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How to be present when others are losing it

Do you struggle to know how to be present with someone when they are upset or angry, or when you are tired or going through it yourself? I’m very often struck by how people can lack the ability to “be with” people emotionally, especially those who work professionally with people in challenging situations. It’s like our buttons get pushed or we feel inadequate or lack the resources we need. Somehow, people say, they “aren’t qualified” to handle it.

It will be all right
It will be all right

When people kick off

I remember once on a Gestalt training course unpacking a whole load of grief around the impact of divorce on my contact with my younger son, and how I verbalised it to the group in a way that the facilitator later said she was “out of it” for the duration of my work. I recall she was a parent herself. So this can challenge even seasoned professionals. Luckily I had another who  worked with me.

Yet this doesn’t just apply to professionals. Anybody can face this at times. What about when your partner kicks off about some hurt or pain and it’s you that happens to be there – and they need you to be there? What do you do? Do you do what so many do, and shift about uncomfortably, tell people “not to mind” and “it will be OK”, and not get upset, etc? Who are you really helping here, the person kicking off, or actually you yourself? Are you really telling them to stop?

What we don’t like is being faced with powerful emotions that tap into our own stuff, especially if it touches our own doubts and inadequacies. Yet, there are resources available, if you choose to access them.

Being resourceful: self awareness and self management

One is self awareness and self management, in this case the ability to be aware of your own process and how your buttons can get triggered by other people’s stuff. It helps to know yourself enough to know what is your stuff in this situation, of course! This is often all about personal development – that doing your own journey bit, dare I say, that many of us are today afraid to do. It is also about how you self manage, in this case choose not to get caught up in your own stuff but put it on one side, the rule of epoché in Gestalt terms.


Another is the ability to be present, to be right there in the moment, thoughts and feelings on pause (I’ll say more about that in a moment), in the “here and now”, still in yourself, centred, at One as I keep writing on this blog, connected with some energy  centre or chakra within like your heart centre region or, in the case of powerful emotion, perhaps your power centre in the  solar plexus region. So that you are aligned with  Source as you are “with” another. “Being with” is all about being present with them. So you are truly “with” them, in support, with mind, body and soul, right there in the moment.

Empathy and respect

Your stance matters hugely too. So think about  it. Here is needed Carl Rogers’ empathy and unconditional positive regard. So you respect utterly the  other person right there where they are and what is going on for them. No judgement (this can be tough, but it really matters). No conditions attached. In fact  you  are unattached to everything, including how you feel. You have to let go of all that. And you empathise with them, which is to seek as far as humanly possible to see things from their perspective, although  you cannot “know how they feel”. Thus you can hear their story. And you hear it like you get it. So that they feel heard, which is what so many people need. They may not need to be fixed (which is what so many men try to do  with  women, by the way!). Here’s where you truly stop and be with them in their pain.

Then they will feel supported. You don’t have to take their side, or agree with them, or blame them. Just be there. In peace, bringing peace. Om shanti.

I coach people and give training in these core skills. To contact  me, click here

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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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Do you not relate well to others?

Do you find that in some area of your life you lack the ability to relate well to others? You’d not be alone, since our ability or inability to connect with others is something that is the cause of much heartache and conflict in our society and in organisations. For some it is about avoiding making effective connections and for others it is where they overdo it and cause harm. Some people are for example reserved or non-assertive while others can be aggressive.

A key underlying issue can be due to a lack of emotional intelligence, our self-awareness, how we manage ourselves, our awareness of others and how we build relationships with them.

Emotional intelligence is often described as the distinguishing feature of good leaders in organisations, and yet it is not one that figures amongst those that leaders themselves express, the latter more often judging themselves and being judged by their results. As one client client said it to me once, “I deliver but I leave bodies”. However this perception can mask the underlying contribution to success of EI, since it is arguably not so obvious and can be dismissed in business macho cultures as “soft skills”. What matters, it is implied, is “hard” results. Coaches know otherwise since they are so often working with their clients to connect more with their “soft” side and in that of others in order to get better at the hard end, as this article shows.

In personal relationships, what can be key is our ability to be aware of what is going on inside us, especially emotionally, to manage ourselves and our feelings, to sense and empathise with what is also going on for another and build a connection where there is authentic resonance, where we truly get one another.

When I start coaching people I often find it is in this seemingly scary arena of our emotional life in relationship that can be a minefield for people. Thus it pays to unpick what goes on for people so that they understand and know themselves better. Self awareness is absolutely the most important area to work on. If we don’t know ourselves, we don’t know what to change. With self awareness comes the ability to identify and manage what occurs in us and thus be able to deal with disruptive emotions and be more present, calm and centred. Teaching people self management skills is in itself a course in how to manage life.

At the same time we also explore how we might learn more about what goes on for another, so that we can better relate to another. This requires emotional self awareness since when we know more of our own emotional life we can do the same for others – though, let it be said we never “know how you feel!” But we can ask, find out and respond appropriately. As we tune in better we also learn to manage our responses better. One flows with the other.

Building better relationships is the final arena, and key to people having better personal lives and managing others better at work. It is all about how we connect and build resonance, how we overcome our own and others’ barriers, how we get others on our wavelength and us on their’s, how we tune in and speak their language and help them better understand our’s, how we value others and help them understand our values, how we get others along us, how we resolve conflict and build trust and good everyday communication skills, and how we become more fulfillingly connected.

Then the love can truly flow!

To find out more about my life coaching and my business coaching, click on the links just given and you can contact me here.

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Lack of empathy and social awareness can be very damaging

Earlier this week I posted on the levels of social awareness and concern for  others and the lack of empathy. I argued that it is possible to develop this Emotional Intelligence (EI) attribute in people. Yesterday I was sent a link to an HBR article which supports this view, with research evidence. As the writer argues, you can improve your EI, with the right coaching supported by feedback from others. This is as relevant at work as in life in general.

We might think we are a particular person with a particular style but we may be very unaware of how others experience us and the impact we have. As many at work will testify, managers with low EI will be sources of stress and work anxiety. They will struggle with building effective relationships and are more likely to adopt poor management techniques which might deliver results but at a social cost. A classic way this shows up is the difficulty they may have with performance management and developing others, a crucial area in organisations today. Thus developmental discussions could be in danger of being instructional and one-way if empathy is low. A manager might fail to pick up on signals, not tune into a potential difficulty, not understand how and why someone might be having difficulty, not respond suitably to requests for help, struggle to understand another’s perspective, not utilise to best effect another’s views and contribution, etc. Today’s world of work actually needs more collaboration, interactivity and mutual support. Low EI can be very counter-productive in this aspect.

I could go on. This social awareness blind spot can be very damaging and while the manager might deliver, he or she might do that at a social cost, in low engagement, high stress and high turnover in talent.

Equally outside work, low levels of social awareness can limit one’s ability to attend to and respond to the needs of others, such as in relationships, and people can feel undervalued and unappreciated and not taken sufficiently account of. It’s a common reason for people to leave their partners. Also children who grow up without sufficient attention and responsiveness from the a parent may then lack this crucial skill as adult, and also potentially feel that no one was there for them as children. This can then get passed on to their children in turn.

As I suggested above, it is possible to turn this around. People can be taught empathy. They can learn how to tune into others and get where they are coming from. They can learn to build better relationships with others, and thus have their work and their lives be vastly more fulfilling in consequence. And the impact on others can be of incalculable value too.

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Your invitation to the party

It’s a vital distinguishing feature of people today, those that have self awareness. It’s that ability to take a step back and be aware of oneself in action. With skill and practice, we become far more able to be aware of when our less useful characteristics, those of the ego, are in play: for example if we check ourselves out and put a pause perhaps on that old “knee-jerk” response. It’s not surprising that Daniel Goleman, author of “Emotional Intelligence”, describes it is the key emotional intelligence ability.

It also enables us to be more connected, to be more aware of that far more profound part of us, our greater “Self”, that for many of us lingers around on the edges of our consciousness and yet can be the author of a far more fulfilling life.

Thus not surprisingly too we become more able to manage what occurs for us, to practice the skill of the Masters, that anchoredness in Who we Are that I and others call self management, that ability to discriminate, to steady ourselves, to be centred, to let go of what isn’t serving us, to pause in mid-flight and say to ourselves, “Hey, this isn’t who I am, this isn’t what I want, this is not how I choose to express myself, this isn’t what I want to create”.

And we are far more likely to feel good to be Who we Are, to value and to be ourselves, because we know that space within us, we know it works and it’s what we really want, and we also know we can choose as That.

I remember coaching someone who I had invited to practice awareness of the breath as a tool to manage his stress. He said that he hadn’t got into it and done the practice because he “didn’t like this pink and fluffy stuff”. He was a very competitive person, with strong career ambitions, who saw exercise workouts as a way to compete with others in the gym. He also didn’t sleep well, and was sending his team emails in the middle of the night. He was very analytical, controlled and controlling, but felt isolated and had no one to talk with about his difficulties. He lived for his work and had marriage difficulties.

So he turned down my invitation to the party. Yet, right there, in his breath, was a whole new world, once he took the step to let go.

We can so easily be our own worst enemy. We even know what we’re doing but will resist taking the action for our own higher good. The ego is a very powerful block to awareness, which is why we include training in awareness of ego too in our training.

But I’m going to renew my invitation to you today.

On our course you have an opportunity, a really good opportunity, to learn useful techniques and to explore further these issues in awareness:

  • To become aware and mindful – even when your mind keeps resisting all this “pink and fluffy stuff” or distracting you to other seemingly more pressing things
  • To learn more about self-management – even when it too seems like “pink and fluffy” or it seems like “it” doesn’t work
  • To recognise and name the ego – even when it all feels like too much hard work or too much “psychobabble”
  • To choose love – even when you’re sceptical about all this – and maybe even embarrassed
  • To be authentic, really you – even when you doubt it’s possible for you – and you don’t like parties anyway!

And start to live in a way that is true to you at last. It is after all your birthright.

You can read more about the course here

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Being open to different interpretations of events gives us freedom

People can make up different interpretations of events and create conflict

When something happens that triggers a negative reaction in us, it can be all to easy to jump to conclusions about what’s going on that doesn’t necessarily fit with the facts or how others see it. This tendency to be blind to different interpretation of events is a notorious source of conflict at all levels.

Let’s take a simple example. We were walking along a town centre street when we saw a piece of paper thrown in amongst the flowers in a flower tub placed there to pretty up the street. We immediately thought this was just typical litter and went off on a tack about how people far too easily throw litter on the ground rather than take it home, re-cycle it, etc. Well, it made a talking point. Coming back a bit later, we saw the said piece of paper again and noticed this time that it was an envelop addressed to someone. It then occured to us that maybe it had been dropped by accident and someone had picked it up and thoughtfully placed it where it could be seen in the hope the owner might come looking for it.

Pure interpretation. Something happened: a piece of paper lying in some flowers. We made up an interpretation: careless litter. An alternative interpretation? Something lost was placed where the owner might find it.

Different interpretations of events is the stuff of all sorts of misapprehensions, where we can get the wrong end of the stick and take ourselves off where we don’t need to go. It happens all over the place.

However, here is a useful exercise. With self awareness, noticing you are “on it” about something or someone, where something has happened or someone has said or done something, and catching the emotional reaction in you (which takes practice of course), you breathe deeply and let go. Let go of the attitude, belief, reaction or whatever. Breathe it away on the out-breath. Pause. Let your breath calm you down, and enable the rational part of the brain to engage. Now, ask yourself, what other interpretations are there of what occurred. List them if necessary. Then see if one of them is plausible and might enable a different response and a better outcome for all concerned.

You might still be feeling  a bit about it, but that is your ego still at work. Don’t allow yourself to be pulled back in by that. The wiser course of action is there all along, waiting for you to choose it. In any moment there are always multiple possibilities in the “quantum soup” of pure potentiality. We just need to step outside our ego to see them. Being in the moment and being present enables that.


You can read more about this in topics such as perception. You can look up articles on the role of perception in conflict: here’s one that is work-related: click here

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Being who you are means knowing who you are not

“Just be who you are” can seem easy to say, except that it poses all sorts of questions. For one, it first presupposes you know who “you are” is and secondly that you feel able to “do it”!

Yet authenticity, being who you are, is what our contemporary culture is demanding. Just watch reality TV programmes. We also today have a big rise in what is referred to as narcissism, the false self. Narcissus was a beautiful mythical Greek who fell in love with his reflection in a pool and wilted away and died of the impossible love. Narcissism can be called being excessively in love with yourself, although love isn’t a very useful word, more an unhealthy self-absorption that craves anything that bolsters this false self and fears terribly its ego’s collapse and the accompanying fear of shame, worthlessness and isolation. So, today we refer to the “me” society, the massive emphasis on self, and along with it might notice things like self-importance, grandiosity, achievement-obsession, perfectionism, pride, entitlement and self aggrandisement, to various degrees.

Not that we’re all like that by any means, as how I’ve put that is more at the extreme end in order to indicate a contemporary pattern, but we can hold elements of it, some element of inauthenticity. One potential trap in the pursuit of loving and valuing oneself is that the self being so bolstered is in fact a false construct. This is where people doing self development can get stuck, a kind of egotism that actually inhibits satisfaction and fulfilment of the life path. Very often I’ve seen people seemingly making great strides and yet get stuck in this area of knowing oneself.

The journey of the false self can therefore include learning to not necessarily rely on “out there”, as for example in other’s views towards you, and instead seek “in here” to find your own inner authentic self that you can truly honour, respect and value.

In Eastern mysticism they refer to the 60,000 veils of illusion, maya, which are concealing the true Self. Hence the discipline of meditation helps to facilitate being more and more present with who we really are, and sets aside or “witnesses” our ego. I explain about this on my new online series of courses.

Since we all hold in ourselves facets, to some degree, of what we experience in others, it is always worth exploring the degree to which you or I have some level of “false self” in us. It is of course a typical way of describing the ego, though by no means the only way as there are many other aspects to the ego too. Although I prefer words like “small self” or “limited”, since so much of what we say is so easily value-laden and open to interpretation and misinterpretation.

The point here that I’m curious about is the ego trap in personal growth of, in doing work on ourselves, getting caught up in some false construct, some inauthentic expression of self.

This is where the path of self awareness is so valuable, of learning to discern and discriminate, of really knowing yourself, so that you come to know who you are in ego terms and in authentic terms too. Then you know better what to focus on and what to set aside! You don’t have to do masses of in-depth therapy for this, although it has its place for some of us, but knowledge is very useful.

You can come and learn more of who you really are on our upcoming program. To find out more, click here

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Manage your mind to still your busy mind and be at peace

It’s a common complaint that I hear from people, that their minds are too busy, they can’t get it to be still, they are constantly plagued by negative or unhelpful thoughts, or simple are unable to switch off. It’s no surprise in today’s very stressful life but it’s not something limited to stress situations. Your mind can take you to hell and back if you’re not careful. This is where having the skill to manage your mind is so important. The mind is a maleable instrument and we can deal with these tendencies if we choose.

In yoga and other eastern practices, there’s a very strong emphasis on managing the mind, of knowing what’s going on “between the ears” so to speak, and choosing intentionally to manage it, to put it on one side, to drop it, to let it go, or to undertake self enquiry to learn more deeply what it’s really about and what it has to teach us about who we are.

In yoga and other disciplines, doing practices like hatha yoga and meditation are designed to help us become present, come “into the moment”, and let go of what’s “on the mind”. We can be aware of the Now as Eckhart Tolle calls it, where we can access “portals to the unmanifest” (The Power of Now) if we so choose too.

Managing the mind is also very practical. It enables us to pause and put on hold what’s troubling us, to centre ourselves, connect with our essential Self as I was writing above, and Be as who we are as we make contact with the world. Thus it is a valuable practice in “self-management”, as it is known in Emotional Intelligence circles, where we exercise self-control. Thus we are able to put on one side whatever emotional stuff is going on for us and rise above it. We can in yogic terms be the witness of our process, not absorbed in it.

So part of the work is to get to know that still space within, and meditation is good for this. However we also need self awareness, to be able to “read” what’s going on for us, to develop greater self knowledge, and thus have greater clarity on what we need to manage. Then we can use techniques in managing the mind to deal with what’s going on, let go and enter our centred state.

Here is a short e-course I’ve put together to support you in this invaluable practice.

You can read more here.

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Is success eluding you?

How many of you have aspirational outcomes you currently aren’t accomplishing? Is there some goal that hasn’t worked out, or seems not to be happening, or not as you hoped or expected?

One big reason that people come into this field is that they are feeling unsuccessful in some way, like life has not worked out as they wanted it to or expected it to. And they are therefore hoping to get some serious change through this work.

This can particularly happen for people around certain crucial “change points” in their lives, when the current paradigm is threatened, if not turned on its head, but the new one is not apparent yet. Job loss, reaching 40 (50? 60? etc), major illness, relationship breakup, and bereavement are all examples of this “crisis” that occurs, often in mid-life, as a result of which people often carry out major reviews. How well they manage this transition is really important for the emergence or otherwise of the new paradigm – or becoming stuck.

Feeling stuck can manifest in the sense of lack of success that I’m referring to. It’s this feeling that “I’m not getting what I want”, that the deal life is currently dishing out to me isn’t working for me, and “I don’t know what to do differently”. We can get very frustrated and angry, and lash out at others, and blame all sorts of people. Or get depressed. Do you know of thoroughly disillusioned people, maybe “grumpy” and “fed up”, with a constant complaint? Or people who used to be optimistic but have become cynical, like they are superficially positive, but that’s not what you get underneath?

The sense of feeling frustrated by life is really negatively powerful, because it can become self-reinforcing. The more we think like this, the more we get it, as per the Law of Attraction.

Hence it is very important to really engage in one’s own self-review, to explore what this “crisis”, or what ever we call this, is about and what it means, what needs to change, what needs to be let go of, what are the new needs that require attention, what new vision could be developed, and with that a new mission and new goals.

Very often there is a new “self”, some aspect of us not yet realised that is waiting to emerge. It is calling to us from within. It’s a moot question whether we are willing to take the courage and go there and look.

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Being in touch with our personal assets and strengths to promote ourselves

It’s frustratingly easy in difficult times to start to undervalue ourselves. It’s going on all over the place at the moment, at all levels. When the value of things shrink, so it seems does our self-esteem! There’s almost a perverse relationship between the two. As many a job hunter will know, this doesn’t help their job search.

It is also relevant to those in work, whether it is in seeking to influence others, make a presentation, advocating new ideas, or wherever we need to put ourselves in a positive light, as well as in motivating ourselves. It’s a lot harder to drive things forward when you doubt yourself.

This is a potentially useful point of awareness. What can help is if we instead connect with a part of ourselves that does value ourselves. It could be we need to work on that. However, if we’ve done work on identifying our strengths and know where our expertise lies, we are more likely to go there if we need to in order to advocate what we are about more powerfully. The shift of state is to connect inside with our own inner belief in Self, our centred state, and from That place articulate who we are, what we are about and where we are going. This is much more powerful and people then really get us, have faith in us, trust us, believe in us, and want to work with us.

There was a lot in that paragraph to absorb. I’ll pick out two key bits of work. Firstly, where we do work to let go of our negative self-perceptions and re-connect (since is it always there, albeit often hidden) with our inner Self-belief. This is about knowing who we really are, being connected to Source, feeling our inner centredness, being in touch with our Beingness, or however you perceive or name it. Secondly, you do work to identify what your strengths are, and the evidence for that. Often I find it is about really getting in touch with the core of our expertise, what we really excel at, what makes the real different, our often unique individual talent or contribution. Both of these can be achieved through working with us, the first on our coaching.

However, such is the nature of the ego that we can easily, as in difficult times, slip back into a negative self-perception. The point of awareness is to catch ourselves doing that and manage the mind and re-focus. It needs will and determination, but it can help to use skilled help to get your thinking back on track.