Archive for April, 2015

Successfully start difficult conversations – 3

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

We all occasionally need to have difficult conversations, be they at work or at home, and as we know or fear that they will be ‘difficult’ we tend to brace and tense ourselves up against the anticipated backdraft.  This is always a bad way to begin, so this is the third in this small series of  of hints and tips on how to do this more successfully.

It is natural, having dived off the high board, to want to keep on going till you reach the end.  However, you have probably been thinking about this for sometime, and they may need a little time to catch-up with you.  Sometimes, it really is a case of more haste, less speed.  You might say something like “I’d like to talk to you about getting X done; I’d like you to give it some thought and we can discuss it tomorrow.”  If you feel they are a getting defensive, perhaps suggest you take a short break, get a coffee, have a pee, take a walk or whatever, just to create a little space and distance.                           


  1. Tip 1
  2. Tip 2

Successfully start difficult conversations – 2

Monday, April 27th, 2015

We all occasionally need to have difficult conversations, be they at work or at home, and as we know or fear that they will be ‘difficult’ we tend to brace and tense ourselves up against the anticipated backdraft.  This is always a bad way to begin, so this is the second in this small series of  of hints and tips on how to do this more successfully.

Preparation is everything and if it is important to you that this goes well, take the time to prepare.  If you write down your thoughts it is easier to be objective about them as you have literally put these ideas outside yourself.  Ideally, do a data dump; it is a good idea to do so in bullet point form as it is easier to edit than a great long series of rambling paragraphs.  Better still, do it on a computer-type device so you can later cut and paste.  Next day, review your list.  How do you feel about it now?  Are your points clear?  Are they reasonable?

Delete the ones you no longer agree with.  Improve and clarify the others, sort them into groups of linked ideas.  Ask yourself what you are seeking to achieve and make that clear up front.  Most importantly, check they buy-in to the goal, because if they don’t agree with that it is pointless proceeding.  Avoid jargon that they don’t share.  Agree each step before proceeding to the next one.


  1. Tip 1

Successfully start difficult conversations – 1

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

We all occasionally need to have difficult conversations, be they at work or at home, and as we know or fear that they will be ‘difficult’ we tend to brace and tense ourselves up against the anticipated backdraft.  This is always a bad way to begin, so this is the first in a small series of  of hints and tips on how to do this more successfully.

The chances are that the person you are dealing with knows you, but they are not a mind reader, so don’t expect them to know what you are thinking or feeling.  So start off with owning your own feelings, and tell them honestly how you feel.  Bear in mind that you own and are responsible for your feelings.  No one can “make” you feel anything. 

Also bear in mind that not everything you think should be spoken.  Where do you want this to end up?  How do you want to feel?  What do you want them to do as a result of this conversation?  If some of your thoughts are going to make this harder, then, without being dishonest,  don’t feel obliged to splurge all over them!  Once you get things moving forward, you can review if you still feel these things need to be shared.  However, having moved things forward, they may be irrelevant now, or easier to deal with. 


Monday, April 20th, 2015

Author Ramit Sethi has developed something he calls “The Seagull Theory.”  It is a useful little device to remind you to pay attention.  In the olden times, sailors would pay attention to the seabirds they saw and would know if they spotted certain birds, such as seagulls, then they were getting close to land.  One gull might not mean that much, two meant it was more likely but three times was more likely still.

Similarly, if one person says that you are good at something (or for that matter that you need to attend to something) they maybe mistaken, but if several people notice and comment on the same thing then there is something that warrants thinking about and following up on.  It seems likely that you have a skill, or issue that you should attend to.  If it is a negative thing then at the very least you have a communication or perception issue to deal with.  If it is a positive, it might indicate a direction that is worth travelling in and exploring.  This is especially so when you consider how poor most people are at giving feedback, so unsolicited comments should be mined and examined.

How to drive ‘Real’ change

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

In the Harvard Business Review there is an article by Jen Overbeck about business change which begins

Most workplaces face constant imperatives for change—from trivial-seeming matters such as installing new office printers to major ones such as implementing new policies to support diversity. The question of how to drive change, though, is perennially vexing.  Some things make it easier: If you are the boss, you can order change (although that doesn’t always work).”  

If you are a regular reader of this site you will know that I have long observed that change has to be facilitated not mandated. 

If you are faced with trying to persuade people to change something, and if they perceive what you want them to do as unreasonable or contrary to their best interests then they simply will ignore your request.  If you push, this generates further resistance from them and they will actively fight you.  So it is important that you start with something that they might consider.  We all have a range of positions on every topic from completely for it to absolute opposition, and usually something in between these extremes.  This spectrum is referred to in text books as the ‘latitude of acceptance’.  There is a part of this spectrum within which we are prepared to countenance change or adjustment of our position.  Imagine the boss asks the team to work late.  Some people will feel this is ok, especially if they understand the need for it or are rewarded for it, others will have commitments outside work that might make it impossible.  It maybe I am willing to do it once, or I might be able to accommodate it if I am given adequate notice, however, a last minute request might be impossible.  In order to avoid a flat out “I can’t do it” the request has to fall inside my ‘OK Zone’.  In fact, if you push me I might start digging in and be even more adverse to considering an alternative suggestion from you, as I now feel I am fighting for something.

In order to pitch your initial request inside this OK Zone, you need to ask a few questions to find out where they are now.  There is a good example of this in the original article.  Having established where they currently are, you can then begin, in ‘baby steps’ to lead them in the direction you want them to travel. 

Ask yourself:-

  1. Where are they now?
  2. What are the incremental steps that could take them in the desired direction?
  3. Who might help influence or change their willingness to consider this?
  4. How much change is actually required now, is a step or two in the right direction enough to begin with?
  5. What might be holding them back and what could I do to remove these impediments?


  1. Harvard Business Review – You don’t have to be the boss..

Confidence–the miracle additive

Monday, April 13th, 2015

There is an aikido adage,”Perform with confidence” which basically reminds us to go for it without holding back, as it is much safer.  If you watch rugby, you will see players fling themselves headfirst (quite literally) into situations which common sense would never let you do, and they (mostly) seem to suffer little harm!  You may say “That is all very well for other people, brave people to do these things!” but it is much tougher to feel we are capable of this kind of thing.  However, if you think about your life, there are all sorts of things that you feel confident about, in fact you don’t even pause to question whether they will work.  You confidently drive your car towards a junction at many miles an hour and press the brake, confident it will stop you.  So what is the difference?  The more often you do something the more predictable the result and the more confident you feel. 

The thing is, as Claire Shipman observes, “Confidence can be thought of like a muscle. Just because it’s weak now doesn’t mean it can’t be strong later. All you need to do is exercise it.”  Taking action, builds confidence; holding back feeds fear.  So don’t be a spectator in your own life, take action, and become the person you wish you could be…

You can build a ladder of baby steps, if you make a habit of doing things,especially new things, or perhaps things you don’t feel are quite ‘you’.  We are taught to fear failure and so we keep ourselves safe from it by doing nothing so we can do nothing wrong, but actually it is well documented that success is built on failure and the learnings that it brings, and with success comes confidence.  Conversely, if we try and fail we usually find that the consequences were far milder than we feared; people don’t care if we can’t dance well, or don’t notice if we say something ‘silly’.  So go ahead!  Step out of your ‘Comfort Zone’, don’t me a safe ‘Couch Potato’, give a go… What’s the worst that could happen?

Communication- it’s tougher than you think

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

I came across this in the paper the other day and was amused by it, but reflected that it contained more than a grain of truth.  I was talking to a fellow coach about it and it was interesting to explore the nuances of communication that are landmines waiting to blow the legs of the unwary.  Years ago I stumbled on a deep truth.  A very good friend of mine would often say when I suggested doing something “That would be great!” or “I’d love to..” only to inevitably let me down.  I used be angry and hurt by his behaviour till I realise that what he meant when he said this was true BUT what he never added was “if I have time / money / finished the other 59 things on my list first…”  The thing is if I someone says to me “Let’s have lunch” my next action is to get out my diary and say “Good.. when?” it isn’t the polite English version, it is a call to action.  This chart helped explain that I am wired differently from my compatriots. 

Cross cultural communication is full of this kind of misunderstanding.  In some places turning up on time is rude, in others lateness is …

If you are a married man and your wife asks you how she looks before going out and you reply “Fine”, be careful… very, very careful how you enunciate this potentially explosive response.  You might be telling her she completely meets expectations, you might in some places be telling her she looks fine, complimenting her, in others you will be saying she is adequate, and no woman wants to be told this!  Be clear and careful when you communicate and preferably honest too!

Why are YOU visiting here??

Monday, April 6th, 2015

According to Google (last time I looked!) we are now one of the top Change blogs. We are now getting over 5,000 human visitors per month and I know nothing about who you are or why you visit.  I’d really love to close that gap and learn a little about what brings you here, what you like, what you are looking for…

Please, please take a moment to leave a comment below.

We have had a lot of spam registrations so sign-up has been disabled. If you would to join please email, telling me a bit about yourself and why you are interested and I will register you.

Three lessons in how to handle a disappointed customer or how to win arguments and friends

Monday, April 6th, 2015

It is an oft repeated business aphorism that “The customer is always right!”  My father who was a salesman liked to say “The customer might not always be always right, BUT he is always the customer!”  A variant on this is “The customer might not always be right but he is never wrong!”  Good companies, or one’s with good customer services have developed a number of strategies to help bridge the gap between a dissatisfied, or unsatisfied, customer and their business.  The key word in the last sentence is bridge.  Lesser businesses feel the need to defend the company and fight off the customers claims, this instantly antagonises and alienates them.  What is required is using a more empathetic approach, using the aikido principle of getting alongside your customer and seeing things from their perspective first.  So here is a strategy to help you do so:-

  1. Listen to them:  If they need to vent, let them.  Don’t interrupt or contradict.  Actively listen and only ask questions for clarification.  At this stage you are gathering data about their ‘map’ of their situation.  You can’t solve a problem you don’t understand so once you feel that they have finished, paraphrase what they have said back to them in a sentence that sounds a bit like this “So what is wrong is that you…. is that right?”  Modern rugby coaches say that you have to earn the right to go wide, and similarly, you have to earn the right to enter this dance.  If you have done step one properly, you now understand the problem as they see it and you now have a number of options.  You can either add to the story by bringing additional information to the table which they don’t have or you can correct factual inaccuracies in their version.  After trading facts back and forth you should summarise and agree a joint version of the situation.
  2. If you have made a mistake, own it:  If you have got something wrong, own up and do what you can to correct it.  You probably have to not just deliver now, but over deliver to compensate them for the hassle they have suffered.  It is well known that companies that deal well with this kind of issue earn much greater customer loyalty.  Customers will forgive you if you handle it well.  However, if they unreasonable or mistaken expectations then it is ok to say “Sorry, that isn’t the service (or item) we offer”  If you want to win brownie points, then try to point them to resources that do do this kind of thing. 
  3. Learn from mistakes and don’t repeat them:  Mistakes tell you where you need to improve either your training, or your processes, so make sure you capture them, review them and take action.  You should keep a journal of these. 

It is worth adding that these techniques can be just as useful in any situation where you have a disappointed person in front of you.

Momentum and Space

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

I have often written here about the importance of maintaining momentum in Change, but at the moment I am personally experiencing a different phase of this process.  It is seldom in our busy lives that we have time to pause and ponder, and in my experience most business people hardly have a moment to scratch their backsides!  This makes it hard to consider options and make informed choices.  Once a direction is set we tend to follow it for want of the time to reconsider.  It is only if it isn’t working that we let it go.  It is true that most decisions and programs have a half life and slowly decay along with the systems and technology on which they are often based.  However, that doesn’t mean they are necessarily the right thing for us now

At the moment due to a minor back injury I’ve been forced to stop and do relatively little.  This has coincided with a quieter spell in my work, thus I have the enforced gift of time.  It happens to coincide with the beginning of Spring and I can see things changing in the woods and garden almost daily.  It also takes place at a stage in my life where traditionally one phase is drawing to a close, which closes some doors and opens many others.  Perhaps it is the ‘perfect storm’ of these events that lead me to ponder what I really want the future to look like.  Normally when we ask this kind of questions, we are hemmed in by circumstances and we make our decision based on what we consider possible, which means we often answer the question “What is the least worst option?” rather than “What do I really want?”

I haven’t answered my own question yet, but I am aware that it’s very unbounded nature is slightly scary and one we seldom face.  We tend to limit our options to the answers we feel are safest, rather than truly challenge ourselves and expose ourselves to possible failure.  This is a work in progress for me but it will influence how I facilitate future sessions with clients and perhaps I will be a little more challenging when I ask my questions.

If you had some space and time, what would you like your life to look like, what changes would you make?