Yes, it’s a cliché, but the fact remains that, in working with people and their problems, we are likely to get better results if we smile. Smiling gives a clear message to the effect of ‘I am pleased to be in your company’ while not smiling can give the message that we are not pleased to be in that person’s company. Of course, we don’t want to go overboard and come across as insincere, but smiling really can make a big difference. Sounds obvious? Not worth saying? Just watch people around you and see how often people interact with one another without smiling. You’ll see that lots of opportunities to make a positive connection are being missed.
The term ‘trauma’ is often used in a very loose and ‘watered down’ way to refer to any difficult or distressing situation. However, in its technical sense, trauma refers to a wound (physical or psychological) that has lasting effects. We are now realizing more fully that so many of the mental health problems that people encounter are linked to earlier experiences of one or more traumas. Indeed, difficulties in life more broadly will often have their roots in trauma. So, if we are working with people in any sort of supportive or supervisory way, we would do well to ask ourselves whether trauma is playing any part in the situation – particularly those situations that are proving problematic or challenging in some way.
So-called ‘common sense’ is often not common (different people have different ideas about what is common sense) and not always sense (it is often contradictory). What counts as common sense can be important advice and wisdom built up over many years of experience. However, it can also, at times, be based on unquestioned prejudices and taken-for-granted assumptions. But, whether what counts as common sense is sound or not, what resorting to common sense amounts to is relying on preformed ideas instead of using reflective practice to think, plan, analyse and make sense of the situations we are dealing with. Someone saying: ‘It’s common sense’ is often inviting us to accept their perspective uncritically, rather than work out our own view on it.
I mentioned in an earlier blog post that the Avenue Successful Time and Workload Management e-learning course is based on four principles of time and workload management. One of those principles is ‘Invest time to save time’. Unfortunately, busy people often fail to do this. There may be useful ways in which they could save time and energy, be more effective and/or achieve better results with the same resources, but many people will not explore these because they see themselves as being too busy to do so. That is, they don’t invest time to save time. An investment is not the same as a cost – the idea is that you should get that time back, with interest. Abraham Lincoln is attributed with saying that, if he had six hours to chop down a tree, he would spend the first four sharpening the axe.
As we have noted, the modern workplace tends to be a pressurized one. There is therefore a temptation to just press on, to adopt an attitude of ‘Head down, get on with it’. This can be highly dangerous as it means that people are making decisions, interacting with other people and generally going about their business without giving enough thought to what is involved or how it might go wrong. Part of the problem is that some workplace cultures can encourage this sort of behaviour and create the impression that stopping to think is a luxury you can’t afford if you work here (rather than a necessity if you are to practise safely). So, whether the impetus to just ‘Get on with the job’ without thinking is coming from within yourself or from your wrong environment, the significant (and potentially disastrous) dangers remain the same.
Confidence is not something that you either have or do not have or have in a certain quantity. Confidence is an attitude. The word confidence means ‘trust’, so whether you are confident or not depends on whether you trust yourself. Sadly, many people have little trust in themselves, little self-belief, and so they will approach new situations and challenges with an attitude that says: ‘I can’t do this’. People who believe in themselves, by contrast, will approach new situations with the attitude: ‘I don’t know whether I can do this, but I am going to have a damn good try’. That is, they do not write themselves off.
Busy people can easily get themselves into a whirl of activity that strongly resembles a hamster wheel – an awful lot of energy being expended, but not necessarily much progress being achieved. What can therefore be of great value is to take a step back from time to time and think about what our current pressures are and work out what is the best way of dealing with them. Can we change anything in the way things are currently working out? Can we deal with certain issues differently to ease or remove certain pressure points? Can we reschedule or reprioritize certain things? Do we need someone’s assistance or support in some areas? All these important questions can remain unanswered if we just press on and not make the time to step back and take stock. This is a key part of reflective practice.
The importance of valuing and even celebrating diversity is now well established, but what is often not appreciated is that the process of ‘cloning’ can stand in its way. What this refers to is the tendency to feel more comfortable with people who are ‘like us’ (‘homophilia’ is the technical term), so, if we are not careful, we can find ourselves treading the same beaten path of relating to people similar to ourselves and thereby not getting the benefits of diversity and the enrichment it brings. For example, many businesses have suffered or even perished because they recruited ‘people like us’ and thereby developed a very narrow perspective that stood in the way of creative thinking, innovation and the ability to survive and thrive in a changing environment. Cloning is therefore the term used to refer to this unfortunate process of unwittingly excluding opportunities to capitalize on diversity.
A crisis is a turning point in someone’s life, a situation that will either get better or get worse. By definition, if it stays the same it is not a crisis. What can be a strong temptation when working with someone who is in crisis is to try and get things back to normal as soon as possible. While this is perfectly understandable, we have to recognize that this means that the positive potential of crisis is being missed. Crises can do a lot of harm (the situation gets worse) but they can also do a lot of good (the situation gets better) – for example, when new coping skills are learned, when longstanding obstacles to progress are removed and/or a renewed determination to move things forward is generated by the crisis situation. Crisis situations have to be handled very carefully and sensitively, but that does not mean that we cannot help people grow and develop by capitalizing on the positive potential.
This is one of Stephen Covey’s seven secrets of highly effective people. It means that, at all times, we need to be clear about what we are trying to achieve or where it is we are trying to get to. Without that clarity we can drift and become unfocused. This is likely to hamper progress and can also prove stressful at times, as the lack of a sense of direction can create anxiety and uncertainty. It can also reduce our credibility (and thus our ability to influence other people) as we will come across in ways that do not inspire confidence if we are unfocused and unclear about what we are trying to achieve. Beginning with the end in mind is therefore wise counsel.