Category Archives: Stress Management

How To Deal With Envy In The Workplace

Do you envy your colleagues’ success?

Back in my younger days I attended a private boarding school for two years while I did my ‘A’ Levels. For an averagely talented young guy from a comprehensive school in Dudley, it was something of a culture shock.

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In the good old comprehensive, I was top of the class in a number of subjects. Each high grade and complimentary comment from the relevant teacher boosted my self esteem – gave me a feeling of being “better” than the other students. I wasn’t a popular kid, in fact I was probably on par with impetigo for social acceptance, and was more often than not the target for bullies who seemed to have collectively confused my head with a football. So I wasn’t walking around with a swollen head from excessive self-esteem, let’s just say that. But nonetheless, my apparent academic success allowed me to feel superior in at least one area. In these limited sets of circumstances, I was “OK” where most of my contemporaries were apparently “not OK”. In short, I was the academic achiever.

So when I moved to the poshest private boarding school since St. Posh’s Posh Academy opened in the Borough of Posh, I thought everything would be fantastic. After all, I came top in a number of subjects such as English, Music and Business Studies at my previous school – I was bound to fit in, right?

Eh, no. What I discovered upon joining was that the academic bar was considerably higher at the private school than it was at the comprehensive. In fact, it was like comparing the height of the Empire State Building to a small 10 storey tower block in Slough. Rather more steps.

Where I had previously been a high achiever, I was now distinctly average against my new peers. On the plus side, I fitted in socially and rather than being used as an item of gym equipment by the bullies, I was now popular. But academically, I was mediocre at best. What’s more, I only had two years in which to advance my skills just to match the base standard of the school at the time I joined.

This was a task equivalent to making a comb-over fashionable. It couldn’t really be done.

The result of this new set of circumstances was that I no longer felt “OK” about my academic ability. Everyone else was “OK” but I was “not OK”. Because I now felt “not OK” about my academic ability, I became envious of my contemporaries who appeared to be blessed with an innate ability to deliver high performance with little effort in areas where I seemed to require enormous effort for little performance. Bastards.

The more envious I became the more I saw myself as a victim of bad circumstances.

Now, my experiences are by no means unique and I expect my story is bringing back your own memories of similar situations from your school days. Like many of us, you’ve probably experienced situations such as mine where you find yourself coming up short in comparison with others – where you feel you’re not as good as you thought you were.

Situations where you feel “not OK” about yourself.

But just pause for a moment. I want you to consider how these situations affect your working life. Because it turns out that these situations are not unique to our academic careers – they are equally prevalent in the workplace.

The Comparison Problem

As human beings, we have all become conditioned to compare ourselves to other human beings. Throughout the course of a typical day we are continuously making micro-comparisons, be they physical, intellectual or situational. “Am I fatter than them?”, “Do they drive a better car than me?”, “Does my boss prefer Dave to me?”, “Is my report as good as Sharon’s?”, “Was that joke I just cracked as funny as the one Will told this morning?” etc, etc.

These are the things we human beings spend a lot of time thinking about. We are collectively obsessed with how we stack up against our contemporaries.

It turns out that this is an automatic internal mechanism, built into our brains and reinforced by social conditioning and experience. And it’s incredibly self-centred. In fact, it’s all about good old self-esteem.

We spend inordinate amounts of time trying to prop up our self-esteem, trying to make ourselves feel good about ourselves. This is because our self-esteem is often built on very poor foundations. Imagine going to the English Channel, building a pier out of flimsy materials in the middle of a storm and then running around trying to make adjustments in the structure to stop it falling down. Not terribly productive and likely to end in a bloody great mess. This is what we are doing all the time.

How do you feel when one of your colleagues closes a big deal? Or when a fellow co-worker is selected to undertake a prestigious secondment? Or when all the managers one level above you are given the opportunity to attend a training programme but you’re not?

Or when Debbie walks into the kitchen with a humungous coffee cup that’s twice the size of yours?

We should be pleased for our colleagues, right? But I’m willing to bet that many of us would want to throw Debbie’s stupid oversized poser mug out the nearest window.

These are the kind of situations that cause many of us to believe we are “not OK”. And going back to the pier metaphor – believing we’re “not OK” means that every one of these situations is an assault to our rickety self esteem in the same way as each wave breaks off another piece of the British Leyland pier. It’s a constant fight to stay standing.

Breaking The Cycle Of Envy

This cycle of self-esteem maintenance, which encourages comparison and then results in envy where the comparison is not favourable, makes working life far more difficult that it should be. This nonsense is simmering away under the surface in your office and your performance and quality of life is being affected by it. Do you want this to continue?

I suspect not. I mean, telling your manager that your poor performance in a task was the result of a drop in self-esteem caused by Debbie’s Bentley of coffee cups showing up in the kitchen is not going to cut it.

You can’t necessarily change this in others. But you can do something about it yourself. You can change the way you think.

Here’s how.

1. Look into others

We tend to look up to those we perceive as being more successful or more “OK” than ourselves. This is an inherently inferior position – similar to a child’s view of a parent. “I’m not OK, because he’s OK”.

Instead of seeing others as superior, luckier or more “OK” than you, think logically about what it is about them that you value. Ask questions such as:

  • What is it that I admire about them?
  • What have they done that I haven’t? How might I do that?
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • What barriers might they have in their work life?

When we use our mind in this way we turn off our emotional mode and engage our thinking mode. Rather than seeing someone as more successful than ourselves and reacting emotionally to that (i.e. I’m “not OK”), we begin to logically assess what lessons can be learned and how we might apply it to our own situations. We see into other people.

This brings me neatly on to the next tip.

2. Celebrate their success

We often see other people’s success as a kind of barrier to our own achievements, as though their being successful has closed off the route to our own success. This is particularly true in workplace environments.

However, you have a choice here. The reality is that other people’s success is a signpost demonstrating what is possible. Someone doing well within the workplace is immensely positive for you, because it shows what you might be able to achieve yourself.

Celebrate the success of others. After all, like you, they were probably “not OK” with themselves before they were successful. They’re just human beings, the same as you. So be pleased that they’re doing well and use that fact as motivation for your own success.

Which leads us to:

3. Give yourself a break

Like I said, we’re all human beings. Everyone has the same basic struggles as you. Just because someone else seems to be doing better, don’t assume that they didn’t have to overcome similar barriers to those you face. Don’t assume that because someone else looks “OK” that they don’t feel “not OK” in certain aspects of their lives.

It’s perfectly normal to be “not OK” about yourself. Which means that in actual fact, you are “OK”.

So give yourself a break.

4. Build your self-esteem on solid foundations

Remind yourself of your achievements, your good qualities, your skills. Take pride in who you are and what you already bring to the table, remembering that you can add to all of these things with hard work and endeavour.

There are things you can do which your colleagues cannot. There are things you have that they don’t. All too often, we forget our positives and focus on our deficiencies when comparing ourselves to others.

Build your self-esteem on what you have already accomplished and what you can already do and your metaphorical pier will stand up in any weather.

If only I had known this when I was at school. I would have realised that despite being academically behind my new colleagues at the oh-so-posh private school, I actually had talents in some areas that they didn’t. If I had looked into my fellow pupils and sought to understand how they had become so academically gifted, I would have had a strong chance of drastically improving my own academic skills.

Certainly would have been more productive than burning the school down. (Just kidding!)

I want to leave you with a great quote which sadly, I am unable to attribute as I can’t recall where I found it. If anyone does know who originated this, please let me know and I will add the appropriate credit.

Anyway, this is a quote that you should always remember:

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Worth remembering, I think.

So next time Debbie uses the entire contents of the kettle to fill her cavernous caffeine container, give her a break, huh?

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John Hackett

Managing Director, Franklin-Hackett Ltd.

If you’re interested in training that will help you to manage your self-esteem and get more from others, why not drop me a line at info@franklin-hackett.co.uk

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Why We Need More Love At Work: How to Show Empathy Towards Colleagues

I have to report that I found it difficult to work for a couple of days recently. My mind was very preoccupied with some pretty heavy thoughts and the simple task of getting on with my work seemed very unimportant and consequently, I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for it.

The cause of this situation was a piece of bad news I received at the end of the week. For a year I hadloveatwork been working with a very impressive lady who I had appointed as my accountant. I originally met her at a networking group meeting and was immediately struck by her warm welcoming manner, professional attitude and smart dress sense – in this case one of her apparently trademark flowery dresses. After talking with her on several occasions at other meetings of the networking group and exchanging a couple of emails we arranged a one-to-one meeting and it was my pleasure to spend an afternoon talking with her over a pot of tea, sharing business knowledge and experience and eventually waxing lyrical over some deep and meaningful stuff.

Having agreed to engage her as my accountant, we kept in touch over the course of the year. I continued to enjoy working with her and was very impressed and grateful when she managed to extract a rather rare and handy tax rebate from HMRC. Bonus! I had expected our working relationship to continue well into the future and was pleased to be supporting her small but growing accountancy practice. In fact, I was very happy when she wrote to me around Summer 2014 to let me know she was taking on extra staff. Not a surprise, given the quality of service she was giving her clients.

So it was with considerable shock and great sadness that around November 2014 I learned that this dynamic young lady had been a cancer patient for the last few years and circumstances had developed such that she was closing her business to spend more time with her family. It is difficult to find appropriate words in response to such information.

I sent her a message expressing my sympathy at hearing her news and wishing her and her family the best, thanking her for handing over my file to a reputable local accountancy firm. She replied, thanking me for my email and stating that “being able to handpick the firm that would look after my clients in the future was very important to me”. Such professionalism and consideration.

That was the last contact I had with her. Although one could guess that it was likely to happen at some point, I was very sad and slightly shocked to receive an email informing me that this warm, endearing, professional person who had much left to give both personally and professionally, had succumbed to her illness aged just 31.

Although I didn’t know her well, hearing of her passing has affected me over the last few days. And it has raised one question in my mind.

What Is Really Important?

You know, every one of us becomes wound up and irritable on a daily basis due to something that happens at work. Just the other night, my wife came home in a blind rage because her manager had asked her how the hole-punch worked one time too many.

Some years ago, when I was still an employee, I had a miniature explosion over the fact that my office colleagues had berated me for not bringing in adequate supplies of cake on my birthday.

And of course, we have all heard about Jeremy Clarkson’s outburst when he discovered that following a long day of filming for Top Gear, the associate producer had failed to ensure that there was a hot steak dinner waiting for him when he returned to the hotel.

The little things get to us on a daily basis. I once managed an admin team where 80% of the team members experienced raised blood pressure whenever a particular colleague stopped working for two minutes to apply her hand cream.

The thing is, all of these little issues that occur at work seem so important to us at the time. But have you ever noticed that when you move jobs, you no longer care about the minute detail of what happened at your previous workplace? Funny, isn’t it?

Well actually, it’s not funny. One of the key causes of tension and stress in the workplace is intolerance. We are all guilty of this. There are certain things that we find difficult to tolerate. Somebody not cleaning their coffee cup to a schedule that satisfies our opinion of what constitutes good hygiene. The noisy typist. The person who doesn’t put the tea towel in the kitchen back in the right place. The person who won’t stop talking about their children. The phantom photocopier jammer. The secret snot depositor. These are the things that make our blood boil. They drive us MAD!

But NONE and I really mean this, NONE of them MATTER.

They are inconsequential.

Every one of us is a human being, which means we are imperfect. We all have irritating traits. When you are in a closed environment with the same people day after day, these little quirks begin to add up and after a while, you start to find them frustrating and annoying. And this is entirely understandable, like I said, we’re all human beings.

But hang on, let’s think about that statement again – we’re all human beings. So if we’re all human beings, then surely we can empathise with each other’s little quirks and behaviours? Because we all have them. Surely we can CHOOSE not to get irritated by the colleague who insists on sitting by the window because they struggle to regulate their temperature and regularly need cold air to keep them comfortable?  Surely we can opt to be more tolerant and understanding?

And were we to choose to be more tolerant and understanding, the benefits would be considerable. We would be less stressed, able to concentrate on our work better. We’d be less likely to dread coming into work on a Monday morning. We’d have better relationships with our colleagues. We’d be happier.

The key skill we need to upgrade is empathy and understanding for others. Here’s a few tips as to how you can demonstrate that and therefore build strong rapport and relationships with your colleagues:

1. Listening skills – paying close attention to the detail of what another person is saying, not just hearing them. What can you pick up?

2. Awareness of values – listening for and appreciating other people’s values and using them to build rapport with the person. What’s important to them? What might be motivating them to behave like they do? What do you have in common?

3. Validation – Make people feel good about themselves by validating what’s important to them in their life.

4. Matching – Observe how other people are behaving and match your behaviour to theirs. This puts you on a level with them and allows you to engage with them more easily on their own terms.

When it comes down to it folks, getting annoyed by the small stuff in the workplace is just not worth it. You’ve probably heard the phrase “life’s too short” far too many times, but it really is true.

I had a sharp reminder of that recently when I received the sad news about my accountant. How would you feel if it was one of your colleagues that had died? Would their irritating habits still matter to you then?

Give yourself and those around you a break and show some empathy for those you work with. Remember you have your own annoying habits and that’s OK because we’re all human.

Let’s all make a vow to be more tolerant within our workplaces – if for no other reason than this:

Life is too short not to be.

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Lauren Burgoine. 

Back to Work… or is it School? – The Origins Of Workplace Stress

It’s September 1st and everyone is back to work after a refreshing summer break. The business world is re-awakening from its slumber and getting ready to make the next step forward.

At the same time, children are returning to school with a collective groan. And perhaps, a good number of us are making similarly negative noises about returning to work. But why Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 13.38.24would we do this? What is it about going back to work that makes us apprehensive and miserable?

Well, I’d like to mention one leading factor of the September Blues – office politics.

Ah yes – that pesky little phenomenon that we’re all used to, that we all tolerate on a day-to-day basis but nobody likes. The thought of returning to an environment full of poisonous political behaviour is enough to make most people wish for an epically disastrous unexpected weather event to relieve them of the need to go to work.

Office Politics

Ask most people about office politics and they are likely to tell you that they believe it is unavoidable – it’s just a natural result of putting people together in a room for sustained periods of time. And it is. But it doesn’t have to be.

For a moment, let’s take a step back. At this point I would like to ask you to think about your school days. What behaviours did you see going on at school? What kind of things did people do? What political games did people play?

Hopefully, your reflections will have reminded you that there is such a thing as school playground politics. And perhaps you might already be realising that there are striking similarities between the political behaviour you remember from your experiences of school and the dreaded phenomenon of office politics.

And the reason for this is simple. They are the same thing.

The reality is this –  most adults have not unlearned the destructive and childish behaviours and mindsets they left school with. Behaviours in the workplace such as victim mentality, blaming and persecution, consensus paralysis and past focus are all typical manifestations of these problems and are the things we experience as “office politics”.

The fact is that office politics is optional. The behaviour needed to create politics is chosen by people within the organisation. It may be a subconscious choice, but it’s a choice nonetheless and can therefore be changed. The problem is most grown adults don’t have a clue how to behave any differently. They’ve never been shown an alternative.

The unfortunate truth is most people behave like schoolchildren when you put them in an organisation. They’re going to of course, because being an employee within an organisation is really no different to being at school. You have a hierarchy, variable levels of intelligence, performance and popularity amongst the members, rules and regulations and a sense of duty – i.e. you are required to be there or else. If people haven’t learned alternative behaviours then they simply revert back to those they practiced at school, as fundamentally, the situation is the same. People revert to type under pressure.

Choosing Not To Engage

The good news is that you personally have a choice over this. Every one of us can change the way we behave as individuals. What we cannot do is change the behaviour of others – we can only influence it through our own actions. If you choose not to engage in office politics, then you create a circle of influence around you which helps to move others away from the destructive behaviour.

So what you must do is this:

1.) Read my blog article “You Are All Diseased”. This will show you the 4 main behaviours that create office politics and how to avoid them. You can find it here: https://franklinhackettltd.wordpress.com/2014/07/09/you-are-all-diseased/

2.) Check out the document “Office Politics 101”. This shows you how to recognise when political behaviours are taking place, based on the language people use. You can find it here: http://www.franklinhackett.co.uk/Resources/Office%20Politics%20101.pdf

3.) Observe your own behaviour and try to avoid falling into the negative behaviours I’ve described. Widen your antennae and become more aware of how other people are behaving. Use your alternative positive behaviours as a lever to influence their behaviour. Don’t get dragged down by the negativity – rise above it.

If you increase your awareness and become a positive role model you will make a difference – both to your personal happiness and emotional health and to the culture of your team and subsequently, the organisation itself.

Office politics is really just school playground antics souped up with shirts and ties. So bear this in mind as you return to work this week – do you want to go back to school or back to work?

I leave the choice to you.

Note: for help and advice on these issues, please feel free to contact me via email – info@franklinhackett.co.uk. 

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John Hackett

Managing Director, Franklin-Hackett Ltd.

You Are All Diseased – Coping With Organisational Politics

We’re a sick bunch, you know.

Did you realise that every second of every day, your body’s immune system is fighting off a multitude of infections? To function properly, your immune system must detect a wide variety of agents, known as pathogens, from viruses to parasitic worms, and distinguish them from the body’s own healthy tissue. Having done so, it can fight them off and prevent the body from being overcome by disease. Kind of useful, really.

medical reportMost of the time, you are completely unaware of this process taking place. Your immune system deals with the incoming assault and you are able to function normally. But every so often, you will succumb to some malady or another. This will go on for a short period of time, during which you will be aware that you are unwell, until your immune system gets on top of the problem and fights it off. It’s really rather amazing.

What’s more interesting is that even during these periods of ill health, you are able to continue to function relatively normally, even though you have disruptive symptoms that impair your functioning to varying degrees. But when the immune system breaks down or is unable to handle a particular disease, the body begins to malfunction and ultimately, without treatment, shuts down completely.

Organisational Immune System

It’s exactly the same in organisations. Every organisation is diseased to one degree or another, with an internal immune system fighting off the disease to a sufficient extent that the organisation continues to function, despite being sick. This is why you can experience life in an organisation as being dysfunctional and unpleasant for years and years, yet the organisation continues to operate, albeit poorly. The diseases in question arise in the form of behaviours – the little things people do every day that all add up. It turns out that there are a number of particularly persistent and destructive behaviours that afflict most organisations, impairing their functioning and hindering their ability to make progress.

The Four Behavioural Diseases

What I want to show you now is the 4 main diseases that affect organisations – the 4 main behaviours that rot its culture from the inside out, so you can identify their symptoms and take action to drive them out of your organisation.

And be warned, you may well be contributing to their spread yourself.

So here we go – welcome to my organisational autopsy report…

1. Blaming and Persecution

i.) Symptoms

A person makes a mistake at work and feels emotions of guilt, fear, anxiety and self-loathing. Their self-esteem drops as they wake up to the fact that they are responsible for this almighty cock-up. They become nervous as they wait to be found out and publicly humiliated by their colleagues and managers as a result of their mistake.

ii.) Cause

In most organisations, when a mistake is perceived to have been made, the default behaviour is not to identify the cause of the mistake in order to prevent repetition, but to find and humiliate the person responsible.

Blame is the aim and persecution is the tool used to deliver the message.

This rather dramatic ritual of hunting down and publicly vilifying the appropriate individual is incredibly common. The level of drama associated with it varies according the the culture of the organisation involved and the personal style of the person delivering the persecution. But the mindset behind the behaviour is the same – mistakes are the result of people, therefore blaming and persecuting the perpetrator is the best way to deal with them.

It also works in reverse. Individuals will often use blame and persecution to deflect attention away from themselves – covering up their own mistakes by attributing blame to someone else.

This continuous cycle of blaming other individuals and then persecuting them for their perceived faults creates a culture of fear, reducing every business situation to a personal mini-drama where preservation of self-esteem is the order of the day. Hardly a recipe for making progress in the development of a business or organisation, surely?

iii.) Treatment

The antidote to this particular disease is to normalise mistakes. Accepting that mistakes are inevitable and understanding their usefulness in gaining knowledge for the future renders it OK for people to make them. We all make mistakes, we know this to be one of the qualities of being human, so why not treat them as normal?

Focus not on the person who made the mistake, but on the circumstances that led to the mistake in the first place. What can be learned from what happened? What suggestions does the person involved have about what might work better next time? How can we move forward?

The key is not to beat up the person responsible, but to understand the facts of the situation and learn. This removes the personal element from the situation and allows an objective view of the facts to be achieved, making it easier for the organisation to move forward in a better position. Mistakes can be positive – allow people to make mistakes and you get innovation. Blame and persecute people for their mistakes and you get stagnation.

2. Victim Identity

i.) Symptoms

Members of the team justify their performance at work by identifying all the external factors that they believe to be outside their control and demonstrating how they have prevented them from making progress. Phrases such as “it’s not my fault”, “I would have done it but x happened”, “this decision is so unfair!” and “why is it always people at our level that get treated badly?” are heard on a regular basis.

ii.) Cause

Welcome to the world of Victim Identity. When you’re in this world, you believe that everything in your work life is controlled by others. – you are not responsible for your own circumstances. Victim Identity is an extremely common and pervasive mindset and it infests most organisations to one degree or another. It can be seen across all areas of an internal hierarchy, from the contact centre agent through to the senior director, and it rears its ugly head continuously, infecting conversations, decisions and behaviours.

Organisations are riddled with victims. The problem is, victims don’t believe they are responsible for taking action or making a change. They constantly complain about their job, but perversely won’t look for a new one. They think their boss is a cretin, but won’t have the relevant conversations to improve the relationship. They lament the external factors that prevent them from achieving their tasks, but do nothing to address them.

It’s important to understand that one of the reasons people adopt a Victim Identity is to protect their ego. By absolving themselves of all responsibility for their actions, they are able to direct blame for their circumstances on others. For this reason, frequently, victims will turn into persecutors.

I need to make an important distinction.  Many of us experience victimisation at some point in our life but what is at issue here is the playing out of the victim role.  Everybody experiences challenges and barriers on a regular basis but it is how we choose to address those circumstances that determines what role we will play. People choose to be a victim – and an organisation full of voluntary victims is not a productive one.

iii.) Treatment

Since a Victim Identity is primarily a learned behaviour and not inborn, it is possible to change it. The key is to manage your response to the victim behaviour you are being presented with. These steps usually help in guiding a conversation with a person who has a Victim Identity:

  1. Establish clarity about the situation and show empathy for the person’s feelings. Phrases such as “I can see how you might feel that this project’s objectives make unfair demands on you, and at the same time it’s true to say that this is unlikely to change” can help to build rapport with the person while establishing that their responsibilities are their own. While you should empathise and validate their view remember not to sympathise – this just reaffirms the person’s view that they are a victim.
  2. Engage the person’s thoughts in solving the problem. Phrases such as “I’m just wondering what your thoughts are on how these objectives can be achieved in the time you have available” help to move the person towards considering their situation in a logical and rational manner, diffusing their emotional state. It’s important to be consistent in the message that the situation is not going to change – the person needs to use their mind to sort it out.
  3. Reinforce the person’s positive qualities. Reward their initiative and validate their positive behaviour.

3. Past Focus

i.) Symptoms

People make continuous references to events that occurred in the past or dispatch long tirades about the circumstances that led to the current situation. Phrases such as “Well what you have to remember is this situation came about because of x” and “We tried this 10 years ago and it didn’t work then” continually appear in meetings and conversations.

ii.) Cause

Oh, we love to bring up the past in our organisations, don’t we? Sit in any meeting in any organisation and you are sure to hear sentences similar to these pouring out like a leak from a sewage pipe. They direct thought towards what happened in the past, usually in a negative context and prevent intelligent discussion of what needs to happen for the organisation to move forward.

The reason behind this is the common mindset of Past Focus. The past focussed person brings up old issues from the past during a meeting or conversation, which diverts the discussion into old unresolved hurts and pain while avoiding the current issue. Doing this spreads the argument so thin with so many accusations and wastes so much time that the main problem does not get resolved.

Organisations have to move forward in order to survive in a changing world but Past Focus roots them to old situations that may not ever be repeated, helping to ensure that they are unable to deal with whatever the future might present.

iii.) Treatment

The obvious solution to this problem is to steer conversations to focus on the future. Usually, it’s helpful to ask the past-focussed person some intelligent questions designed to move their thinking to a future-based approach.

Questions such as “How is this relevant to the situation we’re in today?”, “What can we learn from the situation you’ve just described?”, “What do you think we should do now?”, “How will we manage this going forward?” will divert attention away from lamenting the past and towards understanding the future, while allowing room for lessons to be learned from previous experiences.

4. Consensus Paralysis

i.) Symptoms

Every decision involves continuous checking up and down the internal hierarchy. The main area of concern is ensuring that everyone is “happy” or “OK” with the decision or plan. Progress is slowed down further if any of the individuals involved express concern or dissatisfaction about the decision. The “what” of decision making is given more consideration and rated as more important than the “how”.

ii.) Cause

Organisations are obsessed with achieving consensus. Whether it’s through a fear of hurting people’s feelings, or a need to demonstrate “buy-in” to decisions, many organisations are now driven by a consensus culture. No decision can be made unless everyone agrees or has at least voiced their opinion. This leads to the insidious disease of Consensus Paralysis.

The result of this continuous checking for consensus up and down the hierarchy is a decision making process so slow that nothing really ever gets done. The obvious impact is that change and innovation within the organisation is stifled.

What’s more, Consensus Paralysis leads to apathy, cynicism and detachment within an organisation as people begin to realise that nothing ever changes.

But at least everyone is happy, right?

iii.) Treatment

Consensus Paralysis can be unlocked by realigning the focus of decision-making. The key is to move conversation away from the personal subjective into the rational objective. Often, when the facts of a situation are made clear, the logical solution is revealed. In many cases, personal preferences and emotional standpoints dissolve in the light of factual data.

This can be achieved by using a simple set of questions that focus people’s minds on the problem to be solved, as opposed to their personal position. These questions include:

    1. What are the facts of the situation?
    2. What options are open to us?
    3. What are the outcomes of these options?
    4. How will we manage the implications?
    5. What is the best option based on our understanding of the facts of the situation we face?

By focussing on what the best option is from a business perspective, based on objective facts, we can eliminate the need to achieve consensus from the individuals involved in the decision-making process. A clear business decision will automatically engender consensus.

Springer’s Hackett’s Final Thought

So I will leave you to mull over that fact that your organisation is diseased. The infection is spreading. It’s life may even be in danger. If this was a close friend or family member, would you stand back idly and watch them succumb to a treatable disease?

What are you going to do to help your organisation on the road to recovery?

It starts with you.

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John Hackett

Managing Director, Franklin-Hackett Ltd.

How to Stop Yodelling in Meetings – Managing Your Personal Stress Levels

I’m not one of those people who vocalises my anxiety, more a “grit your teeth and get on with it” kind of chap. But whenever I feel nervous or anxious, I have a feeling which I often describe as an “internal yodelling”. It’s a kind of “ohmygodherewegobloodyhellgetmeoutofhere” internal dialogue. And it’s really rather unhelpful.Stressful_Meeting

Recently, on-going health problems led to me having an ultrasound scan of my abdomen. And it was a bizarre procedure. I was led into an ominously darkened room with a stern but polite nurse and a rather funky but esoteric doctor who appeared to be a little bit too proud of his byzantine and slightly terrifying medical equipment. I half expected Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” to be permanently playing on a loop, but fortunately there was only the rhythmic beeping of the doctor’s toys.

After the inevitable brief conversation about why I was there, I was asked to remove my shirt and lie on top of a piece of apparatus they referred to as a bed but which looked more like a workbench. When the doctor began to lube up my belly, the inevitable internal yodelling started. I was so nervous about the potential outcome of this slightly undignified procedure that I even forgot to deploy my preplanned quip, “is it a boy or a girl?”.

Never mind, they’ve probably heard guys knock out that cracker plenty of times before.

Naturally, the source of my anxiety was both the potential outcome of the scan and the environment in which the process was taking place. I could not necessarily prevent my anxiety but what I did was use a technique I always use in situations like this.

I switched my mind from emotional mode into thinking mode.

Getting Control Of Your Emotions

Now, you may have been in many situations at work where you have felt similar emotions to those I felt on the day of my scan. You’ve probably experienced this most often in meetings. After all, meetings are one of the most intimidating and anxiety-inducing pieces of theatre we perform in organisations. Think about it, you are on show. Everybody is giving a performance. There are expectations, requirements, emotional investments. Everybody is fully loaded with all of these things.

When you walk into a meeting room there is an atmosphere. Hell, some meetings are not dissimilar to my aforementioned hospital room. Beeping equipment, stern but friendly people, an enormous flat surface in the middle of the room and sometimes even, an absence of light. Okay, nobody is being asked to remove their shirt – well, not in any organisation I’ve worked with… but you get the idea. They can be genuinely intimidating.

The thing is, like me and my ultrasound scan, you can’t necessarily avoid this atmosphere or prevent your anxiety from surfacing in the first place. What you can do, is shut off your anxiety so you can think.

Business Requires Thought, Not Feelings

Performing business requires our thinking minds more than it requires our emotional side. After all, the rules of the world and reality are not based around arbitrary emotions. They are based around facts.

And yet, so much of what goes on in organisations today is based on people’s feelings. Meetings are a virtual circus of individual’s emotions but their purpose is to collate collective thoughts in order to make progress on various issues. Ironically, feelings prevent this purpose from being achieved.

So if you can shut off your anxiety and allow yourself to think, you will be able to make a far greater impact on the progress of your organisation and have a much better and more rewarding experience while you’re at it.

Brain Capacity For Thought And Feeling

The problem you have is one we all share. The human brain has a very limited capacity to simultaneously process rational thoughts and emotions. It works like this-when you’re feeling emotional your capacity for rational thought reduces.

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Similarly when you’re engaged in rational thought, your capacity to feel emotions also reduces.

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If you are generally ruled by your feelings, this process works against you. However, if you are able to turn the tables and knock your mind into thinking mode then you can make this work very much in your favour.

When you are in a stressful situation such as a meeting, the environmental conditions are usually what puts your mind into feeling mode and prevents you from getting into thinking mode. You might remember my internal dialogue from earlier -“ohmygodherewegobloodyhellgetmeoutofhere”. Try saying this to yourself over and over again in a frenzied manner and see how rational and stable you feel at the end of it. In my case, my yodelling is default internal dialogue that helps to reinforce the messages that are being sent to me by the stressful environment I’m in. It’s likely that you will have a similar internal dialogue that surfaces whenever you feel anxious.

Now it turns out that you can switch your mind into thinking mode by changing your internal dialogue to a logical and thought based phrase. My yodelling example is clearly an emotional phrase, so my technique for changing modes to thinking is to use the phrase “hmm… this is interesting”.

Try saying this to yourself. You’ll notice that this phrase immediately makes your mind curious to gain further understanding of the situation you’re in. It is not connected to any emotion, it is a logical phrase.

When I was in the hospital, lying on the work bench, lubed up with what appeared to be a storm trooper’s head being scraped across my gut, I said this phrase to myself – “hmm… this is interesting”. The anxiety lifted, I began to see the humour in the situation and I became interested in understanding more about how the procedure worked and what all the equipment did.

This could work for you in meetings and other stressful situations.

What’s your logical phrase going to be? Pick something that works for you and next time you’re sitting in a meeting and internally yodelling from all the drama and theatre, use your logical phrase. Switch your mind into thinking mode and become interested in solving the problem or situation and watch how effective you become. Imagine how effective you will be and how much influence you will be able to assert if you are able to think where everyone else is yodelling.

And finally, in case you’re wondering, all was well with the scan but take my word for it, if the Doctor asks you if you’d like to see the images, just say no.

“ohmygodherewegobloodyhellgetmeoutofhere!!”

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John Hackett

Managing Director – Franklin-Hackett Ltd.