September 21, 2017

Overcoming ego

Four business people in a discussion

We all have an ego. We couldn’t function properly without one. We need our sense of separateness.

On the other hand…

Our ego can blind us to the feedback we need to receive in order to grow and to develop or make the right decision. Unfortunately, we tend to reject input that threatens to disrupt our independent identity.

Somehow we need to regulate that tendency in ourselves.

Perhaps that’s work enough, but we also need to deal with it in other people…

We need to find ways of presenting the information they need without them rejecting it out of hand, because their ego won’t let them accept it.

How do we get someone in a position of authority to hear what they need to hear? Often not an easy thing, especially if they’re unaware of the effect of their own ego—if they don’t have that wisdom.

What’s the best way to speak truth to power?

One is to build a deep enough relationship with the person that we can get the message across without it “landing in the ego” by communicating “heart-to-heart.” That takes time and patience, of course.

Another is to express the point in relation to a third party, as in “My friend John” had such and such experience and decided on a certain course of action.

A third is to use the structure, Feel-Felt-Found, as in: “I know you feel x. Person y felt that too. They found z worked out well.”

How do you tackle this challenge?

What’s your approach to get someone to hear what they need to hear?

How do you side-step the ego?


New Series of Board-level Skills Workshops launched with Glasgow Chamber of Commerce

Business People in a Board MeetingDelighted to have launched a new series of workshops at the invitation of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, focusing on board level skills. We’ve picked two topics to begin with: Mastering … … Effective Board Meetings and Mastering … … Facilitating Groups, both areas where some new insights (and reminders of what you already know) can make a big difference to the ease which you get things done.

These are open invite and great value, so if you’re in the area (apologies for bothering you if you’re not)  and would like to take advantage of this opportunity to add to your expertise, please book on the Chamber’s website, as below, and/or let me know…

Thursday 25 September – Mastering … … Effective Board Meetings

Wednesday 29 October – Mastering … … Facilitating Groups

Two regular workshops, related to public speaking, are running soon too:-

Tuesday 7th October – Focus On … … Authentic Presence and Confidence in Public Speaking

Tuesday 21 October – Focus On … … Compelling Content in Public Speaking

I’ve just done one in this series. Participant feedback was “excellent,” I’m pleased to say.

Hope to see you at one or more of these. Let me know please if you’re coming.

Can they see where the leverage is?

Three people talkingHe’s looking in the wrong place…

The young man before us insists a particular role will help his career. He’s frustrated that employers don’t see it that way. He goes over his qualifications and experience again.

The thing is…

What’s holding him back is something quite different. It’s how he comes across.

That’s how it is with leverage in any situation. The participants don’t see it, because if they did see it, they would have acted on it already.

When you can see what levers to pull, you’ll need some patience and commitment, because you’re highlighting something others can’t see yet.

And the leverage very often IS in the relationships between the people. It’s the place to make something different happen—and surprisingly easy with the right approach.

“Soft skills” are an optional extra, right?

The silence in the room is profound. Joe sits out front with the coach who’s running the workshop. No-one moves as Joe processes the question he’s just been asked; the question that will resolve the issue he expressed. The silence seems endless, as we wait for Joe to accept the shift within himself that will move him on; to see what he needs to see to progress. (We’re all Joe really.) The coach masterfully guides him in his learning, maintaining the trust and safety on which all else depends. Joe finds what he needs. He cracks a joke to relieve the tension. We laugh.

Some people call these “soft skills.” Well, they don’t look very soft to me and they don’t feel very soft either, when you expose your own issues, doubts, fears, and – even worse – ambitions to the constructive input of an experienced coach and 25 or so fellow participants…

OK, so this is maybe a bit more extreme than the typical workplace.

Or is it?

The ability to handle challenging situations is central to leadership. As a colleague once said “the ability to relate to other people is the most critical skill a person can ever have”, and Tom Peters, for example, said recently that senior people spend almost all their time doing two things: Running meetings and dealing with people, and so relationship skills are key.

Where possible, I avoid the phrase “soft skills,” because it risks implying relationship skills are a “nice to have” and much less important than other, proper “hard” skills. What are those anyway? Professional skills, I suppose. Better to use language that’s more specific about what we want to see happen like “collaboration skills” or “ability to resolve conflict” or “relationship building.”

“Soft skills” sound like something we’ll get round to when there’s time, which there rarely is, of course.

So here’s my takeaway…

To help others value the expertise as much you do, drop “soft skills” from your vocabulary and replace it with something else.

It makes a difference.

Collaboration – Everyone’s talking about it but do we have the bandwidth?

Talk of collaboration is everywhere. We recognize that we need to work together more, even in a competitive world setting us against each other if we allow scarcity to be our driver.

How well do we know how to collaborate anyway?

Collaboration, and teamwork for that matter, implies a number of people (techies might say “nodes”) working together in an interconnected way, possibly on something large and complex, with many links between the elements. If the enterprise was a physical system, we’d be thinking about the bandwidth of the interconnections, or at least the engineers would be. Are the interconnections up to the job? Will they carry the necessary signals fast enough in both directions, and will those signals be received and understood? Can they cope with noise and interference? What happens if energy levels are low? Will the interconnections work well enough to keep the system operational, or limit any down-time to something tolerable?

If the physical design doesn’t measure up, we know the system won’t work.

So why do we expect to get away with inadequate interconnections when we collaborate?

If the relationships in a system of collaboration aren’t strong enough to sustain the program, product or service it is intended to deliver, then the system will fail, just as surely, but perhaps less abruptly, than a physical system. Then, seeing as people are involved, we’ll probably muddle the analysis, attributing accountability in the wrong places, and, having made thoroughly sure nothing will be learnt, settle down and prepare for the next episode.

It doesn’t have to be like that…

Do all the interconnections in your systems of collaboration have the bandwidth to deliver the intended result?

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He might as well have said they prefer to underperform

“We’re an organization that doesn’t like to listen to other organizations,” he said, also seeming to imply that they’d no intention of changing. That would be OK if they knew everything they needed to know.

Except they don’t.

And their results prove it.

And we pay the price.

To perform, we need to learn, and to learn, we need to listen.

Who do we know better – old acquaintances or new contacts?

Julie frowns. She just can’t seem to get her old friend to take her work seriously. Susan seems more interested in talking about her holiday: “We don’t need marketing people at the moment. We could do with some help changing the organization though, but I don’t think that’s really you. Remember when we worked on the new branding. You were really good at that. Anyway, wait till I tell you what happened to Mark and me in Rome.”

The bill is paid and Julie leaves with a heavy heart. She and Susan go back a long way though it’s five years since they last worked together. She’d hoped more would have come of the meeting.

Julie is hardly out the door when her phone rings. She can barely hear, the traffic is so loud. The caller is saying something like “I’ve been given your details by someone you met last week. We’re looking for people that can help us make change happen. That’s what you do isn’t it? What you’ve done recently seems very relevant. When can you come and see us?”

How often do we play a role in a drama like this?

We judge long-standing contacts on how we used to know them, but give newcomers the benefit of a fresh start and understand them as they are in the present.

We think we know old acquaintances better, but do we really? Maybe the character we perceive is a ghost from the past, and not at all an accurate picture of that person now, especially if we haven’t seen them for a while. Our knowledge of the newcomer may be incomplete and lacking in depth, but nevertheless more accurate.

When judging others, take care to see all of who and what they are now, not the person you used to know.

To be judged as you are now, you may need to make new contacts, to diminish outdated perceptions.

Others may expect you to act like you used to be, because it’s comfortable for them. But it may not be good for you. Be who you are now or the person you have chosen to become.

It’s OK to blame the distant or the inanimate when things go wrong. Or is it?

Blame – common currency of the media. Some organizations are rather familiar with the process too, without usually using the word itself.

The thing is…

As an observer, with whom do you usually feel empathy – the person doing the blaming, or the one being blamed? Blaming is an unattractive behavior that distances us from the people around us – the uninvolved onlookers. Their sympathies transfer to the person we are blaming.

Let’s be clear though…

There’s a difference between “blaming” and holding people appropriately and reasonably accountable.

Whereas accountability involves clarity of thought, blaming is an unthinking response…

It’s so tempting to deflect responsibility elsewhere. We can do it in an instant, so easily we don’t even notice we’re doing it.

Sometimes who or what we’re blaming is so distant or inanimate we think we can’t hurt them.

But still we hurt ourselves…

Only yesterday, I nearly wrote in an email “my bank would take a dim view of me letting you have that information,” (making my directness the bank’s fault) instead of just saying: “I know you would do this anyway, but could you please make keep the details I gave you to yourself.”

It’s also tempting to blame the IT. It’s such a universal problem, isn’t it? “We would have got the report to you on time, but we had IT problems.” or “Sorry, we didn’t respond very quickly. The email was down.”

And then, there’s the traffic. Ah the traffic: “Sorry I’m late. The traffic was really bad.” What a handy excuse.

These words comes so easily.

But here’s the thing…

By blaming the IT, the traffic, or whatever, we come across as weak, and a victim of everyday circumstance. We’re so feeble, we can’t overcome routine difficulties.

Much better to take responsibility, even if it maybe doesn’t belong with us. Others respect that. “I’m sorry I’m late. I didn’t allow enough time to get here.” or “The report took us longer than we allowed.”

Or meet expectations in the first place, of course.

The ego – are we its prisoner?

We don’t have to be talking about relationships for long
before the subject of ego comes up.

  • We blame other people.
  • We rebel when we’re treated as “just a number.”
  • We reject feedback and learning because accepting it would
    require us to change our sense of who we are.

…all evidence of the workings of the ego – our centre of consciousness
giving us our sense of identity; how we are separate from other people. The ego
acts to protect our individuality and supports our independence and is a
necessary part of our psyche, but not always our friend.

Encompassing the ego, we have what Jung called the Self – the
whole personality. Its goal is to make the individual complete and whole (hence
Maslow’s “Self-actualization”).

You can experience this difference for yourself. Try this…

In the West especially, we tend to identify ourselves with
our thinking mind – the ego, but notice what happens in the gap between our
thoughts. Do we disappear? Try it now for a few seconds.

(Did you try that, or did your ego kick in and stop you?)

Some other awareness notices the presence or absence of
thoughts. So you’re not your thoughts. Identifying yourself more with that
higher, mindful, noticing Self offers all sorts of benefits. One of them is you
become aware of your ego and can regulate it.

When it comes to relationships…

If we allow our ego to be too strong, we make it hard for
people to connect with us. How can they when we are so strongly separate?

And secondly…

We block our own growth. Just about any learning, certainly
any to do with relating to other people requires us to become somebody
different; to change our sense of who we are. That can only happen if we
regulate our ego.

So to learn quickly and relate well to other people, identify
with your whole Self and become mindful of your ego; notice it doing its thing,
and moderate its influence.

Some call the ego a prison. Take care you’re not one of its


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How just about everything can be seen as a process of learning

The attendees gather – pleasantries here, a joke there, a side issue being dealt with over in the corner; teas and coffees organized. The person chairing opens proceedings and the participants settle down to the business of the meeting. It’s taken for granted everyone knows what they need to know to do their job; to ensure a successful outcome to the meeting; and that they won’t need to change or grow in the process. Great. We can concentrate on what everyone needs to do.

A totally normal experience: How we usually approach a meeting, is it not, even a difficult one?

But wait a second…

Maybe the situation’s not like that at all. Maybe to get to an outcome, at least one person needs to learn something significant, either about the problem, or about themselves – how they relate to other people perhaps. After all, if everybody knew what they needed to know, would the meeting be needed in the first place? If our people knew how to do something, they would surely have done it already. When something’s not happening, chances are it’s because they don’t really know how, whatever they might claim.

We have a paradox…

Stakeholders and others at large expect us to know everything we need to know to do our job, so admitting we are open to learning could be dangerous. So we act as if we know all we need to know. We feel we’re expected to. And yet most of us grow in our roles every day. If we only today know what we need to know, what does that say about yesterday?

To take a different course, you might like to try this…

Whenever you’re faced with a challenging situation, instead of focusing, as is usual, on what everyone needs to do, consider instead what they need to learn, and how you might stimulate that growth.

Many situations make sense when looked at as a process of learning and sometimes that’s the best way to manage them, even if that’s not their overt purpose. Cause the learning to happen and the doing will often take care of itself.