If you want to be truly present, sometimes you need to choose to be absent

After my last post about how we need to pay attention to gaps, one of my subscribers emailed me to ask me about another kind of gap – a gap he observes in his own attention, whether that’s at work or with his family and friends.

I’m ambitious and I want to succeed. Sometimes I just feel like I’m so focussed on future opportunities that I’m never fully engaged in what I’m doing right now,‘ he wrote.

This reminded me of some words from Kevin DeYoung’s book, Crazy Busy: 

The biggest deception of our digital age may be the lie that says we can be omni-competent, omni-informed, and omni-present. We must choose our absence, our inability, and our ignorance – and choose wisely.’

I sent those words and a link to Are you missing out? to my subscriber and we chatted for a while on email about how he can choose not to be absent from some opportunities in order to be present for others.

Today’s pebble for you to think about: will you choose to be absent in order to be present?

Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’re ready to transform your work,
why not email me to see how we can work together?

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How can we better understand one another?

As I mentioned last time, we live in a complex and hectic world. I’ve had Elvis Costello’s song ‘Peace, love and understanding’ on the brain for a while now and have been thinking about potential reasons for misunderstanding each other.

A lovely friend gave me a Poet and Painter card for my birthday recently, entitled ‘Understanding‘.


The card shows a picture of a barcode and underneath it says

Even with a barcode, it’s not just the lines, but the spaces in between.’

It’s true, isn’t it? A barcode needs the gaps as much as it needs the printed lines of different widths.

In the same way, a conversation is only a conversation if it has gaps in it. By definition, a conversation is ‘informal interchange of thoughts, information, etc., by spoken words’. A conversation with no gaps would be a cacophony of people talking over one another.

The topic of how to be a better listener crops up from time with time with my coaching clients – in fact, it did so last week and so I showed Mike (not his real name) the card.

‘The gaps are the hard part,’ said Mike, who is in middle management at his organisation. ‘Whether I’m talking to my boss, my colleagues or my team, I sometimes feel the need to fill the gaps. If I’ve given tough feedback to a team member and they don’t respond, I feel like I have to keep justifying the feedback. If I don’t jump into a gap left by some of my more vocal colleagues, I’ll never get a word in edgeways. If I’m pitching an idea with my boss and there’s a big gap in our conversation, I feel like I need to do some more explaining. Also, sometimes I don’t leave a gap when I should – if a team member brings a problem to my attention, sometimes I just rush and offer a solution, rather than asking some helpful questions and leaving a gap for them to explore the options.’

Mike and I spent his session discussing how he could become a better listener by being more comfortable with the gaps and using them differently. Here are four key points from our conversation which might be useful to you:

Look for the gaps in what the other speaker has said

What hasn’t she mentioned? If a team member comes to you to report on a group project and mentions the contributions of three of the group but not a word on two of them, what’s happening there? In his regular review meeting, your direct report talks about what’s happening in the office but doesn’t mention the five-day training course for which you sponsored him last month, did it not live up to expectations or has he just forgotten?

What we don’t say can be just important as what we do say.

Leave a gap before responding 

Rather than spend your listening time jumping to conclusions or making assumptions, hear the other person out. Use your attention to concentrate on their ways, then pause and respond. If necessary, ask further questions to clarify. If appropriate, summarise back to them what you believe they’ve said so that you can check your understanding.

Don’t rush to fill a gap

Mike mentioned that sometimes when he was nervous, whether that was when on a long journey with a new colleague, or in a discussion with his manager, he sometimes felt awkward about gaps in conversation.

In the first instance, Mike decided that he needed to remember that this was a conversation rather than a monologue and that sometimes a companionable silence is absolutely appropriate. There may be all sorts of reasons why the other party isn’t chatting – tiredness, all topics of conversation have been exhausted, or maybe he simply doesn’t feel the need. Mike will work on accepting those gaps.

In the second instance – feeling the need to justify a decision or proposal – Mike is going to work on delivering his words with confidence and assurance and then pausing to let his manager consider them.

If necessary, create a longer gap

There may be times when Mike needs to postpone a response – maybe when giving or receiving feedback, or when a suggestion is made to him. Rather than rushing to reply, Mike will propose re-scheduling the rest of the conversation, giving all parties time to think.

Mike went away from our session with action points to help him be a better listener – and a better conversationalist.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: when you’re in conversation, are you paying attention to the gaps? 

Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’re ready to transform your work,
why not email me to see how we can work together?

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On course or drifting? Time for a half year review

On 1 July, we will be halfway through 2018. A couple of years ago, I wrote that we were experiencing a volatile time in the world – it seems that nothing much has changed since then.

Whilst some things are way beyond our control or influence, it can be helpful to take some time out to review our progress so far. Imagine you were going for a long walk in the hills: it’s unlikely you’d look at the map at the beginning of the walk and then walk for a few hours without checking that you were on the right track.

So I’d like to suggest that we all step off our paths for half an hour or so and ask ourselves the following questions:

Are the goals I set at the beginning of the year still relevant?

What’s working well?

What’s stopping me making progress?

What adjustments do I need to make?

Where does my focus need to be?

Your answers to these questions will act as telltales – indicators of your current direction – and then you can make plans for the second half of 2018.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: what does your half year review tell you? 

Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like someone to help you with your half year review and to make plans to transform your work,
why not email me to see how we can work together?

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Do you want a different result? Ask a different question

Last week, I met a client at The Castle Inn in Bradford on Avon. As I waiting at the bar, I noticed a stack of blank job applications and I picked one up. Am I thinking of a new career? Absolutely not but I was intrigued by the questions on their form.

It asks for the usual contact details, age, eligibility to work in the UK and potential start date but it doesn’t ask other questions you might expect like ‘What experience do you have of bar work?‘ or ‘Describe when you have worked well in a team.’

Instead it asks:

  • Draw us a picture of yourself
  • Tell us about your proudest moment
  • What is your go-to karaoke song?
  • Why do you think we should meet you and not the other guy?
  • Ask us a question
  • Why do you want to work with us?
  • You’ve got £500 to take a friend out for the night. What do you do?

What I love about this application form is that it tells you a lot about what it might be like to work at The Castle: if this form makes you uncomfortable, then The Castle probably isn’t the place for you. There are no right or wrong answers to some of those questions but the answers will give the employer an insight into the applicant’s personality and interests. Sure, this application form is fun but I bet it’s also extremely effective.

In conversations with my coaching clients,  I see that this approach works well in other situations, either at work or at home. When we ask the same standard questions, we’ll probably get the same standard responses.

Einstein said ‘If you want different results, do not do the same things’. 

Today’s pebble for your consideration is this: Are you looking for a different result? Is it time to try a different question?

Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’re ready to transform your work,
why not email me to see how we can work together?

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How do you know if you’re good enough?

Occasionally when reading, I don’t entirely agree with the author. Seth Godin wrote ‘Good enough stopped being good enough a long time ago so why not be great?’: Jim Collins wrote ‘Good is the enemy of great.’

I understand what they mean but I think that sometimes an emphasis on greatness can lead to an unhealthy and counterproductive obsession with comparison – whether we compare ourselves with colleagues or people in the public eye. Expecting perfection in ourselves can seem so daunting that we stall in our attempts to improve: expecting perfection in others is unrealistic and therefore leads to disappointment.

There are some instances in which I think I prefer the Italian proverb ‘better is the enemy of good.’

After my last post, Are you being good or are you getting better?, I had an email from a coaching client –

‘I get that it’s important to focus on that progress rather than stressing about not being perfect yet but how can I tell if I’m good enough?’ I feel stuck and I’m just not making any progress at all.’

We had a session booked for later in the week so I asked Mollie (not her real name) to read another post – Had enough? – prior to our meeting and to think about what it would mean to be good enough. When we met, she had with her a big sheet of paper full of words and colourful images. By its very nature, it’s a particularly personal document so I won’t show you a picture but I have Mollie’s permission to share some of the headlines with you.

Good enough as a manager

The team don’t need me to be Sheryl Sandberg or Elon Musk. A good enough manager is honest, challenging, available, communicative, inspiring and confident.

Good enough as a colleague

My fellow managers would say I’m good enough when I’m engaged, curious,  effective, constructive and innovative.

Good enough at looking after my physical health

I don’t need to be Jess Ennis-Hill. I am good enough when I’m showing up for my personal training sessions, following the nutritional advice and achieving the goals I agreed with my trainer.

Good enough as a friend

Being a good enough friend is not about arranging amazing weekends away or buying extravagant gifts – although those things aren’t wrong. It’s about being present, not being distracted when we’re together, really listening, doing what I said I would do, going beyond the superficial and knowing each other on a deeper level.

perfection is a stick with which to beat the possible rebecca solnit

Mollie now has an action plan that will help her to notice when she’s good enough and, perhaps ironically, is confident that when she accepts that what she is doing is enough, she is actually able to do more. No longer stuck by the thought of needing to be perfect, she can acknowledge her progress and build on it.

Today’s pebble for your consideration: how do you feel about the concept of being good enough?

Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’re ready to transform your career,
why not email me to see how we can work together?

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Are you being good or getting better?

‘I hate making mistakes,’ sighed my client – let’s call him Mike – when he arrived at our session. ‘I’m a right-first-time kind of person and this is doing my head in.’

Mike’s recently taken on a new role and needs to acquire a new skill as part of that role.

‘To be honest, it’s ages since I’ve had to learn something new for work. I’m used to be on top of my game, respected for my knowledge and seen as an expert. I should be good at this already. This is so uncomfortable for me.’

When was the last time you learnt something new that was nothing to do with work?’ I asked.

‘A couple of years ago, I took up windsurfing.’

‘And what was it like learning to do that?’

‘I fell off a lot!’

‘I’m no expert but I’m guessing that’s not what’s supposed to happen in windsurfing,’ I commented with a grin. ‘Were you making a mistake by falling off?’

Mike laughed. ‘I see where you’re going with this – no, falling off is just a part of learning, not a mistake. I need to give myself a break, recognise this is new to me. I don’t have to instantly be good, I need to focus on getting better.’

Research by Heidi Grant and Laura Gelety shows that when we focus on being good at something, we’re adversely affected when things go wrong. We lose confidence and doubt ourselves. However, when we focus on improving, we see mistakes as opportunities to learn and strengthen our abilities. Giving ourselves permission to make mistakes actually improves our chances of success.

How to focus on getting better instead of being good

  • Acknowledge that this is new and is going to take time to learn. Making mistakes is a part of the process.
  • Track your progress. Each time you have a learning session, take a few minutes at the end to jot down some notes about what you’ve done, what was good and what needs some more work.
  • Get some support. Whether you buddy up with another learner or ask for help from someone more experienced, your success is not measured on your ability to do this alone.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: will you shift from focussing on ‘being good’ to ‘getting better’?

Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’re ready to transform your career,
why not email me to see how we can work together?

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What do you do when you’re not sure what you want to do?

I’ve lost count of how many times clients have said to me ‘I know I want something different but I just don’t know what it is.’

Whilst I’m an advocate of planning and goal-setting, I also know that things aren’t always so cut and dried. Sometimes it can be better to not have such a fixed idea.

Let’s take a simple example. You have a week’s holiday coming up. You feel the need to swim in the sea, lie in the sun, enjoy some fresh seafood. You know you can get all that in Cornwall. You book a great hotel, research the best beaches, pack your sunscreen, reserve a table at the fish restaurant you read about in the paper and you’re all set.

A few days before you leave, you’re watching the news and the lead story is about a storm system that’s heading straight for the South-West UK and the weather forecaster announces that rough seas, high winds and torrential rain will be blighting your holiday destination for the week.

What’s the alternative? Well, you are aware of your needs for a swim in the sea, sunshine, and some fresh fish: that’s more important than your actual destination. Maybe you could stay flexible, not book anything, wait until a couple of days before the holiday, take a look at the forecast to see where on the coast the weather is looking favourable and then go online to see what you can find in that resort. It doesn’t have to be a hotel, you’d settle for a cottage or even a tent. There are lots of possibilities!

Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

Some might call that approach being flexible or even agile: Victoria Labalme talks about ‘risking forward’. The risk forward is a mime move she learnt from the great Marcel Marceau. Physically, it involves shifting your weight forward onto one foot, slightly off balance, and having your ‘heart open’ – an open stance, poised to move forward.

Of course, when my clients talk about wanting something different but feeling uncertain, they’re not talking about taking a holiday. They’re thinking of their careers or maybe their lives. Can you still risk forward in those instances? Watch Victoria Labalme’s TEDx Talk to find out:

 

One sentence which has stayed with me since I first saw this talk was ‘Trust the idea that leads to the idea‘ in which Labalme suggests we use to unlock our creativity to generate as many ideas as possible: the most unworkable idea might be the one that sparks off a thought which leads to the best idea.

She also encourages us to ‘stop asking each other “What’s your plan? What’s your goal?” and instead ask “What interests you now?”. I have used that question with clients and it’s led to some very interesting conversations and action plans.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts is this: if you are feeling unsure about what’s next, will you experiment with the idea of risking forward? 

Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’re ready to transform your career,
why not email me to see how we can work together?

 

 

 

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