The Mindfulness Hype?

Mindfulness-21 400x265Have you noticed a steady increase in the amount of news, research and articles on mindfulness? 

From reviews of changes occurring in our genes after a short period of mindfulness to the benefits of this practice in relieving stress and pain, to what this all might mean to health and well-being at work – there is a lot out there.

So why might this be, and what might that mean to us in the world of HR, L&D and Recruitment?

If we start with a definition of mindfulness as zoning in to our environment, calming the busyness of our brains and noticing our breathing, our posture, our surroundings, our thinking and so on – this gives us some clues.

In an age where the standard response to the question “how are you?” is simply. “busy,” we are clearly in need of something to help us slow down.  All of this busyness leads to mass auto-pilot behaviour, less creativity and innovation and usually poorer performance.  And so slowing down, focusing more on are we doing the right things than simply doing lots of things, can make a big difference.

Coaching and Nancy Kline’s Time to Think highlighted the need to slow down and listen, and has lead to some great progress.  Now mindfulness shows us a self-directed addition to the toolbox for personal effectiveness and well-being.  Of course mindfulness is not a new concept, but it is receiving new understanding and popularity.

Totem Lollipops

So what does this mean for us in the world of HR, L&D and Recruitment?  I suggest there are three key points for us to be thinking about…

Firstly this can help us in the mission for behavioural change.  We know that training courses alone achieve very little of the behavioural change we want.  Mindfulness encourages greater self-awareness and a chance to slow down and consider different behaviour.  Combine this with action learning sets and manager support and we have a far greater opportunity for positive change.  When so much is being spent on training, this gives us a chance to see greater return on expectation and ROI.

For well-being, mindfulness is a great starting point for stress relief and health – which can lead onto other benefits like a more mindful diet, mindful exercise and overall better awareness of the habits that drive our health.  This is a great contributor to the bottom line in reduced sick days, higher performance and through the sense that our employer cares about us, higher employee engagement.

With higher employee engagement and evidence for the organisation’s care for its people, your employer brand will be stronger.  Therefore your opportunity to attract and retain talent increases.  As talk of the upturn in confidence and the economy is balanced with fears about a further downturn, what is consistent is the constant need to keep hold of, develop and attract new talent.  Mindfulness could be a starting point for all of these things – and if we practice it ourselves, we may just find more opportunities and benefits.

Caring about people’s well-being and showing them how they can be healthier and happier sounds like a pretty sensible thing to do simply for the goodness of it.  Add to that the clear business benefits and now we can see why there is increasing noise about this mindfulness stuff.

Is it hype?  Or is it simply a bit of good news getting the air time it deserves?

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The Power of Optimism

Optimism 400x265Are you an optimist or pessimist?

The optimist / pessimist contrast is usually the only contact many of us have had with the concept of optimism.  Optimism by itself, is a fascinating concept and there is a growing body of research showing that this is largely genetic and then shaped further by early experiences and upbringing – so we’re optimists or pessimists from a young age.

Yet there is a difference between being an optimist and thinking optimistically – and we can all benefit greatly from choosing to think more optimistically, some of the time.

Martin Seligman is world famous for his work on depression, happiness, wellbeing and optimism.  He points out as a result of thousands of examples from therapy and experimentation that regardless of our natural style (more or less optimistic), we can develop our thinking.  And that change in thinking leads to both lower chances of getting depressed and faster recovery time if we do feel depressed.

So what can we do?  It all comes down to how we explain to ourselves and others “good” and “bad” events.  Life happens – it’s how we think about those events that makes the difference to our wellbeing.

When good, great, pleasing things happen, it is better for our health and wellbeing to explain those things as personal, permanent and pervasive.  This is optimistic thinking.  An example would be:

“That workshop went so well because I did a great job.  And I always do a great job so tomorrow will be just as good.  And I’m not just good at this, I’m good at other things too – my strengths apply across situations.”

As opposed to: “it was a fluke the workshop went well, the group were just really nice.  I won’t be that lucky tomorrow.  And just because that workshop went well, that doesn’t make up for the fact that I’m useless at most other things.”

Totem Gummi Bears

When sad, upsetting, bad things happen, it is better for our health and wellbeing to do the opposite.  Let’s explain those things as impersonal, temporary and specific.  This is optimistic thinking.  An example would be:

“My marriage is not going well because of current circumstances, I don’t think it’s all down to me.  This is just a bad time, things will get better.  And just because the marriage isn’t so great right now, I’m still able to do great at my work, hobbies and relationships with other people.”

As opposed to: “It’s all my fault, I’m ruining my marriage.  This is permanent, it’s never going to get any better.  How can I do anything else well, I am a failure at everything.”

So the research shows it, more optimistic thinking is better for our health, wellbeing and overall success.  It’s not about thinking positive all the time – how would we get on if we had no risk management specialists planning for the worst?!  This is about us having a choice in each situation, and choosing at times to think more optimistically for our wellbeing and happiness.

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Join Us For The Evening…

Young MCA | Women in Consulting: Forging your own path

This February we’ll have the pleasure of speaking at the Young Management Consultancies Associations Women In Consulting event where we’ll help identify and tackle the challenges which women in consulting face, whilst providing practical tools for you to develop in the workplace.

To register, follow me or go to and search events.

Strictly limited to 100 places though, so be quick!  More details can be found below:

15th February 2018 @18.30

18.30 – 19.00 Arrival & Registration

19:00 – 19:15 Introduction from key speaker Helen Frewin and personal reflection

19:15 – 19:30 Research insights from speaker Natasha Abajian

19:30 – 19:45 Understanding our brains

19:45 – 20:15 Developing practical tools for confidence, impact and gravitas

20:15 – 20:30 Wrap up and summary

20.30 – 21.00 Drinks & networking following the event

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When in Rome…

Managing people across cultural divides

We recently had the privilege of travelling to the beautiful Italian town of Cremona near Milan to deliver the people management aspect of a new business management qualification there.

Given how often we get asked whether challenges are the same across Europe / the World and how much cultural difference needs to be considered, we thought we would share our findings and reflections:

Even in a more direct, ‘say what you think’ culture, feedback is still a problem.  Feedback is not simply about telling someone what you think of them, it’s critical that the message is understood and the individual wants to change their behaviour.

Helping delegates consider what outcome they wanted and then use better questioning to find out what reaction someone was having to the feedback, made the difference here, just like it does in the UK and every other country we have worked in, including the US and Asia.  And that backs up our learning from our previous escapades here…

People Management is not for everyone and we would all do better to acknowledge this.  Just as financial management is not for everyone and we build coping mechanisms around that, how do we do the same for people management?

One delegate realised he could make better use of someone in his team who is far better at the honest conversations.  It may not be a perfect solution, but it’s a start.

Accountability for behaviour change is the greatest challenge.  This is a battle we fight on every programme – how to help delegates change their behaviour back in the workplace.

A hugely helpful move here has been to share stories from people who have been through the programme before, tried, failed, learned from experience and succeeded.

In Italy, we closed the programme with delegates showing a more realistic outlook on what they could do and what they couldn’t, working in tune with their reality.

Whilst it is comforting to know we are not alone with our learning challenges in the UK, this begs the question, why are these issues so prevalent?  The answer appears to be a lack of quality and quantity of focused on-the-job learning in these areas.

Take on any other new task: using new software, introducing a new process or system, taking on budget management for the first time, and there are guides to follow and people to ask.  When it comes to considering our suitability for people management and working out how to have difficult conversations, there tends to be less structure.

There are fewer “how-to guides” available and most line managers will not initiate a conversation with the individual in their team about their skills and confidence in people management.  Why should they?  Who did that for them?

This is an opportunity for all of us in learning, to help managers take on these conversations, so that new managers can be better prepared in their roles.

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To Sell is Human

From the bestselling author of Drive and A Whole New Mind…

Comes a new book that explores the power of selling in our lives.

In his fantastic book, To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink highlights that “1 in 9 people work in sales.  So do the other 8.”  His point is that we all have an aspect of selling or influencing to our roles now – so selling skills are not reserved for those 1 in 9 who have sales in their job titles.

The challenge here is that most of us do not really consider our roles to involve selling. But Daniel Pink successfully argues that simply isn’t the case.  His research found that 8 out of every 9 people do some sort of sales in their jobs.  Regardless of what they do.

Pink describes how sales and non-sales selling are ultimately about service.  That to sell our ideas, our resources or our time to another we have to “move” others – not out of the way, but emotionally – causing someone to feel “moved.”  That’s most likely to happen when you do two things: make it personal, and make it purposeful.

Pink sets out “a broad rethinking of sales as we know it.” He examines what sales mean now and in the future. He also gives us a new definition of the sales classic: ABC.  Instead of the mantra “Always Be Closing,” Pink suggests “Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity.”

Attunement is “the ability to blend one’s actions and outlook into harmony with other people.”

Buoyancy is “the quality that combines grittiness of spirit and sunniness of outlook.” To be buoyant means to apply three components before, during and after any effort to move others.

Clarity is “the capacity to make sense of murky situations.” To create clarity, you first need to find the right problems to solve, then drill down to the core of the problem and compare it to other problems so that people have a frame of reference. Finally, you need to find an “off-ramp,” which Pink defines as providing a clear directive for people to act – or the traditional “call to action.”

Here are our top three 3 takeaways from the book:

Almost half of your time at work is spent in non-sales selling, which is really just trying to move others.  Acknowledging this and considering how you develop your influencing skills can be hugely beneficial.

Honesty and service are taking over sales, because the internet has closed the information gap.  This means that just providing information is no longer the focus in sales, because people can look up that information online.  Service and trust built through honesty are more important now than ever before.

Use “Yes, and…” when talking to customers to make sure they stay positive and engaged.  This comes from the realisation that people stop listening when they disagree and they start planning their response when they hear someone disagrees with them.  If your ‘customer’ or person you are influencing gets the impression you disagree, for example when you say “no,” or “yes, but…” then you could lose them.  Stay more positive and your customer will do the same.

If the thought of developing your sales skills seems a little daunting, fear not.  We have two fabulous resources to get you started.  The Trusted Advisor Model and The Challenger Sale download.

And as always, follow the image below to buy a copy of this fabulous book!

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Cultural Differences?

Tomato1 400x265

You say tom-ay-toe, we say…

Are cultural differences across the globe a problem?  Do they stop global Learning or Organisation Development programmes from working?

We often get asked about training for people working across cultures: “Can you give me guidance on how to work with our teams in Latin America?  I’m going to China for work, what advice can you give me?

And having been asked these questions for so many years, even though we’re not experts on cultural differences – we’ve tried to be as helpful as possible.  We’ve always said “that’s not our area of expertise, but here’s a suggestion you could try…”  But does our advice work?

So having spent the past few weeks working with people from the UK, Germany, Mexico, Brazil, Singapore, China, The Philippines, The US and Australia, we’re pretty chuffed to report back – yes, it works!

Totem Gummi Bears

The key learning point for us (with this and in most of life) is simply… to not make assumptions

Or rather to question the assumptions we immediately make.  When a delegate highlights that “this approach won’t work in x location”, we have simply asked what makes them think that and what might make it work better.

And when we introduce an idea that we know works well in the UK, we ask, “how might that work for you?  What challenges might you face with this in your workplace?  How could you make this work better for you?”

These are the same questions we ask regardless of cultural differences, and they work because they put the ownership on the individual to explain the cultural challenges and importantly, explore how to overcome them.

Why does this approach work? 

It is worth remembering that our brains crave control: we do not like uncertainty or a feeling that we are not controlling a situation.  So going to work in a different culture, where our usual patterns of working and set expectations of how conversations go are challenged, can be very uncomfortable.

So we try to control the situation by coming up with theories and ideas on how to adapt and fit.  The problem is that our theories will be based on our culture and assumptions, so can often miss the mark.  Asking another person, “how do you think this could work here?” Or “how can we adapt this idea so it works?” Brings multiple benefits.

– you gain insight from someone who knows the culture better than you

– that person feels valued and appreciates that you want their opinion

– you make the process collaborative, building trust and helping you better understand the culture

– you avoid making inappropriate assumptions that backfire

So here’s our suggestion, stop worrying about what difference culture might make and simply ask the question.

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