Mindful practise at work

When I started to learn about mindfulness, I was immediately drawn to it. Sure that’s because I’m a lefty liberal who is pink and fluffy, and I found that I struggled with it. This was mostly because my experience of meditation is different and I couldn’t make mindfulness fit.

In the Sikh religion, meditation is done as a collective experience. Of course it can be done on your own, but the practice tends to be with a group of others. Mindfulness, then, for me was a challenge. How could I embody this way of thinking and focus while being by myself?

I’ve found that it’s in my day to day stuff and work practise that I’m more able to take on being mindful as opposed to sitting quietly. It tends to be in my interactions with others that I can open myself to being mindful in a way I may not do otherwise. Below are some further examples of how you can think about how mindfulness can be manifest in day to day work interactions.

Project work

Often when we’re working on projects there are moments when we become personally stuck. It can be beneficial at these moments to take a break from the project, even if only for a few minutes, and cultivate mindfulness. This can be done by getting a glass of water, going for a walk, of even just breathing. Remember, with mindfulness it’s less about the act itself and more about the experience of what you’re doing. Taking the time to fully and wholly just experience that one thing. What does it feel like? What does it make you think? What’s happening to your body? Where are you thoughts bring taken to? How can you focus just on the one thing?

In doing this, what you’re enabling is for the body and mind to be occupied with just one thought. When you’ve had the time to do this, you’ll then be able to decide how to move forward with the project. Not necessarily immediately but certainly with more options available to you as you’ve been able to separate yourself from it which gives space to think better on it.

Facilitation with groups

As a facilitator, one of the many skills involved is encouraging the group to be inclusive with one another. That means needing to hear different people, be aware of the overall discussion, watch for people and their contributions, not forcing people to talk but creating an environment where they can, listening to tonality of voices, and being observant of body language. The role of the facilitator in these situations is to help everyone be the best of themselves and contribute in ways that are useful and helpful to others.

It’s also about your own thoughts, feelings and focus and how you perceive these are being impacted or influenced by the group and how you can provide direction, instruction or guidance on moving forward.

Difficult conversations

For many managers at work, they need to have difficult conversations at some point. When these need to be had, emotions are already flying high and it can be tough to ensure that the conversation will go well even with being well prepared.

Being mindful in these situations enables the manager to be able to understand the fluctuation in their emotions as the conversation is being had and also in how the other person is responding. What that means is the manager should be able to respond in ways which are more useful to them and the other person to have a better conversation.

These are just some examples of how I see mindfulness in practise may be easier to understand for some and allows for a different set of exploration on how to cultivate the practise as individuals.

Time for a fresh perspective? #blimage

Earlier this week, Kandy Woodfield invited me to write a blog post as part of the #blimage blog challenge. The image she provided is someone standing on their head with the caption “time for a fresh perspective?”.

I’ve been doing a fair amount of facilitation based activity lately. Facilitation is where I shine, where I thrive and where I am truly at my best. It’s a craft and it’s a combination of skills which when brought together create an experience and that remains my focus. How can I help craft that experience as a facilitator?

I’ve also been in discussion lately with other about awards and accreditations and the benefit of pitching yourself against others. How can you know if you’re doing well if you don’t put yourself out there and benchmark against others? What does great look like, and how do you know if you’re doing great? How are you measuring your level of great and is it skewed to be in your favour?

And I’ve been discussing with others about my blogging. I blog regularly and share my experiences, thoughts, insights, practice, and feelings openly. It was remarked to me that as a practitioner this is brave. I reflected that I don’t recognise it as that and understand how it can be seen that way.

For me, my practice started to significantly shift when I discovered social media. I became a quick advocate of this new technology and have remained so ever since. I don’t do social media particularly well, I’m just present a lot on Twitter and my blog. That doesn’t equate to quality. (Not seeking affirmation here). I’m present a lot because I come across such good content that is worth sharing. I’m currently amazed at my number of Twitter followers. People follow me for all sorts of reasons, and for that I’m pretty grateful. It doesn’t always equate to quality dialogue, that happens with a far less number.

What social media helped do for me is offer me perspectives on things I never knew I wanted to have a perspective on, or develop my thinking on. I now have positions on MOOCs, behavioural economics, marketing, recruitment, brands, cats, politics, life, family, religion and so much more because I’ve read things which force my thinking to kick into gear. I’ve read outrageously racist things, deeply sad things, highly offensive things, massively amusing things, life affirmingly beautiful things and all sorts. I don’t care if it’s short form or long form, it’s all been valuable.

This accessibility we now have is so amazing that it informs my practice. I can see the benefits of digital literacy and social media has not just for me but for supporting the development of the workforce. I’m there with it, living it, breathing it, embedding it I  all I do. Today in a meeting someone said they didn’t want to fall foul of having their phone on in the meeting. I shared that I’m really easy with it being on. He’s an adult, he’s capable of knowing if a phone alert is important enough to disturb us being together. When our smartphones are such a part of our lives, who am I to determine if you’re allowed to use it in my presence?

It’s not that social media in and of itself enabled me to develop and hone and craft. It’s the many things I became aware of that suddenly became things I wanted to do and be part of. I learned about unconferences. I learned about flipped classroom learning. I learned about memes. I learned about content strategy. I learning about UX. I learned about big data. I learned about Open Space. I learned about Appreciative Inquiry. I learned about lots of things which I wanted to take, investigate further, learn more about and incorporate into what I do.

It’s a long journey. It takes persistence, as Kandy talked about, and it means that as much as I might think my craft is good, I can’t become complacent because I have all these fresh perspectives supporting my personal and professional development.

Yo, Tim Scott, I nominate you for a #blimage blog post with this inspiration…


Developing a learning culture

I remember not so long ago, developing a learning culture was what L&D professionals were most concerned with. Thinking back on it, and reflecting on recent years of technology development, I wonder if we really understood what we wanted to achieve? Not in terms of the aim, but in terms of the how.

I mean not more than 10 years ago, online learning wasn’t really a thing because the technology wasn’t there, Encarta was probably still high up people’s reference list, Google was just becoming a thing, e-learning was pretty niche and restricted to compliance stuff, YouTube was becoming a thing too, communities of practise were proper out there if they happened at all, social media was My Space and Friends Reunited, On Demand TV was what you had with Home Choice and knowledge management systems were expensive.

I wonder if we look back on the companies who were lauded as having great learning cultures were the ones who were doing 70:20:10 type stuff but never had that name for it?

I look at today’s organisations, with the tech so much more advanced than we could imagine, and with much deeper understanding of what it takes to create a learning culture and how to design great learning solutions, and I wonder how we define that in today’s terms? Is it even still a thing that we are trying to pursue? If not, what is our goal as L&D/OD professionals?

My biggest challenge, in most organisations I’ve been with and in discussing with many others, is cultivating that change to happen through others in the business. Some examples:

A manager asked me to help think about how to develop customer service training. After discussing various supplier options and who the target audience was, I started asking questions around using internal capability instead of external suppliers. People are clever, get them together and we’ll create a solution that is homegrown. The manager will probably still go down the external route, but that conversation about internal capability has started. I’ll keep advocating it too as it’s the right thing to do.

Another manager asked me to consider how to deliver training on a system to all people in the company. I am firmly against mandatory training on such things as that’s never the way to get buy in for the system. Instead I’m going to create a whole advertising campaign about it using insights from marketing – and don’t forget folks, marketing works. I’m also going to make use of Skype for Business (the new name for MS Lync) to deliver learning to people at their desks and have people going out to sites and troubleshooting for people live.

These are my challenges. I’m clearly an advocate for a broad range of learning solutions, and it’s about what works for the organisation, and it’s also about how I advocate for those solutions when business leaders come to me wanting a training course.

Context has always mattered. What works in my organisation may not work in your organisation. What worked in a previous organisation may work in this one with some tweaks. In creating a learning culture, it’s the context which always wins and determines how a learning solution can work.

Why it’s hard to be emotionally intelligent

I’ve been doing some reflection on why emotional intelligence can be such a tough subject for people to understand. The crux of things comes down to the fact that emotions drive behaviour. We may not want to believe that, but it’s true. Once we accept that, is when we can start to develop our understanding of how this happens in ourselves and in others. Once we understand how our emotions affect us, we can choose to act in ways which help us cultivate better relationships. That’s emotional intelligence. And it ain’t easy.

Beyond this understanding of what it is to be emotionally intelligent, I’m working through the ‘but why can’t people just get it’ challenge. I believe there are two factors to the answer to this question.

The first is in knowing what the baseline is for someone else. Knowing someone’s baseline is about knowing what does normal behaviour look like for them? And that’s hard, because everyone’s normal is highly individual and very nuanced. Once you understand someone’s baseline, if that persons behaviour changes unexpectedly and significantly, then we can be pretty sure they’ve has an emotional reaction to something which needs to be explored, and hopefully support them in being better.

In personal relationships (partners, friends, loved ones), it can be naturally easier to know the baseline for the other person. That doesn’t mean we always respond appropriately if they’re having an emotional reaction, it just means we are better able to recognise when they’ve had an emotional reaction.

In working relationships, establishing a baseline can be hard particularly because we don’t have the time to develop that understanding with everyone we work with. With our team members it’s going to be easier to gain that knowledge, but with peers and colleagues who we see infrequently, it’ll be a challenge and fraught with assumptions we need to battle.

And we can’t forget the importance of a persons culture on what their baseline might be for them. For example, heavy gesticulating of arms is expressive communication for Italians, is seen as overly excessive by the English, and as aggressive by Indians. What this also points to is everything we’ve ever known about body language was from flawed insights.

The baseline. Hard to gain that insight at all, once we have it and we see unexpected significant changes, do we know how to respond better to help support that person and build relationships?

The other factor is in knowing what triggers an emotional reaction. In some work I’ve done with Phil Willcox on this he describes this as catching the spark before the flame. It’s a great turn of phrase. Every emotional reaction happens because of a trigger. That trigger, like the baseline, is unique and individual to everyone. But less obvious is what triggers we all have. Even with partners and those who know us intimately, this may not be obvious. Our triggers will motivate us, they will protect us, they will build empathy, and they will stop us from certain actions.

That’s where deeper work around personal coaching or counselling can be beneficial. In understanding our triggers better, we can catch that spark before the flame and better decide what action we want to take next. What are the specific things that happen before you are surprised? Before you get angry? Before you hate something? Before you laugh? Before you feel love or affection? Before you are afraid?

In knowing these things we can make better informed decisions about what emotion has been or is about to be triggered and we can modify our behaviour for a better outcome if we recognise our normal reaction may not be appropriate or helpful.

It’s quite deep all that stuff up there, isn’t it? Which is partly indicative of how difficult it is to be emotionally intelligent and at the same time provides an insight into what level of reflection/insight is needed to cultivate and support development of emotional intelligence in ourselves and in others.

Knowledge, Insights and Myth Peddling

I’ve realised I’ve become a bit of a purist in some ways about the theories and models I advocate for in my work. Regular readers will know quite clearly of my biases against the likes of Learning Styles. It makes me wonder about what harm it’s doing though. I mean what harm is there in drawing insights from seemingly useful information?

Add to that, a lot of people these days can find out information on pretty much any topic. There’s so much knowledge on the internets these days, that a person’s learning is likely to increase through little more than a few clicks of a button. Long gone are those days of needing to ask your uncle who went to uni, just ask Google – oh yeah you don’t even need to type anymore.

So I’ve heard and read some right nonsense in recent weeks from people and sources who claim to be experts in their field and provide insights to their readership.

The first was a speaker at a conference. He was entertaining enough, and a real believer in the power of his own voice. He started to share some interesting anecdotes of customer service and then went on to suggest it takes 21 days of practise to change your behaviour. 21 days. 21… days… The reality is it takes more like 66 days. Yep that’s right, more than three times his suggestion. He was on a roll with listening to his own voice, so I couldn’t correct him. Dear L&D, please be careful with this information. Be it 21 or 84 days, that means our learning solutions need to take into account much more than delivering a stand alone course.

The second was in an online publication where they published two different articles both of which had horrid inaccuracies. The first article tried to suggest that there are male and female characteristics of emotional intelligence. I mean… emotions… human survival… development… evolution… So, look. Yes there are behaviours that men display more than women, but are women better at being emotionally intelligent than men? No, no they’re not. Do we understand our emotions differently and respond to them in different ways? Yes, yes we do. Why? Because of societal and cultural norms which reinforce our emotional reactions. That’s not men and women being better or worse or with different characteristics of emotional intelligence. Want a case in point? Take Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton and you tell me which has better of worse emotional intelligence than the other. It’s just a non-starter of an argument.

The second article tried to suggest that HR needs to decide if it is left brained or right brained. Ah, I see what they did there. They took a piece of theory about neuroscience and tried to use it to give credibility to their article, and apparently to the conference they’re marketing. Except the right brain/left brain thing is a complete myth and isn’t true in any way at all. The left brain isn’t more process driven than the right brain. It’s a seemingly sensible idea which has no evidence to support the assertion. Just none. It’s much better to understand how the brain creates connections with information it’s presented with, and the importance of neurochemicals in the support of behaviour change. It’s less easy to use that in marketing a conference, but at least you’re not using discredited information.

So are the insights people are trying to convey harmful? Well, yes. Insight drawn from flawed knowledge isn’t insight. Remember when people talked about how good asbestos was for use in buildings? That didn’t turn out well at all. It was based on initial insights which were thought to be highly useful but turned out to be actually deadly.

We’re not dealing with deadly things in our worlds of L&D and HR, but we are dealing with supporting people to live better and work better. That demands we provide credible information, and where appropriate with an evidence base, in support of initiatives we design and roll out.

The impact of these things being touted in open and public spaces is that the people listening and reading will take them onboard as fact and start to talk about them with others and try and sound credible. Worse is they will try and use them to talk about them in business settings. Where’s the problem in doing that?

It means all that work you’re trying to do in developing a solution will be based on flawed information. And let’s follow that through. If you’re already working with flawed information, the solution can’t be well designed. It might, but that’s likely to be by chance. It’s like trying to write a report on employee turnover and your information is only coming from one department of 30 out of a company with 300 staff.

So what can we do? Well, education on such topics is always the best solution. We can kindly remind people about actual research if it’s appropriate to do so. We can write and research ourselves. We can do nothing and let these flawed opinions keep being touted. We can always ask questions and see how well people understand the theory. And please don’t be fooled by an argument just because people say ‘the research says…’ or ‘the brain works like this…’. Dig deeper, listen better.

Big Data, A&E and Digital Hospitals

It’s Sunday night and I’m sitting in A&E. Apart from being here to support a family member, my mind is keeping itself occupied by wondering about the experience of being in a hospital in the digital age. Let’s forget for a moment that the NHS is facing privatisation by the current government and that the IT infrastructure is so appallingly ancient that you have more modern IT accessibility in the supermarkets than you do in a hospital. Here’s what I’m left thinking…

A&E is boring. Like, really boring. Sure I have my smartphone, but there’s no WiFi to connect to and my data connection is all but useless in the building. But I don’t need the WiFi to just update Twitter and Facebook. I want to be able to access information which I wouldn’t normally want to seek out. I’m here surrounded by people with all sorts of ailments, and even the person I’m with, and have no reliable way to access that information until I get home. Yes there are problems of who will use the WiFi for what nefarious purpose, but let’s pretend we can be open about such things. I want to know what different conditions are, likely treatments, how can I access support, and just why should I have clean hands (if you don’t sanitise your hands while in and leaving the hospital, you’re basically asking for a life threatening disease to go home with you).

Carrying on with the boring theme, there is no reason we couldn’t have a dashboard available to patients in the waiting area of what’s happening in A&E right now. Like, how many other patients are waiting to be seen? What’s the spread of illnesses they’re here for? How many doctors are on duty? And nurses? Where’s the nearest toilet that’s not likely to be overused? How many ambulances are on call? You’re not releasing patient identifiable information, you’re just sharing the state of play. People can do something with that information. Certainly it would pass the time with far more empathy than sitting here with no information. No one likes a gossip hound. Especially on the internets which I can’t access.

Imagine all the hospitals shared their data about A&E. Now that’s big data. In realtime you would know all of the above but with far more insights than you’d know what to do with. A million people are visiting A&E because of norovirus during the winter? Sure that’s no surprise, but they’re all in Kent, Norwich, Newcastle and Lincoln? Well, maybe that’s not such a national concern.  The amount of money spent on cleaning the premises on a daily basis in hospitals would make most people stop and think about their actions in and around the hospital. The number of people occupying a hospital bed and the range of reasons for that would make most people stop their whining and be far more supportive of the care needed for people to get better.

Even if you locked down the WiFi, you could at least give me information which is useful. Your car park ticket is due to expire in five minutes. You’ve been waiting for two hours, why not visit the cafe for a drink? We’re facing problems with heating, please close the doors to keep the heat in. Last year we raised x amount of money for this cause, donate £3 by texting … Here’s a message from one of our patients which we’re proud of. For complaints, please let us know by clicking here. If you need someone to translate, click here.

For the hospitals that are also university hospitals, where students can come and learn medicine or nursing and become experts in their fields, open publishing of their research would be fascinating. The whole working out loud approach could take on new and interesting purpose and be implemented in some fascinating ways. Challenges facing the hospital for services, and using online collaborative platforms for development of ideas and strategies. Educating patients on what they can do about certain conditions by making e-learning accessible to them. Creating communities of practice based on specific care pathways.

For fun, and this is really pushing the boat, you could even gamify the experience of being in a hospital. Set tasks for people to do once they’re in, which they might even be accessing can via the hospital app. The rewards they receive are directly transferable to the hospital, or in some way improve the service you receive as a patient. There could be video content, podcasts, blogs to read, and all sorts of content available. For each achievement, maybe the hospital improves its knowledge sharing objective (because that would need to be a thing in this digital hospital).
I do love the NHS, and A&E departments do amazing work to help keep healthy and get them back home. But by God the user experience of being in one is so boring that I’ve had time to come up with the above ideas.

The Practise of Positive Psychology

On Saturday I’m going to be talking at the CIPD Northern Area Partnership conference. Here’s what I’m going to be talking about.

Positive psychology is all about how to strengthen experiences of feeling good. We spend so much time living, that sometimes when good things happen we forget how to cherish those experiences and elevate the relevance they have in our lives.

Positive thinking is not the same thing as positive psychology. Positive thinking is useful for helping to reframe when something has happened to you and you need to think better about it. It is the wrong type of intervention to use when something serious has happened. It is definitely the wrong intervention when experiencing something traumatic.

Traditional psychology and therapy have focused on helping people move from a place of feeling depressed and needing support to a place of feeling neutral about those things. In and of itself that is not easy and can often take years of therapy, counselling and sometimes medicine.

Positive psychology is about techniques that help create lasting feelings of feeling good, improving wellbeing and strengthening a persons resilience. Where traditional psychology and therapy are about supporting a person to feel more in control and live their life, positive psychology aims to help people learn how to feel vibrant and thrive. It helps a person focus on their strengths and consider what is going right.

Carrying out a daily reflection of #3goodthings helps a person to learn how to appreciate the good moments and experiences they have had over their day. The importance of this is to cultivate appreciation of yourself and of others.

Research has shown that couples who have strong relationships have a ratio of 5:1 positive to negative statements. This helps us to understand that some conflict is healthy in a relationship, however what is more important is how partners share their appreciation of one another. In the workplace this reduces to 3:1 for a healthy and effective team.

Positive psychology is not about dismissing difficult or challenging situations or denying they happen. We learn a lot about ourselves when we are faced with these types of situations, and they force behaviours which we may not be comfortable with nor understand. This is reality and helps ensure that we have a sense of perspective of what good really looks like when compared to bad. In learning how to deal with these situations we increase our resilience and improve our chances of managing those situations better in future. Importantly, we learn that these situations are rarely permanent and we can find a solution which works.

Hope and optimism are important tenets of positive psychology. They help people feel that they are in control of what happens to them, that difficult times are transitory, and that they can feel good about the future. When we have hope and optimism we find the drive and motivation to do and achieve more.

When receiving good news, how we respond to the other person can either strengthen or weaken a relationship. Imagine the statement “I got a promotion”. There are four response modes:
– active constructive – we acknowledge, ask further questions, support and celebrate with the other person “That’s really good news! How are you feeling about it? Let’s go out for a meal!”
– passive constructive – we acknowledge with cursory words “Well done.”
– passive destructive – we don’t acknowledge and instead bring the focus to yourself “I think I’d like to go out shopping at the weekend.”
– active destructive – we acknowledge and seek to take apart the statement and find fault in it “Well that means you’ll be working harder and they’re only going to give you more work than you can handle.”

Most of us go to work and have a home life. These two things tend to be our first and second place. We can all consider how to find a third place where we carry out an activity which we are fully engaged in, helps us feel rejuvenated, we don’t notice the time passing, and we have no judgement or criticism about the activity. For me its skiing and when I’m not doing that it’s writing. This can feel like an indulgence. It might be.

Final thoughts will be on summarising the above, encouraging everyone to find a way for the different techniques to work for them and keep practising. As with most things in life, if something is worth doing then you have to take the time to learn how to make it work well.