Monthly Archives: September 2014


Recently helping has been on my mind, reflecting on various conversations, blogs, and situations.
These include a recent Twitter chat with the folks at @LnDConnect (#ldinsight storified here by Sukhvinder Pabial) on coaching, particularly what Phil Willcox (@philwillcox) had to say and Helen Amery’s (@WildFigSolns) People-ology blogs live from the CIPD Coaching Conference (#CIPDCoach14) and conversations that proceeded these.

I wonder, is my interest in language just semantics? Or is it intention, perception, and connection?

Empathy trumps caring.
Enabling trumps helping.

I recently visited Addaction Grantham for the first time, and on arrival was failed by the map apps on 2 devices. Nightmare. Yes I can read a map. And yes, I had complacently opted to rely on technology to get me there. So as I left the train station with plenty of time I decided I’d follow my nose. Ya know, see the sites of Grantham on my way to Addaction, grab a coffee. After a short time I accepted I was lost and stopped to ask a taxi driver for (on foot) directions, which he kindly provided. However I must have looked helpless (I don’t think that look actually features in my facial expression armoury) because he said “tell you what, hop in and I’ll take you there”.
After a slight protest and declaration that I had no cash, he insisted “it’ll be my good deed for the day”. Resistance met by insistence. In I hopped.
As we got to the correct street, he spotted the building ahead and pointed it out. My “oh great I can get out here and walk”, was met with “oh I’m going this way anyway I’ll take you to the door”. So we drove on. He dropped me at the door and I expressed my thanks for his generosity. #randomactofkindness

When he’d gone out of sight, I walked back along the road for a few mins, to reach the coffee shop I’d offered to get out at.
Smiling over my flat-white in reflection of this kindness, I realised I was actually uncomfortable ‘hopping in’. I can hop. That bit was fine. I’d been governed by politeness and a social obligation to view his suggestion as a random act of kindness (a beautiful thing) for which I ‘must’ show (and surely genuinely feel) gratitude.

Is it better to treat someone as you’d wish to be treated, or to treat someone as they wish to be treated.

We all have a ‘righting-reflex’. A desire to make things right. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s often recognised as an intrinsic motivation to care for others. It draws people to work and roles where we can help others others. ‘Helping professions’.
At the same time, having a righting-reflex also means it’s easy to make assumptions and believe we know what the ‘right’ way is. Usually based on our own values and experiences. We default to identifying with people around us: spotting similarities and perceiving their needs as the same as ours. Someone is experiencing something similar to me. So they must have similar needs.

Mid writing this blog, Kandy Woodfield’s (@jess1ecat) tweet from earlier this month enters my Twitter feed with an image from 3 Coaching Habits: Number 1. Stop Trying to ‘Be Helpful’, and I notice a reply from Doug Shaw (@dougshaw) about learning this the hard way. Me too!

Some years ago as a counsellor at Childline, I soon realised I wasn’t able to ‘make it right’ or rescue or problem solve, and it broke. my. heart. A few times. I felt helpless.
But hang on, if I took the problem away (a problem the person most likely felt they had no control over) then I was taking away all power for any control. Then who would feel helpless?
It was a welcome steep learning curve when I realised that people didn’t need me do that. That to really help, is to enable a person to help themselves. To cope. To live their life. Resilience within their own reality. And that’s where it started – empathy rather than care, and enabling rather than helping.

Switch to more recent years when I’m line managing people older and wiser than me. I am not the expert with all the answers to all of the problems. And I don’t mind. That’s not what I need to be. This isn’t an absence of knowledge or ability. It’s a righting-reflex in check. Resisting the urge to solve other people’s problems. Instead
coaching, enabling. Demonstrating negative capability for benefit of another’s growth.

You’ve heard before I know but…
Would you give a woman a fish to feed her family for a day? Or enable her to go fishing any time she wants? Resources, skills.
Do you work to make yourself indispensable? Or do you make yourself redundant?
I saw something recently that said ‘leaders develop leaders’.

[If I’ve miss quoted or inaccurately referenced something or one please let me know as this wasn’t my intention. The mentions are because you’ve inspired me]



When Words Were Magic

Solution Focused and Brief

Milton Erickson is a great master I’m inviting you to appreciate. If you’ve come across Erickson before you might link him to neuro linguistic programming (NLP). For me, he mastered the beauty and magic of dialogue, and used it to offer people an alternative way of thinking about problems. As a psychiatrist and psychotherapist he challenged long established therapeutic approaches that delved into the past (e.g. psychodynamic) to find answers for current problems. Approaches that kept people ‘in therapy’ for years. He realised that finding causality, didn’t lead to solutions. It promoted labelling, and blame, and helplessness. Erickson believed that the solution to a person’s problem, was present within them, and so developed his master craft using language (good questions) to draw out solutions. He was radical as a medical professional. At a time when medication was the popular choice, he took responsibly for the implicit power his role embodied, and chose to share it. Enabling individual patients to realise their own self-efficacy in solving their own problems.

Steve de Shazer noticed this and developed the art of Solution Focussed Brief Therapy (SFBT), building on Eriksons style. He, along with wife Inso Kim Berg and others, developed a talking therapy based the following ideas.

Misunderstandings make conversation possible. If we a all implicitly understood each other, there would no need for dialogue. Ask good questions.

A problem is not present 100% of the time, there are exceptions. Focus on these, the presence of solutions rather then the absence of a problem.

Use words like the magic they are… ‘wow’ has no connotation, ‘and’ rather than ‘but’, ‘don’t’ draws focus to whatever follows it in the sentence, using ‘why’ immediately sets the person you ask as accountable, there are other ways of exploring.

Chose to communicate useful beliefs about others, make positive assumptions and use genuine affirmations to emphasise a person’s strengths, social and emotional capital. Solutions are present within all of us. A person’s own solution is more likely to fit. Use evocative questions.

A Clarifying Moment

Seven years ago facilitating a personal development programme for ‘offenders’, my first delivery day was tough. We sat in a group solving a problem – some physical puzzle (it was all experiential learning, we had great props!). My colleague Gary was my ‘buddy’ and I was terrified. After some facilitation the puzzle was proving hard, and I concentrated on encouraging them to continue. One person (we’ll call Dean) was loud and fed up – the slow win wasn’t doing anything for his self-esteem or motivation (oh hindsight, if only you could of helped Young-Jo). As he got more and more frustrated it was clear he was going to give up. Finally, he swore even louder, kicked the table, threw a chair, walked across the room, banged his hand on the window…and stopped.

In the 5 seconds that this played out I was using 5 more to decide my response. Then, Gary, not taking his eyes from the task and group, said “thank you for recognising that you were frustrated and taking yourself away from the group to cool off a bit”. I said nothing.

Over the next 20mins Dean (with some unattended attention craving behaviours) moved closer and closer to the table. Until he re-joined and helped finished the task. ‘Wow’ I thought ‘I have to learn that’ – fluency of strength focused reframe and immediate response.

In the Presence of Brilliance

This week I was lucky enough to observe an artist in action. During live supervision of my newest colleague – 6 months into becoming an L+D Advisor.

Being in the business of change and soft skills learning, I will always be champion face-to-face sessions. Nothing can replace the craft of establishing rapport and creating a learning environment where humour is juxtaposed with serious discussion around emotive topics. Where information is offered out for learners to chose or not, at the right pace, at the right time, from a not-knowing perspective. She had no ego or goal to serve by demonstrating her knowledge. Where constructive conflict is brought alive with evocative dialogue. Questioning and listening. Where people come together and trust, support, and allow each other to be wrong, to challenge, to grow.

We shared a moment. She stood out, and sat down – still attentive and present, but removed. We observed what was happening. Peer learning, a buzz of discussion, challenging each other, problem solving… As I distracted her and caught her eye, surprised she mouthed “they don’t need me”. If the measure of learning is application in the workplace, then self-efficacy and motivation are essential.

I hope she managed to bask in that moment and realise her brilliance. Just incase, I told her.

Dear Twitter

I missed our anniversary. Forgive me. I realise It’s been over a year since I fell in-love (with your soft white plumage and engaging conversation). I expected the honeymoon period to be over by now. Alas, I am still counting the ways I do love thee.
Yet as I approach a year on from vowing to get others involved ( how cult-esque that sounds), my recruitment plan hasn’t entirely worked. At last years CLC conference we constructed a using SoMe plan focused on our no.1 learning tool, Twitter.
The stages preposed were:
Stage 1 – lurking
Stage 2 – retweet+reply
Stage 3 – tweet+share
At that point my affection for you went unnoticed. So I set about enlisting my colleagues to join your world of 140-character-quips in the hope we could share the love, LEARNING and laughs that you so generously platform.
As with all relationships, there’s been highs and lows. 11 months on:
– HR Manager is fully tweeted up to stage 3, attending tweet-ups and conversing
– eLearning Developer has vowed off Twitter for life after a hacking frenzy of multiple foreign tweets were sent from her account
– L+D Advisors 3/4 ain’t bad! Stage 2 and getting better
– Head of L+D as above
– HR Director just got new iPad, I have a way in and am working on getting him lurking.

So it’s in the face of failure or partial success, that I launch my second campaign in your honour.

Thanks for the people, resources, smiles and love. Nice is underrated.

Here’s to another happy year Twit! #whennicknamesdontwork

To lurkers, retweeters, tweeters, you can find me at @joeystepho Following some brilliant people.