Sometimes there are sensitive issues that need to be addressed – for example, pointing out to someone that their behaviour is causing you (or others) problems or is contrary to law or policy. Bringing this to their attention in front of other people or when feelings are running high (if their behaviour has caused annoyance, for example) can mean that they lose face and can feel ‘got at’. This can not only make the situation worse by antagonizing them, but could also potentially lead to a complaint of bullying, on the grounds that your behaviour was humiliating and contrary to their dignity. It is important not to shy away from sensitive issues, but we do have to make sure that we deal with them in the right place and at the right time.
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.
Are you living your life or is your life living you? How much in control do you feel about what is happening to you? People who have what psychologist call an internal locus of control will have a good sense of being able to control (or at least influence) key aspects of their lives, both at work and at home. Someone with an external locus of control, by contrast, tends to have little sense of control and can pay a price for that in terms of lower confidence higher stress levels and so on. In a very real sense, having an external locus of control is a form of self-disempowerment, a way of putting obstacles in your own way. So, it is important to be clear about what you can control and make things happen accordingly rather than surrender to being a passive victim of circumstance.
In today’s busy, pressurized world we can find ourselves with many different demands on our time. As a result of this important things may not get done. We can find ourselves drifting and losing sight of what is important to us. ‘Carpe diem’ – seize the day – is a good principle to guard against that. It can pay huge dividends to step back from time to time, to clarify what matters to use and focus on making happen whatever needs to happen to make sure those important things are given the attention they deserve.
When people act or speak in discriminatory ways, bully people or behave disrespectfully towards others, it can be very tempting to ‘have a go’ at them, to give them a piece of your mind. While that reaction is quite understandable, it can be highly problematic. This is because there is a danger that the person who is behaving irresponsibly will see you as the unreasonable one, to see you as the person who is behaving inappropriately. This can just make a difficult situation worse. ‘Elegant’ challenging, by contrast, refers to challenging inappropriate behaviour tactfully and sensitively, so that you are giving the other person no ammunition to fire back at you. Skilfully pointing out why what somebody has said or done is much less likely to produce a defensive response and is therefore much more likely to be effective.
A key part of leadership is being able to work with a group to establish where they are heading for and help them get there. Are you clear about where you want to get to and how you are going to get there? Having this sense of direction is an important part of spirituality and can be a great personal resource. We may wander aimlessly without it.
Self-awareness is an important basis for reflective practice. It involves being able to tune in to: (i) what effect you are having on the situation; and (ii) what effect the situation is having on you. When we interact with other people, we become part of that dynamic; we shape the situation to a certain extent, and so we will be in a stronger position to influence that situation in a positive direction if we are aware of what effect our presence and contribution are having. It is also helpful to be aware of what effect the situation is having on us: Are we anxious? Are we rushing? Are we tired? All these things can have a significant bearing on how the interaction develops, so we would do well to be alert to what part they are playing in shaping the dynamic.