Monday, August 29, 2016

Getting Unstuck: 3 Essential Questions

As a Coach it is my job to ask people questions and get them thinking about their life, career, wants and needs. However, just as all coaches are not the same, neither are their questions. I am far less of an introspective, let's-explore-your-motivations type of coach and much more of a let's-define-what needs-doing-and-get-it-done kind of coach.  Both have their place, depending upon what you want and need.

However, when it comes to taking action, 'Why' questions are killers.  Why questions keep you stuck exploring the meaning of your choices, your actions, your relationships, your life... rather than getting out there taking action and living your life. If you are at the point where you are done with exploration and introspection, if you are at the point where you want and need change, then it is time to get down to shifting from Why to What.

To help get you unstuck and moving forward I have 3 key What questions you can use to help take you from here to there.  Use these to help you to define and shape the action that is needed and your willingness to do what it takes to get there.  Three basic questions to help you stop the 'why-ning' and shift into action.

1. What do I want?

A seemingly basic question, but an essential one.  If you are going to take action then it's best to have a destination in mind lest you just wander aimlessly.  If you want your actions to have purpose, then defining clearing and specifically what you want is the place to start.

2. What do I need to do to get there?

What are the steps that need to be taken? You can start out with broad steps but narrow them down. The more specific that you make them the more likely you are to take the steps. Eliminating ambiguity eliminates questions and hesitation. The more specific the steps the likely the smaller they will be also, which means the more likely you are to take them. Small steps are easy steps and any step taking you in a desired direction is a positive one, regardless of the size.

3. What am I prepared to do?

And... here's the kicker. Now that you know what you want and what it takes to get there... what are you willing to do?  Just because we know what to do doesn't mean we are actually going to take those steps in which case, you need to know where your buttons are. Which are you willing to push and which aren't you? What dreams does this cost you and are you willing to let 'em go?

If you are experiencing any hesitation my best advice is to simply look at the first step and ask yourself if you are prepared to do it.  If so, then do so. Now look at the second step and ask yourself if you are prepared to do it. Often our hesitation arises when we look at everything that needs doing, which may cause a sense of overwhelm to arise. Instead, simply look at each step you have defined in isolation and take that step. If you hit a step that seems too daunting then see if you can break it down further into smaller components.

  • If you are missing a skill... what do I need to learn? From where? From whom?
  • If you are missing some information... what do I need to know? Who knows it? How do I access?
Each missing piece simply becomes another step. Define it and add it in. 

Take a step.

This may sound simplistic but this System of the 3 What's works. It focuses you forward rather than getting caught up in exploring the past. You can do something about your future, but only if you are willing to step up and step forward into it.  Perhaps upon reflection there is one final 'What' question I have for you...

What are you waiting for?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Tip Thursday - Language

Sometimes a small subtle shift in our language is all that is standing in our way. Align your language with your desired positive outcomes - what you DO want - not with the potential downside of the activity.

Instead of... What if they say NO? ask... What if they say YES?
Instead of... What if it doesn't work out? ask... What if it does?

Focusing on what you don't want leaves you building your defenses, leaving you ill-prepared to take advantage of opportunities that arise. Orient your brain to focus on what you do want, to get it working on moving you forward.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Failure Conundrum

There are a lot of mixed messages out there around the concept of failure. 
  • Business gurus direct entrepreneurs to 'Fail Fast' or to 'Fail Often'
  • We are told that from 'Big' Risks come 'Big' Rewards
  • Or that 'If you're not Failing, then you're not Trying'
All of which would indicate that failing, in its many forms, can have a positive impact and may, at times, even be desirable. Certainly when we are talking about the personal growth and development of ourselves, or our people, there is a lot of learning that takes place through failure; through trial and error.  

The dilemma though is that in most organizations failure has consequences. Companies want employees to take risks, because they don't get ahead if you don't, but you'd better not mess anything up when you do! Companies may spout rhetoric around being accepting of failure but systemically not prove supportive.

We want our children to build a life around their strengths and talents, but then studiously avoid letting them know when they lack skill or need improvement.  Instead, we over-emphasize how 'good' they are at something, leaving them with an over-inflated view of their skills. We develop a culture that says it should be enough that they 'want' it or that they 'tried'. The actual outcome of the effort doesn't matter as much as the fact that they made an effort. The concept of failure is foreign because the word itself was avoided.

The conundrum... We are told that failure can be a good thing, but taught to avoid it at all costs.

How then do we build a successful company, a successful life if we don't make allowances for failure? If we don't build in an understanding and acceptance of the lessons that come with failing, then we are doing our children, ourselves and our companies a disservice.  

Failure helps build resiliency.
Failure helps build perseverance.
Failure helps build strength.
Failure helps build success.

The key to making the above statements true, of course, is that you learn from your mistakes. Each failure must teach you something, must result in your modifying your approach to help you reach success. 
All great successes are preceded by a series of failures

To help you ensure that you are growing from your failures, ask yourself the following...
  • What has this failed attempt taught me?
  • What might I try differently as a result?
  • What further support, information, skill might I need?
And if you find that you haven't failed at anything recently...
  • Is there something I am hesitating trying because I am concerned about the possibility of failing?
  • Where might I push my skills even further?
  • What new challenges can I set for myself?
  • What am I interested in learning?
Regardless of what anyone says, there are winners and losers, successes and failures.  In the end, these are just labels. What's important to remember is not whether you lost or failed, but what you did with that experience. What you learn from it is what will determine what you earn from it. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Tip Thursday - Influence

When looking to convince someone that what you are telling them is the truth, bear in mind that we tend to trust things that feel familiar to us. Therefore, telling someone something that you have previously shared with them becomes more convincing through its repetition.

Research shows that people are likelier to believe eyewitness statements when they are repeated, even if it was the same person restating a lie. We often work hard to ensure that we don't repeat ourselves, yet it seems that there will be times where repetition may serve our interests better.

Familiarity can lead to acceptance... say it twice!

Monday, August 15, 2016

When Comparing Ourselves to Others Goes Wrong

How do you know when you're doing well?  Or poorly?
How do you measure how successful you are?  There are no real objective measures to this, it is a subjective evaluation only.  In the absence of objective measures, we tend to use comparisons to determine how we are doing.

It is almost essential to have something to compare our performance to if we are to understand the relative success of that performance.  When viewing the performance of an athlete, it is only by viewing their performance in comparison to others that we are able to determine their success. The Olympics model is predicated on this system of comparison as are all sports rankings.  A professional baseball player's number of home run hits per season has no context without comparing it to how many home runs others in the league are hitting.

At the personal level we compare ourselves to others constantly as a means of creating a personal sense of context. How fast we are, thin we are, smart we are, successful we are is all determined by viewing ourselves in comparison to how fast or slow others are, how thin or fat, rich or poor, smart or dumb, serious or funny.  Good or bad it serves as our way of understanding our place in the Social World.

Back in 1954 Leon Festinger established Social Comparison Theory to explain the tendency for people to be constantly making self evaluations.  We determine our own social and personal worth based on our perception of how we measure up against others.  There are two basic directions for such comparisons,
  • Downward
  • Upward
We are more likely to make downward comparisons when our Self Esteem is threatened.  When we aren't feeling good about ourselves we are likely to compare ourselves to someone less well off to make ourselves feel better. We do so as a means of  reassuring ourselves that things could be worse.

When we compare ourselves to someone we perceive as 'better off' we are making Upward Comparisons.  These comparisons can serve as inspiration, helping motivate us to achieve more. However, they can also fuel our envy or have a negative impact on our self esteem by creating unrealistic expectations and standards of success.  

Making these comparisons is a natural process that serves to provide us with useful information. However, if we dwell upon it too much it can become problematical.  
  • If our self esteem is low we may find that we become overly reliant on the misfortune of others to give us a boost.  We may then be constantly looking for the negative, downplaying the success of others which can have a very strong negative impact upon our relationships.
  • If we focus only on the perceived gap that exists between us and someone we see as being above us we may begin to feel the gap is insurmountable and give up rather than be motivated to persevere
All of these comparisons also rely on our view of self.  If our perception of our abilities is skewed then so too will our comparisons.  You see this on competition shows such as Idol every season, those people with clearly limited vocal talent who have no accurate understanding of their current level of skill. 

Given that we are making these comparisons continuously anyway, is there any way to use them positively?  The good news is that research suggests that yes, we certainly can, it is just a matter of perspective. Social comparisons typically focus on our differences, on highlighting the gaps, but it can also be used to identify our common humanity, which can then be used to establish a greater understanding and connectivity.

In its most simplest form our Social Comparisons serve a useful purpose in helping us to understand what we're good at and what we're not. 
  • Build a life and career around what you are good at relative to others and hire those who are good at what you are not.  
  • Use those who are better than you as a motivator to get better at something you want but use your own progress as a benchmark of improvement.  
You don't need to be the best in the world at everything you do, you just need to be better. Maybe the best comparator after all is whether you are better today than yesterday.  

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Tip Thursday - Body Language

A study of TED Talks most popular and viral speakers reveals that they use an average of 465 hand gestures when they talk. Less popular speakers tend to use less than half as many.  The likability of the speakers was impacted by the amount and type of gestures used.

Do you use your hands when you speak?

Further research has found that gesturing helps speakers to think better and to therefore speak with greater clarity.  For listeners, gestures help to facilitate their understanding and retention of the information they are listening to. It was even found that the students of teachers who gestured while speaking fared significantly better than students of teachers with minimal gestures.

Review video recordings of yourself when speaking to determine how much you tend to gesture and whether you need to 'switch' things up a little.  (if you need someone to review your video with you let us know... that's what we do!)

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Myth of Maintaining Separate Professional and Personal Lives

One of the most common beliefs that I find with Coaching Clients is that they are great at separating their Professional and Personal lives. They point to having separate personal and professional emails and phones, they use LinkedIn for business contacts and Facebook for personal, they leave work at a set time and rarely bring work home to complete. The list goes on.

They are, of course, fooling themselves.

Some of what they list for me are great systems for helping establish some barriers and even balance between work and home, some are great productivity habits and others are great skills for simply coping.  They are not walls between work and home though.

It is impossible to maintain separate Business and Personal lives.  Impossible, regardless of how high or thick the wall you attempt to construct between the two. There is a constant element that crosses that divide every day.  That constant is you.

Given that you are the same person that is at home in the morning dealing with getting the kids off to school, the dog walked and your suit pressed, the same person in the office dealing with the boss's demands, the team meeting from hell and the coffee machine that drips out dishwater, the same person who deals with aging parents, family health issues, divorce, fights with friends... it is impossible for you to remain separate.

The experiences you have at home influence your thoughts and actions on the job.  And... the reverse is also true.  Don't kid yourself.  You ALWAYS bring work home with you.  And you NEVER leave your personal self sitting outside the office door at the start of the work day.

This is a critical point to get.  Without understanding this you may not be developing the best strategies and solutions for problems you may be experiencing.

  • That problem you are having with your coworker may be more a reflection of the issues you are experiencing with your spouse but... your coworker is a more comfortable target for your frustration
  • The challenges you have with parenting may explain your frustration with leading your work team
  • Your lack of decisiveness on the job right now may be due to the overwhelm you are experiencing with all of the decisions required by being the executor of your parent's will, while dealing with combative siblings
No aspect of our life is separate because we are not divided.  We are a whole being and need to look at our Professional and Personal lives as components of that whole.  What happens in one aspect of our life impacts other aspects.  

If you are working with a Coach on a business challenge expect that you may have to explore some personal issues.  I have had Managers who were to receive coaching on a decline in their Leadership skills that actually needed support and coaching through the divorce they were dealing with.  I have had Managers who were to receive coaching on a decline in their Productivity that actually needed support and coaching dealing with the fallout of their spouse's terminal illness.  

How you are doing and feeling in one area of your life impacts how you are doing and feeling in all others.

You are one person, with one life.  You simply have multiple activities and roles.  It is the blending of all of those that create the life you live.  Thinking of them as separate can prevent you from finding the answers you want or the help you might need.  

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Tip Thursday - Perception

We tend to quickly perceive...
... things we are focusing on, but not things we are not focusing on.
... things we expect to see, but not things we don't expect to see.
... things we want to see, but not things we do not want to see.

Our experiences and perceptions of people and events are therefore shaped by our focus, expectations and wants.  If you want to broaden your perceptions, to learn to view things more as they are and not how you want or expect them to be, you need to suspend your beliefs and expectations.

Don't interpret, simply observe.  Typically far easier said than done, but it will open you to far richer experiences.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Just Try It!

We admonish our children to try new things.  'How do you know you won't like it if you don't try it?'

When did we stop applying the same rule to ourselves? When did our concern over possibly looking foolish, or not proving to be the best at something overshadow our desire to step in and give something a 'go'?

In essence... when did we start giving up before we even began?

We once were courageous.  Everything in life was new to us, but we willingly gave new things a try. Crawling, walking, talking, throwing a ball, skipping a stone, catching a frog. Our childhood is comprised of a series of new experiences, times when we willingly stepped forward and tried something new, all strung together.  Remember the delight you experienced when you tried something for the first time and liked it? When you discovered it was fun? Better yet, when you found something you were good at?

What happened to that?
Not trying is giving up before you start
I have a raft of clients lamenting the fact that they haven't discovered anything they are passionate about in their life, yet they are doing so from the comfort of their couch.  You have to explore new experiences to discover those hidden interests, talents and passions. You need a breadth of experiences to learn what you are truly capable of.

We all have undiscovered talents that are waiting to be uncovered. However, we can't build and capitalize on them if we don't know what they are. It is only by pushing ourselves to try new things that we will uncover what those latent talents are.

Experiencing the new helps us...

  • Increase our self confidence
  • Gain a greater appreciation of ourselves
  • Become a more 'interesting' person - we have far more to share with others
  • Discover new talents, strengths and passions!
  • Live without regrets
So, in the spirit of parents everywhere, get up, get out and get going.  You'll never know unless you try!