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Listen better to improve relationships

As an executive and business coach, I work with a broad range of clients, be they part of a large organisation or agile, ambitious start up, and everything in between. I constantly reflect on what value I might add. I realise now that one of the most valued services I offer is that of genuine listening and hearing what clients say. It seems simple and perhaps even obvious, but the more people I come across, the more I realise how few people there are that do genuinely listen and hear what you say. This lack of attentiveness creates a host of misunderstandings, lack of engagement and breakdown in relationships even, that could, I believe be avoided if we all learned to better listen and hear what is being said.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.  Stephen R Covey

When you genuinely listen to what someone has to say as opposed to waiting for a gap in conversation to get your point or response across, you will find that not only do you gain an insight into how they think, what drives them and what they want, but you will find that you can achieve a deeper level of communication and trust.

It is wiser to find out than to suppose.   Mark Twain

We make so many assumptions that can be damaging to business and relationships. So often, if we changed the way we communicate and listened to people in order to genuinely learn from them, we would make fewer assumptions and actually find out what is really going on. Imagine how much time this would save and how misunderstandings and conflict could be minimised.

Genuine listening builds better relationships

By not listening properly, we miss out on a great deal. We miss out on information to start with. We miss out on all sorts such as how people are feeling, what their mood is like, what their attitude is towards us, the business, others. These factors all enhance our knowledge of others and how we can better work and interact with them. By really listening, we can promote engagement and others feel that their words are worth something.

Make people feel valued

If we allow our own thoughts to elevate as others speak, we shouldn’t fool ourselves that they won’t pick up on this. Humans are very sensitive to how others behave and we all know what it’s like to speak to someone who is physically present but not hearing anything. Think of a time when this has happened to you. How did that make you feel? Perhaps you felt the other person showed a lack of respect, you may not have felt valued. It is highly likely that you went away thinking “well that was a waste of time, I’ll avoid approaching them again”. This sort of behaviour builds negativity and resentment which could potentially have been avoided.

What is your default when it comes to listening?

All behaviour change starts with actually realising where you are now. Then you can work out where you want to get to and how. What do you tend to do when in conversation?

Are you a broadcaster?You have an agenda, something to say and you want to get it out there and get on with it. How does the other person feel? Try considering things from their perspective and the benefits of a two way conversation.

Are you a mind racer?

Your focus is internal rather on the person speaking. How do they feel? What are you missing out on by not being present? How can you tame your thoughts and bring your attention to the speaker?

Are you a jumper to conclusions?

Do you listen to the first few sentences and then make up your mind regardless of what comes next? What sort of pattern will this create for you and your business? How can you let go of your assumptions?

Are you easily distracted?Whatever else is going on in the room or outside the window, that’s where your focus is. You might have your phone or laptop at hand and be glancing over at them. You leave conversations thinking you’ve heard it all, but will have missed so much. Ask yourself what you can do about this? Putting the device away would be a good start!

What can you do now?

Most of us can relate to some if not all of the above. Ask yourself what small change can you make to improve your listening. There will be something, no matter how small. None of us are perfect listeners all of the time. There are so many benefits to getting good at listening, why not start today and notice the positive changes that take place.

Did you know I run workshops on better listening? Get in touch to find out more.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

How would things be different without fear?

If you woke up tomorrow morning and no longer experienced fear, what would your life be like?

This isn’t about getting rid of the fears that protect us, like those that fear pain if we jump from a high wall and other fears that are in place to protect us.  I’m talking about those unreasonable fears that hold us back from doing all sorts of things in life and at work.

We all experience these fears in different ways and to a different extent. Some people are fearful of any type of change to the status quo, others happily take risks in business but fear addressing certain challenges due to a fear of confrontation.

Most would agree that many of our fears are not very helpful and life could be better and easier if we managed to successfully address them.

What would you do?

Here’s a simple technique for addressing fears that might be holding you back.

Write down a list of things that come to mind when you ask yourself this.

It might be “ask for a pay rise”,”negotiate better hours”, “change jobs”, “start a business”, “go travelling” etc.

Let’s take “ask for a pay rise” as an example.

  • Ask yourself “why don’t I ask for a pay rise?”
  • List the reasons.
  • Next to each reason, write what your biggest supporter would say. Eg, next to “I hate asking for money”, your biggest supporter might say “you have been working hard and taking on additional responsibilities, if you don’t ask, they may not consider a pay rise.  It’s worth asking”.
  • It’s likely one of the reasons will be “I’m afraid they’ll say no“. What might your biggest supporter say to this? It could be that they would say “and what if they say no?”
  • What would your response be to that? You will have your own personal reaction to this, but it could be “I will feel humiliated” (ask yourself why?), “It will be embarrassing” (why?), “they will think I’m money grabbing” (really?).
  • Keep asking the questions until you find that the idea of being afraid of asking for a pay rise seems like a distant memory and your thinking has changed to thinking it’s something that is worth doing, even with the potential risks involved (feeling embarrassed, humiliated etc).

So often we avoid doing things as we fear rejection or failure. We just accept it as part of life.  What I’d like you to realise is that each fear can be challenged, and often many of these fears are not founded on anything more than beliefs developed over time.

Why not try this out? What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

 

 

“We do not see things as they are….

….we see them as we are”

So much of my work as a coach comes back to this.  When clients struggle to understand the reaction of others, why relationships are difficult, why there might be disagreement at meetings, in teams. It’s so often because we are all seeings things differently.

The assumption that we all interpret things in a similar way is so mistaken.  Everything we hear, see, feel is affected by our thoughts, beliefs and values, which in turn have been created over many years of experience.  From childhood, learning from peers, adults, parents and teachers to adulthood where we surround ourselves much of the time by people who have similar beliefs, values and opinions to us.  We develop a view of the world which is very different to others’.

Our interpretation of events and conversations are so coloured by our own prejudices and bias that we very often will disregard hard facts if they don’t fit in with our own ideas and stories that we unconsciously tell ourselves.  Many studies have been carried out proving this; Claudia Cohen showed people a video of a woman speaking to her husband about her day at work.  Some were told she was a librarian, others were told she was a waitress.  Those who believed she was a waitress remembered facts consistent with her day job, and disregarded those facts that were inconsistent. The same happened for those that understood she was a librarian.  This shows us that we choose information that fits in with our expectations and assumptions, to the detriment of other facts that could perhaps be useful in giving us a clearer picture.

If we choose to do something, we can also choose to do something else. We can choose to question our tendency to see things as we are, and start looking a little further.

Through coaching, our perception of the world and of others can be challenged and we can find ways of being more open minded, which in turn opens the door to more opportunity and the possibility of doing things differently.  Giving people we might not have previously chosen an opportunity, overcoming our previous prejudice or beliefs has multiple benefits.  It is good for you, your work, those around you and the business.

 

For more information about coaching, email info@catrinmacdonnell.co.uk.

Are you listening?

Of course we’re listening!

But not always to what others are saying to us.  We’re very often listening to our own thoughts and just tuning in when a response is needed.

We’ve all experienced conversations, where we are talking and the other person nods or responds with an “uh huh” or “yup” occasionally (but not always in the right place) and their eyes are just not with us.  It’s pretty deflating to be talking to someone who’s so wrapped up in their thoughts or whatever they are doing. Especially if it’s a meeting where you’re agreeing to do something or make changes and you leave half heartedly, knowing that what they agreed upon is unlikely to happen. Or worse, if you get on and do what you agreed, they will question it at a later date, claiming to know nothing about it.

I’m not talking about having a conversation with someone who is clearly not listening as they are checking their emails or texts or browsing a news site.  Those situations are easy to spot and you know for a fact they’re not tuned in to what you’re saying. The ones that aren’t so clear as so much more of a frustration and challenge. When “the lights are one but there’s no one home”, or when you realise someone is physically present, but not taking in what’s being said, there is little point in continuing. So there goes a wasted conversation or meeting.  And it doesn’t make you feel great, either. It shows little regard for you and demonstrates the fact that you and your opinions are not valued.

Or does it?

Have you ever been stressed? Too much to do, not enough time.  Staff or colleagues asking constant questions. emails streaming in, meetings scheduled.  No time to actually follow up with actions. Perhaps something is going wrong and you’ve got lots on your mind.

Sound familiar?

When all this is going on, are you good at listening to others? I mean really listening.  Or does your mind wander off to attend to all the stressful and worrying stuff, meaning that you’re unable to hear anything that’s being said.  You’re just willing them to go away so you can get on with all the other things on your long list. It’s not actually that you don’t respect them or don’t value their opinions, it’s just that you can’t focus on what they’re saying because you have other things on your mind.

You will probably agree that such a meeting is not going to be productive.

If you’re in this situation, the first thing to do is ask yourself if you’re going to be able to find a way of focusing on what’s being said.  If this is impossible at that moment in time, don’t carry on with the meeting.  This is not always possible, so ask yourself what is important at that moment in time. Realise the impact you have on someone if you’re not listening to them. If you’re very busy, agree to a set length of meeting, agree to a clear purpose or aim and make a commitment to being completely present for them for this set time.  They deserve that much, surely? (You might find this article on sticking to the AIM useful).

By being clear about how long you’ve got and what exactly you will discuss, and by listening carefully, less time will be wasted and all parties will feel more valued and clearer about what they need to do.

See if you can be more aware about how well you listen to others notice the impact on your time and relationships when you are better tuned in.

If you’d like to know more about how working with a coach can increase self awareness or if you’re interested in training your staff to listen better, get in touch.

 

 

Case study: stress and impostor syndrome

Coaching a director exhausted by stress and anxiety

A high achieving director in a global business, Thomas had reached director level quickly and at a  young age. Often given additional responsibilities, sometimes transferred from other directors who weren’t coping well. He gave the impression that he was in control, able to take whatever was thrown at him and being up for a challenge. Speaking to others in the business, he was liked and seen as a bit of a ‘golden boy’. As part of a senior level coaching and training programme, Thomas was to take part in 6 coaching sessions.

To begin with, he was a little perplexed at the idea of coaching. “I don’t really need it”, he said. Thomas was interested in the concept, and so took part with enthusiasm. He immediately identified the fact that he was attempting to take on tasks that his teams and senior colleagues couldn’t or didn’t want to do, simply because he could, and that he often felt he would do it better. Soon he realised a need to spend more time on strategic planning for the longer term instead of short term reactive activities. He admitted to working 5 or 6 days a week until 10pm.

Impostor Syndrome

Thomas soon became aware of the fact that he was taking on far too many tasks for the fear of being thought of as ‘not coping’ or not being ‘up’ to his role.  He felt ashamed of not having formal high-level qualifications and thought that by behaving in this way, no-one would question his ability. The impact was increasing stress levels and anxiety.

I constantly feel that I will be ‘found out’ or thought to be a fraud. They might think I’m not capable or up to the job.

Although evidence suggested otherwise, Thomas felt he had to over deliver to win approval. I asked him if he had heard of Impostor Syndrome.  I briefly gave him some background. He was so relieved to hear that others suffered from similar feelings of being an ‘impostor’ and needing to overcompensate. He realised that he was not alone in feeling and behaving like this and was able quickly to convince himself that these thoughts were not useful to him or his employer. He felt more confident in his abilities and took on board strategies for changing his thought patterns so that he could carry out his job without the previous levels of anxiety. He delegated more (something which was welcomed by his team) and gave himself permission to be himself at senior meetings, speaking more freely now that the fear of being found out had largely disappeared. He focused more on strategic planning and found his region was able to reach more ambitious targets as a result. He was able to give himself a break and found he didn’t actually need to be working such long hours.

Conclusion of the coaching programme

This is clearly a very brief description of what was covered with Thomas to give you an idea of how debilitating our thought patterns can be.  I work with so many people who identify with Impostor Syndrome and once they learn about it, they feel they can notice and challenge these unhelpful thoughts. It is hugely liberating and whilst not always easy to rid oneself of self criticism entirely, just by beginning to notice the pattern, we can start to think more constructively and clearly.

Names and certain details are changed to respect anonymity.

To read more about Impostor Syndrome, please click here.

Thomas is not the client’s real name.

To discuss a coaching programme, please email me.

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Training as a Resilience Practitioner

Resilience is something that can be learnt

Learning how to be resilient is so important.  Whether at work or at home, we face all sorts of challenges that can get us down and make picking ourselves up again difficult.  The more techniques we have, the better chance we stand of being able to strengthen ourselves and face the world again.Coaching and training in resilience techniques

Stress, conflict, illness, lack of control. Factors that when we’re feeling resilient, don’t cause too much damage.  However, if we’re feeling less than, these factors can mean that we start missing work, getting down, losing direction.  Being able to call on techniques to build resilience mean that we can take the knocks and get back up again.

So many workplaces face problems with absenteeism and stress as we get so busy. Increasing numbers find it a challenge to manage the everyday knocks.  We start getting upset at the little things, experience difficulty with relationships and start feeling that we just can’t cope.  By spending some time learning about resilience techniques, we can find the inner strength to not let the small things get at us, and find ways of handling the bigger things with a healthier perspective.

I studied resilience techniques with the College of Wellbeing and am now a certified Resilience Practitioner. I have designed courses on resilience as well as included resilience techniques in my Managing Mantra course for confident managers. Everyone I work with as a coach and trainer, find that learning resilience techniques, and then putting them in to practise, is one of the most valuable aspects of coaching.  Once they are able to put these techniques into practise regularly, they find they can go on and share with colleagues, so that working together becomes so much more pleasurable and productive.

If you’d like to chat about coaching and training in resilience techniques, please get in touch.

 

 

 

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Coaching case studies: 1

Entrepreneur loses confidence as business is bought

Steve has enormous entrepreneurial talent and grew his first business quickly and successfully. His company was approached by a larger business who wanted to buy, and wanted him to stay on to run that part of the business.  As an entrepreneur, this was a whole different ball game.  Used to putting plans in action quickly, he found the structure of the larger firm stymied his creativity and he became frustrated.  He believed that he would be sidelined and would lose control.  He was aware that his way of communicating didn’t fit in with the new, larger organisation’s expectations. He contacted me and explained that he wanted to become regional managing director and not find his way out of a job, as he feared might happen.

The group CEO said that his people skills were lacking.  Steve is a strong analyst and quite an introvert, gaining people’s trust through delivering what he promises. He was given feedback from his senior management that he didn’t perform as they’d like in meetings and wasn’t an inspirational leader.  This all meant that Steve started to question his own ability and whether he had “lost his touch”. He became quiet and withdrawn in meetings as a result, feeling all eyes were on him, expecting him to be outgoing and charismatic, character traits that simply didn’t sit well with him.

During coaching, we discussed whether leaders had to be charismatic, extrovert performers to gain their team’s trust. If this was the case, then Steve felt he could not be authentic, could not be himself and would have to leave. He soon realised that there are many ways of leading and gaining trust, and that an introvert who communicated confidently but without the great performance, can also win over others.

It became clear that confidence is not necessarily being able to perform like an Oscar winning actor, but that it’s something that comes from within, a belief that what you stand for is genuine and valid, and that you will provide clarity and strategy quietly and calmly.

This took a little practise as his confidence has been knocked, but each time he used the techniques we discussed in our sessions, he took another step forward.  Even though the business has gone through some difficult times for various reasons, he has won his team over and is seeing his strategy play out as he wanted it to. He was made Managing Director and feels he has the influence he wants on how his business is shaped. He is confident that he has the right skills and self awareness now to manage his staff and communicate successfully with the board. The insights he has developed over the coaching sessions mean that he can gain a different perspective on why people do things, which enables him to feel less stressed and clearer about what he wants for the business.

Steve began with weekly coaching sessions two years ago, and now returns periodically when he has a big meeting or issue to resolve.

Any names or details that might identify clients are changed.

Questions about coaching

Coaching Q & A

You might have got as far as thinking that working with a coach could benefit you, and you might have started doing a bit of research.   There are many coaching services on offer and so many different titles, terms and descriptions, it’s easy to be confused about what might work for you.

Here are some, hopefully, useful answers that might guide you towards choosing the coach to work with.

Read more

Success makes us happy. Or does it?

Our outlook affects how we react to success.

Getting a better job, earning more money, going on luxury holidays, buying an expensive watch, getting the car you dreamt of. Generally associated with success, all these things can bring a feeling of happiness and satisfaction to many.
The slight problem is that once achieved, acquired or experienced, the novelty seems to wear off.  You got that job.  Some time later, it’s likely you’ll have your eyes on the next as this one isn’t all you imagined.  The brand new car? It’s not so new any more.  However your mood was before reaching your financial goal, it’s likely you’ll return to it.  This “hedonic treadmill” (read more here ) shows that whatever our disposition, whether veering towards positive or negative, we will eventually settle on it, no matter what went before.
So for those who tend towards a more negative way of thinking, any happiness they experience will dip back to their usual mindset.  This cycle, for many, is enormously frustrating.  Work hard to achieve something in the hope it will bring happiness, to later find your are back at square one.
In my experience, coaching many successful and driven people, if their innate tendency is to focus on negatives, they will only see fleeting glimpses of positivity. So success doesn’t make them happy. They just maintain their usual outlook. They tend to consult a coach when this has been going on for a while as having a negative focus can drain energy and make motivation a challenge.

Human beings have a natural bias for the negative

Research has shown that human beings have a natural tendency towards negativity.  Negative experiences stay with us longer, if we hear good news and bad news, we’re hard wired to remember the bad.  It’s known that we tend to learn faster from pain than pleasure and will identify sad faces quicker than happy ones.
According to scientific research, brain activity differs between those with a positive outlook and those on the negative spectrum.  It’s believed that we are born with this disposition – yes, some of us are born wide eyed, looking at the bright side, and others, seeking the risks and downsides.  Whilst risk analysis is immensely useful, living your life feeling things will never go your way is not easy.

I was born like this ….

“I was born like this” is a line I often hear when discussing how clients perceive events in a negative light.

So does that mean nothing can be done?

Read anything by Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi or Martin Seligman, forefathers of  positive psychology, and you’ll find that they think not.  Happiness can be achieved by changing one’s thinking.  By setting tasks that eventually become habits that bring a focus to the positive instead of the negative. You can train yourself to feel positive.
I absolutely agree with them.  I’ve seen it with many clients, who’ve chosen to step up to the challenge and re-programme themselves to adopt a more positive mindset.

I’m not pretending it’s easy to re-train a lifetime of negative bias. You have to want to do it, and will benefit from support.  But the benefits are that you’ll see things more clearly when it comes to life and work.  It’s likely you’ll feel energised and motivated.  This energy is contagious and many leaders find it has benefits across the whole business.
So does success make us happy? Not necessarily. It is more likely that happiness makes us successful.

If you’d like to know more about coaching for a more positive outlook, email info@catrinmacdonnell.co.uk.

First step to successful marketing

Marketing – just do it

Marketing is communicating the value of a product, service or brand to customers, for the purpose of promoting or selling that product, service, or brand.

Wikipedia definition

Wikipedia’s definition is nice and to the point.  It also leaves it open so that marketing can be relevant to all.  From large organisations to individuals, we are all in need of a bit of marketing. Many are timid when it comes to marketing – in a “who will want to know about me or my product” sort of way.  Others are positively disdainful in a “it’s all a bit sales-y and beneath me” sort of way. Read more