Do You Have Agency?

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What values do you subscribe to? Do you ever write them down? We talk about values quite often in coaching. Mostly, I admire every value, even ones that I don’t hold so close to my heart. But every time I do the exercise, I realise there are one or two values I just don’t personally believe in.

One is obedience.

I like humility. I acknowledge human frailty. I like “I don’t know” as a valid response; also “you choose”. I respect the need to comply with laws. But obedience?

Imagine! This from someone who started education at a Catholic school at a young enough age according to the maxim for the Jesuits to be able to claim me as one of their own. You know: “Give me the child for the first seven years …” Obedience was a big part of the teaching in the school. I learned very well not to question what I learned but just to learn it very well.

Responsibility

But the world taught me otherwise. How can it ever be a valid response for any adult when they have committed a serious mistake to say, “I was obeying orders” or “I was doing what I was told.” It certainly wasn’t taken as a valid defence at the Nuremburg Trials after the 2nd World War. Valid in a marriage maybe, though “obey” has now largely disappeared from the woman’s promises in the Anglican Church wedding service, including at royal weddings (the Queen promised to obey Prince Phillip at their wedding but you’d think the promise must have clashed occasionally after she became Queen).

The commonest defence of the wrongdoer is “I’ve done nothing wrong,” the short cut – in the rare cases where the person actually believes their own defence – for “I was obeying orders” or “I was doing nothing actually illegal”. So that’s okay then. After all, many acts that do untold harm to human beings and the planet are not actually illegal when done in an official capacity as part of a corporation or government.

It has always struck me forcibly that if we have the gift of intelligence it is to be used. And that must mean learning to take responsibility for ourselves on the rightness or otherwise of particular actions.

That of course is how a whistle blower thinks, but the history of whistleblowing is not a happy one. Okay then, children: they must learn to obey, surely? “Yes, but …” is my answer. Osho writes in his book Intelligence (I recommend it): If my child doesn’t have a clear and unwavering “no” in his vocabulary, how can he speak out against social injustice? How can he develop an equally compelling “yes,” and know that his choices are authentically his own, that his voice is internally driven? Insistence on unwavering obedience doesn’t serve even a child well. (And thinking of children, what a wonderful example of a child using her intelligence is Greta Thunberg!)

Agency and not

There’s another thing about obedience: a life of unquestioning obedience tends to dull the soul. When work consists of doing what you’re told to do, and relationships consist of going through the paces and social activities are empty formalities, something important is missing. It’s a world of ‘it’s not allowed’, and ‘can’t’ and ‘shouldn’t’ and ‘must’ and ‘ought’, and it defeats us.

Depression has many causes, but a contributory factor is often a lack of agency. When you feel that nothing you do makes a difference – your vote doesn’t count, your work achieves nothing, nothing you do changes your relationships – then you lose heart. Literally, you lose heart: your heart atrophies. Lack of agency takes the vitality from your movement and the spark from your eyes. Have a look around you. How many are walking automatons?

Alternatively, you might wake up today, and your life is the same, but you make something unexpected happen. You decide to get off your commuter train a stop early and you walk the rest of the way – it happens because you decided it – and the leaves are falling in droves from the trees and there’s a light wind whirling them into mini-storms, making them catch the light. You capture that small miracle because of something you decided, and your heartbeat quickens.

One of our most important tasks must be to reclaim that agency; there’s always something you can decide and then do. It might be tiny; it might seem the act of an idiot against the system, but you decide it and the act itself pleases you. Nelson Mandela decided to treat his prison guards with courtesy, even as they continued to maltreat him. His decision gave him agency and gave him energy and courage, even in the face of not making one jot of difference. In time, of course, it did make a difference.

It is true that sometimes there is little we can do to improve our lot, but there is always a basic question: “Do I actually want to be happy, energetic and well, or do I prefer to nurse unhappiness, resentment and illness?” There is a huge difference in spirit when you decide to have agency. Your eyes shine once more and you see the world as a different place. You cannot not affect your world when your spirit awakens.

I’ve quoted e e cummings many a time. His poem I thank You God for most this amazing includes the words:

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

and he concludes:

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e e cummings was talking of himself of course; as am I of myself. Awake, ears! Open, eyes! I hope it talks to you too :-)

Go well,

Judy

 

TEDx Talk – How Your Voice Touches Others: the true meaning of what you say

The sound of your voice conveys far more than the words alone, and not always what you might be hoping to convey. When you show up for real it’s a different story: your voice tunes into something genuine within the other person and they respond with connection and trust. If you want to solve problems today, that’s where to start.

Find the talk on TED or on YouTube, and please share it if you like it. I just loved doing it, and Norwich TEDx Ed is a fantastic event run by amazing people.

Capture the essence of successful communication.

If you enjoy the TEDx Talk, you’ll love my book The Art of Communication, which goes deeper into what allows us to connect in a profound way with each other. When we find ways to be real in our communication, unexpected possibilities arise and amazing things can and do happen. If ever there were a time …

See my other books here.

Mindfulness

Paul Meek was one of my co-black belts when I practised Aikido. Paul has practised mindfulness since a chance encounter in 1997 on a train in India with a nun who studied under the Dalia Lama. Meeting Paul, you’d be able to tell his connection with mindfulness by his quiet presence. He is author of the eBook series, The Silence Between the Noise, and shares his experience of how to establish mindfulness for greater wellbeing in his blog Establish Mindfulness.

Workshops

Get in touch for workshops on communication, leadership, voice and walking your talk, assertiveness and NLP.

Coaching

also for one-to-one coaching. I’m constantly surprised at how even one session can make such a difference to people’s confidence, decisiveness and – yes – their agency.

And, if you’re in London on Saturday, 2 November …

The Brandenburg Choral Festival is London’s biggest and broadest celebration of all things choral, bringing fantastic choirs into unique central London venues. If you’re near St. Stephen Walbrook near Bank on 2 November, come and enjoy the Harlequin Choir from Guildford in the evening (yes, my chamber choir!) You can get more information and discounted tickets on this special link.

Creeping Change

coolantarctica.om

coolantarctica.om

They say don’t trust experts.
DO trust experts

But we live in shifty times,

so it’s important to investigate,
to consult widely from different
sources of information,

And then to trust ourselves.

 

 

It was a rare treat to London, and my mother suddenly spotted a Kardomah Café across the street. “Come on,” she said. “We’re going to have Kunzle Cakes!” We settled in the café, and she ordered these famous little cakes she remembered from her childhood in the 1930s. We children enjoyed the chocolate shell with cake and light butter cream inside, but she was clearly puzzled and disappointed. They weren’t as delicious as she remembered them.

It’s easy to explain away such experiences, together with endless sunny summers, skating in winter and roaring open fires as rose-coloured childhood memories. We usually lack proof that things were as different as we imagine they were. But change for the worse does happen, as well as for the better, and all too often it happens quietly and secretly. That roast pork of my school Christmas dinner – did it really taste better than the supermarket pork of today? Well, yes it almost certainly did. Then, pigs were animals that lived outside and rooted and snuffled: now they are product subjected to growth hormones and antibiotics and often fed on same-animal waste and worse.

Or maybe I look at a newspaper that has always been highly respected, confident in the title, and ignore the fact that since the latest billionaire buy-out it is much less to be trusted. It looks the same, the subjects covered are similar, but there’s a fundamental attitude shift that’s well-disguised at first. It’s easy to miss.

In the shifting sands of our current time, it’s especially wise to be on the lookout for creeping change.

Climate and environmental change are the big ones of course. It’s 50 years since the Stanford Research Institute delivered a report warning of the devastating effects on the planet of burning fossil fuels. But who noticed? Change in those 50 years has happened one lost tree, one lost bird species, one fire, one flood, one cancer at a time. By the time we do notice, it’s too late to save everything.

They say a frog doesn’t notice it’s being boiled in a pot if you increase the temperature slowly enough. Maybe not true, but as a metaphor spot on.

Professor Diane Vaughan of Columbia University describes a process of “social normalization of deviance” where people within an organisation gradually become accustomed to increasingly deviant behaviour until it becomes the norm. Many different negative situations from institutionalised racism and inappropriate sexual attitudes to homeless people on the streets and abuse in care homes take hold through such creeping normalisation. The situation might strike someone new to the system as abhorrent, but to those inside the system it has become normal.

We are seeing a lot of “creeping change” these days. Look at how many ways we talk about it: change blindness, slippery slope, shifting baseline, moving the goalposts, salami tactics, tyranny of small decisions, …

There is one way this happens that’s particularly insidious, and that is through abstract language. Theresa May’s oft-repeated mantra, “Brexit means Brexit” is an excellent example. Abstract words have no clarity until you add descriptors. Remaining undefined, Brexit could mean whatever people wanted it to mean for the particular axe they wanted to grind, and this allowed creeping redefinition of the word. Lewis Carroll was prescient:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
from Alice Through the Looking Glass

All those Orwellian descriptors of our day! Crisis Pregnancy Centers strongly anti-abortion; The European Research Group vehemently against Britain’s membership of the EU; the American Global Climate Information Project representing the interests of producers of fossil fuels against the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions … you can easily find more examples.

The biggest and easiest trick in the book for those who engage in public debate is to argue with dexterity and flair without defining terms. It’s a skill well honed in the ancient education establishments of Britain. Freedom, fairness, economic success – here come the abstracts! Yes, yes! But freedom in what way and for whom? Economic success for whom? Fairness how and to whom? Ah, those are the questions, Humpty Dumpty. We need to get better at these questions.

Maybe one of the most useful things we can do, living in democracies yet often feeling powerless within them, is to stay awake (stay woke?) to creeping change wherever it happens. Many bold souls are doing that already and speaking up. I admire them. It’s much easier to keep your head down inside your clan, like an emperor penguin huddling in the middle of its tightly-packed group to shelter itself from the intense winds of the Antarctic.

I’m not the bold soul, not really. I do see that I’ve lived my life with a comparatively passive experience of education, hierarchy and democracy until now.  I want now to celebrate those who stand up to be counted, those who dare shine a light on injustice and silent cruelty, those who refuse to stay schtum.

It’s important too to realise that my own tightly packed group is not the universe (even if my group is not just any old penguins but Emperor penguins, you understand). It’s crucial to look beyond – stick my nose out into those intense winds of change and get the bigger picture from a wider range of information suppliers. It’s always a shock when you do: Whoa! Is this really happening? I didn’t see this coming!

“A fact is a fact because I say it is. This is a Kunzle cake.”

No it ain’t. Have a second look. Investigate further.
Let’s use our eyes and ears and, yes, our gut instinct.
Let’s trust ourselves.

Go well,

Judy

 

The Art of Communication and REQUEST

If you’ve ever worked with me or attended any of my events and got something out of it and even if you haven’t, I think you’ll really enjoy my latest book.Find more information about the book here. It’s certainly the book most close to my thoughts and beliefs. Someone emailed me yesterday and said, “I recently read your book ‘The Art of Communication’ and found it very difficult to put down once I’d started. Your book has been a total awakening for me”. Find it here where it’s priced under £8 at the moment, probably the lowest it’ll ever be.

If you have a copy, would you write a review of it on Amazon here? I and my publisher Capstone would be very grateful :-)  It could be very short! Just click on “Write a Review” below the title.

TEDx Talk

In my last newsletter, I promised to give you a link to my TEDx talk, “How Your Voice Touches Others”. I’ve been holding back this newsletter to be able to point you to it, but it’s taking longer than usual to appear on YouTube and TED.com because TED has been particularly busy with conferences this summer.  I’m told it should be up in the next week or 10 days – have a look on YouTube under TEDx Norwich 2019 or Judy Apps.

Want a few tips at home?

Sign up for a free E-course to enjoy at home (I never share your email with anyone). You’re welcome to share this with friends.

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

Want some help moving forward?

Whether you already feel successful or are struggling with challenges, coaching can help you make the most of your potential. 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/Zoom or phone.

And for voice 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.

My other books

Maybe time to put the holiday novels aside and dip into something different? How about:

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.

Who gave you permission to be you?

Screenshot 2019-07-21 at 09.27.05What situation do you hate most to find yourself in? Do you cringe at rejection? Do you loathe being ignored? Do you hate it if people look down on you?

I hate to feel stupid. I’m very happy to dance around, be bold, even to look an idiot in various ways … but not to feel stupid.

I’m sure it has a history. When I got a scholarship to a private school, I mixed with girls who came from wealthy families, and my parents used to joke (half-joke) at home that we might be poor but we were clever. I’ve since realised that our idea of cleverness of that time was fairly limited, but still the mantra helped me, back in the day. It became important to feel clever.

The trouble is, some of these feelings still bug me today. My family will tell you that no one gets more grumpy than me when I am filling in a tax form and don’t understand what they are getting at, or when I meet a problem with my laptop and can’t find a solution. I then feel stupid, and being stupid is just not okay.

 

Such gremlins hold us back. What might you not do if you were willing to look stupid? What might you accomplish if it was fine for people to reject your ideas? Or if other people’s disdain just made you more energised and positive?

I’m constantly amazed at how much negative stuff we carry around with us, convinced that it is a necessary part of who we are, though it does us no good at all. We have shed every last physical cell of the person we were twenty years ago so we’re a completely different person physically, yet we still carry an inflexible historical mental idea of who we are. I’m this sort of person, not that sort of person; I can do this but not that; I believe this to be possible and not that.

 

New York Times’ best-selling author Meg Wolitzer’s recent book, The Female Persuasion – as indeed her other books too – looks at the impact of small acts of kindness in people’s lives. She gives the example of a teacher in grade school who would write down the stories Meg told her, and who gave her the great gift of starting to take herself seriously. She writes a startling question in that book,

Who gives us all permission to be the person that we walk around the world as?

I think it’s much easier to answer the question, who in your life stopped you from being who you might have been? It’s much easier too, if we are lucky in life, and particularly if we socialise with people similar to ourselves, to acquire the habit of thinking that we arrived where we are solely through our own efforts. It feels good to think, “I did it myself” when we are successful; and to forget supportive parents, inherited money, prestigious school that led to prestigious university that led to perfect qualifications including accent, style etc. for prestigious job, advantageous relationships and so on (or any elements of the above).

But Wolitzer’s question, who gave you permission to be the person that you walk around the world as? That’s much more interesting. Who helped you in your sense of yourself?

If I were to start a list of people randomly now, there would be:

My Mum who introduced me to books with enthusiasm when I was very small.

My Dad who was resourceful in practical things and lent me resourcefulness too.

The girl with Down’s Syndrome who taught me in her singing that confidence is for everyone.

The colleague who in a simple sentence gave me the belief to move on.

As I start to write, I realise that I could continue this list for quite a while. What about you?

Permission is a central concept in my voice work with people. Many difficulties with expression are associated with tension, particularly around the neck, throat and shoulders, which prevents free spontaneous expression. Often it’s chronic tension associated with times when the person was diminished in some way in earlier life. In the present, this tension announces forcefully that expressing oneself is fraught with danger; and so it inhibits communication, and prevents a person from being who they can be. It disallows. Releasing the tension (a physical and mental process) allows the person to find their real voice again.

All the more important to seek out and appreciate people who allow, who give you permission.

Who are the people who, maybe in small acts of kindness, have given you permission to think well of yourself and prosper? It might make you gasp to realise how often other people have helped and still do help you on your way.

The corollary, of course, is that we too are enablers. How many times, in small forgotten acts or minor serendipities, have you given someone else permission? You can’t always know. Maybe you have done that again and again in your life. No one’s given you a gong for it, but you certainly deserve it.

 

By the way, I must tell you about my Meg Wolitzer serendipity. Checking her quote about permission yesterday in an online article, I idly looked further and discovered that my local library had an available copy of her latest novel. I walked into town to the library. Opposite the entrance as you enter there’s a display stand of books to catch the eye of the visitor in a hurry. There, at the dead centre of the front row of this prominent display, was the very Wolitzer novel I had come to look for. How many novels does the library hold? I love coincidences, don’t you?

Enjoy your summer. Go well,

Judy

PS

TEDx Norwich
I had an amazing time in Norwich for TEDx @tedxnorwich last week – “Butterflies and Sweaty Palms” definitely in general evidence before the event! Met some brilliant people. The Talks will be up on TED.com in about 4-5 weeks.

THE ART OF COMMUNICATION
If you’d like to dip into my latest book, you can read an excerpt here. You’ll find the book especially helpful if you want to find ways to be more real in your connection with others. We live in times where “living the image” has become a pandemic, and it chokes off genuine problem solving. This is true for our relations with people close to us just as much as for solving the world’s ills.

Think about those small acts of kindness in your life, those people were being real, weren’t they?

BRENE BROWN AND THE CALL TO COURAGE
Brene, famous for her TED Talk on Vulnerability, has given a longer talk for Netflix. Here’s the trailer.

COACHING AND TRAINING and TALKS
Contact me directly at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk to enquire about possibilities.

BOOKS
Find my books listed here. All available at bookshops and usual online outlets in hardback, electronic and audio.

Leave the Door to the Unknown Ajar

My book’s out!

Screenshot 2019-02-10 at 14.44.47I was very excited last week to receive the first copies of my new book, The Art of Communication. It explores ways not only to build the skills to converse well but how to reach each other at a level where trust blossoms and new possibilities arise between you. The possibility of more fruitful connection and cooperation has deep implications, not only for success in our everyday encounters, but also for our planet in this century of change.

I do encourage you to buy a copy, and if you enjoy it as I very much hope you will, I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d write a review on Amazon.

(Incidentally, I notice that for a short time, my previous book, The Art of Conversation, is considerably reduced.)

 

And heres my blog, “Leaving the Door to the Unknown Ajar”

Screenshot 2019-04-03 at 16.38.35A car journey yesterday morning, listening to the radio, and by the time I arrived at the swimming pool two programmes had caught my attention.

The first was Jim Al Khalili interviewing neuroscientist Irene Tracey for The Life Scientific on the subject of pain. In her research she discovered that major factors in the severity of pain are brain related. Fear, anxiety, depression and anticipation of pain all increase the severity; distraction diminishes it. In one experiment Tracey and her team monitored the experience of pain (caused by chilli paste, being one of few legal ways to administer pain!) suffered by subjects while they lay in a scanner. A continuous intravenous dose of an opioid, highly effective at killing pain, was administered to the subjects. The experimenters then pretended to the subjects that they stopped the opioid while in fact continuing to administer it. At this point, the subject’s experience of pain rose sharply, even though the opioid hadn’t been stopped. So expectation overrode even the best pain relief on the market. Our brain can literally turn pain up and down, irrespective of the actual cause of pain.

I then listened to an interview between Alan Rusbridger, ex-editor of the Guardian, and Jonathan Aitken. Aitken is currently a prison chaplain, but back in 1999 he was a highflying cabinet minister who was accused of perjury (it was Alan Rusbridger and the Guardian who called him to account) and convicted in a high profile libel trial. On the day of his trial, he went from being served coffee in bed by his long-standing butler in his beautiful accommodation a stone’s throw from Parliament to spending his first night in a solitary cell in Belmarsh prison to the accompaniment of prisoners chanting about the arrival of a Member of Parliament and what they might do to him the following day. When asked about the positives of prison for him, Aitken replied that he had enjoyed the company of his fellow prisoners “and this was a surprise to me.” “In prison I made one or two real and lasting friendships.” He goes on to describe how his increasing understanding of the lives of others came as a revelation to him.

So two programmes, and in my mood this morning, they said the same thing to me, “Don’t think you know.” I could be certain about an experience of pain and Irene Tracey would prove to me that I was ignorant. Jonathan Aitken, together with many colleagues in the Conservative Party, might think he knew exactly how to deal with policing and prisons, but coming up close he was brought to realise that the whole business of how people come to end up in jail was far more complex than he had thought.

We don’t know. We never know. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio …” Or as a prominent scientist says, quoted in The Art of Communication:

“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.’

Why on earth write this at a time when decisions are desperately called for in the Brexit saga? Yes, politicians need to make decisions, but all these violently-strong opinions have been doing us no good. It seems more important in today’s craziness to realise that we don’t know than to know that we know. Like most of the UK, I’m raging about Brexit, absolutely sure that my opinions – the opinions of my particular herd – are the right ones. The more I read, in the carefully filtered posts adapted so assiduously to my views that my social media channels so calculatingly give me, the more my rage builds with a sense of my tribe’s rightness.

But it’s false rage, manufactured by the crowd effect, mischievously stirred by news outlets and social media. If I know only because my crowd knows, what sort of certainty is that? Not knowing is not feeble. Not knowing doesn’t preclude decision and action. We do the research like Irene Tracey, we discover our blind spots like Jonathan Aitken. Above all, we open our minds and pay exquisite attention. We work with that. But it isn’t the witless stance of those who are blithely sure they know. In positions of power these are dangerous fools. It’s up to the rest of us to call them accurately to account, while at the same time leaving the door to the unknown ajar. It leaves sanity in the room.

Just found a nice quote in Osho’s book, Intelligence:

Intelligence is just an openness of being – capacity to see without prejudice, capacity to listen without interference, capacity to be with things without any a priori ideas about them – that’s what intelligence is. Intelligence is an openness of being.

Keeping the door of the mind ajar … whatever our responsibilities. Does any of this apply to the current situation, business and families and relationships and you and me? Maybe it just does. J

Go well,
Judy

More news

The psychotherapist Juliet Grayson is a finalist in The People’s Prize for her book, Landscapes of the Heart: the Working World of a Sex and Relationship Therapist. Her work is always interesting and valuable. You can vote for her here.

Want a few tips at home?

Sign up for a free E-course to enjoy at home (I never share your email with anyone). You’re welcome to share this with friends.

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

Want some help moving forward?

Whether you already feel successful or are struggling with challenges, coaching can help you make the most of your potential. 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/Zoom or phone.

And for voice 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.

Learning and Unlearning

Paintings

 

People have started asking me what my new book The Art of Communication is about, and I flounder: “Well, whatever my last book The Art of Conversation was about, this one’s about … not that.”

Great. That’s clear then. It’s about what your last book isn’t about. Have I got that right?

Uhh, yes. The last book was about how to become better at conversation. This one’s about the next stage after that. The only thing is that the next stage reverses almost everything you learned before, which can feel counter-intuitive at times. For instance:

At first, you learn how to be able to keep up a flow of conversation. Later, you learn that communication is often about keeping silent and just listening, even sometimes through an awkward pause.

At first, you learn how to focus on what’s being said. Later, you learn how to focus on what’s not being said.

At first you pick up new tools that are effective and satisfying. Later, techniques fall away and you just are, transparent you – which is a much more vulnerable place to be.

At first, you learn that body movement and tone of voice make a big difference. Later, you learn that the most important signs and sources of connection are invisible.

At first, you delight in building your confidence and knowing what you are doing. Later, you find out that communication is also about knowing nothing at all.

Counter-intuitive perhaps, but that’s the wonder of it. It shows you how to breathe life into your relationships and produce powerful new thinking. You may even find that new insights, ideas and creative thoughts emerge from your daily conversations.

From Do to Be (doo bee doo bee)

Moreover, this counter-intuitive reversal applies to more than communication. Let’s say you become very good at something – it might be mathematics, medicine, playing the violin, archery or motorcycle maintenance. Then, when you have mastered everything you can, if you are blessed you break through to the next lever, which is something new – an intuition, a “feel for” – where knowledge and ability are no longer primary.

At this point, it becomes difficult to give expression to what has changed. Ask a true expert in anything how they achieve what they achieve, and they’ll struggle to explain beyond the basics. “I don’t know, I just know…” (a nice phrase in itself). Or they explain in riddles: “I just become my instrument.” “The answer reveals itself.”

Often a child has a natural instinct for some activity, and seems to achieve what a master could work a lifetime to achieve. In art for instance, how confusing it is for adults when a child paints a picture that is mistaken for a great master by experts! But that is the journey. We start with a natural instinct; then we lose the instinct as we learn more, and spend the rest of our lives learning how to recapture “the first fine careless rapture” within the wisdom of experience.

Innocence and experience

I mention in my book how struck I was by a short film of the artist Henri Matisse in old age, too frail to paint, cutting shapes to make his famous collages – scissors in one hand, painted paper held precariously mid-air in the other. Regarding his collage work, he wrote that your instinct needs to be kept fresh like a child, but with all the wealth of your experience behind you.

Finally, after a lifetime of learning, we arrive back at the same place we were at as a child but – as described by T S Eliot – now we know what we are doing. The Master and the child both achieve “the first fine careless rapture”, but the Master knows how it is done.

It is true that the odd child’s painting has deceived art experts. But when a controlled experiment was set up pitting the work of established artists against that of preschool children (as well as elephants, chimps etc.), a majority of people could tell the difference between the art of the child and the art of the recognised artist. (One comparison is pictured above.) They might struggle to explain in detail why they rated the artist’s painting higher, but they found a greater sense of intention or purpose in it.

Is any of this relevant for leadership?

Here are three thoughts:

  1. Don’t assume the spontaneous ease of good leadership is easy (music, art, communication and relationship likewise). Flow and sure instinct emerge from much experience.
  2. Until you reach true mastery, the best decisions can sometimes feel counter-intuitive. Always look beyond your first assessment of a situation to the bigger picture with its multiple threads leading backwards and forwards. (Topical tip: if you want to be a leader of nations, at the very least learn to play chess or Go – i.e. study systems).
  3. Don’t be always “out there”. Allow space for silence and not knowing. Find frequent times to come back in stillness to yourself.

By the way, the phrase “first fine careless rapture” comes from Robert Browning’s Home Thoughts From Abroad, and his “wise thrush” knows how it’s done. 

That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!

A quote to herald the spring …

Go well,

Judy

The Art of Communication

is available for pre-order here. To be released in the next few days – can’t wait!

Coaching

In coaching you find a vital thinking space where you come back to yourself. 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.

Ease in Public Speaking

As a first step, download my E-course, 10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety

The Surrey Earthquake

My colleague Neil Scotton wrote a powerful piece the night of our local earth tremor a couple of weeks ago. Find it here.

Peppa Pig doesn’t do it

Dalmatian

     Left-brain: “This picture displays random dots.”  Right-brain: “Ah, I see a Dalmatian dog sniffing amongst the leaves.” Image from Iain McGilchrist: The Master and His Emissary

 

I love the internet as much as the next person. I don’t want to go backwards, I really don’t. It is interesting how little losses keep popping up though. The spatial and directional awareness of being a good map-reader, for instance. The ability to find a book or a word quickly and easily through familiarity with the alphabet. Problem solving through thinking. Spelling. Memory. Concentration.

I was powerfully struck by a recent example. A teacher attending a talk on the brain in Toronto by Iain McGilchrist commented, “I am a teacher of 7–11 year-olds. My colleagues and I have noticed in the last three or four years that we have started having to teach children how to read the human face.” It turns out that all that time engaging with the mother’s face in the first years of life is vitally important for a child’s ability to understand expression and to empathise. Substitute the distraction and over-stimulation of TV, I-Pad and other technology and a vital development stage is missed. Peppa Pig doesn’t do it. Who knew?

Our brain is divided into two hemispheres, clearly separated, and each hemisphere brings into existence a quite different experience of the world. Technology is a reflection of a world dominated by the left hemisphere of the brain. The left hemisphere is certain, rigid and exclusive – more scientific it would say, as it categorises and processes material with a detached narrow focus – and it has the data and the gift of the gab to promote itself. But the right hemisphere understands relationship, nuance, humour, symbol and metaphor. It rapidly takes into account more and better integrated information over a broader range, though without the voice or statistics to proclaim its rightness.

It’s a bit like our two eyes – each eye sees a different image, but that difference is crucial so that we can understand distance and perspective through processing information from the two different images. Identical images wouldn’t help us at all . So too with the hemispheres of the brain – they perform different jobs: we need their different attention, preferably the right hemisphere as pre-eminent to give us a broader more holistic understanding, and the left hemisphere as its executive to move to action.

The left-hemisphere squabbling over Brexit is an example of the impossibility of resolution when thinking is confined to left-brain certainty, rigidity and exclusivity. The world is full of such examples.

We used to think that a left-hemisphere stroke was a disaster because often sufferers lose the power of speech as well as use of the right hand. But John Cutting, a psychiatrist who spent years with people who had had right hemisphere strokes discovered that they couldn’t understand humour, metaphor or any implicit meaning, nor poetry or tone of voice, nor read faces or body language; and these disabilities in the end represented a much greater loss of their humanity for them and their families.

So back to recognising faces, does it matter? Of course it does, hugely. But the advantages are neither precise, certain nor measurable, so the left-brain doesn’t really care. There’s no easy economic case to be made. The influence on the bottom line is not direct. The effect on exam results and league tables hard to argue. The relationship with IQ indistinct. The connection with delinquency and crime is unproven. As for connection with empathy and kindness, well where’s the proof, and where do empathy and kindness stand in the pecking order anyhow? Meanwhile, the right-brain knows that relationship is pre-eminent.

There’s no doubt that we live in a world that favours the left-brain and ever more so. The left-brain likes to think that it’s the grown up in the room, when experience suggests otherwise. How appropriate this week that it’s the children of the world who stood up and demonstrated against climate destruction, the gravest problem our planet is facing, while the grown ups wittered on about ferry companies with no ferries, expensive preparations for avoidable no deal scenarios widely seen to be disastrous and hero/villain arguments about long dead politicians. If your right-brain is functioning, you’ll appreciate the irony even if, like me, you find yourself speechless.

Let’s nurse our sense of irony; let’s read a poem; let’s use our creativity to find new ways through, round, over or under the current chaos; let’s imagine the world we actually want; let’s value the humanity in each other; let’s be kind.

Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people.
A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough. Franklin D. Roosevelt

The Art of Communication

Left-brain/right-brain is one of the themes of my latest book. I’m very excited about it – it’s been four years in the writing, and comes out in just 3 weeks time – on 8 March. You can pre-order your copy here or from your usual channels.

Here’s a summary – hope it inspires you to buy a copy!

It has become a time of people saying stuff to each other and none of it actually
becoming dialogue.
Ali Smith: Autumn

You can get so far in conversation by becoming articulate, having things to talk about and learning the give and take of two-way discourse and the skills of debate. But that isn’t sufficient to give you a meaningful or wholehearted connection that leads somewhere genuinely new or worthwhile. This requires different abilities, such as intuition, open-heartedness, spontaneity, lightness of touch and ease with uncertainty. Unlike the left-brain patterns and rational themes most often taught as “communication skills”, these abilities depend on the often-neglected attention of the right hemisphere of the brain.

When you take the step change to learn these new, sometimes counter-intuitive, ways of relating, conversation can become the source of extraordinary vitality, capable of generating new insights, breathing life into relationships and even producing powerful new thinking able to transform the world we live in.

I set out to discover what makes such conversations so extraordinary, and what we can learn that will guide us to have them more often.

This is a book for leaders and business people, but also for anyone who suspects that conversation could be something more – more genuine, more energising, more generative, more creative and generally much more productive.

Go well,

Judy

Newsletter, August 2018 – Stuff on the Brain

split brainWhat’s neuroscience telling us about how we communicate with each other? August. Blue skies; hot; and I’ve got my head down to finish my latest book for an October deadline. Yesterday, I reviewed some material on the neuropsychologist Roger Sperry, who won the Nobel Prize for his research on split-brain patients — i.e. hospital patients whose corpus callosum has been severed for medical reasons so that the two hemispheres cannot connect in the normal way. He showed how patients functioned when they had access to only one hemisphere of the brain, and the results were startling.

Left hemisphere of the brain

Though every thought and action lights up cells on both sides of the brain, Sperry demonstrated that the two hemispheres have very different ways of attending. The left-brain accumulates evidence piece by piece to build a picture. It excels at logical thinking, abstraction and generalisation – great for business plans and financial models. However, without the balance of the right brain, it ignores evidence that it doesn’t like or understand and even invents what’s missing to make things fit. It is sure of its rightness, and becomes angry if challenged. It can only hold a view that excludes its opposite – if I’m right, you’re wrong.

Left brain pre-eminence

Sperry worried that both science and our education system neglect and discriminate against the right brain’s nonverbal form of intellect. You certainly don’t have to look far today to see the left-brain’s pre-eminence.

It’s there in legal language – a barrister accumulates proof and builds a case. S/he brings under scrutiny evidence that makes the case and leaves aside information that doesn’t support the case.

Left-brain thinking is usually in charge when countries come into conflict. Influencers build up evidence against another country or people, piece by piece, sifting for negative information, maybe even inventing when information is missing, until they reach a tipping point in public perception and the case is made for war.

It happens too with groups — immigrants for instance. They are marginalised bit by bit, especially in the media, the case against them moving from unwanted foreign customs and beliefs to jobs usurped, drugs imported, crimes committed, piling negative on negative.

It’s the path to divorce too. The person you loved and married starts to display faults and commit unwelcome actions after a while, and so you begin to notice their failings, and then only their failings, and you build a dossier against them piece by piece, until nothing remains but anger and disdain.

It’s even the perfect way to increase your own unhappiness. Something unfortunate happens to you – perhaps you break your arm … and it’s on the very day you were selected for a prestigious football team; which makes you remember how jealous your lucky substitute has always been of you — and how mean to you … which come to think of it is a characteristic of your boss who has never given you the credit you deserve … let alone the promotion…. And so you accumulate negative items of evidence one by one, till you are thoroughly unhappy and almost savouring the addition of further reasons for feeling so wretched.

I’m aware that I’m doing the same with Brexit and Trump. I feed my opinions and feelings with articles from my favourite newspaper and TV programmes and sort for negatives. Algorithms accentuate this effect, as social media brings me only information that reinforces and strengthens my existing viewpoint. I can feel myself becoming less and less understanding of people who have opposing views; angry almost that they can be so — what? ignorant? stupid? callous? — to think as they do…

Travels in Trumpland

… which is why the programme, Travels in Trumpland with Ed Balls, unsettled me when I eventually caught up with it last night. Ed visits various venues in Trump heartlands and attempts to discover what is at the heart of people’s voting choices.

He takes part in a wrestling match, and the organiser shows just how easy it is to build up an act – it’s all an act – so that the good guys from the US win (“U-S-A!! U-S-A!!”) and the bad guy loses (“Booooo!! Ed Balls character from the UK, “Booooo!!”). The sight of 400 people all screaming insults in the same direction after such a short build-up is a scary reminder of how easy it is to sway a crowd with simple messages against a bogeyman.

But the reason the programme disturbed me wasn’t that. It was the authenticity of people who voted for Trump. Ed Balls was moved almost to tears by some of his experiences with the people he met. They had their own reasons for voting the way they did — reasons that showed something of the complexity of familiarity, story, passion, fear, feeling and thinking that informs life choices. It made me uneasy to be forced to remember that a situation is never as black and white as I’d like it to be. Seeing the fuller picture, I couldn’t quite convince myself that – had I their situation, knowledge, history etc. – I wouldn’t have voted as they did. It made me expand my frame of reference, and shift a little from certainty towards doubt.

Right hemisphere

And here, we’re in right-brain territory. Unlike the left hemisphere with its manipulation of pieces of data and generalisation, the right hemisphere has a more holistic comprehension of this messy reality here and now. It comes at the truth by means of intuition, imagination and a feel for context, with an awareness of complexity and nuance, and appreciation of metaphor, symbol, paradox and humour. It has a deeper understanding than the left hemisphere, but at the same time, since life is never neat, it is more open to doubt.

I get the feeling that a bit of travelling in Trumpland or similar with the right hemisphere of our brain awake and aware wouldn’t be a bad thing.

So here are my thoughts for you and me:

When you find yourself mentally building evidence against someone, stop. Tell your left-brain to hold off. Invite your right-brain to the party. Notice positive characteristics in this person – any tiny ones will do. Imagine the history that has brought them to this point. Visualise a different future for your relationship. Create a mental comic strip of you and the other person in the same frame and capture its humour.

Your left-brain won’t like it; it takes the world seriously and at face value; AND it believes very strongly that it’s right and should be in charge. But the right-brain in its heart of hearts (and the right-brain is the expert here) knows that the certainty of the left-brain is an illusion. The right-brain understands the complementary roles of the two hemispheres and unlike the left knows our need for both.

So let’s listen to the intuition of our right-brain. Many times at work or at home, we’ll achieve a better outcome by getting a holistic view of the situation,

  • By shifting — stepping into the others’ shoes and seeing it from their point of view
  • By imagining — asking ourselves what our most inspiring hero – or our mother or a child or the divine — would say about the situation
  • By looking down on the situation from a distance and describing what we see
  • And by realising that humour, counter-intuition and paradox all have a place in our whole-mind (head, body, heart and soul) brain

“The common eye sees only the outside of things, and judges by that, but the seeing eye pierces through and reads the heart and the soul.” Mark Twain

Right, back to writing. The Masterclass on 17 October (see below) is based on my new book, so I hope you’ll sign up below and be one of the first to enjoy some fascinating material and experience.

Go well,

Judy J

 

Book NOW for my
One-day Masterclass on 17 October

Coaching and the HeART of Conversation

in Guildford, (courtesy of Guildford Coaches Group)
for coaches and all who are interested in real communication

What does the different attention of the two hemispheres of the brain tell us about our communication with each other? And how do we bring the full presence of our humanity into our coaching and conversation to create something genuinely new.

You’ll learn:

* How different qualities of attention achieve different results and how the
attention of the right brain is essential for meaningful conversation

* With fresh understanding what it means to be real in communication – even if
we think we already know J

* How to be fully empathetic without being dragged into the other person’s mire

* How to run with the unpredictability and natural spontaneity of a coaching
conversation and catch deeper insights on the wing?

A rich day of lively exploration and personal experience with the aim of allowing something new to emerge in each of us. I do hope you can join me for this special one-day event.

Book herehttps://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/coaching-and-the-heart-of-conversation-tickets-47400353734   (Note special prices for Guildford Coach Group Members)

Ian McGilchrist

Ian read English at Oxford and then retrained in medicine as a psychiatrist and he brings this broad perspective to his writing. His book, The Master and His Emissary, is a brilliant exposition of the roles of the two hemispheres of the brain. The webpage link I’ve given you also displays a great RSA short animation of the ideas in the book. The book is long, so if you want the taster-version, try his The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning on Kindle.

My Books

My latest book comes out next spring. The others are:

The Art of Conversation – Change Your Life with Confident Communication (Capstone)

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies (Wiley)

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – 25 Sure-Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence (Crown House)

Voice of Influence – How to Get People to Love to Listen to You (Crown House)

Download an E-course

(I never share your email with anyone. I’ve updated the links, so if you’ve been unable to download an e-course in the past, they work now!)

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

Poem

Edwin Markham’s lovely short poem, Outwitted, is about having a heart large enough to make space for you and another.

Right-brain attention, definitely:

He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In !

Perhaps the Truth Depends on a Walk

Truth depends

My friends have just completed a 400-mile long walk in Portugal and Spain – in 26 days. I quickly do the maths: an average of 15+ miles a day. I’m impressed. My friend says it’s wonderful – “We just get up each day and walk: no deciding what to do, where to go, what the weather’s doing, what to wear, what to take, we just up and go.”

Now, there is a kind of walking that is focused – I’m sure my friends had their minds fixed on their goal as well as enjoying the scenery. But walking is more often an activity where conscious mental activity is absent, and that is its joy. It often represents a gap between activities – the lunchtime stroll through a park, the walk from the train station home, the quick once-up-the-local-hill with the dog.

And in this gap, good things happen.

Someone tells me that when she goes for a walk with an awkward friend, conversation that might be stilted in the house begins to flow with the rhythm of walking in the open air. Back in the day, I’d walk to an activity with my teenage son and he’d turn from taciturn into talker. (The same happened sometimes when he was sitting beside me in the car, both gazing forward).

When I am coaching, my client and I typically sit at 45%, considered professionally to be a non-threatening and equal arrangement – but some clients feel self-conscious when looked at, even at an angle – maybe walking side by side would work better for them? Certainly, there are coaches who specialise in coaching walks – walk and talk and silence, silence, talk and walk.

When I got angry one day and marched out of the house, a two-hour walk completely dissipated my anger – I could scarcely grasp the reason for it by the time I got home again with renewed energy and optimism.

So walking conversations can be in communion with someone else and sometimes they are conversations with yourself – both produce something new.

It’s fine to use a walk as thinking time, but I’m reflecting particularly on walks where there’s nothing to be accomplished, no goals, no decisions. You give your foveal vision a rest – delights spring up at the periphery – a half-hidden flower, a butterfly, a pleasing pattern on a tree trunk … Walks in the town are okay too, but a walk in the countryside puts human presence more on the edge of things. Nature impresses with its permanence yet is always different. Today sunlight is creating dappled sun and shade under the trees; a few months ago, tree trunks stood out against the hill in dark silhouette. The day you venture out in wind and rain against your saner judgement, you come back wet and wind-battered with adrenaline coursing through your veins and you think, “Wow! I’m glad I did that,” thrilled that you have a wild side after all.

The physical act of walking affects your mind, of course it does. When the writer Margaret Forster was recovering from cancer, she noticed particularly the connection between walking and writing. “It was remarkable”, she writes, “to find that walking must be somehow related to writing, that it somehow fuelled it. I’d always enjoyed walks, and seen them as an essential part of each day, but I hadn’t appreciated this strange connection. The walking loosened the writing.” (I recommend Forster’s My Life in Houses).

In last year’s Wimbledon tennis, I remember a match in which Andy Murray was visibly suffering from a hip injury. This of course affected his speed and flexibility of movement. But it clearly affected his thinking and judgement too, much more than you could attribute just to his physical state. Lack of physical balance and wellbeing affect mental and emotional wellbeing too. When I had a bad back I discovered the truth of this for myself; when I couldn’t walk I couldn’t think well either.

Sometimes these days I’m surprised to spot a piece of new research that proves a connection between mind and body – as if it were something new. Who could ever think that mind and body were not connected? Often physicality unlocks something that was stuck, where any amount of thinking and feeling has failed.

So here’s something you might like to try:

Think of something that you want to be able to do or something you’re struggling with, and consider separately the thinking, feeling and physiology of it. Then change your physiology.

For example, feeling daunted? Stand up tall and strong but relaxed, and breathe fully for a few moments; notice how that introduces something new into your feeling and thinking.

Is your brain bursting with too much to think about and decide? Feeling overwhelmed? Go walking in nature for at least an hour, preferably two, putting one foot steadily in front of the other, and pay attention to your surroundings. Notice how different you feel on your return.

And here’s a speaking tip:

If you lose courage for a moment on the platform or make a mistake, move a few steps away from where you were standing and take a deep breath. You’ll find that your brain resets and your poise returns – even perhaps your sense of humour.

Feeling under the weather, walk; in any weather walk; if you are able – walk. But don’t set conditions on it. In life’s paradoxical way, walking is most restorative when you don’t demand that it restores you or cures you, or fulfils an aim. Don’t ask anything of it.

The early 20th Century American writer Alfred Kazin sums up the power of walking most beautifully in Open Street:

“Walking I am unbound, and find that precious unity of life and imagination, that silent outgoing self, which is so easy to lose, but which at high moments seems to start up again from the deepest rhythms of my own body.  How often have I had this longing for an infinite walk – of going unimpeded, until the movement of my body as I walk fell into the flight of streets under my feet – until I in my body and the world in its skin of earth were blended into a single act of knowing.”

It’s a grand time of year for walking :-)

Go well,

Judy

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 with all its frailties into our coaching and conversation so that something new and miraculous 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 here.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Ec2Iukkr8ivkkzKYXJNwEK49wFBPLEEbuEUVG4FUqO0/edit?usp=sharing

To book, complete the registration form here.

 https://judyapps.us6.list-manage.com/track/click?u=187dc8c293&id=8e1d2aa726&e=6f63167e9e

Or simply email me to register your interest or to ask me more about it.

 mailto:Judyapps@voiceofinfluence.co.uk ((Guildford coaches email me to join list)

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Enjoy bite-size 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

Communication Skills in More Detail

(in 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.

 

A Walking Coach

My colleague Karen Liebenguth – compassionate coach & mindfulness trainer of Green Space Coaching – has many years’ experience of coaching in the open air. See http://greenspacecoaching.com for details of what she offers.

 

My Life and Executive Coaching and Voice Coaching

Whether you already feel successful or are struggling with challenges, coaching can help you make the most of your potential. 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.

 

And for voice 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.

The Long View

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/501447739748757891/

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/501447739748757891/

Monday morning. A road in Dorking. It’s pouring cats and dogs. Outside the house a rainy-day traffic jam of cars is trying to drop children at school; some students are arriving on foot with no rain gear or umbrella, facing a damp day ahead; long faces, exasperation. Typical huh – rain on a Monday, as if Monday weren’t bad enough ..

There suddenly pops into my mind an image of a different season, a day of searing heat and drought with no reprieve. Would it be possible on such a parched day to remember that on this day, today, I hated rain? Or would I just slag off the water companies? Of course I know I ought to love rain – our planet lacks water. Aren’t we the lottery winners to live where it rains? Aren’t we the luckiest people on the planet? How hard to imagine that on a miserable rainy day though!

The bigger picture

It’s just so difficult at times to see the bigger picture. When a politician makes an inadvertent (unavoidable – really?) mistake, is that face-saving explanation in this time and place worth the small addition it makes to general mistrust of words used by power? You’d think it might for it to happen so often. Yet leadership is not made of this. True leadership takes a longer view.

The big picture, the long view, must mean to learn both from history and by looking ahead, you’d think. If it means anything, it must mean that, mustn’t it? Or? People in power appear to adopt this longer view, with their backward and forward looking comments after disasters, “How did this happen? Whose fault was it?” and “Lessons will be learnt”, repeated over and over. But maybe that’s the wrong way to go about it – it’s certainly pretty ineffective.

Paradoxically, I believe that a helpful way to achieve a longer broader view is through awareness in the moment. When you go forward and backwards, short-term considerations loom too large and potential short-term losses seem too great. When you succeed in being in the moment, you open wider and absorb more information (mostly beyond consciousness, it’s true), and thus embrace an intuitive wisdom that goes way beyond immediate fears and local considerations.

A valuable commodity for leadership? You bet. And an excellent reason to cultivate mindfulness, silence, meditation and all the other ways (the same way), not only of ridding yourself of stress, but also of tuning into your intelligence within.

Two kinds of intelligence

As Rumi says – taking snippets from his marvellous poem, Two Kinds of Intelligence (trans. Coleman Barks): “there are two kinds of intelligence”. One is book learning and information gathering: “with such intelligence you rise in the world” – you are lauded for it. The other kind of intelligence is “already completed and preserved inside you. … A freshness in the center of the chest.” This learning is “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.

Only imagine

An important element of this deeper intelligence, this “fountainhead” within you, is imagination – which includes the ability to get beneath the skin of people with empathy and feel what it is like to be them.

How many of the recent upsets in political life would have happened if people with power had the imagination to expand their view, step into the life of those without power and feel their reality? What would be the chances of 13th century Rumi – Iranian (Persian), Sunni, Muslim, Sufi, whirling dervish – if he were alive in the west today? How many would ask what it was like to be him?

Great question though. What about stepping with our imagination into the life of someone we know. Ask ourselves, “What is it like to be you? What is it really like to be you?”  Employ our imagination. See what intuition emerges. Could be mighty useful …

Go well,

Judy

Two notices I don’t want you to miss!

1. MY NEW MASTERCLASS – 17 October!
Coaching and the HeART of Conversation

You are invited to my one-day Masterclass – for coaches and others interested in communication and conversation

– in Guildford, courtesy of Guildford Coaches Group

– on 17 October 2018

What is new information emerging from neuro-science telling us about the different attention of the two hemispheres of the brain and their relevance to our communication with each other?

And how do we bring the presence of our full humanity with all its frailties into our coaching and conversations in such a way that something new and miraculous can be born?

More details here

To book, download the registration form here.

Or simply email me to register your interest or to ask me more about it.

 

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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.

 

Coaching

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.

 

Newsletter Archive

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

 

 

Just Think!

http://relativisticobserver.blogspot.co.uk/

http://relativisticobserver.blogspot.co.uk/

How well do you think?

There’s thinking and there’s thinking …

 

Doing what you’ve always done

Old Farmer McDonald’s animals used to shelter in the old barn in the corner of their field when the weather was bad, but it was getting old and leaked badly. So old McDonald pulled down the old barn and built a fine new one in a different corner of the field. A few nights later there was a rough storm and old McDonald got up to check that his animals were all right. To his surprise he found the new barn quite empty. Using his flashlight he caught a glimpse of the old pile of remnants of the old barn, and there were all his animals, huddled miserably beside it (thank you Gene Rooney via Suzie Smith for the story).

Shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted

When the Irish troubles were at their height and the IRA were threatening London (I beg you to remember those days, you buccaneering Brexiteers!), an IRA bomb secreted into the Tower of London – presumably in a “tourist’s” bag – caused many injuries and one death. About this time I used to take visitors to the Tower on a regular basis, and for months and years after the bomb blast tourists used to have to queue while officials implemented their new safety measure – to search every bag. Only bags though. You could have arrived wearing a huge coat with ample pockets like Fagin in Oliver Twist and they would still check only your bag.

The law of unintended consequences

Several years ago, the government brought in a new inducement for schools. Those that achieved good results were to be given extra funding. Those that did less well would be denied funding. As suspected by many, the thriving schools continued to improve and increase in student numbers, thus attracting further funding, while the schools denied funding declined even further and often ended up in special measures. “You could see it coming,” commented a teacher friend wryly. Not put off by the negative results of such a scheme, our current government has offered extra funding to hospitals that succeed in balancing their books. The hospitals in more needy areas that fail to balance the books are denied this extra funding, which of course makes it even harder for them to balance the books the next year, creating a continuous declining spiral.

Throwing out the baby with the bath water.

A farmer had a problem with pest insects eating the crops. She invested in some pesticide and – easy-peasy – no more pests. Only that isn’t what happened. The pests increased, and the more she sprayed the more the number of pests increased. This is because the pesticide was killing some of the problem pests, but also killing an even bigger amount of useful insects that would have eaten those problem pests. Moreover, her crops gradually became resistant to the pesticide, which necessitated a higher dose; and she and her family got sick when they ate the contaminated crops. In addition the local groundwater became polluted. One problem solved and ten new ones created.

Thinking skills

These anecdotes are all examples of linear thinking – from cause to effect; from problem to solution. It’s the kind of thinking that was positively encouraged in education when school exams began to include a large proportion of tick box answers. Problem à one correct solution. Sorted.

Such linear methods are not just one but two levels below the kind of thinking that’s always been needed and never more than today. With linear thinking we make interventions in the world that are ineffective, inefficient, or have an array of unintended, perverse outcomes.

One level up would be two-dimensional thinking, where there is some sense of a map, with the idea that intervention A causes effect B as intended, but also causes effects C, D and E, each of which needs examination and resolution. More a chess kind of thinking, which robots have learned to perform quite efficiently.

Two levels up would be three-dimensional thinking, illustrated by a globe, where an intervention in any part of the globe creates disturbances in other parts of the globe that in turn affect other different parts of the globe and so on in increasingly complex patterns. Thus, intervention A causes expected effect B, which causes anticipated effects C and D plus unanticipated effects E, F and G, all of which then cause numerous supplementary effects negative and positive, each of which causes other effects and on and on. One example of this is the butterfly effect, where a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico may cause a hurricane in China.

Having written so far, I reflect on the difficulties of working with such complex influences and ask myself what on earth any of us can do that’s useful in the circumstances. I’m helped as often by serendipity – in the shape of this morning’s Desert Island Discs interviewee, Dame Manouche Shafik.

Dame Manouche Shafik

Manouche Shafik is the product of a loving home and a challenging childhood, a pretty good recipe for high achievement. When she was four, her well-to-do Egyptian family lost everything in President Nasser’s nationalisation programme and fled Egypt to start again from scratch in the United States. She became the youngest vice principal of the World Bank and Deputy Governor of the Bank of England before moving to her current position as Director of the London School of Economics.

What are her thoughts on thinking and decision-making?

  1. There’s never just one answer to a problem.
    Civil servants and politicians need to look at an array of options and the costs and benefits of each – i.e. consider babies and bath water, unintended consequences and the rest… three-dimensional thinking.
  2. We need to help the public recognise the difference between expert (3-dimensional) thinking and opinion.
    Experts’ work is backed by the rigours of peer review, the publication of relevant data and a declaration of conflicts of interest, whereas opinions on social media are completely unsupported.
  3. Experts need to be able to explain their views clearly and simply. Manouche Shafik with her colleagues at the Bank of England studied children’s writer Dr/ Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat in a push to make their communications more succinct and understandable for the general public! As Steve Jobs said, ” Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there you can move mountains.”
  4. There’s always an element of uncertainty.
    So humility is always a good thing. Beware people who are 100% certain!

Quite a useful list for any of us. It reminds me that there’s no point in shouting the views of my favourite newspaper against the views of someone else’s, and no point in putting my view more stridently than anyone else’s. That’s today’s political game, and to prevail we need a different strategy based on well-supported data. It means thinking better and teaching our children to think well. It has to include thinking from others’ point of view with emotional intelligence, thinking on different levels including time perspectives and decision-making that’s value-based as well as logic-based.

Elements of Good Thinking

Here’s my resultant checklist for good thinking:

  1. Look at the issue within a larger context – the big picture
  2. Look at the issue from the points of view of other people involved
  3. Examine it from a future perspective, and from past experience.
  4. Decide what matters – what really matters – in considering the issue.
  5. Take time out to allow time for deeper intuition to surface.
  6. Don’t insist on being right. There’s always more.

Whether you’re a leader, manager, consultant, coach, teacher or mentor – if you think better than others you hold the trump card … (Well, you know what I mean – not the same meaning as in to trump something up, which signifies to invent, fabricate, concoct, fake, cook up … funny that …).

Let’s celebrate our intelligent thinkers. Here’s a challenge. Who are the good thinkers of our day? In academia? In politics? In business? What’s your view? Let’s promote them! Who would you put forward?

Go well,

Judy

 

WHAT ELSE?

Winnie the Pooh’s thinking on thinking

(with thanks to A.A. Milne)

 

“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”
“And he has Brain.”
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”
There was a long silence.
“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”
.

“Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits…”

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.

Coaching

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.

Newsletter Archive

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