Blog (page 2)

Why are you not feeling elated?

The last year has been weird to say the least. The good news is that spring is nearly here, the UK vaccination programme is speeding along and there’s a four-step roadmap to see us out of lockdown.

So why are you not feeling elated?

It might be because the idea that everything will go back to how it was a year ago simply isn’t realistic.

We’ve all invested a lot of energy in adjusting to lockdown, and the life we are currently living has become normal. We’ve developed new routines, and new ways of operating. Many of us have adjusted to a different pace, as well as reflecting on priorities and what we want from life. Most of us are not leaving lockdown as the same person we were when we entered it.

We’ve changed.

Our physical world has got smaller. We’ve become accustomed to being socially distanced. We’ve learned to manage our expectations and emotions when it comes to what we’re not able to do, like travelling and seeing friends and family.

Yes it’s boring. But it also feels safe. And human beings like feeling safe.

So if your not feeling elated and the thought of or being back in the office with other people, or browsing in real shops, or travelling on buses and trains or having a drink in the pub doesn’t light you up then it’s OK – and perfectly normal.

From years of helping others to innovate, I know that change can often feel uncomfortable and sometimes even threatening. Leaving lockdown is a change. It will take time to adjust. No matter how exciting and hopeful, change can often come with a sense of apprehension. You might not feel ready to leap energetically into a social world after a year of being told that being social is not safe. We need to acknowledge that the messages about social distancing are now anchored quite deeply in our minds and that it could take time to build our social confidence again.

What you might want right now is an increased sense of safety, certainty and a rest – and that is perfectly normal.

If you’re not feeling elated and full of hope and optimism then that’s OK. If you’re feeling exhausted that’s OK too. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t worry about what you should be feeling and just accept how you are feeling and work with that.

Human beings like certainty. Whilst we can adapt, we feel more comfortable staying the same.  We’re more inclined to feel safe sticking to what we know than trying something new. And physically going to work, socialising with friends and family and being in environments with people we don’t know, right now, is something new.

Some tips for managing change (again)

How you’re feeling is how you’re feeling – It’s OK not to feel elated. Don’t put yourself under pressure or feel guilty. Accept how you’re feeling. Talk to friends and family about it. Take one day at a time. Write your thoughts down. Reflect.

Go at your own speed – we’re all different, whilst some people will be excited to go to parties on 21 June, others of us won’t. Do what feels right for you. Talk to your friends and family about where you are at. Follow your gut feeling.

Manage expectations – we’re not going to switch to ‘back to normal’. There is no back to normal. Life will evolve into a new post pandemic rhythm. Expect that it will take a bit of adjustment and time.

Practice socialising – it’s been a year since we socialised in groups. It might feel a bit odd. If the thought of meeting lots of people is causing you anxiety, start small and build your confidence.

Have routines – Humans are creatures of habit, which is why we can find change difficult. Routines can bring certainty when we are feeling uncertain and make us feel happier. Where you can, have a routine, for example getting up at the same time, having lunch at the same time and going to bed at the same time.

Talk about work – if you’re preparing to go back to work, talk with your manager and colleagues. Understand how each other are feeling and agree a phased approach to transition back to a post pandemic work life over an agreed period of time.

If you’d like some help managing change, check out Lucidity coaching, training and facilitation.

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Is lockdown making your creativity nosedive?

Do you feel like your creativity has taken a nosedive in the last year? Are you struggling to focus or getting ‘brain fog?’ Do you struggle to find inspiration or motivation?

I was thinking about this. If you’ve nodded to the above, it’s no wonder really. And don’t give yourself a hard time about it. Here’s why.

For the majority of people, we’re in the flow with our creative thinking when we’re relaxed. For example, I’ve asked 1,000s of people to tell me where they do their best creative thinking. They answer that it’s when they’re relaxed and not thinking about work, when they’re walking the dog, running, driving or in the shower.  Whilst a deadline might help some people focus, the majority of people think more creatively when stress and anxiety are low and when they’re doing something non work related.

Now lets think about our stress and anxiety levels over the last year. Broadly speaking would it be fair to say that they have been heightened these last few pandemic months?

Many of us are feeling isolated, and at the same time finding it difficult to disconnect work time from home time. Many employees and managers are fighting feelings of presenteeism as they adjust to flexible working. Working flexibly doesn’t mean being available from 9-5 yet many people feel they should be at their desk and available that whole time which can cause a huge amount of stress.

In addition to this, human beings crave certainty. It’s a basic survival instinct. When we don’t feel safe (like when we’re under stress) it triggers a threat response and our bodies are flooded with cortisol and adrenaline and we get ready to fight, flight or freeze. Our blood thickens and moves away from our prefrontal cortex (where we do our thinking which explains brain fog) to our vital organs. This was helpful when survival looked like running away from or fighting a wild animal, but less helpful in today’s working environment. It’s also exhausting.

It’s no wonder that our creativity is impacted by living in a higher than ‘normal’ state of stress and anxiety.

Where do good ideas come from?

According to Steven Johnson in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, creativity is making new connections by putting old ideas together in new ways. Therefore, to be creative, we must expand our portfolio of knowledge so we have more old ideas that we can put together when needed.

In order to have concepts to bring together we need a portfolio of resource, we need experiences, we need inspiration. Over the last year of lockdown and social distancing we’ve become increasingly more isolated more insular and as a result lacking new experiences and inspiration.

Consider the difference between working from home and working from an office. At home we get up we’re in the same space and we’ve got the same things around us.  We might doom scroll social media or watch TV or look at the news but the amount of new stimulus for our thinking is massively reduced than if we were leaving the building on a regular basis.

Remember back to the days of commuting. You leave your home and walk down the street, consciously and subconsciously you are taking in information.  You notice a new shop window display, read the headlines on the newspaper stand, notice somebody in a colourful hat that reminds you of the time you played ‘Guess Who?’. Your brain is gathering material to turn into connections for creativity.

It’s not just what you see either, you’re experiencing sensory overload, different smells, sounds and textures. Even by the time you arrive at work the amount of stimulus that you’ve opened your brain to is way more than perhaps the stimulus that some of us have had in the last year of working at home. If ideas are connections put together in different ways and the premise is that we need to have a portfolio of ideas and connections to go to for our creative thinking the pandemic has significantly inhibited our creative thinking portfolio.

How to give your creativity a boost

If stress and lack of variety are having an impact on your creativity then test out my tips below.

  • Pay more attention to and be more deliberate about lowering your stress levels. Look after yourself, eat healthily, get exercise and take regular breaks. When you are stressed or anxious it’s very difficult to think creatively.
  • Start to notice. For example, go for a walk and focus on noticing. I’m a big fan of the fake commute so when you’re going for your walk round the block notice your surroundings. Look for details. Are there plants growing out of cracks in the pavement, what is distinctive about the buildings you pass, or the cars that are parked on the street?
  • Decide to be curious. Play and experiment. Take the course that interests you, learn the instrument you’ve always wanted to play, read the book you never have time for. Can you ask more questions and set yourself a challenge to learn one new thing every day?
  • Talk to other people. Replace the water cooler chat where ideas are exchanged that’s missing when we work from home. Allocate time at the beginning and end of phone calls or Zoom chats for those random conversations about anything.  (That’s one of the reasons we organise random connections over at the Lucidity Network)

If you feel your creativity has taken a nosedive then come and join us over at the Lucidity Network. With regular training topics, group coaching and random connections it’s the place to get your creative mojo back.

Testimonial for the Lucidity Network

Thank you to Kate Sanders-Wilde and Tammy Palmer for your chat that inspired this blog.

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.