Archive for November, 2013

Pushing at an open door

Monday, November 25th, 2013

I had an interesting experience the other day that set me to reflecting.  I was going to a client meeting and thinking about what we needed to achieve and how best to do that.  I did a brain dump of the key points, which included one that I thought the client would never go for.  However, it was, in my view, crucial for success.  I wasn’t sure how to persuade them about this and knowing them well, felt I was likely to be overruled on grounds of financial expediency.  Often in organisations, people signing off on things get clear sight of the costs going into a project but the benefits are seldom so clearly on view, so one can understand, in times of financial hardship, that is much easier to say “No” than to ensure you are making a wise investment.

I sat down at the table with them and asked what they wanted to achieve and was pleasantly surprised by the tone of what they said.  So much so that I told them that what they were thinking of as a single event needed to be two separate ones if it was ever going to succeed.  “That makes sense” they agreed and that was that!  The meeting went very well, agreed everything in fast order and I left with everything I needed to make it work for them.

The thing was, I was anticipating a struggle, and probably the rejection of my ideas.  It is very easy in those circumstances to react before the event and go in feeling hostile and defensive.  This of course communicates and produces the very effect that you feared.  Luckily, I avoided this and walked away with a win.  Sometimes people surprise you and anticipating trouble often precipitates it, as John Lennon once sang “Give Peace a Chance”.

Don’t be so defensive…

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

I have often written here about the power of our Flight / Fight response and how deeply it affects our behaviour.  It is a primitive mechanism that kept our ancestors safe from the dangers that surrounded them and helped them survive and breed.  We are the direct descendants of those primitives who ran away fastest or fought hardest.  In modern society it is not really considered socially acceptable to either run out of meetings or physically attack those we feel threatened by.  So we have learnt to subvert these behaviours into a set of more ‘polite’ behaviours that manifest in how we communicate.  We can attack their ideas, ridicule them; we can become evasive when questioned or monosyllabic in our responses. 

I came across this article, which talks about the perils of being overly defensive in our communications.  This obviously applies at work and at home.  It suggests well known, but perhaps under used techniques like when you listen to a suggestion instead of saying “Yes…. BUT”, why not try seeing the difference it makes when you say “Yes…AND”.  The first diminishes and undermines an idea (and by extension the speaker), the latter builds on it and makes it stronger.  One makes an enemy and the other an ally.

Aikido uses the principle of first putting yourself in the place of the person who is ‘attacking’, and trying to ‘see’ the world from that position, and then having aligned yourself with them you are better positioned to avert, divert or deflect their ‘attack’. 

If we can let go the idea, or rather the feeling, that we are being made ‘wrong’, we can stay more open to other people’s ideas that may help us not only be more successful but also more well liked.  Now that is what I call a win:win!


  1. Aikido1
  2. Aikido2

The creative power of disagreement

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

In the film World War Z, the world falls victim to a plague of zombies.  Suspiciously, Israel seems to be ahead of the curve and have locked their borders to repel this invasion… how did they know?  10 days prior to the plague they received an email mentioning zombies, their cabinet debated its authenticity and the need for action and they all agreed that it was ridiculous.  However, it was their policy that if faced with unanimous agreement like this it was the job of the tenth man to play Devils Advocate and thus avoid the possibility of potential threats being ignored.  There seems to be some evidence that this may have a basis in truth.  However, whether or not this is Hollywood hokum or fact, I know from experience that there is both power in asking “Why not?” and danger in group-think.  It is often my job as facilitator to ask the dumb questions and challenge the sacred cows.

If you can’t afford a facilitator or don’t have anyone trained in the role, then before signing off on important decisions, have someone play Devils Advocate, as the Catholic church used to do when proposing someone for canonisation.  We are programmed and rewarded for being right, so we all hate to be proved ‘wrong’.  Setting aside the value judgements implicit in both these phrases, isn’t it better to be proved wrong at the board table than in the harsh world of business.

Be the change you want to see..

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Steve Ballmer, the retiring CEO of Microsoft, realised that the company wasn’t changing fast enough, despite his best efforts and on reflection, decided that perhaps he was part of the pattern he was trying to change.  “At the end of the day, we need to break a pattern. Face it: I’m a pattern,” he said.  It is a brave and honest assessment, no doubt made easier by the millions he has set aside, but still, leaving at the right time is a key step in good leadership.  It is similar to the challenge parents face of learning when to let go and just how to support an adult offspring.

So I take my hat off to him for this. 


Source: Pocket Lint

Seeing what’s not there…

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

I listened to a BBC program about so called “Thankful Villages”; 52 villages that amazingly saw all their men / boys return from WW1, and 14 of which even managed the same in WW2.  It is fabulous to learn that some places were untouched by the slaughter.  What interested me is that it took some while, and an awful lot of work, for people to realise that these places existed.  The reason is that we are programmed to see things that are happening, and it takes a very different sort of person to see what isn’t happening.  Conan Doyle wrote about this in his book ‘Silver Blaze’, a mystery about the disappearance of a famous racehorse and the murder of the horse’s trainer. Sherlock Homes solves the mystery in part by recognizing that no one that he spoke to in his investigation remarked that they had heard barking from the watchdog during the night.

Most of us are not quite so alert to things that we don’t notice.  For example, if you deal with a business where nothing goes wrong, or if you work in an office where there is no politicking or bitching.  You can learn an awful lot from what you don’t see or hear, the thing is is spend a little time shifting your awareness to scan for those things.  Communication, and what isn’t communicated is all about what you pay attention to.

So whilst these villages are are giving thanks this Sunday for the return of their menfolk, if you work in an environment free from strife, take time to celebrate that and work to preserve it; the same goes if you are living in a happy family or a good marriage.  These things are usually the result of people consistently doing the right things and this takes work and effort.  Celebrate it!

What doesn’t kill you makes you strong

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

I was out walking last weekend and I came across these three trees which had all somehow found a way to go on thriving despite all Nature had thrown at them.  The first was twisted and broken by a storm and resumed its vertical growth, the second had been left with a fraction of its trunk and yet was still growing and the final one found it could root in the soil and roots of another tree that had been blown down.  It seems amazing to me that Nature is so resilient and its creations seem to know how to grow despite all that is done to them.

If people, or businesses, are allowed to learn from their mistakes and misfortunes they can go on to be successful.  In fact there is a saying that if you have never failed, then you simply haven’t been trying hard enough.  Most successful businessmen fail a few times before they perfect their offerings.  The difference between those who thrive and those who wither away is that some learn and give it another go.  When coaching people, it is important to ask them what hey have learnt from their experience rather than just judge it.

It IS personal…

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

I was amazed when I read the recent news that McDonalds has announced it won’t be serving Heinz ketchup any more at its 34,000 restaurants, as they don’t like the fact that Heinz have appointed Bernardo Hees, the former head of rival Burger King, as Heinz’s chief executive. Heinz was recently acquired by Warren Buffet’s company Berkshire Hathaway and Brazilian investment fund 3G Capital. Burger King is controlled by 3G Capital.and they appoint Mr Hees.  So it appears a strategic global sourcing decision is made by one of the commercial giants on a similar basis to playground politics and “I don’t want to play with you..”

I have always believed that business is all about people, and people do business with people they like, also people like them.  So the best way to ensure your business grows is to take a genuine interest in your customers business and make sure that you help them to succeed.