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The Fast and Furious Guide to Great Rapport

How rapport and great relationships at work start just like brilliant stunt-driving

Imagine that you’re starring in an episode of the popular movie franchise ‘Fast and Furious’. You’re in a scene involving two speeding cars, possibly chasing a third vehicle, or a train or something. For some reason your task is to get somebody to step or transfer from one of those moving cars, into the other. And they’re both moving at high speed.

If you can do this, if you can successfully facilitate that step between these two speeding cars without crashing, then the day is won, or the bad guys are defeated, or something similar; anyway, in the movie it’s a good thing if you can do it.

This act, of transferring successfully between those two moving vehicles, has a lot in common with the way that great rapport starts. Roll with me on this.

Rapport: ‘a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned are in sync with each other, understand each other’s feelings or ideas, and communicate smoothly.’


If you can get great rapport between yourself and another person at work, everything you need and want to achieve together just becomes so much easier.


But what if that rapport is not coming naturally, or if you’re unsure how to go about it, where should you start?

This is where our Fast and Furious car transfer comes into its own.

Imagine for a moment that you and your colleague are the two moving cars and that the act of stepping successfully from one car to the other is your relationship. Will it transfer successfully? Or will it plunge to its doom between the two and be left in the wreckage on the highway?

If you really did have to facilitate that rolling transfer, how would you go about it?


Before you did anything else, you’d make sure that you came alongside each other, and were then travelling at the same speed and in the same direction. In a real-life rapport-building situation this is the equivalent of:

  1. Reading and understanding the other person’s Emotional State; and
  2. Matching that Emotional State yourself, in a way that isn’t fake.

Let’s drive along that road in a little more detail…

First, reading and understanding the other person’s Emotional State.

People want to be understood. This is why we say things like: “He just gets me,” when we’re talking about our best relationships. And the best way to understand other people is to observe and listen to them.

In the early stages of a rapport-building situation, this is easier to do than you might think. Research shows that humans are evolved to recognise at least six separate basic emotions just from seeing facial characteristics alone – and possibly as many as 21. And more recent research shows that hearing the emotional content in what people say might actually be even more accurately evolved in humans. I’ve put some links about this stuff at the end of the article, in case you’d like to read around a bit more.

The key to doing the early stages of rapport-building well is just to give your naturally-evolved abilities a brief moment to operate. Think of yourself as the second car in our Fast and Furious episode. Your colleague is driving along as the first car. If you wanted to pull alongside them at speed, it’d take you a moment or two to judge how fast they were going and in what direction they were headed.

If you want to have better rapport with people, make sure you take that moment to look and listen and assess their Emotional State before you do anything else.

Second, matching that Emotional State yourself, in a way that isn’t fake.

It seems to me that this is the point where a lot of people come unstuck in trying to have better rapport. What if the other person’s current emotional state is different from yours? What if, for example, they seem quite grumpy, but you’re feeling good about things and would just quite like to get on with whatever work task needs their input? Or what if you think that the task you both need to be getting on with requires one emotional state – “steadiness” for example – but the other person seems anything but ‘steady’?

In these situations people seem to tell themselves that they can’t suddenly change their emotional state to match the other person’s because that would be like lying or faking it, and (a) I don’t know how to do that and (b) they’ll see through it anyway. Or we throw our hands up and ask why, just for once, the other person can’t be the one who changes their emotional state to match mine!

These are important issues and I’d definitely want to tackle them in order to have better relationships at work. But in a context where your immediate goal is to start having great rapport, it’s futile to address them now. They’re the equivalent of pulling almost alongside the other speeding car and shouting over at them: “I want to head in a different direction.” Or: “Change your speed to match mine.” But they can’t hear you – they’re in a speeding car!

Better, to nudge your speed and direction closer to theirs, and then have the conversation about where you’re headed, and how fast you should be going.

And instead of worrying about looking or being fake when you’re seeking to match someone else’s Emotional State – find your own real close equivalence, and then be that; it’ll be close enough to work.

So, if the other person looks and sounds like they’re ‘grumpy’ and you’re not feeling the grumps yourself, find something close to it that you can relate to, like ‘sombre’, or ‘serious’. Find the part of you that truly is at times ‘serious’. You know what that looks and feels and sounds like and there will be times when you’ve genuinely been that. This’ll be a close enough match; your cars will be wobbling and twitching at high-speed, but you’ll be close enough to connect in a way that really counts. And you won’t end up too fast, or too furious.

Drive well people 🙂

Off-site research and article links:

Evolution of facial expressions

Mapping facial expressions for 21 emotions

Does your voice reveal more emotion than your face

 


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Persist and Prevail

How to tell if you’ll rise to a challenge – and three simple ways to do so

I’m a big fan of that old saying: “Get knocked down seven times, stand-up eight.” For me, that’s what resilience is mostly about; just the sheer bloody-mindedness to choose not to lie there, but to get up again.


But there’s another kind of persistence isn’t there? The kind where you’re rolling along smoothly, and you’ve not been knocked down, but yet another challenge appears in front of you. Something else that you could choose to rise to.


It’s a bit like when you’re out hiking somewhere with a lot of false peaks. You think you’re nearing the top and that the upwards part of the walk will be over when you crest the next brow you can see in front of you. But when you get there, that new perspective shows you that there’s still more peaks to come. And again, there’s likely to be some new climbs that you can’t even see yet.

I’ve had the good fortune to spend some time around some very pragmatic people just recently and I love how these folks respond to those unexpected challenges. Mostly it seems with a little sigh, some rubbing of the hands and rolling-up of the sleeves and a re-application of the shoulder to the wheel.


You can explore how anybody is likely to respond in those kind of situations, by asking them how they dealt with specific previous stressful experiences.

Describe a situation (at work, or elsewhere) that gave you trouble?
(Pick a specific example, don’t generalise). When that situation first materialised:

  1. What did you notice about your emotional response?
  2. How ‘deep’ into your emotions did you go?
  3. And how long did that last?
  4. Then what happened?

What you might want to be looking for is how someone deals with the emotional ‘whack’ that comes from facing yet another challenge. Can they process those emotions fairly quickly, put them into the bigger perspective of what’s really important to them and then move on, again fairly quickly?

Coaches sometimes use the term:
Going into and coming out of their emotions
to describe this trait.

What’s less useful (in terms of dealing with challenges) is having someone who stays in the emotional stage, so that their ability to act is impaired. That’s a useful trait at other times (lots of creative people do this well, so that they can draw on the power of the emotions in their work), but it isn’t necessarily what you want for getting into action when the next challenge appears.

A small proportion of people don’t go into their emotions at all during times of (to them) normal stress levels. Those people stay calm and cool throughout, but may struggle to express their empathy for others. If they are also someone who experiences but doesn’t process those emotions and instead boxes them up in some way, that could come back and bite you later when you’re least expecting it.

If you want to train yourself to be able to choose whether to go into and come out of emotions, so that you can better respond to challenges, three practical things seem really helpful:

1. Controlling your breathing. Long, deep in-breaths, held for a while and then exhaled slowly will activate your parasympathetic nervous system which is the opposite to the fight/flight system.

2. Preparation, in particular being consciously familiar with your bigger-picture goals and priorities. The more you know about where you want to go long-term, the less likely one more false-peak is to discourage you from continuing your journey.

3. Modelling. Who do you know who’s a bit like those pragmatic, sleeve-rolling-up, shoulder-to-the-wheel people I’ve been hanging around with lately? How would that person react when yet another challenge appears? What’s important to them, when that happens?

Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful. –Joshua J. Marine

 


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Self-Awareness – A Primer

Self-Awareness is the best start for leadership development. But how do you get that? What should you look for; and how?

The ancient Greeks had the phrase “Know thyself” chiselled on the doorway to the temple of Apollo at Delphi. Real knowledge, insight and understanding about important events and people in the world around them wasn’t possible they reckoned, without first having the foundation of self-knowledge.

If that’s still true today, how do you actually go about getting self-awareness? What should you look for; and how do you do it?

I think there’s perhaps three or more important areas to consider and I’ve set out some of those below. These are often used as early as the second or third phase in my coaching approach, as they’re so fundamental to the development work we need to do after that.

This is a fairly long post for me, over 1,200 words, because I wanted to give you a rounded sense of where to be looking, what to be listening for and how it feels to be embarking, in a structured way, on this kind of self-knowledge work. What I’ve written here isn’t the only way to go about it, and even at over 1,200 words this is still only a very quick jog around the park. Anyway, I hope you find it helpful in some way.

1. Your Values

These are the things that, at the moment at least, are intrinsically important to you. They can or might change over time or in a different context. Some may be more important than others, and that also can be fluid but, most of the time, they’re fairly consistent. Here’s my own top 5 Values:

  1. Making a difference / Usefulness / Legacy
  2. Excellence / Strive to be the best / Learn-Apply
  3. Congruence / Authenticity / Be true to yourself
  4. Independence / Self-reliance / Go do it
  5. Balance / Harmony / Wholeness

Note that these are in ‘strings’ of words, separated by “/” because often one word by itself isn’t enough to capture everything about a particular value.

A simple way to start to uncover your own values would be to remember a time, at work or at home, when things felt like they were going great, or just right, or were especially poignant in some way. What were the circumstances of that time? What was going on around you, who was present, how did you feel?

The chances are that during that time several of your values were being quite strongly upheld. People can often begin to identify those values by reflecting on that time and getting curious about what made it so great for them.

2. Your Thought Patterns

This is about how your (mostly unconscious) mind filters out what is useful information and what isn’t and how it then represents that information, so that you can make sense of the world around you.

Since this process happens very fast and mostly unconsciously, one of the best ways to uncover your own patterns is by way of a kind of compare and contrast with other people. Look at the way they do things, and see how it compares with your own way.

Here are two examples of the kinds of things to consider:

  1. Are you motivated into action more by (a) the chance to achieve a goal; or (b) the need to solve or avoid a problem?
  2. Do you prefer (a) to have lots of choice and variety, creating different possibilities in the way you go about things, or (b) do you prefer to stick to a tried and tested process?

Another important pattern became obvious to me when I got a new Satnav. My old one used to show me a map of my whole route when it had finished plotting. Only after you’d seen that ‘big picture’ screen, did it let you start navigating. But my new satnav didn’t give you that overview. Once it’d plotted a route, it just went straight to “Turn left”. I really found it difficult to trust the new satnav and would often ask my wife to just check the ‘big picture’ of the route in our tatty old road atlas, which she hated doing. Turns out, I’ve got a strong preference for thinking in big picture terms and, until I’ve done that, it’s really hard for me to get into the detail, even though I’ve trained myself (I’m an ex-accountant!) to work with detail. And my wife is the opposite, she’s fascinated by the detail, so she hated being asked to check the big picture of the route.

Again, these factors are not immutable, they can change and be changed. It’s important to not ‘adopt’ them as fixed determinants and to not use them to pigeonhole yourself or others, or to excuse bad behaviour.

It’s possible, although I don’t think it’s often that necessary, to go through about 20 or so of those key patterns as part of the coaching process in in easy conversational way with me. I don’t often do that, because I’d rather people take responsibility for their own self-knowledge than have me or some anonymous psychometric test do it for them.

As well as the kind of thought patterns I’ve described here, you could also look at key aspects of personality, such as introversion or extraversion. The important thing is to just look, listen, feel and think your way a little more consciously than normal really. The psychologist Carl Jung said “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

3. Your Fears, Doubts and Limiting Beliefs

What holds you back? What doubts do you have about yourself, your abilities, the kind of person you are, the way others might see you?

What things are you so unconsciously afraid of, that you’ll automatically come out fighting, even when that isn’t the best way to do things?

In what way do you sell yourself short? Or sabotage your own efforts?

What unwritten rules have you made up about how you have to “be” (e.g. a favourite of mine: “I have to be strong”)?

What shame or hurt are you carrying around about past experiences that made you feel inadequate?

I love working with fears, doubts and limiting beliefs because I see them not as ‘bad’ things, but as really useful data about what’s important to people and about how they might really shine, if they want to.

If you’re ready now to start uncovering some of your own possible fears, doubts and limiting beliefs, try completing some of the sentences below. Do it fast and without too much conscious thought:

I’m often too …………………

I need to be more …………………

I can’t seem to …………………

I should stop (or start) …………………

I mustn’t keep …………………

I shouldn’t always …………………

I must be less …………………

Every time I try to do ………….…….,   ……………. happens

I want to …………………, but that’s just the way things are

I don’t deserve to …………………

I ought to …………………

If you find anything at all, start celebrating, because that just might be the bit of self-knowledge that opens all the other doors. And if completing the sentences didn’t uncover anything for you, just try going back to those questions I’ve posed at the start of section 3 above and become curious about how any of those might apply to you.


After working through those three key areas, the next level of self-knowledge is to get really clear about what’s even more important to you than your patterns of thinking and your doubts and fears and about how you might apply your values to your life and your work.


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Solve One Problem at a Time

How to deal with intractable problems and make powerful progress without having to kill an elephant

You’d have been proud of me last week, because just occasionally us coaches do actually take our own advice!

When the Film ‘The Martian’ came out at the end of 2015 I was very happy to start using it as a fictional example of how to deal with potential overwhelm, overcome seemingly intractable problems and make powerful progress towards our goals.

I don’t know about you, but the thing that people always used to say to me, when I was faced with projects, tasks, problems or goals that just seemed waaaay too big to handle, was this:

Question: How do you eat an elephant?

Answer: One bite at a time.

But instead of helping, this just used to make me feel guilty and sick. Who in their right mind would eat an elephant!?

I much preferred the engineer’s approach: break the problem down into components and solve one problem at a time, and so it was great to see this exemplified in that film.

Anyway, last week, having perhaps bitten-off more than I could chew (although at least it wasn’t elephant), I did take my own advice.

You know already I’m a big fan of being focused. I reckon that solving one problem at a time is a great partner to that approach. These days, when there are so many ways in which we can be interrupted or have our attention diverted to something else, it seems that breaking things down into manageable components and then dealing with each one in turn, is a really powerful way of forging ahead.

So that’s the place to start then, if you’re faced with overwhelming projects, tasks that seem intractable, are feeling lost in the frenetic race to balance too many demands, or have big goals to achieve:

  1. Break them down into components
  2. Solve one problem at a time

And if you’re still  finding it hard to solve anything at all – and this often happens because it seems like everything is connected to and dependent on everything else – then you need to go back and think smaller at step one.


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Self-Awareness (2a)

How do you make people feel? The importance of Intention in our interactions and four key hints for leaders who want better Impact.

As a leader, manager, colleague or supplier to other people, the personal impact that you have on others is perhaps the single biggest determinant of the quality of your relationship with them. And it’s that relationship which will make or break the success of what you’re trying to achieve.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
Maya Angelou

If you click the diagram at the top of this article you can download or save a copy. You’ll see that there’s two important aspects to the Impact that we have on other people:

  1. Intention. This is about what we’re trying to achieve when we have an interaction with someone else;
  2. Result. What outcome did we actually get (which might be different from our intention).

For great self-awareness, we need to be conscious of both of these aspects of our impact on others. This article is going to look at 1.Intention, and I’ll cover 2.Result in a later one.

I like to break it down into those two steps because we’re often operating on a kind of autopilot when it comes to our interactions with others. But the issue here is that you can’t not have an impact on another person. They WILL notice how you made them feel, even if it was that you made them feel nothing.

If your relationship is a purely transactional one, no emotional content, no ongoing interactions likely, no need to trade favours or if they’ve no choice about helping you, then I suppose you could safely skip all of this stage. But how many purely transactional relationships can you actually think of? For most of us, and I would argue most of the time, the personal impact that we have on someone, even when we’re just asking for a task to be done, is hugely important to getting those things done well.

So be very clear about what your intention is before you start an interaction, or before you respond to one.

Sometimes leaders need a bit of a framework for their personal interactions. Below you’ll find my simplified cheat-sheet for the kind of impacts that leaders should be looking to create whenever they have an interaction with someone.

To boost your own self-awareness of the impact you have on others, start being really conscious about the intentions behind your interactions. The key question to answer is this:

“As I interact with [person], as well as the ‘transactional’ reason for doing so, what kind of impact do I want to have on them?”

I would argue that any leader should be intending to have one of these four impacts in each of their interactions with others:

  1. to have them experience clarity and direction
  2. to have them be inspired
  3. to have them feel nurtured, cared-for or looked-after
  4. to have them be empowered and be growing.

How about you, what impact do you intentionally want to have in your next interaction?


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Self-Awareness (1)

9 Expert Questions and one handy Diagram for Building great Self-Awareness

The best starting point for any development and growth at work, whether as a leader, a team member or just as your individual self, is the place of “self-awareness”.

And I’m talking here of self-awareness in a wide sense.

If you’re looking at self-awareness just as an emotional intelligence tool, then you’ll be focussed too narrowly, just on the awareness of your own feelings. What I want you to get, is a self-awareness about the whole you. That’ll include your drives, flaws, experiences, ambitions, assumptions, patterns of behaviour, values, resourcefulness and more. But also, and maybe more importantly, the big picture of what it’s like to be you. And what’s it like to experience who you are.

This kind of deep self-awareness really is essential to any kind of development. It’ll answer questions right down at a tactical level about what you want to be doing with your time and effort and how best to interact with the world. And it’ll act as a kind of beacon, keeping you heading towards the more important, bigger picture of what you’re about.

Sometimes this kind of self-awareness is forced upon us when something we’re trying to achieve goes wrong. Then we have to re-assess things on a personal level. And at other times, self-awareness comes out of a ‘gap’, a sense that something’s missing or unfulfilled.

Overcoming the uneasiness and discomfort around this kind of self-knowledge is important both to make sense of what’s happened so far and to move forward.


If you wanted to get some more self-awareness without being forced into it by that kind of circumstance, how would you go about it?

One of the best ways is to pretend to be your own observer.
Check out the diagram alongside. (If you click it and then right-click it, you should be able to download a copy.)

First, imagine ‘seeing’ a version of yourself. Get a sense of who this person is, and what’s important to them.

Second, imagine you could observe how this person goes about interacting with the world about them and with other people.

There are many things you could be observing and getting a sense of, but to get you started here’s some of the things I’ll typically be asking my clients about to help them develop their self-awareness. We talk about them as if they were another person, so instead of saying “what’s important to you”, I’ll get them to practice being an impartial observer of themselves by asking, “what’s important to this person?”.

Here’s some of the aspects you might be considering as you pretend to observe yourself. It’s a fairly long and deep list, so don’t feel you have to get all of this straight away:

  1. What kind of things are really important to this person?
  2. What’s the story of how they got to where they are today? And what did they have to overcome, sacrifice or achieve to get here?
  3. What are they like, at their absolute best?
  4. What qualities do they have that make them a resourceful person? What personal attributes, skills and knowledge can they call upon?
  5. What holds them back or keeps them stuck?
  6. As they interact with the world, how clear are they about what outcomes they want?
  7. Thinking of a specific interaction that you want to understand more about, what was their intention at the outset? Did what they wanted to have happen, actually happen?
  8. How wide is the range of choices they have about how they approach things; do they have one typical way of operating or a wider range?
  9. What are some of the assumptions, hidden beliefs or ‘rules’ that they have about the world, about themselves and about others?

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Trust Yourself

How to take charge of your self-doubt

Maybe I should start with a confession.

By nature, I’m actually a fairly nervous, cautious and uncertain person. People who know me well get this, and they also know that:

  1. I don’t mind people knowing it, because I’m very happy to be messily human and to live with all the flaws and imperfections that come with life; &
  2. I’m really, really good at managing my nerves, fears and uncertainties.

People who don’t know me that well tend to assume that I’m extremely confident because I choose to trust my instincts, I don’t let anything stop me, and I’ll take appropriately-managed risks in pursuit of what’s important.

But this is all learned behaviour for me.

I’ve written before about imposter-syndrome, about dealing with your gremlins and about other related topics. Explore my blog and you’ll see that this is an important area for me. Not just because it’s something I need to consciously and consistently manage myself but because it comes up again and again in my clients. Often people who are attracted to work with me because of the perceived confidence they see.


Helping people to trust themselves is a core part of my purpose.

I’m especially interested in helping those people to whom others look for inspiration. Call them leaders if you want (they rarely tend to use that term themselves, even when it’s on a nameplate outside their door). It’s just that there’s something extra about the need and responsibility to take charge of your own self-doubts when other people are depending on you. If you don’t do this, people will unconsciously sense it. They’ll be puzzled by inconsistencies in your behaviour, they’ll hesitate when you ask them to do something stretching, and they’ll be less compelling in their interactions with your clients, customers and colleagues.


If I could conjure up some kind of holy-trinity of ways to take charge of your own self-doubt, it would be the three, deceptively simple things I’ve set-out for you below. Of course there are other techniques and tools and ways of dealing with what is a natural part of the human experience, but if you can get on board with these three, nothing need ever hold you back again.

Also, I’ve set these out fairly simply, without much exposition or argument because I really want them to stand out as self-evident truths.

What I’d most like is for you to test them out in real life.

Take a couple of weeks to monitor the level and kind of self-doubt you’re experiencing. Score your self-doubts on a 1-10 scale, keep a simple journal or log, and see if your experience changes once you adopt these ideas.


Rule One: Self-Doubt has an important purpose; it’s meant to keep you safe

Your experience of self-doubt is a perfectly natural part of being human that evolved with us for a very good reason. It’s meant to keep you safe. To stop you from doing stuff that might get you killed or injured; or to stop you being ostracised from the support network of your friends, colleagues and family.

You are not wrong, stupid, weak or inadequate for experiencing self-doubt.


Rule Two: Self-Doubt is largely physiological and your body is the best tool for dealing with it

There are brain chemicals that mediate the functioning of our guts, our perceptions of the resources available to us and our moods – all at the same time. Each element of our mind-body system interacts with the others. The food we’ve eaten (or not eaten), the amount of sleep we’ve had (or not had), the movement of our bodies, the amount of oxygen in our bloodstream. It’s all in a complex and largely self-regulating system. Because of this, very simple physical changes on our part can shift our self-doubts extremely quickly. A brisk walk. A glass of water. Lifting the head. Looking at the sky. A simple meal. A few deep and controlled breaths. A chat with a friend.

If you’re experiencing self-doubt and want it to change, always, always, always start by shifting something physically.


Rule Three: Self-Doubt doesn’t go away, so learn to walk alongside it

I’ve heard people say stuff like: “You have to kill your doubts”, “You have to get rid of them, once and for all”. But if you understand the origins of this process (see Rule One, above), you’ll know that killing your self-doubts or trying to permanently get rid of them is pointless and even counter-productive. I believe it’s much better to treat your self-doubts like a kind of nervous friend. Someone who really has your best interests at heart, but maybe doesn’t quite understand everything that you want to do or achieve in your life and work.

I sometimes imagine I’m out on a hike with this friend and they’ll often point out where we might get lost, or where we might slip over. And because of them I’ll see the bit of tricky navigation, or notice the rough ground when I might not have seen or noticed that before. Then we can choose to carry on with the hike if we want to. Just helping each other out as we go.


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10 Ways to be a Smarter Leader

How to be Smart in a World of Dumb Leaders

Thank you for reading this. There is so much to be done in the way that some people lead and run businesses and organisations, that it really needs folks to spread the word about how things could be instead.

So many times I’ll be sitting in a work-group observing, or be finding-out second-hand about something a leader has said or done that just makes me cringe: “Ouch! Why did they need to say or do it that way?” You’ve probably seen or heard about something similar yourself?

I just looked back through my notes over the last few months to find these ten examples of what I reckon are the most important differences between Smart and Dumb leaders – it wasn’t hard to find these!

Please get out there and spread the word. Let’s have much more smart leadership.

Dumb Leaders: Smart Leaders:
Pretend to know all the answers Are brave enough to ask the tough questions
Struggle to hide their weaknesses Use their vulnerabilities as a chance to learn from and develop others
Never stop to see themselves how others see them Take the time to walk in different worlds and explore multiple viewpoints
Inflict their mood-swings on everyone else Successfully manage their emotions, to help read and influence the moods of others
Always look for the heroic, Hail Mary long shots Make sure the daily grind is being done well, to make the most of the right opportunities
Will happily, noisily and frequently tell you what they think – and even what you think Apply the principal of one mouth, two ears – seek to listen and understand before being understood
Don’t care who you are nor what’s important to you See each team member as an individual deserving of their attention
Slap-down ideas and actions that don’t fit into their way of doing things Encourage creative thinking and prudent risk-taking
Keep their plans secret Know how to use their vision of the future to motivate and inspire people
Have low standards for their own behaviours and will justify doing as they want, when they want Role-model the kind of high ethical behaviour that instils pride and earns respect and trust.

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Nick Robinson Executive Coaching - Kindness at Work

Working Kindess

Why aren’t we more kind at work, when kindness really helps?

I write this at the end of a busy month, which has given me another great opportunity to ask people about one of my current themes: kindness.

The reason I’ve been asking about kindness is down to my previous month’s coaching work. This was absolutely packed with situations where I couldn’t help thinking that maybe just a little bit of kindness would have dealt with everything even before I’d arrived!

There’s variety in my work and so it’s good that I also get to work with people in some very successful businesses and organisations where kindness is a way of doing things. In fact, some of the most successful leaders I know are very good indeed at doing kindness and I can’t help feeling that in the long-run, there’s probably a high correlation between the two.

I know there’s an emotional side to this. The sort of world I want to live in and to leave for my son, is driven by kindness. I want there to be room to care for and raise-up others to their full potential. And for me, there’s also a really practical side. I love being able to do things well, and doing them well also means doing them effectively – with efficacy, efficiency and gracefulness. If I genuinely thought that being unkind was more effective in the long run than being kind, I’d probably give it a go! But I just don’t see it. What I do see is opportunity wasted, potential unused and crucial errors being allowed.

Human beings are practically hard-wired to both take care of themselves and to take care of each other because of our evolution as social animals. The basic tools to be kind to each other, and the practical reasons for doing so, are already available to us. So, if we’re not being kind, there must be a reason. And, if there’s a reason, there’s also got to be a way to create the right conditions for more kindness.

Here’s my thoughts so far.

Unchecked self-criticsim vs. useful Purpose

In my experience as a coach, people who are critical of others in a damaging rather than useful way are often unconsciously highly-critical of themselves. With that going on in the back of their minds it’s very hard to be supportive of others. Contrast that with the joy of being around someone who has a genuine sense of Purpose, something meaningful to work on and who will carry you along in their enthusiasm.

Self-doubts and limiting beliefs vs. Connection

Some people let the self-doubts, the “I can’t”s and the “It never works for me”s, take over the focus of their attention. This self-limiting place is one where there’s no spare energy, time or resources to be kind to others. It’s a place where kindness looks dangerous, like a zero-sum game of winners and losers. They say that you become the average of the people you spend time with and it seems true to me that having quality time Connected with people who don’t think like that is a great enabler of kindness

Cultural Norms vs. Opportunities to Serve & Nurture

Perhaps one of the biggest barriers to having more kindness at work is “the way things are done around here”. Just like individuals, organisations have an unconscious set of stories, beliefs and self-criticisms. Left unchecked, Cultural Norms can become very damaging to an organisation’s ability to make the most of its people. As an antidote, creating Opportunities to Serve and Nurture, as many companies are doing with community and volunteering initiatives, is a great way to remind us just how uplifting it is to be kind and caring for others.

Unhealthy Habits vs. Resilience

Setting aside the false criticisms and limiting beliefs, it is probably true that, in the short-term, kindness comes at a cost. Time, money, effort and attention may all be involved. If somebody has habits that don’t help them to be resourceful, that make them unhealthy physically and emotionally, they may well find that the ‘cost’ of being kind is too high for them. What I’ve found is that the most Resilient people are also often the kindest. They work on themselves and that helps them be resourceful enough to help others. If you want to be kinder to others, start with being healthily kind to yourself. As they say,

You can’t pour from an empty cup

Fear vs. Choice

Fear is a very useful mechanism, designed to keep us safe and ensure our survival. People sometimes regard themselves as weak or wrong for being afraid, or for acting badly when they experience fear. When I’m with clients, I celebrate fear as another signal about something important. We can’t not have any fear; it’s part of our whole brain and body system. And without fear, there’s no courage either.

What we need are more behavioural strategies for dealing with our experience of fear. Instead of freezing like a rabbit-in-the-headlights, or lashing-out in fight mode, or running away in flight from our fear, we need Choices about how to behave.

This is especially true in businesses and organisations, which are themselves social systems and quite like the circumstances of our evolution as social animals. What makes us successful in those circumstances is co-operation with others. To co-operate well, we need more and better choices about how we behave. And one of the most important behavioural strategies is kindness.

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Dealing with Professional Envy - Nick Robinson Executive Coaching

Envy, Resentment and Fulfilment

Professional Envy at work. Why it’s so bad and my easy four-step cure

I enjoy the chance to coach with ‘negative’ states and emotions. Things like anger, resentment, guilt, anxiety and so on. In fact, if you’ve worked with me personally, you’ll probably know that I’ll often be celebrating those emotions and states as we discover them. This is not because I’m completely weird (no, really, it’s not) but because these are often what I call “signal” states. That is, they’re a great sign that there is some real potential for change and development. So long as you can address what’s causing them.

Take Anger for example. Anger is a great sign that one of your personal boundaries has been crossed, or that something or someone very important to you is at risk.

Envy, resentment and jealousy (and other emotions or feelings in that same group), are also really good signals of some potential opportunity for growth and greater fulfilment.

One of the negative states or emotions that sometimes comes up in my coaching work with leaders and team-members is a sense of what I call “professional envy”.

Professional Envy is where a person is acutely aware of the success that somebody else is enjoying – and really doesn’t like it.

Team members may feel that another person (or team) is getting too much attention from the boss, or receiving too many rewards or accolades for their work. Board Members may feel that another director is getting too much credit, being a bit of a glory boy, “Has it all handed to him on a plate” or already has too big a slice of the pie.

Experts, consultants and qualified people often seem to experience Professional Envy at the apparent ubiquity of somebody they perceive as a rival. I’ll hear things like: “Everywhere I go, there she is, being idolised again!”


The problem with Professional Envy, from an individual point of view, is that it sucks all of the energy out of getting things done and spoils the chance for enjoying what is happening. From an organisational point of view, Professional Envy can lead to a deterioration of effective working relationships, to passive resistance towards other people’s initiatives or even to outright sabotage of important projects.

If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of professional envy, here’s my easy four-step cure.

The first step is to recognise professional envy as one of my ‘signal emotions’.

Take a moment to get some clarity around who is the object of your professional envy, and notice what you’re experiencing and how that feels. Then begin to label that experience as a sign that there’s an opportunity here for you to grow and develop towards much more fulfilment for you personally.

Second, you need to know that professional envy is a sign that you are not achieving all that you want to achieve.

Deep down, you probably already know this. You may have found yourself blocked from achieving what you originally set out to achieve. Circumstances may not have been in your favour. You may have experienced set-backs, failures or a crisis of confidence. In a way, it doesn’t really matter what your current circumstances are. The most important thing is just to recognise that – right now – you are not doing all that you want to be doing.

The third step is to shift your focus away from the object of your professional envy, and back onto you and what you want for yourself.

Don’t be saying stuff like: “Oh, I want them to fall flat on their face.” It’s understandable to want that, and it might be funny to see, but it won’t really help you any.

Instead, put your attention onto what you do want, for you. Allow yourself to dream big again.

There’s a couple of possible outcomes from this step, which fall broadly into these two categories:

  1. You realise that there is some really ambitious stuff that you’d like to be working towards;
  2. You realise that you’re actually reasonably happy not bothering to be achievement-focussed and quite like things as they are.

The fourth step is to take the outputs from step 3 and begin working on them.

This is the most powerful part of the process. Even if you’re not entirely clear what it is that you’re ambitious about. Or if you’re not entirely sure how to be content just as you are. Just start working on it.

It’s a bit like what Buddhists call “entering the stream”. You’ve taken a decision to drop the things that were not helping you. Instead, you’re dipping your foot into the wider current of potential energy that now starts to ripple and become available to you as a flowing force.


Experience with clients suggests that these four steps alone are not enough to achieve that big thing nor to re-discover that contentment. They are however, almost always enough in themselves to completely vanish that sense of Professional Envy.

Good luck, and let me know how you get on.

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