How to protect yourself from negative energy in conversations

Want to stop yourself getting infected with negative energy during a conversation with another person who is angry or upset? Try this strange tip!

👉 Simply focus on keeping your tongue pressed to the roof of your mouth as the other person speaks. 👈

You'll still be able to hear what they are saying but you will maintain your energy and state and not develop an emotional or energetic response to what they're saying.

I have no idea why it works. But it seems to.

Give it a try and see if it works for you too, and let me know in the comments what happened.

And please share this with anyone you know who has to listen to people like this. 🙏

PS Unlike this beautiful cat, you can keep your tongue inside your mouth, unless the other person is saying something totally ridiculous. If they are, poking your tongue out *might* be your best response. 😛

How Smiling can help you have an amazing holiday

I recently coached a client who was going on a dream holiday to the USA. His partner loves Theme Park rides. But he was really anxious, and didn't want that to spoil the holiday.

So I told him about smiling and how it sets you up for confidence.

He just messaged me.

"Just got back from the US. I went on pretty much every ride at Disney. I enjoyed all the rides (more than I thought I would). I just remembered what we talked about in regards to keep smiling. So I did that, and I just decided that even if I didn’t enjoy it, it would be over in a couple of minutes anyway"

How cool is that? 💥

What have you got to do today that scares you?

And what would happen if you smile as you did it? 😁

How creative expression can help you break out of overwhelm

I had yesterday blocked out to do some creative work. But the news from Whitehall hijacked my mind and I couldn't concentrate on anything.

So I started to create some things inspired by my reaction to the news.

And went and made my voice heard in Westminster.

It's not totally left my mind, but I feel a lot better because I did something constructive with it and, literally, got it out of my system.

So if this applies to you, whether it's related to the current news or something else, ask yourself if there's something you can *physically* do to express how you're feeling, instead of bottling it up.

It'll help you move on.

What the dentists don't tell you about wearing braces

I posted recently about the power of smiling and baring your teeth and how it automatically sets your body up to make you feel confident. 😁

Since then I've had several conversations with people who couldn't figure out why they weren't feeling confident recently. 😕

Guess what?

They all recently had dental braces fitted and were feeling self-conscious about them.

And this stopped them from smiling. 😐

Of course, when the braces are removed these people will be probably be grinning from ear to ear and feeling much more confident. But in the meantime, it's important to try and keep smiling, as hard as it may be.

If you know someone wearing braces but lacking some confidence, pass this on. It could really make a difference.

And if you know a dentist, perhaps they'd like to know about this too.

Five things you need to understand before you implement Peakon in your organisation

Peakon is an employee engagement platform. Through regular surveys and some pretty fancy number crunching, it tells you how your employees are feeling about working in your organisation and gives you a way to interact with that feedback.

It's easy to understand and easy to roll out and, I'd say, fairly priced.

But if you're thinking of implementing it in your organisation, I'd urge you to understand these points before you do so.

1. It is a safe space for the employee

Peakon has been very carefully designed to protect the anonymity of the employee. This creates a safe space for employees to tell you what's on their mind. It's important that you respect this, and resist the natural urge to ask 'who said that' when you see a bit of feedback. Likewise, you may be able to identify an employee based on what they said, or how they said it. But it really doesn't serve you (or them) to be speculating on that because it will quickly undermine their trust in you and the system. More on that below.

2. You will get feedback you don't want to hear

Because it's a safe space, your employees are going to share a lot of problems and negative comments. Be glad that they are, because at least they are engaging with the platform. How you respond to those comments is crucial. As hard as it might be, try and be grateful for each comment and curious about what has prompted it, no matter how negative or critical it appears to be. After all, the employee is telling you about something that is bothering them at the moment.

If you're defensive or dismissive - even if the comment is clearly misinformed or malicious - you're undermining the success of the platform.

3. It's a platform for dialogue, not information gathering

Building on the previous point, it's very easy to treat Peakon as a one-way information gathering tool. But the real power comes from engaging with the comments. Many employees are happy to vent. Some expect a reply. Some won't reply to your reply. But you and your managers need to engage as much as you can. At the very least, you need to acknowledge that a comment has been seen. This will take time. But it will show that you're taking it seriously. Make sure that you and your managers are putting in the effort.

You can also adopt a coaching approach if you believe that a comment relates to something that could be solved by the employee.

Earlier I said that you shouldn't try to guess who a person is. Rather, you should try and engage with them through the comment discussion. If they want to tell you who they are, they will. If they don't, then that's useful insight too.

4. You need to be transparent

Your first Peakon results might indicate that your company is performing below industry benchmarks. This is pretty normal especially if you've come from an 'Annual Survey' culture where nothing really got improved. And it's nothing to be afraid of.

The temptation is to hide this from employees in case they choose to leave as a result. The truth is, they already have a sense of how well the company is doing and how highly they are engaged, and if they want to leave they will, without waiting for a Peakon score.

If you share your score and top drivers for improvement from the outset you can demonstrate progress over the coming months. The longer you put off sharing your Peakon scores, the more difficult it will be to share later because employees will wonder what you've been hiding (and this will destroy trust).

Likewise, if something happens in your organisation and the scores go down, it might be tempting to stop sharing results or sending surveys until things improve. Employees will see right through that and it will destroy trust in your leadership. Much better to continue to find out what they think, tell them what's going on, and what you're trying to do - and want them to do - about it.

5. You need to act

After everything I've said above, this one should be obvious. You need to act on what Peakon is telling you. Some of those actions will be short term quick wins - repairing broken furniture, for example - but others (such as ensuring that everyone not only understands, but also believes in your strategy) will need a lot more thought, planning and action.

Make sure that any improvement initiatives are publicly attributed to Peakon, so that employees know they are being listened to.

To do this, your Peakon score and headline issues need to be getting board-level attention and priority and there must clear ownership and progress reporting for improvement initiatives. Be careful about using the Peakon score as a KPI as this might encourage behaviours that would attempt to game the system.

Above all, remember that if you don't act, there's no point in having Peakon.

I hope this has been useful. I'd be more than happy to help you understand what Peakon is telling you, and how you could respond. Get in touch.

The power of "Not Now"

Are you a people pleaser who is in danger of burning out? If so, you need to read my latest book.

OK, I haven't written the book. Yet.

But if I did, I might call it 'The Power of Not Now' (inspired by Eckhart Tolle).

People pleasers often burn out because they can't say no. It goes against every instinct they have to be helpful to others.

So they say yes. And get overwhelmed.

What would happen if instead of saying 'yes', you said 'not now'?

It would still give you the option to be helpful.

But would give you control of your time.

In an earlier post, I wrote about the difference between expectation and agreement.

When someone asks us to do something, we often have an expectation that they want it now. So we try and do it now.

Saying 'not now' opens up the conversation to explore the possibilities of 'what' and by 'when'. And you can therefore reach an agreement.

Try it. Let me know how you get on.

How to know if one of your values has been compromised

Ever had one of those red-mist moments? The ones where you can't think straight because you're so angry?

If so, it was probably because one or more of your core values were compromised.

Values - for example 'autonomy', 'trust', 'family' - tend to drive our behaviour.

Everyone has different core values and they often have different priorities.

Ideally you would be able to live all your values, all the time. Or at least not have them compromised. Because if a value is compromised, you will experience a very strong reaction.

So next time you're angry, ask yourself which value has been compromised.

You can then communicate this with others by saying 'I value X and when you just did Y you compromised it for me. Is there any way you can do Y in the future in a way that won't have this impact on me?'. It can be a very neutral conversation, and invites collaboration to find a joint solution.

The automatic alternative is to shout at them or run away and seethe. And that rarely goes well.

The secret to instant confidence

Want to feel INSTANTLY more confident in most situations? Smile and show your teeth.

From my previous post, you'll know that how you hold your body affects how you feel.

Smiling has has its roots in the primal assertion of dominance in the Animal Kingdom. If I'm showing you my teeth, you need to be worried because I might be about to eat you. But it has now evolved in humans, to be a behaviour that makes people feel relaxed and welcome, amongst other things.

But the physiology remains the same. If you smile you automatically feel more confident because that's how our bodies are wired. Smiling gets your body ready to be dominant.

And that's the thing that makes us feel confident.

I've taught this to all sorts of people, from software engineers who find it difficult to stand in front of a room of stakeholders, to people who are afraid of roller-coasters or turbulence on a transatlantic flight. If you smile - as broadly as as you can - it will significantly change the experience for you.

And as well as feeling more confident you'll make people feel safe and welcome to approach you.

The Plant and the Pot - a Metaphor for moving on

Trying to decide whether to stay in a role or organisation, or move on? Finding that emotion is getting in the way? This metaphor might help.

Many plants need a pot in order to grow. The pot provides some support and helps retain soil, water and nutrients.

As the plant grows above the soil, it also spreads its roots inside the pot. Eventually the roots become too dense. The pot that once nourished and supported the plant becomes the very thing that constrains it.

If the plant continues to be constrained in this way, it starts to die and no amount of new soil, water and nutrients will bring it back to health.

The only route to health is for the plant to move to another pot in which there is just enough space to grow. Not too much. But not too little.

The plant is just doing what plants do, and the pot is just doing what pots do. Neither is right or wrong. All that's important is to identify whether the pot nourishes or constrains the plant. If it constrains it, it's time to find a new pot.

And so it is with our working lives.

Accepting this simple truth is usually enough to disperse the emotion and enable objective decision-making.

How Employee Engagement platforms can help you instil a coaching culture

Employee Engagement platforms such as Peakon are a great way for your employees to tell you how they’re feeling about your organisation and their job. As well as collecting a lot of quantitative data, they can also leave comments as qualitative feedback on how they’re feeling about a given topic. Typically these comments would be reviewed by departmental, line or senior management or the HR team who will identify systemic issues, and take action. It’s important that this happens, of course, but there’s another way we can work with Peakon to bring about change in the organisation. There are many definitions, but we can simplistically define a “coaching culture” as one in which management encourage employees to think about what they’d like to happen, and to begin to make it happen, using their knowledge and resources, rather than waiting for others to make it happen for them. It’s about taking action that unlocks performance and growth.

In my experience, the comments given in relation to low satisfaction scores are often problem statements — “pay isn’t competitive” or “my laptop is too slow”. As managers, we often assume that we know what the person wants (more pay, a faster laptop) and then take on the problem and solve it on behalf of the employee.

The problem with this is twofold. Firstly, how do we know what the person wants to happen? For the person who says that pay isn’t competitive, maybe they do want more money. But maybe they want to work reduced hours. Or get other benefits. Or apply for promotion, transition to a new role or even leave the organisation. We simply don’t know.

Secondly, whilst Peakon is a great way to collect detailed feedback across an organisation, it’s quite difficult to ensure that everything raised in comments is acted on, given the level of feedback.

Of course, a lot of comments raised in Peakon are just employees venting in a safe space, but I’m surprised just how many seemingly important things are raised — for the first time — in Peakon.

This might be because the employee doesn’t feel able to talk to their manager about it, or doesn’t believe that anything will get done about it. Or maybe they didn’t think it was worth raising in the first place.

Regardless, where there’s a desire (or, at least, a problem) but no sense of action it can stick around in the employee’s mind and eventually begin to erode their engagement.

What would happen if we used a coaching approach within Peakon?

At its simplest, coaching is about helping the other person take action in their current situation, based on what (and who) they know. This contrasts with a mentoring approach where we might tell them what action they should take, or how to take it, or a helper approach where we take on the problem to solve it on the other person’s behalf.

The first thing we can do when presented with a problem is to find out what the employee wants to happen — an outcome. Simply asking “what would you like to have happen?” in the comments chat can be enough to get the employee thinking.

The second thing we can do is to find out what needs to happen for that to happen, and who can do it. Often, those actions can be performed by the employee. Simply asking “what needs to happen for X?” or “who can help you X?” and perhaps “can you do that/ask them?” can be enough to get the employee taking action instead of dropping the problem in Peakon and expecting someone else to sort it out.

For example, in my capacity as an internal coach (not a manager) I responded to a Peakon comment about the office environment:

“The office is untidy and we have lots of broken furniture lying around.”

Note that there was no sense of what needed to happen (though we could have guessed, perhaps incorrectly) and definitely no sense of the employee feeling able or motivated to take action.

At this point, I could have chosen to take on the problem, and forwarded it to someone else to sort out, which they might have done, eventually.

Instead, I asked them “what would you like to have happen?” and they responded along the lines of

“The broken furniture needs to be taken away”

Note again, that there’s no sense of involvement by the employee. But at least there is now a sense of an outcome (something they want to happen).

So I asked “What needs to happen for the broken furniture to be taken away?”

“We need to find someone who can take it away”

Aha! Now there’s a sense of the employee perhaps being able to do something about it instead of just raising it as a problem for someone else deal with.

I then asked “and who could do that?”

To which they replied “well I can find some local companies and ask for approval for the best quote”.

And a few days later I heard that they had made this happen, the furniture had been removed and, as a bonus, a few colleagues had joined together, tidied things up and also ordered some new cupboards to keep things tidy.

By responding to the comment in a coaching style it turned out that the employee could make it happen and in doing so they had a much better sense of empowerment, built a mini team around it, and it had a knock-on effect with a tidier office and new furniture.

Of course, it might have been appropriate for me to forward the problem on to another team. But in this case I knew that the employee was more than able to sort it out, if they were empowered and motivated to do so.

The point is that everyone in that office had seen the broken furniture and done nothing about it, for a long time. Peakon gave them the opportunity to report it anonymously and safely. And a coaching style helped them solve their own problem and grow as a result.

It seems to me that encouraging and empowering employees in this way can only help improve engagement, whilst not burdening central functions with a never-ending to do list that’s been dumped on them by others.

And if coaching is about taking action, then a culture where people take action instead of complaining or passing on problems is surely a coaching culture? Employee Engagement platforms such as Peakon give us a new way to achieve this, for organisations of any scale.

How to give Useful Feedback

Useful feedback can be such an empowering tool, and yet for many - whether giving, or receiving - it seems so daunting and often it's something we don't do very well.

This prompted me to create this list of suggested criteria for useful feedback - I'd love your feedback in the comments!

I believe that to be useful, feedback needs to be:

  • Actionable - can the recipient actually do anything to respond to it?

  • Honest - is it based on truth?

  • Highly Specific - what exactly is it referring to? what situation? what outcome?

  • Timely - is it being given/received soon after the event that prompted it?

  • Objective - is it based on facts, not opinions?

  • Constructive - is it positive?

  • Well-intentioned - is it offered with the intention to help?

  • Portable - can it be used in other situations in the future?

  • Behaviour Based - not identity based

  • Future orientated - 'next time you...' (rather than 'you should have')

  • Tough but not mean

  • Consequence of the behaviour - is it stated?

  • Impact of fixing it - is it stated?

  • Connected to their personal/career goals/growth

  • Prefer positive feedback (‘start/do more of this’) vs negative (‘stop/do less of this’)

If you're offering feedback about a colleague, have a go at using this list to ensure that your feedback is going to be as useful to them as possible.

If you're collecting feedback from colleagues, and the feedback you receive doesn't meet these criteria, why not help the person who gave the feedback turn it into something more useful?

If you're receiving feedback, and it doesn't meet these criteria, either work with the person who gave you the feedback and help them turn it into something more useful or make it clear that you need more detail in order to really respond to it.

Achieve your goals with the power of Impact Mapping

Coaching is all about taking action, and often you (the client) are able to identify at least a few things that need to happen, and pick one or two to start working on before the next session. Sometimes, however, it’s hard to come up with a next action. Maybe you have tried the only thing you thought you could try and it didn’t work. Or perhaps you believe that you can’t do anything until someone else does something first. Or perhaps you know what you want to achieve, and want to maximise your chances of having massive success.

In this situation, it might be useful to explore who could help you reach your goal or outcome.  

An Impact Map is a tool that’s very popular in the world of software development. It starts with a goal - the why - in the centre, and explores who can help you reach that goal, how they can help or hinder your progress towards the goal, and what you can do to encourage (or discourage) them. It very quickly generates a list of possible actions, which can then be prioritised. 

For example, let’s say your (SMART) goal is to lose 10kg in 20 weeks. 

The first step would be to map out a list of people (or organisations) who could help or hinder you in reaching that goal. For example, ‘Personal Trainer’, ‘my friend Mary’, ‘Mum’ as well as ‘Me’ (in reality there are many people who can help us reach our goals).

The next step is to identify their natural behaviours - the how - that could help or hinder you. You might enjoy running and weight lifting. But you also enjoy food. A Personal Trainer can offer training. But they might be only available in the morning. Your friend Mary might be a regular runner. But she might live some distance away. Mum might be a supporter. But she might also be worried that you’re not eating enough, and be upset if you don’t eat everything she puts in front of you.

The final step is to identify what you can do to encourage or discourage those behaviours. You can encourage a PT to offer you training by finding a PT that’s right for you and saving up so you have afford enough sessions. You could encourage Mary to go running with you by finding a running route you could both follow together. You could encourage Mum in supporting you by giving her a regular progress update. But you could reduce the chance of Mum getting upset when you don’t eat everything by explaining your goal, taking her out to lunch (at a place where you can control what you eat) etc.

By the end of the process you should have a map that contains a lot of actions that you could take:


Then all you need to do is prioritise which things you will do next. And if they don’t work, you can try some of the other actions. If you’re waiting for someone else, you can continue to try things that don’t involve them. After all, the key to feeling as if you’re making progress is to make progress!

If you’d like to learn more about Impact Mapping as a tool for software delivery then I’d recommend reading the book.

If you’d like to use it in a coaching session, get in touch and we can spend an hour together mapping out what you can do to help other people help you achieve your goal.

Two Essential Clean Language Questions that every IT Professional should master

As IT professionals our job is to understand our clients (whether internal or external) and use our skills to help them get their outcome (whether by delivering a software system or solving a technical problem). We all spend our days asking questions in an attempt to understand how we can help and yet clients or users often feel that they've been misunderstood. Most often this is expressed when the outcome isn't reached because we delivered the wrong thing. "That's not exactly what I meant", they say. And we then set about finding out what they did mean and trying to deliver that, whilst trying to keep to deadlines and budgets (which, of course, we can't).

You would think that, given the importance of eliciting clear and accurate requirements, we would invest in equipping IT professionals with the skills needed to do this. And yet, for the most part, we don't.

For example, how often have you been in a conversation (or witnessed one) where client Alice says to developer Bob "I need an X"? And Bob (having previously delivered "X" so many times during his career) says "sure! I can do that". And when it's done, Alice says "thinking about it more, I need more of a Y".

What would happen if IT professionals - whether developers, quality assurance engineers, business analysts, project managers, consultants, architects, support engineers or anyone else whose business is to understand their client's business - had a way to quickly and consistently get that understanding?

The good news is that there are just two questions that, if consistently applied, can make a significant difference.

These two questions are from the world of "Clean Language" which is a communications methodology that is often used by Coaches and Therapists but can also be very useful for IT professionals. At its purest, Clean Language doesn't allow the coach to use anything more than a core set of "clean questions" and the response of the client, using their words. The coach must not use other questions or their inject their own language. You'd think it would be restrictive, but from my experience it's a very powerful approach that gets results fast.

So what would happen if the conversation went more like this?

Alice: "I need an X"

Bob: "What kind of X?" or "What kind of X is that X?"

Alice: "Well, it's more of a Y"

Bob: "What kind of Y is that Y?"

Alice: "It's a Y that has A, B and C."

Bob: "What kind of A is that A" ?

Alice: [describes something about A]

Bob: "And is there anything else about A?"

Alice: [describes something else about A]

Bob: "And is there anything else about A?"

Alice "no"

Bob: "And what kind of B is that B?"

[Bob continues to ask about B and C using these questions]

Bob: "And is there anything else about A"

Alice: "no, I think that covers it".

If the conversation went like this, it's highly likely that Bob would have a much better understanding of what Alice wants. But, crucially, Alice would have a better understanding of what she wants before Bob begins to deliver a solution. This is one of the key aspects of IT software or service delivery that is often forgotten.

Our role is not just to understand our clients. It's also to help them understand themselves.

If our clients don't fully understand what they want, how on earth are we able to help them get it?

By giving them an opportunity to explore their outcome (the thing they want to have happen as a result of talking to you) in their language we can help them understand their outcome even more deeply. And as they do so, we benefit from that deeper understanding. As we help, so we are helped.

Of course, most of us already use some form of these questions, but we probably don't do it regularly and consistently and we probably change the language as we do so.

For example, Bob might ask "what do you mean by X?". And Alice, perceiving this question to be slightly confrontational, might not respond well.

Or Bob might say "oh, you mean a Z!", mapping Alice's language into his own world. And Alice then has to decide whether that's true despite not knowing anything about "Z" and therefore having to make a hazardous guess.

Or Bob might assume that he knows what Alice means by "X" and move on to the next question. He might be embarrassed at asking Alice about what she means by "X" because surely everyone knows what an "X" is and therefore Alice might think Bob is stupid or wasn't paying attention. In moving on too early, Bob misses an opportunity to understand "X" even better.

Let me give a real-world example, but not from the world of IT.

I was coaching a client who was stressed because they wanted to buy a house, and couldn't afford to do so without changing jobs (which they didn't want to do) or getting a second job (which would have created ongoing stress, not to mention physical exhaustion). At that point it would have been natural to suppose that the problem was going to be solved by helping the client to make more money in a way that was OK for them, learn how to cope with the stress of a second job or help them accept that their goal was unachievable with current resources.

But it turns out that wasn't the problem at all.

Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to ask "What kind of house is that house?".

And the client brightened up and replied "Well, it's more like a home. A place where I can put up my pictures and paint the walls the colours I like."

Sensing there was more, I asked "And is there anything else about that house?"

After quite a long period of silence, the client answered "well, I just realised that I don't need to buy a house. I just need to rent a place where I am allowed to make it my home", and broke into a huge grin.

It would have been very easy for me to take the first answer at face value and carry on trying to help the client find ways to buy the house. But it would have been the wrong solution.

Daring to ask these two simple questions - "what kind of X is that X?" and "and is there anything else about X?" - gave my client the space to understand their own outcome more clearly and find their own solution.

These questions can be used in any kind of relationship where Person B is trying to understand Person A (which is pretty much any relationship, whether professional or personal).

You might be concerned that this process would be time consuming or frustrating for the client. Parrot-like, even. But if you adopt the right attitude - helpful curiosity - and stick to the client's language (not translating it into your language) your client will probably have a rare but valuable experience not only of having been properly listened to, but also having been given a space in which they can understand and refine their outcome. And that's priceless, because there's every chance that you just saved yourself significant time, frustration and budget by reducing waste.

So next time you think you've just understood what someone has just said to you, why not pause, take a breath, become curious and ask "what kind of X is that X?". And when they've answered you, continue to ask "and is there anything else about X?" until they say "no".

I hope this is useful. If you'd like to find out more about Clean Language and how you can use it in your professional or personal life then get in touch