Conversation with dogs

Differences are good

I have two dogs, a standard poodle and a toy poodle, “Mango” and “Smoothie” don’t ask me about their names… that’s a story for another day and nor are they my password.

The point is the little one “Smoothie” is an identical but ‘shrunken’ version of the big one “Mango” they are a very cute combination.  Whenever you walk these dogs someone will stop you for a chat, initially about the dogs.  The conversations are beautiful, always uplifting and always put a smile on my face.

These spontaneous conversations make me feel connected to humankind, so refreshing when technology although meant to connect us seems to isolate us more instead.

It got me thinking, we could all do with a ‘dog’ icebreaker to help us feel more connected.

Now, I know not everyone is into dogs so hear me out…

I remember an old friend of my mothers’ use to make her own hats.  As a young teenager I thought these hats were … well, to be polite, these hats were pretty ‘out there’ I thought she was quite mad, but thinking about it now, these hats were more than a hat, they were a connector for her in society.  Mum and I often saw her in the street chatting away to one person or another and these conversations always seem to start over her hats.

Feeling connected in this world is vital for our good mental health, maybe it’s time to think about what your ‘dog/hat’ icebreaker could be and start savouring these fabulous spontaneous conversations.

Differences are good

In workshops I love using my Conversation Style Game, M.O.D.E.  We all have different conversation styles: Minders, Organisers, Directors and Enthusiasts and in my workshops, in between the laughter, there are so many comments; ‘that explains so much!’, ‘Now I get you!’ as everyone starts to understand the different conversation styles at play, it’s Emotional Intelligence at work and it’s wonderful to see.

I created M.O.D.E. after my experience working with a boss called Trevor.  Now Trevor like me was also originally from the North of England and when we were in the pub together, outside of work, we got on like a house on fire.  Working together less so…

Over a weekend I would come up with a new idea, (I’m an Enthusiast, Director, I like new stuff and think quickly). First thing Monday morning I would rush into Trevor’s office arms waving saying something along the lines of…

“Trevor, I have this fabulous idea for a new marketing initiative!!!” There was no plan, no numbers, just lots of arm waving and energy.

At 8.30 am Monday morning this was Trevor’s response.

“Tracey, I have not had my coffee or planned my day, go away”

It wasn’t a great working relationship. 

A couple of months later Trevor and I attended a program around behavioural styles it was then I realised we were the complete opposites of each other, (Trevor, is an Organiser, Minder, he’s is measured and likes time to think).  

All I had to do was make some small changes in the way I spoke to Trevor for my ideas to be heard and this is what I did.

Firstly, I went in after 10 am that way he had time for planning and a coffee.

Secondly, I approached Trevor in his communication style which is calmer and without arm waving.

Thirdly, I gave Trevor time to think, I put some numbers on a one-page document, (I’m unlikely to ever go beyond one page) and left it with him to think about.

IT WAS LIKE MAGIC!  

Every time I approach Trevor in this way, I got my ideas across, Emotional Intelligence works!

It turned out once Trevor and I understood and appreciated our differences we become a really powerful team. 

Differences are good

In our relationships, we have communication habits or patterns. We might finish off a partner’s sentence, or have certain topics that are no go areas, some of these communication patterns are cute and endearing, and some are unhealthy. Most are unwritten and unspoken about and they happen over and over again.

(It is especially noticeable when you catch up with a sibling you haven’t seen for a while, those childhood communication patterns come flooding back. I observed this with a friend of mine and his older sister who lives overseas, the moment they met they went into this prodding, tickling encounter, as an only child I thought this weird especially since they were in their 40’s, but that’s a communication pattern for you).

In my marriage, there became an obvious communication pattern.

If ever I wanted to give my husband feedback, this is what would happen:

I give husband feedback……. he counters by giving me feedback….. I apologise.

I realised he wasn’t taking any of my feedback on board and instead, he used attack as best form of defence and I was becoming way too subservient as a result, not healthy.

We chatted about this, and I expressed my frustration, and to his credit, he recognised the pattern we had fallen into.

As a result, we introduced, and both agreed to implementing, the ’24 hour rule’.

It’s very simple, the rule is, if we want to give our partner feedback, we preface it with;

‘this a ’24 hour rule’ conversation’

Which means for 24 hours, our partner cannot come back with feedback for us.

Let me tell you this rule works it forces the other person to think about the feedback they have received, of course, we all want positive feedback. Still, sometimes our nearest and dearest can have valuable things to say that can help us grow as a person, and we need to put ourselves in a position to hear that valuable feedback properly.

Thank you not sorry

I was running a leadership workshop the other day and one woman, I’m going to call her Donna stood out for the wrong reason, she apologised 5 times in the first two hours of the workshop.

First, she was late arriving by 5 mins.  Now I’m sure we are both aligned here, we all want people to turn up to events on time, no one wants to be kept waiting but she wasn’t the only one to arrive at that time,  Sydney’s traffic was particularly awful that day, but she was the only one to apologise. That’s OK I hear you say; she is being polite… and yes, I agree, but so the day went on.

During the first session of the day, we were discussing the importance of vulnerability as a leader, and there was a strong push back particularly from some of the men in the room.

“Sorry, can I say something…” Donna said to join in the conversation shortly followed by

“Sorry for interrupting but…”   then

“Sorry to ask, but…” 

And then the classic one was as Donna was walking to the flipchart, I changed directions as to where I was going in the room, and I bumped into Donna.

“Oh sorry,” said Donna.

You get the picture.  I had a chat with Donna at lunchtime, and she was genuinely surprised by the number of times she had apologised, “I had no idea” she said.  

For Donna ‘sorry’ had become a filler word to use almost to get her conversations started, it was a habit, something she, like most of us, had no doubt been conditioned to say as a child.

And it’s cultural, I grew up in the UK, and we English are known for excessive apologising, one event I have never lived down in my family archives was the time I walked into a lamppost and apologised to the lamppost.  (The lamppost was fine by the way, I had a massive bruise on my forehead, but my family nevertheless thought the apology was hilarious).

We should absolutely apologise for things we have done wrong; these messages should be delivered with sincerity and action.  

The challenge is when we become compulsive with our apologising, they make us appear weaker, particularly at work and in our personal relationships. 

These were the suggestions I gave Donna.

If you are a couple of minutes late, instead of saying sorry say,

“thank you for waiting’” 

In group discussions when you want to join in use.

 “And…”

“Another point of view to consider…”

“I’d like to expand on that…”

“What about considering….”

If you want to complain about something instead of starting with “I’m sorry”.  Start off with “thank you for listening. I want to talk to you about…”

And when someone bumps into you simply smile and say “hello” they’ll feel much less awkward.

In the afternoon session Donna only made one ‘sorry’ we smiled at each other.

These habits are tough to spot in ourselves; they are habits, after all, we do them without thinking.  If you know a beautiful woman who has this habit herself, pass these suggestions on to her, it’s a simple way to help her become more compelling in her conversations.

Giving feedback

There have been several instances recently that has led me to the conclusion that most women are crap at giving feedback, myself included even though I teach communications I recognise it is not easy to do especially if it’s with a friend.  

I think the challenge is we are so concerned we will offend or damage the relationship that we say nothing or when we do, we’ve bottled it up for months and it doesn’t come out well.  Two stories one funny one very sad that makes my point.  The first, the funny one was I was vegetarian for years when I was living in the UK, my family were mortified, (we were a meat and two veg family so taking out the meat was shocking for the family).  My Mum being the beautiful woman she was, made me some lentil burgers, she made them in big batches and stored them in the freezer.  I was so grateful that she had made the effort to accept my vegetarianism that I said they were lovely, and as a result they kept coming year after year, and they were anything but lovely.  I should have been up front, given her a big hug for being thoughtful and laughed with her at these incredibly dry burgers instead I had to cop them for six years, true story.  

The second story is the more important one.  Some women I know are part of a sewing club, I know an unusual club for many of us, just stick with the story.  One of woman is poor socially and can be very abrupt with the group.  Everyone in the group knows this except her! She has this terrible blind spot, and no-one was ever game to let her know the impact she had on those around her. Her behaviour would often result in tension in the sewing group which last week resulted in two of the women leaving because of an ‘incident’ and the club has imploded, a lose-lose situation.  I wondered if someone had said something earlier would the situation have had a better outcome?  Quite possibly.  

I know it can be hard to give feedback, but be brave and consider your intent as your intent is key.

If your intent is to genuinely help someone then a private conversation should go well.  If your intent is really to ‘tell them off’ then success is less likely

And importantly, we need to understand if we are silent, just like the other sewers in the sewing club were over the years, we are actually part of the problem, as our silence says we are OK with the situation.

They say feedback is a gift, let’s see if we can make it feel that way and help each other be the best version of ourselves. X

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-04-27/philosophy-helped-me-leave-my-marriage-quit-my-job/10959868

Colour is the new black

What we wear says lot about us.  I’ve noticed I’ve abandoned the fitted garments for something more comfortable, but don’t worry I’m not yet into the polyester slacks my Mum use to wear, please don’t ever let me get that low.  But comfort is really important and I have abandoned wearing black!

I know, believe me it was a dramatic shift for me, not only is black slimming, it was my default option in my wardrobe.  Actually, black was my wardrobe for my entire life until now… Black suited me it was a colour I could pull off.  The new reality, although depressing initially, was that black doesn’t suit me anymore, it makes me look so much more tired than I was actually feeling, and I hate to use the ‘a’ word but black was aging me. It still took a good girlfriend to give me the hint, well it was more a shove, ‘you should stop wearing black, it doesn’t suit you anymore’ and she was right.

Fast forward 6 months, I’m fully into colour.  I’ve discovered its way more fun than just basic black and unsurprisingly, I’m being noticed much more, more compliments and what’s not to like about that.

Check out the link below and bring some colour into your life that gives meaning to who you really want to be 

https://www.bourncreative.com/meaning-of-the-color-beige/

To smile or not smile that is the question

I spend a lot of time coaching people on developing their personal brand and helping them make great first impressions.  So much of it is around body language and facial expressions, the stuff we often don’t even think about.

In workshops when people are conscious about their body language they naturally stand or sit taller, which instantly makes they look thinner and fitter and when I get them to connect with each other I get them to smile, not a half-baked smile that hides your teeth, no, one of those big smiles that yes, does and should crinkles around your eyes.

Smiling not only makes us look more attractive, smiling makes us stand out in a room and the smile triggers our brain to release endorphins which makes us feel happier AND if we smile at others they will naturally smile back, even if they don’t know you, it’s a great social experiment you can try out walking give a big smile and eye contact to someone walking by and I guarantee they will smile back and that will give you such a lovely lift and you will want to keep smiling ☺

P.S.

OK I have just told you to smile and it’s important BUT not all the time.  When you are telling someone something of importance, something you want them to believe you need to lose the smile.  Women are notorious at smiling when delivering serious news messages and it confuses the recipient and dilutes your message.  This happened to a friend of mine years ago. He was in a performance management meeting with his boss, he was basically crap at his job.  When I met him that evening he said the conversation he had with his boss was weird “she just kept on smiling” he said. “I didn’t know whether I was being sacked or asked out on a date”.  If you want to be taken seriously with your messaging be congruous with what you say and how you say it.

Where did I put my glasses?

A quick trip to the supermarket I say.  I’ll be in and out in 10 minutes, I say.  I only need to grab a couple of items, one of them being a low sugar peanut butter.  I find the peanut butter grab the jar, move my glasses from the fashionably perched position on top of my head down to my eyes and . . . . . gosh . . . my world suddenly went rather dark.   Hmmm….. my sunnies, not my reading glasses.  

After rummaging around my bag and coming up empty, I now begin the “stretch my arm out as long as I can and hope that I can somehow focus on the fine print” but, dang if that fine print was just all too fine.  Realising this trip may not be the quick “in and out” I hoped it would be, I asked the woman next to me if she could help.  ‘Oh, hang on’ she said “I’ll have to get my glasses” with a smile on her face. She rummaged in her bag, and then rummaged around a little more, but to no avail.  She looked up at me, kind of lost, “oh I’ve forgotten my glasses too’, we laughed. She also tried the extended arm technique but still no clarity.  

During our lovely interaction we discovered that not only had we both left our glasses at home we had also both left our shopping lists at home too.  It was beautiful to laugh at the quirkiness of our era.

Next time you forget your glasses, can’t find your glasses /phone / bag, just smile to yourself in the comfort that you are very much NOT alone. 

Stop helping you're making it worse

Tired, exhausted feeling like you are doing two jobs?  Well you might just inadvertently be doing that.

There seems to be an endemic of employees at the moment, who are really good at doing not only their job but the job of those around them.  In fact, they take on so much work it’s almost the work of two people and then they wonder why they are tired, exhausted and their family complains that they never get to see them.

Three common reasons why people take on the work of others, they want to help, they want it right, they don’t want it to fail.

The helpers

This was exactly the case for a client of mine, David.  David is a director of a finance organisation, although a founder and senior in the organisation David was really friendly and supportive towards all his staff.  David had an ‘open door policy’ which meant everyone wandered into his office throughout the day hoping he’d solve their problems which of course he happily did. Several complications manifested over time, David struggled to get his work done and ended up working late, he took on the emotional and mental burden of seemingly all the problems within the organisation which caused him stress and everyone around him was learning to become incompetent, they didn’t need to solve their problems David did.  It was only after David’s second heart attack did he realise change needed to occur and I was brought in as a coach.

We made two changes:
1) When David needed to work on his stuff David closed his door and he had a sign saying come back and talk to me after a specific time.
(David was under strict instructions not to reward any interruption even if someone said, ‘just a quick one’).
2) We put a bright yellow banner on his computer saying ‘ask for a solution first’ this was to remind David EVERY time an employee came to him with a problem he asked them: ‘What do you think the solution is?’  Initially no one had a solution, why would they? This meant they had to go away and think about it when they actually engaged their brains most didn’t come back, they had solved their problem themselves, those that did David guided them to find the right solution by asking questions not giving solutions which firmly kept the problem with its’ rightful owner THEM.  

Understand the best way you can help someone is to teach them how to do it themselves, not do it for them.

The perfectionists

Our gorgeous perfectionists, I love working with you, you spot my typos, attach my attachments and write comprehensive plans.  The challenge for you is your standards are so high you don’t believe we can achieve those standards, and you are right by the way, we don’t think those standards are realistic or necessary especially in this fast paced world we live in.

So, what happens is when you are meant to delegate work out, even if you do delegate, you will redo their work, your thought process will be along the lines of ‘see, I knew I should have just done it myself in the first place, this is just rubbish’.  You will tell yourself this over and over again until the rest of us give up trying because whatever we do it’s never ‘good enough’ and you end up doing all the work.

Now, I’m not saying we throw standards out of the window, absolutely not, but you do need to reconsider your standards to avoid burning yourself out, burning others out or burning your relationships.  Your new mantra to help you thrive in this busy work should be;
‘good enough is good enough’

To help you do this think about how you title your work.  Imagine you are writing a marketing proposal for a specific product. You are presenting your ideas to the Head of Marketing, Head of Sales and the CEO.  You will start this project thinking you need to get this ‘right’ and therein lies the problem because trying to get it right perfect means you will need to get into the brains of all three executives for it to be perfect, you know they are all going to have views and they will want to give their input.  So, the word I want you to put in front of the title ‘Marketing Proposal’ is ‘DRAFT Marketing Proposal’ which will give you permission to do a good enough job to start the discussion. 

The fixers

The final reason people take things on is they don’t want things to fail, they have a view of ‘Don’t worry I can fix that’ without considering the impact that has.

Imagine you are at a circus and there are two people spinning plates up on long bendy poles, (I loved this act as a child, seeing the plate wobble wondering if the man would get to the pole in time before the plate fell crashing to the floor). In this act you are spinning six red plates and believe me that’s no easy feat in itself and your partner, Bob, is spinning six blue plates.  You notice a blue plate near you starts to wobble, that’s OK you think, ‘I can fix that’ so you shake the blue pole, over the next 10 minutes you have notice even more of Bobs plates are wobbling and before long you are now spinning all the plates and Bob is having a cup of tea and chatting to a colleague. When it comes to review time on how many plates were broken you and Bob get the same review, zero dropped plates but unlike Bob who has built great relationships with his colleagues, you get the feedback that you appear stand offish and are often very abrupt (stressed perhaps?) and would you make more of an effort to get on with the team.  Do you get the picture? Sound familiar?

Sometimes we need to let things fail for organisations to work out where the weaknesses are, be it a system, a process or an individual, but by doing the work of others we simply mask these problems and instead improving the situation we unwittingly make it worse.