Are you all ears? How can you be a better listener?

Effective listening is essential to my work as a coach: I think it’s pretty key to my role as a wife, daughter, sister and friend too. I’m always on the look out (or should that be ‘I’m always listening out for’?) anything that can help me gain better listening skills and will help me pass on those skills to the people I coach or train.

In a recent session with Abi, she was telling me of her desire to make a success of her new role as a manager. I asked her to describe to me her best ever boss and this is the first thing she said:

‘When I needed to talk to him, he made me feel like I was a priority to him. If he hadn’t got time to listen to me properly right then, he would tell me and we’d arrange a time to talk when he could give me his full attention.’

When I heard that, I shared with Abi a quote I’d noted down once –

Being heard is so close to being loved that, for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.’ David Augsburger

‘That’s it,’ she smiled, ‘I wouldn’t go as far as to say that my boss loved me, but he certainly made me feel like I mattered to him and that made a huge difference.’

Abi decided that she wanted to focus the rest of her session on improving her listening skills and so I took her through the SIER formula (as described in Effective Listening: Key to Your Success by Barker, Steil & Watson).


Great listening is about more than just the words. What else is happening? Notice the body language, tone and volume of the speaker’s voice, their facial expressions, pauses, sighs etc.


When we listen, it’s essential that we ensure that we’ve understood and correctly interpreted the verbal and non-verbal elements of the conversation. The interpreting stage is all about summarising, checking, clarifying, and encouraging the speaker to elaborate further.


Effective listening means setting aside any tendency to jump to an immediate conclusion or be judgemental. Having the ability to hear the speaker out and then pausing to consider before offering your thoughts is key to the evaluating stage.


In most cases, the speaker has come to talk to you because they’re looking for something from you: advice, help, acknowledgement, or maybe validation. The final stage of the SIER formula is to respond appropriately.

Abi is now using the SIER formula with her team: when I last spoke to her, she mentioned that she’s also been using it at home and it’s helped her to be more present with her children after a busy day at work.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: would it make a difference to your colleagues, family and friends if you improved your listening skills? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like someone to listen to you and help you achieve the transformation you’re looking for, why not email me to see how we can work together?



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Seven ways to expand your mind

‘I’m so frustrated,’ groaned my client – let’s call him Andy, ‘I have never struggled to learn anything new before. I was one of those annoying kids who picked stuff up easily and was praised for being clever. I just can’t do this. It’s pointless.’

Andy’s reference to being quick to learn and praised for being clever rang a bell with me: it reminded me of Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset. In it, Dweck discusses the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. In a study with hundreds of students, half the group were praised for doing so well and told that they must be really smart; the others were praised for doing so well and that they must have worked really hard to do so. By doing so, the first group had been pushed into a fixed mindset; the second were in a growth mindset. What does that mean?

When then presented with a more challenging task at which they did less well, the first group felt that as they hadn’t done so well, maybe they weren’t so clever after all. The second group didn’t see doing less well as a failure, they viewed it as an indication they simply needed to put in more effort.

Andy was demonstrating a fixed mindset. When we talked about it some more, he disclosed that he tended to avoid activities which he didn’t feel certain he would do well at: he wanted to avoid failure. Resilience, avoiding perfectionism and fulfilment are three characteristics of a growth mindset: all areas which appealed to Andy so we came up with some ways in which he could open up his mind and I’ll share them with you here.

How to expand your mind through a growth mindset

1   Notice when you’re slipping into a fixed mindset

If you find that little voice in your head is saying ‘Are you sure you want to do this? You’ll look like an idiot if you muck it up’, you can be sure you’re moving into a fixed mindset.  Counteract it by talking back to it: ‘If I can’t do it first time, I’m not failing: I’m learning.’

2   Remind yourself of your purpose

Why are you taking on this challenge? Having a sense of perspective about how it fits into the bigger picture can help you stay focussed on acquiring the new skill or knowledge, even if it’s hard work. If you’re learning Spanish because your partner is Spanish and you want to be able to communicate better with his family, that will spur you on.

3   Value the process, not just the end result

Progress isn’t always speedy but that doesn’t mean it’s not progress. If you can do two more pull ups than you did last week, that’s great. Next week maybe you’ll do two more again.

4   View a setback for what it is – a blip, not a catastrophe

Sometimes learning isn’t straightforward and we struggle. Maybe we need to change the way we’re learning: if you’ve been doing online tutorials, perhaps it’s time to find someone who you can train with in person. Perhaps we need to change the environment in which we’re learning. Maybe nothing needs to change: we just need to dust ourselves off and start again the next day.

5   ‘Not yet’ is a useful phrase

When you’re asked if you’ve mastered the new software, rather than saying ‘no’, try saying ‘not yet.’ ‘No’ may make you feel like you’ve failed; ‘not yet’ says you’re on your way to mastery.

6   Don’t hide away from risk

Andy set himself a challenge to say ‘yes’ to opportunities he’d previously have avoided in case he couldn’t be certain of instant success. The more we try things we’re not certain we’ll be able to do immediately, the more we build up our resilience.

7   Remember our brains are plastic

Our brains continue to develop throughout our lives: learning new skills helps this. A growth mindset then will not only help our mental wellbeing, it can also contribute to our brain health.

Andy incorporated these seven points into his approach to acquiring new skills at work and when I saw him again a few months later, he told me how his growth mindset had led to him taking on some new challenges outside work too. Point one is key to Andy: noticing when he’s talking negatively to himself and dealing with that.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: do you have a growth mindset? 


PS I’m taking a screen break for a couple of weeks: I’ll be back on the blog on Friday 17 November.


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

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

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Why should we sweat the small stuff?

As you may have noticed, I like a motivational quote: in fact, I collect them. One very popular saying is Don’t sweat the small stuff. There are even books about how we can use this saying to help us live a simpler and more enjoyable life.

I mentioned recently that I’d been reading Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth and how it has challenged my thinking. Chapter four of this excellent book is entitled Sweat the Small Stuff: Hadfield tells us that ‘an astronaut who doesn’t sweat the small stuff is a dead astronaut’ and recounts how paying attention to the tiniest of details has made a huge difference to his life and career. He talks of how rehearsing procedures time and time again helps him and the team surrounding him to pinpoint areas of concern, address errors and create procedures to help others in similar situations.

As a coach, sometimes I help my clients to sweat the small stuff. With Helen, we worked on every aspect of her forthcoming conference speech to help dispel her anxiety. We visited the venue so she could familiarise herself with the back stage area, the equipment and she even stood on the stage so that she knew what she’d be looking out at when she gave her speech.

With Mark, we went back over every detail of a situation at work that had gone wrong, picking apart the evidence so that he could formulate a plan that meant such an issue would be far less likely to occur again.

With Lisa, a new manager, we put ourselves in the shoes of a new recruit so that we could imagine everything we’d want to know in our first days, weeks and months in the workplace so that she could create an induction plan to ease the integration of her new hires into the business.

As Chris Hadfield says, ‘When we got back to Earth, a lot of people asked whether everything had gone the way we’d planned. The truth is that nothing went as we’d planned, but everything was within the scope of what we’d prepared for.’

“When we got back to Earth, a lot of people asked whether everything had gone the way we’d planned. The truth is that nothing went as we’d planned, but everything was within the scope of what we’d prepared for.” Chris Hadfield astronaut sweat the small stuff

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: is there a situation at work (or at home) which would benefit from you taking some time to sweat the small stuff? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

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

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How to get over ‘last time’

Have you ever been in a situation where you have to repeat an action which went badly the last time you did it? I hear people say things like

‘The last time I contributed to a team project, my ideas were overlooked.’

‘The last time I said how I really feel in my appraisal, my boss didn’t listen.’

”The last time I went to an interview, I was so nervous I went completely blank.’

The last time I had to discipline a team member, she burst into tears.’

All those ‘last times’ can shatter our confidence. We all know the adage ‘if you fall off a horse, get straight back on’ but it’s not always that simple. Our concerns about ‘last time’ can make it very hard for us to get to ‘next tim.

If you’re a manager with a team member who’s hung up on ‘last time’, how can you help them? These situations happen outside the workplace too: how can you help a friend or family member who’s consumed with anxiety about ‘next time’?

Here are some ideas taken from a recent session with my client, James, who has had to handle the impact of ‘last time’ with one of his team members.

Establish what actually happened

Was it really a disaster? If so, then that needs to be acknowledged: brushing it under the carpet won’t help anyone. If the evidence and the feedback suggests they might be over-reacting, you can use that to help them see the event for what it actually was.

Get forensic

Go through the ‘last time’ step by step, looking for clues as to what when wrong when. Sometimes, there is just one factor which set off a chain of events. Are there any patterns to identify? In James’ case, his team member noticed that she finds setting up the technology for her presentations really stressful and then she’s on edge before she even begins.

What’s changed?

Whilst we may have to do the same thing again and again – make a presentation, discipline a team member, write a board report – those situations are never identical. The people change, the venues change, the subject matter changes, we ourselves change: ‘next time’ is not going to be the same as ‘last time’ so we can influence the outcome.

Make a plan

Having identified what actually happened, any contributory factors and what’s changed, the final stage is to make a plan.

James helped his team member to identify simple ways in which she could handle her fear of setting up her presentation and create a back-up plan in case technology let her down. This came in very handy when she went to her next presentation and the power failed halfway through!

past future influence adapt

Whilst we cannot change the past, we can influence the future.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: is ‘last time’ getting in the way of ‘next time’?



Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

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

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Surviving or thriving?

Whilst discussing the definition of success with a client recently, she said to me ‘I’m surviving but I’m not really thriving.’

As part of Claire’s session, we did some research into ‘thriving’. In her book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier LifeArianna Huffington says

‘To live the lives we truly want and deserve, and not just the lives we settle for, we need a Third Metric, a third measure of success that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power, and consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.’

Much as I respect Arianna Huffington, I was pleased to find some scientific research to back this up.

Last month, Daniel J. Brown, Rachel Arnold, David Fletcher, and Martyn Standage published a paper on Human Thriving. It lists many definitions of thriving – the one which struck me was this one:

‘The state of positive functioning at its fullest range – mentally, physically, and socially’

If Claire wants to function at our fullest range, how can she do so?

Dr Brown and his colleagues identified that those who thrive demonstrate some or all of the following characteristics:

  • Positive perspective
  • Spirituality
  • Proactive personality
  • Motivation
  • Commitment to knowledge and learning
  • Psychological resilience (flexibility, adaptability)
  • Social competencies

They also identified environmental factors which create conditions conducive to thriving. They include:

  • A positively challenging, stable environment which provides opportunity for growth
  • Strong interpersonal relationships based on trust, both at work and outside
  • Family support
  • Colleague/employer support where the individual is given autonomy and recognition

Claire and I worked through the first list so that she could assess herself against each of the characteristics. We recognised that the environmental factors were not entirely within Claire’s control but that she had the opportunity to influence them: eg, she cannot ensure that the organisation for which she works is a stable environment but as a manager, she can work to provide a calm space for her team.

maya angelou thrive compassion passion humour and style

‘My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour and some style.’

Our final task was for Claire to develop her own plan to thrive, taking into account Arianna Huffington’s four pillars and Maya Angelou’s thoughts on incorporating passion, compassion, humour and style.

Today’s pebble for you to consider: are you thriving? How would you score yourself against Dr Brown’s characteristics and environmental factors? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

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

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How do you define success?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘success’ thus:

  1. The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
  2. The attainment of fame, wealth, or social status.
  3. A person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains fame, wealth, etc.

The media certainly suggests to us that fame, wealth and social status are measures of success. Sometimes, that belief becomes so ingrained in us that we assess our own success in comparison to others: checking out the cars in the car park when you arrive for a school reunion; scrolling through your Instagram feed each morning to see other people’s wonderful homes/holidays/weddings; inwardly groaning when we see yet another LinkedIn ‘congratulate so-and-so on the amazing new job you’d have been perfect for’ notification.

Whilst we may think it should be otherwise, we can all think of examples where success doesn’t always equal happiness.

Google ‘how to be a success’ and at time of writing this, there are over 538 million results. That doesn’t mean that there are 538 million definitions of success but it does mean that there are a heck of a lot.

As a coach, it seems to me that there is only one definition of success which truly matters: our own.

Some clients define success in terms of their work achievements; some in terms of their personal growth, be that in a academic sense or in something less tangible; for some, it’s about progression; for others, it’s about life outside work. Some clients measure their success in terms of their contribution, whether that’s in a business sense or a wider forum. For some clients, a successful life is when they are living in accordance with their values: if you are unsure what your values are, check out ‘Our values make us different‘.

Maya Angelou sums it up rather nicely for me:

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: do you have your own definition of success? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

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

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What’s the story you’re telling yourself?

It’s been a week of story-telling. In two client coaching sessions and during one conversation with a friend, I have found myself asking them to describe to me the story they are telling themselves.

One of them was telling himself that he was a rubbish dad.

One of them was telling herself that she would never progress at work because her boss had brought someone new into the team who he used to work with elsewhere and clearly preferred to anyone else.

One of them was telling himself that since he’d been promoted, he’d added no value whatsoever to his team.

In her book Rising Strong, Brené Brown talks about this story-telling. She says:

‘Storytelling helps us all impose order on chaos—including emotional chaos. When we’re in pain, we create a narrative to help us make sense of it. This story doesn’t have to be based on any real information.’

When we feel defensive or vulnerable or disappointed, it’s easy to create a story which deflects us from the real issue but it leaves us stuck. Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability showed her that those people who demonstrate resilience and can overcome setbacks have developed the ability to challenge the stories they tell themselves.

How can we challenge our stories?

So how can I help my clients to unpick their usual narrative and move on? Rising Strong has given me a process I can use with clients:

Acknowledge feelings

Emily’s story was that her boss was favouring his new recruit over her and so she’d never be able to make progress at work. I asked her to tell me about what she was experiencing in that moment.

‘We were in a meeting, I’d almost finished my presentation and was pretty chuffed with how it was going. I looked up to see my boss lean over and say something quietly to the new guy and they both then laughed. Typical – it’s like an ‘Old Boys Club’ with those two. It’s really sickening. I lost my place, stumbled over my words, felt myself get really hot, knew I was blushing, and then my heart started to race.

‘Every time I think about that meeting now, I remember how stupid I felt and I get angry. I only have to look at my boss and I can feel myself heating up and getting irritated.’

Get curious

Having acknowledged Emily’s feelings, it was time for her to examine them further.

How come this incident upset her so much? Would she have reacted in the same way if it had been any other colleagues? What was fuelling the constant replaying of this event? What impact were these feelings having on her work and her relationships?

This stage of the process can be uncomfortable as we move from the top level emotions – ‘I’m angry because they were obviously laughing at me and it’s so rude’ – to some deeper-seated feelings – ‘I feel insecure about my place in the team and the business: I’m not really sure where I’m going with this role but I can’t afford to lose my job’.

Put it in writing

One of the powerful aspects of a coaching session is to get your thoughts out of your head and speak them aloud. Sometimes the next stage is to write those words down and see them in black and white and that’s what we do here. Your story needs to come straight from the heart – editing it to make it sound better isn’t going to help here.

Emily wrote:

‘The story I’m telling myself is that my boss hates me. He’s brought in John from his old company because he doesn’t value any of us. I feel sidelined, overlooked, mocked and humiliated. It makes me so cross!’

Get ready to rumble

This is Brown’s way of telling us it’s time to dig a little deeper and she offers the following questions: beneath each are Emily’s answers

What are the facts, and what are my assumptions?

‘In terms of the meeting, I’m assuming it was something that I said that my boss and John were laughing about but I actually have no idea. Maybe it reminded them of something that had happened at their previous company, maybe it was something else entirely: I just don’t know.

‘It’s a fact that my boss brought John in because he clearly thinks he can contribute to the team. I’m assuming that therefore my boss thinks the rest of us are rubbish.’

What do I need to know about the others involved?

‘Perhaps John does have something to add that I’m not taking advantage of. Maybe our team is a bit too tight-knit and we haven’t made him feel welcome so my boss is having to go the extra mile to make him feel included. Maybe my boss is trying to make our team even better by bringing in someone with a different skillset.’

What am I really feeling? What part did I play?

‘For a while now, I’ve been feeling that I’ve stagnated at work. I’m scared to say I’m bored or that I need a new challenge as that might put my name at the head of a redundancy list if that ever happens. If I really want to make progress, I need to sit down and have an open conversation with my boss about next steps.’

Wherever you are, if you notice that you are experiencing negative emotions, asking yourself ‘what’s the story I’m telling myself?’ can help you unpick the issue. Sometimes, it can even be helpful to use the phrase in conversation to let people know how you feel without assigning blame to them.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts is this: what’s the story you’re telling yourself? Is it based on facts or assumptions?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

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

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