Emotions and labels

This week seems to be the week to discuss all things emotional intelligence in the blogosphere. Two of particular note are this piece by Julia Drybrough and this one by Phil Willcox. As a side note, what Phil doesn’t know about emotions isn’t worth knowing. Check the guy out here.

So I want you today to think about the labels we put on our emotions. As we start to understand more about how emotions drive behaviour, we also start to get all dramatic about their power. We start to call emotions positive and negative. We start to call them useful and harmful. We start to lay claim of being in control.

Let’s move for a moment to talking about labels. Labels help us categorise the world. If I want to articulate myself I choose my words carefully enough to make myself understood. If you take for a moment the political rhetoric about poor people on benefits, listen to the language and articulation of those arguments. They are purposeful and serve only to drive certain emotions.

Because emotions drive behaviour.

Imagine then how intriguing it is when someone seems unaware of how they are affecting others through their actions, language and their behaviours. They shrug it off and exclaim “that’s your problem”. It happens a lot. And many of us may examine this and argue “they don’t know how to control their emotions”.

Emotions aren’t good or bad. They’re a survival instinct. They help prepare the body for action. They signal the presence of something that the body isn’t expecting. Emotions just are.

From the moment we are aware of an emotion affecting us, this is the moment we can take control of our being and our condition. But that level of awareness isn’t a natural default for everyone. Indeed it can be downright alien.

Yes you can give feedback to others, and have coaching sessions, and prepare performance reviews, but for some people, it’s just hard to understand that they’re not in full control of themselves.

Kind of gives change management a different perspective.


Doing some social recruiting

So I made the classic hiring mistake on social media. I tweeted out that I’m hiring for an L&D Facilitator, shared it on LinkedIn and got a seriously low response rate. So much so that I may as well not have bothered.

Screenshot 2014-04-21 at 19.26.19

And I got in touch with lots of people I know asking them directly if they knew of anyone who might be interested. All in my quest to not go down the route of using agencies or job boards.

They got retweeted and shared aplenty which was jolly splendid of everyone. What I was disappointed by was how little the response was. So I ranted a little, and subsequently got told it’s because I’m not engaging people as to why they should bother.

Fair. Point.

I’ve been at One Housing Group for about ten months now. OHG are a social housing association. That is, they provide housing to people in society who cannot get there on their own. OHG also have a strong care and support arm. This means we specialise in supporting people in society who have various vulnerabilities such as alcohol dependency, drug abuse, mental health sufferers, and older people.

Our social purpose is core to the work we do. As time goes on, I’m starting to better understand more just how important the work housing associations, such as OHG, is. And it’s bringing to the fore the many challenges to help create a learning organisation.

I’m helping create a shared understanding of what this looks like, and what I need for the next 12 months is someone to come in and help deliver and facilitate learning sessions to help everyone at OHG be their best.

That’s my thing. I like people being their best. If I can help them get there, life is good. With 1200 staff, there’s a lot to do. From designing team building sessions, providing advice on what constitutes learning, facilitating management development sessions, using our LMS and helping embed informal learning practices, I’m looking for someone to really step into a role which will offer complete development opportunities and truly test your L&D skills.

I don’t care about what skill set you come armed with. I’m hopeful that regardless of your background and experience, your attitude is all about the learner and how to help them. The people at OHG are a great group of people to work with. They care about making resident’s and clients lives better. The more we can do to help them achieve that, the more we can prove the value of L&D. And in this environment, that’s the silver bullet right there.

But don’t worry about that, that’s what I’m there for.

OHG is also a very successful commercial organisation. Our commercial activities are how we ensure our social activities are maintained and sustained. That brings a difference to the traditional housing association industry and means you need to be someone who can help people move along that journey. It’s not natural for everyone to act or work with commerciality in mind.

And I’d be doing the HR team a disservice if I didn’t give praise to them. We’ve got a committed group of pros who are providing OHG with some first class business support. There are jam doughnuts and sweets being regularly supplied, and some good lunch buddies to have a break with. We try and model the behaviours we’re advocating in the business with regular team meetings, peer discussion forums and openness of sharing information.

If you think this is somewhere you’d like to work, check out the full details here and it’s also being advertised on Personnel Today.


Creativity, environment and progress

There are many instances today of people being creative. Be it through art, music, work, technology or science, creativity is a constant as much as change is. People finding new and different ways to express themselves and to find new solutions to old and new problems.

In the context of work, though, we seem to have lost practise in being creative.

Ask anyone at work what they enjoy doing in their spare time, and almost inevitably it will be described in a way which allows them to be creative, experience creativity or allows them a place to excel in some way.

I spend a lot of my time finding ways to inject a sense of creativity into how people work and what they experience. What I’m conscious of, always, is that I have to follow a set of principles.

The first is to be really clear about the problem we’re trying to solve. Sounds almost obvious, but without a clear brief, you could end up designing a solution for the wrong problem. Getting clarity on the problem, then, is vital.

Next is to find out what’s currently happening. Be it through data gathering, data intelligence, anecdotes or otherwise, I need to have a sense of what already exists. After all if the system works, why break it?

What this also informs me is what are the constraints in place. These constraints are vital to being creative. Constraints – perceived and real – are what can be broken and constraints are what we often circumvent when reaching a new solution.

For me what happens next is where life gets interesting. Once I understand the problem, what works and what constraints are in place, that’s when I can start challenging the norm. That’s when I can start inviting ideas. That’s when creativity happens.

I can start to use tools and techniques as simple as brainstorming to advanced techniques like Six Thinking Hats. Regardless of the tool I use, it’s about the environment I’ve created for creativity to happen.

My final principle I believe in is that good ideas can come from anyone. A lot of people will claim they haven’t got a creative bone in their body. That’s because they’ve been told to not be creative in pretty much their entire adult life. Create the right environment for it to happen though and everyone can contribute. Doesn’t mean everyone has to come up with a solution, but it does mean everyone can provide insight and advice on how to make something happen.

There are whole job titles and companies set up in helping unleash creativity in different ways. Kudos to them. The problem every organisation faces is how to enable creativity in useful and progressive ways internally.

And I’ll let you into a secret. It’s not about taking the team on a team building day to experience creativity. It’s about facilitating it to happen in your work environment.


When presentations are about meaning making

I enjoy presenting. I have no compunctions about standing in front of a group of people. I am more than ok with people focusing their attention on me. I am positively exuberant about talking on things I know about.

See, I end up thinking about all those presentations where people just aren’t presenting well. And it makes me mad. It’s a judgement I make. I make lots of judgements all the time, and this is one I freely admit too. Similarly to being in a learning session. If you’re helping me to learn something I will scrutinise you to within an inch of your life. (in my head – I’m not that rude k?)

But there’s lots of things I learned about what makes a good presentation.

A lot of a good presentation is to do with the content. There’s no denying that. People enjoy a presentation when the content informs them of something they can do something with. That’s the hardest part of a presentation – creating meaning and telling a story.

And clearly, a presentation needs to be practised. People cannot wing it and deliver a good presentation. They can wing it and make it seem like it was practised, but it’s never as good as a practised presentation. It’s why on presentation training you’re constantly practising, because that’s the best thing to do.

Then there’s all the things you never learn about on a presentation skills course.

I learned about emotional intelligence. This was massive for me. I learned how to recognise my emotions better, and how to listen to what they were telling. I rely on this every time I present. It’s a core part of how well I know how I’m doing. When the anxiety I feel turns to adrenaline and I can use that purposefully is when I know and recognise I’m in full flow.

Importantly, though, I learned how to read the audience and what they’re likely to be experiencing. I’ve often been told I build rapport with a group well. I believe this is because I am highly conscious and mindful of the emotional presence everyone has in the room with me. Or said another way, I become purposefully empathetic. When I do this, I take stock of as much information as I can to help guide my delivery.

I learned about power, and who has it. You’re often told that you’re the one who has the power. I believe that’s true. What I found, though, was sharing my power with the group is what counts. When I share my power with the group, that’s what moves it from being a presentation to being about sharing my purpose and sharing my meaning. That engagement and participation is crucial. If I don’t make that happen, I do not consider it a job well done.

One of the main things we all know about is story-telling. Every powerful presentation is about story-telling. I had to work on this a lot. I could present well enough – and what I wasn’t doing a lot of the time was crafting a story. I wasn’t helping people make those theories, those models, the data, or the information tell a story. It took me a long time to learn how to craft a story and make that the thrust of the presentation.

I try not to use props or visual media where possible. The presentation is about you and what you are bringing to the party. Ok, it may be about a product if you’re in sales, but the product doesn’t change anything. It’s the person selling it that makes the product valuable. That’s the greatest trick of a salesman – making you think you need a product you’ve already got.

The language I use is critical and crucial. I take my time over this. Every word is purposeful and invokes a reaction in different ways. Sometimes I use provocative words, sometimes I use emotional words, sometimes I use offensive words. But I do it with a high level of self-scrutiny. I don’t want to offend or make anyone uncomfortable, and the language I use is core to making this a reality.

And the last thing I really focus on is me and my presence. Where am I in the room? How am I positioned with the audience? Who am I focusing on? What do people see me doing? Am I displaying congruent behaviours to my presentation? Am I being still when it matters? Am I moving around when it’s needed? Am I waving my arms wildly? Am I using welcoming gestures?

I don’t think I’ve mastered delivering good presentations. I love doing them and will continue to seek feedback about them. The above list helps me to keep on track with maintaining a ridiculously high standard.


The best laid plans…

When your 4 yr old daughter video bombs a recording of a proposal you’re trying to make…


Dealing with difficult people when facilitating

There comes a time for most facilitators when they’re met with that person in the group who is difficult. In the context of the learning session, this is quite broad. A difficult person is someone who:
- is dominating a lot of the conversation because they have things to say
- are openly questioning and challenging the facilitator
- is making inappropriate remarks or comments to others in the room
- is cynical to an uncomfortable level
- is challenging because of recent change affected to them
- and other behaviours I’m not remembering to list

I’ve had cause in recent learning sessions to deal with these types of difficult people. And it’s caused me to reflect on what role I play in their behaviour.

First and foremost I have taken the opinion that if it is happening in the learning session, this is the right place for it. Something in that session has sparked something in that person for them to react a certain way. This may be wittingly or not on my behalf. In most cases it is an unexpected outcome of an intended exercise.

This helps me to consider that with this group, it’s my role to help that person move through what they’re experiencing. This involves a range of skills I call on to help me gauge what’s happening.

If it’s annoyance at a model or theory I’m presenting, I can accept that. These things don’t work for everyone and it’s important not to be wedded to such things just because the session was designed a certain way.

If it’s someone who is dominating the conversation,  I find this is normally because they are someone who expresses their opinion freely with little regard to how it is received. I do a few things when faced with this. I’ll set to purposefully change the way an exercise will run so that it relies on open participation and means more than one person has to be active in the discussion.

In a group discussion I normally let this person say what they need to. I’ve learned to be careful how much attention I offer that person and will move myself amongst the group and talk directly to other members encouraging their input. I’ve been plenty guilty in sessions to stand my ground (literally) and direct myself only to that person neglecting everyone else.

If it’s cynicism I find this harder to handle. Generally because I want to focus on progressive and positive discussions and learning. This often means I’m fighting my urge to argue with that person and show them how wrong they are. I have to go back to Facilitation Skills 101 and focus on my active listening (or facilitative listening) skills. Like I say this is really hard for me in this context as I’ve already judged and decided that person is wrong. When I can do this, it helps me to better understand where that cycnism is coming from and often contracting with that person to move on with the session because their concern cannot be dealt with then and there.

If it’s inappropriate remarks to someone else in the room, I have no qualms about addressing those directly. I don’t demean or put down the person doing it. It’s not heckling and I’m not a comedian. Well, not professionally. So I challenge the comments being made. I never challenge the person though. In this context I’m actively seeking to raise awareness of a person’s behaviour by challenging what they’re displaying.

Now don’t get me wrong. These techniques I use are far from fool proof, and may not be the right approach to take. Indeed there are other factors like the trust in the group, trust with me, the engagement of the group, the purpose of the learning session, the environment we’re in, the motivation if individuals, all of which and more, which may be affecting a positive or negative outcome.

I find that it it in these moments of challenging behaviour in a learning session that my learning most takes place. I have all the theory and models ready and waiting to be deployed for awareness raising, but these situations demand a different active skill set which I’m enjoying reflecting on and understanding better about myself and the environment I’m creating. This is when true learning takes place for me.


A good day of learning

So last week I attended my first #FIRMday courtesy of Gary Franklin and Emma Mirrington. There were some tip top things being discussed which I wanted to share here.

First, I loved hearing the history of The FIRM from starting as a LinkedIn group, to becoming a recognised centre of excellence for in-house recruiters, to them developing a qualification and this summer holding an experiential camping and learning event called Recruitstock. There’s a lot to be learned in how this has come about.

For me, it’s about the needs of the profession being delivered by a few brave souls. Gary saw the in-house recruitment market needed something extra and something purposeful to help them be better and he made it happen.

I liken this to how L&D Connect came about, and why it persists as a community.

Industry bodies are one thing, and they always have good intentions at heart. The beauty of a community like L&D Connect or The FIRM is that they’re agile, and responsive to the needs of the community. Industry bodies have to seek approval and seek industry speakers and have industry standards. Why determine the fate of a group when the group are perfectly capable of self-government – provided they have the means and the resources to make it happen?

There were two excellent examples of organisational activity which I came away with.

The first was having robust discussions about diversity and inclusion at a major high street bank. They held a series of internal and external forums to find out how they could attract more talent into the business at all levels so there was true diversity being represented. This was pretty cool and I wonder how purposeful most companies make this kind of activity? I imagine most will say – oh yeah sure we do diversity checks and surveys all the time, we’re fine.

What I liked about this approach was the willingness to have discussions about a topic which most people don’t even know how to address. It’s clearly a topic of concern, and the challenge is always about creating a culture where it’s ok to have those robust discussions.

The second was about how to improve your employee referral programme aka refer a friend. A lot of companies have a scheme whereby if you recommend someone you know for a permanent job in your company, you receive a pay reward for doing so. What we heard about was how for a call centre based in Crewe, this referral programme became their preferred method of recruitment. They trained all staff in how to be brand advocates and spent money and comms and marketing efforts in promoting the referral programme across the company.

Oh and I spoke about Positive Psychology which was warmly received and I got some brilliant feedback.

It was an unexpectedly good day of learning and good opportunity to hear how internal recruitment teams are making good things happen in different companies.


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