What is Needed Here?

Being human is given. But keeping our humanity is a choice.

I was about 18 when a man I greatly admired told me it was important to be disinterested in life. It sounded odd at the time, until he explained himself.

Today, ‘disinterested’ is often used to mean ‘uninterested’– e.g. “I tried to engage the students, but they were completely disinterested.” But ‘disinterested’ didn’t used to mean ‘uninterested’; it meant impartial or without a vested interest; as in, “His action was not disinterested because he hoped to make money out of the affair.”

So why am I keen to write about it? Because it’s something we’re missing. Big time.

I was very taken with a comment in Curtis Sittenfeld’s book on Hillary Clinton, “Rodham”, when a friend of Hillary’s remarks, “Some people want to effect change in the world, and some want to be loved.” 

I wonder what camp if any you’d put yourself in? Friends of Boris Johnson sometimes say that all he wants really is to be loved. This is true of many famous performers, a good proportion of whom believe that to be admired is the same as to be loved. In order to capture this love, time and again they will say what they think a particular audience wants to hear, even when it is untrue. They succeed in making easy rapport with people, but at the expense of honesty. They also like to make big gestures and take risks, imagining people’s gasps of love/admiration at the sheer chutzpah of it all.

 “This will make people love and admire me” is not a good reason for action. It’s the opposite of disinterest. Disinterest leaves “I” out of it, and asks with a passive grammatical construction,

“What is needed here?”

Every decent doctor, nurse, paramedic and home-carer asks this question. One of the reasons we love the NHS is that medical professionals do ask that question again and again, unmuddied by additional considerations such as, “Will this be more profitable for me?” or “Will this enhance my reputation?” or “Will this make the patient like me?”

It’s relevant in every profession. There are the moments when you perform sublimely, entering entirely into your focus; times when you are in flow, dancing in the moment (disinterested, your self has disappeared). And other moments when you are too aware of your own impact to be able to produce your best work. (self-interested, or self-conscious).

Of course, we’re all a mix of different desires – it isn’t quite as simple as I’m making out. Or maybe it is.  Look around you; observe the people you come across every day. “What is needed here?” is an outward looking question, and some people approach life with that outward attitude and forever ask themselves, “What’s the best all-encompassing outcome that can be achieved from this situation?” The world is forever thankful to such people. Others consider their self-interest, even as they assure people that they are only thinking of others’ best interest, even as they gerrymander, dance attendance on people with money, invade other countries – whatever it might be. Look no further than your family, friends and colleagues – I guess you’d have little difficulty in sorting the self-interested from the disinterested – it’s almost printed on their brow.

And what about within ourselves? I think we know what it is to act with disinterest. You feel it in your gut – yes, to this, no to that. Some people would call it the still small voice within, a feeling for justice, maybe. When we go with our gut feeling – even when the choice is scary – there’s a little nod of satisfaction from heart and gut, a silent, “Yes, that’s right. You could call it ‘right-thinking.’

Disinterested decisions can be hard to make, but they more often turn out well, and are much more likely to bring you closer to people who respect you and friends you can trust. As you may have recognised, it’s all about ego.

The amazing Judith Delozier, one of the pioneers of NLP, still travelling the world with her clear-sightedness, often talks about recognising that we are all the “two-legged ones”; she encourages us to celebrate our common humanity in a deep somatic way. Self-interest is not going to save us. My goodness, if ever there were a time for the world to recognise the truth of that comment, it’s now, at this planet’s late hour. 

If you want to ask me anything about what I’ve written, please get in touch.

Go well,

Judy

PLUS

Coaching

Feeling daunted by new challenges? Want to improve your communication, either one to one or with groups small and large? Want to increase your confidence and be able to walk the talk, to feel more at ease? A few sessions of coaching can make a huge difference in a short time. Talk to me at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk

TEDx Talk

How Your Voice Touches Others – the True Meaning of What You Say

Your voice is full of meaning and tells people a lot about you. Yet, we all change our voice at times to project an image, and when we do, we don’t quite reach people. When you dare to show up for real your genuine voice conveys far more than words alone. The vibration of your sound tunes into something genuine within the other person and they respond with real connection and trust – vital for solving our human problems today.

Books

The Art of Communication – “The authenticity of our relationships depends on our willingness and ability to truly communicate and not only to converse. The Art of Communication is a wise, compassionate and enormously helpful guide in how to do so.” Dr. Jude Currivan, cosmologist, author of The Cosmic Hologram.

The Art of Conversation – highly practical help with the whole business of how to interact successfully and confidently with other people.

Voice and Speaking Skills For DummiesEverything you wanted to know about voice and speaking in a book that’s easy to dip into to answer all your questions.

Voice of Influence – The book that became the name of my company, and which has remained popular, translated into 9 different languages. How to get people to love to listen to you.

Butterflies and Sweaty PalmsThe 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.

Paper Tissue Wars and Other Conflicts

A friend told me how her mother tears paper tissues in half so that when she blows her nose, she economically uses only half the paper. My friend, who had a cold at the time she told me about it, rubbished her mother by demonstrating to me how she herself can use a whole tissue five, six, seven times before she need throw it away. No need to tear it in half. “Actually, I don’t throw it away, I iron it and start again,” she said. That revolting image made us both laugh.

Her mother’s behaviour really irritates her. It doesn’t irritate me, I feel a hint of fellowship, coming from a family where my father commented if we put more than ¼ inch of paste on the toothbrush. My husband uses a cotton handkerchief, and I have taken to that too, though I know it disgusts some people. To me, quite the contrary, it seems sort of elegant, something from a past era. Also, environmental. Probably. Who knows? I’m never going to convince my children that the use of a cotton handkerchief is sanitary, I know that.

Life’s little conflicts – don’t tell me you don’t have any. Meanwhile a country is being bombarded and the nuclear threat increases. What to do about conflict, discord, difference?

If I were world king, I could force people into compliance, burn them at the stake or bomb them to kingdom come. Control, eh! But control isn’t the answer, however much we like to think it is.  “You’ll do it because I say so,” says the parental dictator, thus passing on a disastrous strategy to the next generation. Many a leader has made a grave mistake through needing to look powerful – even throwing people into war and other evils in order to look in control.

Without power or ruthlessness, I spent the first year of coronavirus ranting. Over everything really – the callous mistakes of government, the treatment of our health service, our democracy, the climate crisis. I became better informed about a lot of things, so it was a kind of awakening, but I doubt it solved anything.

Without serious self-sacrifice, I then stepped into a phase of doing what was within my own power to do. I ate less meat, recycled religiously, travelled less (easy in a pandemic!), used less toothpaste (symbolic, thanks Dad). I made various personal changes and learned how interwoven our lives are across the planet. All good, but small fry in the face of the power of the big players, corporations and governments.

My glance in that direction had me digging for truth in a mire of disinformation, signing petitions, contributing to causes that seemed worthwhile. I discovered some truly amazing people working their guts out to make the world a better place. All worth doing.

Yet, here we are, at a critical moment for the world, and many people think it’s too late for talking. If talking equals postured “talks” – debating, and more for a home audience than anything else – they’re probably right. Humanity on earth will cease before we change other people’s minds through the force of reason. Force can change behaviour, but minds? Populations in oppressed societies know the difference between behaviour and conviction. You may have situations in your own life where you sincerely believe that it’s too late for talking. So what’s left?

Talking, that’s what. I want to say a word or two about Senator George Mitchell, who was a prime influence in the Irish negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. He achieved results that had seemed unimaginable before, by negotiating.

Negotiation is “an art, not a science,” Mitchell writes, “requiring knowledge, skill, judgment and humility. Especially humility”.   He was known for his calm dignity and grace that changed the atmosphere of a room and dissuaded people from ranting and raving. He knew it wasn’t about ‘taking a stand.’

He accepted that discord happens. He said, “Will you point out to me what society in the world, particularly democracies, functions without dispute, without disagreement and without some degree of violence? Don’t pull Northern Ireland to a standard that no other society has ever or will ever meet.” In other words, don’t avoid conflict at all costs; we have to work through conflict.

He had the patience to hear people out, even when once a speech lasted seven hours. “Patience and stamina.” He said, “In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume it is true and try to imagine what it might be true of.” (Wow. That made me think.)

However tricky the problems (and they were!) he urged people to concentrate on the positives. You can’t do this if you’ve decided you are dealing with evil incarnate; that makes you blind. He looked for microdots of connection – for example, we are both human, we both want our self-esteem intact, we both want peace – and then he worked steadily, stolidly, with hope, to build trust from such fragile beginnings; going back steps again and again and again for every tiny pace forward. Every move was about trust.

Finally, importantly, he had an unswervable belief that peace was possible. He said, “There’s no such thing as a conflict that cannot be ended. Conflicts are created, conducted and sustained by human beings. They can be ended by human beings.”

These are powerful belief states from which to operate. Think how such beliefs might affect the progress and outcome of our personal battles, and even – in hope – of the great conflicts of the world.

Go well,
Judy

Other matters

I haven’t written a newsletter for a month or two. Hello again!

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms

A client reminded me this month of how useful Butterflies and Sweaty Palms is in coping with nerves when you’re daunted by public speaking or wanting to move to a new level of confidence and comfort. It’s a short book, containing 25 genuinely effective ideas for speaking with confidence.

You can get it in Italian too – Farfalle nello Stomaco e Mani Sudate. The Italian publisher Amriti Editions interviewed me recently in a podcast and translated it – here it is if you want to practise your Italian!

The Art of Communication

Thinking about what I’ve written here today, I thought you might enjoy a short excerpt from my last book, The Art of Communication:  

Communication is More than Words

Conversation is, of course, talking to each other. When you meet someone, what do you think about if not what to say? Most people get very good at making conversation and slip easily into a ‘public’ mode of small talk and other exchanges suitable for particular occasions, but it’s simplistic to describe conversation as straightforward talking. For a start, people often don’t say what they mean; in fact, quite often through embarrassment or fear they can lead you away from what they really mean. There’s much going on under the surface.

What people don’t say when they talk to each other is as important, and probably more so, than what they do say. A response such as ‘I don’t know’, delivered in a flat voice, is as likely to mean, ‘I don’t care, I’m angry and you don’t understand me’ as to be a simple assertion of lack of knowledge. This is why the right-brain’s ability to pick up tone, inflection, metaphor and symbol, humour and paradox, is so important. When someone with left-brain confidence quotes someone’s words as proof of something, they are leaving out the bigger part of meaning. The media, politicians, and business grandees do this all the time: ‘I believe that in 1962 you said . . . ’. It’s important to realize that while actual words are mainly the province of the left-brain, most other elements of communication – including meaning, inference, intention, context, tone, facial expression, gesture, humour, irony, and metaphor – are the province of the right-brain. What you are always speaks louder than what you say. The novelist Peter Carey suggested that the declared meaning of a spoken sentence is only its overcoat, and that the real meaning lies underneath its scarves and buttons. The quality of your thoughts and feelings has an impact on the other person, whatever words you use.

Sometimes, the apparent subject of a conversation is not even the real subject of the conversation, and both parties in some bit of themselves know it. You might have an end of life conversation with someone, and you talk about whether the pillow is comfortable, and whether sleep is hard to achieve, yet the whole conversation is a way of saying, ‘I love you’, and the other person, without remarking on the fact, hears this simply and directly. If you were a fly on the wall to this conversation, you would read the real meaning in the tone of voice, the look in the eyes, and many other tiny cues. Sometimes, language is symbolic, and what needs to be said can find expression only in images.

TEDx Talk

I continue with this theme in my TEDx Talk: How Your Voice Touches Others: the True Meaning of What You Say.

My other Books

The Art of Conversation – highly practical help with the whole business of how to interact successfully and confidently with other people.

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies – Everything you wanted to know about voice and speaking in a book that’s easy to dip into to answer all your questions.

Voice of Influence – The book that became the name of my company, and which has remained popular, translated into 9 different languages. How to get people to love to listen to you.

Coaching

Therapy, counselling, analysis, mentoring, coaching … there are many different ways to find out more about yourself and move forward. Coaching is a brilliant means to use conversation with a professional to progress in a career, your relationships and in your sense of who you are. Give me a call if you’d like to chat about what’s possible and whether it might be the perfect vehicle for you. Email me in the first instance at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk.

Judy Apps
judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk
URL: judyapps.co.uk

There are no taboos

I was walking into town the long way around, down the avenue of old trees to the lake, and then along the old track by fields, near where the composer Vaughan Williams used to live, and thence into town. Halfway along the track, the words suddenly popped into my mind: “There are no taboos.”

It was the answer to a question I hadn’t even quite asked.

Earlier in the day I’d read a report in Nature Magazine about research by neuroscientists at Northwestern University into how to solve problems in your first sleep. Apparently, when Thomas Edison hit a wall with his inventions, he’d take a nap in an armchair, holding a steel ball. As he started to fall asleep and his muscles relaxed, the ball would fall, and its noise hitting the floor would wake him up with insights into his problems. The Northwestern neuroscientists investigated this phenomenon and discovered that there was indeed a sweet moment between being awake and going into deep sleep that was remarkably effective for coming up with solutions to problems.

The study referred to problems in mathematics and science, but I had a hunch that it worked for any kind of creative or relational problem. But then, the thought struck me that, even if I came up with valuable insights, many times I wouldn’t act on them, because there’d be something that stopped me from proceeding – some sense of propriety, some concern about others’ reactions, doubts about success, fear for fear’s sake …

Hence, two hours later, walking to town, the insight, “There are no taboos”.

My first instinct was, “Well, thanks, but yes there are!” And then I thought, “But if there aren’t? If there are no taboos, then I’m free to act on every valuable insight – it’s a call to action, surely?

No, came the answer, not necessarily. Many times it merely prompts us to see things more clearly, to understand that taboos are part of the structure of a matrix that we don’t have to buy into. When, for example, you meet family at Christmas and the matrix is calling you to be the child or sibling or parent you’ve always been in that context with all the associated taboos, to know that the “you” of the call isn’t you anymore. You can instead be the you that you’ve grown into since. And that’ll be enough. For if you don’t fall into the matrix and get snagged up on taboos, other people can’t then play the familiar patterns that have always sabotaged you.   

I’ve got another example if you’re up for tortuous connections. Last autumn, a collection of Van Gogh’s preparatory drawings for his famous early painting, The Potato Eaters, was exhibited in Amsterdam for the first time. To the end of his life, Van Gogh considered this one of his best paintings, just as good as Sunflowers. His family, friends and buyers didn’t agree, and all slated it brutally at the time. I don’t call it his best painting myself, but I’m inclined still to look for loveliness, which wasn’t the point. The painting mattered deeply to Van Gogh – he created over 50 studies and sketches for this one work of a family of peasants he had once glimpsed through a window . He explained to his brother what he was trying to do: “What I’m trying to get with it is to be able to draw not a hand but the gesture, not a mathematically correct head but the overall expression. The sniffing of the wind when a digger looks up, say, or speaking. Life, in short.”

“The sniffing of the wind when a digger looks up. Life, in short.” What an aim! An attempt to reveal to us matters way beneath the surface of appearances – almost impossible to achieve. Elsewhere, he says, “I am always doing what I can’t do yet in order to learn how to do it.”

Exactly. No taboos.

Shall we go for it, you and I? Your own aspirations and attempts are entirely yours and, though the reactions of others are not irrelevant and can even be helpful, only you know what you are attempting, only you know why, only you know the journey that has brought you to this point; it is your inner spirit that wants to be satisfied, only you will know when that point is reached. Only you, you alone, will appreciate to the full the joy of your own fulfilment. So, go for it.

No taboos.

Not a bad phrase as we turn the year and face the unknown. My Christmas cards include a good smattering of sheep following each other across hillsides; the New Year, on the other hand, is for the lone Tyger, tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night …

Happy Christmas everyone, and peace and joy in the year ahead.

I Cannot Believe I Did That

Truly, I just cannot believe that I did that!

What – something amazing I achieved in my life?

Well, actually no, just the opposite.

This week, our daughter brought us a surprise gift that had happy associations for us – Mozartkügeln, beautiful expensive chocolates in celebration of Mozart, that we’ve found previously only in Salzburg. She’d come upon these to her surprise, she said, while looking for a child’s winter coat in TK Max, and couldn’t resist buying them for us.

“Oh, they can’t be real,” I jossed, “Half of those luxury label goods in TK Max are fakes.”

“But it says here, ‘made in Austria’,” came back our daughter.

“Well,” said I, warming to my theme, and thinking I was being quite funny, “Do you really think they’d go the trouble of faking a chocolate and then not faking the label as well?” I laughed, mainly at my own wit.

“Oh well, they taste pretty good,” said my daughter.

They did. I enjoyed mine.

The following morning, I awoke at 4 AM, with a brightness behind the curtains. I got out of bed and peered out. The sky was clear, and Orion, one of few constellations I recognise, was dead centre of my view, bright as I’ve ever seen it.

I smiled. Then suddenly, a memory of my exchange with my daughter came back, and only at that moment did I realise how boorish my remarks had been. WHAT WAS I THINKING OF? I felt dreadful. But as well as that, I felt sort of stupid that I hadn’t realised at the time that I was being a bit crass. Only now, looking at the stars, did it come to me. Orion shone white. I turned red.

It was interesting that the revelation came at a quiet moment while I was focused on something else – it often happens that way. The moral of the story? To be kinder, more thoughtful, to be a better person? Well, yes of course, but as well as that, I felt pleased to have at least noticed what had happened. How many other crass remarks have I made where I never even realised that they’d been offensive? Or where I put everything down to the other person, thinking, “He’s a bit off today,” or “Why on earth did she snap at me?” So, I told my daughter about it the next day, and reflected it was good to be still living and learning, through life’s little blips!

When does learning stop? Have you noticed how many people live the last 20, 30 or 40 years of life becoming ever more like caricatures of themselves? Whatever you’ve sold your soul to, you become that. When I used to watch the programme Spitting Image, with its puppets that emphasized the prominent characteristics of famous people, it was extraordinary how eventually the actual famous people struck us as more of caricatures than the puppets did.  I’m sure you know people like that, who’ve stopped changing and become replicas of themselves; then year by year, as their arteries ossify, their persona does too.

I don’t want that. I want to be alive enough to notice what’s happening. It seems an ultimate good to remain flexible to change. Okay, as I found, learning isn’t always comfortable (that awful embarrassment at 4 am is why we often give up on it!) but awareness is gold dust.

“The unexamined life is not worth living,” says Socrates. And here are a couple of thoughts from Marcus Aurelius (Woah! – flaunting the Classics now? … just shows how long these concepts have been around.)

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

“The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

I especially like the last quote in the light of the insane world we are currently living in – though I guess that living according to your own values has always been challenging.

So, two things: first, notice (find your own truth); then, act (dare to act). I used to think that ‘being yourself’ was a matter of authenticity. I now see it’s a question of courage – to dare to do and say and be what is true for you, regardless of what the rest are doing and saying. I never thought authenticity was particularly easy; living courageously is twice as hard! Still, you can start small… And, I’d like to add, with kindness, always with kindness.

Go well,
Judy

PLUS

Conversations – challenging conversations, conversations that connect, being yourself – these have been my theme for many a year now. You’ll find helpful stuff on these subjects in my books:

The Art of Communication – How to be Authentic, Lead Others, and Create Strong Connections.

The Art of Conversation – Change Your Life with Confident Communication

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies

Voice of Influence – How to Get People To Love to Listen to You

As for finding the courage to be authentic, you’ll find lots of help in

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – 25 Sure Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence

It’s short, to the point and highly practical. Many people have told me how useful they’ve found it. I did an enjoyable interview with Edizioni Amrita for the Italian Edition (Farfalle nello Stomaco e Mani Sudate) this week (how’s your Italian?!)

By the way, Voice of Influence has just come out in a new Arabic edition. I received my copy last week.

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

Coaching

Coaching isn’t counselling or therapy; you don’t have to feel broken to find it useful. It’s a safe space to pause and find out where you are, what you want next, what’s stopping you, and how to go about achieving your desires. Speak to anyone who’s worked with a good coach, and they’ll tell you how indispensable it’s been to getting where they want to be and to being the person they want to be. Email me if you’re a little bit curious and we can have a conversation about it. Even a single session can unlock previously untapped potential. judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk

Courage to speak up

I talked about courage above. If you are daunted at the idea of speaking up, sign up for my e-course 10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety. It’s entirely free and I never share your email address with anyone. Hope you find it useful. Together with my book, Butterflies and Sweaty Palms, it’s a potent combination.

Speaking live and speaking on Zoom

In the interview with Edizioni Amrita, Andrea Degl’Innocenti asked me if we need different skills for giving a live presentation and for speaking on Zoom. What a great question! It makes me think people might find thoughts on the subject interesting. What are your experiences of the differences – I’d love you to share them with me – mailto:judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk. Thanks!

TED

Just another little reminder of my TEDx Talk, How Your Voice Touches Others – the True Meaning of What You Say. Especially relevant today I think. Please share if you like it!y

Authenticity. Again.

I want to be real, but what is the real me, and how do I find it?

b4c312e2df9d7babb99319dc5570dbd2I found myself talking to myself this morning, slightly exasperated if I’m honest. I asked myself: What is it with this eternal search for finding your true authentic self?

I don’t know. We all want to discover what’s true and genuine, surely?

Well, yes, I’m with you. The trouble is, you get a bit self-obsessed looking for your true self.  You try so hard; you want it so badly. And haven’t you noticed? – People who are all caught up looking for their true selves don’t have much energy left for other people. In your obsession, you miss what’s going on around you.

Anyway, it’s a horrendously difficult quest, for your authentic self never appears at the time you’re  looking for it. The search guarantees that it’s absent while you’re looking for it.

How can that be?

The truth is that you are most yourself when YOU aren’t there because you’re entirely absorbed within whatever is happening – your physical self, your thoughts and your emotions all at the service of that moment. At such a time, you’re never thinking about your true self, you just are it. Okay, afterwards, you could perhaps watch a video of yourself and observe, wow, I was really myself then, but at the time you weren’t thinking that, you were just inside the dance. If you’re looking for it, you haven’t got it.

You’re talking in paradoxes.

Well, take this morning for instance: I got out of bed when the light in the garden was still bluey-green. Everything was green, mono-colour, just before the sun came up. And suddenly the first bird sang and for a moment I caught the beauty of it. Wow. Breathtaking. A brief instant later, I thought, “I want to take a photo of this,” and wondered if my mobile was still downstairs.

That’s how it goes. And I can think, “That self, that was completely in the moment at one with beauty and stillness, that’s the real me.” But as soon as I’m thinking that, I’m not in that moment anymore, so I’ve lost that real me.

Okay, granted with special moments, but let’s face it, everything’s the real me anyway – inspired me, angry me, envious me, tired me?

True enough. But if that’s true, what am I looking for? If it’s all here at every moment, the messy changing me, there’s nothing to look for.

And yet there is. There’s something, I know there is.

Yes, I agree. There is a ‘real’ me, because I know that I’m often acting (not  real me) – when I’m trying to impress, or trying to fit in, or even making an effort to be a certain way in order to be more helpful to others.

So the real me is when I’m not acting?

That’s right, but it all depends …

Ah, could have guessed, here we go…

Right! It all depends what we mean by acting. We all act. However, the actor who is aware of self at the moment they are acting isn’t the best actor – they may be highly competent, but they are always ‘actorly’ – self-conscious. The same is true if they have an agenda, such as to look good or get rich.

The best actors on the other hand ‘take something on’ and then they are that. They are natural. They are not ‘actorly’. Think about actors you have watched in films: some are utterly believable in the role – the actor disappears, only the character remains; others are visibly acting the part. If I am like the best actors, able to act what I want, I can take on anything. If I decide to be bright, bold and beautiful, then I will be. I can take something on, and it becomes my true self.

Yes but, yes but, yes but …

Yes but, nothing. If you have a secret and you decide it is not to be known, you will act as if it doesn’t exist – you will become a person who doesn’t have that secret. There’s little doubt that you will do this successfully, even if it takes its toll elsewhere. If you have ever been in that situation, you will recognise this.  If, for example, there is something you are deeply ashamed of, you will maintain your secret – you won’t ever forget to do it.

So it can work in other situations as well. If you have always hated someone and you decide that instead you care for them, that is possible too. It is a deciding.

Well …

Deciding comes from the gut. It probably starts in the heart, with the help of the head, but the impulse that makes it happen is found in the gut.

Let’s imagine, for example, that the heart says, I long to be a convincing speaker. Head thinks about what will be present when I am a convincing speaker and how I will be different. Gut says, okay, let it be so.

Oh, come on, it’s not as easy as that. What about technique, practice, experience?

You are right of course. But that’s only 10% of it. The rest is: “It shall be so.” Just as God said, “Let there be light. And there was light.”  And it was so.

I knew a young woman who sang a beautiful solo at her grandfather’s funeral. She was in pieces before with sadness: she couldn’t even speak. But this was the one and only last chance to do this beautiful thing for her grandfather; she knew she had to sing beautifully for him – she knew that it had to be so. And the ‘had to’ in that sentence wasn’t the internal feeling of necessity from her conditioning that keeps people stuck in habit. Quite the contrary: it was an expression of an internal congruent necessity, not the same thing at all, and a wonderful example of being true to yourself.

The many tales of quests that have come down to us tell this same story. The hero leaves home on a difficult quest, meets many dangers and adventures, and eventually comes home to find that the answer was there all the time; it took different eyes to see it. To return to the place we started from and know it for the first time, as T S Eliot says. I looked up the quote and the whole passage is magnificent:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.

—T.S. Eliot, from “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets

More recently, Oprah Winfrey said that the greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change their future by merely changing their attitude. They have different eyes to see. That’s the brave bit – to change the way you look at something even when it scares you witless to do so. That’s why, when you look up ‘change’ on Google, it is always associated with ‘hard’, ‘difficult’ etc. It’s not ‘hard’. It’s easy. But scary? Ah, maybe. But success is guaranteed when the result is more important than failing, more important than looking a fool, and more important than anything else – in other words when you have nothing to lose.

What might we all do if we knew we had nothing to lose? What truths might I speak loudly, if I knew I had nothing to lose? What might you do, that you’ve always wanted to achieve, IF YOU HAD NOTHING TO LOSE?

Wow.

I know. Energising isn’t it?! And nothing whatsoever to do with “finding the real me”.

Go well.

Judy

 

THIS AND THAT

The Art of Communication

I write about ‘disappearing’ in Part iii, chapter 5 of my book The Art of Communication – explaining how in the best conversations we do exactly that – we disappear.

Here’s an excerpt:

When you allow intuition to emerge without stress or forcing, answers pop up
spontaneously, ready made and complete from your deep well of holistic intelligence
within – creative, generative, and wholly appropriate. You, your ego, disappears and
pure consciousness remains.

LEAVE YOUR EGO OUTSIDE AND ‘DISAPPEAR’
Creative conversation comes from being conscious. You are not
witnessing yourself in action – you are just there in the action.
It’s not the same as taking a dissociated view of the situation
like an outside observer. When you acquire presence it’s just
that, being inside looking out, as opposed to self-consciousness,
which is an uneasy awareness of people on the outside looking
at you.
If I hear a piece of glorious music, I have the beauty of that sound
in my consciousness, filling me with joy and awe. But I don’t say
‘beauty’ to myself. If I instantly switch to making conscious meaning,
by thinking about how aroused I feel by the sound or by
cataloguing the piece or the composer, I’ve moved to something
else. I’ve put myself at the centre of the experience and it’s now
about me and what I know. Paradoxically, when you feel as if the
universe is revolving around you at its centre, you are living from
the ego and are off-centre.
Consciousness has no ego. Conversation doesn’t exist for us
to polish each other’s personalities. Your fixed personality,
the ‘I am . . . ’ – I am an executive coach, a religious counsellor,
a caring parent, an effective manager, a powerful leader
etc. – disappears. You are left with pure consciousness. Nothing
is fixed. You don’t consult a particular ideology or set of beliefs.
You are alive, responding moment by moment out of your
consciousness. When you hear the music, you’re caught by it, and
you’re gone, for in that moment nothing exists but the sound of
the music. If you are anywhere, you’re inside that sound.

In Conversation with the Poet Jacky Power

I was in conversation about the art of communication with the poet Jacky Power recently for her podcast series, the Therapeutic Poet. It was a great pleasure for us both. You can find it here.   She writes in her introduction:

It felt like such a treat talking to Judy.

As Judy shares in this podcast, in good communication several things are present: a sense of humility, of equal humanity amongst those conversing.

Vulnerability, which can be shared when empathy and trust are present and we can be open to that through the way we dance in our conversation, how we mirror the other person in their energy.

And not taking ourselves too seriously; when we add a playfulness we add creativity and sparkle to, not just the conversation, but our lives.

I loved listening to Judy, I think she has a great voice, and as she suggested, at the end of this podcast I have recited my poem ‘Low Low’.

Permission to Shift Podcast

I mentioned the Permission to Shift conference in my last newsletter. Here’s a link to my virtual session with Anna Lang and participants about the importance of conversation in making the shifts you want in your life.  The whole series supports the idea that fundamental shifts can be made simply with a change of heart. Here’s a summary of the videos in the series.

My Other Books

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

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

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

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

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

Stories within Stories

point-of-view

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get out of the Matrix

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

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

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

Gym training

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

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

Dance in the moment! Go well,

Judy

NEWS

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

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

InnerCriticInnerCoach

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

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

Podcast

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

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

Permission to Shift Summit JUDY APPSRoss, Judy

25 – 27 June

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

 

 

 

 

Understanding NLP

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

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

last month – it was a popular one!

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

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

Finally, the usual links to my books

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

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

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

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

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

Get rid of titles for a moment and truly lead

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

Hierarchy 2021-05-02 at 15.40.04


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

 

Emily Dickinson wrote a great little lyric in 1897:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE ABOUT CONNECTION

Connection in my TED Talk

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

Connection in my books

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

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

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

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

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

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

A great definition of connection from Brene Brown

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

Raise your profile through connection

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

Go well this Merry Month of May!

Judy

Only connect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* This became the prologue of The Art of Communication.

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

Empathy is personal

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

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

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

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

Empathy is connection with your equal

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

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

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

How connection happens

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

It’s Either Or

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

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

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

So my intention this year is:

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

    Guy Standing puts it well:

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

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

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

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

My warmest good wishes to you,

Judy

 

BOOKS

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

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

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

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

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

COACHING

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

TIME FOR A POEM

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

I have News for You by Tony Hoagland

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

 

Recharging

2nd LawAnd so it goes on.

Clocks go back.

I fell down a rabbit hole again today.

You know – when you read something on the internet which links to something else, and when you follow the link, that reveals something else, which, when you follow that link …? So, I was surfing – burrowing rather – when the first law of thermodynamics popped up and I realised that I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. (Not something you admit in public of course, I mean who doesn’t know the first law of thermodynamics?)

So I looked it up:

Energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed. The total amount of energy and matter in the Universe remains constant, merely changing from one form to another.

Wikipedia takes over 9,000 words interspersed with dozens of formulae to say that, but that’s the basic premise.

Flat

I couldn’t be bothered to read the 8,950+ surplus Wiki-words: I was feeling flat. Flat is a word I’ve heard a lot this year. Many of us don’t like to say we’re feeling dejected, or pessimistic, miserable, depressed, disconsolate, dispirited, desolate or broken regarding our current human and planetary lot, so we say to people we’re feeling a bit flat. How often, particularly during this Covid period, do you wake up and feel low on energy? It’s very common. Most of us have the experience of ebbs and flows of energy, if not more extreme threats to our mental health.

So there was I feeling “flat” – low energy – and the first law of thermodynamics prompted a question, “Where had the energy gone if energy is never destroyed, only converted from one form to another? Also, how did I lose it? If my energy is low, the first law of thermodynamics suggests I’m using or dissipating it elsewhere. And, of course, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Sometimes, we don’t know what’s draining our energy. A friend who seemed to me to have coped brilliantly during this pandemic year, living in a gardenless second-storey flat with a young family , told me that she didn’t fully realise the tension of living in a crowded city until she went on holiday to an isolated location for a week, and felt a huge weight lift.

Sometimes, however, we do know, don’t we? I had a meeting with someone the other day and felt wrung out like a towel after they had gone, but I knew how it had happened. They were demanding my attention for too long without a mutual understanding, pushing me too far in their requests, and I allowed them to do this, from politeness or a wanting for things to be pleasant, against my better judgement. So I was basically fighting against myself. Exhausting.

What’s depleting your energy?

I think it’s always worth investigating what’s draining your energy. The depletion is often due to fighting yourself, as in the last example. Putting on any sort of act is always tiring if it confronts your values.

Fighting “what is” also drains our battery drastically. This often happens when life wants to move on, and you refuse to let it. You say to yourself: I am this sort of person in this sort of life and that’s how it is. And you get stuck.  Huge energy is dissipated in forcing things to stay the same, when change is the natural order of things…

Hey, wait a minute, you say, the whole problem with this year is that we are stuck, stuck at home, stuck in the same daily grind, stuck in the middle of a wretched pandemic which isn’t going to end soon. No wonder the winter ahead looks like a pit of trouble, danger and discord. We are stuck.

And the battery runs down.

Move a little

We feel stuck. Yet, there’s energy for recharging everywhere if I look.

There’s always movement. There’s always breathing. We’ve been created like that. You are always moving physically, even if it’s the slightest change of air moving your body in deep sleep. Movement is often the answer to flatness or any other drained energy. Of course, the gremlins will still whisper in your ear, “Don’t move, you’re too tired”, but that is also usually untrue.

Have you ever tried moving just a little bit when you feel sluggish, and a minute hand movement gradually gains more movement and turns into an arm movement which turns into a slight stretch of the waist or shoulders, and a yawn, and soon your whole body is flowing, and will flow further if you let it. Then when you stop, you realise that the movement was energising, and has created endorphins – energy!

The dynamism of the change of the seasons, every moment different. A week or so ago, I awoke to a bright red sky in the early morning. I rushed downstairs in my nightdress to get my iPhone, but by the time I got back upstairs to take the photo the sky had paled to ordinary. Nature changes every moment. In trying to anchor the miracle of that sky in a photo, I almost missed the moment itself.

It’s all about movement. Ben Zander demonstrates this idea of movement most beautifully – and comedically – in his earliest TED Talk, where he plays Mozart and Chopin on the piano – have a look!

Perhaps the most damaging element of stuckness is stories. We are so practised in making sense of our lives through the negative stories we tell ourselves over and over again. We fix our past to make our story publically consumable – even at the expense of our wellbeing. I failed at this because of that. I can’t run because I have weak ankles. Why not instead, I have weak ankles because I don’t run? Is that any less true?

Equilibrium

I read an interesting interview with John Gray this morning, celebrating the publication of his latest book, Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life. Cats, says Gray, “naturally revert to equilibrium whenever they’re not hungry or threatened.” They don’t live in an imagined future.

If you know cats, you’ll recognise their “is-ness”. When a cat is paused ready to pounce, it’s supremely in that moment. When it stretches luxuriantly in the sun, it’s in that moment. Nowhere else. There.

(See my Cat Repose Practice below)

What is fear, what is anxiety, if not living in an imagined future? So I’d say, let’s find examples of now, right now, today, now. For example, as I wrote “now” – just now – the sun broke through – absolutely true – and there it was. Wow. Which suddenly switches on a poem in my brain. Not the first time I’ve quoted R S Thomas, but here it is again:

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Everyday miracles are all around, so let’s keep our eyes and ears open, and pop them in our pocket like pennies in the bank, as we keep moving.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Judy

Also:

Breathe Like a Cat in Repose

This practice comes from my newest book, The Art of Communication

Picture a cat resting in a warm sunny spot, looking
comfortable and relaxed with its body stretched
out. See how its whole body rises and falls with the breath.
For this exercise, lie stretched out in a comfortable warm
place. Feel open and relaxed. Imagine you are that cat in the
sunshine, enjoying the beautiful relaxation of your whole
body and the gentle rise and fall of your breath – nothing
to do, nowhere to go, just the pleasure of this luxurious
moment and the feeling of effortless flowing movement.
The breath comes into your body like a caress. It might even
make you smile. It’s amazing how little you need to do to
breathe fully.

My TEDx Talk 

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

How can you engage with people if you aren’t expressing in your voice what you want to convey? Talking at each other is NOT communication! When you and your voice are one, ah, then you connect powerfully.

Coaching in 2020

Most coaches are used to telephone and video coaching and know how well it works. Without leaving your own home you can engage a coach and grow into a more confident and capable person for your career and relationships. You don’t need to be at a particular level professionally or even have a job to seek out a coach. Coaching takes you where you are at and gives you more self-assurance and sense of being the person you were meant to be.  Don’t hang back because you’re not sure if it’s for you. I can’t think of anyone it doesn’t benefit. If you want an informal chat to find out more, get in touch with me initially at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk.

Simple short ecourses

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

Talks

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

My Books

The Art of Communication
You’ll find my latest 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 endemic, 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.

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0210

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

What is excellent leadership really made of?

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

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

THE MEDITATIONS OF MARCVS AVRELIVS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– which of course is where I started.

Go well!
Judy

Plus

My Books

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

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

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

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

Coaching

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

Talks

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