Archive for October, 2011

‘Tragedy’ into triumph

Monday, October 24th, 2011

In the late 1990’s when our children were still at primary school, we went to see a few live bands – perhaps ‘groups’ would be more accurate than ‘bands’ – that I wouldn’t have otherwise gone to see. There was a huge difference in quality. B*Witched were so poor it made me angry at the time having spent so much money on the tickets, and 911 were not much better. But there were also some very good gigs, too. Both Spice Girls and Steps put on excellent shows which we all enjoyed – in fact I enjoyed far more than I ever thought I would.

Consequently, when I recently saw a short series advertised on Sky TV about Steps potentially reforming, I was sufficiently interested to watch it.

Having watched the first of the four episodes, I understood more about why and how they had broken up as a group – and it was abundantly clear that it had not been a happy event.

The more I saw of the programme, the more apparent it was that it was a great advert for mediations, the reasons they happen and what they can achieve. For this reason, it made it captivating viewing.

For anyone unfamiliar with mediation, it is a process to help resolve (generally) interpersonal disputes within the workplace. It usually involves a third party – the mediator – bringing the two or more sides together with the aim of achieving a mutual agreement.

Mediation can be most effective when used at the start of any disagreement, before the conflict escalates in the workplace. An early intervention can prevent the sides from becoming entrenched, and stop the situation engulfing other people or members of the team.  If there is no early intervention, there is the potential for the dispute to become more serious – and possibly for it to become so serious, the relationships involved cannot be reconciled.

Conflict between individuals that is not managed effectively is also potentially expensive for organisations – lost productivity, related sickness and legal advice are all serious costs. And if the situation is not resolved, they can lead to tribunals. According to the conciliation service ACAS, in 2007-8, the number of individual employment tribunals rose to over 90,000.

Having said all that, I am not saying that mediation is a panacea, and there are some cases of conflict where it will not be suitable.

But it could have worked for Steps. In fact, the programme demonstrated an extended version of a mediation – and was an excellent example of how beneficial it can be.

During the latter end of their 5 years together, factions formed within Steps (they were definitely out of step – sorry, couldn’t resist it!). They started to talk about each other rather than to each other. They made assumptions about what was going on rather than find out what was actually happening. They didn’t value other members and so made no attempt to listen to them. And they viewed their world judgementally in terms of adjectives rather than fact.

Things got so bad that two of the group resigned an hour before the final show of a tour – leaving the other three to go on stage trying to take in the enormity of the end of their band.

Ten years on they had agreed to meet up. It was visibly apparent from the start how much anger and frustration some members had been carrying during the intervening years. It was very uncomfortable for others. But they had started talking. And they started to listen. They were asking inquisitive questions, talking in terms of their feelings, and explaining why they had one things.

But several months of not talking and then 10 years of anger and other negative emotions are not properly dealt with in one meeting.

Several meeting took place – some as a whole group and some within smaller groups where there were still tensions. They now had time – something they had little of when recording and touring. It showed how investing time in a team makes it stronger and more productive.

Eventually everything had been said. It didn’t make the wrongs right, but it enabled each of them to move on. The feelings had been explored and put to bed – they were ‘left luggage’ rather than ‘baggage’.

At the end of the programme it was apparent that it had been helpful for all of them. There had been learning – about themselves and each other.  They were more comfortable with each other, and in some cases the relationships were stronger than they ever had been.

Okay, it was TV and was to promote a reunion and a new tour – we only saw what we were supposed to see. But the emotions weren’t put on – and whatever might have been left out of the programme, it was an excellent example of how mediation can work. But if you find yourself in such a situation, or are managing something similar, don’t leave it 10 years!

As for the new tour, I’ll give this one a miss – but if the concerts are as good as last time, they will be well worth a visit!


No sting in the tale

Monday, October 10th, 2011

It happened again last week. Twice in fact. It’s not something I enjoy doing particularly in one respect, but I am aware that many people are impressed, or sometimes fascinated by it.

I can kill wasps by waiting for the wasp to fly in front of me and I then clap my hands together and squash it between the palms of my hands. My ‘skill’ was called into action as we were having a barbeque, the conservatory door was open, it was a warm late summer afternoon and this was a heady mix for some of our local wasps. We also had a guest, Georgia, and the first wasp was taking a liking to Georgia – or her food.

I have had this skill for about 20 or 30 years now. I often get asked how I developed the skill – which seems a reasonable question. It just happened that someone was getting very, very scared by the proximity of a wasp, I had nothing else to use to attack it and so clapped my hands with the wasp between them. End of.  The other question I am often asked is whether I have ever been stung whilst doing this. The answer is no – and I must have done it a couple of hundred times before.

We spent a holiday on a boat with another family in the beautiful Croatia about 10 years ago. Croatia has a lot of wasps and so I ended up using my skill on a number of occasions. Stuart, a member of the other family, was relatively impressed with the skill and having seen me do it quite a number of times decided that it obviously wasn’t too difficult and so he would have a go. He asked for some instruction on how I did it, which I happily gave, and off he went. He only did it once – he got stung! And I can still remember the way he looked at me – as if to say, “You knew that was going to happen”. But I didn’t. He is the only other person I have ever seen attempt it. Is my skill so unique?

I was asked again in some detail last week as to how I do it. Other than to say I wait until the wasp is about 18 inches in front on me and at about chest height, and then I clap my hands together quickly with the wasp between them, I don’t really know what else to add. Do you try to get it with the palms of your hands or the part between the palm indent and the bottom of the fingers I was asked? I don’t really know. As soon as I do it, I know I always remove the wasp as quickly as possible in case there is still a sting in the tale [sic].

The one aspect that is more difficult to help someone learn is my belief in reaching a successful outcome. It is one of the few things I can do (which few other people can do) where I have complete and absolute belief in my ability to achieve it. Stuart didn’t have that belief – I could see he approached it with trepidation, nervous of being stung. He worried about it happening, and it did – he generated a self-fulfilling prophecy. And belief is, I know, the key ingredient of my success.

And as the skill comes so effortlessly to me, I’m possibly the worst person to explain to someone else how to do it. You may have heard the phrase, “Those that can’t do it, teach it”. And I think there is a lot of sense in that saying. If you can’t do something, and have tried all sorts of different ways to be able to do something, you may well be the best person to teach others. In the same way, for example, that the world’s top tennis players are coached by ex-players who were not as good at tennis themselves.

As I look at the wind and rain outside this morning, I expect I will not be using my skill again until next year. But when I do, I know exactly what the result will be.