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Why Perfectionism Isn’t Perfect

Peas 400x265Why Being Mr. (or Mrs.) Perfect may not be so perfect after all.

Perfectionism is one of those wonderful character traits that we all aspire too, but can often lead to drastically negative behaviour.  It continually points to our failures, no matter how small and undermines our achievements.

Culturally, we prize perfectionism; Steve Jobs is frequently held as an ideal for insisting on perfection.

As we’ve discussed elsewhere, adaptability is a key ingredient in resilient people.  And resilient people are the ones who will come back time and again to face a challenge.  The irony of perfectionism is that eventually, the perfectionist will give up.  And whatever challenge they faced will be left un-conquered.  Was Steve Jobs a perfectionist?  Or was he able to adapt his ideas to the modern marketplace?  That debate still rages on in our office today.

But research now shows us that perfectionism is an acquired trait, we’re certainly not born with it.  How perfect were your idle doodles as a 4 year old?  Could they have been better?

One interesting shift in modern society is the pressure we place on our children to succeed.  Without the requisite social skills in place, children often perceive this pressure as criticism.  And it’s this perceived criticism that works its way into the psyche and develops as a trait.

One side effect to perfectionism is a focus on control; it encourages rigid thinking and behaviour.  That’s precisely the opposite of what is required from individuals across organisations in the modern context, where we want to see innovation and flexibility.

According to Psychology Today:

“Perfectionism reduces playfulness and the assimilation of knowledge; if you’re always focused on your own performance and on defending yourself, you can’t focus on learning a task. Here’s the cosmic thigh-slapper: Because it lowers the ability to take risks, perfectionism reduces creativity and innovation—exactly what’s not adaptive in the global marketplace.”

“Yet, it does more. It is a steady source of negative emotions; rather than reaching toward something positive, those in its grip are focused on the very thing they most want to avoid—negative evaluation. Perfectionism, then, is an endless report card; it keeps people completely self-absorbed, engaged in perpetual self-evaluation—reaping relentless frustration and doomed to anxiety and depression.”

Totem Gummi Bears

Below we list some of the personality traits exhibited by perfectionists.

Concern over mistakes: Perfectionists tend to interpret mistakes as equivalent to failure and to believe they will lose the respect of others following failure.

High personal standards: Perfectionists don’t just set very high standards but place excessive importance on those standards for self-evaluation.

Parental expectations: Perfectionists tend to believe their parents set very high goals for them.

Parental criticism: Perfectionists perceive that their parents are (or were) overly critical.

Doubting actions: Perfectionists doubt their ability to accomplish tasks.

Organisation: Perfectionists tend to emphasise order.

In a team environment we’ve experienced first-hand that the rigidity of perfectionism is difficult to work with.  The drive for the perfect answer doesn’t make space for the weird and wonderful world of collaboration.

What can you do to overcome the drawbacks to perfectionism?  As a starting point, we can take a leaf from Taibi Kahler’s book on drivers.  He identified ‘Be Perfect’ as an inherent driver type and offered these suggestions:

  • Encourage playfulness in your thinking process
  • Cultivate mindfulness when dealing with others
  • Practise accepting imperfection from others as well as yourself
  • Acknowledge the effort that’s put into meeting challenges
  • Invite feedback and embrace it

Perfectionism can be problematic because it can lead to obsessiveness, which in turn leads to a whole host of issues around attendance, performance, and morale.  For example; you’ll often see a perfectionist procrastinate because they’re afraid of failing before they start.

Or even worse, they may position themselves as a martyr. Certainly in a business context, the employees we regard as heroes, the ones who come in early, stay late, and solve every problem can actually mask inherent business issues.  The simple fact that heroic measures are required means at least some things are not working right.  So whether we call a person hero or martyr – we need to ask the question, what is really going on and what can we learn from that?

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Identifying Your Drivers

What are Drivers?

If you found our download guide on Kahler’s Five Drivers interesting, you might also want to consider your personal drivers.  We’ve put together this simple questionnaire to help you identify which of the five driver types you naturally have a preference for.  Or more likely, which blend of drivers you have.

This is not a researched or validated questionnaire, more a bit of fun for you to consider your strongest drivers – and the pros and cons of each one.

Answer the following questions by indicating Yes, No or Occasionally next to the question, we’ll do some maths and give you your results.

Do you hide or control your feelings?
Do you do things (especially for others) that you don’t really want to?
Do you hate ‘giving up’ or ‘giving in’, always hoping that ‘this time it will work’?
Is it important for you to be RIGHT?
Are you fairly easily persuaded?
Do you dislike being different?
Do you hate to be interrupted?
Do you tend to compare yourself with others and feel inferior or superior accordingly?
Do you like to explain things in detail and precisely?
Do you tend to talk at the same time as others, or finish their sentences for them?
Do you have a tendency not to realise how tired, or hungry you feel, but instead ‘keep going’?
Do you have a tendency to be the rebel or the odd one out in a group?
Do you dislike conflict?
Do you find yourself going round in circles with a problem feeling stuck but unable to let go of it?
Would you describe yourself as ‘quick’ & find yourself getting impatient with others?
Do you prefer to do things on your own?
Do you feel discomforted (e.g. annoyed, irritated) by small messes or discrepancies?
Do you set unrealistic time limits?
Do you like to ‘get on with the job’ rather than talk about it?
Are you reluctant to ask for help?
Do you have a tendency to put yourself (or find yourself) in the position of being depended upon?
Do you set yourself high standards and then criticize yourself for failing to meet them?
Do you have a tendency to do a lot of things simultaneously?
Is it important for you to be LIKED?
Do you have a tendency to start things and not finish them?

 
Be Perfect
Be Perfect people draw energy from doing the ‘right’ things. We aim for perfection in everything, check carefully,
produce accurate work and set high standards. The drawback to this driver is sometimes we miss deadlines because
we are still checking our work. We tend to have a weak sense of priorities and insist everything is done perfectly.

Please Others
This working style means we are nice to have around because we are so understanding. We use intuition a lot and
will notice body language and other signals that others may overlook. The drawbacks to this are serious, we avoid
the slightest risk of upsetting someone. We may be so cautious with criticism that our information is ignored.
Hurry Up
People with Hurry Up styles like to do everything as quickly as they can, which means we get a lot done. We are
energised by having deadlines to meet, and always seem able to fit in extra tasks. However, give us time to spare
and we delay starting until the job becomes urgent. This can backfire because in our haste we make mistakes.
Be Strong
Be Strong individuals have the ability to stay calm in any circumstance. We are driven by the need to cope with
crises, difficult people, and will work steadily through any workload. However, our desire to have everything under
control means we can come across as aloof and may not always ask for help.
Try Hard
Try Hard people are enthusiastic, we get involved in lots of different activities, and tend to volunteer for things. We
are energised by having something new to try. But sometimes we turn small jobs into major projects because we
want to chase every possibility. We may even become bored with the detailed work that follows, even to the point
of leaving work undone so we can move on to a new, exciting activity.
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Difficult Conversations Part 2

Preparing for the other person’s response…

One of the things that stops managers entering into difficult conversations, feedback or chats about performance is an anxiety over how the other person may respond.  What if they quit?  Cry?  Argue?  Shout?  Take it really badly?  Disagree and I can’t hold my own?  What if they say XYZ?

And so as a learning designer, facilitator or coach, we have the opportunity to help managers prepare for those eventualities – and for those they cannot even imagine.  The power here is in reducing the irrational fear.  Notice how our fear about something is usually worse than the reality of that bad thing happening.

For example, managers share stories about someone quitting and it being the best thing that ever happened for the team.  Other managers have experienced people crying and found that it really wasn’t that bad – you just deal with it, like anything else in life.

Sharing these stories and asking delegates to consider their own experiences of reality not being as bad as we fear, enables a more rational conversation.  What will you plan to do if the person cries?  Argues?  Threatens to quit?

Because the fact is that the question “what if he argues back?” is not generally explored and answered as a question.  It is used as a threatening statement to ourselves to say, “don’t bother starting the conversation, it may not end well.”  Actually helping managers work through those questions and realise they have answers, is extremely empowering.

Here are some classic responses we’ve heard managers come up with in small group work…

What if they cry?
Ask them if they want to take five minutes / go to the bathroom / get a tissue, then suggest we come back to the conversation when they feel ready.  Don’t let them off the hook though, make sure we come back to the conversation if it’s five minutes, hours or days later.
What if they argue back or disagree about the issue?
Stay calm and find out more about what it is they disagree with and maybe what they do agree with.  Ask questions like, “tell me more about what it is you think about this” and “help me understand, when you say you disagree, what do you mean?”
 
Rather than trying to convince the other person they’re wrong, work to understand how they think they’re right.  When we understand the other person’s thinking better, we can ask further questions like, “what impact do you think that has on the team?” or “how does that relate to the business priorities we’re working on?”
What if they threaten to quit?
Maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad thing.  But we could find out what their concerns are that are making them want to quit.
 
What is it they want and can we realistically offer that?  One manager shared a story of a colleague who wanted to avoid all people management, so that worked fine, they found a technical specialist role for them and everyone was happy.  But if what the colleague wants is never to be challenged on their behaviour, then they probably won’t last long!
What if they say something I’m not prepared for?
This is arguably the most critical question, as it is the one that throws us the most.  One manager shared a story of a difficult conversation where a team member had ignored specific instructions in an email and gone against the manager’s requests multiple times.
 
The manager raised this as an issue, prepared for arguments about who was right or wrong and how things should be done, but the colleague simply said, “I never saw those emails.”  The manager was flabbergasted!  How could this person have missed that email every time?  Surely they were lying!  But what could the manager do?  Completely shocked by this statement, the manager had no idea what to say so said, “ok, well make sure you check emails from me in future,” and that was that.  Afterwards the manager was so upset, “why didn’t I say more, challenge them, ask them how they would make sure this did not happen in future?”
 
The key is to give yourself time to think in these moments, so many managers come up with a get-out clause like, “I think we need to explore this more but I need some time to think it through, let’s meet again tomorrow to discuss.”  Or if you think you can get there quicker, “ok I could do with a coffee, let’s take five minutes.”

Of course there are no right or wrong responses here, this is all about simply feeling prepared.  It is no good scripting out some feedback, to then feel completely unprepared for the unscripted response from the other person.  So encourage managers to have a few stock phrases and questions up their sleeves for these conversations.  The ones we hear that people find most useful are:

Can I just clarify, when you say, do I understand it right that you mean….?

Tell me more about that….. Help me understand….

So what do you really think?

What impact could that have on other people?

What would you do now if you were me?

Let’s take some time out to get some clear thinking, how about the same time tomorrow?

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Difficult Conversations Part 1

Still the bugbear of L&D professionals the world over…

Why do our managers not give feedback?  Why do they not face upto those honest, tough or difficult conversations?  Whatever we call them, and many businesses have tried their share of variations, feedback and performance conversations are still a challenge for managers.

Here we look at why interventions to date may not have worked and share some top tips that are working well for us and our clients.

First, we need to understand what is holding people back from giving feedback.  Notice how most eLearning sessions on feedback or workshops covering the topic, dive into “how to give feedback.”  We all instinctively know some good practice ideas like be specific, tell them at the time etc, yet when it comes to it, we avoid the difficult conversation.  This means that simply teaching more “how to” tips is unlikely to help, as the fear of the other person’s reaction stops many managers from entering into the discussion.

We therefore find that the most effective feedback workshops start with What stops us from giving feedback?  This first question raises anxieties about how the other person will respond and concerns about others’ perceptions of us as managers.  Many managers will say something like, “I don’t want to be seen as a nag,” or “I don’t want them to quit,” or simply, “what if they don’t like me afterwards?”  There is power in getting these concerns out in the open, knowing that we’re not alone and then working through these concerns.

Then we can ask, how can we overcome those obstacles?  For some people this is about letting go of needing to be liked all the time, whilst for others it’s about acknowledging that it’s highly unlikely someone will immediately quit the first time they have a difficult conversation.  And if they did quit, would it really be such a bad thing?  Particularly given the fact that so many managers share stories of holding onto a so-called high performer who constantly upset the rest of the team, then one day that person quit and the whole team’s performance and morale sky-rocketed.

With all of this helpful thinking out in the open and managers realising it would be better for them to act than to not act, there is a shift in the room to, “ok, but how do I do it?”  It’s as though we have now earned the right to talk about the how-to practical tips, in the context of their real concerns and anxieties.

What do we need to do to have an effective conversation? 

We start by sharing stories of how difficult conversations have been derailed when any of the following aspects have been missing:

Awareness

Agreement

Action

In one example, a colleague was not aware of the impact they were having on the team by only ever making criticisms or highlighting concerns in meetings, so they did not respond to requests to be more positive.  In another example, a colleague was aware of the way they spoke at a hundred miles an hour during presentations, but they believed that this added to their energy and positive impact, so did not agree that anything needed to change.  In another, a colleague could see that the way they kept interrupting peers during the day was distracting and unhelpful following a difficult conversation with their manager, but there was no firm action agreed or review put in place, so nothing changed.

Everyone can share their own stories – they have seen this happen time and time again, when someone clearly disagrees that something is an issue, or a lack of review means behaviour has returned to normal.  And this really makes managers consider whether or not their colleagues are aware of the problem.  It’s so easy for us to fall into the trap of labelling people as lazy, rude, inconsiderate, thoughtless, without considering that the person may have no idea of the impact they are having.  And if they did know, they may well want to change.

So then the group comes up with ways to have conversations that ensure all three aspects are in place, followed by a review to check there has been progress.

We’ve given examples here of pretty basic stuff about people’s behaviour, but the same approach is equally effective for conversations about the need for more strategic thinking, for discussions about a lack of career progression, for questions over the leadership of a department and consultation over vision.

Because one of the main concerns managers have is how the other person will react, we then go on to explore how to prepare for that too.  We’ve put that into a separate article here.  Enjoy!

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Coaching Uncovered

What happens in coaching sessions?

We have been delighted this year to have received more requests for coaching than ever before.  We’re delighted because we love doing it.  It’s one thing working with 12 people on a workshop, but the difference we can see in someone, working 1:1 over six months, is incredibly rewarding.

The question we often get asked, particularly by those who are organising the coaching, but have never actually had a coach themselves, is what actually happens?  What conversations are happening and how are we adding value as coaches?  Of course we cannot go into detail with them about their company’s coaching clients, but we can share some overall trends and useful insights about where we see the greatest change occur for people.

Having coached MDs, Marketing, Finance and Operations Directors, CTOs, PR professionals and not-for-profit leaders, we are often asked how on earth we add value to such a diverse range of people.  The simple answer is that all of these people have the same challenges.  They need to get some clear thinking space, consider how to translate ideas into solid goals and strategy and how to handle difficult conversations.

The greatest change occurs when people realise one or more of the following:

“I haven’t really asked myself what the problem is or what outcome I want.”

“I am limiting myself through fear.”

“I’m not saying what I’m thinking.”

This is the theme that underlies issues as broad as strategic planning and setting a new direction for the business all the way down to having a difficult conversation with one person.  In our article on difficult conversations, we share our top tips for those less comfortable meetings, which is the number one topic that comes up in our coaching sessions.  But here we focus on the broader themes and how you can benefit from these two insights for yourself and with your own coaching and mentoring clients.

Think of something that you want to achieve, or that you’ve been working to achieve for some time and it’s just not going as well as you would like.  From performance managing one individual to changing the culture of an organisation of thousands, it doesn’t matter what it is – take some time now to think about what it is you want to achieve.

Now consider these questions:

What is the outcome you want?  Work it through, past the initial project or conversation and to a longer-term outcome, what is it?  Why is that important to you? 

Imagine yourself in that outcome, you have achieved it.  What will be happening?  How is life / business / the team better? 

What could be holding you back from getting there?  What are you afraid of?

What do you need to say and to whom (as usually to achieve something we need to involve others)?  What would you say if you were really honest and just said what you thought?

What is holding you back from saying that?

These questions can help you identify the true outcome you want, or indeed challenge yourself: maybe the outcome you thought you wanted is really not that important and you can start considering something else.  The questions help you identify fears that are stopping you from acting.  And when you acknowledge those fears, you can challenge them.  What’s the worst that can happen?  Would that really be so bad?  What would you do if that worst situation did happen?

Realising that you would carry on, overcome challenges and survive can be very empowering.  Finally these questions can help you realise that you have simply avoided having the straightforward conversation that could unblock progress.  What if you had a go at just saying it?

This is a common flow of conversation in coaching sessions, because unclear goals, fear and not saying what we’re thinking are often are greatest challenges.

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Taking Accountability

Getting Others to Take Accountability

A common complaint from managers is that their people do not take accountability. Our feedback article talked about the need for awareness, agreement and action, but perhaps the message missing is the underlying foundation to it all: accountability.

In a recent coaching conversation, a senior manager we’ll call Jo described her frustration with a member of her team who was poor on time management. Jo shared a long list of things she had tried to help this individual, let’s call him Kris, to improve. Jo had done the work considering what could be the causes, issues and potential solutions.

Kris had the easiest job in all of this. All he had to do was describe how hard everything was, then simply say “I don’t know” whenever asked what he thought the causes or potential solutions could be. In a way, Kris has been allowed to take no accountability because he has never been pushed to explore his challenges or come up with solutions.

Driving accountability in others means asking them to come up with problem finding, analysis and solutions, then not letting them off the hook when they don’t have an immediate answer. When we ask, “what might be the cause of that problem?” and someone replies, “I don’t know,” we need to have other options than simply doing the thinking and talking for them.

What if you asked that person to take it on as a project, analysing the problem and coming up with ideas? What if you asked them to report back to you next week? What if you remembered that following week to ask for their progress report? What if you didn’t let it go?

Whilst you might argue that this isn’t really the person taking accountability at all, because you’re having to push and pull an awful lot, over time you create the expectation that your team manage their own problem solving. And that’s accountability.

This is not a quick fix, but what is when it comes to helping people understand their roles and take accountability for their work? Better to start small and build a culture or expectation over time that you expect people to think for themselves, than to keep going down the route of doing all the work for them.

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Manager-Led Learning

How do we encourage managers to take a more active role in learning?  And why is that important?

We recently had the privilege of working with a role model learning leader.  That’s a term we’ve possibly made up, learning leader.  What we mean is, a manager who leads their team in learning and developing constantly, attending workshops with them and/or holding each individual to account for applying the learning they have taken from any intervention.

In contrast, another organisation we worked with recently sent out line manager briefing webinars. The message was, “you asked for this development for your team, but now that means losing this person from your team and the day job for a whole day.  You can’t afford for that to be wasted time, so how can you ensure you get a return on that investment?”

Sadly the L&D team received reports from a few managers that their peers were bragging about not having watched the webinar, as though they had somehow got out of doing something boring and annoying.  Whilst one or two of the managers followed the advice and guided their people through a positive learning experience, most showed a lack of interest in the idea and many delegates complained that they had not been supported to use what they learned.

Time and time again, we see that the line manager’s role in learning is more important than any other factor.  CEB first reported on this decades ago and every paper on the subject since has revealed the same findings: well-designed, brilliantly facilitated learning in line with business objectives is useless without the support of the line manager.

Theories as to why the line manager is so important vary from the sense of support, “how can I help you apply what you learnt yesterday?” to challenge and accountability, “show me how you have benefited the business with new skills and actions since you went on that training.”  Even more simply, we know that what gets measured gets done and what gets talked about gets done.

So if a line manager is not measuring, noticing or talking about changes in behaviour following development, then why would anyone bother about it?

In the classic wisdom of less is more, our experience tells us that the L&D team investing in 1:1 conversations with delegates’ managers makes the biggest difference.  Rather than focusing on getting more people through more development programmes, these L&D teams invest in supporting fewer people to a higher level of quality.  And of course if this happens first at the top, then the cascade effect can work its magic.

With leaders at the top role modelling support and challenge for the application of learning, then ultimately the business can end up with the holy grail of a learning culture.

So if you’re struggling with engaging line managers on a mass scale, why not start small?  Find a couple of managers who are doing this pretty well and work with them to make it even better.  Find another few managers who might be open to trying something new, and guide them on how to coach their people to share their learning and put new skills into practice.  You’re likely to see greater success with that than anything designed to engage the masses.

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Using Transactional Analysis in L&D

Bringing Transactional Analysis alive…

When you’re designing learning content that covers difficult conversations, being more effective, self-awareness, influencing, people management…. In fact, for almost anything to do with people, Transactional Analysis (TA) could be a helpful concept to introduce.

In this article we explore a bit of the background and how you can bring the concept to life to help your learners.

Analysing interactions (or transactions) between people, spotting where things are going wrong and looking at what we can do better: that’s what TA is.  And so, whenever we are looking at personal effectiveness and working with others, there is an opportunity to look at this wisdom from the 1950s.

Eric Berne developed the idea of our three states: Parent, Adult and Child, releasing his first book on the subject in 1961.  As you’ll see below, the Parent and Child states are further broken down into two sub-sections.

We can all think of times when we have been keen to care for someone, maybe fixing something for them: this is our Nurturing Parent way of being.

We have been strict, telling people what to do or telling them off: this is Critical Parent.  We have been rebellious, disagreeing with someone or on the flipside, working overly hard to please them: that’s our Adaptive Child.  Finally we have acted like a child enjoying themselves, having fun, doing a wheelie on a bike or squealing over coloured pens and new stationery: say hello to your Free Child.

When we have our best conversations, we can usually see that we have been rational, logical and spoken to someone like they were our equal: that’s the Adult.

How is this useful?    

Think back over the times when you have demonstrated each of the states and you’ll spot that the impact you had on the other person or situation overall was generally more positive when you stayed in the Adult state.

Recognising the times when we tend to fall into Parent or Child states can help us spot the unhelpful behaviour and choose to move back to Adult.  You could try this exercise for yourself and with your delegates….

Draw out the following chart and fill out the boxes for you personally.  Everyone’s answers will be different, so do this just for you.  We’ve filled in examples from our own experiences and stories we’ve heard on workshops, to give you some ideas….

Transactional Analysis Table
Responsive websites really don’t like tables – so we’ve created this picture for you to use!

Now you have considered all of this, you can prepare to both notice your behaviour changes and beware of situations that cause you to move out of Adult state.  Bringing awareness to these shifts in behaviour means you can have more control over them, rather than unconsciously acting on auto-pilot.

So next time you are running a workshop that looks at people and relationships, you could consider adding in a bit of work on Transactional Analysis: helping people notice their changes in behaviour and choose more effective, Adult-Adult conversations.

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Behavioural Event Interviewing

Bored of Competency-Based Interviewing?

Let’s face it, most candidates are prepared for competency-based interviews, the classic “tell me about a time when…” questions.

Because of that and frankly a fair bit boredom using the same technique for so many years, many interviewers are questioning whether this format is really adding value anymore.

But what’s the alternative?

There is no doubt that the best predictor of future performance is past performance. Whilst we can of course learn and adapt, we are creatures of habit and so the way someone goes about managing a difficult customer today is probably similar to the way they did it last month. The approach we take to writing emails, managing projects and leading teams will be somewhat consistent over time.

This is why the “tell me about a time when you managed a project” question, also known as competency-based interviewing or CBI is effective.

The issue is that many candidates have been prepared for this and there are books and countless online articles showing them how to script a good answer. Whether they have had the experience or not of running a successful project, candidates may well be prepared to describe their upfront planning, careful stakeholder analysis, risk management and ultimate delivery to the deadline.

This has led some businesses to move away from CBI and try out Behavioural Event Interviewing: a more demanding form of the interview which requires in-depth training and can get to the heart of a candidate’s capability and potential.

What is Behavioural Event Interviewing?

Behavioural Event Interviewing or BEI starts with the same premise as CBI: the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. So the first question often sounds the same like, “tell me about a time when you dealt with an unhappy customer.”

The difference here is that the focus is on digging deeper and deeper to discover what the candidate actually did, how, what they said and how the other person reacted, how they felt at the time, what they found easy and more challenging.

As well as using different probing questions, the interviewer is trained to spot changes in the candidate’s non-verbal communication, to identify areas of relative confidence and anxiety or discomfort.

Because this approach is designed to dig deeper into personality traits, emotional responses and how this manifests in behaviour, additional questions are used to find out more about the candidate and what is behind their behaviour. Things like:

Tell me about the best boss / colleague you have worked with. What made them so good? This gives an indication of what the person values in others and if you go for the boss option, also tells you about how they like to be managed.

Of course we don’t get on with everyone, so tell me about colleagues or a boss you have struggled to work with. What did you find difficult? What frustrated you? Again this gives an indication of the sorts of people they work more and less well with. This can give a good picture as well of the culture they fit well with.

Likewise not everyone like us. What have people who do not get on with you so well complained about or raised as frustrating? As well as revealing potential weaknesses, the things other people find frustrating in us are often over-played strengths. This question can therefore give an insight into personality tendencies and natural strengths.

What is the worst mistake you have made in a previous role? What happened? What could have prevented it? This reveals how much the person has learnt from their mistake and you can dig deeper into how they felt at the time and what was driving their behaviour.

(For people managers) what would previous team members say about you? What about those who did not seem to like working for you? What would they say? What do you think you did that caused that reaction? What did you do about it?

This approach takes the positive principles of CBI and simply digs deeper. That means that candidates will struggle to be so prepared for scripted answers and will need to tell you the real story of what happened, which can reveal deeper insights into behaviour, personality and ways of working.

How could I give it a go?

Just like CBI, this interview approach requires careful preparation. Consider the core skills and behaviours required for the role and the culture of the team. What does someone need to do in this role to excel? What kind of environment will they be working in? Having clear answers on these questions will help you assess how well each candidate meets the criteria and will fit with the team.

Accreditation is recommended for this approach because of the detailed probing questions required – and the fact that scripting these is not as effective as following the flow of conversation with the candidate in the moment. Training is also needed to understand the cues to look out for in non-verbal indicators of relative confidence, enjoyment, anxiety and discomfort during the story-telling.

That said, there is always benefit in adding a few questions into your CBI, in order to gain futher insight. Why not try some of the examples above, or add in to your probing questions things like, “what did you find most challenging?” and “how did you overcome that?” remembering always to dig for detail on what they actually said, how and how that was received and then what they did next.

We can all state with ease that we “tackled the difficult conversation with tact and patience and made clear what needed to happen next.” But when we are pushed to tell the detailed story of what we said and how they reacted and what we did next: you really learn the truth.

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