I was at a Napier University Event at the Scottish Parliament last night – I’m alumni of Napier and it holds a special place as one of the four Universities in Edinburgh – much of the emphasis is on knowledge & research into practice – linking students with commerce & work, but with an academic underpinning. It’s a model that worked well for me when they put me on placement in HR at Russell Athletic and I was shadowed by an excellent HR professional, who really helped me see how the theory needs to be adapted and used lightly to fit with the reality of the HR Practice ( a Twitter conversation I sort of had with @HR_Cass recently about using SWOT & PESTLE lightly… anyway)
Professor Helen Francis is passionate about dialogue. Through Napier University business School and the Edinburgh Institute, she is looking to set up a cadre of practitioners that can work with big business and SME’s in Scotland to improve the quality of conversation, raise the capacity for holding difference and debate in the workplace and get a better working life for the majority of people in organisations. This is music to my ears. I attended her Professorial debut a few weeks ago where she mapped her research and thinking for the future and I got really enthused about what could be on offer here in Scotland. Helen used to tutor me when I studied my CIPD at Napier, back in the day and I have the utmost respect for her, so I sought her out at the Scottish Parliament event we attended last night.
We started talking Dialogue – what fuchsiablue is up to, what Napier & the Edinburgh Institute are up to – and we reached a conversation about David Kantor’s 4 player model of conversation ( a foundation stone in some of the work we do – much like the GROW model in Coaching or SWOT in strategy). I’m fond of the Kantor model. I like it’s simplicity, it’s fluidity…. so I’m nodding as we talk about how this can be used….
and then we reach a point in the conversation where Helen is talking about a questionnaire and tool to help measure the extent to which folk move, follow, bystand….. and how we can use this tool to analyse conversation in organisations and offer gap analysis to Boards… and I made this noise: ” nooooooooooooooooooo” and then I blushed deeply…..
here was my response ( not all spoken out)
Please? Please not another tool to measure and analyse? Not another MBTI/ Here is your box solution? Please don’t let’s keep going to Boards and pointing out the gaps? Please let’s not do this with Dialogue? My Dialogue is lively and human and contextual. My Dialogue depends on who is in the room, who speaks, who shuts up. It is dynamic and unpredictable. It is emergent and creative and connected and argumentative and edgy. As a practitioner, I want to be able to stand in front of Boards and say quite simply and categorically that you cannot measure the dynamic of a team. You can watch it and nurture it and nudge it and challenge it but you cannot quantify it.
this is about joie de vivre, je ne sais quoi, magic, chemistry – the chemical reaction you have in your body when you are angry or lit up. The chemical reaction I had in my body when I said NO and blushed to the roots of my hair at the boundary I’d overstepped.
Please? Can we just trust ourselves as human beings that we “know” intuitively, intellectually, emotionally – what is going on around us and whether that is right or wrong, with out a measuring stick or a sodding tick box?
And trusting ourselves, can we then go back to leaders and Boards and shareholders and say “you know what? this just doesn’t feel right”
Oh Lord… I can Hear John Lennon again…..
At 15:09 on April 29th 2012, I posted the first ever fuchsia blue blog post.… ( I will always be indebted to Niall Gavin @niallgavinuk for nudging me to be brave & publish the thing that Sunday afternoon)
So I’m indulging myself in a wee moment of reflection. As I read back over old posts, I see snapshots of moments in time – small glimpses of my thinking – how some of that has moved on, how some of it has remained, how some of it has grown deeper and more solid.
Throughout the year, I have strived to be an authentic voice – blogging what I notice and experience, placing that into the virtual world with some care and hope that it will generate thought, comment or pause, perhaps.
A massive thank you to all readers, contributors, supporters and challengers.
What next then?
See Blog post: What’s your Contribution? Right now, I’m interested in curating stories and gathering folks’ contributions to the question:
Please do drop in and comment – so far there are themes of being human, compassionate, honest, curious, appreciating difference, being able to challenge without harsh judgement, holding a lightness of touch and working with humour.
PS: Reasons I love the Twitter community: thank you to Simon Heath @SimonHeath1 for the following Birthday Blog gift:
There seemed to be lot of interest and comments on this week’s blog post, which is always satisfying.
And there were some great examples of how people are contributing – what they are bringing to organisations or organisational conversations…..
and yet I find I want to re-press the point, ask again to see what comes back from readers of the fuchsia blue blog:
What is your contribution to being agile or adaptable in your work? What do you bring to your work conversations that is different or useful or necessary?
Are you innovative? Do your bring order? A good grip on data & measurements? Are you provocative? Political? Can you raise a smile in the midst of heavy conversations? Do you handle conflict well? Can you sit with difference? Is it good public speaking? Or the ability to have small, trust-filled conversations? DO you have a fantastic eye for commercial potential? can you tap into the “feel” of a conversation well? Do you bring compassion? Practicality? A particular interest?
I’m looking for the marvellousness and the minutiae. What do you bring?
I’m asking because I’m genuinely interested . I suspect your stories will be lifting. I suspect there are wonderful positive stories from people about what differences and contributions people are bringing to their work space.
I’m particularly mindful there were no comments from women, this week, other than via DM or conversation and I REALLY want to bring those voices forward, because I don’t feel I have and have a suspicion there is a rich narrative there.
and in case anyone is feeling self-conscious about stating their contribution, I offer Come To The Edge as an enticement
Come to the edge.
We can’t. We’re afraid.
Come to the edge.
We can’t. We will fall!
Come to the edge.
And they came.
And he pushed them. And they flew.
So. Friday/ Weekend invitation to bring your contribution stories here. I would, simply, love to hear from you.
“We live in a “vuca”world….it stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous and it is being used as a short hand for what I think of as our new normal. In such a world, there has to be a huge premium for organisations that can understand and respond rapidly to changes or new trends by being agile and adaptable….” Peter Cheese, CEO of CIPD, Welcome note in People Management magazine, April 2013
I read this editorial and was lifted and a little cynical all at the same time. Lifted at the acknowledgement of complexity and ambiguity in organisations, because I experience working in complex, adaptive client environments where politics, budget, tradition, culture, pace, apathy, enthusiasm etc all influence how well or badly something is delivered (if at all). Lifted also because the words agile and adaptable are appealing, somehow –
they speak to me of a working environment which is functioning, healthy, where there is a swiftness and smoothness of movement and decisions, where folk can innovate where needed and this is seen as a good thing.
And I’m cynical for all the same reasons. As a consultant, I have the privilege of working with a number of different organisations and cultures simultaneously, so comparing and contrasting what is out there is kind of inevitable. On the whole? I’d say agility is altruistic and that my cynicism is founded in feeling the enormity of the task: How do we make whole organisations agile and adaptable?
In truth, I struggle to get my head round the “whole organisation” question. It feels huge. I’m not sure I can do much with a whole organisation ( Is there such as thing as an organisation? Hmm… another blog post, perhaps) – but I can work with people who will influence and shape their world. I can work to have conversations that can pack a punch across a business….perhaps that is the best anyone can do?
I’m thinking that, as we work in complex adaptive spaces, surely we need complex, adaptive responses? Yes, we need learning technologies and innovations that allow our businesses to be cutting edge and informed… but who will run and ensure that the technologies and innovations work? It’s people. Brilliant, bored, excited, stubborn, pissed off, playful, serious, awkward, destructive, creative amazing people.
What’s my contribution?
My response to a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous is that we must help people live, talk and work in that world well. But this made me think. What do I bring? What am I offering to the Organisational, UK plc, HR/OD/L&D conversation? If the call is being put out for those who will support agility and adaptability, what is my contribution to that?
I’m increasingly taking up a space that revolves around getting people to talk with more confidence and consideration in their day to day work. The Dialogue work I am so passionate about is compelling because it is so simple: in conversation you can advocate a point of view (in favour or against) or you can inquire into what is being presented (asking more, opening up thinking). You might think of it as tell/ask. You might think of it as push/pull. What happens though is there is a dance, a complex, adaptive, ambiguous conversational dance between the advocating & inquiring. We make tiny conversational choices (or great big old bold ones) to advocate or to inquire and these impact and influence those around us.
When you begin to understand your conversational dance moves, you feel more confident, more able to try new moves, more able to dance well with others. It is compellingly simple, elegant, complex and clumsy all at the same time.
Whether it is one-to-one coaching conversations, or group work using dialogue (and I’m about to risk bull sh*t word bingo here), my client work typically revolves around building people’s capacity to be resilient in the face of ambiguity and recognise their own brilliance and staying-power in environments that can feel hostile, volatile or confusing. You get individuals to see their worth, their contribution and the value they bring to the organisational party? You enable people to speak for or against a course of action with some clarity, confidence and conviction? Well then bring on the complexity and ambiguity, my friend, it will not faze.
What I bring is a little old fashioned – my stuff is about communication, talking, relating, being considerate and compassionate in the world. Oh and challenging well. Really well. Being able to put your opposition to an idea across with care and conviction so you are heard. Actually? Perhaps my stuff isn’t old fashioned… perhaps it’s classic.
My contribution to support living in a “vuca” world well and to the request to support leaders and managers to be rapidly responsive and agile, is a constant invitation to the people I work with to be “human” (see above – brilliant, stubborn etc) and to talk well with others. In order to work, my contribution also needs to be supported by those who can add technology in the mix, those who are creative, those who have the capacity to deal with data and finances brilliantly. I am part of the overall system – contributing and relying on others to support or challenge me. In a complex world, I don’t have a panacea or a simple answer( and nor does anyone else, Guru, Thought Leader or “Expert”).
I do, however, have a contribution to make in a “vuca” world.
And I’m interested. What is yours?
Further action :
Please comment below or contact me if you want to discuss further.
Further reading :
David Rock’s work on Quiet Leadership (particularly the Dance Toward Insight chapters)
David Bohm’s Dialogue work ( See article Dialogue: a Proposal here)
In the second Guest Blog on Dialogue for fuchsia blue, Gemma Reucroft (@HR_Gem on Twitter) writes on talking well and not so well in organisations. I was lucky enough to meet Gemma in person at the Manchester L&D connect event in March and I’m looking forward to more conversations with her about employee relations and how we generate varied, fair and strong conversations in the workplace.
Her blogs are insightful, candid and wonderfully readable – a must for anyone who wants honest human insight into organisational life. I’m delighted she offered to guest here. Enjoy:
When Julie tweeted about talking well in organisations, I’ll confess that my first thoughts were actually of examples where the opposite has occurred. Talking badly if you will, or perhaps not talking at all. Every HR professional has I’m sure picked up the pieces of poor conversations, or simply the lack of them.
The first manager that came to mind was actually a bully. The conversations he had with his team were aggressive and inappropriate. When he talked to his managers, most of his conversations started with the sentence ‘tell me why’. He would then lead into picking apart whatever was going on in the business at the time, constantly questioning their decisions and dismissing their answers. There was no dialogue, he simply talked at them. The people he was talking too would shift in their seat. They would sweat and stumble over their words. Grown men would visibly shrink in stature as the conversation progressed. How do I know this? Because the manager in question sat in the middle of an open plan office, and that is where he conducted his 121s. It was my first role in HR, and I didn’t have the confidence or experience do to something about it, but I’ve never forgotten how listening to those conversations made me feel. Is it surprising to know that this manager got results? Results by fear, but results. He is still talked about today in that business.
The other manager that came to mind is one that many HR professionals will recognise. He was the manager that has performance issues with an individual, but just hadn’t dealt with them. He knows what he should have done, he just hadn’t done it. Poor performance had gone unremarked, the employee was blissfully unaware that he wasn’t delivering. Objectives had not been clearly set, and feedback had not been timely, if at all. It got to the point that the manager couldn’t tolerate it any longer, and tried to cram a year’s worth of performance problems into one appraisal meeting. It went wrong and then he arrived at HR looking for a quick solution. I guess we have all seen a variation on this theme. A case of not talking at all. I ended up talking to the employee while trying to facilitate a resolution to the problem. How did he feel? Confused.
Writing this blog has reminded me of one of my favourite quotes from Maya Angelou: ‘people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’.
What we say is important – words have great power and so do managers. We all know the theory; proper SMART objectives, giving timely feedback, being honest and authentic as a manager, good quality performance appraisals. There is nothing new in this list, but you do need to make sure that line managers have the tools and techniques. What you say and how you say it is important, but it is the feeling that those words leave you with that will resonate longer than what is actually said.
fuchsiablue offers training to support and improve dialogue and conversations in organisations. For more info contact firstname.lastname@example.org
image courtesy of behappy.me .
Here is the first ever Guest Blog for fuchsia blue. Amanda Ridings has been mentor, teacher and friend to me since we met at a dinner in Edinburgh and I subsequently attended Pause for Breath in the glorious Scottish Borders 4 years ago. (details of this years P4B are on the link below. If you are thinking about any sort of personal development or gaining some thinking time this year, it is worth enquiring into)
Amanda is author of the award winning book Pause for Breath: bringing the practices of mindfulness and dialogue to leadership conversations (She saysPractice 10 and Practice 33 are particularly relevant to this post.)
.…begins with listening well, at least in my experience!
By listening well, I mean becoming aware of how I listen, and how I don’t listen, and seeking to really listen, in a way that is profound and respects another person’s perspective and potential.
When I was taking my early steps in my own deeper development, I read a passage, in a somewhat unexpected book, that evoked in me a visceral sense of how I wanted to be received, and understood:‘He listened in the way that we dream of others listening, his face seeming to reflect on everything said. He did not start forward to seize on my slightest pause, to assert an understanding of something before the thought was finished, or to argue with a swift, irresistible impulse – the things which often make dialogue impossible.’ Anne Rice, Interview with a Vampire.
Looking back, I wonder whether it was this passage that inspired me to begin exploring dialogue. In a world where it can seem hard to find people who have the time to listen at all, what would it be like if more of us made a commitment to try and listen well?
For me, listening well involves listening externally to what someone is saying, and also listening internally to the response being evoked in me – what am I thinking, what am I experiencing, what am I sensing? Skilfulness lies in bringing ‘just right’ attention to both others and self, alighting on each with what one of my clients calls a ‘butterfly touch’, and moving between them in the right kind of balance.
For example, I might be listening to a request for support from an associate, and wanting to meet that request yet feeling uncomfortable for some reason. Internally I have both a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’. To listen well, it helps me if I ‘note’ these internal responses, and return my attention to listening to my associate. If I am not able to find this balance, I may get caught up in an internal story of being ‘caught’ between ‘yes’ and ‘no’, becoming anxious about what I will say when they eventually stop speaking. My premise, drawing on Leadership Embodiment principles, is that the other person will sense my involvement in my own concerns, and ‘know’ that they are no longer being heard. Any connection will be diluted in that moment.
If I can find a skilful balance, I’ll enter the conversation only when they have finished speaking. At this point I have choices. I might:
- Ask for more information and/or seek more understanding – why are they requesting support? How did they come to think of me? What options have they considered? This might help me weigh the balance between my ‘yes’ and my ‘no’.
- Offer my current experience – I would like to support you, and yet I feel uncomfortable because…This allows the other person to understand the impact of their request on me, which they can then factor into their perspective.
There are other options, of course. Many will be variations on a theme of bringing more information into the field of the conversation in a way that allows for further exploration.
As well as attending to the whereabouts of our attention, listening well also involves calibrating the intensity of it: too much can feel smothering, or like pressure, and too little can seem like disinterest or lack of care. There is a ‘goldilocks zone’ for attention, where we accept what is said, and hold it lightly, and with respect, even though we may disagree or feel unsettled. In doing this, another person will ‘know’ that we hear and acknowledge them, just as they sense if we get caught up in our own concerns.
The intensity and whereabouts of our attention are just two factors that influence the quality of our listening. In our humanness, there are many ways we distract ourselves from listening well, or misinterpret what we hear, or overlay our own map of the world inappropriately on someone else’s perspective. To listen really well, we need to develop awareness of our particular human foibles and how they colour what we hear. However, to begin to listen well may take only intent and a little mindfulness.
The potential rewards of making a commitment to begin to listen well are great. Listening well means that you hear not only what someone says, but also the way they say it, and what they might be leaving unsaid, possibly to protect themselves, or you. Listening well to another offers the opportunity to make an appropriate and skilful response. To make the most of this, it helps to pause, and to listen well to ourselves: what are we thinking and feeling, truly? This moment of presence to our own experience creates the opening to speak with authenticity, even if we are concerned about how we might be received. If we embrace this opening, we will indeed ‘talk well’.
Amanda Ridings, Originate,
If you would like to explore the ideas in this post, please consider joining the Pause for Breath leadership retreat (13 to 17 May, Scottish Borders).
For free, see my blog!
Every year, it’s the snowdrops that make me smile. I see them, valiantly popping out of frost-covered ground and I know that the long, dark winter nights will shift soon and there will be spring, warmth, regeneration….
Later, there will be daffodils and bluebells and summer blooms, all of which I adore and welcome…. But it is always those little white snowdrops – small, ground-hugging and quietly tenacious that lift me most.
What I like about snowdrops is their quietness. Where daffs & bluebells can be a bit “taaa daaah!!” snowdrops seem to .. just appear… and yet in their quiet way they herald something bigger – a larger change, a seasonal adjustment…
The notion of quiet change is very much on the cards here at FBHQ.
One quiet change is for me to get back to blogging. I hadn’t realised it’s been weeks since I last wrote. The other is long-promised guest blog series, which will be posted throughout March. The theme is primarily on “talking well” to support the ongoing Exploring Dialogue work fuchsiablue is committed to. Another quiet change is to blog about the recent Exploring Dialogue Sessions run in London and Edinburgh, I’m still processing some of the thoughts from the sessions, though…
There are other changes – FBHQ relocating, the beginning of the MSc dissertation process, new clients and the start of training for a 100k cycle in June…. But these are a bit more daffodil/ bluebell and for now, this blog post is designed to be more snowdrop – a quiet popping up to say : change is afoot… look out world
Image thanks to J Bartlett