What are the facts? What story are you telling yourself about those facts?

I’ve been thinking recently about perception versus reality, and the way we filter information.  We are bombarded with information through our senses; sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell and if we paid conscious attention to every single piece of information we would rapidly become overwhelmed.  

So the majority of the information is filtered out in various ways and we only pay conscious attention to a small proportion of it.  Those filters might delete information, or they might distort information or they’ll generalise about the information based on our beliefs, values, attitudes, previous experience (memories), decisions we have made or our understanding of language.  

Language is important.  There have been studies which show that only 7% of communication comes from the words we use.  Our body language and the way we use our voice form the greatest part of how we communicate.  However, the words still matter, especially the ones we use to ourselves.

This was really brought home to me a few years ago.  I was asked at fairly short notice to be a steward at an equestrian competition.  This was a Pony Club competition which was also open to adults, so the ages ranged from the 8 year olds to people in their 40s and 50s.  

My job as tack steward was to make the last minute checks that their saddlery was correctly fitted and safe before they set off to jump round the cross-country course.  As tack steward I was the last person they saw before they started, so the adrenaline was kicking in by then.  I saw plenty of white-faced, dry-mouthed and slightly shaky looking individuals come before me.  I would be very bright, breezy and cheerful and chatty.   I would look at the white-faced, slightly clammy competitor in front of me and just ask how they were.  By far the majority of these competitors would tell me they felt sick, or felt nervous or terrified, so I would jolly them along a bit.  Sometimes I would say things like, “How are you feeling?  Bit nervous? You’ll be fine – go out there and enjoy it!”  (Little did I realise at the time that asking whether they were a bit nervous actually would put the idea of being nervous into their heads.) 

So far everyone was responding in much the same way, until a tiny little boy on a tiny grey pony turned up for their tack check.  They were by far the smallest competitors of the day and he looked really pale.  I gave him a big smile and said, “Good morning, how are you today?” He looked at me, smiled back and whispered, “I’m excited!”  

Unlike everyone else I spoke to that morning he was taking the facts (butterflies in his tummy and a dry mouth) and telling himself the story that he was excited.  Every other competitor seemed to be taking those facts and telling themself the story that they were scared.

I’ve never forgotten that little boy and I’m grateful to him for opening my eyes to the importance of the words we use and the stories we tell ourselves. 




Life is a roller coaster…tips for riding the downs with as much style as the ups


Well, this has been a week of ups and downs.  In all honesty, probably a week of more downs than ups and this afternoon (Friday) it seems I have just missed out on two pieces of work, one of which would have been the biggest since I left the corporate world and went out on my own.

So, how am I feeling? It’s Friday afternoon, it’s freezing and things are not going the way I want them to.  I have just heaved a huge sigh and contemplated a cup of tea.  I’ve also contemplated an extra jumper and, quite possibly, a pair of fingerless gloves!  

Then I started thinking about resilience and just how we can ride life’s rollercoaster with as much style when we’re on the downs as when we are on the ups.

Now some people would say that, as a coach and trainer, I shouldn’t be writing about a lack of success.  However, I think this issue of resilience is a really important one…life doesn’t always work out the way we wanted it to.  Recognising that life, like rollercoasters, can sometimes have really big drops is a fundamental step towards riding it with style.

So, here are some tips I use for dealing with days like today…


Accept the reality of the situation.  if things are going badly, pretending they are perfect will not help; if you don’t accept the reality you can’t do anything about it.  Acceptance lets you acknowledge that you want things to be different.  From that point you can start to look for ways to make a change.  For example, if you are overweight and unhappy about it, pretending that you are happy with the way you are does nothing to help you make a change.  You are lieing to yourself and others.  Until you accept that you are not happy with your weight you can’t decide to do something about it.


You’ve accepted the reality of your situation.  Now it’s time to be clear about what you want instead.  You may already have a very clear goal and picture of that.  If so, now is a great time to look at it.  If you don’t have a clear goal now is the time to work on it.  What are you working for? What would a great day look like in 5 years’ time?  Do you know?  Write it down. Be specific, and include how you want to FEEL.  The “juicier” you can make this goal, the more real it feels and the more compelling it will be.  As Henry Ford said, “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal”, so make your goal eyewateringly attractive.  It will help you stay focussed during the times when things aren’t going quite how you want them to.


So, you didn’t get what you wanted.  Does that raise another opportunity?  






Do you want to stop having “Difficult Conversations”? Part 2: 5 Top Tips


So, here we are again.  In Part 1, I wanted to get across the message that

“In this conversation, it’s not all about you; it’s about all of you that are in this conversation”

Whether you agreed with me or not, I’m sure it gave you some food for thought, about the need to think about the other people in the conversation.

So, what else can you do to ensure those Difficult conversations become as straightforward as possible?   Here are Five Top Tips which should make the boxing gloves unnecessary.

  1. Know what you want the OUTCOME of the conversation to be.  FOCUS on that.

    We don’t always have as much time as we would like to plan for some conversations; but there’s always time to take a breath and ask yourself “What do I want to achieve from this conversation?”.   Even if you’re not the one who prompted the conversation, you can still take a moment to ask that question. After all, if you don’t know what you want, how do you know whether you’ve got the right result?

    The next two tips will help you consider the elements that go towards knowing your outcome:

  2. Know what ACTION you want as a result of the conversation.
    Do the people you’re talking to need to DO something?  Do YOU? Make sure you all know WHAT it is, and WHEN it needs to be done, and WHO is responsible. Be specific. Check for understanding.  Most of us are probably familiar with SMART objectives, but have you heard of “PURE” objectives?  I find “PURE” really helpful:

    P = Positively stated 
    What you want. (Not what you don’t want)

    U = Understood  
    Ensure that you, and the others, really understand what this will look and feel like when it is achieved

    R = Relevant  
    Ensuring that the action is congruent with the desired long term outcome

    E = Ethical  
    The best way to ensure the highest standards of business integrity is to be explicit about conforming to the highest standards.  Think that sounds preachy? You only have to look at the recent whirlwind around News International and The News of the World to see the impact of letting ethical standards slide  

  3. Know how you want the other person to FEEL.  

    People may eventually forget what you say, but they alway remember how you make them feel.   In my experience a lot of the relationship breakdowns at work happen because we don’t think about this.  This was a real breakthrough moment for one of my coaching clients. He had a reputation for being very driven, and pretty fiery.  He got his message across, alright, but he left a few casualties.  Often his delivery was pretty brutal because he was feeling the pressure, and the person he was talking to experienced the fallout.  Later on, he would feel terrible about this but there are only so many times you can apologise and be seen to mean it, if you keep doing the same thing.  Once he started to consider how he wanted people to feel as well as what he wanted them to do, he found it much easier to have effective conversations and he built stronger working relationships.

    One of the worst meetings I ever had was one in which I was given an unanticipated promotion and an enormous pay increase!  I left feeling very downcast and wondering how on earth that had happened.  On reflection, I realised that my boss hadn’t thought through the impact of the messages she wanted to deliver.   I suspect that if she had switched the order, and told me about the challenges we faced, the huge raft of project work coming my way, and the opposition she believed we would face
    then told me about the faith she had in my ability to deliver, then used the news about the promotion and the pay increase to reinforce the message, I would have left feeling very differently.  I learned a lot from that meeting.

    Please note:  You can still disagree.  You can still let people know if there is a gap between your expectations and their performance!  Sometimes you don’t want them to go away feeling great! Sometimes you need them to really feel just how serious the situation is. However, I bet you want them to go away feeling able to do something about it. This isn’t about being a lovely fluffy toothless pet of a leader.  It is about being able to get your message across clearly and in such a way that the person you’re talking to feels able to act, and believes they have your support.  Show the people you work with respect, by being honest with them. 

  4. BELIEVE it is possible to reach a good solution

    Your belief about the conversation will have an enormous impact on the way the conversation goes.  This is not just about the power of positive thinking, although that’s important.  We act differently if we believe something is possible.  If you believe it is possible, you will keep looking for solutions until you find one.  You know there is a solution, you just haven’t found it yet.  Conversely, if you don’t believe it is possible, you will stop at the first hurdle.

    Still not convinced?  Ok, think about how this applies to sport.  If you play tennis and you believe you can win matches you will probably a) work to hone your technique b) work on your fitness c) eat well.  In doing these things, you will find that you start to play well, and you notice how well you are playing; this reinforces the belief that you can win matches and, lo and behold, you do!  Conversely, if you don’t believe you can win matches you may not work on your technique (after all, what’s the point?), you probably won’t bother to work on fitness and nutrition for the same reason.  You will notice that you find it pretty hard to get through a whole match, and you notice the bad shots you play: you reinforce the belief that you can’t win matches and, guess what? You don’t.

    The same applies at work.  Change your beliefs and you change your results.  There are a number of ways in which you can work on getting more helpful beliefs, including just choosing to adopt them.  Alternatively, act “as if” you have those beliefs.  (You’ll be amazed how effective that can be.  Back in the 1980s and early 1990s there was a fierce rivalry between Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe.  For some time Lendl was regularly beaten by McEnroe and dreaded playing him.  Lendl changed his approach; he chose to start saying how much he was looking forward to playing McEnroe – and started beating him.)

  5. Give up being “Right”…be “Curious” instead

    In some conversations you might really need to defend an ethical principle.  Standing up for what is legal or moral is one thing; being right just for the sake of proving you are right, is unhelpful.  If you go into your conversation seeking to understand the other person’s point of view you might just learn something useful.

“Being right implies someone else must be wrong.  This requires an enormous amount of energy.  It doesn’t mean you can’t have a point of view, you just don’t need to defend it all the time.  In defenselessness we find invincibility because there is no longer anything to attack.  Being right requires judgement and that can lead to arrogance, isolation, victimisation.  You see the world as you are, others see the world as they are too. Being open and curious to other people’s worlds means we can always learn more…”

Deepak Chopra


So in summary, if you go into a conversation knowing your desired outcome, (consider both actions and feelings), believe you can achieve a good solution and seek to understand the other person’s perspective you will really notice the difference from the old days, when you used to have “Difficult Conversations”.





Do you want to stop having “Difficult Conversations”? Part 1


Has this ever happened to you?  You have to deliver BAD NEWS to someone who works for you. Perhaps 

a) the “Difficult” performance conversation;
b) the “Difficult” death-of-a-project conversation;
c) the “Really Difficult” redundancy conversation; or
d) there is some other form of bad news you need to share 

You get pretty anxious, you have nervous butterflies and maybe you even feel slightly sweaty (not that you’d admit that to just anyone).

Sound familiar?

You’re really not looking forward to it. You know you’ll feel awful.  You don’t want to fall out but you worry that you will.  You just know it’s going to be difficult and you don’t want to do it.  You know you must.  

So, you brace yourself and head off for “The Difficult Conversation”.  Perhaps you always use the same quiet room for difficult conversations.  Perhaps, almost unconsciously, it has become The “Difficult Conversation” Room.

You meet.

(At this point, I’d actually like to congratulate you for having the guts to have the meeting; many people just hope the situation will go away or that someone else will deal with it. So, well done.)

You meet. It’s difficult.  

Surprised? You shouldn’t be.  You’ve engineered it to go badly from the very beginning.  

How?  Well in quite a few ways actually, and many people will tell you that it is because you are focussing on all the things you don’t want.  I’d agree with that; focussing on what you do want is crucially important, but I’d like to take this a stage further.

In the example above, you’re not just focussing on the wrong thing, you’re focussing on the wrong person.


Harsh? Perhaps, and it got your attention, which is good.  Now, let’s think about this a bit further… 

What if you were to tear the sign from the door to The “Difficult Conversation” Room and replace it with another one.   This is now the door to The 

I am going to give this person the information s/he needs, to understand

a) their performance does not meet expectations; or 
b) the project they have put heart and soul into is being canned; or 
c) their job is at risk and the support that is available; or
d) whatever it is they need to understand right now

in a way that makes the message very clear, ensures they have the chance to ask questions and leaves them feeling that they have been treated with respect, and that they know what to do next 


It’s a BIG sign!  Would it change the way you approached the conversation? Would that change of approach lead to better results from the conversation?

In my experience, it would: a few weeks ago I had a bit of a hiccup.  I’d brought someone else in to help with a very specialised piece of work.  It went well; the client got the results they wanted. When I received the invoice, there were some items on there which had not been explicitly agreed. This was going to have an impact on the bottom line.  I needed to address it.  This person is also a friend and I didn’t want to fall out over the issue (recognise this?).  I thought this might be a difficult conversation.

I caught myself thinking that way, so I changed my approach.  I worked out what I wanted, what my fall back position was and HOW I WANTED HIM TO FEEL AT THE END OF THE CONVERSATION, which was that he had been treated with respect and treated fairly.  I planned the discussion that way.   I called him and explained the situation.  As soon as I explained the position, he offered to re-invoice. Easy as that.

You might be thinking, that wasn’t a particularly difficult conversation to have.  You’d be right.  It wasn’t…because I didn’t make it ALL ABOUT ME.  Of course, some of it was about me.  It had to be; I was thinking about what I needed to achieve.  After that, I made it all about him and he was the one who suggested a solution.

Often, the most difficult conversations we have at work are the ones where someone’s job is at stake.  I’ve cringed while sitting alongside a manager whose opening words before telling someone they were going to be made redundant were, “This is as painful for me as it is for you.”  I cringed for a couple of reasons, 1) it was all about him, and 2) I didn’t believe it.

Of course we feel bad about telling someone that sort of news.  In fact, the day you can do it with no feeling at all, you should probably move out of management – because you’ve become a robot. The point is that meeting wasn’t about the manager; it should have been about the person on the receiving end of the news.  

  • About what they needed to know.  
  • About what the implications were.  
  • About getting answers to their questions. 
  • About knowing where to go if questions occurred to them later on.  (Let’s face it, in that situation they’re not going to take a lot in at first)

There are lots of ways of handling “Difficult Conversations”, and part 2 of this blog will include some useful further tips.  However the next time you are going to have a conversation (“difficult” or otherwise), I want you to remember that:


Go forth and have successful conversations!


Part 2 coming soon




“Overall he seemed very comfortable with the approach that we are taking and did not see any reason to create blockers to any decision we might move forward on, but he did call out some good focus points for us to remember, most of which we will have to hard bake into the mobilisation and transition process.”


How do you handle adversity… are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

What do you do when things get tough?  Do you see it as a challenge, an opportunity, or a disaster?  
Here are 5 top tips for handling hard times
1 Find the good in the situation.

There is good in any situation…as long as you look for it.  Finding the good in the situation changes the way you view it.   Perhaps you’ve had an encounter with someone who was really rude.  The good news might be that it makes you appreciate your spouse more.  I had knee surgery a couple of years ago and the world-renowned surgeon was possibly the rudest person on the planet; the good I found in that situation was the recognition that I’d rather have a knee surgeon who was great with knees and lousy with people than the other way round! 
About a year ago I was talking to a friend who was working incredibly long hours in her senior job.  When she had severe chest pains and suspected a heart attack, her first thought was, “Oh good; I’m in hospital, I’ll get some rest!”

2 Treat it as an opportunity to learn

Ask yourself, “What do I need to learn?”.  If you’ve just had an encounter with the rudest person on the planet you have a choice; you can grumble about it and let that person spoil your day or you can choose to see it as an opportunity to learn how to handle rude people.  Which makes you happier?
The over-worked friend I mentioned above, had needed that health scare to learn that she’d prefer a heart attack to the job she was doing! She made some very significant changes and is now much happier.

This year the Help for Heroes charity again held a 300 mile Battlefield Bike Ride. On that bike ride was an American solder who had lost both legs.  That soldier said it was the best thing that had ever happened to him.  He does so much more now; he learned how precious life is, and he learned to make the most of every opportunity. 


And finally…Carrots, Eggs and Coffee
A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her.  She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up.  She was tired of fighting and struggling.  It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen, filled three pots with water and placed them on the hob until they came to boil.  She put carrots in one, eggs in the second and ground coffee beans in the third.  She sat and watched them boil, without saying a word. After 20 minutes she took the pots off the hob.  She fished the carrots out and put them on a plate; she took the eggs out and put them in a bowl.  Then she ladled the coffee into a bowl.  She turned to her daughter and asked, “What do you see?”
Her daughter said, not unreasonably, “Carrots, eggs and coffee.”  
The mother brought her closer to the table and asked her to feel the carrots; she noted they were soft.  The mother then asked her to take an egg and break it; after pulling off the shell she observed the hard-boiled egg.  Finally, the mother asked her daughter to sip the coffee; the daughter breathed in the aroma, took a sip and smiled at the rich flavour.
She turned to her mother and asked “So, what are you trying to tell me?”

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same situation, boiling water.  After 20 minutes in boiling water the hard carrot had become soft and weak. The thin outer shell of the egg had protected its liquid interior but, after 20 minutes in the boiling water, that soft centre became hard.  The ground coffee beans, however, had released their flavour and fragrance into the boiling water and had changed the water into strong coffee.
Facing the same situation, each reacted differently.
“Which are you?” she asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?”

If you know who first told this story, let me know, so that I can give them credit on my blog.  I’d never heard it before. 

Ask yourself; Am I a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?  The next time you find yourself in hot water, consider the following ways to change your situation for the better:


Confidence, Clarity, Communication

Some weeks ago one of my clients asked if I could run some training on Communication and Presentation skills, to help a number of their people who had all been shortlisted for industry awards.  

Being a helpful soul, I said yes and asked for more details of the training needs.  I did some research, spoke to previous winners so that I could understand the judging process and, of course, “what good looks like” for their industry.  Everyone who had been shortlisted for the awards had achieved fantastic results, so their progress through to the finals was likely to be dictated by their ability to tell a compelling story.

I combined forces with a friend who specialises in corporate communications, and media training, as I felt that together we could give the trainees a great experience and set them up beautifully for the judging process.  

We ran two separate days training, so that we could keep to a small class size and therefore give them as much individual attention as possible.  We asked trainees to send us their draft presentations a few days prior to the training