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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.

Delegation – what gets in the way

What is it about delegation?

 


Delegation has so many benefits and is a vital part of effective working, so why do we have such trouble doing it?

I guess as humans we generally don’t like change. As your role or business changes, are you slow to adapt what you do? If your business has grown or you have been promoted, your role will become more strategic. You will be looking at planning for the future and working out how you will get there, as opposed to dealing with the day to day. But if you’re entrenched in the day to day, you will have little opportunity to stop and consider the future. The busier you get dealing with managing others and doing the day to day, the more difficult it will become to clearly set your direction. Work life balance goes out the window and it’s likely stress levels will mount. This is not the only disadvantage with failing to delegate. You might find it difficult to focus and productivity could fall.

Few people would think that this is a good way to work, so why do so many of us do it?

Why do we fail to delegate?

From coaching business leaders and senior people in organisations, the root of so many challenges is failure to delegate. But why don’t we delegate when the benefits are so clear?

Guilt

About asking others to do the things you are no longer doing. You want to be seen doing the day to day tasks so that the team feel you too get stuck in. But hang on, think back to when you had a manager – did you expect your manager to do everything? Or did it frustrate you when they didn’t delegate and insisted on getting involved in everything?

Fear of abandoning the team

“But if I don’t work with them, they will feel I have abandoned them.” So often the reasons why we do things is down to belief.  When I hear a statement like this, I ask if this statement is based on any evidence.  Most of the time, there is no reason to believe this.  If your team feels properly trained and supported, it is unlikely they will feel abandoned.

Fear of losing control

If you delegate, you won’t know exactly what’s going in every area of the business. It’s worth asking yourself  how much control you will have over the bigger picture and strategic aspects of the business if you don’t take time to focus. Which is more important for you to get involved in?

Belief it’s easier to do it yourself

In the short term, perhaps. It takes time to explain, to train, to ensure they’ve understood. But what happens in the longer term? Taking time in the short term to delegate will bring rewards in the longer term.

Lack of trust

Others wont do as good a job or won’t do it “like you do”. Ask yourself if this is true all the time? It is true that no-one else will do it exactly as you do.  But you may not actually be doing it effectively. Others may have better ideas of how to approach a task. Be open to how others work and see that you too can learn from them. It’s also important to ask yourself how it might feel for a team member to have a controlling boss? Will they feel trusted? If not, what sort of impact could this have?

Bad experience in the past

One difficult experience with a team member/ employee shapes all else. Have there been good experiences as well as bad? We tend to hold negative experiences in our minds for longer than good ones.  Try and shift the focus to the good experience. It might be helpful to ask yourself what you can learn from the bad experience and how you can move on.

Fear of not being needed

What will happen when you’ve delegated much of your work? Will you be a spare part? Will you go too far and delegate yourself out of a job? What is the true likelihood of this happening? Or is it more realistic to see that you will take on different responsibilities that are vital for your business or career development (as well as your sanity)?

Example

I was recently coaching the CEO of a charity. He was overwhelmed with work and stress. We started looking at why. He operated an “open door “ policy for staff which meant staff were free to walk into his office whenever they had a query or problem, or just for a chat. He did this because he wanted to be seen to be part of the team and be up for getting stuck in just like them.

I find it impossible to focus on the bigger more strategic tasks as I just don’t have the time and am constantly being interrupted.

He considered how he might reduce the interruptions.

I don’t want to discourage staff from sharing their problems with me, I want them to feel supported.

On further discussion, he came to realise that he feared not knowing every little detail of what was going on. There was a certain amount of fear of losing control.

To cut a long story short, he realised that this way of supporting others and getting so involved was affecting his work. He decided to speak to his staff and explain that he wanted to support them, but that he would make himself available for certain times of the day. He also discussed how some of the more experienced members of the team could be first points of contact if there were problems. He trialled this and found that staff were very happy to discuss problems with other members of the team before coming to him if something couldn’t be resolved (which was rare). The more experienced members of the team were actually pleased with the increased levels of trust he had shown in them. He found he was approached less frequently with queries and could focus on his own work, which reduced the stress levels considerably. He felt like his work was having more impact and this in turn helped him enjoy the work more.

Could you delegate more?

Ask yourself if you could delegate more? If the answer is yes, what can you start doing now that will set you in the right direction?

If you’d like to discuss coaching or delegation, please email me info@catrinmacdonnell.co.uk

Building Resilience Skills

 Resilience = the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties

When we face difficult situations, whether at home or at work, it’s useful to have a toolbox of strategies that we can turn to.  Resilience is something that we can get good at with practise, and by ensuring we use these tools regularly, we will notice that we can cope better when life throws a curveball.

Resilience skills are vital for building a sustainable workforce and business and  by learning tools to support you and your team, you can make an enormous difference.

Something for the  resilience toolbox

Reframing – how to do it.

Consider the problem or difficulty that you’re facing.

Put it into words – you might find it helps to write it down.

Imagine it as a picture with a frame around it.  The frame your have currently is one of problems, negativity, discomfort, worry even.

Now think about what other sort of frame it could have.

Can this problem be seen as an opportunity to learn? What will you learn as a result? If you feel this is a possibility, then you can change the frame to one of learning, opportunity, interest.  Now what does the problem look like?

Or perhaps the problem or difficulty could be seen from a different perspective. How might someone you rate or respect look at it? What would they say? Now you can imagine a new frame with their perspective around it.

What about replacing the negative frame with a positive one? How would that be? What would a positive you see in the picture?

By just shifting the way you look at or see a problem or challenge, you can transform your attitude.  As you get good at this, you will find that each problem becomes more manageable and you will find your resilience grows.

As a coach and trainer, I work with people to develop better resilience skills. I am a trained resilience practitionerGet in touch if you’d like to know 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?

 

 

Managing people

Strategies for managing people

The secret to getting better results out of others is about managing yourself better – and I realise this works in all aspects of life

A course participant left me this feedback recently after completing the “MANTRA – manage well” course.  It is such a perfect summary of what managing people is all about, that I now use it frequently to get across what we cover on the course.

Having coached so many people, from managers, business founders, directors and CEOs, one thing I heard more than anything was the frustration at the challenges they faced managing others. What I noticed over time, was that by working out how to best manage their own time, communication, workload and behaviour, they found managing others so much more straightforward.

This got me thinking that this knowledge needed to be shared, to make life easier (and more enjoyable) for others.  I gathered all the observations and learning I had from working with coaching clients and from my own experience of managing people, and designed a course which enables participants to be clear about what works for them and gain an awareness of how this can be used to successfully work with others.

There are many courses in delegation, time management, communication skills, planning, that are all helpful for honing management skills. But I saw that they just scratch the surface.  If the individual is feeling overwhelmed, stressed, unclear on aims, unable to prioritise, then no amount of time management tools will help.  It’s deeper than that, and yet simpler.

If we can find a way to be clear about what we want to achieve and be authentic and honest in delivering the message, priorities then become clear and engaging others to work with us less of a slog. If we can develop resilience and a positive mentality, the potentially stressful parts of managing become more manageable.

So before you look at how to manager others, ask yourself if there is any way you can improve the way you manage yourself.

Or ask about the “Mantra – managing well” course.

Managing others well - management training

“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.