Posts

Don’t talk about Doom and Gloom – Act!

Why it’s so tricky to talk about problems and risks in a way that people will listen to. And how it might actually be better to just take guerrilla leadership actions instead!

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

What’s been your experience of trying to talk to people about risks and problems and things that could go wrong?

Don't talk about doom and Gloom - take guerrilla leadership actions instead! Click To Tweet

 

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

Which Team are YOU on?

Managers and Leaders should make sure they’re being a teammate at work on the RIGHT team – and not confusing Leadership with Team Membership

At first sight, that might seem like a dumb thing to say. Surely everyone knows which is their team? But I’m seeing more and more people who fall into difficulty at work because they don’t quite get this distinction right.

Perhaps it’s an easy mistake to make, especially if you’re a loyal, principled leader.

I’m constantly talking about how leaders should role model the kind of behaviours they want to see. This is particularly important if you want your teams to behave more like a team. And one of the behaviours to get really clear about role-modelling is which team you’re actually on.


Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’re ON the team that you lead. I’m not a big fan of sporting metaphors, but that would be like saying that Eddie Jones plays rugby for England – he doesn’t, he’s (currently) the team’s Head Coach. Or that Jose Mourinho plays football for Spurs – again, he doesn’t, he’s (currently) the Head Coach.

 

If you want the teams that you lead to be more team-like, then show them how you are a great member of the team to which you belong.


What do you notice about your own attitude towards teams, colleagues and those who work for you?
Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

Make sure you're being a teammate at work on the RIGHT team - and don't confuse leadership with team membership. 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

Thinking is more painful than electric shocks!

Why people often don’t get clear about their desired outcome or choose the best approach to take, before they act

It’s helpful for people to think about stuff more – particularly on why  they’re about to do something and on how  they’re about to do it. This is because:

1. Knowing why  we’re about to do something – the outcome we want to achieve – is much more important than the first few steps, the tactics, that we might take to get to it.

It’s easy to grasp this. If your desired outcome is clear but the first few steps you take towards it don’t work, you can simply try some other tactics. But if you start from the tactics themselves without really being clear about where you’re trying to get to, then early failures tend to derail all your efforts.

(There are exceptions to this rule: notably if you’re stuck and don’t know what you want to achieve then just trying something – anything – can be sometimes be more empowering than staying stuck);

2. Actively choosing how  we’re going to do something – the strategy, route or approach we might take – is a key determiner of success.

Far too many people simply do everything the same way, or the same way that they did it before, regardless of whether or not this gets results. It’s where that old saying comes from, “If you’ve only got a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.” Actively choosing the way to go about doing things, dependent on the circumstances and the people involved, creates flexibility of approach. And flexibility of approach in our behaviour is what leads to win-win.

Why don’t people do this kind of thinking more?
Get clear about their desired outcome and choose the best approach to take, before they act?

One part of the answer is in an article I was delighted to discover recently, headlined “People Would Rather Experience An Electric Shock Than Be Alone With Their Thoughts”!

A team of researchers have discovered that:

  • Left alone in a room with just their thoughts, more than half the participants described the experience as ‘not enjoyable’, most found it difficult to concentrate and reported their minds wandering. The negative aspects went up further in another group who were asked to repeat the task at home;
  • In one experiment people had the option of giving themselves an electric shock rather than complete the full thinking time. Even though they’d had that level of shock before and had said they’d pay $5 not to be shocked again, 67% of the men and 25% of the women involved chose to shock themselves rather than just sit and think!

You can see there article here: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2014/07/people-would-rather-be-electrically-shocked-left-alone-their-thoughts

My take on this is that human minds are evolved to deal with the real, physical world and with the web of social relationships that it takes to thrive. Disengaging from actual, concrete tasks and from real interactions with others long enough to do this kind of outcome/approach thinking is not something we’re naturally evolved to do. We have to learn it. And sticking with it long enough to get results ‘hurts’ and takes a lot of energy. Similarly, if you’re anything like me, there’s a whole load of failed adventures, thwarted ambitions and personal shortcomings that I’d really rather not think about at all, if only if wasn’t for the chance to improve things in future.

As my coaching practice evolves, I find that more and more people are saying things like: “I just need to hear myself think out loud”, or “I need some space to reflect on things and work them out, a kind of sounding board.” The hardest thing to do when I’m coaching in that kind of situation, is to do nothing but listen – but at least I don’t feel the need to give myself electric shocks!


Let me know if you’ve noticed any of this too please – or what you’re discovering about thinking, outcome-focus and behavioural choices yourself.

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

Does it really hurt to think a bit more? Click To Tweet

Connection Overload

Is conflict at work happening because people are overwhelmed by all the relationships they need to manage?

Talking with a client recently about the number of connections with customers and team members that he was dealing with gave me an insight into a problem I’ve been seeing more of just recently. The problem is this:

Sometimes, people who are great leaders, who are brilliant at their job and whose teams are delivering great results, can simultaneously have really poor relationships with their peer group of other leaders.

Why is that?

It seems weird to me that people with the interpersonal abilities to lead and manage so successfully aren’t also able to get on well with their colleagues. Somebody with those skills would be capable of great influencing, of good listening, of super coaching. So why weren’t they always being welcomed around the boardroom table as well?

Thinking about what my client had been saying, and about the sheer volume of connections he mentioned, made me wonder about this question:

Can people be overloaded by the amount of interpersonal connections they need to manage, so that their ability to have successful relationships in all areas is impaired?

In trying to answer that question, I remembered some research I’d seen around Dunbar’s Number and Compassion Fatigue…


Readers are probably familiar with Dunbar’s Number:

the cognitive limit to the number of people we can maintain stable social relationships with

The limit is thought to be around 150 people – for relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. (For those people we don’t have a ‘persistent’ relationship with – don’t interact with them that often –  the number could be higher.) I wonder how close some of us get to the limits of Dunbar’s Number, when we consider all of the client, supplier, colleague and team-member relationships we need to focus on? 150 isn’t a huge number. If you added up all the people you need to regularly connect well with, what does it come to?


Research also shows that there are limits to Empathy too.

Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feeling of others.

Empathy is limited in a number of ways, two of which are significant here:

  1. Empathy is limited in that it depletes our mental resources – the effort of keeping information in mind is mentally and physically draining. This is why people in caring professions are warned about the dangers of compassion fatigue – a subject I’ve written about previously here.
  2. Empathy is also limited in that it’s a finite resource until refreshed. Using empathy in one area of our work and lives reduces the amount available for other areas. This was shown by a study (click here) in which people who reported taking time to listen to colleagues’ problems and worries and helping others with heavy workloads felt less capable of connecting with their families. They felt too emotionally drained and burdened by work-related pressures to also be empathic at home.

Putting together the Dunbar’s number data and this sense of empathy as a limited resource, made at least part of this issue clearer for me. This is why some clients – often those who are otherwise great leaders – might sometimes struggle to be effective in relating to their wider peer-group. It’s quite possible that they are overwhelmed by the volume and range of relationships they need to manage.

If you’re at the head of an organisation, and you notice that some of your team leaders don’t seem to be getting on with each other, this idea of connection-overload might be one place to look.

Some questions to ask might include:

  • Are some of your team leaders having to spread their cognitive powers too thin, having to ‘know’ the preferences etc of too many people?
  • Is their empathy overloaded – their ability to relate well to others simply depleted?

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. Tell me about connection-overload in your organisation or for you personally. Where are the limits of your empathy? What’s your own Dunbar’s Number?


Leadership, Role-modelling and Behaviour

Leaders cannot NOT be role-models – so be the right kind

I know I keep banging on about this, but Behaviour is such an important thing for leaders to get right.

If you have any kind of authority, responsibility, power or even visibility in your organisation, other people will base their own Behaviour on yours.

This applies whether or not you’re formally called a ‘leader’ or ‘manager’ or whatever. You cannot not be a role-model; so be the right kind.

If you want to know who in your organisation sets the standard for how things are done and what’s the right way to Behave with each other – take a look in the mirror. If you find yourself complaining or worrying about some aspect of the culture in your business, the person looking back at you from that mirror is the one who sets the tone.


People sometimes ask me, “Well, what do you even mean by ‘Behaviour’?”

The answer is simple – everything you do and everything you say.


What makes things tough for leaders and anybody who wants to manage their own Behaviour, is that what you say and do on the outside is actually the end result of a long chain of stuff that happens inside our heads and bodies – and which is often largely unconscious.

To make a start in managing your own Behaviour I recommend two simple actions:

  • First, as you interact with others, be very clear about what outcome you want to achieve. Behaviour without Intention is not managed. Remember:

You cannot hit a target which is not there

  • Second, have some kind of ‘Reflective’ practice. The best way is to keep a diary or journal where you can reflect on your day and set your intentions for the next.

You know yourself mostly by your thoughts. Everyone else in the world knows you only by your actions. Remember this when you feel misunderstood. You have to do or say something for others to know how you feel.

James Clear

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

What aspects of being a role-model, or of Behaviour at work are important to you?





The Supportive Boss

Leaders: 7 things your struggling employee needs to hear you say

What if you’ve got someone who works for you who is struggling? They’re maybe a little overwhelmed or out of their depth. Perhaps they’ve lost their mojo. Or they’re reacting badly and you know something is up, but not quite what it is. What is that person secretly waiting to hear from you, their leader?

Here’s seven options to start with:

“I’ve got your back. What support do you need from me?”

“I know you can come through this.”

“Your concerns are genuine and I hear them.
Can we look together at how to deal with them?”

“The reason we fall over is so we can learn to get back up.
What do you want to learn from this?”

“Here’s the bigger picture of why this is important now …”

“Stop struggling.
Take a break.
Come back to it later from this [different] angle.”

“I’ve struggled with lots of things in the past myself.
I reckon we all must do at times.
Who have you asked for help?”


I hope those help a little? Please add a comment below if they’re still open, or contact me here, or tweet me @NickRobCoach especially if you’d like to add something that a struggling employee needs to hear from their leader.


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