Connected Communications

Adam Hopkinson’s angry old man rant about how we are using , and abusing, communication channels, was an interesting start to my week. His basic premises is that we should pay more attention to the channels we use, avoid switching mid conversation (i.e. moving from email to text), and we should avoid using them as an excuse for not communicating. You can read his piece here, and I think we all should be writing our own manifesto for communicating in the modern world, and agree in our teams how we do this. I was about to post a reply, when I realised that what he was really saying was pick up the phone, so I did, and we met up a couple of days later and had an inspired hour together.

What I realised is that I often use email, or LinkedIn messaging, or any other channel, to avoid communicating for real. It’s a way of faking communication when you are busy, and the benefits I am getting from picking the phone up are endless.

I picked up the phone to call my old pal Barry, who has just returned from the Tai Chi World Championship  Taiwan with 7 Gold medals , and the conversation that ensued was brilliant. He’s doing some amazing work with families and martial arts, to teach grace and balance, and two way  communication, and he ended up agreeing to come and show the kids at school his gold medals, something that a Facebook post would never have realised.

On Tuesday, as I walked through  the woods, I reflected on whether I should really pursue speaking to an ex-colleague / participant whose profile had jumped out at me a few weeks earlier and prompted me to connect. After 3 or 4 aborted scheduled calls, was it worth it?

Definitely, it turned out. If I never speak to Vikki again, the knowledge that she has turned her life on its head, and is now turning others lives around through SSH will inspire me way beyond our conversation. SSH is creating remarkable experiences for women through transformational retreats, and I was tempted towards gender re-assignment when she described the process.

Finally on Wednesday Andrea Berkeley, who taught me English A level, was teaching me again. It was quite surreal seeing her some 30 years on from our last formal lesson, but it was good to know she could still get me thinking (this time about how a Head Teacher and Governing body could best communicate). The crux of Andrea lesson was the same as Adams, its easy to allow the pace of communication to blur what is really needing to be said. Its easy to let assumption, and suggestion create confusion and misunderstanding, so clarity and purpose should be at the heart of all good communication.

I read in the “Eton”, the daily news sheet they send home from school, that they introduced a lesson this week on ancient mythical stories by playing Chinese Whispers. It seemed a bold step, especially when we have members of our community who do believe that the stories we have handed down have a literal truth, but I see how it enabled the kids to see how stories can change in the telling. Then later that day, in a scene I wont identify, I heard a group of adults having played it themselves in the playground,  pretending that they could talk about a fairytale like it was non-fiction.

My conclusion is that the missing link on much communication today is positive intention. Communication with intention, intention to connect, intention to teach, intention to listen, can make a real difference. Communication that is pre-populated to appear on your screen, buffered by apps and networks that exist primarily to re-balance our hectic lives, runs the risk of saying nothing.

Pick up the phone this week. Sit down with a friend. Write a letter to a pal. And do it with a positive intention.

Connection and intention makes communication real. And real communication creates magic.


Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

When you’ve been doing something for a while, and are acknowledged as an expert, its hard to believe that you can learn much. Its a challenge as trainers that we face weekly. Most of our customers are successful enterprises and they tend to hire for experience, aptitude and attitude, so losers are thin on the ground. It makes every session unique, and comes with unique challenges. Some participants cant see the benefit of learning at first, “if it aint broke, why fix it” they muse, adopting the attitude of “Hostage” or “Holidaymaker”, rather than “Happy Learner”.

Since last summer I’ve been telling the story of my 7 year old, Ziggy, to help catalyst the learning journey. He point blank refused to believe that Andy Murray (2 times Wimbledon Champion) had two coaches. He knew that he had won Gold at the Olympics, so it seemed absurd to him that only a few weeks later, he was in need of coaching support.

So last week, when I flew to Wiesbaden to learn from the people that wrote the books on Accountability, I was excited. I’m addicted to learning myself, so I didn’t think about how challenging a week on the other side of the flip-chart may be. In reality 7 days straight would be hard for anyone, but it wasn’t the learning that challenged me the most.

When I met my friend and Master Trainer, Robin the week before, he had seemed genuine in his excitement about me being in his training room. “I don’t get much chance for feedback from people I respect”, he said, and flattered as I was, I missed the point.

Many of the team were unknown to me, yet we had some some high calibre learning professionals from all over the globe. I guess your don’t get to be know as a word leader in results based solutions without having exceptional trainers in your network.

And I soon realised why Robin was so keen on asking for feedback. Being someone who regularly takes his own medicine, he was practising staying Above The Line and developing his own personal Accountabilty for his results. Roger Connors, co-author of The Oz Principle and 2 other bestseller on Accountability ,had spoken to us of how critical feedback is in enabling a culture of accountability, yet it wast until we started learning the material, teaching it back to each other, and asking for, and providing feedback, that the insight hit me hard.

And hard it is.

To be honest with other seasoned pros. And to be honest enough to accept that you have stuff to learn. Or I have stuff to learn. About what I already know.

I’m deeply grateful to my colleagues at DOOR International and Partners In Leadership for the deep and meaningful feedback they gave across this week. While I am exhausted and drained from it, I have experienced the learning journey that we so often put our participants thorough. I am able to SEE IT, and OWN IT, and I’m already ready to get into action. It may take a few months until Partners In Leadership can accredit me to deliver their material to the high standards they expect. Yet I am very lucky that it has already taught me so much.


Can we enter the promised land, or will we always be slaves?

My trip to Jordan this week challenged me to see the Middle East from a new perspective. I understood how Moses felt when he saw the promised land and wasn’t allowed in. In truth if any of you saw the pictures, I actually doubt Moses felt as good as I did (I’m not sure he had an infinity pool when he had that view!!).

From Fathis’s perspective, my guide at Mount Sinai was simply wrong when he thought that was where the 10 Commandments were passed down. And remember Jericho? “Where the walls came tumbling down”. Well I have now had the opportunity to visit it twice, in wholly different locations. You can probably see where I’m coming from.

The story goes (in this part of town at least) that when the Israelites fled slavery they came through here. So as I grappled with the thought of an Arab nation that was so clearly active in its support of western intervention in Syria and Iraq, I thought more about freedom, and what it means to me and us as a society, than the politics of the day.

Strange to wander a city at night and see only a handful of women amongst hundreds of men. Fortunately my hotel spared me the grotesque display of the only women being those offering themselves for rent. And it’s common here apparent, It felt odd to breakfast with the only women present being in service. Until I spotted an older Asian lady seated at the back. She had clearly avoided servitude, whether in her lifetime or previously. The vicious way she humiliated the staff made it clear to me that she was buying into an illusion of difference in who we really are as human beings. The same illusion that has allowed Israelites, Africans, Irish, Asians and others be enslaved across time.

As I reflected, remembering Tess, my aunties maid in Singapore, who’s eyes would well as she spoke of her lost children, I allowed myself to feel a deep upset for the seeming injustice of it all. And I thought of Moses and his journey from slavery to prince-hood to leadership of a people, that ended with just a glimpse of what was possible.

Had he have entered Jerusalem, Moses would have found what we still find there today. Chaos and contrast, wonder, and war. Maybe to die with faith in the future was a gift rather than a curse?

As Maria cleared away my plate, we exchanged words, with warm smiles and a connection that went beyond meaning. In that stolen moment, neither of us were slaves, or the ancestors of slaves.

In that moment we were, as we all our, human beings, joined by our humanity, our care, and our love. And while I will no doubt spend most of my life wrapped in the kind of mixed up thinking that pretends barriers create security, I hope I will carry on finding glimpses of truth. Of love. And of connection.

I am not making a political point and I know that boundaries can protect us. But the glimpse that Moses’s life was pointing us to was of the real truth, the real milk and honey. It wasn’t in the material. Fortunately.

Because despite our physical form, and material reality, we can still glimpse it every day.

If we only know which direction to look.



What I learnt from my fasting from Facebook

A couple of months back, deeply troubled by late night facebook sessions grappling with the woes of the war in Gaza, I deleted Facebook and Twitter from my phone. I realised that trawling through posts, dipping in and out of polarised opinions about a reality far from home, and far from most of our real experience, was taking its toll. I was scared and upset, and far from social media helping me be connected, it was tearing me apart.

At the height of my madness I had dipped into a post from a man I deeply respect, and started an online row with a man I didn’t know. It ended badly (sorry Connor). I believe he was a good man, but the words that we exchanged weren’t.

So I stayed away, and pulled off Twitter and LinkedIn as part of an experiment to see what I would miss. While it was hardly scientific, I did get some results, and they surprised me a little.

Now I’m back I know what I missed.

I like hearing stories of my friends lives, I like seeing inspiring quotes from insightful masters (and mistresses!). I love seeing pictures of other people gorgeous children, I can feel the pride and joy seeping through the web and infecting my spirit.

I enjoy seeing my friends boasting of their latest holidays, and hats, and homes, and social triumphs. I enjoy being connected to the small woes that befall us all, and the supportive comments that weave us together and enable connection without commitment. I enjoy some inanity, and some idiosyncrasy, and lots of idiocy. I enjoy supporting causes and conspiracies, and eves-dropping on craziness.

I’m not too keen on stories of woe, especially when posted from afar and reposted to the point of a thousand likes. I’m not keen on bigotry in any form, and I get upset when friends become angry with each other and fracture fuses through the frantic re-posts. I don’t like arguments about who is right in a war where all sides are wrong, and I am not too keen on videos of cats either.

What I have realised though is that I have a choice what I see, and what I don’t. I get a choice to read, or rewind, or review. So when I felt a deep nasty feeling inside when I watched a man being abused on a train yesterday, I knew I didn’t need to be there, and so off I went.

I am not asking anyone to change what they post, I am just realising that if I am selective I can get the best of what I love, without any of what I don’t.

Thanks for being my friends and my family,  it is a privilege to share some of my life with you.



How to listen to what your partner is really saying

Kids were late for school on Tuesday, my fault, and I made our new schoolrun rota pal late too. Now I realise my error, but when I grabbed my phone from my son while doing a 3 point turn, to look at the map, I was cursing Jools. I had done her a favour, and she returned it by giving me duff directions. “There isn’t a turning on the left before the main road……..” I wont repeat the rest, fortunately the traffic chaos I was causing drowned it out to my little crew.

Actually she was right, their road is on the left before the main road, just a different main road than in my mind. She was driving a different way down the street in her head, and if I had really been listening, I would have been looking in the right direction too.

Made me think about the practice we have been trying in our household since meeting Alan Sharland, a conflict coach, mediator, and all round insightful guy. He taught me a practice called Co-Active listening and it’s pretty simple, and has the capacity to cause remarkable understanding and insight.

To practice it you chose a topic – “why Ziggy do you feel its unfair that you go to bed at the same time as your sister?”. And then you listen. Really listen. And to make sure you are listening, you then repeat back what they have said, just adding something like “did I get it all?” at the end. And usually you didn’t, so they clarify, and you repeat, until you really know you get it.

In practice, you may give each person a set time (say 3 mins), then you repeat, and then you reverse the process. The understanding you get from it is outstanding, but nothing beats the feeling you get when on the receiving end, when you know that the other person is really listening, just listening to check they understand, rather than anything else.

And in practice, not as an exercise, you can use it everywhere. My children light up when they realise I am really listening. And so do I.

You can find out more on Alans website, or if you mail me, I’ll send you a short one pager that describes the process.

Enjoy the listening.