Friday 29 January 2016

More On My Dark Side

Before Christmas I posted on My Dark Side, and specifically the Hogan psychometric instrument. I said at the time that I had not yet had the formal feedback session. This week I had a follow up meeting with Julia Cater of People Decisions, and we spent a couple of hours exploring the feedback report.

The first thing to say is that Julia is very skilled. She had a style that seemed relaxed and unstructured, but had clearly given serious thought to the questions raised by my feedback, and was very effective at focusing the discussion and helping me to develop real insights.

Moreover, and this is something I particularly admire, she took some personal risks in the meeting, in terms of honest disclosure of her own response to me, and that proved a catalyst for real learning.

Specifically, she had picked up on the apparent contradiction between my scoring very highly as Reserved, on the one hand, and as Colourful and Imaginative, on the other. These were my three highest scoring scales. 

According to the tool, these are strengths that may become risks if taken too far. Julia had looked behind these and unearthed something interesting: the risk behind 'Reserved' is related to my being nervous of others. The risk around both 'Colourful' and 'Imaginative' is that I make others nervous around me.

My initial reaction, of course, is that I don't make others nervous. I rather pride myself on creating a safe environment, both for my coaching clients, and in my group work.

But prompted by Julia's skilled coaching, I went a bit further than that, and reflected on times when I have in fact had that feedback. 

And then, prompted by a hypothesis from Julia (incorrect, as it happened, but nonetheless useful for that), I went further still, and reoriented my self-understanding quite considerably. For I had maintained that the 'Reserved' me was the real me, whilst the 'Colourful' and 'Imaginative' me is a persona I can adopt, a set of skills I have developed, to make me an effective and stimulating facilitator.

So Julia asked if that were a defence. And then I realised: it was the other way around. As a child, I had been Colourful and Imaginative (to a fault, some would argue); the Reserve was the defence; one that I had developed in response to years of bullying and hostile teasing at my secondary school; and possibly reinforced by a very controlling and bullying boss in my first job in training.

Julia also helped me to reflect on some of the unintended impact of that habitual reserve: when I fail fully to engage with people, they are likely to feel unvalued. They will not read it as my being reserved, as my other characteristics of Colourful and Imaginative don't suggest that. So they are likely to read it as my not thinking them worthy of my time and attention. That is important to me: I do not wish to hurt anyone by poor habits of behaviour.

So I need to moderate my 'Reserved' habits of behaviour - but not eliminate them. Because I also realise they have a real value to me: not least keeping my 'Colourful' and 'Imaginative' tendencies in check so that I don't cause others to be too nervous of me, too much of the time!

There was a lot more I learned, as Julia continued to give me good feedback, ask good questions, and disclose some of her own impressions of me. But this, I think, is sufficient to give a flavour both of the power of the tool, and the power of some really skilled coaching.

A final thought: I think I got more insight from Hogan HDS than from MBTI Step 1 or Step 2.  I have blogged before about MBTI so won't re-hash that here. But it tended to confirm how good it was to be as I perceived I was. Hogan HDS both challenged how good it was, and how accurate the perception was anyway.

I will be getting trained in the Hogan tools later this year.

Friday 22 January 2016

Time to Think

I have blogged a bit recently about some of the fascinating reading I have been doing as part of my diploma, such as the books on the psychology of coaching by Brown and Brown, and Peter Bluckert. I mentioned my intention to be more psychologically aware in my coaching as a result, and believe that is useful.

However, I am also a great believer in simplicity, and in particular a fan of Nancy Kline's book, Time to Think.  Kline's thesis is that in a thinking conversation, the quality of someone's thinking is directly related to the quality of attention of the listener.  She offers a deceptively simple structure for a 'Thinking Session.' The challenge is to stick to that structure, and pay full attention to the other person throughout - refraining from interjecting, asking questions that pursue what you are interested in, offering suggestions, etc.  If the person you are listening to asks you a question, it can help to assume that it is rhetorical. Acknowledge it (perhaps non-verbally with a smile etc), and wait in silence for him or her to answer it himself or herself. Attention and silence are key tools in this approach to helping the other to think. There are other steps, especially if the person is blocked by some assumption he or she is making, but the bulk of the session is predicated on this highly attentive listening.

My belief in the power of Kline's approach was underlined this week. I was co-running an event for professors at a University, and I gave them the opportunity to do some co-coaching using Kline's approach. Afterwards, those doing the coaching reported how difficult they had found it to refrain from chipping in with their own anecdotes, expressions of commonality, words of wisdom or advice - and how much further the conversation had gone as a result.

My experience, too, is that Kline's approach can be extremely powerful. Yet clearly, if I am trying to assess what the psychological state of the other might be, and what intervention might be most helpful, I am not giving the individual the full attention that Kline suggests.

Likewise, I am aware how disruptive it can be to the train of thought of the other person if I start to make suggestions, or offer alternative ways of looking at things, during their thinking time. Yet clearly, those may be helpful interventions too; part of what people want from a coach is another perspective.

So my interim position on this is that I will do all the thinking about the psychological aspects of the coaching before the session, as I prepare, and after the session, as I review it, and again (in some cases) with my coaching supervisor. But during the session, I will try to give that quality of completely focused attention to the other person. In time, I am hoping that the psychological awareness will become simply part of what is available to me as I attend to the other, but I don't think it is helpful to allow it to dominate my thinking as I coach, if that distracts from being fully present and fully attentive. 

And with regard to making suggestions or alternative ways of looking at things, I will strive to keep that till the closing stages of the session, once a lot of serious listening has already taken place.

 I would be very interested to hear other coaches' views on this.

Thursday 14 January 2016


I was listening to a podcast by a highly-successful (or so he told us) coach on how to be as successful as he was. His secret was to charge eye-wateringly high amounts of money for his coaching. That ensured that he only signed up people who were completely dedicated to achieving their dreams, and therefore made the chances of his coaching them successfully very high.

After the initial temptation passed (I mean, until I thought about it, naturally the idea of people paying eye-wateringly high amounts of money for my coaching was quite appealing), I then reacted the other way, and decided that what he was doing (at least in part) was teaching selfish people to be even more selfish. For example, he described how he helped people to realise that if they were really committed to their dreams, they could find the money - without consulting their partner, borrowing it if necessary, and so on...

Then at the other extreme, I was in a meeting where somebody declared that she needed to be more selfish - but by this she meant that she might occasionally have to say no to doing other people's work, if that meant that her own would suffer, or that she would have to work all weekend to accomplish it.  I did have the temerity to suggest that 'selfish' was not quite the right word in that context.

But the contrast set me thinking about selfishness. It is all the vogue, in many coaching circles, to encourage people to put themselves and their goals first, in pursuit of organisational or professional success. But the people who I know who have taken that approach to its limit, and achieved real success, often seem to regret it: the price is sometimes too high. And some of the ones who don't regret it seem to me to be deluding themselves.

Yet on the other hand, I repeatedly meet people, like the woman in the meeting the other day, who for fear of being 'selfish,' end up being so helpful and accommodating to others that their own work suffers, and eventually, they wind up stressed and unwell - which, of course, is not good for them, those they love or those they work with.

I think it is one of those tensions we have to live with: that tension between looking after ourselves and our own interests sufficiently that we maintain our health and (emotional and psychological) wellbeing; and giving sufficient attention to others and their interests. But it is easier to see when it is out of kilter in someone else than in oneself. Perhaps that's one reason why people find coaches helpful, to help them reflect on that balance - but maybe not the coaches who charge eye-wateringly high amounts of money for their coaching.

Friday 8 January 2016

Charity Miles

I have recently discovered Charity Miles. It is a simple and brilliant idea. You download the app to your mobile, and then every time you go for a walk, run or cycle, you select a charity. A sponsor (typically someone like Johnson & Johnson, who have a clear interest in being connected with healthy lifestyles) donates an amount of money to the charity of your choice, based on the miles you cover. 

The sponsor then emails you, and the app prompts you to tweet your support or put it on Facebook, which I suppose is what the sponsor is buying. The amount per mile is small, but it adds up.

Just by my usual routine of a run with the dog in the morning, a walk during the day, and a brief walk last thing at night, I will be racking up a little over $20 a month. Given that we often also go for longer walks at the weekends and in the holidays (especially when not entirely surrounded by floodwater...) I reckon that will be about $250 over the year, and any charity would welcome that.

The app offers a long list of charities which you can support. I am quite fussy about giving to charity, for various reasons, but found several I would be happy to donate to. The one I am choosing to support is Charity Water. Water is such a basic necessity, and I like their operating model of working with communities to devise and deliver sustainable water solutions. I had not come across this particular charity before, so that is another benefit of Charity Miles.

So if you take more exercise than I do: get the app and raise money for charity by doing nothing extra, other than remembering to start it each time you go for a run.

And if you take less exercise than I do, then get the app, and make a resolution to do a little more!

Tuesday 5 January 2016

About Those New Year Resolutions...

Happy New Year to all my friends, clients, colleagues, and indeed any other readers.

It being January, I thought it might be good to share some reflections on turning New Year Resolutions into reality. As is my wont, I will throw out a few ideas: keep the ones that you deem valuable and discard the rest. So here are eight things to try.

1: Check that you really mean it. I call this the Viktor Frankl question: how does this resolution sit with your fundamental understanding of the meaning of your life?  If it doesn't, then why is it a resolution? If it does, that immediately gives it more importance; and reminding yourself of this may give it more traction. (Memo to self: blog about Viktor Frankl: I have mentioned him in passing a few times, but he is worthy of a proper post).

2: Write a Context Goal. A Context Goal is written like this. First, you write what it is you want to accomplish (and express this in positive, not negative language - eg to be free of nicotine addiction, rather than to stop smoking). Then write down all the reasons that this is a good idea. Be as creative as you can here: you are looking to generate a long list. So as well as the health benefits (for example) of being free of nicotine addiction, you might list the social benefits, the good example you wish to set to younger people, the fact that you want to prove to yourself that you can conquer this addiction, the monetary savings, and so on and so on.  The idea is to make the goal so self-evidently worthwhile that even in your most recalcitrant state, you can only see it as a good and worthwhile thing to do.

3: Consider occasions on which you have successfully achieved something similar. We are often prone to assume that we can't change (particularly if we have failed at this particular resolution in the past). Therefore it is important to recall that we can in fact change, and that we have plenty of evidence to support that belief. Re-writing our story about this may be an important support for such desired change (my forthcoming book refers...)

4: Consider what structures you can put in place to support the resolution. I have posted before on questions about will power (here for example) and the importance of environmental cues in stimulating our behaviour. So a simple thing to do might be to put your list of context goals by your alarm clock or phone, so that it is the first thing you see every day. You will have to devise other environmental cues for yourself...

5: Recruit an 'external conscience.' Most of us find it much easier to honour the commitments we make to others than those we make only to ourselves. So if your resolution is to run or go to the gym, you will be far more likely to do so if you agree to meet someone to run or train with you. If it is to free yourself of an addiction, consider who would be good to hold you to account on a regular basis, and recruit them to the project, explaining precisely what you need of them.

6: Consider the use of an affirmation to strengthen your resolve and your belief in you ability to deliver it.

7: Keep a learning diary: every day record your progress (or lack thereof) and consider what you need to do next to stay on course or get back on the tracks (as appropriate).

8: Celebrate progress and success. Set yourself milestones and rewards, to keep you motivated, ensure you recognise progress, and reward yourself (and others, where possible!)