Tired of playing the bad guy? Why not play yourself instead....?

By Karen Amos

‘I’m not scared of playing the bad guy’.

I hear this phrase so many times on my travels as a coach and I have to confess, I’ve said it myself in the past.

But let’s just unpick this for a moment. Why when we need to give negative feedback, or have a difficult conversation with someone, do we feel we’ve no option but to be the ‘Bad Guy’? Shouldn’t we just be doing what’s right? I know from my own experience that there are many reasons for saying this phrase.

Here are a couple:
1. Fear – Of what the other person might do or say, or of things getting out of control. Sometimes it’s the fear of not being liked.
2. Lack of options – Often I felt low on resources – either of potential solutions to the problem, or lack of interpersonal skills to deal with this.

The worst part of this was for me, I know I’m not a ‘Bad Guy’. I now recognise I’m a good, kind person, who likes to be fair to others and always tries to do the right thing.  This is most of us right?

This situation is a good example of where Authenticity pays dividends. What if you didn’t need to be the ‘Bad Guy’ and could instead, get the right result just by being yourself? Sounds good? Just think, less anxiety, sleeping well, knowing you did your best, increased personal responsibility for the other person and less of the ‘blame game’…. The list goes on…..

The secret is to take a coaching approach to giving feedback and difficult conversations. This approach means you’re not there to ‘fix’ the person, but to work collaboratively with them to find a workable solution. The first step is to be clear what you and they want out of the situation and to work together to find the solution.

Yes, I acknowledge there may be occasions where the person concerned refuses to accept their personal responsibility and you’ll have to deal with this accordingly, but from experience these people are in the minority.

By implementing this Authentic Leadership/coaching approach, I've found that raising issues with people more often than not, results in a positive, constructive outcome. I frequently hear examples from my clients where they've been dreading a conversation, but by implementing this approach have had surprisingly positive outcomes.  For example, people who have been placed on performance management have still thanked their manager for their support and as a result have addressed and resolved the issues raised.

No-one likes giving negative feedback and certainly no-one likes to receive it, but to know you’ve truly done your best to work with the person to find a positive solution to the problem must surely rest better with you than having had to play the ‘Bad Guy’ again.

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Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports business owners and managers to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a down-to-earth, practical approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships. 


Top Tips for Avoiding Boiling Frog Syndrome...

Top Tips For Avoiding Boiling Frog Syndrome

By Karen Amos

As we enter this uncertain future, there are plenty of opportunities to change things for the better.  We've opportunity to try new ways of working and build new habits.  Equally though, there are threats that we'll slip back into old ways, despite the rhetoric and good intentions. After all, change requires effort and after a tough day at work and all the demands of modern life, I don't know about you, but sometimes that extra bit of effort is just too much to ask.  (And a nice sit down with a good book is much more appealing...)

This reminds me of the Boiling Frog Syndrome...

This is a somewhat gruesome metaphor where a frog is slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. ¹ (I did warn you!)

There are several interpretations of this story, but the one that jumped out at me (See what I did there!) is the need to be aware of negative threats that arise gradually, leaving us unaware of the danger until the situation is critical and in many cases, terminal.

This led me to reflect on how this applied in real-life and here are a few thoughts and tips to avoid overcooking our frogs...

Personal Wellbeing...

It’s a strange one isn’t it?  We mostly know what is good and not so good for us regarding our wellbeing - whether that’s mental, physical or otherwise - but it’s always an effort to maintain it.  Good habits slip and before we know it, we’re stressed out, anxious or fighting the flab and trying to regain lost energy.

Stress and our mental health can be a very slippery slope.  We accept one more task, another responsibility, lose another hour’s sleep and without recognising why, we find ourselves in tears, yelling at the kids, or slumped at the laptop wondering how to get through the day.

I’m sure many of you will recognise yourself in at least one of these examples.  I train others on this stuff for a living, but it's still a constant battle to stay on track.  The problem is that the downward spiral is gradual and mostly painless – until you reach the bottom.

Here are some helpful tips and coaching questions to keep your frog healthy…

  1. Have a plan

Seems a bit obvious right?  But without a plan, you won’t know whether things are going astray until something critical happens to remind you.  With a clear plan, you can measure your progress alongside expected outcomes and take corrective action quickly.

This could be a business plan, a marketing plan, or even your own 'get-and-stay-fit' plan.

  1. Get a sounding board

Whether that’s a coach, mentor, or just a trusted friend or colleague, we all need someone who has our back and who we can check in with, but more importantly someone who will give us some honest feedback and advice.  Not only do we need these people, but we need to ensure we plan in non-negotiable time for this checking in, as remember that we don’t recognise the need as the water gets gradually hotter.  I always ensure I've people around me with whom I can have that, 'Is it me...?' conversation - in the knowledge that they may well say, 'Yes, actually Karen... this time it is just you!'

  1. Build in regular wellbeing check-ins:

Boiling frog syndrome is allowed to occur because we simply don't recognise our personal 'Red Flags' until it's too late.  We're completely enmeshed in stress and often by then, it's having a huge detrimental impact on our work, life and wellbeing.

One simple way to avoid this slippery slope is to schedule in regular check-ins with ourselves.  This could be as simple as scoring your stress levels on a scale of 1-10.  Whilst it's a completely subjective and individual approach, it gives you the opportunity to recognise when you need to start taking some remedial action before it's too late.  We discuss this much more in our Positive and Productive programme.

So to avoid boiling your frog, ask yourself these useful coaching questions on a regular basis:

    • What are my pressure points right now?
    • Is this level of pressure tolerable – if so, for how long before I need to take action?
    • Would I think my current situation was acceptable for my friend/colleague/family member?
    • What action would I be advising them to take?
    • What are my warning signs that something needs to change?
    • Is there anything I could STOP doing right now that would actually improve my situation?
    • What could I replace this activity with, that would improve my personal wellbeing and that of my business/organisation/education setting?

Remember, we need to ensure we check the ‘water temperature’ regularly.  Build this into your diary, perhaps at the start or end of every week – that way you won’t be lulled into inaction by the nice warm water…

¹ Boiling frog - Wikipedia

If you would like to find out more about how you and your teams can improve their time management and productivity, whilst minimising stress and overwhelm, check out our new Positive and Productive online programme.

For schools

For Business and VCSE organisations

For an informal, no-obligation chat about how we can help you, call us on 07714 855757, or email info@bright-bird.co.uk.

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports business owners and managers who are feeling the pressure, to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a practical, down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships. 


Investing in Staff Wellbeing - Can you afford not to?

Investing in Staff Wellbeing – Can you afford not to?

By Karen Amos

The Education Staff Wellbeing Charter is launched this autumn.  Whilst few would argue this isn’t needed in the sector, the practicalities of publicly signing up and implementing such a measure can have the paradoxical effect of actually increasing the stress of those charged with the task.

This is a fantastic opportunity to commit to positive steps to improve the working lives of all working in education.  The danger is however, that it becomes another ‘bolt-on’ to the day-to-day work.  The fact is that for any actions to be truly meaningful, the principles of this charter need to form the bedrock of your setting and define your wellbeing culture.

So what is culture?

Culture can be defined as the guiding beliefs and values evident in the way a school operates. ¹  Put simply, culture is seen in our behaviour, or ‘the way we do things around here’. ²

This is more than just having some pretty graphics of your values on the wall.  This is about observable, tangible behaviour.  For good or bad, your setting’s culture is determined by how people consistently behave.

In practical terms, this means we have to do much more than just bring cake into the staff room.  This is a nice gesture, not a wellbeing support intervention.  If you have a team who are stressed out and on the edge, you’re quite likely to make matters worse and risk being told where to shove your cake, if there are no other support mechanisms in place.

The costs of not implementing a wellbeing culture:

Of course there are clear ethical issues why staff wellbeing should be a priority.  But there is also a financial and business case for improving wellbeing too.

The latest Education Support Teacher Wellbeing Index survey showed some shocking statistics. If they don’t constitute a crisis in the education sector right now, there should certainly be some very loud alarm bells ringing.

Deliotte’s research highlights the financial impact of the problem.   The cost to the Education Sector in 2020 in the UK is £1.1 – 1.5 billion per year.   That £1.1-1.5 thousand per education staff per year.   Let’s put the ethics aside for a moment and just ask yourself what your setting could do with that money instead?  What difference would this make to the outcomes of the children or communities you work in?

There are obvious costs such as sickness absence, but also other less obvious, but equally impactful issues, such as lack of productivity and presenteeism from burnt out or disillusioned staff.  And what about the time costs of counselling unproductive, unhappy or unwell staff teams.  How much time do you and your team spend each month on these activities, when someone reaches crisis point?

Viewed this way, implementing a culture where staff wellbeing is front and centre should be seen as an investment, not a drain on resources.  In fact, Deloitte4 found a clear Return on Investment from implementing wellbeing support in the workplace, with a 10:1 ROI on training.

Also at a time where many schools are struggling to recruit the right calibre of candidates, wouldn’t it be a benefit for your setting to be seen as a ‘go to’ employer?

How to implement a wellbeing culture in a busy setting:

Whilst there is some element of ‘setting up’, a successful wellbeing culture shouldn’t add to your workload and does not have to mean a major financial investment.  Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Embed wellbeing in training and development – The Education Staff Wellbeing Charter states there is no expectation for managers to provide professional wellbeing support for which they have no professional training, so…
  • Consider outsourcing – See this as an investment. How much do you currently spend in staff cover or lost productivity?  Consider the business case for bringing in the experts, whether that’s training, resources, or an Employee Assistance Programme.
  • Build staff engagement – start with building great conversations in your setting. Not just between managers and their teams, but also between peers.  Recent surveys show that 57% of education staff were not confident in sharing unmanageable stress/mental health issues at work.  3  Building trust and understanding are key to positive staff engagement.

Building trust and understanding are key to positive staff engagement – which leads us to…

  • Develop a supportive leadership culture – Where people feel supported, not criticised. Using a coaching approach is a fantastic and practically cost-free strategy.  This doesn’t mean lengthy 1-to-1 sessions with people, but simply that we have meaningful conversations where leaders are curious and solution-focused.
  • Draw up a Wellbeing Strategy – this will support everyone to maintain realistic expectations and standards, including around workload. This doesn’t need to be a huge document. No-one needs another ‘War and Peace’ that never sees the light of day.  Just one page with your aims for the coming year and a couple of concrete actions constitute a strategy.  This could be as simple as having a realistic workload policy and an effective return to work interview format.
  • Develop robust HR procedures and get the right support – This way you can ensure you ‘do the right thing’ by your staff, but also ensure any responses and approaches are proportionate and aligned with your setting’s wider strategy and outcomes. This isn’t about giving in to unreasonable demands or lowering standards, but setting clear expectations and knowing what support you will and won’t give.

The ethical argument in favour of building a wellbeing culture should be obvious, but if implemented, everyone wins.  Everyone.  The children, the staff, the setting, the community… everyone.  What are your next steps?

  1. Fullan, M., (2007) The new meaning of educational change, Routledge, New York.
  2. Hawkins, P., (2021) Creating a coaching culture: Developing a coaching strategy for your organisation, Open University Press, UK.
  3. Education Support Teacher Wellbeing Index 2020
  4. Deloitte – Mental Health and Employers –  Refreshing the case for investment – 2020

If you would like to find out more about how you and your teams can improve their time management and productivity, whilst minimising stress and overwhelm, check out our new Positive and Productive online programme.  

For schools

For Business and VCSE organisations

For an informal, no-obligation chat about how we can help you, call us on 07714 855757, or email info@bright-bird.co.uk.

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports business owners and managers who are feeling the pressure, to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a practical, down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships. 


Want to Avoid Catastrophe? Mind Your Language!

Want to Avoid Catastrophe? Mind Your Language!

By Karen Amos

Well, 2020 truly is the gift that keeps on giving!  Have you ever wondered though, how some people seem to sail through things easier than others?  The reason isn’t usually due to their circumstances, but all about mindset – that is to say, the way they think about or perceive things.

The great thing about our mindset is that we can change it and by doing so, we can change our perception and in turn our experience in life.


Just a quick cautionary note here.  Some people are experiencing truly catastrophic events right now; they are suffering the loss of loved ones and failure of businesses they have invested their life savings in.  This article isn’t about negating these events – we need to be allowed to freely express our emotions at this time – but rather that our day-to-day language needs to be proportionate and also ‘helpful’ to us.


Mind your language...

The language we habitually use can significantly impact our mindset – negatively or positively.  This has never been so crucial as at a time like the one we’re living through.  There’s a phrase to describe this as coined by Albert Ellis – ‘AWFULIZING’ – where we perceive or describe a situation as being much worse than it actually is. ¹  I had such an experience in a recent coaching session with a client.

Like many people, my client is working under huge pressure due to the covid situation.  They are supporting a team who are dealing with negative changes on a daily, if not hourly basis.  What jumped out at me was the language she and the team were using.  ‘I had a meltdown,’ and ‘It’s a nightmare,’ were just a couple of examples.

Let’s just examine this for a moment.  ‘Meltdown’.  ‘Nightmare’. Really?  When we started to unpick this, it was obvious that such extreme language was actually adding to the stress and anxiety experienced by both the person saying the words and those hearing it.

Other commonly used catastrophic expressions include:

  • I’m overwhelmed…
  • It was devastating…
  • The situation is terrifying…
  • I’m exhausted…

Quite simply, our words generate an emotional response, so catastrophic language leads to heightened arousal levels whereas more ‘neutral’ or ‘positive’ language has the opposite effect.

So what to do? 

If you find yourself or others around you using awfulizing, catastrophic, or just plain exaggerated language, there are some useful coaching questions that can help:

  • Is this really a ‘disaster’ [insert chosen catastrophic phrase as desired!]?
  • Is there a more accurate way to describe this?
  • What’s really going on here?
  • What’s the evidence telling me?
  • What did I actually see, hear, experience?
  • Are there any positives here? (There are usually some things that we can take from a situation, however awful – e.g. that you were really challenged, but managed to contain the situation.)

Recognise and Replace...

Using the ‘recognise and replace’ process to build new, more helpful habits and language is an easy and effective way to reduce your stress.  You ‘recognise’ that you (or others) have used overly catastrophic or dramatic language, then ‘replace’ this with something more representative of what’s really happened.  By doing so, you increase personal resilience and empowerment and decrease stress levels – both for yourself and others.

An example might be:

“This situation is a complete nightmare!”

Becomes…

“Things are really challenging us from lots of angles at the moment.  Our resources are stretched and we need to make some tough decisions.”

The latter example leaves people feeling more in control and empowered within their situation.  Try it!

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rational_emotive_behavior_therapy

If you'd like support for you or your team to reduce stress and build resilience and effectiveness at work, get in touch for an informal, no-obligation chat. 

We offer one-to-one and team coaching and in-house training programmes.

Call us on 07714 855757, or email info@bright-bird.co.ukOr visit our NEW training pages HERE 

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports under-pressure business owners and managers to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a practical, down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships. 

 


Never knowingly letting facts stand in the way of a good assumption….

Never knowingly letting facts stand in the way of a good assumption….

By Karen Amos

I’ve had a couple of similar experiences this week with clients and associates. They’ve reported situations where they, or people working for or with them, were becoming upset and anxious about certain issues.

There was one core theme – everyone was guessing how everyone else felt and what they thought about the situation. It’s amazing – and as a coach, I come across this all the time – people behave like they have some sort of innate psychic ability. Except that if they did (spoiler alert: they don’t!), they really shouldn’t go splashing out on too many lottery tickets as they don’t seem to be very good at it!

One of the huge benefits to having a coach is that you have access to someone skilled in ‘reality checking’. As is often the case, this sounds simple, but it’s really not. Think about it. Any misunderstanding around a situation is usually because the parties involved aren’t on the same wavelength – they don’t share the same reality as the other person. There are innumerable reasons for this, but they include:

  • Not recognising our own feelings
  • Not recognising the other person’s feelings
  • Not having access to all the information
  • Working to different timescales

…and the list goes on.

Obviously, this lack of information leaves gaps – and we don’t like gaps, as they make us feel insecure – so we try to fill them. The way we do this is usually through making assumptions. Of course it’s Janet’s fault that you feel nervous about attending the meeting she’s chairing, because she clearly doesn’t care about your feelings…

A coach is able to bring a fresh perspective through the use of questions, that help clarify, not what’s going on, but what’s REALLY going on. Sometimes this can be tough, as let’s face it, it’s much easier to blame Janet for chairing rotten meetings that make you nervous, rather than admit the reality that you never seem to have the time to properly prepare for them. Knowing what’s REALLY going on, means you can then start to find a solution to the issue. Maybe you need to stop assuming Janet knows how you feel and ask for some support. Maybe you need to re-prioritise your workload to allow time to prep for meetings so you’ve opportunity to shine and show off your achievements…

Here are a few useful coaching questions when you find yourself in a difficult situation:

  • What’s going on here?
  • What’s REALLY going on here?
  • What’s the root cause of my problem – is it something I can control?
  • Does the other person know I’m experiencing this problem?
  • What do they think about this?
  • What’s the reason for their behaviour?

And most important of all…

  • What’s my evidence to prove this?

Once you’ve started to make sense of your reality, you can then take positive steps to improve your communication without the hang-ups that often hold us back - and perhaps even pack away that crystal ball...

If you’d like to find out more about how coaching can help you, contact Karen Amos at BrightBird Coaching and Training to book your free discovery session. Karen will help you to explore the issues and challenges you’re facing and how you can overcome these.

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports business owners and managers to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships. 

Contact: karen@bright-bird.co.uk / 07714 855757