Archive for the ‘Resources – Students’ Category

Toxicity of Trying

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Are these really Andy Murray’s motivational notes? I really do hope they are not – but there has been no denial and they appear to have been written on the back of a letter to him.

Why do I hope they are not? Well, to me they appear toxic. Toxic to a top sports person seeking to be the best they can be (in other words winning every match).

As with all top sports people, I’m sure that Andy and his team pore over huge amounts of performance data to analyse what he is doing, how he is doing it, when he is doing it, etc.  So let’s undertake a little analyse of these motivational notes:

  • There are 61 words on the page
  • These are divided into 10 points
  • There are 4 words – which are either verbs or words with 3 or more letters – that appear three or more times – ‘be’ (4), ‘your’ (4), ‘the’ (3) and ‘try’ (3).

Of that analysis, the last point is the most striking and concerning for me.

Murray is going to ‘try’ to do something.

And almost of a third of the 10 points he is going to ‘try’ to achieve.

The word ‘try’ is one of the most unhelpful – perhaps even toxic – words that can be used in relation to performance management and improvement.

How many organisations publish goals that say they are going to ‘try’ to do something?

In your personal or professional life, what do you mean when you say you are going to ‘try’ to do something? Just say it to yourself now …

It usually means one of two things. Firstly, it could mean that you might have a go, but you’re not convinced that you will be able to achieve it – because of your personal abilities, your belief or your other time constraints. Secondly, it could mean that you have no intention of doing or will to do it, but you add the word ‘try’ in to avoid the discussion around the fact you will not be doing it.

It isn’t even a word that needs replacing – it just needs taking out.

“Try to be the one dictating”, becomes “Be the one dictating”.

“Try to keep him at the baseline make him move”, becomes “Keep him at the baseline make him move”.

How different do those sentences sound and feel without the word ‘try’?

I have worked with a number of people who have struggled to pass exams – I work with them on their personal approach and exam techniques. I am proud of my success in that every person who I have worked with – all who have previously failed the nominated exam – have all passed (or even gained Distinctions) with the work we have undertaken together.

One of the foundations of this approach is that I will not permit the use of the word ‘try’. As I have mentioned previously in one of my blogs, Yoda understand this.

In the Star Wars film, “The Empire Strikes Back”. Yoda, the small and strange looking Jedi Master is training Luke Skywalker. Yoda sets him numerous challenges and tests to help mould the youth into a Jedi. When Luke is given one particularly challenging task, he responds to Yoda that he will ‘try’.  “No,” Yoda retorts, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

As Murray’s team continues to mould him into the best tennis player he can be, they need to address the ‘try’ – “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Incidentally, Murray lost the match.

You might not be a tennis player, or taking an exam – but the principle is the same – so when do you use the word ‘try’ and what impact can it have for you if you were to drop it?


An examination of writer’s block

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

One of my early blogs related to how I coach people who are struggling to pass exams – not because they don’t have the knowledge, but because they panic or talk themselves out of it, or something similar. This work is often with CIPD candidates, and I worked with another such person in the lead up to the exam at the end of January.

One specific aspect we worked on together was that of writer’s block. Have you been in that situation? You have a pen in your hand or your fingers are hovering over the keyboard with that pristine piece of paper or the blank screen … and nothing happens. Where do you start? What do you start with? The longer you wait, the harder it can become – you convince yourself it will not happen, and so of course it doesn’t.

Perhaps the starting point for all this is our brain – and how we have been trained to use it since childhood.  At school we were taught to be very reliant on our left brain – using its logic, detail and patterns – however, the creativity and flow comes from the right brain. Sadly, the left brain doesn’t get the right brain, and vice versa – they don’t play together well.

The consequence of this is that if we attempt to generate ideas and write creatively (with our right brain) and structure and edit our work at the same time (with our left brain) it often doesn’t work very well. Our efforts become victim to our brains’ battles … and the paper or screen remains blank and our fingers are like living statues.

As an aside, do you know what your personal preference is for the use of your left or right brain? This fun experiment from Youtube can tell you!

The other increasingly evident issue for those taking written time-bound examinations is their normal reliance on computers. The younger members of society have been brought up on computers. They have never had to get a document just right from the start – pen and paper or typewriters were never very forgiving if you got your sequencing wrong. Secondly, writing with a pen for 2 or 3 hours is hard work if it’s not something you are used to – another aspect that if dwelt on, confidence can start to ooze out of their pen far quicker than any ink does.

Those are the problems. Here are some top tips to experiment with:

1              If it happens don’t say to yourself (more than once), “I’ve got writers block”. It will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and make it much more difficult to change your state. Move around in your chair a little, stretch your hands and use one of the following techniques which you will already have tried and tested …

2              The University of Reading suggests you should, put your pen down, take a deep breath, sit back and relax for a moment. If you’re in the middle of an answer, read through what you have written so far – what happens next? If you have to remember formulae, try associating them with pictures or music while revising. If you really can’t progress with this answer, leave a gap. It will probably come back to you once you are less anxious.”  Becoming less anxious is easier said than done, you may say to yourself – possibly, but here are some tips to assist you.

3              Warwick University Counselling Services suggest, “brain-storming or making a mind map of the information”, together with, “Try to ignore any critical voices in your head. Don’t aim for ‘perfect’; remember your objective is to get yourself working again.” I have outlined the issue of ‘being perfect’ in previous blogs, together with how to address it.

4              And ‘perfection’ means 100% – but you don’t need 100%! The majority of exams require between 40% and 70% to pass.  Remind yourself of this. You can (and will!) make mistakes and drop marks – it happens with everyone in every exam.

5              Author Seth Godin says, “No one ever gets talkers block”. I’m not sure that’s completely accurate, but I understand what he means.  If you are stuck, start talking to yourself as if you were talking to your tutor or explaining the ides to a friend or colleague.

6              Another option is to start in the middle of an essay. Leave the first page blank and come back to it later. Report writers will complete the Executive Summary last of all, even though it is at the start of the report – consider completing your introduction as the last part of your essay.

7              Perhaps you are an auditory person – you learn and are motivated through listening. If so, there may be a song that helps you. For me, the Eagles’ “Do Something” fires me out of inaction in certain circumstances. I hum or sing the chorus and off I go! Here are some of the lyrics:

But when I feel like giving up
And I’m ready to walk away
In the stillness, I can hear
A voice inside me say
Do something
Do something

Don’t leave it up for someone else
Don’t feel sorry for yourself
Why don’t you do something?
Do something
It’s not over
No, it’s never too late
Do something
Don’t wait too long
Even if it’s wrong
You’ve got to do something
Do something

8              Finally, what’s to say you have to use every line on the page? In most exams you are marked for content rather than the number of lines you use or don’t use. Your take on normality and acceptability will possibly make it harder for you to only use alternate lines, or leaving 5 lines between paragraphs – but try it. This will give you the chance to go back and make additional points if you wish to – thus releasing the concern of having to get it right first time.

One or more of these ides will help you to start writing something meaningful – and once you get that first point or sentence down it becomes a whole lot easier.

Final tip – don’t leave this until the day of the exam to practice. Try them out beforehand (as suggested in Tip 1). You will then know which work for you – which will give you additional confidence as you wait to turn over the exam paper …

Do you have other tips that work?

Let me know which ones work for you.



Perez Needed Positive Messages

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

I have huge respect for racing drivers. They demonstrate a level of focus that can be found in few other sports people. A Formula 1 driver drives each corner almost inch perfect, time after time, and their speed has to be absolutely on the button. One mistake and they are finished for that race. This is so different from almost every other sport – in team sports, there is time to rectify errors – the game doesn’t end as the first point is scored or goal is registered.  In individual sports, the tennis player can serve again or play another point, and the golfer has 18 holes (sometimes 72) if they mess one up.

And so I was watching the Malaysian Grand Prix last weekend – which was made more eventful by rain. As it drew to its conclusion, the Mexican Sergio “Checo” Perez driving for Sauber – usually one of the less competitive teams – was in second position, and appeared to have the chance to win the race. He gradually reduced the distance between himself and Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari. Finally, he was within a second of it with half a dozen laps to go. The chance was there.

Then he received a message over his radio from his pit crew. “Checo be careful, we need this position, be careful”. They needed the position because points bring in cash in Formula 1, and perhaps because this was the nearest that Peter Sauber, the team principal, had been to victory in almost 20 years of Formula 1. But ‘be careful’? And twice in the same sentence?  Checo had contended with torrential rain whilst driving at 150mph and with visibility down to a few yards for the first part of the race. Now with a relatively clear track and dry conditions he is told to “be careful”!

Almost as soon as he had received the message, he ran wide off the track, lost several seconds and that was the end of his challenge for first place. He did manage to regain control, and so finished in second place, but what could have been?

And more importantly, was the loss of control the result of being told to “be careful”?

This focussing of people’s minds on the potential pitfalls rather than on their achievements is something I come across on an almost daily basis in workplaces. I saw a sign recently on some stairs which read, “Do not spill your drink – this causes a slip hazard”. I wondered which members of staff in particular attempted or wanted to spill their drinks on the stairs. And when a drink is spilt, it appears that you don’t need to clean it up! Perhaps a better sign could have been “If you spill liquids, clean up to avoid slips – thanks” – same amount of words, but perhaps a different focus for the message – and a different message?

I also hear it a lot where children are involved – and this is the most concerning issue for me. “Don’t spill your drink”, “Be careful with your plate”, “Don’t fall over”, “Make sure you don’t fall off the climbing frame”, and so they go on. The vast majority of children have no intention of doing any of these things – they are probably already concentrating on achieving (or perhaps not failing) before hearing these ‘words of wisdom’, so what help are they? Or what hindrance are they?

“Well done for carrying that full cup”, “You carried that plate beautifully”, and “You’ve done really well getting to the top of that climbing frame” could be so much more effective. The child will grow up looking at the world in a more positive way, and they will have more self-belief.

And as they move into the work environment, perhaps we would then see fewer notices like the one above – and Checo and Peter Sauber may have won their first Grand Prix.


Name that Intervention!

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

I have blogged about John Heron’s 6CIA (6 Category Intervention Analysis) model on a couple of occasions – and this is my third and final instalment. My previous posts were an overview of the model (and 6DFS), and then an explanation of ‘Degenerate Interventions’.

I have been asked for examples of each of the Interventions, so here goes:

Within Heron’s model, the 6 Categories of Interventions are classified into two main groups, Authoritative and Facilitative as shown in more detail below below.

Authoritative                    Facilitative

Prescriptive                        Cathartic

Informative                        Catalytic

Confronting                        Supportive

Heron described each of the Categories of Intervention as follows, and I have added a couple of examples for each:

A Prescriptive Intervention is intended to direct the behaviour or actions of another person by a demonstration, the giving of advice, a command or making a suggestion:

  • “You need to Speak with Sam before lunch”
  • “Send me your Action Plan by email”

An Informative Intervention seeks to impart knowledge or information to the other person by telling them or giving them a presentation.

  • “People with colour-blindness often struggle to read green lettering”
  • “The bus is cheaper than the train.”

A Confronting Intervention is intended to raise a person’s awareness about an aspect of their attitudes or behaviour.

  • “Do you realise that during that session, every question that you asked was a closed question?”
  • “On occasions you interrupt and talk over people, which tends to frustrate them.”

A Catalytic Intervention seeks to bring about self-discovery,
self-directed learning or problem solving.

  • “How could you deliver that more effectively next time?”
  • “What was it that you did that led to him reacting in that way?”

A Cathartic intervention is intended to enable or encourage a person
to divulge or discuss their feelings about a particular issue.

  • “How did my comments make you feel?
  • “What emotions did the discussion generate for you?”

A Supportive Intervention seeks to enhance a person’s self-esteem,
for instance by giving positive feedback.

  • “You did a good job there.”
  • “You handled that situation very skilfully.”

The examples above are given to illustrate each of the types of Interventions. This model is not an ‘exact science’ and so it will not always be possible to categorise every Intervention into one of the Categories. You also need to bear in mind that each Intervention is not merely the words that are used – it is also the body language that accompanies the Intervention.

I also said in my last blog that I would cover ‘Perverted Interventions’. Whereas Degenerate Interventions are rooted in a lack of awareness, experience or training, Perverted Interventions are something rather darker. They are deliberately malicious, and intended to bring harm to the client. There are suggested reasons for why people use them – generally around such practitioners being emotionally hurt or scarred earlier in their own lives – however, as this blog is about how to be helpful and skilled, I don’t intend to spend any further time in this area.

So, as a coach, facilitator, trainer or manager, how can you best use this model? Well, I have found it really useful in co-coaching, facilitator development and similar scenarios.  Using an observer to note the type of interventions made by the practitioner will lead to a beneficial discussion on the spread of interventions used, which were used least and most and whether this was best for the client. This can also be undertaken in terms of the groups – Authoritative and Facilitative – to discuss whether the best fit was achieved here, too. The practitioner can then consider where they need to develop further and action that for future occasions.

As I said in my first post on the subject, this is one of the best trainer and coaching models I have ever come across, and yet it is known and used by so few people. Hopefully this will increase its use!


Degenerate Interventions?

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

One of the aspects of writing a blog that I find particularly interesting is looking at what people search for when arriving at my blog.  It is interesting as it gives me an idea of the blog posts that are most read – this in turn enables me to then concentrate on adding more on those particular subject areas.

One such subject is 6 Category Intervention Analysis (6CIA). I think the reason that I have so many hits regarding this subject is because there is so little about it on the internet – which is both surprising and a shame as it is a great coaching model. I originally wrote about it in the blog post in “Two of the best trainer models?”, where I explained the model and explored how it can be used.

In this blog post I will explain “Degenerate Interventions” and in my next blog post will look at “Perverted Interventions”.

There are four specific types of Degenerate Interventions (DI) within 6CIA. A DI is a misguided intervention as opposed to an intervention that is being deliberately maliciously or is Perverted. They usually occur where the practitioner or helper has a lack of experience in or understanding of using the interventions effectively.

Unsolicited Interventions

The first of the four categories occur where there is no formal practitioner – client relationship, and a person simply self-appoints themselves as the practitioner. Without being asked, they inform, advise, interpret, confront or seek information from the other person. This can often occur in social situations and take place in a manner that interferes with and is disrespectful of the other person’s autonomy. It is not malicious, just unsolicited and generally unhelpful.

Where there is an agreed practitioner – client relationship, this will define the sorts of interventions expected within the relationship. As an example, a bank customer in conversation with a bank manager would probably find interventions related to their finances as being entirely appropriately solicited, however, interventions in relation to their health are likely to appear improper and unsolicited.

Manipulative Interventions

Here the practitioner is motivated by self-interest and has little or no interest in the needs of the client. The practitioner will manipulate the client so that they get what they want from the interaction, whether the client gets anything worthwhile from it or not.

Particularly distasteful and concerning examples are where a practitioner manipulates the other person for the purposes of obtaining money or the satisfaction of power-play.

More common examples – particularly in the coaching arena – occur when the practitioner manoeuvres the client into saying and doing things only in a form that fits the educational or professional belief system that the practitioner holds dear to themselves. They lead the client rather than follow.

Compulsive Interventions

The source of Compulsive Interventions is to be found in unresolved or unacknowledged psychological experiences. These are often frozen needs or occluded distresses of previous years which the practitioner has not worked through and so they are unaware of themselves being driven by them, and so they influencing their interventions. They are less likely to occur where the practitioner has a good level of Emotional Competence or Intelligence, and where they undertake active supervision regarding their activities.

We sometimes see ‘compulsive helpers’ – these are often people who may well be using strategies that they used in their early years in order to survive. In Transactional Analysis (TA) terms they are driven by their Adapted Child and Controlling / Critical Parent ego-states and so do not operate in their objective Adult (although they believe they are in their Adult) ego-state. This will often result in only a limited range of interventions – and as the number is limited they are often misapplied and don’t fit the situation.

Unskilled interventions

This type of intervention is quite simply about a lack of competence. People who use these are limited by their scope and quality of interventions.

In the next blog post I will also look at how a person can eradicate these Degenerate Interventions.


The responsibility of power, and the power of responsibility

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Last week here in the UK, a couple of our Members of Parliament (MPs) made comments they regretted – or perhaps they regretted? Whether they did or they didn’t regret them, it has been claimed in some quarters that they said ‘sorry’ for their interventions, but I’m not sure that they did.

Labour front bencher Diane Abbott was the first. She Tweeted a fairly sweeping generalisation about what “white people” allegedy sometimes do, and in doing so raised a few eyebrows. She eventually sought to minimise any damage caused – after either a period of reflection or having been ordered to – and issued a statement. Within it she said, “I understand people have interpreted my comments as making generalisations about white people. I do not believe in doing that. I apologise for any offence caused.”

The second example, which occurred around the same time as the first, was by a member of the Conservative Party – fortuitously, as it hopefully protects me from accusations of political affiliations! Our Prime Minister had made unfavourable comments about Ed Balls’ body language at Prime Minister’s Questions. He also felt the need to apologise. “I was speaking off the cuff, and if I offended anyone of course I am very sorry about that,” David Cameron said to Andrew Marr on the latter’s BBC1 Show. “That was not my intention at all.”, he added.

But these aren’t apologies. They are excuses for apologies.

Let’s say you go into a shop to complain about how you have been treated by a member of staff, because their actions and behaviour made you angry. You explain all this to the manager. The manager then apologises to you for your anger. How is that likely to impact on you? Has that really helped? And, perhaps most importantly, how seriously is the matter being taken.

Both Abbott and Cameron have only apologised to people experiencing negative feelings – and only for the feelings, not for their own actions. If you didn’t experience any feelings, they are not talking to you. They haven’t taken responsibility for their behaviour.

This theme of responsibility raised its ugly head again yesterday when I was watching a football match on the Television. A player was waiting for the ball to be returned to him so that he could take a throw in, and from the brief close up it was obvious that the player was receiving a considerable amount of abuse from that section of the crowd.  The commentator felt a need to comment. Perhaps because of the colour of the players skin, perhaps because the player had recently been involved in a high profile confrontation with an allegedly racist foundation, perhaps for some other reason. Commenting about the abuse of footballers, he said, “It is habitual …. It goes on, blue, red, black, white, it’s the nature of the beast”.

Sadly, I accept such abuse happens – I go to football matches. But it’s not habitual and if I am part of that collective ‘beast’, it’s certainly not in my nature.  I would have preferred it if the commentator had been a little less resigned and a shown a little more responsibility. Rather than accepting it as the norm and labelling everyone, would it not have been more helpful for him to point out the unacceptability of what was happening, and that it doesn’t have to be like that, to the millions who were viewing?

Having staff take responsibility for their actions is a key role of management. Where a manager genuinely apologises for the inappropriate or unhelpful actions of one of their staff, as opposed to the feelings of the customer, he or she is more likely to deal with the matter robustly. And where the manager ensures that the employee takes responsibility for their actions, the approach is more mature and more beneficial for organisational development – which can only contribute positively to the organisation’s successes.

I am currently working with one organisation where such an approach has had a powerful result. In past times, when one of their drivers had a collision, they gave them additional training. For the past few years the first thing they do – where the driver is at fault – is to require them to take responsibility for their actions that led to the collision. This discussion leads to a greater insight into what the person has done and their specific development needs. This approach has contributed to a more than 25% reduction in collisions for this organisation.

Perhaps if this approach led to a 25% swing in voters, MPs would be more adept at taking responsibility for their actions – genuinely or otherwise!


Myers Briggs explained

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

In my last post, I explained – and enthused – about how I had undertaken my Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI©) Step I and II Practitioner training in Florida.

As I concluded the post, I realised that the it would make sense to readers who knew a little about MBTI, but not a lot of sense to others. So I said I would elaborate.

People’s behaviour and actions may often seem random or varied to us as observers, but according to Carl Jung (1875-1961), the Swiss psychiatrist, people follow patterns. Jung (see photo) labelled these patterns as ‘psychological types’. Katherine Briggs found Jung’s work whilst she was also grappling with similar thoughts – and then she and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, brought the theory into the mainstream by creating the MBTI instrument. This tool helps a person work out and understand their psychological type. The first MBTI instrument was published in 1962. It is currently the world’s widest used personality assessment.

Jung’s, Briggs’ and Myers’ typological model views psychological type as being similar to writing with our left or right hand – we are either born with, or develop, certain preferred ways of thinking and acting. The MBTI sorts these psychological (and naturally occurring) differences into four dichotomies – opposite pairs – which results in 16 possible psychological types. None of the types are better or worse, however, the theory suggests that individuals naturally prefer one overall combination of  type differences. The dichotomies are:

  • Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I)
  • Sensing (S) or Intuition (N)
  • Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
  • Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)

A person’s ‘type’ is summarised by four letters – so a person preferring Introversion, Sensing, Thinking and Judging would have an ISTJ type.

The Step I questionnaire comprises 93 questions, the answers to which help enable a person identify the above type. I say ‘help’ because whilst the MBTI has been shown to be very reliable, it is accepted that it will not be correct every time. Consequently, a person having their results interpreted should be taken through a process which enables them to self-assess their type prior to receiving their full report. If there are any differences these can be discussed and the MBTI Practitioner will give the person further coaching to assist them to decide on their type.

The Step II questionnaire comprises 144 questions – the 93 from the Step I together with an additional 51 questions. The Step II recognises that it is not possible to ‘box’ every person in the world into 16 types – one ISTJ may well be different in type to another ISTJ.

Within the Step II each of the dichotomies is broken down into 5 ‘facets’. You could also call these ‘sub dichotomies’ . As an example, The Extraversion and Introversion dichotomy has the following facets:

  • Initiating or Receiving
  • Expressive or Contained
  • Gregarious or Intimate
  • Active or Reflective
  • Enthusiastic or Quiet

The left hand end of the above facets are generally where people with an Extraverted preference will find themselves, whilst the right hand words are associated with Introversion. Having said that, a person with an Introverted preference may find themselves as having a facet preference for ‘Initiating’ which can then help the individual understand why they may not concur  ompletely with their four letter type.

Undertaking the MBTI should always be voluntary, and it should never be used as a recruitment tool. Furthermore, it does not measure intelligence or competence.

It does, however, allow a person to understand themselves more clearly, and then look at how to develop the less preferred aspects of their type. Once a person understands their type, they can then move on to how their type potentially impacts on how they manage conflict, make decisions or work within a team.

It can also be used with teams to help them understand each other and work more effectively together. The Step II is particularly useful when working with a person in a one to one coaching relationship. It is a powerful tool.

If you have any other specific questions about it I am, of course, happy to answer them.


No sting in the tale

Monday, October 10th, 2011

It happened again last week. Twice in fact. It’s not something I enjoy doing particularly in one respect, but I am aware that many people are impressed, or sometimes fascinated by it.

I can kill wasps by waiting for the wasp to fly in front of me and I then clap my hands together and squash it between the palms of my hands. My ‘skill’ was called into action as we were having a barbeque, the conservatory door was open, it was a warm late summer afternoon and this was a heady mix for some of our local wasps. We also had a guest, Georgia, and the first wasp was taking a liking to Georgia – or her food.

I have had this skill for about 20 or 30 years now. I often get asked how I developed the skill – which seems a reasonable question. It just happened that someone was getting very, very scared by the proximity of a wasp, I had nothing else to use to attack it and so clapped my hands with the wasp between them. End of.  The other question I am often asked is whether I have ever been stung whilst doing this. The answer is no – and I must have done it a couple of hundred times before.

We spent a holiday on a boat with another family in the beautiful Croatia about 10 years ago. Croatia has a lot of wasps and so I ended up using my skill on a number of occasions. Stuart, a member of the other family, was relatively impressed with the skill and having seen me do it quite a number of times decided that it obviously wasn’t too difficult and so he would have a go. He asked for some instruction on how I did it, which I happily gave, and off he went. He only did it once – he got stung! And I can still remember the way he looked at me – as if to say, “You knew that was going to happen”. But I didn’t. He is the only other person I have ever seen attempt it. Is my skill so unique?

I was asked again in some detail last week as to how I do it. Other than to say I wait until the wasp is about 18 inches in front on me and at about chest height, and then I clap my hands together quickly with the wasp between them, I don’t really know what else to add. Do you try to get it with the palms of your hands or the part between the palm indent and the bottom of the fingers I was asked? I don’t really know. As soon as I do it, I know I always remove the wasp as quickly as possible in case there is still a sting in the tale [sic].

The one aspect that is more difficult to help someone learn is my belief in reaching a successful outcome. It is one of the few things I can do (which few other people can do) where I have complete and absolute belief in my ability to achieve it. Stuart didn’t have that belief – I could see he approached it with trepidation, nervous of being stung. He worried about it happening, and it did – he generated a self-fulfilling prophecy. And belief is, I know, the key ingredient of my success.

And as the skill comes so effortlessly to me, I’m possibly the worst person to explain to someone else how to do it. You may have heard the phrase, “Those that can’t do it, teach it”. And I think there is a lot of sense in that saying. If you can’t do something, and have tried all sorts of different ways to be able to do something, you may well be the best person to teach others. In the same way, for example, that the world’s top tennis players are coached by ex-players who were not as good at tennis themselves.

As I look at the wind and rain outside this morning, I expect I will not be using my skill again until next year. But when I do, I know exactly what the result will be.

A flawed model of diversity?

Monday, September 5th, 2011

I went to the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans a couple of days ago to witness an NFL match. I have to say that I really don’t understand the pull of the NFL. There can surely be fewer slower sports – but I do accept that the Americans love it.

The Superdome itself is altogether more impressive. It is the largest fixed domed structure in the world and can seat 80,000 people. For those of you interested in detail, its steel frame covers 13 acres, and the dome itself is 273 feet high and has a diameter of 680 feet. In the past 6 years, $336m dollars has been spent on it – partly in post-Katrina repairs and partly in upgrading it.

The Superdrome came to prominence for many people back in August 2005 when it was designated as – and became – “a shelter of last resort” for local people when Hurricane Katrina ripped into New Orleans. 30,000 evacuees sought shelter there.

It turned out to be hardly a place of shelter. Part of the roof blew off exposing it to the elements. Furthermore, the plumbing system broke down and so people relieved themselves anywhere in the building, as a result of which the stench was revolting and the potential for disease immense. There were also reports of serious gang related crimes taking place within this supposed place of safety. It became the focal point for the very public and systemic failure of America’s response to the catastrophe.

At the time of the disaster, I was in in Orlando, Florida, around 500 miles from where all this was happening. I can recall watching the scenes unfold on a TV in a hotel lounge. I can also recall being shocked at the time at the complete lack of interest that the majority of Americans present had in it. They continued to tuck into their snacks and meals as if it was of no concern to them. Perhaps it wasn’t of any concern – and perhaps this was partly due to the fact that the people I was with were predominantly white people, and those affected were predominantly black people. As one of the TV commentators asked, “Is this really happening in  America?” I wondered what some of the other hotel guests were asking themselves.

When President Bush went to New Orleans a couple of weeks after Katrina, he made a speech addressing a number of issues. One issue was that of the racial divide. He said, “As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well. And that poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.”

As I sat there in the Superdome, I tried to picture, feel, hear, smell, what it would have been like exactly 6 years ago that day.  It was futile as an exercise, although it did allow me to focus on how recent it was – and wonder whether it would ever happen again, knowing that Hurricane Lee was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico as we sat there.

My attention returned to the game, and all the associated activities. I had seen in the Programme that at half time there was going to be a performance by the ‘610 Stompers’. They were billed as a local group of men from professional backgrounds who excelled at innovative ‘moves’. When they duly arrived my son and I were not sure whether they were a serious or a comedy act – their ability to co-ordinate themselves made it difficult to tell.

I was more interested in the ethnic make-up of the group. Of the approximately 50 men performing on the pitch, every one of them appeared to be white. I could not see one black person in the group. I was surprised and somewhat taken aback. Why would the main New Orleans sports team – with so many black players and supporters – be associated with and sponsor a group made up of all white men?

Chatting to a local about other matters, I brought up the situation I had witnessed together with my surprise. I was interested in his thoughts. He didn’t see an issue with it. He described to me a model of diversity that wasn’t around integration, but was more around living within a racial group and living side by side with other racial groups – working with people from other groups but not necessarily socialising or living with people from those other groups. I asked if he thought that this was workable and whether it would remove the racial discrimination that Bush had recognised. He thought so. I am not convinced.

Is this a viable model? Can it work? Is it perhaps a model that can be argued as workable but one that will actually maintain the status quo?

I wonder if anyone else there had similar thoughts to mine? The New Orleans Saints were terrible and lost 32 – 7. Perhaps they were thinking about it and that’s what put them off – but I think not. But perhaps someone needs to think about it.


Split your personality – improve your performance

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

One aspect of self-development that I have been working on with a number of individuals recently has been the aspect of how we do not always operate as ‘one’.  There are aspects of ourselves that we don’t always understand or access.  Failing to access such information stops us from being as effective as we could be.

This post develops the themes of Transactional Analysis (TA) and Emotional Intelligence (EI), so you may find it useful to access my previous blogs on these subjects prior to, during or after reading this post – links to which are through the theory titles above.

As a trainer, when facilitating a group, and someone (we will call them Sam) makes a comment, I sometimes think to myself, “What a daft thing to say”, or “Do you realise what you have just really said?” These are critical thoughts emanating from my Controlling (Critical) Parent ego-state – my beliefs and values. Up to that point I had been thinking and speaking from the Adult ego-state – my rational and objective thoughts. It is generally accepted that adults learn most effectively when the facilitator is non-judgemental (Malcolm Knowles, Andragogy), so I know that I’m best not to externalise my judgemental thoughts.  I also know that Sam has missed the point and so needs to consider their thoughts and other points of view. So, I say to the group, “What are anybody else’s thoughts on what Sam has just said?” This will then generate a conversation with other members of the group addressing the matter, with Sam being far more likely to openly listen to their peers rather than my views – be they from the Adult or Critical Parent ego-state. And I have maintained, and possibly improved, my relationship with Sam.

In that short scenario, in Transactional Analysis (TA) terms, Eric Berne (founder of TA and photographed above) would say that I had been operating in two different ego-states – the ‘Executive’ and the ‘Real Self’.  At the start of the scenario, my ‘Executive’ and ‘Real Self’ were at one, but when Sam made the comments that led to my Critical Parent thoughts, the two split. My Critical Parent ego-state was my ‘Real Self’, but my Adult ego state retained ‘Executive’ power. This enabled me to be as personally effective as possible, and to assist the delegate as effectively as possible – as my ‘Executive’ ensured that my Adult ego-state was used in my external transactions.

The challenge, often, when we are exercising both ‘Executive’ and ‘Real Self’ is that there can be incongruence in our gestures, behaviours, mannerisms, etc.  These can be confusing to people if we do not monitor them carefully. If, for example, I was shaking my head as I asked the question, “What are anybody else’s thoughts on what Sam has just said?”, my ‘Real Self’ would be being demonstrated through my body language – and the Adult ego-state would not have full ‘Executive’ power.

This also links with the Personal Competence aspect of Emotional Intelligence. In order to achieve this successfully, a person needs to be aware of their emotions and then use them in order to stay flexible and understand themselves more effectively. This entails experiencing and noting our Child ego states (feelings driven), and then considering – from our Adult ego-state – what we can learn from our Child.

Many people are unaware of this division in themselves, and so cannot take advantage of it. Hence why some people – not through choice – ‘wear their heart on their sleeve’

Have you ever written an email when you are angry or upset, and then put it in the Drafts box, returned to it later and then thought, “Did I really write that?”. Most people then ‘tone it down’ before sending it and thank or congratulate themselves on putting it in the Drafts box in the first place – internal discussions between the ego states.  This situation occurs when you have written the email in your Parent or Child ego-state, and when you have returned to it you have re-read it in your Adult ego-state.

What I have been working on with these individuals is enabling the two to occur simultaneously.  People who can identify the ‘Executive’ and the ‘Real Self’ develop a system which is a bit like gauze or a dam. They have the ability to alter the thickness or denier of the gauze to externalise to others more or less of the ‘Real Self’ dependent upon what is appropriate. Using the dam metaphor, they can open or close the dam to let as much or as little of their ‘Real Self’ into the outside world as they want. As it is practiced and mastered, the person can then achieve this in increasingly challenging and stressful situations.

How do you separate your ‘Executive’ from ‘Real Self’?

When have you used it to great effect?