April 2016


Encouragement not feedback

encouragement not feedback

Encouragement not feedback

Now I know that encouragement is a form of feedback but for most people when they hear the word feedback what they think of is criticism. And to be fair we all like to put our tuppence in when we see someone do something that we think should be better; myself included. So why encouragement not feedback?

The problem is that what we hope to achieve and what we actually achieve tend to be far removed. Now there are normally two reasons why you give someone feedback, particularly unsolicited feedback. The first, and more charitable, reason is that we actually want them to do better, we want them to improve their skills and the outcomes they get from doing whatever it is that they do.

Great idea just not great in practice

Now this is a great motivation for giving feedback but the problem is that more often than not we don’t actually achieve this. In the first instance if we haven’t been asked for feedback then what we actually do is alienate people. When we do something new, we naturally feel nervous about doing it. We get concerned that we might make a fool of ourselves and damage our reputation and what we are expecting from someone giving us feedback is confirmation that we have done exactly that. Public speaking is a great example: when we first stand in front of a group of people we assume that everyone will think we are rubbish at what we do. If the first thing that you says to someone afterwards is critical then their viewpoint is reinforced. Now people try and cheat by saying something nice to start with and then lay in with the criticism, the problem here is that we only hear the criticism because it reinforces what we were already thinking.

The same is true if we have actually asked people for feedback after the event. So this ultimately has the same effect of reinforcing the negative view that we might have and makes us even more reticent to do that activity again.

Not such a great idea, for anyone

The other reason why people give feedback is to make themselves seem more important, intelligent, generally better than the other person. Now if this is your aim then again you fail, you may make the other person think less of themselves but all they are left thinking of you is resentment. they won’t think of you as a wise teacher, they’ll think of you as an arse because at the end of the day that’s what you are being.

So why encouragement?

So how can you do encouragement whilst at the same time being sincere and actually helping people improve? We have to slightly change our approach to improvement, most people learn to be better at doing something by actually doing it. So our motivation for feedback should be that the person actually wants to do that thing again. In the example of public speaking our aim is that the person wants to speak in public again. This has two benefits: one being that the through preparing to speak again they will learn new things that will help them be better, without you having to say anything specific at all. The other is that once a person has changed their mindset going into an activity the more they are open to suggestions afterwards.

This is where language comes in.

I posted a video on my website a while ago about your ‘but getting in the way’. In it, I talked about how when you use the word ‘but’ in feedback, it negates everything you said before so instead use the word ‘and’ to build upon what someone has done not to demolish what someone has achieved.

So next time you feel tempted to give someone some feedback, think again and think about how you can encourage them instead. Remember it’s about encouragement, not feedback.

Should you be ditching your customers?

Should you be ditching your customers?

Should you be ditching your customers?

I was having a conversation the other day with one of my clients and they were moaning about one of their customers. This person was never happy with what they did for them, they always haggled over price and were more demanding that anyone else they worked with. Now I wouldn’t normally encourage people to moan about their customers but I sensed they just needed to blow off some steam. Once he was done I felt that I needed to ask him why he was still working for them and I wasn’t surprised by the answer; he needed the money. So many of our bad decisions get made by false economies, we trade our long-term happiness and success for short term cash.

You have to put food on the table

Now I can get that, after all, we all have to put food on the table but consider the most likely outcome. However hard you try, the work you produce for the pain-in-the-arse client is never going to be your best work. You won’t be able to do it as quickly or as easily as you should, you’ll always end up putting on the bottom of the pile. So what ends up happening is the clients ditch us, they don’t come back for further work and they certainly don’t recommend us to other people. So all that work and stress actually puts our business in a worse place in the end. It’s ok though because you’ve earned a few quid.

Missing out

Next, because we are working on the negative piece of business we miss out on other opportunities to work with the clients who do love what we do, are prepared to pay full price and ultimately will recommend us to other people. Either because we don’t have the time or energy to recognise these opportunities or because we are in such a bad mood that we drive these people away. This is the bigger problem because this is where the real growth opportunities within our business lie.

So what else stops us doing it?

It reminds me a little bit of me as a young teenage boy dating, in fact, it’s similar to the way that so many of us may have approached dating when we were younger. You go out with someone for a little while and realise that it’s not really working, rather than have an honest conversation about it, we start acting in a way that that will annoy the other person. Why because we want the other person to do the break-up, we can then be the victim; the one whose been let down. We can court the sympathy of others and feel like we’ve won the moral battle. Mainly it stops us having to initiate a difficult conversation, you don’t have to take responsibility for ditching the other person.

It’s so easy to act this way with our customers as well. If we don’t want to do the work we leave it to the last minute, we rush the work, we delay in phoning people back or responding to emails, we make up excuses for things rather than fixing them. Generally, we act like a bad boyfriend (or girlfriend) just so we don’t have to deal with the conversation, you don’t have to take responsibility for ditching your customers.

What you should do

If you’ve got a customer (and I’ll bet you’ll have several) who don’t get you, don’t appreciate what you do and aren’t happy paying you then ditch them. Have that difficult conversation to saying that it’s not working out, admit that you won’t be able to help them the way they want. The least that will happen is that you stop wasting your time but you might find the respect you more for it. If you have the right connections you might know someone who would love to have that person as a client and that way you can do everyone a favour.


Why your business coach isn’t your boss

Your Business Coach isn't your boss

Why your business coach isn’t your boss

I see an increasing trend of people who have started their business after many years of working for a large organisation. Ex-corporates who have either been made redundant one too many times or have left the rat race to get a better balance in their life (I’m one myself). In my experience, those who want to do well tend to seek the advice of professional business advisors. Whether a business coach or mentor or maybe even your accountant, they look for someone who can help them develop a better business. This is often where things can start to go wrong.

Filling the void

When you spend a long time in a particular situation it can be very easy to get comfortable with it. Whilst your boss can often be on the top of your list of reasons why you left work, having a boss can seem like an attractive idea. Particularly when that boss is an idealised version of what a boss should be. We convince ourselves that a boss who we’ve hired and who we pay could be a great solution. This is where so many business coaches come in. We are offered accountability, advice, support, knowledge, experience and so many other things that we need when starting and running a successful business, so we put that advisor or coach in the role of our new boss. We just need to be careful that this doesn’t come at a price.

Independence Day

The day that you start your own business is your independence day, the start of something new that you control, something that you are in charge of and you own. So no matter what happens in your business this is the one thing that you should never give up. Having a boss is exactly that, it’s giving up your ability to make your own decisions, it’s giving up your ability to control your own destiny. So you might wonder why anyone in this situation would want a boss or why anyone would accept this kind of working relationship.

So who fault is that?

The answer is that fault lies on both sides of the relationship. The reason why people relinquish control to someone else for the decisions is that in doing so we have a safety net in place, we have someone to blame if things don’t go the way that we want. We want someone to lead us because it is a lot more challenging to lead ourselves

The other side of the coin is that many business coaches and advisors are ex-corporates themselves. They have spent years managing staff as well as fulfilling their own job role and expertise. So when faced with someone who wants/needs their help they fall back into the leader/manager role, one in which they have been comfortable for so long.

So what’s the solution?

Whether you’re a business advisor or someone who is looking for support in developing your business, it is still important to seek advice and support but to do so you have to forge a new kind of relationship. It’s not about boss and employee, nor is it about expert and novice, it is two individuals coming together to create something that neither of them could on their own. The act of co-creation makes every business interaction unique and every relationship unique. This is how we can develop a business relationship where both parties are equal and both get the true benefit from working with each other.

If you’ve just hired a business coach and realised that you got another boss then sack this one as well and hire yourself a co-creator. Someone who views you as an equal in the relationship and will let you stay in charge of your own business.

Every day is a school day

Every day is a school day, find out who to make the most of the valuable trying opportunities that happen every day.

Every day is a school day

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression that ‘every day is a school day’, well I was having a conversation the other day with someone who was feeling frustrated that they never had enough time for training. They knew that they needed to learn new skills, to pick up new ideas and techniques but they just didn’t have enough time. They kept seeing training courses that they wanted to go on but couldn’t spare the time out of their business. Whilst it was only a day here and there it was just too much time for them to be not earning money.

“You just need to prioritise” (?)

Now most people’s first response to this would be that you need to prioritise your own development, you need to make sure that you’re paying as much attention to yourself as you do to your customers and staff. In one sense I completely agree, we should prioritise ourselves. Without us, there wouldn’t be a business. Without our own development, you limit the opportunity for business development. So yes you need to find the time for self-improvement, yes you need to take the time to go on courses, webinars and training programmes.

Missing the point

In another sense though it completely misses the point and means that you will miss out on loads of opportunities. Over 90% of our learning takes place outside of a formal training environment, outside of a classroom or training event. Those opportunities lie in the people that you meet and the conversations that you have. Every day we have the opportunity to talk to other business owners, other people who are going through and have already gone through the very same issues that each one of us faces in our business. The great thing about talking to other people is that every person you meet will know something that you don’t. There is every chance that they will have tried things that we haven’t thought of and found solutions to problems that we may not have even experienced yet.

Greatest source of learning

Our greatest source of learning exists in the everyday moments, the interactions that we have with our customers, the conversations we have when we are out networking and the experiences that we have when going about our daily business. It’s these opportunities that we need to make sure that we are making the most of, these opportunities that we need to make sure we do not miss. They do not take us out of our business, they do not take us away from where we feel we should really be, in fact, they ground us in our business and ensure that every opportunity helps our business at every stage.

So the next time you’re worried that you don’t have enough time during the week for training, enough time to develop yourself, remember that every day is a school day. Every day is full of opportunities to learn something new.

Be Yourself

Be Yourself - Probably the most and least helpful advice ever.

“Be Yourself”

‘Be Yourself’ This is probably one of the most and least helpful pieces of advice that anyone can ever give you and one which is bandied about more than any other. You see it plastered over Facebook and Twitter; people offer it up as the answer to all your problems. For most people it’s just not that easy. A while ago people used the term authentic to describe everything from their brand, their leadership behaviour to their shoes or jeans. Now people talk about ‘being yourself’. Be yourself; in your job, your business, your relationships and practically every other part of your life. So why is it so unhelpful? Why do we struggle to follow what seems like the most simple piece of advice?

Lack of Awareness

As individuals, we all lack a good level of self-awareness; most of us aren’t born with a clear sense of who we are and what our purpose is in life. Furthermore, only a little amount of time is spent schools and society helping people to answer these two questions. Much of our life is about trying to get us to conform to be like everyone else; we can so easily lose sight of what makes us an individual, what makes us special and unique.

And if you don’t know who you truly are, then how will you know what to be like.

We don’t like what we see

The second thing is that what little we do know about ourselves includes lots of things that we don’t like. Whether it is the way that we look, the way that we sound or even our skills and abilities, there are always areas in which we wished we were better. There is also the problem of feeling like we don’t fit in. Through learning more about ourselves, we realise that we are different from those around us. Rather than delighting in this, it can so easily make us feel that we need to change to be like other people. So we may want to love ourselves but we want to love a better version of ourselves, a version that is more like those around us. Therefore, until we improve we find it hard to love ourselves as we are.

And when you don’t love yourself, it is almost impossible to be yourself.

So how can you do it?

Knowing yourself

Firstly you need to find out more about yourself. Take every opportunity to develop your self-awareness, to learn more about your strengths, abilities and the things that you like. We can do this in so many ways; through personality and strength-based tests, through coaching and mentoring programmes or simply by asking people whom you trust for feedback. Over time, you will build up a picture of how other people see you and what your true capabilities are. You can test each of the things that you discover against your own experiences so you continue to develop and ever increasing knowledge of who you truly are.

Loving yourself

Secondly, you need to learn to love yourself as you are. I’m not saying that it’s not important to try and improved yourself, to learn new things and new skills. Loving yourself is different from being satisfied with yourself. What’s important is to accept that at any particular moment you are who you are, that you will always make mistakes and you cannot be perfect all the time. What’s interesting about this, is that it is true for everyone else as well. Accept yourself as a work in progress, as a person who is getting there but is on a journey. Forgive yourself when things do go wrong and when you have made a mistake. Commit yourself to constantly improving, to learning from each of your experiences whether good or bad.

So next time someone tells you to ‘be yourself’, think about how you can know yourself more and how you can love who you are more.

(PS the next time you feel tempted to tell some someone else to ‘be themselves’, think how you can help them to know themselves more or love who they are more)

Lazy Conversations

Lazy Conversations - Have you ever been in a conversation when the other person just isn't trying?

Have you ever been in lazy conversation? Lazy conversations are ones where you realise the other person just isn’t trying, they’re just going through the motions and are not really interested in what the other person is saying. Even worse is one where neither of you is trying.

We have lazy conversations all the time with dentists, people randomly on a train; people who we have no real connection with but we feel we need to fill the awkward silence. It’s fine to do that if you want, the problem comes when you find you’re doing this in a situation where it actually matters.

What do lazy conversations look like?

So what does it actually look like in practice, well image you are talking to someone and they are asking you a series of questions about what you do, where you live or are from. These are exploratory questions where most people are looking for something that means that they can talk more about themselves. A way of turning the conversation onto themselves and what is important to them.

To stop lazy conversations from happening you need to go deeper into a topic or subject, allow the person to share more about themselves. Rather than looking for an opportunity to talk about yourself, look for opportunities to help other people talk more about themselves. Look for the tell-tale signs that let you know you have hit a topic of interest for that person and go with that, even if it means that you don’t get to share the interesting story about yourself or the witty insightful comment. Remember sometimes it’s not about you.

Why should you avoid lazy conversations?

Now the are lots of selfish reason why you should do this, the main one being that they become a much easier prospect to sell to when the time is right. However, the most important reason for acting this way is that you might actually make a genuine connection.

When you are self-employed it’s not always easy to make genuine connections, we spend most of our time working alone. The people that we meet we keep at arms length to protect ourselves and our business. We don’t easily make allies in what we do because we are fearful of making perceived enemies. I can understand that but sometimes you just have to take a risk.

So next time you are having a conversation with someone stop trying to find ways in which you can talk more but find ways in which you can listen better.