Friday, 18 May 2018

Get Your Clients Unstuck

Tomorrow, I'll be speaking at the International NLP Conference on the subject of 'Getting Your Clients Unstuck'. It's a practical workshop in how to get your clients past the obstacles and barriers that hold them back from achieving their goals. The underlying principles are complex, but the tool I'll be sharing in the workshop is very easy to use because it integrates all of those complex principles for you. It's called The Unsticker.

When we ask questions which are relevant to the client’s problem or goal, we are immediately constrained by the reasons for the problem, or the barriers to achieving the goal. A goal is something, perhaps a state or a tangible outcome which the client does not have, which means that there are reasons why they don’t have it.

You might think that maybe they just haven’t gotten round to it yet, or they’ve only just started to think about it. However, their life has everything in it that they want, even though what they have right now may or may not be relevant for their long term plans.

As soon as you start asking powerful coaching questions about the goal, the problem or even the present state, you become part of the client’s current reality, which makes it so much harder to change that reality. You can only influence the client’s reality by staying on the outside.

The Unsticker isn’t the only way to do that, but it saves you years of coaching training and practice, so it’s as good a place as any to start.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Changing Perceptions

I've been working with high potential future leaders for a few years and a subject that keeps coming up is behavioural change.

The first thing to reassure them of is that they don't have to change their behaviour - they already have too many behavioural choices, that's not the issue, the issue is their awareness of context. All they have to do is change their focus. When their focus changes, their perception changes, their decisions change and their behaviour changes.

However, that's all very well and good, and they'll get better results, with less time and less stress, within a limited area of influence; their direct contacts, friends and family. One client said to me this morning that even his relationship with his wife has improved and his colleagues want to know what drugs he's taking that have made him so much easier to work with.

The bigger challenge, from a long term career perspective, is how to manage the perceptions that others have.

Outside of your direct circle of influence are people who you don't have daily contact with, but who influence decisions which affect your future. These people form opinions on you, based on your behaviour and, specifically, how your behaviour affects them. The more strongly they feel about the impact of your behaviour, the more strongly they will defend their opinion of you.

Here's the problem. When those opinions are well founded, they're hard to change, and that limits your career growth. Perhaps you have been disengaged, or disruptive, or confrontational in meetings. As a result, even if you were factually correct, no-one cares. As I learnt on my very first training course in 1985, no-one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

When the subject of your promotion comes up for discussion, these influential people will raise their objections, and you will be passed over again, and there is nothing that you can do about it.

Or is there?

When you're making changes that affect not only yourself but also others, you have to recognise that you not simply operating within a system - you are an intrinsic part of that system. Therefore, any changes that you make affect you, and they affect others too, and you hardly ever take that into consideration.

When another person has an opinion of you, that opinion is well-founded, at least in their eyes, and their opinion becomes the filter through which they will perceive everything that you do. If someone thinks you're an idiot, or you're lazy, or you're confrontational, or opinionated, or aggressive, that's the lens through which they interpret everything that you do. And because they are outside of your daily contact network, you have very limited opportunities to change that.

What you need to do is draw their attention to the changes you're making, and engage them in that process. After all, they are engaged in your career choices, and you therefore want them to use that influence in a different way.

Getting someone to notice and engage with the changes you're making is easy, there are just four simple steps to follow. Having said that, you must be consistent, if you contradict the changes you've committed to, you will do even more harm to your reputation.

Here are those four simple steps:

Acknowledge their experience of you
Acknowledge the impact of your behaviour
Commit to change
Ask for their help

And now, a little more detail:

Acknowledge their experience of you

Don't justify, argue or defend. They have an opinion, you don't like it, you shouldn't have done the things to make them form it. "I know that you think that I am X". No edge, no angle, just acknowledgement of a fact.

Acknowledge the impact of your behaviour

Don't justify, argue or defend. Their opinion is based on how they feel. Maybe you caused problems, or embarrassed them, or made them feel disrespected. Move on. "I know that X had an impact on you, I know that I caused you Y."

Commit to change

"I am making a real effort to change this, because I know it's important for me and the people I work with."

Ask for their help

"And I would like your help to do this."

Of course, all of this has to be honest and consistent. You have to actually be committed to the process of change, and you have to recognise that you don't live on an island; you are connected to the people around you, and you influence each other. At the same time, you can't expect other people to notice when you change something, they have their own priorities to worry about. So if you want to make a change really work for you and the people who are important to you, get their help.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Just Say No. Maybe.

I'm currently working with a group of senior managers in a global business, plus a few private coaching clients, who seem to be facing the same issue - not having enough time to do all the things they need to do.
Time is a strange commodity. We treat it as if it's a real asset, something that we can touch and own and protect, and which we can give or sell to others. However, time is a perception, and therefore the passage of and value of time is subjective.

My clients tell me that they are too busy, that they have trouble prioritising, that they rush to complete tasks, that they work reactively, and that the person who always suffers from this is themselves.

Fundamentally, they see other people's deadlines as fixed, and their own personal time as flexible. So they give, and give, and give, until there is nothing left to give.

They think that they get a pay-off from saying 'yes' to everything that comes their way. They think that they are thought more highly of, that they will have better prospects for promotion, that their clients will see them as responsive and dynamic.

Here's the funny thing. If you show what a great job you're doing by taking on more, and more, and more work, and you get a promotion on that basis, what do you think your promotion will entail? 

More work!

You know what you want to do - you want to say no. You want to push back on the endless torrent of demands on your time. You want space to breathe - maybe even a day off. Maybe even a holiday. But instead, you put the kids to bed and get your laptop out, and when your phone pings with an email at midnight, you take a quick look, and your family go down to the beach while you join just a quick conference call.

The problem is that you don't like to say 'no', because you're worried that people might think you're unhelpful, or that you're not committed.

Worse than that, that's not even true. The truth is that you create this situation, you create this dependency because the constant stream of requests for your valuable expertise and opinion makes you feel needed, even valuable. Or at least, it did when the level was manageable. Now it's just getting out of hand.

What's the solution? You can't say yes, because that piles more pressure on you. You can't say no because what would people think of you.

There is an alternative, and it's something that I came up with about 15 years ago, and I've been teaching it to my coaching clients ever since with results that even in the past month they have described as "amazing".

You'll probably laugh, or kick yourself, when you find out how easy it is.

The fundamental problem is that in order to feel valuable, you give your time away freely. However, if your time actually was valuable, you wouldn't give it away. You would trade it for something of equal value. This process of trading value in order to achieve a mutually agreeable outcome is called, of course, negotiation.

How do we start any negotiation? With the word 'if'. If I do this for you, will you do that for me? If I give you this, will you give me that in return? If I introduce you to three other people, will you reduce the price? That kind of thing.

Usually, people are very bad at negotiating because they think it's the same as haggling, which it isn't. Haggling is only about price, and it usually involves someone giving away profit for nothing in return. It's what you do in souvenir markets on holiday where the seller has inflated the price in anticipation of you haggling.

Negotiation means that you consider all the variables which are under your control, and you include all of them in the negotiation. Fundamentally, negotiating is based on the belief that everything you're trading has value.

Here's how simple this is to implement in your everyday working life:

Demanding colleague: "Hey, how are you? Can you take on this extra work for me?"

You: "Yes, if you can either speak with my boss first to clear the time it will take, or help me out by doing some preparation work."

You will now hear one of two general responses.

Demanding colleague: "OK, no problem, I'll help you with that."


Demanding colleague: "Erm... don't worry, I'll do it myself"

Either way, your reputation as an awesome, helpful team player is intact, because your first word was 'yes', and your workload is reduced because either your commitment is now realistic, or you don't have to take the work on. It's a win-win for you.

Here are some things that you can negotiate from the person making the request:

  • They do some of the work themselves
  • They get your boss to free up some of your time by removing other tasks
  • They find other resources to help you
  • They get someone else to do the whole thing, or do it themselves
  • They do something for you in return
  • They bring you pizza/chocolates/wine/etc as payment in kind
  • They extend their timescales
  • They reduce the scope of their request
  • They lower their expectations of quality
  • They reset their customers expectation in line with what you can deliver

What you will find, based on feedback from hundreds of people who have tested this method, is that by introducing the idea that your time and expertise has a cost, it becomes more valuable and the other person realises that they don't just get it for free. What you can also find is that the only reason they ever asked you before was not because you're the best person for the job, or they really valued your work, but because asking you was simply easier than doing it themselves, and as long as you never pushed back, they were happy to keep piling more work on you. That's hardly fair, is it?

Now that you're establishing a cost for your time, you have created value, and that is what makes you feel valued and valuable, and good about yourself.

Isn't that worth having?

Give it a try. Whenever someone asks you to do something for them, reply with, "Yes, if...."

Have fun!