Think before you write

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.

Invest time to save time (sharpen your axe)

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.

Give yourself thinking time

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.

Believe in yourself

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.

Choose your time and place

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.

Step back from time to 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.

Beware of cloning

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.


Capitalize on crisis

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.

Begin with the end in mind

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.

Develop an internal locus of control

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.