the result is often that the individual will spot a way forward for themselves. If not, the leader will have learnt enough about the situation to offer advice, guidance or training that will actually be helpful and relevant. Or they may be able to offer relevant feedback based on what they’re seeing of this person and in the wider team context.

    All of these things help the person become unstuck and their performance improves.

    And even if it doesn’t improve, the leader can look themselves in the mirror with the belief that they did what they could to help, and that perhaps this just isn’t the right job, or right business for them. Which means a parting of company on good terms, with dignity and respect – and without the need to pay out bonuses to hide a problem!  All of which maintains great relationships with the rest of the team, and their trust in you – which means they’ll also feel safe to share what’s going on for them.  Creating a virtuous circle!

    And I know what you’re thinking.

    When could I ever get the time to have these conversations?

    Well, they don’t actually take that long. If we’re given the space to think and speak with someone who really cares and who really listens, our brain can be pretty effective at getting to the crux of what’s going on.

    And remember, in having these conversations – maybe weekly – we get into good habits of processing what’s going on for us, and they mean the team’s performance will never get to the place of you compensating for the stuff they let drop, which automatically gives you back a load of time.

    And if you really believe that your team are the key to your collective success then you’ll prioritise these conversations over anything else.

    *You can find out more about the difference emotional intelligence makes to a business here.

    Photo credit – http://redsarmy.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/kg-head-in-hand.jpg

    This is me…………… www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk

    Executive Coaching and Leadership Development

    WFS Tree

    Thinking Leaks

    A few weeks back I was feeling frustrated. I’m an independent person with a high achievement drive and these characteristics, which can be strengths, were holding me back – “I wish I could go to that event – but I can’t because I’ve been away quite alot recently and the kids need me here”….”I wish I could get half an hour to catch up on SoMe in the morning – but I can’t because I need to do breakfast and get the kids ready”…..”I wish I could exercise more – but I can’t because by the time I’ve got the kids to bed, had some tea, done some work or housework, there’s no time….” and so on.

    And then I caught myself.  I realised how unhelpful my thinking had become. I noticed it leaking into my conversations. Just a little edge of bitterness, resentment and envy.  Our thinking – both the helpful and the unhelpful – leaks out of us through what we say and what we do.  We just can’t help it.

    Leaks

    When I had my realisation I made a decision – that’s not who I want to be.

    Who I want to be, and who I know I can be, is a positive person who can always see there’s a choice. Who is grateful for what I have rather than mithering over what I don’t. And who knows that all these things start with our thinking – which we can choose – they’re just thoughts.

    So I examined my thinking and came up with some more helpful stuff to think instead, which I’ve been practicing for the last couple of weeks.

    I hope that by sharing these I can enable others who might have the same or a similar challenge to find some more helpful thoughts for themselves too…. Here are my new thoughts –

    My kids mean I laugh. Everyday.

    I get to sing Frozen songs in the car as loud as I like (yes, whether they’re with me or not).

    I chose to be a mum and I chose to have my business – I love them both and if I want to keep them both I need to enjoy them for what they are and how they are right now.

    I am very lucky to have two amazing, healthy, gorgeous children.

    If time spent [insert anything I feel I “can’t” do] is important enough I will make it happen.

    If it wasn’t for the kids I could be a workaholic, creating no space for fun, reflection or creativity – which I know invite our best thinking.

    Having so much to squeeze into life makes me great at prioritising, and focusing on the most important things.

    Having kids mean I get to spend more time outside, in grassy tree-filled places than I probably would otherwise.

    I might not get to do ‘traditional’ exercise as much as I’d like but I do get to lift heavy weights (tired kids), exercise my core (acting like a horse for them to take a ride), work my thighs and glutes (going up and down stairs a lot).

    Their school holidays mean I take more holidays than I normally would, so I get good breaks that usually involve lots of fresh air and activity.

    They’re honest and tell it like it is which helps to keep me in check – ‘but mummy you’re always busy doing something’.

    They challenge me to manage my emotions, to choose how I respond and get the best out of them – the most extreme emotional intelligence development you could hope for.

    They remind me of the simple needs we all have – hugs, time to have fun together, good sleep, a reason why to help us take action, exercise, (mostly) healthy food, more hugs, the chance to be given responsibility, having someone to listen to us and how we’re feeling, and a few more hugs for good measure!

    What do you struggle with?  What could you think instead that would be more helpful?

    [Photo credit – http://shootingparrots.co.uk/2011/12/05/theres-a-hole-in-my-bucket]

    This is me…….Wild Fig Solutions Ltd

    WFS Tree

    Feedback would happen all the time if…. – by Margaret Burnside

    I’m delighted to be hosting this piece for #FeedbackCarnival from Margaret Burnside.  Margaret works as People Development Director at ERAS Ltd with a focus on developing leaders, both locally in East Anglia and nationally.  Margaret has a passion for coaching and mentoring and here writes a practical guide to providing feedback to others in a way that is beneficial to the recipient.

    Feedback would happen all the time if… we helped managers with structure and guidance

    Giving feedback is a key management skill, yet, so many managers I meet worry about how to do it. Let’s face it – we don’t have many great role models out there, do we? Looking at some of the TV programmes with a ‘feedback’ element probably won’t help ….

    Britain’s Got Talent has a great feature – if the judges don’t like someone’s performance they press a loud buzzer and a big red cross lights up, how well would that go down at work? To be fair, they do back it up with comments, ‘that was lousy’, ‘You have a dreadful singing voice’, ‘ I hated it…’ How helpful is that to the individual? How does it help them to improve?

    The ‘X Factor’ works along similar lines, quite subjective – not always helpful even with the positive comments: ‘ I really love your voice’ ‘ You did really well tonight’ WHAT did the singer do that was good? We learn a lot from feedback about what we do well but it has to contain information about our behaviour or performance for it to be useful to us.

    The reaction to positive feedback can often be one of embarrassment or discounting – “Oh, it was nothing” or “It wasn’t really me, it was a team effort”. As we are not used to receiving enough well delivered feedback we can be unsure about how best to respond to it. The more we give feedback the better others get at responding to it and appreciate it as it is intended. Behaviour breeds behaviour, feedback breeds feedback …

    The Speaker

    A series on BBC 2 – The Speaker, was looking for the Young Speaker of the Year and there were some amazingly confident 14-18 year olds on that programme. The judges and mentors were particularly good at giving helpful, constructive feedback. They clearly described what they liked or didn’t like, why it worked or didn’t work and if it didn’t what else the presenter could have done instead. So there’s a great structure for you …

    What and Why for positive feedback and for things you’d like someone to do differently or better, use the What, Why, What structure. For example:

    WHAT – you asked that customer some great open questions

    WHY – that worked well because you were able to gather all the information needed in order to solve their problem.

    Or

    WHAT – you did most of the talking in the last meeting

    WHY – that didn’t work because you didn’t get any ideas from the team

    WHAT – you could have done instead was ask questions and pause more …

    This simple structure ensures the focus is on changeable or repeatable behaviour and actions rather than on personality.

    > What tips would you give to encourage managers to be more confident in giving helpful, actionable feedback?