On a train journey yesterday packed with people coming home from London laden down with bags of Christmas stuff I started thinking about the three wise men (as you do!) and their choice of gifts for the infant Jesus.
Gold, frankincense and myrrh were obviously hugely symbolic and were meant to reflect what lay ahead. I considered the Fisher Price Kicking Piano Gym under the Christmas tree at home – a present for Eleanor, my first and very new grandchild – and thought that whilst she would no doubt enjoy it in time, it wasn’t very lasting or meaningful!
What then could the 21st century wise men bring to set someone up for their journey through life (please pardon the portentous thoughts but I was on the way home from our office Christmas lunch!).
I settled on four things – Confidence, Optimism, Humility and Curiosity – none of which are available on Amazon but in fact all of which are potentially within our own gift to ourselves.
Confidence to try things and to share your views on the experience, confidence to be yourself even when it might be at odds with the ‘norm’. - but always stopping short of arrogance.
Optimism to help you reframe the negative or the unhelpful into something more positive. Steering clear of naiveté and foolhardiness but retaining a spark of hope and ‘let’s give it a go’!
Humility as we all need to recognise our faults and limitations – not the hand wringing obsequiousness of Uriah Heap but a realistic and powerful acceptance of when we are wrong and the grace to admit it.
Curiosity about stuff but without judgement - Why things happen, how could I do it differently, what is that about, I wonder if that might work…………
Unfortunately it is not within our gift to bestow any of these on the people around us but we can demonstrate them ourselves and by so doing encourage and support others to do the same.
Have a great Christmas everyone.
Did you know that much of what you communicate about yourself has nothing to do with what you say?
Long before we open our mouths to speak, our clothes, body language, location, positioning and facial expressions have shouted volumes to those who observe us, creating an image in their mind. If this image is at odds with what we are saying, others may be confused and our message is undermined.
So, our carefully crafted presentation, astute comments and lofty insights are all fighting for attention with the physical signals that we are giving out loud, clear and often inadvertently.
Research shows that we tend to like the people we see as being genuine more than those that come across as inauthentic. If you have ever wondered how is it that some people are remembered, listened to and given opportunities when others seem to have to work so much harder to make productive connections, then here is your answer: authenticity.
Do you want your audience to understand that you have prepared thoroughly for this meeting and that the outcome is important to you? Then consider dressing more smartly than usual to demonstrate the point. If you are aiming to show your concern for the issues a customer is experiencing with your delivery team, then now might not be the best time to crack a joke, even if it is only to cover your nervousness. If you suspect that your colleague has a problem and want to encourage them to open up to you so you can help, a snatched five minutes chat in the corridor probably isn’t going to do it; you’ll need to show that you are willing to make time to listen to them.
When we learn to be aware of how others see us, we will be able to align our behaviours and our image with what it is that we stand for as individuals, and so present a more authentic version ourselves to the world around us. That we way, we’ll build more productive relationships and get more done.
The term ‘office politics’ is often used in a negative context. It is seen as being a little shady, or even scary; something to be avoided wherever possible.
And that is a shame because office politics is really just another name for the way we relate to each other at work. We are all involved in the politics of our work place and, contrary to popular opinion, I think that is a good thing.
Unless there is a particularly toxic culture in your professional environment (in which case you should go find yourself another job) politics is the way things get done. It is just another name for the interaction, co-operation and mutual dependence of organisational life. It is how we relate to each other, show what we are about, make productive connections, co-operate and collaborate.
Navigating office politics successfully is simply about using our influencing skills to make authentic work-place friendships and build our profile in the professional environment. There is no need to seek to avoid it; in fact we should embrace it as having a critical role to play in our own success and that of others.
We are all here to make a contribution, to share, guide, learn from and inspire each other. If you opt out of what you see as office politics you may be putting your relationships and your sphere of influence at risk.
What do you want to achieve today? Or this week? Or by the end of your current project? Whatever the timescale of your ambition, are your goals clear to yourself and those around you?
The chances are that, whatever it is you are working towards, you’ll need the backing of others to achieve it. At work, and in other areas of our lives too, we often need to influence others in order to get them on board with our ideas.
But there is a fine line between effective, positive influencing and cynical manipulation of others for your own ends. How do you know where one starts and other ends?
The difference lies in our motivation for seeking support. Effective influencers engender trust in others by being open about their motivation. They are clear about what it is they are trying to achieve, and why. They are seen as authentic because they have consistent values, respect for others and offer fair exchange for mutual benefit.
However tempting it might sometimes be to show up a colleague, or to win the argument for its own sake, these are not great reasons to try to exert influence. Such action is likely to damage our relationships and reputation in the long term.
If we allow personal feelings and hidden agendas to affect our behaviour at work, we risk loosing our right to influence others. We may win the argument today, but, whatever game we are in, we are unlikely to be a successful player in the long run.
What do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you see yourself as others see you?
Psychologists tell us that it takes just seven seconds to form an impression of someone based on their looks, facial expression and body language. Even with people we have met before, the strength of the external signals we give to others in the way we present ourselves often eclipses the subtleties we imagine for ourselves.
OK, so you don’t need me to remind you to present yourself in a smart and professional manner. But good impressions are not just about your well-chosen outfit or new hairstyle. When you look in the mirror, are you aware of how your behaviours come across to others?
“John had never had to negotiate a contract at this level before and he was feeling nervous about the meeting. He’d been told how important it was to secure a good margin. Wanting to sound more confident than he felt, he decided to cut to the chase, loudly and proudly proclaiming the quality of the service his company would provide and demanding top rates.”
Looking in from the outside it is easy to see that John’s behaviour might come across to others as pushy or aggressive. The impression he is giving is not likely to help him with any long-term relationship he might be hoping to build.
Just like John, we all have our vulnerabilities. Particularly when we are lacking in confidence or when there is a lot at stake, there is a natural tendency to overcompensate for what we are feeling on the inside through the way we present ourselves on the outside. As a result, others may make less favourable judgements about us. What is more, in my experience, when such behaviours go unchecked they can become a self-protecting habit that shields us from our feelings and can limits our performance for the long term.
So try this: Next time you are preparing to head into a situation that is outside your comfort zone, take a minute to think through how you would like to be perceived by others. When you look in the mirror, remember, that all-important first impression isn’t just about the suit, and don’t allow you unwitting behaviours to affect your performance.
Are you hoping to receive a card from your loved-one on Feb 14th?
We all need confirmation that we are loved and appreciated by those around us, not just from our lover on Valentine’s Day, but throughout our relationships at home and at work.
Self-awareness is essential to our professional and personal development and yet we all struggle to be objective when it comes to our own personality. While true love may be blind to our faults and foibles, the chances are that our friends and colleagues are not quite so accepting.
Do you ever wonder how people refer to you when you are not around? Do you know if your own view of your strengths and the challenges you face matches the way others see you? Perhaps Valentine’s Day is a good time to find out. Ask them!
Go gently here; this is tricky territory. Feedback from friends, family or from the people we work with is not always easy to hear. People close to you might be critical of something you thought you were doing well, or ask you to do more of something you find difficult. They will applaud your strengths but they will also point out your flaws. And that is exactly the point because it is by becoming aware of these ‘blind spots’ that we grow our self-awareness.
So try this: Choose an appropriate moment to ask friends or colleagues for feedback. Ask them to be truthful and focus on the future (what could I do better?) rather than the past (what did I do wrong?). Avoid the temptation to defend against what you might see as criticism by justifying your own behaviour but do ask them to clarify and expand on what they have said with specific examples to make sure you have understood. Write it down so you can reflect on it later.
A declaration of true love is a wonderful thing. Honest feed back from people we know and trust is also valuable because it helps us to see ourselves more clearly and to build closer, more productive relationships in the long term.
It is not easy to get a sense of perspective on our own thoughts and feelings when it is all going on around us. Our brains are wired to be able to operate on autopilot, so that our patterns of behaviour soon become habitual. We think, feel and do things the way we do, just because we do.
That is why one of my New Year resolutions for 2016 is to keep a journal. Not a full-blown daily diary recording of action and reaction but more of an occasional charting of life’s journey. I done it before and found it beneficial in all sorts of ways but have fallen out of the habit in recent years. This New Year I have been inspired by a quote from the American philosopher John Dewey:
“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”
Reflection is the process through which we take a step back from our busy lives to review what has happened to us over the day, week or month, how we felt about our experiences and what our thoughts were at the time.
With practice, the art of reflection helps us towards deeper self-awareness by gaining perspective on our own thoughts and feelings. Keeping a journal is one way of doing this. It provides a ready channel for reflection and, I am hoping, will help me develop the habit of thinking more objectively about my own emotions.
So try this: Use a diary to reflect on your thoughts and emotions. Record events that are significant to you and make a note of your thoughts and feelings.
The more honest you are with yourself, the more you’ll gain from this exercise. After just a few weeks, patterns will start to emerge and you’ll be able to see yourself and your emotional habits a little more clearly.
Picture the scene: It is just gone 9am and all the team is gathered for the weekly meeting. All except John, that is, who is late yet again! For the third time in a row! Joan can’t believe it. She can’t stand lateness; who does he think he is to keep everyone waiting like this? Her irritation rises and when John finally scuttles into the room she is on the verge of telling him exactly what she thinks…
Not likely to end well, is it? Looking in from the outside it is easy to see that allowing ourselves to be driven by our emotions doesn’t usually lead to the most positive outcomes.
The trouble is that when we are in the midst of life and things are happening around us our natural instinct is to react. Especially if the situation is one that evokes strong feelings in us or we feel under pressure from others, we don’t always stop to consider the bigger picture.
Perhaps it is perfectly reasonable for Joan to be angry with a team member who is showing such inconsiderate behaviour towards his colleagues. But she has some choices in the way she handles the situation. If her anger sets an uncomfortable tone for the whole meeting then maybe, for the greater good of the team and its work, it would better to save her comments for later and have a quiet word with John afterwards. Maybe he has a good reason for being late which he’d rather not share with everyone. Perhaps he is struggling to cope and could do with Joan’s support, not her anger.
I am reminded of the old saying: “Think twice and count to ten before your act.” It is not a bad habit to get into if it helps us to slow down, step back and gain a wider perspective.
So try this. When something happens that upsets you or makes you irritated or angry, try to see the bigger picture before you react. Think about the outcome you would like to achieve in the long run and choose your response accordingly. Bear in mind that even a short emotional outburst can have long-term consequences for your relationships with others.
Over time I think you will discover that things tend to turn out better when we take the long view rather than always reacting to what is directly in front of us.
As we see the end of 2015, I wonder if you have achieved all the goals and resolutions that you set for yourself at the start of the year? If you have, then well done you! Onwards and upwards to 2016!
But my guess is that a lot of people reading this would admit that they don’t always manage to realise their aspirations. If that is you, do you know why? Could it be that your own unhelpful thinking habits are stopping you achieving all that you are capable of?
The way we think drives our feelings and our behaviours. Whether we are aware of it or not, we all have well established thought processes that are fundamental to our success in achieving our aims at work and in life.
Are you one of those people who always assumes that you are at fault when things go wrong? Do you often think you ‘know’ what others feel about you without having to ask? Maybe you have a tendency to hear only the good things about yourself and ignore negative feedback or vice versa. These are all unhelpful habits that affect our behaviour and serve to limit our potential.
Learning to think about our thinking is a powerful step on the journey to greater self-awareness. It allows us an opportunity to swap unhelpful habits for a more positive approach; one that will help us achieve our aspirations rather than holding us back.
So try this. Start to take notice of your own thought patterns. Do you give yourself unrealistic expectations or minimise your own achievements? Try to step back from your instinctive reactions and consider alternative perspectives. Could you replace a negative label with something more factual? What happens when you resist the temptation to put yourself at the centre of every problem and instead consider the wider picture?
If you have never done this before, you might be surprised by what you discover when you start to observe your own thought patterns. The good news is that, with awareness and a little practice, even the most ingrained habits can be turned around and you will soon find that your mind is more open to more positive outcomes.
Do you find yourself getting a little reflective at this time of year? I know I do. Christmas, family, the new year ahead, work, life…what is it all about? If you find yourself pondering on the ‘big questions’ over the holidays and starting to re-assess where your values lie then I’d say that is a good thing.
Understanding what makes us tick is a fundamental building block for self-awareness. When we can articulate clearly what our values are, we find it easier to communicate with others about what we are doing and why. It helps us to unlock our potential and with it our passion for work and for life.
We all have our own unique set of values derived from our upbringing, environment and our experience, each as distinctive as our personalities. Whether we are aware of it or not, our values shape who we are and what we do. They inform our ethics and our morals and give us a sense of purpose. When we take time out to think about what is really important to us in life we become more aware of these deep-seated values and beliefs. Then from a clearer understanding of our own motivations flows the power to monitor our thinking and adjust our behaviour.
So try this. When the turkey’s all eaten, the kids have fallen asleep and the relatives have finally gone home, try making a list of your values. If you are not sure, ask yourself questions such as: Who do I most admire in life and why? or What makes me feel proud or ashamed? or What would I like to be known for? Start by identifying between five and ten values, then narrow it down to the top three. Write down a phrase that sums up what you believe in.
Doing this exercise regularly, one a year, or more often helps reminds us of what is really important in life. When we are confident in our values they act as a benchmark against which we can routinely check our behaviours, giving us more confidence in our actions too.