Are You Still in the Game?

never too old ...

never too old …

I just noticed this in a Robert Goddard thriller:

“Tell me, did you ever meet my father?”
“Yuh, I met him.”
“What did you think of him?”
“I thought he had the look.“
“The look?”
“A lot of guys his age fold their hand and leave the table. Quit while they’re ahead, is how they’d put it. Something dies in them then. A light goes out. You can see it gone from their eyes. It never comes back. But Henry still had it. He hadn’t left the table. He was still in the game.”  The Ways of the World

It would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it, to judge people in interviews, meetings and assessment centres by the look in their eyes? Or would it? Isn’t that exactly what we’re looking for – beyond the usual proofs of competence – someone who is really present, fired up and energised? Honestly so.

We once selected quite the wrong person after a competence interview. There was no tick box for “shining eyes” on the interview form and so the process led us to choose someone who was neither present, fired up nor energised”. They had all the relevant competences on paper but lacked those vital elements that would bring motivation and purpose to the job.

Many people leave the table quite early on. It’s not about being industrious. You may say, for goodness sake of course I’m still in the game. I’m rushed off my feet; I feel I’m doing 3 jobs, not one. I’m definitely still at that table. You may indeed be super busy and getting through everything you have to do, but is it possibly just that, getting through? You might be acting out your role automatically, ruled by your head without the energy of heart or gut. You might be super-articulate, but not invested in your interactions with others. So, what’s wrong with that?

All that’s missing, that’s what’s wrong. We think we fear death, but all that dies inside us while we’re still alive is perhaps a greater loss. Empathy, for a start, for if you’re not really present, you lack genuine connection with people. Creativity, for another, that brings innovation, synergy and delight. Fulfilment for a third, that gives you the glow of satisfaction and keeps you firing on all cylinders. It’s not about being busy but rather, “Is the light still on?”

Does anything you do, think or feel make your eyes shine? I’m not suggesting that you should be more empathetic or creative or fulfilled, or that you should be anything. I’m suggesting that you look for what turns you on.

What does make your eyes shine? Feeling fully alive, definitely, so let’s start there. One of the things you notice first about people with dead eyes is the lack of life. ‘Unbeingdead isn’t being alive’, quips the poet e e cummings. Run over in your mind some of your encounters with people on a daily basis. How many really engaged? How many really saw you? If you watch children, it’s often their aliveness that strikes you. They haven’t heard of conserving energy, a misunderstood concept in any case. Why would you walk along the pavement when you could hop and skip? Or stay on the pavement at all when you could walk along the top of the low wall running alongside? Children are 100% in the moment. And with lightness – light on their feet and with a light in their eyes as they contemplate their next play idea.

In “The Art of Communication”, I write:

I can hear someone protest that nothing at work is about having fun. But look around you and you will notice people who tread lightly even in the workplace, and often achieve more than those who carry a visible weight of seriousness on their shoulders. There’s no right and wrong in having fun; there’s no such thing as a mistake. No one tries hard at it either. This is a huge concern in conversation, where inhibition or ideas of ‘rightness’ can easily stunt the flow. We literally forget how to laugh and play. It’s interesting isn’t it, that a musical instrument is always ‘played’? It’s never ‘worked’.

And every great musical performance sounds spontaneous – another crucial word. I continue:

Spontaneous people seem more intensely awake and happier in their own skin than other people, and you feel drawn to their strong life force. The art of meaningful communication starts from this powerful source of relational energy, for it transmits to others and encourages them too to be awake, present, and alive…

For those who are truly alive, awake in body, heart, and mind, every conversation is the flow of a new adventure, with fresh unknowns offering new possibility, powered by a vibrant energy that springs from within – their life force.

No, it’s not being ‘woke’, whatever tortuous meaning that insult is meant to have. When we are alive we energise others. When we feel great, we can love others. The poet Rumi (in Coleman Barks’ wonderful English version) says it beautifully:

There are many whose eyes are awake
while their heart is asleep.
And what do they see?
But those who keep their heart awake,
will open the eyes of a hundred more.

If you’re in the business of leadership and influence, Rumi’s words speak especially to you.

Sometimes remaining in the game involves giving up something good. Does the energy of those your work with bring you alive, or drain you? If you are working in an environment that sucks in energy, it is doing you more harm than poison in the atmosphere, however golden the handcuffs that keep you there.

Notice what energises you. It might be a physical activity that tires you out but leaves you simultaneously energised with endorphins coursing through you, or a just-achievable challenge where you feel wonderful afterwards. Everything you love energises you. Music, fishing, Tai Chi or embroidery, sunsets and the full moon. The fourteenth-century Sufi poet Hafez found his ecstasy in dancing and wrote a timeless sentence: “If you think I am having more fun than anyone on this planet you’re absolutely right.” Sometimes you feel a glow of excitement after a deeply satisfying conversation with a friend or even sitting in silence beside someone you are close to. You are alert, but with an expansiveness and ease. There’s more room to breathe. Catch that feeling and notice how it nurtures you. Lucky the people who are energised by their work.

Collecting joyful energisers has been a useful practice for me. I don’t know about you, I confess I’ve always found it easier to filter for negatives – it was a habit I acquired early, and climate and Covid fears and chaotic politics have brought some of that back. Of course, we feel rotten sometimes, disappointed, let down, regretful. Bad stuff happens – it doesn’t need our constant attention. We need our store of endorphins to keep us afloat in bad times and to flourish in better times. It’s a matter of noticing the good bits – catching them on the wing, “kissing the joy as it flies”, as Blake says, instead of allowing one bad feeling to wipe all the good from your mind.

Try jotting down the good bits – maybe at the end of the day. It’s the perfect recipe for quiet sleep, and a pleasure to read again months later.

Go well,

Judy

What Else?

Out of the Ashes

Phoenix Writers’ Circle has just released an anthology, Out of the Ashes.  Full of wonderful writing, brilliant story-telling and heart – both hopeful, and dark – it features poetry and prose from a selection of talented group members, and includes many pieces written during the Covid-19 pandemic. Okay, interest declared, I have dipped into creative writing and am a contributor. Out of the Ashes is available on Amazon and Lulu.

Also an event! As part of the Mole Valley Arts Alive Festival, Phoenix Writers’ Circle are holding a special evening of readings on Wed, October 27, 7-9 PM, at The Stepping Stones, Westhumble Street, Dorking, RH5 6BS.

Coaching

Let’s say you’re not getting ahead as you’d like to; you’re stuck in some way; you feel there’s more to life than you get out of it; you feel generally scared about what’s next in your life? …

What to do? Send me an email about it, and then we can have a brief chat on the phone without commitment about possible ways forward. That alone might be just the catalyst you need. Or we can arrange a coaching session to explore further. If you find that coaching useful, we can set up a series of maybe 4-6 sessions. I cannot tell you how many people successfully achieve what they previously thought impossible, through a few coaching sessions.

“Abel came back bubbling with excitement around how much he had learnt in his coaching and how he enjoyed the experience. Thanks again for all you do for us. You really do make a tangible, positive impact on people’s lives and they are resolutely in a better place for it.”  Richard Owen, Head of Global Real Estate & Construction, Lockton Companies LLP

My other Books

The Art of CommunicationHow to be Authentic, Lead Others, and Create Strong Connections. Relationships can be the hardest thing in life and also the most rewarding and fulfilling. This book explores ways to deepen your connection with others – an important topic for today’s world.

The Art of Conversation – Change Your Life with Confident Communication
My most popular book. It’s a great handbook to help you communicate better in every situation. Full of practical hints and tips.

Voice and Speaking Skills For DummiesContains a wealth of resources for improving your voice and communication. Great to dip into for particular voice and speaking issues.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – 25 Sure Fire Ways to Speak and Present with ConfidenceThis is the book for you if you ever suffer from performance anxiety. Get rid of your nerves now! The information is tried and tested, and highly practical.

Voice of Influence – How to Get People To Love to Listen to YouNow published in 9 foreign language editions! Acquire the voice you would love to have, and transform your impact.

You can get my books from all the usual channels and in e-versions and Audio. The links I’ve provided are to bookshop.org, an ethical source of books that supports local bookshops.

 

 

 

Stories within Stories

point-of-view

Sounds like the stuff of nightmare tales, but it is possible to get stuck in your story, unable to find a way out. Are you in a Matrix? Problems are solved only from outside the story, where you get a different perspective.

Gilgamesh, the oldest work of literature in the whole world, written over three thousand years ago, tells of the discovery of hidden tablets that in their turn tell a story – a story within a story. The oldest work written in English, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, consists of stories within a story too – the tale of a group of pilgrims travelling towards the holy shrine at Canterbury, in which each traveller tells a story as they travel.

More recently, the well-known film, The Truman Show, tells the story of Truman, who has lived on Seahaven Island from babyhood. But the story embracing that story is that he is living inside a huge dome, constructed for the transmission of an interminable TV soap opera, where everyone on that island apart from him is an actor in the show, and he is the only one not in the know – for him this is his life.

The concept of a story within a story makes good entertainment – The Matrix is another powerful example. And it is capable of giving us an uneasy feeling: “So what’s real? Am I living the real thing? Or am I living in a story too?”

All good fun to speculate, but it is certainly true that we do indeed live in stories of others’ making, probably much more than we’re aware of. Most often, like Truman, we’re born into them; sometimes we pick them up along the way. Cultures, including religious cultures, offer stories that differ widely from each other. But when we are born into a culture, its story isn’t a story for us, it’s just life, normality (however odd it may seem to others!). A fish doesn’t know it’s in water.

Well, we all have our varied experiences, our world view, our different opinions. But the stories we believe drive our actions. The trouble with living inside a story without knowing it’s a story is that it prevents us stepping outside the storybox, which is often the only place to solve our problems. I watched Wild Wild Country recently, the story of a large religious group that moved from India to remote Oregon in the US and built a city there. Members of the group were clearly hugely inspired by their leader Bhagwan, later known as Osho. Encountering opposition from locals and later by federal forces, they did everything to protect their leader, and as the situation escalated, they armed themselves and finally executed violent acts against those who opposed them. Each worse act was motivated by a strong positive intention (as we would call it in NLP). Perpetrators would have said, “I’m doing this to protect Bhagwan, that is all that matters.” The story doesn’t end well, as you might imagine.

Get out of the Matrix

How often do we try to solve our problems “within the matrix, the story”? For example, “This person is difficult, I’ve got to deal with him/her.” The story in this case is “This person is difficult” and the proposed solution derives directly from the story, “I’ve got to deal with him/her.” “Dealing with” frequently involves some sort of violence. With some politicians, the story is, “My party has got to win this battle,” and the rationale within the story is, “Therefore I’ve got to tell whatever story will win this battle.” This is where truth gets sacrificed. Working within the story often involves a belief that the end justifies the means.

But that’s only one way of viewing a problem, and it’s unlikely to be solved satisfactorily by continuing to look at it from the one perspective. There’s a different way, which is to recognise the matrix and step beyond it. There are various ways to do this.

  1. Step into a bigger picture. Sit back and open up your view. See yourself and the “difficult” person from a distance in your mind’s eye, and watch the “dance” of movement and sounds between you as if you are watching a film of two people you don’t know. Discover how different aspects of the problem become apparent when you put a bit of distance between you and it. It often happens that you notice that the movements of the two are surprisingly similar, or are polar opposites. If the relationship carries a lot of emotional baggage, you can increase clarity significantly by imagining that you are looking at it from as far away as the moon!
  2. Turn the statement upside down. Change the statement, “This person is difficult” to “I am difficult” for instance. How might you be difficult for the other person? You might have resistance to thinking this way, but if you change your mindset to a different viewpoint, something will change in your understanding and new approaches will emerge.
  3. Shift from “This person is difficult” to different levels: consider the person in the context of wider relationships; reflect on what really matters in the relationship, understand which values are important. How might you find harmony, for instance, with this person? What might be a route to further lightness? A sense of humour even? Or trust? Such questions will release possibilities that would never emerge from previous formulations of the problem.

Gym training

How do you get fit for such mind games? You learn as 3-year-olds do: you play at it. You experiment and don’t insist on success, whatever that is. You find more variety in your life, especially important to many of us who have spent months with diminished horizons during the pandemic. You introduce something different into your day – a new activity, or walk or food or something you wouldn’t usually read, a TV programme that you wouldn’t usually watch. And you step into the shoes of what it is like to be someone who enjoys such activities. The more experience we have of difference, the quicker we become on our feet to respond to what life throws at us, and the easier we find it to adapt to what is needed in each circumstance. And even as we dance with new approaches, ideas and attitudes, we feel more grounded, more solid in who we are. Another of life’s joyful paradoxes!

I want to add, without any trace of lightness at all, don’t think you are doing anything small when you expand your possibilities in this way. Our world is at a critical moment and has huge need of warm hearts and flexible minds. (I’m talking for myself here!) Don’t you agree?

Dance in the moment! Go well,

Judy

NEWS

*** THIS SUNDAY, 13 June – “From Inner Critic to Inner Coach”

A Spirit of Coaching Event on Zoom, from 2 to 3.30, with John McConnel and yours truly.

InnerCriticInnerCoach

It has been said that our mind can be our best friend or worst enemy. There is often a war going on inside between these two aspects of ourselves that can be draining and demoralizing. We explore how to train the mind to enable us to live a happier and more fulfilling life.

The event is free, you just need to register your attendance in advance to get the link. tinyurl.com/InnerCriticInnerCoach. All welcome.

Podcast

Last month I was interviewed by Brett McKay for the American online magazine, Manliness. The title of the conversation is: The Art of Conversation — A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure, and Brett and I grapple with the question, “How do you have a meaningful conversation with another person?” We had a great time and covered some interesting issues – I hope you enjoy it too. There’s a transcription on the link as well as the audio.

There are more podcasts to come – I’ll give you details next month.

Permission to Shift Summit JUDY APPSRoss, Judy

25 – 27 June

Fireside chats on how to create meaningful relationships. I am speaking on 27th. More information at www.permissiontoshift.com, and details of how to book coming very soon.

 

 

 

 

Understanding NLP

Part 5 of my free E-course, Understanding NLP, offers ideas on how to view things from different perspectives – a hugely valuable skill. Register for the whole course here.

By the way, thanks to everyone who downloaded my free e-course, How to Raise Your Profile

last month – it was a popular one!

A book recommendation, Juliet Grayson’s Landscapes of the Heart

Probably the first book by a psychologist that I just couldn’t put down. Juliet Grayson takes us into the hidden world of a psychotherapy session.  She shakes our assumptions about how relationships work, and what to expect from our intimate partners, showing us different routes to more satisfying and loving intimacy, and giving us a grounded understanding of what makes relationships successful. It’s brilliant.

Finally, the usual links to my books

The Art of CommunicationHow to be Authentic, Lead Others, and Create Strong Connections
Relationships can be the hardest thing in life and also the most rewarding and fulfilling. This book explores ways to deepen your connection with others. Such an important topic for today.

The Art of Conversation – Change Your Life with Confident Communication
My most popular book currently. It’s a great handbook to help you communicate better in every situation. Full of practical hints and tips.

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies
contains a wealth of resources for improving your voice and communication. Great to dip into for particular voice and speaking issues.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – 25 Sure Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence
This is the book for you if you ever suffer from performance anxiety. Get rid of your nerves now! The information is tried and tested, and highly practical.

Voice of Influence – How to Get People To Love to Listen to You.
Now published in 9 foreign language editions!
Acquire the voice you would love to have, and transform your impact.

Get rid of titles for a moment and truly lead

If you operate just from your title, you sacrifice real connection and dialogue, with all the possibilities that offers. And leadership without connection is a paltry thing.

Hierarchy 2021-05-02 at 15.40.04


  • Is there a conversation you’re struggling to have with someone? Forget their title just for now.
  • Do you lack connection with people you work among? Find the sense of equality that comes from knowing you’re both just human beings.

 

Emily Dickinson wrote a great little lyric in 1897:

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Dont tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

Have you, just occasionally in the past few years, felt that there are too many “Somebodies” around? Honestly?

At one time, living in London, I worked as a peripatetic clarinet teacher – that was my title. One day a week, I taught pupils at an inner city comprehensive down the Old Kent Road, and on another weekday, I took a train down into leafy Surrey and taught at a private girls’ school. The girls waited politely for my instructions and never made a sound without being invited to play. Some pupils at the London comprehensive were like that too, but others came into their lesson with a sense of urgency, “Hey, Miss, look, I tried this, but it never comes out right, listen!” And the pupil would jump straight in and show me what they were attempting to do, with various loud squeaks, and burst out with, “So, what am I doing wrong?!” I found the second way challenging at times, after all, I was the teacher and had an uneasy feeling I ought to be in charge; but at the same time, I admired it. Those kids really wanted to improve. And, crucially, improve they did.

I was the teacher, I ought to be in charge.” The concept of hierarchy is almost built into our DNA in Britain. Who doesn’t know that King and Queen comes before Prince and Princess, who come before Dukes and Duchesses followed by Earls and Ladies and so on down? It’s been so for a thousand years and we (okay some of us) know our place. Corporations follow a similar pattern, carving out ever more subtle divisions in the hierarchy pyramid for absolute clarity. Just look at this list of subdivisions at the level of Vice President:

  • Senior Executive Vice President (Sr. EVP)
  • Executive Vice President (EVP)
  • Senior Vice President (SVP)
  • First Vice President (FVP)
  • Vice President (VP)
  • Additional Vice President (Addl. VP)
  • Assistant Vice President (Asst. VP)
  • Joint Vice President (Jt. VP)
  • Associate Vice President (Asso. VP)

Imagine a group photograph where all the VPs try to get themselves sorted in order of precedence! (Talking of knowing your place, have you ever watched the old Social Class Sketch with John Cleese and Two Ronnies’ from the 1966 Frost Report? Just 24 secs.)

Well, you might say, you have to know where the buck stops, don’t you? True. But hierarchy with its evil twin obeisance has a lot to answer for.

Think of the absolute power of the feudal lord of the manor, the unquestioning deference of parishioners for the priest, the increasing powers yielded to the ruling executive, the unquestioned power of theatre and film producers over young artists, and of sports coaches over young players – there’s many a hardship and many a scandal that’s come out of  assumptions that accompany hierarchy.

Maintaining a hierarchy puts a pressure on everyone. From page 26 of The Art of Communication:

Time and again in business and politics, people find themselves in the role of courtiers admiring the Emperor’s new clothes – making comments with a verve and energy they do not feel or acting impassively while feeling strong emotion. To use ambiguous language is exhausting – it’s a kind of lying, and lying always saps energy. Maintaining your position, reputation, credit, or standing is exhausting too.

Hierarchy intimidates. People in the workplace often feel daunted when speaking with ‘experts’ or those higher in the pecking order and block themselves, thinking, “He’s senior to me, it’s his call,” or “She’s going to think me stupid.”

For myself, hierarchy got in the way of my coaching:

  1. First, very simply, I often found that people who came for coaching wanted me to be powerful. They were paying to be fixed by me, and in so doing, thought it quite right to hand all responsibility to me. So far, so flattering. It was nice to be seen as the expert, and easy to slip into that role. But it didn’t help the person being coached, because when the power came to me, it leached away from them, which didn’t help them in their journey towards personal autonomy and self-realisation.
  2. I also found that, the higher my client was in their work hierarchy, the more I was tempted to cling to the idea of my expertise, almost subconsciously to balance things out. I found myself sitting straighter and talking more in business-speak to match their status. I particularly acted the expert role on occasions when I wanted to impress. None of this aided people’s progress.

Progress happened when we connected. And different hierarchical levels don’t connect, not really – hierarchy has to be suspended, even temporarily, for genuine dialogue. Coaching isn’t a transaction: it’s an exploration, side by side, into areas that are obscure or difficult for people. Of course, they want to feel safe, so it’s not a matter of both scrabbling around in the dark. A coach offers safety, a kind of guarantee that the person won’t be overwhelmed as they move towards their desired outcomes. As coach, I offer everything I have to offer, but I don’t lead, I walk beside.

When you come down to it, most people don’t actually need very much help in goal setting; what impedes them is much more likely to be fears and limitations they don’t understand. They want someone they trust to travel with them into the unknown.

I used to coach clients or even – powerless word – coachees; I now work with people. Those proactive schoolkids down the Old Kent Road didn’t think I was better than them. They saw me as a helpmate – a supporter if you like. I knew stuff that they didn’t,, but that wasn’t what allowed them to learn. My presence helped to keep them afloat in their quest – and they knew whose quest it was.

Lao Tzu says, “To lead people, walk behind them.” That might seem an insignificant role, but it’s not the power of my role that’s going to help; it’s the relationship. And we relate only where there is equality – the ultimate equality of I’m human and you’re human.

“There’s equality in conversation. It’s very hard to have a good conversation with someone who intimidates or patronises you or with someone who is intimidated by you.” The Art of Conversation, Chapter 1.

When Crick met Watson, he never said, “Ok, first things first – we need to decide who’s in charge;” and DNA would hardly have been discovered had he done so. The generative magic came from two scientists of different disciplines coming together as equals in genuine dialogue.

I would hazard a guess that quite a lot of people high up in organisations have a strong sense of ‘better than’, and I would guess that even more of them act the part of ‘better than’. The best leaders don’t do that, nor do they see their role as one of control. They see a big part of leadership as support and dialogue – creating relationships that are genuine, that are a model of how their people might connect more deeply with each other – plus the ability to do and be what enables their people to fly.

Andria Zafirakou, the British art teacher who won Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher prize in 2018, dubbed the Nobel for teaching, says that teaching is all about building relationships: “Build the relationship, build that trust. And then everything else can happen.” Many fine leaders would say the same. She continues, “I think sometimes the most beautiful thing about being a teacher is when you ask the child to teach you.”

Every person that you meet has something to teach you. Look at leaders you admire; I don’t think you’ll find a single one who wears their importance visibly like epaulettes on the shoulders. Their people say of them, “She/he treated me like an equal.” And when the organisation is successful, as such organisations often are, you find that individuals don’t tend to look to a hero leader for the cause. No, they think, “We did that”, or “I helped make that happen.” In fact, I think other coaches will tell you that the greatest joy of coaching (of leadership too) is the day your person owns their success and, throwing their hands in the air, exults, “I did that! I made that happen!”

MORE ABOUT CONNECTION

Connection in my TED Talk

How Your Voice Touches Others: The true meaning of what you say

Connection in my books

The Art of CommunicationHow to have deeper conversations that open up new possibilities

The Art of Conversation – how to have truly two-way satisfying exchanges.

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies – Find the voice that connects with others

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – how not to be daunted when you interact with others

Voice of Influence – how to speak so that people want to listen to you

I’ve given you links to bookshop.org that supports local bookshops, but you can buy the books everywhere, including e-versions and audio.

A great definition of connection from Brene Brown

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”   Brené Brown

Raise your profile through connection

Part 5 of my free E-course: How to Raise Your Profile is called Curiosity and Connection. It turns out that even when you have the desire to raise your own profile, connection is a key part. Follow the link to download the E-course.

Go well this Merry Month of May!

Judy

When You’ve Passed Through All the Lies

Banksy Reading Prison

 

If you’re lucky enough to live long enough, you get to an age when you realise you are going to die. When you’re younger, you think you know that, of course you do, but you don’t, not really. With this realisation, living long enough, you get to understand that the great prize is being alive. Just that, how you manifest being alive. It never was about being the best singer in the world, of conquering the highest mountain, having the most money or power, or saving ten thousand souls. It wasn’t even about leaving things behind for people to enjoy, though that’s a nice thing to do. With reluctance you realise it wasn’t even about learning, though that is a good way to live.

Some people are alive and share their aliveness to energise and inspire; some are Death Eaters and drain and destroy. Both types are to be found anywhere and everywhere.

Casually watching Grayson Perry’s Art Club the other evening, I chanced upon aliveness. Grayson has it in spades, life without artifice; which is the weirdest thing to say of an artist who is perhaps best known for dressing up as a little girl. But aliveness is happy with paradox: creating a character and hiding behind a disguise aren’t the same thing, he’s very open about that. If you’re hiding behind a disguise, you’re not fully living because you’re not free. And then you can’t plough your own furrow, which means fully to live. He’s a pretty good example of someone who has found the courage to be himself, I think.

One section of his programme showed a film of a graffiti artist creating a stencil on a wall, and then we see that the stencil is a Banksy artwork, which appeared on the wall of Reading Prison – where Oscar Wylde was imprisoned – very recently. It depicts a prisoner escaping down a rope made of twisted paper, weighted by an old-fashioned typewriter. It suggests – amongst other things maybe – that however locked-up or locked-down you are, there’s always space and freedom to create in your own imagination. Banksy – there’s another creative, full of the life force, ploughing his own furrow…

Talking of furrows, the poet Gerald Manley Hopkins was another who brought gold to his own furrow:

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.
from The Windhover

Finding shine and fire in the ‘plod’ of every day…

But back to Grayson: next he selects a bold and brightly coloured picture of nature created by a viewer. He phones the artist and it turns out to be a lively young disabled woman (cerebral palsy? – it’s not the point), who creates computer generated paintings using her eyes only. What shines through is genuine talent together with boundless delight and enthusiasm; she is so clearly who she is, full of life, also ploughing her own unique furrow. One more for life. Grayson is humbled, and I am too.

Finally, I think of Clive James, who died at the end of 2019. I’ve been half in love with Clive James since I read his Unreliable Memoirs half a lifetime ago. A polymath and huge wit, he lived an exciting varied life in the public gaze. His daughter Claerwyn spent time with him through his cancer and wrote that it was an immense privilege to be with him in his last months and weeks. She said that after all the fame, success and pride in his own brilliance, in his final illness he returned to what he really was: “He was sort of incandescent, really. It felt like he had passed through something. At the end, you’ve passed through all the lies you tell yourself about what life is about, and what you might accomplish. You know what’s coming. He just appreciated everything in this astonishing way … His world had shrunk to this room and yet, every aspect of his life was filled with meaning… Everything was extraordinary.”

I like her comment, “You’ve passed through all the lies you tell yourself. … he returned to what he really was.” I think that’s my theme. We all have a self-image that’s “improved”, like a Zoom image after you’ve used the “Touch Up My Appearance” feature (yes, it exists!). We all tell our stories with inconvenient facts edited out, and it takes an invisible toll. But some come through, and succeed in finding the freedom to be themselves, to be fully alive, in whatever circumstances they find themselves. I never quite realised before what courage it takes to be like that, especially in this world where trolls are happy to destroy people – especially those who plough their own furrow – through misinformation, division and hate, with the tools to do it.

I want to seek out those with the creative life force: their energy affects us as nothing else can.  There is much life and free spirit in the world – my list is getting longer by the day. If you choose people with inner life, their life-giving energy rubs off on you.  Who would you choose? Let me know. Let’s celebrate together!

David Whyte often has wise words on this subject. Here’s an excerpt from his poem Sweet Darkness (link to whole poem):

You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.

Which leaves me with a question for you and me to ponder. It’s this:

“When you have passed through all the lies you tell yourself, what is the you that you really are?

When do you feel most yourself? For sure it’s the best of you. Cherish it: it’s pure gold-vermilion.

Go well,

Judy

 

YOU MIGHT ALSO BE INTERESTED IN …

“Voice of Influence” – Voice and Public Speaking Coaching

Did you know that you can gain similar benefits to my popular Voice of Influence Training (which I’m not running currently) through online one-to-one coaching – and at no extra cost, with the time spent entirely on what will benefit you most. Contact me if you want to know more. I have various packages that might suit you, a typical one being 3 separate sessions of coaching over a period of about a month, with space between sessions for you to practise in real life what you are learning.

My books, of course

I’m so happy if you have a look; even happier if you buy! Happiest of all if something I wrote means something to you.

The Art of Communication
How to be Authentic, Lead Others, and Create Strong Connections. Relationships can be the hardest thing in life and also the most rewarding and fulfilling. This book explores ways to deepen your connection with others.

The Art of Conversation – Change Your Life with Confident Communication
My most popular book currently. It’s a great handbook to help you communicate better in every situation. Full of practical hints and tips.

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies
contains a wealth of resources for improving your voice and communication. Great to dip into for particular voice and speaking issues.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – 25 Sure Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence.
This is the book for you if you ever suffer from performance anxiety. Get rid of your nerves now! The information is tried and tested, and highly practical.

Voice of Influence – How to Get People To Love to Listen to You.
Now published in 9 foreign language editions!
Acquire the voice you would love to have and transform your impact.

Coaching

A few sessions of one-to-one work with a coach might be the answer to your situation during this difficult time. Whether it’s about relationships, or feeling stuck, or wanting to give yourself a better chance of advancement, or wanting to find who you really are, coaching gives you a unique space to deal with issues in your life. Online or telephone coaching works brilliantly. Contact me if you want to have an informal chat about it – by email in the first instance.

Aikido and Communication Webinar
– in which I explore the subject of communication with master of Aikido Quentin Cooke, Aikido 7th Dan, in a webinar attended by martial arts practitioners and others interested in the somatics of communication. Sounds specialised? I assure you it’s full of nuggets for all of us.

Only connect

Yes, even during a pandemic …0_Mother-and-son-walking-through-a-park-in-winter

Perhaps because I saw fewer people last year, I thought about friends and family and valued interactions more than usual – both face to face and via the internet. It made me ask myself what made certain relationships stand out.

Has it been the same for you? And have you found certain relationships meant more than others? What were your best interactions like? Energising? Fun? Natural and easy? You felt understood? Sensed a real connection?

Special encounters can happen with the person you love the most, but also with complete strangers. In the summer when I wrote The Art of Communication, I recorded the following in my diary: *

“The little cabin we booked to rent in Shropshire was next door to an old house containing a restaurant that was shut at present. The owner, Elizabeth, came out to meet us and briefly explained that her husband wasn’t available to open the restaurant during our stay as he was currently ill. She showed us around our cabin, invited us to contact her if we needed anything, and then withdrew. Later, as we strolled out to explore, we paused by display shelves in the front garden containing a variety of interesting jams and pickles and unusual garden plants for sale, set up by our host.

“We didn’t see Elizabeth again until the morning of our departure a few days later, when she emerged from the house to wish us goodbye. As we said our thanks and farewells, we quietly asked her about her husband, and she explained that after a few years of ups and downs with cancer, his condition was now terminal and the time remaining probably short. As we listened, she told us about his work as a restaurant chef, their life in other cities, and some of the challenges of running things on her own now. We admired her garden produce and plants and commented on the variety of birds that were attracted by the food she put out in feeders. Encouraged by our interest, she told us about her excitement a couple of days before, when in the early dawn she had witnessed five nuthatch fledglings leave the nest. Time was suspended for a few moments and I felt physically the frisson of our connection.

“What was it? A short inconclusive conversation with a stranger. Yet I took much more from our conversation than some sad facts and some happier ones. It felt as if we had shared for a moment a larger theme of life. Such words are perhaps too abstract and fail to recognise how real the exchange felt – to each of us, I think. The truth lay in some in-between-ness; and it touched us.”

* This became the prologue of The Art of Communication.

What made such a casual short encounter exceptional? The first word to spring to my mind is empathy. And that was true of other memorable interactions too. I’ve been pondering on that and thinking that it matters – hugely – to all of us.

Empathy is personal

The first thing that strikes me is that empathy is personal. (It’s like the word sorry, in that you can’t actually practise it in any genuine sense on someone else’s behalf – though people try it all the time with sorry, perhaps with empathy too). Some people possess an impersonal kind of friendliness. They may be amiable, genial, convivial, gregarious, extrovert, outgoing, easy-going, good-natured, agreeable – there are loads of ways to describe it – but their friendliness is non-specific. For many such sociable people, friendliness is not their number one priority, but more a way of oiling the wheels on their way towards whatever is their first concern. (If you’re interested in MBTI (Meyers Briggs Type Indicator), ENTP might be an example, with an extrovert expression of friendliness that’s not the number one priority). You will certainly know people like that, at work maybe, or in the public arena.

Empathy is not a public attitude. It’s one-to-one, personal; and it’s a response rather than an attitude. When you are empathetic, you tune in to micro-signals and catch the vibrations of someone’s feelings and thoughts, whether joyful or painful, and you join them in that same place. It’s Rumi’s, “There is a field, I’ll meet you there.”

Empathy perpetually changes according to what it finds, so it has to be light and flexible, and open to the unexpected. Sometimes it’s silent and listens, sometimes it moves to specific words and action. It’s not generalised. If you have ever been in a bad situation and had someone dealing out sympathy in a general way, you’ll know the difference. There’s nothing so annoying as sympathy taken off the shelf, a fix-all attitude to adversity that’s all about the other person – “I know exactly what you’re feeling.” Empathy doesn’t know; it isn’t knowledgeable. On the other hand, it is intelligent – it sees (hears, feels, tastes, smells, intuits) clearly what is.

Intelligence: Intelligence is just openness of being.
Being open we respond with fresh insight.
– Osho

Empathy is connection with your equal

Secondly, empathy is a connection that takes place only between equals (or as equals). You have to breathe the same air. This is acutely important. If I think I’m better than someone else, I don’t reach them. And how many ways there are to feel better than other people! Maybe I received a better education than you; I’m more knowledgeable. Or I went to a school where we were taught that we were exceptional; or grew up in a religion of chosen people. Or my parents had more money and we belonged to a “better class of people”, or I’m “cultured” and have a superior accent. Or, I’m the teacher, expert, voice of experience.

And, of course, it works the other way too. Maybe I think I’m worse than other people, less well educated, more ordinary, ignorant, poor, stupid, uncultivated, badly spoken, with not much going for me at all. Maybe I think I’ll never make anything of myself, always be an outsider. Maybe I make constant comparisons and come out of it badly. Whether we feel superior or whether we feel inferior, we struggle to connect. Connection happens in the absence (however temporary) of better and worse.

By the way, we need to remind ourselves that someone being better at something doesn’t mean they’re intrinsically better than us, and someone being worse at something doesn’t mean that we’re better than them. (And isn’t it funny how the most talented people are often the most modest and how the reverse is also often true?)

How connection happens

Think back again to times when you have really connected with someone. What was true of those times? I would guess it wasn’t that you were the same, but equally there was no superiority or inferiority; you met side by side on the same ground of understanding and feeling understood. It put you on the same wavelength. Literally, your vibrations were in synch with each other. When this happens, something new – an idea, a solution or a breakthrough – often emerges.

It’s Either Or

So here we are at 2021. And we have a choice, both individually and on a global level.

Either, we play better and worse, and compete and fight on the premise that there’s not enough to go around – it’s my oil, my land, my vaccine, my water, my food, my job. I can turn everything in life into a fight: I win and you lose, or I lose and you win. I can fight disease, fight depression, fight the system, fight everything and everyone that’s other. I’m better than.

Or, we can connect and seek common cause. The world is telling us in increasingly urgent terms that the planet is interconnected and we won’t survive in silos whether we like it or not: our good health depends on global good health (viruses aren’t good at respecting borders); climate catastrophe will create shortage, uninhabitability and people movements on a scale we haven’t yet dreamed of. We’ve got to think more joined up even to save ourselves. Where’s the latest place they’ve found plastic – within a foetus in the womb? No gain in bleating that it’s not my plastic! Everything is connected. We’re too informed today to pretend otherwise.

So my intention this year is:

  1. To practise intelligence – learn to see more clearly, learn to be more joined-up in my thinking.
  2. Work on feeling equal to other people. Feel nervous of talking to that person? They are not better than you, even if they’re highly exalted in your company and paid 472 times as much as you. Feel superior to that person? Get very, very curious about them. Could I survive with my whole family in one room during months of lockdown? Could I work understaffed in an ICU unit, and face death constantly for a whole year? What is it truly like to be them? You’ll never feel superior if you do this exercise with diligence.

    Guy Standing puts it well:

    “A vital sentiment of a good society, empathy is the ability to put oneself imaginatively in the shoes of ‘the other’, whether or not one agrees with their predicament or actions” (my bold).
    (From The Plunder of the Commonsnow there’s a great read.)

  1. Spend some of the time I’ve spent ranting about politicians this year in seeking out people to admire and finding out more about them. I’ve already started my list – it’s a feel-good exercise! Albert Einstein, even had he not been exceptional in other ways would make it onto the list for this quote alone:

    A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Einstein

  1. One last wish. I hope that on 31 December 2021, you and I can look back and say with truth, “I’m pleased about my life in 2021. That was a good year!”

My warmest good wishes to you,

Judy

 

BOOKS

If you’re interested in this article, you’ll enjoy The Art of Communication – How to be Authentic, Lead Others, and Create Strong Connections. Relationships can be the hardest thing in life, and also the most rewarding and fulfilling when you know how. This book explores ways to deepen your connection with others.

The Art of Conversation – Change Your Life with Confident Communication is a great handbook to help you communicate better in every situation. Full of practical hints and tips.

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies contains a wealth of resources for improving your voice and communication. Great to dip into for particular voice and speaking issues.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – 25 Sure Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence. This is the book for you if you ever suffer from performance anxiety. Get rid of your nerves now! The information has been tried and tested, and is highly practical.

Voice of Influence – How to Get People To Love to Listen to You. Acquire the voice you would love to have, and transform your impact.

COACHING

A few sessions of one-to-one work with a coach might be the answer to to your current situation. Whether it’s about relationships, or feeling stuck, or wanting to give yourself a better chance of advancement, or wanting to find who you really are, coaching gives you a unique space to deal with issues in your life. Online or telephone coaching works brilliantly. Contact me if you want to have an informal chat about it – by email in the first instance: judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk

TIME FOR A POEM

Read the whole poem and enjoy it. Or if your brain is jangling today, just read the last four lines as we embark on the new year.

I have News for You by Tony Hoagland

There are people who do not see a broken playground swing
as a symbol of ruined childhood
and there are people who don’t interpret the behavior
of a fly in a motel room as a mocking representation of their thought process.
There are people who don’t walk past an empty swimming pool
and think about past pleasures unrecoverable
and then stand there blocking the sidewalk for other pedestrians.
I have read about a town somewhere in California where human beings
do not send their sinuous feeder roots
deep into the potting soil of others’ emotional lives
as if they were greedy six-year-olds
sucking the last half-inch of milkshake up through a noisy straw;
and other persons in the Midwest who can kiss without
debating the imperialist baggage of heterosexuality.
Do you see that creamy, lemon-yellow moon?
There are some people, unlike me and you,
who do not yearn after fame or love or quantities of money as
unattainable as that moon;
thus, they do not later
have to waste more time
defaming the object of their former ardor.
Or consequently run and crucify themselves
in some solitary midnight Starbucks Golgotha.
I have news for you—
there are people who get up in the morning and cross a room
and open a window to let the sweet breeze in
and let it touch them all over their faces and bodies.

 

What if …?

Come to the Edge 2020-12-04 at 21.09.05

What if …

okay, back to fundamentals, let’s just consider this for a moment –

what if you were completely okay?

Cut the subjunctive:

what if you are completely okay?

I mean absolutely, completely okay, just as you are?

There is just a chance that you already are. You may be in love, and the person you most esteem in the whole wide world is assuring you in every possible way that you are absolutely perfect, just as you are. If you are someone who has ever been in love, you might remember a time when someone else was your whole world, your universe, and their love for you made the universe and you in the universe amazingly okay.

It doesn’t last.

Okay, okay, okay, it does last; love does last; but does that very particular feeling of being okay last? Not for most people. You decide to have a ceremony to celebrate your love, and within the blink of an eye, you are deciding to go on a diet so that you will look especially great on that day, because currently, you’re a bit

See what I mean?

So, to come back to my question,

What if you are entirely, fundamentally okay just as you are?

Oh, I know that’s hard to take! Surely, if you thought you were okay just as you are, firstly you’d be self-deluded, and secondly, there’d be no motivation to improve yourself?  But we’re not talking perfect, we’re talking okay as opposed to not-okay.

What would be different?

I ask myself that question this morning, a day of dark skies and continuous rain, plenty of time to think about it. Oh my gosh, sobering thought, here goes …

  1. Well, for example, I’ve just done half an hour of home yoga – so what would be different with that? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t need to push myself towards a result to feel justified in the practice. Without trying to get somewhere, I’d just enjoy the feelings of movement and stillness, of stretch and strength. I think it might be joyful. In fact, without the straining to do something right, I’d try out some free movement just as the mood took me and enjoy the combination of breath and rhythm and movement, lively and slow. No right and wrong. My body might even become my friend, a means of expression, creative. I like that.
  2. Generally, I wouldn’t have so much need to worry, and I do worry a lot. I call it getting excited ahead of events or being prepared – but it’s worry really. Have I done enough? Will people be happy with it? Will I achieve success? Ah, there’s a word that has other people’s branding all over it. But if I’m okay, I don’t worry about success in the eyes of other people, I don’t have to squeeze and bully myself to fit expectations. I put my own mark on it, and it gives me the glorious freedom to act as I want to act. I feel an energy rush even as I write those words.So – who knew it? – being okay energises. Well, of course it does; we all know that angst and tension are exhausting. Knowing I’m okay before an event – that is, I’m okay whatever happens – allows me the joy of imagining new ways of being with people, and fresh approaches to take. Creativity soars. If I’m okay, pressure lifts. I breathe afresh.

My face gets warm, tears feel close. Forgiveness seems in order. I’m sorry, self. I’ve been a bully. And for what? It’s just cut me off. Whipping myself into hard work – and competitive hard work at that – isn’t necessary at all.  “Yes, but,” I tell myself, “but I’m the kind of person who needs incentives, and structure and goals. If I don’t force myself, I’m afraid that …” Woah! you’ve slipped back into not okay, and you’ve hit on the cause – being afraid. Come back to the practice: what if you are completely okay?

  1. If I’m truly okay, I trust myself. This is true even if you find yourself at rock bottom and the choice ahead is between very, very bad and pretty damn awful but not quite as bad. That’s still a choice, and if you trust yourself, you’ll make a good choice; and then another; and another. And good choices lead to a good life.In any case, If I’m okay, mistakes are okay too, and sometimes a gift. The thing is, a mistake doesn’t make you not okay. The world is not four-square: it’s full of anomalies, oddities, rarities, irregularities, quirks, variations, eccentricities; and hurray for that. If you’re okay, you learn from mistakes and stay okay; if you’re not okay, a mistake merely confirms that you’re not okay – nothing learned.
  2. If I’m okay, you’re probably more okay too. All through this strange and taxing year, haven’t you found solace from friends who in spite of everything they’re going through are fundamentally okay? Me too. And If you’re okay, there’s more to laugh about. You jettison that dreary ball and chain of guilt. Hallelujah!
  3. If I’m okay, I love more. Such a lot of not being okay comes from “I’ll love you if ….” (if you don’t cry, if you become the person I want you to be etc. etc.) which is what some adults implied to us as children and what – if we don’t learn in time – we pass on in our turn. When you’re okay love isn’t conditional. And you don’t look out and see a world that is reflecting your non-okay image back at yourself. No, you look out and see all the amazing things there are to see. Doing so, you lose yourself; and in losing yourself you are able to relate to the other with love and compassion, no longer alone.

Soft stuff? If you like. Relevant to business and to leadership? It surely is. You must be aware of bosses who are not okay and create havoc, and world leaders who after growing up on the receiving end of “I’ll love you if …”  emerged as narcissistic, fundamentally irresponsible adults. They threaten the very planet. Whereas when you are okay, you form generative relationships and make sound decisions. You love and live, in other words.

SO. The all-important question: can you decide to be okay?

You can.

“You’re joking. I’ve never been okay. Ever.”

No matter. That’s entirely it. You decide – in your core rather than in your head. Your core is untouchable, and wonderfully, beautifully, achingly, gloriously okay.

And that’s the truth, you are okay, you are an okay person. Your life might or might not be, but you,

You. Are. Okay.

Writing this, a song I haven’t sung for quite a long time came to mind Here below are the words, and here is Shana Noll singing it (plus lyrics).

How could anyone ever tell you
you were anything less than beautiful?

How could anyone ever tell you
you were less than whole?

How could anyone fail to notice
that your loving is a miracle?

How deeply you’re connected to my soul.                                                               
© Libby Roderick Music 1988   All rights reserved.

Let’s allow good stuff in this month. Let’s just let it in.

Go well,

Judy

Plus

My good colleague Sarah Smith, Director at Indigo Coaching and Leadership Development, interviewed me about communication and influence in the autumn. Here’s a snippet of our conversation (with many thanks to Sarah.)

Coaching

Did you ever want to get good at something, and then one day you took the plunge and had some lessons, and suddenly your performances was transformed, and you declared you should have done it ages ago? Coaching is like that: you acquire new abilities that greatly enhance what you are able to do. If you wish, you go deeper and discover your true motivations and purpose deep within. Then your life is transformed. Why would anyone not have a coach?! Contact me if you want a chat about it.

Books

What a wonderful Christmas present, and so easy to buy. If you want to encourage our bookshops rather than feed the online shopping behemoth, you can order online from Waterstones or go to www.hive.co.uk or uk.bookshop.org.

So how about a book on communication from yours truly? (That’ll make my Christmas!)

The Art of Communication: How to be authentic, lead others and create strong connections.
 We live in times where “living the image” has become endemic, and it chokes off genuine problem solving. This is as true for our relations with those close to us as for solving the world’s ills.

The Art of Conversation: Change your life with confident communication
Conversational skill isn’t just about being articulate and having lots to talk about It’s more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms: 25 Sure-fire ways to perform with confidence
This is a book about performance anxiety – it offers 25 different strategies to perform with confidence. But it’s not just about presenting and performing – you’ll find its ideas useful for eliminating anxiety throughout your life.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

Voice of Influence: How to get people to love to listen to you
“The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.

My new ‘guru’ … well, I don’t believe in gurus

IMG_0210

Is “walking the talk” all it’s cracked up to be?

What is excellent leadership really made of?

I don’t even believe in gurus, but here’s my new one

There’s a well-used tiny book my mother-in-law kept by her bed in her last days that has now come to us. It measures about the same as an old iphone and is covered in scuffed leather, the spine broken, with a faded title embossed in the leather:

THE MEDITATIONS OF MARCVS AVRELIVS.

The Meditations is a kind of manual on how to live (and die) as a fine human being, written by a world leader. (See quotes for a flavour.) Marcus Aurelius, 121 – 180 CE, was born into a patrician family, and eventually became Roman Emperor, ruler over 60-70 million people from the Middle East to Britain. He was also well-known as a philosopher. I find what he says highly relevant today.

This edition was published in 1899, so clearly wasn’t new to my mother-in-law. From time to time, I leaf through it or allow it to open randomly to read a page. Today, I started from the beginning. Book 1 plunges straight in with no preamble:

“From my grandfather Verus, a good disposition and control of my temper.”

“From my mother, respect for religion, and a love of liberality; and the habit not only of checking evil actions, but also of repressing evil thoughts. From her, also, a simple way of living, and avoidance of luxury.”

In the next 19 pages, in considerable detail, Marcus Aurelius lists positive traits, attributes and values he has received from his family, tutors, friends and other people in his life. Don’t you think it’s remarkable – odd even, for a world leader – to start with 19 pages of gratitude?

I thought I’d have a go myself. Once I begin to remember how good fortune has come to me, it’s uncanny: every time I come across something that I think I achieved on my own, I find it’s never so. Indeed, there’s invariably a whole chain of different instances of ­­­­­help I’ve received on the way.

For instance, I was hugely proud of winning one of only two scholarships to an excellent private high school, after performing particularly well in the 11 plus exam. But I was really practised in intelligence tests, having spent 2 years in the top year of my junior Catholic school practising them day after day. My parents thought of that school because my aunt was dancing teacher there. They couldn’t afford it – but a wealthy great aunt offered to pay. I had 2 years in the top class because I was so young that the head teacher advised my parents to keep me at junior school an extra year. I was young for my year because my mother had taught me to read fluently before I ever went to school. I was quick with arithmetic because my father would play endless mathematical games with us when we were small.

And so it continues. I can take any personal achievement, throughout my life and find a chain of interventions from others that helped it to come about. In fact, for later achievements the chain gets longer and the serendipities ever more crucial. It certainly puts things in perspective.

I’m sure you have your own stories. Try it.

I’m thinking about it today, because one of the gifts of gratitude – apart from making you feel good  – is the way in which it makes other people more real for you. Gratitude is a reckoning but it’s also a feeling; and you cannot feel gratitude to another human being without catching their humanity. When I feel grateful to the postman for bringing me a wanted parcel, I acknowledge his reality – today it’s the reality that he’s tramping the streets, 8 or more miles a day, in temperatures of 34° to bring the post.

If, on the other hand, you think or pretend that you’ve achieved everything on your own, you neglect the people who are part of your story. Eventually, you actually believe that you got your prestigious well-paid job entirely on merit, forgetting early comfort and advantage, financial or other support, superior private education, connections to powerful people and much else. You forget. Neglecting the relevance of others leads irrevocably to cruelty. If you don’t even notice the mouse, how are you going to realise your foot is on its neck? I wonder idly if any of our classically trained political leaders today have come across Marcus Aurelius at all?

The ancient Greeks – classical education again – tell of the Lethe, river of oblivion, that brings you forgetfulness if you drink of it. Their word letheia means oblivion or forgetfulness. We live in forgetful times, I think.

But they also have a word with the opposite meaning. A-letheia means unforgetfulness, unconcealment – everything laid out in the open – and this is their word for truth.

I really like this definition of truth. The best leaders don’t forget; they don’t conceal. They don’t stand higher than everyone else thinking only of themselves, forgetting connection. No, they see cause and effect laid out in the open; they remember, they see people.

My daughter, as a child violinist, was asked to play viola in the National Children’s Orchestra. She found she loved it. The viola doesn’t usually get a star role; it’s neither the highest string instrument not the lowest; its tone is mellow. She explained her delight. The viola is right in the middle of the harmony, so really matters, and as a viola player you feel the wonderful sensation of bringing the harmony together with the sounds you make. You matter hugely, but your contribution is largely unnoticed until it’s absent.

I think great leaders have that. They matter hugely, but they don’t stand at the front like a peacock, primping and strutting their stuff, bending their small head decorated with a shock of beautiful hair with little knowledge of anything beyond their own superiority (and then leaving the female to get on with building the nest). On the contrary; they’re in the middle of everything that happens, their finger on the pulse. They have an acute sense of the whole, and they value contribution – they know gratitude.

When you notice any enterprise working well in this life, look out for the viola player, that person without whom nothing happens. It isn’t always instantly obvious. Ask yourself, who is the linch pin? For sure, they won’t be sitting in luxury on the top floor or constantly seeking the limelight. You’ll find them down where people are, validating, encouraging, bringing people together to achieve, and inspiring connection and gratitude.

– which of course is where I started.

Go well!
Judy

Plus

My Books

The Art of Conversation (2014) has sold many more copies so far than The Art of Communication (2019), but to my mind The Art of Communication is many ways the more exciting book. If you have come across both, tell me what you think.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms will still hit the spot if you are looking for ways to overcome performance nerves, shyness, timidity, awkwardness, stage fright … you know, all that stuff that none of us is really immune to.

Not forgetting: Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies, the best book for dipping into to solve vocal issues.

And Voice of Influence, my first and fundamental statement of what I’m about – how to find your own voice and use it to influence those around you.

Coaching

This year of uncertainty is a great time for coaching. You don’t need to be at a particular level professionally or even have a job to seek out a coach. Coaching takes you where you are at and gives you more confidence and sense of being the person you were meant to be.  Don’t hang back because you’re not sure if it’s for you. I can scarcely think of anyone it doesn’t benefit. If you want an informal chat to find out more, get in touch with me at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk.

Talks

Email me at  judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk if you’d like me to give a talk or run a workshop in your organisation – on communication, conversation, confidence, voice, connection, interactive leadership or the subject of any of my books. I’d be delighted to discuss options with you.

 

 

 

Truth Seeking, Detective Work and Scepticism

Question+everything_c61372_4372075This fine summer continues. And I’m feeling out of control. With coronavirus here to stay and immunity probably short-lived… With climate creeping towards the cataclysm… With the state of the country – What can I do? Vote? My constituency’s been the same since 1950… With all the lies… a few minutes checking proves them to be lies. Why aren’t we all calling them out? Why do they get away with it?

I’m asking myself this last question as I listen to the podcast of Greta Thunberg (Summer with Greta) describing the tumultuous past year of her life. And then she says, in her perfectly enunciated English,

“If I’ve learned anything in my travels around the world, it’s that the level of knowledge is almost non-existent.”

I think to myself, “That’s it. We don’t question things anymore. Or perhaps our education doesn’t teach us to question things anymore?”

When I lived in Rome, someone told me that Italian security devices were always trialled in Naples first, as that city was so full of rogues that if anyone anywhere could break a lock, a Neapolitan could. If a device passed that hardest of tests, it was considered secure.

Good story, and I like the strategy. When I look at school teaching through this prism, I find that the whole notion of teaching children facts lacks rigor. Who tests the facts? Shouldn’t we be teaching children, Naples-style, how to test the veracity of what they are taught? (I know – against all the odds, good teachers still manage to do that). Moreover, outside school, all over the world, isn’t that what we all need now? – desperately? If ever there were a time …

Recipe for trouble? Clearly; but even so … I propose a curriculum subject called: Truth Seeking, Detective Work and Scepticism

Truth Seeking, Detective Work and Scepticism

(First, what a delightful word, scepticism: one hard c and one soft c, both followed by e or i: bang goes a spelling rule straightaway, how satisfying.)  First lesson can be about the limitations of facts and rules – they all have limitations.

My own education was full of rules and facts. My Oxbridge-educated history teacher taught us to make notes, precise and numbered just the way she spoke it. E.g. “There were 4 reasons for the outbreak of the War of Spanish Succession: first …  second …”, all cut and dried. It was a bit like the 1930s book, 1066 and All That by W C Sellar, (brilliantly ironic but that’s another story), which classifies events as “a Good Thing” or “a Bad Thing” – just so as you know.

This describes fairly accurately Michael Gove’s approach as Education Secretary in 2011. Gove said he wanted more “facts” in England’s national curriculum – by which he meant an unironic 1066 version of monarchs, generals, wars and empire (benevolent, British). He also wanted to pin down language with factual labels such as modal verbs and fronted adverbials. (Not sure of the precise denotation of the latter, dear reader?  It’s “a word or phrase used, like an adverb, in the front of the verb or clause” as for instance, Unfortunately…,  or, Yesterday…. Glad we cleared that up – it’s still in the Primary school curriculum).

So, back to my new school course on Truth Seeking, Detective Work and Scepticism. Here are 5 simple principles to start us off:

  1. Quietly question all rules. Be sceptical about ALL facts!

Before later revisions of the curriculum, children were actually encouraged for a few years to undertake detective work in history learning and examine source materials. What a brilliant innovation to teach children to ask, “Who says so?”! Better still to follow up with “And what axe had they to grind?” but one step at a time.

History: from 1066 and All That:

“Henry VII was very good at answering the Irish Question, and made a Law called Poyning’s Law by which the Irish could have a Parliament of their own, but the English were to pass all the Acts in it. This was obviously a very Good Thing.”

“Miss, who says so.”

“Oh, er, well, the English I suppose.”

“The Roman Conquest was, however, a Good Thing, since the Britons were only natives at that time.”

“Who says so, Miss? Am I only a native, Miss?”

“The Romans said so. That’s it. No more questions.”

English:

“So, children, yesterday, – which is an example of a fronted adverbial …”

Interruption: “Miss, who says so?”

“Oh, er… well, I believe it might have been Mr Gove … or maybe Mr Rees Mogg …
oh I don’t know!  Right, that’s it. Back to the old curriculum …”

The “Who says so?” approach might then develop into learning about bias – in grown-up terms “prejudiced opinion,” “one-sided point of view,” and “specific inclination.” Later in the curriculum this would lead to discussion of unconscious bias, justice, equal opportunities, diversity and inclusion – wouldn’t that be something?

  1. Realise that huge numbers of people can be wrong all at the same time.

Flat earthers; wearers of Elizabethan (Elizabeth I) cosmetics (white lead is sooo good – who knew it killed you?!); voters for Hitler and other conscienceless demigods since; the millions of followers of all religions that aren’t your own true religion if you have one; climate emergency deniers; people who think coronavirus is over (Bournemouth Beach was sooo good – who knew it killed you?!); people who sit down with calorific beverages and watch people running about with a ball instead of running about with a ball themselves (sorry, delete the last) …

Realise that weight of numbers of itself never makes something right or wise.

  1. Understand that facts depend on your perspective

Example of male perspective:

The sleeping tablet Ambien is one of the most commonly used insomnia and jet lag treatments in the world. Yet a decade or so after its approval, reports emerged in 2013 that women taking the recommended dose were behaving bizarrely or having accidents. They discovered that the recommended dosage was based on men and was double what it should be and actually dangerous for women. This situation is still mirrored in numerous pharmeceuticals today. Who knew?

Examples of wealth perspective:

“Lockdown: just stay in your house, walk in your garden and enjoy life at home with some exercise in your local park or countryside.”
Hmm, excuse me – two bedroomed 24th floor flat in city suburb, no garden, gig economy sporadically employed partner, 3 children of different ages to home school, no computers, precious little money coming in, eviction imminent, food cupboard bare? … who knew?

Find out exactly who is stating the fact, and what their interest might be in the matter.

  1. Realise that a fact always omits more than it tells you.

Do you remember the positive comments phase in primary schools a while ago, when teachers were strongly encouraged to write only positive statements in children’s reports? Facts maybe, but not very enlightening. Parents who wanted to pick up anything useful had to learn the art of reading between the lines. After a while, it became perfectly clear to everyone that, “Johnnie sometimes cooperates with other children on tasks” meant “Johnnie is a pain in the neck, and catastrophically disrupts lessons 99% of the time.”

With similar reasoning we might state confidently that, “Edward Colston (of the famous statue) beneficently endowed schools, alms-houses and hospitals in Bristol. This was a good thing.” And a fact, as far as that goes. But, as we now know too well, it is far from the whole story of that buyer and seller of slaves, so far-from, you would say, as to constitute an outrageous lie about who he really was.

Many “facts” are extremely slippery. A fact never tells the whole story.

  1. Get one step ahead of other people’s dishonest tricks

In The Art of Always Being Right, or 38 Ways to Win an Argument written 125 years ago, Arthur Schopenhauer collected dishonest tricks debaters use and explained how they worked. It’s partly the art of logic, but also understanding how to deal with obfuscation, diversion, full frontal attack and shamelessness. It’s a gold mine if you want to win arguments AND if you want ways to counter people who use dirty tricks in debate.

For example, trick 2: “Use different meanings of your opponent’s words to refute his or her argument.”

One of many subterfuges used by the Leave campaign in the EU Referendum was always to refer to an invented word “Brexit”, instead of talking about the act of leaving the EU. Once you have an abstract term it can mean what you want it to mean, and you can change the meaning mid-sentence in an argument. “Brexit” has worn thousands of different hats in the past 4 years! Thus, the hidden joke of “Brexit [what you think it means] means Brexit [what I think it means!]”. You can even use sleight of hand to “get Brexit done”.

Here’s the whole list of Schopenhauer’s stratagems if you’re interested. Such tricks are employed by politicians and business people all over the world – it’s a great list to study if you wish to survive the next decade! You could of course, heaven forfend, study it to become the next populist leader; but I hope you will see it as a powerful tool for countering attacks on the public good.

My hope

Imagine a future where young people grow up with greater understanding of how things work, where it is much harder to hypnotise them with parseltongue. Where they can’t be manipulated with hate campaigns, false bogeymen such as immigrants or false gods such as fool’s gold or populist ‘saviours’. Where they appreciate the subtle hinterland of “facts”. Where they understand humour, irony and speaking between the lines. Where they are able to hear falsehood in a tone of voice and feel truths that are unsayable. Essential for the highest leadership too. Now there’s an education! There’s some hope for humanity!

My facts? Your facts? Pouf! Nonsense!  To quote Einstein (as always),

Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.

I’m sure the remarkable Greta Thunberg would agree.

Warm good wishes to all,

Judy

 

Plus

Time to blow my own trumpet – was in lockdown for too long!

Just heard, my book The Voice of Influence is being translated into Arabic – to be published after Christmas. So that’s 11 languages now.

Recent email to me from someone who read The Art of Conversation in lockdown:

“Your book ‘The Art of Conversation’ is really great – warm, accepting, celebrating the possibilities of conversation, realistic about challenges, but also giving easy and fun exercises, pointing the way towards practice and skill.  So many thanks. I have never written to an author to thank them for their book before – you are the first!”

I’m on a roll! A colleague in Canada sent me this on my TEDx talk:

“I watched the video of your TED talk with enormous admiration. It was superb as to both content and delivery. I believe in your message about the benefits of speaking in your real voice but it’s a risky thing to do. It takes courage because you become vulnerable and that’s too scary for many people. I think it’s well worth the risk because that’s the only way one can really reach people, – along with listening with empathy to what they have to say in response.”

Finally, Tim Salau’s My Weekend Read:

The Art Of Communication [my most recent book]. Here’s some of the things you’ll appreciate about this book: ~ Whole-Mind listening: Listening with both your left and right-hemispheres of the brain to capture emotional depth, tone of voice, and other specifics. ~ How to guide a conversation: Even unexpected conversations can lead to powerful realizations. ~ The power of vulnerability in conversation. It’s a strength and a sign of trust. Dear product manager, add this to your COVID-19 reading list!👍🏾 Thank you, Judy Apps♥️

Okay, I don’t do this very often. Just now and then!

Coaching

This year of uncertainty is a great time for coaching. Coaching is for those who are so full of promise that they deserve help to fly high. It’s also for those who are struggling. It’s for leaders who are senior enough to be isolated, and for those who are just stepping into new roles. It’s for business success; it’s for personal relationships. So don’t hang back because you think you’re not quite the kind of person who has coaching. It’s more than likely that you’re exactly  the kind of person who will benefit. If you want to talk to me about it, get in touch at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk.

Talks

Let me know if you’d like me to give a talk to your organisation – on communication, conversation, confidence, voice, connection, interactive leadership, or a subject to decide between us. Contact me in the first instance at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk.

Doubt’s Uncomfortable, but Certainty’s Ridiculous

Screenshot 2020-06-16 at 09.52.59Do you find it easy to be certain? Or have you sometimes wished you were one of those people who is certain about their views and beliefs? What about now? Surely now?

I have craved certainty from time to time. For example, I was once a regular church goer. Then I wasn’t, but continued to envy those who were certain about their faith, who could enjoy the comfort of belonging to a community of people with like-minded beliefs.

Voltaire had thoughts on the subject:

Doubt isn’t a very comfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.

Sounds like the subject for a debate …

Certainty and Debate

To debate is to practise the art of certainty. You decide a ‘side’ – there’s your certainty – and then you marshal arguments both to support your case and to destroy the arguments of the other side. As far as I understand it, a barrister does much the same. As a prosecution or a defence lawyer – with your ‘side’ established a priori – you construct arguments to support your case and find flaws in the opposing side’s case. Success is measured by your ability to marshal arguments in defence of your cause sufficient to win support for it.

The art of debate is a subject that I understand is addressed more comprehensively in the hallowed halls of Eton or Westminster than in our state schools. So it would have been a natural process for Eton-educated Boris Johnson to compose convincing articles both for and against Brexit before choosing which side to back in 2016. It must have come easily to use his natural debater’s flair and vigour to support a case with unflagging certainty and, like others, he has shown chameleon skill in this art many times as a journalist over the years.

What does the debater do? – look at an opponent’s arguments maybe, but only in order to defeat them. It’s not a search for truth; the speaker is never influenced by opposing arguments; it’s always a battle, us against them.

This ‘debate’ method spills over into media interviews, as I describe in The Art of Communication: “Most conversations on TV and radio news are set up as interchanges between people with fixed opposing points of view, for example an argument for something and an argument against, with a facilitator intent on keeping the argument polarised.” The idea is that this makes for more lively television or radio. Often it does, but always at the expense of subtlety and intelligence. And deeper truth, I would say.

Social media and algorithms also hugely encourage the taking of sides, by driving us through our preferences into silos where we all think the same as each other. Our choice of news channels does the same. This contributes enormously to the building of tribes, where we naturally agree with everything our tribe stands for on a myriad of issues instead of thinking each issue out for ourselves. A supporter of a political party becomes like the football fan who proclaims, “The team’s the thing. I’m loyal to you through thick and thin, be you the best, be you the worst, tell me what to think, I’m your loyal base.” Loyalty becomes certainty.

But surely, if ever there were a time for certainty, this is it? You can’t shilly-shally in a pandemic; life and death decisions have to be made; people need clear instructions. Populations have always wanted strong leaders, and in times of danger and uncertainty, the desire for strong leadership increases. What is “strong”? Many would say it’s being certain and not changing your mind.

But wait, what about the science?

Science and Certainty

In this time of coronavirus, we are all talking about the (weird definite article) science. Science is admired by many because it deals with certainties.

But science isn’t certain, far from it. As theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli says,

“Science is not about certainty. Science is about finding the most reliable way of thinking at the present level of knowledge. Science is extremely reliable; it’s not certain. In fact, not only is it not certain, but it’s the lack of certainty that grounds it.” The New Republic, 11/7/14.

Or, to quote the example I give in my book:

Nobel Prize winner, physicist Richard Feynman, considered one of the best scientific minds since Albert Einstein, confided in a BBC Horizon interview that he was content to live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. He thought it was more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong, and that it was important for scientists ‘to leave the door to the unknown ajar’.

And, the chapter continued, “It’s not a recipe for paralysis, merely a willingness to continue without an insistence on certainty.”  The scientist doesn’t mind saying “I don’t know” when that is the truth. “I don’t know” is sometimes wisdom. Pretending to know everything is absurd.

Certainty and Politicians

Coming back to leaders, they may or may not “leave the door to the unknown ajar”; but making firm decisions is certainly an essential part of their business. Jacinta Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, manages the conundrum so well. It takes a subtle brain to make space for doubt. She doesn’t pretend that answers are easy. She shares doubt. And then she makes clear decisions. That is, she doesn’t adopt a position and then summon ‘facts’ to back it up, like someone in a debating chamber. She certainly doesn’t create additional ‘facts’ to support a position when it seems to be crumbling. (Nor indeed does she employ certainty as if talking to nursery school children.)  On the contrary, like a scientist (but a scientist with empathy, hurray!), she shares the facts, and then elegantly makes decisions.

There is all the difference in the world between these approaches. A leader has to make decisions of course. But that’s not the same thing as claiming certainty. Ardern’s way, “leaving the door to the unknown ajar”, allows for change when facts change; it acknowledges the complexity of issues. It enables truth, and therefore avoids the necessity of hiding behind obfuscation and bluster.

Lessons for me

One learning for me in all this is that putting an emphasis on ‘certainty’ is to look in the wrong place. Here’s another bit from The Art of Communication, from the chapter on Wholeheartedness:

An acceptance of uncertainty allows us to adopt more subtle positions, such as the paradox of holding both opposing perspectives to be true or recognising the possibility of synergy between differing arguments. In conversation either/or will give you one kind of exchange; both/and will give you other more interesting and surprising encounters. The synthesis of opposites is a powerful force. …

Control [needing to be certain] can only hold a view that excludes its opposite. It can lead me to talk with only my own interest at heart, and therefore deprive you of yours, or to assert that I’m right and therefore know that you’re wrong; or to speak with the aim of gain for me and loss for you; or to speak “for your own good” rather than work with you. Control in its lack of flexibility tends to create opposition. Holding different perspectives at the same time on the other hand allows something entirely new to emerge. As Hamlet said to Horatio, ‘There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Wholeheartedness is free from control. When I’m wholehearted I give myself permission to be spontaneous, natural, honest and free of forceful striving. … When I accept uncertainty, insecurity vanishes, and so I’m free.

My final thought is that we could do a lot worse than to learn from Jacinta Ardern.

My thoughts go out to you as we stay the course in our different ways.
Go well,

Judy

“Doubt everything. Find your own light.” Buddha

And…

The Art of Communication

I’ve quoted from my latest book above. It’s already a year old, yet I think it speaks to our times more than ever. It’s available as book, ebook or audio-book (though I wish I could have read my own book!) and the prices are good at the moment.

You can find all my books here on Good Reads. Maybe, buy here at Hive, which contributes to local book stores.

Coaching

Get in touch if you would like to consider a few sessions (or a single session!) of coaching by Skype, telephone, Whatsapp etc.  There are so many issues coming up for people at the moment. You may find the presence of a listening ear that helps you to think more clearly and handle your emotions more successfully is just what you need to move forward more positively and confidently. Coaching can be simple, powerful and amazingly effective. To contact me, try email first: judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk.

 

 

 

Saving the world with a bit of intuition and quite a lot of grammar

Screenshot 2020-01-09 at 17.48.27

 

How do you know what you know?

Presumably, you’ve been in the world quite a few years:

how did you learn everything that you now know?

How do you learn now?

Knowledge

When I think about how I learn now, I’m aware of how much I pick up from reading, much of it on the internet; through newspapers too – and books, lots from books…. I pick up from listening – to radio, TV, to people in my life. It’s information learning. If I trust it, I take it on board and remember it. I think I’m discerning about it.

Rumi, born 800 years before the internet, has something to say about intelligence acquired from books and from what the teacher says:

There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired,
as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts
from books and from what the teacher says,
collecting information from the traditional sciences
as well as from the new sciences.

With such intelligence you rise in the world.
You get ranked ahead or behind others
in regard to your competence in retaining
information. You stroll with this intelligence
in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more
marks on your preserving tablets.

Experience

All good, especially if you have your eyes on success. But there’s another kind of learning that doesn’t need to be agreed with or trusted, because we experience it. Take learning to walk. Balance is something you experience. It isn’t a matter of trusting information or not. When you’re out of balance, you fall down. No one tells you what to do or what to learn in infancy in order to be able to walk. The doing is the learning. You get to know what balance feels like, and you walk. What a miracle it is to learn to walk! How many muscles do you control at the same time when you succeed in walking – 200 or so? All at the same time! Imagine working your way through a written manual, “How to Walk”! People who have to relearn in adulthood have to do the equivalent of just that. And they are much more likely to fall down and mistrust it: “Walking’s not for me any more. I don’t trust it’s possible. Might as well give up now.”

These two ways of learning carry on through life. We tend more and more to use information learning as we grow up. Most people like learning to be neat and practical:

10 ways to become a better public speaker

5 tips to guarantee success in business

10 steps to the perfect golf swing

6 vital lessons to teach your kids

Every time I work with coaches, presenters or leaders the questions are the same, “Tell me what to do in order to …” “Yes, but what should I do?” “Give me the five steps!”

Yet, in these areas, as in many others, the most important intelligence is something you already have. As Rumi describes it:

There is another kind of tablet, one
already completed and preserved inside you.
A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness
in the center of the chest. This other intelligence
does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid,
and it doesn’t move from outside to inside
through conduits of plumbing-learning.

This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.

Inside and Outside

You pick up knowledge from the outside and take it in. But this other learning arises within. What would we call this “freshness in the center of the chest” nowadays? Intuition? Instinct? It’s not book learning. I would call it feeling. It’s feeling that tells you that you are walking in balance. It’s feeling that alerts you to something amiss or an instinct to follow. Empathy is a feeling.

You can have feelings about someone.

You can have feelings for someone.

You can have feelings with someone.

You can have feelings as someone.

Ah, (to divert for a moment) these prepositions! Europeans who learn English think at first that it’s an easy language – no different genders for everything, easy plurals, easy declensions of verbs. But then they meet prepositions. They are suddenly faced with a jumble of completely different meanings all resting on the addition of a preposition to a simple verb. Consider the verb “take” followed by different prepositions:

Take off:     I took off my jeans – removed
He took off Benny Hill – imitated

Take to:      I really took to tennis – warmed to, enjoyed

Take out:    Take me out to dinner – invite me to
He took out the terrorist – killed him

Take on:     The company took him on – employed him
Don’t take on so – make such a fuss
I’ll take you on – compete with you

Take in:      I couldn’t take it in – understand it
I took him in and let him stay – gave accommodation to
I was taken in by his charm – deceived.

Take over:  He took over the world – conquered

Take after:  She takes after her mother – resembles

Take back:  I take back what I said – revoke

Take up:     I’m going to take up French – start to learn

Take off:     The plane took off – launched

Take down: Take down what I say – record
They took him down – destroyed him

Stop!! Okay, I’m getting carried away.

Back to feeling. Prepositions are at work here too.

I can feel for you, which means that I have warm feelings when I think about you. If you are distressed,

I can have feelings about your distress, which probably means that I have some intellectual understanding of what you are going through.

I can feel sympathy, which is to feel with: i.e. I feel pity with your suffering; as we read of disasters in the newspaper, our feeling is often one of sympathy.

And finally, I can feel empathy, which is to be inside your feeling, to feel what you are feeling, to feel the same distress that you feel.

Empathy

Now, to be inside someone’s feeling is something remarkable. It isn’t book learning; it’s not acquisition of knowledge, though knowledge can help. Empathy doesn’t have words, though I may decide to speak. It isn’t the same as pity, though pity may be present. It’s experiencing the same quality that you are feeling: experiencing your actual pain; experiencing your joy. It’s my heart beating with your beat; being in tune with your being; coming together with you in the place where you are now.

I can book-learn your distress. I can learn your body language, how you sound and the light in your eye when you are in a particular state, just as I can learn to speak in public by adopting particular body language, a particular tone of voice and a particular kind of eye contact. And that works, sort of.

But true empathy shortcuts all that. I just step inside you and feel what you feel and, feeling what you feel, I understand you. It’s only possible if I am thin-skinned, if I haven’t built up that armour of self-protection that most people wear. Thin skinned means vulnerable: I have to be vulnerable.

People who put intellect above feeling will say that it’s hardly helpful to feel distress at someone’s distress, as all you do is to fall into the emotional same hole as the other person. But the greatest resource of the coach, counsellor, doctor, teacher, leader or carer is to feel true empathy – to be entirely present with the other person – but without drowning in their distress: to feel their pain, and to know as you breathe and stay open that you are more than that pain and can be beside the other person holding them safe even as you feel their pain. To do that represents both an instant resource and requires a lifetime of learning.

It’s 2020, the world looks bad; now more than ever, empathy is our only possible answer. So yes, by all means, set your resolutions this year to learn the 5 important steps, maintain the 10 best ways, follow the 3 vital answers … But know too, as you know anything truly important, that you already have within you the ability to walk beside another and feel the reality of them, and that this, available to all of us now, is by far our most powerful asset going forward into 2020.

Happy New Year :-)

My TEDx Talk, “How Your Voice Touches Others: The true meaning of what you say”

This talk I gave a few months ago touches on similar themes. You can find it on TED.com. Please share it if you enjoy it.

The Art of Communication:
How to Be Authentic, Lead Others and Create Strong Connections

Have you dipped into my latest book? Maybe it would make a New Year present to yourself? Here’s a snippet from the final chapter on ways to be with another person.

And so it happens that one day you are talking with someone, and you become aware that you both are, in a place of betweenness. There’s no sense of doing; no one is leading; and you feel the powerful frisson of connection within that space. It’s like the relationship between a musician and her instrument. A musician never masters his instrument but joins with it. The music that results is neither musician nor instrument yet comes about because of both.

The field of awareness between you is the space where magic happens, where there is no you, no me, just the space we create together.

“The characters for “human being” in Japanese mean “person” and “between”. Thus, you as a human being exist only through your relations with others.”

My other books:

The Art of Conversation
Conversational skill isn’t really about being articulate and having a fund of things to talk about – though that’s what most books on the subject would suggest. It’s more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others. Only then do you have authentic and satisfying conversations.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms
This is a book about performance anxiety – it offers 25 different strategies to perform with confidence. But it’s not just about presenting and performing – you’ll find its ideas useful for eliminating anxiety throughout your life.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, whether in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

Voice of Influence
“The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.

Did you see my article on the Art of Good Communication
in Intercontinental Finance and Law magazine?

Follow the link; then it’s on pages 12-13.

Don’t Play the Blame Game

A date for your diaries – Sunday 29th March in London: A Spirit of Coaching event, open to all coaches and those interested in coaching. Further details shortly.

Simple short ecourses

Sign up for a free E-course to enjoy at home (I never share your email with anyone). You’re welcome to share these with friends. Okay, knowledge learning, but useful for all that!

10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety
How to Speak with More Authority
Understanding NLP
10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation
How to Raise Your Profile