Jarring, facilitation and positivity

Some months back, I was munching and lunching with Doug Shaw and we were talking about a good number of things. In particular we ambled on talking about helping groups with positive actions and positive behaviours who may not be ready for it.

Facilitation, when done well, is by essence a positive experience. It normally helps a group move forward and progress their thinking. Facilitators are mindful of energy levels, positive interactions, feedback, techniques and more besides. All this fits into the kitbag of what the facilitator is capable of doing and how they work with a group to reach an agreed outcome.

One of the important tenets of positive psychology is accepting that sometimes bad things happen. That definition of bad is as broad as it needs to be. It includes personal slights, significant events, workplace problems, global catastrophes, warring countries, relationship troubles and even mental illness. What’s not important is defining ‘bad’ in this context. What’s important is recognising that something is not right.

I’ve said before, and will say again that positive thinking in this type of instance is unhelpful. You can’t just positively think you’re way out of feeling like something is jarring with you. It’s important to recognise what that jarring is, address it and find a way to move forward once you have acted on making it better. And sometimes, that’s the piece we can get stuck with.

It happens in organisations too. A team that is not a team because they’re not working together, won’t be an effective team unless they accept one another. It doesn’t matter if they haven’t normed or stormed or whatever, or if they haven’t identified who’s completely finishing and who’s off planting. What matters is if they have a basic work ethic and trust with one another. If they can’t do those essentials with team members, then they won’t be able to positively work together.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that focusing on a positive outcome without the team being ready for it could do more harm than good. Why? Because they’ll only be cynical about the tasks or activities they’re being asked to carry out, and when they’re back in the workplace nothing will change for them. I remember facilitating a team event with a team who were asked to take part in a games based activity. It was meant to be a pat on the back for them and a recognition of their hard work. They did what they were asked to, and when they were back in the workplace, went back to all their negative behaviours. That happened because, with hindsight, we didn’t address what was the reality for them. It didn’t matter that they were being treated to a day out, they needed to address their team issues.

The clear outcome from dealing with bad things is that we know we can overcome them. Sometimes they seem insurmountable, but often it’s an attitudinal blockage as opposed to anything else.

Personally, too, we experience jarring of all sorts. In most cases we can brush things off, or accept them because of the personal situations we may be faced with. When that jarring, though, means we are stuck, that’s when we need to address it and find a way to act on it.

In this context, it can be hard to make that happen if we are unaware of what actually needs to be done. A coach, a trusted friend / other or a trained counsellor can help in these instances. When people enter into long term discussions focused on one issue or another, those are important moments to help progress happen. I believe it’s important to encourage positive behaviours where possible too. Supporting people to engage with positive actions can be really hard.

At work, this could be talking to your manager about your growing workload from them. It could be about finding ways to better manage your constant urgent and important actions. It could be finding better ways to manage your projects. It could be dealing with a difficult colleague. It could be going for that promotion.

It’s hard to do all of the above. That’s why us L&Ders exist. We facilitate. We make the hard easy. We make the hard better. We make the hard more manageable. We make the hard easier to understand.

Your takeaway? Accept that sometimes things jar. When you address it and find a way to act on it, you allow yourself the space to act positively for your own wellbeing.

When stigma and art collide

There we were, me and my boys, eating our food in the langar (free kitchen) in the gurdwara. A guy was blutacking some drawings to the wall. He came over to ask if we’d come and have a look at his artwork. He went round asking others too.

Above the pictures he put his name – Raj Singh Tattal, the Pen-Tacular-Artist. So I did what came natural and immediately Googled the guy, and came across this BBC Ouch article about him.

Raj is a 38 yr old man who was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome only two years ago. For all his time before he suffered an array of personal problems, forged a life for himself, and eventually succumbed to depression.

He realised that his obsessive behaviour was driven because he doesn’t like change. He would stay in his room for days on end with no desire to come out, not because there was something wrong with him, but because that was where he was happy.

He also reignited his interest and passion for art. It is far too much of a cliché to write about autistic spectrum behaviour and artisitic ability. In Raj’s case this was very much true. His artwork is nothing short of amazing as you’ll see below. All his work is done with charcoal and pencils.

He chose to show us his work on Sikhs and Sikh history, but on his website are a lot more variety showcasing his talent. There are pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch, fan art images of the likes of Spider-Man and drawings of people in despair – in his own words, not because he’s morbid but because he can relate to that.

I don’t know Raj, I only met him yesterday and he didn’t ask me to sponsor or promote his work.

Stories like this leave me in awe. I have no idea what Raj’s life will be like from here on out. He’s found a way to be at peace with his syndrome and how it affects his life. More than that, he’s found a way to find beauty in this personal adversity he faces. That’s more than most of us will achieve in our life.


Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji


Maharaja Duleep Singh


Punjabi bhangra dancers


Sikh soldiers


Mai Bhago


A Sikh warrior

Competency frameworks are bunkum

I mean, if you read no further, you would still understand the gist of this post.

In the interest of fairness, and for a bit of a debate, here’s all the good things about competency frameworks.

4. They help establish consistent behaviours for everyone to be measured against.

I’ve developed competency frameworks in my time. Spent months of my life that I’m never going to get back understanding corporate behaviours, job based behaviours, and how these might be translated into identifiable measurable things. Rolled out these frameworks to the workforce and spent time with managers helping them to understand how to use them.

You know who loved them? Technical experts. Why? Because it gave them a tool to be able to have those conversations which didn’t focus on a persons craft and were about their behaviours, or their attitude or their knowledge. It gave them a way to have good conversations because they didn’t know how to do that well.

You know who else loved them? All the suppliers and vendors who built their business on a competency framework that identifies x and helps improve performance by doing these sets of interventions. They’re a tangible product, some even have norm groups for some reason, and some are actually quite good.

But they’re the wrong solution to the problem.

The problem has always been how to help people at work talk well with each other. The biggest challenge and biggest opportunity for every team, for every manager, for every senior executive, for every comms team is how to communicate well.

No competency framework will fix that.

When you put a competency framework in place, you’re effectively restricting the clever people to conform to a set of agreed principles. You’re telling people they’re not allowed to think about their own behaviour at work because you’ve produced a manuscript of what that looks like. You’re reducing the whole of a persons being into a neat framework that everyone must and will conform to otherwise they’ll be in disciplinary procedures.

As L&Ders we need to be focused on improving dialogic skills. That’s how organisation development happens. That’s how engagement scores improve. That’s how retention happens. That’s how good recruitment happens. That’s how dealing with difficult behaviour happens. That’s how the world turns round.

L&D, Credibility and Knowledge

We have a tough old battle in L&D when it comes to establishing credibility. If you’re an internal practitioner, are you meant to be credible in L&D management, delivery, design, evaluation, or procurement? If you’re an external practitioner are you meant to be expert in certain topics, jack of all trades, or have had internal experience gone external? Mix into both of those, and what about skillsets around technology for learning, facilitation methodologies, creative thinking and other theories and models of personal development.

Sure there’s context wrapped around all of that too. What does the business need? Is the time right for it now? is L&D best placed to provide the solution? Does that person have the right skills?

For me, a constant challenge I place on myself is to be knowledgeable about a lot. I don’t want to be caught out with not knowing about certain parts of L&D because I didn’t bother taking the time to learn about them. There’s a lot to learn about the human condition, and it offers massive insight into human behaviour.

The fundamentals don’t change in the workplace. People are there to do a job. They want to be paid well. They want to feel good about what they do. They want to have some influence as to the outcome of what they’re doing. It’s the nuances that slide and slip between those factors that fascinate me.

But I have a belief, and one that I am very careful not to impose on others, that in order for me to have credibility I need to know what’s being said in this space. It means I come across information which resonates with me, that I am indifferent to, or that I have a firm view against.

Personally, I find doing this has made me fundamentally more liberal and inclusive in my thoughts and my practice. As I learn more about various models of human development, I learn that there is so very little that makes us different and yet so much that makes us unique. That’s truly humbling.

So we’re back at that challenge up above. What does it mean to be credible? Big question.

What is it that you think helps you be credible in your practice?

Is blogging a convenient distraction?

I’m troubled my friends. I’m troubled by the aspirations and ambitions of all us in the HR space writing about all these important things to make work better.

I’m troubled because I wonder if this is a convenience of distraction to life outside of our worlds.

Events in the Middle East are continuing to be troubled with violence on a scale many of us in the West will never comprehend. I am so ignorant of a lot of that, mostly because there is so much to understand about it all.

Big important issues like having a society where different walks of life are accepted and included remain one of the biggest challenges facing modern existence.

Yesterday, the NASA Twitter account tweeted the actual timeline of the Apollo 11 space flight to the Moon. Only 9 human beings have seen the Earth from that perspective. And we’re not likely to do that again until it becomes a commercial venture.

Children across the world continue to be victims of violence, abuse and all manners of manipulation. That continues to make me sad and helpless.

And maybe I’m talking about things so far out of my and our control that it doesn’t matter.

Maybe all we have the capacity for is to write about our working lives and organisational life.

Maybe we want to do more but don’t know how to support that.

Maybe all these things would be better if more people paid attention.

And maybe we’re all happy to just carry on with our lot and feel lucky of the life we lead away from all that.

I’m troubled. Yet here I go, about my day, about my life, resigned to what is.

Cultivating Positive Language

Last week at the Strategic HR Network OD Conference I had a good time delivering a workshop session on Positive Psychology at Work. I take the time to craft these sessions carefully and have fun with them. It’s important to me that in a setting like this, it’s not just the sage on the stage spouting wisdom after wisdom. I believe that I have some knowledge, but the learning happens at an individual level, so I need to build that in to the session.

I made a connection afterwards where someone asked me – how do I create a positive language about the work I do?

Man. That’s a hard question.

I have no secret to this, or even thought about what that development might look like. All I can do is reflect on my practise and what I do with it.

I guess the first thing for me is being self-aware of the language I’m currently using. It’s not just that I’m generally a positive person, or always willing to help someone see the best of a situation. There’s something more for me about expressing and articulating myself in a way which remains true to my belief. I believe everyone can be their best self, so I have to use a language which supports that belief. If I don’t then I am not being true to my own belief.

Which then means I need to slow down in my speech. Articulating my thoughts into a positive experience means I need to be mindful about the words I’m using, and mindful about what I want to express. So I take my time. There’s no rush. If I want this dialogue to be meaningful then I need to let my thoughts catch up to my mouth.

I don’t not say negative things, I just say more positive things. This isn’t some weird ass ratio thing I’ve got going on. I just don’t like saying negative things. I will when I need to. I’ll happily call a spade a spade if that’s what it is. I don’t deny reality, and I don’t shy away from difficult conversations. I’ll call out bad things when I see/hear them, and I’ll be right in there defending people if it’s appropriate to do so. And sometimes there’s a real need to explore something fully before you can move past it. Even in these moments, I’ll use words which may have a different focus if I think it’s useful. I get that wrong a lot, but I won’t stop trying.

It’s hard work talking positively. So sometimes I switch off. It doesn’t happen a lot in truth, but I can’t sustain talking positively all the time. Instead I’ll just choose to keep neutral. If I have nothing positive to say, I won’t be negative. I’ll just voice where I’m at, and let it be known that there’s no judgement to what I’m saying, but that’s where I’m thinking.

I didn’t start cultivating positive language because I am a student of positive psychology. I’ve been cultivating it for years. It’s partly why I enjoy corporate communications. Most messages can be written well, and written to have effect, while not being boring or staid. If that’s true, why not focus on that? So I find excuses to cultivate positive language in most areas of work I do. I was reflecting on my blog from the early days. It used to be a ranty blog, and although an outlet, didn’t help me be my best. When I started focusing on writing well, and writing for a variety of personal purposes, that’s when I started to enjoy it more.

So there you have it, I think.

Creativity is in the mind

Over the last few months I’ve been working with a colleague designing a document. The document, in and of itself, is boring. It’s going to essentially be a capability framework. It’s not exciting, and it’s not ground-breaking.

I am loving the project though. Not because of the time invested into the project, but because of the creative process we’ve been going through with the document.

See, it didn’t start off as a document. It started off as an idea.

We were given a brief on what needed to be done. That brief was clear, and the expected outcomes were clear too.

What we did when we came together was to bash around the brief together to see what we thought it needed to be. That’s where the fun started.

We didn’t just sit at a table and brainstorm ideas in a bullet point fashion on a sheet of A4.

We were walking around the room and being all animated with one another.

I was scribbling things on the whiteboard and illustrating things.

He was commenting and providing context and developing his thinking. He was getting all visual in his head about what it could be.

Then we went away and left it alone.

When we came back together, he showed me this document and said that’s what our session produced for him.

We started getting all excited about things again. More things were being drawn, graphs being created and ideas being had.

We’ve been steadily, and surely, iterating each round of the document, and it’s looking fab.

It’s going to be a capability framework. It’s boring. It’s mundane.

But it’s been fab fun.