Four hundred posts and one more question

When I sat down to write my very first post on this blog, I had no idea that I’d still be writing posts eight years later.

Since then, I’ve written thousands of words about the lessons I and my clients have learnt within and outside coaching sessions. Amongst other topics, I’ve written about accountability, focus, confidence, motivation, time management, goals, progress, reflection, limiting beliefs, leadership, priorities, listening and values. I’ve even written about why I write.

At the heart of this blog are the weekly pebbles – those questions I ask at the end of each post. In my very first post, Why turning over pebbles?, I wrote about the pebbles I sometimes pick up whilst I’m out on a walk and observed:

Questions are like pebbles. Some we don’t even really notice – which socks shall I wear today? Toast or cereal? Some niggly little ones get stuck in our metaphorical shoes and really irritate us – why did I choose this queue? Did I lock the back door? Others are huge boulders in our path: we must go over them or round them or turn back – where should I live? Shall I take that job? Will we have children? Still others … stand out from the other pebbles, ask to be noticed and examined, weighed up. So I stand there, midst journey, turning over the pebble.

Today’s post is no different: I have another pebble for you to ponder. Before I started this blog, I allowed a lot of things to get in my way: I argued that I didn’t have time to do it justice, that I wasn’t a writer, that no-one would read it and that there were lots of other coaching blogs. One day, 399 posts ago, I decided to step over those obstacles and just get on with it.

overcoming obstacles rocks in your way

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: what are you allowing to get in your way?

Michelle

ps I’m taking a screen break for a couple of weeks – I’ll be back here on 5 April.

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

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

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How Radical Candor could improve your relationships

Whether you’re a manager or a parent, a leader or a partner, the quality of your interactions with others can probably be improved.

A client – let’s call her Hannah – and I were recently discussing her management style.

‘I worry that I’m a bit too soft on my team. My main issue is that I don’t want to hurt anyone. I had a boss once who was so awful to people – she’d criticise you in front of others, get really personal and talk about your personality rather than your behaviour and she seemed to get a kick out of belittling people. I don’t want to be like that.

‘I had another manager who would say pretty much anything to get the job done. He’d praise us one minute, tell us how amazing we were for working really long hours, then slam us for something that happened weeks ago. Despite me asking directly, he’d never give me any really useful constructive feedback that I could use in order to improve. He’d criticise us to other people rather than our faces: a bit of a backstabber.’

‘Have you ever had a manager whose style you really admired?’

‘Oh yes, my first manager was great. You could tell that he really cared about the team – as individuals, not just as a bunch of people who could make him look good – but he also didn’t let us get away with anything! So if he saw me doing something where he knew I wasn’t doing the best I could, he’d take me to one side and ask me what was going on. He was always direct but fair. I knew where I stood with him and trusted that he had my best interests at heart.’

‘Can I show you something from a book I read recently?’  I quickly sketched out a diagram I’ve reproduced for you below.

radical candour candor

‘So here on the x-axis, we have ‘challenge directly’ and on the y-axis, we have ‘care personally’. Where would you put yourself currently?’ 

‘Well, I really care but I’m not very challenging so I’d put myself up in the top left.’

‘In the book, that quadrant is called ‘Ruinous Empathy’ – what do you think of that?’

‘Sounds about right! The boss who was really aggressive was very challenging but didn’t care about us much at all – she’d be in the bottom right quarter.’

I wrote in that quadrant’s title: Obnoxious Aggression.

‘Perfect description! So the backstabbing boss – he didn’t really care about us, only whether we made him look good, and gossiped about us rather than challenge us directly on issues: does that put him in the bottom left?’

I wrote in the title for that quadrant: Manipulative Insincerity.

‘And my good boss – well, he cared a lot and challenged us directly so he must go in the top left. What’s that one called?’

‘It’s the title of the book – ‘Radical Candor’. How does that sound?’

‘You don’t hear many people use the word ‘candour’* these days, do you? I like it though – it sounds honest and sincere and frank. That makes it pretty radical, in my experience. If I can be radically candid with my team, I will be giving them straightforward feedback in a timely fashion in an appropriate setting. It will be fair and firm but delivered in a helpful and kind way. I’m going to use this diagram to help me stay in that quadrant and not drift towards the Ruinous Empathy again.’

As well as Kim Scott’s book, there is a wealth of resources on the Radical Candor site, including a talk she gave which takes you through the diagram I drew for Hannah.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: when you think of your relationships at work and outside work, in which quadrant do you spend most time?

Michelle

*UK spelling. I use the US spelling when referring to the book or the diagram as it’s a trademarked phrase. 

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

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

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Got to or get to? Change what you say to change what you think

A couple of weeks ago, I was just finishing a session with a client – let’s call him Richard – and I asked him what else he was doing for the remainder of the day.

‘I should write a business case for employing a new member of staff and then I’ve got to go to the gym on the way home,’ he sighed.

‘You don’t sound terribly enthusiastic.’

‘No. Don’t know why really. It’s great that my team is expanding and I actually enjoy the gym when I’m there – just thinking about it all seems a bit of an effort.’

‘Are you up for an experiment?’ I asked and he nodded. ‘Let’s reword that sentence, replacing the ‘should’ and the ‘got to’ with ‘get to’ – can you give it a go?’

Richard looked at me somewhat quizzically but replied, ‘okay, I get to write to a business case and I get to go to the gym on the way home.’

‘How does that feel now?’ 

‘Weirdly, that does actually make a difference. It kind of feels more positive – like a choice or an opportunity.’

‘Will you try doing that each time you find yourself saying ‘should’ or ‘must’ or ‘got to’?’

‘I guess I should!’ he laughed. ‘No, seriously, I will try it out.’

Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa

This technique can help you to reframe your thinking. Maybe you’re thinking of a situation where you can’t imagine replacing ‘I’ve got to’ with ‘I get to’ – what if you’ve got to have a difficult conversation with an employee about the end of a disciplinary process? ‘I get to fire someone’ isn’t a very appetising thought for an emotionally intelligent manager: however, if you’ve gone through that disciplinary process correctly and this is the only outcome, you do get to make that conversation as constructive and useful as possible, even though it may be a tough meeting.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: will you replace ‘got to’ with ‘get to’ and see if it changes how you think about your day?

Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

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

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Embracing Imposter Syndrome

Picture the scene – you’re in your smartest clothes, a portfolio of your work and a copy of your presentation in your bag and you’re waiting in reception to be called to your interview. The door opens, you see the interviewer walk towards you, hand outstretched and that little voice in your head says ‘What do you think you’re doing here? You’re never going to be right for this job.’

Maybe it’s your first time chairing the parent/teacher committee at your son’s school. The group has gathered, they are sitting around the table, looking at you expectantly and as you clear your throat to speak, your inner voice exclaims ‘You’re in charge? You’ve got to be kidding me! What do you know about running a meeting?’

Whether you call it your inner critic, a gremlin, or a saboteur, that nagging little voice in your head is Imposter Syndrome. (My own inner critic has just caused me to spend 5 minutes researching ‘impostor’ versus ‘imposter’ – it seems either is correct.) The syndrome is defined as:

‘the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.’

If you feel that Imposter Syndrome is raising its ugly head, you might be tempted to metaphorically shake it off and ignore it. My experience is that it will just come back again.

An online conversation I had this week reminded me that there’s one trick I’ve learnt to deal with my own particular Imposter Syndrome which I pass on to coaching clients and friends as the need arises and I’d like to share it with you.

Acknowledge it

Confront it with the truth

Thank it

If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), "Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?" chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.

Taking my first scenario as an example, let’s work through that:

Acknowledge it

‘I hear what you’re saying, Imposter Syndrome – you don’t think I’m up to this job.’

Confront it with the truth

‘However, if you take a look at the job ad and compare it with my CV, I think you’ll see that I have all the necessary skills and experience for this role. I have a great presentation to show them and a portfolio full of strong and relevant examples of previous work.’

Thank it

‘But thank you for giving me the opportunity to remind myself of all that just before I go in to the interview.’

I know that probably sounds rather a strange process but it’s tried and tested.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: is it time for you to have a chat with your Imposter Syndrome?

Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

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

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Building resilience on the foundations of past experience

A client of mine – let’s call her Josie –went through a very stressful situation at work last year. I don’t need to tell you what the situation is: I’m sure that just the words ‘very stressful situation’ will spark off a memory or an idea in your own mind.

Now you’ve got that experience in your mind, do you remember how you felt? Does it send a shiver down your spine or make you feel rather sick? Did the problematic situation spill over into other areas of your life? Were you fixated on it to the detriment of everything else?

Josie is a very ‘switched on’ self-aware individual. When I met up with her recently, she took out her notebook and turned to a page headed ‘What I learnt last year’.

She proceeded to take me through the points on her list, outlining both the negative and positive aspects of the situation. The positive aspects included the following:

I understand now that working in alignment with my values is more important to me than progression at any cost.

I can break down difficult situations into smaller chunks and just deal with them one at a time.

I feel better when I talk through my options and emotions with someone else rather than bottling them up.

I have learnt that I work best in a small team and am happiest when busy.

I have a family who support me, no matter what.

Through a difficult time, I have learnt that I am stronger and braver than I previously thought I was: I will use this knowledge to speak up earlier, should I ever be in a similar situation again.

Josie emphasised that she had found it difficult to notice these positives during the stressful experience – it was only a month or so after it concluded that she was able to reflect on it and record those feelings for future reference.

As Mr Rogers said:

In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.

I would add the words ‘and ourselves’ after ‘for each other’: we have as much to learn from hearing our own thoughts shared aloud as we do from hearing from another.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: is there a past event which you can learn from? As you reflect on it, what insights can help you in the future?

Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you would like someone to help you learn from the past and plan for the future, why not email me to see how we can work together?

 

 

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Want to be more productive? Journal in the margins

‘Being more productive’ is a goal for a lot of my coaching clients. Together, we may work through ‘don’t do lists‘, the Eisenhower matrix or talk about how journalling could help.

Sometimes, we need a different approach.

In a session last year, my client – let’s call him Steve – was talking about the incredibly busy time he was having at work: a period of intense activity which was likely to go on a few more weeks.

‘I work out my priorities for the following week on a Friday evening, schedule my tasks on the calendar, it all goes well for a while on Monday then somehow I just get off track. I couldn’t even really pinpoint what happens.’

Steve then just happened to glance at a book I had brought with me – my well-used and much annotated copy of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

Well-used book on personal effectiveness

‘That’s a lot of post-it notes!’ he laughed.

‘I know – every time I notice something I want to remember, I stick a note in so I can keep track of the information.’

Lightbulb moment! I could see an idea forming in Steve’s mind. He opened up his to do list on his laptop and added a column to the right.

‘Rather than look back on this list at the end of the day and try to remember what actually happened and make a few vague notes, I’m going to start writing notes in the margin on the go: at the end of each task, I’ll jot down my thoughts – how it’s gone, what needs to happen next, whose help do I need etc. I may not even need to journal at the end of the day: we’ll see how it goes.’

Steve’s marginal journalling reminded me of Tony Stubblebine‘s interstitial journalling. In an article on Medium, he writes:

We weren’t built for multi-tasking, so transitions between projects are very tough. We end up getting lost in procrastination. Even when we manage to transition quickly into our next project, our brain is still thinking about the last project. That means our second project suffers from partial attention. The science of multi-tasking says partial attention can mean a 40% or more reduction in cognitive performance. The Interstitial Journaling tactic solves all of these normal problems. It kills procrastination, empties our brain of the last project, and then gives us space to formulate an optimal strategy for our next project.

In a recent session with Steve, he reported that he has found his marginal journaling to be key to getting through busy periods. ‘A lot of the time, I stick to having a to do list first thing and then writing my journal at the end of the day: however, when things start to get more hectic, the marginal journalling is far more effective at helping me stay on track and to ensure I’m tackling particular tasks during the most appropriate part of my day.’

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: will you try marginal/interstitial journalling to see how it can help you be more productive?

Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

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

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The power of silence

‘You’ve talked about how your team feels about the change to your role, you’ve talked about your husband’s reaction, you’ve talked about how your closest peers at work have responded. I’m curious – how do you feel?’ I asked.

My client – let’s call her Emily – looked up at me then straight back down at the table. Slumping back in her chair, she continued to look down. Then she looked back up at me, her hands came up to her face and she sat with her head in her hands, her fingers screening her eyes.

It was clear that my question had had a profound impact. Part of me felt I wanted to reach in and offer Emily a hand to help her out of the question. A bigger part of me knew that doing so could ruin the moment, obscuring the very answer she was seeking.

We continued to sit there in silence. It felt like forever but was actually about two minutes. Then Emily sat up straight, looked up and began to talk.

That session was during my training back in 2008 and I have never forgotten the powerful impact of not rushing in to fill an awkward silence.

I have been reading Susan Scott’s book, Fierce Conversations, and principle seven is ‘let the silence do the heavy lifting.’ She lists some signs that silence may be needed:

  • Interrupting by talking over someone else
  • Formulating your own response while someone is talking
  • Responding quickly with little or no thought
  • Attempting to be clever, competent, impressive, charming and so on
  • Jumping in with advice before an issue has been clarified
  • Using a silence or break in the conversation to create a distraction by changing topics
  • Talking in circles, nothing new emerging
  • Monopolizing the airspace

Perhaps these remind you of people you know – or maybe they remind you of yourself.

Susan Scott takes pains to point out that there is such a thing as unhealthy silence – the passive-aggressive silence, the silence of indifference, the silence of refusal to engage. As in my session with Emily, she is talking about the kind of silence that allows us space to reflect and listen to our inner voice. It’s a silence which is respectful and attentive with the intention of allowing the other person to access their deeper thoughts and come to their own conclusion.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: is there a conversation in which you may benefit from letting silence do the heavy lifting? 

Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

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

 

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