the traveller not the cartographer

One of the joys of being funemployed is the learning.  I have learned how to be a systemic team coach, I have learned how to assess people in a number of different ways via some cool psychometrics; I’ve read plenty of very cool books. (Thank you Dave Graham for the latest eye-opening, life changing one.)

Another joy is clearing out old shiz! I’m not a hoarder except when it comes to note books. Stuff with my musings, old work notebooks of lists and meeting notes; great ideas; every imaginable quote, model and teaching on leadership…

I found one today that I wanted to share. It started out as one of those notes to a younger self things which I would not normally do, but was prompted by a relative’s 21st birthday. The more I look at it and the more I talk about Leadership, the more I realise it is about humanity. Something on LinkedIn caught my eye yesterday, (because I have also been saying this for a while.) Excellent leadership is about being the best human we can be. We may have lost sight of that a little lately. So here is my manifesto.

  1. Be brave enough to truly know yourself. Be brave enough to ask yourself tough questions and really listen to the answers
  2. Love yourself. Love your imperfections. NO-ONE ELSE SEES THEM!
  3. Listen to the anger that goes on in you. Find out why
  4. Ask yourself what you want your legacy to be. How do you want to be remembered?
  5. Check-in with yourself: Am I happy, kind? Am I doing what I want? Am I being who I want to be? or am I just going along?
  6. Take time to BE and to explore and to do the things you love
  7. Be a contributor to family, friends, community, causes
  8. Challenge. Question. Say no. Say YES! Play. Have fun regardless of how old you are.
  9. Remember the little girl or boy in you, because they never leave you
  10. Be grateful and kind and gentle. There isn’t always a need to fight everything/everyone, or chase everything/everyone
  11. Be you! Listen to you. It doesn’t matter what you “DO” for a living, it matters what kind of soul you have
  12. Simplify the confusing stuff – break it down. Listen to your heart and your gut. Intuition is underrated
  13. Know you are beautiful. Know you are talented. Know you are unique and know you are loved for all that you are
  14. Don’t strive to make people happy at a cost to yourself. That’s not your job
  15. Feel ALL the feels. Emotional intelligence has more credence than intellectual intelligence
  16. Travel. Eat amazing food. Learn new things – music, another language. Be shocked. Be shocking! BREAK THE RULES
  17. Be whoever you truly are. Know who you truly are. Respect who you truly are
  18. Hold tight to the belief that you are wonderful
  19. Approach difference with curiosity
  20. Have empathy and compassion in your life. For everyone. All the time

There are many more I am sure, so if you have them and would like to add to the manifesto, I welcome your thoughts.

“I am the traveller, not the cartographer”.  Nothing here is new, I didn’t make the map I’m just on the journey.

the heavy weight of empathy

That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Empathy being a burden, or a heavy weight. Of course it isn’t – the world needs more of it. We as humans need more of it – for our fellow humans, for our animals, for our planet. It’s what separates us from our lower level animals. So how on earth could it be a burden?

For me, it isn’t usually. It’s one of the things I seem to have in abundance. And I am so very grateful for it, believe me. Having it means I’m not a narcissist. Good thing. It also means I can help others, I have a clearer window into the world of someone else’s pain or hurt; it means I can feel other people’s pain and excitement and unlimited emotions. 

Having it – I hope – means I am a better leader, auntie, partner, friend…all the endless things that I am. Having it makes me self-aware. It makes me laugh and cry and feel sad and reflect and learn and grow. 

So why is it a burden? As a Highly Sensitive Person I feel. A lot. Not just my own feelings, but I take on the feelings of others. In my case though, I’m not talking about anxiety. I am not anxious about things – I just feel them more intensely.

Recently I got some good news health results. Yippee for me – thank you Universe for all you moved around and schemed there for the lucky number to have my name on it. The professional person who shared my news with me seemed delighted to be the bearer of wonderful news. And then he also told me that I was the ONLY person that he had given good news to. That day was results day, he said and that means every other person who had gone before my allocated 15 minute slot had been told bad news. 

I felt the weight of that statement like a tonne of bricks. I felt the energy in the room that had all day held people and their loved ones hearing bad news about their health. I could feel them all floating quickly around me, darting left and right and over my head. In a panic and a frantic haze. I walked out after shaking his hand feeling overwhelmed. It’s a common thing feeling overwhelmed for me. I felt the pain of his job, I felt the heavy hearts of all the people who had left before me. I had to steady myself in the hallway as the tears very quickly sprung to my eyes. I took a moment. Then I walked into the waiting room – to a sea of faces that I immediately realised may not be as lucky as me. And I felt all of their fear and hurt and anger and sadness.

I stopped again on the way to the car, just to assess my own emotions. I had been given good news right? – So why was I feeling this confusion? This sadness, this tidal wave of emotion?

The feelings I could identify were relief, obviously. Then sadness, then guilt. I think there were dozens more that never made it to the surface.

I was still processing it all, hours later. Was I relieved? Of course I was. Was I worried about it? Not really. I have an incredibly positive disposition and I firmly believe the Universe looks after me. We had words earlier, she is on my side. I felt sucker punched. I felt the weight of the words that were spoken to me “You are the only patient I have seen today who I have given good news to”. This is the NHS. They have 15 minute slots. It was 3.15pm. That’s a lot of bad news.

So, when I talk about empathy and it’s weight and burden, this is what I mean. I am a sensitive person. Sometimes more than others. Sensitive people feel a lot more. We used to be told it was a bad thing to be so sensitive – and I used to believe it. I don’t any longer, that’s not my story and it’s not my voice. I feel more than a lot of people. I feel it like it happens to me. I pick it up, I carry it and it takes me a long while to sit with it, to soothe myself, to reassure myself and to say silent prayers for those who did get the bad news.

I live a life based on gratitude and today there are many millions of things I am grateful for. My health being the primary one. I’m also grateful that I am an empath. I live with an empath too – so you can imagine that car journey home, because he was in there with me and felt that whole wave of emotion, the same way I did. It can be fun in our house – we just pick our moments!

I would rather be an empath than not. I want to feel all the feels and I want to make sure that mine are spoken about, registered, spilled out of me and recognised. I am blessed with this gift. It can be a burden, but one I am happy to carry.

Rich and Privileged

We have a sign on the chalkboard in our kitchen that reads “Rich and Privileged” – and it has nothing to do with money....and it has nothing to do with money.

Let me clear something up. We are neither rich, nor privileged in the biblical sense. There is no old money in my family (in fact there is NO money in my family!) and there is no peerage status awaiting either of us.

I was at Tesco on a gorgeous sunny day recently, when I was greeted by some wonderful customer service. One of the men who worked there helped me with my groceries and took me to an empty register.  He didn’t have to do that, but was just being generous. When I got to the counter, I said to the woman who was serving me, “you poor thing, inside here with a jacket on, whilst the sun is shining outside”. She said to me “Oh, I’m not poor darling, not by any standards, I’m rich in SO many things!” She was Jamaican as I found out later, so you can imagine that statement just sounded so much more gorgeous with that beautiful accent!

I agreed with her and told her that there was a sign in my kitchen which has been in our house as long as we have, almost 4 years. This past year hasn’t been our best, certainly not financially and certainly as I haven’t worked for 3 months or more this year. Some of my friends have given me sympathy and are supportive and wonderfully empathetic. Of course it’s tougher living on one wage than it is on two, but good heavens, there are a few million people in the world worse off than me!

Every day of this wonderful life, I am grateful for everything I have. One of my favourite sayings is that I have two legs and I’m breathing, and that’s a jump on some. Every day that my feet hit the ground – well you know what they say – Any day above ground is a good one. I’m fortunate that I have this mindset. It hasn’t always been with me and there are some days it is tested. But I have so many living examples close to me of people who are worse off than me, that I am grateful, just grateful. (Comparing myself to others isn’t the sole purpose for feeling this way, I do still justify and have my own feelings; can recognise and appreciate them for what they are – for all the psychologists reading this!)

Apart from waking up with all my body working, including the breath part – seriously what else could be wrong? I’ve used applied this mindset lately more than ever during the time I have been looking for work. Every day I get up and think it is an opportunity to re-invent myself. Not that I hate the me I already have, but if you can, why not?

Every day I think there are people out there in recruitment land who haven’t heard of me, so it’s my job to change that. It’s a numbers game. I want to get back into something I haven’t done in a while, so I know it is going to take some time. I also haven’t done much Change stuff in the UK (which by the way recruiters, doesn’t actually mean I can’t do it!) I also don’t have a linear CV – it doesn’t read like a straight HR pattern, one HR role into the next.

I’ve been selected for my career roles because of my attitude. I’ve also succeeded at them because of this attitude and that’s a hard thing to put on a CV. I have won jobs due to my attitude and kept them because of the skills I have learned and applied. My old favourite saying “recruit for attitude, train for skill” gets tested when people only look at the skills side of the equation. Something wrong with that standard recruiting model perhaps?

So, given that I already think I’m streets ahead before I get out of bed, the rest of the day can only go well right? To be able to use the internet, make phone calls; to be able to read and write and cook my own food without hunting it; these are things we take for granted every day. In my world, we have smart phones, laptop’s notebooks, tablets – every imaginable way to make contact with people. I live in a city of more than 12.5 million people. A lot of us are out of work. However, a lot of us are far worse off than me.

I’ve always given thanks, way before Oprah made it trendy. I’m still not sure who I’m giving thanks to – (but that’s another post). I just believe we can be thankful for all the things we take for granted.  I won’t go into the people who inspire me every day, they know who they are. And there are millions of people I don’t know who inspire me every day. They aren’t the usual heroes of everyone else.

Even though I am a massive sports addict and I am convinced there is an athlete buried under here somewhere, sports people aren’t the ones who drive me. I’m not saying they aren’t inspiring, but I do get my inspiration from people who just have a great handle on the balance in their lives.

I get my inspiration from people who do jobs they hate, because there is a greater good; from people who have problems in their relationships and fight to keep going; from people who have made massive life decisions and have had massive life decisions thrust upon them. I get motivation from people who are the antithesis to all these things. If we can’t see the truth and beauty in other people, learn from them and adapt those lessons to ourselves, what on earth are we doing here?

Please don’t think I am a Pollyanna, I don’t “DO” this to win points or to write great blog posts! I am optimistic and I am positive – and yes, those two things are different. I believe we can always be more, and I believe we can learn all of these things. One of the remarkable books I have read in my life is Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. To say it changed my life is an understatement.

We are 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it. It’s a choice. We choose our reactions, our mental state (mostly), our surroundings. If we don’t like it and it starts to go a bit off course, then we have the power to change it.

A recently appointed mentor of mine (although he may not yet know that!), recited a story to me about going to a circus as a young child. He watched the clown practice and practice and practice juggling. He got it right most of the time, and when he didn’t, nothing happened. No attitude, no despair, no reprimanding himself because he had got it wrong. He just kept going. What a gift, to have obstacles put in your way that will make you fail – and go on regardless.

In my rich and privileged life, I am taking the lessons from the clown and applying them, one day at a time.

hr… it’s lonely at the top

In reading the latest post from Alison Chisnell, I realised and I guess recalled, what I remember feeling, at a time when I was deep in middle earth HR. That this is a lonely job. It is a tough job, and one you don’t seem to make friends in (it’s just easier that way!)

I mean that in the best possible way. If you think about what we, as HR Professionals get charged with; what we are told, what we do – a lot of that is surrounded by confidentiality, integrity and privacy. If you hear something, or if you are the official holder of information, you are usually where the buck stops. If the CEO has decided to outsource the business, you get told but you can’t tell anyone else. If there is a performance issue with a staff member, same deal. I have even been entrusted with relationships that have needed to be kept secret!

Alison’s post reminded me what it was like, being in a position of managing change within an organisation. It isn’t just HR Professionals who can be isolated, senior management are in the same boat. The saying of it being lonely at the top didn’t just magic it’s way into our phrase books. I’m not talking about HR being the “top” of the business world (although, we all know it should!), or making a point about it being a better role in any organisation (again…..!), but usually, when the heads at the top want some change in the business, we are either the first to know about it from them (preferable), or the first to hear it on the grapevine, possibly because something has been done in a “unique” way. It makes us the top of the tree sometimes, when it would be far easier not to be.

Either way, the idea of HR Professionals talking to each other, supporting each other and sharing our experiences is a healthy one. In the world of Social Media, or in fact most online business, everyone shares everything – results, what to do, how to do it, how not to do it especially! In HR, we tend to want to be the keepers of information. Shared knowledge is a powerful thing. To be the one sharing your own knowledge, helping people out and perhaps lending an ear or a shoulder of support needs to be encouraged. Thanks for the reminder Alison!

the cobbler has no shoes

I first heard that expression when I was talking to a friend of mine whose partner is a financial adviser. They had just paid a massive tax bill. Not ever a pleasant situation and I know at some point or other we may have all had to do just that, but when you think your partner has it all under control and then learn the opposite, well let’s just say, not a happy time! He is the managing partner of a large national firm. Yes, you could argue, who could possibly have time to do their own tax, when some of the most influential business people in the country rely on you to do theirs – sound familiar?

Surely it is one of the most common psychological phenomena in the world. Like the plumber who has a leaky tap, the electrician has their wires crossed (sorry, indulge me!), the overweight doctor who smokes, the link building/SEO company that has an atrocious website……or in my own case, the blog that is out of date and the laptop that needs attention (un-husband is in IT!).

I am learning slowly that I do good work for my clients (there is that whole female fraud thing we do so well, but that’s another story!) and I can do all that wonderful strategic thinking, planning and carrying out – for them…but I am loathe to admit, it is something that I don’t do very well at all for my own business. For me, it seems a strange bit of imbalance; I focus all my time on my clients and usually the stuff I do for me is last…and I’m not even a mother!

Is it because we are so busy (we are all as busy as we make ourselves though, remember that!) or is it because of what we expect people in professions to do because they are good at it? You know, we think – oh, they’re in IT, I bet all their own stuff is in order. Or in fact, is it because (particularly for careers in IT), when you go around to your friends and families places, the first thing they do, after handing you a beer, is ask if you wouldn’t mind taking a look at their laptop! A friend once told me when I had started out that he envied my being able to do this blog and that write-up…..because he had become so engaged with his contracting work, that he barely had any time to focus on his own business. Now I’m almost there and none too sure I like it either!

I know I am not alone here, it is a common problem. In truth, I do know the most obvious reason behind it is: this is what I do all day long, then I have to come home and do it all again here too. Where is the fun in that? I’d much rather go for a ride, or go to the gym or throw the Frisbee around the park – anything but more of the same.

So what is the answer? For me, I apply the same rules to this as to any other issue – I call in the network! Professional networks across all of my “professional spheres” – social media, HR and corporate relations, including coaches and of course social media groups, discussions and forums. The personal ones include friends, family and at times, specialist help, counsellors, therapists etc. I have never been too shy to admit that I can’t do it all and I can’t do it alone. I have cleared out all my self-help books….or most of them, but I keep my network of professional advisers.

For those of you who know me, I am the great outsourcer! I love a beautiful garden, but am not that good at it. Get someone in. I love a clean house but resent the time spent cleaning it. Get someone in (bless you Shelley!); I love to cook, but there are sometimes when that just isn’t feasible (un-husband his share of shifts, as does Cook and the local takeaways) – so why not apply this logic to an age old problem?

I am really fortunate to know a very cool and talented bunch of uber business people; the group we call The Rocketeers: thankfully, all very different to me! When I need some help to strategise about my business, or to kick off the strategy for some corporate fund-raising (or even some personal fundraising, big plug) then I get a great team of people together to bounce ideas off – and they come up with stuff I had never thought of.

I do rely on coaching quite heavily as well. I am fortunate enough to have a life coach and a business coach, both work complementing each other and both have very similar strategies to help me to achieve my goals. If you can’t afford a coach right now (I am fortunate that my business coach is a part of the remuneration of my contracts), then the old networking group is a great solution. There are only 4 of us in our group, and even though we have different needs at different levels for different reasons, I value their input individually and as a group. It is also an interesting learning for me, I was never very good in a team unless I was leading it, so they are very patient with me!

So, the old “I get by with a little help from my friends” (big concession, I am not a Beatles fan!) has never been truer, especially now in tough economical times. The answers are usually all there, we just need to step outside ourselves and do some creative thinking, and especially creative listening. Either that, or outsource! Who could ever live in a world without shoes?

Have you got the guts to have the tough conversations?

It has been a year now since I had any staff to manage. If you listen closely, you can hear the angels sing. Whilst I did enjoy it and all the challenges it threw my way, it was nothing short of the most difficult thing I ever did. I chose not to have children, so I managed people instead. God works in mysterious ways.

It is true that I will have stories to dine out on for the rest of my days.

Anyone who knows me lived this example of managing poor performance, painstakingly! One of my staff used to take the company car to drive to the shop to get coffee for everyone (of course he walked around the building and took orders before he left). He returned, delivered said coffees, chatting to all along the way, then took time to drink his own coffee and eventually got back to work. He thought this took 15 minutes; his tea break. In fact it took 40 minutes, on a good day. He conveniently forgot that he traded off that tea break when he signed the last Enterprise Agreement giving him a 13% pay increase over three years. Not entirely his fault, no one had the guts to tell him that he couldn’t do that anymore.

If you are let get away with something for long enough, it can become the norm.

This very same guy did a less than sterling performance for 27 years. He was an absolute under-achiever of the highest order. When challenged on his work ethic, his work contribution and his general performance, he quite rightly produced his HR file and showed me that no one had ever challenged him on this before. That meant it must be me, the new Bossy Bitch who had a problem with him and the way he worked.

Well hidden potential

That was without doubt one of the toughest challenges of my career. It took me a year of setting targets, measuring performance, reviewing targets, adjusting targets, sending him on more learning and development than was good for him and basically devising every strategy I could find to get him to reach his potential. He had the most well hidden potential of anyone I had ever met.

Lots of very tough conversations and nine months later, he was dismissed for his consistent abysmal performance, including mistakes costing the company thousands of dollars, ruining our reputation and creating ill will amongst his colleagues (unlike anything I have ever seen.) Dismissing someone in a Government run institution was a tough gig, I give you the drum!

Your staff may just thank you for it.

There are thousands of employees out there just like him. It is tough having to have conversations with people about the way they work, or rather the way they don’t work. I doubt to this day that he thanks me for it, but I have had other staff who have. I have had people return to thank me after I have made them redundant, cancel their contract or just plain old tell them off for bad behaviour. Some of them gloat, and that is OK. Some realise it is the best thing they could have done, or could have had happen to them. To leave an environment that doesn’t stretch you or your creativity and is a lovely deep, well grooved rut can be a liberating experience, regardless of how it happens.

It is never a pleasant job to have to tell someone that they are going to lose theirs. People are human at the core of all that shockingly poor performance. They have lives to lead and children to feed, husbands, wives and parents to entertain and ignore just like the rest of us. Pity they don’t think of them when taking their employer for granted.

I have had to have tough conversations, not just about performance, but about stealing, bullying, racism, sexism and inappropriate swearing. I have had to tell someone it is not appropriate to call the company you work for a euphemism for a female body part. I have had direct and uncomfortable chats with people about bad body odour, inappropriate clothing, smoking in a non-smoking flammable confined space; coming in late, leaving early, excessive private phone calls – you name it. Were any of them nice, NO! Not for me and especially not for the staff concerned.

However, every single one of them knew exactly where they stood after those conversations.

To refuse to tell a person that they are under-performing, is not only poor management practice, it is poor leadership. It’s unfair and in fact, it’s just plain old bad human skills. Most of us just want to do a good job. Some of us think we do, and some of us know it, even though we aren’t always told (when will people get that? Can you just say “thank you for your work”, or “You’re doing a good job”. Is it really that hard!!?). I digress…..and OK, yes I was channelling a few of my previous bosses just then, sorry.

If you don’t provide feedback to people, good or bad, they will keep doing what they have always done, whether it is right or wrong. Having the tough conversations can drive you mad if you are not prepared and if you don’t have the skills to do it well and to protect yourself in the process.

Six tips for having the tough conversation

  1. If you witness the bad behaviour, ask the person into your office. Nicely, quietly and privately.
  2. If you don’t see it for yourself, then ask them to come and see you. Ask them for their version of the story. Perhaps: “I heard something unpleasant about xyz….can you tell me what happened?”
  3. Whatever the situation, start the discussion immediately. Do not make small talk or make them feel like they are going to be having a friendly chat with you. This is business and it is serious.
  4. Address the issue. “I just noticed {or I heard} that you did……(insert appropriate disaster here). I wonder why that happened, can you tell me about it please?”
  5. Give them enough time to provide you with an answer. Let’s be honest here, no excuse is acceptable when someone has used bad behaviour in an office, so the next tip is not negotiable!
  6. Say this, clearly, precisely and succinctly. “I just want to make it clear to you that that type of behaviour is not acceptable here in this office, nor in this business. Do you understand?”

Then stop talking.

My experience is that people listen, tell the truth and respond. They are usually embarrassed to be called on bad behaviour and who isn’t? Ask them if they are clear on it. Never underestimate the power of repeating your point, over and over again if you have to. If they start to give an excuse, remind them in the nicest possible way that they are adults; that they have a responsibility to work well with others and to just do their job.

If there are serious reasons why their job can’t be done, they can be discussed later. Make a note of them, then make another time to review workload, or do whatever you have to do to support them (yep, crap behaviour still requires support…much like parenting!). But make those two meetings separate so they are clear on the performance message, and that they are also clear on who is the leader.

The “…how dare you?” tantrum

Seriously, if ever anyone says those words to me, I walk away. They may as well ask me if I know who they are. As a manager I recover from my shock and then take the person in question for a very strict, very sotto voce conversation (strange phenomenon that, the angrier I get the softer my voice!)  I have had staff attempt to throw a tantrum after they have left my office. I followed them and suggested that they go for a walk, or take a break or go work the guillotine (OK, that was a dream, I was in printing!). Keep your resolve and make sure they are aware that you will not accept that behaviour under any circumstances.

Livestock in your living room?
Livestock in your living room?

Feedback is a wonderful thing and I have been known as the Feedback Queen all my life. I love it. I have learned to accept it and I give both positive and negative feedback graciously. It is difficult to manage people because they are people. Some will hate your guts till the cows come home (but what are you doing with livestock in your living room?) and some will adore you for it.

I know some of you reading this will be wondering if I worked in a prison, or even dealt with small children and farm animals. Not so, just an environment where staff had been let do what they wanted; one with no authority, no leadership and certainly no one there who had the guts to have tough conversations.

Conflict….it’s just a difference of opinion. Really.

I grew up with a family who love a great debate. There was always some kind of debate going on in our house that we were encouraged to stick our oar into. My Dad would drop little one liners about things to see what our reaction was. He almost always got a rise out of me!

I have never been one to shy away from conflict. In fact growing up in my family it was expected. I have very direct extroverted parents who were always making it clear, usually loudly, how they felt about a certain …..anything. I am sure the phrase argument for arguments sake was invented by my parents, although their own personal arguments were few, they never hid them from us believing that we would learn to deal with that as we would any other experience.

In our house, conflict was one of those things we just did really well. We still do.

One of my earliest memories is of my mother making a very pointed comment to a friend of my father’s. Dad came in late one night after work, a little drunk and with this friend in tow. The poor guy in question happened to have a pencil thin moustache. My mother was not a fan. So, she told him in a very pointed way that “she hates men with moustaches”. True story.

She felt it was important for him to know as the cause of my father’s overt “friendliness” just how she felt. After she made her point, he offered to leave, but in my true family style, he was welcomed, warmly, with laughter, food and made feel like a member of the family. One of the best lessons I ever learned from my mother was to say your piece and move on! She always moved on quite quickly, something we couldn’t understand as kids, because we never got to hold a grudge!

I was probably about seven at the time and remember it vividly. Not least because my mortified father liked to drag that story out every opportunity he got! In the later years of course it was a great joke, but I am more than sure he felt the sting of it then. Of course my mother still doesn’t think she did anything wrong, he deserved it!

Maybe she didn’t, and maybe he did. Maybe he was just one of those poor souls who is too sensitive (as my family like to think!). I am sure it is about sensitivity and as I get older, I also know that we need to apply some filters. As I tell my nieces and nephews, just because it is in your head doesn’t mean it has to come out of your mouth. Mum was a bit of a slow learner at times.

As they say, it is all in the delivery.

I am brutally aware that my way of dealing with conflict is unique, which has tended to make communication difficult at times. I am also aware that when I am not on my game, it is the one thing that deserts me. When I am not confident, or I am tired from too much struggle, I have chosen not to challenge when I should have. I know then I am not being my authentic self.

I think that poor old conflict gets a bit of a rough deal. Conflict doesn’t always have to be bad and I am quite serious when I say that I truly believe it is just a difference of opinion.

The conflict part comes from emotion, judgement, defensiveness and self-righteousness.

Thankfully life is all about growing and learning. I used to think there was something wrong with someone else if they didn’t like what I said, I truly didn’t think it reflected on me at all. Sounds pretty horrid – and I would agree. I was not always the evolved soul who writes now (she says smirking into her wine…).

So why am I revealing all this horrid stuff about myself, and why would you care (other than to use me as an example in your psychotherapy classes!)? Because the way we deal with conflict is one of those lessons we inherit from our family. It shapes who we are, what we believe, the way we form relationships and even the way we do business. I wrote recently about the importance of relationships in business. The way we deal with conflict affects honesty and trust in all of our relationships.

One of the best lessons we can teach our children is that conflict doesn’t have to be difficult. It also doesn’t have to be avoided. If we can make it clear that listening to a difference of opinion creates an open mind and greater respect for people and their differences, we can encourage them to debunk the myth too.

What happens to you when you disagree with your boss – what do you do? More poignantly, what do you say? Are you encouraged to say anything? Saying nothing implies that you agree, or even worse, support their ideas. Some of the most important coaching and mentoring I have done is on how to handle this kind of conflict – or this difference of opinion. It is called managing up. It is important certainly to not respond in anger, but to collect your thoughts calmly and then have a conversation.

We all know people who have different beliefs to us on important issues. My particular favourites are things like racism, sexism and homophobia. It is always far easier to agree with them isn’t it? I mean who wants to be the one who publicly disapproves rather than going along with the joke, or the thought or the intent. Some would argue that we could stop racism, sexism and homophobia right there, if we only all just learned to say: “Oh, really, how interesting, I don’t necessarily see it like that”. Then just engage in conversation without being self righteous, without emotion, without judgement and without being defensive. (Thanks go to the wonderful Susan De Campo who taught me this insight and saved my sanity just recently!)

I do believe if we start to de-mystify this whole topic and treat conflict like a difference of opinion, problems would be resolved, issues would cease to be and we would all feel stronger and more confident rather than walking away disheartened wishing we had the courage to say what we thought.

I have had many friends and family on Facebook vehemently disagree with the comments I have put up there, or pictures I have taken – and I welcome it, openly! I want to know what people think, I want to incite discussion and debate. In a world where it sometimes feels like we are free to write what we like, that isn’t always the case. I recently read two very different blogs on the value of SEO and it appeared that there were more comments on the blog in support of the argument than not. One particular blog was almost nasty in content and was a little vitriolic. I would have thought that would create some fairly sharp responses. There were a few on there, but not many. Very few people actually wrote that they disagreed with the content. Are we continuing this move away from conflict in these forums too? All this user generated content surely will incite some great debate and discussion, but I am not really seeing it, I wonder why?

I so often hear “I like to keep the peace” and my all time favourite, “I don’t want to rock the boat”. Well, as the un-husband says: Real boats rock.

The key to learning how to deal with conflict is practice. Practice using the phrase, “I don’t necessarily see it like that”. Practice it without emotion, without judgement, without being defensive and without being self-righteous. It is quite amazing what happens when you re-frame it.

After all, it is only a matter of opinion.

Building Relationships in Business

I was recently invited to attend a Business Networking function. I wasn’t completely in love with the idea of trekking to North London, but thought – you know, I’m starting my own business, I can meet people, rhubarb, rhubarb….

I was just managing to successfully talk myself out of being cross about the long trek, when I learned that the “interesting” workshop I had signed up for, wasn’t going to be a workshop at all, it was now the Keynote speech, starting at 7.40pm. Watch check: 3.30pm, this could be a long evening!

They did give me two drinks vouchers and as I am only human, I stayed.

I signed up for the first workshop (or rather man standing at front of room sprouting death by PowerPoint). It didn’t start all that well; firstly the presenter was late, then the audio didn’t work. The PowerPoint slides had been set up for another version so they jumped all over the screen. Very professional so far. I couldn’t actually see the screen, because the sunshine was coming in through the windows……. apart from that, I was impressed that I was about to learn all about “Winning Business in a Recession, Sales and Networking” from a presenter who looked roughly 12 years old.  At this point I am feeling quite self-righteous and congratulating myself for staying!

The wine was helping.

Once ‘Youthful Presenter’ (YP) managed to get the audio working, I was kind of looking forward to something promising. The workshop was going to teach me how to build my business, how to create a USP (unique selling proposition) and ultimately make me a mega-successful business woman.  I was all ears!

Then I felt the strangest urge, almost physical. I was thrust back into 1984! I know I put that wine down somewhere…

Then YP started sharing information that not only had I heard a few hundred times before, but it annoyed me all those years ago, when I heard it first and was actually working in sales. I should have spotted it straight away when he asked the question “Who here is in sales?”  Of course the answer should have been everyone….so lost points to those who thought they were in business!

I won’t bore you with the details, because it got more and more corny; people buy benefits not products or services, turn to the next person and in 5 words or less tell them what it is you do……

Oh, where did I put that glass???

I’m still working really hard not to be negative or get annoyed. I got out of sales because of this. You see, I don’t really fit in flogging stuff to people who don’t need it. I have these pesky things called values and oddly, I believe in sustainable business relationships.

I just don’t get the hard sell. I never have, and I hope I never will. Most people are smarter than that. I have no desire to participate in “Speed Networking” or “Time for Action” sessions where I have to tell the next person all about my business in two minutes.

Oh…was that me snoring, sorry!

I thought I would pass.  I answered all the questions the right way; yes I have a business, yes I want it to be successful, yes I would like to roam the world with no financial worries and buy small children like Madonna (OK, maybe not the last one).

I just believe there are other ways to do it.

In sales for some very large multi-national organisations, people bought stuff from me. Me. Yes, the big company names helped and some would argue made it very easy, but it was me. I left organisations and people moved with me.

As a Manager and HR Manager, I was always thrilled when I got the opportunity to make a difference to people’s lives. I was responsible for having a positive affect on another human being – WOW!! That is still one of the best natural highs I can get! I used to get that feeling when I sold something to a customer I knew needed it.

So, I guess I failed this course.

My USP was me. Yes, it was the fact that I provide a “whole of business social media strategy for my clients”. But anyone can do that. It’s all over the internet. Google it and see what you find. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to plagiarise anything and pretend you know what you are talking about, then pretend you mean it.

Social Media is no different to real communication with real people. Say what you think, what you mean. Do it politely, do it with grace and share information that makes people trust that you know what you are talking about. It can be hard to build relationships with people in business, so make sure you learn how to be good at it. Yes, some of that is innate. Personality is innate, as a grumpy beautician told me the other day when she was tearing the hairs and skin right off me, grumbling all the time that the new young girls just don’t seem to have the ability to engage with their clients. Clearly not as much as she did, wax, hairs and bad attitude in hand.

Everything we do is about relationships. Even the daily transaction in your local shop. Be the person that smiles, says hello, makes their day. You never know what your sharing can bring. Get to know your customers and their business. What makes them work? What are their objectives for the business? How can Social Media help? Remember it is just another tool in your arsenal for communication. Open communication builds relationships. Relationships build strong customer bases and more sales.

Nothing else could possibly matter when you are in a business based on your reputation. Isn’t that all of us??

Incremental Change, in life, HR and Social Media

When I arrived in London in November last year, I walked into the coldest winter and the hardest recession to hit the world in 20 years. Not quite the welcome I was expecting. It took me some time, months in fact to adapt to not only the weather and the media hype about the recession, but to the changes that had occurred to me physiologically and psychologically.

I come from a country that doesn’t take things too seriously, except getting an early morning surf in before work, over-indulging our children and eating too much. Most Australians are pretty laid back and although they will always give you a piece of their mind, they won’t act on much at all, not even a worldwide recession!

In spite of this environment, I still thought I was prepared for whatever this country could throw at me, the winter being the biggest issue or so I thought. Having lived in London 20 years earlier, I thought I would cope perfectly well. I refused to believe the media “beat-up” about the recession. I certainly enjoyed the change in climate it, it was a novelty all this cold weather business. Where I’m from, the coldest it gets is either inside the 5-below-zero Vodka bar, or occasionally at The Valley pool when you’re swimming in the middle of winter. No need to worry there though, a warm shower, trip to Merlo for coffee and walk to work will get you well sorted.

Change is one of those things that you sometimes don’t notice until it has happened – and sometimes even then, not until someone has pointed it out to you! An interesting thought for me, given I have spent the past 10 years managing and instigating change as my job, career and life.

Funny then, how change can just sneak up on you, tap you on the shoulder and shout obscenities in your face.

When I decided to emigrate to the UK, I thought myself very fortunate and blessed and still do. Not once did I imagine it would be a tough gig! They speak English there…, I’m employable – it can’t be that different!  Well, yes as true as all of those things are, there are some variations. Yes, they do speak English here. It may take a while to determine, but once you get your ear in, you can almost make out, that it is in fact English. Certainly a few words like “wot-eva” and innit”, repeated at 30 second intervals helped clear up my doubts. Teenage speak is similar the world over.

We all know language is interesting wherever you go. Having heard the type of English here and trying to get my ear in, I found even when I thought I was speaking English, I was asked to repeat myself. Not only the impact of my Australian twang (which of course I thought I didn’t have!) but my constant mistaken use of words and phrases. For example when walking in the summer I tended to take my “thongs” in my bag with me as my feet always tended to get too hot and too sore in heels. I gathered quite a few strange looks and offended more than one person when I felt the need to share my strange underwear fetish with them (thong here is used in the same way the Americans do, not what I wear on my feet to the beach).

I still can’t bring myself to call them flip flops……

I learned whole new names for vegetables – courgettes, peppers and aubergines instead of zucchini, capsicum and eggplant. That an Oyster was not necessarily found in rivers and Nectar not necessarily something derived from flowers! I became very intimate with a whole bunch of people I would not normally meet, usually on the tube or bus but sometimes the Tesco delivery guys and the people who came to read the electric and gas meter, inside your house, at 7am on a Saturday, (meters are only ever outside in Oz).

I missed not being able to order a long black or a flat white, with soy (not soya) and no, thank you I don’t want milk with my Americano (Does that not defeat the purpose of a black coffee??).

I have learned to avoid the post office at any time; Tesco on a Friday night, the tube in rush hour, riding anywhere on the route to Heathrow, wearing stiletto heels, and ever leaving home without my portable “Do Not Disturb” sign (iPod).

Even after my years of experience instigating and implementing change, it took me a while to understand that this incremental change was having an impact on me.

Incremental change can affect people as much as if the change happened all at once. I went from driving everywhere to catching public transport whilst reading a map. From a place where 35 degrees on Christmas day can be a little bit too uncomfortable, to a place where 4 degrees is the best it will ever get for Christmas lunch.

I have coped by realising that I have been undergoing incremental change (not without help I will admit!) and by learning to respect and appreciate that these changes abound and are sometimes sent to challenge us. We grow from them, learn from them and understand that one is not better than the other – just different.

I know I am not unique in this experience nor even in sharing it.  I have done my share of major change as well, changing careers, homes and family situations. What I learned is that change of any nature, can be challenging to say the least, even when you instigate it. I sincerely feel for those who never seek out change and then when it happens to them, are grossly affected by it, to the point where they no longer feel able to cope with life.

The two links I want to make about incremental change are around two of my passions, HR and Social Media. Change in HR is inevitable and is usually driven by us, the HR team! We enforce it as part of our strategic business plans in line with what is best for the business. We then try and steer the people in the right direction with as many tools for learning how to cope as possible. Sometimes we fail miserably, sometimes we succeed astonishingly.

Change in the form of new technology, including Social Media can be even more threatening. Something else we don’t understand, another thing we don’t have time for, something we don’t know how to use, something that we aren’t even sure is going to be of any benefit at all to staff and the business as a whole.

If you approach the use of Social Media in your life, be it for business or pleasure, then think about how it will change you and your routine, incrementally. It has the potential to change the way you do things, change the way you receive information, change the way you react to information, change your business processes and procedures and change the way your staff listen and react to you. It can be welcoming or it can be destructive, and like all change, it is how you react to it that determines how powerful it will be in either being part of another tool that you use to help you, or a distracting nuisance.

Whatever the impact, I hope you learn as I have, that it isn’t all bad, just different.