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.
Speaking openly and honestly is more likely to be effective than dropping hints. This is because: (i) people often don’t tune in to the hint; it goes over their head; and (ii) if they do get it, they may resent it – they may feel that you are trying to manipulate them, rather than communicate with them in a genuine way. Despite these problems with hinting, it is a very common occurrence for people to risk alienating others in this way. Learning and practising the skills involved in sensitive and tactful direct communication without ruffling anyone’s feathers are much wiser steps to take.
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.
Jobs that involve working with people generally have a written work component to them (report writing and record keeping, for example). This can become a routine part of the job, and so there is a danger that we write without first thinking about what we are writing, why we are writing it and who we are writing it for. The result can be very poor-quality written work, communication breakdowns and misleading records and reports that have the potential to wreak havoc. What we write may continue to be used for many years to come by other people involved in the future, so committing stuff to writing for posterity without giving it any thought is a risky business. So, the idea of ‘think before you write’ is wise counsel.
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.
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.