January 21, 2018

Archives for October 2012

Fundamental or superficial?

Tall buildings in LondonSometimes coaching or consultancy clients comment on the depth of the work we are doing, the suggestion being that they find it unusual to be operating beneath the everyday.

But the thing is…

Unless we seek to understand our world at a fundamental, first principles level, we really can’t be sure we’re on solid ground. We can’t be sure we’re building on firm foundations.

The only way to have certainty is to start from fundamental simplicities. Some of them may be contradictory of course, but then peace comes from balancing the contradictions.

This need to balance opposites is often obvious at the deep level, whereas in the superficial, we may fool ourselves into thinking there is a single right answer.

Mastery comes from handling the fundamentals well.

Our unconscious can’t tell the difference

Woman making an emphatic pointI knew it was a slip as soon as I said it…

I’m sat having coffee and a catch-up with a friend. Getting a little too carried away talking about an issue with a third party, I express some annoyance. My friend on the other side of the table listens sympathetically, but I notice him flinch a little when there’s a little hardness in my words—not directed at him, at least not literally, but as part of what I’m saying about the other—in fact, as if to the other.

You see…

His unconscious mind can’t tell the difference between something said about someone else and something said about him. It responds in the same way. It’s only his conscious mind that says, “It’s OK. It’s about someone else.” (At least, I hope it does.)

Here’s what I learned…

If you need to recount a story in which you say something that’s hard to hear, make sure you break eye contact with your listener at that moment so that the remark is directed away from them. If you have to recount harsh words, say them to empty space.

In fact, it’s not a great idea anyway, for the same underlying reason…

Our own unconscious mind can’t tell the difference either. With anything we say to or about other people, our unconscious mind responds as if we said it to or about ourselves. It doesn’t know the difference. Our emotional state is affected as if the words had actually been said to or about us.

Scientific evidence for this? Something to do with mirror neurons perhaps. I’d say, just see if it fits your experience.

What we do to other people, we do to ourselves. Take care what that is.

Turning our questions on ourselves, and why we should

Two doctors in discussionHelping a client work through an issue, it occurs to me, not the first time, that I could do with answering some of my questions myself.

Nothing very earth-shattering there.

What is new for me is realising that a way to help ourselves get our thinking straight is to help someone else with their issues, notice the questions we are asking, and then apply them to ourselves – as a deliberate approach, I mean, and as a by-product of coaching other people. That’s somehow different from just trying to figure out our own issues solo.

The reason this works is to do with the principle of projection. We see unacknowledged things about ourselves in other people. So the questions we come up with to help other people actually arise from the structure of our own issues. It’s all reflections, in other words, and sometimes we see the questions we need to ask ourselves more clearly in the mirror of other people.

Do you notice that?

Abrasiveness loses in the end

Andrew Mitchell MPAn interesting lesson highlighted in UK politics this week…

UK Government Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell finally resigned after being abusive to a policeman on security duty in Downing Street (outside the Prime Minister’s Office) several weeks ago. Exactly what was said is in dispute, but it’s clear we can say it wasn’t pretty.

OK, so he was stressed out or something. The trouble is it was a recurring pattern of behavior. And from a government minister especially, it was unacceptable to most. Leaving aside whether he should have resigned, or been sacked straightaway (let’s not get into that here), there’s an interesting lesson about his personal “capital”, or rather lack of it…

BBC Political Editor, Nick Robinson summed up the point thus: “Ultimately Andrew Mitchell was brought down by himself. The arrogance and the abrasiveness which made David Cameron choose him as Chief Whip meant that he had far too few friends when things went wrong. Few ministers, few backbenchers rushed to his defence and instead many muttered that he really ought to quit.”

The takeaway is obviously this…

Those who build up too many enemies take a fall in the end.

I find that reassuring. You may do too.

Nick’s full article is here… http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-20013791

Enabling learning—it’s all about the egos

Group of professional peopleRead the literature on organizational learning and you’ll find convincing descriptions of how fear or embarrassment impedes learning by individuals and teams. When something doesn’t turn out as expected, it’s a very human reaction to seek to cover up the failing—to step past it somehow—and then cover up that we’ve done that.

Repeat the process a few times and we enter the territory of what some people “skilled incompetence,” artful ways of consistently protecting ourselves from threat at the expense of inhibiting our learning. (This is Chris Argyris country.) Sure we might really be in danger, but usually, we overdo the fear and the embarrassment beyond the likely consequences.

In short…

Our egos make us defensive and get in the way of our learning. Now, we need our egos, because if we didn’t have them, we couldn’t function.

But they need managed…

Much of the literature advocates process approaches to overcoming these difficulties i.e. thinking head stuff—clever intellectual and conversational techniques to address the problem.

Really there’s an easier way…

Get the human connection right with your team and you’ll assuage the egos and neutralize the fear and embarrassment, thus enabling the learning they truly need.

Get the humanity right with yourself and you’ll sooth your own ego, and let in the learning you truly need.

Being principled – are you a softer target or a tougher one?

Mother on phone and childWe might worry that operating in a principled and compassionate way makes us vulnerable—vulnerable to those who are happy to trample others in their quest for success; individuals who don’t care what happens to the people they encounter along the way.

My experience is the opposite…

Living principles of fairness makes us highly sensitized to unfeeling and uncaring behavior in others, to the point where it’s very hard to suppress our reaction to a breach. The strength of our unconscious response seems to keep us safe from exploitation. The challenge is actually to channel the energy of our reaction enough to influence the unenlightened individual intelligently. Arguably, being truly authentic requires us to express our reaction and not just let it go.

What’s your experience? As a principled person, are you more or less resistant to others cutting across what you value?

Are you stronger or weaker?

Don’t say you’re not breaching a confidence. Keep it to yourself

Three people in a meetingIf you state you’re withholding information, you create a barrier between yourself and the people you are with. You break the connection.

If you must have secrets, keep even that a secret.

Of course, you must respect confidences, and not share what you’re not meant to share. Actually I’d say avoid being in that position too much because it undermines your authenticity and disconnects you from other people.

They say “information is power.” Connection with other people is more powerful still.

Don’t be a keeper of too many secrets. Your friends resent it.

Don’t like change or don’t like feeling unsafe?

Group of people listeningWe hear it so often: “People don’t like change.”

That isn’t quite right: After all, most of us would like a doubling of our income, or the gift of a free holiday with everything taken care of. We like that kind of change.

Really, it’s that we don’t like feeling unsafe.

When tackling something new or leading change, remembering that people don’t like feeling unsafe puts a slightly different light on it. It suggests different actions.

Saying “people don’t like change” is too broad-brush.

People might be OK with change, or even welcome it. It depends how you handle it; how you deal with the fear.