Our Internal Parent/Child



This tip is not directly about a difficult conversation, but I hope it will be relevant and useful anyway.

A colleague of mine was telling me how he needed to better understand the concepts of Transactional Analysis and particular the part which talks about our Ego states when relating to other people. You may have heard of these Egos namely Parent (Critical or Nurturing), Adult and Child (Adapted or Natural).

In a nutshell, we all lurch from one ego state to another often triggered by our own habits or the perceived behaviour of the other person. For example when giving somebody some feedback we may find ourselves talking down to that person and ‘telling them off’. This would be our Critical Parent kicking in and is likely to ‘hook’ a Child response (such as “that’s not fair”) from the other person.

Back to my colleague. He was telling me how tedious he was finding the reading and that he was unconvinced it wasn’t a load of @*^&!

He also said he was having to resist a huge temptation just to throw the book away and do something else much more interesting.

I asked him from which Ego state did he think these ‘voices’ were coming from? He understood immediately that this was his ‘Internal Child’ wanting to go out and play. At this point, he said, “so then I must resist these and definitely finish the book, however, tough that is”.

The answer, of course, is probably not because where might the ‘voice’ demanding completion be coming from? Probably his ‘Internal Parent’ in response to the ‘naughty’ Child.

The ideal Ego state to be in (usually) is the Adult. This deals with the here and now. It is interested in facts and relevance. So, perhaps the right thing to do would be to read some of the chapters, make some notes and then bounce some thoughts off somebody else.

Without realising it, I think my colleague experienced all three Ego states without relating to anybody else at all. Maybe he unconsciously chose the Adult path by picking up the phone to me and hopefully is now somewhat clearer.

The top tip therefore for almost all conversations but definitely difficult conversations is to avoid slipping into Parent/Child and try and stay Adult (even if the other person doesn’t). Eventually, they will have to join you Adult to Adult.

Read more on the Reality blog

Always Check your Facts

About this time last week I was relaxing on holiday in Turkey gently floating on a lilo in the stunning infinity pool. A sudden yell from my wife, a few feet away, interrupted my reverie as I heard her shout “that person has taken Agy’s (my daughter’s) towel from her sun lounger”. As I looked up I saw her pointing at the figure of a young man disappearing from the poolside carrying a blue towel and heading swiftly in the direction of some lodges. “Quick” she said, “go after him” and instinctively I swam to the edge of the pool hauled myself out and gingerly trotted up the path feeling the red hot paving under my feet.

“Hey you” I optimistically called out but the culprit was by now turning into a small garden seemingly unaware of my pursuit. As I reached the garden I called again and this time he turned around in surprise as he was unlocking the door. “You have taken my daughters towel” I said, hoping that my voice sounded assertive even though I knew I was slightly panting from the exertions. The man looked perplexed and said nothing as I reached out and took the offending item from him.

Upon returning poolside my wife somewhat sheepishly now advised me that in fact it was from a neighbouring sun bed that the towel had been retrieved and indeed Agy’s was where she had left it!

Had I double checked my source’s information I could have avoided one difficult conversation (let alone the comical sight of me running and the resulting burnt soles). As it was I now had to face up to a second potentially difficult conversation!

Fortunately the young man had not yet rounded up his larger relatives (he turned out to be one of a party of Russians) and I was able to mumble an apology and thrust the towel back into his arms before scarpering.

So let this be a lesson – always check your facts especially if they emanate from a third party however sincerely given.

blue towel

Beware Multiple Questions

set of hand drawn arrows and speech bubbles on cardboard  background, vector illustration

set of hand drawn arrows and speech bubbles on cardboard background, vector illustration

A common mistake made by managers when giving feedback is to ask questions which are unclear. This can easily make the conversation more difficult than it should have been.

Let me give you an example:

“Fred, I have noticed you have been late in submitting your figures for the last two weeks and this is having a knock-on impact delaying the new marketing campaign.”

(so far so good)

“What’s the problem? Is it to do with the new software or is it because you are waiting on Jim in sales? Is there anything I need to know and how can I help?”

(Fred now has a choice of which question to answer and will probably plump for the easiest)

“Thanks boss, no everything is now under control and I will let you know if I need any help.”

The result of the above exchange is minimal. The manager is none the wiser about what has happened and Fred is none the wiser as to what the manager wants him to do in future.

A much better question would have been:

“What’s the problem?”

(Fred talks about the situation and you listen, before asking a second question)

“What do you need to do to ensure your figures are always submitted on time in future?”

Multiple questions do not help the person receiving the feedback so keep your questions short, simple and only ask one at a time.

Team Types in Action

I introduced Belbin’s team types to a group this week and maybe because of that session my ME preference was more finely tuned than usual. ME stands for ‘Monitor Evaluator’ and is that person with a quality focus who is good at spotting mistakes before they become disasters.

I received a package of slidepacks for a workshop in 2 weeks time and usually I wouldn’t unwrap the materials until much nearer the day. However, on this occasion the weight of the parcel just seemed wrong, far heavier than expected for a dozen 24 page sets. Thank goodness I looked. Every set had been double printed and in the wrong format with the wrong page numbers.

Happily a quick call to the printers confirmed their mistake (the first in 3 years) and a reprint and delivery was scheduled for next week.

My challenge now is to summon up a bit more of one of my lower team type preferences and to finish writing up some coaching notes by G&T O’clock!

My lower preference team type is CF………………… ‘Completer Finisher’ of course.

Dealing with Setbacks

Over the last few weeks I’ve been dipping in and out of the BBC coverage of the Winter Olympics. I’m a keen skier so enjoyed the downhill and slalom events, and was also drawn to the lunacy end of the spectrum with the snowboarding “slopestyle” contest – I think the people who do this must have some sort of “fear chip” that’s missing from their brain…………and that’s probably what my next blog will be about!

Anyhow what many of the events highlighted for me were the small margins between success and failure, and in particular how participants cope with the latter. I saw the interviews with Elise Christie (Speed Skating) and Andrew Musgrave (Cross Country Skiing). Here were two athletes who had genuine medal hopes. Christie was ranked in the world top 3 in 2 of her 3 events, and Musgrave had just won in Norway prior to the Olympics and was expected to win a medal. Christie was disqualified in her events – twice for minute infringements, and the third time, somewhat bafflingly for being knocked over by another skater! Musgrave came 29th and when interviewed had no excuse other than to say “I just had no energy”. For these two competitors, and countless others who went into the games with high hopes, there was no sense of “being proud to represent my country and doing my best”, just desolation that the culmination of 4 years intense training was to come away with nothing.

So how do athletes deal with setbacks,  this sense of disappointment or “failure” (to put a stronger more emotive tag on it – which some, of course, will)?

And of course, this isn’t just about elite athletes, it’s about everyday occurrences that happen to everybody at some stage in their home and work lives, and sometimes with an undesired frequency too. How do you “bounce-back”, and find the agility or strategy to recover from adversity? It’s not just a question at individual level, but for smaller and larger groupings of people too – families, teams and organisations.

I remember vividly a conversation I had with an ex-boss of mine who, in the midst of what was then a high flying career, was suddenly ousted from his job quite nastily by a somewhat unscrupulous executive who clearly saw him as a threat. I asked him how he dealing with it and he said “I’m fine – I happen to believe there are a multitude of roles out there that I can probably do better than the person currently doing them so I have no worries about my future”! Now one might call this arrogance, but fundamentally he was completely self-confident and aware of his worth. How many of us share that same level of confidence about ourselves and our futures?  Why is that?

Over the years we’ve worked with many individuals at various levels within various organisations and often use Emotional Intelligence as a profiling instrument as part of our toolkit. It has uncovered many reasons for people’s uncertainties, and how their present, and their future performance is effected by these. Used alongside other tools and activities it starts to unpick how we feel, how we think, and how we manage those thoughts and feelings. There are many other angles that can be combined here too, to provide a powerful set of insights into the way we cope with the cards we are dealt and help us be better at it. Our colleagues in one of our partner organisations have developed further insights into what they term as “personal resilience” that include looking at our physical make up and wellbeing and how this influences our ability to cope with adversity.

The evidence as to the detriment to health that is caused by mental anguish, worry and stress is overwhelming.  What is perhaps less well known is the detriment to individual and business performance in the workplace. But the research has been done – and recent information from 3 different sources (CIPD, BUPA and Gallup) are conclusive in showing a direct causal link between the way organisations and individuals deal with these things and their resultant performance.

So – I finish with a question “how effective are you or your organisation at dealing with setbacks, worry, concerns and burn-out?”

Performance Fluctuation (Part 1)

In one of my recent blogs I used some examples from the football Premier League to discuss the relative responsibility for performance in the workplace between the manager and the player (direct report).

I’d like to continue to use the world of sport to illustrate the theme of this blog – the causes of Performance Fluctuation.  Let’s take some well-known names from across a wider spectrum of sport:-

Golf: TIger Woods, David Duval, Lee Westwood, Karen Stupples, Michelle Wie

Tennis: Laura Robson, Sabine Lisicki, Serena and Venus Williams, Richard Gasguet, Roger Federer

Cricket: The entire English men’s team

Football: Most of the Manchester United team

So what do all these people have in common? The answer is that they have all performed quite brilliantly either for a point in time or consistently over a period in time but likewise all performed extraordinarily poorly (by their relative standards) at other points, or in some cases continued periods, in time.

Why does this happen? It would be completely reasonable to understand that no-one can be brilliant 100% of the time – but some of the variances in the people above aren’t seeing them slip from peak performance at 100% to a “90%” rating – they are seeing 100% to less than 50% in performance terms – and some are worse. David Duval’s fall from the top of the golfing world to having to scavenge a living on regional tour events in the USA is well documented but I’m not sure anyone could really explain why.

So what happens in your workplace? How consistent are you in performing at the top of your game each day, each week? What about your colleagues and team members?  Have you ever sat down at the end of a week and looked at what you actually achieved in that week…………and then made a really honest call about whether you could have achieved an awful lot more?  What about people that we manage, or what about those people that manage us? Are they consistently brilliant?

What is it that gets in the way or causes our performance to fluctuate over time?

In the sporting world, it’s easy to pin (relative) failure on injury and that is of course totally reasonable. Andy Murray had back surgery last year and played no tournaments. In his first tournament back in 2014 he lost to a much lower ranked player  – and most people would probably accept you can’t return to 100% in your first tournament after such a lay off (Rafael Nadal’s 2013 somewhat the exception and all the more remarkable because of it).  But in the world of business it would be unusual to be able to pin “injury” as a reason!

In the next blog I’m going to suggest some reasons for Performance Fluctuations – and some thoughts on how to prevent or cure them………………….but the first step has to be recognition of the issue.

So, go on, take a good objective look at yourself and your colleagues – are you and they consistently performing somewhere between 90 & 100% of their true capability?

What’s getting in the way?

Team Performance and the impact of Leadership

Whilst I would not describe myself as a massive football fan, I do follow the results and watch many of the games in the Premiership and Europe. To me, football, like many other team sports, provides its own microclimate within which we can observe leadership, management, and team and individual performance. It is quite difficult to get such observer insights in many other industries  – typically whether we are working inside or with a business, we can only observe that particular business’s managers, teams and individuals.

 So – some musings over performances so far this season:

 Let’s start with Manchester United – I think most armchair pundits would make a good case to justify that any new leader (David Moyes) taking over from an outgoing leader (Sir Alex Ferguson) who had been in charge for 26 years, may just take a little time to settle in, and that such a change may well be justification for United’s somewhat inconsistent, and for them, poor, performance so far this season.

 But for me, it raises a really crucial question and that is “where does the real reason for the poor performance of the team lie”?

 The newspapers and media, have been fairly quick to suggest that Ferguson’s team actually overachieved last season when they won the league and that this season’s league position and results more fairly reflects a team that lacks star quality across the positions. So their inference is that it was the Leader who made the difference. Is this true though? To what extent is it fair to burden success or failure on the manager/leader? If we look at the rest of the Premiership, we’ve already had Martin Jol, Ian Holloway, Steve Clarke and most recently AVB sacked from their respective clubs because of poor results and there are many betting websites, somewhat cruelly, lining up odds for the next casualty.

 So is this right? Is it the managers fault when (their) teams don’t perform? I think that the leader does clearly have to take some responsibility and it’s perfectly reasonable to assess them against a set of leadership qualities and skills, but they can’t play the game once the starting whistle blows.

 My view is that Football also provides a stunning example of a business where individual under performance is tolerated and where the consequences for that performance are insubstantial.

 I’ve lost count of the number of times, even in a single 90 minute game, where I see players, many of whom are paid £100,000+, a week, unable to complete even the most simple of tasks such as passing a ball to someone wearing the same colour shirt over a distance of less than 10 yards. Players taking corners and free kicks where they hit the first defender, players who are supposed to be attackers, shirking all responsibility for shooting or taking on a defender and instead going backwards or sideways. We don’t generally see their names emblazoned in the press the next day when the team fails.

From a football perspective my view is that perhaps it’s about time we did?

But what about in the real world, in your business or in your team.

  • Do teams and individuals have specific, measureable and relevant goals to achieve?
  • What checks and measures are there in place to monitor individual and team performance?
  • Are there any consequences for under performance or outstanding performance.
  • When a team or department does badly is the focus on blame or on development?

If these questions raise further questions perhaps we should talk to see if The Reality Business can help you find some answers.