Influencing skills and presence

Sheryl Sandberg, the famous COO of Facebook has written an insightful book called ‘Lean in’ which talks at length about the challenges faced by women in industry to achieve influencing skills and presence. Our biggest enemy when it comes to this is ourselves, but fortunately that also means that we can do something to change it. We are all shaped by our environments, by the values of our society, by the unwritten rules. Such as: women should not be outspoken, aggressive or assertive, you cannot have it all; family and a career, it is rude to talk about money etc.

It isn’t so. Everyone has something to contribute. So next time you are in a meeting, or debating with a colleague, rest assured that your opinion matters as much as theirs do and ‘lean in’ and participate actively in the debate.

Whilst you can ‘fake it until you make it’ in terms of confidence, remember that the way you exert your influence and presence has to be in your style, according to your values, because only then will the impact be profound and change things. You may have been given a label from a Myers-Briggs test once that said you are introverted. That does not mean you should not contribute and stay quiet. It simply means you recharge your batteries from silence rather than from crowds of people and this label has no impact on your influencing skills in a meeting. However, it may mean your presence is a more subtle one than that of an extroverted person.

Next time you feel frustrated because you did not succeed in getting your opinion across in a meeting, consider whether there are different ways of influencing (if meetings are not your thing) or whether you are indeed holding yourself back based on beliefs that simply are not true.

How to use coaching and mentoring to further your career

Coaching is the new buzz word that everyone is talking about in business, but what is coaching and what is the difference between coaching and mentoring, two terms which seem to be used interchangeably and how can you use them to further your career?

Mentoring is an ongoing process with a peer or manager at work who can ‘teach you the ropes’ so you can learn from their experiences. A business coach is someone who works with you on short-term projects to clarify choices in your career or personal life and support you making those changes. It is a partnership where the coach takes the role of an impartial sounding board and you bring the knowledge of your life and career and the ability to reflect on the subjects chosen. As coaches, we fundamentally believe that everyone has the ability to work on their dilemmas and no one is better positioned to do so than yourself. We are merely here to encourage that process to take place.

So when would you work with a coach? Typical scenarios include stress and time management, wanting to have more influence, feeling stuck in a rut, lacking confidence, feeling undervalued or having issues with a manager or colleague in terms of communication. When working with a coach you have to be prepared to open up about your working and private life, as one naturally affects the other and sometimes you need to work with patterns that emerge more than one place to solve a dilemma.

Coaching sessions typically consist of an exploratory session where you find out if you have the right coach. It is vital that the partnership works in order to achieve results. Coaching is hard work emotionally and you must commit to it and book the time ahead. 6 sessions of 1 1/2 hours are typical of a coaching project but it depends entirely on the needs of the individual. Remember that professional coaches will have trained with a recognisable institution and be a member of the Association for Coaching. Don’t be afraid to ask to see their credentials.

How to create a thinking environment

The Dalai Lama famously said: ‘When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But when you listen you may learn something new’. It sounds easy, but listening properly is really difficult. It requires total focus on the person you are listening to and being completely open to all the signals that their message brings. That is the starting point of creating a thinking environment.

In our professional as well as our private lives, we have very little time to think. Part of us likes it that way, because just doing what we have always done is the easiest. It is easy to follow the corporate line, to do and say what other people expect of us. What is not so easy, but far more radical is to take time to think and time to listen to other people’s thoughts, pay respect to those and incorporate everyone’s opinion in what is going on. That leads to progress. Sometimes, the progress can be slow or hindrances mean that the conversation is going no where. This is the right time to ask an incisive question which is a question that removes all limiting assumptions, such as: what makes you think you can’t do that?

So next time you are in a meeting, around the dinner table or on the phone with a friend who has a problem, try this simple exercise: listen intently, ask an incisive question, allow them time to think (silence is ok), wait for the solution to come to them (if you offer a solution, they do not owe the solution, you do, and then it is less likely they will succeed). And watch what happens!

Nancy Kline’s book Time to Think is a straight forward, but very important guide to creating a thinking environment in your life. I recommend it highly. If you allowed yourself time to create a thinking environment, what positive impact might that have on your life?

Dealing with change

Change is all around us; Brexit, new Government, people escaping war in Syria… For years we have been told to deal with change, that it is inevitable and definitely a prerequisite skill to get an interview: adaptability, willingness to change is a must etc. Just because it has become necessary to deal with today’s world of continous flux does not mean it is easy. The way our brain works mean we like to systemise things around us. (I don’t know about you, but I work better with a clear desk). We have scripts for judging people quickly which might not always turn out to be right, but we need to have a starting point at least. All of these things work towards having some sort of stability around us so we can deal with uncertainty coming our way – because inevitably it does.  It can be someone doing something completely out of character that affects our world or a job that becomes increasingly pressurised or redundant.

If you have ever experienced a life changing moment, you know that it is not only the actual change you have to come to terms with. It is also all the ripples in the water that comes as a result of that change; how will you provide for your family, what will people think of you, what about your pension, who are you now that you are not (insert job title)? It can be a monumental shift and not one to be taken lightly or dismissed with a ‘you’ll soon get a new job’.

It can be very difficult to see the potential in change when it is new, sudden and a raw feeling, but it is. Change allows us (forces us) to stop and take stock and reflect which we haven’t or do not take time to do when things are going smoothly. So allow yourself to feel the impact of the blow and be sad/angry/frustrated, but clear some mind space for reflection on whether this job is really what you wanted to do and where you wanted to make a difference or is there a dream somewhere that got tucked away that now might be a good time to explore?

Where are you making a difference?

It was the famous psychologist Carl Rogers who stated that deep within us human beings are striving to become all that they can be. It is just that sometimes this force gets buried under to-do lists, chores, commitments, obligations or stress caused by being on the hamster wheel of life or work.

The reason why we get out of bed in the morning is because we want to make a difference and be all that we can be, but it is worthwhile considering now and again whether we are happy with the ‘where’ and ‘how’ we are making a difference.

Some people are lucky to have managers, partners, parents who are grateful for what is done and the difference they make is visible and appreciated. Other people, not so much. But common for everyone is the satisfaction of knowing where you make a difference. There is no such things as measuring this in terms of importance because being there for your children when they get home from school even though they hardly notice you or helping educate women in Afghanistan about financial independence are both examples of making a difference. And of equal importance to the people concerned.

So I suppose my challenge to you today is: consider where you are making a difference and if you need to make more of a difference, how can you achieve this?

Make a difference

Are you inherently clever or do you work hard towards your goals?

Some theories from the world of psychology leave your memory as soon as you have finished the article – and some stick. The theory of fixed Vs growth mindset developed by Dr Carol S. Dweck is a keeper. In her book Mindset she talks about the different ways we can approach our goals and how working on adopting a growth mindset will always bring about positive change.

It is, of course, not an easy task; change never is, but by approaching each daily task knowing that we learn from them, failing no longer poses a threat but instead turns them into a challenge, something we can learn from.

As all theories, it is wonderfully simple and obvious when you think about it. Dr Dweck explains in a simple, down-to-earth way how we should cease to believe that our intelligence is somehow an inherent trait and that we will only ever achieve according to the limitations it sets. With a growth mindset a set back moves us forward rather than being a stick to beat ourselves up with, and failing and learning become a natural part of life. The theory is applicable to all aspects of our lives; our roles as employees, parents, mentors, coaches, beings.

So stop comparing your intelligence, achievements and confidence with people around you and start learning from their brilliance and add it to your already great skill set. Start praising people around you for their hard work and willingness to learn rather than their results. Notice the difference when you apply a growth mindset to the days challenges. You will be amazed.nigel-holmes-graphic

Is being happy really a choice?

January is a month most people struggle to get through. Lack of sunshine is often blamed, but it is also the period following Christmas where focus was on catching up with family and friends, eating good food, attending parties and where we spent time thinking about other people; what they like and what makes them happy, and then buying that very thing which we so wanted to see them open to feel we got it right and feel warm inside, feel happy.

Turns out that there might be something in that. According to the Happy movie by Roko Belic, it is these acts of kindness, of reaching out, of compassion, cooperation and caring about other people that brings happiness. The good news is we can practise it, just like exercising a muscle.

So who in your immediate circle needs a little reminder that you care? A little note in their lunch box, a chocolate bar in their coat pocket, a bath run for when they get home or some daffodils in a vase to remind us all that spring is near…

Do you ‘tune in’ to the mood of people around you?

Have you ever had a manager who would come into the office and in no time create frantic activity around the office to solve a problem which later seemed minuscule or irrelevant? Have you sat in a presentation where the speaker was visibly nervous and it made you feel uneasy or nervous too? Or have you felt the effects of spending time with people who are delightfully positive or overly negative?

This mirroring of emotion or empathy is what makes us human, but it can also stop us from analysing a situation and helping the person in distress rather than panic along with them. By acknowledging what they are going through and together try to find a way for them to help themselves, you are ‘tuning in’ without being overwhelmed by emotions yourself.

Read more about mirrored emotions by clicking on this link from The University of Chicago Magazine.

Do you feel valued?

Yes, of course money matters, but given the choice between a pay rise or working on a project that is worth-while where you feel valued, most people choose the latter.

And the same goes for personal relationships. Being in a situation where you are not valued can feel like you are likely to be replaced any moment and that can lead to feelings of insecurity.  But is it outside or within our control to do something about it?

Treat others as you want to be treated yourself is a good starting point. By highlighting the things your colleague/partner/friend does well and asking them to contribute with more of the good stuff, you start off a ‘feeling valued’ chain and if you are lucky it might come back to you. And remember to approach every task with the belief that people are capable of carrying them out. The confidence you have in them will make them feel valued and perform better. And guess what?… they will value you in turn for doing so.

Read more about creating value and being valued by clicking here.

Are you in touch with your values and beliefs?

A lot of business coaching exercises focus on identifying and reflecting on values and beliefs, but why is it so important to be in touch with your values and beliefs?

Well you see, we quite often end up in situations, in business or in our private lives, where we are compromising on those values. There is nothing wrong with compromising, but some values are closer to our hearts than others, and those are particularly important to keep in mind at all times. Say ‘knowledge, learning and contributing’ is one of your core values, but you are stuck in a job that does not challenge you and there is no hope of further learning opportunities. You may solve it by doing an Open University degree in your spare time, or you may participate in the local activity group where talks on different subjects are offered frequently. However, if you are not honouring the importance of this value it can lead to feeling despondent and frustrated, so being Are you in touch with your values and beliefs?in touch with your values is a very valuable exercise.