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

Are You Still in the Game?

never too old ...

never too old …

I just noticed this in a Robert Goddard thriller:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In “The Art of Communication”, I write:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go well,

Judy

What Else?

Out of the Ashes

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

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

Coaching

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

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

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

My other Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

Frog in the Pot – How to Deal with Creeping Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To explore a little, away from our tribe

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

Think and feel for ourselves

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

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

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

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

Go well,

Judy

PLUS

A POEM

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

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

TED

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

BOOKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COACHING

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When You’ve Passed Through All the Lies

Banksy Reading Prison

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go well,

Judy

 

YOU MIGHT ALSO BE INTERESTED IN …

“Voice of Influence” – Voice and Public Speaking Coaching

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

My books, of course

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coaching

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

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