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,


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.


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, an ethical source of books that supports local bookshops.




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!”


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 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!


Frog in the Pot – How to Deal with Creeping Change

Green Frog“As long as nothing changes and I hang on, I’m fine.”

I have that story about the frog in a pot on my brain – already disproved by the way. It says that if you put a frog into boiling water, it leaps out right away, whereas, if you put a frog in cool water and gradually heat it to boiling, the frog doesn’t become aware of the threat until it is too late. Okay, not true apparently. But it’s too good a fable to give up, because we recognise the metaphor.

I recognise it, anyway. I’m feeling a bit like the fabled frog currently. During lockdown, like you maybe, I read a lot of books, including one on World War II. It made me wonder what it would have been like to vote for Adolph Hitler’s Nazi party in Germany in 1932, honestly believing it would rescue my nation from ever-worsening economic depression and the humiliation of the settlement after World War 1; only to find the political temperature rising steadily to the boil with the rise of the SS and the first concentration camp, arrest and harsh treatment of political opponents and undesirables, then gypsies and Jews; secret police, paid informers, absolute control of the military, justice system and media; children educated in the dogma, and finally the phase of studied ignorance, fear of arrest making people less likely to speak out against atrocities; everyone maintaining a fantasy of normality in a nightmare world. … I certainly wouldn’t have been voting for genocide in 1932; but the ground shifted, the water heated up, and it got too late to jump out.

It’s easy to miss gradual change. I’ve just watched the recent Skoda Attention Test advert and my attention to detail was amazingly feeble. Is you haven’t yet, try it for yourself – it’s quite entertaining. Awareness of piece-by-piece change is important in all parts of our lives, and we need to learn to join the dots if we’re to avoid unhappy surprises. I’m not suggesting we are living a repeat of the 1930s; life doesn’t repeat, quite. But I do wonder about creeping change and what we can do about it.

Lockdown in its sudden contrast shone a light on change. I live in leafy Surrey, and I can’t say I’d really noticed that I was being quietly suffocated and damaged by dirty air, even with more cars and aircraft always overhead. Then lockdown last year produced changes writ large. How clean the air! How clear the atmosphere! How loud the sound of birdsong too without the noise of traffic!

Another gradual change interrupted by the pandemic was work patterns. We had gradually become habituated to working lives that never switched off, with mobile phone domination, lengthy and increasingly busy commutes, zero-privacy open-plan offices, work-and-family juggling – little of it known to our grandparents. The pandemic showed that the lifestyle wasn’t inevitable.  Many could work efficiently from home. In pyjamas if they wanted. The rhythms of pub, gym, shopping, eating out, entertainment, sport, travel – all stopped, and we survived. Some of us even preferred it.

The pandemic’s statistics were equally stark. Okay, I knew about austerity, food banks and children going hungry. But then the pandemic revealed extraordinary regional differences in health and wellbeing. The Office for National statistics reported a difference in longevity between Westminster and Glasgow City of 11.3 years. What differences in nutrition, physical and mental health and life chances are hidden in such an extreme figure? It was hard to fathom. A UN report on extreme poverty in the UK corroborated “a harsh and uncaring ethos”. Amnesty International’s 2020-21 global report criticised the UK’s ‘headlong rush into abandoning human rights’. Who knew? Well, we sort of did, but as changes happened bit by bit, we didn’t look hard enough.

Meanwhile, the pandemic took our attention away from other apparently isolated changes that added up. We discovered that our centuries-old institutions were also not set in stone. Who knew that American and British democracies were vulnerable? Who realised how many of the pillars supporting a democracy were there by honour and convention and could be knocked down if people were sufficiently audacious.

And the most serious incremental change of all? Changes to our planet caused by humans: logging, mining, invasive agriculture, over-fishing, destruction of habitats, shrinking bio-diversity, pollution, climate change and – well there’s a surprise! – invasive species and disease.Frog in pot

Okay, so that’s why I feel we’re frogs in the pot. It’s hotting up. It’s complicated. Our froggy heads are already getting woozy. What on earth can we do? Wiser heads than mine are seeking solutions.

I have just one lateral idea, very close to home:

To explore a little, away from our tribe

By tribe I mean our profession, club, team, educational and financial set, political party, media affiliations, religion, race and gender. It’s great to have a community. But when we chat only within our ‘tribe’, we get to believe that our view of the world is the only valid one; and blind loyalty is not a good idea when the ground is shifting under your feet. Maybe you were a Republican Senator yesterday and still say you are today, but are you sure that ‘Republican’ hasn’t completely shifted its meaning while you’ve been looking the other way? Are we still confident to rubber stamp every proposal of our party, without checking with our inner intelligence first? Maybe we have always trusted the same respectable newspaper but, while it still looks familiar, are we sure that over time a new owner hasn’t quietly changed it in all but name? The name isn’t the thing. The organisation Right to Life upholds the death penalty; our own European Research Group doesn’t want anything whatsoever to do with Europe.

Think and feel for ourselves

Values aren’t like a football teams where you stick with your side whatever happens. At work, it’s not enough to ‘go along with’ policies if they destroy trust, hurt people or devastate the planet, even if evidence is the other side of the world, or the harm far in the future. This may create conflicted loyalties, but once your eyes are opened don’t shut them again; do whatever feels possible to remain true to yourself.

In close relationships, ‘going along with’ things that are wrong, through fear, low self-esteem or misplaced loyalty is like the frog ignoring the temperature of the water, and the day will come when the water boils. Much better to seek ways to talk now.

Find out about things that matter to you. Explore various sources of information. And then trust your intuition. If something feels cruel, it probably is cruel. Your inner voice speaks the truth.

Well, this is an article I have written with myself in mind as the needy recipient! If it speaks to you too, I’m happy.

Go well,




If the uncertainties of our times are getting to you, maybe you’ll like this poem by Wendell Berry:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


Self trust is a theme in my TEDx Talk which you can find on


I’m reading Bonnie Badenoch’s The Heart of Trauma currently. It’s good!

My The Art of Communication explores modestly one or two of the same themes – for example, successful communication is more about how you are than what you say or do.

Here are links to my other books. I’ll be very happy if you find one or all of them useful, and tell me what you think.

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

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies – all about creating the voice you want

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – how to beat performance anxiety in every sphere

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

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


Springtime – new beginnings. Maybe time to have thinking space with a coach? Get in touch if you want to talk it through.









The Noble Art of Going Backwards

ay_110912281-e1369678833423Did you know that the first Ford car had no reverse gear?

I know of a 95 year old who gave up using reverse on his car, as he had little flexibility to see what was happening behind. Fortunately, the local church that was his Sunday morning destination had a very large turning circle in front and other churchgoers knew when to look scarce.

A fly trying to escape from a room has a single-choice plan – throw yourself forward at the light. As a strategy it sucks – glass windows have been around for over 500 years; but it’s hard to fault the logic: “Why choose reverse when your goal is ahead of you!


Reversibility is a feature of Moshe Feldenkrais’s Feldenkrais Method, one of several 20th Century movements that connect mind and body. His method of teaching self-awareness through movement attributed great importance to the concept of reversibility. It basically meant the capacity to stop a movement at any point and then go in the opposite direction with a minimum of hesitation, and this was a key criterion for determining whether a particular movement was done well. Try it for yourself: slowly lower yourself onto a low sofa and change your mind just as you touch the cushion! Most people just collapse for the last few centimetres!

Feldenkrais was also a practitioner of the martial arts, and I discovered in my own pursuit of Aikido the importance of being sufficiently balanced to reverse a movement in an eye-blink when required. It’s a great feeling, to have charge of your body in this way.

All very good, but most of us, I suspect, think far more about the route forward towards our goals than about possible routes backwards.

And yet, there are advantages to going backwards …

A strange thing happens in yoga connected with reversibility: when I have reached the limit of my stretch in a particular direction, if I imagine slackening off the effort in that direction and coming away from my edge, my body sometimes goes easily beyond that limit in that same direction, even way beyond, when the feeling has been one of giving myself permission to give up altogether! Pushing forwards isn’t always the best strategy for moving forwards.

The story goes that the scientist Marie Curie found the answer to a problem she’d been tussling with for 3 years the night after she let go of it for good. It’s not unusual.

The idea of flexibility, including the ability to reverse at will, has been part of my thinking for quite some time. I mention reversibility only briefly in my latest book, The Art of Communication, but the concept is there in almost every page. Conversation is an impromptu activity. However much you plan what you’re going to say in advance, you’ll be very lucky if it goes that way. Conversation just isn’t like that; you have to be light on your feet, ready to twist in a different direction at any point in the dance. In fact, any real response is always a flexible one.

We all need a reverse gear. And particularly now, when the world is more than ever hunkering down into different camps, each reading only its own material, believing its own half-truths and relating to other groups only in dichotomous terms of us good, you bad; us right, you wrong (“I’m smart; you’re dumb. I’m big; you’re little. I’m right; you’re wrong.” as Matilda’s Dad famously said with similarly suspect erudition).

Pushing rigidly forward is always to miss a trick. When you get into an argument, it’s always useful to change the pace by agreeing with something, however tangential. It’ll certainly change the other person’s rhythm and give you the opportunity to throw something different into the mix. And if you’re relentlessly pushing yourself toward a goal of your own, it’s always helpful to take a day or a week off and turn to something quite different – trekking, cycling, exploring – it clears your head and frees you up again.

My flexibility challenge

My weekly yoga class has come round again. My flexibility challenge for today is to stand on one leg for a minute without holding on. (Try it: good for your bones quite apart from the experiment.) Then ask yourself, “What makes for success in this particular endeavour?” On trying it myself, I think it’s this:

  • infinite micro-adjustments
  • lack of self-consciousness
  • the spirit of fun or at least experiment (i.e. not trying too hard)
  • confidence
  • … and keeping your eyes open!

Well, there’s a “Thought for Life” for today?!



I’m excited about this!


I’ll be one of the speakers for this TEDx event on 13 July  in Norwich – “Europe’s only Full Day TEDxED event”, as the organisers remind me!

Tickets apparently vanish very quickly, so buy yours in the next couple of days if you want to come!

You can meet several of the speakers tonight on Facebook Live- #tedxnorwiched – from 7.30 pm. See you there?


Spirit of Coaching

It’s a while since we held one of these beautiful events in London. Just to remind you, there is no charge, but you need to register.

Screenshot 2019-05-15 at 10.03.41

More details here


Want to read an excerpt from The Art of Communication?

Here’s a short excerpt published in the online magazine, Minutehack  –


The days are getting long; the sun’s shining as I write this 🙂
Go well,


The Bottom Line

Bottom Line 1unnamed

When you work in the area of people development, you’re often invited to submit a proposal, and in the past I understood that decision makers wanted to know how the proposed intervention was going to affect the bottom line of the company. So I would tailor my proposal to attempt to provide an answer to this question.

I always felt awkward about it, not only because the causal relationship between people and profit – though significant – is seldom a direct one, but also because I never believed that the bottom line was the bottom line. Money is almost always NOT the bottom line for human beings. Yet, it seems okay for companies – that consist of and are created by and for human beings – to have profit as their bottom line, and for their leaders to make decisions based entirely on return on investment.

Is money really the only consideration for a company? Naïve question, you might think. But I don’t think so. It matters, yes. But is it the only consideration?

There are certainly myriad examples of how money as the bottom line creates distortion. Take sugary drinks: soft drinks companies make millions but create addiction to sugar resulting in widespread obesity (extremely costly, though not for the drinks company, we presume). False safety checks on cars have enabled more cars to be sold – though clearly noxious to health – and a criminal practice that backfired. The gig economy creates wealth but all too frequently through uncertainty and lack of basic guarantees for workers. Heavy-duty plastic wrapping for fruit and vegetables makes for longer shelf life and profitable speed at checkouts, but destroys the planet with plastic waste. Hefty corporations make the lowest bid for work while promising good practice, efficiency and effectiveness, yet fail disturbingly often to provide adequate services in an increasing bid for profit. Changing conditions for care-workers so that they are not paid for journeys between clients and have impossibly reduced time to provide care makes money for the care company but exploits its workers. Business decisions that make sense in terms of profits today maybe at the expense of harming the company tomorrow.

The term “bottom line” has two meanings.

  • One comes from the total at the bottom of a balance sheet and refers to financial considerations such as cost or profit and loss. I’ve been using this meaning so far.
  • The second means the fundamental and most important factor. The bottom line in a negotiation would be the single crucial sine qua non you want from the negotiation – the non-negotiable, if you like.

Bottom Line 2

So, presuming that you don’t make money just for the excitement of the chase or to create a pile of gold to look at,

What do you earn money for? What is the bottom line, in this second sense, for you?

I have heard many answers to this question – such as: satisfaction at work, a roof over our heads, food for my family, wellbeing, leisure, comfort, luxury, increased freedom, more possibilities, love… The answers often involve values.

The corollary of this question is:

What injustices, fabrications or unkindness do you go along with in order to keep your job?

How many times do you shut your eyes or look the other way?

What personal values are trodden on as a result?

Conflicts of values are exhausting and harmful for us. Many illnesses and mental breakdowns are created by such conflicts. Plus, we diminish our thinking powers by numbing ourselves to our own truth.

So …?

Life’s complicated — it’s the economy, stupid; people have to work. But one step might be to open our eyes to what matters to us and what we believe. This will make us consciously aware when someone or something tramples on our values. For example, if honesty is a fundamental for you – a bottom line – you are going to suffer in an environment where economy with the truth is the norm.

In what ways might you respect what matters to you when your values are threatened?

Or even,

What changes do you need to plan in your life to move away from a noxious environment?

I don’t discount small changes. When I moved from a challenging partnership to working on my own, I built a website and promoted my work in a way that felt more authentic and truthful. As time went on, even my proposals to companies reflected my beliefs more. These changes were positive for my sense of me, good for relationships and, well I never, pretty good for business too.

What’s your bottom line? I have this picture of a fishing line going down into the depths of an ocean to the deepest places. What emerges from your deepest places regarding what really matters to you? Is it health… wellbeing… peace… love…? I could say with plenty of validity that business success is enhanced by bringing such values into the workplace, but that would be to express the relationship upside-down. Fulfilment comes from being aware of these aspects of you and holding them as your compass for action and change.

I’ve found a quote to pin on my wall this week …

Your life is like a coin. You can spend it anyway you want, but only once. Make sure you invest it and don’t waste it. Invest it in something that matters to you and matters for eternity.  ― Tony Evens

And to honour both sunshine and my theme, a short poem from 14th century Hafiz:

All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,

“You owe me.”

What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.

Happy summertime,


You are warmly invited to my one-day
Masterclass on 17 October 2018:

Coaching and the HeART of Conversation

in Guildford, (courtesy of Guildford Coaches Group) for coaches and others interested in communication and conversation

What does new information emerging from neuroscience tell us about the different attention of the two hemispheres of the brain and its urgent relevance to our communication with each other? And how do we bring the full presence of our humanity into our coaching and conversation so that something new and creative can be born?

A rich day of lively exploration and personal experience with the aim of allowing something new to emerge in each of us

More details – and booking for both Guildford Coaches Group members and others here.  
(or copy the following to your browser:

Do hope you can join us at this special one-day event.

Data protection (again)

Thank you to everyone who has given me their consent to continue emailing my newsletters. If I’m sending this to you in error or you want to remove your name, please click Unsubscribe at the bottom of any newsletter and you will be immediately removed from the list. Please see the new Privacy page on my website for further details on the protection of your data.

As usual, my books

The Art of Conversation — Change Your Life with Confident Communication
What an important topic! 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 — 25 Sure-fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence
This is a book about performance anxiety – offering 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 — 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.

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Money and beliefs come up against each other for every artist. I’ve just finished a highly enjoyable novel by Linda Proud on such a conflict for the great artist Fra Philippo Lippi. The composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (from Dorking where I live) wrote at the age of 18 that he was surprised when his teacher Parry declared that a composer must write music as his musical conscience demands. It was quite a new idea for the aspiring young composer.

The Vaughan Williams Singers are celebrating Vaughan Williams 60th anniversary with a concert at his former home, beautiful Leith Hill Place near Dorking, now owned by the National Trust, on Bank Holiday Monday, 27 August. As I’m involved, I thought I’d share the information with you: 

Enjoy bite-sized learning at home

Sign up for a free E-course to enjoy at home (I never share your email with anyone):

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



Is Survival of the Fittest the Only Game?


“Survival of the fittest” is proved, signed and sealed. But are we ignoring an important part of the story?

Increasingly often these days the news bulletins have me scratching my head, furrowing my brow and muttering, “What!?” Most often it’s in the area of politics. One political “what?” this week was news that senior doctors from overseas who’ve been appointed to fill key roles in over-stretched hospitals around the UK are being blocked from taking up their jobs by the Home Office because their NHS salaries are too low under immigration rules. Work that one out!

Another “What!?” was caused this morning by the excitement of BBC commentators at a demonstration of whales imitating human sounds. We already know that whales communicate in sophisticated ways with each other. So what’s so special about their ability merely to copy human sounds?

Blue Planet II was an excellent antidote to lazy human thinking. Time and again we were shown examples of underwater creatures demonstrating previously unseen behaviours of intelligence, subtlety and cooperation. Especially cooperation.

There was the clownfish, searching for a suitable surface for the female to lay her eggs, that received the assistance of his whole clownfish family to move a coconut shell into a suitable position. Different species were also observed to work regularly together. A coral trout would signal the position of likely prey to an octopus by tipping onto its head and flashing white, allowing the octopus to reach into a crevice and flush the fish out – after which either the octopus or the fish won the prey.

Blue Planet II showed behaviours never seen before in sea creatures and that was exciting. However, the commentary still expressed a kind of shock that animals could be witnessed working together at all, when we already know that animals work together. We know about lions and wolves hunting in collaboration; we know how animals stay in a family group to help raise siblings, we know about communities of bees and ants.

Is the shock because we are currently living on our planet as though survival of the fittest were the only story? It’s good to remember that even Charles Darwin wrote about cooperative and indeed loving behaviours in dogs, elephants, baboons and other species. He just concluded from this evidence that natural selection favoured groups who cooperated.

Not long after the publication of The Origin of Species, Peter Kropotkin, a Russian Prince, undertook an expedition to Siberia, and found little evidence of competitive struggle. He discovered human societies where people shared with each other and animals cooperated to find resources to survive. Where opinion was coming down heavily on the side of survival of the fittest, his book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution tried to redress the balance.

I find myself wanting to do the same. Cooperation has often rung true for me. Many times career breaks have come at just those times when I was enjoying connection without thought of advantage … for example, the time I was sharing my excitement in investigating the concept of charisma with a new acquaintance – and was suddenly offered a whole series of work on charisma with the Cabinet Office … the time when I was able to help a colleague at a difficult time, and through that connection was later invited into a successful collaboration that has lasted … the time when I was bored in a conversation but decided to focus with interest on the other person and then suddenly learned something that was immensely useful to me … you’ll have your own examples.

Cooperation or survival of the fittest? Both clearly exist in nature. It’s not a question I can answer. Nevertheless, it’s a hugely important question for the world of work – for the world – if the balance today has shifted too powerfully in one direction. We still operate in a world of bonuses and competitive rewards as though they were the only game. Employees are still encouraged to see peers as competitors. Politicians all over the world are treating the survival of the planet as a survival of the fittest death game, or are merely playing an “I’m better than you”, “mine’s bigger than yours” game. Yet, sharing, creating and transferring knowledge between members of an organisation is known to be a model that works well. Shouldn’t we be exploring such options with energy or applauding those who do?

If you and I spend the rest of this week noticing examples of cooperation and applying the principles of cooperation in our work and home lives, I wonder what the results will be? I’ve a feeling we might find the experience energising and positive. If you try the experiment, let me know what happens.

Go well,




Help in my books for  communication, presenting, voice … life …

The Art of Conversation
What an important topic! 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 – offering 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.


Whether you already feel successful or are struggling with challenges, coaching can help you make the most of your potential.  Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you. Coaching can take place face-to-face or via Skype or phone.

Voice and Communication Coaching

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. How you come across depends on your voice and how you use your body. Self consciousness is the grand saboteur. You’ll experience positive results after even a single coaching session. Email me or call me on 01306 886114.

Enjoy any of my E-courses

They just pop into your in-box over 3-5 days. (I never share your email)

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

For Whom the Bell Tolls by John Donne

(familiar – and sort of topical)

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a Manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.



IMG_9026I don’t know what made me think of Paul.

Well, I do actually. I was listening to Radio 3 when they played Musetta’s aria from Act 2 of La Bohème. As the music soared, I started reminiscing about the years I lived in Italy, and my mind drifted to the audition that had won me a scholarship to study at the Music Conservatory in Rome. Paul, who was a member of the small instrumental ensemble I sang with, had accompanied me on the piano for that audition.

Paul: eighteen or so years old at the time, younger than the rest of us. Skinny, quiet, unassuming; in my memory he lived solely on egg and chips. But also dependable Paul, Paul the fine musician, who could play anything you put in front of him, plus extemporise and write arrangements to suit our ensemble.

I idly wondered what had happened to him, and Googled his name.

Oh my goodness, there he was – with less hair and middle-aged, but unmistakeably the person I knew, still with that gentle demeanour. I then looked up his bio, and that’s when I caught my breath. As pianist and as conductor, he has accompanied some of the greatest and most famous musicians in the world, including José Carreras, Jessye Norman, Bryn Terfel, Sumi Jo, Lesley Garrett and Paul McCartney. He has performed piano concertos. He has conducted West End shows including Singin’ In The Rain, Barnum, Charlie Girl, The Phantom of the Opera and Carmen Jones. He has conducted the BBC Concert Orchestra, the Philharmonia, Royal Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestras. There was also a long list of recordings. How on earth had I missed it all?

Back then, there were five of us in our ensemble. What gave rise to Paul’s career? He was the unassuming, un-pushy one. He didn’t talk much. He wasn’t the ideas man of our music group; he went along with whatever was happening and then played whatever was needed and made it look easy.

When I think about him now, two qualities stand out.

The first is clarity. Music was what he was about. That’s what he was – a fine musician. He loved music and it absorbed his energies. As a result he became very good at it. That gave an impressive clarity to how one thought about him. You knew that if he was playing, you’d enjoy the music making, and the music would be wonderful.

The second quality is a lack of ego. He didn’t make a noise and a fuss. He didn’t promote himself – he promoted music generously, and music is about relationship. Many people worry about publicity, competition, self-promotion and all the rest. But when there’s a single mindedness and clarity about what you are and do, others notice anyway and want to join with you.

So I take this from my reminiscence:

Do what you love; love what you do.

Give it your wholehearted attention and energy.

Learn to do it well. Be always learning.

Enjoy generous cooperation in your chosen field.

Thanks, Paul.


Guildford Coaching Group

1 December in Guildford
I’m running a morning session for coaches on Unconscious Bias. We all display bias, but much of it’s unconscious – so what on earth can we do about it? It’s got me thinking, and hopefully will get you thinking too. Book early as these events are popular and numbers are limited.

My books

The Art of Conversation
What an important topic! 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 – offering 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.


What holds you back? You might think that your own particular set of difficulties, setbacks and doubts don’t fit any coaching model. But you’d be surprised how a simple conversation with a coach helps you to get rid of obstacles and move forward to what you really want from life. Six months from now you’ll be saying, as other have, I don’t know why I didn’t do it years ago! Email me or call on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you. Coaching can take place face-to-face or via Skype or phone.

Voice and Communication Coaching

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Do you realise what an amazing potential resource you have in your voice? How you come across depends on your voice and how you use your body AND your breath. Self-consciousness is the grand saboteur. You’ll experience positive results after even a single coaching session. Email me or call me on 01306 886114.

Lack of ego – a poem

No one writes better on this subject than T S Eliot. Try this from his Four Quartets:

Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.

In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.

In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.

In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.

And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

Newsletter Archive

Look here for older blogs – just scroll down. Or click on one of the descriptive tags to sort the archive.



What Does Success Look Like This Year?

Success and Keeping OnI bought Alan Bennett’s latest book last month. I’m thinking of using the title, Keeping On Keeping On, as my New Year’s Resolution, as in, “This year, I think I’ll ‘keep on keeping on’.”

It’s the time of the New Year Honours, and whatever the spread of gongs, we notice the famous in the lists. They were successful, and that’s the message: if you work really hard, you can be successful too and win your gong. Make your resolutions: be bold and ambitious; demonstrate toughness and resilience; meet the right people; go get that prize.

Most of us want to be special, and this ambition suggests that most of us deep down fear that currently we’re a bit ordinary. Funny that – I now prefer to put that the other way around – realising that we’re all amazing and special, and our better task might be to get rid of our ego and find the ordinary in ourselves.

Upside down that might seem, but it’s been an upside down world this last year. Events have frequently demonstrated the worst in our leaders, and the aftermath fills us with fear for the coming year. If the kind of leadership demonstrated last year is special – if egotistical power-loving behaviour is “special”, who wants it?

What about a different goal for an important year – the ambition to be kind, for example? Now that would really be something.

I see much that is kind in Alan Bennett. Not just that he moved “the lady in the van” parked in the road outside his house into his garden and didn’t even consider it an act of charity; not just that he donated his archive to the Bodleian Library as a gesture of thanks to the British welfare state that had given him educational opportunities that his parents would otherwise never have afforded. Not his northern ‘of the people’ accent. More that in his autobiographical books and indeed all his writing his humanity and kindness shine out on every page.

Maybe for many, your New Year resolutions this year are to achieve particular goals and targets. But for others, this may not be your year for reaching goals, but for keeping on keeping on. Maybe you have parents becoming frailer, children needing you more, friends who are unwell or distressed, maybe your own mind and body demand your attention? These don’t have to be impediments to your goals – maybe they contain the pearl of great price for you this year.

Or maybe, as you make your resolutions, you reflect that you have made these same resolutions before, even many times – you’ve travelled and travelled, yet you’re back in the same old place again.

There’s a thought-provoking poem by Denise Levertov, called For Those Whom the Gods Love Less. (Hear her reading it here.) The title comes from a Greek saying that those whom the gods love die young. So those who live longer … Anyway, the poem begins:

When you discover
your new work travels the ground you had traversed
decades ago, you wonder, panicked,
‘Have I outlived my vocation? Said already
all that was mine to say?’

Don’t panic, she reassures. You might feel that it’s the same every year, but even in repetition the light falls differently and “radiant epiphanies recur”. She urges, “You can, you must proceed.”

TS Eliot, whose complete poems Jeremy Irons (there’s a voice!) has been reading all this week on Radio 4, declares, “the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.”

So, maybe for you it’s your year to step aside from the Hero’s Journey for a moment; to draw back a little from the yoga stretch or your target in the gym, to go easy on your BHAG (big hairy ambitious goal), and find an “ordinary” resolution – maybe merely the resolution to be kind? (Or to be loving or peaceful or generous or grateful?) Now wouldn’t that be extraordinary? Special even.

Who of our politicians, business leaders, the great and the good, or celebrities famous for being famous is kind? Who would we choose for a New Year’s Honour if the criterion were to have been kind? Why isn’t there a Nobel Prize for kindness? The wonderful travel writer and human being Jan Morris in conversation with John Walsh from The Independent said,

Kindness is the ultimate path, the one thing that can stand up against all the shit, the ghastliness. It’s the ultimate human quality. I’ve often thought of starting a political party of Kindness, which would estimate the proportion of kindness there is in any policy. It would be the criterion for a whole system of government.

I really like that! So here’s the challenge: let’s look at the powerful this year and tweet any demonstrations of their kindness we notice. In fact, why just the powerful? Let’s all build a year of kindness. What kindnesses did you meet this Christmas and New Year? Today? It’s a way of perceiving that we all need urgently in these times, and I don’t think we’ve appreciated its full power yet.

PS – Kindness offers a bonus too. In a talk I attended last autumn, David Hamilton (author and former developer of drugs for cardiovascular disease and cancer for the pharmaceutical industry) explained  that research at Oregon State University has proved that kindness – whether we act kindly or unbelievably merely witness a kind act – activates our parasympathetic nervous system and causes our body to produce oxytocin that calms the heart, slows ageing and makes us happier. Oh, and it’s contagious. So kindness is good for us too!

Happy New Year!




Learning Public Speaking from TED

TED Talks are probably by now too famous to need explaining, and if you Google TED you’ll now find scores of websites offering you help in delivering the perfect TED Talk. I find this short talk, TED’s Secret to Great Public Speaking by Chris Anderson, the current curator of TED Talks, one of the most useful.


A few simple conversations with a coach can be life changing and worth the investment many times over. It’s not just about help with a to-do list, though it could be that too. It’s about getting to know yourself better – your skills, values and qualities – and discovering how to be the person you want to be. Then your way becomes clearer and smoother and you achieve more with less effort..  Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you.

Performance Anxiety

Suffer from performance nerves? Read my book, Butterflies and Sweaty Palms. It’s full of excellent strategies for speaking and presenting with confidence, and dealing with scary gremlins. We’re all scared at times and need a helping hand. Here’s the proper link to my E-course, 10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety. A couple of coaching sessions, face-to-face or Skype, can also make all the difference.

Speaking with Authority

Download my e-course, How to Speak with More Authority. Or read my book, Voice of Influence.  Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level. My ‘Dummies’ book, Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies is also full of useful tips and strategies.

Engaging in conversation with ease

Read The Art of Conversationand find out how to make connection with people on a deeper, more satisfying level. Start with my free E-course, 10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation, for some first ideas.


I’ve just added another favourite poem to my website collection. Slow Dance by David Weatherhead is a poem for busy people. Maybe that’s you?

Is change possible? D’you already know how it’ll turn out?

What’s possible?

What's possible in life?I often used to think of life’s progress as a parabola, with a curving trajectory rising and rising and then falling again. The rise would include learning, growing, achievement and success, and the second falling part would be – well, I didn’t quite know what, gradual decline and death I supposed. Only, now I’m definitely on that second half, I’m not so keen on the image and can’t help thinking that a different representation with more sense of the possible would be preferable.

The trouble is, the image of rise and fall is a self-fulfilling prophecy. From half-way, we look back on a set of memories – interpreted for many of us through negative internal dialogue – and then expect a future that repeats the patterns of the past with an added sense of decline. Not good!

That’s why I like the story of John McAvoy

John was born to be a criminal. His dad died when he was young; his uncle was a member of the notorious Brink’s-Mat robbery gang, his step dad was serving a life sentence for armed robbery, and the whole family was involved in serious organised crime. At 16 he owned a sawn-off shotgun and was aiming it at security vans across London. By the time he was in his early 20s he’d earned a life sentence for conspiracy to commit armed robbery and landed in Belmarsh high security prison where he shared a wing with such role models as Islamic terrorist Abu Hamza and some of the 21/7 bombers.

Reading so far, you wouldn’t guess at a happy outcome. Only you’d be wrong. Two things happened.

The first was a common one – most of us experience a version of it at some point in our lives – the rough awakening. He’d known plenty of violence in his life, but one day in prison, he saw on the TV news that his best friend had died, thrown out of a car on a roundabout in a police chase in Holland. Shut in his cell, John suddenly thought, “What the f*** have I done with my life? Nothing.”

The second was a rarer gift: another human being saw something possible in him he couldn’t see himself. What happened was this: like many another prison inmate he used to exercise hard in the gym just to get out of his cell. One day he was working away on the rowing machine and a prison officer, Darren Davies, was watching him. The next day the officer came into the gym with a series of rowing records printed out and casually suggested he look at them. John realised he could probably beat them, and for the first time for years felt a sense of excitement at what might be possible. The prison officer took steps to find out if official records could be officially broken in prison and then – with difficulty – obtained permission from the governor for John to make attempts on the records. John set to with all the focus and determination he had earlier used for crime, and broke the British record for rowing the marathon plus several other British records. He then smashed the world record for the distance rowed in 24 hours. Darren gave up his day off to sit with John for a day and a night while he cracked the record.

The happy outcome?

The records John broke while in prison coincided with raising money for charity and ultimately his sentence was reduced. He was put in touch with Putney rowing club and later, looking at what was possible for people his age in athletics, he changed discipline and opted for the Iron Man triathlon, consisting of a  gruelling 3.86 km swim, a 180.25 km bicycle ride followed by the 42.2 km marathon. Previously, he couldn’t swim and hadn’t ridden a bike since he was 12, but that didn’t hold him back. He now has a personal coach and sponsors, and this year the probation service allowed him to travel to Frankfurt for his first European Iron Man Championship. He performed creditably, inching towards the European record. He’s thoroughly accepted in athletic circles and seen as a hero.

But of course, there’s another hero in his story: the prison officer, Darren Davis, the man who recognised raw talent in a hardened criminal, believed in the possibility of change, and then gave of his interest and time. He’s the man who sowed the seed of success, without whom none of this would have happened.

How to be a catalyst for change

One of the great things I learned from NLP and coaching studies was that we can all be agents of change. I found mentors who believed in me when I hardly believed in myself. Then in turn, students of mine have awakened others to possibility. One completely turned around a member of staff who was just about to be dismissed, through awakening a sense of the possible in him – the organisation had never seen anything like it. Another wrote to me after a gap of several years to say that the change process started back when she felt lost had led to an entirely new career as producer for the BBC.

Such stories are wonderful to hear, but mostly none of us get to know the results of seeds we sow – what exciting outcomes result from perhaps even a short moment of intense interest and caring for another human being. It happens in those moments when we see, not just the person before us but also the possibility within someone who doesn’t yet believe in that possibility for him or herself.

We all tend to look at other human beings and see what we already know. This other seeing views with fresh eyes, eyes that know nothing, and glimpses possibility. I say eyes; I might say heart.

Anyone who pays attention can do this. There’s an autumn story of an acorn who pays more attention than the other acorns. It notices that acorns that fall to the ground crack open and start to grow into oak trees. Most of the other acorns are appalled and disgusted with the idea that they might fall and crack open, and ridicule the acorn’s assertion. But the acorn looks up at the towering oak above them, and says to the other acorns in amazement and wonder, “Look! – We are that.”

Luckily, as John McAvoy would say with gratitude, it only takes one.

Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth. William Blake



When I talk above about “the man who recognised raw talent, believed that change was possible, and then gave of his interest and time”, I am of course talking also about coaching. A few simple conversations with a coach can be life changing and worth the investment many times over. Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you.

The Miracle of Voice

It’s not just what we say, it’s how we say it. Do you realise what an amazing potential resource we have in our voice? I thought you might enjoy an article I wrote about this miracle. Click the link above.

Download some of my E-courses too (I never share your email with anyone):

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

My 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 much more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others. Only then do you have satisfying and buzzy conversations.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms
Subtitle: 25 brilliant strategies for speaking and presenting with confidence. It’s about WHAT to do if you’re scared. And don’t worry – we’re ALL scared at times.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to dip into 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.

Training Courses

Would your company benefit from a group session on voice, communicating, presenting, NLP or coaching? Get in touch. Read testimonials here.

TEDx Dorking

TEDx Dorking was a triumph last week. One of the speakers reminded us about the Ken Robinson talk on creativity in education – it really is good, have a watch … or watch it again. He tells of a six year old creating a picture in drawing class. What are you drawing?” the teacher asks. And the girl says, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” And the teacher says, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” And the girl says, “They will, in a minute.”

Oh what mighty oak trees might grow, how high would the parabola of life sweep, if children’s confidence and creativity were recognised and nurtured!

Go well,


Lesons from Fools

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 21.32.18I’m in my twenties, and I shout over the boiling kettle to my flatmate in the other room, “Where’ve you put the tea?”

“In my sock drawer,” she shouts back, her tone of voice also suggesting, “Der! Where did you think?”

Who says everything needs to make sense?



Roald Dahl used to love the unexpected. The BFG (Seen the Spielberg film yet?) is a great example. He is satisfyingly scary – oh, that horrifyingly huge hand that plucks Sophie from her bed! (“Seriously, that book should be banned – it could cause children serious psychological problems.”) Yet, in a neat piece of shape shifting, we discover that our huge BFG is in giant-terms a runt himself, bullied by vastly huger giants.

Again, so ignorant a giant that he can’t even talk English properly (“Words is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me”), he makes many of the wisest comments in the book.

“Yesterday,” he said, “We was not believing in giants, was we? Today we is not believing in snozzcumbers. Just because we happen not to have actually seen something with our own two little winkles, we think it is not existing.”

Shape shift again – he’s simple-minded, yet with special powers: “I is hearing all the wondrous and terrible things,” he tells Sophie, “all the secret whisperings of the world.”

But to be serious, seriously …

But to get away from children’s stories, do you believe in seriousness? The world divides into the serious – everything to make sense, and the non-serious – lightness and humour, especially for events and situations that are serious or terrifying or just plain paradoxical.

Some examples of the divide:

Serious: Job interviews on the whole. Your reasons and explanations have to ‘make sense.’ When I had a job assisting in running job selections for one of the big accounting companies, the selectors mostly rejected CVs that didn’t fit a consistent pattern – for example, an unexplained career gap was considered a serious impediment to selection. By the way, just think of the people who wouldn’t be selected by such a ‘serious’ method? Albert Einstein – expelled from school, and in any case considered ‘slow’; Bill Gates – dropped out of Harvard; Stephen Spielberg – couldn’t get the school grades to get into University; and thousands of other remarkable people.

Serious: Politicians (many of whom have excellent CVs with not the tiniest chink of a career gap between Oxbridge and Political Adviser.) Most politicians like pattern and structure. They talk about “sensible people” as in “all sensible people will agree that I am right.” Oh and, “This is the right thing to do.” Very serious – very simplistic … very righteous …

Serious: a life that makes sense. Most people are reassured by a past that is coherent, even if it’s a complete shambles. Look out for the minute smirk of satisfaction when someone says, “I’m a failure because …;” (complete the dots: negligent parents, wrong school, bullying, unfair treatment…). Once they’ve made the past fit a pattern, it carries on just as coherently into the future: “I’m destined to continue a failure because I never had a chance because of _____” (same reasons). Seriously flawed thinking, but it “makes serious sense.”

What about non-serious?

Non-serious: “What I mean and what I say is two different things,” the BFG announces rather grandly.” Nonsense… funny … and true. Both humorous and profound in the same sentence.

Non-serious: Coaching – where humour is allowed to walk side by side with major life themes and difficult feelings – the humour doesn’t deny the feelings, it universalises them as a human condition and makes them less scary, allowing the work to be done.

Non-serious: Dancing, writing, running, painting, singing – ‘non-productive’ activities where joy underlines the energy, where results can be profound.

You get the idea:

Serious: You’re going to be a perfect accountant, your working life the perfect pattern of progression.

Non-serious: Well! They broke the mould when they made you! You’re unique, you’re original, you’re wonderfully, amazingly YOU.

In literature, wisdom often emerges from the mouth of the fool: Dostoyevsky’s Idiot, King Lear’s Fool, the wisdom of children, Winnie the Pooh – that bear of little brain, The Beatles “The Fool on the Hill” and on and on.

I have found that seriousness and rationalisation make me heavy, over-conscientious, detail obsessed and anxious. Lightness gives me energy, fresh ideas, and a better view of the whole, including other people. Anxiety shrinks and cripples; laughter releases and expands.

Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about. Oscar Wilde

Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive. Elbert Hubbard

Lighten up and you lighten up those around you. Fear crawls away to trouble people who are more serious. In lightness you rediscover flexibility; rigid control becomes redundant; the mind begins to play and discover new patterns; relationships become fresh and interesting; grace returns.

Autumn, new beginnings … what about treading lightly for a while? You might find yourself laughing at how many good things happen and at how much you achieve.

Tread softly, breathe peacefully, laugh hysterically. Nelson Mandela

And the rest …


Have you dipped your toe into any of my short chunks of learning – gifts to download from my website? Just sign up to the ones you want (I never share your email with anyone) Choose from:

10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation

10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety

How to Speak with More Authority

Understanding NLP


Coaching is for anyone and everyone. I hear from senior people in organisations who want to air ideas and solve problems, executives who wish to polish their skills, unemployed people who want to get back into the market, people who feel in a rut and wake up one day to make that first step – a phone call, people from all walks of life. Maybe it’s time for you to take that step? A few sessions of coaching are affordable and potentially life changing.

Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you.

Coaching with Compassion – Sun. 9 Oct – London

Another great event in the Spirit of Coaching series, hosted by the Brahma Kumaris in London – 2.00-5.30pm.

An opportunity to explore the depth and meaning of compassion and the important role it can play in the coaching process.  For all coaches and anyone interested in personal growth and development.

It’s free, but you need to register here.

My Books

The Art of Conversation    No one ever taught us the art of conversation – no wonder many of us struggle. Change your life with confident communication.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms    The practical answer to the fears and anxieties of presenting, speaking in meetings and expressing yourself when the going gets tough. 25 brilliant strategies for speaking and presenting with confidence.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies     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.

Training Courses

Would your company benefit from a group session on voice, communicating, presenting, NLP or coaching? Get in touch. Read testimonials here.

Go well,



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