Mine’s better than yours

How comparing from the perspective of the self brings nothing of benefit.

Money Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

This phrase, “mine’s better than yours”, usually brings to mind a child’s voice, in my head a boastful, whiny voice, combined with the thought of the house, the car, the job, the clothes. All the material stuff that’s chased, believing it brings the contentment we seek. read more

A theme for LearnConnectDo 2019

On 14th March this year it’s the first LearnConnectDo event of 2019 as these events run into their 4th year now!  Wow.

“These are always thought-provoking and useful sessions!”

CH, previous delegate.

Huge thanks to everyone who has attended, facilitated and helped us along the way – including PKF Cooper Parry who kindly sponsor us by letting us use their amazing workspace for every event.  read more

Emotional intelligence made easy

Think of a time when you were in flow. Either on your own, or in a group or team. One of those times when things just seemed to happen really naturally and easily. When you didn’t have to put much effort in and yet you were making great progress, or getting great results.

Now compare that to the definition of emotional intelligence:

“the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s)”

When you were in flow, to what extent were you doing any of the things in that definition?

My guess would be not very much, if at all, and certainly not consciously. Not with intellectual effort.

This is because when we’re in our natural state, we don’t need strategies and tactics. We don’t need breathing and centring, or visualisations of the best version of us, or mantras about listening to understand not to reply.

And this is because, in our natural “flow state”, we aren’t paying attention to the thinking going on in our heads. We’re not grabbing hold of thoughts and believing them. We’re not analysing why someone’s said what they said, or why we ourselves are getting frustrated by something, and crucially we’re not trying to manage ourselves out of an emotional response we think we shouldn’t be having in that moment. We’re keeping our intellectual, egoic, personal thinking out of the way and we’re accessing a much deeper space of wisdom and intuition.

Why aren’t we in flow more?

For years we’ve been teaching people (me included until recently) that we need to intellectually manage what’s going on for us emotionally. That we need to use our brain muscle to fix ourselves, that we need to practice and repeat to build new habits and new neural pathways, all so we can be better versions of ourselves more of the time because we’ve been led to believe there’s some version of us which is not good enough and not acceptable to society right now.

The trouble is, the application of our intellectual capabilities to these emotional management tasks, takes valuable energy away from our ability to generate fresh new thoughts and ideas in any moment, from our ability to listen and hear others, from our ability to connect and collaborate.

Remember that flow state? All those things just happened naturally there because you weren’t stuck, caught, or getting tangled in your thinking. And I’m not saying that in flow everything is about positivity and full agreement, with permanent grins on everyone’s faces – but you and others will have felt able to express any frustration or concerns without it seeming like a big deal. In fact the complete opposite. Any such insights will have been gratefully received and discussed, leading to an even better way forward.

So if we’re not “managing” our state through emotional intelligence tactics, how do we get to this state of flow more of the time?

We understand how our human system really works.

What we’ve been doing with emotional intelligence is explore:

the “what” – the content of our thoughts, labelling the emotions we’re feeling,

and

the “why” – what’s triggered you to get to that response. Often then examined to be re-framed or replaced with a more helpful thought.

This different approach understands the “how” of our underlying system. Think of making a car go. There is no benefit in commenting on the shape or design of the bodywork (the “what”). And there’s also no benefit in polishing the paintwork to a high shine to make it look nicer (the “why”). Neither of these approaches is going to get the car going. You must first understand “how” all the parts of the engine work and fit together to make the thing move forward.

The exact same here.

So how does our system work?

There are two areas where we can see the system working the way it always has and always will.

  • Everything works inside-out. Everything you’ve experienced, ever, in your whole life has been experienced through your thoughts. There is no other way. Nothing on the outside can “do” anything to you or “make” you feel anything. It’s all seen through the movie projector of our experience. “We’re the writer, the director, the producer – and in fact the audience”*.
  • Our system rights itself. Without intervention from us, our thinking moves on, our feelings change and we move to a different state. Automatically. In fact, I might go so far as to use the new word I recently learnt “automagically”! We “think” we’re so clever and we’ve been taught all our lives to be clever: in education, by parents, and in work. The message we’ve received is that intellectual capabilities are THE most important capability we have. And it’s not that intellectual is unimportant, but it’s the fact that this is not all there is. In emphasising our intellectual, we’ve denied and hidden the rest of what makes us whole; the true source of our brilliance and innate wisdom. We’ve been so busy fixing ourselves to be better we forgot that we didn’t need fixing in the first place.
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    Parrots, Reality and Flow

    This parrot led to tears and upset.

    As my daughter drew it, copying from the video, she burst into tears. The tail looked all wrong, far too wide for the body. “But mummy look, the tail needs to go to under its first toe”.

    Trouble is, of course, my daughter’s parrot’s toes were slightly different to the one in the video so the tail going to there did make it look a bit crazy-wide.

    When we try to copy a pre-prepared plan to the letter, when we expect people to behave in a certain way that matches the movie in our heads, when we think it shouldn’t be raining today because we’ve got that outdoor event, when we think we should be earning more / achieving more….

    This is where our suffering begins: when we believe every single thing we think and see it as a solid, definite truth.

    Once you really see how our minds work, the more you live in the moment working with what is, instead of what you think it “should” be. The more you’re here, the more you stay fluid and flexible, adaptive and agile, adjusting and integrating, and the better you feel.

    All this without having to actively “do” anything. No mind-management techniques, no practicing of new habits. Once you “get” this understanding, the flow just flows.

    It’s hard work swimming upstream against the current of the world around us.

    Jump in and be in the flow.

    Get in touch if you want to know more.

    Self Care Week 2018 : don’t make it another “should”

    I saw a tweet recently from someone whose goal is to “drink more water”. This is the world we live in now….. a world where we don’t prioritise our own needs, not even our most basic need to stay hydrated!

    It might just be me but I find this incredibly sad and I hear my internal voice of desperation asking “what on earth are we doing??”.

    I also wonder how many people find expectations of self-care just another stress to add to the pile of other things “I’m not good enough at”.

    It’s all with good intention but it’s not getting to what really needs to be got at.

    Yes, look after ourselves better but not in this way.

    Not when looking after our own health is a to-do list or goal.

    I have a lot of time for you Michelle Obama (assuming she actually said these words in the quote!) but self-care can’t be attached to a “we need to” i.e. “we should”. Anything along those lines is a force, a push, a cajole, a tell, an expectation that’s being put on us from outside of us, a standard that if we fall short we’re rubbish (and then we give up).

    Yes, look after ourselves better but not when we believe we have an important role to play in getting things “right” with our health and wellbeing, because the more we do this the more we get in our own way.

    Layering our thinking and piling expectations into our heads only takes us further away from our innate wellbeing that we already have inside us; in all of us. It takes us away from letting our system right itself, which it does all the time if we stop meddling.

    Instead, when we drop all that thinking, looking after ourselves becomes the most obvious thing to do. Anything else just looks bonkers! And we don’t need someone outside of us to tell us what to do or how to do it.

     

    If you’d like to talk more about what this means for you just get in touch.

     

     

     

     

    Why people disengage

    First day in the new job….
    I’ve never been responsible for so much before. I wonder what the new boss will be like.
    Better make a good impression or they’ll think they’ve made the wrong hiring decision. Better make a good impression or they’ll think I’m no good at my job.
    Must look like I know what I’m doing and what I’m talking about. I’m meant to be in charge of all this. Must look like I know what I’m doing and what I’m talking about. I’m meant to be in charge of this department.
    OK, let’s do this. OK, let’s do this.
    [Step into the office, shoulders back, head up, eye contact, confidently greeting people] [Steps into the office, looking around]

    Is he here yet?

    [Conversations in flow – listening deeply] [Conversations in flow – speaking passionately]
    Wow I’m learning loads. Wow I know more than I realised, and he seems to be really listening. This is going well!
    I have so many questions. These questions are really getting me thinking. I love this!
    These people really know their stuff. I feel like I know my stuff even better than I did before this conversation!
    They seem so engaged with what they’re doing and keen to change things for the better. I love this job and this new boss seems great!
    I’d better show that I know stuff too [adds knowledgeable stuff to conversation]. And he has insights to add. That’s so useful to have a new perspective.
    A few months later…..
    [Amount of knowledgeable stuff added to conversations grows….] [Amount of knowledgeable stuff added to conversations is dropping, confidence is dropping]
    Hey, I’m doing great!   Look at all this stuff I know now. I’m not sure I’m as good at this as I thought I was.
    I can add so much to conversations. I don’t feel I can share anything he doesn’t already know.
    I have so many ideas.  I’m thriving on sharing them with everyone! I don’t know where to take this next.  I can’t get a word in edgeways anyway.
    6 months later….
    I get all this now. I’ll wait to be told.
    I’ve got a clear plan of what we need to do and how we’re going to get there. It’s always his opinion first so no point thinking first.

     

    Why is this person saying this again? We went over this already? If he’d only listen he’d hear what I’m really saying. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t care what I have to say.
    I asked for that last week. What are they doing? What’s the point, it won’t be exactly what he wants anyway.
    I have this amazing idea – I’ll go and tell the people who need to make it happen. It must be done yesterday! Instructions received.   Robotic task-completion mode engaged.
    Nobody has anything to say around here. …..
    I wish people would just get on and do instead of seeking permission from me! Given he knows it all I need to check this first or it’ll be wrong.
    Why does nobody interact in our meetings or bring ideas?

    It’s like they’ve all just disengaged.

    …..

    We’re taught our whole lives – from school and through work – to show our brilliance.  Have the ideas.  Show you know things.  Demonstrate capability.  Do stuff and do it well and quickly.

    All through school, university and work we’re rewarded and praised for knowing and doing.

    Then we reach leadership and we keep knowing and doing.  And people disengage, switch off their brains, and do the basics or go elsewhere.

    We need to just be.  To listen.  To allow space for others to grow into.  And yes to add insight.  To provide a broader context or set a vision higher than anyone might believe can be reached.  But all the while involving and listening to others.

    How are you doing at being?

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Self Care for People Professionals @ Learn > Connect > Do

    Today’s post is brought to you by Janice Keyes.  Janice is a wonderful, dedicated HR professional and coach who’s bringing her self care expertise (learned through her own challenges with bringing balance to life!) to Learn > Connect > Do next Thursday (15th March).  All profits from these events go to Twenty:Twenty and when you join us you

    LEARN new things,

    CONNECT with like minded people,

    and then go DO something different to make work better!

    We’re excited that PKF Cooper Parry are hosting the event at their amazing East Mids offices (check out the image at the end!) and we’d love to see you there.  Click here if you already know you want to book.  And read on if you’d like to know more…..

    P.S. Please make sure you check out the great boat metaphor for self care at the end!

    Now, over to Janice…..

    I have a little self-care graphic that I keep visible by my desk. It’s a simple hand-drawn graphic that serves as a reminder on those busy days of the things that keep me healthy. It prompts a bit of structure around my self-care and reminds me to keep it high on my agenda. And as you’d expect, the more I engage with activities that nourish my soul, the more rewards I reap. Not only in that short-term joyous time of connection with whatever it is I’m doing but for the long-term too as I continually reinforce those behaviours. Reminding my brain and body what it feels like to be nourished with those feel-good vibes on a regular basis.

    And why am I telling you this?

    Because hands up! I haven’t always been great at self-care. I know that self-care can be difficult. And so if, by any chance, I can enable your journey to greater self-care to be a little less time-consuming than my own then I’m happy to share my ideas.

    So what makes self-care so difficult in the first place?

    We live in a forever changing world, where we’re moving at a pace we, perhaps as humans, have never moved at before, constantly driving forward to keep up, take new stuff in and change. Our minds are constantly stimulated. Our mental health continually pushed to its limit whilst we strive to live our lives to their fullest. And with that we are continually challenged to keep everything in check (work and life) AND to deal with whatever has cropped up.

    So its no wonder when we live in the world we do that life or work can sometimes ‘get in the way’ and can knock your self-care routine off-balance.

    But here’s the thing…

    There is ALWAYS going to be something that will get in the way. The experience of life is not one that is always in balance as much as we’d like it to be.

    And these days we perhaps find that it’s unusual to get a ‘steady’ moment in work or in life… That is, unless we create one ourselves!

    And so to create one we will….

    On Thursday 16th March, I’ll be facilitating a session on self-care at the quarterly LearnConnectDo gathering. Learn > Connect > Do was founded by Helen Amery who is passionate about making work better. So if you care about making work better too by being better connected to your own self-care and if you have ‘people’ as the core focus of your work : HR, L&D, OD, coaching, leadership and management, then we’d love to have you along.

    I appreciate that it can sometimes be difficult to figure out which meeting, activity or event is the most important for you to attend in any day. It seems we’re forever prioritising. But let’s not forget that “Learning self-care is like building your own lifeboat, plank by plank. Once you’ve got your boat, you’ll still be rocked by the waves of life, but you’ll have a feeling of safety, and a stability that means you can pick other people up on your way.” (Nadia Narain & Katia Narain Philllips)

    So if you are ready to build the next plank in your own lifeboat to get to that feeling of safety and stability, book on here

    We look forward to seeing you!

    PKF Cooper Parry Offices, East Mids – this is where we’ll be on the 15th!

     

     

    Break the habit of busy

    I’m seeing it everywhere I go.

    No time to stop.  No time to think.  Just get on and do, do, do!  And make sure others are doing the same.

    In this place your brain is in action mode (distinct from reflection mode).  You become more concerned about yourself than others.  You lose perspective.  It’s hard to see the bigger picture.  You don’t think with full capacity because you’re verging on threat state and some parts of your brain aren’t deemed important enough for good blood flow when you’re in that place.  More things become a competition than necessary.  Frustrations are everywhere.  And you’re more likely tip from the edge of “healthy pressure” into unhealthy stress and unhelpful reactions.  When that happens you damage relationships, often with those you’re relying on to get your “doing” done.

    It’s such a waste of human potential.

    Because what I also see is that when people do choose to stop and think, either in 1:1 or group sessions, they can then see clearly.  They raise their awareness.  And from that position of greater clarity they choose different, more effective, more beneficial actions – and get better results.

    And we need to choose it.  We need to choose to stop.

    The predominant culture in business today is “be busy” – because it makes you look/feel important and successful, because it makes you look/feel needed or wanted, because if you don’t your pay rise / bonus / job / career might be at risk….because if there’s a problem or something goes wrong fingers will be pointed at me because I didn’t look like I was doing anything.  I looked like I didn’t have everything under control.  I wasn’t dotting every i and crossing every t.

    Our need for control makes us think that doing stuff and keeping doing stuff – a lot – is our route to success.

    When in fact it’s our route to failure.

    When we stop, in reflective mode, we feel more relaxed, our thinking broadens, we see connections, we become more empathetic and therefore able to appreciate and be considerate of others’ perspectives, we’re more flexible, adaptable and resilient to the things that inevitably change the plan along the way.

    So ironically, even though we think that ploughing on and getting through the work is THE most important thing and the thing that will get us furthest.  If we only stopped for 15 minutes and walked round the block, or went to buy a sandwich outside the building, it would help our heads shift into reflective mode, help us process what we’ve just done, and have us ready for the next chunk of the day.

    And beyond that there are so many other ways and times and places you can stop and reflect.  The key is for it to become a regular habit.  You choose which of these sounds right for you.  Give it a try, see if it works, and if not, try something else.

    How Often and When:

    Daily (tiny version) – if you feel you don’t have time to reflect at all – start small – even just reflecting on #3goodthings every day can start to shift how you feel and think.  That only takes a few minutes on your journey home.

    Daily (slightly bigger version) – 15 minutes before you’re going to leave – what’s gone well today, what hasn’t, what do I want to do differently tomorrow / next time?

    Weekly – Friday before you finish – what’s gone well this week, what’s been challenging, what have I learnt, what’s coming up next week?

    Monthly – end of the month – what am I proud of, what’s been difficult, what am I learning from that, what do I want to do with that now?

    Who With:

    On your own – on paper, spoken out loud, recorded into your phone

    With a colleague who’d also like to experiment with this, talk and process out loud while the other listens, then swap

    Work with a coach* – protected thinking time with someone who’s entirely on your side, usually up to two hours, for in-depth reflection.  Probably focussed on a particular aspect of your life – maybe something that’s showing up as a pattern for you and which is becoming a hindrance.

    Where:

    Ideally outside amongst trees and greenery – nature has a positive effect on how we feel!

    If not then somewhere as comfy and relaxing as possible – maybe a coffee shop or quieter work area

    Or just at your desk, on the sofa…. you choose.

     

    Try some options.  See what works for you.  Form a habit you feel you can stick to.  Some reflecting is better than none.

    And see what impact is has on you and those around you.

     

    *Different coaches are different.  Talk to a few and choose the one you think will work for you.  Coaches are used to this choosing process and good ones will have no problem with you not choosing them.

    Confessions of a recovering Type A

    I’m a recovering Type A, maybe with a bit of Type C chucked in! 

    Like alcoholics, I’m not sure my treatment will ever be entirely complete, but I’m on the right track.


    I’ve always strived to achieve. To achieve with the hope of being ‘good enough’ for the parental figures in my life – be they at home or work.  Having always found good grades fairly easy to come by at school I expected the trend to continue in work, sometimes sorely disappointed by the different type of race being run there with politics and relationships suddenly part of the game – not just working hard to deliver ‘the work’. 

    And some Type A is good, it gets stuff done, it pushes boundaries, it challenges beyond what we first thought possible. But, as with most things, too much and it becomes a weakness. It’s downsides begin to outweight the up.

    When I look back on my days in HR I see a me who was shoulder to shoulder with the tough-minded commercial leader : “Well, if they can’t cut it this might not be the right place for them.”  “If their caring responsibilities are going to take priority over their job then this isn’t going to work.”  “10% growth again this year? Of course we can do it! *collective leadership battle cries* Are you in or out?”

    Some of this was because their Type A matched mine – deliver more, more, more, with less, less, less. 

    And this behaviour was underpinned by an unkindness, a lack of care, a lack of empathy.  I was so fixed on (supposedly) doing the right thing for the business, so aligned with these focussed, driven leaders – who were meant to be the role models to follow – that it didn’t occur to me that anything else was an option.  I thought it made me a “commercial” HR person – what all the books said you’re meant to be.


    I did change my attitude and approach to my role in HR in later years, seeing the importance of holding that space of challenge and providing balance to the Type A leadership style, reminding leaders of the human beings involved – my kids played a big part in that development for me.  And my attitude and approach have definitely changed again since leaving corporate life. 

    But the biggest shifts have come through working with my own coach, that this unkindness I showed towards others started from an unkindness towards myself.  That I believed I was only good enough, only deserved praise / attention / love if I was tough and resilient, if I showed I could deliver the results – be they A grades in exams or improved sales and profit, only good enough if I worked hard.

    These messages we get as kids, they reverberate through the years. 

    And so although I know I’ve come a long way in my journey from that version of me back there, I also know there is still more to do to keep myself grounded in believing I’m  good enough as I am.  From that self care comes a genuine care for others and the ability to make the right choices for the human beings in this world around me, more than the business results and hours worked. 

    Last week I had another realisation in this journey of mine and this little phrase that came to me resonated strongly – “I think if I’m being a high achiever it makes me better, but it only makes me worse.”

    If you’re on a similar journey you’re definitely not alone and I’d encourage you to keep going, keep exploring, keep understanding and empathising with yourself because from there comes understanding and empathy for others.  

    With levels of mental health concerns rising things aren’t going to improve unless we start here.

    And for my own latest exploring on this journey?  It’s brought me to Buddhism which has put a whole new mind-blowing spin on it.  I’m still processing a lot to be able to write on that.  But maybe for another post…

    [Photo credits : http://members.cogwa.org/man-blog/do-you-have-to-be-a-tough-guy-to-be-a-man/ ; https://www.surrey.ac.uk/quality-enhancement-standards/collaborative-provision

    Humans vs Bots – how a human team can gain competitive edge over the bots

    We’ve all seen the headlines.  The bots are coming for our jobs.

    In recent research*, the skills managers reported they need in the next 5 years significantly underestimate the importance of people.  But people skills are exactly what we need to differentiate ourselves from AI.  The top 3 skills the managers reported needing were:

    1.       Digital and technological expertise (42%)

    2.       Creative thinking and experimentation (33%)

    3.       Data analysis and interpretation (31%)

    …..

    And the people skills came in at 6th place.

    The thing that sets us apart as humans is that we have vast capacities to be creative and experiment – but this stops when we’re in an environment where we don’t feel safe or valued.

    It’s easier to feel safe when we’re surrounded by people like us but this isn’t where the strongest teams operate and it isn’t where the best ideas come from.

    So flip that, surround yourself with a diverse team – some reflective people, some who drive the agenda, some who have creative flair, some who pay attention to the practical details.  This is when interpersonal problems arise because opposing styles trigger fear in us.  We don’t understand them.

    The paradox is that these differences are exactly what you need for creativity, agility and innovation.

    So as a leader, how do you maximise the full potential of your team?  How can you be stronger as a team than you are apart?

    Leaders we talk to know that this is what they want to achieve but don’t know how to go about it.  They want the business to grow and evolve but fear losing their original vision and entrepreneurial edge.

    A critical way to embrace this paradox and benefit from it is to fully understand each member of your team – what their strengths are, what energises them, what frustrates them – developing their ability to talk about this in an open and conscious way, growing mutual appreciation for what each person brings.

    This process enables the team to establish conscious team “norms” – norms are habits or codes of behaviour that become the accepted way to do things.  All teams have norms but they’re usually unconscious and aren’t always helpful for creating the safety for brilliance.

    Sometimes an agreed norm can be as simple as allowing everybody the chance at the start of a meeting to say how they’re feeling and what’s going on, or it might be agreeing to co-create agendas in advance.  Whatever your agreed norms, the part which often gets lost is the continued practice of them.  The norms slip from the helpful and conscious back to the unhelpful and nonconscious, especially when the pressure’s on, and the team’s success slips with it.  Regular team reviews are essential.

    Our top tips for establishing helpful and conscious team norms:

    1.       Everybody inputs into what’s working and what’s not

    2.       Agree norms that address what’s not working

    3.       Each member takes responsibility for maintaining them

    4.       Regularly check how they’re working

    5.       Celebrate the successes that come from them

    6.       Adjust them if you’ve experimented and they’re not working

    Do this in your team and you’ll maintain your competitive edge over the best bots in town!

     

    ————————————————

    Zoe and Helen work with top teams enabling them to harness their collective power. Get in touch to find out how we can help you maximise the differences in your team.

    @aligningteams

    helen@aligningteams.co.uk

    Read more about what we do here.

     

    *(Accenture Survey reported in HBR Mar/Apr 17)