Hold to your values when others are missing theirs

Honesty and integrity are central to effective human relationships and their weakness or absence can be fatally destructive. It’s arguably become a trend to devalue such values in public and business life, in favour of self-interest. Thus selfishness and narcissism has become more prominent amongst leaders. Yet examining our personal compass can be a healthy activity, even as it is so palpably missing in our leaders.

Professional values

In training to become counsellors, therapists or coaches, to name three helping professions where ethical guidelines are core to their work, attention is devoted to professional ethics. Thus one learns the importance of such values as confidentiality, respect and valuing the person, commitment to the client, client safety, and so on. Professional associations support such values. Often central to these values is honesty and integrity. Following professional values helps build trust and an effective working relationship upon which good work can be done. If such values are broken, trust is destroyed and usually the relationship will be terminated.

The therapist will often follow the practice of self-evaluation in various forms. They may cultivate self-awareness, the ability so much described in this blog of being able to observe what happens for the practitioner concerned and what isn’t serving them that might need to be modified. They may use an experienced fellow practitioner as a supervisor to help this process and strengthen their work.

The weakness of values in the public sphere

Many might say today that in the public sphere, in politics, government and business, such values are seriously lacking. A spectacular recent couple of cases has been the suspected failure of the Prime Minister’s (PM) senior advisor Dominic Cummings to adhere to the public health rules during the pandemic and then the Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has been insisting on such adherence, being caught breaching the rules. Hancock was supported by the PM but shortly after resigned, leaving a question mark over the ethics of the PM, one which many believe to be already seriously tainted. The observer is left with the thought that “it’s one rule for you and another for us”.

Such moral inconsistency is deeply destructive of trust, already seriously in question for a number of years. Many people discount politicians’ values as typical of the breed. Yet non-observance of these values undermines government since people cease to comply when voluntary observance is crucial to the success of operations. That way lies either breakdown in policy or coercion.

Such weakness in leaders is not limited to politicians. Already certain professions are distrusted as being “like that”, such as estate agents or financial advisors. However there have been some spectacular failures in senior business management. A few years ago, the Royal Bank of Scotland led by Fred Godwin almost collapsed after the 2008 crash revealed major miscalculations in how the business was run. During the pandemic the retail business of Philip Green collapsed after a long run of dubious business practices. A book published in 2018 called “Reckless Opportunists” describes the rise of a whole generation of business and political leaders for whom a moral compass and sound leadership in the public good was less important than profit and personal gain. Indeed such characteristics seem commensurate with a heady increase in executive pay.

A moral compass

When society is struggling and leaders are failing to lead, it is arguably incumbent for people to look to themselves. In one sense what is happening “out there” is a reflection of a part of ourselves. This is Jung’s concept of the Shadow. In certain branches of psychology, the shadow contains a disowned part of the self. It is experienced outside us but not owned by us. It might leak out and affect our dealings with others, and others might detect a moral inconsistency in such dealings. We can sometimes detect this in things that keep occurring. It’s like the universe is trying to draw our attention to it. Thus the importance of self-enquiry and self-awareness.

We might not like what is occurring in the world right now, but that doesn’t stop us doing our best to clean up our own act, to maintain the integrity of our moral compass, to hold to principles, and to encourage, and campaign where appropriate, for others to do the same. Heaven knows, the world needs it.

Choosing not to be consumed by fear

Is it feeling like the world’s gone crazy – a new virus, recession, climate change, Brexit, you name it – it’s all happening at once? The barriers are coming down and people are shutting off. Everywhere there’s a sense of doom and fear. How do we cope inside with all this?

Let’s look at some strategies for managing the situation for us ourselves inside. I don’t mean the practicals of living at present, and many of us are probably feeling stretched on that count alone. I’m thinking of how we are responding inside. How could the self aware, mindful person cope in a way that serves her or him, that gives empowered choices?

Being consumed by fear

The predominant emotion for many is likely to be fear, fear of what might happen, of how we’ll cope, of what harm we might come to, or might become of our loved ones.

Fear can be disabling. It can take over, cutting off the rational part of the brain, what Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence called “the amygdala hijack“. It’s the stress reaction, triggering the release of hormones which, while important in managing a real threat, can become habitual and harm our immune system, and thus our ability to fight off infection. This is how people suffering prolonged stress get sick. Thus it’s really important at a physical level to manage our stress levels.

Fear, worry and anxiety can take us over. We can get consumed by it, on and on, minute by minute. It can also be subtle, a background experience, lurking in the shadows, springing out every now and again, and, for some, paroxysms of trembling, gut-churning, shaking, pure, unadulturated fear. Or it can just hang on in there. “No, I’m perfectly rational and in control,” the rational part of us says, nose in the air, while actually deep inside, fear is active, perhaps exerting influences like being doubtful, a reluctance to act, a questioning, a hesitation, cynicism even. We can even live in a constant state of this low-level anxiety, outside of awareness but present. We might not know it consciously, but it’s there, eating away at our self-belief, our confidence, our faith, our certainty.

If I write these words, how do you react. “Everything will be OK”?

Did you believe it or not?

It’s a useful test.

The bottom-line negative emotion is fear

Fear is a fundamental emotion, what I call a bottom-line one, which is ironic in current circumstances. It’s what keeps us from inner contentment, from what some might call union with the One. At one level it’s there to look after us, to keep us safe, but in the ego’s grip it often becomes self-defeating. It can also lead us to make poor decisions, and take us where we don’t really want to go. Fear can take over our lives.

So, it’s really important to challenge fear. From a self awareness perspective, it’s where we need to get it, get that we’re doing this, running this number. No matter that you’ve been doing it all your life. This minute is the next moment of your life and time to make a shift.

So, I suggest challenging fear each time it arises. As with most of these practices, you might quickly forget this, but when you next spot it’s happening, challenge it again. Say “stop!”

What’s happening is that one is firstly becoming aware that it’s going on, that your (or my) mind is doing this, and secondly, it is to breathe and to step back and notice it, become mindful of it. This is where the practice of mindfulness is so useful. We literally teach ourselves to step back and be aware. Here you become the observer, the Witness. Thus you are no longer caught up in the mind’s stuff, which is where fear dwells. Thus we can get that fear is really F.E.A.R., False Evidence Appearing Real. It’s not who we are.

Engage the will

Here you can engage the rational part of the mind, in this case the will. Here you can exercise choice, and chose a different strategy. There are many.

You could instead, for example, set an intention. Whatever you are fearful of could be turned around into an intention for a positive outcome. Let’s say you are worried that you will lose money. You could could instead create an intention for the positive creation of what you need for your health, happiness, wealth, wellbeing and wisdom.

There is a further step. Once you are as the Witness, allow your self to be really present as the witness, in the moment, aware, still, at peace. This is where we get truly that fear is not us.

Fear dissolves. It just goes. It’s ephemeral, something that passes, along with all those negative thoughts. We are so much more than all that stuff.

So, know the space beyond fear.

Now is really an important time to meditate, and practice being mindful.

For further practice

I’ve put some links up for those of you who want to practice using meditation. There a practice meditation session, a meditation using the breath, one using a mantra and finally one using body awareness.

 

Lack of empathy and social awareness can be very damaging

You’re having a row with your partner. In the midst of the fury, they scream at you, “you’re not hearing me!” You might carry on with self-justified, self-righteous anger, and then you might pause and think, for a moment, “what have I missed here?” You might just have saved your relationship. Been there? What cost lack of empathy in relationships?

It will be all right
It will be all right

Empathy, put simply, is the ability to be aware of and sensitive to another person’s perspective. It can be an emotional sensitivity, in which one senses another’s feelings, or it can be a cognitive or thought-based process where one seeks to grasp another position than one’s own. Sadly, this ability is lacking for most people, but it can be developed. Lacking empathy can have damaging consequences in certain situations.

As many in the “people business” will testify, empathy is surprisingly low in the general population. Research has shown that only about 20% of the population are genetically predisposed to empathy. Those who in their work are involved in managing and developing others, or where what they do requires a good level of awareness and sensitivity to others, know that empathy needs to worked on to enhance performance. Those in relationship may also report that their partner lacks a certain sensitivity and understanding towards them and an appreciation, for example, of their needs. In fact it can be a complete blind area for certain people, with potentially unfortunate results.

An example might be where a customer makes a complaint but the customer service person responds by being defensive and self-justifying rather than getting where the customer might be coming from, what their problem really is and thus being better able to identify what isn’t right, fix it and thus retain customer satisfaction. Often a shift is needed, away from our own perpective and into trying to understand and respond to another’s perspective.

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 Emotional Intelligence (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 strong collaboration, interactivity and mutual support. Low EI can be very counter-productive in this aspect.

This lack of empathy and 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, a lack of empathy and 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 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, and build the necessary self awareness that goes with it. 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.

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.

Presence

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

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”, that people need to be able to relate well to others, 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 was, for example, argued in a 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% for EI to 15% for IQ.

Another 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. Personal differences often get played out in intra-organisational issues. Another, again, 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 have been 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 is where people relate well to others, and which has a positive emotional climate, communicates well and gets good results from its people. It is very likely well-led.

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.

The importance of self awareness and emotional intelligence

A key underlying issue to whether we relate well to others 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 (EI) 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.

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 in how we relate to others. 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

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

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.

Being who you really are

Do you “know who you really are”? Do you know what “being who you really are” is? Unless you are an enlightened guru, deep spiritual teacher, leading psychotherapist, or major philosopher, for example, you might, if you were honest, struggle with the answer. And honesty is partly what it’s about.

To use the now well-known words “Being who you really are” is to open up a multi-layered question around what we mean by the phrase and, when it is contemplated, we may not get any clear, definitive answer. It serves us better to simply ask it as a question as a process of enquiry, to help us know and understand ourselves better.

Honesty, openness and authenticity

When we talk about honesty and consistency, we also get into transparency; “who you say you are” is who you really are. They should in theory all go together. But that might be assuming people know who they really are, which very many people probably don’t – if they were honest, that is. This raises the question of authenticity.

I think some can “do” the open bit really well, some find it really hard and others think they are doing it when they aren’t. Now they might be doing a good job at disguise. And then they might honestly think they are being real, when they aren’t. They just don’t know it.

This is where self awareness work is so incredibly useful, especially when you also get feedback from others. I used to do a really good job at disguise, thinking I had to “be” a certain person that worked in the world. After a while I wasn’t aware I was being like that. Until someone on a seminar told me that she knew me but actually she didn’t really know me. That was a shock, but it set me off on a journey to find the real me. And learn to be transparent in communicating that “me”.

One of the major developmental shifts people can make is into the authentic zone. You might have to shift some baggage out of the way in the process, but when people really hear what’s really there for you, they really “get” you. It can be a process of peeling away layers of the onion skin. This will vary from person to person, but you’d need to know more about what goes on inside, how your body feels in different situations, how you are feeling in those situations, and what thoughts come to mind.

This is self-awareness training, learning to monitor your on-going process, and catch those patterns that don’t serve you. The point of authenticity is to learn to be able to resonate with your own internal process. And be willing to be with others from that space. So that you are truly being real. It sounds scary and people think it will get them into all sorts of messes. And this is the point. We so often do this stuff because our ego, which is there to look after us and ensure we survive, is probably busy saying, “Hey, watch out! Don’t go there. It’s scary. It’s dangerous. You’ll get trouble. People will laugh at you, ridicule you, get angry with you, not like you.”

Often it’s the last one that really hurts, the fear of not being liked. So we cover up and behave differently.

Narcissism is inauthentic

An extreme form of inauthenticity masquerading as authenticity is narcissism, the false self. Donald Trump is probably the best-known example of a narcissist. Essentially, a narcissist has created a false identity and seeks to get positive endorsement of that false self from others. It is a construct to avoid a gaping hole inside that they are terrified of encountering, because that would threaten their whole identity.

We are living in the age of narcissism. People are very self-absorbed, “me first”, and seek positive reinforcement from others, such as admiration, to bolster their self-image. They may act as if they are being authentic, but they don’t really, truly, know what that is.

To truly know who you are requires a profound shift. Honesty can be the way but it requires self awarenes, including knowledge of the different parts of ourself.

Once you learn to shift your ego out of the way and be authentic, you can take it to another level still, and this is where it gets really interesting – that is, if you are interested!

This is where you can then learn to connect with your candle flame within, who you really are at a fundamental level of your Being, where truth really resides, where pure joy lives and where there is lasting peace and contentment. Then you are being authentic with your Beingness.