Monday, 26 October 2009

"It's About What Goes Out, Now What Comes In"

A recent survey by UK recruitment agency, Office Angels, says that 2 out of 5 people are regularly irritated by the people they work beside.

38% of those surveyed said that they had had to complain to their bosses about the behaviour of their colleagues, including too much talking, eating noisily, leaving desks untidy, and taking lunchtime workouts without showering afterwards.

This survey reminds me that few of us are lucky to work in great teams in every job we do. Some of us complain, some of us suffer in silence. A few turn the situation around.

A few years back, I took an interim consultancy position in a large organisation where I joined an established team. From day one, there was a noticeable atmosphere of suspicion. A few of the team were formally friendly, but others didn't exchange a word with me.

Although little bits of me were starting to hurt inside, I decided that, whatever the problems the individuals in the team were having, they were nothing to do with me, and that I should just practice 3 things that we teach on our Teambuilding courses at ManageTrainLearn.

1. Put the team first, even before yourself
2. Be a determined team sharer. Share information, ideas, thoughts and feelings with the rest of the team.
3. Ignore the little irritations that come your way and project a positive can-do and sunny disposition.

In the course of a few weeks, these 3 things changed the whole climate of the team towards me. By the time I left the assignment after 9 months, every single member of the team was not an irritant but a good and true friend.

The responsibility for making teams work isn't the boss's or the organisation's. It's yours. Despite what they say in the slogans, there is an "I" in "TEAMWORK" and it's you and what you give out to others.

One of my all-time favourite quotes comes from author Alan Cohen, who said: "We are hurt when we don't receive love. But that is not what hurts us. Our pain comes when we do not give love. We were born to love. You might say that we are divinely-created love machines. We function most powerfully when we are giving love. It's not about what comes back. It's about what goes out."

So, the next time one of your colleagues takes your pencil-sharpener and forgets to return it, don't get irritated. Buy them a new one, wrap it up, and give it to them as a present.

Monday, 19 October 2009

"The Vowels of Effective Communication"

"Ornery" isn't a word I use very often. In fact, until a few weeks ago, I'd never really used it at all. But this week, after a business prospect I'd been working with for a few months, failed to deliver on her promises, I really gave in to an ugly and unpleasant temper. I felt ornery.

My initial thought was to express my orneriness in a condemnatory email or phone call. It seemed like the natural thing to do. But a little voice in the back of my head told me to sleep on it and re-visit things in the morning.

That little voice in my head probably came from something we teach on our Communication courses at ManageTrainLearn. First off, don't communicate with anyone when your emotions, - and your orneriness, - are running high. And second, when you are calm and can communicate, don't think about getting others to understand your position and how you feel. Instead, do everything you can to understand their position and how they feel.

In "Chicken Soup for the Soul", Mark Victor Hansen relates Terry Dobson's story of the drunk on the Tokyo metro. This is a story of how Terry Dobson found himself on a late-night underground train in Tokyo confronted by a violent-looking drunk. Terry was in Japan studying martial arts and aikido. As the drunk got more threatening by the minute, he prepared himself to use one of the quick attacking moves that he had learnt in his studies.

At that moment, they both heard someone shout out, "Hey!" and turned round to see a tiny old Japanese gentleman sitting on a seat and beckoning to the drunk. "Come here and talk to me," he said.

The drunk ignored him so the old man asked, "What you been drinking?" with eyes sparkling with interest.

"Sake!" the drunk bellowed back, "and it's none of your business."

"Oh, that's wonderful," the old man said, "absolutely wonderful. You see, I love sake too. Every night my wife and I warm up a little bottle of sake and go and drink it under the persimmon trees in our garden."

The drunk's face began to soften. "I love persimmon trees."

"And I bet you have a lovely wife, too."

"No," replied the drunk. "My wife died. And then I lost my job. And my house." Very gently, almost like a child, the drunk began to sob as he related the story of his misfortune and loneliness to the old man.

By the time he left the train, the drunk had completely calmed down. Terry alighted from the train and sat on the station platform. He took a moment to think. "What I had wanted to do with muscle had been accomplished with kind words. I had seen aikido in action and the essence of it was love."

This approach to communicating can also be summed up in what we call the Five Vowels approach. The vowels are AEIOU and stand for:
A for Acceptance
E for Empathy
I for Interest
O for Openness, and
U for Understanding.

When I Skyped my prospect on the morning after my orneriness, I decided to put aikido and the Five Vowels into practice.

As a result, I now have a prospect with whom I have built understanding; a relationship that I can build on in the future; and, quite possibly, a friend for life.

Monday, 12 October 2009

"To Dream The Possible Dream"

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

When I was around 10, I dreamed of being a great journalist. When I was a teenager, of being a great writer. And when I left home, of gracing the acting boards at the Old Vic.

None of these dreams came true for me, (well, not yet anyway), but for most of our youngsters such dreams are still alive and kicking.

According to a recent survey, the top 3 dreams of today's youngsters are to be

1. a sports' star
2. a pop star
3. an actor or actress

This contrasts with the ambitions of their parents, who, 25 years ago, wanted most to be

1. a teacher
2. a banker
3. a doctor

Naturally, like me, the overwhelming majority of these children will be disappointed. They'll have neither the natural talent, determination, or luck to become top footballers, athletes, singers or film stars. And, like me, they will come to a day when they have to give up on their dreams.

When that day comes, although it can be filled with huge disappointment, it can also be filled with renewed hope. For as the impossible dream fades, the possible dream can take its place.

Martin Luther King knew this. Speaking to young people whose dreams may have been shattered by the reality of their situation, he said, "If a man is called on to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well."

In the film, "What a Wonderful Life", James Stewart, as George Bailey, aspires to conquer the world. He wants to see continents and do great deeds. But circumstances conspire to keep him in his little mid-West town where his deep-seated integrity and regard for his fellow human beings makes him a star without knowing it.

In truth, few of us can realistically expect to be a star to millions.

But, a star amongst our friends, our families, our customers, and our colleagues?

I think I'd settle for that.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

"Slay Your Nasty Jobs"

What's the nastiest nasty job lying around your office, you know those jobs that we know we have to do but just keep putting off?

If you're anything like me, it's likely to be a piece of paper with the words, "Tax Return" written on it.

Every year I get that form landing on my desk around May time and every year it's still there in January when the deadline looms.

I take some comfort in knowing I'm not alone. Apparently, more than a quarter of us admit to having nasty jobs lying around the office, jobs that we know we ought to do but just can't bring ourselves to complete.

There are both simple explanations why we do this and more complex reasons. The simple explanation is that we perceive nasty jobs as unpleasant so we just don't do them, especially if we can get away with leaving them for now by doing something else. The more complex reasons are to do with our personalities and personal experiences. The job is, or represents a pyschological block, possibly from way back in our past.

The odd things is, we all know that there is no logic in putting off nasty jobs. It is the worst kind of time management. For example, psychotherapist William Krause knew an otherwise successful businessman who spent 40 hours delaying a nasty job that took only 5 minutes to complete.

So, here for all of us chronic procrastinators is my 5-step guide to slaying your nasty jobs.

1. Force yourself. I know that this is pretty extreme, but it's about growing up and just doing what you know you have to do. If there's an image that helps, think about Ulysses who tied himself to his ship's mast so he wouldn't be tempted to follow the distractions of the Sirens. I'm not suggesting you strap yourself literally to your desk, but, figuratively, yes you should.

2. Do your nasty jobs at the start of the day. Make up your mind to do your nasty job first thing in the morning, a bit like someone who has to take a spoonful of nasty medicine. Get it over with and then you'll feel great for the rest of the day.

3. Use the 5-minute burst technique. Start by committing yourself to 5 minutes on some aspect of the nasty job, even if it's just sitting and looking at it. Then, once you've got into it, you'll probably want to spend another 5 minutes on it. And another. And another. Until it's done.

4. Sort out your demons. If you are a regular procrastinator with the same sort of jobs, work out what the block is. Simply put, ask yourself what you're afraid of. It could be fear of failure, fear of confronting certain issues, fear of making a decision, fear of responsibility, or something along these lines. Confront the fear and face it. Or, if it really is an issue, get some help.

5. Motivate yourself. Most of our nasty jobs aren't jobs we can't do. They're jobs we don't want to do. So the real issue is getting yourself motivated. If you're an "away" person, who is motivated by fear of bad consequences, write down the worst thing that could happen to you if you continue to put things off. If you're a "toward" person and motivated by the prospect of rewards, write down all the positives that will come your way once your nasty job is done.

"Nasty" jobs can be the bane of our lives. The one thing that stops us from feeling pleased about our day's work, the one thing that reminds us how lazy and inefficient we are.

So stop being lazy. Come out fighting. And do those nasty jobs.

Now where did I put that Tax Return?