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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.

Dealing with problem behaviour

May 18th, 2015

problem behaviourWhen I was training, this was labelled ‘feedback’, and everyone learnt to cringe as soon as they heard the phrase “Can I give you some feedback..”  which was inevitably an excuse for them laying into you whilst feeling superior about it all… at least that is how it felt!  However, from time to time we all have a problem with our work mates, our flat mates or our neighbours and we need to deal with it, so how should we go about it?

Firstly, never attempt this whilst you are hot under the collar, it doesn’t lead to good communication and they will just feel attacked and defend, as almost inevitably, you are attacking them.  So rule No 1, wait till you are calm and can check if the this is really worth raising.  If you still feel that it is, then, step two is to be clear what you want out of the conversation (and yes, Rule No 2 is you must do this face-to-face.)  Be able to explain what change you wish to see and how this will benefit not just you but them too. 

Do not not exaggerate when describing their behaviour and avoid words such as “Always” and “Never”, as this kind of sweeping generalisation is almost never true.  Stick to the facts, and if possible have a record of specifics, so you can give examples.

Don’t puff yourself up in expectation of a confrontation, talk to them nicely (as you would wish them to talk to you if circumstances were reversed,) expecting that they will want to see a happy outcome for both parties, that way they are much more likely to listen to you.

Be honest and clear about how it affects you, and state what you have tried to do to mitigate the issue before looking to them to change their behaviour.  If possible, show them the impact of the issue, to help them see / experience it from your point-of-view, but also take the time to look at their perspective too.

Basically, if you approach them in a calm, pleasant and factual way, you are much more likely to get what you want, and often they will be surprised that they are causing you an issue…

5 habits of effective communicators

May 11th, 2015

5Habit 1:  Don’t say “But..”, say “And..”

The thing is the word “but” diminishes your previous statement; so if try telling your significant other “You look lovely BUT..”  I advise you to stand back having lighten the blue touch paper!  However, if you say when you say “And..” it builds on their point and having agreed with them, they are more amenable to accepting your suggestion.  So, “You look lovely but I don’t think those shoes work” might become “You look lovely.  (pause) And I want you to be comfy too, do you think you will be in those shoes?”

Habit 2:  Stick to the facts

We all make sweeping statements like “My neighbour does that deliberately!”  or “That will never work!”, but usually these are perceptions or projections or generalisations rather than facts.  So it is good to ask “How do you know that?”  or “What proof do you have?”  This kind of comment will limit you and your responses,  if you you stick to things which are provably true, then you are at least on firm ground moving forwards.

Habit 3:  Don’t be defensive

Regular readers will know that I have mentioned this before, but we just HATE being wrong, and we will do almost anything to avoid this.  So if we hear the other person say something which we interpret as criticism, we tend to not explore what they are actually saying or whether it is useful, true or helpful and instead bat it away.  This leads to the baby being thrown out with the bathwater and not only don’t we learn what they were trying to add, but we make them feel diminished and unlistened to.

Habit 4:  Silence is not only golden but powerful

There are two parts to this tip.  Firstly, if you are actually  listening to the other person, you need to keep schtum!  You also need to put all your attention into listening rather than thinking what you want to say in response.  The other thing is that if you keep silent, you force the other person to step into that uncomfortable space and elaborate.  As a facilitator, it can be very powerful to ask a simple question such as “What do think of that?” and then just wait.  The longer you wait, the more you will learn.  If you feel the need to jump in too soon, they can evade your question and you learn little or nothing.

Habit 5:  Make sure they heard / understood what you actually said

None of us are very good at listening, however, just because they can repeat the words you used, doesn’t mean that they interpreted them as you intended.  If it is important, take the time to check they have really understand what you meant.  If I say something like “Book me somewhere cheap..” You might find you have very different ideas of what cheap means, and that could be embarrassing!  The same is true of all those relative words like quick, simple, small etc. 

Effective communicators are like sailors… they never forget the 7 C’s

May 7th, 2015

When communicating be:-

  1. Clear
  2. Concise
  3. Concrete – include all pertinent facts included and avoid distracting asides
  4. Correct – not only facts, but it is good to avoid spelling and grammatical mistakes (and I should know!)
  5. Coherent – can your reader easily follow your flow?
  6. Complete
  7. Courteous

9 Ways to win an argument

May 4th, 2015

Arguments aren’t good, but we are all occasionally confronted with situations where we want / need to win.  Here are a few tips to help you:-

91.  Confidence: as I have mentioned many times here before, performing with confidence is key to success and especially in an argument.  If you look, sound and feel confident, others are more likely to believe you are right

2.  Respect: if you don’t feel it, at lest fake it!  You have to listen to them, or failing that, appear to listen.  If you show you aren’t receptive, there is no way they will be.  Don’t interrupt, hear them out, don’t give facial and physical signals (like shaking your head) whilst they are speaking.  Don’t get personal.

3.  Data:  information truly is king, and he / she who wields it is more likely to appear that they know what they are talking about.  So if you are going into a situation where you know you will have to prove your point, do your research first.  It is true that facts can be used in many different ways, and it is all about how you use them, but none-the-less, you will be more credible if you are well armed.

4. Avoid own goals: There are a series of common mistakes that you can use that can blow the wheels off your waggon and leave you looking like a loser, such as:-

  1. Anecdotal fallacy:  using a single experience or story to prove something is always true, such as if you were bitten by a dog, it proves all dogs are vicious
  2. Cherry picking facts:  You can’t pay attention to information that proves you right and ignore all other evidence
  3. Correlation=Causation:  Just because because car accidents can happen when you are listening to he radio, does not necessarily mean that listening to the radio causes accidents
  4. Omniscience:  you can’t be sure that something always happens so don’t base your argument on this kind of statement.  You don’t always get mugged in certain parts of town, or always get into trouble at football games.

5. Let them go first: this has all sorts of advantages.  It shows confidence and politeness (see above), it gets them to lay out there argument so you can understand where they are coming from before you ‘attack’.  It allows them to shoot themselves in the foot and save you the trouble!

6.  Ask questions:  This builds on the point above and both enhances your understanding of their position, allows you to expose weaknesses in it and encourages them to follow your example and listen to you.

7.  Agree with them if they are right:  The chances are they aren’t wholly wrong and if they make a good point you should acknowledge it as such, but being right about one thing doesn’t mean they are right in everything.  Don’t let this throw you off course, surrender this ground and keep your powder dry!

8.  People Power:  If you are in a group setting, you can use the others in the group to swing things your way by winning them over before your opponent.

Lastly and best…

9.  Change what winning means to you:  rather than trying to prove the other person wrong, how about trying to craft a better solution for everyone?  What about ensuring that you avoid the things you sought to avoid rather than doing it your way?  What about winning respect and friendship rather than an argument?  What about learning something?  What about growing as a person by behaving graciously and conceding if after all this it turns out they are more right than you?

Here is an interesting TED talk on just this subject

Successfully start difficult conversations – 3

April 30th, 2015

difficult-conversations 3We 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

April 27th, 2015

difficult-conversations 2We 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

April 23rd, 2015

difficult-conversationsWe 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. 


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

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 OK Zoneis 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

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. 

confidenceThe 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?