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As you are aware Change is all about people, and it starts with us. This is an exploration of some of the ideas and issues that I've encountered along the way. I've created this also to enable a dialogue to begin around this subject and hopefully produce a forum where we can all learn something.

Hints and tips: Dealing with awkward people–Tip 4

February 5th, 2015

A pair of psychologists called Alan A. Cavaiola, PhD, and Neil J. Lavender, PhD surveyed more than 1,100 employees and captured their thoughts in a book called “Toxic Co-workers: How to Deal with Dysfunctional People on the Job”.  This is the forth in a series of short blogs with  tips based on their work.

4.  Recognise your Triggers:  We all have things that drive us crazy, or things which we find hard to tolerate.  Again, we need to not only know ourselves but take ownership of these responses.  If we would never miss a deadline, then we tend to view those who do so poorly; if we always greet everyone with a cheery “Good Morning”, we may feel slighted if others fail to do so.  Who is right and wrong in this step is irrelevant; the advice here is is to note who / what tends to provoke these responses and to ensure that you don’t speak from an irate, judgemental place.  They will feel attacked and thus use their energy and attention to defend themselves rather than listening.  If I can put my point over in a non-aggressive manner, then the other person is much more likely to engage with me and consider the value of what I am saying (this is another Aikido principle in action.)

The rest of this series:

  1. Tip 1
  2. Tip 2
  3. Tip 3


February 3rd, 2015


Have you noticed that mostly in business we sit opposite the people we are meeting with?  We put great store by looking the person in the eye.  In the animal kingdom, this is a challenge to assess who is the stronger, and if the other is a challenger for power… In business, it’s not so different!  I don’t imply that is the only reason for this.  We communicate a lot with our faces and also our furniture is set up, we usually face each other across a dividing table or desk. 

However, one of the basic precepts of aikido, and perhaps one that gives it much of its power, is “Put your self in the other’s (your partner’s) place.”  This means you are shoulder-to shoulder with them and looking at the world from their position.  This enables you to see as they do and to lead them forward to a different place. 

Leading is about making a difference, about helping facilitate Change; too often we follow the American model of alpha male leaders who dominate their company, rather than the softer, more subtle and infinitely more powerful path of enabling others to move to a new place, supported by your vision and faith.

Also, we all have different lead senses with which we take on board information.  If we prefer to listen to what is said, being side-by-side enables us to not be distracted by what we see.  Another tip is if you are walking side-by-side with a person, or even driving next to them, you are quite literally moving forwards together and in my experience this greatly facilitates progress in difficult conversations.

Hints and tips: Dealing with awkward people–Tip 3

February 2nd, 2015

A pair of psychologists called Alan A. Cavaiola, PhD, and Neil J. Lavender, PhD surveyed more than 1,100 employees and captured their thoughts in a book called “Toxic Co-workers: How to Deal with Dysfunctional People on the Job”.  This is the third in a series of short blogs with  tips based on their work.

3.  Check your expectations:  Cavaiola, who teaches psychology at Monmouth University in New Jersey, says it’s also not uncommon for people to have unrealistic expectations about co-workers. We may expect them to act just as we would or say what we might have said but this simply isn’t realistic…it isn’t even desirable.  We all bring our own strengths and weaknesses to work and every situation we enter and we deploy those differently.  If it results in what we perceive as a ‘win’ then we don’t complain, but if the reverse is true, there can be a problem.  So, check whether your expectations are reasonable before deciding to confront anyone.  Were they properly briefed?  Have they been appropriately trained?  We can only start our journey from the place we are now…

The rest of this series:

  1. Tip 1
  2. Tip 2

Hints and tips: Dealing with awkward people–Tip 2

January 28th, 2015

A pair of psychologists called Alan A. Cavaiola, PhD, and Neil J. Lavender, PhD surveyed more than 1,100 employees and captured their thoughts in a book called “Toxic Co-workers: How to Deal with Dysfunctional People on the Job”.  This is the second in a series of short blogs with  tips based on their work.

2. Make your needs known:  It maybe that the person simply isn’t communicating with you in a way that works for you.  As someone who is a bit dyslexic, if you give me a long complex verbal instruction, I simply can’t process that.  It is a bit like I have a two sentence audio buffer and the third sentence overwrites sentence one, so I need either to take notes, or better still, fully understand what you want so I can recreate the sequence from my own understanding.  We all have a preference for how we take on board information, we are either audio, visual or kinaesthetic, which is a posh way of saying we see it, hear it or feel it.  A clue is often there in our language “Tell me or “Show me”, or “I don’t get it..”  My brother, who is an Aikido black belt and coach, spotted the fact that my learning style is kinaesthetic.  I have to feel it in my body in order to remember it, I can’t replay a video tape or audio tape in my head.

This advice goes beyond communication needs and style though.  Often we misinterpret what other people mean, so before assuming the other person is at fault or being a b*tch or b*stard, try to check your understanding.  Steven Covey in his “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” tells us to seek first to understand then be understood, which is also echoed in Aikido and their rule to put yourself in your partner’s place.  Use non-accusatory language, and say something like “When you do….. I feel …..  What I would prefer is if you could do…, that would enable us to ….”  This format provides clear context and explanation of the issue, takes ownership of the feelings, makes clear what will work for you and the benefit (to them) of doing this.

The rest of this series:

  1. Tip 1

The slippery walk… the Change Journey

January 27th, 2015

Regular readers will know I’m a walker.  Yesterday we were out on the South Downs and at the end of a lovely (but muddy) winter’s walk, we had to descend to our final destination.  It turned out that the path we needed to take was not signposted, and only spotted by my faithful guide because a) we were looking for it and b) there were bike tracks exiting from it that were marked with chalky tyre prints.  Like so many footpaths (and why this is, given that almost all of us have two feet, is a total mystery!) the path was narrow and not wide enough for both feet.  It was very steep, and the drop-off to the right was enough to make me not want to even look at it!  The final feature was mud.  Not just any mud but ultra slippy, chalk mud.  Potters glaze their pots with something called ‘slip’, which is a similar consistency, and I now know why it is called this!! Trying to negotiate this descent was more like skating than walking.

Why is this muddy tale relevant to you, oh business leader?  The thing is, our stroll is very similar to your Change Journey.  We knew where we needed to end up.  We could even see it.  However, we weren’t there yet.  We had to focus on each and every step we needed to take, one step at a time, and we each had to go at our own pace.  Each step was a chance for an inglorious and messy upset, and yet we needed to continue.  Sometimes Change is messy, and you just need to keep plodding on, and if by any chance the path you have chosen is just too difficult, you have go back and find another way down.

Hints and tips: Dealing with awkward people–Tip 1

January 26th, 2015

A pair of psychologists called Alan A. Cavaiola, PhD, and Neil J. Lavender, PhD surveyed more than 1,100 employees and captured their thoughts in a book called “Toxic Co-workers: How to Deal with Dysfunctional People on the Job”.  This is the first in a series of short blogs with  tips based on their work.

1.  Reflect on your own history: When we get upset by someone or something, the event can be like pulling a trigger and we go BANG! Not surprisingly, we refer to this state as being triggered.  The key thing to know about this is that the person or event isn’t so much the issue (upsetting as it maybe in its own right) rather it is the place it takes you to.  It triggers off our primitive Flight/Fight mechanism, and depending on our nature we either come out swinging or run and hide.  So the first hint in the book is that this may not be about them but about you.  So go somewhere quiet and safe and take the time to ponder what it is that really upset you.  What did you feel?  What does it remind you off?  If what is happening in the office is an echo of things that happened in the playground, then perhaps you have more to deal with than the person or situation at work.  None of this is to say that there might not be a genuine issue with them, rather that you may need to go deeper to get to the root of the issue.

How to understand the mechanics of someone’s first impressions (and influence them positively!)

January 19th, 2015

First impressionsWe all seem to think that we are good at reading people and ‘trust’ those first impressions and it takes a lot of work, or time and  positive experience to change this if we didn’t like you.  Conversely, we tend assume that others will see our greatness, our potential and love us (just like our Mum’s!) this is called the transparency illusion, when we believe others will correctly interpret our positive signals.  In truth, people aren’t so good at reading these micro-signals we give off and one looks very much like the other.  Also, we often judge on relatively little data and some of us don’t always pay full attention to others especially if the initial impressions are negative.

So what criteria or tests do we use to judge others in these initial moments?  We want to know if this other person is a potential threat or a potential resource; if they are like us or not, and if they are not like us, are the differences useful and stimulating or threatening?  So we view people through what Heidi Grant Halvorson in the Harvard Business Review describes as  3 lenses:-

  1. The Trust lens,
  2. The Power lens and
  3. The Ego lens

First we want to know if we can trust them; are they friend or foe.  Next we want to assess if they are more or less powerful than us.  This one is a little more complex in as much as it works a little differently in social and business situations.  If it is a work situation and we are appealing to someone with more perceived power than us (such as a boss or a potential customer), they need us to prove to them that we are potentially of value to them.  In effect, we have to earn their attention.  Finally, as we all need to feel good about ourselves, we scan for ‘evidence’ that we are better than them. 

In order to jump safely through these ‘hoops’ we can do a few things to help our case.  We need to amplify our signals a little to ensure they are both perceived and received.  It is a little like the driving test, where you can’t just check your mirror, you have to show that you have done so.  Clearly articulate how you can be helpful to them.  Use words like we  rather than I and you, to show you are on their side.  There are more hints and tips in the main article.  However, regular readers of this site will be familiar with the idea that we all filter our impressions and thoughts through lenses, check out the Reality Model.  They will also understand how important it is to build rapport, and there is lots of stuff here.

Persuasion and priorities

January 12th, 2015

competition-QuotesPeople are much more persuaded by their own logic and reasons than ours, no matter how clever we like to think we are, so rather than banging our heads against a wall of their logic.  There is a better way.  If I push, they will push back (interestingly, this is not just confirmed Newton with his third law of motion, but is a key principle of Aikido.)  So, try this; ask the person where this thing sits on their personal priority scale, using a scale of 1-10.  Imagine you have asked your teenage child to tidy their room or a work colleague to look at something for you.  Assuming they don’t rate it as 1, rather than asking them to tell why they think it is that unimportant, ask them why they haven’t rated it lower.  It is counter-intuitive but this forces them to explain why it has some value.  You are now both on the same side of the fence and just debating how valuable it might be rather than whether it has a value.  It is far easier to move someone when you are travelling in the same direction than when you oppose them.


January 6th, 2015

I found this wonderful card, which sadly I can’t share here, but it beautifully illustrates how one can look at the same data in two totally different ways.  It shows two overweight ladies sitting in front of a plate of cakes and one says to the other “According to my BMI chart, I’m too short!” Mostly we see the results we expect to find, so our own preconceptions are a key to what we discover.  That is why having an outsider look at a something, even if he or she knows less about the subject than you can open up new vistas.  I often feel that asking ‘stupid’ questions is a part of my job!

We also tend to receive the messages we expect to get when others talk.  So, if I think ‘John’ is clever I will find clever ways to interpret what he says, if I think him a fool I will probably listen far less attentively and be far more dismissive of anything  that he says that ChineseWhispersI don’t understand. How many misunderstandings are rooted in one party saying something and meaning A, and having the other person listen to the same words and take away meaning B.  This can be affected by how we feel too, so if we feel guilty, or insecure, then we are more likely to suspect we are being slighted or belittled. 

So perhaps next time you are confronted with data or a message, you should check if standing it on its head makes just as much sense and if it does, taking the time to find out which interpretation is more valid or useful.

What happens if…

December 13th, 2014

a&eI was talking to a client the other day, and we were discussing the impact on the business that the illness of a colleague would have.  I was a little surprised that he hadn’t ‘run’ that scenario.  This person is running one part of the business which is in the middle of  series of changes that need not only managing but leading.  Not having the right hand on the tiller now might mean the need to close this part of the business.  Yes, this would adversely affect the bottom line, but there is the possibility that this element might lose money if not lead properly, which would have a worse impact and there is an argument that says that better a sure, straightforward and simple known adverse impact than an uncontrolled mess.

Sometimes stepping back and asking what would happen if …. is really important.  It is easier from outside the business (and that is why people involve people like me) but I’d argue that it is an important skill for all leaders.  If you spend your whole day up to your neck in ‘muck & bullets’ then the chances of you being blindsided by this kind of event are far higher.  Every leader needs some thinking time as opposed to doing time.