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.
In our consumerist society we constantly find ourselves under pressure to earn more, buy more, achieve more. So much these days seems to depend on quantity, with relatively little attention being paid to quality, particularly quality of life. The idea that ‘more is not necessarily better’ is not only something to bear in mind for ourselves and our own well-being, but also for the people we are trying to help or support. While there is much that can be done to help people who are lacking in material resources we should not lose sight of the fact that there should also be ways in which we can help people enrich their lives in other ways
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.
We can so easily become so engrossed in our work and under so much pressure that we don’t look more broadly at the situation we are dealing with. This can mean that we can find ourselves reinventing the wheel – that is, not realizing that it is likely that other people will have faced the type of situation we are in now and will have found helpful ways of responding to it. There is much to be learned from finding out how other people tackle their challenges, but we won’t do any of that learning if we don’t take the trouble to try and find out. If we don’t make that effort, we will be doomed to reinvent the wheel and not learn from other people’s experiences.
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.
There are things that we can change directly, things that we can change indirectly (through influence), but there are very many things that we cannot change at all. When we encounter these we basically have two choices: (i) we can learn to accept that we cannot bring about change, make the best of the situation and invest our energies in those things we can change; or (ii) waste a lot of time and energy trying to do the impossible and/or become negative, defeatist or even cynical about the fact that there are certain things we cannot change. Which option we choose will have major consequences for ourselves, our colleagues and the people we are seeking to help. So, make sure you choose wisely.
Some people can be quite dogmatic and stick to their views despite evidence and argument to the contrary, and that of course is not helpful. However, it can also be problematic when some people go to the opposite extreme and simply assume that they are wrong whenever they encounter any resistance or disagreement. What is needed, of course, is a balanced approach. Being dogmatic does not help, but nor does abandoning your views prematurely. Being open minded is essential, but that need to include being open to the possibility that you were right all along.
A common way of thinking about projects is to conceive of them as buildings, something you construct and then have in place to serve you in whatever way the project was intended to. Despite this being a normal way of understanding projects, it is actually a misleading oversimplification. This is because whatever project you work on will not remain static or unchanging. A more accurate and helpful way of understanding projects is to see them as gardens – that is, as things that need to be tended, nurtured, pruned from time to time and not allowed to get overgrown. So, whatever projects you are involved in, you need to ask yourself: am I treating it as a building or as a garden?
The importance of listening is well established, but what is often not realized that the most effective for of listening involves paying attention to what someone is not saying, as well as what they are saying. Just as silence is an important part of music, working out what is not being said is a key part of genuinely connecting with people, of forming an effective rapport. To hear what is not being said involves tuning in to the situation, considering the context, the emotions involved, where the conversation is coming from and where it is going. These are quite advanced skills, but they can be developed over time.
Sadly, it is often the case these days that we feel the need to make a complaint. What is even sadder is that so many organizations seem ill-equipped to respond positively to people’s concerns – and that can lead to considerable ill feeling and an intensification of pressures. What can make such situations even worse is when the complaint is made to someone who cannot do anything about it (and who is perhaps not inclined to pass the concerns on to someone who can). So, whenever you need to make a complaint, make sure that you complain to the person or body that has the power to do something to address the problem. Working out who that is may not always be easy, but it saves an awful lot of frustration compared with raising issues with people who are not well placed to solve the problem.