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Are you a good listener?

Are you a good listener? Have you ever felt the frustration of not being listened to though? Perhaps the other person wasn’t paying full attention or maybe they cut you off mid flow, talked over you or rushed in to tell you their solution?

The skill of listening is so important, yet so underrated and often not performed well. There are many reasons why we don’t listen very well. In the cut and thrust of daily life, we might simply forget to show how much we care or to give one another the time and space that lead to better conversations. Or, when we’re under pressure to get through an epic ‘to do’ list, we immediately want to jump in and fix a problem and move on, rather than focusing on being a good listener and encouraging and supporting the other person to learn and grow by working through it themself.

Sometimes, we interrupt rather than listen because we want to be heard ourselves, to talk about when something similar happened to us or explore our own feelings, opinions and experiences. Interruptions are often made with the intention of giving good advice, but sometimes can leave the other person feeling disconnected, undervalued or that their views are not important. It’s good to talk. It’s even better to listen.

When working remotely we lack real-life connections, and feelings of uncertainty can raise anxiety levels. That’s why good listening skills are particularly important now. Making a deliberate point of finding space to really listen to colleagues, friends and family will make an impact on their health and wellbeing as well as their motivation and productivity at work.

Giving someone a safe space to talk and letting them know you’re listening with empathy and without judgment can allow them to let off steam, explore their feelings and make decisions about the best course of action.

We’ve been doing some work with the excellent Katie Colombus, assistant director of communications at Samaritans and author of ‘How to Listen’. 

Here’s three tips to focus your listening skills.

  1. You don’t have to fix things. Good listening isn’t about fixing someone’s problems or giving advice. You don’t need to make it better for the person; you just need to be there alongside them, to listen, and share the weight of what they’re telling you. A huge part of being a better listener is simply recognising that the person speaking doesn’t need any more from you than that. Just pay close attention and keep the conversation going, letting the person talk through all their options until there’s nothing left to say
  2. Hold back on giving advice. Don’t say things like ‘ perhaps you could…’, ‘have you tried…’ or ‘maybe you should…’. By trying to fix a problem rather than simply listening and accepting it for what it is, you might be inadvertently implying to that person that they can’t sort out their own issue for themselves. This can then feed into the already spiralling negative thought loop that they’re not good enough, lacking confidence or can’t cope. Jumping into solutions isn’t always helpful, particularly when there’s more going on for someone and it’s affecting their emotional wellbeing.
  3. It’s about them, not you. Hold back on telling your story of when you were in a similar situation. Listening isn’t about you. It’s about them. You might think you’re being helpful by showing empathy through sharing your similar experience, however if you do this, the person speaking is more likely to feel that you think your experience is more important than theirs which has the effect of feeling not listened to, disconnected or undervalued.

Thank you Katie Colombus for the inspiration and co-writing this blog. 

If you’d like to learn more about listening skills, join Lucy Gower and Katie Colombus, assistant director of communications at Samaritans and author of ‘How to Listen’ on 25 March at 12.30 for a Lucidity Network webinar on how to be a brilliant listener. Join live to ask your questions. Here’s your link to sign up. Hurry as places are limited. 

Five tips to help leaders manage uncertainty

Uncertainty is a natural and unavoidable part of life. None of us have a job for life, a guarantee of good health, or absolute certainty over what tomorrow will bring. As the pandemic has shown, life can change quickly and unpredictably.

The challenge is that human beings seek certainty. When we’re faced with uncertainty our brain believes our safety is threatened. This triggers a fight, flight or freeze response. When we’re in a fight, flight or freeze state our ability to make decisions, collaborate and solve problems is impaired. We want to feel safe and have a sense of control over our lives and our wellbeing. In an uncertain world, our need for certainty fuels worry and anxiety and makes the management of uncertainty for ourselves, and our organisations an important skill for all leaders.

Five tips to help you manage uncertainty

Accept uncertainty

Accept that you, your team, and your board crave certainty to feel safe. Do what you can help to create certainty. On a day-to-day basis have a structure and routine and encourage your team to do the same. For example, starting and finishing work at the same time, or having set tasks that you do at set times. Having team meetings, 1-2-1’s with colleagues and senior leadership at regular times, can create a sense of predictability that can help to counteract the stress of uncertainty. I wrote about this in my blog on tips for working from home. 

Look after your team and colleagues

We’re all feeling the strain of almost a year of a pandemic. Now is the time to nurture your team. Are they OK? Involve them in figuring out what they need. Teams that are doing well find ways to make time for informal chats, for example deliberately spending a few minutes checking in at the start of meetings, or start the Zoom call early so people chat while they’re making a cuppa like you might before a meeting in an office, or having a Slack channel just for social chat.

Assume virtual events

In an uncertain world we want to feel certain. In order to plan with certainty, assume everything will be virtual until there is a clear green light to do otherwise. Alongside your virtual event, prepare by developing plan B of what a socially distanced version of your event might look like and what would be required to run it.

If in doubt over communicate

The pandemic has affected everyone. When there’s uncertainty our brains fill in the gaps and assume the worst. So over communicate with your teams, supporters and customers, keep them informed of your challenges and give them an opportunity to be part of the solution. For example, many charities are communicating with their supporters differently and developing deeper relationships as they change their service offerings and fundraising to online. A great example of this is CHAS and the launch of the first virtual hospice at home.

Learn and develop

Spend time to evaluate your learning from the last year. What have you and the team learned? Be sure to capture both your successes and your failures. The world has changed and how we engage and communicate with all our audiences will too. We’ll certainly have face-to-face events again, and in addition, customers are more comfortable with technology. I predict a hybrid of face-to-face events with virtual elements. Invest time now developing those hybrid concepts and as we emerge from the pandemic be ahead of the curve.

If you’d like some support to lead your team, get in touch. I run a range of workshops to help teams manage uncertainty, learn from success and failure and stay connected and motivated.

A version of the blog was first published at The Access Group. 

Are you human at work – or do you leave your best bits at the door?

Being human seems like something that shouldn’t even be considered as something to work on. Surely it should just be a way of being that comes naturally?

Yet, so many of us feel that we need to be ‘professional’ at work to fit in or impress and as a result we leave emotions, empathy, vulnerability, self-awareness, passion – all the things that make us wonderfully unique – at the door when we come into work.

In a working world of increased automation, our human skills are more valuable now than ever before. Customers, supporters, clients and colleagues want to be able to interact with humans who speak their language and with whom they can connect. They want to deal with real people who are empathetic, honest and transparent.

To be human at work simply means using the skills that we are born with as human beings, the skills that set us apart from technology. These skills include creativity, innovation, collaboration, communication, vulnerability and empathy.

There are noticeable symptoms of not being human and not bringing your whole self to work. We can feel disconnected. We don’t share our interests with others around us, even the colleagues we work closely with and talk to every day. We don’t speak up or ask questions, feeling that we should remain quiet. All of this means we go through our working lives and don’t ever feel fully known. This can lead to feeling disengaged and unmotivated.

This distinction is even more important when working remotely. On the one hand working remotely has us allowed to be more human. We’ve had Zoom calls with children, pets and partners making unexpected appearances, we’ve nosed into colleagues houses and perhaps know more about each other’s lives now than when we worked in an office. On the other hand, when we’re not able to meet in real life we have had to be more deliberate at connecting with people, remembering to ask others how they are, waiting for the answer that comes after the initial standard response of ‘fine’ and allowing time and space for the water cooler conversations that are about more than work projects and deadlines.

‘Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.’  Harold Whitman

When we’re ourselves at work, we feel understood and known by our colleagues, and as a result we experience a greater connection at work. We no longer have to segment our lives between ‘professional self’ and ‘real self’, going through our working day with that uncomfortable feeling of holding something back. By bringing our whole selves to work and encouraging our colleagues to do the same, we can genuinely play to our strengths, make a greater impact and be happier and more fulfilled in the process.

If any of the above has struck a chord, here’s my three tips for being more human at work.

  1. Be Curious

Being interested in others, asking them about their interests, passions and past times, is a great way to signal that it’s OK to share more than just work-related chat. Make a point to get to know the people you work with. Encourage them to talk about their interests, passions and how they’re feeling. Understand what makes them human. Take time to listen to what’s important to them, as well as to understand their quirks and their dreams.

  1. Give yourself permission

It sounds simple but give yourself (and your colleagues) permission to be yourself. Encourage individuality. Help others drop the robot mindset by providing opportunities to integrate more of what makes them human into everything they do every day. For example, find out what people love doing outside of work. What skills and experience do they bring to problem solving? If John is a scuba diver what can he teach us about teamwork from working in a buddy pair, like divers do underwater?

  1. Identify what good looks like

If we’re not clear about expectations, it can knock our confidence and when this happens our true selves can feel diminished. Be sure to set expectations clearly – for yourself and for others. The Gallup Q12 employee engagement research shows that their number one predictor of performance is when an employee rates their response to ‘I know what is expected of me at work’. Your question here is ‘What does good look like here?’ This will always lead to a valuable conversation, increased clarity that you’re all working to the same end goal, and allow you to play to your strengths.

For the full training pack on how to be more human including a webinar with Samantha Woolvern and further resources join the Lucidity Network.  A place for curious humans who want to bring their whole brilliant selves to work. There’s more information on how to join us here.

Are you battling procrastination?

Procrastination is the act of unnecessarily postponing decisions or actions. For example, if you need to write a blog, but end up wasting time on the internet looking at cute guinea pig videos or checking your dog’s Instagram, even though you know your deadline is looming, it means that you’re procrastinating.

Have you ever put off doing something because it’s felt too difficult, too scary or too boring? Have you got things on your ‘to-do’ lists that have been moved to the following week every week for years? Have you ever done nothing because you simply don’t know what the best course of action was? That’s also procrastination.

We’ve all put off tasks until tomorrow, or next week or next month or never! Why do we put some things off, though? Putting things off can often make us feel guilty, anxious or regretful. We might miss opportunities for not taking action quickly enough, waste time fretting about what we haven’t done, feel unproductive and that we’re not making progress. In the worst cases of procrastination, we can even damage our financial prospects, our health and our relationships.

So what can we do about it?

To address your procrastination, you must first understand why you’re doing it in the first place. What’s stopping you?

If you’ve something that has appeared on your ‘to do’ list for more than 3 weeks in a row, it’s probably worth asking the question or discussing with a friend or colleague. ‘What’s stopping me getting this done – or even just getting started?’ Be honest. Sometimes it’s fear because you don’t know how to do something, or the stakes feel high if you fail, and sometimes it’s because the task you’re procrastinating about shouldn’t even be on the list in the first place and you can let it go. 

Research shows the most common reasons for procrastination are feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, perfectionism, fear of failure, lack of energy and motivation. Procrastination can also occur when the goals are too big to tackle, too far in the future or so abstract that we can’t connect to the benefits of them.

Eight tips to overcome procrastination

Minimise distractions

Serial procrastinators are great at using displacement activity to avoid facing the issue or activity they’re deferring. This is stuff that distracts the mind or offers some short-term contentment. Scrolling through social media, games, YouTube videos, television and radio all offer lots of little pieces of short-term distraction that prevent the subject of our procrastination from disturbing our thoughts. Assuming the ask is important, if we’re to deal successfully with the issue we need to shut off these distractions. Notice your ‘go to’ procrastination habits and do what you can to minimise them. For example, if you’re constantly checking your email, turn off your email notifications. If you pick your phone up every 30 seconds, move your phone to where you can’t easily reach it.

Get comfortable

Make sure you’re comfortable, not likely to be disturbed, and then sit down to think about the task at hand. For small short-term activities this may be enough in itself to quit procrastinating and get started. However, for other more long-term tasks it pays to think a bit more about why you’re deferring.

Are you busy?

Sometimes we wear ‘busy’ as a badge of honour. It’s a standard response when someone asks how you are. Are you genuinely too busy? If you’re too busy, then relook at your commitments, say no to some things or get help. These are difficult calls to make, but, if you’re really too busy, facing this head-on is far healthier than letting someone down later on, or even worse, compromising your own wellbeing. Friends and colleagues tend not to know if you’re struggling, and you need to let them know in order to give them the opportunity to step in and help. If when you really think about it, you’re not too busy, then it’s worth considering again why this important task is not rising to the top of your priority list.

Remember how you’d eat an elephant

Large tasks are prime candidates for procrastination as staring at a huge workload can feel like an insurmountable mountain. Milestones for large projects can often be months or years into the future, making them feel less important than they actually are. This makes it more important than ever to set milestones in the near future.

‘Slicing up the elephant’ is a project management term describing the technique of chopping up a large task into thin slices. The idea is that eating an elephant seems like an impossible, and perhaps gruesome, task, but given enough time, and thin enough slices, it becomes achievable. So for any large task, it’s always worthwhile taking some time to draw up a plan and chop up the task into manageable chunks – ideally with milestones less than 2 months into the future.

We don’t procrastinate about fun stuff, so make stuff fun

We tend not procrastinate about activities that we enjoy. You can use this to your advantage when planning by making sure you build activities you enjoy into the plan at intervals close enough that they feel achievable. This can be as simple as ‘I’ll have a cup of tea when I’ve finished the ironing’.

There is learning from any decision

There is a difference between choosing to do nothing and doing nothing because you’re putting off making a decision. For any problem there are many solutions. You can only make decisions about the best solution based on your best knowledge, research and judgement at that moment in time. There is learning from all the decisions we make.

Procrastination and creativity

When it comes to creativity, there is a case for procrastination. Research shows that boredom, doing nothing, slowing down, playing, idling, doing something other than concentrating on the problem you’re hoping to solve can be good for creativity. We’d still suggest you make the decision not to make a decision; that you decide to sleep on it, play, take the dog for a walk and switch off while your subconscious works on making creative connections. Deciding not to decide is different from feeling overwhelmed, fearful of failure or indecisive and just ending up not making any decision due to procrastination.

Just start

You’ve decided it’s important yet it’s still not happening. Just start. Set 5 minutes to make a start. Don’t overthink it. Just start. After 5 minutes you might choose to carry on. Or stop. Set 5 minutes tomorrow. And repeat.

Thank you to John Mitchell for your inspiration and expertise to write this blog . If you’ve enjoyed this taster on procrastination join us on Thursday 25 February for our Lucidity Network evening networking event in partnership with No9o5 – The Procrastination Game. More information and buy your ticket here.

No wonder working from home can feel stressful

2020 was series of unexpected events. Corona virus has had an impact on everything. Our health and stress levels, how we live and how we work. Many of us have had to change and adapt to a new way of living and it’s unlikely that we’ll return to ‘normal’ any time soon – if ever.

Months of adapting to change can take its toll. Many of the teams I’m working with are feeling exhausted, anxious and stressed out.

We’re all different and this sort of constant change and feelings of uncertainty affect us all in different ways. It’s true that we’re all in the same storm and yes, we’re all in very different boats.

Whatever boat you’re in, a useful tool is being able to spot your signs of stress early and then do something about them to stop stress escalating.

For me, I know that when I’m feeling stressed or under pressure I get clumsy, I’m irritable and I can’t concentrate or focus on anything.

You may experience physical signals, for example, headaches, feeling tired all the time, shallow breathing or the feeling that you’re not getting enough air.

What are your stress signals? What are the things that happen to you that signal ‘uh oh I’m getting stressed’?

When I used to say I was feeling stressed, sometimes people would helpfully suggest that I drink a glass of water or go for a walk round the block. It would really wind me up because having a drink or a walk felt like such an over simplified remedy for how I was feeling.

Then I did some research about what was happening in our bodies when we’re experiencing stress.

It turns out, that when we feel threatened, whether physically, for example feeling on edge walking down a dark street at night, or mentally, for example, threatened that our reputation is at risk if we don’t make a looming deadline our nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones. These hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol prepare the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, and speed up your reaction time, preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand. This was very useful for survival if we had to run from, or fight a wild animal. It’s less helpful if you need to think slowly and carefully about the best way to respond to a difficult email from a colleague or customer.

So when we notice early signs of stress, we need to act. We need to kerb the flood of hormones preparing us to fight or flee. This is about changing our state. Which is why, if you act as soon as you feel the stress rising by changing your state by doing something as simple as having a glass of water or having a chat with someone, it can help reduce feelings of stress.

Stress and working at home

So lets think about this stress response when you’re working in an office.

You’re already feeling the pressure of a deadline, the internet is running slow and everything is taking ages to download and then you get an annoying email from your boss. ‘Argh’, you think. Enough.

You decide that rather than fire back an immediate angry response to your boss, to get a cup of tea, and have a think before you reply. You get up and walk to the kitchen. On your way you pass Steve’s desk, you say hello and offer him a cup of tea while you’re making one for yourself. He says he’ll come with you because he needs to put his lunch in the microwave queue. So you go to the kitchen together and have a chat while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil. You head back to your desk feeling a whole lot better than when you left a few minutes before.

So without knowing it, your stress was rising and you stood up and changed your state, walked around and chatted with a colleague. By the time you’re back at your desk less than 10 minutes later your cortisol and adrenalin levels have reduced and you can think properly about how best to reply to the annoying email and get back to the pressing deadline.

In an office that’s how you reduce your stress and you often do it without even knowing it. When you’re at home on your own, you don’t have colleagues to chat to on the way to the kitchen, and so its easy for stress levels to escalate.

So when you’re working from home and managing your stress, it helps to be more deliberate then when you’re working in an office. Here’s our tips.

  1. Notice when your stress levels are rising – what are your early warning signs?
  2. Remember that your body is being flooded with cortisol and adrenaline and what you need to do is reduce the levels.
  3. You do this by changing your state which sounds complicated but the actions to do this are simple. We’re all different so you might need to experiment with what works best for you. Here’s some suggestions;
  • Stand up and stretch
  • Breath – slowly in and out for a few minutes
  • Get up and get a drink (preferably water, preferably not wine or gin)
  • Walk round the block
  • Walk round the lounge
  • Phone a friend
  • Water your plants
  • Make a fuss of the dog
  • Sing a song
  • Dance about

Let us know how you get on. And if you’d like more practical help to boost your resilience, confidence and creativity then join Charly White and me for a one day training on 9 February. More details and sign up here.