Posts Tagged ‘coaching’

Skills for Growth

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

I got on the train at Harrogate. I sat behind a man who got up soon after we had pulled out of the station – he went to the toilet. The train pulled into the next station which is only about a mile from Harrogate Station, and he suddenly left the toilet and got off the train. He hadn’t left himself much time, I thought. Then he looked back into the train from the platform – he seemed to be looking at his seat. Why did he go to the toilet directly before the station he was getting off at? Why was he rushing? Why did he look back at his seat? I had so many questions.

Some of us sit happily in the ‘Reviewing the Experience’ stage of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC) or are shown to be strong Reflectors having undertaken Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles questionnaire. For others, this reviewing or reflecting is not a strength, not something that comes easily or naturally. As you can probably tell from the first paragraph, it sits very comfortably with me … or should that be too comfortably?

What is this process? Rowntree (1988) says reflection is, “… studying one’s own study methods as seriously as one studies the subject and thinking about a learning task after you have done it”. Unless you do this, he says, the task – as a learning experience – will almost certainly be wasted. In any learning situation, he adds, you should prepare for it beforehand, participate actively during it, and reflect on it afterwards.

Donald Schon (1983) suggested that to reflect “on action” so as to engage in a process of continuous learning is one of the defining characteristics of professional practice. He argued that the model of professional training which loads students up with knowledge in training schools so that they can then discharge it when they enter the world of practice has never been a particularly good description of how professionals “think in action”, and is quite inappropriate to practice in a fast-changing world.

The cultivation of the capacity to reflect “on action” (after you have done it, retrospective thinking) and “in action” (while doing something, thinking on your feet) has rightly become an important feature of professional training programmes in many disciplines. It can also be argued that effective reflective practice needs another person such as a mentor or coach, who can ask appropriate questions to ensure that the reflection goes somewhere, and does not get bogged down in self-justification, self-indulgence or self-pity.

If the student can be coached to identify the feelings they have experienced and the thought processes they have used – to reflect on his/her own learning – then learning will continue at a much swifter pace and ultimately with less support from the coach or mentor.

As the makers of the man’s iPhone say, “Think Different”.

Enabling a person to initially reflect ‘on action’, and subsequently reflect ‘in action’ is the key to sustainable self-development. Due to its importance, trainers, coaches and facilitators have a responsibility to ensure that this is a golden thread throughout all their contact time.

Returning to the man on the train … I got to ask him all the questions I listed above. That’s because having seen him looking back into the train, I had a look around his seat – and I found his iPhone.

When I returned it to him a couple of days later he explained that he had fallen asleep. When he awoke he needed the toilet, but didn’t realise how close to his station he was.

If he had reflected in action – as opposed to on action – he may well have not gone to the toilet, and thus not lost his phone – a significant potential return on investment! And whilst I accept that most of us are not at our most effective when we wake from a sleep, the more practiced and engrained reflection is, the more likely it is to become the default position, and so just happen.

It all made me reflect on how my son had left his iPhone on a bus a year or so ago – he also spoke to the person who found it, but they didn’t return it. Not all reflection is helpful …


How similar is Parenting to Coaching?

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

My last blog related to Khalil Gibran and his thoughts on Teaching, from his book, “The Prophet”. This blog relates to his writings on Children from the same book. This passage was where I first learned of Gibran. Sara, who I had trained as a trainer and then stayed in contact with after the course, gave me a framed copy of this passage together with a copy of the book for my birthday many years ago. The passage moves me every time I read it:

“And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, ‘Speak to us of Children’. And he said:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

Read it again – I’m sure you can’t have taken it all in from one reading!

Ever since being introduced to this passage I have used it as my strategy for bringing up my children. It was very much what I think I already did, but it sums up how I wanted to be as a parent so beautifully. It also highlights how easy it is to be unhelpful to those we seek to assist in growing.

And I say ‘growing’ rather than ‘growing up’ intentionally – because I often wonder how much this passage relates to training, coaching and other developmental activities? Does is encapsulate Carl Rogers approach to such relationships? Gibran was very good friends with Jung – how much of Jung’s influence is present?  Most importantly, can it be used as a backdrop to what an exceptional coach or trainer seeks to achieve?

As a trainer or coach, my clients “come through” me when they attend a programme or a meeting. I show them unconditional positive regard, but I hope I don’t give them my thoughts. I should not “seek to make them like (me)”. And they certainly must be responsible for their own arrows, although hopefully I can assist them in making their bows more stable.

So is the passage really about children? Or is it also about teaching, training and coaching, or life or relationships in general?

I struggle with these questions every time I read the passage – which hangs on the wall in my office. But what I don’t struggle with is the brilliance of the writing, the beauty of the metaphors and the wondrous skill of Gibran’s storytelling.


Name that Intervention!

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

I have blogged about John Heron’s 6CIA (6 Category Intervention Analysis) model on a couple of occasions – and this is my third and final instalment. My previous posts were an overview of the model (and 6DFS), and then an explanation of ‘Degenerate Interventions’.

I have been asked for examples of each of the Interventions, so here goes:

Within Heron’s model, the 6 Categories of Interventions are classified into two main groups, Authoritative and Facilitative as shown in more detail below below.

Authoritative                    Facilitative

Prescriptive                        Cathartic

Informative                        Catalytic

Confronting                        Supportive

Heron described each of the Categories of Intervention as follows, and I have added a couple of examples for each:

Prescriptive Intervention is intended to direct the behaviour or actions of another person by a demonstration, the giving of advice, a command or making a suggestion:

  • “You need to Speak with Sam before lunch”
  • “Send me your Action Plan by email”

An Informative Intervention seeks to impart knowledge or information to the other person by telling them or giving them a presentation.

  • “People with colour-blindness often struggle to read green lettering”
  • “The bus is cheaper than the train.”

Confronting Intervention is intended to raise a person’s awareness about an aspect of their attitudes or behaviour.

  • “Do you realise that during that session, every question that you asked was a closed question?”
  • “On occasions you interrupt and talk over people, which tends to frustrate them.”

Catalytic Intervention seeks to bring about self-discovery,
self-directed learning or problem solving.

  • “How could you deliver that more effectively next time?”
  • “What was it that you did that led to him reacting in that way?”

Cathartic intervention is intended to enable or encourage a person
to divulge or discuss their feelings about a particular issue.

  • “How did my comments make you feel?
  • “What emotions did the discussion generate for you?”

Supportive Intervention seeks to enhance a person’s self-esteem,
for instance by giving positive feedback.

  • “You did a good job there.”
  • “You handled that situation very skilfully.”

The examples above are given to illustrate each of the types of Interventions. This model is not an ‘exact science’ and so it will not always be possible to categorise every Intervention into one of the Categories. You also need to bear in mind that each Intervention is not merely the words that are used – it is also the body language that accompanies the Intervention.

I also said in my last blog that I would cover ‘Perverted Interventions’. Whereas Degenerate Interventions are rooted in a lack of awareness, experience or training, Perverted Interventions are something rather darker. They are deliberately malicious, and intended to bring harm to the client. There are suggested reasons for why people use them – generally around such practitioners being emotionally hurt or scarred earlier in their own lives – however, as this blog is about how to be helpful and skilled, I don’t intend to spend any further time in this area.

So, as a coach, facilitator, trainer or manager, how can you best use this model? Well, I have found it really useful in co-coaching, facilitator development and similar scenarios.  Using an observer to note the type of interventions made by the practitioner will lead to a beneficial discussion on the spread of interventions used, which were used least and most and whether this was best for the client. This can also be undertaken in terms of the groups – Authoritative and Facilitative – to discuss whether the best fit was achieved here, too. The practitioner can then consider where they need to develop further and action that for future occasions.

As I said in my first post on the subject, this is one of the best trainer and coaching models I have ever come across, and yet it is known and used by so few people. Hopefully this will increase its use!


Degenerate Interventions?

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

One of the aspects of writing a blog that I find particularly interesting is looking at what people search for when arriving at my blog.  It is interesting as it gives me an idea of the blog posts that are most read – this in turn enables me to then concentrate on adding more on those particular subject areas.

One such subject is 6 Category Intervention Analysis (6CIA). I think the reason that I have so many hits regarding this subject is because there is so little about it on the internet – which is both surprising and a shame as it is a great coaching model. I originally wrote about it in the blog post in “Two of the best trainer models?”, where I explained the model and explored how it can be used.

In this blog post I will explain “Degenerate Interventions” and in my next blog post will look at “Perverted Interventions”.

There are four specific types of Degenerate Interventions (DI) within 6CIA. A DI is a misguided intervention as opposed to an intervention that is being deliberately maliciously or is Perverted. They usually occur where the practitioner or helper has a lack of experience in or understanding of using the interventions effectively.

Unsolicited Interventions

The first of the four categories occur where there is no formal practitioner – client relationship, and a person simply self-appoints themselves as the practitioner. Without being asked, they inform, advise, interpret, confront or seek information from the other person. This can often occur in social situations and take place in a manner that interferes with and is disrespectful of the other person’s autonomy. It is not malicious, just unsolicited and generally unhelpful.

Where there is an agreed practitioner – client relationship, this will define the sorts of interventions expected within the relationship. As an example, a bank customer in conversation with a bank manager would probably find interventions related to their finances as being entirely appropriately solicited, however, interventions in relation to their health are likely to appear improper and unsolicited.

Manipulative Interventions

Here the practitioner is motivated by self-interest and has little or no interest in the needs of the client. The practitioner will manipulate the client so that they get what they want from the interaction, whether the client gets anything worthwhile from it or not.

Particularly distasteful and concerning examples are where a practitioner manipulates the other person for the purposes of obtaining money or the satisfaction of power-play.

More common examples – particularly in the coaching arena – occur when the practitioner manoeuvres the client into saying and doing things only in a form that fits the educational or professional belief system that the practitioner holds dear to themselves. They lead the client rather than follow.

Compulsive Interventions

The source of Compulsive Interventions is to be found in unresolved or unacknowledged psychological experiences. These are often frozen needs or occluded distresses of previous years which the practitioner has not worked through and so they are unaware of themselves being driven by them, and so they influencing their interventions. They are less likely to occur where the practitioner has a good level of Emotional Competence or Intelligence, and where they undertake active supervision regarding their activities.

We sometimes see ‘compulsive helpers’ – these are often people who may well be using strategies that they used in their early years in order to survive. In Transactional Analysis (TA) terms they are driven by their Adapted Child and Controlling / Critical Parent ego-states and so do not operate in their objective Adult (although they believe they are in their Adult) ego-state. This will often result in only a limited range of interventions – and as the number is limited they are often misapplied and don’t fit the situation.

Unskilled interventions

This type of intervention is quite simply about a lack of competence. People who use these are limited by their scope and quality of interventions.

In the next blog post I will also look at how a person can eradicate these Degenerate Interventions.


The Ten Heads of Ineffective Listeners

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Last week I was delivering a session on Achieving Results through Effective Performance Management. At the conclusion of the day, I asked the delegates to tell me what had been most impactive for them and what they would be implementing in the workplace as soon as practicable. Two of them both talked about the relatively short section we had covered on blocks to effective listening.

Then today I saw a Tweet from an acquaintance which said, “Someone told me once that to deal with a complaint well, you have to open your ears ten times as much as your mouth – they were so right!”.

Consequently, I decide to blog about the Ten Heads of Ineffective Listeners. They are (in alphabetical order):

The Adviser – The Adviser is a problem solver, and is eager to provide suggestions and what they perceive to be help. In Transactional Analysis (TA) terms, this person operates strongly from the Parent ego state. Sometimes they only have to hear a few sentences and they know what the solution is for the person. Sadly, they don’t realise that a solution from their own experiences and viewpoints is unlikely to work for the other person.

The Comparer – As the name suggests, they love making comparisons. They compare what they hear to their own experiences, and compare themselves to the person.

The Derailer – This person suddenly highjacks the conversation – possibly due to boredom or because they are uncomfortable with a topic – often by either changing the subject or making a joke.

The Dreamer – This person hears something that triggers a memory or association in their mind and they drift off so that they are, at best, only partially listening to what the other person says.

The Filterer – Our Filterer listens to some things and not to others. They pay attention to what has caught their attention, what they find interesting or surprising, or the parts that support their views or opinions.

The Judger – This person judges or pre-judges either the person or their reactions from a values perspective, rather than listening to all the information and coming to a logical conclusion based on all the facts. In TA terms, they again operate primarily from the Parent ego state as opposed to the Adult ego state.

The Mind Reader – The Mind Reader doesn’t pay much attention to what a person says because they don’t need to (or so they think). They make assumptions, or guess at what is coming next or going on in the other person’s head. The Mind Reader excels at displaying little empathy.

The Placater – The Placater wants (or needs?) to be nice, pleasant and supportive. They want people to like them so the Placater agrees with almost everything the person says and does not make challenges at the appropriate moments. In TA terms, they are usually operating from their Adapted Child or Nurturing Parent ego states.

The Rehearser – What shall I say next? How shall I say it? Is this word better than that word? The Rehearser is constantly thinking about what to say next rather than listening. By the time they say their well-rehearsed sentence, the moment has probably passed. And they will have missed what has been said in the meantime. And it probably doesn’t come out well as they haven’t got it exactly as they wanted, because they were trying to get it out word for word. Their action plan is then to rehearse more next time, and the downward spiral continues.

The Sparrer – The Sparrer argues and debates with people about what they are saying, doing, believing, or explaining. The Sparrer has to talk. The other person doesn’t feel heard, can feel very frustrated and can be drawn into explaining and justifying.

There you go – I hope that helps. What it doesn’t answer is just why so many of us are so poor at listening to others.

I’m sure specific individuals have come to mind as you have been reading through the descriptions. But perhaps we should reflect as to whether any of them apply to us?


Tips on how to choose a coach

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

I have been asked the question a couple of times recently, “How should I go about choosing a coach?” It’s not a question I have previously given too much thought to, but I have thought to myself in the past as to how I can choose the most appropriate mechanic, electrician, chimney sweep, dentist, etc.  And if two people ask me the question, perhaps I should think about it. So this is how I would recommend choosing a coach.

If at all possible, get some recommendations from friends or colleagues. Personal recommendations are generally the best. If that’s not possible, do some searches on the internet in your local area or perhaps contact your local Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) branch. Once you have the details of at least 3 potential coaches, consider the following approach with each of them.

Arrange to meet face to face with your prospective coach before you undertake any coaching. You need to feel comfortable with the person – and if you use your intuition, you should know within a few minutes as to whether there is the potential for the relationship to work. I say potential, as your selection process needs to be more thorough, but your intuition should tell you whether it’s worth progressing to that next stage. Trust your intuition.

Ask your prospective coach for some examples of people they have coached previously, or are coaching at the moment. If you are seeking something specific from the coaching – for example to improve your interview successes – ask what experience they have of coaching other individuals in such circumstances. And ask to speak to one of their current or past coachees. Not all coachees would be happy to do this, but any coach of any worth will have people they are coaching who will be more than happy to talk to other prospective coachees. If they are reluctant or unable to meet this request, I should be wary.

Enquire about their continuous professional development (CPD). In other words, how do they keep themselves up to date, how do they maintain and improve their skills? Good coaches will have a documented record of their CPD – ask to see a copy of it. Remember – it’s you who is in the driving seat as you are looking to employ this person’s services, so be as objectively intrusive as you need in order to satisfy yourself of the person’s coaching abilities. Some people ask coaches what their qualifications are – I think this is fairly pointless unless you are very well up to speed on coaching qualifications. There are some very good qualifications where there is much practical learning and there are others that are free to attend and last a day or less – both sets of attendees will call themselves ‘coaches’. Secondly, they may have gained their qualification this year, or 20 years ago – another reason to ask about their CPD.

Request a free coaching session – although the majority of good coaches will offer you this without you needing to ask for it. It could take place at your initial meeting or on a separate occasion. This will give you a better understanding of how well the two of you will be able to work together.

And what’s it all going to cost? Will the person charge per session, and if so how many sessions do you anticipate having? What will you get for your money? Is it just the session, or will the person make some notes for you? Will they offer you (free) email and phone support between sessions? Consider asking for an ‘outcome’ based fee as opposed to ‘output’ based. Let’s use the example I mentioned previously – wanting coaching in order to improve interview successes. If the person offers you six sessions at £Y each, suggest that you will pay them half that, but will give them a bonus (of more than 6 x £Y) if you are successful at interview within the next 12 months.  This would cost you slightly more if you are successful (which is what you want) or slightly less if you are not successful. It will also test how confident they are in their own skills, and possibly how confident they are that you have the potential.

You might think that this is a rather detailed and perhaps too thorough a process – I guess your views will depend on how much you value the potential benefits. If you do follow these tips, however, you will find yourself a very good quality coach.

Are there any tips I have missed?


The art of measurement

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

I have recently questioned the number of networking events that I have the opportunity to attend – and more specifically the benefit of many of them. There are some beneficial ones that I attend – where I learn and develop – and there are others that appear to be run for the benefit of the few organisers, and are marketing events thinly veiled as networking events. Unfortunately, in my view, too many of them are leaning towards the latter.

Consequently, at the suggestion of another self-employed colleague, she and I loosely organised – ‘set up’ sounds too grandiose a term – a ‘Walk and Talk’ event. The intention was that there would be 6 or 7 mile walks in areas of outstanding beauty where we could chat, theorise, contemplate, problem solve, reflect, and seek the counsel of other like-minded individuals. I am pleased to say that these have really taken off now – as we walk, smaller groups of 2 or 3 will chat for a while, and then, perhaps where a gate is opened or a stile is negotiated, the groups will seamlessly change and other discussions will develop. If the surface is suitable, sometimes a model is drawn and discussed (sandy, slightly damp conditions appear most suited to this aspect!). They happen about every six weeks, there are different people every time, and we have fun, develop ideas and keep fit as we go!

On the last walk, I was listening to two fellow walkers discussing coaching. One of the threads of their conversation led to them discussing a definition of coaching, which was “… the art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another’. The provider explained that the quote is by Myles Downey and that he likes it because it implies an intuitive art to the process, as well as the mechanical deployment of skills and techniques. He added that the most important word to him within the definition is ‘art’.

This set me thinking. As some of you are aware, I don’t generally have a lot of time for qualifications relating to the acquisition of people skills. There is too much measurement of outputs, and insufficient valuing of outcomes. As a prospective employer, I really don’t care whether you have a trainer’s qualification or not – what I care about is whether you can demonstrate that you have used sound learning and development principles to bring about or contribute to improved and quantifiable organisational performance.

Coaching is the same. So you’ve got a qualification. That’s positive in that it demonstrates a commitment to learning and a desire to improve oneself, but it may not tell me whether you have assisted in improving a person’s performance through your coaching skills. And so do they really help a customer who is seeking a
competent coach?

If coaching is an art, can a qualification measure what is an art? Mozart, Lennon, Dali, Rodin, Rowling – did they have qualifications relevant to their arts?

Perhaps there is a place for qualifications at a basic level within an art, but surely there comes a point where the skills are beyond the realms of being broken down into competencies?

Benjamin Bloom presented us with his Taxonomy of learning within the Cognitive Domain many years ago. As you may well be aware, a taxonomy is an ‘ordered list’, and Bloom identified 6 stages we have to pass through in developing our knowledge of a subject or field of expertise. These levels are Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation.

A coaching qualification can, I accept, measure a person’s ability to the Application level, but can it measure it beyond this level? The top quality coaches who I have had the pleasure and fortune to witness exhibiting their skills are beyond this level. They use their feelings, their sixth sense, their intuition – that’s why they are the best. They are true artists.

As for the Walk and Talk, I was so involved in these personal reflections, I was only walking and contemplating at that time. But that’s fine – and that’s what makes it so good. Everyone has the space to do what they want, when they want to do it and how they want to do it.

And, even better, people bring their walking boots rather than their business cards.


Split your personality – improve your performance

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

One aspect of self-development that I have been working on with a number of individuals recently has been the aspect of how we do not always operate as ‘one’.  There are aspects of ourselves that we don’t always understand or access.  Failing to access such information stops us from being as effective as we could be.

This post develops the themes of Transactional Analysis (TA) and Emotional Intelligence (EI), so you may find it useful to access my previous blogs on these subjects prior to, during or after reading this post – links to which are through the theory titles above.

As a trainer, when facilitating a group, and someone (we will call them Sam) makes a comment, I sometimes think to myself, “What a daft thing to say”, or “Do you realise what you have just really said?” These are critical thoughts emanating from my Controlling (Critical) Parent ego-state – my beliefs and values. Up to that point I had been thinking and speaking from the Adult ego-state – my rational and objective thoughts. It is generally accepted that adults learn most effectively when the facilitator is non-judgemental (Malcolm Knowles, Andragogy), so I know that I’m best not to externalise my judgemental thoughts.  I also know that Sam has missed the point and so needs to consider their thoughts and other points of view. So, I say to the group, “What are anybody else’s thoughts on what Sam has just said?” This will then generate a conversation with other members of the group addressing the matter, with Sam being far more likely to openly listen to their peers rather than my views – be they from the Adult or Critical Parent ego-state. And I have maintained, and possibly improved, my relationship with Sam.

In that short scenario, in Transactional Analysis (TA) terms, Eric Berne (founder of TA and photographed above) would say that I had been operating in two different ego-states – the ‘Executive’ and the ‘Real Self’.  At the start of the scenario, my ‘Executive’ and ‘Real Self’ were at one, but when Sam made the comments that led to my Critical Parent thoughts, the two split. My Critical Parent ego-state was my ‘Real Self’, but my Adult ego state retained ‘Executive’ power. This enabled me to be as personally effective as possible, and to assist the delegate as effectively as possible – as my ‘Executive’ ensured that my Adult ego-state was used in my external transactions.

The challenge, often, when we are exercising both ‘Executive’ and ‘Real Self’ is that there can be incongruence in our gestures, behaviours, mannerisms, etc.  These can be confusing to people if we do not monitor them carefully. If, for example, I was shaking my head as I asked the question, “What are anybody else’s thoughts on what Sam has just said?”, my ‘Real Self’ would be being demonstrated through my body language – and the Adult ego-state would not have full ‘Executive’ power.

This also links with the Personal Competence aspect of Emotional Intelligence. In order to achieve this successfully, a person needs to be aware of their emotions and then use them in order to stay flexible and understand themselves more effectively. This entails experiencing and noting our Child ego states (feelings driven), and then considering – from our Adult ego-state – what we can learn from our Child.

Many people are unaware of this division in themselves, and so cannot take advantage of it. Hence why some people – not through choice – ‘wear their heart on their sleeve’

Have you ever written an email when you are angry or upset, and then put it in the Drafts box, returned to it later and then thought, “Did I really write that?”. Most people then ‘tone it down’ before sending it and thank or congratulate themselves on putting it in the Drafts box in the first place – internal discussions between the ego states.  This situation occurs when you have written the email in your Parent or Child ego-state, and when you have returned to it you have re-read it in your Adult ego-state.

What I have been working on with these individuals is enabling the two to occur simultaneously.  People who can identify the ‘Executive’ and the ‘Real Self’ develop a system which is a bit like gauze or a dam. They have the ability to alter the thickness or denier of the gauze to externalise to others more or less of the ‘Real Self’ dependent upon what is appropriate. Using the dam metaphor, they can open or close the dam to let as much or as little of their ‘Real Self’ into the outside world as they want. As it is practiced and mastered, the person can then achieve this in increasingly challenging and stressful situations.

How do you separate your ‘Executive’ from ‘Real Self’?

When have you used it to great effect?


Is it pointless trying (except in rugby)?

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

How often do you use the word ‘Try’ when you are telling yourself or others that you are going to do something? And just as importantly, what are you really saying? For such a small word, it can have hugely debilitating effects.

The use of the word comes up in many coaching sessions I undertake – and that’s because managers and leaders have a propensity to use it. Think of the last time you used it, and then think about what you were really saying.

Sometimes when people use it, and they say that they are going to ‘try’ and do something, they are really sharing that they don’t really have the confidence or belief that they can achieve whatever it is. They are already giving themselves a way out, telling themselves that it’s alright if they don’t achieve whatever it is they are going to ‘try’ to do.

On other occasions it can be used more dishonestly – and sadly I have to admit to using it in this way myself.  For example, if my wife asks me to do something, and I know there is little possibility of me doing it due to other – as far as I am concerned – more pressing or important activities, I will respond that I will ‘try’ to do it (I’m hoping and assuming that this is not too much of a revelation for her, but I also know I’m reasonably safe as she doesn’t read my blogs … well, I don’t think she does …). And guess what – it usually doesn’t get done.

The common denominator between the two examples is that the task or activity we are considering will probably not be achieved. As a rule of thumb or a default position, I find that the more a person uses the word ‘try’, the less they will accomplish.

There was some American research undertaken a number of years ago that supports my rule of thumb. It found that where a manager says that they are going to ‘try’ to undertake something, they are approximately 50% less likely to achieve it than when they leave out the word ‘try’. Unfortunately, I can’t re-find the source (but if anyone has it please let me know!).

You have probably heard the proverb, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again”. According to Gregory Titelman’s book, “The Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings”, it has been traced back to a book called ‘Teacher’s Manual’ by the American educator Thomas H. Palmer, and it was designed to motivate American children to do their homework. Palmer (1782-1861) wrote in his ‘Teacher’s Manual’: ‘Tis a lesson you should heed, try, try again. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’ I wonder whether it had the desired effect?

A more positive quote, or way of looking at matters, can be found in the Star Wars film, “The Empire Strikes Back”. Yoda, the small and strange looking Jedi Master is training Luke Skywalker. Yoda sets him numerous challenges and tests to help build the boy into a Jedi. When Luke is given one particularly challenging task, he responds to Yoda that he will ‘try’.  ”No,” Yoda retorts, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

And Yoda is right. There really is no try. We do something or we don’t do something. And so many thousands, possibly millions, more goals would be achieved every day if we stopped talking to ourselves and others in terms of ‘trying’.  

There is, however, one situation where a ‘try’ is an achievement. This is in rugby. A ‘try’ is scored when a player touches the ball down behind the opponent’s goal line. Why was that word used? Well, a ‘try’ originally didn’t get any points. When it was first introduced, the only way to score points was by kicking a goal – and the ‘try’ simply gave the team the opportunity to kick for goal and for points. The game has moved on since then, but the terminology has not.

But do you need to move on with your terminology? How often do you ‘try’? Does it add to your successes or stop you from achieving? Listen out for the next time you say it. Reflect on it. If necessary, plan to use a different phrase in future and evaluate how it impacts on your performance.


Songs in the key of life

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

I have been doing a lot of coaching recently. In fact, I have done very little over the past year, and then about 15 coachees have all come along at once (whilst the content of the last sentence is accurate, my dad – if he’s still reading – will think it an exceedingly good joke! I suspect others may not …)

The coachees are all senior leaders and chief executives from both public and private sectors, and from across four different organisations. Having a number of coachees like this has enabled me to look at some of the themes and discriminators across the group as a whole. They are predominantly my own personal musings as it would be wrong to talk about the majority of my thoughts and conclusions here. One aspect that I do feel comfortable mentioning, however, is that of Emotional Intelligence (EI). I have been reminded of how effective people can be when they use it. 

I have seen EI explained in a number of ways, however, the one that works best for me is that contained in The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. They use a four-box model which I have always found easy to understand and explain.

The first two boxes relate to Personal Competence:

  • Self-Awareness – Do you understand your emotions, do you understand your tendencies in given situations and are you able to stay on top of your usual reactions?
  • Self-Management – Can you use the awareness of your emotions to stay flexible and deal positively with situations, are you able to explore your emotions to understand yourself better? (this also links to my last blog post on the Adult Learning Cycle).

The other boxes relate to Social Competence:

  • Social Awareness – Can you accurately pick up on the emotions of others, understand what’s happening for them and interpret others’ feeling even when you are experiencing different ones?
  • Relationship Management – Do you listen, do you use your emotions and those of others to manage interactions and do you value your relationships? 

One aspect of my musings was as to how I personally achieved the Self-Awareness aspect. It was prompted by one of those times when someone compliments you on something and asks you how you do it and you don’t really know that well. Does it happen to everyone, or is it just me? Anyway, it got me thinking.

And I spent a lot of time thinking about the songs I sing and hum to myself. I have worked out that they fall into four categories. 

  1. I think of a song I like, and sing it to myself
  2. It was the last song I heard on the radio, in the supermarket, on my MP3, etc.
  3. I sing a song because something non-emotions based has prompted it (i.e. when I turn the engine off in my Ford Ka having left the lights on, the car makes a warning noise exactly like the first note of the Beach Boys ‘Sloop John B’, and off I go! …)
  4. I am singing the song as my emotions have chosen to tell me to sing the song, and if I listen to it, it helps me understand where I’m at or what I’m feeling.

Regarding Point 4, for example, I know that when I find myself singing or humming Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’, there is some situation that has been going on for a while and has sapped my energy – so much so that I have become almost oblivious to the situation. The song reminds me of this, I identify the situation and do something about it. The song reminds me of my responsibility. On my recent birthday, I heard myself singing the Robbie Williams lyrics, “I hope I’m old before I die” – not a song I can recall singing at other times – and when I came out of a recent coaching session where the person was doing everything too fast, I found myself singing the Simon and Garfunkel lyrics, “slow down, you move too fast”, over and over.

I believe it’s one part of me giving another part of me messages, through my emotions – and listening to and interpreting them increases my self-awareness.

I am, however, left with a question. Is Point 1 really a grouping, or should it be part of Group 4 – and it’s just that I haven’t found the meaning for anything that I put in Point 1?

Does this happen for you, or is it just me? What do you think?