What doesn’t kill you

New research suggests that we should stop saying “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” – Because it doesn’t!

I found some interesting research recently, based on the experiences of people in Chile and neighbouring countries who went through devastating earthquakes and a tsunami in 2010 (link to full article below).

In short, those people who had previously experienced four or more ‘stressors’ were at a much greater risk of developing a post-disaster mental health disorder compared to those who had experienced few or no prior stressors.

The researchers defined a ‘stressor’ as serious illness or injury, death of a loved one, divorce, unemployment or financial struggles, legal troubles or loss of a valuable possession.

In the world of people development, it’s very common to see that “What doesn’t kill you …” quote from Nietzsche used with the intention of boosting people’s confidence or resilience in the face of extreme difficulty. It’s the so-called “stress inoculation hypothesis”.

But some Nietzsche scholars believe that the German philosopher was actually poking fun at the kind of thinking which regards repeated adversity as a source of strength. It was common for Nietzsche to do this – say one thing, but mean another. It’s perhaps unfortunate that his pithy sayings are so quotable!

As usual, I wonder if the truth is somewhere in the middle:

  • It’s clear from the Chilean research that repeated exposure to stressful experiences makes you more vulnerable to negative impacts from extreme events – not stronger at all
  • But perhaps it’s possible that it does make you more empathetic towards others who have also experienced stressful times? In itself, this is a very useful success skill.

Similarly, a big cause of stress in life and at work is the gap between our expectations of how things somehow “should” be – and how they really, actually are:

  • In times of stress, that gap can seem huge (“My life and work should be successful/happy/fulfilling/safe – but it is actually not”);
  • Perhaps it’s also possible that exposure to stressful experiences gives us a kind of, if not inoculation, than maybe a kind of world-weary assumption that sh*t does occasionally happen – and maybe that helps a little?

Let me know what you’re noticing about the impact of stressful events on your own resilience please.

Either leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach.

What your view? is it true that 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger'? Or is it more nuanced than that? Click To Tweet

Click here to see the research article.

The Antidote for too much Snippiness at Work is more Self-Compassion

I’ve noticed there’s a lot more snippiness at work at the moment than is good. People losing their temper and sounding-off; others fault-finding and blaming when there really isn’t any need. I’ve seen it in a couple of board-meetings and in some team-working just over the last few weeks.

Given the circumstances right now, it’s understandable that people might be more stressed than usual and end-up taking it out on others. The answer is to take better care of ourselves first.

Fortunately, I’ve also noticed that there’s much more awareness of how this kind of behaviour in a group or team setting is ‘sub-optimal’ than there was, say ten years ago.

Lots of really useful concepts have made their way into our everyday language:

Things like “Hangry” – a portmanteau of hungry and angry, where someone’s hunger is making them increasingly upset, irritable or even angry.

I’ve even heard people use the HALT acronym – derived from addiction recovery, it reminds people to take a moment (HALT) and ask if they are feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. It seems simple enough, but when those basic needs are not met, people can be susceptible to destructive behaviours.

The importance of this kind of stuff, in terms of doing well at work, can’t be overstated. Years of co-operation can be written-off with a badly-timed and unfair outburst. Credibility as a competent manager can be lost by a poorly-judged public criticism. Trying to get stuff done when you don’t have a good relationship with the people you depend on is non-starter.

I use my own modified (and backwards) version of the Emotional Intelligence model to help unpick and re-wire how we behave at work. In simple terms, it looks like this:

Leading < Relating < Self-Management < Self-Awareness

If you want to lead well (which is basically, getting stuff done with the co-operation of others), then you need to be aware of how other people are feeling and doing, and manage your relationship with them. And you can’t do that without being aware of how you yourself are doing and then effectively managing your own behaviours.

Start with that Self-Awareness step:

  • Are you Hangry?
  • Do you need to HALT?
  • Are your anxieties taking over?
  • If you were able to be more compassionate with yourself, what would you do?

Let me know what you’re noticing about our self-management these days please?

Either leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach.

We're more stressed-out than usual now and might take it out on others at work. The answer is to take better care of ourselves first. Click To Tweet

Self-Accountability not Self-Criticism

Four simple questions that easily help to develop more self-accountability and avoid falling into the trap of self-criticism instead

What do you notice about your own self-accountability? Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

The best way to be true to your word is to be more self-accountable, and *less* self-critical. Click To Tweet

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way!

Your only 3 choices for when something important needs doing

I used to be a compulsive leader – couldn’t stop myself from jumping in – and it took quite a bit of development (and some tough-love from a couple of really good bosses) before I properly learnt how to be a good follower too.

But that quote in the image above sets out the only three choices anyway, doesn’t it?

1. If something important needs doing and you look around and no-one else has stepped-up, that’s your signal to lead.

2. If someone has taken the lead and is doing something that matters to you, get on board and follow their lead. You can discuss exact compass headings once you’re under way.

3. In all other circumstances, make sure you’re not in the way of what needs to happen, regardless of who is leading.


BTW the quote in that image is often attributed to Thomas Paine, but there’s no evidence of that and the language doesn’t seem quite right to me for an English-born, 18th Century philosopher and Founding-father. So I don’t really know who said it first, I just like it.


What about you:

Do you know when to lead?

Do you know how to follow?

Do you know how to tell if you’re actually in the way; part of the problem and not part of the solution?

Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

Lead, follow, or get out of the way - your only 3 choices for when something important needs doing Click To Tweet

Health and Work

Well-being has a huge impact on success at work. Can you be physically and emotionally healthy and hold down a demanding job?

Modern working life seems to make it tough to be healthy physically.

I’m struck by how many of my clients are dealing with poor-ish health. They’re often carrying minor health issues that haven’t been (or can’t really be permanently) ‘fixed’. They suffer from problems caused by sitting around in front of a screen all day, from long hours and the impact this has on diet, from emotional eating and drinking in response to the stresses and strains of demanding jobs, and from frequent coughs and sneezes.

And I write this, as it happens just a few days away from the shortest, darkest day of the year, when dealing with those health-related issues seems harder than ever.


I know these are all “first-world” problems really.

In the scheme of things, my bad back, caused by such a sedentary working day, is just a minor niggle. Yes, I can get a bit snappy and do tend to take the worry home with me if I’ve had a particularly stressful day. And yes, the coffee I’m chugging all day to raise enough energy to get through the afternoon does make me sleep poorly, but at least I’ve got somewhere safe and warm to sleep – it isn’t really such a big issue, is it?

Except it is a big issue really.

In a big picture sense, it’s an important issue because in the UK just those factors of stress, anxiety and musculoskeletal disorders account for around 20 million lost working days every year (HSE link).

On a more individual level, I think it’s also a big issue, because poor physical health and un-managed stress have such a huge impact on emotional well-being. And emotional well-being is the key to the self-awareness and good relationship-management that actually drives so much of our success (or otherwise) at work.

As Bruce Lee famously said:

You cannot pour from an empty cup.

If our physical and emotional reserves are low, our interactions with colleagues will be less effective and our work will suffer.


Not all of my clients are dealing with poor-ish health though. Some put a lot into maintaining their health and do it very successfully. And of those who do carry health conditions that will aways need managing, some manage them very well indeed.

My own health and emotional well-being seems to go up and down in long phases. I can have many years where I’m cycling or running regularly, eating healthily and living a well-balanced life, and then something happens to knock that off course and it might take a couple of years for me to get it back on track again.

I don’t know what the key to the physical side of all this is.

Having read about and trained with and followed a number of regimes, I still couldn’t say “Here are the seven steps to psychical well-being” with anything like certainty.

I do know that for me, changing things for the better has often involved quite small starts – deciding to go out for 20 minute walk at lunchtime no matter the weather, for example. Or just mentioning I was feeling physically drained to a friend resulting in an unexpected invitation to a long-distance bike ride – with enough time to train for it!

Actually, maybe those are part of the key:

  • Do something small; and
  • Reach out and ask for help.

What’s your experience been – how’s your health and well-being; does it have an impact on your ‘success’ at work; how did you change your health for the better?


My instinct is that this is such a big issue that I should reach out myself to a few people I know and get some more about this up on my website – watch this space.

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. And be healthy.





 

Leading from the Light Side

One change that makes all the difference to your leadership, management and personal fulfilment

Please click the image above and then right-click to download or save your copy.

One great way to really up your game, as a leader, a manager or personally, is to regularly check-out which side you’re coming from. Is your motivation coming from the Dark Side, or the Light Side? The Dark Side isn’t bad – it can be useful in the short-term and in some circumstances. But it rarely gets people what they really want. The trick is to become conscious of our Dark Side motivations and use them to initiate a change of approach. Then we can actively choose a Light Side motivation for something that we really want to achieve.


As usual, please add a comment below if they’re still open, or tweet me @nickrobcoach – how do you make sure you’re not leading from the Dark Side?


Behavioural Choice and Change (2/2)

Nine strategies for adopting new behaviours at work. For when you need a different way of doing things.

I wrote in a previous post about the principle in my kind of coaching that:

the person with the most flexibility is the one most likely to succeed.

That is, if leaders can adapt their approach, change their behaviours, in a way that remains authentic, then they’ll be more likely to overcome obstacles and to influence people positively. It’s also a very important consideration for those times when the way you’re currently going about things just isn’t working anymore.

If my previous post focussed on what needs to go on, inside your head, while you’re figuring out how to find and adopt new behaviours, then this post offers a simple menu you can pick from, anytime you want to try doing things differently.


First, think of something you’re trying to get done.

Maybe something which has a higher-than-usual level of challenge? Perhaps a task that involves people you find it hard to relate to? Or something which is a little outside your comfort zone? Or maybe something where you know that your usual way of doing it isn’t going to work now?

Then, go through these options – and see my notes at the end on how to choose the best one for you.

1. Think of a person who has one or two personal qualities that you either admire or reckon might be useful. How would that person behave in this situation?

2. Take a moment to reflect on what you are like at your absolute best. How would that version of you set about doing things?

3. If you remember your Monty Python and the Spanish Inquisition sketch, here’s an easy one for you – how would nobody expect you to behave?

4. When they’re faced with a task like yours, how do most people set about doing it?

5. Temporarily set-aside something that might be limiting your thinking. For example, how would you behave if time/money/quality [delete as applicable] wasn’t an issue?

6. How would you behave now if you already knew how things would work out?

7. How would you set about doing this task if you knew you couldn’t fail?

8. What’s the smallest, easiest, quickest way of doing it and how would you behave in that case?

9. If you were being outlandishly, outrageously ambitious in your behaviour, how would that change the way you do things?

The idea with this approach is to shift from only having one way of doing things, which sooner or later gets you stuck, to having a whole range of different ways of behaving. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it is possible for just about everyone. And don’t be constrained by my list – if there’s a new way of behaving that you’ve already got in mind or which isn’t covered by that list, test it out for yourself.


When you’re choosing which (new) way to behave, people often like to think about these issues:

  1. Which new way of doing things feels most authentic, like the ‘real’ me?
  2. Which way of behaving is going to be most effective given the task at hand, the people involved and the wider circumstances?
  3. Which is the most ethical way for me to behave now, all things considered?

Hope that helps? And remember, change is the only constant!


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

 


Behavioural Choice and Change (1/2)

The most flexible person usually wins – how to generate choice and change in behaviours at work (1/2)

One of the things you’ll often hear me banging on about is the principle (in my kind of coaching) that:

the person with the most flexibility is the one most likely to succeed.

That is, if you can adapt your approach, change your behaviour, in a way that remains authentic, then you’ll be more likely to overcome obstacles and influence people positively.

In a leadership sense, you might hear people talking about whether or not somebody has “leadership range”, and this is the same thing. Can you adapt your leadership behaviours, the way you do leadership, to best suit the people around you, the circumstances you find yourselves in and the things you want to achieve?

When it comes to dealing with other people, it’s almost always easier to change yourself than to change others. Actually, in my view, getting others to change very often requires us to change ourselves in some way, even if its only to find a better way of communicating with them.


When you see this principle of flexibility in action, it’s a very powerful thing. People sometimes come here to my coaching studio feeling totally stuck. What they’ve got to do is create enough wiggle-room in their circumstances to get unstuck – like they need to spray some WD40 on a bolt that hasn’t been turned in a while.

And the best way to create that wiggle-room, that all-important flexibility, is to work on behavioural choices . On having different ways of going about things.


It seems to me to go a bit like this:

  1. If you’ve only got one way of doing things, then sooner or later you’re going to get stuck.
  2. If you’ve only got two ways of going about things, then sooner or later you’ll face a dilemma.
  3. When you’ve got three or more options, then you’ve got the ability to select what to do and how to do it, in a way most likely to suit the circumstances. Now you have choice.

I’m going to split the rest of this article into two, so I can tackle it with a bit of depth.

Carry on reading below to find out just what it is we’re talking about when we ask people to create choices in their behaviours. What is behaviour? What needs to be going on on the inside (mostly in our heads) and on the outside, when we’re looking for behavioural choice and change?

And then I’ll give some easy ways to actually generate more behavioural choices in this second article next month.

What Behaviour Is

In my very simplistic definition, behaviour has got two important dimensions.

First, the dimension of behaviour that most people consider (because it’s ultimately the only part that you’ll ever experience of somebody else’s behaviour) is what happens on the outside, and it’s this:

what you say and what you do.

This first, outside dimension, of behaviour is the one that most people start with when they’re looking for change. And it’s the kind of thing that’ll get reported to you in a 360 feedback or an appraisal. It’s also almost always the wrong place to start when you’re wanting to generate choice and change.

Where you should be starting, is with the second, far more interesting part of behaviour:

what happens on the inside, to generate what you say and what you do.

From a behavioural point of view, what happens on the inside to determine what you say and do on the outside has got four key factors. I’m summarising like crazy here, just to give you some useful headlines about this stuff. In a coaching session we’d dive into these and have a fun time exploring around each of them quite a bit. And I also know from experience that if you’re reading this because you might want to help yourself or others to create more behavioural choices and to see some kind of positive change in your outcomes, then even just working with this at a headline level can create a great deal of new wiggle-room for you. The four factors of behaviour on the inside to consider are these:

1. Why you do it (what’s your MOTIVATION?)

2. What Outcome you want to achieve (what’s your INTENTION?)

3. The Sequence of words and actions you might take to carry this out (Your STRATEGY)

4. What Evidence will you need to see, hear or feel to know that it’s working (what CRITERIA need to be satisfied?)

Just asking some basic questions and having a few moments reflection on each of those four factors can often be enough to generate new choices and the flexibility to succeed.


Thanks

How to lead like a boss in five minutes

I’m just back from a weekend’s volunteering, leading one of my favourite activities. It’s a really energising and rewarding thing to be involved with and there’s a lot to get organised. What makes it work are the other people who volunteer their time, effort and experience, at the weekends and elsewhere.

Therefore, what’s the most important thing to do when you’re back? (apart from sleep for nearly 10 hours!)

Easy – thank the other volunteers!

If you’ve only got five minutes and you want to make a real impact in your leadership why not try this. Think of somebody whose spirits would be lifted by a simple thank you, write a card, by hand, and post it.

Don’t do it just because it works as a leadership technique (it does); do it because people deserve it.

Do keep a stock of cards in your top drawer for when you’ve got those five minutes. Just about every brilliant leader I know does this.

Don’t be put off by the fact that for everything people do right, there’s often something you wish they’d done differently. There are other techniques for dealing with those things.

Do be authentic. If your style is naturally reticent, then a simple “thanks for doing that job” is fine.

Don’t worry that people you haven’t thanked this week will in some way be aggrieved (they won’t); but do be mindful that teams and groups are usually sensitive to ‘fairness’. They want to hear “thank you” and they also want poor performance dealt with – regardless of who that’s directed at.

Do take a moment to notice what impact it has on yourself as you search for things to say thank you about and for people to say thank you to. There’s research to suggest that gratitude improves physical and mental health, facilitates relationships, strengthens self-esteem and increases resilience!