Posts

If you put down that hammer, I promise I won’t shout

If you’re stuck in one typical way of doing things or only have one way of looking at things, how do you change?

Doing some group coaching recently with the board of a successful company that faces some big changes in its market. Unless they shift direction slightly, they’ve seen that they may not have a business at all in the space of just a few years!


So you can maybe understand why I wanted to shout at one director who was being amazingly intransigent and who seemed utterly and stubbornly unable to approach things through anything other than their usual way of looking at them. A person who was actually being part of the problem, if not even its cause, rather than part of the solution.


In the end I decided not to shout at them. I have tried this in the past; sometimes it’s worked and sometimes not. In this case I didn’t feel that shouting would help at all because the cause of this director’s intransigence is that old case of:

If your only tool is a hammer, after a while everything starts to look like a nail

And I’m pretty certain that this person knows they’re being stubborn and sticking to one, out-dated point of view and one inappropriate way of dealing with things.

It made me curious.

What if that was me, stuck there facing a difficult and uncertain future, wielding the wrong kind of tool but unable to put it down?

How do you get out of that? How do you help yourself to discover new ways of looking at things? How do you investigate new tools; different approaches for dealing with thorny problems?

There are two reasons why people, having metaphorically picked-up a hammer, are so reluctant to put it down and take fresh approaches:

  1. Habit
  2. Fear

Habit, because it works. This is why we develop habits. It’s terribly wasteful of energy and slow to do things in a new way every time. If you don’t have to think about it too much and it pretty much always works, why do it any differently? You’ve developed a skill, so use it. The trouble is of course that we become ossified, stuck within the boundaries of that way of doing it, even if that isn’t the best way. If we’re really skilled with a hammer, we can even bash a screw into place!

Instead of that skill being something that facilitates our achievements, it starts to define what and how we can achieve.

Fear, because it’s nature’s way of helping us to survive. Don’t think, there isn’t time. There’s a threat right here. Stick to what you know and apply that now. Attack, run, hide; fight, flight or freeze – stick to whichever of those you’re good at. It takes a brave person to say “Hold on, maybe we should take a fresh approach to this threat. Maybe I’m not seeing the whole picture here, or I’m stuck in one way of doing things and that isn’t helping.”


Really we need to practice these things before there’s a crisis. Learn new tools before they’re needed. Get used to taking a different perspective even when we don’t need to, when our usual way of looking at things is enough. Make space for curiosity for curiosity’s sake.


Some simple stuff about beginning to shift habits for you to try out yourself:

  • If you regularly commute, when was the last time you took a different route home, just to see what that was like?
  • Where do you usually holiday (same place or different places?) and how much exploring do you do when you’re there?
  • What type of entertainments do you prefer – and how much do you switch those around?
  • What working habits have you not changed in the last two, five or even ten years?
  • Are you sitting in the same desk, facing the same way today that you were this time last month or last year?
  • When did you last visit an art gallery? And when did you last visit an art gallery to deliberately see art that you don’t ‘get’?

And the same applies to fear. Fear hijacks our brain and gets us into that fight, flight or freeze straightjacket. When we’re in there, it’s hard to get out.

So we need to practice and become familiar with our fears in advance:

  • What are you afraid of?
  • What keeps you awake at night?
  • What are your deepest concerns about your business?
  • What do you not want people to find out about your own perceived inadequacies?
  • What can’t you let go of?

The more familiar we can become with our fears, the less power they have over us. The more flexible we can be with our habits, they more they become skills to help us, and not shackles to bind us.


Please let me know in the comments below, or by tweeting me @nickrobcoach, what you’re finding out about your own habits and fear, and how you’ve developed flexibility of approach.


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers

Coherent Teams

12 questions to answer when one important member of your team is not adapting to change or isn’t wholeheartedly on board

  1. Have you told them directly about what seems to be going on?
  2. Are they perhaps acting as the “unconscious voice of the system” – either as a safety valve that shows there is pressure in your organisation, or a warning signal that you’ve missed something significant?
  3. Is it really just them or, if you pay careful attention, are others also doing this?
  4. Is this a behavioural pattern for them that also occurs in other places and situations?
  5. Do you really need them to be any different?
  6. If the answer to 5 is “Yes”, have you actually asked them to change?
  7. If they were to change, what’s in it for them?
  8. What strengths and positive personal qualities do they have that they might apply in this situation (but aren’t currently applying)?
  9. What might they be afraid of (consciously or unconsciously), that is keeping them out of sync with your team?
  10. Can you adjust the circumstances in some way to better accommodate their preferred ways of doing things?
  11. Have you discussed this, in a ‘safe’ way, with the whole team present?
  12. What other support have you offered them to help adapt and/or get fully onboard?

Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers