3 tools to help you decide what’s best for you right now
You are in a job you’ve had for a while. Some things are going well, you might love your team or the work that you do or the location, but something isn’t quite right. You try to ignore the niggles because there is so much that you like about the job that it seems ungrateful to even think about the downsides. Every so often, especially in the middle of the night, you try to weigh up your options and make a decision only to flip back into uncertainty minutes/hours/days later. Sound familiar?
I have a few tools that can help you make up your mind:
1. Pros and cons
This is an old favourite but don’t let that put you off because it works. List out what is great and what is not good about each option. Try and be as thorough as you can be, so that you tease out all the genuinely good and bad things about your current place of work versus going elsewhere.
2. Ask your future self for advice
Imagine you could speak to your older, wiser self and ask their advice on this dilemma. What would he/she say? Sit down in a nice quiet spot, take a few slow deep breaths and imagine travelling in time to visit yourself in your later years. Take your time and enjoy the journey and try to take note of the detail of your future life. Ask your elder self to advise you on what you should do now. You may be surprised with the advice you get!
3. Cartesian questions
René Descartes (1596-1650) was a French mathematician, scientist, and philosopher. Aside from his famous pronouncement “I think, therefore I am” he also invented a method of deductive reasoning that consists of four rules: (1) accept nothing as true that is not self-evident, (2) divide problems into their simplest parts, (3) solve problems by proceeding from simple to complex, and (4) recheck the reasoning.
You can use that logic to ask yourself the following questions about each side of your dilemma:
The questions are designed to go from straightforward to totally confounding, which helps flip a mental switch and moves people into a much more creative state of mind.
I hope you find these tools useful. I often use them myself or with clients. I'd love to hear your experiences of using them!
I have always had mixed feelings about agile product development. Agile is sold as being the way to “increase success rates in software development, improve quality and speed to market, and boost the motivation and productivity of IT teams” (HBR, 2016). Its not that I am in any way a fan of the “waterfall” method, its just that I am dubious about an approach that is largely dictated by rituals. I have seen many teams follow all the routines and deliver diabolically poor outcomes, because the process in and of itself can never control the output if the foundational thinking is either absent or flawed in the first place.
I am also dubious about a way of working that mimics team harmony without having a good understanding of what makes a great team and how to grow one. My experience of working in high performing teams naturally followed a lot of the agile processes: regular updates with other team members to make sure we all knew what each of us was doing (and not doing) and a good rhythm of planning and examining progress. So far, so agile, but what I believe a significant amount of agile teams lack are the emotional elements that contribute to great team performance
In the Google team study (2015), they found that there were five key dynamics that set successful teams apart from other teams:
Agile only really focusses on the 3rd element - structure & clarity - and treats the others as optional whereas Google noted that the psychological safety to be the most critical and influential element of all. And that is why I think Agile is not the answer: its an element but relying on it as the way to get to great outcomes is like hoping a car chassis will be all you need to make a 100 mile journey - without the wheels and the engine, you are not going to succeed!
The other four elements of high performing teams need to be acknowledged as being key contributors of good outcomes and good, skilled team coaching can build the environment that is needed for them to grow. Currently team coaches are hired purely based on their agile qualifications. No certificate? No job! Any checks on team building capabilities? A “nice to have” at best.
I say its time to talk about all the elements of team building and not just focus on 1/5th of it. Who is with me?
Image: D&D Beyond
When was the last time you...
...lost your temper and later wondered how that even happened?
...said yes when you knew you should have said no?
...went on FaceBook for ‘a minute’ and stayed for a few hours?
...said you’d start a diet and then ate a piece of cake?
... were hijacked by your saboteurs?
Our saboteur thoughts come from our early years, when life was confusing and sometimes scary. How ever good or bad our childhoods were, each of us came up with simple guidelines to try and stay safe. Rules like "don't make adults angry" or "don't make mistakes" or "lie low and you'll stay out of trouble" and somehow, we cruised into adulthood without ever checking that those edicts still hold water. And, because they have been with us all our lives, we trust them implicitly. Middle-aged me can be intimidated by people with a certain kind of confident demeanour because my inner child instantly sees them as as being more powerful than I am. Effectively, we're all following a map that has parts that were laid out by our five year old selves and we wonder why we sometimes get stuck in the mud.
I have yet to meet someone who is saboteur-free so its great news that there is a tool that can help us all defeat them. Rooted firmly in neuroscience, cognitive and positive psychology, and performance science, Positive Intelligence is a easy-to-adopt protocol, neatly slotted into an app, that can reduce the unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours all of us have picked up in some way during our childhoods and replace them with positive, constructive thought strategies,
It consists of three steps that work together to rewire your brain to make new default behaviours:
There are 10 saboteurs and each of us have all of them to some degree, with some being more influential than others for each of us. Here is a brief summary of each of them:
If you are interested in finding out more about it you can:
Disclosure: I was invited to be one of the first cohort of coaches, called PQ pioneers, who trained with Shirzad Chamine, the creator of the program, and are still working with him to develop a way to spread the word and bring this amazing tool to the world.
TL;DR - make sure that your behaviour doesn’t inadvertently trigger a threat response in other people!
Neuroscience tells us that our desire to minimise threat and maximise reward is what motivates our behaviour. And the part of our brain that governs this is our most primitive brain, the amygdala, which also looks after our basic survival needs. This totally makes sense from a species development perspective - we need to be able to quickly discern what is dangerous and what will help us thrive. It turns out, according to the SCARF model (Rock, 2008), that co-locating these two functions in the limbic system means that we respond to social threats and rewards in a similar way to physical threats and rewards. We are very quick to decide if something is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for us and take action accordingly. In fact, that part of the brain can react faster than we can actually think, so its more of a reflex than a conscious thought.
The SCARF model looks at our lighting fast responses to 5 areas of human social experience: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness and how humans process information in those areas in order to decide if someone else is a friend or a foe. The model was originally interpreted in an organisational context, to help leaders engage with their teams better but it has potential for much wider application.
There is research that suggests higher status individuals (also seen in ape communities) live longer than others, due to having lower baseline cortisol levels. Many animal social units are structured around just one adult male in the group, to ensure genetic survival and any threat to that is fiercely defended. Being higher status also helps to guarantee increased access to basics like food, water and shelter - and often much more than that as well.
With survival at stake, we do not respond well to threats to our place in the social pecking order. It activates the parts of the brain involved in the perception of physical pain. Sometimes the 'threat' is unintentional: giving advice and offering criticism are the types of experiences that are interpreted as a status challenge and thus seen as being highly dangerous. On the other hand, praise, recognition, promotion, responsibility and access to information are seen as rewards and with this insight its easy to see how the way that we treat people will be interpreted by them at an instinctive level and cause cause them to respond in a way that that can have a huge impact on our own survival.
In order to not over tax or brain resources, we tend to rely on pattern matching to identify situations where we need to focus more intently. Which is why its possible conduct familiar tasks on auto-pilot and almost be mentally elsewhere, for example, while driving a car on a routine journey. Unexpected events, like a dog crossing the road, jolts us back into consciousness. When humans are in situations where they can’t relax into a comfortable predictable pattern, they experience ongoing low level stress, which impairs the function of the orbital frontal cortex. The impact of this is not insignificant because it can significantly reduce productivity.
Conversely, certainty triggers dopamine, the reward hormone. We can create a sense of certainty by, where possible, being clear about what is going to happen, establishing and sticking to routines and keeping people up to date.
Research indicates that loss of autonomy - the ability to have some control over one’s environment - can impact our cognitive ability, mental health and ultimately our physical health. Being micromanaged can trigger a threat response and being in a team basically invites less autonomy due to the need to cooperate and work together. Giving people choice and a sense of control can minimise the threat response and even increase a sense of getting a reward.
Being part of a group was, for our ancestors, a matter of life or death and exclusion was a terrifying punishment. Humans are very skilled at assessing whether someone is safe to trust or not. Relatedness is our sense of safety with others and being part of a group. Lack of relatedness, when a person feels excluded, can reduce creativity, commitment and collaboration - essentially, they withdraw.
When a person feels connected with others, Oxitocyn is released and creativity, commitment and collaboration increase. We can make people feel more included in a range of ways, from shaking hands to exchanging a bit of small talk and, in a work context, including them in conversations and making decisions.
A number of studies have shown that fairness is an important motivator for us and is intrinsically rewarding to humans. A perceived increase in fairness and a financial reward both activate the same part of the brain. A sense of unfairness lights up the same part of the brain that responds to disgust and can be the motivator for political struggles and more.
Unfairness at work can affect mental and physical health. To avoid triggering a threat response based on unfairness, be clear about rules, the logic that drives decisions like task allocation and reward structures.
The SCARF model can be applied in many areas of life, from self-management, to educational and leadership development. Once we understand why we and others feel threatened, we are able to use alternative strategies that focus on the reward response to get the outcomes we are looking for.
The dictionary definition of resilience is: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity. It's a subject of great interest at the moment because many of us are having our ability to "bounce back" tested by the coronavirus.
A model that comes up a lot is Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief theory, which was published in the late 1960's. Her experience with terminally ill patients led her to observe a pattern of thinking that people go through when facing death either themselves or in a loved one. This theory was later found to apply to all kinds of personal loss including disability, redundancy, divorce and financial problems. It's not a linear process: people can go through it at any pace, in any order and often experience cycles of it.
These are the phases:
Image courtesy of Narayana Health
I grew up in a household where logic and rationality were valued and rewarded. Emotions, along with acting in ones own self-interest were seen as disdainful, weak and embarrassing. As a result, I have not only spent decades priding myself on keeping my needs and feelings in check, I believed that getting emotional at work - crying - was up there with the top 3 career killing moves of all time. Something to be avoided at all costs, along with yelling at your boss or turning up drunk (although the severity of this may depend on the company culture and the country you work in!)
Over the years, while I revelled in my skill at remaining rational and unemotional at all costs, especially at work, I began to have nagging doubts about whether the life plan I was following was actually the right one for me. I began to wonder if I was really pursuing my own dreams and whether my goals were truly mine or not. I would torture myself with the question of what would I do if I won the lottery and didn’t need to work for a living. None of the answers I gave myself, other than developing cirrhosis of the liver, seemed genuine and believable. It certainly made me feel a bit pointless.
From time to time, I found myself in a situation that encouraged reflection and consideration of purpose, my instinctive response is that I wanted to get better at “following my heart” - which felt at the time like it was locked away in a inaccessible vault - so that I could understand my purpose in life and be the real me. I tried for many years to spring the lock and get access to my true feelings.
Like the story of the Golden Buddha in Wat Traimit, that was hidden in plain sight by ugly concrete and protected from Burmese invaders, it turns out that my feelings had been plastered over by a ton of beliefs I picked up as a child, that may never have been true and were definitely not useful to me as an adult. A few things have helped me strip back the layers and tune into my heart. I thought I would share them here:
As someone who is setting up a new business, I know I need to make a lot of noise about it so that people know I am here and what I have to offer. I was doing pretty well on that front, especially for an introvert, but that stopped as soon as we went into lockdown.
Looking back at my silence, I realise it was prompted by a number of factors
I work with a lot of people who struggle with stakeholder management. They spend a lot of energy beating their head against a brick wall trying to get their boss/budget holder/leader to think differently. As almost all of my clients are digital, agile, user-centred people, they have the key to unlock this particular problem firmly in their pockets but they seem to have forgotten that it’s there. It’s going to be even more important now that we are all working remotely as its harder to build relationships at a distance.
When it comes to product management, people are very accustomed to exploring users’ needs, interviewing and observing users and collating insights so that they and the team can easily step into the user's shoes at will. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a product in development that does not test with users incredibly frequently, to make sure all new features are useful and usable.
My suggestion to you is to take this same user-centred approach to stakeholder management. You need to treat them like you would any other user of the system you are working on and observe your boss/budget holder/leader until you know exactly what makes them tick. You might even want to make a persona for them, just as you would any other user! Making life easier for them must be a priority for you!
Your research needs to uncover:
Once you understand your boss/budget holder/leader, take a look at the subject you are championing or campaigning for and see it through their eyes. From that perspective, consider how important is going to be to them. If you were your boss/budget holder/leader, would you still be pushing for the same things as you do now?
I’d love to hear thoughts on this, especially from people who have tried it!
Otherwise, what's your secret to handling tricky stakeholders?
There are a wide array of tools for assessing where you are in life, for taking stock. There are tools for assessing everything from your personality, to your strengths and emotional health. And they can be incredibly useful and offer great insight and guidance. But, as with all tools, it's important to have a clear idea of what you want to get out of them before you start. Otherwise, armed with a hammer, you run the risk of treating all problems as if they were nails.
My favourite starting point for taking stock is to take a measure of where you are right now, in a holistic sense, to answer the question “how are you doing in all areas of your life?”. The Wheel of Life is a great tool for that. In its most basic form, it is a circle divided into 8 sections. Each section is devoted to an area of your life. The wheel can be used at a very high level so that the 8 areas cover the whole of your life or it can be adapted to a specific area, like work, so that you look at work specific areas. Essentially, you rate each area of your life on a scale of 1-10. By getting it out of your head and on to paper, you are able to see how you are doing and how important that is to you. It helps you decide what needs your attention and offers a glimpse of what might happen if you chose not to pay attention.
My other favourite tool is a values assessment. Values define who we are and what matters to us. When we find ourselves in situations where our values are compromised, we can become stressed and anxious. When we hold goals that are in conflict with our values or don’t address enough of our values, we tend to procrastinate because the tension stops us being able to make progress. Values do change over time depending on circumstances. By being aware of our values, we are in a better position to:
Use this list to identify the 10 values that are most important to you. Then order them in terms of their importance to you.
We operate in a competitive world and it’s important to be able to step out of bed each morning feeling good about ourselves. Here are a few tips on how to tap into your confidence reserves.
Self confidence is a sense of believing in oneself. The American Psychological Association defines it as “trust in one’s abilities, capacities, and judgment”. My personal experience of confidence is that it fluctuates so that similar situations can affect me in very different ways. It's definitely contextual - certain people or situations can cause me to fiercely doubt myself whereas other circumstances make me feel superhuman.
Being less confident (as opposed to being less able!) impacts on the jobs we get, the salaries we are paid and, ultimately, the life we have. No order there is a strong link between low self esteem and mental health. It seems that 50% of our confidence is hard wired. In studies with baby monkeys, infants without the confidence gene that were raised by unsupportive mothers were less confident when they reached adulthood. Conversely, the infants with the confidence gene, faired well irrespective of the parenting experience they had. Interesting, but that only accounts for 50%.
For the remaining 50%, we can work on rewiring our brains so that we dial down the doubt, the negative self talk and let the world see our best, most radiant side. Here are a couple of things you can do to feel more confident.
Activity 1 - Three Good Things
A key to confidence is feeling good about ourselves. We need to see ourselves in a good light in order to project that positivity elsewhere. Barbara Fredrickson, psychology professor at the University of N. Carolina and author of Positivity, “positivity doesn't just change the contents of your mind...It widens the span of possibilities that you see.”
Over the course of a week, make a note each day of 3 things that you influenced to have positive outcome, like supporting a colleague when they asked for your help or donating money to charity. At the end of the week, look back over your notes and see how you feel. Repeat as necessary.
Activity 2 - Power posing
For a quick confidence boost, use Amy Cuddy’s power posing method which allows physical posturing to influence self perception. Essentially, if you can spend 2 minutes (this can be done in a bathroom cubicle, if necessary) standing in a “high-power” position (arms high and wide, legs wide, like a super-hero) for at least 2 minutes, you can temporarily change your body chemistry and actually feel more confident.
In another study, she identified the qualities that were most likely to lead to success in the Dragons Den as being “confidence, comfort level, and passionate enthusiasm”. In addition, she discovered that positive posturing (such as standing confidently) can impact on our memories about ourselves, which influences the way we see ourselves.
So time to remember how great you really are and all the good you bring to the world, stand tall and - when you need an extra boost - channel your super hero and get your confidence power!
User-centred. Digital Transformation. Coach.