Claire writes: “If you’re a leader or manager you’ll probably encounter colleagues who would clearly benefit from some conversations with someone… and you recognise that being diagnostic about what and how won’t be helpful. Neither will funding a course of sessions with someone of that’s not going to be the most useful thing to do.
Although coaching conversations can happen over time, we regularly have just one conversation with people. Sometimes that is because we are simply using the conversation as triage. It’s useful. It works and it is cost effective!
There are so many conversational interventions available – a friend, a coach, a mentor, a counsellor, a therapist and more. One single confidential conversation can help someone identify for themselves what they need to work on and support them to think about the best way for that to happen. You may need someone external to do that, and you may equally have someone internally who can be equipped to do it.”
Claire writes: “Do you wake up in the night sometimes thinking about and even talking to someone who has got under your skin? I do. Of course they aren’t really there and they certainly don’t know that I wake up with them… and yet we can spend hours in imaginary dialogue.
They are not to blame. I made that happen. Noticing the number of conversations I have with people who also wake up in the night thinking about someone at work, this is quite common.
I was recently chatting with someone who was clearly set to take the colleague home in his head for another sleepless night. We talked about that being a choice, and he commented that he would love to leave the colleague at work if he could. In the end, all he did was write their name on a piece of paper and hand it to me. As I put it in my pocket, he sighed. ‘That feels so different’, he said. He has chosen to leave hois thoughts at the office. I didn’t even read it and just slipped the paper into a bin at the station. He had a better conversation with the colleague the following day for not having stayed awake with them.”
Claire writes: “We have a saying in the office after a holiday: The purpose of the first day back is to get to the end of the day!
I’m noticing lots of people are coming back from breaks with some resolution to apply some of the reflections that the break brought. And yet, too often, getting back on a running machine going at 70mph when you have been going at 4mph means that we slot back into getting ‘up to speed’ and only remember our promise to ourselves or those around us – on the next break.
A surprise learning for me, after a summer of lots of walks in the countryside on my own, was that the three days I had slipped in before anyone knew I was here were fun and productive and far more than survival. Something to apply in the future that for me re-entry is much easier when I don’t need to talk!
Did you learn anything last time you had some time off? And…?
Claire writes: “We take many roles in 1-1s which are similar and different. When we sit in the same chair, we are more likely to have the same conversation. So whether you are a GP, hospital consultant, vicar, or manager – if you are going to have a different kind of conversation, it’s worth thinking about sitting in a different seat. The man who told me ‘I’m not the expert – but they want me to be’ has decided to swap seats mid conversation if he needs to say ‘I’m not the expert – if you think this is the expert chair, come and sit in it’.
Ahmar is a trained counsellor and a coach. In a masterclass recently, he noticed that in coaching he was listening with his eyes more than his ears. Watching him work, we observed that where counsellors might be still and sit back while they are listening, great coaches often lean in and are more provocative and pacy – even when they are using the same words
All roles are valuable. Whether the conversation is sensitive or pragmatic, being clear together what is the most useful way to talk now makes all the difference.”
Claire writes: “‘Let’s take the broad view’, my Dad used to joke: ‘How does it affect me?’
Seriously, though – conversations often get stuck for that reason – and we don’t always notice. We like noticing layers as we are listening
If you ask a question from a different layer, it can open up the conversation in a very constructive way. ‘What do your patients need?’ has a different response from ‘what do you need?’ Both are valid.
[If anyone can source SOGI we’d love to hear from you – it’s not original to us and have tried several academic routes only to find out that they don’t know where it came from either!]
Claire writes: “A couple of weeks ago, we drove up to some roadworks and were met by a stop sign. The man holding it walked up to us and said ‘It’ll be 15-20 minutes and then you can go through’. We turned off the engine, got out of the van, walked around, took some photos of the scenery, he had his lunch… and eventually he turned his sign from STOP to GO SLOW and we drove onto the newly resurfaced road (in up country New Zealand).
Unexpected, and grateful we weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere, it was a great lesson in the value of stopping. Now we’re back to work – engaging with many leaders and managers who have no stopping room – and often no space between meetings to prepare, follow up or manage email – let alone reflect. Diaries that are full of meetings are over-full – which is why so many people end up taking work home or doing admin at night or weekends.
These workers recognised that they needed to do a good job back stage for the road to be useful. And they needed time. How can we support ourselves and people who work in our organisations to take time to do the back stage work that is needed for them to deliver on the front stage?
Claire writes: “Listen to many work conversations and, whether it’s about staff or volunteers, a lot of time is consumed in conversations is outside of the control of anyone in the room. It might be interesting. It might evoke emotions – positive or negative. And it’s outside your control.
The most productive conversations happen when we notice that, contain the time engaged in talking about it and focus on what’s in your gift. It’s often less exciting, because hearing and hypothesising about what a third party did or thinks or feels can be interesting! And less useful”
An occasional blog post. This time from Alan about not knowing:
‘Selfiecity’ was an exhibition which analysed 150,000 ‘selfie’ photos taken by Londoners in the streets with their mobile phones as data to assess our happiness. The tilt of a head. The intensity of a smile. All is data. The thesis: if we can only treat what we see as ‘data’ and if we are clever enough to do the analysis, we will know everything about ourselves.
We love, don’t we, the idea that if only we become clever enough we will, like gods, be able to know all truth, to comprehend all things and, best of all, to predict the future. Along with the fantasy of growth without limit, this Promethian fantasy of seizing advantage through god-like knowledge of the world informs the way we live in the 21st century. We put our faith in scientific advance and cleverness. If we are smart we will have nothing to fear!
The truth of life is less palatable. We live in a world of not knowing, of unpredictability. Our ability to control and predict things is, mostly, a veneer we use to shield ourselves from our terror at being prey to events. In a moment everything can change. And what then of our cleverness. For me, the truth of this was brought home by an unscripted admission to a neurological ward in hospital. One minute I was fitting in a quick visit to the GP in between ‘important’ things ; the next (59 minutes later, to be precise) I was be-gowned and lying in a bed in an Acute Assessment Unit.
I say this not for sympathy, but because – as you’d expect – it provides a spiritual challenge as well as a physiological one. For me it’s felt like an invitation to consider what is really important when our self-scripted scale of priorities is re-written for us by an unknown hand – and it has been a reminder too of where we are really called to live life: not in the solid place of fictional certainty where the skills we imagine we need are ‘knowing’, ‘planning’ and ‘scheming’, but in an altogether more uncertain and in-between place where the important life-skills are ‘waiting’, ‘listening’, ‘watching’ and ‘hoping’. And which is, in fact, our reality.
Nick writes: “When did you last have a great conversation at work? I’ve noticed that frustration and fatigue often arise from conversations and meetings that lack focus, that feel pointless, that lack purpose. It’s one of the main reasons why there is so much cynicism about meetings in organisations.
Now while different types of conversation are appropriate for different relationships and situations, questions that tease out purpose can be very powerful. They surface assumptions and create opportunity to discuss and agree on what would be worthwhile.
Here are some purpose-focused questions: Why are we here? What are we here to do? What would make this time useful? What is the goal we’re trying to achieve? What would a great outcome look and feel like? What do we want to be different by the end of this conversation?
We can use purpose-focused questions at the start of a meeting or mid-way through if we start to notice drift or confusion. ‘Let’s just remind ourselves what we’re here to do…where we’re trying to get to.’ Focusing and re-focusing can energise our conversations and ensure great results. (And it’s a coaching approach: people feel heard, something is known at the end that was known at the beginning that will make a (positive) difference to what is done or known or felt.)”
Coaching doesn’t have to be a conversation sitting down for an hour with the door shut. Standing up side by side means we don’t do what we normally do – and that can make a difference. Listen to what Jane experienced: