Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Resilience & office politics

I came across an article a few weeks ago which reported on a study of resilience in leadership. The headline finding was that for women, office politics "was the main energy drain cited by 76%, which compared to 43% who said the main test of their resilience was organising working life and non-work responsibilities." The results found that both women (71%) and men (64%) wanted to improve their resilience, leading to the conclusion that it should be an integral part of leadership development.

I'm at the point in my MSc when it's time to consider dissertation topics and I keep coming back to this research. You can read the article here and download a copy of the full report hereIt includes guidance for employers on how to build career resilience, focussing on attitudes, habits and responses.  


There are many possibilities for my dissertation to build on this research. For example:

Is optimism linked to higher degrees of reported resilience?
What impact could coaching have on resilience? 
How can people build relationships that improve their resilience?

I'll keep you posted - if you have any views or experiences I'd love to hear them.


Thanks

Ross





Sunday, 30 November 2014

Let's talk about self-talk

Welcome to a new style of blog post from me, I'm going to be experimenting with microblogging and microposts.  As I progress through my MSc I often find snippits of research or information that I'd love to share. Rather than weave them together into a longer blog post I'm going to start sharing them as I go along to make short, quick reads.  Here's the first one.


A recent study explored the grammar of self talk for the purposes of motivation. They found that second person self talk is more effective that first person self talk.  

That is "You can do it" is more effective than "I can do it."

The researchers speculated that this type of talk could cue memories of encouragement from others - particularly from childhood.  There are limitations to the study (e.g. the subjects were all psychology students) but it provides an interesting base for future research and in the meantime - I'm certainly going to give it a go.


Cheers

Ross

You can read a digest of the research from the British Psychological Society here and the reference for the paper is below:

Dolcos, S., & Albarracin, D. (2014). The inner speech of behavioral regulation: Intentions and task performance strengthen when you talk to yourself as a You European Journal of Social PsychologyDOI: 10.1002/ejsp.2048  

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

A Tour of Cantón's Giraffe

In my coaching research I came across this model of motivation, developed by Enrique Cantón at the University of Valencia.  Anyone who uses an animal as the basis for a model is a winner in my book.

It's an interesting way to explore motivation in relation to a goal and it is all based on the science of motivation theory.  I like it as it represents an overall view and shows the connection between the different elements.  Here's how it works.

Start by considering the head of your giraffe as your goal.




Turning to the feet - there are four channel which influence the body of the giraffe.  These are:
  • "I see" - this is your indirect experience and the parts of yourself you see reflected in others.
  • "I hear" - this is what your hear from others and also your self talk.
  • "I feel" - how you interpret your psychophysiological symptoms in a physical and emotional sense, and,
  • "I do" - your own direct experience.
These all feed into the body of your giraffe which represents self-confidence and self-esteem. This is one of the attractions of the model for me - if something is not quite right with a level - you can divert your focus to the previous level to see if anything needs attention or strengthening.

Your self-confidence and self-esteem are built up gradually and they also concentrate your motivation towards your goal.

We then move on to the neck. This represents your belief and value:
  • What do you believe you are capable of?
  • What do you like or value about what you would like to achieve?
Why not try this out on one of your goals and see how it works?

Cheers


Ross

Cantón, E. (2014). Cantón’s Giraffe’: A motivational strategy model applied from the perspective of coaching. The Coaching Psychologist (10) 1 pp26-34







Monday, 27 October 2014

In praise of Argos

In my MSc I have a new a much welcomed outlet for my obsession with customer service.  It gives me a framework for understanding the potential causes and remedies (and there are a multitude of both).

I'm fascinated with how opinions and subsequent behaviours can be impacted with a memorable experience - whether it is good or bad.  I'm also intrigued in situations where there is a deep and loyal brand affinity which is put to the test. How many times will we make excuses for the brand before you admit your annoyance, displeasure or break the connection?

I'm really interested in your experiences and stories.  If you'd like to share them here that's great, otherwise drop me a line or tell me the next time we meet, I'm becoming a bit of a collector.

To get the ball rolling let me tell you about Argos.  I visited their Brighton shop on Saturday with some trepidation.  I needed a new laptop and after much research selected the type I wanted.  It was available at Argos so I mentally prepared for a crammed shop full of people and their children doing early Christmas shopping, thumbing through enormous catalogues and gazing in a glazed manner at a screen where their order number moved ever close to the top.  That's before I get to the faff on with the miniature pencils and the toy-like stock checking gizmos.

Anyway - I was pleasantly surprised.  As well as the enormous, laminated catalogues there were also touch screens to check and look up products.  There was a helpful chap working the floor helping people locate items in the catalogue or on screen.  There were automated payment points and then, the long, familiar bar of joy where my laptop would appear in approximately 11 minutes.  I felt my expectations were being managed. There was a steady stream of people collecting their purchases and my joy was palpable as my number was called.  This was the one bum note in the proceedings as my item had not yet arrived.  A few minutes later I saw it slide down the conveyor.  I pointed this out to an assistant who advised they weren't allowed to collect it until it had been cleared by one of the two 'conveyor clearers' or 'dispatchers'.  I willed these two to pick up the box - it took a little longer but then all was checked and I was on my way.  The experience, though not perfect was far better than I had anticipated.  The staff were polite and responsive.

I still can't fathom how the basic concept of Argos still survives - is it the selection products and the pricing?  I have to say my laptop was a great price.

Go on - share your experience - good or bad.

Cheers

Ross



Sunday, 19 October 2014

Zone of Proximal Development

As I enter my fourth week of my Masters it's a fun time to reminisce about my first Psychology Degree.  

My thesis is still on my bookshelf - lovingly typed by my Mum (on a word processor!) it looks superb.  

The title of the thesis? Influence of Adult Tutoring on Children's Route Planning Strategies.  Now this might not sound like the most enthralling topic but bear with me - I do have a point.

Lev Vygotsky & The Zone

One of my heroes at the time was a psychologist called Lev Vygotsky who described something called the Zone of Proximal Development. He described the Zone as:
"the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers"
Or to put it another way - it's the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help. 

My research involved working with children between 8 and 9 years old and their parents.

I divided the children into two groups.  Both groups of children completed a final task (without any help from their parents) which involved planning a route around a basic map of a small village to drop their friends off after a party. They had to draw the route directly onto the map. 

Here is the map they used (of course - drawn by me!).  You can just about see the route drawn by one of the subjects of the study.


Before this final task they had worked on a task with their parents. One Group worked on a task that was similar to the final route planning task, it involved planning a route around a supermarket based upon a shopping list. The second Group worked on a task which was unrelated to the final task. It involved sorting pictures of objects into different categories. 

Results
So..what did I find when I analysed the final task?  The children who had practised route planning with their parents used a greater number of one step moves and also marked the locations they had to visit on the map before they began.  The children who had completed a unrelated task used no such strategies and paused a significantly greater number of times.

The tutoring from their parents had caused them to develop new strategies which they used in the final task.  

Vygotsky also found this effect when children worked and played with peers.

I wouldn't limit this effect to learning in childhood.

Two Questions
How aware are you of what there is to learn from each situation you are placed in during your daily life? How often do you stop to consider what you have learned?

As I re-enter full time education I am struck by the rich source of learning from my fellow students and I am grateful for their generosity in sharing their knowledge and views.

Cheers

Ross

PS A final shocker for me is that the children I worked with will now be in their early 30s - I wonder how good they are at route planning now?!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Mirror Mirror on the wall

Let me introduce you to vocal mirroring. This is a very practical technique which is brilliant in its simplicity.  The more you practice, the better it gets.

I was first introduced to the method at a coaching workshop run by Sue Walden from Improvworks.  Sue is an inspirational speaker - if you ever get the chance to attend one of her events - don't hesitate.


Here's how it works

You'll need someone to work with.

Ask the other person to tell you a story of their choice at a slow and measured pace and ask them to keep going for at least 2 minutes.  The topic could be their potted life history, their dinner last night, their favourite film etc.

Advise them that you will be repeating everything they say out loud.

As they start their story repeat their words back to them.  It will feel a bit strange but keep the same pace as them, be accurate and maintain your focus. You should be milliseconds behind them. You'll hopefully find that it's fun.  You'll almost definitely find that you won't be able to focus on any of your internal dialogue (there will be no cognitive space left!).

Once the two minutes is up try and summarise the contents back to the other person.  You should find it quite easy (and it gets easier the more you practice).

They try the exercise again - with a different story.  But this time, just repeat the words in your head, don't say them out loud.  Again try to summarise the person's story after two minutes.

And that's it!

I told you it was simple.  Sue told us - that from her experience - this technique has transformed many relationships that were in great difficulty and on several occasions, saved them from destruction.

I use the technique on a daily basis - particularly in my coaching work but are many other applications. It's brilliant for focus and eliminating internal dialogue. Have a go and let me know how you get on.

Ross




Saturday, 4 October 2014

Conflict at Work

This week I was discussing an ongoing work situation with an ex-colleague who is involved in a long standing dispute. I have been reflecting how conflict at work can start with a relatively small incident but the ripples can quickly become amplified. In my experience the consequences not only affect the two parties involved but a range of other colleagues. This occurs as the two primary parties become entrenched and attempt to recruit colleagues and managers to support their stance (and join their bunkers).

This can cause a rapid deterioration in productivity, impact adversely on the health of those involved, significantly damage organisational culture and ultimately, the bottom line.


Workplace Conflict - Stage 1

Workplace Conflict - Stage 2

Workplace Conflict - Stage 3


Differences in Perspective

A great deal of workplace conflict originates with a difference in perspective. One model to explain these differences can be presented in a rather neat graph. The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument is a self scoring assessment which is designed to measure how a person will behave in a conflict situation.  

You'll see it has two dimensions and characterises five different response modes in conflict situations.  The model can also be used to make people more aware of their conflict style.  Think about a time in your life when you've been in conflict.  Using this graph - can you identify your response mode in that situation?

The Solution 

The solution relies on not ignoring the early warning signs and taking action before opinions and positions become too entrenched.  We need to ensure that line managers have the skills and courage to explore a potential issues as soon as they spot it.  In small organisations, the issues may be easier to spot but someone needs to be equipped with the status and techniques to resolve the situation.

The skills required are not easy and their execution requires a mixture of procedure and art. 

An alternative solution is to use an expert third party to explore and hopefully resolve the issues as soon as they are spotted, using a technique such as mediation.

Mediation

The principles of mediation are deceptively simple.  It provides an easily understandable framework which allows both parties in a dispute to have their say, explore and understand their differences and if possible to settle them. This process is managed and facilitated by a third party. An agreement is often reached on the way forward - this is determined by the parties involved - not the mediator.

As someone who is accredited to mediate I have applied my skills on numerous occasions to resolve (sometimes longstanding) workplace disputes.  I also use elements of the skills on a far more frequent basis.  

It's not a process for the faint hearted and requires the agreement of both parties.  Often it's easier as a mediator to be completely independent from the organisation so you are completely separated from the politics.

If you'd like to know more, discuss a situation in your workplace or perhaps run a workshop to raise self awareness and the psychological principles involved in conflict, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Ross  


Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Edge of Glory

Here I sit - on the edge of a new adventure.

Tomorrow is my Induction Day at City University for my MSc in Organsational Psychology.  I've done some reading, not as much as I'd hoped but a good foundation.

I'm looking forward to meeting the lecturers and my fellow students and I'm ready to learn.  



It set me thinking about a topic called Cognitive Fusion, which I was discussing with a coaching client last week.  

We rely very heavily on words in our lives.  Think about how a good book can create powerful emotions and have a profound impact on your life.  What about the scenario when a there is a dramatic global event and the different way it is reported through different media. Some channels will be accused of misleading the public or creating a false account.  In fact, all stories about the event are just that, stories.  We weren't present at the event so we must rely on the words of others.

When an event happens in our lives we also create stories.  Cognitive Fusion is what happens when the story and the event are merged.  We then react to our stories as though they are absolute truths.  When we are in complete Cognitive Fusion our thoughts hold enormous power.  Imagine the jolt when your hero in the novel is in mortal danger.  We react similarly to thoughts like "I'm rubbish it'll never work" as if they are important, wise truths.

Here's a simple technique for Congnitive Defusion, from the great book by Dr Russ Harris, The Happiness Trap.

First – bring to mind a thought in the form of 'I am X'. 

For example, 'I am stupid'. Preferably one that recurs frequently and upsets you when it does. Now hold that thought in your mind and believe it. Focus on it for several seconds. Notice how it affects you.

Now take that thought , and in front of it, insert the phrase “I'm having the thought that I am X.” Notice what happens.

People often find that this thought gives them some distance from the thought and it helps them step back.

This isn't a one time only exercise. You need to keep practising it.

If you're interested in hiring a Coach who is about to be exposed to the latest academic learning & practical techniques in the field of coaching psychology you can read more here.  There's a free 45 minute conversation to be had. What have you got to gain?


Cheers
Ross

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Knowledge Accidents Happen When You Work Out Loud

In 2013 I heard Jon Mell from IBM speak with great passion and conviction about the use of social media in the workplace. One quote really stuck with me:

"Knowledge accidents happen when you work out loud"


In a business context this is the equivalent of a tea point or water cooler moment. You're taking a break from your work and as you clean your mug or squeeze your teabag you either discover a piece of interesting gossip OR a way that your respective work projects are linked or could be mutually beneficial. In a social context it's the equivalent of chatting about friends, contacts or significant dates and discovering a commonality which increases the bond between two individuals.

For a business, social interaction can improve an outcome, save duplication, increase collaboration and lead to innovation. After all - everything is a remix - it's the way we combine and adapt existing ideas or concepts that can lead to great breakthroughs.

"But the most dramatic results can happen when ideas are combined. By connecting ideas together creative leaps can be made, producing some of history's biggest breakthroughs." (everythingisaremix.info)

One way to create the effect of 'working out loud' is to use social media in the workplace.

In my experience the introduction of a social media platform (Yammer) in a Government Department had mixed results. There were early adopters who embraced the concept and were keen to share their projects and interesting articles. Some of the early users over-shared and strayed into more general updates and social experiences. This tended to turn off those who were exploring the possibilities of the system for the first time.



Many times I heard comments such as:

"If people have time to use 'Facebook' at work then they haven't got enough to do."

As one of the early adopters I also created a private group for the HR Business Partners across the department but I didn't succeed in convincing my colleagues of its potential range of benefits.  It could have allowed us:
  • to catch up on the key points of meetings we'd been unable to attend,
  • to let our colleagues know if we were going to be late,
  • to share comments on a draft report or paper,
  • to share common issues and solutions from across the department.
All of the above usually resulted in multiple emails and email chains clogging up our InBoxes which used to aggrieve me greatly.

There was a significant impact when one Director General became a regular contributor to Yammer. She used it to report back on Board Meetings and praise colleagues for projects and achievements. Interestingly - during a period of extended leave for this Director General, the rest of the Board considered whether a rota would be the most appropriate way to maintain the Board's input into Yammer. The far more powerful outcome would have been for all Board Members to make regular contributions and signal to the organisation how much they valued the medium.

One of the key factors to the mixed response was that the system was not integrated with any of the existing work platforms. If the system was integrated with the HR Platform or intranet and didn't require a separate login, it could create a more valid and respectable arena, leading to enhancements in decision making, collaboration and communication. An integrated system could also allow for real time feedback and suggestions for contacts or tailored training opportunities.

In his recent talk at the Changeboard Future Talent Conference Alex Lowe from Google showed a picture of their canteen. There was a quite a large queue waiting to be served in the photograph. This was apparently an intentional part of the design of the canteen space to encourage conversation.

Companies such as IBM have developed impressive solutions which provide an effortless and bespoke experience for employees. Solutions such as these allow more global 'working out loud' but never underestimate the wonder of what you can find out when you're cleaning your mug at the tea point. Here's to more working out loud.

Cheers

Ross

PS Here is one of my favourite videos from the 'everything is a remix website'.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Perspectives from your Inner Cavewoman (or Man)

In his book The Happiness Trap - Dr Russ Harris takes the reader on an engaging journey through the evolution of the human brain, from cavewoman to the current day.

I found this section quite thought provoking.  Take a moment to consider your daily behaviour in terms of these descriptions.

Danger - Lookout

The initial purpose of the human brain was to keep us alive.  Their world was a place full of danger.

The more that early man (or woman) could identify signs of danger and avoid peril the longer they survived. With each generation they became more skilled in survival techniques. Today the mind is still on the lookout for danger but our environment is very different.  We're unlikely to encounter wolves on a daily basis.  Instead our mind warns us to be careful not to be rejected, not to loose our jobs or not to be humiliated in public.  This reminds me of a great quote from Mark Twain: 

"I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."

Belong!

In the stone age the chances of survival were much improved if you belonged to a group.  If you were rejected by your group you'd be out there in the cold, wild world with all its dangers.

So the mind of the cavewoman (or man) was constantly comparing herself with the rest of the group and asking questions like:
  • am I fitting in?
  • Is my contribution OK?
  • Am I as good as the others?
  • Am I doing anything which might get me kicked out?
How much time do you spend worrying about whether you are fitting in and whether Helen or Simon really like you? (do feel free to insert any names here!)  How much time do you spend putting yourself down because you achievements are less than others in your 'group'?

This is particularly relevant in these days of the cult of celebrity and social media.  There are many more comparisons to be made and the potential 'Group' in much larger (and possibly unspeakably gorgeous, rich and successful).


More, More, More


The general rule for the ambitious Caveman was - the more, the better.  The more weapons you had the more food you could potentially provide and the more children you could support through times when resources were scarce. The better your shelter - the more protection you could offer from the dangers of the world.

Translate this to the modern world.  We want more - belongings, status, money and a better job.  This may satisfy you for a while.  But the time will come when we find it's not enough and yearn for more.

I found it a great exercise to reflect on my life and behaviour after reading these descriptions. I was surprised by how much my caveman brain could be influencing my thoughts and my life.

Why not try this new perspective and see what you discover?

Cheers Ross

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Why I love to work with Strengths

In a nutshell - I love to work with individuals and groups by exploring their Strengths.  I'm qualified to use a tool called the Strengthscope® from the Strengths Partnership and I find it a unique way to frame a coaching conversation or Group Development session.

If you look back on your education and career - how often has the focus been on what you're not good at?  Probably quite frequently.  Usually these will have been areas or topics in which you have little interest, do not inspire you and the learning would have been minimal and quickly forgotten.

How would it be, if instead of focussing on your weaknesses, that you you focussed on your natural Strengths? The Strengths Partnership, who developed the Strengthscope®, define your significant Strengths as those underlying qualities which energise you.  When using your strengths at work or in your hobby you are typically in a state of flow.  This is when the time flies, you forget to have lunch and you are completely absorbed & energised.



The Strengthscope® has some unique features.  It can highlight those potentially weaker areas and also help you identify when you are overusing a strength.  An overused strength can quite often become a weakness.  In the workplace you can also use a 360 Degree feature where you can ask colleagues to what extent they have experienced your strengths.

This focus provides a refreshingly different approach, which is a key foundation for Positive Psychology.  Conversations around how visible your strengths are and how you could combine them differently to address your weaker areas can be thought provoking and illuminating. When you consider ways in which you can stretch yourself in these areas of strength the conversations are usually invigorating and inspiring. 

In a team scenario it allows the group to reflect on where there are peaks of multiple strengths and also gaps which need to be addressed (or not forgotten!).  It also allows individuals to take on roles within the team where they will shine and be energised.

Your set of Strengths is something you can take with you throughout your career and life.  

My Significant Seven Strengths, with their brief definitions are:

Common sense
You make pragmatic judgements based on practical thinking and previous experience.

Courage
You take on challenges and face risks by standing up for what you believe.

Developing others
You promote other people’s learning and development to help them achieve their goals and fulfil their potential.

Empathy
You readily identify with other people’s situations and can see things clearly from their perspective.

Flexibility
You remain adaptable and flexible in the face of unfamiliar or changing situations.

Leading
You take responsibility for influencing and motivating others to contribute to the goals and success of their team and organisation.

Persuasiveness
You are able to win agreement and support for a position or desired outcome.

I've been using these for the past seven years and I am committed to stretching myself in these areas as I progress in my career and studies.  

What activities put you in a state of Flow?  You'll more than likely be using your strengths.

Cheers

Ross

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Get Out of the Groove

This is a follow on to my previous blog post which revealed the mysterious world of chicken sexing and a technique to break an unproductive habit.

There is another technique you could try to break an performance interfering habit, again it's from Tim Gallwey, this time from his groundbreaking book, The Inner Game of Tennis. It's a great read whether or not you're interested in tennis.

Gallwey describes The Groove Theory of Habits "every time you swing your racquet in a certain way, you increase the probabilities that you will swing it that way again." (Tim Gallwey, 1974)

Consider this theory outside of its application to tennis.  The brain is made up of millions of neurons which fire off in different sequences, activating different branches to create and access memories.  The activity of these neurons also produces our external behaviour based upon our thoughts.

Each time an action (OR thought) is performed it leaves a slight 'impression' or trace through the massive network of neurons. When the same thought (OR action) is repeated a 'groove' is developed and is reinforced with each repetition. In time - the groove becomes quite established and those thoughts will drive repeated behaviour patterns.

Going back to Gallwey (and bear with me - I know this refers to tennis) "We have all had the experience of deciding that we will not hit a tennis ball in a certain way again....Often, in fact, the harder we try to break a habit, the harder it becomes."
So, how do we get out of the groove. Gallwey identifies an effective playful method "A child doesn't dig his way out of her old grooves; she simply starts new ones!"

Do you know what your grooves in life are? How could you start a new groove - what would it take? Try thinking of an outlandish, playful alternative when you realise you're slipping into your groove. You might want to hum 'Eye of the Tiger' really loudly, hand jive or eat a carrot.  

Cheers


Ross


Thursday, 14 August 2014

I'm not a chicken sexer...

I'm a chicken sexer's son.

OK, so my Dad isn't a chicken sexer, but it's such a great job title.

Chicken Sexing

I started my career in the Home Office, Immigration Department.  My first job included the consideration of applications to enter the UK for various specialist reasons.  This included Chicken Sexers and Moroccan Tumblers.

I never questioned the requirement for these specialisms but I do remember handling one application from a Japanese chicken sexer - which I approved.

David Eagleman refers to the occupation of Chicken Sexer in his book, Incognito.

He explains the reason for the speciality.  When chicks are born in large commercial operations the males and females need to be separated - as they each receive different feeding patterns and have different destinies.  The job of a chicken sexer is to examine each chick and place it in the correct group. So, what's the big deal? The job is NOTORIOUSLY difficult as the chicks look exactly the same.  Experts in the field can accurately divide groups of one day old chicks.

The Japanese invented a particular technique called 'vent sexing'. From the 1930s onwards poultry breeders from around the world travelled to the Zen-Nippon Chicken Sexing School.

The most astonishing thing is that expert chicken sexers could not explain how they performed the task.  It was based on subtle visual cues - but the professionals could not explain what they were.  They simply looked at the chicken's rear and just knew which group to place them in.

The big dilemma was, how could an expert teach someone something they cannot explain?  


The solution was for the Master to stand over the apprentice and watch.  


The students would pick up a chick, examine its rear, and place it in the male or female pen.  The master would give feedback: a simple YES or NO.  After many weeks of this activity, "The student's brain was trained up to masterful - albeit unconscious - levels."





Unconscious Learning

This Unconscious learning is essentially how you have accumulated a great deal of knowledge about the world.


If you can drive a car - it will all be pretty automatic to you. How much effort or conscious brain power does it take to change gear?  When you were first learning it took every ounce of concentration but now it's mainly an unconscious activity.


So what about you responses to particular circumstances or events?  Are you ever frustrated that you always act in a particular way in certain situations?  You can identify that it's not productive but you're unable to stop.


Being conscious that you're in, or about to enter, a pattern is the first step. 


STOP Technique

There is a simple technique (which required lots of practice) called 'STOP'.

When you realise you are entering an unproductive pattern and having negative thoughts then apply the STOP technique, developed by Tim Gallwey.

S = Step back.  Put some distance between yourself and the situation.
T = Think.  What is the truth about what is happening? What's causing you to feel negative or stressed?  What are your priorities/options?
O = Organise your thinking.  What's your plan of action?
P = Proceed.  Move forward with increased clarity and understanding.

The technique is also very valuable to use:
  • at the beginning of each day - to reflect and plan,
  • before you go into a meeting or important conversation,
  • or before you pick up the children from school.
Thanks for reading

Ross

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

An Illustrated Tale - Introduction to ACT

ACT stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.  I've been doing quite a bit of research on ACT and it appeals to me on a number of levels.

There is a popular book based upon ACT called the Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris.  In that book he shares a metaphor for ACT which I have built upon and illustrated below.

Imagine your life is represented by a ship, on the open ocean - you are the captain.

But have a look at the radar trace for the last five years (in red).  You seem to have been going around in circles for some time.  There have been a few times when you've made good headway towards Goal Island but then you've drifted back to the circular path.

You heart sinks as you notice other ships (green and blue), apparently steering confidently to the shore, managing to avoid some dangerous looking rocks.


Imagine the moment you set a course for your goals which are beautifully aligned with your values - the essence of you.


The very moment you change course something terrifying happens.




From beneath decks all of your demons appear.  They have horrific claws and fangs and make a ear-splitting racket.


There are several different species of demons:  
  • Some of them are emotions - like anger, fear or hopelessness.  
  • Others are memories of times when things haven't gone to plan.  Times when you've failed or been humiliated.
  • There are also the demons of thought (e.g. I can't do this, I'm bound to fail) and some are mental images in which you see the catastrophes coming to life.
  • There are more, how about URGES?  For example urges to smoke, over eat...
  • And finally on the demon front, there are those uncomfortable physical sensations, like shortness of breath or a leaden feeling in your stomach.
One of the very interesting features of ACT is that it doesn't pretend that the demons don't exist.  It also does not propose that the demons should be eliminated.  Because ACT knows that there are an infinite supply of demons. Even if the current ones are thrown overboard there will be more waiting below decks.  

What ACT does is help us understand how and why we've created these demons.  Russ Harris explains how the evolution of the human brain has led to this type of thinking. 

The demons are clever - if you're out at sea dreaming about what could be your demons remain relatively quiet below decks - lolling about and drooling. However, as soon as you show signs of taking action they begin to rouse themselves, poised for a demonic display.

If we can continue on our purposeful course whilst the demons are around us - that is the key.  As you become accustomed to looking at them and hearing their messages you can realise that the monsters aren't really that threatening. There are techniques that can be used to distance yourself from their messages. The aim is to co-exist with your demons and continue on your chosen trajectory.


You'll find you can really focus on your goals as the power of the demons diminishes, some of them will loose interest and you'll get more and more used to the others. Harris extends the metaphor to describe the appearance of dolphins and mermaids to assist you as you move further towards your goals (but these are a step too far for my current cartooning skills).


This metaphor really strikes a chord with me.  I'm doing more research into ACT and I'm very excited to begin my Uni Course in September as the head of my MSc is a globally recognised expert in the application of ACT in the Workplace.

So what can you do?

Here's a two Stage exercise to start you off.

Stage 1 - What projects or activities are you putting off?  Make a list.  Be honest and take your time.

Stage 2 - If you could acknowledge your demons for what they are, and not be afraid of them (because they really can't hurt you) what would be the next step you would take?  List these next to each project or activity you recorded at Stage 1.

How do you feel about taking that next step, knowing what you know about your demons?  "Their power relies totally on your belief in their threats".

In ACT the ways to reduce the impact of these thoughts is called diffusion - a subject for a future blog.

Thanks for reading.

Ross




Thursday, 31 July 2014

Remember my blog 30 days ago?

A whole thirty days ago I posted a blog about the 30 day challenge.  For those of you who missed it you can find it here.

Well I've completed my challenge - I have meditated for 20 minutes every day.  I experimented with a couple of accompaniments but finally settled with an App called Insight Timer.  This allowed me to set an interval bell every 5 minutes and a final triumphant clanger at the 20 minute point.

What have I learned?
  • 30 days goes by very quickly.
  • I soon got into a routine and (almost) looked forward to each meditation.
  • Focussing on the act of breathing can be calming and peaceful.
  • Some days I was less distracted than others - some days it seemed like I had to bring my focus back to my breathing every two minutes.
  • I've been more conscious about my unconscious behaviour patterns and on some occasions I've stopped and made a change.
  • Meditation doesn't have to be a spiritual act.
  • You can meditate in most places.  In Madrid I meditated a couple of times on the roof terrace.
  • It does provide some welcome stillness.
  • You don't have to sit cross legged.

What next?

I'm going to continue with my daily meditation.  Coincidentally, I've also been researching a type of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and its application in the workplace.  ACT contains a strong element of mindfulness so I'm keen to see where it takes me.

Did anyone else out there have a crack at a 30 days challenge?  I'd love to hear from you.  Alternatively, you could always start tomorrow - you'd be done by 30 August if you did.

Cheers

Ross

PS For the sake of clarity I'd like to point out that the Hotel Praktik Metropol in Madrid is splendid and does have a lovely roof terrace.  However, it does not have palm trees and a hammock - that is known as artistic licence.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Top Tips - Interviews

So you've been invited to an interview - congratulations.  You probably have mixed feelings - excitement, nerves, what to wear...As someone who has interviewed at all levels for a great variety of roles here are some of my top tips to help you get the most out of the process.

Firstly, have a look at this video. It's from a Heineken Campaign to find their next Intern.  I first saw this at the Changeboard Future Talent Conference during a presentation by Alex Lowe - Industry Head at Google.

Be Yourself
The video illustrates one of my key points very well - be yourself.  Put yourself in the shoes of the people interviewing you - if you are focussed on delivering well rehearsed answers you may not be listening properly to the questions and you will certainly not be your natural, spontaneous self.  Having a succession of candidates reeling off very similar responses can be quite tedious.  Don't be afraid to show your character, personality and energy.

Impact of the video on the Heineken employees
Incidentally - this video went viral and currently has had almost 6 million views.  It was also highly appreciated by Heineken employees and increased traffic to their internal HR website by 279%.

Preparation
Being yourself does not mean that you don't need to prepare. You'll need to research the company in detail.  As you review the company information make a note of your thoughts and questions that come to you, they'll be useful when you are asked "Do you have any questions for us?".

Think about:
  • the priorities of the organisation;
  • the culture;
  • the current challenges;
  • the expectations of the role.
Another great resource is Glassdoor which has a companies and reviews section, with feedback from current and former employees, which can be quite illuminating.  It also has a section on interviews which details procedures and common questions.  One word of caution - don't get too hung up on the interview questions.  They may have been specific to a role or some canny HR sort may have changed the regular questions.  If you are too expectant of specific questions you may be thrown by new ones.

Change your Perspective
Consider the job advert from the perspective of your new boss.  
  • How can your specific experience and what you have achieved and delivered be relevant to the role?
  • From your research, do you think you will fit the culture?
  • What difference would you make?
More and more companies today are interested in attitudes and personality. When these are right for the company they can invest in your development to fill any technical gaps.

Be honest and consider what you can bring to the role and why you applied for it the first place.  

Visualise yourself in the Interview
Create a picture in your mind of you in the interview situation.  You probably won't know the room or the interview panel, so just imagine a room with a table and a person (or people) conducting the interview.  Imagine yourself feeling confident, being clear and being engaging (you can substitute these words for ones that resonate with you), turn up those positive feelings so you can hear your voice.  Now, using the same scenario, imagine the interview from the perspective of a camera on the wall, so you can see yourself and the interviewer(s).  See, hear and feel yourself being X, Y and Z (again, substitute words of your choice here).  

Repeat these loops at regular intervals.  You'll be surprised how effective it can be.  Top athletes use these techniques all the time. 

Try Not to...
It's OK to be nervous and most interviewers will make allowances.

When people are nervous they quite often say things like:
  • "I don't think that's answered your question."
  • "That wasn't a very good answer."
  • "I think you'll have forgotten me as soon as I have left the room."
These are all genuine responses I have experienced.  Try not to plant such thoughts in the minds of those conducting the interview.  If you're not sure your response has covered all the points you could ask:

"Has that covered all the points you were looking for?" or remain silent. If they want more they'll ask for it.

A final point for this post.  If you're calling the contact listed in the advert for details of the process or to check your application has been received, be nice. This person has probably been heavily involved in the recruitment process and will be fielding queries from multiple applicants.  Under no circumstances should you get shirty, raise your voice or criticise the process or the form.  The person you're speaking to could very well have a voice (albeit an informal one).  If you've made multiple enquiries about information already available, called up to criticise the process or got a bit tetchy with the named contact, your behaviour will probably reach the ears of those conducting the process.

Cheers

Ross