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Do you relate well to others?

Do you relate well to others personally and at work? Do you inspire, lead and motivate them well, or do you struggle in the “people” aspect of your job? It’s common for people to minimise this part but it’s crucial to things going well.

Business leaders have finally woken up to the fact that “soft skills” make a big difference to the bottom line, after years in which people have denied its importance and minimised the value of such training and coaching. Many in the Learning and Development industry will of course be thinking “told you so”, but it must still be a cause for celebration for many that at last the truth is out in the open, and it needs all the support it can get.

It is now being argued in a new campaign by employers that coaching and training in such areas as communication, initiative, interacting with customers and team working can make an impact to the value of £88 billion a year in increased productivity and reduced operating costs. It is said that this is particularly so in businesses that rely on “face-to-face human interaction.” An example of this relates to the field of Emotional Intelligence (EI). Research has been showing for a long time now that EI is far more important than IQ in terms of a leader’s capabilities, in the proportion of 85% to 15%.

My own experience as a coach has shown how true this is. One example is how time gets lost in needless conflict between managers and between their teams. Only when the managers have resolved their differences and found a better way of working together have results improved. I’ve often seen how personal differences get played out in intra-organisational issues. Another is where a manager believes that to manage effectively (s)he has to be strong to the point of bullying the team, and fails to build relationships and rapport with his or her team and results through such methods as simple positive motivation and encouragement.

Key to EI is self awareness, the ability to know your own strengths and weaknesses, but built on that key foundation is self management, the ability to self manage and act appropriately, and social awareness, in particular empathy, to understand and get alongside others. Then the fourth key area comes into play, the ability to build good relationships at work.

People need to get comfortable working with emotions, whereas historically they were viewed with suspicion by senior managers. A business that has a positive emotional climate is where people feel good to be there, where they feel connected to and supported by one another, where they feel safe to be themselves and feel confident in what they are about and where they are going, where they can be open and honest and trust one another, where they willingly collaborate to make things happen, and where their abilities are recognised and rewarded. That’s not done just by throwing money at it. It’s done by building engagement, involvement and commitment. That kind of organisation has a positive emotional climate, communicates well and gets good results from its people. It is very likely well-led.

I give coaching to build EI skills. To contact me, click here.+

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Are we losing our ability to have empathy and to connect?

We must have all done it, a family gathering at Christmas and at a quiet moment you come into the room and everybody is on their phones or tablets, with snippets of conversation in between. Perfectly normal, you might think: everybody is wishing friends a Happy Christmas. Except that that is what occurs a lot right through the year where people are together or alone. This world is now getting brilliantly connected. Yet do we notice any disconnect with others we’re with?

Being a big user myself but also a coach of relationship and interpersonal dynamics, I’m frequently observing what occurs in the use of the gadget in one’s hand. As the law now recognises, people can’t effectively concentrate on driving and use a mobile phone. The focus gets drawn into the latter and people miss crucial and sudden events on the road, with sometimes fatal results. When we focus on our gadget, our attention is drawn away from what is occurring around us.Thus we are at best only partially present to those around us. To another, it can feel, if they are so bothered, that “the lights are on but nobody is at home”.

The “inner world” of the phone or tablet is very absorbing. It is also very addictive. It’s now reckoned that people up to the age of 18 now spend over 7 hours a day so connected. However, more concerning is the potential cost to interpersonal relationships. It has been found from social-scientific studies by Sarah Konrath that there are now 40% lower levels of empathy for the age group under 30, that is roughly the so-called Generation Y, than earlier age groups had. It is also being suggested that people are losing the ability to cope with “doing nothing” and where we don’t have a distraction.

Empathy is arguably the crucial area of development for people interpersonally, and a fundamental aspect of emotional intelligence. As we grow and mature, we realise more and more the need to understand and relate to others and take their needs into account. Empathy is the ability to tune into another and get a sense of where they are coming from, to gain some awareness of their perspective. Without “social awareness”, people can struggle to connect at a meaningful level and others may sense they do not really have a relationship with them in a way that fulfills.

Being connected with others is not a digital occurrence although that is one way we can communicate. What is crucial is the ability to be present and aware of another, right now, in the moment, person to person, in the room, with all our senses engaged, and with our thinking, feeling and behaviour. We hear, see, feel, smell and taste another. Psychologically we are “there” for another, available, conscious, valuing, caring. We notice what happens for another. We respond appropriately. We become attuned and resonate, and become as one.

You don’t get all that from a screen.

The challenge is that there are many who don’t have good levels of empathy. It’s a major weakness for those in business, for example. Leaders who lack empathy are poor leaders at the people level. If you are in a job where people skills matter, it can be costly. In personal relationships it is what makes for a good relationship: how often do you hear people complain that their partners are not “there” for them when they need them?

The danger is that people don’t know what they are not aware of. Thus building self awareness is an important starting point, and getting feedback from others.

I give coaching to help people develop their emotional intelligence and their relationships with others, personally and in work. To contact me, click here.

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Have you had enough of being dissatisfied with your job?

Feeling dissatisfied with your job can reach a peak for people around Christmas and the New Year. The time off work that many of us have gives us space to reflect on where we’re going, what we want and what’s perhaps missing for us.

Problems at work

Problems at work and maybe signs on the wall that you had better move on before you get moved is one factor. We may not be getting on all that well with our work and it’s registering somewhere in the system, like with your boss, the results you’re getting, or the feedback. This might or might not chime with how you are feeling about your work. Some of us are aware things aren’t OK and then again others need to have it drawn to their attention.

You’re changing

Then again it might be that you’ve been doing well and people seem happy, but it’s you that isn’t content with how things are. Maybe you’ve been doing what you do a while now and you’ve lost the earlier motivation. Maybe there’s been change in the organisation and then maybe it’s you that’s changing, or things at home are different. Sometimes changes occur at work which affect our motivation, interest, confidence and self belief.

Time for a change

It can be that we reach points in our lives such that we no longer accept the status quo and start thinking about making changes. This review can occur at all sorts of times in people’s lives, such as reaching certain ages like 40 or 50 for example, or where their personal circumstances have changed, or where major events have occurred in their lives. Something spurs us to think about how we could make changes in our work.

It can be that we’ve always planned a major career change or promotion and we’ve made up our mind that now’s the time to take action. Thus some want to significantly raise their level in the business while others think of running their own business instead.

Your direction

There is often in the background some reflection going on about our future and our direction. Where do you want to be in say 5 or 10 years’ time. In fact what are your long-term plans? Are you one who hasn’t thought much about the future but now need to? Or has this issue been around a long time and you’re tired of it not being resolved?

This desire or need to move on in our work is very important. It can often be the powerful motivator for change. Be focused on it enough and things start to happen. We draw it to us.

When we need help

However a key problem is so very often that people lack external input to help them make the wise decisions that will move them in the right direction. Or they need the sounding board in order to plan the changes. Or they aren’t clear in their own mind which way to move and need help to get things clear. You might for example want to make changes but don’t know where to start. Very often when people’s confidence is low, they find it less easy to think positively about themselves and the future.

These are all example of where life coaching for career development or change can be so very useful. A coach like me helps you make sense of your situation, clarify your options, sort out your strengths, know more about your direction, build confidence and self belief, make decisions and take powerful action to realise what you had perhaps only vaguely dreamt of before. Read more here and contact me here.

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Are you not feeling fulfilled in life?

Has it dawned on you at some point that you are not feeling fulfilled in life? It happens, to more of us than I think many of us realise. It is in relation to work that this can most show up, but it can also affect us more generally.

Yet another survey tells us in the UK that around one third of us are not feeling fulfilled in our work, particularly those in their late 30’s to mid-40’s. For those in that age range, and others, it would come as no surprise since some form of self-searching about their direction is not uncommon, and some would argue quite healthy. Of course you might just need a change of job at work, or as the survey points out, it might be about the degree of responsibility, involvement, variety and autonomy that you have.Then again, you might consider doing some more thorough-going career review and exploring how far you’ve actually moved on in yourself and need something more different.

Yet for many, it isn’t just the job but other factors that can come into play too. What people joke about as a “mid-life crisis” is often also about reaching a point in your life where the old assumptions no longer seem to apply. You aren’t necessarily so enthusiastic about your work. Your priorities and values might have changed. You might no longer have the same flexibility, perhaps now having children and and financial commitments. There is a sense around 40 that people aren’t immortal and that they want more from their lives than what’s been happening so far. It’s like there’s a realisation that there isn’t an endless life after all, and they don’t have endless time to make things work out. Other changes can come in parallel, major illness, a redundancy, changes at work affecting your role, societal changes, a relationship break-up, and so on, which can lead us to question where we’re going and what we really want. Some too might be frustrated by a conflict between what they really want and what seems possible.

The sense of not feeling fulfilled in life can spread across our lives as a whole, which is one reason perhaps why people don’t just change their jobs, but also their lifestyle, where they live, their family set-up, and other things. Many even move countries. It can be worth exploring, however, what that desire for change can be about, since you might otherwise find, after the upheaval is over, that the same problems have somehow followed you, because the real issue didn’t get addressed.

It isn’t necessarily that you need to change your job, or start a new career, and many do that, but that you do reflect on what’s really going on and devise ways to manage the situation so that the lack of fulfillment doesn’t end up costing you. The above-mentioned survey doesn’t, as published make much of career development, but it is worth pointing out that some organisations do actually invest in career development for their staff, and support them in finding ways to evaluate what they do, and to make changes if that’s what seems right. However, you can do that for yourself. Career coaching is one way of doing that and you can learn more here.

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Are you living your life in a way that really serves you?

In these holiday months it might be customary for some of us lounging by the pool in some sun-drenched beautiful location to reflect on the pace of life, and ask why do we put up with it and why can’t we do things differently. The lazy discussion on living your life as you really want, after say some complaints about the sharing of tasks, might result in some intentions to make changes. Yet like lambs to the slaughter we go back to our driven, city-centred life-styles and very quickly all the relaxation and sense of wellbeing has vanished and we’re back on the treadmill. As is also probably customary at these times people like the BBC put out articles on this subject, as with this comparison of the UK with Denmark, and we indulge in ritual self-mortification about how we’ve got it all wrong.

Contrary to widely held belief, we’re not the most driven country. The other day I was reminded about how in the US people work longer hours and have just two weeks’ holiday, and don’t seem to think a lot about it. Yet, as the above-mentioned article makes clear, Denmark is according to a UN survey the world’s happiest country. What is striking to read is the difference in values that is evident, with a lower priority given to achievement and “keeping up the with the Jones”.

Yet, humour apart, this time out to think about your work-life balance and your values is a very useful activity, and I’ve personally met as well as read about people who have actually followed up by making significant changes in their lives as a result. There’s one thing to have the debate, and it’s another to take action and have the courage to change.

It is worth asking yourself a few honest questions about the price you are paying for what you are getting. What are the current implications of the current choices being made? What is the impact on you, your health and wellbeing, and on your relationship if you are in one, and on your family and your friendships. In fact is the last-mentioned losing out. I often work with people who have all but dropped their friendships, giving lack of time and distance as the reasons. All the evidence about what fosters wellbeing points towards the importance of relationship in all its forms as a major contributor. Yet I find people who don’t really get time to spend quality time with their partner and/or children. I meet people nearing retirement who have no friends and are not in a relationship. Such people on average live less long and have more health problems.

A useful exercise to do is to imagine yourself at 85, let’s say no longer able to do very much or get about so easily and sitting in your proverbial rocking chair, and now think about what you have in your life now and have had in the last two or three decades, as notional figures. What comes to mind? What do you most value and cherish. Do you come up with a list of material things (because when you’re dead you can’t take them with you – well unless you’re a Pharaoh)? Or do you think of more qualitative things, things that touch you more deeply, that have an emotional resonance? Might there be something there about relationship (in whatever form) or spirituality? What really matters to you when all the trappings of modernity are stripped away. Do you want to go to the pearly gates and say, “Hey, God, I’m really proud of that Mercedes”? Or might you say that you’ve been blessed to find and enjoy enduring love, bliss and contentment. Or that you finally fixed that tendency to blame others and take it out on them when things didn’t work out as you wanted, or that pattern of resentment towards your family, or that deep-seated anxiety that plagued your life, or some other way in which you lived your life that didn’t serve you. Or that you finally gave up on your angst for not “having enough” of whatever it is, and finally learned to accept and feel grateful for what there is in your life. Or any one of those things that we allow to stop ourselves being happy, contented people.

It can come down to thinking about your values, and what is really important to you, and then going about making it happen. Which brings up that other matter, the courage to change. For this, see the next post!

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How hard it is to balance job and family

After decades of feminism it’s saddening to read, and have confirmed what I hear from my coachees, just how hard it is for women in particular to balance job and family. This can apply at all levels in work. I come across senior woman managers who find they cannot really go for top jobs and balance that with meaningful family time. Something has to give. Equally less senior people get by either on masses of childcare costs or the help of their parents and the extended family, for those who can access that. It’s often given as the major reason why we don’t have more female senior managers, although another reason that is also given is lack of self belief.

Yet, along with this still-continuing issue is another picture, one where women are in at least 40% of households the prime earner at present, where in Generation Y it is women who earn more and are more successful in education, and where attitudes towards childcare move slowly towards more sharing and more involvement by men. This is of course a hotly debated topic and I still find many who argue that male involvement is still too partial.

However, I’m more and more struck by the frequency with which I now see men involved in childcare when couples are out together and where it seems perfectly natural and the way things are. I compare it with my own experience of several decades ago, taking my children out for a walk, or giving them some food in some park, and getting strange looks from others as if this was totally unnatural  and unmasculine, and not the way things are. That may of course have also been my own discomfort in the process of busting traditional male stereotypes and yet I also know I lived in a very traditional area where male and female roles were still stuck in the ice age. Yet many men today would also say they’d like more time with their family and that the workplce today still conspires to make that difficult.

The writer in the article at the top of this page also says we need a men’s movement. Yet there’s been one, in the 90’s, and while it may seem unfashionable and New Age now, that whole trend influenced a shift that is still going on, a slow re-balancing of roles within the relationship. Our difficulty perhaps now lies in needing to influence that world of work to catch up with it and fully recognise that in the workplace we need both men and women as equal contributors. There’s already big evidence that more women at senior levels result in better performing business and so there’s a bottom line benefit too. Yet I wonder if the real gain must lie in the shared satisfaction we all get when we do all this together and where we each respect one another’s path and contribution.

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Time to have those change conversations

It’s holiday season and many of us are now headed to nice places on long-anticipated breaks. Despite the desire to de-stress and get some leisure and family time it can often also be time to think and reflect on where you’re going in life too. We might seemingly need to leave work well behind us, and yet for those for whom work hasn’t been so good recently, or that simply the change signals are cropping up, we might have some questions to ponder on. That long-needed break can be when we can just allow our minds to wonder more creatively over what might be possible. This can also apply in other areas of our life too, where we might need to have those long-postponed change conversations with our partner, or think about making some change in our personal life in general and have our own change conversations with ourselves too!

In my line of work I often get to hear about how people are mulling over making changes in their lives. This process comes around every few years, as we grow older, as life changes come along, as people have children (or decide they want them), or as children leave, as we form new relationships, or split up, or as we decide we want to live somewhere else, or a move is long overdue, or as change occurs in work forcing us to re-evaluate where we’re going and what we want. These and other change points are part of the process of life, and sometimes we welcome them and sometimes we don’t. Yet we do need to face and deal with them, before life has a way of thrusting them into our face and saying, “Now deal with that one”.

I was hearing recently how one couple were planning both to get married and to make a move, in one person’s case back to where she was born and grew up, where her friends were, and where she would now like to have children. Her partner was coming out of a major career and was thinking of taking a uni degree course. Both would be leaving jobs that they had been in a while. It was a lot of change, and it looked like it could be both exciting for them but also challenging for them both too. Would they both get what they really wanted and how would their relationship stand up to the test?

So it’s when we get breaks from the usual routine that we might find ourselves thinking about and discussing our needs and our aspirations and how this fits with other people and commitments. I think that with the recession many people are finding this process is long overdue, as people have in many cases had to put plans on hold. Thus the frustrations can build up. Sometimes too people don’t like to talk about change and can avoid it for the difficult emotions it can bring up. Yet, as I said, if we aren’t open and address these issues, they can come back to bite us. So despite all that stuff about getting away from it all, having a good review while on holiday can be very healthy. Change needs to be faced head on. Put yourself at the head of change and it follows and supports you.

I help people work through change issues that are coming up in their lives. Click here.

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Do you really only live to work or work to live?

This is a very well-used phrase but I think a false dichotomy, “you live to work or work to live”. It puts two contrasting scenarios together as if they are alternative choices. It reminds me of that old hackneyed interview question, “Are you a small fish in a big pond, or a big one in a little pond?” leaving no way out for a third option, like a middle way, unless you choose of course not to play by the implied rules.

Yet you could change it a bit and, as with Josephine Fairely, simply have a passion for what you do, and that gives you a raison d’être. As described in the article in afore-mentioned link, she sold one very successful business but couldn’t stay away from business for long and went on to create other ventures. For such people, it is in their blood. For those of us on the other polarity, the work-to-live people, they may seem like sad people who can’t get a life. Neither are invalid choices, simply different ones which can each work in their own way so long as it meets one’s personal criteria. You can work as Fairely does because you like a challenge. It’s a well-known career driver. Equally for others what matters is work-life balance and such people will talk about the range of interests for example that their work enables them to do outside work. Both can feel fulfilled. Others get other things from their work, such as sense of personal value from being competent at what one does. Others too get a lot from the relationships they form and the social interactions with others that occur in work. To simply say you work to live or live to work rather eliminates the very varied job-related satisfiers people have – and can often miss when they don’t have them.

Also it is often said that the main reason why people work is because of money, and while that may objectively seem to be the case, when you talk as I do to very many different people at work, they tend to come up with other reasons. As with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or Herzberg’s hygene factors in motivation, once certain conditions are met, such as the ability to support oneself, other factors come into play. Money as the key motivator in the West in modern times has been sliding down the scale, as it is now well-known that it isn’t what makes people happy, for example, despite what is often believed. People look for other things from their work, like a challenge, work-life balance, technical competence or affiliation as we’ve seen, but also being in control of something, or a sense of accomplishment, or a contribution to something bigger, or being a part of something. When these motivators are missing, people can then revert to survival behaviour but then can often now seek out ways of moving on to something more aligned to their goals. To say we work to live misses a huge part of why people do what they do.

I help people with their career development. Click here.

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To define who you are by your work or relationship has its dangers

To define who you are by work or relationship risks a loss of a sense of self

We’re reaching that time of year when the winter is almost but not quite over, we’re feeling bedraggled and we need a holiday.  Easter time is nigh! Thus lots of us are now heading off to various climes with a good book or a well-stocked Kindle, miscellaneous bits of kit for activity long missed, plans for conquering distant hills and vistas, and with maps, guides and packets of tea. The sense of adventure and new horizons stimulates a tired brain and brings new life.

Whatever it might be, spare a thought for those who are less able to take a break, are short of cash, have used up their leave in visits to the doctor (it does happen), or who just don’t take holidays. Yes, some people don’t use their annual leave, or not much or it, and prefer to work. Rather than leaping to thoughts like “How sad”, it might be worth pondering on how attached we get to our work. In fact not a few think you have to drag yourselves away from your work to have a much-needed break. There are those who define who you are by your work, where it gives you a sense of who you are, an identity. You can notice it when away, where there’s for example a sudden sense of anonymity. After all when you are introduced to a stranger, an immediate question often is, “What do you do?” Imagine therefore the problem some have when they get to retirement and feel bereft.

It’s important to get what you’re attached to, that you hold on to and which gives you meaning but which might not serve you. Your job can be all-consuming, is undertaken perhaps during anti-social hours, keeps you up late, makes you constantly busy and can even feel like it fills your world. Similarly a relationship can do the same thing. You might believe that your partner is your world and your life. Your connection makes you feel, lets say, secure and comfortable and you feel cared for. In fact, you no longer talk about your partner and you, you speak only of “us” and “we”.

Thus we can get very confluent in such a situation, where there’s no clear boundary between our own sense of self and that which we are caught up with. The sense of self is in a way merged with that “other” and the latter comes to define us.

Therefore, when for some reason it comes to an end, we’re confronted sometimes with a terrible sense of loss. This happens for people who lose jobs and/or partners where they’ve had the kind of relationship just described. The journey then becomes one of re-discovering an authentic sense of self, who you really are, as opposed to a confluent identity.

So, as you go off on holiday, you might not be quite in relationship with your job as I have described, you might still perhaps reflect on how attached you get to it and how much you might need to create and sustain something that isn’t just “work”, as in our example.

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Consistency in how we treat others

There is a well-known expression, “practice what you preach”, in other words be a good role model. Except that organisations don’t practice internally what they attempt to present to their customers. Under pressure in today’s environment, this inconsistency in how we treat others seems more evident.

As the recession grinds on in the UK (they are calling it “flatlining”, but growth has not recovered to pre-crash levels), there are more reports of the atmosphere within many organisations, which in one media source was described as “seething resentment”. It’s difficult changing jobs and in a sense the power balance is more in the hands of bosses. Not that many well-run companies aren’t working their socks off to maintain engagement, knowing that a well-motivated team means better productivity and less stress. However, the temptation is for less people-orientated managers, and they do exist, to operate more from a command perspective and less from a buy-in approach, and to be less tuned into the feelings of their staff.

However the internal tensions have a way of seeping out. Certain psychologists call it leakage. It’s a bit like the passive aggressive style: people seem friendly or compliant, but you get the underlying hostile attitude. Walk round a well-known retail brand’s store and observe the staff. Watch the interchanges at check-out. Notice the body language. Retail are having a very tough time, and so this is one very visible area to see these tensions.

What I am getting at here is how we can be inconsistent in how we deal with people and need to be honest about it and address it. Yet so often in consultant mode I come across situations where the organisation tries to be one thing to their customers (eg be very caring), and yet treat their own internal relationships very differently. What is likely in this scenario is that the real model, what’s going on internally, will seep through and what the customers actually get is the hidden behaviour. To the sensitive, it is very hard to hide one’s inner state. And this also applies to organisations, which are of course simply groups of people.

There’s a good TV programme currently running, called “The Hotel“, which follows the actions of a very poor hotel manager in Torquay. There the seepage amongst the staff is at crisis proportions, even at reception! A shining example of how not to do it.

In relationships, a key aspect of growth and change is honesty, bringing out what is hidden and dealing with it. This is about working towards congruence, a consistency between how I feel internally, who I say I am, and how I am with others, what I feel, say and do, inner and outer alignment